Actions

Work Header

We Built it Slowly, Stone by Accidental Stone

Chapter Text

Sansa

 

Sansa took three deep breaths and tried to calm herself in an attempt to maintain her strong image for her people. Moments ago she was fighting for said people’s safety. Moments ago she wielded a weapon for the first time, killed with her own hands for the first time, and was wounded in battle for the first time. She wanted to vomit.

 

It’s over, she thought on the fourth breath. Someone killed the Night King.

 

She quickly turned to the people behind her and barked out orders. “Missandei, Varys, make sure everyone’s accounted for and don’t drop your guard – the battle may not be over for true. Gather at the foot of the stairs and wait for the signal before you begin to evacuate to the courtyard.” Sansa watched as Varys and Missandei herded the women, children, and elders, only turning back once they had disappeared.

 

“And what–” Tyrion’s voice croaked on his words. “What shall you have me do, Lady Stark?”

 

“You stay with me, we need to count the dead so we can report to Jon.” If he’s still alive, she didn’t say. She clutched her middle at the twinge of pain.

 

“Are they broken?” Tyrion asked, genuinely concerned. She gave him a sad smile.

 

“Nothing I haven’t endured before,” she said. “Are you-?” Sansa’s heart stopped beating and a sickly, horrible ice flooded her veins as her gaze fell upon a fallen wight. Oh… oh, no.

 

“Sansa?” Tyrion asked, his concern overshadowing formalities.

 

But Sansa’s words were blocked by a growing lump in her throat, and all she could do was stare at the wight’s bony corpse that had once belonged to her father. The dragonglass dagger sang as it hit the stone floor and its echo filled her ears, blocking out all other sounds as she rushed passed Mother and Robb’s tombs to where Father lay. Her knees hit the floor hard enough to bruise. To any other the wight was unrecognizable, but she knew it was him in her heart.

 

There was no skull to imagine Father’s face, no Ice to clutch, no skin to feel, but it was him. She wrapped his large winter cloak around his ribs and laid her cheek where his heart would lie, closing her eyes as tears rushed down her face.

 

“Leave me,” Sansa said, not wanting anyone to see her like this.

 

“Sansa, I’m not going to tell anyone that I saw you cry in grief,” said Tyrion. “And I’m not going to think you weak for a few simple tears – there’s not a person in Winterfell who would.”

 

She tried to force herself not to cry but a single sob broke the dam she’d built so long ago, and all the pent up tears pushed through. The cloak no longer smelled of him.

 

Arya used to say that even Sansa’s crying was ladylike, but as she clutched her father’s remains, her sobs were an ugly thing. She hyperventilated and snorted and twisted up her face, her skin on fire even in the dead of winter. Sansa could never let herself cry this hard in King’s Landing, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt if she let herself go just this once. She was in the crypt of her home, far away from court, with only her little husband to bear witness.

 

A small hand gently caressed her back as if to answer, and she blinked away her hot tears as she turned to examine his face. There was a deep understanding beneath his watery eyes, and Sansa could read his thoughts as if she and Tyrion were bonded in mind. It’s okay, his eyes said. I won’t tell anyone.

 

Sansa shifted her embrace of Father to Tyrion, falling into another sobbing fit as soon as her chin rested atop his shoulder. His arms may not have been those of a knight, but they held her in such a way that the grief in her heart lightened.

 

“You were so brave, Sansa,” he told her. “I am so proud of you – so proud of the woman you’ve become.” She reached her hand up to cup his head of Lannister blond curls, a silent appreciation. “We do make a wonderful team, don’t we? Lady Sansa and Lord Tyrion; the Traitor’s Daughter and the Demon Monkey; Slayers of King Joffrey; Lady of Winterfell and Hand of the Queen… and now, Slayers of Wights and Protectors of the Weak. What shall we attempt next? Perhaps Sansa the Tiger Tamer and Tyrion the Fire Eater?” Sansa’s sob turned into a bark of a laugh.

 

“I’m sure the Dragon Queen will be happy to give you that title,” Sansa said, a smile inexplicably finding a way to her lips.

 

“Don’t give her any ideas,” said Tyrion. “I am tantalizingly roastable in the eyes of a dragon.”

 

Sansa pulled away and gazed at her husband, a warmth filling her chest at the sight of him. A few moments ago she thought she was going to die by his side, and she was still trying to understand why she had accepted the idea. She could still feel his hand on her knee, could feel his lips on her hand, could feel his presence by her side as they fought together. He was a little man, yet his grounding presence was the size of a dragon.

 

When she had accepted her death behind her Father’s tomb, looking into Tyrion’s eyes as she gave him the dagger, she had inexplicably thought of their wedding night. She had thought of that day in the throne room when he had helped her up, the look on his face when she said she was only fourteen, the laughter he brought to her in the weeks before Robb was murdered, and the admiration clear in his eyes when he came to Winterfell.

 

Sansa leaned over and laid a kiss on his cheek before getting to her feet.

 

“What was that for, my lady?” Asked Tyrion, voice small.

 

“For everything, Lord Tyrion.” His lips disappeared as he pressed them together in that way he usually did when he was trying not to cry. “To everyone else you may be the Imp, but to me you are more a lion than any other Lannister to walk this earth.”

 

Tyrion didn’t speak but he didn’t have to – the thank you was written across his face.

 

“Let’s leave the dead for tomorrow and spend today with the living,” she commanded.

 

The courtyard was full with cries of mourning and relief alike, and all around people shared embraces amongst the dead. The sun was rising and telling all with its orange glow that the War for Dawn was won. Jon was the first one she spotted, embracing Samwell in front of Viserion’s corpse. She ran towards them, catching their attention before she reached them.

 

“Is Gilly…?” Sam choked out.

 

“She’s alive and well, as is little Sam.” At that, she and Jon were left alone.

 

Sansa embraced her brother as tightly as she had that day in Castle Black. A few relieved tears slipped from her shut eyes.

 

“You made it,” she gasped.

 

“I did,” he said, sounding surprised at the truth of his words.

 

“Was it you? Did you kill the Night King?”

 

“No,” said Jon. “No, it wasn’t me.”

 

“Then who…?” Sansa trailed off at the sound of cheering.

 

Her eyes searched for its source and landed on the gate to the Godswood where Arya was pushing Bran’s wheelchair, gaining applause as they went. As they approached Jon and Sansa, she could see the blue handprint seared into Arya’s neck.

 

“Arya…” Jon breathed.

 

Sansa watched him sprint to capture Arya in his arms, lifting her into the air and spinning her around. Sansa tore her eyes away from them and caught Bran’s stare, its intensity piercing her heart. She made her way to Bran, each step filling her with more dread. When she finally reached him, Jon was cupping Arya’s face and seemingly assessing her for wounds.

 

Sansa didn’t have to speak, Bran just shook his head. Sansa wanted to sob but knew it would have to wait.

 

“We won’t burn his body,” said Sansa, voice hard. “I’ll have him buried in the crypt next to his family.”

 

“He would’ve liked that,” Bran said, a sad sort of smile gracing his lips. “He was very brave in the end, Sansa. He should lay by Robb.”

 

Sansa’s lip wobbled as she forced the lump in her throat back down.

 

“He will… I’ll lay him there myself. And once the castle is recovered, you and I will speak to the stone cutter so Theon’s statue looks like him.”

 

“Only the Lords and Ladies of Winterfell have statues,” said Bran.

 

“I am the Lady of Winterfell and if I say he’ll have a statue, then he’ll have a statue,” Sansa said, the lump bobbing up and down in her throat. “Besides, I want the future Lords of Winterfell to know the face of the man who saved the lives of their ancestors.” Bran gave a single nod of understanding. “But for today he’ll make merry with Father and Robb in the Seven Heavens,” she said, hoping it was true. She wasn’t very religious anymore, but if the Seven Heavens were real, Theon would be there. Sansa calmed herself; there would be time to grieve later. “Is Rickon alright?”

 

“Yes, he’s with Osha and Shaggydog on the battlements,” Bran said, and Sansa breathed a sigh of relief.   

 

“Who else didn’t see the dawn?” Sansa asked.

 

“The 999th Lord Commander, the last of the Mormont’s, and the last of the Lord of Light’s followers.”

 

Edd, she thought, shutting her eyes tight. Must all the kindest crows perish?

 

“The last of the Mormont’s?” Jon asked, detaching from Arya. Bran nodded. “Oh, Dany.” A dragon whined and Jon ran toward the noise.

 

Sansa turned to Arya and something like pride filled her. She embraced her little sister and wrinkled her nose at the smell of grime and blood and sweat. She pulled away and kissed Arya’s forehead.

 

“Are you hurt?” Sansa asked. Arya shook her head despite the blood caked in her brow.

 

“You?” Sansa shook her head despite the grief deep in her bones.

 

“There you are, you little shit,” said a familiar, coarse voice. Sansa turned around and saw Sandor Clegane marching straight for them, eyes on Arya. Sansa smiled when his gaze flicked up to her and he stopped his approach.

 

“I think I liked Little Bird a lot more than ‘little shit’,” Sansa said with a smirk. Sandor just looked at her, his softening features suddenly hardening again.

 

“Aye, I bet you did,” he spat, resuming his approach. “Your little sister left me to die, again!” Sansa turned on Arya with a lifted eyebrow, but she just shrugged.

 

“You didn’t have to stay there,” Arya said nonchalantly. “And I wasn’t leaving you, I was just going somewhere else.”

 

“What’s the fucking difference?” Sandor was almost shouting.

 

“One is intentional, the other is coincidental,” said Arya.

 

“You really are a cold little bitch,” his words were like the snap of a wolf. “I saved your fucking life.”

 

“And I saved yours, so I’d say we’re even,” said Arya. “You shouldn’t have–”

 

“Would you two stop snapping at each other’s throats?!” Sansa shouted, drawing both their gazes. She clutched her ribs at the exertion and sighed. “There’s been enough fighting this day, so save it for another time.” She reached out and pulled Arya’s collar down to show him the blue mark. “Now, could you please act like civilized people for once in your godsdamned lives?”

 

Sandor huffed and looked at Arya’s mark before the latter pulled her collar back up. “You kill that horned fucker?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Must’ve felt good sticking your blade through the blue shit,” said Sandor. “That why you left me?”

 

“Yes.” Arya tilted her head at him. “You gonna whinge about it anymore?”

 

“Fuck off.”

 

Sansa rolled her eyes and shared a look with Bran, who gave her a rare smile. Then she watched as Arya’s eyes caught something behind Sansa, who turned around to see the Baratheon boy still clutching his hammer.

 

“Go on,” Sansa said, her amusement helping to ease some of her sadness. Arya glanced at Bran and nodded to Sansa before running into the blacksmith’s arms.

 

“Least somebody’s fucking happy,” said Sandor.

 

Sansa examined his face, looking from the still pink scars to the short beard peppered with gray, to the fresh scratch on his cheek, and finally to his brown eyes.

 

“Used to be you couldn’t look at me,” said Sandor.

 

“That was a long time ago, and I’ve seen a lot worse than you since then,” she said, almost sadly. “Besides, your eyes are different.”

 

“What?”

 

“It was never your scars that scared me back then; it was your eyes.” Sansa still remembered how frightened she’d been of him. “They used to be filled with such rage, such hate,” she said gently. “Something has changed in you.”

 

“Nothing’s changed in–”

 

“Violence is a disease,” said Bran. “You don’t cure a disease by spreading it to more people.”

 

Sandor looked taken aback before quickly recovering. “They were right about you,” Sandor said as he pointed at Bran. “Look into your bullshit visions and you’ll see that Ray was a bloody fool and you’ll see that nothing about me changed, especially not by some dumb fucker’s preaching.”

 

Sansa ducked her head as she smiled.

 

“Am I fucking funny to you?” Sandor spat.

 

“You once told me that a dog would never lie to me, yet here you are, lying.” Sansa lightly shook her head at Sandor’s confusion. “I suppose that means you’re not a dog anymore, just as I am no longer a Little Bird. Your anger has been tempered, Sandor Clegane, I can see that.” Sansa cupped his face with her right hand and leaned up to peck him on his scarred cheek. “You shall always have a place in Winterfell.”

 

Sandor stomped off soon after and Sansa stayed with Bran, watching Arya and Gendry. The sun was shining between the two figures, but their joined foreheads blocked the light.

 

“They’re in love,” Bran observed. Sansa turned to look at her little brother. “They just don’t know it yet.” Bran turned his head to two large figures with blond hair glowing in the sun. “But they do.” Sansa squinted at them and her brow furrowed.

 

“Brienne and Ser Jaime?” Sansa asked, bewildered.

 

“She’s Ser Brienne now. They’ve been in love for some time, but the dawn was the one to show them.” Bran looked to her then. “Their wedding will show you.”

 

Sansa tried to parse his meaning as she wheeled him over to where Tyrion was speaking with his brother and Brienne.

 

“–ink you’ve ever looked worse, dear brother,” said Tyrion. Sansa pulled up next to them and gave Brienne a short hug.

 

“That’s because you didn’t see me at my worst.”

 

“Are you all right, my lady?” Brienne asked.

 

“I am,” she said.

 

“Your ribs are broken,” Tyrion pointed out, sounding exasperated.

 

“I know that, Lord Tyrion,” said Sansa. “I’m alright. Are you hurt, Ser Brienne?”

 

“Only flesh wounds, nothing to worry about.”

 

“And Podrick?”

 

“He’s quite alright as well,” Brienne assured her.

 

“The boy deserves a knighthood,” said Jaime. “Haven’t seen a squire fight like that since I was a squire.”

 

“Always the humble one, you are. But I do believe you’re right,” said Tyrion. “Pod!”

 

“There has never lived a more loyal squire,” Bran said, and Sansa believed him. Podrick had always been so kind to her.

 

Podrick stumbled out of a crowd of people with a wineskin in his grasp. Blood had plastered his hair to his forehead and was caked all over his face, more than even Brienne and Ser Jaime.

 

“Brienne, I think you should do the honors,” said Ser Jaime. When Brienne looked confused, he continued. “I told you any knight could make another knight. He is your squire, you should be the one to knight him.” Sansa looked at the way Brienne’s eyes watered and then she squinted at Jaime, who looked only at Brienne.  

 

“Would you like that, Pod?” Brienne asked, voice hoarse.

 

“Very much, Ser,” was his answer, the last word watery.

 

If there was any doubt left in her mind that Bran spoke for true about Brienne and Jaime, the looks that they shared while she knighted Pod was enough. When it was done, Tyrion escorted the newly knighted Podrick away for a celebration and Sansa charged Brienne with taking Bran to his rooms so that she was left alone with the Kingslayer.

 

“Lady Stark, I offer my condolences for your losses,” Ser Jaime said politely.

 

“Have you told her that you’re in love with her?” Sansa asked. She enjoyed his shock immensely.

 

“Pardon?”

 

“Brienne, have you told Brienne you’re in love with her?” Sansa repeated.

 

“I- I…” Jaime fumbled for his words, apparently resigning his efforts when Sansa held her gaze firm. “I’m going to, later today.”

 

“Good.” Jaime’s brow knitted together. “You should tell her before it’s too late - I assume Tormund will be proposing sometime soon. She deserves to be happy, Ser Jaime. She’s in love with you, only the gods know why, but she is. And I think you can make her happy.”

 

“Thank you, Lady Sansa.”

 

“And Ser Jaime?” She began just as he went to leave. “My sister killed the Night King. She shall have no trouble killing you should you break my sworn shield’s heart.”

 

Ser Jaime gave her a wide smile. “Yes, my lady.”

 

Sansa watched him go and took a deep breath as she surveyed her home. It would take weeks to gather up all the dead, and months to repair the damage to the castle. She would have to start right away, but for now she simply stood and basked in the light of the dawn.

 

“Lady Stark?” Came Ser Davos’ voice. She turned her gaze to him and smiled.

 

“I’m happy to see you well, Ser Davos,” said Sansa.

 

“And I you, my lady,” he said. “Did your sister make it?”

 

“Yes she did.” His relief was visible. “She killed the Night King.”

 

“She did?” Davos asked, struck with awe. Sansa answered him with a nod. “I saw her fight in the battle, it was like… like she was…”

 

“The wind?” Sansa supplied.

 

“Exactly. Who taught her to fight?”

 

“No one,” she said.

Chapter Text


Jaime

 

Jaime winced as he struggled to remove his golden hand and then dropped it impetuously onto the desk. He rubbed at the blisters that had formed from the constant chafing and sighed, shrugging off his tunic without untying the laces. He was covered in scratches and scrapes and bruises, but he – remarkably – had no serious injuries. Still he grimaced when he eased into the bath that was drawn for him, the hot water stinging his open wounds.

 

He sighed as the warmth seeped into his skin then down into his muscles and soon he was dozing off. His muscles ached as though he fought for weeks when it had only been a few hours, and exhaustion weighed down his very bones.

 

I’m getting too damn old for this, he thought as he wavered in and out of consciousness. I must needs settle down after this is over.

 

The thought of ‘after’ was a jest in his mind for he was most certainly going to die in the next war, yet those blue eyes never failed to haunt him when he considered it. Those blue eyes and a vision of Tarth beaches… where he made castles out of sand underneath the shimmering sun. It would never be more than a dream.

 

A knock startled him out of his almost-sleep and he winced at the chilly water.

 

“Ser Jaime?” Said Brienne. “Could I speak with you?”

 

“Enter,” he answered, raising his arms out of the murky water to rest on the tub.

 

Brienne was clean and dressed in a fresh tunic and trousers, not a speck of grime to be seen on her person. Her face reddened in a way that delighted Jaime when she glanced into the bath.

 

“It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, my lady,” he said, the memory of her body unwillingly coming to mind. Perhaps she was thinking of Harrenhal as well, for she stood motionless at the door. “Could you shut the door before I catch a cough?” That was enough to snap her out of whatever it was she’d been thinking and she quickly closed the door, averting her eyes.

 

“Should I come back another time?” The color in her face suited her, and the satisfaction of making her blush suited him better still.

 

“No, this is as good a time as any other,” said Jaime. “Could you hand me that towel?” Brienne held it out for him and he stood in all his nakedness before he took it, eyes never leaving hers.

 

“I’d ask you to towel me dry if I thought you wouldn’t disembowel me,” he said, giving her a smug smile when she frowned in anger.

 

“I’ll come back later,” she said through gritted teeth.

 

“Wait,” said Jaime. She was in a poor mood for jokes, it seemed. But then, when was she ever not? “I meant no offense, ser.” He raised his arms in surrender and the towel went with them, leaving him bare. “I’m just quite poor at these things.”

 

She was pointedly not looking at him so he finished drying himself in defeat. He was getting better at dressing himself but it still took him longer than was normal and he could sense her growing discomfort.

 

“If you cannot even dress yourself properly, how did you survive that battle?” Jaime chuckled as he continued to struggle with his laces.

 

“As I recall, I had a brave knight looking out for me,” he said, then grinned at her scowl. “I’d never have survived without you,” said Jaime, more sincerely this time. He wasn’t only referring to the previous night.

 

“Nor I without you, Ser Jaime.” Brienne looked away and they didn’t speak after that.

 

“Do the people of House Tarth’s hair never darken in the winter?” He asked to break the tense quiet.

 

“No, never,” she replied, visibly grateful for the change in conversation.

 

“Why is that?” He was genuinely curious. “A Lannister needs the sun to keep their golden hair.” Jaime finished the last of his laces and she gave him an indifferent shrug.

 

“People say it’s our Targaryen blood,” she said as if discussing the weather.

 

“You have Targaryen blood?”

 

“It’s very distant but yes.” Brienne huffed. “I didn’t come here to talk about my ancestors.” Jaime smiled and sat on the edge of his bed so he could look up at her.

 

“I’m listening,” said Jaime.

 

“Good. I– I want to know if we can count on you in the next war.” His smile faded. “You have fulfilled your oath to us and are not honorbound to remain on our side.”

 

He had never even considered returning when he climbed on that horse, though he supposed he hadn’t the impression he’d be alive to return.

 

“If I return to King’s Landing now, I’m not sure my sister won’t have the Mountain crush my head in like Oberyn bloody Martell.”

 

“You did not part on good terms,” Brienne said, a question.

 

“I haven’t been on good terms with her in a very long time. Even if I was, I wouldn’t want to go back,” said Jaime, not wanting to talk about Cersei any longer. Brienne gave a quick, solitary nod but didn’t speak. “Do you– do you want me to go back to my sister?”

 

“No!” Brienne shouted quickly, blushing. “I know there is no oath binding you to the North, but you are a valuable ally and losing you would be a great loss for us.”

 

“Am I just an ally to you?” Jaime asked, voice barely above a whisper.

 

“What?” Brienne nearly spat the word and Jaime looked up at her, pleading. “You know that I… you know that you mean more to me than that.”

 

“Then who am I to you?” Jaime barely heard the words himself. “If not an ally, what?”

 

“Jaime, don’t.” His brow furrowed as he looked back and forth between her eyes, lips parted. She thinks I’m mocking her, he realized.

 

He stood from the bed and took one step before falling into a kneel at her feet, just as she had done hours before when he had tapped her shoulders three times and made her a knight. Tormund could talk all he wanted but it was Jaime who knighted her, it was him who had given her this. He had memorized every detail; the clink of her armor as she walked to him as a woman walks to her bridegroom, the way the tears in her eyes shone in the firelight, and how she looked at him like he hung the stars. It was the first time he’d ever seen her smile – really smile, and he was the one who put it there.

 

It had felt as though they were the only two people in the world. It would’ve been enough to die after that, yet he still drew breath and the woman he loved was standing right in front of him.

 

“Brienne, I– I told you I’m not the fighter I used to be.” This is your chance. “I’m getting old, Brienne, and any battle could be my last. When I rode north, I didn’t think I was going to survive the war, but I came anyway.” Jaime took a deep breath and craned his neck up to meet her watery sapphire eyes. “I came to Winterfell so I could fight beside you, so I could die by your side if need be, so I could die for you. You are… I want to fight beside you in every battle you see, not for the Stark’s or Lannister’s or the bloody Dragon Queen, but for you.”

 

A single tear slipped down her cheek and he wanted to kiss it away, he wanted to kiss her.

 

“Why?” She asked through her gasp, incredulous. He wanted to laugh.

 

“Because I’m in love with you, Ser Brienne of Tarth,” he said, and it was so easy to say that he wondered why he hadn’t months ago. Jaime could hear her sharp intake of breath, but he didn’t stop – he stood up to look at her eye-to-eye. “During the battle I thought I was going to lose you, and… and the thought of losing you was like the thought of my heart being torn from my chest. That heart – the heart that beats inside me – it belongs to you, Brienne, no matter how hard I tried to let you go. That’s why I want to fight for you, that’s why I rode north. It's why I gave you that sword and it’s why I jumped into that pit.”

 

Brienne looked into his eyes, seemingly searching them for falsehood. “You can’t mean that,” she said, choking on the words.

 

“I do,” said Jaime. “I do. But I– I am not a good man, Brienne. I have sinned more times than I care to remember and I have no right hand, no castle, no people, not a thing to give you but my heart. It will always be yours, I wanted you to know that before it’s all over. You deserve a better man than me. Hells, even that Tormund would be a better match.”

 

‘A better match’?!” Brienne was suddenly very angry, and the grasp at his tunic was strong enough to rip the fabric. “Is that what you think I want?” Her hands were shaking.

 

“I think you want an honorable man by your side,” Jaime breathed. “Someone better than me.”

 

“You’re right,” said Brienne. Jaime gave a single, short nod and bit the inside of his cheek. “I do want an honorable man… I want you.”

 

Jaime opened his mouth to protest but then Brienne was crashing her lips against his and he felt like he was flying. She didn’t know what she was doing – their teeth clashed and her tongue was sloppy, but it was the best kiss he’d ever had. He cupped her head with his hand and smiled against the kiss until they had to stop. But when he looked at her, looked at the most honorable woman in Westeros, he couldn’t forget all the things she didn’t know about him any longer. Jaime’s smile fell, and he stepped away. He hated the devastation clear on her face, hated that he made her look like that.

 

“You don’t know what kind of man I am, Brienne, you don’t know what you’re doing,” Jaime said, forcing the words out. He stumbled as he backed into a table to get away from her – to stop himself from just kissing her.

 

“I know well enough,” said Brienne. “I know I love you,” Jaime’s breath turned sharp at her admission, “and I know you love me, what more is there to know?”

 

Everything. The things I’ve done, Brienne…” he breathed. “How many oaths broken, how many injustices?”

 

“You’re a different man now, we both know that.”

 

“I’m sure that’s quite comforting to the people whose lives I ruined,” said Jaime.

 

“Well it’s enough for me.” He shook his head.

 

“It wouldn’t be if you knew.”

 

“Then tell me,” she said, voice even, “if that’s what it takes.”

 

He didn’t want her to know everything; he knew she would never love him once she knew, yet he couldn’t live with himself if she didn’t. Jaime looked to the floor – he couldn’t look at the disgust that she would have once he began to talk.

 

“When I was made a Kingsguard, I listened to Aerys fucking Targaryen raping his wife and I did nothing, because Arthur Dayne told me to.” Queen Rhaella’s screams still haunted his nightmares. “I could’ve marched into their chambers and killed the king – it would’ve been the right thing to do – but I valued my life more than saving the queen. When I finally got the balls to kill him, it was at the cost of three innocent lives. See, I was meant to be protecting Rhaegar’s wife and children the day I killed the Mad King, and I wasn’t there to save them from that damned Mountain.”

 

“That wasn’t your fault,” Brienne said before he could continue.

 

“Let me finish.” Jaime took four deep breaths. “I– I… seven years ago, when a ten year old boy climbed up that broken tower here in Winterfell, he saw me fucking my sister and I pushed him out of the tower for it. And I– and Joffrey and Tommen and Myrcella were my children, born of my seed, born of my sin. I loved them, Brienne. Even after all the things Joffrey did I still loved him, and even after all the things Cersei did I still loved her. I always knew what she was, yet I loved her anyway. Cersei and I, we… we had been sleeping with each other since we were ten years old.” Jaime continued through Brienne’s sharp inhale. “I loved her and I hated her, and she loved and hated me. When I was Robb Stark’s prisoner, I killed my own cousin without a second thought to get back to her. I would’ve killed every bloody man in Riverrun to see her again. What’s the worst thing you’ve done, hmm? Killing a damned fly?” By the end of it his breathing was ragged and his eyes were wet.

 

“Is that it?” Asked Brienne. When Jaime looked back up at her in shock, her eyes did not give away her feelings.

 

“‘Is that it’?!” Jaime spat, addled. “Do you need to hear more to understand what kind of man I am? I’ve done plenty more bad things but I think those were the godsdamned highligh–”

 

“Do you still love her?” The question startled him and he wavered on his feet. Brienne’s eyes were pleading.

 

Do you? He asked himself.

 

He breathed, “No,” and a weight lifted from his shoulders. “A part of my love for her died with my sword hand, and with each inch of love for her gone, another love grew. Any love I had left for her died when the Great Sept of Baelor lit up in green flames.”

 

Brienne took two great strides and kissed him hard enough to bruise, letting his tongue explore her mouth until she learned how to reciprocate, only pulling away when they needed air.

 

“Are you–?” Jaime said, and he felt Brienne’s puffs of hot air on his mouth. “Are you sure about this?”

 

Jaime knew she deserved better than he and now Brienne knew too, but he could allow himself to hope she would make this mistake.

 

“I’ve never been more sure about anything,” was Brienne’s answer.

 

Brienne knew what kind of man he was, knew his darkest sins, yet still she wanted him.

 

Jaime let out a sigh of relief through his smile, launching himself at her and kissing like it was his last day on earth. She got better at it by the second, and he grew happier by the second. She wants me, he thought, tasting the love of his life. Brienne of Tarth wants me. I don’t deserve her but she wants me and I’ll do everything possible to make her happy.

 

“I don’t– I’ve never kissed anyone before,” she said when they broke apart, breathless. Jaime chuckled against her mouth.

 

“I’ve never kissed a knight before, so I’d say we’re even.” Jaime gazed down at her rare smile and loved that he put it there, loved the thought of putting it there till the end of his days. Their next kiss was rougher. “You are the most fantastic woman I’ve ever known,” he said, resting his forehead on hers. “Just do what feels good.”

 

Glasses shattered on the stone as Brienne pushed him against the table with the force of her kiss.

 

“I love you, Jaime,” she whispered. His heart wanted to burst as tears began to fall.

 

Jaime had never known love could be such a pure thing as the love he felt for Brienne. He may have given almost all of his years to Cersei but this love… this love felt like it had been tearing at his heart for centuries. It felt so right.

 

“Marry me?” He croaked.

 

Brienne pulled away and Jaime worried he had gone too far until she lifted him up into the air by the backs of his thighs and carried him around the bed.

 

“Oh,” he gasped, an unfamiliar feeling blooming in his gut. She dropped him on top of the furs and the bed bounced. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so aroused in my entire life.”

 

Jaime shrugged off his shirt and propped himself up on his elbows to see Brienne hesitating where she stood.

 

“I want to marry you,” she said. Jaime’s lip wobbled, then he wanted to laugh at the thought of his father finally getting what he wanted. “And I… I want this. But I don’t know what I’m doing.”

 

Jaime stood and captured her lips in another kiss, more gentle this time.

 

“I’ll show you.” Jaime helped her out of her shirt and winced at the freshly bandaged wounds. He ran his hand along her many scars; he caressed her three pronged claw scars, the bite marks, the long healed white scars and the fresh pink ones. The last scar he touched was the one on her lip, the one he could feel when he kissed her.

 

“Do you always have your chest binded like this?” Jaime asked, thumbing the cloth.

 

“I don’t ever want to be ill-prepared for a fight,” she said, looking away. “And I can’t exactly wear a bloody corset under my armor.”

 

Jaime laughed at the image of Brienne in a corset and began to undo the binding. “A small mercy I suppose,” said Jaime. “It’d take me a century to take off a corset with one hand.”

 

He slowly unwrapped her breasts from their binding, listening to her breathing quicken. Her breasts sprung free and Jaime rubbed the binding’s indentations out of her skin, her small gasps going straight to his cock. “So beautiful,” he murmured. He took one of her breasts in his mouth and delighted in her moan. “I want to know every inch of your skin.”

 

“Jaime,” she said impatiently, and he reluctantly pulled away.

 

“Could you–?” Jaime began, suddenly sheepish. “Could you do that thing again?” Brienne gave him a rare smile and lifted him in the air, her breasts pressed against his bare middle. Jaime had never felt this way before, but now he was addicted and determined to feel more of it. “Lay me down and get on top,” he beckoned.

 

“This isn’t the way it’s usually done,” she observed, obeying him anyway. She straddled him and Jaime bucked up against her trousers, drawing a moan out of her.

 

“No, it isn’t,” agreed Jaime. “But what about us is usual? I want you to be on top.”

 

Brienne seemed to concur because she undressed to her smallclothes and began to ride him like a horse. Jaime felt like he was six and ten once more, moaning and groaning like a maiden. It had been so long since he’d wanted a woman as much as he did now. And want her he did.

 

“Brienne, if you don’t do something about my trousers I’m going to make a mess of them,” he said, smirking at her blush. She slid them off and then made a face at his smallclothes before tearing them right off him, throwing them across the room towards the shattered glass. His cock sprung free and grew even harder against her, unused to the sheer power of the woman above him. “Oh, Gods, Brienne!

 

“Are you alright?” She asked genuinely. Jaime laughed and sat up with her in his lap, kissing from her breasts all the way up to her lips.

 

“I’m not alright, I’m bloody marvelous,” said Jaime. He looked up into her blue eyes and cupped her face with his hand before capturing her lips in the most loving kiss he’d ever experienced. When he pulled away a few tears fell from his eyes. I’ve never cried during sex before, he thought. No, this isn’t sex, this is making love. “I've wanted this for so long, Brienne. And I’ve never wanted my right hand more than I do now. I want to feel every single part of you.”

 

Brienne was silently crying too when she lowered her hand to grasp his stump, pulling it up to rest on her left cheek. “Then feel,” she whispered. Jaime gasped and a sob broke free from his throat with it. He buried his face in her neck where the bear’s scars were before letting himself weep, lowering his arms to rest his hand on the small of her back and his stump around her middle. She wrapped her long arms around him and put her cheek against his hair, whispering soothing words of comfort.

 

“Oh, Jaime,” she said, regretful. “When I said I wanted to marry you, I meant all of you.” That only made him weep harder. “I hate that bloody golden hand, y’know. It hides who you are– it hides a part of you from me that I love.”

 

Brienne pulled him away and reached around herself to take his stump in hand. He squinted through his tears at her as she leaned down and laid kisses along the scar and around it, and Jaime could see no hint of disgust. If she was disgusted, she hid it very well.

 

“It doesn’t– it doesn’t bother– bother you?” Jaime hiccuped, trying and failing to get his emotions in check. Brienne shook her head.

 

“Of course not,” she said. “It’s a part of you. How could I be bothered by a part of you?” Jaime couldn’t understand how she could think that, but he knew she was a terrible liar. Cersei never bothered to hide her disgust at his stump and he never blamed her, for he was disgusted by it as well.

 

He put his hand on one side of her face and his stump on the other as tears flowed, taking her lips into a passionate kiss that he hoped portrayed his feelings.

 

“I’m– I’m sorry for crying,” he said, wiping away his tears.

 

“I’ll make it better,” she said, rolling her hips. Jaime moaned and suddenly his cock was hardening again.

 

“Yes,” he gasped.

 

She ripped off her own smallclothes and Jaime groaned at the wetness against his manhood. He reached his hand down to her golden curls and rubbed at her bud, smiling when she half-shouted. He rubbed circles into it until Brienne was gasping and thrusting her hips against his thumb. She batted his hand away and lifted herself up on her knees over his lap, sitting down on his cock in one fluid motion.

 

“Brienne,” he groaned, overwhelmed by her slick heat. His thrusts were met with no resistance but that was no surprise since Brienne had been riding horses for the better part of her life.

 

He found her bud again and rubbed it until she was moaning and sliding up and down on him. He picked up his pace and she shouted as the heat around his cock spasmed and she went slack against him. But then she pushed him against the bed and adjusted herself on top of him and all he could do was lay back and watch her as she rode him like her life depended on it. Jaime was never very religious, but he felt like worshipping this woman as he held her thighs and watched as her mouth opened and her eyes wrinkled as she held them shut.

 

The old wooden frame under them began to groan and creak with the force and weight of them – two heavily built warriors fucking desperately – until there was a snap of wood breaking and the bed collapsed. Jaime laughed as she gasped and fell on him, the bed forming a ‘V’ against the collapsed frame.

 

“Shit,” she grunted and Jaime laughed all the harder.

 

“I’d like to break every bed in Winterfell with you, Ser,” he breathed, a breathless laugh falling from his lips.

 

“We should stop, we can’t continue on the bed.”

 

“Perish the thought,” he murmured. He rolled them over twice so Jaime’s back was against the cold stone floor and she was still straddling him. “We’ll continue on the floor, the wall, or the table – anywhere is good enough,” he said, massaging her thighs and receiving a hum of approval.

 

She lowered her hand down to her bud and rubbed herself as she began to bounce up and down on his cock again, chanting his name with each thrust. The sight was enough to send him over the edge and he practically screamed her name as he finished. His tears never ceased to escape the corners of his eyes but they were tears born of overwhelming love and he didn’t care.

 

Jaime sat up and rolled them over so he was on top, sliding out of her and smirking at her protest. He crawled down her until his mouth was over her curls and devoured her with his tongue. He slipped his fingers into her and suckled at her bud, trying not to smile when she dug her fingers into his hair to hold him there. He could taste himself in her but he couldn’t care less with the noises she was making. But then she surprised him again when she flipped them back over with her legs and knelt over his face. He moved his hand to her breasts and simply let her ride his tongue.

 

It’s like we’re sparring, he thought. I’m going to make love with this woman every day until I die.

 

A few of her curls tickled his nose as he breathed through it, overwhelmed by her scent. When she clenched around his tongue Jaime was hard again, and he wanted to retract his earlier statement about getting old. Apparently she was making him young again. She rolled over on the floor and Jaime crawled up and kissed her.

 

“I’m sorry for acting like that,” she said with a blush, as if she hadn’t just used him like a toy. Jaime wanted her to use him again.

 

“You are the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen,” Jaime said. “And that was… that was amazing.”

 

“Truly?”

 

“Can we… can we do that again?” Asked Jaime. “I’ve never been the– never been on the bottom before.”

 

“And you liked it?”

 

“I loved it.” Jaime turned a bit red. “But this floor is cold.”

 

Brienne nodded and Jaime gasped as she simply picked him up, standing with him in her arms.

 

“You like this,” she said, a question. Jaime nodded and closed his eyes.

 

She walked across the room like he weighed nothing and put him up against the wall by the fireplace, holding him by the back of his thighs. He let his legs dangle on either side of her, laying his head against the wall as he let her hold him. This woman is going to be the death of me, he thought as she rammed into him over and over. She kissed him passionately, then kissed down his neck and collarbone, leaving marks as she went. Let them see. Let them see that I belong to her.

 

“Brienne, Brienne, Brienne,” he chanted like a prayer, feeling utterly under her control.

 

He wrapped his legs around her waist and pulled her in with each thrust, gasping when she used one free hand to caress his balls. He tried to grab onto something and ended up yanking down a sconce but he didn’t care, instead he tangled his hand in her hair and rested his stump on her back.

 

“I’m in love with you, Jaime Lannister,” she said. “After all this we can go to Tarth and sail along the Sapphire Isles and play on the beach with no one to come between us.” Jaime screamed when he finished inside her.

 

Jaime whispered proclamations of love into her skin as they lay side by side that night until sleep carried him away.

Chapter Text

 

Tyrion

 

The Great Hall flooded with the survivors of the Battle for Winterfell as they gathered to break their fast. Once Tyrion made his way inside he surveyed the room, finding Northerners sitting with Unsullied and Dothraki alike. Atop the dais Jon sat next to Daenerys with Ghost at their feet, and beside Jon sat Rickon with Shaggydog. Tyrion frowned and searched the room again, finding that head of red hair among the trestle tables. Curious, he went to her.

 

“Not on the dais today?” He asked. Sansa turned and smiled when her gaze met his.

 

“Today I’m eating with my people,” said Sansa. Tyrion sat across from her and Ser Brienne. On Sansa’s left was Grey Worm and Missandei, their hands entwined on the table.

 

“Lady Stark was telling us about direwolves,” said Grey Worm. “Ghost is first wolf this one has seen.”

 

“Please, continue,” Tyrion said, pouring himself some wine. It was the only wine on any of the tables, he noticed. He frowned at it and then saw Sansa’s expression. Ah, he thought. Clever wolf.

 

“I was trying to explain the connection we Stark’s have with our wolves,” Sansa began. “It is like we share minds; I could always tell when my wolf was in distress, and when she died it was like losing a part of myself. Arya can warg into Nymeria and lead her pack of wolves on hunts. Jon and Rickon can warg into their wolves too, as Bran did with Summer before he died. When a catspaw assassin tried to kill Bran, his wolf knew he was in trouble and ran across the castle to him.”

 

“Is this why he cannot walk?” Missandei asked.

 

“No, Summer ripped out the assassin’s throat. Bran lost his legs before that, when he fell.” Sansa looked to Tyrion when she said that, and his chest tightened. She knows. “Come, Ghost,” she called.

 

All the foreigners turned their heads to warily watch the direwolf but none of the Northerners even spared a glance. Ghost trotted around the table to stand behind Sansa, and Grey Worm and Missandei turned in their seats. Ghost bowed his head and Sansa put her forehead to his. Tyrion could see his red eyes close as she scratched behind his white ears and the wolf hummed happily.

 

“It’s like we are bound to direwolves,” she said. “They can even understand what we say.”

 

“Truly?” Asked Missandei.

 

“Yes, I’ll show you,” said Sansa. “Ghost, give Missandei a kiss.”

 

Ghost went to Missandei, ignoring Grey Worm’s defensive stance, and sniffed her face before licking a stripe up her cheek. The Northerners did spare a glance then, and all observed as Missandei of Naath pet Jon Snow’s direwolf. The tension disappeared from Grey Worm’s shoulders and he, too, ran a hand through the wolf’s white fur. Tyrion noticed that Sansa’s eyes were not on the scene before her, but on the Northmen watching the two Essosi.

 

“I remember when Ghost was just a pup,” Tyrion said. Jon Snow was a pup then as well, he mused. “Have they always understood you?”

 

“Yes,” Sansa said immediately. “But they don’t just understand us – they feel what we feel. That’s probably why Nymeria attacked Joffrey and why Shaggydog is such a wild little thing.”

 

“Does that mean Ghost likes to brood and look forlorn all the time?” Tyrion inquired. Ghost looked at him and came around the table, snatching a sausage from his plate. “Hey!”

 

“Ghost, come ‘ere,” said Jon, amused. The direwolf returned to his master in two bounds and laid at Jon’s feet.

 

“I told you they understand us,” Sansa said with a smirk.

 

“This bond you share with wolf,” Grey Worm began, “it is like the Queen with her children.”

 

“Her children?” Sansa asked.

 

“Her dragons are her children,” Tyrion said, earning Sansa’s gaze. She looked confused for a moment before quickly hiding it. “She may not have labored, but she gave life to them all the same.”

 

“When Queen Daenerys lost Viserion, she said a part of herself died with him,” said Missandei. Sansa looked to Daenerys and Tyrion hoped that someday, somehow, Sansa would learn to like her.

 

“She is taking Ser Jorah’s death very hard,” Sansa observed.

 

“Jorah was good man, always there when the Queen needed him,” said Grey Worm.

 

“My father was going to execute him for selling slaves,” said Sansa, eyes turning back to Tyrion. “Queen Daenerys is known for her hatred of slavery.” It was a question.

 

“The Queen is a forgiving woman, Lady Sansa. Jorah proved himself to be worthy and she forgave him for his past sins.” Tyrion took a sip of wine and smiled. This is good, he thought. Maybe I can convince her.

 

“Queen Daenerys give second chances,” Grey Worm said. “She forgive Yara’s people for raping and pillaging, and Ser Jaime for killing her father.”

 

They ate silently until the Hound came stomping into the Great Hall. Tyrion frowned at Sansa’s fond smile.

 

“Sandor,” she called, and Tyrion’s frown deepened. Since when were they on a first name basis? The Hound grunted at her. “Come and sit with us, there is a seat for you.” Sansa gestured to the empty spot on Tyrion’s left, across from Brienne. The Hound stood still for a moment before obeying Sansa’s request. “Have you seen Arya this morning?”

 

“Why the fuck you asking me?” The Hound huffed. Tyrion scooted an inch away from him. “She robbed me and left me to die after this one,” he gestured to Brienne with his fork, “beat me bloody with a rock and pushed me off a cliff. So no, I didn’t see your little wolf bitch sister this morning.” The Hound stabbed a sausage and chewed on it like a rabid dog. Sansa never stopped smiling, but Grey Worm stood abruptly and grasped his dagger. Tyrion watched curiously as Sansa placed a hand on Grey Worm’s to stop him from drawing his weapon.

 

“Hound has insulted the Lady Arya Stark,” said Grey Worm. “Shall I cut out his tongue?” Tyrion chuckled against his wine glass.

 

“It’s alright, Grey Worm,” Sansa said. “Sandor is quite fond of my sister, truly.” The Hound huffed.

 

“Used to be that I protected you, not the other way around,” Clegane said through his mouthful of food. “Well I don’t need your bloody protection.”

 

“I married into the Lannister family,” Sansa said with a nod toward Tyrion. He raised his glass in acknowledgement. “Don’t you think I should at least try to pay this debt I owe you?” The Hound snorted.

 

“You don’t owe me any bloody debt,” grunted Clegane. “I didn’t do it to get paid.”

 

Tyrion was thrust back into a startlingly clear memory of the day of the riot in the capital; Tyrion had ordered Meryn Trant to find Sansa and the damned worm had refused, and then Sandor fucking Clegane had marched in with her over his shoulder. “Well done, Clegane,” he had said. “I didn’t do it for you,” the Hound had barked. If he didn’t do it for the people he served, and he didn’t do it to get paid…

 

I’ll have to think on that later, Tyrion thought.

 

“No, I don’t owe you a debt, but I’m going to try and pay it anyway.” After a long silence, Sansa sent Brienne a little smile and Tyrion squinted at her. “There’s many missing this morning; Arya and Gendry… Ser Jaime… I’m surprised you made it, Ser Brienne.” Tyrion and Sansa shared a smile, and Tyrion couldn’t resist.

 

“A fascinating mystery, indeed. Perhaps my brother overworked himself yesterday… too much physical exertion can be exhausting, ” Tyrion glanced pointedly at Brienne, “for an older man like him.”

 

As if on cue, his brother came up behind him and sat on his right.

 

“Ah, Jaime, we were just–” Tyrion started, his words dying in his throat when he looked up at his brother. He wore a low tunic that displayed an array of suckle marks all along his neck and collar. Jaime wore the most devilish grin he’d ever seen. “My Gods, Jaime, you look like you ran into an octopod.” Jaime chuckled and Tyrion noted the peculiar absence of his golden hand. Tyrion had not ever seen him without the bloody thing on, not even when he had first gotten back in the capital.

 

“Or a very enthusiastic whore,” the Hound added. “Been visiting the local br-?”

 

“We don’t have any septons in the North, Ser Jaime,” said Sansa, interrupting him. “Northern weddings are much shorter, and are held in front of the weirwood. If it can’t wait, you and Ser Brienne could be married in Winterfell in sight of the Old Gods.”

 

Tyrion turned to look at the newly knighted Brienne, who was blushing furiously and staring directly at her plate. Then he looked at his brother who was grinning madly at said knight.

 

“No, I don’t think it can wait at all,” Jaime said. He finally realized he’s in love with her. Tyrion was no fool, he’d seen the looks the two had given each other. It apparently only took a war against the dead for Jaime to get his head out of his arse.

 

“I think it’s a lovely idea,” Tyrion said. He’d never seen Jaime as happy as he looked now, never seen a smile as bright as the one he gave Brienne. Tyrion shared an amused look with Sansa and raised his glass to Brienne. “I like your prospects as a sister much better than Cersei’s.”

