A cold wind whips sharply across Blaine’s face. It makes the dampness on his cheeks sting.
The night is unusually brisk.
Blaine can hear another gale of laughter rise up from the great stone hall behind him. Blaine Snow – uninvited, unwanted, unloved – wipes his eyes dry, pushes back his raven locks, lifts his arm and brings down a determined hammer upon his forge, his molten proto-sword illuminating the darkness of his little workshop. The din of his efforts are just barely enough to drown out the sounds of his family’s celebration.
The King is here, visiting his lord father. The entire royal family, and all their courtesans and minor lords and retinue of servants galloped north from the capital along with him. For what purpose, no one bothered to tell Blaine. Inside the hall, his brother Cooper Stark, the Lord of Winterfell’s true-born son, is occupying the heir’s seat at the head table, enjoying the warmth of the castle’s roaring hearths, his dark chestnut hair freshly cut and wearing the finest furs of their wolf-loving ancestors. But not Blaine. No, Blaine was ordered to stay out of sight by his father’s lady wife, lest the queen be offended by the sight of a bastard breaking bread in the great hall of Winterfell.
Blaine prepares another swing of his hammer when he realizes that he is not alone.
“So you’re the Stark bastard.”
A spike of reflexive anger pierces through Blaine’s chest, but he keeps his composure and looks up to see his intruder.
“I’m a Snow. But you already knew that. Because you’re the queen’s brother.”
The newcomer steps out of the shadows and approaches him. Sebastian Lannister. They’ve never met before, as Blaine is not entitled to enter court life, but he has heard plenty of stories about the youngest son of the Lord of Casterly Rock. Blaine notices that he is boasting boots of the finest leather, a gaudy cape of the very latest Southern fashions, and a peascod loudly emblazoned with a golden lion. And he is grinning widely with a wholly unearned, self-satisfied smirk.
“I did, and I am. I see my reputation precedes me.”
Blaine snorts derisively. “I wouldn’t be so proud of that if I were you.”
The grin only grows larger. “You have quite the reputation yourself, killer. The bards sing tales up and down the Seven Kingdoms of the son of Lord Stark, the one with no fortune to his name, but with eyes that gleam like polished amber, a jaw to make stone carvers jealous, and hair as black as dragonglass. I must say, now that I’ve seen you for myself, those insufferable bards do you no justice.”
Blaine feels himself flush and finds himself at a total loss for words, so turns his back on Sebastian to add more wood to fuel his furnace. He knows he’s being played with. Never trust a conniving Lannister, everyone in the North knows that. He hates that he likes the attention anyway.
It’s a poorly kept secret at the castle that he prefers the company of men to women, even if he’s never allowed himself to feel the touch of either. He’s also keenly aware that it’s only his lord father that keeps his head attached to his shoulders, his father’s wife only to eager to haul him before the septons and demand judgment before the Faith of the Seven. Blaine has spent his whole life trying not to upset the precarious apple cart that is his place in Westerosi society, and yet, here before him is this over-privileged princeling, happily setting fire to the whole edifice.
Still refusing to make eye contact with Sebastian, Blaine asks, “And what, exactly, is the infamous Lion of the House Lannister doing in my humble workshop?”
Sebastian hums, and replies, “Looking for something more interesting to do than cavort with insipid lords and ladies inside that charmless crypt your family calls a home.”
Affronted, Blaine turns back to face Sebastian, only to the taller man now mere inches away from his own face, peering at him with determined interest. “You seem to fit the bill quite nicely.”
Blaine swallows hard. He has to stop this before anyone walks in and finds them in this compromising position.
“Lord Mormont’s daughter is quite the conversationalist, perhaps you would enjoy…”
Sebastian places a finger to Blaine’s lips to shush him, and sensually runs the knuckles of his other hand up and down Blaine’s bicep. “Are you really this virtuous, little wolf, or just a bit slow on the uptake?”
Sebastian’s scent is intoxicating, he’s leaning in, lips parted, and Blaine desperately wants to fold, to lose himself in the feel of another man. But he can’t.
He holds his hands up to Sebastian’s chest, ignores his own heartbeat racing at the contact, and firmly pushes the other man away.
“My lord. You know it’s forbidden by the gods.”
“Fuck the Seven. What have they ever done for you lately?”
Sebastian stares at Blaine with an intensity he’s never seen in another man before.
“Men like us, we have to make our own fate. Don’t let anyone push you around, define who you are, try to make you feel grateful for the scraps they give you. Don’t let them,” he gestures towards the great hall, “convince you they’re better than you.”
