Watching Daenerys walk down the aisle of the church, Jon was transfixed.
She was so stunning that it almost took his breath away. He always felt embarrassed when he got too clichéd and artisty – but how could he not be arrested by the way Dany seemed to catch the bright morning sunlight, her face burning with joy under her transparent lace veil? Was he the only person in the chapel who saw how the fall of her wedding gown over the ancient stone floor made her look like some portrait stepped out of time? Jon had studied Madonnas, sat at the feet of centuries-old statues, and diagrammed the proportions of Botticelli’s angels, but none of that even came close to the wonder he felt seeing Dany walk through the church towards him. His heart hammered as he drank in every detail.
He would never forget this day, not until he died.
“The rings?” the vicar said softly at Jon’s right.
Jon startled slightly. “Right,” he responded under his breath, reaching into his suit’s breast pocket. The light clanking sound the rings made as they fell together in the cradle of his palm broke him out of his reverie. He’d helped Robb select both the plain silver band and the princess-cut diamond on a simple circle; Robb had said that his artist’s expertise would be appreciated and Jon, of course, couldn’t refuse. For when had he ever been able to refuse Robb anything? Anything, especially, that had even the slightest to do with Dany?
“Thanks, mate,” Robb said in a hoarse whisper, turning his head just slightly to meet Jon’s eyes. Jon’s cousin looked impossibly handsome in his bespoke suit and iron-grey tie. He positively glowed with happiness, and it was difficult to say who looked more overjoyed—Robb, or the woman who was just minutes away from becoming Robb’s bride.
Jon extended his hand, transferring the rings between them. Together he and Robb turned back to face the contents of the village church and the woman who approached slowly up the aisle before them, walking sedately on the arm of her great-uncle Barristan.
Robb’s eyes were trained on Daenerys as she ascended the podium to stand alongside him, smiling as if her face might break. Side-by-side they were beautiful, like two figures on top of a wedding cake or a pair of Greek statues carved to last together through the ages.
They belong together, Jon thought, his stomach seizing with a horrible feeling that he didn’t want to name. They’re perfect.
The vicar began to speak, the words of the marriage service filling the tiny chapel. Like everyone else, Jon kept his eyes on his cousin and his cousin’s soon-to-be-bride. He folded his hands behind his back only to realize that they were shaking slightly.
He should know better than to want things he could never have.
Catelyn had promised herself that she wouldn’t cry, but during the exchange of vows she couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her face. Her husband, who always came prepared, discreetly produced a tissue from his suit pocket faster than she could whip open her tiny formal handbag, and Cat gave him a grateful look as she dabbed at her face. Although Ned kept his eyes firmly trained on the wedding ceremony before them, she saw the corners of his mouth quirk up in that wry smile that she knew and loved. Damn him for knowing me so well, she thought, then hastily reached into his pocket for more tissue as Robb and Daenerys began exchanging rings.
Her first child, married! Catelyn knew that with six children of her own, there would be (God willing) many weddings to come someday. But this was the first one—her firstborn, and the first wedding of any of her children—and that made it special.
A September wedding was always nice; as everyone streamed out of the church after the ceremony, the autumn sun was warm in the yard. Catelyn caught sight of her eldest daughter, Sansa, running about in a beaded seafoam-green frock handing out baskets of rose petals and bottles of soap film. Her younger children were laughing, pushing each another, and trying to see who could produce the longest streams of iridescent bubbles. Presently Robb and his bride emerged from the church laughing happily and holding arms, and crossed the lawn to their car amid a general outcry of well wishes and flower petals. Dany pulled the long train of her flowing skirt behind her as she climbed into the backseat, and she and Robb leaned out of the windows together waving and laughing to the crowd.
The car pulled away from the church, cans rattling behind the back bumper and a ‘Just Married’ sign propped up in the rear windscreen. The wedding photographer clicked away and so, Catelyn saw, did Jon. Her adopted son was crouched somewhat off to the side; after a moment he lowered his professional camera to stare after the happy couple in the departing car, looking slightly dazed. Catelyn watched him curiously. Who knows, could Jon be the next to get married? A wedding like this was enough to send any young man’s head spinning, that was for certain.
Back at Winterfell, the marquee had been set up on the great lawn. Robb had wanted a simple, traditional church wedding, and the same of the reception. Catelyn had wondered if Robb’s bride might favor something a bit more unusual—Dany had travelled halfway around the world before coming back to England, after all—but she wanted the same thing as Robb. So the couple was married in the parish church, the same one where Cat and Ned had been married thirty-five years before, and Catelyn had organised the reception afterwards on the grounds of the Stark family home.
Now the guests clustered outside the marquee, circulating with champagne and other drinks before it was time to go in for dinner. Approaching the newlyweds across the wide lawn, Catelyn paused to observe them for a moment. The couple was busy receiving congratulations and well wishes from the guests, mostly old Stark family friends; Dany didn’t have much family, but she’d told Catelyn warmly that it only made her happier to become part of Robb’s. Next his bride, Robb beamed.
With an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia and happiness, Catelyn came up to her eldest son and pressed a warm kiss to his cheek. “Mum,” he said happily, and turned to hug her just as tightly as he had when he was a little boy. He nodded at his new wife, face creased with glowing love and pride. “Isn’t she beautiful? Didn’t she look wonderful back in the church?”
Catelyn smiled, marvelling that she could feel so sad and so happy all at once. “Yes, darling. She did.” She pressed another kiss to his temple, throat squeezing suddenly at the thought that her little boy was well and truly grown now. “But so did you, my love—so did you.”