 

“I’d be honored to call you brother, Lord Tyrion,” said Brienne.

 

Tyrion thought back to that day in the dungeons - thought back to Oberyn Martell’s story. Tyrion never hated Cersei as much as Tywin, yet Cersei hated Tyrion more than anyone in the world. She was always so cruel, so hateful, but she was still his sister. His only sister. And now… now he would have another, a different sister who was kind and just.

 

“Yes, much better than Cersei,” he said to hide the lump in his throat.

 

“Then it’s settled?” Asked Sansa. Brienne and Jaime shared a look and Brienne was the one to confirm. “Good. A peaceful wedding is just what the North needs.” Tyrion noted her use of ‘peaceful’. “Though, I’m afraid resources are low, Ser Jaime, so you’ll have to make do with Brienne’s bed until we can afford a more… sturdy option,” said Sansa. Missandei giggled and the Hound snorted into his plate. Tyrion arched an eyebrow at his brother.

 

“I understand, Lady Stark,” Jaime laughed. “If need be we can make the floor our marriage bed.”

 

Jaime! ” Brienne hissed.

 

“I’ll not have my sworn shield with a back injury, Ser,” Sansa said with a sly smile.

 

“You don’t have to worry about that happening,” Jaime was practically purring and Tyrion covered his smile with his glass. “Not to her, at least.” The Hound suddenly burst into deep, bellowing laughter and people all around turned their heads. Missandei and Grey Worm were murmuring in Valyrian as Sansa chuckled.

 

“Brienne,” said Sansa once her plate was bare, “I’ll be in the crypt today should anyone need to speak with me.”

 

Sansa stood from the table and went up on the dais where she spoke a few words to Daenerys before leaving the hall. Tyrion saw the queen discreetly wipe her eyes and he went to her, concerned.

 

“Are you alright?” Tyrion asked. “What did she say?”

 

“She told me it was good that Ser Jorah died on his homeland fighting for his queen, and offered to send a few more of her men to Bear Island when they go to bury Lyanna Mormont so– so Jorah can lay with his family.” Jon held her hand under the table.

 

“We can spare a few days to fly up there and see them buried,” Jon offered.

 

Daenerys nodded, her eyes filling up with tears.

 

“Can I go?” Came Rickon’s voice, muffled over his food. “I’ve never been to Bear Island.”

 

“You’ve also never ridden a dragon before,” said Jon, stern.

 

“Tormund and Gendry got to ride a dragon!” Tyrion watched as Jon visibly caved in and relented to Rickon.

 

Jon took the queen away so she wouldn’t be seen crying and Tyrion was grateful Daenerys had someone while she grieved. Tyrion watched Ghost follow them and went to follow someone of his own.

 

He descended the stairs into the crypt and found Sansa kneeling in front of her father’s tomb. Tyrion watched curiously as she removed her gloves and began to put her father back in his resting place bone by bone.

 

“Should I– would you prefer some time alone, Lady Sansa?” He asked hesitantly, watching her continue as if he’d never spoke.

 

“I am never alone in the crypt,” she said quietly, as if she didn’t intend for him to hear it. “You may join me, my lord.”

 

“Thank you for what you did today, with Ghost and Missandei,” he said as he approached her. “What better way is there to make Essosi seem Northern to a Northerner, than to throw a direwolf into the mix?”

 

“Northerners are a stubborn lot,” said Sansa. “Ever since my father and the Red Wedding… they just haven’t trusted anyone not from the North.”

 

“And you have?”

 

“The Bolton’s were Northerners,” she said in lieu of an answer. “My people need a common cause, so they pit the North against everyone else. They forget that the Bolton’s were our countrymen. They forget that my mother was a Tully, that their queen was a Volantene. The North remembers what it wants to.”

 

“Well, we shall just have to remind them,” said Tyrion. “Should you be doing this by yourself?”

 

“It should be a Stark who does it. Rickon is too young, Bran is in a wheelchair, Jon is too busy, and Arya doesn’t need anymore grief. But it should be a Stark who does it,” Sansa said. “Or someone who belongs in our pack.” She turned to look at him, eyes imperceptible. “Would you help me?”

 

Tyrion pressed his lips together and nodded. “I would be honored, my lady.”

 

And so Tyrion removed his gloves and returned Ned Stark to his tomb.

 

“We’ll need to produce a lot of mortar to reseal all these tombs,” said Sansa. “The scouts have told me that tombs have been opened as far down as the collapsed levels.”

 

“We shan’t seal up this one,” Tyrion said. She frowned at him. “When the war is over your father’s head will be laid in his tomb.” Tyrion barely noticed the slight wobble of her lip.

 

“Joffrey made me look at it,” she told him. Tyrion sat back on his heels and sighed. Of course he did. “I almost killed him that day.”

 

“What?”

 

“Father’s head was dipped in tar to preserve it from rot, but I could still barely recognize it,” she said, almost absently. “He put my septa’s head on a spike too. She was a kind woman, always so proud of my stitches and my effortless courtesies.” She adjusted Ned’s cloak and rested her hand on his bony one. “Joffrey told me he was going to give me my brother’s head as well, and I told him that maybe Robb would give me his. On the battlements, there is a wallwalk without a parapet, and the ground is about seventy or eighty feet below. I was going to push him off, I didn’t care if I went with him or if Ser Meryn cut me down after it was done, I was so close to killing him.” Sansa looked up to the statue of her father before returning her gaze to Tyrion. “I hated Sandor Clegane a long time for stopping me. I was a weak little thing back then, but that day hardened me until my skin was no longer porcelain, but ivory. Whenever those heads haunted me, I would imagine Joffrey falling. I’d imagine his head cracking open and spilling onto the stone, I’d picture his limbs twisting and bending in all the wrong directions, and I’d see the life leaving his eyes… and I’d imagine his wormy little lips turning white.”

 

“Why are you telling me this?” Tyrion asked, bewildered by her admissions. This was probably the most Sansa had ever spoken to him.

 

“Did they tell you what happened to my late husband?” She asked instead of answering.

 

“He died in the Battle of the Bastards as I recall.” Tyrion didn’t like the sudden turn of their conversation.

 

“No, he didn’t,” said Sansa. “Jon was going to beat him to death but he left him for me. I could’ve had him executed, could’ve sentenced him to a clean death, and instead I had him put in the kennels and I released his own starved hounds on him. When I killed Ramsay Bolton, I enjoyed it,” she said. “I watched his dogs tear off his jaw, I watched them rip into him, I watched his brains spill out and his chest open up… and I enjoyed it. It brings a smile to my face to think about it. My father always said that a good man never enjoys killing.” Again, she looked up at his statue. “Does this make me a bad person, Tyrion? Do you think it’s dishonorable that I enjoyed the thought of killing Joffrey, that I enjoyed watching Ramsay and Littlefinger die?”

 

“Sansa, these men,” Tyrion began, taking her hands in his, “were terrible, evil people. They deserved what they got, and you deserve to enjoy that. There is nothing bad about that.” He then pursed his lips. “Why have you asked for my opinion on this?”

 

“Because I know you’re a good person.” He felt the lump in his throat bob up and down as he stifled a gasp. “You’re one of the most honorable people I know, and I trust your judgment.”

 

From her, it was the highest praise she could possibly give him.

 

“I’ve been called a lot of things, Sansa,” he said hoarsely, “and honorable is not one of them.”

 

“Well it is now; I’ve just called you that,” said Sansa, the corner of her lips twitching. “I’ve known many dishonorable people over the years, and you are not among them.”

 

Tyrion pulled his hands away, remembering the looks they shared hiding behind the very tomb they were knelt in front of. His heart ached in a way it hadn’t in a very long time, but overshadowing the ache was a deep, consuming fear. Fear of the way Sansa made him feel.

 

“Thank you,” was all he could say.

 

“You are welcome, my lord,” Sansa said with a smirk. She stood and went to the next body, him following close behind. “This must be my Uncle Brandon.” Tyrion looked at the corpse, wondering how she could come to that conclusion from just a pile of bones until he noticed that a few bones of the neck were broken. She wrapped up Brandon Stark’s bones in the cloak and carried it to a tomb with a stern man’s statue. Together they neatly tucked the bones in their rightful place.

 

“I wish I’d known more about them – my father’s family,” she said.

 

“Your father didn’t speak of them?” Tyrion asked.

 

“It saddened him to talk about them,” she explained. “All I knew, I knew from other people.”

 

They spent the rest of the day in the crypt, with Sansa identifying the corpses and Tyrion helping to put them back. Sansa looked at the last one and Tyrion could see the dread in her eyes, so he took her hand and squeezed it as they went to the body of Sansa’s direwolf. The wolf was naught but bones yet Sansa knelt down and took her in her arms regardless, rocking her back and forth. All Tyrion could do was put a hand on her back and watch as she kissed her wolf’s skull.

 

“She was so sweet,” she said, and then she was sobbing. “She was so innocent, so sweet , my little Lady. I loved her, I loved her so much and Joffrey took her from me. He took everything from me! I don’t care if it makes me a bad person, I enjoyed watch him choke to death. I wish it was a slower death, honor be damned.” She put her forehead against Lady’s and wept against her. “I wish I had killed him, I would’ve ripped him apart with my own godsdamned hands!” Tyrion rubbed circles into her back as he whispered soothing words.

 

When she had cried all her tears, Tyrion helped her pick up Lady’s body and rest it inside her tomb. Then, she leaned down and laid a kiss on his forehead.

 

“Thank you for helping me today,” Sansa said, and Tyrion knew she wasn’t thanking him for physically helping her.

 

“Shall you give me a kiss every time I do something nice?” Tyrion asked with a small smile.

 

“Perhaps,” she said. “Let’s get some fresh air, they’re probably serving supper by now.”

 

They walked side by side and Tyrion was grateful when he noticed she was matching his pace with her much longer legs.

 

“How is your sister handling her new fame?” He asked.

 

“I don’t think she likes it overmuch,” Sansa said. “But she can’t hide from it with that mark on her neck. That Baratheon boy is good for her, I think.”

 

“Gendry Waters is a Baratheon ?” He asked, incredulous. She gave him her little smirk that Tyrion was beginning to love. Tyrion pictured Gendry in his mind and felt like an idiot for not making the connection sooner.

 

“Yes, he’s one of Robert’s bastards,” she said. “They’ve known each other since they were children. I suppose Robert got what he wanted in the end; a Baratheon boy with a Stark girl.”

 

“Perhaps there’s more than one wedding in our future.”

 

“Yes. He’s obviously deeply in love with her, but I don’t know about her. She’s so impossible to read,” Sansa was visibly perturbed by that. Then she looked down at him almost conspiratorially. “She told me that she has already taken him to bed.” Tyrion laughed.

 

“Good for her,” he said. “She deserves some happiness.”

 

“She does.”

 

“You do too, y’know. Deserve happiness, that is,” he said. I could try to make you happy, he thought, unbidden.

 

“Not very much makes me happy anymore, Lord Tyrion,” said Sansa, and she didn’t even sound sad about it.

 

“Margaery made you happy,” he said, almost to himself.

 

“And now she’s but dust.” Sansa stopped ascending the steps and he took one more before stopping. “I was in love with her for a time.” Tyrion ceased to breathe. “Does that bother you?”

 

“Of course not,” he said right away. “I just- I just didn’t know.”

 

“You don’t know a lot of things about me,” said Sansa.

 

“I would like to rectify that, if you would let me.”

 

Tyrion watched as Sansa clenched and unclenched her jaw as if chewing over his words, and he worried what it was she would eventually spit out at him. He wanted to know this woman, he wanted to learn everything about his wife… and there was something about her that made him want to tell her everything about himself.

 

“I would.” Sansa resumed climbing the steps and he followed, relieved. “Margaery was my only friend in King’s Landing, my knight in shining armor, my lungful of air after drowning for so long. She remained my friend even after the Tyrell’s plan to marry me to Loras fell through. She took me hawking and riding, walked with me in the gardens, sang with me in the sept, had lemoncakes baked for me… she sometimes invited me into her bed where we would spend the night whispering about nothing. She saved me from being married to Joffrey, but more than that she gave me hope again.”

 

“You would’ve been a fool not to love her,” Tyrion said. He thought about the Great Sept of Baelor exploding in green flames, about Margaery and Loras Tyrell inside it. Just another reason for Sansa to hate my sister.

 

“She comforted me when I worried about- about our wedding night,” said Sansa. “She reassured me and told me that you were quite experienced in bed, from what she’d heard.”

 

“She was right,” he said, almost sadly. “But my whoring days are over.”

 

“Shae was the last, wasn’t she?” Tyrion was the one to stop then, looking up at his clever wife.

 

“Yes, she was.” They entered the courtyard and crowds were bustling with work, carrying the dead out of Winterfell. “When we were married, I never…”

 

“I know.” Sansa let out a deep breath as her head swivelled, surveying her castle. “I’ll see you later, Lord Tyrion.”

 

He watched her fiery red hair sway as she left, off to command her people. He could feel eyes on him and he looked around until his gaze fell on Arya Stark, staring straight at him as she approached. Tyrion wondered if he should fear for his life.

 

“Hello, Lord Lannister,” said the little Stark. “You’re in love with her aren’t you?”

 

“Um, hello,” he started, and yes, he realized, he should fear for his life. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Don’t pretend to be stupid,” she said, holding her hands behind her back. “I know the way the minds of men work. Did they tell you how I got this?” Arya gestured to her neck. “I outwitted the Night King and I killed him. Before that, I outwitted Littlefinger and sliced his neck open. Before that, when I was just five and ten, I gouged out Meryn Trant’s eyes and slit his throat. The first time I killed someone I was barely one and ten. But my greatest accomplishment was slaughtering the Frey’s. Did you hear how they died?”

 

“No?” Tyrion said, fighting the urge to back away.

 

“I baked Walder Frey’s sons into a pie and made him eat it. Then I opened his throat and took his face from his head, and–”

 

“You what?”

 

“–then I wore his face as I poisoned the men who slaughtered my mother and my brother. Killing you would be the easiest thing in the world.” Arya rested her hand on the pommel of her sword in warning. “My sister has gone through a lot, you see,” Arya said, voice almost a hiss. “She has more scars than I do, and I have a great deal. She has suffered at the hands of cruel men for many years. Don’t become one of them, and you can keep your head.”

 

Quick as she had appeared, Arya Stark sauntered off. Tyrion was left to pity Gendry should he ever make the mistake of doing something she misliked.

 

He was still a bit frightened when his brother came up to stand by his side.

 

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Jaime remarked.

 

“I think I might’ve,” said Tyrion. He looked up at him and once again observed his suckle marks on display. Jaime looked like he was glowing. “You look utterly debauched, dear brother. And proud of it.”

 

“I am,” Jaime chuckled.

 

“Tell me about it,” Tyrion said with a curious grin.

 

“It was… it was the most incredible thing I’ve ever felt. I’ve never been with a woman like her before, she’s…” Nothing like Cersei, Tyrion heard him think.

 

“I demand details , big brother!” Tyrion said. “What’s Ser Brienne of Tarth like in bed?”

 

“That’s none of your business,” Jaime said through a grin.

 

“I haven’t been with a woman in years, just give me one little morsel,” he pleaded.

 

“You’re a dog, d’you know that?”

 

“I am the Imp , and I demand to know!” Jaime glared at him before sighing and looking up at the castle.

 

“She’s bloody fantastic in bed. I find it hard to believe she was a maiden.”

 

“Tormund will be jealous,” said Tyrion. “You saw the way he was with her, he so very badly wants to fuck her.”

 

“He’s going to be disappointed. I’m hers and she’s mine and I’m the only person she’s ever going to fuck.” To say his wording intrigued him would be an understatement. Tyrion squinted at him and barked out a laugh.

 

Ser Jaime Lannister , you didn’t do the fucking last night, did you?”

 

“She rode me like a horse so hard the bed broke,” he said reverently. Tyrion laughed the hardest he’d laughed in a very, very long time. “My chambers are a mess, it looks like an auroch had a rampage in there.”

 

“You must be exhausted,” he said, still laughing.

 

“Not at all, actually,” said Jaime. “She lifted me up like I was nothing , I felt like a damned maiden.”

 

“Oh, yes, Tormund will be very jealous. Heartbroken, even. That man would be happy if Brienne stepped on him, and you seem the same way.”

 

“She did a lot better than stepping on me last night. When you and Sansa work yourselves out you must ask her to ride your face, it’s amazing.”

 

“Why does everyone think I want to fuck Sansa Stark?”

 

“I don’t think that, I think you want to make love to her.” Tyrion sighed. “And I think she wants you to. Go ask the weird little Stark boy.” Jaime gestured to something behind himself and Tyrion followed the gesture to see Bran Stark staring at them.

 

“What is it with the Stark’s and their staring?” Tyrion shook his head at Jaime. “I’m not going to ask the boy if his sister wants me in her bed.”

 

“Then ask her yourself.”

 

Tyrion sighed as his brother left him, pinching the bridge of his nose. It seemed ignoring his feelings for Sansa Stark was not going to work.

 

Arya spoke for true, I am in love with her, he admitted to himself. Once he’d admitted it, a weight lifted from his shoulders and he marched right up to the still-staring Bran Stark.

 

“Would you help me with something?” He asked.

 

A slow smile spread across the boy’s face and it unnerved Tyrion. “I’ve been waiting.”

Chapter Text


Arya

 

The only skill that Arya had mastered to a greater degree than swordplay was the art of deception. The training she endured under the Faceless Men planted the seeds of deception so deep in her mind that lies and manipulation came as easily as breathing to her. But as she had learned to lie herself, she had also learned to spot a lie from another.

 

She would use the latter skill in her plan to evaluate the Dragon Queen and her prospects as a ruler. She didn’t want to kill the woman – she’d saved all their lives and had been there when she was needed the most – but Arya would not take any chances.

 

The queen’s smile was warm but her eyes were sad as she ushered Arya into her chambers. “Would you care for some water? Tea?” Asked the queen.

 

“Water is fine,” said Arya, taking the offered goblet. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

 

“Oh, Daenerys or Dany is fine. Your brother warned me not to call you ‘my lady’, Arya, so it’s only fair that you not call me by my titles.” Some of the sadness in her eyes was replaced with amusement. “I meant to speak with you yesterday – to thank you for what you did. If it weren’t for you, my child would’ve died for nothing and I wouldn’t have lost only Ser Jorah and my bloodriders. I know you only did it to save those you care for, and you did not do it for me or my people, but I am still in your debt, Arya Stark.”

 

Arya opened her mouth to tell her that she paid the debt already with the support of her dragons and armies, but decided to use this ‘debt’ to her advantage.

 

“There is a way you can pay that debt… Dany,” Arya said, testing the name on her lips.

 

“Name it,” said the queen.

 

“I have questions about you, about your rule. Answer them and consider the debt paid.”

 

Westeros was running low on competent rulers. Aerys and Joffrey were cruel, Robert was better at drinking and whoring than ruling, Renly was loved by the people yet hadn’t the mettle for war, Stannis was a good military commander but lacked kindness, Tommen was too kind and not aggressive enough, Cersei was too aggressive and cared not for anyone, and Jon… well, Jon didn’t listen to any advice.

 

Robb had been the best ruler out of all of them. He was loved by his people and feared by his enemies, he was a great military general that could hold his own against Tywin Lannister, he was kind with just enough aggressiveness, he cared for the small folk, he was honorable but he learned from Father’s mistakes, and he listened to Mother. He would’ve made a great king.

 

But Robb was dead and there was no point in mourning his would-be rule. Daenerys Targaryen was alive – with a good claim to the throne – and all outward appearances showed a good ruler. All Arya had to do was find out whether or not said appearances were for true.

 

“Answering a few questions hardly seems an equal trade,” said Queen Daenerys, “but nevertheless I shall answer them.”

 

Arya’s first question was quite dour for the hour of dawn. “What sparked your hatred for slavery?” Her hatred was not misplaced but Arya wondered if her being the Breaker of Chains was merely a political move. One of the only times Arya ever saw Father angry was when he was teaching them about slavery, telling them of the horrors slaves faced across the Narrow Sea, and why it should never be tolerated in Westeros.

 

“When I was but six and ten, my brother sold me to a Dothraki Khal. We grew to love each other and he learned to respect me, but I was his slave in the beginning. I was alone for a long time… alone but for my brother. I was weak and helpless, and Viserys should have protected me but instead he hurt me. He had been my king.” Daenerys paused when her voice began to rise. “Without his protection I had to protect myself, rely on myself. Why do the gods make kings and queens do you think, if not to protect the ones who can’t protect themselves?” There’s only one god, Arya thought. And He cares not for kings or queens. “After my brother died and left me his crown, I decided to be a better queen than he was a king.”

 

“So that is why you liberated Slaver’s Bay?” Arya asked. “Because you had been a slave to your husband and your brother didn’t protect you?” They were perfectly good reasons but Arya wanted to be sure.

 

“No. Those contributed to my want of liberation, but they’re not the only reasons. It wasn’t until I witnessed the terrors of Slaver’s Bay that I realized what I was meant to do. In Astapor, the masters crucified their rebellious slaves and lined them up on wooden platforms along what they called the Walk of Punishment. Missandei told me that the Good Masters placed them on display so slaves could look upon those who disobeyed. They had been peeled like a man might peel an apple.” Daenerys’ voice was rising again, and Arya could see the anger in her eyes burning hot like wildfire. “One man had an arm black with flies from fingers to elbow, flayed so deeply that you could see the red muscle and the white of bone beneath. That was the punishment for raising one’s hand against their owner. I offered water to one of them and he asked me to just let him die.” Her eyes were glazed over as if picturing the man she spoke of, but she focused on Arya after a moment and sipped her water. ”A good queen protects those who cannot protect themselves, so I killed the Good Masters and freed the slaves of Astapor. Then I went on to liberate Yunkai and Meereen.”

 

Arya was happy to find no trace of deception in her eyes. Good, she thought. Please pass the test.

 

“Why did you buy the Unsullied?”

 

“I needed an army. Ser Barristan disapproved because he was of the opinion that an army needs to love their leader – to be ready to die for them. Ser Jorah placed importance on the castration of the Unsullied, for men like them would do only as I commanded and would not rape or harm innocents in the heat of battle. I agreed with both of them.” Dany’s lips curled in a devious smirk. “So I bought all eight thousand of the Unsullied and gave them only one command before I freed them; kill the masters and anyone with a whip. None of them left when I gave them freedom to. I won an army that would not harm innocents, while winning both their loyalty and their love at the same time.”

 

Arya felt her lips spread into a wide grin. She had wondered why the slave soldiers – especially the one named Grey Worm – loved their queen so. She had not known this story. Arya wanted nothing more at that moment than to hit Jon over the head with a stick for his stupidity. He expected the Northerner’s loyalty– his family’s loyalty to his Dragon Queen, without giving a reason why other than her power. He had not given the North a reason to love her as they loved Father and Robb. But Dany just gave Arya a very big reason to love her.

Arya‘s third question was spoken through a smile. “Who taught you to rule?”

 

“Nobody, actually,” said Daenerys. “I was meant to be just my brother’s wife, not to rule. My mother died when I was very young – before she could teach me anything, and neither Viserys nor Khal Drogo were the ideal teacher. So I learned on my own. I’m still learning, actually. I took advice from Ser Jorah, Missandei, Lord Tyrion, and Ser Barristan… basically anyone I trusted. But the main thing that guided me was my sense of justice and what I perceived as right.”

 

“Do you think that’s the most important part of ruling? Justice?” Arya asked, but she didn’t wait for her to answer. “I was Tywin Lannister’s cupbearer for a time.” Arya watched Daenerys lift a curious eyebrow. “He enjoyed me. I was a highborn girl that looked like a boy, with short hair and breeches. He said I reminded him of his daughter.” Arya shook her head with amusement when she remembered how angry she’d been at that. “He would play games with me.”

 

“Lousy, foolish little whelp,” Tywin hissed as he threw the letter Arya had just delivered into the fire.

 

“My lord?” She could not stop her voice from coming out a squeak. Tywin looked from the fire to her and waved dismissively.

 

“No, not you, girl,” he said, “my idiot grandson. Pour two goblets of wine, would you?”

 

“Are you expecting someone?” Arya asked as she poured the wine.

 

“The second is for you,” said Lord Tywin. Arya blinked a few times before bringing a goblet to where he was seated in front of the fire. Tywin nodded to the other chair. “Go on, sit.” Arya squinted at him, searching for a trick. He resumed talking as soon as Arya sat. “Never should’ve left my daughter to her devices in the damned capital. I apparently misjudged her competency.”

 

“I thought it was your grandson giving you trouble,” Arya said, trying to calm herself under his scrutiny.

 

“It is. But I can’t blame the boy entirely for his… recklessness,” said Tywin. Arya watched him drink generously from his cup. “This is what happens when one isn’t given the proper discipline as a child.”

 

And your daughter? She wanted to ask. Do you blame her entirely for her recklessness?

 

“Did you discipline your children?” She asked instead. Tywin let out a sort of amused sound.

 

“My sister says I disciplined them too much.” He looked at her curiously. “I suspect your parents didn’t discipline you enough.”

 

“Maybe. My mother locked me in my chambers for a week when she caught me with a sword,” she said with a hint of a smile.

 

“And you went and picked it back up anyway,” he supplied. Arya nodded.

 

“If only my children went against me in so little a way. My youngest spends his time drinking and whoring, my other son would rather swing a sword for the rest of his days than marry and rule as he was born to, and my daughter loves nothing more than to rebel against me.” Tywin huffed. “I mistakenly thought she would use my lessons to raise her sons to be kings, and instead Joffrey hasn’t any brains and what little he does have he puts to cruelty.” Tywin turned his gaze to Arya and some of the anger left his eyes. “Tell me, what quality makes a good king?”

 

“Pardon, my lord?” She asked, running her finger along the ridges of the goblet.

 

“You heard. I’ve asked my children this before and I want to know what you think.” He was testing her, but Arya did not know what for.

 

“A king must have many good qualities to be truly good,” Arya said tentatively.

 

“True,” said Tywin. “But which is the most important?”

 

Arya thought for a moment. “Honor?”

 

“Mmm. King Daeron II was honorable. He was loved by his subjects for his honorable rule and his generosity, yet his inability to deal with the Great Bastards brought war to the realm. Was that honorable?” Arya shook her head and really thought before trying again. She remembered the history of King Jaehaerys and his wife Good Queen Alysanne, and tried to pinpoint what made them good rulers.

 

“Wisdom?” Arya had to blink a few times to be sure of what she was seeing; Lord Tywin was smiling at her.

 

“Yes,” said the Old Lion, and Arya was surprised to see shiny white teeth. Why keep them so clean if you never show them? She thought. “Mine own children could not answer that correctly in under five tries. Perhaps I would’ve been better off with you as a daughter.”

 

Arya shook the memory out of her head and drank from her goblet of water. “Which quality do you think is most important in a good ruler? Holiness, justice, honor, wisdom, kindness, or strength?” Dany drained the rest of her water while Arya waited for an answer.

 

“Wisdom,” she said. “A wise ruler knows when to be just, when to be kind or strong, when to show piousness, when to be honorable and when not to be.”

 

Arya had only one more question until she could be sure Dany passed the test. “Do you plan to take my brother Jon as your consort?” Arya forced herself not to laugh when the queen’s eyes widened.

 

“He told you?”

 

“No,” Arya said. “But he’s lousy at hiding things. So? Will he be your king?”

 

“I– I, uhh,” Daenerys fumbled. “Well he’s a bit short to be honest.” Arya did laugh then, and Dany followed suit. “But yes, I will take Jon Snow as my husband if he will have me. I have half a mind to take Yara Greyjoy as my consort, but I doubt Jon would appreciate having two wives.”

 

You’re like my sister, thought Arya with a grin. Arya wished Margaery still drew breath; she never got to meet the woman her sister loved. At least she got to meet the woman her brother loved.

 

“Do you love him?”

 

“Yes,” Dany said immediately. “More than I’ve loved anyone.”

 

“Good.” Arya was very pleased with Dany’s prospects as Queen, and as Jon’s wife. Arya did not trust in Jon’s judgement but she trusted her own, and she very much liked Dany. “I’d like to share with you my plans for the capital. I think I can make it so that when you march on King’s Landing, you will find open gates.”

 

A couple hours later, she and Dany walked arm in arm through the courtyard and outside the castle gates to join the group gathered to see the queen, Jon, and Rickon off.

 

“One more thing, Arya,” said Dany, pulling them to a stop. The queen fixed the collar on her shirt with a little smile. “I would name you to my Queensguard should you want it.” Arya couldn’t stop her eyes from widening. “I wouldn’t blame you for wanting to settle down after this is all over, but you shall always have a place with me.”

 

A Queensguard.

 

A knighthood had always been Bran’s dream, never Arya’s. She had wanted to know how to defend herself and bring justice to the world, yes, but never had she wanted to be a knight. When she was younger, all she ever wanted was to be like Father. She wanted to be lord of a castle or a holdfast, or be a member of the king’s council, or maybe even raise castles like Brandon the Builder.

 

But perhaps she could do good in the capital. That was what she wanted, wasn’t it? To bring justice to the smallfolk as she wasn’t able to do in Harrenhal, to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

 

“I’ll think about it,” Arya said finally. “Thank you, Dany, for being honest with me today.”

 

“My door is always open to you, Arya,” said Dany, leaning down to peck her on the cheek. “I think we’re going to be good friends.”

 

Drogon and Rhaegal were crouched patiently in front of the farewell party, the deep rumbling of their hums resonating in Arya’s chest. She’d admired the great beasts from afar but never had she been this close to them before. Drogon turned their enormous head to meet her stare and made a sort of chuffing noise. She couldn’t stop herself from smiling in awe as she gazed directly into their almost cat-like eyes. The dragons were somehow both similar and not at all like how she imagined.

 

She took a careful step toward Drogon, slowly raising her hand. “I always wanted to be a dragon,” she whispered to Drogon, and their big eyes blinked slowly at her. “It must be wonderful to fly away whenever you wish, and to keep growing for the rest of your life. Being small does have its advantages, though.”

 

She stopped once Drogon was close enough to smell her hand. A strange sense of familiarity passed between them, almost as if… as if they’d met before. Through her bond with Nymeria, she could always sense where Ghost or Shaggydog or Summer were; she wondered if through Drogon’s bond with Jon, she and the dragon were already connected.

 

She moved forward to rest her hand on Drogon’s snout and stretched her palm over the scales between his nostrils. “Oh, you’re so warm!” She giggled, stroking the scales as you would a cat. “You must steam during the winter.”

 

She noticed that the farewells were stopped and the air was deathly quiet. Jon and Sansa were looking at her like she’d grown three heads while the queen was positively beaming at her. A very large head nudged her once her hand had stilled and the force of it sent her to the ground. It was Dany who helped her up, scolding the dragon in Valyrian as she did.

 

“Sorry about that,” Daenerys said. “Drogon doesn’t quite know how to be gentle, I’m afraid. It’s a lot easier to keep steady when you’re being nudged by a dragon the size of a cat than the size of a castle.”

 

“I don’t mind,” said Arya, smiling at the queen. “Ghost does that a lot when he’s feeling pouty.”

 

“Oh, tell me about it,” Daenerys said, throwing a glance back at Jon. “I have to pet that whining wolf every single time Jon is in a broody mood, which is all the time.” Arya chuckled involuntarily at that.

 

Rickon departed the crowd and surged forward to hug Arya, picking her up off the ground like Father used to. She was still trying to get used to the fact that her little brother was a head taller than her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and nuzzled the side of his head, letting herself be held tightly.

 

“Gods, you’re so tall,” she said into his curls. “You’ll be taller than Jon soon.”

 

“That’ll be weird,” said Rickon, setting her back down. “You guys are all so tall in my memories.”

 

“Try to stop growing, please,” she said, smiling at Rickon’s laugh. “If you keep growing I won’t be able to do this anymore.” Arya reached up and ruffled his unruly red curls.

 

“Robb did that a lot,” Rickon reminisced, and it made Arya happier than it made her sad. “I’ll just have to kneel down for you.” Arya and Rickon shared a laugh at that, and she gave him one final embrace.

 

“If you fall off Rhaegal I’ll kill you,” Arya warned. “Have fun, little brother.”

 

Next she was approached by her big brother, who embraced her even more tightly than Rickon had. “Are you secretly a Targaryen?” He asked her, gesturing to Drogon. “It took me weeks to grow brave enough to touch the big beast.”

 

“Well, Drogon could probably feel how much I adored dragons and their riders,” said Arya.

 

“And he could probably feel my fear of them,” he said. She giggled. “Look after Bran and Sansa while I’m gone,” he said, tucking a stray hair behind her ear.

 

“I always do,” said Arya.

 

They all had to step back as Daenerys took off on Drogon and Jon took off on Rhaegal with Rickon. Arya had always wanted to see Bear Island with its warrior women, but she had to stay in Winterfell to protect Sansa and Bran.