Black swallows hard. He almost forgets that their two houses are mortal enemies in the Great Game. But the danger of letting his guard down, to him, and to his family’s honor, is too great.
“Good night, Lord Lannister. Enjoy the festivities.”
Sebastian considers him for a while, then abruptly asks, “Is it true then, that you’re taking the black?”
“Aye. As soon as the King and your family ride south again.”
“The Wall is the only place in this world that a bastard like me’s got at a future of my own making.”
Sebastian doesn’t reply, and Blaine holds his breath until Sebastian begrudgingly accepts defeat. He watches as the Lannister leaves the workshop, and squeezes his eyes tight in lamentation. Once again, he’s alone. If only things could be different.
And then suddenly, Blaine feels warm lips press against his, and his startled eyes fly back open to find Sebastian has returned and is busy kissing him. It’s disarmingly sweet. Surprise gives way to desire, and Blaine takes Sebastian’s bottom lip between his and kisses back. He knows he shouldn’t, but for now, he can’t bring himself to care anymore. This may be the last chance he ever gets.
When Sebastian finally pulls away, his eyes as blown as Blaine is sure his own are, that goofy grin back again.
“Vow of celibacy, huh? Shame.”
With that, Sebastian disappears into the night, and Blaine is left to dump cold water over his now-smoldering forge.
He never expected bidding farewell to Cooper would be so difficult.
The King’s caravan, along with the entire Lannister contingent and one particularly flirty Lannister scion, had departed for the capital that morning underneath moody, overcast skies, but banners aflutter nevertheless. Unexpectedly, not least to the queen, the King had insisted that his old friend, the Lord of Winterfell, travel with him, to serve in the office of the Hand of the King. Lord Stark, so famed across the realm for his icy demeanor, gave Blaine a terse but strangely affectionate goodbye. The older man promised Blaine they would have a much needed conversation once things settled down.
Not wanting to prolong the inevitable, or to endure life in the castle under Lady Stark’s unbridled command, Blaine announced that he was leaving for the Wall within the hour.
Now his horse was prepared, the provisions for his journey packed, and he stood at the gates of Winterfell, ready to leave the only home he had ever known for a lifetime of sworn service as a member of the Night’s Watch. Beside him, he can see Cooper battling tears. They’ve never been able to overcome their age difference and become the closest of brothers, but finally in their moment of separation, Blaine can see that Cooper loves him in his own way.
“So take care of yourself, and watch out for any scary White Walkers that go bump in the night, ok, Squirt?”
“Don’t…” Blaine sighs at the nickname he always hated most, but decides to let it go. “I will Cooper, I promise. And you do the same for me.”
Biting his lower lip, Cooper throws his arms around Blaine’s torso and squeezes him tight. Blaine’s vision suddenly becomes quite foggy.
“We’re brothers,” Cooper whispers into his ear. “No matter what anyone says. Remember that, ok?”
Blaine doesn’t trust himself to say anything else, so he simply mounts his horse, gives one final solute to his big brother and the assembled members of their household, and makes for the open road.
Blaine is barely finished discreetly wiping his tears away when he hears the clattering of hooves thundering up the path behind him.
He turns to find Sebastian and his mare saddle up beside him, still wearing that shit-eating grin.
“What in seven hells are you doing here?” Blaine asks incredulously. “Aren’t you supposed to be on the Kingsroad by now?”
“I had a little chat with my lord father and sister, the Queen, and they and the King agreed that it’s high time we had a royal inspection of the Night’s Watch, make sure the defenders of our realm are up to the task. And I volunteered because I’ve always wanted to stand on top of the Wall and piss off the edge of the world.”
Once again, Sebastian has rendered Blaine speechless, and he knows he looks stupid gawping at the other boy like a fish, but he can’t help it. His brazenness is a marvel to behold.
“Seeing as we’re headed in the same direction anyway, I thought it would make sense for us to travel together, pool our resources and the like. What do you say, Blaine Snow?”
Dumbfounded, Blaine can only shake his head and give in. “Sure.”
“Perfect.” Sebastian grins back at him, and urges his horse onwards, up the road to the Wall.
Sebastian soon starts whistling some tawdry tavern song, but Blaine looks over his shoulder at Winterfell one last time. The Stark banners fly proudly over the imposing battlements, the grey direwolf of their house standing determined against an ominous sky. Reluctantly, Blaine tears his eyes away from his past, so he can keep his eye on the path to his future, an unexpected companion by his side.