He’d always felt more at home with a camera around his neck than any other way, so although Robb and Dany had hired a wedding photographer (albeit someone rather too conventional in his angles for Jon, who had scanned the photographer’s website and not come away impressed), Jon found that he couldn’t stop taking pictures. The natural lighting of the venue was ideal and snapping away gave him something to do. It also distracted him from the fact that in between greeting their wedding guests, Dany and Robb seemed to be perpetually gazing into each other’s eyes as if they were the only two people left in the world.
Jon lifted his Leica to his eye and focused the viewfinder on the dance floor with a very aggressive twist of the lens.
Rickon and a little girl were dancing together, holding each other in some waltz or slow-dance position that Jon remembered learning himself in a primary school gym. Despite the cheesy dancing style, Rickon’s face was absolutely lit up and the little girl looked equally enthusiastic as they swung around the dance floor.
Dany’s three bridesmaids were standing around, clutching champagne glasses and chatting. They were Dany’s childhood friends, each one lovelier than the next in their pale blue dresses and white pashmina wraps. Jon paused to watch, snorting, as Robb’s old mate Theon came up and tried to chat each girl up in turn only to get violently rebuffed each time.
Arya, wearing a bored expression, was sneaking off to sample more of the cupcakes, no doubt her second or third round in. (Jon couldn’t post that on Facebook though, or she’d be on his arse about it for ages—he’d learned from bitter experience.)
Robert Baratheon was talking to Jon’s adoptive father again, laughing and making rude gestures while Ned smiled mildly and and continued sipping his white wine. Jon stifled laughter as he lifted his camera for a quick series of snapshots—it was impossible for him to pass this up when it seemed such an accurate description of their friendship.
He pivoted on his heel and turned all the way around, spotting the bride and groom in a corner of the lawn. Dany and Robb had yet to leave one another’s sides; Dany leaned into her husband, arm linked through his as they spoke to a group of family friends. Before he could stop himself, Jon tilted the Leica into portrait position, completely cutting Robb out of frame just as Dany smiled at some comment of her husband’s. Her blue eyes crinkled with warmth, laugh lines lighting up the corners of her mouth and something twisted in Jon’s chest, hard, just to see it.
“Oi! Earth to best man! How long have you been standing there anyway?” Theon Greyjoy clapped Jon suddenly on the back, startling him just as his finger hit the shutter. With any luck, the picture would come out half-decent… but Jon wasn’t particularly positive. He hastily lowered his camera, hoping that Theon hadn’t caught sight of what he was aiming at. Theon straightened his bow tie with one hand and grinned at Jon. “You’re up next, mate.”
Jon smiled neutrally. He’d never been a fan of Theon, despite the other man’s nearly constant presence at Winterfell as Robb’s best mate growing up; the fact that Theon was a complete and utter lad had quite a bit to do with that. “Oh, yeah?” he said steadily, capping the lens of his camera and letting it rest gently against his chest. Not bothering to answer, Theon slung an arm around Jon’s neck and steered him directly toward the bridal party table on the lighted stage. In the other hand he gripped an already-opened bottle of champagne (of course Theon would have nicked an entire bottle, Jon thought with mingled admiration and scorn).
Sliding into the seat next to Jon’s, Theon topped up the empty glass sitting in front of Jon. “Here, mate,” he said with an expansive grin, and handed it to Jon with a nod. “Looks like you could use it.”
Sure enough, the DJ came on over the microphone a few glasses of champagne later to announce that it was time for speeches. Everyone retreated to the tables under the marquee, chattering away to each other with drinks in hand, and there was a warm, expectant feeling over everything, a feeling of unabashed good cheer. Having successfully drunk his nerves through, Jon raised his glass to give his best man speech. Don’t cock it up and do sound like you actually mean all of it, he reminded himself, giving his best brotherly smile and looking straight at Robb as he stood and cleared his throat.
“Right, so… Hullo, everyone, hullo.” Jon pasted on a smile and glanced around the room at all the Starks and family friends in attendance. Ned was seated at the table in front of the stage, smiling calmly at him. He gave Jon an encouraging nod as their eyes met, and Jon swallowed hard before looking away.
“You all know I’m really great at public speaking… so of course I was thrilled when Robb asked me to be his best man and do a speech. Couldn’t have been more pleased, really.” Jon gave a self-deprecating grimace, and was gratified by the responding laughter from the room. Perhaps this wasn’t going to be as bloody awful as he’d expected. Slightly less awful than predicted. Excellent.
“I, um, don’t have that much to say, so I’ll try to keep it simple. It has been glorious watching these two wonderful people fall more and more in love. They absolutely deserve each other, and I wish them all the happiness this world has to give them. Robb… he’s not only my brother, he’s also the best bloke anyone could ask for.” Jon paused, playing the words in his head before he spoke. “So it’s perfect, really, that he’d end up falling in love with the woman who’s basically his best mate already—Daenerys Targaryen.”
Another smattering of light laughter broke out among the guests. Jon swallowed hard, disregarding what seemed to be a freshly formed lump in his throat, and went on. “Robb, Dany, I wish you the best possible happiness in married life anyone could experience. I know I haven’t said so much, but I’d like to propose a toast. To Dany and Robb, everybody.”
At the customary clink of glasses, Dany and Robb beamed at him. Turning her eyes to the room, Dany gazed around in a golden flush of utter happiness. Then, to the room’s collective awww, she tremulously leaned over and kissed Robb full on the mouth.
Jon felt himself smile automatically with everyone else, but inside he felt absolutely frozen. He raised his glass to the couple again, wishing more than anything that he could slide into his chair and stop watching.
Yet as painful as it was to look, he couldn’t turn away.