 

~~~~~

 

Arya twirled Needle in her hand, sending Pod the grimace she’d worn before the past three right thrusts. She thrust left as Pod blocked his right, and she easily disarmed him. He looked utterly defeated.

 

“You lied,” Pod complained as his shoulders slumped.

 

“Did I?”

 

“Your face said right but you went left,” said Podrick.

 

“My face told a lie but my eyes told the truth,” she said, picking up his blunt sword. “Don’t pay attention to anything but the eyes.”

 

“Do we have to do this today? The battle was only two days ago,” he said once she threw his sword at him.

 

“The enemy won’t care if your last battle was two seconds ago,” said Arya. “You said you wanted to fight like me, this is how you will learn.” She could see the weariness weighing down on him and she sighed. “Fine. Tomorrow you will bring a blindfold to training.”

 

Podrick was a good swordsman, but he lacked the physical strength to be as efficient as Brienne at her style. He had come to her, all tongue tied and embarrassed, and asked her to teach him her style. He had said that Brienne was too occupied with Ser Jaime to continue training him. It was then that Arya smiled and asked if he’d heard of water dancing.

 

“A– a blindfold?”

 

“Yes, a blindfold. Now go get some rest before I change my mind and starting hitting you.”

 

Podrick’s wide smile spread across his face as he scurried away. He was a kind boy in a man’s body, and someday it would probably get him killed. Gendry’s heavy footsteps behind her banished her sour thoughts and she smiled.

 

“Hello Gendry,” she said, shaking her head as the footsteps stopped abruptly.

 

“How’d you know it was me?” She spun around and held her hands behind her back.

 

Hearing and touching was all I had when I was blind, she thought. “Ears are just as useful to see as eyes are,” she said instead.

 

“Right,” said Gendry with a hesitant pause. “Can we talk?” Arya ignored her stomach as it dropped to her feet.

 

Gendry led her to his small chamber in the smithy, where he had led her after the battle to make love with blood still drying on their skin. They had stunk of grime and blood and sweat but it was better than the first time, as both of them were relieved that the other had survived.

 

She felt the heat from the nearby forge seep into her skin and relieve her aches, and she hummed in appreciation. But then the tension reentered her body when she noticed the tremors in his hands as he closed the door.

 

“What’s wrong?” She asked. His face was flushed and his eyes were blown wide, and Arya could feel the nervousness radiating off of him.

 

“Nothing’s wrong, not yet anyway.” He laughed but it was more nervous than happy. “I– I just don’t know how I should say this.”

 

Arya leaned up and kissed him, feeling some of the tension leave his body. “Talk to me.”

 

“I’m not Gendry Waters anymore,” he began, which only confused her further. “This morning at the farewell party Queen Daenerys named me Gendry Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End.”

 

Arya broke into a grin as her confusion melted into happiness for her best friend and lover. “Congratulations.” Gendry surged forward and captured her lips in a sloppy but passionate kiss.

 

“I don’t know how to be a lord of anything, the only thing I’m good at is smithing and running and fighting. All I know is you’re beautiful and strong and amazing and I love you and none of it is worth anything if you’re not with me,” he said in one breath. Arya gasped lightly and looked back and forth between his eyes rapidly, hardly believing his words. His eyes spoke no lie. “So be with me. Be my wife, be the Lady of Storm’s End.”

 

When Arya was younger, she had wanted to look pretty in a dress, wanted Sansa’s Tully hair, her feminine beauty, her singing voice, her skill at sewing... but most of all she had just wanted to make Mother proud of her. But she couldn’t do any of it. Arya inherited Father’s looks, she couldn’t sing worth a damn, and the only thing her fingers were deft at was holding a bow or a sword. So instead of wanting to be a lady, she decided to hate it, to hate sewing and singing and dresses. After all, it was easier to hate something than love it and fail at it.

 

“I’m not good at being a lady, Gendry,” she said. He barely even blinked at that. “I can’t sew or wear dresses, that’s not who I am.”

 

“Who says you need to do those things to be a lady?” Gendry said through a grin. Arya’s world was turned upside down. “Just because you’re not like other ladies doesn’t mean you can’t be one.” When Arya opened and closed her mouth like a fish, he continued. “You remember in Harrenhal, when you told me about that warrior queen? Well, Princess Nymeria wasn’t like other ladies was she? You said she commanded armies and led them on the battlefield! Why can’t you be like her? Why can’t you be my wife and mother children and be a warrior at the same time?” Two surprised huffs of laughter escaped her lips and she stared up at him.

 

“Gendry, I don’t want to be the lady of a castle, I want to be the lord,” she said, remembering that conversation she had with Father all those years ago.

 

“That’s what I’m asking,” Gendry said quickly, putting his hands on both her arms as if scared she’d run away. Arya blinked. “I just became a lord today, Arry, I don’t know what I’d do. Fuck it, I’ll be your lady.”

 

Arya laughed but she also wanted to cry at what he was offering. This was her dream; the dream Father couldn’t give her yet was being given freely by Gendry. Arya was taught that being a lady meant you couldn’t be a fighter or ruler of a castle – she never thought that someday, one wouldn’t have to make the other impossible.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

“Of course I’m sure! Please, Arya, I love you. I want to be your husband and father to your children and I want to forge you something new every day. Marry me, Arya.”

 

“And what if I don’t want to rule a castle?” She asked, a test.

 

“Then Queen Daenerys can find someone else to be Lord of Storm’s End. We could travel the world together; you’ll be the fighter and I’ll be your smith. I don’t care what we do, as long as it’s together.”

 

It was then that she realized she truly was in love with Gendry. He was ready to give up his lordship, his castle, and even his name, just for her. For Arya, not Lady Arya Stark.

 

She knew that part of her had always loved him, since she was barely ten and two and he was the only one she trusted. Together they had survived the Kingsroad, Harrenhal, and the Brotherhood Without Banners. He had been her only friend when she was at her lowest. But that was when they were children, and Gendry didn’t know the woman she’d become.

 

“Gendry… you don’t know things about me, things that I can do – things that I’ve done,” she said, voice barely above a whisper.

 

“Does it matter?” Gendry was still shaking and she stepped away, furrowing her brow at his clear devastation.

 

“It matters, Gendry,” said Arya. She took a deep breath before saying her next words. “If I’m to marry you…” she began, and he perked up as a grin spread across his face, “then you need to know what I am.”

 

“You’re not a ‘what’, Arry, you’re the most fantastic person I know.” Gendry got to his knees and she followed suit so they were eye level.

 

“I’m not a good person, Gendry,” she said quietly.

 

“Of course you are! Hey.” He cupped her face so she wouldn’t look away. “You are a good person – I know it, I’ve seen it.”

 

“We were children, Gendry!” Arya was breathless from breathing so hard. She didn’t want him to know what kind of person she was. She wanted him to keep looking at her as he was now; like she was the most beautiful woman in Westeros, like she commanded the sun and moon to rise and fall, like she had painted the stars into the sky. Nobody had ever looked at her like that, and Arya never wanted him to stop. But he needed to know if she was ever to see that look without feeling guilty. “Do you… do you remember Jaqen H’ghar?”

 

“The assassin at Harrenhal?” She nodded.

 

“After the Red Woman took you and the Hound took me, I was tired of being helpless– I was tired of relying on other people for protection. I wanted to be a protector and to bring justice for my family, and I wanted to stop just standing by while innocents were hurt.” Arya closed her eyes. “I still remember their screams, Gendry. The ones they tortured in Harrenhal, the women they raped. I remember just watching as the Mountain beheaded that girl who resisted him.” Arya opened her eyes when Gendry cupped her face with his hand. “I remember the screams of the girl who shared a soldier’s bed three nights running and was still tortured. I remember the screams of that smiley old man that was tortured, the one who mended the soldiers’ clothing and babbled about his son on the City Watch.

 

“I can still hear the screams of mothers watching their children die, of the children crying for their mothers, of women and men and boys and girls… and I can still remember just watching and listening as it all happened.” Arya shut her eyes tight as she began to cry, unable to look at Gendry anymore. “So I had Jaqen murder the Tickler and Ser Armory and I killed Polliver myself. But then… then Walder Frey killed my mother and brother. I was there when it happened. Do you know what they did to my big brother?” Her cries turned to sobs as she failed to suppress the memory as she had been for years. “They murdered his wife and child right in front of him and they filled him with arrows and then they… they took his head and replaced it with his direwolf’s, and they– they paraded his b-body around the Twins – my big brother!” Gendry took her in his arms as she sobbed, unable to stop the grief from flooding her.

 

She hadn’t meant for this to happen; all she was trying to do was make him understand why she went on to do the things she did, but the memories brought with them a need to finally mourn.

 

“I pulled my mo-mother from the river they dumped her in.” Arya breathed in the smell of his tunic to calm herself. “By the time I found her she was a white, wrinkled thing with cold blood trickling from her throat. I can still smell her decayed body.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “So I went to Braavos, to find Jaqen. And when I did– when I found him, he trained me to be a Faceless Man.” Arya pulled away and wiped her face. “I was taught how to lie, how to move like a shadow and how to kill… I was taught how to carve a face from a head and wear it like my own.”

 

Gendry looked surprised but not disgusted, and it gave her hope. “Is that why you think you’re not a good person? Because you’re like Jaqen?”

 

“No,” Arya said as she looked away. “After I returned to Westeros, I went to the Twins. I killed Walder Frey’s sons and baked them into a pie that I made him eat. After I killed him, I took his face and I poisoned every man in House Frey as they poisoned my brother’s men.” Arya looked back at Gendry to see only confusion.

 

“Arya, they deserved what they got and that doesn’t make you a bad person,” said Gendry, so genuinely that it made her heart hurt.

 

“That’s not it, Gendry. I know they deserved it and killing them wasn’t wrong. It’s– it’s…”

 

“What?”

 

“I enjoy it! I like to kill!” She shouted, clenching her fists to keep from hitting something. “Killing Polliver felt good, killing Rorge and Meryn Trant and Littlefinger felt good. Killing every man of House Frey felt better than returning home.” She pulled away and stood, turning away from him. “For the longest time I thought Sandor a monster for enjoying killing. You don’t want to be married to a monster, do you?”

 

There was only a moment’s pause but it nearly drove her to more tears.

 

“If you’re a monster, I guess they’re not so bad,” came Gendry’s voice. She turned back around and stared straight into those earnest eyes of his. “I’m in love with you, Arya, nothing will ever change that.”

 

And he was still looking at her as he was before, like he still thought the world of her– like he still loved her.

 

“You still haven’t answered my question,” he said as a tear dripped from her jaw.

 

Arya launched at him and gasped, “yes!” as he caught her and stumbled backward, wrapping his arms around her back as she wrapped her own around his neck. He breathed a sigh of relief into her ear and it raised gooseflesh on her arms.

 

Tears were still rolling down her face as she kissed him. It was passionate and full of relief and longing and love and Arya never wanted to stop.

 

He’s mine, she thought. He’s mine and I’m his and we’re going to be so happy together.

 

Arya remembered thinking up names for pregnant women’s babies in Winterfell, and she remembered holding them and making faces until they giggled. She so loved babies, and now having one of her own didn’t seem so terrifying– not when it would be Gendry’s.

 

Eddard would be their first boy, then maybe Davos or Robb or Jon. She quite liked the idea of naming their first girl Lyanna for her father. Sansa was a good name too, or maybe Margaery for her sister. Perhaps they could have a child for each name.

 

They had to pull away because Arya couldn’t stop smiling, and she giggled with excitement. I’m to be married, she realized. To Gendry! She jumped off of him and then grasped his hand, leading him out of the chamber and into the courtyard.

 

“Where’re we going?”

 

“To get married,” she said, smirking up at his visibly shocked face.

 

“What, like right now?”

 

“Yes,” said Arya. “We only need two people. You go find someone and bring them to the Godswood, I’ll meet you there.” Gendry, to her amusement, took off at a run.

 

She found Sandor perched on a tree stump gnawing at a chicken leg. Arya snuck up in front of him and he jumped when he looked up.

 

“Seven Hells, girl,” he bit out. “Don’t fucking do that.”

 

“Get up.”

 

“What?” He grunted.

 

“Get up,” she repeated. “I’m getting married.”

 

“That blacksmith put a baby in you already?” Arya snatched the chicken leg right out of his hands and she threw it toward the stables. “Hey!”

 

“Get up.”

 

“You just ruined my bloody meal and now you want me to go to your wedding?!” Sandor spat.

 

“I haven’t got a father anymore – the Lannister’s made sure of that – so you’re gonna give me away,” said Arya. She took a moment to enjoy his wide-eyed open-mouthed expression and then yanked him to his feet. This time Sandor didn’t protest and instead followed her to the Godswood.

 

Arya had loved her father more than anything in the world, but she had to accept that he wasn’t here anymore, and thus she had to make do with Sandor. He was a shithead most of the time and gruff when he wasn’t being a shithead, but he was what she had.

 

Sandor was honest where Father would’ve told a kind lie, he was sharp where Father was gentle, he taught her killing and surviving while Father taught her patience and kindness, and most important of all: he was alive while Father was not.

 

She giggled as they passed through the gates and saw Gendry standing by the weirwood with Davos and Tormund. The day was barely passed early morning, Gendry was wearing his regular clothes, their witnesses were a wildling and the Onion Knight, there would be no feast or dancing, but it was utterly hers . A beautiful wedding with gowns and leather doublets and wedding pies and dances… it just wouldn’t have felt right. Arya grew to love Gendry on the run from one group of captors to another, surviving on food scraps and pissing in the bushes with worn out clothes – she didn’t need her wedding to him to be pretty. And she wanted to marry him as soon as possible.

 

“Who comes before the– uh, before the god?” Gendry asked once she and Sandor reached him, barely able to talk through his smile. Arya pointedly looked up at Sandor.

 

“Arya of House Stark, that’s who.” Arya elbowed him to continue but he just shrugged.

 

“You’re supposed to ask who comes to claim ‘er,” Ser Davos filled in.

 

Claim her?” Sandor barked. “She’s not a fucking goat.”

 

“Up north we kidnap our brides,” Tormund added. “Claim seems the right word.”

 

“We’re not wildlings, ya dumb cu–”

 

“Who comes to wed me?” Arya said to stop them.

 

“Gendry of House Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End,” said Gendry, still smiling. “Who brings her?”

 

“The fucking Hound, lord of nothing.” Sandor sighed and looked down at her. “Arya, will you take this man?”

 

“I take this man,” she said, her smile audible.

 

Arya joined hands with Gendry and knelt before the heart tree, pulling him down with her. She bowed her head to show submission to the Old Gods and he mirrored her. She didn’t believe in the Old Gods but they were the gods of her father and his father before him, and she would respect that.

 

When they rose, Arya watched as Gendry took the cloak that would serve as a bride cloak from Tormund’s arm and instead of placing it on her shoulders, he held it out for her to take.

 

“What are you doing?” She asked, looking at the cloak warily as if it had burst into flames.

 

“Gendry Stark sounds better than Arya Baratheon,” said Gendry with a nonchalant lilt to his voice, as if what he said didn’t matter at all.

 

“You’re the last Baratheon, you can’t let your House go extinct!” She said, shocked by his offered sacrifice.

 

The Baratheons were all dead if Jon was to be believed, and as much as she had despised Robert, Father had loved him. She couldn’t let the Baratheon name die out. Unless Robert had another bastard hiding somewhere, Gendry was the last of his House. Besides, Bran and Rickon would carry on the Stark name.

 

There was movement in the corner of her eye as Davos unclasped his own cloak and handed it to Arya. “I think it’s ‘bout time for a new House. The joining of names is how House Karstark was founded, after all, and you wouldn’t be the first Baratheon cadet branch.”

 

Arya turned back to Gendry and his grin brought one to her own face. “I think we both intend to change some things about House Baratheon and how my father went about his household. And I think a new House is warranted for such changes.”

 

And so Arya and Gendry cloaked each other, and while there was no feast for Gendry to carry her to, Arya supposed the marriage bed would suffice.

 

“So what do you think?” She asked Gendry in the morning, her front pressed against his back and her face buried in his neck.

 

“About what?” Said Gendry, his voice deep from sleep.

 

“Our House,” she began. “What shall we name it?”

 

“Hmmm,” hummed Gendry, turning around in her arms to face her. “Staratheon? Barathark?” Arya wrinkled her nose and shook her head with a giggle.

 

“What about House Stark-Baratheon?”

 

“Too long,” said Gendry, leaning forward to give her a chaste kiss. “House Aryatheon?”

 

“That has a nice ring to it.” She laughed. “How about… House Gendratheon?”

 

“Sounds like a name for a dragon,” he said, and Arya could feel his laughter rumbling in his chest. “Can we have our own words too?”

 

“I don’t see why not,” said Arya. “We could make up our own or maybe join our words. I like ours is the winter.”

 

Gendry hummed and then laughed. “Our fury is coming. ” Arya laughed into Gendry’s neck. “We’ll ask Davos about it.”

 

“Oh shit,” she cursed, closing her eyes.

 

“What?”

 

“I’m supposed to be training Pod right now.” She forced herself to detach from her husband – her husband! – and get dressed.

 

“You’re training Ser Podrick?” Asked Gendry. Arya very nearly crawled back into bed when she saw him propped up on his elbow with the furs at his waist, showing his muscled chest.

 

“Ser Brienne’s too busy with her new boyfriend,” she explained.

 

“And you’re not?” Gendry was pouting and she huffed.

 

Arya kissed his pout away. “I love you,” she said, and somehow it meant more than all the times she’d said it as they made love the previous night. She padded his crotch through the furs and laughed when he jerked. “I’ll see you later.”

 

“You’re going to be the death of me, wife,” he said through a grin.

 

“First I’ll be the life of you, husband,” said Arya.

 

Pod was standing in the courtyard waiting for her, staring at the blindfold in his hand with a confused expression about his face.

 

“It’s not going to bite you,” she told him, and he jumped.

 

“No, I– I just don’t understand how this will help me,” he said.

 

“You’ll understand soon enough,” said Arya, grabbing two wooden staves. “Put on the blindfold.” Podrick stared at her for a moment longer before doing as she said.

 

She threw a staff at him and it hit him in the chest. “Ow!”

 

“Pick it up.”

 

Pod looked angry but on such a nice face it only amused her. He crouched down and felt around until he grabbed it, standing up and turning his head as if trying to see.

 

Arya did as the Waif had once done to her, except she felt bad for every time she hit Pod and he waved his staff about helplessly. So that’s what I looked like, she realized. Like a helpless child. Arya noticed that both the Lannister men and Brienne had come to watch, standing just beyond the sparring area.

 

Eventually, after becoming thoroughly frustrated, Pod yanked off his blindfold and threw it on the ground. “This is pointless! How am I supposed to fight blind?”

 

I know how you feel, she thought. Except I was actually blind.

 

Arya let out an amused noise and picked up the blindfold, turning to their audience. “Ser Brienne? Would you come here?”

 

Pod blushed when he saw them there, either embarrassed about yelling at Arya in front of them or about his failure at sparring being witnessed. Arya threw Pod’s staff at Brienne and put on the blindfold, attuning to the blindness easily.

 

“Fight me,” she commanded Brienne.

 

“My lady, are you sure?” Asked the knight.

 

She turned to where she heard Pod and called, “move aside, Ser.” Arya adjusted her stance. “I’m ready.”

 

Arya heard the whooshing of a staff being brought down and blocked it, diverting the force of it away from her. There was a pause and Arya had no doubt the knight was startled. She began to circle her and Brienne mirrored her, so Arya matched the movements by the sound of the knight’s large footsteps.

 

The ground let out two crunching noises as Brienne moved directly toward her in a lunge, grunting as she thrust her staff. Arya rolled sideways to dodge it and whacked her own staff on Brienne’s shins.

 

After that, Brienne stopped holding back and instead fought her with all her might for what seemed like hours. Arya only took a few hits and blocked all the rest, getting in a few strikes of her own. Arya was sweating and they were both panting and grunting, fighting like their lives depended on it.

 

Arya couldn’t stop smiling, and she probably looked like a fool – giggling when she rolled and grinning harder at the crack of staff on staff. She’d forgotten how enjoyable sparring with Brienne was.

 

Arya’s blindfold was damp with sweat by the end of it, and she was huffing hard with exertion when she finally tossed it on the ground. Brienne was wearing a pleased smile too and her eyes gleamed with something comparable to fondness.

 

“That was fun,” she said in between huffs for air.

 

“You are…” Brienne began. “You are incredible, Arya.”

 

Arya’s grin grew impossibly wider but it faded somewhat when she heard clapping. She turned to see that their audience had grown, and those among them were cheering. Tormund Giantsbane was howling his approval, Gendry was next to Davos and looking at her like he’d just fallen more in love with her, the Lannister men were smiling at her, Pod was staring at her like she’d grown three dragon heads, and Sandor… Sandor was grinning. She’d never seen him smile before.

 

Arya squeaked as something big – Tormund – collided with her, grabbing her legs and thrusting her up into the air. “Hey!” She exclaimed. He put her on his shoulders like a child and hung onto her legs to keep her there.

 

Arya! Arya! Arya!” He chanted until the others joined in. The others kept chanting as Tormund yelled over them. “Slayer of the Night King! Destroyer of the dead! Sister to wolves and crows! Tamer of fucking dragons! Daughter of the North!” Arya giggled and put her hands on the top of Tormund’s fiery head. “She’s little, but she’s quick and strong. Quick enough to sneak up on the Night King and strong enough to get marked by him and still kill the fucker! And what kind of a girl can fight the greatest knight who ever lived while wearing a bloody blindfold?! Arya fucking Stark is that kind of girl. Jon Snow may be our king and the Dragon Queen our savior, but this is our hero!”

 

Arya smiled at his praise, preening under the attention like a cat. “I’m not a hero,” she said anyway, because it was true. Tormund tilted his head back to look at her and she nearly fell off of him.

 

“Yes, you are,” said the wildling.

 

“Just accept it, girl,” Sandor said, still wearing a grin. “You won’t get anywhere trying to deny it.”

 

Arya didn’t know if she’d ever learn to accept it, but for now she would enjoy the praise.

 

After Tormund eased her back onto the ground and Davos threw her a water skin, she wiped her brow and looked up at the wildling. “So what’s it like? Riding a dragon?”

 

“Fucking terrifying!” Said Tormund, his laughter booming. “Woulda shat me pants if I’d had anything left to shit.” Arya wrinkled her nose but laughed anyway. “Your brother rides dragons like he was bloody born to do it.”

 

Arya nodded. She’d seen him during the battle riding Rhaegal like a true Targaryen. “Will you come south with us?”

 

“If your brother needs me to, I will. But the free folk need to start settling in the Gift.”

 

“If they’re alive, the mountain clans won’t like that,” said Arya.

 

“Those little shits can’t fight with those sticks up their arses,” Tormund said. “And they’ll be too weak to fight us anytime soon.”

 

“There are not many that aren’t too weak to fight you, Giantsbane,” she said with a smirk.

 

“You’re one of them, Stark,” said the wildling, his grin wolfish. “I’d wager you’d have me on the ground in seconds.”

 

“I’d love to, really,” she said genuinely, “but Jon would kill me if I hurt his wildling.”

 

“As I’d kill anyone who hurt my little crow,” said Tormund. Arya didn’t have to check his eyes for lies – she knew his words were spoken truthfully. “I wish I’d gotten to kill the sons of bitches that murdered him, but I guess watching them die was enough.” Arya didn’t have anything to say to that. He punched her shoulder playfully. “Congratulations on your little wedding. Your children are going to be great warriors like their mother, and they’ll be strong like their father. It’s bad luck for the free folk to name their babes before they’ve survived their second name day since babies die so often North of the Wall, but I think it would be safe to name your children while they’re still in your belly!” Tormund poked said belly and she giggled.

 

“Hey,” she said, remembering. “I’m sorry about Brienne.”

 

“Ah,” he sighed. “My heart was broken when I first heard, but my knight has chosen well. Ser Jaime is very pretty and strong; I’d had mine eyes also on him for a while.” Arya nearly laughed in surprise. Oh, this is going to be interesting. “All I have to do is convince them that three is better than two.”

 

“Good luck, Tormund.”

 

Arya froze when she saw Gendry and Tyrion walking towards the smithy. What was Gendry doing with the Imp? She bade farewell to Tormund and trailed her husband and the Lannister. Swift as a deer and quiet as a shadow, she slipped through the door just before it closed behind them. She avoided moving in front of the light to keep from casting shadows as she snuck around to hide behind a pillar next to the forge.

 

“So what is it, then?” Asked her husband. “What’s so secret you can’t tell me outside?”

 

“I’d like a weapon made,” said Lord Tyrion. Arya frowned and peeked around the pillar to look at his face, which gave away nothing.

 

“A weapon?” Gendry huffed. “Do you know how busy I am already? The queen wants new weapons for the Unsullied, Jon Snow wants more weapons for the Northerners, and I want to forge something for my wife!” Arya smiled at that. “And you want your own weapon?”

 

“It’s not for me, it’s for– wait, you got married?” There was a pause. “Is it Arya?” Arya rolled her eyes at Gendry’s loose lips.

 

She moved from behind the pillar silently and said, “yes,” startling the both of them.

 

Seven fucking Hells!” Tyrion gasped, and Arya forced herself not to laugh when he put a hand over his heart. She glided over to Gendry and looped her arm in his. “When did you make time for a wedding?”

 

“Yesterday,” said Arya. “Who’s the weapon for?”

 

“It’s for Sansa,” he said. Arya glared at him. “A gift.”

 

“Why are you giving my sister a gift?” Arya thought maybe she needed to threaten him again.

 

“I want her to be able to protect herself when the war comes,” said the Lannister. Arya squinted and found no deception in his eyes, but she suspected it wasn’t the whole truth. When she said no more, Tyrion pulled out a piece of parchment. “I’ve never been one for sketching, but I hope you understand what I’m asking for.”

 

Gendry took the parchment and held it so they both could see what was sketched. It was a dagger – a beautiful one at that – with a Stark sigil etched into the hilt. Along the blade was written: In winter we must protect ourselves.

 

“Who told you those words?” Arya demanded, and Tyrion looked as though he’d rather be anywhere else.

 

“Bran did,” said Tyrion. “I thought them apt words for a dagger.”

 

“Those are my father’s words,” she said, pausing to watch him grow more uneasy. “See that you deserve to have them on your lips.”

 

“Actually they’ve not been on my lips,” Tyrion crooned, “only on my quill.” Arya sent him the look Father used to give when displeased with his boys. “Right, right, I’m the contemptible Imp and I don’t deserve to kiss the feet of the Stark’s, I know,” Tyrion said while waving his hand in appeasement.

 

“Actually just the feet of my sister,” she amended, “who your family has directly abused.”

 

“Ah, but I am not my family,” said the Lannister. “I’ll have you know that I detest most of them.”

 

“Lord Tywin told me he despised most of his family too, do you think that separated his deeds from his children and grandchildren?”

 

“Well he despised everyone, so that doesn’t– wait, he told you?”

 

“He didn’t despise me,” she said. “And yes, he told me a lot of things.”

 

“Like how to alienate and berate your children until they hate you? Or how to use them when you need to and disown them when you don’t? That’s what he taught his children anyway.”

 

Arya opened her mouth to retort but Gendry sighed. “When do you want this done?”

 

“Whenever you can get it done without angering Jon, the queen, and of course… your wife,” said Tyrion. “But I would prefer if you could have it done before we march south.”

 

“It’ll cost more than your regular weapon with this etching work,” Gendry warned.

 

Tyrion reached inside his vest and pulled out a sizeable coin purse. “This should cover it.”

 

“My lord, this is too much,” Gendry said after peeking inside the purse.

 

“Consider the extra my wedding gift to you,” said Lord Tyrion. “Buy your wife something nice, like a small ship or some books to write all the names of people she’s killed.”

 

Gendry didn’t think that very funny at all, it seemed, but she squeezed his arm to calm him.

 

“That sounds nice,” she said. “Maybe I’ll buy myself a new weapon. Two just isn’t enough, I don’t think.” Her voice was practically dripping with the threat.

 

“Right, I was just leaving.”

 

Gendry turned to her as soon as Tyrion left, still holding the coin purse and parchment. “What was all that about?”

 

“He’s in love with my sister,” she said simply. Gendry frowned.

 

Sansa?” He asked with suspicion.

 

“I don’t have any other sisters, Gendry,” she said with a little smile. “And who wouldn’t be in love with her? She’s fantastic.”

 

“Well, yeah, but…” Gendry began. “Sansa and Tyrion?” He paused before shrugging. “I guess it makes sense.”

 

“What?” She barked. “What about that makes sense to you?”

 

He shrugged again. “I don’t know, they’re like the two smartest people in Westeros, and both of them are probably attracted to intelligence. Can you see Sansa marrying a dullard?” Arya struggled to disagree with that and shook her head. “And they were married weren’t they? Well, he must not have been a terrible husband if she hasn’t killed him yet,” Gendry concluded.

 

“It’s just…” Arya sighed. “I don’t think she’s ready.”

 

Gendry took Arya’s hand in his and gave her a chaste kiss. “I know how much you care about your sister. Why don’t you go ask Ser Davos about Lord Tyrion? I think they know each other.”

 

“Okay,” she said. “I’ll be back tonight.” Arya pecked him on the cheek. “I love you.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

Arya would never let another man touch Sansa. She had seen the scars lining her beloved sister’s body, had seen the way that snake Littlefinger looked at her, she had heard some of the stories of Joffrey and Ramsay’s cruelty… and she had seen the fear in her sister’s eyes when woken from a nightmare. She didn’t plan to kill the little Lannister just yet, but she would if she had to. Today she would gather information and watch him.

 

“What’s that?” She asked once she found Ser Davos in the courtyard, carving little pieces from a chunk of wood. He gave her a sad smile.

 

“Oh nothing,” he said. “Just something to keep the hands busy.”

 

“Hand and a half, you mean,” said Arya. She sat cross legged on the seat next to him. When he laughed it reminded her so much of her father’s laugh that it startled her.

 

“Yes. Hand and a half,” he said, with a pleased sort of smile. “D’you know that King Stannis had a daughter?”

 

She was supposed to be the one interrogating him. “Never met her.”

 

“She had grayscale as a babe but the maesters were able to stop it from spreadin’. Half her face was dead and scaly and her mother scorned her for it. She was sweet and kind, my little princess, never harmed a fly. I grew to love her like she was my own daughter. I gave her a carving like the one I’m making now,” said Ser Davos as he held up the shapeless wood.

 

“What happened to her?” Asked Arya, resting her elbows on her folded knees.

 

“The Red Woman burned her at the stake and Stannis let her,” Davos said, his smile vanished. He went back to carving. “I wasn’t there to help her.”

 

Arya was grateful that Father never lived to see his children die, but a selfish part of her wished she’d died before him. Though, she couldn’t imagine the pain he would’ve felt if Arya was killed. Ser Davos was making her feel bad about her plan to manipulate him into talking about Tyrion.

 

“Melisandre was on my list,” Arya said quietly.

 

“And what list would that be?”

 

“The list of people I’m going to kill.” Arya furrowed her brow at the slow smile that appeared on his face as he continued carving.

 

“How’d she get on that list, if I might ask?”

 

“She kidnapped Gendry,” Arya said, playing with a loose thread on her trousers. “And she hurt him… not just physically.”

 

“Nasty business, that,” said Davos. “Very nearly lost my head for releasing him.”

 

“Why did you release him?” Asked Arya.

 

“‘Cause it was the right thing to do,” Davos said simply. “And I have a bad habit of adopting bastards and shunned children.” His smile was wry.

 

“Well, you don’t have to worry about Gendry – I’ll protect him.”

 

“I don’t doubt that, little wolf,” said Ser Davos. Arya’s chest twisted at the name. Father used to call her that. “And I don’t worry about you either.”

 

Arya furrowed her brow at his kind eyes. He’s trying to adopt me too, she realized.

 

“So who’s the carving for?” She asked to confirm her suspicions.

 

“You.” Arya looked away. “It’s a direwolf. Well, it will be once I’ve finished it.”

 

I’m not like your little princess, she thought. I’m a murderer.

 

“You saw me today in the courtyard, yes?” Davos nodded. Time to push this kind man away. “I learned how to do that in Braavos.” Arya took out her dagger and twirled it in her hand. “My father hired a man named Syrio Forel, the First Sword of Braavos, to teach me to water dance in King’s Landing. After… after I lost my family, I traveled across the Narrow Sea to train with the Faceless Men of Braavos.”

 

“The– the Faceless Men?”

 

“Yes. Have you heard of them?”

 

“Oh, aye. Just never imagined a Stark finding their way into their ranks, but I suppose I shoulda expected that from what I’ve ‘eard about you.” He did not look the slightest bit perturbed that Arya had just confessed to training with assassins, which meant she’d have to work a bit harder to push this one away. “That how you snuck up on the Night King?”

 

“Yes,” she said, a little confused by his behavior. “You don’t seem at all disturbed.”

 

Ser Davos chuckled. “We all do what we must to survive, sweetling. I don’t judge you for turning to the Faceless Men anymore than I judge myself for turning to smuggling or Sansa for not fighting her captors in King’s Landing.” Arya frowned at him when she observed no trace of falsehood in his eyes.

 

“What you saw today, I learned how to do that when I was blind,” she said. “That was my punishment for killing a man I wasn’t supposed to kill. I killed Ser Meryn Trant for murdering my water dancing teacher, but I didn’t just kill him; first I blinded him, gagged him, then I stabbed him so many times that I can’t remember the number, and then I slit his throat.”

 

But Davos didn’t show disgust. “Good,” he said.

 

“Good?” She repeated.

 

“That man was a right pervert – he deserved every second of it,” said Ser Davos.

 

She didn’t understand. What drew a man like him to a girl like her? Why was he still carving that direwolf for her after the things she told him? Pushing him away was getting her nowhere so she decided to instead return to her original purpose.

 

She quickly planned how to guide the conversation to Tyrion naturally, grimacing at how she reminded herself of Littlefinger. She stopped twirling her dagger and held it out hilt first for him to take. He set down his carving and gently took it from her, holding it up to the sun to inspect it.

 

“Fine blade,” Davos commented, running his fingertips along the plain steel. “Is this what you killed the Night King with?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“A blade such as this should ‘ave a name, don’t you think?” Davos asked, handing the dagger back to her.

 

“Oh, yes,” said Arya, “I’ve named it Dawnbringer.” Arya grinned at Davos’ charmed smile and resumed twirling her dagger.

 

“Good name for the dagger that ended the War for Dawn.”

 

“This dagger didn’t just end a war, y’know, it started one.”

 

“How’s that?”

 

“This dagger was used by the assassin who attempted to murder my brother Bran after he fell,” she said, rubbing the dragonbone handle under her thumb. “My mother took this dagger to King’s Landing to inquire about its owner. Littlefinger told her it belonged to Tyrion Lannister, and for that she kidnapped him. Lord Tywin started a war for him, and everything went downhill from there.”

 

“Scheming little weasel…” Davos cursed. Arya would’ve thought he referred to Tyrion had he not continued. “I shoulda killed that man all those years ago at that wretched tourney. I very nearly did, mind you. See, a few Frey children were picking on my Shireen for her Greyscale and she ran from the tourney all a’snivel.

 

“Stannis was thunderous at those boys and I went after her, but someone had already found her. ‘It wasn’t true what they said about you. They’re just afraid of you,’ Littlefinger told her. ‘Afraid of me? I’m just a girl,’ says Shireen. ‘They’re afraid of your face,’ he says. ‘There’s not a single person in this world who isn’t. Why do you think your father avoids you? And your mother? The most afraid of all. Everyone is scared of your face except for me,’. ‘You’re not afraid?’ She asks. ‘No, and neither is Robin Arryn,’ he says.

 

“He meant to betroth the Princess to the heir to the Vale, so he and Lysa Arryn could control Dragonstone through Shireen’s children. Stannis put a stop to that.”

 

“Littlefinger said Tyrion bet against his brother and won his dagger at that tourney.”

 

“Hah!” Davos barked. “Weren’t anybody wailing louder than Tyrion Lannister when Loras Tyrell unhorsed Ser Jaime. No doubt he paid many betting debts that day.”

 

“So you two knew each other then? Before the war?”

 

“Oh, yes,” said Davos. “That day – at the tourney – Lord Tyrion approached my Shireen after she had fled. And after that they exchanged letters.”

 

“What did he say to her, then?”

 

“He asked if she liked stories about dragons,” Davos chuckled. “He told her that she had both the beauty of a woman and a dragon, and she should embrace it. He said that she should wear her scales like armor as dragons do, with pride. Shireen must’ve read every book in Westeros on dragons after that. I don’t think he understands how much he helped her.”

 

“And Lord Stannis Baratheon allowed his daughter to exchange letters with a Lannister?”

 

“No, not at all,” he said. “He caught her and put their correspondence at an end. He condemned the man for his drunken reputation.”

 

“I assume you didn’t then?”

 

“Well, he may be a bit of a drinker but he’s not the drunken pervert that Stannis judged him to be.” Davos set his carving down with an air of finality, as if giving her his full attention, and peered at her. “Is that why you’re asking about Tyrion? His drinking?”

 

“I never asked you about him,” Arya said, frustrated that she’d been caught.

 

“Relax, little wolf,” he said, offering his hands in surrender. “No harm done. I grew up in King’s Landing – I know a thing or two about manipulation. But… you don’t have to manipulate here, my lady, you can just ask and the people here will answer. I will answer.”

 

Arya sighed. There might not ever be a time when she felt safe enough to just ask.

 

“So what’s your answer?” She asked finally. “Is he a good man?”

 

“Yes, my lady, one of the best.”

 

Davos pointed her in Tyrion’s direction and told her that she’d find his judgement to be true if she observed the man.

 

Arya found him in the stables, speaking with the twin daughters of the master of horses. Arya snuck around the outside of the building until nothing but wood separated her and Tyrion, and the voices inside were clearer.

 

“–ave to knit winter clothing, I know that, but this is very important.”

 

“How is a tapestry important?” Asked one of the girls.

 

“Because it is for your liege lady,” said Tyrion. Arya leaned closer against the wall. “Here, take this.” There was clinking as pieces of gold were jostled in a purse. “There’s enough in there to buy a ship – how much food do you think that would buy?”

 

“Why us? You’ve never even seen how good we are at needlepoint.”

 

“Because you knew the Stark family,” Tyrion said. “And that’s what I want you to knit.” There was a long pause and then the rustling of parchment.

 

“Alright. We’re listening.”

 

“Wonderful. From left to right I’d like Rickon, Bran in his wheeled chair, Theon, Sansa, Ned, Catelyn, Robb and his wife, Arya, and Jon. And in front of them should be the direwolves. Do you remember what all of them looked like?”

 

“Of course we do. But neither of us ever met the Lady Talisa.”

 

“No matter, I’ll have a sketch of her brought to you. Have them all smiling, would you? You may add embellishments but make sure they’re all smiling. And when you knit the direwolves, knit them as you’d imagine they’d have looked like if they’d lived to grow.”

 

Arya turned her gaze away from the stables as she tried to calm her swirling thoughts. What if he’s just trying to get Sansa to let her guard down? A lamb that never sees the blade tastes sweeter. But maybe he truly cares for her… maybe he has no dark plans for her.

 

Arya followed him from the stables to the keep, staying a corner behind him as he traversed the halls, until he came upon Bran’s chambers.

 

“Leave the door open,” said Bran once Tyrion entered. “The air in here is stale.”

 

Arya stepped silently closer, leaning against the stone next to Bran’s door.

 

“Would you like me to open a window?” Tyrion asked.

 

“No, this suits me just fine.”

 

“Wonderful.” Tyrion paused and Arya heard the faint noise of wine being poured into a glass. “The twins will make the tapestry but they’re not sure how long it will take, and I still have to speak with that man you said could sketch Lady Talisa.”

 

“I’m sure it will turn out nicely.” There was a moment of silence and then the sound of wheels on stone. “You shouldn’t drink so much.”

 

“Shouldn’t I?” The lilt of Lord Tyrion’s voice was sarcastic. “I have plenty reasons to drink.”

 

“And one more important reason not to; Sansa doesn’t like it. Some of the scariest moments of her life have been in the company of drunken people. The Hound, Ramsay, Joffrey, your sister…”

 

“Ah, well, I suppose that’s just one more thing Cersei had to ruin for me.”

 

“She didn’t ruin it for you, Tyrion, she ruined it for my sister. Do you really think that your giving up wine compares to the suffering my sister goes through – the fear she feels – in the presence of drunk people?” Bran’s protective tone amused Arya. Seems I’m not the only one looking out for her.

 

“You’re right, as usual,” said Lord Tyrion. “It’s just… I’ve been drinking since I was six and ten! How in the Seven Hells do I stop now?”

 

“If you wish to marry my sister, you must cut back on the drinking. That should be incentive enough, don’t you think?” Tyrion’s silence affirmed that. “Have you told her about Tysha?”

 

“I don’t want to scare her off before I even get to start courting her, Bran,” said Tyrion, a sharpness to his voice. Arya rested her hand on Needle.

 

Start?” Bran repeated. “You’ve been courting her since you married her, Tyrion. Your past will scare her off no more than hers will you.”

 

“She doesn’t need to know about that yet.”

 

“No, not yet, but soon. Sansa is going to tell you about what Ramsay did to her, what she went through in our own home. She’s going to test you to see if you truly care about her. Then is when you must tell her, and by doing so lay out your heart aside hers.”

 

Arya felt her brow knit together as Bran spoke. Sansa had never told Arya about what exactly Ramsay did to her, and now she was going to spill her guts to a bloody Lannister ? Arya never asked her for details – she assumed Sansa would tell her when she was ready. She understood why Sansa wouldn’t want to tell Jon; he would get angry and pity her. And neither Bran nor Rickon would know what to say if she told them. But why not Arya? Why a Lannister instead of her own sister?

 

“–we leave off?” Arya heard Tyrion say once she snapped out of her thoughts.

 

“The last one was my aunt and uncles in the training yard.”

 

“Ah, yes. Which memories shall we do today?”

 

“There’s one with Aunt Lyanna and my grandmother Lyarra,” said Bran. Arya heard the crinkling of parchment and she scooted a bit closer to the door.

 

“Alright, I’m ready.”

 

There was a pause and the sort of absentminded tone of Bran’s next words told her that he was somewhere else. “Lya’s in the Godswood with Ben – they’re sparring with branches. She’s beating him. She sweeps his legs out with her branch and he falls into the pool and now he’s splashing and shouting. ‘You be quiet, stupid. It’s just water. Do you want Old Nan to hear and run and tell Father?’. She pulls him out, but… but someone’s here.”

 

Arya wrung her hands together as she wondered why in the Seven Hells Bran was telling Lord Tyrion about House Stark’s previous generation.

 

“It’s Grandmother. ‘Go to your chambers, Ben. Get on some dry clothes,’ she says. Ben spares Lya an apologetic glance and now he’s sprinting out of the Godswood. ‘I’m sorry, Mother.’. ‘Don’t apologize if you’re not sorry, Lyanna.’,” said Bran. “Grandmother guides Lya to sit on a log. ‘Your father doesn’t want you playing with swords,’ she tells her. ‘Why not? Targaryen women have swords,’ Lya says. ‘Sweetling, you are not a Targaryen. Now, I won’t tell your father about today if you promise to stop playing at swords.’. Lya promises but she doesn’t promise to stop playing with branches.”

 

“Clever little wolf. She’s so much like Lady Arya,” said Tyrion. “It’s a good thing Lord Eddard learned from his father’s mistakes and put a sword in his daughter’s hand.”

 

“She looks so much like Lyanna. They could be twins.” Arya forced herself to relax her confused face. Father had always said that she looked like her aunt, but twins?

 

“Perhaps once this tapestry is finished, I’ll have one made of the last generation.”

 

“Sansa would like that,” said Bran. “Are you ready for the next one?”

 

“Yes,” said Tyrion after a pause.

 

“This one’s about Hodor and my father,” Bran said. Arya gasped lightly. “Father’s on his way to the stables with an armful of blood oranges. When he enters, Wylis is crying in the corner. He stops crying and wipes his eyes when he sees Father. ‘Sorry, milord,’ says Wylis. ‘You’ve nothing to be sorry for, my friend,’ Father says. He hands an orange to Wylis. ‘I’m sorry about what those boys said to you. I told my father about it, and he’s given them manure duty for a week.’. Wylis laughs and so does Father.

 

‘But it was true what they said. I am a dullard,’ says Wylis. Father puts a hand on his shoulder. ‘Listen to me, Wylis, you are not stupid. D’you hear me? You are a retainer of House Stark and you are mine and Lya’s and Brandon’s and Ben’s friend. You are good and kind and loyal, and that is all that matters,’ says Father. ‘Thanks, Ned,’ Wylis says. He’s smiling now. ‘Any time. And if those boys say something else to you, I’ll have my father make them chamberpot maids.’.”

 

Arya wiped away her tears silently, pushing away her grief.

 

“Every story I hear of him only raises my regard for him. Pretty soon I’ll hold him in higher regard than the gods,” said Tyrion. “I’ll put these in the book and I’ll be back on the morrow.”

 

Arya slipped into a nearby room and waited for Tyrion’s footsteps to fade away before she went to Bran’s chambers. Bran didn’t look at all surprised to see her.

 

“So what was that about?” She asked him.

 

“It saddens Sansa that Father never told stories about his family, so Tyrion came to me to record some. He’s also asked me to describe the Lady Talisa to an artist so our family tapestry will be complete.”

 

“Why? Why is he giving her these things?”

 

“They’re courting gifts,” said Bran. “He’s in love with her and wants to court her properly since she hasn’t been before. And he wants her to have plenty of time to reject him.”

 

“Do you think he deserves her?” She asked. If anyone would know, it would be him.

 

“Does Ser Jaime deserve Brienne?” Bran asked instead of answering. “It isn’t always about deserve, Arya. Sometimes two people are just meant to be together – like you and Gendry. Everything they’ve gone through has pushed them together; from the moment Tywin Lannister shunned Tyrion to the moment he became Hand of the Queen, and from the moment Lady died to the moment Sansa killed Littlefinger.

 

“They were ready to die defending the weak together in the crypt, y’know. How do you think two strangers forced into a marriage and then separated for years ended up in a crypt fighting the dead together? It’s fate, Arya, and you can’t meddle in fate.”

 

“I don’t carry about bloody fate, little brother,” she said. “I only want to make sure Sansa’s safe and happy.”

 

“She’s safe with Tyrion, I promise. And they will be happy together, or else I wouldn’t be helping him court her.” She smiled.

 

“I thought you said you can’t meddle in fate.”

 

“I said you couldn’t meddle in fate,” he corrected with a grin. “I never said I couldn’t.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Sansa II

 

Sansa entered her chambers with scrolls of blank parchment balancing in her arms, not even startled to find Arya sitting on her bed. Sansa had expected her visit to come sometime during the day for a report on the Dragon Queen, after all. She sighed and closed the door behind herself, setting the parchment on her table before pouring two goblets of wine. She handed one to Arya and sat on the bed beside her.

 

“So,” Sansa began, “I assume all went well with the Dragon Queen?”

 

“She’s the right one to rule, Sansa,” said Arya. Sansa took a sip of wine and sighed in relief.

 

“Oh, thank the Gods,” she said. Sansa didn’t trust Jon’s judgement since he was obviously in love with the queen, but she trusted her sister. If Arya said Daenerys was good, then she was good. “And what did she think of our plans?”

 

“She’s agreed to them,” Arya said, but Sansa could tell there was something bothering her.

 

“Have you told Gendry that you’ll be going to the capital alone?”

 

Arya set down the goblet of wine without drinking a single sip. “No, I– I… we got married,” said her sister as she looked away.

 

Sansa’s shocked gasp turned into a laugh. She put her goblet down and embraced Arya, overwhelmed by joy for her little sister. “Oh Arya, I’m so happy for you.” Sansa heard what sounded like a sigh of relief, and she pulled away. “Did you think I’d disapprove because he’s a bastard?”

 

“Actually,” Arya began with a nervous smile. “I thought you might disapprove because he isn’t one.”

 

Sansa was confused now. “What do you mean?”

 

“Dany made him a Baratheon,” she said, not giving Sansa time to wonder how the Dragon Queen became Dany to Arya, “and now I’m the Lady of Storm’s End.” Sansa had not felt such joy in a very long time, and it felt strange in her chest.

 

“Arya, that’s amazing!” Sansa said, grabbing her sister’s hand and squeezing. “You could garrison an entire army there! And that castle can survive a siege for years; the walls are too tall for storming, and it can be supplied by the sea! You’ll be able to control the Stormlands and supply– wait, why would I disapprove?” She had forgotten Arya’s plight.

 

“Because– because I won’t be around to protect you,” said Arya.

 

Oh, she thought, letting out a long exhale. It would be strange to go without her little shadow, and maybe even a bit frightening, but she would survive as she always had.

 

“Arya, I never thought you would protect me forever,” she said, squeezing her hand in reassurance. “I’ll still have Brienne to guard me.”

 

“I know,” Arya said quietly. “And I– I feel better about it after today.”

 

“Because of your talk with the Dragon Queen?”

 

“No,” said Arya. “Tyrion Lannister is in love with you.”

 

“What?” She barked. “Tyrion cares for me, but love? No, he doesn’t love me.” Sansa turned her gaze away from Arya.

 

Or did he…? And what if he did? What would she do then?

 

Would she marry him again? Would she want to?

 

Sansa was somewhat alarmed that the notion of taking Tyrion as husband again did not frighten her. He was gentle and kind and smart and he took care of her when she was vulnerable. He would not hurt her, she was sure of that.

 

But would she be happy? Sansa grabbed her wine and drained it. She supposed it didn’t really matter if she was happy or not, but it was so tempting to think that maybe… maybe she could find peace as Tyrion’s wife.

 

“When you’re old enough, I’ll make you a match with someone who’s worthy of you; someone who’s brave and gentle and strong.”

 

Sansa wondered if Tyrion might be that person Father promised her.

 

“Trust me sister,” Arya said, grabbing her attention, “he’s in love with you.”

 

In love… she thought, with me.

 

Sansa remembered the moments they’d spent in the crypt during the battle; holding hands behind Father’s tomb and speaking volumes without opening their lips. Sansa had accepted her fate then, accepted the notion that she’d die by Tyrion’s side. But what did that mean?

 

Why was she so comfortable in Tyrion’s presence? Why did she not feel fear when she sobbed in front of him in the crypt? Why did his embrace ease her grief? Why did her chest fill with warmth to look upon him? Why did his presence ground her? Why had she seen fit to tell him she had been in love with Margaery? Why had she confided in him in the crypts and asked if he thought she was a bad person? And why did his answer comfort her?

 

Deep down Sansa knew the answer to all those questions, but she could not bring herself to acknowledge it.

 

“He doesn’t– he cannot love me for all I am,” she said, and then her lip started to wobble. “He doesn’t know about my scars– he doesn’t know that I’m not a whole person anymore.”

 

Arya’s face twisted with concern, her grey eyes wide with worry. Sansa was relieved to find no trace of pity in those eyes. Arya slid off the bed to her knees in front of Sansa, grabbing her hands and squeezing them.

 

“I know about your scars and I love you,” said Arya. Sansa opened her mouth to protest but Arya shook her head. “And don’t say that it’s different. You’re an incredible woman, Sansa, even with– especially with your scars.” Sansa couldn’t bring herself to look away from Arya’s intense gaze. “And that bastard did not have the power to take away your wholeness, even if you feel like he did. All of you is still here, right in front of me, and I love all of you… and I believe Tyrion does too.” Arya looked sure of her belief but Sansa found it hard to trust her judgment in this. Arya must’ve sensed her hesitation because a sort of understanding passed over her features. “If you don’t believe me, tell Tyrion about what you’ve been through. Test his feelings and make your own judgement.”

 

Even though the thought of marrying him did not frighten Sansa, giving voice to her past absolutely did. She hadn’t told anyone the specifics of the tortures she endured as Ramsay’s wife. She didn’t even let herself think of it most of the time. It was just too much. How in the Seven Hells was she meant to tell Tyrion about… about that?

 

“Lord Tyrion always knows what to say and how to say it,” she mused, “but even he could not possibly find any words for this. I doubt he’ll even be able to look me in the eyes afterward.”

 

“Then you’d have your answer, wouldn’t you?” Arya proposed.

 

“And what if the answer is…” she decided to rephrase so as not to condemn herself, “what if I don’t like the answer?”

 

“Then I’ll kill him for hurting my sister,” said Arya. Sansa laughed, not because she believed Arya to be jesting, but because she knew her little sister would do as she said in a heartbeat.

 

“I believe you.” Sansa smiled at Arya’s talent for making her feel better. She wished her sister all the happiness in the world, and she hoped that Gendry could give her that. “So… how does it feel to be Arya Baratheon?”

 

“I’m not a Baratheon,” said Arya, bringing a frown to Sansa’s face. “I am now Arya of House Startheon.”

 

Sansa’s face split into a wide grin at that. Yes, she realized, Gendry will bring her happiness.


~~~~~


Sansa spent the next two sennights overseeing both the reconstruction of the castle walls and the resealing of the crypt’s tombs, during which she considered her options and most often… she considered Tyrion.

 

She considered his deeds, his wits and mind, his gentleness, his regard for her, and his face. She thought about his face a lot. He was not pretty like Margaery had been, no, but there was something about him– something she found attractive. She quite liked the beard he’d acquired; it added to the rugged look the scar gave him. And the scar… Sansa thought herself the image of hypocrisy when confronted with her attraction to scars, since the ones on her own body repulsed her.

 

It was one thing that Tyrion and Sandor – two men she’d found herself attracted to at some point in her life – had in common. My knights in shining armor, she thought to herself with a chuckle.

 

The direwolf at the foot of Theon’s freshly-crafted tomb jumped at the sudden noise and Sansa smiled. “Sorry, Ghost,” she said.

 

Sansa was sat across from Theon’s tomb with her sewing work in her lap, humming a tune to herself every once in a while. She knew Brienne had no fondness for gowns, so instead she was creating a dress that transformed into pants at the waist. The fabric was silk she’d dyed dark blue to display House Tarth’s colors, and to bring regard to Brienne’s handsome blue eyes.

 

A dress for Brienne required a lot of fabric, but thankfully silk was in abundance since winter had come. Ser Jaime had graciously offered his own measurements – since he and his betrothed were nearly the same size – so Sansa’s creation could be a surprise for Brienne.

 

Sansa recognized the footsteps of Tyrion’s brief stride and an inexplicable smile came to her lips. “Good morrow, my lord,” she greeted.

 

“And to you, my lady,” said Tyrion. Sansa looked up from her needlepoint and turned her gaze to Tyrion, who was hovering nervously with his hands behind his back, wearing a thin smile. “What are you making?”

 

Sansa disregarded his nervousness and stood, holding up the half-finished garment for him to see. “It’s for Brienne – for her wedding.”

 

“A gown with pants? Very clever, my lady,” Tyrion said. Sansa gazed downward to hide her pleased smile at his praise.

 

“I hope she likes it,” said Sansa, hanging the gown over the back of her chair, “after everything she’s done for me.”

 

“I’ve no doubt that she will,” Tyrion assured her.

 

“Don’t tell her about it; Ser Jaime wishes for it to be a surprise,” Sansa said, wringing her hands as she looked upon Tyrion.

 

“Ah, you need not fear on that front,” said Lord Tyrion. “Lannister’s have notoriously tight lips.”

 

Sansa laughed involuntarily at that little jest, the noise strange coming from her mouth. “I’d forgotten. Perhaps your House’s saying would be ‘A Lannister always keeps their secrets’, if you did not wish to keep that very knowledge a secret.”

 

Sansa found it impossible to stop a triumphal smirk from reaching her lips at Tyrion’s laugh. “I do think that you know too much, my dear.” Sansa’s breathing quickened and her cheeks heated at the term of affection.

 

Was Arya right? She wondered. Don’t be a fool, this does not mean he loves you.

 

Tyrion must’ve sensed her discomfort because he quickly changed the subject. “Oh, I had something made for you,” he said, removing his hands from behind his back to reveal an object hidden in cloth. He held it out for her to take but she simply stared at it. “A gift.”

 

“A gift?” She asked with a doubtful raise of her eyebrow.

 

“You see, it’s something given voluntarily without payment in return,” Tyrion quipped.

 

“Yes, thank you, I know what a gift is,” said Sansa with a roll of her eyes.

 

She took the gift from his palm and glanced at him once more before unfolding the cloth. Inside was a dagger that had a shiny black stone hilt which was adorned with an engraved direwolf just below the crossguard. Sansa ran her thumb over the ridges of the direwolf’s head and looked to Tyrion, who was watching her with ardent eyes.

 

“Oh, Lord Tyrion, this is–” Too much. Not enough. Overwhelming. Unexpected.

 

“Go on, unsheathe it,” said Tyrion, looking between her and the dagger in her hands.

 

Sansa pulled the dagger from its sheathe and revealed the words, ‘in winter we must protect ourselves’ written along the blade.

 

“It’s wonderful, Tyrion,” she said. She attempted to make the question clear in her voice. Why? What does this mean?

 

“I want you to be safe,” he replied to her unspoken thoughts. “I know you have Brienne and the Hound and Arya to look after you, but I wanted to give you a little protection of mine own. Obviously I’m not a knight or a Clegane or a very scary little assassin, so I think the knowledge that you can protect yourself will assure me better than attempting to protect you myself.” He continued before she could say anything. “And I like giving gifts to people I like.”

 

“So you give daggers to every pretty girl you like?” She half-jested.

 

“Quite definitely not,” said Tyrion. “Only the ones I’m sure won’t stab me in the back with it.” Sansa chuckled even though she still hadn’t been given her answer. She sheathed her dagger and leaned down to kiss him on the cheek, a little longer than her previous pecks. His beard tickled her face.

 

“Thank you, Lord Tyrion, I shall treasure this gift,” she said.

 

Tyrion excused himself soon after and she sat back down, admiring her dagger instead of resuming her sewing. Sansa unsheathed and sheathed it over and over again, imagining sinking her dagger into Ramsay’s stomach and gutting him. She held the blade up so it pointed at the ceiling and stared at its tip as she turned it in her palm. So sharp, she thought. Sharp enough to pierce a skull.

 

“A fine blade,” came a silken voice. Sansa pointed her dagger at the intruder and found a spider at its end. “I yield, I yield,” Varys said, unfolding his hands to hold them up in feigned submission.

 

Sansa sighed as she lowered her dagger. “You startled me, my lord.”

 

“As spiders are often wont to do,” said Varys. “May I sit with you?” Sansa nodded and gestured to the seat beside her. “I fear we haven’t had the chance to chat since you fled the capital in such haste.”

 

“Nor did we chat while I was in the capital, as I recall,” she said as Varys sat.

 

He hummed. “A pity, that. I always knew you to be smarter than you let others believe, but you must understand how it would make me look to–”

 

“Be seen speaking with the daughter of a traitor?” She finished for him.

 

“Precisely,” said Varys. “A spider conversing with a wolf would’ve been very suspicious indeed. I hope you can forgive me for leaving you to the lions.”

 

Sansa waved her hand dismissively, setting her knife in her lap and retrieving her sewing project. “I expected help from no one in the capital, least of all the king’s spider.” She watched him out of the corner of her eye. “But I remember the day I begged Joffrey’s mercy like it was yesterday, and I remember what the king’s spider had to say then.”

 

“If only the words hadn’t fallen on deaf ears.”

 

“Mm. Those ears were deaf to anything he didn’t want to hear.” She squinted at him. “Were you privy to Littlefinger’s role in Joffrey’s murder?”

 

“After the wedding, yes. And to think a sweet old woman like the Lady Olenna would be capable of such a thing…” Varys drawled.

 

Sansa sighed at herself for failing to infer Lady Olenna’s guilt previously. Sansa remembered that day she’d told Margaery and Lady Olenna of Joffrey’s villainous character, and she realized that she’d bore witness to the moment the woman decided to murder the bastard.

 

“Her thorns were sharpest when it came to protecting her granddaughter,” she said, almost to herself.

 

“Indeed. It was a shame that her and Lord Baelish’s plan was to put the blame on a newly wedded couple,” said Varys.

 

“Lady Olenna no longer had need of me since I married Tyrion,” Sansa said. “And Littlefinger had a plan to get me out of the capital – not that he didn’t dispose of me when it suited him.”

 

“Disposing of you was a very foolish move for a very smart man,” Varys said.

 

“It was one of the last mistakes he ever made.”

 

Varys let out a sort of half-chuckle. “And what was his last mistake then? I assume it’s the one that got him killed?”

 

“He attempted to pit Arya and myself against one another,” Sansa said as she looped her needle around the thread to tie a knot. “It was quite a bit of fun to act like we weren’t playing into his hand on purpose. He was stupid enough to believe that he could turn wolves on each other, as he’d done with my mother and her sister.”

 

“Tell me,” said Varys, “what was the look on his face when he realized it was over?”

 

Sansa smiled wickedly. “Shock, confusion; two things I’d never seen on his face before.” Sansa imitated Littlefinger’s raspy voice as she repeated his words. “‘Lady Sansa, forgive me, but I’m a bit confused’.” Varys did chuckle then.

 

“I wish I could’ve been there to see that,” said the spider. “I found it quite fitting that the blade he used to start a war was the blade used to end his life. Awfully poetic, wouldn’t you say?”

 

Sansa nodded. “I’m sure the minstrels shall have no problem putting that to song.”

 

“Speaking of blades,” Varys began, gesturing to her lap, “might I see your dagger?” Sansa handed it to him once she was sure she was in no immediate danger.

 

Varys unsheathed it and read the words along the blade. “Lord Tyrion does have an eye for beauty,” Varys said with a pointed look toward her. She hoped he couldn’t see the color rising in her cheeks.

 

“I presume you graced the crypt with your presence to speak of a matter greater than beauty...?”

 

Varys handed her dagger back and folded his hands in his lap. “Matters of the heart are usually greater than those of the eye, I’ve found.”

 

Sansa was tired of speaking in tongues. “And to whose heart do you refer? Mine or Tyrion’s?”

 

“Both, actually,” said Varys. “I think you and I can both agree that the two hearts are irrevocably connected.”

 

“That’s quite an assumption, my lord,” Sansa said. “I assume you have a point.”

 

“Not an especially unlikely assumption to make, my lady,” Varys taunted. “Not a point perhaps, but I do have a suggestion.”

 

“Go on, then,” Sansa said, “suggest.”

 

“My Lord Tyrion has had some… poor luck,” Varys articulated, “with the fairer sex. Both of his most serious affairs have ended with serious consequences.”

 

Sansa raised an eyebrow. “And mine have not?”

 

“They have,” Varys agreed, “which is one of the reasons I want you and Tyrion to continue down this path of courtship.”

 

Courtship?” She spat.

 

“Your blindness in this matter is touching, really,” said Varys. “But I don’t believe you to be completely blind.” Sansa couldn’t stop herself from glancing at the dagger. “There are many more courting gifts where that one came from.”

 

Courting gifts, she repeated in her head. Tyrion is truly courting me. Sansa hadn’t completely believed Arya’s words, though now she supposed that there was no point in lying to herself. Tyrion Lannister was in love with her. But Sansa didn’t know if she was ready to open up her heart again.

 

“You were going to suggest something?” Sansa asked.

 

“Accept his gifts, accept his hand in marriage, and create some happiness for the both of you.” Varys stood and made a wide gesture to the crypt. “I believe both you and Tyrion are in dire need of it.”

 

Sansa stared at the spider. “And what, pray tell, has compelled you to act on this belief?”

 

The spider’s lips stretched into a slow smile. “Friends are hard to come by in Westeros, my lady, and I find myself under a certain obligation to look after mine.” Sansa had nothing to say to that. She wondered how exactly Tyrion found himself a friend of the master of whisperers. “One more thing, my lady. If it would be of any interest to you, I could use an apprentice of your… talent,” Varys said. “My last apprentice was killed on Littlefinger’s orders, so it seems apt that the next one be the woman who killed him.”

 

Sansa didn’t have to think very hard on her answer. “Thank you, my lord, but I’ve had enough of hiding in the shadows.” Varys inclined his head in acknowledgment. “Though, I think you might find my brother Bran to be better suited for the job. Perhaps even the best suited for it.”

 

The silence that enveloped the crypt once Varys took his leave was deafening, and Sansa found herself unable to focus on her needlepoint. She stuffed Brienne’s gown into her basket and carried it with her to the courtyard to watch Arya and Podrick spar.

 

Though, as she realized upon taking her seat, it was less like sparring and more like a beating. The whack of staff on armor did help to distract her from her thoughts of Tyrion, at least.

 

Sansa was humming “The Song of the Seven” and stitching a seam when Ser Jaime sat beside her. Sansa noticed that his golden hand had not made an appearance since his and Brienne’s union.

 

“Please don’t tell me you’ve broken a second bed,” Sansa taunted, and Ser Jaime laughed.

 

“Do not fear, my lady,” said Jaime, “we’ve been very careful. I merely approached you to ask how the gown fares.”

 

“It should be done in another sennight,” Sansa said. Jaime nodded but Sansa sensed that the conversation was not over. “Is there something else, Ser?”

 

Jaime turned his gaze to where Arya was dancing around Pod. “A few days after the battle, I came to watch,” Jaime gestured to the sparring, “this. The poor boy looked like me after I lost my hand. But then– then your sister puts on the blindfold and she holds her own against my betrothed – perhaps the greatest knight who ever lived. She fights with a blindfold on as well as she does without it. How?”

 

Sansa smiled as she stitched. “You’re not the only person to have lost something, Ser Jaime,” she said. “My sister lost her eyes for a time… a time during which she lived on the streets while an assassin beat her with a staff. You learned to fight without your right hand, and my sister learned to fight without her eyes.”

 

Jaime was still watching Arya fight as if contemplating something. “I can’t imagine how hard that must’ve been.”

 

“You can’t imagine a lot of what we Stark’s have been through, Ser,” she said pointedly. She kept stitching but she watched him out of the corner of her eye. “We’ve all lost dreams and loved ones. Brandon was the biggest dreamer of us all.” Sansa kept her voice innocent as she spoke. “He wanted to be a knight of the Kingsguard. He used to blather on and on about his heroes; Ser Barristan the Bold, Ser Arthur Dayne, Prince Aemon the Dragonknight, Ser Ryam Redwyne.” Sansa smiled sadly. “But still he loved climbing even more than his stories. Mother once made him promise to stop climbing but Father found him a fortnight later sleeping in the tallest sentinel of the Godswood. Father called Bran his little squirrel after that. You can’t imagine how devastated he was to lose his legs.” Sansa caught the flash of guilt in Jaime’s eyes before he could hide it.

 

Good, she thought. Feel guilty. You caused my brother a lot of pain.

 

“And what was your dream then?” Asked Ser Jaime.

 

“To be queen.” Sansa shook her head. “When my betrothed had me beaten day after day, I gave up on that particular dream.” She was surprised to see shock appear on Ser Jaime’s face at that particular fact. If you knew, you’re my enemy, Sansa thought. If you didn’t, then you’re blind. “After that dream was ruined, my only dream was for Lady Margaery. That’s two of my dreams that your family has ruined.”

 

The silence that lasted between them after that was so long that Sansa thought their conversation was over, but then Ser Jaime sighed and began to talk.

 

“You’re a very smart woman, Lady Sansa,” said Ser Jaime, throwing her off guard. “You know that love is blinding and it can make you do stupid things– horrible things. And there is no love stronger than that between parents and their children.” Jaime turned his gaze to her. “My love for my son blinded me to his cruelty. It wasn’t until I lost my hand and returned to the capital that I truly realized how monstrous Joffrey had grown up to be.” Sansa’s needle stilled as Jaime referred to Joffrey as his son. “My love for my sister blinded me more still. We were never apart for long, you see, and while I was away at war… I met the most incredible woman in Westeros. When I returned to Cersei I was no longer under her spell, and I saw her for what she was. You’re not the only one Cersei manipulated, my lady.” Jaime didn’t give her time to respond. “I am truly sorry for what my family has done to your own, and for what I’ve personally done. I do not ask for your forgiveness – much less expect it – but I do ask that you give me a chance to prove that I’ve changed.”

 

The honesty in his green eyes startled her. Perhaps… perhaps he had changed. Theon had, hadn’t he?

 

Theon had gone from a hated enemy to a treasured brother in a matter of weeks– days even. He saved her life; he killed Myranda to help Sansa escape Ramsay, and he fought Bolton men to keep her safe. Then he protected Bran with his life. He charged the Night King himself to protect him! Sansa forced down her tears so as not to cry in front of the Kingslayer.

 

“Theon Greyjoy betrayed my family,” she said, stretching her cramped fingers. “I wanted him dead from the moment I heard what he’d done, and I fully intended to see it through. When I returned to Winterfell as a prisoner, and found a shell of a man in Theon’s body, I had no choice but to put my trust in him,” said Sansa. “Now I have entombed him in the crypt of House Stark, and I’m ordering a statue to be crafted in his memory.” She turned her head to meet his gaze. “I do not offer forgiveness for what you’ve done to my family, but I will offer a chance. Take my chance for granted and I will tell my sister the truth of how Bran fell.”

 

Jaime’s winning smile made him look years younger. “Understood,” said the knight. “And… thank you, my lady.”

 

The silence between them was companionable this time, and Sansa was relieved to have come to a truce with Jaime Lannister. She was so tired of enemies. They sat together while Sansa sewed and hummed a tune, both watching Arya and Pod dance around each other.

 

“He’s getting better,” Ser Jaime said, smiling widely as Pod ducked below a swipe of Arya’s staff.

 

Sansa noticed Tormund Giantsbane walking toward them with a mischievous grin but she decided not to warn Jaime. This should be interesting, she thought, remembering what Arya said about Tormund’s… interest in the Kingslayer.

 

“Don’t think I’ve ever seen teeth so perfect,” drawled the wildling, startling Ser Jaime. Said perfect teeth disappeared as Jaime frowned.

 

“Um…” Jaime seemed to struggle to find words, sending a confused glance at Sansa as if asking for an explanation. “Thank you…?”

 

“You are very welcome,” said Tormund, somehow making each word sound ribald. “You want to do a bit of sparring? Can’t let those kids have all the fun.”

 

“I’m quite sure Ser Pod is not having very much fun,” said Sansa, wincing as Arya whacked the boy in the ribs.

 

“Well, I’m sure Ser Pretty Knight and I will have loads of fun,” Tormund purred. Sansa let out a very unladylike snort. Arya would keel over with laughter once Sansa told her about this.

 

“Uh, I– I don’t…” Jaime said eloquently.

 

“C’mon, pretty lord,” said Tormund, heaving Jaime to his feet despite his protests. “Let’s see how you handle a sword.”

 

As Tormund dragged the Kingslayer away, Sansa marveled at how good it felt to laugh.

Chapter Text

Jaime II

 

Jaime was… well, he was happy. 

 

Happiness had seemed such an impossible thing for him after all that happened, yet despite everything– despite all his hardships and losses and grief, he had managed to find happiness with Brienne of Tarth. It was so rare and wonderful that he wanted to lock it away forever so that it may never be taken away from him. 

 

The last time he had been truly happy was the day his sister gave birth to Tommen. The births of his children were the only times he could be with them and be their father without risking being found out. Then he was taken prisoner and lost all three of his children, Father, and his sister to her own madness. All he had left was Tyrion. 

 

And now… now he had Brienne, and would have her until death parted them. 

 

So, he was happy. It left a funny taste in his mouth. 

 

“I’m quite sure that’s Brienne you’re tasting, not happiness,” Tyrion said once Jaime told him so. “But I suppose those two things are equivalent to you, dear brother.” 

 

Jaime smiled into his wine. “I suppose they are.” 

 

It was well into the evening when Tyrion had barged into his chambers with wine and demanded that they celebrate his last day as an unwedded man. Jaime had wanted to argue that he had been about to retire so he wouldn’t have to be awake and unwed another second than necessary, but his wish to spend time with his little brother won in the end. 

 

“Gods you really do look like a fool when you’re in love,” Tyrion said, but he was smiling too. 

 

“You should see yourself trailing after Lady Stark like a lost pup,” Jaime retorted. 

 

“That’s lost cub to you, Ser,” said Tyrion with all the mock indignance he could muster. “And I’m not lost anymore– well, not as lost. At least now I’m trailing after her with some purpose.” 

 

“And how’s that coming along?” 

 

“Well, Arya Stark wants to poke me full of holes, Varys keeps looking at me like some vainglorious urchin, Missandei giggles at me whenever she sees me, and I’m certain Jon Snow is going to murder me when he finds out I’m courting his little sister. So it’s coming along quite nicely, I believe.” Jaime laughed and watched Tyrion as he tried to hide his own amusement. “Stop laughing, Jaime, your brother is a dead man.” 

 

“How many times have you told me that before? You always manage to escape the Stranger, and besides that, you’ve faced terribly worse odds and prevailed,” Jaime reassured him. 

 

“Worse odds,” Tyrion mumbled. “I’d rather fight the bloody Mountain himself than an angry Arya Stark. At least the Mountain would squash my head with his hands and get it over with.” 

 

Jaime snorted. “I’d rather fight Arya than her sister.” Jaime rolled his eyes at Tyrion’s shock. “The woman is the living embodiment of Catelyn Stark, and she’s every bit as threatening. I just hope I can stay on her good side.”

 

“Since when have you been on her good side?” Tyrion asked, voice muffled by his goblet. 

 

“We’re at a truce… at least I hope we are. She might be planning to jab a sewing needle in my eye for all I know,” Jaime said, shrugging. “You never told me that Joffrey– about what he did to her.” 

 

Tyrion let out a long sigh. “I wanted to preserve what little hope you had for him. Besides, I put an end to it as soon as I arrived in the capital. The poor girl was stripped and beaten by Ser Meryn and Ser Boros in front of the whole court for each of Robb’s victories.” 

 

“I knew about that,” Jaime told him. “I berated the cunts for it myself. But she said it was day after day, Tyrion.” His little brother clutched the goblet until his fingers turned white. 

 

“Gods, I’m an idiot,” Tyrion cursed. He set down his goblet and pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head slightly. “I knew Shae was getting her copious amounts of salve, I knew Sansa shouldn’t have needed that much, and I still didn’t piece it together.” 

 

“Hey.” Jaime put his hand on Tyrion’s shoulder and squeezed until he met his gaze. “No matter how hard you try, you can’t change the past. And there’s no point in beating yourself up for things you can’t change.” 

 

“Well,” Tyrion began, raising his goblet, “you’re the expert.” Jaime chuckled because yes, he was the expert in beating oneself up. Tyrion drained his glass and poured himself another. “There’s something I want you to have… a gift for the bridegroom.” 

 

“Oh?” Jaime’s smile faded a bit when he noticed Tyrion’s serious gaze. 

 

Tyrion reached inside his vest and retrieved a scroll of parchment, which Jaime unrolled cautiously. Upon the page were his little brother’s neat, beautiful letters. 

 

I, Tyrion Lannister, son of Tywin, Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, Lord Paramount of the Westerlands, Warden of the West, and Hand of the Queen, hereby bestow upon my brother, Ser Jaime Lannister, all the titles, lands, and castles given to me by Queen Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen.

 

“What is this?” Jaime asked. 

 

“It is a gift I am glad to give,” answered Tyrion. “You have a wife and presumably many children on the way; you should have the Rock. My duties as Hand are plentiful, so I wouldn’t be at the Rock very often were I to keep it.” 

 

Jaime’s eyes shot from the scroll to Tyrion, looking from one eye to the other in search of an answer. Tyrion had longed to rule Casterly Rock ever since Tywin took every other dream from him, and now he was offering it freely to Jaime – a man who had neither the mind nor the desire to rule. 

 

“I don’t want the damned Rock – I never wanted it – but you do!” Jaime clenched his fist around the scroll in frustration as he stared at his brother. “Why? Why would you give this to me?” 

 

Tyrion turned his gaze away to the hearth and stared at the roaring flames. “Because you were the only person who ever gave a damn about me. And I’d be dead if I didn’t have you.” Tyrion met Jaime’s eyes and tilted his head as he usually did when fighting tears. “You were the only one who didn’t treat me like a monster– the only one to stand up for me and protect me. Why? Why would I give you our home? Because you deserve it. Because I remember all the times you snuck away to talk to me, all the times you let me cry on your shoulder, hugged me, and told me everything was going to be alright.” 

 

Jaime stood before Tyrion could say another word and went to the hearth. He tossed the scroll into the fire without a second thought and watched as the damned thing caught flame and burned away. Tyrion joined him in front of the hearth to stare into the dancing flames with his mouth agape. 

 

“Why did you do that?” 

 

Jaime knelt down and forced his brother to look at him. “All those things I did, I did because I love you, little brother,” said Jaime. It pained his heart to think that Tyrion believed his kindness came at a price. “You don’t owe me anything, okay? You don’t owe me a bloody debt for simply loving you, so don’t think that you ne– oof!” 

 

Tyrion tackled Jaime into a crushing hug that he happily returned. Jaime shut his eyes tight and gripped his brother with all his strength, afraid that if he didn’t then Tyrion would somehow slip away from him. 

 

“I love you, Jaime,” Tyrion whispered. “You’re the best brother anyone could ask for. And you’ll never know how much joy it brings me to know that you are happy.” 

 

Jaime willed his tears away before they could spill. “I want this for you as well,” he said. “You deserve the love I have with Brienne more than I ever will, and I hope more than anything that you find it with Lady Sansa.” 

 

“If her sister doesn’t kill me first,” said Tyrion, startling a laugh out of Jaime. “And… for the record, I know that I hadn’t needed to give you the Rock; I just wanted to. I wanted to give you some joy as you have given me, and I thought– I thought that after everything you might want to return home.” 

 

Home, thought Jaime, no… Casterly is not my home. 

 

“My home is here,” he said, “with you and with Brienne. Anywhere in the world could be my home as long as I have her.” Jaime smiled and pulled away from Tyrion. “Besides… Brienne wants me to see Tarth and all it has to offer.” 

 

“All those beaches and sun will certainly return the golden to your hair,” said Tyrion. “What a sight you’ll be; skin burned red, hair golden, covered in sand and salt water – they’ll sing songs about the Lobster of Lannister.” Jaime chuckled and followed Tyrion back to the table where they refilled their cups. “Hey, why have we been wallowing?” Tyrion asked, setting his goblet down to shove Jaime. “This is your last night as the most desirable bachelor in Westeros! We’re supposed to be having fun!” 

 

“Well, you’re the expert in having fun,” said Jaime. “What do you suggest we do?” 

 

Tyrion drummed his fingers on the table. “Gods, it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten how to have fun.” His brother thought for a moment before shooting up in his seat. “Aha! I’ve got it! We’ll need a wheelbarrow, a direwolf, a cloak, and a–” 

 

A knock on the door startled them both. “Ser Jaime?” Came Lady Sansa’s muffled voice. 

 

“Come in,” he beckoned, curious. Lady Sansa filed into the room with her sister close behind, carrying a basket at her waist. “Lady Sansa, Lady Arya, to what do we owe this pleasure?” 

 

“Is it not customary for a bridegroom to receive gifts for his wedding?” Lady Sansa set the basket on the table and retrieved a white cloak from within, holding it out across the table for Jaime to take. He hesitantly took the folded cloak and rubbed his thumb over the smooth fabric. “I know it’s not an ordinary bride cloak, but I thought a cloak of the Kingsguard might do just as well.” 

 

Jaime’s eyes shot up at her, a frown forming on his face. “How–?” 

 

Lady Sansa glanced at Tyrion and gave Jaime a small smile. “It belonged to Sandor Clegane. He gave it to me after one of Joffrey’s punishments, and I… I kept it. It made me feel safe to have it. But I don’t need its protection anymore.” Lady Stark looked back at her sister meaningfully. “And I thought it apt that my old protector’s cloak be put on my new one’s shoulders.” 

 

Jaime stared into the woman’s Tully blue eyes but her emotions were inscrutable. Just like her mother. “Thank you, Lady Stark. It’s perfect.” Sansa nodded once. 

 

“Her gown is in the basket,” said Lady Sansa. “I thought you might want to give it to her.” 

 

Jaime stowed the cloak back in the basket and carried it to his bedside, thanking her again as he went. It seemed that the Stark women would continue to surprise him. 

 

“Stay for a little while,” Tyrion said when they made to leave. “Have a drink with us. Ser Jaime and I are in dire need of some company.” Jaime raised his eyebrows at his little brother, knowing exactly what kind of company he wanted from Lady Sansa. 

 

“What kind of wine is that?” Asked the younger wolf. 

 

“Arbor red,” said Tyrion, “from my private stash. I can’t stand that mulled ale you Northerners drink.” 

 

Arya drank from Tyrion’s offered cup and winced at the taste. “Not sweet enough,” she said as she sat across from Jaime. Lady Sansa took the empty seat beside her and poured herself a glass. 

 

'Not sweet enough’?” Jaime repeated, shaking his head. 

 

“Ah, blood of my blood,” said Tyrion, pointing at Arya. “Now there’s a girl with some taste.” Arya smiled. 

 

“This wine is so sweet that it’s filling my teeth with holes,” Jaime said. “Give me a good ale any day.” 

 

“You disgust me,” Tyrion spat. Jaime caught the chuckle Sansa attempted to hide in her goblet. “I can’t believe you call yourself a Lannister.” His brother turned to Arya, who Tyrion was no doubt going to love calling goodsister. “Favorite wine?” 

 

“Blackberry,” said Arya. Both Jaime and his brother winced. 

 

“Okay, now that,"  said Tyrion, “is much too sweet.” 

 

“Traitor,” Arya said. “I got my first taste from a man in your own army.” 

 

“You drank a dead man’s wine?” At that, all emotion from Arya’s face disappeared in one swift act. 

 

“I assume you’re implying that I kill random Lannister soldiers for what your House has done to me, but you’re wrong – I don’t kill innocent people,” Arya snapped. “I am Lord Eddard’s daughter.” Tyrion retreated and Jaime pitied his brother. Just when you were getting on her good side. “And I don’t blame Lannister soldiers for Lannister orders.” 

 

Again Jaime was surprised by one of the Stark women. You Stark’s are all so painstakingly honorable, the lot of you, he thought. 

 

“Speaking of Lannister’s,” said Tyrion, and Jaime had no doubt his brother would manage to pivot the conversation, “I’ve been meaning to ask you something.” 

 

Arya spared her sister a glance that she responded to with a nod and leaned back in her seat, face still vacant. “Go on, then.” 

 

“In the forge you told me that my lord father didn’t despise you.” Jaime fixed Arya with a confused stare. “I’d like to know how you managed that, because his three children tried for decades with no such luck.” 

 

“You knew Lord Tywin?” Jaime asked. “How?” 

 

The little wolf shrugged and drained her wine without a single change in her expression. It was frightening, really. “I was traveling to the Wall with Night’s Watch recruits after Father died, and we got captured by some pigs in Lannister armor. They took us to Harrenhal to be tortured for information on the Brotherhood. They were strapping rats to Gendry’s chest when Lord Tywin Lannister came galloping in on his white mare.” Arya’s empty face made it impossible to gauge her tone. “I never thought I’d be happy to see a Lannister – let alone my brother’s enemy. He scolded the twats for wasting able bodies and put us to work, calling our captors idiots for not noticing that I was a girl. 

 

“He said I was smart when I told him it was safer to travel dressed as a boy,” Arya said, and Jaime caught the ghost of a smile as it passed over her lips. Strange. “So he made me his cupbearer, and I managed to go unnoticed.” 

 

“That’s all well and good,” said Tyrion, “but I want to know how you managed to go unscathed by my father’s wrath. See, he held impossible expectations for all three of his children and he hated us more and more for each expectation we couldn’t meet.” 

 

“He didn’t have any expectations for me; I was just his cupbearer,” said Arya. 

 

“That’s simply not true,” said Jaime. “Father had expectations for everyone, from the king all the way down to the peasants in Flea Bottom.” Jaime knitted his hands on the table. “So… tell us, how’d you do it?” 

 

Arya shrugged, emotion slowing emerging from whatever depths she’d stored them in. “By just being myself.” Jaime snorted. That never worked for us. “I don’t know why he liked me. I spoke out of turn and I talked back to him and I was generally not a very desirable cupbearer.” 

 

“You talked back to him?” Tyrion asked, aghast. “And lived?” 

 

“I think it amused him that I wasn’t afraid,” said Arya. “He said he enjoyed me.” Jaime laughed in shock, immensely beguiled by the girl and her feats. 

 

“Forty years of striving for Father’s favor and failing,” said Jaime, “and a Stark does it in days.” 

 

“Cersei would claw out your hair if she knew,” Tyrion told Arya. 

 

Arya shook her head. “It’s not like he loved me or anything – I only saw him smile once.” 

 

He and his brother shouted in unison, “he smiled?!” Lady Sansa flinched at the sudden noise. 

 

“Father never smiled,” Jaime explained. “Never. Not even once.” Jaime watched Arya’s brow knit together as she took in that information. 

 

“How’d you do it?” Asked Tyrion. 

 

“I– I don’t know…” said Arya as she rubbed her forehead. “He was mad at Joffrey for some reason, and then he was mad at Cersei for whatever Joffrey had done. He had me pour wine for myself and sit with him by the fire…” Arya paused and closed her eyes, seemingly replaying the memory in her head. “...and then he asked me what quality I thought made a good king.” Jaime drained his glass so he wouldn’t scream. “First I said honor, then wisdom. That’s when he smiled.” 

 

Tyrion looked like he wanted nothing more than to throw the wine pitcher across the room. “Congratulations,” said his brother, “you won the honor of having Lord Tywin’s favor.” 

 

“I didn’t want his stupid favor,” Arya spat. 

 

“That’s what makes it all the more frustrating for us,” said Tyrion. “You see, we wanted his favor, desperately, and yet nothing we did was ever enough. Cersei drove herself mad trying to please him.” 

 

Jaime watched Arya’s jaw clench and unclench over and over until finally she stood. “I gotta go take a piss,” she said, and was out the door in the next second. 

 

Jaime sighed. “Aren’t we supposed to be having fun?” 

 

Lady Sansa’s eyes twinkled. “We should invite Tormund; I’m sure he could show you a bit of fun.” Being taunted by Lady Stark was very much preferable to being hated by her. 

 

“I’d prefer to save my energy for my wife, thank you,” Jaime jested, smiling when Sansa laughed. 

 

Jaime Lannister,” Tyrion began, widening his eyes in mock shock, “are you seeing a red-headed wildling on the side?” 

 

Jaime snorted. “No, but that hasn’t seemed to deter him.” Jaime drank generously from his glass. “I don’t know how to handle him.” 

 

“That’s unfortunate, because I believe he knows exactly how to handle you,” said Tyrion, earning a laugh from Sansa. 

 

“Gods, would you two stop?” Jaime asked, but he was smiling. “Have mercy on a poor cripple.” 

 

“Only if you promise something,” said Sansa. Her mirth was slowly being replaced by seriousness. 

 

Jaime nodded. “Yes?” 

 

“Promise me that you’ll be kind to Tormund when you refuse him – if you refuse him, that is.” Jaime watched the woman tap her nails on her goblet in a rhythm. “We’re very fond of him, you see, especially Jon. And he has faced hardship even though he acts like… well, like Tormund.” Jaime had never been good at sensing deception but he believed her to be speaking for true. “He lost all his kin to the army of the dead, along with his friends and his king. He’s a good man, Ser, so I ask that you be kind.” 

 

“What is there to refuse?” He asked. “I am to marry Brienne, and– and he’s a man!” 

 

“How very observant of you,” Sansa jested. “You must know that men can love men as they love women.” I can’t! “And wildlings are a bit like the Dornish; they do not always limit themselves to one.” 

 

“And why should they?” Asked a familiar voice. 

 

All three of them turned to see Bronn waltzing into the chambers with a crossbow in hand. Sansa slowly stood from her seat so her back was not to their possible attacker. Jaime squinted at the man and then the crossbow, which he immediately recognized. Both the lath and the tiller were deep Lannister red but the color was lost underneath the golden embroidery work lining the lath from end to end. At the very tip of the bow was a silver lion – the very same lion that adorned his son’s crossbow, which Tyrion later used to kill Father. 

 

Cersei was always one for poetic justice. She wouldn’t, Jaime told himself, she hates us, but she wouldn’t… 

 

“Ser Bronn of the Blackwater. What are you– what are you doing up here?” Tyrion asked a bit reluctantly. Jaime was immediately sobered when Bronn pointed his weapon at Tyrion. “What are you doing with that?” 

 

“This is for you,” said Bronn with a shake of his bow, “and for him. You two are a pair of gold-plated cunts, d’you know that?” Sansa moved to stand beside Tyrion so a table separated her from Bronn. 

 

“Well, that’s a bit rude,” said Tyrion without an ounce of nervousness, “even for you.” 

 

“Year after fucking year I’ve shoveled Lannister shit, and what do I have to show for it?” Jaime was scared now– scared of what he suspected Bronn had come north to do. 

 

“You’re a knight because of me.”

 

“Aye, and that title means as much as a golden hair from your pretty brother’s ballsack.”



“Power resides where men believe–"

 

“Shut your fucking mouth.”



“I’m just trying to–”



“I’ve never hit a dwarf before, but say another fucking word and I’ll belt ya.”



“See, I don’t believe you’d do that, after all–”



Tyrion shouted as Bronn’s fist came down on his nose. Jaime stood from his seat at the same time that Sansa took a step forward and Bronn stepped back, turning the crossbow to her in warning. Jaime wanted nothing more than to throw the man against the wall and beat him bloody. Jaime watched Sansa as she darted her tongue out to lick her lips, looking from Tyrion to Bronn and back again. 


“You broke my nose!” Tyrion groaned, indignant. His head was tilted up as he held it, and Sansa sighed.



“He didn’t break it,” said Sansa. Tyrion craned his head down a little to peer at her.



“How do you know?”



“That’s not the noise a nose makes when it’s broken,” she said coolly, turning to Bronn who lifted an eyebrow at her. “What do you want?”



“Queen Cersei has offered me Riverrun in return for killing these two cunts.” Jaime pinched the bridge of his nose. Don’t be surprised, you fool, he chastised himself. “Good lands, big castle, plenty of peasants who do what they’re told.”



“Cersei will be dead soon – you saw the queen’s dragons. I assume you want a bigger castle in exchange for not killing Tyrion and Ser Jaime?”



“Aren’t you clever. Aye,” said Bronn, turning to Tyrion. “Once upon a time you made a promise to me.”



“I remember,” Tyrion said, removing his hand from his bleeding nose. The tip of it was completely red with blood. “I told you that whatever anyone offered to kill me, I’d pay double.”



“What’s double Riverrun?”



“Highgarden,” said Tyrion. Both Jaime and Sansa turned to him, mouths agape. “You could be Lord of the Reach.”



Jaime watched Bronn process that, and could hear Lady Sansa’s angry breaths. “No,” she said, taking another step. Bronn fired a bolt at her feet that broke against the stone, stopping her from moving any closer. Jaime made to lunge at him but he was too swift at reloading.



“Bronn, don’t–! Don’t hurt her!” Tyrion shouted. Jaime’s left hand clenched into a fist as he imagined all the ways he was going to kill Bronn. 

 


“Aren’t you a brave little lion?” Bronn turned to Sansa and she stared right back. “I wasn’t asking you for permission. Highgarden.”



“No,” she said again. “I’ll not have a man of your integrity sitting at the power of the Reach.” Jaime agreed with her but she was being a bloody fool.



“Sansa–!” Tyrion gasped, desperate.



“Again,” said Bronn, “I wasn’t asking you for permission.”



“Why not?” Sansa asked, unmoved. “I’m the Lady of Winterfell and Wardenness of the North and thus if I say you never have Highgarden, you never have Highgarden.”



“You wardenness of the south, too?” Bronn said. “You gonna march your northern soldiers south to keep me out of some fucking castle? The south doesn’t agree with you Stark’s.” 

 

Sansa took yet another step closer to the tip of Bronn’s crossbow.

 

“You’re right, the Stark’s don’t fare well in the south,” she said through gritted teeth. “But no southerner fares well in the North, either. You are a southerner. You are surrounded by wolves and wildlings and bearded barbarians who would love nothing better than to stick their sword in a southern twat like you, and all those men are under my command. If I say you won’t have Highgarden, you won’t, because you’ll die right here in my home.”

 


“Shouldn’t you be scared of me, girl?” Sansa chuckled. “You think I won’t shoot you? I will.” 

 

“I know you would in a heartbeat, but you won’t once you hear what I have to say. Tell me, Ser Bronn of the bloody Blackwater, do you think you could stand a chance against Sandor Clegane?” Bronn showed the slightest bit of hesitance then, and Sansa smiled. “No, you wouldn’t, would you? I’m not scared of you, because, you see, I’m one of the only people Sandor has ever cared about. What do you think he’d do to you if he finds out you pointed a crossbow at me? I’m not scared because I know you’re not stupid enough to pull that trigger. Go on, put an arrow in my belly. I’ve suffered far worse before. Do it, and Sandor will cut you in half, Ser Brienne will take your head, or perhaps my little sister will sneak up behind you and slit your throat.” 

 


On cue, Arya emerged swift as a deer and put her dagger to his throat, clutching the hand holding the crossbow. Jaime lunged over the table and yanked the bow from Bronn, turning it in hand to point it at the cunt.



“You think you’re a very smart man, don’t you?” Arya whispered, grip still firm on the dagger to his throat.



“Dumb enough to get meself with a knife to the throat,” Bronn quipped, but Jaime could see the fear in his eyes.



“Funny, too,” Arya said. “You got a taste of fortune and now you’re nipping at its tail just to get another taste. Well, I’ve got a taste for killing. ‘Cept I don’t have to hunt for it, men like you come running into my blade with their stupid words and their stupid plans,” the wolf spat. “Perhaps I should take your face once I kill you. Yeah, I could slit your throat and peel your face from your head and be the great Ser Bronn as I run my sword through Cersei’s chest. You’re a bit old, but your muscles would do me just fine.”



“What in the Seven fucking Hells are you on about?” Bronn asked. Jaime would’ve done the same if he weren’t a little frightened of the girl.



“Oh, my sister didn’t tell you, did she? See, after my father was murdered, I didn’t spend my days hunting for a bit of gold like you; I hunted people. You ever been to Braavos, Ser Bronn?”

 

“The place smells terrible.” 

 

“It’s where I learned to be a Faceless Man.” Jaime’s eyebrows shot up as his eyes widened, wondering just how frightened he should be. An assassin that can change faces at will, he thought. She could kill anyone she wished to. “It’s also where I learned to kill, to move like a shadow… and to change skins. The Stark’s aren’t my only pack, see, I lead a pack of a hundred wolves from the body of my direwolf.” Jaime came to the conclusion that yes, he should be incredibly frightened of Arya Stark. “If you ever threaten my sister again, I’ll rip a piece off of you for each of my wolves to eat.”



“Hmph,” Bronn grumbled. “Now I see why every fucking man in the North calls you the Quiet Wolf, and you the red one. If you’re so bloody dangerous, how come I hear tell of your sister screaming her lungs out from Winterfell’s tower at the hands of some bastard?” Jaime caught Sansa’s flinch from the corner of his eye, and almost didn’t see Arya remove the blade from Bronn’s neck.

 

Bronn reached behind his back and Jaime nearly shot him, but Arya pushed Bronn and waved the dagger in his face. 

 

“Keeping your dagger on your back is a smart move,” said Arya, throwing it with a clatter behind herself nonchalantly, “but only if you don’t get snuck up on.” 

 

“You’re the first to– ARGH!” Bronn shouted when Arya moved quick as a snake and swiped her dagger at his hand. The tip of Bronn’s pinky finger dropped to the ground and he howled in pain as he clutched his hand. “Fucking cunt-fucker!” Bronn grunted at Arya, who simply tilted her head. 

 

“One piece down,” Arya hissed. “I’ll take another if you speak of my sister like that again.” 

 

Jaime watched Bronn breathe heavily at Arya before his breaths turned into laughs. Jaime and Tyrion shared a confused look as Bronn dissolved into deranged laughter. 

 

“Cersei was a dumb bitch to send me for her little brothers,” said Bronn. “She should’ve sent me to kill you.” 

 

“You’d be dead if she had,” said Arya. 

 

“Aye, I believe you,” Bronn said, and Jaime agreed. “Now I know why the Hound seems to like you so fucking much.” Bronn leaned over and picked up the piece of his finger, throwing it with precision into Tyrion’s wine glass. “Tell me, Lady Wolf, do you love killing as much as the Hound?” 

 

“Yes,” answered Arya. 

 

“Hmph. I like you.” Jaime slightly lowered the crossbow, sending Tyrion a look of exasperation that his brother returned with a shrug. 

 

“Not very smart of you.”

 

“Well I’m obviously not very smart, am I?” 

 

Sansa sighed, retrieving Bronn’s dagger from the floor and examining it. “Will it be a dungeon or a chamber?” She asked Bronn. 

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Dungeon or chamber? If you stay on Cersei’s side, or if you’d prefer to keep running your mouth, there’s plenty room in the dungeons for you,” said Sansa. “Or... if you choose to fight for us, fight for the North and the Stark’s, I’ll give you a chamber. And if you remain loyal, I’ll give you the Twins and make you Lord of the Crossing. What will it be?” 

 

“My sister asked you a question,” Arya said after a long pause. 

 

“Fucking hated the Frey’s.”

 

“Not,” Sansa began, pausing to drink from her abandoned goblet, “as much as the Stark’s. Their castle is empty since my sister rid of them, and not a single Northman wants to live in their cursed halls.”

 

“You killed the Frey’s?” Bronn asked Arya. 

 

“'You don’t even have to do anything, do ya?’” Arya began, mimicking Bronn’s thick accent. “'You just sit there, a rich slab of beef, and all the birds come pecking.’ ” Jaime barely heard Bronn’s intake of breath as Arya switched to a poor impression of Jaime himself. “‘You’re welcome to her,’” she said, resting both her hands on her pommel. Jaime staggered back a few steps and set the crossbow down on the table, all the while staring at Arya Stark. Impossible, he thought, it’s impossible. ‘She doesn’t want me, she wants your golden fingers up her twat.’” Arya chuckled. “I didn’t, actually, I wanted to slit Jaime’s throat that day. But, if I had killed him then, I wouldn’t have been able to slaughter House Frey.” 

 

Jaime struggled to find his words. “You were the–?” 

 

Arya turned to Jaime. “Yes,” she said simply, and turned back to Bronn. “Do I frighten you?” 

 

“More than both the Silver Queen’s fucking dragons, I’d say.” 

 

“Smartest thing you’ve said all night,” said Tyrion. 

 

Bronn looked at Tyrion, then Sansa. “Alright, I accept your offer,” said Bronn. 

 

“Good,” Sansa said, handing the man’s dagger back to him. “Arya, we didn’t plan on hurting Ser Bronn.” 

 

“Plan?” Jaime asked the woman, and was completely ignored. 

 

Arya shrugged. “Barely a scratch.” 

 

“Take him to Maester Wolkan, would you?” 

 

“Gladly,” said Arya, shooting a smirk at the knight. They went out together, and Jaime heard the murmur of conversation before the door was shut. 

 

Both Jaime and Sansa turned to Tyrion at his exhale. “Are you alright?” Lady Sansa asked him.

 

“Am I–?! Am I alright?!” Tyrion half-shouted. “Bronn nearly killed you!” 

 

“I was never in danger, Tyrion,” she said. “Arya‘s been watching him ever since he arrived in Winterfell a few days ago. He’s been waiting for you two to be in one place – that’s why she came with me tonight.” 

 

“I thought you were going to die, Sansa!” He shouted. Jaime would’ve left to give them some privacy if they weren’t in his chambers. “I thought…” 

 

“It’s alright,” she said. 

 

There was a long silence and Jaime wanted to roll his eyes. “I do believe the more we attempt to have fun, the more we damn ourselves. I think it’d be best if I retired for the night.” 

 

After Tyrion apologized for failing to make their night a merry affair, and they left him in peace, Jaime rubbed his face until his skin was red. He didn’t know how long he stood there mourning the past, but by the end his back and feet were aching. 

 

He grabbed the crossbow and made his way through the castle with haste, uncaring of the hour, and barged through the doors to the smithy. The embers of the forge still burned hot, to his relief. He only hesitated once he reached the hearth where the coals burned brightest. 

 

Jaime ran his finger along the frayed string and tried to calm the emotions rising in his throat. He exhaled a long breath and threw the crossbow onto the red coals, slumping down to the cold ground as the bow settled. He watched the embroidery catch flame and melt away from the metal. The string caught fire where it was wrapped around the lath, and then the flame traveled across the string until it was completely engulfed. 

 

“Farewell, sister,” he whispered. Jaime hated himself for the sadness he still felt for Cersei. She has been consumed by madness, he reminded himself. Your grief has no purpose. Still, he could not help but mourn the woman he had loved once – the mother of his children. 

 

“That’s a very expensive weapon you’re burning,” said the cool voice of Arya Stark. He looked up from the hearth and blinked away the spots seared into his vision by the flames, watching her as she pulled a fire iron from a pile of tools and sat by the hearth. She poked the coals around the bow until flame began to devour the metal. 

 

“Tyrion used this bow to kill my father,” he said, with neither anger nor remorse coloring his words. “So Cersei wanted him to die by this weapon.” 

 

“Is that why you’re destroying it?” 

 

“No,” said Jaime. “I’m destroying it because mine own sister tried to have me killed and I’m too bloody tired to be angry. A few years ago I would’ve marched all the way to King’s Landing to put a bolt between her eyes with this bow, yet sadness is all I am wont to feel for her anymore. I haven’t the will to hate her. You’ll do all the hating for me, I assume.” 

 

Neither Jaime nor Arya said anything for a long time, simply watching the flames in silence. 

 

Arya placed the fire iron on the ground to cool off and fixed Jaime with an intense stare. “On the morrow, I leave for King’s Landing.” 

 

“What?” He asked, sitting up straighter. 

 

“My sister and I have made plans with Queen Daenerys to infiltrate the capital and render it defenseless before our armies arrive. Bronn has given me all the information I need on guard shifts, and I’m ready for the journey.” Jaime opened his mouth to say it was too dangerous but then remembered who he was talking to.

 

“Why are you telling me this?” 

 

“I need to know that you will not retaliate when I kill your sister,” Arya said. 

 

Jaime turned back to the hearth to gaze at the broiling crossbow as if it had some answer. “Cersei has always been a cruel woman,” he whispered, letting the words coming straight from his heart answer for himself. “But she has suffered terribly over the years.” He began to fiddle with a loose thread on his tunic. “When I was your brother’s prisoner, I saw the same look on your mother’s face that I’d seen on Cersei’s so many times – a mother’s despair. You shall know what I speak of if ever you are to have children. Your mother… she hated me with all her might, yet it was the mother’s despair that drove her to set me free. She would’ve done anything – sacrificed anything – to save her sons and daughters.” Jaime abandoned his loose thread to watch the flames dance in Arya’s wide grey eyes. “It was for that same despair that Cersei did all those horrible things you hate her for. She demanded your direwolf’s death out of love for Joffrey. She named your father a traitor to protect her children from the consequences of the truth.” Jaime sighed. “I do not ask for her life to be spared… but– but I believe she deserves a trial.”

 

“My father got no trial,” Arya said immediately, and then sighed. “But my sister says that Cersei meant to send him to the Watch, and that his death was by Joffrey’s hand and his alone. For this mercy I will repay her with a trial and nothing more.” 

 

Jaime nodded at Arya’s judgement. “Thank you.”

 

“It will be harder to execute my plans without your sister’s face,” Arya said with a frown. Jaime knew not if he could bear seeing Arya Stark wearing Cersei’s face. “I suspect she will not come quietly.” Arya sent him an appraising look. “How fast do you ride?” 

 

“Fast,” he said. 

 

“Can you slip through places unnoticed?” 

 

Jaime didn’t have to think very hard on an answer, for he spent decades sneaking around castles with Cersei. “Yes.” 

 

“Can you hunt for food?” 

 

“Yes…?” 

 

“Hmm.” Arya’s lips curled into a smirk. “You’ll be traveling with me to the capital, then. I’ll need you to subdue your sister.” 

 

“I’m to be married tomorrow, I can’t go with you!” Nor do I want to. 

 

“Oh, stop your bloody whinging,” Arya hissed. “I’m leaving my husband behind and you don’t hear me complaining about it.” She didn’t give him time to ask who her husband was, and when exactly she found time to get married. “We leave at dawn after your wedding. I suggest you prepare.” 

 

With that, Arya left him by the hearth. 

 

Jaime supposed that he owed the girl his assistance since he was asking for her mercy, but still he did not want to go. He didn’t want to leave Brienne – not for any amount of time. She’ll kill Cersei without a trial if I stay, he told himself. 

 

“There you are,” came the voice of a very persistent wildling. Jaime stood so Tormund would not be towering over him. “I’ve been looking all over Winterfell for you. I thought maybe you were having second thoughts about the wedding, which would make you a fool and a cunt.” Jaime reluctantly agreed with the wildling on that. 

 

“Well, you found me,” Jaime said, not knowing what to do with his arms. He hated how unsettled the wildling made him feel. “I should retire soon; Brienne will be wondering where I am.” 

 

“You know, I fell in love with Brienne the moment I laid eyes on her,” Tormund told him. “There I was, standing in the courtyard of Castle Black, when the gates open and a black horse comes trotting in with her atop its back. I’d never seen such a beautiful woman before… it was like those songs you southerners love so much.” 

 

If it were any other man, Jaime would’ve decked him for being cruel about Brienne’s looks, yet it was clear that Tormund meant every word. Jaime mentally chastised himself for the jealousy that twisted in his chest at knowing that Tormund – a wildling – had the sense to see Brienne’s beauty quicker than he. 

 

“It is a pity, then, that your love is for naught,” Jaime said through gritted teeth. 

 

“What?” Tormund ever so slightly tilted his head. “Love is never for naught – not even when it isn’t returned. Love makes you warm,” Tormund said, resting a hand over his chest, “in here. And warmth is worth more than any amount of gold to the Free Folk.” 

 

Jaime blinked at him, stunned. He could find no suitable response to Tormund’s words, so instead he ignored them completely. “Why were you looking for me?” 

 

“Oh, right,” Tormund said, moving passed Jaime in search of something. “Aha,” Tormund exclaimed as he laid his hands on a box by an anvil. “As pretty as it was, I was glad to see you abandon that golden hand. Useless thing, if you ask me.” Tormund brought the box to Jaime, who reluctantly took it. 

 

“I’ll have you know that I once stopped a sword with that hand,” said Jaime, a little indignant. 

 

“All due respect, Ser Handsome, but you should be able to do a lot more than stop a sword with a hand,” Tormund said. He outstretched a calloused hand and tapped the box in Jaime’s arms. “Open it.” 

 

Jaime looked at the man for a long moment before yielding and opening the box. Inside was an odd sort of metal limb made of two tapered steel halves held together by straps, with a strange contraption attached to the stump. The attachment resembled a finger and thumb held together to form a circle, but Jaime did not understand how he could use it. 

 

“I– I don’t…” 

 

“What’s the matter?” Tormund taunted. “Never seen the craftsmanship of the Free Folk before?” He took the box from Jaime and retrieved the limb, motioning for Jaime to hold out his arm. Oh, what the hell, Jaime thought just before rolling up his sleeve and giving the wildling his arm. “Hardship begets improvement, Ser Handsome, and we from Beyond the Wall have had plenty of hardship.” Tormund sheathed Jaime’s stumped arm in the metal limb, the inside of which Jaime found to be padded with cloth, and began tightening the straps. “The cold up there is only half the problem. The skin turns red, then blue, which are both treatable. If the skin turns black or green, though… that’s when the rot has set in, and you have to start cutting. Cut off enough limbs, and you get good at it. The smith here is good and he owed me a favor.” 

 

Jaime held up his arm once it was fitted and turned it to examine the craftsmanship. “How does it work?” 

 

Tormund grabbed a nearby sword and grinned. “Let me show you.” He pulled a lever on the limb’s attachment to open the claws and inserted the sword’s handle before pulling the lever again, locking the grip around the sword. 

 

Jaime gasped and staggered away, feeling suddenly quite dizzy. He twisted his forearm and the sword tilted side to side, moving with him. An almost crazed laugh bubbled up in his throat and tumbled through his lips. Jaime brought his shaking left hand up to grasp the sword alongside the claws and made a few quick slashes through the air, the wonder of it making his eyes water. 

 

“Tormund, this is…” he said, struggling to find the right words. “You have no idea what this means for me– how much it means to me.” Tormund just smiled like he knew exactly how much it meant. “Why do this for me?” 

 

“Lady Sansa told me all you have done for Ser Brienne,” said Tormund. “I give you this for what you did for her, and with it I also give my heart.” 

 

Rejecting him will have to wait, Jaime thought as Tormund left the smithy, for he couldn’t very well tell him to fuck off right after such a gift.

Chapter Text

Sansa III

 

Yara Greyjoy arrived on the morning of Jaime and Brienne’s wedding. From the looks of her and her companions, she had ridden hard and long. 

 

“Scrounge up a warm meal for our guests,” she told a nearby kitchen worker. “Lady Yara,” she greeted the woman with a polite smile. “I am Sansa of House Stark, Lady of Winterfell in my brother’s absence. I was not told to expect your arrival.” She let the question be audible in her tone. 

 

The golden kraken emblazoned on her chest plate shone in the sunlight. “I secured Dragonstone and left my men there to hold it. I came here to get instructions from my queen on the assault.” 

 

“Of course. You and your men must be hungry— there will be food waiting for you in the great hall.”

 

Yara dismounted her horse, looking anything but hungry. “My brother?”

 

The smile left Sansa’s lips as she shook her head. “He fought bravely, my lady. He protected my brother Bran from the dead until his last breath.” 

 

Yara rested her hand on the pommel of her sword and nodded. Though her eyes were filled with grief, she seemed to accept Sansa’s words. 

 

“Where is the queen?” She asked as she tilted her head to search the skies. 

 

“She is burying Ser Jorah Mormont and Lady Mormont on Bear Island. I expect she will return soon.” 

 

“A shame, that. The old bear was a loyal one,” said Yara. She looked around Winterfell for the first time since she’d arrived. “So… who was the one to defeat the Night King?” 

 

Sansa smiled, feeling pride swell in her chest. “My sister, Arya.” 

 

Yara let out a delighted laugh. “I must meet her. For now, would you mind showing me to where you’ve buried Theon? I’d like to pay my respects.” 

 

“Of course.” 

 

Sansa led her down into the crypt, and past Robb’s tomb to where Theon lay. 

 

“You’ve made him a statue?” Yara’s voice was coated in disbelief as she stared up at Theon’s likeness. 

 

“I mean no disrespect to you when I say that Theon was a brother to me, Lady Yara. He and Robb… they were best friends. And he—,” Sansa took a deep breath before continuing, “your brother, he saved mine and Bran’s life.”

 

Yara bowed her head for a moment before addressing Sansa. “It is good that he is here. He was my blood, but he was your brother in truth. I knew him far less than you.” There was a spark of regret in her eyes.

 

“I’m sorry we took that from you,” said Sansa, even though it was not her fault.

 

“My father knew the risks he undertook by rebelling. I only regret that he did not succeed.” 

 

“Do you still wish to be independent?” 

 

“Truthfully, I do not believe the Iron Islands would survive very long in its state without the aid of Queen Daenerys, for my homeland has been ravaged by war. I shan’t rebel against her if she wishes to retain sovereignty over the Islands; I respect her too much to do that.” 

 

Sansa could tell by her voice that Lady Yara felt more than respect for the Queen. 

 

“It is good to finally meet you, my lady,” said Sansa. “Theon spoke of you often once he returned.” 

 

“Likewise, Lady Sansa,” said Yara. “Though he failed to mention your beauty.” The intensity of Yara’s gaze made her blush. “I would go to war for a beauty such as yours.”

 

“Thank you, my lady.” 

 

“Please, call me Yara — we’ll never get anywhere if we keep up the courtesies.”

 

“And where is this ‘anywhere’ you wish to get to?” 

 

“The bedchamber of course.” Her bluntness startled Sansa. “I cannot sire your children, but I can pleasure you more than a man ever could, if you let me. In this, I am very talented.” 

 

The plain hunger in Yara’s eyes made her want to run away and hide. “I do not doubt you, yet I must decline.” 

 

“A true shame, that. I’m sure we would’ve had great fun. But I understand. If you ever change your mind, come and find me.” 

 

“I shall keep that in mind, Lady Yara.” Sansa dipped into a curtsey and forced herself to maintain a slow pace as she left the crypt. 

 

I am not running away, she told herself. I have other matters to attend to — I am not running away. 

 

Sansa gave Brienne’s gown to Jaime, accepted his awkward thanks, and tried to quell the odd feeling she got whenever she was friendly with Jaime Lannister. She had to keep reminding herself that he was not her enemy, but it felt wrong almost to be kind to a man that had caused her family so much pain. He is different now , she would remind herself. He is not the same man that Robb imprisoned— the man that pushed Bran and stabbed Father. Brienne loves him; he is safe. 

 

She busied herself with making sure the wedding was prepared for, in an attempt to ignore the sick feeling that had filled her stomach when Yara… propositioned her. She held no ill will for Yara, it was only the hunger in her eyes that filled her with unease. It was well-past dawn when Ser Davos approached her. 

 

“Good morrow, ser,” she said. She was sure the smile she’d plastered on her face was a frail thing. 

 

“My lady, are you alright?” He asked earnestly. “You look… like you’re running away from something.” She wondered for a moment if Bran had pointed him in her direction. He must’ve noticed her shock because he continued. “When I was Hand to Stannis, he did a lot of running— mostly from himself. I got quite good at noticing when he was trying to avoid something that was bothering him.” 

 

“You’re a very perceptive man, Ser Davos.” She hesitated before letting out a sigh. “I simply do not allow myself to think of things that will weaken me. I cannot permit such weakness in times of war.” 

 

“Grief cannot be delayed forever, my lady,” said Davos with a gentle tone akin to the one Mother and Father used whenever their children were hurt. 

 

“I am well aware.” She still hadn’t properly mourned Theon yet. “But I cannot permit grief until the war is won.”

 

“You remind me of your brother, Jon. There are certain things he avoids talking about because it upsets him greatly.” Sansa nodded. “So instead he keeps all of his emotions bundled up inside. And I’ve been there with him on the rare occasions that he lets those emotions out all at once, and my lady, it is not very pretty.”

 

“We get it from Father,” she said with a genuine smile. She found herself jealous that Jon had chosen to share his emotions with Ser Davos and not her. But then again, here she was sharing her own emotions with him. Perhaps she should take it upon herself to speak with Jon, and not wait for him to come to her. 

 

“I just wished to tell you that—,” Ser Davos began, then paused. “Have you ever seen a dam made by beavers, my lady?” She nodded slowly, confused. She remembered the time Mother took them to see the land where she’d grown up, and they’d stumbled upon one such dam. Arya had spent hours finding twigs and branches for the beavers. “It is easier to take out a couple of sticks at a time — and let out small amounts of water — than to let the water rise too high and destroy the entire dam.” 

 

Sansa gazed into those kind brown eyes and decided to be honest. “I fear that I am too far gone. I feel as though… if I remove a single stick, the entire dam will collapse.” 

 

“You are stronger than that, Sansa,” said Davos. “You’re unbreakable.” 

 

“Am I a Martell now?” 

 

Davos laughed. “No no, you are a Stark. You’ve got winter in your bones.”

 

~~~~~

 

Jaime and Brienne’s ceremony was the first wedding she’d attended since her marriage to Ramsay. Though the fear surrounding the Godswood was brought back to her, she couldn’t help but feel happiness for her knight. After all, Ser Brienne deserved to be cherished and loved after all the trials she’d faced. 

 

Brienne’s unique gown fit her perfectly; the flowing pants accentuated her long legs and the absence of sleeves allowed for her strength to be seen. She was graceful and formidable all at once — the Maiden and the Warrior reborn into one. 

 

Sansa was reminded of Margaery, with her gorgeous gowns and wry smiles… and the dangerous cunning underneath her mask of innocence.

 

Sansa watched Brienne grin as she and Jaime joined hands and knelt before the weirwood, and then Sansa was thrust back into a different time and a different wedding. She closed her eyes and tried desperately to force those memories out of her thoughts, but they were so strong. 

 

It was so hard to breathe with the wedding gown constricting her chest and the cold air piercing her lungs. How did I not see it? His eyes were always filled with evil-- you were just too stupid to see it.

 

Stupid, stupid, stupid, st—

 

“Sansa,” came her sister’s gentle voice. Sansa opened her eyes and followed the sound of the voice to where Arya stood beside her with a worried frown. Sansa felt her body relax and let go of the air filling her lungs. “Are you alright?” Sansa simply took hold of Arya’s hand and nodded, forcing herself to feel her sister’s presence. 

 

She worried that she might break Arya’s fingers with how tightly she grasped her hand.

 

Ramsay is dead, she reminded herself. She pictured the hounds tearing off his jaw to prove to herself that she was safe from him. She could still clearly hear the sweet noises of his flesh tearing and his blood gurgling. 

 

You are safe. Ramsay is dead. Joffrey and Littlefinger are dead. You are safe. 

 

Sansa’s breaths were calmer as she watched Ser Jaime drape the Kingsguard cloak around Brienne’s shoulders. The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, warning Sansa of eyes on her, and she searched the crowd for its cause. 

 

Sandor’s eyes stared back at her from the crowd of people, searching her for an answer. Sansa had not expected him to attend. Why, his eyes asked. 

 

Because it was all I had, she wanted to say. Because it was the only thing that made me feel safe in the lion’s den. Because you never hurt me. 

 

Sansa made it through the ceremony without any other incidents, but she was thankful when the crowd left the Godswood for the great hall, leaving her alone. 

 

She needed to take control of her emotions and not lose her composure at the smallest reminder of her past suffering. The North was depending on her to do what Robb could not, to secure their independence from the crown — she could not afford to break now. Her earlier imprudence was unacceptable. 

 

“My lady?” Tyrion’s close voice made her jump and spin around.

 

“Sorry, my lord,” said Sansa. “I thought I was alone.” 

 

“Do you wish to be?”

 

She shook her head; distractions would serve her well. “Would you care to sit with me?” She led him to where the thick roots of the weirwood tree sprouted out of the ground, and they sat together facing the frozen pool of water. “Father would sit here and polish Ice after every execution he performed to cleanse himself in sight of the Gods.” 

 

“He was a good man, your father. I am sorry for his death.” She could tell that he was sincere in his sadness for her. 

 

“I miss him.” Sansa wrung her hands and stared at the frozen pool, wishing it was summer. Winter had only just arrived and already the people were suffering. “Do you remember the day we first met?”

 

“It was Joffrey’s name day, wasn’t it?”

 

Sansa nodded. “You told me that you were sorry for my loss. You were the first person to express sympathy for me after my father’s execution. Everyone looked at me as though I was porcelain, cracking under the pressure of the Game… yet no one cared to do something— to say anything. I could not give you my thanks then, so I shall give them to you now.” 

 

“I was only doing what was right.” Tyrion said in an attempt to shrug off her gratitude. 

 

“No one else cared to do the right thing. They all chose to remain safe from the king’s wrath, which I cannot truly blame them for. But you chose to be brave and defy him. Thank you.” 

 

“You are most welcome, Lady Sansa.” She frowned at the tremor in his voice for she had only thanked him. “It was, after all, a pleasure to defy my half-wit of a nephew,” he added to lighten the tension in the air. “That was also the day I realized that you, my lady, would be too strong for Joffrey to break.”

 

“What do you mean?” 

 

“There you were, sitting next to your betrothed, your father’s murderer, declaring your love for the king and naming your family traitors.” 

 

If I were strong I would’ve killed Joffrey when I had the chance. She swallowed down her words and thought about that day. 

 

“He was so angry,” she almost whispered. “The only thing that made him happy on his name day was watching other people suffer. Poor Tommen was so afraid. I was barely able to save a drunken idiot from him — a man Joffrey was going to have drowned in wine because he was late.” 

 

“How did you save him?” 

 

“I only got away with saving him because Sandor supported my lie that it was bad luck to kill someone on your name day.” She saved Dontos’ life that day, and he repaid that kindness by handing her over to Littlefinger.

 

“That was brave, my lady,” said Tyrion. “Oh, I almost forgot. Before we return to the hall, I wish to give you something.” Tyrion reached into his doublet and retrieved a book bound in leather.

 

She took the book from him and ran her fingers over the words engraved in the leather. 

 

A History of the Members of House Stark

 

“What is this?” She asked, confused. 

 

“It’s a book of memories,” said Tyrion, “as told by your brother Bran.” 

 

Sansa’s hands began to tremble as she opened the book to the first page and found Tyrion’s neat script telling a story of her grandparents, Rickard and Lyarra. She flipped through pages upon pages recounting memories of her aunt and uncles, and her father. She chuckled at one page that told of a day when her father and his siblings got into trouble for throwing balls of snow at Ser Rodrik. Her smile was watery when she read about Father’s friendships with the castle workers. 

 

Tears began to fall when she read about Robb and Jon building a mountain of snow above a gate and dumping it on Father’s slowest guardsman. She cried as she read about Robb and Theon’s first meeting, and the first time they played together. 

 

She laughed through her tears at the retelling of the day Robb brought her, Arya, and Bran to the crypt where Jon was waiting to scare them. He had covered himself in flour and hidden inside an empty tomb so he could jump out and pretend to be a ghost. Arya had punched the ghost in the stomach, and once she realized it was only Jon, she scolded him and Robb for scaring baby Bran. 

 

She sobbed openly as she read about the night Robb found out he was going to be a father. He had been so happy, and his dreams of fatherhood were crushed when he and his wife and babe were murdered. As she read about Robb and Talisa’s days as husband and wife, she realized that they had loved one another as fiercely as Mother and Father. 

 

She closed the book when she could no longer see the words through her tears, and she embraced Tyrion with all her strength. He could never know what it meant to her to possess the memories of her House — to learn what her father’s family was like, and to read about the days she never got to hear about. She had once thought the memories of Robb and Mother had died with them, and she never found the courage to ask Bran. 

 

“Thank you,” she said once she found her voice. “You have no idea what this means to me… How can I ever repay you?” 

 

“Your gratitude is payment enough,” said Tyrion. She released him and attempted to dry her face. “You said you didn’t know much about your father’s family, and I wanted to change that.” 

 

“You have done more than that, Tyrion,” she said. “You’ve brought my family back to me.” A heavy silence fell between them, so thick that her chest tightened. 

 

He looks quite handsome today, she thought to herself. His wrinkles seem to fade with each obstacle we overcome. She realized that they were moving closer and closer — so close that she could feel his breath on her face — and she retreated, feeling her face heat up. 

 

What am I doing?! 

 

Startled by her own actions, she stood up and clutched the book to her chest. 

 

“I’m sorry, my lady,” said Tyrion, rushing to his feet. He looked ashamed. “That was— that was unbecoming of me.” 

 

“We should return before we are missed,” Sansa said, a little too quickly. 

 

She hadn’t wanted to kiss someone since… since Margaery. And she was scared of what that meant. She told herself that once Brienne and Jaime’s celebration was over, she would have to confront her feelings about Tyrion. 

 

Sansa spent most of the celebration with Arya and Bran in the least crowded corner of the hall, occasionally looking over at Brienne and Jaime on the dais. She watched as the Northerners mingled with the Unsullied warriors and the Dothraki. In one corner of the hall, the Northerners were betting on fisticuffs between the Wildlings and Dothraki. Tormund came away from his fight with a bloody nose and a wicked grin. She spotted Tyrion and Ser Davos among those betting on the fights, and noticed with a smile as Davos handed Tyrion a couple silvers after Tormund’s fight. 

 

She looked around the room at everyone enjoying themselves and tried to imagine that her unbroken family was there with her. Theon and Robb would be drinking and laughing together about something stupid, Mother and Father would be sitting on the dais and whispering about the married couple, Uncle Benjen and Jon would’ve been somewhere quiet, Bran and Rickon would be sneaking food to their wolves, and Arya would’ve been throwing food until Mother or Father caught her. 

 

Sansa tried to imagine her three and ten year old self was there, chatting with Jeyne Poole about pretty boys and girls without a worry in the world. She would’ve danced with Jon or Robb or Theon at a ceremony like this, and she would’ve imagined that she was a princess dancing with a valiant knight. Sansa missed that little girl. She did not miss her ignorance — only her happiness.

 

“Are you going to be alright without me?” Her sister asked, and the images of her family were gone. Sansa moved her gaze to Arya and found the fully grown woman she had become. She wished Arya had not gone through the things that she had, but Sansa still loved the woman that those experiences made her into. 

 

“I’ll be fine, Arya,” said Sansa, even though the thought of Arya leaving set her on edge. She knew it was selfish of her, but Arya was one of the only people that made her feel safe. “The only person you need to worry about is you.” 

 

“Gendry does that for me,” said Arya. 

 

They shared a laugh that left a meaningful silence in its wake. Sansa could almost reach out and touch the unsaid words hanging in the air. 

 

Be careful. I’ll miss you. I love you. 

 

Don’t die.

 

Sansa pulled her sister into an embrace just as passionate as the one they shared in the crypt upon seeing one another for the first time in years. Sansa hoped this would not be their final goodbye. 

 

“Will you travel with Sandor?” She asked once they broke apart. He did not realize that both Sansa and Arya knew of his plans, but there wasn’t a thing that happened in Winterfell that Sansa did not know about. 

 

Arya nodded. “It’ll be like old times,” she said with a mischievous grin. “Jaime’s a good fighter, but I’d like to have another companion that won’t gripe all day about sleeping on the ground.” 

 

“Try to keep them from killing each other,” said Sansa as she tucked a strand of hair behind Arya’s ear. “And don’t play dangerous games in the capital. Play it safe and remember what I told you.”

 

“I will.” Arya looked hesitant. 

 

“Go on, go to your husband,” said Sansa. “Just promise me that Gendry won’t become a widower before the war is over.” 

 

“I can’t promise that,” said Arya, “but I can promise that I’ll do everything in my power to survive.” She turned to Bran and leaned down to kiss him on the forehead. “Stay safe, little brother. And tell Jon and Rickon that I love them.” 

 

“They know you do, but they shall hear it nonetheless,” said Bran. 

 

Arya nodded and looked to Sansa. “Goodbye, Sansa. I’ll see you soon.” 

 

The dancing began soon after Arya’s departure. The murmurings of the crowd quieted down as Jaime and Brienne made their way to the middle of the room for the first dance. It had been quite some time since anyone danced in Winterfell, since the reason for dancing had left the North when their liege lord died. 

 

Sansa couldn’t tell who was leading who as they swept around the room in a flurry of blue and white, but she could see that they were smiling at one another through the blur of movement. Sansa had not thought Brienne would be a skilled dancer, but she supposed that if someone could sword fight, they could also dance. 

 

The room erupted in cheers as Jaime and Brienne finished their dance and returned to the dais hand in hand. She wished Father was alive to see Northerners cheering for Jaime fucking Lannister. She never thought she’d see such a thing. But the Kingslayer stood with them against the army of the dead, and the North would remember that. 

 

As people flooded the dance floor, Sansa’s gaze drifted to a lone figure leaving the hall. 

 

Sandor, she thought. 

 

She followed him out into the courtyard, where he was standing with his head craned up to look at the sky. She approached him slowly as though he was a wild horse that would dart away if spooked. 

 

“What are you doing out here, Little Bird?” 

 

A small smile came to her lips at the name he’d given her so long ago. “I told you, I’m not a Little Bird anymore.” 

 

Sandor turned around to face her then. “No, I don’t suppose you are.” His gaze was almost proud as he looked her over. “What should I call you?”

 

“Sansa. Call me Sansa,” she said. 

 

He looked at his feet. “What are you doing out here, Sansa?” 

 

“I wanted to speak with you.” She was close enough now that she had to look up to meet his eyes. “You seem troubled.” 

 

“Why do you care?” There was no heat in his voice, only desperate confusion. He sounded so lost. 

 

She reached up and cupped his face in her hands to keep him there. “Because you’re important to me, Sandor.” The disbelief in his eyes pained her. “A long time ago, Littlefinger told me a tale about a boy who pushed his little brother’s face into hot coals for no good reason.” Sandor flinched away from her in shock but she kept her hands on his face. “I know what your brother did to you, and the servants told me that you’ve been stocking up on food. I know you’re planning to go to King’s Landing to kill your brother, and I know you’re not planning on a return journey.” Regret curled at his lips as he shut his eyes. Sansa jostled his face. “Look at me — listen to me.” Sandor obeyed and she fixed him with a stare that would melt the Wall. “You once promised me that you wouldn’t ever hurt me, and your death would hurt me more than you can imagine.” 

 

Sandor broke free from her hold and backed away. “Why? Why the fuck would you care about a miserable shit like me?” He was the most vulnerable that Sansa had ever seen him be. “Why’d you keep it?” 

 

She knew by his tone that he spoke of the cloak. 

 

“As stupid as it sounds, I kept the cloak because it made me feel safe to hold it. You draped it around me after Trant stripped and beat me — after you refused Joffrey’s orders to harm me. And after you left… I…” Sansa sighed and gathered her composure. She so rarely spoke of her time in King’s Landing. “Whenever Joffrey hurt me, I’d sleep under your cloak and it reminded me that somewhere out there you were alive.” 

 

His jaw clenched. “You should’ve come with me,” said Sandor, so quietly she could barely hear it. “I should’ve taken you far away from there, I should’ve— I should’ve thrown you over my shoulder like I did that day of the riots.” 

 

Sansa took his hands in her own and smiled sadly. “I know.” She had spent many a miserable night wishing she had fled with Sandor. She would imagine that he had taken her to Mother and Robb, or that they had fled to Essos together to hide under false names. “But we can't change the past, and there’s no use in dwelling over things we cannot change. And the hardships I’ve faced since then have made me stronger than Valyrian steel and smarter than the people who tried to break me.” 

 

Sandor averted his gaze from her then. “I didn’t know… about your marriage. I didn’t know. I was in the Riverlands, healing from the wounds your sworn shield gave me.” Sansa knew that if he’d known, he would have razed Winterfell to rescue her.

 

“Plenty of people did know about the tortures I endured at his hands and did nothing.” 

 

“S’that meant to make me feel better?” 

 

“No,” said Sansa, “I suppose not. But if you had tried to help me you would’ve been struck down by his men.” 

 

That didn’t seem to work any better, but he let it go. “Is it true… what they say he did to you?” 

 

Sansa stepped back from him and forced her nerves to settle. “What do they say?”

 

“Don’t make me say it.” He was so quiet that she could barely hear the words. 

 

“You don’t want to know, Sandor,” said Sansa. She knew it would hurt him to know what happened to her, for he had always been fiercely protective of her and Arya. “And I cannot think of it, let alone speak of it.”

 

“Please.” Sandor reached out and grabbed her upper arms like he used to do in King’s Landing to scare her. “I have to know.” 

 

Sansa looked away from him and bit the inside of her cheek. She supposed she owed him this much, after all he’d done. Since she could not bring herself to speak of it, instead she reached down and pulled her dress up to show the insides of her thighs, which were littered with scars. There were bite marks, burns, and cuts from her knees all the way up and beyond what she allowed him to see. 

 

Sansa watched Sandor’s face twist in anger as he looked upon her scars, and she nearly startled when he began to growl. He marched away to the nearest wall, which happened to be the smithy, and let out a roar as he tried to put his fist through the stone. She ran over to him and grabbed his hand before he could do any more damage to it. 

 

Sansa examined his hand and sighed. “You’ve broken at least one of your fingers,” she scolded him. 

 

“How do you know that?” Sansa merely looked away and he must’ve understood because he started to growl again. 

 

“He’s dead, Sandor. I killed him,” she said. “Punching stones won’t change what happened.” 

 

Sorrow seemed to swallow up his anger. “I’ve failed you, Sansa. All these years I’ve spent trying to protect you and your sister, as if you were my daughters… and I’ve failed you.” 

 

She swiped away a tear as it slipped onto his cheek, feeling warm at his kindhearted nature. Despite his attempts to conceal it, he was a caring man at heart, with so much love to give. In this, he and Arya were alike.

 

“You have not failed me, Sandor,” she told him. “My sister and I are alive because of you.” 

 

“And what a great fucking life you’ve had,” he huffed. “You and her are the only good things to ever happen to me,” said Sandor. “And every harm done to you ‘n her is a failure of mine. Those scars should be mine to bear…” 

 

“But they’re not, Sandor. They belong to me now, no matter how hard I try to forget. What’s done is done and you can’t change that.” 

 

“Doesn’t make me feel like any less of a shit. I may not be able to change what those cunts did to you, but if the fucking Lord of Light or the Seven or the Old Gods are real, they have some answering to do for what’s been done to you.” Sandor’s eyes were shining with anger, reminding her of the man he used to be. His eyes did not shine with a hateful anger anymore, but rather a righteous sort of anger. It was the type of anger that Father used to have, whenever an injustice was done in the North. “And if the Seven Hells are real, I’ll find every cunt responsible for your suffering and I’ll make them pay.” 

 

Tears came to her eyes at his sheer earnestness. Nobody other than her family had been so fiercely protective of her for as long as he had. He had been her protector since the day Father died. Even before Father was executed, he tried to warn her of the world’s cruelty. 

 

“What have I done to earn your devotion, Sandor?” 

 

Some of the anger left him. “You’ve been kind to me, Little Bird. Even when you were still in a cage, you were good to people. And even after being hurt by the worst cunts to ever live, you’re still kind.” He almost looked ashamed as he kicked the dirt around his foot. “You should know by now that if you’re kind to a dog it’s yours forever.” 

 

“You’re not a dog,” said Sansa, letting her certainty bleed into her words, “you’ve never been a dog. Even when you were a Kingsguard, you never belonged to Joffrey. You disobeyed him at every turn when it came to me.”

 

“Not every time,” said Sandor. “I did terrible things at his orders. Your sister used to enjoy reminding me of that.” 

 

“You did what you had to do to survive, just like me.” Sansa wanted to shake him senseless until he could no longer keep the blame atop his shoulders. He was as frustrating as Jon. “And to the Hells with the past anyway — it does us no good to dwell on it. You’re a wolf now, and you belong in our pack.” 

 

Sandor did not look convinced. “I’m not the man you think I am. I’m not a knight from those stories you love. I don’t belong with your family— I don’t belong with anyone.” 

 

Sansa let her fury and anguish take over as she grabbed Sandor’s collar to force him to look her in the eye. “After everything I’ve been through, do you really think I still want a brave knight from a stupid song? The only knights I’ve known are rapers, or child-beaters, baby-killers, murderers, or sister-fuckers! The only knight I need is Brienne, and she’s hardly a knight from a song. I don’t need you to be a knight, I just want you to be Sandor Clegane, my protector.” 

 

“What fucking good has my protection done?” He growled. “I wasn’t there when you needed me most.” 

 

She shook him with all her might, only managing to rattle him a little bit. Her strength against his was unto a light breeze hitting a heart tree. “I’ve had enough of you feeling sorry for yourself! We’ve all done shit we regret — we’ve all made wrong choices.” Sansa released him and took a step back. “But you and I have both paid for our mistakes with blood. You can either pity yourself for the rest of your fucking life, or you can try to make it right.” She poked him square in the chest. “I know you, Sandor Clegane… you are a good man. I should know — I’ve known the worst of them. 

 

“I’m offering you a family, Sandor. Either accept, or leave me now and save me the heartbreak of losing another godsdamned person I care about!” 

 

Sandor’s mouth fell open as he stared at her, seemingly struck dumb by her words. After a long moment of Sansa waiting for rejection, a warm chuckle burst from deep in Sandor’s chest. 

 

“I understand now why they’re calling you the Red Wolf,” said Sandor. “You’ve got the teeth for it.” Sansa let herself smile. “I won't ever leave you, Sansa. I’m yours. I’ve been yours since the moment I saw that wolf in you, the day you tried to kill Joffrey.” 

 

She looked into his eyes and knew his words to be true, yet she could tell that it didn’t end there. “But…?” She prompted.

 

“But I need to kill my brother,” said Sandor. Sansa tried to hide the disappointed slump of her shoulders. “If he kills me, I’ll tell the bloody Stranger to fuck off and I’ll come right back to you.” 

 

Sansa chuckled despite her sadness. “Just… don’t let yourself be killed. Fight, Sandor. And keep fighting even if you want to give up.” 

 

He was silent for so long that Sansa thought she’d already lost him. “I can’t promise anything, but I will try,” said Sandor. 

 

Sansa pulled him into an embrace and smiled as he hesitantly put his arms around her. “That is all I can ask.” 

 

“How’d you kill him?” Sandor asked once they broke apart. 

 

Sansa smiled. “I fed him to his hounds.” 

 

They shared a laugh at that. 

 

Sansa ordered him to go to the maester for his hand and watched him until he left her line of sight. She felt sadness clutching her heart at the thought that she might never see him again. 

 

Sansa walked through the courtyard to the Godswood, unsure of what force drove her there. She never went to the Godswood anymore, for it brought her despair rather than peace. She knelt beneath the weirwood, praying for the first time since before the death of her mother and brother. 

 

“I don’t understand why Father was so devoted to you. Father and Robb… they spent their entire lives worshipping you, and you let them die horrible deaths. You watched all of Father’s children suffer at the hands of terrible people, and you did nothing! You…” Sansa felt a lump forming in her throat and tried to force back the tears. “You let that cruel bastard wed me here, in front of your stupid godsdamned tree! Why?! I prayed to you almost every day in King’s Landing!” 

 

Sansa stared at the old face carved in the tree until her tears and anger had abated, waiting for an answer that would never come. 

 

“Tyrion will never truly love me because of what you,” she jabbed her finger into the bark, “let happen to me! And I— and I…” Sansa wiped her eyes. “And I can never— never love myself again.” 

 

If she had been brave, like Arya and Jon, she would’ve killed Ramsay on their wedding night. But she was still that weak little girl that had lied to King Robert and Queen Cersei about Nymeria. 

 

Sansa swallowed down her hatred for herself and looked up at the face carved into the bark. 

 

It looked like Bran. 

 

She reached out to touch the face and her hand was glued to the bark by its red sap as visions flooded her mind. 

 

She was sitting in a garden of roses with Tyrion as blonde and red-haired children chased after one another in a circle around them. She was holding Tyrion’s hand to her pregnant belly, giggling at the feeling of a babe kicking inside her. They were both graying and becoming wrinkled. They looked… happy. And peaceful.

 

“This one is going to be a feisty little thing,” said Tyrion. “How about Arya if it’s a girl?” 

 

“And if it’s a boy…” she pressed a finger to her chin. “What about Gerion, after your uncle?”

 

“What did I do to deserve you, my love?”

 

She was surprised by how real it felt, and by how happy the vision made her. 

 

She fell back from the weirwood onto the cold ground, panting as she tried to calm herself. She looked at her hand and then back at the face. It no longer looked like her brother. 

 

Sansa returned to the party in the hall to look for Bran, but a quick search of the hall found her nothing but drunken people. She went up on the dais where Tyrion sat with the married couple. 

 

“Have any of you seen my brother Bran by chance?” Sansa frowned at their collective negative answer. 

 

“Why don’t you have a drink with us?” Tyrion gestured to the empty seat facing himself. Sansa sighed but sat down — if Bran didn’t want to be found, he wouldn’t be. “You did a marvelous job on that dress, my lady. Many a folk found themselves jealous of my brother today.” 

 

Sansa gave him a half smile, not sure how to look at him without seeing the vision she’d seen. Perhaps it was a trick of the mind, she reasoned. 

 

But truly she knew that what she saw was real, and she had a feeling that Bran was behind it. Sansa watched Brienne and Jaime as they whispered to each other with such love in their eyes, and she was struck by how deeply she wanted that. 

 

She wanted that with Tyrion.

 

She wanted to be as happy as that little girl who gossiped with Jeyne Poole. Happiness had seemed impossible for so long — ever since Margaery died. 

 

But she had been happy in that vision. It gave her the smallest bit of hope that maybe… maybe she could learn to love again. 

 

Sansa realized she’d been staring at Tyrion for some time and looked down, clutching her goblet of wine with more force than necessary. 

 

Happiness? She asked herself. No, I cannot be happy again. Not after Ramsay. 

 

And how could she love and marry anyone after what he did? How could anyone love her? 

 

But after the book and that vision, it was hard to think of loving Tyrion as an impossibility.

 

Jaime Lannister’s voice startled her from her musings. “Would you join me for a dance, my lady?” She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she hadn’t noticed his approach. Sansa stared at his outstretched hand for a long moment before taking it, shaking off her thoughts. 

 

Sansa followed Jaime’s lead into a slow-paced dance that allowed for Sansa to think about her recent revelation. 

 

The thought of sharing all the gruesome details of her past with Tyrion was made scarier by the revelation that she would be heartbroken if he scorned her. She wanted that joyful future she saw with Tyrion, and she didn’t know if she could recover if he took that away. 

 

She’d already lost Margaery. 

 

“You seem aggrieved, Lady Sansa,” Jaime said. 

 

“My apologies, ser, I was lost in thought.” 

 

“May I offer you a bit of advice?” He asked. “Not as a Lannister to a Stark, but as Tyrion’s brother.” 

 

Sansa’s eyes widened before she narrowed her gaze at him. “Say what you must, but know that I am tired of men intruding on my personal life, and remember that I hold your fate in the palm of my hand. One misstep, ser, and I will have you sent to the Stranger.” 

 

Ser Jaime’s chuckle was not one of mockery. “I would expect nothing less, Lady Stark.” Sansa felt eyes on her as he spun her around. “My brother has endured terrible things ever since he was a babe — things inflicted on him by strangers and family alike. I love him just as much as you love your own siblings, no matter how heartless you think me. He is the best man I've ever known, and I only want the best for him.” 

 

“I assume you have a point,” said Sansa. 

 

“It’s you. You are the best thing to ever happen to my brother.” 

 

Sansa grew rigid and shot a glare at Ser Jaime. “Watch your step, Ser Jaime,” she growled, “you are on mighty thin ice.”

 

“Tyrion is in love with you, my la—”

 

“No he’s not!” She snapped, drawing the attention of nearby dancers. “He doesn’t even know what I—what I’ve…” Sansa discreetly jerked out of Ser Jaime’s grasp and left the hall to hide her tears of grief. 

 

She wept because while Tyrion may be in love with her presently, he could never love her if he knew about all the things that evil bastard did to her. It was the reason that no one knew the grim details of her imprisonment — why only she carried the knowledge of what happened to her. Of course the North knew that Ramsay had raped her, but the only soul that knew and understood what truly happened was laying in his tomb. She supposed that Bran knew as well, but he could never understand. 

 

She wept because she wanted Tyrion to continue loving her and courting her. She wept because Tyrion would not want the future Sansa saw if he knew all she’d suffered. 

 

She wept because Ramsay had taken one more thing from her. 

 

Her feet carried her across the courtyard to the kennels, where she simply stood with her hands gripping the bars of the gate. Sansa rested her forehead against the cold metal as she tried to calm down, but she couldn’t shake the image of Ramsay from her mind. 

 

She wished his blood still caked the kennels so she could see it and be soothed by the visual evidence that he was dead. 

 

“After I’m finished with you — once you’ve given me a son — no one will ever want you again,” he had said one night. “What man would ever want a woman with flesh as marred as yours?” 

 

Sansa tightened her grip on the bars until her knuckles turned white, her breaths coming shorter and shorter until she kicked the gate so hard that pain shot up her leg. 

 

“Lady Stark?” Ser Jaime’s voice sounded far away — muffled under the deafening noise of her mind. 

 

You can’t kill me. I’m part of you now. 

 

She could hear his voice as if he was speaking directly into her ears. It was so real that she took the dagger from her boot and spun around to look for him. She could see him standing there clear as day with a slimy grin, holding a hammer in one hand and a dagger in the other. 

 

“You didn’t really think you could escape me, did you?” 

 

“No,” she whispered. “Get out of my head.” She shut her eyes but that only made it worse. 

 

“Sansa?” She opened her eyes and Jaime had replaced Ramsay, but she couldn’t focus on him. She looked down and saw that she was holding the dagger under his chin. 

 

“Focus on the sound of my voice, my lady. Breathe.” Sansa inhaled and exhaled at a frantic pace until her breath slowed. “You are safe. You just came from the celebration of mine and Brienne’s wedding. You are not in any danger, even if you feel like you are.” 

 

Sansa focused on Ser Jaime’s face and his voice until she was no longer panicked. 

 

“What just happened to me?” She asked, taking in her surroundings. She lowered the dagger from his throat but still gripped it in her hand. 

 

“It doesn’t have a name,” said Jaime. “Some soldiers call them battle terrors, but you don’t have to be a soldier to have them — my…” Jaime sighed and looked away. “I begged for Cersei to let me kill Robert, but she always refused. I wish I had killed him after the very first night he raped her and she came into my arms for comfort.” Ser Jaime looked thoughtful, then met her eyes. “Oftentimes when we were… when we laid together, she would relive those nights with Robert and she’d think it was him on top of her and not me. So I would use my voice to bring her back from her mind.” 

 

Sansa clenched her jaw and nodded. “Thank you, Ser Jaime.” 

 

A tense silence hung in the air between them until he broke it. “Forgive me for intruding on your life, but I think you need to hear what I have to say.” Sansa gave one short nod, allowing him to continue. “From what I’ve heard and seen, you have been through something horrible — the sort of thing that makes you feel like no one can ever love you.” His voice cracked on his words, and Sansa was startled by how impassioned he was. “I’ve done terrible things, Sansa. I thought that no one other than my sister could ever love me for what I was. But the love that Brienne and I share — the love that Tyrion has for you — is not conditional.” 

 

Sansa shut her eyes and shook her head. “I used to think that Littlefinger loved me. But the moment he no longer needed me, he sold me to a man who loved nothing more than torturing people. I once thought that my aunt Lysa loved me, and yet she tried to push me to my death when she saw me as a threat to her marriage. I thought that the Lady Olenna cared for me, but she tried to frame me for kingslaying when I could no longer be used as a pawn. I once even thought that your beloved sister cared for me, and then she let your son torture me because it made him happy.” Jaime looked at the ground. “I am sick of being traded off from one person to another the moment I no longer fit the part they want me to play.” Sansa was starting to become angry now. “So I’m sorry if I hesitate to believe that for once someone would not cast me aside at the slightest misstep.” Sansa slipped her dagger back into her boot. “I appreciate your assistance in dispelling my visions, but I ask that you stop meddling in my private affairs.” 

 

Sansa turned on her heel and returned to the hall. She found the nearest wine pitcher and began to drink, not intending on stopping until she no longer felt like joining her family in death. But as she started losing count of how many glasses she’d had — and still felt no better — she thought it might be futile. 

 

She felt ill. 

 

She wondered if Lady was in the Seven Heavens with her mother and father and Robb and Theon, and she wondered if Robb’s wife was with them. She wondered what she had looked like, and what it would be like to meet her in death. 

 

She had come close to trying to join them during her imprisonment, but she didn’t want to give Ramsay the satisfaction. She knew it would break her siblings’ hearts, but she was so tired. 

 

She was staring at her empty glass when Tyrion came to her. 

 

“Sansa?” 

 

She turned to look at him and her vision swam from the movement. “Hm,” was all she managed. 

 

“Are you alright?”

 

She thought being drunk was supposed to make a person feel better, yet all she felt was a profound emptiness. “No,” said Sansa, a sad smile resting on her lips. “No, Tyrion, I don’t believe I am.” The dams she’d built in her heart and mind were starting to crumble. “Not enough sticks,” she mumbled. “Dam’s not— not strong ‘nough.” She had built these walls to protect herself, and she feared the moment they finally collapsed, for there would be nothing to protect her from those terrible memories she worked so hard to bury. 

 

And damn it all, they would’ve stayed buried had they not been poked and prodded at. 

 

“Sansa?”

 

Arya was leaving. Her little sister — her little shadow, was going to leave her to be with Gendry. Brienne was going to leave with Ser Jaime to spend her days on Tarth, far away from Sansa. And Sandor cared more about killing his brother than he did for her. And Jon… her dear, idiot brother Jon was going to leave her to be Daenerys’ consort. They were all going to leave her — just like everyone else she ever cared for. All she would have left after the war was Bran and Rickon. But the Bran she knew had been lost to her the moment he became the Three-Eyed Raven — whatever that meant. She would have Rickon, she supposed, though being Lord of Winterfell hardly left time for him to spend with his sister. Her eyes started to fill with tears so she turned back to her glass. 

 

“Do you— do you have any more wine?” 

 

“I don’t think that’s wise,” said Tyrion. Sansa scowled. 

 

“But- but Lannis’ers love wine,” she told him. She thought of Cersei, who always had a goblet in hand, and a squire or maid with a pitcher close by. “Sis’er always had wine.” 

 

“Cersei is hardly someone to look up to, wouldn’t you say?” Sansa simply shrugged, for it was hard for her to think at the moment. She had no idea how Cersei retained her intelligence when she was deep in her cups. “May I escort you back to your rooms?” 

 

Remembering that she had wine in her chambers, she nodded and then clutched her head. 

 

The walk to her chambers was a trial, as she was having trouble keeping her balance. More than once Tyrion had to hold her steady. The moment she stepped into her room, she launched at the chamberpot and emptied the contents of her stomach. Strangely, she felt a bit better. 

 

Sansa wiped her mouth on her sleeve and leaned her back against the bed, deciding not to attempt to stand. She readily took the offered glass of water and gulped the entire thing down. 

 

She was starting to doze off when the sound of movement caught her attention, and she watched as Tyrion built and lit a fire in the fireplace. He then dipped a handkerchief in the basin of water and draped it across her forehead. With surprising strength he helped her onto the bed and she sighed, letting her eyes drift close. 

 

When her boot was gently slipped off her foot, she kicked the attacker and rolled off the bed onto the floor. She crawled into the corner and put her back against the wall. 

 

But it wasn’t Ramsay she had kicked — it was Tyrion, who was simply trying to make her comfortable. He was flat on his back in front of the fireplace beside her discarded boot.

 

Sansa began to sob. 

 

“I’m so sorry,” she wept, all weariness suddenly gone from her body. “I— I thought…” Tyrion sat up and clutched his chest. “Are you okay?” 

 

“I’m fine, Sansa,” he said. “Are you?” 

 

“No,” whispered Sansa. She put her face in her hands to hide her tears. 

 

“Listen to me, Sansa,” said Tyrion, “I know that what you have been through— I know that the last thing you want is to think about what happened. But please trust me when I say that avoiding these memories is only a temporary solution. It has served you well, and kept you alive through terrible times, but I think it might be time to lay this particular tactic to rest. Eventually you must confront your past and try to make peace with it as best you can. It’s a long, difficult process that might take years, but I promise that eventually you won’t feel like this forever.” 

 

Sansa looked up from her hands and into Tyrion’s brilliant green eyes. “How can you know that?” 

 

Tyrion turned his gaze to the flickering fire and pressed his lips together. “You weren’t my first wife.” The words shocked her so much that her tears stopped. Tyrion let out a deep sigh and continued. “I was six and ten when I met her, barely old enough to grow a beard. Two men were giving chase to her when Jaime and I ran into her, so Jaime ran after the men while I looked after the girl. Tysha was her name— she was a crofter’s child, orphaned when her father died of fever. Young as I was, I fell in love with her instantly, and took her to the closest inn to feed her. She and I ate two whole chickens and part of a third, all the while drinking a flagon of wine and getting to know one another. And the next thing I knew, I was sharing her bed. I’ll never know where I found the courage. 

 

“So, naturally, I bribed a drunken septon with fifty pieces of silver, and I married her.” Tyrion’s face was strangely empty, as if the tale he was telling did not belong to him. “I dared not bring my wife home to Casterly Rock, so I set her up in a cottage of her own, and for a fortnight we played at being man and wife. And then the septon sobered up and confessed all to my lord father.

 

“First Father made my brother confess to me. Jaime told me that Tysha was a whore, and that he arranged the whole affair– Tysha, the outlaws, all of it. He told me that he had thought it was time I had a woman.” Sansa couldn’t look away even though she desperately wished to. “I was frustrated with him for a time, but never angry, no, not at Jaime. He’s the only one who cared about me, you see, and I would forgive him for anything.

“After Jaime had given his confession, Lord Tywin brought my wife in and gave her to his guards for what he called a fair price.” Tyrion shook his head. “He sat me down in the corner of the barracks and forced me to watch as those animals raped my wife, and at the end she had so many silvers that the coins were slipping through her fingers and rolling on the floor, and she . . . ” Tyrion started to cry then, and the firelight shone off his tears. “Lord Tywin bade me go last,” said Tyrion so quietly that she could scarcely hear. “I told him that I would do no such thing for she was my wife. ‘Do as your lord father says’ he told me, ‘and act like the wretched monster that you are, or I will go next,’ And as always, I did as he commanded. Father gave me a gold coin to pay her because I was a Lannister, and thus worth more than the common rabble.” Tyrion spat the last words.

 

The story of Tyrion’s first wife shed a new light on the kindness he showed on their wedding night. With Tysha, he had only been a scared little boy forced to do what his father commanded, but with Sansa he had been much older and he was strong enough to refuse him. She could not blame Tyrion for what he did, not when she herself had done terrible things to protect herself. 

 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. 

 

“Don’t be sorry for me, I—!” Tyrion sighed. “There is no excuse for what I did that day. I should have drawn a sword and fought to save her, even if it meant I would’ve been cut down.”

 

“You didn’t always do as your father commanded,” said Sansa. “You never hurt me.”

 

“That does not make it right,” said Tyrion. He rubbed at his eyes and turned back to face her. “After Tysha, I decided to become the Imp that my father saw when he looked at me. I started drinking to try to forget her, and I spent most of my time at brothels because Tysha taught me that no woman could ever truly love me.”

 

“Shae loved you,” said Sansa immediately. 

 

Tyrion shook his head and his voice cracked on his words. “No, no she didn’t.” Sansa’s brow knitted together. “She betrayed me.” 

 

“What? When?” Sansa scooted closer. 

 

“She testified against me during my trial. She even said that you were involved.” Tyrion traced a pattern into the stone by his legs, and his eyes glazed over. “I loved her, and she— and she… I tried to send her away to protect her, because my father would’ve killed her if he knew, and instead of leaving, she stayed to condemn me to death. When I killed Father, I found her in his bed, calling for him by the same name she called me. ‘My lion,’ she said. And when she saw it was me, she— she grabbed a knife to kill me.” Sansa covered her mouth with her hand. “I killed her then. I was so angry at myself for believing that I could be loved, and I was angry at her for letting me believe it.” 

 

“I…” Sansa knew not what to say. Shae betrayed me? I thought she cared for me. “I’m sorry I left you.” 

 

“We both survived,” said Tyrion, “despite the circumstances.” Sansa wrung her hands, unsure of what to say. “The point of that story was — I know from personal experience that you can’t keep avoiding your past if you want to be able to remember these times without feeling terribly. Each time I tell someone about Tysha, it hurts a little bit less.” Tyrion fiddled with his tunic lacings. “I know that as a solution, time is a frustrating one, but to my knowledge it’s the only one that works. I should know, I’ve tried many of them.”

 

Sansa nodded slowly — she’d seen first hand how Tyrion had tried to solve his problems. 

 

“I just… I just hate thinking about Ramsay because it feels like I’m giving him what he wants. He wanted to be remembered more than anything,” Sansa whispered. It felt strange to speak his name aloud— to acknowledge his very existence. “First with surviving my escape, then with our struggle to retake Winterfell, and then with the army of the fucking dead on our doorstep — I didn’t even have the time to dwell on what happened, but now that I have time to breathe… now it’s harder to avoid. And I’m so tired, Tyrion... I’m so tired of running from his memory.” She took a couple deep breaths. “I miss who I was before— before Ramsay. I want to live without looking over my shoulder and expecting him to be there. 

 

“I’m tired of not being able to tread certain ground in my own godsdamned home because of the memories he soiled it with. I’m tired of the way the people here look at me now, like I’m a broken woman to be pitied and not Lady Sansa Stark of Winterfell. 

 

“And I’m tired of being the only one that knows what he did. Only Theon understood, and now he’s gone— he’s dead and nobody understands what I went through. I can’t tell my siblings because they would see me differently and I wouldn’t be able to bear it. I can’t tell Brienne because the guilt would eat her alive. I can’t tell Margaery or my mother because they’re dead. And I can’t tell you because—! Because…” Sansa’s chest ached so hard she had to stop. 

 

Tyrion looked to be on the verge of tears. “Why can’t you tell me, Sansa?” 

 

“Because you wouldn’t love me anymore!” She felt a weight lift from her chest as soon as she finally gave voice to the fear that had been plaguing her. He sat back on his haunches, seemingly startled by her admission. “And I couldn’t bear that either,” said Sansa, much quieter. “I’ve lost so much, Tyrion— I can’t lose this too.” 

 

Tyrion shook his head. “Did he tell you that? That no one could ever love you? Well he was a lying son of a bitch because I could never stop loving you, Sansa, not even if I tried— I’ll love you until my last breath. And if the Seven Heavens are real, I will love you until the end of eternity.” His words only worsened the ache in her chest. 

 

Sansa chewed her lip, dizzy from all the thoughts swirling around in her mind. She wanted to believe him — she truly wished that she could trust his words, but she had been fooled before. Joffrey and Ramsay had pretended to be kind and gentle and she’d been fooled by their charm. Ser Dontos had pretended to be thankful to her for saving his life, and tricked her into playing a part in Joffrey’s murder. Littlefinger, Lady Olenna, and Cersei all pretended to care about her and then discarded her as soon as she no longer served their purposes. Aunt Lysa pretended to love her, and then she… she tried to kill her. 

 

She had been fooled by every single person she put her trust in. The only people left that she could trust was her family. Her brothers and her sister had never betrayed her trust. She could trust them, and she could trust Sandor and Brienne — her family

 

She desperately wanted to trust Tyrion, but she couldn’t know for sure that he wasn’t pretending. 

 

“You don’t know what he did to me,” said Sansa. “He didn’t just defile me, he— he left scars I will never be able to heal. Not just on my body, Tyrion.” 

 

“I promise, I will—”

 

“What good is a promise?!” Sansa snapped. “Words mean nothing to me! Do you know how many people have pretended to care for me, only to later stab me in the back? Joffrey, Littlefinger, Ser Dontos, Aunt Lysa, Cersei, Shae… How can I trust what anyone says anymore?”

 

Tyrion thought for a moment before an idea seemed to light up his face. “Well then fuck words and promises! What can I do to prove to you that I won’t ever stop loving you?” 

 

Sansa took a steadying breath. “I need to tell you what happened to me.” Even the very thought of it was nauseating. “If you claim to still love me afterwards, you can consider yourself proven. I must warn you that if you disprove yourself, you’d better start running to Essos to hide from my sister.” 

 

Tyrion chuckled. “I’d expect nothing less from her.”

 

Jon had asked her once in the North’s encampment — just before the Battle of the Bastards — in his own Jon way.

 

“Sansa…” he had whispered over the war table, still staring at the wolf figurines. “What did he do to you?” 

 

She turned her back on him to warm herself by the brazier. “You know what he did, Jon,” she had hissed, for she did not allow herself to think of it then. Instead her mind was filled with half-shaped plans and worries over the upcoming battle. 

 

Footsteps behind Sansa made her flinch. “Please, Sansa,” pleaded Jon. “You are my sister. I must know.”

 

Sansa spun around and knew that Jon must have seen the terror in her eyes, for he took a step back. Jon was too honest for his own good. Sansa would’ve simply asked the healer that saw her instead of asking directly. 

 

“I care about you too much to do that to you, Jon,” she had said, and swept out of the tent before he could speak. 

 

Jon had not asked again. 

 

Sansa stared into the fire over Tyrion’s shoulder as she began to speak, and she could’ve sworn she saw Jon’s face in the fire. “Have you ever seen a cat playing with a mouse, batting it around until it either dies or no longer tries to get away? That is what it felt like to be that bastard’s husband. I was not a wife to him, I was a plaything he was dedicated to breaking. Joffrey wanted my suffering, but Ramsay wanted my soul. I sometimes wonder if he ever even intended to get a child on me-- if he did intend to, the wounds inflicted on my belly spoke otherwise. 

 

**“There were times during my imprisonment I wished that Sandor had taken me, as I once thought he wanted, so I wouldn’t have been able to marry Ramsay. There were times I wished you had raped me on our wedding night since you wouldn’t have tortured me as he did.

 

“He asked about you on our wedding night… asked if I was afraid of dwarves since I was a maiden. I told him, ‘he was gentle. He never touched me.’. I remember thinking that Ramsay wasn’t so terrible, not even when he kissed me. Then he ordered Theon to stay and watch.” Sansa ignored Tyrion’s sharp inhale. “That’s when I realized what kind of person I married, when he told a man I considered a brother to watch me be raped.” A few tears slipped down her cheeks and she dragged her arm across her face, forcing herself to continue. “The first game he played with me was the worst. He told me he wouldn’t take my maidenhead until I begged him to.” She could still remember the pain in her rear as if it had happened yesterday. “I promised myself that I would never ever let him take it, because at least I would have this one thing I wouldn’t give him. I only lasted four sennights.

 

“After that, I promised myself I would never scream. I had given him my maidenhead, but I would not give him my screams.” Sansa wished for wine but decided against it, for she would vomit up anything she tried to force down. Instead she let herself be soothed by the flames dancing in the fireplace. “When he found my stash of moon tea, he broke a few of my ribs with a smithing hammer and beat me bloody, but still I did not scream. He made Theon watch that too. After that is when he started to cut me. He would cut the inside of my thighs every night before he— before he raped me, and the pain… the pain was so terrible, Tyrion. 

 

“If I ever tried to escape, the punishment was three lashes.” Sansa stood and untied the lace at her neck and let her dress fall to her waist so he could see her back. She closed her eyes when he gasped. “But I never screamed. The pain of those wounds kept me from going mad, it kept me grounded.” 

 

“Oh, Sansa,” he breathed. She re-tied the lace and turned to see him standing in front of her. 

 

“When he found more moon tea I had hidden, he— he took a carving knife and cut off the tip of one of my breasts. That’s when I broke. I screamed so loudly then that I couldn’t speak for three days. But no one rescued me. They could hear me as far as Wintertown and nobody. Did. Anything!”

 

**She fell to her knees and sobbed and sobbed some more, and then Tyrion’s hands came up to cup her face. 

 

“Hey,” he began. “I am so… so sorry, Sansa.” She felt less bad about crying when she noticed Tyrion’s tears. “You can breathe now; you’re not carrying the burden of what happened to you by yourself anymore. Breathe, Sansa, I will carry the burden with you.” Sansa raised her hand to cover Tyrion’s on her face, a silent appreciation. 

 

“Do you want your courting gifts back?”

 

“Oh no, Sansa,” he said. She forced herself to meet his gaze. “I always knew there was an intelligent, strong, incredibly brave woman under that mask you wore, and now I only think you stronger. The way I feel about you has not changed.” 

 

Sansa felt her lip wobble and pushed back her tears. She knew he spoke for true by the way he was looking at her, and felt the weight of her worry lift from her shoulders. He still loved her.

 

He knew what she endured and he still loved her. 

 

She pulled Tyrion into an embrace and let out her tears of relief on his shoulder. They held each other for what seemed like hours, until Sansa had to pull away to cover her yawn. 

 

“I should let you rest,” said Tyrion. “You’ve had a long day.”

 

“Will you stay with me?” She dreaded spending the night alone with no one to wake her from the nightmares that would surely come. 

 

“Of course.”

 

She stripped to her shift and laid down, watching as Tyrion laid down next to her flat on his back. She propped herself up on her elbow so she could look at him. 

 

“When I was a girl,” she whispered, “I used to have such strange nightmares where my teeth would fall out of my mouth. I would wake the whole castle with my screams.” Tyrion rolled on his side to face her. “The only way I could sleep through the night was if I slept with Robb or with Mother and Father. They told me that they’d wake up with me attached to their back.” She and Tyrion both chuckled. “And now… whenever I wake up from a bad dream, there’s a part of me that wants to crawl into bed with Mother and Father — and then I remember that they’re gone.”

 

“Why not sleep with your siblings?” 

 

Sansa sighed. “I don’t believe I’d fit with both Jon and the queen,” said Sansa, reveling in his laugh. “Arya’s got Gendry, Rickon snores, and Bran probably has worse nightmares than me.” 

 

“Fair points,” said Tyrion. “Well, I’m quite small, but I’d be honored to be your teddy bear, my lady.” 

 

For the first time in a long time, Sansa fell asleep with a smile. 

Chapter Text

Jon 

 

Jon felt lost. 

 

He’d spent the last two years of his life living for a single purpose; killing the Night King to save his family. Melisandre had convinced him that he was brought back to life to save Westeros, and he’d believed her. Believing that he was meant for a great purpose was the only thing that kept him sane. 

 

But he was not the one that saved Westeros. It was his youngest sister that dealt the final blow. 

 

So why the fuck was he alive? If not to save Westeros from the undead, why was he resurrected? 

 

He was no longer a king and no longer Lord Commander. He was just Jon Snow. Jon knew that Dany loved him, but he had no right to her hand — and certainly no right to be her king. He was only a bastard, after all. Jon was never destined to be anything other than a single line in one of Sam’s books. 

 

It just didn’t make sense that someone as unremarkable as him would be brought back from the dead by a god. Why was it him and not Robb? Why did the Lord of Light choose him over Father? 

 

He wished Melisandre was still alive so he could force some answers out of her. 

 

Jon decided he would dedicate his second chance at life to protecting the people he cared about. His first life he spent as a crow, uniting the Free Folk and the Night’s Watch. He would spend his second life protecting his family, his friends, and Dany — for as long as she would have him. 

 

Jon watched as Dany climbed up Drogon’s wing and onto his back with ease. Jon tried to mimic her movements while climbing Rhaegal and only lost his footing once, which was a great improvement on his last rides. He helped Rickon up and sat him in front of himself, as he used to do when he and Robb took the little ones, Bran and Rickon, riding through the wolfswood. Rickon had barely been old enough to grasp the horse’s reins but still he loved riding. 

 

Rickon was such a wild thing now and preferred riding Shaggydog to horses. Jon was thankful his little brother did not have a dragon of his own.

 

“Let’s go home,” said Jon.

 

“The first hot-spring bath is mine,” said Rickon. 

 

Jon shook his head fondly and leaned down as Rhaegal took off into the skies. 

 

~~~~~

 

Rickon nearly scared Jon to death on three separate occasions during their ride home. 

 

“Stop that!” He scolded when Rickon let go of Rhaegal and put his hands in the air. “You’ll fall off!” 

 

Rickon let out a long-suffering sigh and took hold of Rhaegal again. “You’re no fun,” said Rickon. 

 

Jon thought he could hear Dany laugh from atop Drogon. 

 

“Lady Catelyn is going to rise from the grave to kill me if you don’t stop behaving like that,” said Jon, only half-joking. Rickon had always been a wild child, but his time on Skagos had worsened his wild tendencies. 

 

They landed a short walk from Winterfell, and beyond the gates, people met them with bows and curtseys. I’ll never get used to that, thought Jon. He’d grown up an outcast, and now people bowed to him in respect for saving Winterfell from the Bolton’s hold. 

 

A row of people had gathered to meet them, not unlike the gathering that met King Robert and Queen Cersei so long ago. Sansa and Bran were gathered with his old and new friends -- Tyrion, Sam, Tormund, Gendry, and Ser Davos. He still felt the absence of Edd, who had stood with him for so long. 

 

Jon began to greet everyone but stopped short when he spotted Tyrion fucking Lannister holding his sister’s hand. He marched up to the man, who released Sansa’s hand and backed up at Jon’s glare. 

 

Not you, Tyrion, he thought. Tyrion knew what Sansa had been through, and here he stood, acting as though he was betrothed to her!

 

A haze of red clouded his vision as rage overtook him. I’ll beat him until his face caves in. I’ll crack his fucking head open. 

 

His knuckles had taken a week to heal after he’d beaten Ramsay to a pulp, and he expected it would take them a month to heal from the beating he was about to give Tyrion. 

 

Sansa stepped in between him and Tyrion before he could throw a punch. Sansa put a gentle hand on Jon’s chest. 

 

“Out of the way, Sans,” he growled. 

 

Images flashed through his mind; of Sansa nearly frozen solid in the training yard of Castle Black, of her delicate fingers nearly white from the cold, of the terror in her eyes that night so long ago, when he asked her what Ramsay did. He had nearly beaten the fucker to death but had restrained himself at the last moment so his sister could kill him herself. When Jon found him, the only remnants of the cruel man he’d once been — naught but bones — were being chewed on by the man’s own hounds. 

 

His sister gave Littlefinger — the man who caused the War of the Five Kings — the mercy of a quick death. He did not allow himself to think of what Ramsay could’ve done to her to earn such a terrible death. 

 

When Sansa had come to Castle Black, he promised himself he’d never let a man harm her again. It seemed he could not even keep that one promise. 

 

“Calm down, Jon,” said Sansa, muffled by the ringing in his ears. “He did nothing that I did not want him to do.” 

 

What did he do to you?!” He never expected this of Tyrion — he was Jon’s oldest friend after all. He’d been there before even Sam, and without him, he never would’ve become friends with Pyp and Grenn. 

 

“Listen to your sister and calm down, Jon,” said Ser Davos. 

 

“You stay out of this, Davos!” He snapped at the man before returning his gaze to Sansa, looking her over for injuries. “I swear to the Old Gods and the New that I will kill him if he so much as laid a finger on you,” said Jon. 

 

“Perhaps I should go,” said Tyrion from behind Sansa. 

 

Jon peered around Sansa to glare at the man. “You stay right the fuck there!” 

 

Daenerys laid her hand on Jon’s arm to draw his attention. “Jon,” she began gently, “why don’t you listen to what your sister has to say before you sentence my Hand to death?” 

 

Jon took a deep breath and tried his best to calm down. 

 

“Tyrion has been courting me since you left,” said Sansa, pausing to seemingly gauge his reaction, “and I have not rejected him. He has not hurt me.” 

 

Jon let his heart return to a normal pace. She’s fine, he told himself, she’s okay. Jon shook his head at himself and sighed. What the fuck is wrong with you? Tyrion would never hurt Sansa. 

 

“I’m sorry,” said Jon. “I just-- I worry about you.”

 

Sansa gave him a gentle smile. “If someone tries to hurt me, you’ll be the first to know.”

 

Jon took in his surroundings for the first time and noticed the crowd that had begun to gather at the scene Jon made. They dispersed as soon as Jon looked at them. Rickon was being smothered into the ground by Shaggydog, while Ghost was nowhere to be seen. 

 

“Where’s Arya?” Jon asked when he did not see her. 

 

Sansa grimaced. “Why don’t we talk about this somewhere private?” 

 

“Sansa…” he warned. “Where is she?” 

 

Jon begrudgingly let himself be led to the Godswood. First Rickon, then Sansa, now Arya… his siblings were going to lead him to an early grave with worry. 

 

They sat in the spot where Father used to clean Ice, underneath the weirwood’s far-reaching branches. Red leaves were trapped in the layer of ice atop the pool of water, frozen in time until the arrival of summer frees them. 

 

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sansa said quietly, gaze sweeping over the blanket of snow covering the Godswood. “I missed snow dearly in the South.” 

 

Jon nodded. The quiet fall of snow had always put him at peace. “One day, after the war is over, I should take you and Arya and Rickon beyond the Wall.” 

 

“What is it like?” Sansa asked genuinely. Jon marveled at how deeply his little sister had changed. In the years before they left Winterfell, all she had wanted was to go south. He and Robb had always teased that she was more Tully than Stark. 

 

“It’s the most beautiful land in Westeros,” said Jon. “I don’t quite know how to describe it. It’s very quiet and… still. But it is also harsh and bitter and unforgiving. I suspect that the lands will have calmed since the Night King is dead. It still baffles me that the Free Folk survived out there for so long.” 

 

“Father would be proud of you,” said Sansa. 

 

He chuckled. “For what?” 

 

“For making peace with the wildl— the Free Folk. It must have been very difficult,” she said. 

 

“That’s an understatement,” he laughed. His time at Castle Black and beyond the Wall was the hardest time of his life. He sometimes forgot that Tormund had once been an enemy — it was so very long ago. 

 

“I hope one day you’ll tell me what happened to you out there,” said Sansa. 

 

The only people who knew about that time were Tormund and Ser Davos. And Bran, he supposed. “I hope so too, Sans,” said Jon as he tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear. It was hard for him to speak of that time as it brought him much pain. “Are you ready to tell me where Arya is?” 

 

“Promise me you won’t get angry with me?” There was a trace of fear in her Tully blue eyes. 

 

He’d never been angry with Sansa. Frustrated at times, but never angry. “I promise,” said Jon. 

 

“Arya is going to King’s Landing to kill the queen,” said Sansa. 

 

Jon shot up from his seat and stared down at his sister in disbelief. “What?!” He forced himself to calm down when she flinched. Jon began to pace back and forth in front of her. “Our little sister is going to King’s Landing… to kill the queen…? She’s a little girl, not a fucking assassin!” 

 

It must be a joke they’re pulling on me, Jon told himself. My little Arya would never… she must be hiding somewhere in the Godswood, laughing her arse off. 

 

But the look in Sansa’s eyes was not encouraging.

 

Sansa’s face fell. “She didn’t tell you,” she said, almost to herself. “Of course she didn’t tell you. Godsdamnit, Arya.” 

 

“Didn’t tell me what?” Jon asked, confused now. 

 

“Did you not wonder how she killed the Night King?” 

 

“I know she’s a warrior, but she’s not an assassin. Is she going to march into King’s Landing and demand that Cersei face her in a duel?!” 

 

Sansa and Jon both turned their heads when Daenerys approached them, pushing Bran’s wheeled chair. 

 

“I thought you might need some help,” Bran said to Sansa. 

 

“Thank the Gods,” said Sansa. 

 

Bran stopped Dany when she made to leave. “You should stay too.” Dany pushed Bran to be at Sansa’s side and hooked her arm in Jon’s. 

 

“What’s this about?” Dany asked. 

 

“Arya is a Faceless Man,” said Bran. 

 

The words meant nothing to Jon. “A what?” 

 

“You didn’t know?” Asked Dany. 

 

Jon ignored the hurt deep in his chest in favor of his indignation. “Does everyone know my sister better than I do?!” 

 

Bran was the one to answer. “Arya didn’t want you to know this because she wants you to always see her as your sweet little sister. But you must know now what she is if we are to go through with our plan.” What plan? I thought we were just going to siege King’s Landing. “After Mother and Robb were killed, Arya went to Braavos and became an assassin that can wear the faces of other people. She is going to use this skill to kill Cersei and help us take King’s Landing by wearing her face.” 

 

Jon felt dizzy from all the thoughts filling his mind. 

 

Why didn’t she tell me? How could Arya…. my sweet little Arya, be capable of such things? How many people has she killed? Why did she go to Braavos and not to Castle Black? To me? And how the fuck does she wear someone’s face?! 

 

“Why?” Was the only question he managed to get out. 

 

“It is not my story to tell,” said Bran. 

 

The next time I see her, I will get my answers. 

 

“How exactly is Arya going to help us take the capital?”

 

Dany and Sansa explained their plan to take King’s Landing, and Sansa assured him that Arya was with the Hound and the Kingslayer — as if that would make him feel better. He may trust the Hound to bash in some heads, but not to take care of his sister. And while the Kingslayer was on their side, for now, that didn’t mean he trusted him. 

 

“Once Ser Jaime helps Arya apprehend Cersei, he will meet us at Harrenhal to make battle plans,” said Dany. “The castle should be large enough to hold our armies.”

 

“How can we trust that the Kingslayer will not turncloak?” Asked Jon. 

 

“Ser Jaime will not betray us,” said Bran. “His wife is on our side.” 

 

Jon frowned. “He got married? When?!” 

 

“Yesterday,” said Sansa. “To Ser Brienne.” 

 

Jon put his face in his hands. “Did anybody else get married while I was gone?” He joked, then lifted his head when someone answered. 

 

“Arya married Gendry,” Sansa said quickly. 

 

Jon blinked in sheer disbelief. The Baratheon boy? “What the fuck?!” He tried to run in the direction of the smithy but Dany stopped him. 

 

“Perhaps you should wait a while before you go threaten the boy, hm?” Dany suggested. 

 

Jon’s anger simmered for a moment before he nodded. It was probably for the best. 

 

“Is there anything else I should know?” Jon asked, hoping to the Gods that he got no answer. 

 

“Yes,” said Bran, unfortunately. “But Rickon should be here.” 

 

Dany found them a nice rock to sit upon while Sansa left to fetch Rickon from wherever he’d gone. 

 

“Are you alright?” She asked. 

 

He grasped her hand and squeezed. “Yes, it’s just… I didn’t even know Arya knew Gendry.” Jon shook his head. “And this whole assassin thing— I had no fucking clue about. I just don’t understand it. She and I were so close growing up; we did everything together.” Those memories were what kept him going during his time as a crow. “And now it’s like— it’s like she’s kept a whole other part of herself from me.” 

 

Jon looked into Dany’s brilliant violet eyes as she considered his words. “Perhaps it’s because you were so close that she’s kept this from you.” 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Jon…” Dany looked thoughtful. “There are some things that I’ve done that I haven’t told you about— not because I don’t love you, because I do, but because I don’t want your opinion of me to change. Maybe Arya just loves you too much to tell you.” 

 

“But I’ll always love her,” said Jon. It hurt to think that Arya ever thought for a moment that Jon might stop loving her. 

 

“You should tell her that,” said Dany. 

 

Jon laid his other hand atop their joined ones. “And I’ll always love you, no matter what has happened or will happen.” 

 

Dany’s watery smile filled his chest with warmth. 

 

“What’s going on?” Rickon's voice brought their moment to a halt. Sansa and Rickon took their seats beside Bran before he got an answer. 

 

“A discussion that should’ve happened long ago,” said Bran, “before Father left for King’s Landing. It’s about your mother, Jon.” 

 

The next time we see each other, we'll talk about your mother. I promise. Those were the last words Father ever said to him — a broken promise. 

 

“Do you know who she was?” Jon asked, hopeful. 

 

“I do,” said Bran. “And I know who your father was.” 

 

Jon’s mind went blank. “What do you mean? Lord Stark was my father.” 

 

“No, Jon. Your father was Rhaegar Targaryen,” said Bran, ignoring Dany’s sharp inhale, “and your mother was Lyanna Stark.” 

 

Jon felt like he’d been punched in the gut. No, it’s not true. “That’s impossible,” he said, voice barely more than a gasp of breath. 

 

“Father declared you his bastard to protect you from Robert— the king would’ve killed you had he known.” Jon felt the cool air pierce his lungs as he gasped for air. It felt as though he was drowning. “Rhaegar did not kidnap Lyanna— they ran away together and got married. By law you are not a Snow, you’re a Targaryen.” 

 

Everything seemed to click at once; why he bonded with Rhaegal, why Father never spoke of Jon's mother, why he always felt a deep ache in his chest every time he neared Lyanna’s tomb. 

 

“Of course,” said Sansa quietly. “How did I not see it? Father never would have dishonored Mother like that.” 

 

Rickon looked too shocked to say anything. 

 

“Why didn’t he tell me?!” 

 

All that suffering, Jon thought. All my life I’ve been shunned, and for what? All those dinners I couldn’t attend, all those honors I wasn’t allowed… all that love I never got from Lady Catelyn. What was the point? 

 

“I don’t know, Jon,” said Bran. 

 

“Father must have had his reasons,” Sansa reasoned. “I cannot believe he would’ve put you through that without a good reason.” 

 

“I hope it was a great fucking reason,” Jon said, suddenly angry at his lord father. He sighed, forcing his emotions to leave him. “How did she die if not by Rhaegar’s hand?” 

 

“She died giving birth to you,” said Bran. “Father was by her side when she died. Father promised her that he would protect you.” Another broken promise, thought Jon. I died anyway. “Lyanna named you Jaehaerys, but Father decided to call you Jon.” 

 

That was Jon’s breaking point. 

 

“No,” Jon said. “No, my name is not Jaehaerys. I am not a Targaryen.” Jon knew it was true deep in his bones. “My father was Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell. Robb was my brother. Bran and Rickon, you are my brothers. And Sansa,” he looked at his sister and saw tears in her eyes, “you and Arya are my sisters. Not my cousins. I don’t care what blood flows through my veins, I grew up with you all. You are my kin. My name is Jon Snow and you are my family.” 

 

“Does this mean…?” Dany asked from beside him. Jon turned his gaze to her and found tears streaking down her face. “Does this mean you still love me?” 

 

Jon wiped away her tears. “Of course I still love you.” 

 

Dany surged forward with such force he nearly fell back on the snow, balancing just in time to meet her hug. 

 

“Me next!” Said Rickon, just before crashing into them both. 

 

Jon wrapped an arm around Rickon and laughed. 

 

~~~

 

Jon spent the afternoon sitting in his chambers, sipping a mug of ale, and thinking about his life. Dany had gone to speak with Yara so Jon had sat alone in front of the fire with Ghost at his feet. 

 

How would my life have changed if Father had told Lady Catelyn about me? I would’ve been a bastard by law, but a son and brother to my family. Would I have even gone to Night’s Watch?

 

What if Lyanna and Rhaegar had survived? I would’ve grown up as a prince, far away from Winterfell. But I’d grow up without the Starks as my family, and I wouldn’t have gone to the Night’s Watch. I would’ve never met Ygritte and Tormund and Sam, and Ghost. Gods, what would I do without Ghost? 

 

As if hearing his thoughts, Ghost put his gigantic head in his lap. Jon smiled and scratched the fur between his ears. 

 

“I’d never give you up, boy,” said Jon. “You’ve saved my sorry arse too many times to count.” Ghost lifted his head to lick a stripe up his face. Jon laughed and batted him away. “Alright, alright. Have you eaten today? Why don’t you go get something from the kitchens?” 

 

Ghost left at those words, and Jon could hear him eagerly trotting down the hallway. Jon had once caught one of the kitchen workers, Turnip, sneaking Ghost an entire meat pie. In return, Ghost brought them fresh game for meals. 

 

Jon was smiling as he watched the flames dance. No, I would never give this up to be a prince. 

 

Jon looked up at the sound of two gentle knocks on the door. “Enter,” he called. 

 

Maester Wolkan opened the door and hesitantly entered his chambers. Sansa told him that the man was still nervous from his time as the Bolton’s maester, so Jon tried to soften his oft hardened face. 

 

“My lord,” said the maester. 

 

“What can I do for you, Maester Wolkan?” 

 

“I was looking through Maester Luwin’s records and found an unopened scroll,” said Maester Wolkan. He pulled a scroll from his robes and handed it to Jon. Jon frowned at the direwolf seal. “It came with a note, my lord… from Lord Eddard.” Jon took the offered note and thanked the maester as Wolkan bowed and left his chambers. 

 

Jon opened the folded note and read its contents. 

 

Maester Luwin, 

 

In the event that I die, please give this scroll to my eldest boy, Jon. Do not send this scroll by raven or otherwise, you must hand this letter to Jon yourself. I know I need not say this, but do not take it upon yourself to read it. The contents of this letter are for Jon’s eyes only, and must be guarded with your life. Should you pass on before myself, put it in the possession of the most trusted person you know. 

 

Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. 

 

Jon set the note aside and broke the direwolf seal of the scroll, then slowly unrolled the parchment. 

 

Jon,

 

If you are reading this, it means I am dead. I hope the Old Gods are kind and you never have to read this, yet the future is never certain. I had to be sure that this secret would not die with me, in case I never get the chance to tell you. 

 

I am not your father by blood — by blood you are the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and my sister Lyanna Stark. You’ve never been a bastard, Jon. Their marriage makes you the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. 

 

I am so sorry I never told you. Truly, I am. I know that it wasn’t easy for you, to live as a bastard of a highborn lord. Every time I try to tell my lady wife so she will not treat you so terribly, I am paralyzed by fear. I am so afraid that you will be taken from me, by Robert or by the Iron Throne.

 

Robert is my friend but I know that if he ever finds out, he will kill you, Jon. I cannot let that happen. Your true identity can never be found out. 

 

I knew I needed to wait until you were of an age to understand before I could tell you, but when it came time, I never could. In the end, I am just as selfish as Rhaegar. I have raised you as my own and thus I cannot bear it if you see me as anything other than your father. You are my son just as Robb is. Never forget that. 

 

Your father,

 

Lord Eddard Stark

 

Jon let the scroll fall from his fingers onto the stone floor, and all the anger toward his father left him in one moment. Tears came to his eyes unbidden and fell without permission. 

 

How could he judge Father when he himself kept secrets from his family out of fear? He feared speaking about Ygritte and the betrayal he suffered at the hands of his brothers of the Night’s Watch, for it was incredibly painful to dwell on. He did not want his siblings to see him reduced to tears. 

 

I wouldn’t think Sansa weak for crying, so why am I afraid of appearing weak? Is it because I am the eldest?

 

Once the war is over, I will tell them, Jon promised himself. 

 

He put the scroll behind the loose stone in the wall that he used as a boy to hide letters from Uncle Benjen about the Night’s Watch, and returned to his seat by the fire. 

 

He sat there and watched the flames for a long while, reminiscing about his time as a brother of the Night’s Watch. 

 

Suddenly the flames danced higher and higher until Jon could see a vision in the fire. It was Sansa, lying motionless on the ground, her blank eyes staring up at Jon. 

 

She was dead.

 

Jon shot up and grabbed Longclaw, bursting from his chambers with enough force to splinter the wooden door. He sprinted down the hallway, one hand grasping his scabbard and the other grasping the white bear handle, ready to unsheathe it at any moment. 

 

He barged into Sansa’s chambers, expecting to find her body, and found her sitting with her embroidery instead. She jumped at the noise and dropped her sewing things, looking at Jon with a confused frown. 

 

“Is something wrong?” She asked. 

 

Jon let Longclaw fall from his hands as he fell to his knees. She’s not dead, she’s okay. 

 

Jon released a lungful of air and couldn’t stop the tears from falling. Sansa closed the door and kneeled in front of Jon, taking his shaking hands in hers. 

 

“Has something happened?” Sansa asked. 

 

He looked up and simply watched as she took in a breath, her eyes full of life. “No, nothing’s happened,” he said, relief washing over him. He pulled her into an embrace, which she reluctantly returned. Jon could feel the worry radiating off her. 

 

When they pulled away, her eyebrows curled in disbelief. “Jon,” she began, with an amused sort of tone, “you just barged into my room with your sword in hand in the middle of the day, without your shoes on,” she paused to point at his bare feet, “and you want me to believe that nothing is wrong? You know I’m smarter than that.” She stood and helped him to his feet. “So come sit with me and tell me what’s wrong.” 

 

She led him to sit at her small dining table. “I know better than to argue with you,” he said, wiping at his face. Jon frowned when she poured him a mug of ale. “Since when do you like ale?” He smiled at the memory of her trying to drink the ale at Castle Black. 

 

“It’s not for me,” said Sansa, pouring herself some water. “I keep it here for visitors with less refined taste,” she teased. 

 

“Who other than me do you have in here that likes ale?” Who do I need to go kick in the balls?

 

“You never know,” said Sansa. “For example, I had no idea you were going to burst in here while I was sewing.” 

 

“What are you sewing?” He asked, then narrowed his eyes when she blushed. 

 

“Stop trying to change the subject. Something happened that made you come here… what was it?” 

 

Jon sighed, then took a few deep gulps of his ale. “In the fire… I saw something.” He would probably never be able to forget the vision he saw. “It was you, and you— you were dead.” All the color in Sansa’s cheeks left in a single moment. “It was probably nothing, but I came here to make sure,” he said to try to ease the fear in her eyes. 

 

“Of— of course,” she said, but he could hear the uncertainty in her voice. “I’m sure it was nothing.” 

 

He went to Ser Davos as soon as he left Sansa’s chambers, pausing only to put his shoes on. He found Davos in the rebuilt library, sitting with Sam at a table covered in tomes. 

 

He didn’t bother with pleasantries. “Davos, I need you to tell me the exact words Melisandre used to resurrect me.” 

 

“Pardon?” 

 

“You were there when she did it, right? Do you remember the words?” 

 

“Aye, I was there,” said Davos. “But the words she spoke were in Valyrian. I’ve no clue what they meant.” 

 

Jon frowned. “I’ll go ask Bran.” 

 

“Wait,” Sam’s gentle voice halted his movement. “What’s this about?” At Jon’s hesitance, Sam continued. “If you tell us, we can help you.” 

 

Jon never could say no to Sam’s requests. Something about his soft face and gentle nature always cracked his resolve. Sam had convinced Jon to not forsake his vows so very long ago when he’d been hellsbent on going to Robb. Before that, he’d threatened half the Night’s Watch on Sam’s behalf. 

 

So, he told Sam about the vision he saw in the flames and was relieved when he believed Jon. 

 

“I need to know how to do it, Sam, just in case.” 

 

Sam nodded and put a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “I’ll go get the words from Bran — you should rest, Jon. I’ll take care of this for you.” 

 

Jon fell into a seat as soon as Sam left, and put his head in his hands. So many thoughts and worries were floating around in his head, making him dizzy. 

 

Protect them. Rickon, Bran, Sansa, Dany, Sam, Tormund, Davos. Protect them with all you have. 

 

I failed Robb and Father— I won’t fail my family again. 

 

A firm hand on his shoulder shook him from his thoughts. He looked up at Davos’s warm expression. 

 

“You can’t protect everyone, son,” said Davos. 

 

No one can protect me. No one can protect anyone. 

 

You know nothing, Jon Snow. 

 

“No, but I must try,” said Jon. 

 

“And that,” Davos pointed at Jon’s chest, “is why you’d make a great king. Lesser men have crumbled under the pressure that now sits on your shoulders, but you, Jon, you’re too fucking stubborn to fail.” 

 

Jon chuckled. “It’s my Stark blood.” A thought came to him then. “Davos, I need to tell you something.” 

 

He told Davos everything that Bran had told him in the Godswood. 

 

“Ah, that makes sense,” said Davos, continuing when Jon sent him an incredulous look. “I wondered how you can ride Rhaegal like you were born to it. Does this mean you want to be called Targaryen?” 

 

“No. I’ll always be more Jon Stark than Jon Targaryen. I hope it does not disgrace their memory, but I am Eddard Stark’s son— not Lyanna and Rhaegar’s.”

 

“I understand. Blood is not everything.” 



~~~ 

 

That evening he found himself in his chambers, staring intently into the flames, hoping he would see another vision. He was so focused that he jumped when someone knocked on his door. 

 

“Enter,” said Jon, standing and straightening his tunic. He let his face soften at the sight of Dany. 

 

Dany told him about her meeting with Yara and Jon told her about his vision and his conversation with Davos. But Jon could tell she was distracted. 

 

“Are you alright?” He asked. 

 

“I want…” Dany started, then sighed. “I need to tell you something. A lot of things, actually.” 

 

Jon reached across the bed where they sat and grasped her hand. “You can tell me anything,” he reassured her. 

 

Dany smiled but her eyes were filled with nervousness. “I’ve done things— I’ve made choices that I am not sure were the right ones.” She seemed to steel herself. “On the road to Meereen, we came across a cross with a child nailed— nailed to the wood. Ser Jorah told me that there was a cross every mile between there and Meereen. There are a hundred and sixty-three miles between the first cross and Meereen. A hundred and sixty-three miles, Jon.” Jon wiped away one of her tears as it fell. “Ser Barristan wanted to send men ahead to bury them so I wouldn’t have to see them, but… I needed to see them. So I looked upon every single one of their little— their little faces. They were babies, Jon. None of them ever lived to see adulthood. As I looked at each face, I wondered if they had ever been happy, if they’d ever laughed. I wondered if their parents were still alive, still enslaved in Meereen. I wondered if there were more children slaves in Meereen that had yet to be killed. And I wondered what kind of monster would nail a child to a cross and let them die of thirst and starvation.” Dany sniffled and dried her face. “When I took Meereen, I found myself with an unwanted bounty of living masters. So… so I had my Unsullied pick a hundred and sixty-three of the masters and had them nailed to crosses. Ser Jorah told me that sometimes it’s best to answer injustice with mercy, but— but I couldn’t let all that injustice on the road to Meereen go unpunished. A swift execution was not enough justice, I had to show the same amount of mercy that those monsters showed those children. But I… I don’t know if I made the right decision. Sometimes I wonder if what I did makes me as bad as the masters.” 

 

Jon lifted her chin so he could meet her gaze. “Dany, you will never be like the masters. You show mercy when you need to, and justice when you must. What those masters did… they deserved to be punished.” 

 

“You don’t think I’m a monster?” 

 

“Of course not,” said Jon. He leaned down to give her a chaste kiss. 

 

“There’s one more thing,” Dany said once Jon pulled away. “Do you remember in the Godswood, when Bran told us that you were Rhaegar’s son? I thought for certain that you would reject me, and I was crying because I knew I would never love anyone as much as I love you. I cannot imagine a life without you, Jon. Will you be my husband?” 

Jon choked on the air he was breathing, sending himself into a fit of coughing. 

 

“But I’m just a bastard,” said Jon, bewildered. He tried to quell the hope blooming in his chest. “I can’t marry the queen of Westeros!”

 

Dany smiled softly up at him as her eyebrows curled in amusement. “Who says you can’t?”

 

“All the lords of Westeros! They’ll never take you seriously if you marry a lowly bastard,” said Jon. It was the only reason he had not already asked for her hand in marriage. 

 

Daenerys shook her head at him and grabbed his hands in her own. “I’m not going to marry a bastard — I’m going to marry you, Jon Stark, son of Lord Eddard Stark, the man I love.” Jon felt as though all the air had left his chambers. Dany's face was hard with determination. “As Queen of Westeros I have the power to legitimize anyone I wish to. I’ve been waiting for you to ask, but I realized today that you were never going to. Be Eddard or Rhaegar’s son, be a Stark or Targaryen — it matters not to me. Just be my husband, be my king.”

 

Jon smiled the hardest he had smiled in a long time. 

 

“Yes.” 

Chapter Text

Daenerys

 

Daenerys rubbed her eyes and tried her best to focus on the letters and numbers in front of her. Fifty thousand Dothraki, ten thousand of Yara’s sailors, five thousand Northmen, ten thousand Knights of the Vale, four thousand Unsullied, three thousand training Unsullied, two thousand men of the Reach led by Dickon Tarly, a thousand of Tormund’s men, and two dragons. They’d leave Tormund’s men and two thousand of the Northmen to garrison at Winterfell when they took the majority of the armies south. 

 

Would it be enough? 

 

It was estimated that Cersei had ten thousand of her own men, four thousand of Euron’s sailors, ten thousand from the Golden Company, and ten war elephants. Dany had more forces by far, but Cersei was a clever woman. It was said that Robb Stark destroyed Jaime Lannister’s thirty thousand men with only his twenty thousand Northmen. She could not know what tricks and schemes Cersei had planned. 

 

Her plan rested on one woman — Arya Stark. 

 

If Lady Arya could not do what she set out to do, they would lose so many lives. She had many tasks to complete in the capital, and Dany didn’t know if she would succeed. 

 

But if anyone could do it, it would be the slayer of the Night King. 

 

Aside from winning a war, she had to think of her armies’ needs. She hoped the food from Highgarden that she took from the Lannisters’ train would be enough to last her armies until they took King’s Landing. She was also worried about her short supply of maesters and healers. She had asked that Jon’s friend Sam train as many people as he could in the healing arts, but she didn’t know if it would be enough. 

 

She stood from her desk and left her chambers in search of Sam. 

 

Where has he gotten off to? Dany wondered. 

 

Dany finally found him in the great hall of Winterfell, sitting with a large group of men and women of all kinds — Northmen, Free Folk, and Essosi. Some of them were too badly wounded to fight in the all-too near war, but all of them were sitting in front of Sam and holding bands of cloth and sewing needles. She spotted Missandei deep in conversation with a Northern woman. 

 

“Your Grace,” said Sam’s wife. Gilly, thought Dany, that was her name. All of the gathered people looked up at Daenerys. 

 

“Don’t stop on my account,” said Dany with a nod to Sam. 

 

She sat down next to Gilly as Sam resumed his lesson. Dany soon ended up with a lapful of Gilly and Sam’s baby, who started pulling at Dany’s silver locks. 

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Your Grace,” said Gilly. The woman tried to pull the child away from Dany but she waved her away. 

 

“It’s alright,” said Dany. She giggled when the child pawed at her face. “He’s quite cute, isn’t he? What’s his name?” 

 

Gilly gave her a toothy smile. “Sam— in honor of the man who saved his life.” 

 

Dany smiled. “I’m sure he’ll grow up to be as brave as his mother and father.” For the first time in a long time, Daenerys mourned the loss of her child Rhaego— the babe she never got to hold. She wished that she could have a child with Jon, but she could not let herself despair while she had her dragon children. She still dreamed of the children that would never be— babes with violet eyes and black hair, and babes with silver hair and brown eyes. How different would my life be if I hadn’t met that witch? If I look back, I am lost. She focused back on Gilly and gave her a reassuring smile. “I’ll hold him while you finish your lesson.” 

 

Dany entertained little Sam until the lesson was over, and she had to reluctantly return the boy to his mother. 

 

“Thank you for watching him,” said Sam once he came over to see them. 

 

“It’s no trouble,” said Dany. She stood with Gilly and smoothed over her ruffled silver hair. “May I ask you something?”

 

“Of course, Your Grace,” said Sam. 

 

“Do you think you’ll be able to teach your pupils everything you know by the time we must leave?”

 

“I won’t have to,” said Sam, “I’m coming with you.” 

 

Judging by the look on Gilly’s face, it was the first time she’d heard that. “What?”

 

“Gilly, I must,” said Sam. “They’ll need me.”

 

I need you!” Dany wished she was not present for this conversation. “Little Sam needs you!” 

 

“People will die if I don’t go,” said Sam. “I’ll never be able to live with myself if I stay.”

 

Gilly’s sadness was replaced with grim determination. “Then I’m coming with you.” 

 

“What about little Sam? And the baby?” 

 

“We’ve survived worse,” said Gilly. She spoke for true if the haunted look in Sam’s eyes was any indication. “ Much worse. We go together.” 

 

Dany knew Gilly had won by the resigned slump of Sam’s shoulders. “Alright. But you must carry a dagger with you at all times on the road,” said Sam. 

 

Gilly smiled and leaned over their baby to give Sam a peck on the cheek before leaving the great hall. 

 

“She’s very brave,” said Dany. 

 

“The bravest woman I know,” Sam said, almost proud. 

 

“You’ve done me a great service by teaching the healing arts to so many others,” Sam’s startled expression gave Dany pause before she continued, “and I believe you will have saved many lives once the battle is won and your pupils must help the wounded battle the Stranger.” Dany smiled when Sam’s face colored. “Once the war is over, I shall grant you whatever you wish— within my capabilities to give— in thanks for your deeds.”

 

“Thank you, Your Grace,” said Sam, eyes not quite meeting hers. “That’s very kind of you. I will think on your offer.” He seemed like he was working up the nerve to say something. “I— I um… I wanted to thank you for sparing my brother on the Goldsroad.”

 

She smiled gently to calm the man’s nerves. “There’s no need; I prefer to show mercy when I can,” said Daenerys. She had been so grateful that Dickon Tarly bent the knee on the day Jon introduced her to his friend Samwell Tarly. Tyrion had been able to convince Lord Dickon to do the smart thing, thankfully. Unfortunately, Lord Randyll had not been as smart as his son. “I am sorry I did not spare your father. I gave him three choices; go to the Wall, bend the knee, or die. He chose to die.” 

 

“I don’t begrudge you that, Your Grace,” said Sam. “He was not a good man.” 

 

Dany did not bother hiding her shock. “How terrible was he that his own son forsakes him?” She chastised herself then. “I’m sorry, you don’t have to answer that — I know first-hand how terrible a man can be.”

 

“That’s alright, Your Grace.” Sam hesitated, then met her reaffirming gaze and continued. “All my life he berated me for who I am. I’m fat — always have been, always will be. And I was a cowardly man until Gilly gave me a reason to be brave. Obviously, I was not what my father had in mind for his heir.” Sam grinned but it did not reach his eyes. “On my eighteenth nameday, my father came to me. ‘You're almost a man now,’ he said, ‘but you're not worthy of my land and title. Tomorrow, you're going to take the black, forsake all claim to your inheritance and start north. If you do not,’ he said, ‘then we'll have a hunt and somewhere in these woods your horse will stumble and you'll be thrown from your saddle to die. Or so I'll tell your mother. Nothing would please me more.’ I am so glad I took the black.” Sam’s grin reached his eyes then. “If I hadn’t, I never would’ve met my best friend, Jon Snow, and the love of my life, Gilly. Jon was the first person that didn’t give a damn about my fatness or my cowardice, and he was the first true friend I’d ever had.” Sam shook his head gently. “I would’ve forgiven Father for sending me to the Wall had he not treated my Gilly so terribly. I don’t understand how he could hate her just because she was of the Free Folk.” 

 

Dany placed her hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Then I am glad your father chose to die, for there will be no place for prejudice in the world I will build.” 

 

Sam smiled. 

 

Dany excused herself from Sam when one of her Dothraki generals entered the hall with the nervousness of a man about to ask something of his queen. 

 

You are not their queen, Jorah’s voice reminded her, you are their Khaleesi. 

 

“Khaleesi,” greeted Jhogo. 

 

“It is good to see you, Jhogo,” Dany said in Dothraki. Jhogo was one of the few Dothraki that could speak Westerosi, but Missandei told her to speak it when she could to retain her knowledge of the language. “How do the horses fare? I know the battle was hard on them.”

 

“Better now that they’ve rested. The Northerners have been generous with their food and blankets.” 

 

“How are the wounded?” 

 

“Every man that could recover has recovered, Khaleesi,” said Jhogo.

 

“Good.” Dany felt some of the incredible weight on her shoulders lift. “What do you need? Anything I can give I will give.”

 

“Some of the bloodriders do not wish to take their horses into battle, Khaleesi. Some horses are tired of war and some are injured, and some riders do not wish to lose their horses. But they will do it if you order them, Khaleesi.” 

 

Dany nodded. The bond that a rider shared with a horse was sacred. “Spread word that any man that does not wish to take their horse into battle may do so and suffer no punishment from me. I shall ask if the Stark’s might allow us to stable unfit horses while they rest.” 

 

Dany watched Jhogo’s eyes brighten. “Thank you, Khaleesi,” said Jhogo. 

 

~~~~~

 

She found Jon later, sitting with Davos and Ghost and talking about food rationing. Ghost stood and trotted over to her as gracefully as a wolf could manage. He was more horse than wolf in her eyes, though her smallness might have something to do with that. He lowered his head so she could scratch behind his ears and she obliged with a sigh. “You are spoiled rotten, Ghost.” He nuzzled his head into her chest with his wet nose poking her stomach. “You’re going to ruin my clothes, you big beast,” she chastised even as she continued to scratch him as he liked. 

 

Ser Davos went to Ghost’s side and gave him a pat on the back. “Come, Ghost,” said Davos, “let’s leave the lovebirds to it.”

 

Ghost gave her a singular lick across her cheek and left with Davos toward the smithy. Jon came to her and wiped her slobbery face dry with his glove. “That’s better,” Jon said.

 

“Thank you,” said Dany. She stood on her toes to place a chaste kiss to his lips. “Let’s go see the dragons.”

 

Jon took her arm and led her through the courtyard and out of the castle. “Are you alright?” He asked once they were passed the gates. “You seem worried.”

 

“I worry over the battle to come,” said Dany. Drogon and Rhaegal landed in front of them and the ground trembled underneath. She laid her hand on Drogon’s snout and smiled at his warmth. She watched as Jon ran his hand over Rhaegal’s scales and wondered if she would always fall a little bit more in love with him every time he did that. “I know we have the numbers, but I do not know what Cersei has planned.”

 

Jon nodded solemnly. “I trust Arya will help keep casualties as low as possible.” Dany could tell that Jon worried terribly over Arya, as he did with the rest of his siblings. Jon seemed to hear her thoughts. “I know I worry too much over her. She is… well, she fights like no one else I’ve known, but it’s my duty as eldest to worry over her. I don’t think I’ll ever not worry over my brothers and sisters, no matter how much I trust them to look after themselves.”

 

“That’s why you’re a good brother,” said Dany. Viserys used to be like that, before he changed. 

 

A gentle nudge from Drogon got her attention, and she watched as he lowered his enormous head and nuzzled his snout into her middle. “You’re being gentle for a change. Please don’t knock your mhysa over.” Drogon chuffed and his breath blew her hair back over her shoulders. Rhaegal nudged his brother aside and sniffed at her middle, nearly crushing her feet under his jaw. “What has gotten into you two?” 

 

“Perhaps they smell Ghost’s fur on you.” Ghost had a habit of brushing his hair off onto her clothes. 

 

“You need to start brushing that wolf, Jon,” she said with a chuckle. “I could make a new direwolf from all the hair he leaves on my clothing.” 

 

Jon let out a burst of laughter. “Gilly tried to brush him once — he knocked her over when he thrashed like a wet dog. Sam gave him an earful,” said Jon. 

 

“I’m sure you can brave it, my king.” Dany leaned up to kiss his smile before they started the walk back to the castle. “He’s only a wolf.” 

 

“‘Only a wolf’?” Jon sighed in fond exasperation. “You should observe him in battle before you make such judgments, Your Grace.” 

 

She grinned. “I am the mother of dragons. I believe you can handle brushing a wolf, o’ great father of direwolves.” 

 

Jon sighed as they passed through the gates. “Are you handing out titles now?” 

 

“I have enough to spare,” she said. 

 

Jon’s laugh caught the attention of many Northerners that stared at him in shock, as though they had never heard it. 

 

Jon’s little brother Bran intercepted them on the way to the hall for the midday meal. Jon stepped forward and ruffled Bran’s hair, earning a small smile. The Stark’s seemed to be the only ones that could elicit emotion from Bran. 

 

“Join us for a meal?” Jon asked. Bran usually dined in his chambers rather than the great hall. Dany assumed the boy was not fond of crowds. “I hear they have blackberry oatcakes, your favorite.” 

 

“I need to speak with Daenerys,” said Bran. 

 

Jon frowned. “Is something wrong?”

 

“No,” Bran said simply. 

 

“I’ll come by the hall later,” Dany told Jon. 

 

Jon nodded at Dany and put a hand on Bran’s shoulder. “I’ll make sure they save some oatcakes for you.” 

 

“Thank you,” Bran said softly. Jon placed a gentle kiss on the top of his head and gave Dany an encouraging smile as he left for the great hall. 

 

Bran silently led her into the Godswood and through the trees to the weirwood. Dany did not believe in the Gods, but the heart tree brought peace to her somehow. She sat on a log across from Bran and knitted her gloved fingers together. 

 

“Lord Bran.” The words were almost a question. Dany smiled hesitantly. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

 

“There is something you should know,” said Bran. He caught a red leaf as it floated through the air and twirled it between his fingers. “The witch lied to you.”

 

Dany blinked. “What do you mean?”

 

“‘When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east.” Dany gasped. “When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before.’” She would never forget those words Mirri Maz Duur spat at her so long ago. The witch had broken her heart with only a few words. “Her words were true, but still she lied. When you asked her when your husband would be as he was, you did not specify which one.” Dany frowned. “She was right that Drogo would not be as he was until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, but she did not know you’d have a second husband. Prophecies are tricky, and she did not read it correctly. The second half of the prophecy means that when you bear a living child, you will have a husband again.”

 

“I don’t understand,” said Dany. 

 

“It means you and Jon will marry once he finds out you’re with child,” said Bran. 

 

“But I can’t have children!” Dany said, frustrated. “Daario and I…” She felt herself flush. “If I could have children, I would’ve already.”

 

“I can see the future, Daenerys.” Bran’s eyes rolled back into his head and she nearly gasped. “I see twin boys. One with brown hair and purple eyes, and one with silver hair and brown eyes. Jon is singing to them.” Bran’s eyes rolled back down and settled on her. “I know it to be true.”

 

Daenerys wiped her eyes. In her heart she knew it was true — her dragons and dreams had been trying to tell her so — but she had to be sure. I cannot let my heart be broken again

 

“Are you certain?” She asked. 

 

“I see many possible futures,” said Bran. “I see a city bathed in green flame, a city bent but unbroken… I see damnation and redemption, sorrow and joy, death and life. They are branches sprouting from a single trunk, and every branch has the same leaf — you are with child, Daenerys. You must walk this path no matter which branch we take, for it has already been etched in the bark of the trunk.”

 

Dany launched herself at Bran and tugged him into an embrace. It was an awkward angle, but she didn’t care. “Thank you, Bran, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she chanted into his shoulder. 

 

Bran slowly raised his arms and gently patted her back. “Perhaps you should thank Jon instead,” Bran suggested. 

 

Dany laughed wetly. “Did you just make a joke?”

 

“I think so.”

 

~~~~~

 

Daenerys was looking over her people from the ramparts of Winterfell, thinking about how she would break the news to Jon, when Sansa Stark approached her. She hadn’t gone to the great hall for the midday meal for she did not know how to tell Jon just yet. 

 

“Your Grace,” said Sansa. 

 

“Please, call me Dany when it’s just the two of us,” she said.

 

“I suppose that’s appropriate since we’ll be goodsisters soon,” said Sansa with a small smirk. And soon you will have nephews.

 

“Jon told you?” She asked. 

 

“Yes,” said Sansa. “Thank you, for legitimizing him.” Dany watched as Sansa’s mask of steel fell away to show gratefulness. “It’s something he’s wanted for as long as I can remember.” 

 

“I’ve been waiting for some moons now for him to ask it of me, but I realized yesterday that he never would.” 

 

Sansa smiled and almost rolled her eyes. “Jon could be on fire and he’d never ask for a drop of water.” 

 

Dany let out a burst of laughter which Sansa echoed. They stood there in their mirth for a long while until snow began to fall. 

 

“I’ll never get used to that,” said Dany. She caught a few flakes of snow and held them up to her face, giggling in delight when she noticed their strange shapes. “I always imagined it would make noise.” 

 

“Snow?” Sansa asked, amused. 

 

“Rain makes noise as it falls,” said Dany in an attempt to justify herself. 

 

Sansa shook her head with a good-natured sigh. “Southerners.” 

 

“I’d like to see you Northerners do better in the South,” Dany teased. She frowned when Sansa’s face fell. “I’m sorry, did I offend you?”

 

“Walk with me?” Sansa asked instead of answering.

 

The snowy air was chilly as they walked into the courtyard together, yet Sansa seemed unaffected. 

 

Sansa waved at Ser Brienne and Ser Podrick in the training yard but Dany stopped walking when she looked closer at Ser Podrick. “Why is he wearing a blindfold?!” She flinched when Ser Brienne’s sparring sword hit Podrick flat on the chest. 

 

“I cannot be any louder, Pod,” she heard Brienne say. 

 

Sansa chuckled. “He’s training to fight like Arya. My sister was blind for a time on Braavos, and learned how to fight without her eyes.”

 

Brienne swept her sword at Podrick’s legs and he fell on his back. “Seven fucking Hells!” He cursed from the mud. 

 

Sansa cleared her throat and smirked when he stood from the mud and meekly took off his blindfold. “Don’t give up, ser. I have faith in you, Podrick.”

 

His face was as crimson as a goblet of Dornish Red. “Pardon, m’lady, Your Grace. I did not know you were there.”

 

“Don’t worry,” Sansa reassured him with mischief in her eyes, “my sister curses like an Ironborn sailor.”

 

Dany and Sansa chuckled as they continued their walk, arm in arm. Dany found herself inching closer to the woman on her arm, subconsciously trying to leech away some of her heat. 

 

“Would you like my cloak?” Sansa asked as she waved to Ser Davos. 

 

Dany chuckled and watched her breath float on the icy air. “Thank you, but I’m quite alright — just not used to the cold yet.” She shivered as she recalled how cold the air had been atop Drogon, flying hundreds of feet in the air, being constantly bitten by the icy wind. She might’ve frozen solid if not for the heat of her child under her. 

 

“My mother was southron,” said Sansa, “but ice began to flow through her veins soon enough after she married Father.” 

 

“Marrying someone you’ve never met is a terrifying thing. I didn’t know Khal Drogo before I met him, and was terrified of him at first. It seemed to work out well for your mother and father.” 

 

“Well, they were a rare thing,” said Sansa with a wistful sigh. “Mother used to say that love doesn’t always just happen; sometimes you have to build it slowly, stone by stone, like they did. It took them years to build from mutual respect to love, yet the stones were sure and the mortar solid.” 

 

“Have you ever been in love, Sansa?” Dany asked before she could think better of it. 

 

“Yes.” Dany chastised herself when Sansa’s smile turned sad. “Twice, actually. The first was a very sudden love, the kind that just happens to you. Cersei murdered her.” Dany’s heart lightened despite the sad tale. Someone like me, she thought . “The second was a much slower thing. It was only after years and years that I looked down and noticed I’d been placing stones and building love.” Dany thought she might know who the second involved, but decided not to say anything. “And you, Your Grace?” 

 

Daenerys hummed as they began to descend the stairs into the crypt. “I’ve had many… trysts,” said Dany, “over the years, but I’ve only found two true loves. I never expected to fall in love again after Drogo, let alone with a brooding crow from the North.” 

 

Sansa’s laugh was light as a feather on the wind, and Dany’s heart was all the better for it. “I wish Father were here to see it… I can picture him with his face in his hands, a sigh on his every breath.” 

 

“You don’t think he would’ve approved the match?” 

 

“I think he would’ve approved of it, but he wouldn’t have been happy about it,” Sansa said as they reached the bottom of the steps. “Father always wanted to protect us from politics. He could’ve played the Game if he wanted to – he had the mind for it – but he despised it too much. It’s what got him killed; offering mercy instead of a dagger.” 

 

Dany looked up at the stone face of Eddard Stark as they reached his tomb. “I never got to thank him for that mercy,” she said, almost to herself. 

 

She often thought that Lord Stark must’ve been a very brave man to stand up for a Targaryen to King Robert — the man who waged war on her House. 

 

“That’s not what I refer to,” said Sansa, earning her gaze. “When Father discovered Cersei’s secret, he did not do what anyone else would’ve done. He did not tell Robert or the court or his own family the truth — he told Cersei that he knew her secret, and offered mercy on her and her children. Father knew that Robert would’ve killed them if he found out, so he told Cersei to flee with her children and escape the king’s wrath.” Dany stared at the statue as if Lord Stark could explain. “When Bran first told me, I was angry with Father for that foolish act of kindness. But that same kindness is why we loved him so dearly, and why the world is darker without him.” 

 

“Tyrion says Jon is much like him,” said Dany. “But Jon doesn’t talk about him very often.” Not at all, really, Dany corrected. 

 

“Of course not,” said Sansa, “which is one way they are similar. Father never talked about his family because of the grief it caused him, and Jon prefers to ignore his grief altogether and pretend he’s alright.” 

 

“Would you tell me about them sometime? Your mother and father and your brother?” Dany asked. “I know so little about your family, and I wish for that to change.” 

 

Sansa gave her a watery smile. “Only if you promise not to hold my tears against me.” 

 

“Never,” said Dany, reaching down to squeeze Sansa’s hand. “So… as much as I enjoy the warmth of all these torches, might I ask why you’ve brought me down here?” 

 

“I want to show you something,” said Sansa, leading her to another tomb farther in the crypt. “This is my grandfather’s tomb,” she said. “Do you know how he died?” 

 

“My father killed him,” said Daenerys. Sansa shook her head. 

 

“Do you know how?” Daenerys did not answer. “Uncle Brandon marched on King’s Landing after Lyanna disappeared. Your father had him imprisoned and summoned my grandfather to answer for his son’s crimes. My grandfather demanded a trial by combat to free his son, and your father granted him this.” Sansa turned to look at Daenerys then. “King Aerys named wildfire as his champion.” Dany shut her eyes for a moment and took a steadying breath. “They suspended Grandfather in the throne room over a green fire and he cooked in his armor, while the king’s men held Uncle Brandon in a Tyroshi noose. They kept a sword just out of reach and with each step he took, the noose tightened. He strangled himself to death trying to save his father.” Sansa dusted off his statue and rubbed the dust from her fingers. “Wildfire doesn’t leave any remains, so Grandfather wasn’t able to rest here with his family.” 

 

“I… I didn’t know,” said Dany. 

 

“I do not blame you for your father’s cruelty,” Sansa said, yet Dany could not understand why she was telling her these things. 

 

Sansa led her back to Eddard’s tomb and there she laid her hand on his stone statue, where his hands rested on his sword’s pommel. 

 

“Has Jon told you anything about him?” Sansa asked.

 

“Not really,” Daenerys said, looking up at Ned’s stone eyes. “Only that he was murdered by Joffrey.”

 

“My father was a kind, honorable, gentle man, and he died for it. He was loved deeply by all his children and all the men he led. My sister used to give him flowers and he would take them all and kiss her hair. Father loved to pick us up and spin us around until we got dizzy… he taught my brothers how to command men in battle and tried to teach all of us to be kind. He would take us, even me and Arya, on trips to our bannermen’s castles in the North so we could learn the names and faces of our people. He told us that you cannot expect people to fight for a man they don’t know.”

 

“Your father, he…” Daenerys started. “He sounds like a good man.”

 

“He was the best man I’ve ever known,” Sansa told her. “He resigned as Hand of the King when Robert wanted to send assassins to kill you and your babe. Even when his life was under threat he still remained true and good.” Sansa ran her finger down the stone replica of Ned’s sword. “I watched when his head was taken. Ilyn Payne took it with Ice, the sword wielded by my father and his father before him, and his legs jerked when his head rolled down the stairs of the Great Sept of Baelor. Janos Slynt held up my father’s head by his hair for the crowd and they cheered. I almost jumped from my window in the week following… it would’ve been so easy.” She sighed. “They put his head on a spike and Joffrey made me look at it.” Sansa’s voice was completely devoid of emotion and it clawed at Dany’s heart. “Tywin Lannister melted Ice into two swords and gave one of them to Joffrey. Now the sister swords are wielded by Ser Jaime and Ser Brienne.” 

 

“When I take King’s Landing,” said Daenerys, “I’ll return your father’s bones.”

 

“It wasn’t just my father’s head that Joffrey put on a spike, he also mounted my septa and my father’s men.” Sansa shook her head slightly. “I doubt they’re all still there.”

 

“If they are, I give you my word that I shall return them.” 

 

“I don’t just want their remains, I want—” Sansa seemed to stop herself. “When the Lannisters imprisoned my father, my brother called our bannermen against them. He wasn’t doing it for power or some political aim, he just wanted to bring his father and his sisters home. When my father was murdered, Robb’s men declared him King in the North. His people, my people, they lost the fight for my father and instead fought for independence. When Robb and Mother were killed, they passed the fight to us.” 

 

Sansa suddenly turned around and let her cloak drop to the floor, then unfastened the ties of her gown at her neck. Daenerys gasped as Sansa dropped the gown to her waist, letting her see the scars lining every inch of her skin. 

 

Dany knew from her time with the Dothraki that the longest scars were made by the sting of a whip. Dany hesitantly ran her finger along the longest scar, amazed by the sheer amount of strength the woman in front of her possessed. 

 

“I have a couple like these,” she said quietly. She could still remember how the sharp sting of a whip felt. 

 

“They were given to me by a man named Ramsay Bolton — a cruel little snake,” said Sansa. She eased back into her gown and tied it. 

 

“Why have you shown me this?” Asked Dany. 

 

“I was married to Ramsay for two months, and he raped me every day of those two months,” said Sansa. “He kept me locked in a tower and visited me when he liked. After we retook Winterfell, I fed him to his own dogs and watched until his body stopped twitching. I am telling you this because the only thing that kept me going during those months was my duty to Robb and my mother and father- my duty to secure independence for the North.” 

 

Sansa then let out a deep sigh and began wringing her hands together. Why is she nervous? Does she still not trust me?

 

“But Tyrion told me that you are willing to change how the world works. He said that you might take away the need for rebellion.” Dany blinked in surprise. “When my brother fought for independence, he was fighting for freedom from the cruel king that murdered our father. I survived Ramsay so I could fight for freedom from Cersei. But you are different, Daenerys. I don’t believe that you will be a queen worthy of Northern rebellion.” Sansa glanced at Ned Stark’s statue. “Until Tyrion spoke with me, I was planning to fight you for Northern independence, but now…” Sansa sighed, “I think I shall simply ask you. The lands of the North and Beyond the Wall are as big as the rest of the six kingdoms combined. As queen, you have the power to release the North from the Southern crown, and I beg you to do so. Please, Your Grace, rule alongside the North, not over it. I fear that my people will not make peace otherwise. Whether you’re good or not, you took away the Northern crown, and we have a habit of remembering these things. Your betrothed, my brother, is a Stark. Name him the King in the North and you the Queen in the South.”

 

Dany did not have to think on it for very long. “Okay.”

 

For the first time since Dany had laid eyes on Lady Sansa, she was speechless. 

 

Eventually, Sansa found her words. “I just asked you to give up the North and all you have to say is ‘okay’?” Dany frowned.

 

“I would not be giving up the North if Jon was King in the North,” said Dany. “He and I will be husband and wife soon. If I give him the Northern crown, our firstborn will inherit the South, and our secondborn will inherit the North. It makes sense.” Sansa did not look convinced. “I was already trying to think of how I could settle the uneasiness in the North, and your suggestion makes the most sense. Jon bent the knee to me so long ago, and now I will help him to his feet and we will rule the Seven Kingdoms together.”

 

Sansa glanced at her father’s statue. “How can I know you will keep your word?”

 

Dany sighed. “I know you have endured many struggles in your life, just as I have, and I know you don’t trust easily.” Dany took Sansa’s hands in hers. “But I am in love with Jon, and I bear his children — our heirs — as we speak.” Sansa’s eyes widened by a fraction. “He is the moon of my life, the ice to my fire, the king to my queen— he is my everything. If you cannot trust me, trust in my love for Jon.”

 

Sansa stared long and hard into Dany’s eyes and whatever she found must have been good, for she nodded. “I think I can do that.” Dany grinned and released her hands. “You’re really pregnant?” 

 

“Yes,” said Dany. It felt odd to speak it aloud. “Bran says I carry twins.”

 

Sansa gave a small smile. “Jon will be a good father.”

 

“I hear he learned from the best,” Dany said as she nodded to Ned’s statue. She turned to Sansa and decided it was time. “I want you to be my Hand,” said Daenerys. 

 

Her face, which rarely betrayed any emotion, was almost comically painted with shock. “What?” 

 

“I have been thinking about this for a very long time. Westeros is a wheel. The power shifts from one spoke to the next as it rolls round and round, crushing the weak under its towering spokes just to get closer and closer to the top. It is an endless cycle. You and I both know what it’s like to get caught under the wheel.” Dany held out her forearm to show Sansa the faded scar from a Dothraki whip, from when she once blocked the brunt of a whipping with her arms. “Once I take King’s Landing, I am going to break that wheel. The way the kingdoms are ruled is broken, the only way to fix it is to crush its remnants and create something new. If Westeros is not changed, there will be another War of the Five Kings, just with different kings. I want you there to help me build a new world.” Sansa still seemed hesitant.

 

“What do you intend on changing?” 

 

“I’m still working on it,” said Daenerys. “Tyrion is a good Hand and gives wise counsel, but why can’t I have two Hands? A right and a left, working together. You know more regarding the capital and the people of court than I, and your counsel would be invaluable.”

 

Sansa seemed to mull that over. “How can I know if you’ll listen to my counsel?” Daenerys knitted her hands together. 

 

“Alright, I’ll show you,” she said. “How would you rebuild Westeros? How can I break the wheel while still ruling the kingdoms with Jon?” 

 

Sansa chewed her lip. “If I were queen, I would first focus on helping each kingdom to recover from the war, and I’d help them rebuild a stable economy. I would make them love me.” Sansa’s mind seemed very far away. “I spent many moons trapped under the palm of Cersei Lannister. She always told me that the only way to rule is to make people fear you more than the enemy. She was wrong. I know by now that the only way to ensure peace is to make the people love you. Ruling through fear only ensures future rebellion.” Sansa turned her gaze. “That’s why I didn’t like you when I first met you, and why I was so angry at Jon. When you came to Winterfell with two fully grown dragons and the largest army I’ve ever seen, I thought Jon had bent the knee to another queen that ruled through fear. You certainly inspired fear in me.

 

“But I learned that all you wish to inspire in your allies is respect and love, and fear in your enemies. So make the other kingdoms love you, first. As for breaking the wheel…” Sansa searched Dany’s face and continued. “The smallfolk have no power over their liege lords, and they are the most vulnerable to being wronged. Put the kingdoms in their hands.”

 

“How?”

 

“Let the smallfolk choose who they want as their liege lords. Your name should not give you the right to rule, your deeds should. Make the lords and ladies of Westeros work to gain the trust of the smallfolk; let anyone, regardless of their name, vote for a man or woman to represent them— to hear their petitions and support them as a liege lord or lady should. That’s how they choose — chose, I suppose — Lord Commanders of the Night’s Watch. That’s how Jon became Lord Commander, and how he was able to end the war between the North and the Free Folk. If people had any say, Cersei never would’ve risen to power.” 

 

Daenerys gave a little nod and smiled. “You are a smart woman, Sansa Stark. I can understand why Tyrion speaks so highly of you. But something has hardened in you, and I can see the fire behind your eyes that my Dothraki husband liked so much in me.” Daenerys waved her hand in one of the candle’s flames almost absentmindedly. “Thank you for telling me these things about yourself and your family… it has helped me understand you, I think. Once I liberate King’s Landing, I will do as you have suggested.” Sansa let out a sharp breath and Dany saw tears forming in her eyes. “The offer still stands if you want to be my left Hand alongside Tyrion.” Daenerys stood on her toes and laid a quick kiss on Sansa’s cheek. “One day I hope you learn to trust me, and maybe even call me sister.”

 

Dany couldn’t stop her squeal of surprise when Sansa pulled her into an embrace. 

 

“Thank you,” said Sansa. Her faint smell of lemons made Dany smile. 

 

“For what?” 

 

Sansa pulled away and her eyes glistened in the candlelight. “For not being Cersei.” 

 

Dany chuckled. “Well that’s not a very hard feat, is it?” 

 

“I suppose not,” said Sansa. She wrung her hands together and sighed. “And you’re right about me; my troubles have hardened me from porcelain to ivory to steel.”

 

“No,” said Dany, “your troubles did not make you strong — you chose to become steel. The hurt I have suffered over the years — the loss and betrayal and abuse — did not make me the woman I am today. When I was Drogo’s Khaleesi, I decided that I would do everything in my power to create a world where slavery does not exist. I chose to stop being a girl that men could crush under their thumb, and to become a queen that masters feared. Suffering does not make you who you are; you choose the person you wish to be. Bolton did not make you stronger, Sansa, you did.”

 

Sansa looked down as her lip wobbled. “Thank you, Dany.” 

 

“Promise me one thing,” Dany said to make Sansa look up. “Don’t break Tyrion’s heart.”

 

Sansa smiled. “Only if you promise not to break Jon’s.”

 

“I promise,” she swore. “You care a great deal about him, don’t you,” Dany said, though it wasn’t really a question. 

 

“He is my brother. And Stark’s look out for one another.”

 

Dany nodded. “I care for Tyrion very much as well. He’s almost like the little brother I never had. He’s had a very hard life, and I just… I need to know that you won’t hurt him.”

 

“I swear it.” 

 

“Good. If Cersei had done nothing else, I’d still feed her to my dragons for what she’s done to Tyrion.” She almost wished they could resurrect Lord Tywin so she could kill him herself.  

 

When she first met Tyrion in Meereen, she didn’t quite know what to make of him. The Lannister name had made her wary, but then she realized that he was simply another misfit looking for a sense of belonging. Jorah found home in her, Ser Barristan found a queen worth dying for in her, Missandei found a friend in her, and Jon… well, Jon found someone who loved him. Tyrion had been so very lost when he stood at the foot of the stairs before her Meereenese throne, asking to be her advisor, and now he was her Hand and most trusted advisor. She was so glad that all her companions had found a place by her side.

 

She would protect Tyrion with all she had, and would gladly take revenge against Cersei for him.

 

The mention of Cersei seemed to sober Sansa. “Daenerys, I know you are a clever woman, and Cersei’s armies don’t stand a chance, but…” Dany urged her to continue. “Cersei will always be two steps ahead. She got away with having an affair with her brother, and murdering King Robert. Somehow she managed to outwit and kill half the court and nearly all the Tyrells when she destroyed the Great Sept of Baelor. Do not underestimate her under any circumstances — a cornered lion is the most dangerous.” 

 

“How can I prepare for trickery?” 

 

“Think like her,” said Sansa. She had a sour look on her face. “Cersei wants more than anything to cement the Lannister legacy. She knows she cannot win by meeting you in battle, so she must resort to other tactics, like— like how Lord Tywin beat my brother.”

 

“If your sister accomplishes what she set out to do, why would I need to worry about sabotage?” 

 

“The damage might’ve already been done. She’s had moons to prepare for your arrival.” 

 

“She used wildfire to destroy the Sept of Baelor, yes?” Sansa nodded and Dany continued. “You don’t think…” I see a city bathed in green flame. Dany felt her stomach drop. “Tyrion told me that there are caches of wildfire under the city, would— would she—?” 

 

Sansa’s eyes widened briefly before they hardened into ice. “Yes,” said Sansa. “She’s capable of anything. She’ll destroy the entire capital if she believes she cannot win.” Sansa took Dany’s hands and squeezed. “I know Cersei.” 

 

“We won’t attack until we are certain the wildfire is no longer in the city.” Sansa let out a relieved exhale. “I did not come to Westeros to be the queen of ashes.” 

 

Sansa peered deep into Dany’s eyes for a long moment and nodded abruptly. Sansa took Dany’s hand and led her out of the crypt and into the castle. She struggled to keep up with Sansa’s long strides as she was led through the halls to Tyrion’s chambers. Lady Stark did not bother knocking, and instead barged into the room. 

 

Thankfully, Tyrion was decent. “What’s going on?” Tyrion asked, nearly spilling his goblet as he stood. 

 

Bran was seated across from him in front of the fire, and did not seem surprised by their intrusion. 

 

Sansa released Dany’s hand and shut the door behind them. “Why didn’t you tell me that Cersei still has wildfire?! I thought she used it all to destroy the Sept of Baelor.” 

 

“If she had used all the wildfire on the Sept, she would’ve destroyed the entire city,” said Tyrion. “She can’t use it on our fleet without destroying Euron’s at the same time. Unless she has somehow found the funds to build catapults and train some fire archers, the wildfire shouldn’t pose a threat.” 

 

“Cersei knows she can’t win, Tyrion! And she has nothing left to live for — her children are dead, her father is dead, and Jaime betrayed her! The only thing she has left is the throne.” Tyrion averted his gaze. “I know you still have love for her, but I also know that you understand what she is capable of. You know in your heart how Cersei thinks, just as I do.”

 

Tyrion shook his head. “She wouldn’t… not after what Jaime did to Aerys…” He seemed to be speaking to himself. “She must know Jaime will kill her if she does.”

 

“Unless she believes that Jaime will never kill her,” said Bran. 

 

“Cersei is too smart to believe that,” said Tyrion. “She may be mad, but she is still intelligent.” 

 

“Tyrion, my old friend,” said Bran with a sad little smile. “Did you never wonder why she hated you so much?” 

 

Dany took a step between Tyrion and Bran, keeping her face as calm as she could manage even though her insides burned. “You know better than most that Tyrion has suffered enough,” Dany warned. “I’ll not have you make him suffer even more with whatever it is you wish to tell him.” 

 

“Dany, my queen,” said Tyrion from behind her. She turned her gaze from the Stark boy and met Tyrion’s eyes. No one hurts my friends. “I can handle this.” Dany nodded after a long while but stayed at Tyrion’s side. “Bran, what do you mean? What is there to wonder about? She told me herself many times why she hated me — I killed our mother.”

 

“That is why she hated you for a time, but it is not the entire reason.” Bran still seemed sad, as though whatever he was about to say upset him as well. “When she was a little girl, Cersei got her fortune told by a witch. She has lived her life since then doing everything she can to prevent the prophecy from coming true, yet it has all been for naught.” 

 

“Cersei? Believing a prophecy?” Tyrion sounded doubtful. 

 

“What was the prophecy?” Sansa asked. 

 

“Cersei asked the witch if she would become queen. ‘Queen you shall be,’ the witch told her. ‘until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.’”

 

Movement caught Dany’s eye and she turned to see Sansa covering her mouth with both hands. “Margaery,” said Sansa. “She murdered Margaery because of a stupid prophecy?!”

 

Bran nodded. “I’m sorry about Margaery, Sansa. She was a clever woman to the very end… she figured out what was going to happen before it happened. The only reason she died is because the Faith Militant did not allow her to leave the sept. And it was not a stupid prophecy — it has come true.” 

 

“It came true because she made it come true!” Sansa snapped, then calmed herself. “What else was in the prophecy?” 

 

“Cersei asked if she would have children,” said Bran. “‘Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,’ the witch said. ‘And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.’” 

 

“Valonqar?” Tyrion looked up to Dany. “Is that High Valyrian?” 

 

Dany looked away. “It means ‘little brother’.” 

 

The room was as silent as the Long Night for a few very long moments. 

 

“It was never me,” Tyrion said quietly, breaking the tense silence. “All that suffering she caused me… it was all for nothing. She hated the wrong fucking brother!” His laugh was a little hysterical. “It was always… always meant to be Jaime,” he said, a bit hoarse. “Everything she’s done to prevent the prophecy has only made it come true — murdering Lady Margaery made way for an even more beautiful queen, and trying to protect her children only killed them! And now— now she’s going to destroy King’s Landing because she believes I’m the stupid godsdamned valonqar in the prophecy, and— and Jaime’s going to kill her.” 

 

“Are you certain Ser Jaime is capable of that?” Dany asked. 

 

“I know my brother.” 

 

Dany pushed Bran out of Tyrion’s chambers to give him and Sansa privacy. She led him to the balcony overlooking the courtyard at his request and found Missandei leaning over the rails. She greeted her friend and went to her side, following her gaze to the training yard where Jon and Grey Worm were sparring. Their fighting styles differed greatly and thus both of them were forced to yield often. 

 

She watched Jon and Grey Worm spar for some time, holding a hand over her belly as she prayed to anyone listening that her betrothed and her most loyal fighter both survived the battle to come.

 

So much of our plan relies on Arya Stark and Jaime Lannister, she thought to herself. What an odd pair to rely on. 

 

Tyrion was convinced that Jaime would kill Cersei if she threatened to use the wildfire, yet she was not convinced. She knew that the Lannister twins were far from close, yet they were still kin. She did not regret letting Viserys be killed, yet she mourned for him regardless. 

 

“Lord Bran,” Dany began, “do you think that Ser Jaime is capable of killing Cersei?” 

 

“I do not think, Your Grace, I know, ” said Bran.

 

“How do you?” 

 

Bran did not answer. “The next time you see Ser Jaime, ask him about the Sacking of King’s Landing.” 

 

“Why wou—,” a grunt from the training yard stopped her mid-word. Jon was lying in the dirt clutching his ribs, and Grey Worm was offering him a hand. She turned back to continue questioning Bran and he was gone. 

 

How does he do that? She had no clue how he managed to move so quietly in that wheeled chair of his. 

 

She disregarded her thoughts and turned to her dearest friend. She thought of Jorah, her oldest friend, who’d been there from the first to the last. She hoped he was at peace, wherever he was, and she hoped that someday she would see him again. 

 

“How is Grey Worm?” Dany asked. “He lost many friends in the battle.” 

 

“He is good,” Missandei said. Dany could tell she wasn’t saying something and silently urged her to go on. “He— he asked to marry me.” Dany gasped in shock and then embraced her.

 

“I’m so happy for you!” She said once she released her. 

 

“I am too,” Missandei said quietly. “I never thought he would want to, since— since he didn’t see the point in marriage. I told him that I wanted us to marry, because… I didn’t want us to not get married just because of what we were taught as slaves. I told him it would make me happy.” Missandei smiled. “So we’re going to get married after the war is over.” 

 

Dany felt a tear of happiness roll down her cheek. “I am so glad I found you, Missandei.” Missandei also seemed teary. “And I’m so glad you’ve found happiness with Grey Worm.”

 

“Thank you for everything you’ve done for us, Dany,” said Missandei, “and for being my dearest friend.” 

 

“What will you do once the war is over?” Dany asked. 

 

“I think I would like to see the Isle of Naath again. It’s been so long since I was home,” said Missandei. “I don’t know if I will even recognize it.” 

 

“Perhaps Jon and I will visit you there,” she said. “Wherever you go, you will always have a place by my side.” 

 

She stayed with Missandei and told her about the twins she carried despite the curse she had believed to be true for so long. Missandei hugged her for a long while. “I know how much you’ve wanted this, Dany,” said Missandei, “and I’m so happy for you. You deserve every bit of happiness in this world after all the good that you’ve done.”

 

She and Missandei discussed possible names for the babes for a few sparring rounds before Jon landed in the dirt again. 

 

“I should go rescue my betrothed,” Dany said with a smile. 

 

The sound of Jon’s triumphant laugh warmed her heart as she approached them — his laugh was hard-won and always brought a smile to her lips. His laugh became a grunt as Grey Worm struck him across the chest with his sparring spear. Dany winced. 

 

“I think that’s enough sparring for today,” said Dany. Jon bent over to catch his breath, nearly wheezing with exertion. Grey Worm, same as ever, stood at attention immediately. “You don’t have to do that every time I am near, Torgo Nudho.” 

 

Grey Worm’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “I never again want to lose the honor of riding alongside you, my queen.” 

 

“You don’t want to guard the livestock again, you mean?” She teased. 

 

“That too,” said Grey Worm. 

 

“What was that about?” Jon asked as she led him up to their chambers.  

 

“One day on the road to Meereen, Grey Worm and Daario Nahaaris were not in my camp.” She shook her head fondly. “I found them where they’d been sitting since midnight, playing a game for the honor of riding alongside me to Meereen. I made them guard the livestock at the end of the train for keeping me waiting.”

 

Jon laughed. “Men are dumb from time to time, Your Grace.” 

 

“What about you?” She asked mischievously as she opened the door to their rooms. 

 

“I’d say I’m dumb more often than not,” said Jon. His eyes were distant almost, as if recalling a memory. “I’ve been reminded of that several times.” 

 

She chuckled. “I would not choose a dumb man to be my king.” 

 

Jon kissed her forehead and smiled. “I suppose not.” She closed the door behind them and watched as Jon’s content expression turned to confusion. “Is something wrong?”

 

“Absolutely nothing is wrong.” Dany guided him to sit on the bed and she stood before him, holding his face in her hands as she kissed him. “Do you remember that day in the dragon pit,” she asked once she pulled away, “when you asked me if I had considered that the witch might’ve lied to me?” 

 

“And you said that your dragons were the only children you’d ever have. I know, Dany.” Jon smiled. “I love you no matter how gigantic your children are, and I’m happy knowing that we can’t have children of our own together.”

 

Dany couldn’t help but kiss him once more. “You were right about the witch.” Jon’s brow furrowed. “I’m pregnant,” said Dany. She smiled as his mouth fell open in shock. “Bran says I carry twins.”

 

Jon’s shock morphed into joy and in the next moment he surged forward and lifted her into the air, wrapping his arms around her rear so he could nuzzle his face into her stomach. She laughed and had to hold the back of his head to steady herself. 

 

“Truly?” He asked as he let her down. His smile was nearly blinding in its brilliance. 

 

“Truly, moon of my life,” said Dany. 

 

Dany wiped away a tear as it trailed down his cheek, smiling at the mix of elation and disbelief on his face. “I’m going to be a father?” Jon sounded as though the very thought was unbelievable. 

 

“Yes,” Dany said, laughing, “now kiss me, damn you!”

 

Jon surged forward and captured her lips in a blazing kiss full of joy and love and desire all in a single caress.

 

As they made love in the firelight, Dany felt at home for the first time since she sailed across the Narrow Sea. 

Chapter Text

Jaime III 

 

Jaime missed his wife. 

 

It still felt odd that he had a wife to miss — the Kingsguard was all he'd known for most of his life and when he donned the white cloak, he gave up marriage forever. I shan’t marry anyone other than Cersei, he’d decided so long ago, when he was naught but a child. Since I cannot marry her, I shall marry no one. 

 

What a fool he was. 

 

He used to believe that he and Cersei were destined to be together— she would say that they were one soul in two bodies, that they were two sides of the same coin. He wished he could go back and shake some sense into his younger self, like Brienne did so many times. 

 

“Take me with you,” Brienne had said the morning he left. 

 

“I want nothing more than for you to stay by my side,” Jaime told her, “but what about Lady Sansa? You’d never forgive yourself if something happened to her while you were with me.” 

 

Brienne’s despair had eaten away at his heart. “You don’t have to go, Jaime. Stay. You don’t owe her anything.” 

 

His resolve had nearly broken then. “This is the only way she’ll get a trial, and… and I need to ask her why. I need to know why she’s done this — why she has sacrificed everything for power. Please understand, Brienne. It’s the only way I’ll have peace when she must die.” 

 

“I cannot lose you to her,” Brienne had said, “not after everything we’ve been through.” 

 

Jaime placed her hand over his heart and smiled. “Cersei will never reclaim what is now yours, Ser Brienne of Tarth. My heart belongs to you, wife, just as it always will. I am yours and you are mine, remember?”

 

“I remember,” said Brienne. “I trust you, Jaime.” 

 

When they made love one last time in the quiet glow of dawn, Jaime swore an oath to himself that he would come back to her. If he could not keep this oath, then he deserved all the shame brought upon him by the title Oathbreaker. 

 

They did not bid farewell at their parting— only made promises that they would soon reunite at Harrenhal. He missed her the moment he rode Honor past the east gate of Winterfell with Arya Stark and the Hound at his side.

 

They had made good time on their journey so far by taking the Kingsroad from Winterfell to the Neck. They planned to travel through the forest west of the Kingsroad for the remaining leagues, in case Cersei had scouts watching the road from the Neck to King's Landing.

 

His traveling companions were silent more often than not, which filled him with the apprehension of uncertainty. He was not sure where he stood with either of them — as far as he knew, they could be plotting his demise during their long periods of silence. Jaime was not even sure of how Arya Stark and the Hound stood with each other, for they spoke only to bicker with one another. Their bickering never seemed truly hateful, yet their words were sharp nonetheless. If nothing else, Jaime would be glad to be free of this strange uncertainty once their mission in the capital was done. 

 

“We should make camp before it gets dark,” said the Hound. 

 

They made camp close to the Green Fork, in a small clearing enclosed in a circle of soldier pines. Arya dragged him into a sparring match while the Hound built them a fire.

 

They sacrificed time for caution by traveling like this, for they could not lead the horses through the forest in the dark. He wondered if Robb Stark’s men traveled like this when they snuck through the Whispering Wood, or if they traveled during the night like shadowcats. 

 

He’d spent most of their trip thus far sharpening his sword, sparring with Arya, and trying not to worry about his return to the capital. The last time he’d seen his sister, he wanted nothing more than to strangle her. He never thought he would see her again, and he didn’t know if he wanted to. She had left him without an army to face the dead. He still loved her as a sister, yet she obviously did not care whether he lived or died. 

 

He still wasn’t sure if she would not have had the Mountain kill him, had he stayed. 

 

Being away from her — at Brienne’s side — had shown him just how terrible his sister was to him. He had loved Cersei wholly, even knowing it was wrong, but he knew now that she had never loved him the same way. He was always just the pawn she used to get what she wanted. And when he returned to her without his swordhand, she discarded him as she did with everyone else that outlived their usefulness. 

 

He was nothing more than the stupidest Lannister to her — all she wanted was his cock and his swordhand, and she found those in other men when he was not there. 

 

Brienne never called him stupid, not even when he struggled to read scrolls as the letters jumbled under his gaze. Father had put him through the Seven Hells as a child to improve his reading, yet all it did was make his head hurt. When he told Brienne about his condition, she had taken some books from the Winterfell library and read them to him by the fireplace. He had cried the first night she’d done that, for he’d never enjoyed a book before. 

 

And somehow, she was not disgusted by his stump. Cersei would not look at him if he was not wearing that damned golden hand. 

 

Despite all her cruelty, he supposed he owed Cersei this much; to look her in the eyes before dragging her to the Black Cells. And he would not look away as the Dragon Queen enacted whatever justice she saw fit. He hoped that the queen would not burn her alive, at least. 

 

No one, no matter their crimes, deserved that fate.

 

He could still hear the screams — the terrible, terrible screams — of the men and women Aerys burned alive. 

 

He had not been a man grown the first time he watched Aerys burn someone alive. And Jaime, in his innocence, had looked upon the other Kingsguard — the men he called brothers — with disbelief. He had expected that the men he most admired as a child, Barristan Selmy and Arthur Dayne, would question the king’s actions. Yet none of them did anything, not when the king burned innocent folk or when he raped his own wife. 

 

He expected to be thanked when Ned Stark walked into the throne room, and instead he was shunned. 

 

Kingslayer. Man without honor. 

 

Fuck your honor, Jaime had thought long ago under Stark’s disapproving gaze. If honor means standing by as innocents die, then I shall gladly live without it. 

 

He often wondered if Lord Stark would’ve still looked down upon him, had Jaime explained what happened. Brienne, Cersei, Tyrion, and Bran Stark were the only ones still living that knew that story. He had considered telling Queen Daenerys when she had nearly thrown him out of Winterfell, but she never asked. 

 

Nobody ever asked him. 

 

He grunted as his back hit the ground. 

 

“You are troubled,” said Arya as she leaned over him. He shooed away her offered hand and stood on his own. 

 

It was strange to hold a sword with his hook, for he’d not used the muscles of his right arm since he lost his hand. Arya insisted on sparring with him to strengthen his right arm even though they only had live steel. 

 

He fell back into his defensive stance and raised his sword just as Arya lunged at him. She feinted right and then poked his left side. 

 

“Ow!” He said indignantly. 

 

“You’re not here — you’re with your trouble. If you’re with your trouble when fighting happens…” Their swords met and Jaime didn’t notice her right hand moving until a dagger was pressed to his throat. “more trouble for you.” He wanted nothing more than to wipe that satisfied grin from her face. 

 

He focused on how much he wanted to put her in the dirt with each strike and was finally able to sweep her legs out from under her. “Now look who’s troubled,” he taunted. 

 

Suddenly she dragged her heel across his ankles and straddled him as he fell on his back, pinning his hook to the ground while she used her right hand to press her dagger under his chin. “You celebrate too early, Lannister.” 

 

He grabbed her wrist with his hand and wrenched the dagger away from himself and flipped them over, using his brute strength to pin her down. “So do you, Stark.” 

 

Clegane huffed. “You two fight like pompous tourney knights,” said the Hound. 

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” Jaime asked as he got to his feet and helped Arya up. 

 

“You’ll get a sword in the gut if you fight the Ironborn cunts like that,” Clegane said. “You’ll always lose in a fight when your opponent fights with less honor than you.” 

 

If only you knew how I truly fight, Clegane, thought Jaime. 

 

“If I sparred with him like how I fight,” said Arya, “he wouldn’t be hale enough to fight in the upcoming battle.” Arya looked Jaime over before continuing. “And I believe Brienne would be angry with me if I made him infertile.” 

 

Clegane laughed and took a long swig from his wineskin. “Watch out for that one’s teeth,” said Clegane, rubbing a hand over his missing ear. The Hound turned his gaze to him. “Don’t know how you’ve still got a dick married to the Tarth bitch.” 

 

“Call her that one more time and I’ll take your other ear, Clegane,” snapped Jaime. He sat against the tree opposite the Hound and began to sharpen his sword. 

 

“I’d like to see you try, Kingslayer,” Clegane taunted. 

 

“I’ve fought better swordsmen than you, Hound,” Jaime snapped.

 

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

 

“That sounds like a challenge to me.” 

 

“Easy, Lannister,” said Arya as she put a piece of rabbit over the fire and sat near the Hound. “We’re all on the same side.” 

 

“You know, I do have a first name, Lady Arya,” said Jaime. He smirked at her sour look. 

 

“Do you prefer Kingslayer?” His smile fell away. 

 

So that’s where we stand with one another, Stark.

 

Her eyes were narrowed at him as though she was trying to see his thoughts. Gods help her if she could. 

 

He clenched his hand into a fist and went back to sharpening his sword. “Be careful not to sully your honor by speaking to the Kingslayer, my lady — I hear dishonor tends to rub off on people.” He scoffed.

 

He hated how much the members of House Stark could get under his skin simply by looking down on him. Lions do not concern themselves with the opinions of the sheep, his father’s voice reprimanded. Wolves are far from sheep, Jaime told his father’s voice. Wolves can bite just as hard as lions.

 

“How many years have you lived with that title?” Arya asked, not letting him answer. “It still gets to you every time.” 

 

It’s not the title, thought Jaime, it’s the venom with which it’s spoken. Slaying the Mad King was his greatest accomplishment, yet his title was not treated like the trophy it was — rather a burning brand that stung each time it was thrown in his face. 

 

“How very irresponsible of me to let it get to me,” spat Jaime. “Next time I’ll simply bar the door to keep it out.” Clegane chuckled. 

 

“Why does it bother you so much?” Arya asked. 

 

“I don’t wish to speak of it,” said Jaime. 

 

“Is it because it marks you as a dishonorable man?” 

 

Jaime huffed and had to force himself to stay seated and not just get on his horse and go to the capital alone. Why is she asking me these damned questions? Her parents and Robb Stark never asked questions; all they ever did was berate me and assume and judge. 

 

“Does it bother you because you want to be an honorable man?” She asked. He glared at her, sick of the questions. 

 

“I said I don’t wish to speak of it,” said Jaime. “Why are you Starks so obsessed with your fucking honor?” 

 

“What’s wrong with honor?” 

 

He shook his head, watching the sparks fly from his sword as he finally broke. “‘What’s wrong with it?’ It doesn’t fucking exist,” he snapped. “The world is never black and white, Stark. You don’t get to just choose between honor and dishonor. Yes, I killed Aerys while I was sworn to protect him. What of it? Do you suppose it would’ve been more honorable of me to obey the king when he ordered the deaths of half a million people? Does that sound like the right decision to you, Lady Stark?  I would’ve broken a vow no matter what decision I made that day. 

 

“Defend the king, obey the king, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But I had to pick and choose which oaths to break. Obey the king or protect the innocent, defend the king or obey my father. If I had a chance to choose again, I pray I’d make the same decision.” Jaime nearly sliced his palm open with his fast strokes of the whetstone. “Sometimes, Stark, the most just thing to do is be dishonorable.” He whipped his head up, expecting to see the Stark girl with a disapproving glare, yet her face was completely blank. “So call me Kingslayer if you want, but don’t pretend you’re above me.” 

 

“Who said I was above you? I would’ve done the same thing, Lannister,” said Arya. Jaime didn’t bother to hide his confusion. “I never thought less of you for killing the Mad King, I just wanted to hear your reasons from your own lips.”

 

His anger left him in one moment and he deflated in its absence. 

 

“How come y’don’t give that speech every time somebody calls you Kingslayer?” The Hound asked. 

 

Jaime’s shoulders slumped. “Nobody ever asks.” 

 

“Neither did she,” said the Hound. 

 

Jaime set aside his sword and huffed. “She manipulated me into talking about it!” 

 

“I’m good at that,” said Arya, slightly apologetic. “I didn’t think you’d talk about it unless I made you angry.” 

 

She was right, but the helpless feeling of being out-thought reminded him of Cersei. You really are the stupidest Lannister.

 

“I’d’a killed the cunt too,” Clegane grunted. “I’ve killed better men for worse reasons.” 

 

“Anybody worth a shit would’ve killed him,” Arya told Clegane. “You’re not special.”

 

Jaime thought in silence for some time before he found his words. “Your father despised me for what I did to Aerys…” 

 

Arya unsheathed her dagger and twirled it between her fingers. “I loved my father, but he was blinded by honor and it got him killed. I’ve not made the same mistakes, Lannister. Do you really think I would’ve survived if I faced the Night King in a fair fight?”

 

Jaime’s gaze darted down to the Night King’s handprint scarred into her neck. “How did you kill him?” 

 

She smiled. “I ran past his generals and launched myself at him with my dagger.” She demonstrated by holding her dagger above her head. “He caught me by the neck,” said Arya as she tilted her head to the side to expose her neck. Arya then let the dagger fall from her left hand into her right and thrust it forward in the air. “I knew he would’ve caught any stab from my left, but he wasn’t quick enough to catch my right hand.” Arya performed the action again and Jaime marveled at how swiftly she moved. “I did not fight him honorably, but he turned to shards of ice all the same.” Arya sheathed her dagger. “I doubt my father would’ve approved of such trickery.”

 

“Lord Stark wasn’t always honorable,” he said, attempting to get a rise out of her. “He had a bastard like any other dishonorable man.” 

 

Jaime noticed a sort of subdued mirth in her eyes, as if amused by a private joke. “At least my father didn’t sire a bastard with his sister,” said Arya. 

 

Jaime opened his mouth to retort but came up short. “A fair point, I will grant you that,” Jaime conceded. “But I never—”

 

“Will you two miserable shits shut the fuck up already?” Clegane interrupted. “I can’t hear myself think.” 

 

“You can think?” Arya joked. 

 

“I’m thinking about how I’m going to kill my brother.” Sandor then snorted from his spot beside her. “And I’m thinking about how long it’s going to take for you to realize that your rabbit is burning, ya dumb shit.” 

 

Jaime laughed at the state of the meat on the fire — he’d not noticed it before.

 

Jaime watched in amusement as Arya shot up and pulled the stick with her piece of rabbit out of the fire, cursing when it came away with a flame whipping around. She quickly blew out the flame, grimacing at its blackened state. 

 

“Fuck.” She glared at Jaime across the campfire when he laughed. 

 

He clamped his mouth shut and put his hands up. “Sorry, sorry.” 

 

“You couldn’t have told me a little bit earlier, you dickhead?” She kicked Sandor’s leg and sat back down. 

 

“S’not my fucking problem you let your rabbit turn black.” 

 

“It will be the next time I catch one when I don’t give you any,” she said around a mouthful of charred meat. 

 

“I’m the one that taught you how to catch them, you ungrateful little whelp.” 

 

“You’re also the one that taught me how to be a mean and spiteful son of a bitch,” she countered, making him laugh. 

 

“Is this how you two always are?” Asked Jaime. 

 

Arya said no at the same time the Hound said yes.

 

Jaime shook his head in amusement. What he wouldn’t give to see Ned Stark’s reaction to his daughter fooling around with the Hound. 

 

“What’s your sword’s name?” Arya asked after some time, gesturing to his sword forgotten in the dirt.

 

“Joffrey named it Widow’s Wail,” said Jaime as he tucked it back into its sheath. 

 

“What a fucking cunt,” the Hound grumbled, and Jaime couldn’t help but agree. 

 

“It was once my father’s sword,” said Arya, “it should have a better name.” 

 

“I’m not very good with words and names,” said Jaime. 

 

“You’ll come up with something,” Arya said. Perhaps Jaime was paranoid, but he heard an unspoken threat in her words. Come up with a name better than Widow’s Wail or I’ll take back my father’s steel. 

 

Jaime would most likely ask Brienne to name his sword rather than name it himself. The moment she named her own sword was perhaps the exact moment he’d fallen in love with her. Brienne of Tarth — the woman with the purest heart he’d ever known — had looked upon a sword gifted to her by a man who’d broken as many oaths as he’d made, and had named it Oathkeeper. He could never hope to conceive of a worthy name for Oathkeeper’s sister-sword. 

 

Jaime looked up to the darkening sky at the croaking of a raven. He saw a single bird circling above them, and he noticed a piece of parchment grasped in its claws. What business does a messenger raven have circling out here in the woods?

 

The raven glided down towards them and landed next to Arya, and Jaime frowned at the white sheen over its eyes. Arya took the small scroll from the bird and read it quickly, then glanced from the parchment to Jaime. 

 

She turned to the raven and nodded. “Thank you, Bran.” Bran? Jaime looked to Clegane but the man seemed unperturbed. “Tell Sansa that I’ll take care of it and I’ll send a raven once I’m ready.” 

 

“Why did you call that raven Bran?” Jaime asked slowly once the bird had flown away. 

 

“The Starks are wargs, Lannister,” said Arya. “That raven was Bran.” 

 

Jaime shut his eyes for a moment and shook his head. “Okay.” 

 

“Okay?” Arya asked, incredulous.

 

“A few moons ago, I didn’t believe that White Walkers were anything other than tales meant to scare children. The Starks being wargs sounds pretty damned reasonable.” He noticed that she was still holding the scroll. “What did the letter say?” 

 

Arya simply threw it at him and he barely managed to catch it. Only a few words were written on the scroll. 

 

A,

 

She has wildfire and will use it to destroy King’s Landing. Send word to Harrenhal when it is safe.

 

S

 

Jaime frowned at Arya. “Cersei won’t do that,” he told her. 

 

Arya raised a doubtful eyebrow at him. She reached over the fire and took the letter from him and then handed it to Clegane. “One whiff of that damned green flame and you can forget my help,” the Hound grunted. 

 

Arya ignored him. “Why wouldn’t Cersei destroy the capital?” She asked. “Your sister knows that she cannot win. All your father ever wanted was for the Lannister’s legacy to survive. Blowing everything to the Seven Hells would be pretty damn hard to forget.” 

 

Jaime shook his head at her. “You don’t understand,” he said. “I killed the Mad King when he…” Jaime shut his eyes and saw the king, shouting from that damned throne for the pyromancers to burn them all. He wasn’t a bloody dragon— Jaime’s sword ran him through like any other man. “...when he ordered for the capital and everyone in it to be burned to the ground.” Jaime glared down at the flames of their campfire. Damn the gods for making fire, Jaime thought. Men should not have the power to create such a thing. He looked back up at Arya and saw something akin to sympathy in her Stark brown eyes. “Cersei knows that I will kill her if she threatens the city with wildfire.” 

 

Arya squinted at him. “Why didn’t you kill her when she blew up the Sept of Baelor?” 

 

Jaime looked away and rested his hand on the pommel of his sword. “I wasn’t there.” His knuckles turned white around his sword. If he had been there… well, Jaime wasn’t quite sure what he would’ve done. “When I returned, the sept was already destroyed.” 

 

When he’d walked into the throne room that day, and saw her sitting atop that throne instead of Tommen, he had not known what to do. His swordhand had twitched in that moment— his instincts were screaming at his heart. 

 

“Margaery was a whore,” she had said. “She was controlling our son, Jaime.”

 

“And what were you doing?” He had asked. 

 

Tommen never would have jumped to his death if Cersei hadn’t been so determined to control him. 

 

How many dead? How many had perished to satisfy her lust for power? 

 

How many lives could I have saved if I killed her that day in the throne room? Perhaps I would’ve gone north with an army to fight with the living. I would have given the Dragon Queen and the Starks an army, not just an old cripple resigned to death.

 

“Where were you?” Arya asked. 

 

Jaime forced himself out of his thoughts and refocused on her. “What?” 

 

“You said you weren’t there when she destroyed the sept,” Arya explained. 

 

“The Riverlands,” Jaime said reluctantly.

 

“That’s why you were at the Twins when I was? Because you helped that old shitbag take Riverrun?” 

 

Jaime grimaced. “Well, technically I gave Riverrun to your uncle Edmure.” 

 

“After keeping him imprisoned for years,” she corrected. “I’m sure my beloved uncle is loyal to the Tullys and Starks and not the Houses that killed his family and held him hostage for Gods know how long.” 

 

“Listen, Stark, Edmure is all yours. I don’t give a shit about who rules the Riverlands. And you killed the Freys, didn’t you? The Lannister alliance with House Frey is broken, so your uncle is free.”

 

Arya stared at him for a few moments. “You won’t retain his loyalty under pain of death?” 

 

That was what Cersei would do, but not him. “Does it look like I care about politics? I only laid siege to Riverrun because my sister told me to.” 

 

Arya sent him a look of pity. Gods, he hated that look. “Perhaps she sent you away because she knew you would stop her from blowing up the sept.” Jaime blinked and thought back to that day he left. 

 

“I swore an oath to Lady Stark, never again to take up arms against the Starks or Tullys,” Jaime had told his sister.

 

“A drunken promise made with a sword at your throat,” Cersei said simply. She had always been dispassionate when it came to his oaths. “Who has your loyalty, brother? The deceased Catelyn Stark, or me, your living and breathing sister? Go to Riverrun.”

 

“Tommen is our last boy, Cersei. How can I protect our son if I am not with him?” 

 

“By defeating his enemies,” Cersei snapped. “Father always said that a swift sword stroke is a better defense than any shield. Admittedly, most sword strokes require a hand. Still, even a crippled lion may inspire fear if it bares its teeth. I want Riverrun. I want Brynden Tully chained or dead. Stand at the head of our army where you belong, where Father wanted you.” 

 

Where you wanted me, Jaime realized. 

 

“I wanted to stay with Tommen and she convinced me otherwise,” Jaime said quietly. “She’s the only reason I went to Riverrun.”

 

“Perhaps she believes you won’t kill her now, since you did not kill her when you returned.” 

 

Cersei has always been smarter than me, thought Jaime, perhaps she’s right in her belief and I’m not capable of killing her. I may not love her as a lover anymore, but she is still my sister. 

 

What’s one more godsforsaken title? I’ve lived as the Kingslayer for so long, perhaps Kinslayer will make no difference. 

 

The thought of killing her made him want to vomit. How damned was he that fucking her never made him want to vomit, but the thought of killing her did? 

 

At the thought of fucking her, he leaned over and vomitted up his rabbit onto the dirt. The last time he fucked her was before he went to war against the Starks. She had tried to seduce him of course, after he returned to King’s Landing. Whenever she tried to get him into her bed, he would think of Brienne, and he would remember that Cersei fucked their cousin in his absence, and he would reject her. He wondered if she would try it again before it was all over. He wondered what face she would make when she found out that he’d married Brienne, and that he would rather cut off another limb than fuck Cersei.

 

“The fuck was that for?” Clegane asked. 

 

Jaime turned away from his bile and kicked some dirt over it. “How are you going to deal with the wildfire?” He asked Arya, ignoring the Hound. 

 

She was looking at him as though he were particularly confusing. “Don’t know yet.” She threw him a wineskin and he gratefully washed the taste of bile from his mouth. “Listen, Lannister. Your sister might force me to kill her. I need to know if you will stand in my way.” 

 

Would I? 

 

If Cersei asked him to save her, he did not know if he could refuse. He had always protected her— always. 

 

He decided to answer truthfully. “I don’t know.” 

 

“If you do, I’ll try not to kill you.” He raised his eyebrows and she continued. “My sister told me not to kill you, and to not let you and Sandor kill each other.” 

 

Clegane barked out a laugh. “You taking orders from the Little Bird now?” 

 

“I trust her not to lead me astray,” said Arya. “I don’t know what she sees in you, Lannister, but I trust her judgement.” 

 

Jaime remembered how often she and her older sister fought in Winterfell and on the way to King’s Landing, so many years ago. Their constant bickering had annoyed him to no end. It seemed that the wars had pushed the Stark sisters together while tearing him and Cersei apart. 

 

“Why ‘Little Bird’?” Jaime asked Clegane. The question had been gnawing at him for some time. Tywin employed the Cleganes for their brutality and obedience, yet he and the Stark sisters seemed to care for each other. The simple fact that he was alive attested to that. 

 

The Hound’s eyes narrowed at him. Were they not on the same side, Jaime would’ve unsheathed his sword. “None of your fucking business, Lannister.” 

 

Clegane scratched at his bandaged fingers and fixed Jaime with a scowl. Jaime glanced from his broken fingers to his face and grinned.

 

“Who did you punch hard enough to break a finger?” Jaime asked. “I’ve been meaning to ask — was it Bronn?” 

 

Jaime watched as the Hound’s jaw tensed in anger. “Again, none of your fucking business.” 

 

Jaime carried on. “I wouldn’t blame you, really. I nearly killed him for threatening my brother and Lady Sansa.” 

 

The Hound’s glare sharpened. “The cunt did what?” 

 

Jaime smirked. “Truly, I didn’t know you cared for my brother, Clegane.” 

 

“I don’t give a fuck ‘bout the Imp,” Clegane growled. “What did he do to Sansa?” 

 

“So it wasn’t Bronn you punched.” Jaime scratched at his chin and ignored Clegane’s fury. “Was it Tormund? Did he make a move on you?” 

 

Arya let out an exasperated sigh. “Stop poking the bear, Lannister.” She turned to Clegane. “Bronn threatened to kill her.” Arya raised a hand before Clegane could let out his fury. “Don’t even think about punching another wall, you dunce. Sansa threatened him right back. And besides, I cut off one of his fingers in retribution.” 

 

Jaime decided to employ Arya’s tactics. “Were I as dumb as my sister thinks me, I’d say you had a thing for the Lady Stark.” Clegane’s glare was almost enough to deter him, but he couldn’t resist. “When she gave me your Kingsguard cloak for my wedding, she told me that you bestowed that cloak upon her shoulders. She said it made her feel safe. It’s quite beautiful, wouldn’t you say? It sounds like something out of a song,” Jaime taunted. 

 

“Keep talking, Kingslayer, and I might rip out your tongue,” the Hound growled. “Remember the taste of your wife’s cunt while you can.” 

 

Jaime chuckled, for that taste was not one he was like to forget. “Have you spent much time wondering how my wife tastes? Or are you more of a Northern man yourself?” 

 

Jaime regretted angering Clegane as soon as the man stood and launched himself at Jaime, grabbing him by the throat and holding him aloft. 

 

“Don’t kill him, Sandor,” warned Arya, yet her tone was nearing indifference. She did not seem particularly invested in his survival. 

 

“H-hey, it was a jape, Clegane,” Jaime grunted as he tried and failed to pry Clegane’s fingers away. 

 

“Have you ever seen someone’s guts hang out of their body?” Clegane was completely calm and that scared him more than his anger. “They always try to push their guts back inside, as if that’ll do any good. That’s the price someone pays for hurting the Little Bird. The next time I see Bronn, I’m going to rip his guts out and throw them to the nearest direwolf. If you lay a finger on Sansa, I’ll do the same to you. And if you do anything—” Clegane dragged Jaime’s face closer, “anything — to help Cersei, I will kill you and serve you and Cersei’s heads on a platter to Sansa. D’you understand?” 

 

Jaime grinned. “I think you’ve turned Stark, Clegane,” he managed to say around the hand on his throat, though it was barely a hiss of a sound. The Hound looked confused. “You sounded like Lady Catelyn just then.” 

 

Clegane squeezed harder for a moment. “I asked you a question.”

 

“I understand perfectly.” The sheer disgust on his face reminded him of his time as Brienne’s prisoner. He managed a small sneer. “Keep on like this and I might just fall in love with you. Only my wife treats me this way.” 

 

Clegane’s anger turned to mirth as he laughed and let Jaime fall to the ground. “I bet she does.” 

 

Jaime coughed and grasped at his throat, sending an indignant glare at the Hound. “Do you try to kill everyone that asks you a personal question?” His voice had turned a bit hoarse. “I was just curious about your relationship with the girl, for the love of the Gods! I have no interest in harming Lady Stark.” Jaime turned serious. “I might be a cunt, but I’m not that much of a cunt.”

 

The Hound sat back down and sighed, the closest to sheepish that Jaime had ever seen. “She’s been like a daughter to me ever since she lost her father. She was alone in King’s Landing with your bitch sister and her bastard son. Someone had to protect her.” Clegane’s anger had faded away and all that was left was sadness. He took a swig from his wineskin. “She doesn’t need my protection anymore.” 

 

A dog with no master, Jaime thought. 

 

Night fell soon enough, and the Hound’s snores cut through the silent air every few moments. Arya’s watch was first, yet Jaime could not sleep. Too many thoughts swirled around in his head to allow rest. 

 

Apparently Arya noticed since a stick poked him in the back. He rolled over and glared up at her, but her face was blank. “I don’t understand you, Lannister,” she said. 

 

He sat up and rested his back against the log across from her. “What is there to understand?” 

 

“You killed the Mad King because he was terrible and cruel, yet you stood by as Cersei did terrible things to innocent people— one of which was my sister. My mother let you go to rescue me and Sansa, but you stood by as Sansa was forced to marry your brother, and then let Littlefinger take her away. You abandoned Cersei yet you’re trying to protect her from me.” 

 

Jaime stared into the night over Arya’s shoulder, not sure why he wished to explain himself. It seemed he still could not stand the disapproval of the Starks. “I didn’t mean to break my oath to your mother,” said Jaime earnestly. “I liked her.” All of Cersei’s fire without the cruelty, Jaime thought fondly. “When I promised to bring Catelyn her daughters, I meant it. But by the time I got to King’s Landing, my father had already murdered your mother and married your sister to Tyrion. Another impossible oath. I sent Brienne to find Sansa after she fled the capital because I knew she would succeed when I could not.” 

 

“So if I told you to leave the capital right now and find Sansa,” Cersei had asked so long ago, after Joffrey was murdered, “if I told you to find that murderous little bitch and bring me her head, would you do it?”

 

He had not answered his sister then, for he knew that she wouldn’t have liked the answer. 

 

“Cersei and I…” Jaime began, then stopped. “We’ve always had a complicated relationship. I left the womb holding onto her ankle, and I kept trailing behind her for the rest of our lives together. But everything changed after I was Robb’s prisoner. I spent eight moons chained to a post, doing everything I could to escape and get back to my sister. I— I killed one of my own fucking cousins without a second thought just to get back to her. 

 

“When I finally returned to her, after going through the Seven Hells for her, d’you know what she said? She said, ‘you took too long.’ I was devoted to her — I worshipped her, and she repaid that by fucking other men while I was held captive. After that moment, I began to see the real Cersei. Before then, I was blinded by my love for her and I… I did terrible things to protect her and our children. I obeyed her every command without a single thought. Not after that. 

 

“I love her and I hate her. I love her because she is my sister, but I hate her just as much for all she’s done. I abandoned her to keep my oath to the North, but I’m trying to protect her because she is still my twin.” 

 

A silence fell over them and even Clegane had stopped snoring. The Stark girl sighed. “How do you do it?” 

 

“Do what?”

 

“I know what you did to Bran.” Jaime prepared for the worst, yet Arya’s face was devoid of anger — and any other emotion. “I heard Sansa and Brienne talking about you. I wanted to kill you, right then, but Bran stopped me. He convinced me that it wasn’t your time. I’m asking how you live with yourself, knowing all you’ve done.” 

 

“It’s not easy,” Jaime said. “You’ll be pleased to hear that it often keeps me up at night. Brienne likes to remind me of all the times I’ve done good things… saving the capital, saving her from Locke’s men and then that bear, coming to the North to help defeat the dead…” Jaime rubbed his eyes. “That’s the only thing that helps me live with myself — trying to do the right thing even when the wrong thing is easier.”

 

Arya finally tore her piercing gaze from him and stared into the dwindling flames of their campfire. “My father always told my brothers that a lord should always give men a quick death, no matter what their crime.” Is this going to be another godsdamned Stark lecture? “But I don’t agree.” Jaime blinked. “The Freys did not give my family a quick death. They stabbed Robb’s wife in her belly to kill the child inside and then they filled my mother and brother with bolts. Roose Bolton killed Robb in front of Mother, and then they slit her throat. They sewed Grey Wind’s head onto Robb’s shoulders and paraded it around the Twins, and then they threw my mother in the river. Why should I have given the Freys a quick, painless death?” Her eyes were cold as ice. “I killed Black Walder and Lothar Frey first, and baked them into a pie. I served it to Walder Frey and then I slit his throat. He was very afraid, in the end. 

 

“The next day I summoned every single son and grandson and made a toast to the Red Wedding with Walder’s face. They all cheered for it… they were so proud of themselves for killing my family in the most cowardly way possible. They were confused when they started choking on the poison, but I kept wearing Walder’s face because I wanted them all to believe they’d been betrayed as deeply as they betrayed Guest Right.” Jaime frowned, for he did not know why she was telling him this. “I can’t help but wonder sometimes if Father would be disappointed in me, for what I’ve become.” Jaime watched the flames dance in her cold, empty eyes. “I tell myself that the world made me this way, but I don’t always believe it. I chose to be a killer, and I continue to choose it every time I kill someone. 

 

“I asked how you live with yourself because you get this look in your eyes sometimes — the same look I get when I look in the mirror and think of what I am.” She threw a couple sticks onto the fire and finally looked at him again. “I don’t judge you, Lannister, for doing terrible things to protect your family. In the same position I cannot say I wouldn’t do the same.” 

 

Jaime blinked away the tears in his eyes, determined not to let her see how deeply her words affected him. “Thank you,” he managed to say. He attempted to compose himself. 

 

Jaime hoped that if he and Brienne had a daughter, she would be like Arya Stark. She had all of her aunt Lyanna’s beauty and willfulness, but she was far less reckless. He hoped that the man she took as husband was worthy of her.

 

“So tell me, Stark,” he began with a smile, “which lucky man did you find the time to marry?”

 

Arya sighed. “Not this again,” she grumbled. “Why do you care?”

 

“You just didn’t seem the marrying type to me, that’s all,” said Jaime. 

 

“I wasn’t,” Arya said with a small smile.

 

“Now I’m really intrigued,” he said. “I assume you killed your would-be Frey husband?” Arya frowned and he blanched. “You didn’t marry a Frey, did you?”

 

Arya furrowed her brow. “Frey husband?” 

 

His smile fell. “Oops.” Jaime scratched at his stubble and sighed. “I suppose you never caught wind of the betrothals…” Jaime then frowned to himself. “Wait, why do you think the Freys killed Lady Catelyn and your brother?” 

 

The confusion laid bare across her face made her look more human. Jaime reminded himself that Arya was barely more than a child, and not just the assassin she showed to the world. 

 

“The Freys killed them because your father told them to,” Arya said confidently. “Because your father couldn’t beat my brother on the field.” 

 

“Yes, but—” Jaime paused and thought about his words very carefully, for he did not wish for a sword in the eye. “Your uncle Edmure wasn’t supposed to marry Roslin Frey; your brother was. Your brother promised to marry a Frey girl and offered your hand to one of the Frey boys, and in exchange Walder would allow Robb’s army to cross.” Arya looked as though Jaime had just slapped her. “When he broke his betrothal to marry the Volantene woman, he offered Edmure as a replacement. Walder Frey did not take well to slights. He was all too happy to accept Father’s offer.” 

 

The only sound for a long while was the crackling of their campfire as Arya pondered Jaime’s words. He had begun to drift off when she finally spoke again. 

 

“Robb wasn’t willing to sell himself to win the war, but he was willing to sell me? He knew how hard that would’ve been for me,” Arya said slowly. 

 

“Perhaps he thought you would’ve killed your betrothed?” Jaime suggested. 

 

Jaime wondered briefly, when her anger bloomed into a blazing fire, if she did not have Targaryen blood. “I wasn’t always a killer!” Arya snapped. “I was a scared little girl alone in the world surrounded by cruel men, barely escaping death every fucking day with nothing but my Needle and the clothes on my back! Robb betrothed her to a Frey, not me. The Red Wedding changed me, Lannister. Before then…” Arya trailed off and shook her head. “I wouldn’t even be an assassin if Robb had kept his stupid promise!” 

 

She sounded so much like her real age that Jaime was too stunned to speak. The firelight glinted off the tears forming in her eyes. 

 

Arya jumped up and grabbed the sword from his side before marching to the nearest tree and hacking away at its trunk. 

 

“Wait,” Jaime said as he stood and followed her. “You’ll dent the steel!” 

 

“Stupid!” Thwack! “Fucking!” Thwack! “Brother!” Thwack! Thwack! 

 

Jaime snapped a twig underfoot and she whipped around, holding the tip of the sword under his chin. Jaime held his hand and stump up in surrender. They stood like that for a moment as he watched her catch her breath. Arya looked from his eyes down to the sword at his throat, and Jaime could only imagine that she was weighing the value of his life.

 

“Go on, then,” said Jaime. “Strike hard and true, Arya Stark. Take my head with the same steel that took your father’s. I’m sure they’ll have no trouble putting that in a song.” 

 

She lowered the sword slowly and let it fall to the dirt. “I don’t want to kill you,” Arya said softly. 

 

Jaime lowered his arms and tried to give a reassuring smile. “Your brother and Lady Catelyn loved you more than anything — they went to war for you and Lady Sansa. Your brother kept me prisoner for his sisters, and your mother released me for her daughters. If you had been in King’s Landing when they lost, my family would’ve killed you or married you off to a Lannister. Your family had to do everything in their power to prevent that from happening by securing the Twins and winning the war. Having you safe and married to a Frey was a better thought than having you dead or married to a Lannister.”

 

“But they lost anyway,” lamented Arya. “Because Robb broke his betrothal.” 

 

“The things we do for love,” said Jaime. “Sometimes love blinds us to what is right and others must pay the price. My love for Cersei cost Bran his legs, and your brother’s love for his lady cost him the war. But we don’t get to choose who we love, no matter how hard we might try.” 

 

Arya clenched her jaw and disappeared into the darkness of the forest. 

 

Jaime went to follow her but Clegane’s voice stopped him. “Leave her be.” Jaime turned and saw the Hound awake and sitting up. “She needs time to herself.”

 

“How long have you been awake?” 

 

“Long enough to hear you two yammerin’ about killing and marrying.” He winced. “Did you really push the Stark boy?” Jaime nodded. “Did he see you fuckin’ your sister?” Jaime hesitated but nodded once more. “Damn. I thought I’d done some fucked-up shit, but that takes the cake.” 

 

“I’m not exactly proud of it, you know,” said Jaime. 

 

Clegane snorted. “You’d be a right fucking cunt if you were, just like your bastard son.” Jaime had nothing to say to that. “When’d you first realize you’d sired a monster? Was it when he took to killing cats, or when he ordered the death of all’a Robert’s bastards?”

 

Jaime blanched. “What?”

 

“Didn’t hear about that? I reckon he heard the rumor that he was not a Baratheon and decided to strengthen his claim. All he did was make the smallfolk hate him. Two of the bastards were naught but babes.”

 

Tyrion never deemed to tell me that, Jaime thought as he looked away from the Hound. “I barely even knew him,” Jaime said quietly. “I wasn’t exactly able to treat him as a real father would. Cersei never even let me near him for fear of being found out.” He sighed. “I might’ve been his blood, but I was not his father. Monsters are made, and Cersei and Robert shaped him into the boy he became.” It was his deepest regret, not being a true father to his children. 

 

“You’re wrong,” Clegane said guilelessly. Jaime turned to face him and his black eyes were dark with sadness. “Sometimes a monster is born, not made.”

 

“Have you known many monsters, Clegane?” Jaime asked, curious. 

 

“I don’t want to talk about it.” 

 

This time, Jaime did not push the man.  

 

~~~~~

 

Jaime dreamt that night of Arya Stark’s eyes filled with hate and of a quick painless death under her dagger. He dreamt of Brienne weeping over his body. 

 

He tried to reach out to comfort her, yet he could not move.

 

“I’m here, Brienne,” he called to her. She did not hear him. “Brienne!”

 

He could do nothing as Cersei appeared from the shadows and yanked Brienne’s head up by her hair. Cersei slit her throat and he tried to scream but no sound left his throat. 

 

His sister turned to him and suddenly it was no longer Cersei — it was Catelyn Stark. 

 

“You swore an oath to me, Kingslayer,” said the warped image of Lady Catelyn. Blood began to pour from her throat but she didn’t stop. “Why did you break it?” Her eyes crumbled into dust and fell from her head, leaving only black holes for eyes. “Why, Lannister?” 

 

“I’m sorry,” he cried. “I’m so sorry!”

 

The woman launched at him and shook his shoulders. “Answer me, Lannister! Ser Jaime!

 

“Ser Jaime, wake up!” 

 

Jaime jolted awake and nearly head-butted Arya Stark. “Huh?” He said as he gained his bearings, overwhelmed by too many sounds so soon after waking. 

 

Jaime began to distinguish several distinct, equally unnerving sounds from the surrounding cacophony of noise. Their horses were whinnying in distress, Clegane was shouting, and the thundering sound all around him was a concert of growls. 

 

“Get up!” Arya grunted as she pulled him to his feet with surprising strength. 

 

Jaime blinked the sleep from his eyes and locked eyes with a wolf just a few feet away. Beside it was another wolf. And another, and another, and another, and oh fuck.

 

They were surrounded. 

 

The wolves left no gaps in their circle, effectively barricading them inside. He realized with no small amount of fright that there were rows of them stretching far behind the first circle of wolves. Their horses, trapped inside with them, were rearing and whinnying in panic. 

 

The Hound was brandishing his greatsword and trying to scare the wolves away with no luck. 

 

“We’re surrounded,” said Jaime, backing up so that his back was against Arya and Clegane’s. 

 

“No shit,” Clegane barked. 

 

“Shut up!” Arya hissed. 

 

Jaime knew that they stood no chance in open combat, so defense was their only option. “We can hold them off if we don’t leave an opening!” Jaime shouted to be heard over the deafening growls. “Dig your heels in and keep your backs to mine!” 

 

Jaime grabbed a stick from the fire and waved it in front of himself. “Get back!” He shouted at the wolves. He looked over his shoulder to Clegane and frowned at the blatant fear in his face. He was not afraid of the wolves, rather of the fire that Jaime wielded. 

 

Jaime returned his gaze to the wolves in front of him and noticed something big moving through the mass of wolves like a fish through water. One by one the wolves made way for a single, much larger beast. Slowly, the beast moved out of the front row of wolves towards Jaime. 

 

Golden eyes met his and Jaime felt cold fear settle in his belly.

 

“You're held captive by a boy,” Robb had said with a hand carding through Grey Wind’s fur. The beast’s golden eyes had never left Jaime’s. “Perhaps you'll be killed by a boy.”

 

“Oh, fuck me,” said Jaime. “Grey Wind?” Arya gasped and broke off from their circle, but Jaime held her back. “Stay back, Arya!”

 

Arya shook him off and walked toward the beast. “Nymeria!” Arya sheathed her sword and smiled as Nymeria howled. The growling around them stopped in an instant. She stepped forward and pressed her forehead to Nymeria’s, but Jaime was hesitant to drop his flaming stick. “What are you doing this far south, girl?” 

 

“That’s your direwolf?” Arya ignored Jaime’s question. Of course it is, Jaime thought. Grey Wind has been long dead, you idiot. 

 

Jaime shook his head at himself and knew that if the Seven Heavens were real, Robb Stark would be laughing his ass off. 

 

“Are you coming with us?” Arya asked the beast. “To protect me?” Nymeria answered by shoving her large head into Arya’s chest. “Alright then. You and your pack can stay in the Kingswood until the battle, but you must travel only by night. We can’t have Cersei spotting you and your pack, now can we?”

 

Nymeria howled to the sky, and the following chorus of howling wolves raised gooseflesh on his arms. Jaime looked around at the swirling mass of beasts under the leadership of one direwolf and wondered if he should be kneeling to Arya Stark. 

 

Gods be good, Westeros has another Young Wolf. 

 

He finally dropped his stick back into the fire and Clegane sheathed his sword. 

 

“You could’a warned us about the wolves,” said Clegane. 

 

Arya scoffed. “Did it look like I knew they were here? I thought they were still in the North.”

 

“We should get going,” said Jaime as he put the fire out. “The horses need to be away from the wolves.” He gestured to their panicking steeds. “They’ll break a leg at this rate.”

 

They packed up their things and left the wolfpack in surprising peace. The wolves gave the horses a wide berth as they led them by the reins away from camp. Not a single wolf tried to take his hand, though one wolf did sniff curiously at his hook.

 

Jaime discreetly slipped Honor a cube of sugar as they left the forest and mounted their horses. 

 

Their ride was quiet and uneventful until the rushing waters of the Trident reached their ears. They needed to use the Kingsroad to pass the Trident, and for that they had to risk being seen by a scout or someone with loose lips. He had no doubt that Cersei had put a price on his head by now. 

 

Lannisters always pay their debts. 

 

They were all on edge by the time they finally crossed the Trident, and Jaime nearly didn’t see the man by the side of the road trying to shoe his horse. The man’s horse whinnied at the three of them and the man dropped the horse’s hoof. 

 

“Easy now,” the man cooed. “What’s got you spooked, Buell?”

 

A scout? Jaime and his companions hid their faces in the shadows of their hooded cloaks. Best to err on the side of caution.

 

The stranger turned around and faced them, but did not seem to see them. Jaime looked closer and noticed the translucent white sheen over his eyes. 

 

Not a scout. Jaime thanked their luck.

 

Their horses began to shift impatiently, giving away their position. 

 

“Who goes there?” The blind man called. 

 

Jaime sighed. “Just a few refugees looking for shelter.” 

 

“Going south?” 

 

“Yes,” Jaime answered reluctantly. 

 

“Bandits took our home up in Fairmarket,” Arya lied easily before Jaime could even start to think of a cover. “Lord Edmure told us that there wasn’t no room for us in Riverrun, and to go ask the queen for shelter.” 

 

“Don’t bother.” The man waved dismissively. “You won’t find shelter going that way, milady. I heard Queen Cersei’s been refusing entry into the city.” The man went back to shoeing his horse but continued to speak. “You’d be better off going north — I hear the Starks are housing refugees.”

 

“The queen is refusing entry?” Arya asked.

 

“Mhm,” said the man. “Word has it that the queen thinks the Dragon Queen will send spies into the keep.”

 

Jaime shared a look with Arya. She got that one right, Jaime thought to himself.

 

“Do you need help, milord?” Arya asked. 

 

The man shook his head. “I may be blind, but I’ve still got me hands.” He patted his horse on the rear. “Farewell now!” 

 

“Be careful not to stray into the forest, milord,” Jaime warned. “There’s wolves about.”

 

They turned west away from the stranger and rode alongside the Trident until they could no longer see the Kingsroad, then turned south. Well, he and Clegane turned south at least. 

 

Jaime turned back and saw Arya facing the Trident. “What are you doing, Arya?” Jaime asked, trotting slowly to her side. She was staring at the rushing water, but she seemed very far away. 

 

“They threw my mother into this river,” said Arya. 

 

Watching the Trident, at Arya Stark’s side, reminded him of all the times he and Tyrion watched the waters of Sunset Sea crash into the rocky beach and erupt into walls and mountains of foamy white water. 

 

“I don’t believe in the gods or the Seven Heavens,” Arya continued, “but I would’ve liked to have buried her in Winterfell. She was born a Tully, but I think she would’ve liked to lay by Father. It’s funny...” Arya began, and Jaime could tell by her tone that her next words would not be funny at all, “she did not live long enough to even tell her children how she wished to rest.”

 

Jaime didn’t know which words would comfort her, for he himself was never comforted when struck with grief. Father’s absence, Cersei’s anger, and baby Tyrion’s obliviousness never brought him comfort— and that was all they could offer him in the wake of Mother’s death. Aunt Genna’s hugs were a balm on his heart, yet they never quite soothed his grief. 

 

Jaime thought perhaps he should try to comfort Arya the way he wished he was comforted.

 

“How do you wish to rest, Arya?” 

 

She was silent in her contemplation. “With my family in Winterfell, I suppose.” 

 

“And if your children or your siblings, by some terrible circumstances, were unable to lay you to rest there, would you want them to despair over your lost body?” Arya shook her head. “I know it is little comfort to think what the dead would want from you, but it is something. More important is what you want from the dead.

 

“I didn’t want to forget my mother,” said Jaime. “I gathered things connected to her — a comb, a dress, her knitting things, her favorite books, her lavender bath oil — and I made a shrine to her. I would light a candle by the shrine everyday and I’d think of her.” 

 

When he’d told Brienne this, he told her of the day Father found his shrine and destroyed it. He never rebuilt the shrine for fear of Father, and his memories of Mother faded into oblivion with Father’s heart. He decided Arya’s day was already too dour for that part of the story. 

 

Jaime knew by Arya’s tight expression that she was finished talking about grief, so he relented. “You said you don’t believe in the gods?”

 

He was pleased to see a small smile ease her tense features. When did I become fond of Arya Stark?

 

“There’s only one god, Lannister,” said Arya, “and his name is Death.”

 

Jaime chuckled. “I hope I do not have to meet him anytime soon.”

 

“We all must meet him eventually.” Arya rested her hands on the saddle horn. “If he tries to take you, all you must tell him is ‘not today’, and he will come back another day.”

 

“Have you done that many times, Stark?” 

 

“Once or twice,” said Arya. She sighed and finally tore her gaze from the Trident. “The Blackfish,” she said, “my great uncle. Is he dead?” 

 

Jaime nodded. “He went down with a sword in his hand,” said Jaime. “His blood was the only Tully blood shed during the siege — I took the castle peacefully with Edmure’s help, but the Blackfish would not surrender. If it’s any comfort, I gave him a proper Tully send-off.” He’d done it himself in the middle of the night with a single flaming arrow, and a silent prayer for peace. 

 

“It is,” said Arya. “Thank you.”

 

Jaime gestured south. “Come now, Stark, let’s get going before Clegane decides to go without us.”