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Oberyn hates the Dragon Prince, calls him a silver-haired shit and makes a crude comment equating his harp playing with something sexual. Elia has always let him disparage the other suitors, but she likes Rhaegar Targaryen. There isn't love, of course, but she thinks a life as his wife might not be so bad.

The night their betrothal is announced, Oberyn gets drunker than she has ever seen, and he leaves the hall with two of her maids, undoubtedly off to make more bastards. She tries to smile and forget about her brother's displeasure, but she cares far more about Oberyn's opinion than she does anyone else's.

Doran watches her with knowing eyes, and Elia makes certain to keep her gaze away from his.

She is half asleep when Oberyn comes into her chamber reeking of wine and other women. Elia gives him her back, knowing the silence will wound him more than screams, and she shivers when he rests his hand upon her bare shoulder. He moves her hair off her neck, presses a kiss to the soft skin there, and Elia shivers despite herself.

"We could run to the Free Cities," he whispers as his fingers find their way beneath her silks. "I will be a sellsword and you will be my bride. We shall be happy there."

"I cannot ever be your bride, Oberyn."

He never comes to her bed again, and, when Rhaegar takes her maidenhead, she thinks of the betrayal in Oberyn's eyes in the Great Sept, thinks of the way his hands knew her body better she, the way his lips used to feel between her thighs. She thinks of him every time Rhaegar is inside of her, and, when Rhaenys is born without a hint of Valyria in her looks, Elia wonders if dreams and imaginations can make a woman pregnant for her daughter is the spitting image of her brother.

When Oberyn comes to court and cradles the new princess, Elia cries, and, when he asks why, she almost says, "Because you have ruined me for any man who is not you."

Instead she lies because the truth will damn them both.

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He still thinks of her as Brandon's.

Ned knows how silly it is, especially when she is cradling their son against her chest, smiling and singing to Robb with a lightness which Winterfell has not known in so long. But every time he sees Catelyn, every time she turns her face up for a kiss or he reaches for her, Ned cannot help but think of his big brother, of the man whose place he was forced to take in every measure. Sometimes he even imagines he is going to wake up and find it has all been a dream, that Brandon has wed Catelyn, that Lyanna wed Robert, that Benjen is still racing through the wolfswood instead of serving on the Wall.

Ned likes Catelyn Tully - my wife, he reminds himself - but she still doesn't feel like his.

* * *

Her stomach is so big, she cannot see her feet, and Ned finds himself watching her now more than ever.

He was fighting a war when she carried Robb, and it feels like another lifetime when he remembers his own mother carrying Lyanna and Benjen. Ned waits to see her become clumsy or complain about the added weight of the child, but Catelyn seems to bloom with this pregnancy, with this spring child growing inside of her. If anything, she becomes more pleasant with pregnancy, and it makes Ned feel ashamed he is not more gregarious, more like his siblings who were always so talkative, who always knew what to say and how to say it.

Ned has always been a man of few words, but he wishes he had the right ones to give Catelyn. She deserves kind words, this woman who accepted the hand the gods dealt her without ever complaining about the unfairness of it all.

There's more North in her than she thinks, Ned decides as she lets Robb place his little hands upon her stretched stomach.

* * *

She is clearly exhausted after the birth, but Ned does not think she has ever looked more beautiful. Her red hair (he so loves her hair) hangs loose over her shoulders, her cheeks are still flushed, and, when she grins widely and proclaims they have a daughter, Ned knows in that moment he truly loves Catelyn Tully.

His hands shake a bit as he accepts the baby, staring down into a face which is a replica of Catelyn's, and, when Ned looks to Catelyn, she is still smiling.

"I love you," he blurts out, the first impulsive words of their marriage, and Ned wonders if he should have waited, if there is a proper way of telling a woman that you love her. He idly thinks Brandon would have known but pushes the thought away as quickly as it comes.

Her smiles becomes softer, almost secretive, as she replies, "I love you." Patting the bed bedside her, Catelyn waits until he has sat beside her before pressing a kiss to his whiskered cheek.

"I think we should call her Sansa," Catelyn says, stroking the baby's cheek, and, for the first time since saying his vows, Ned knows with certainty this is the life he is meant to have.

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King Robert and his court arrive at Winterfell on a crisp autumn day. Lady Catelyn insisted she wear her finest dress (nowhere near as fine as Sansa's and it itches too) and have one of the servants braid her hair (it's too tight and makes her head hurt) but she still had to stand behind her family with Theon, just the Stark bastard, not good enough to actually be greeted by the fat king.

Arya hates them all, every trueborn one of them.

Her father and the king are laughing, and then the king is clapping Robb and Jon on the shoulders, praising Sansa's beauty, japing with Bran and Rickon, and Arya wants to shout, "I'm just as good as they are! I'm a Stark too!"

Except she isn't. She's a Snow, Arya Snow, Ned Stark's bastard daughter to a woman he won't name, the girl Lady Catelyn glares at when she happens to cross her path, the girl Sansa will only refer to as her half-sister.

Sansa is making eyes at one of the princes, the blond, Lannister looking one whose face reminds Arya of a weasel, and she stretches up on her toes, trying to glimpse the imp or anything more interesting than a disappointing king and a queen whose face is all twisted up like she's smelled something foul.

Arya nearly gasps when she finds herself looking into bright blue eyes but she doesn't look away. This is the oldest prince, Prince Gendry, but he doesn't look like his siblings; he is tall and broad, black-haired and fierce looking, and Arya thinks he seems more interesting than the prince Sansa is giving smiles, the one making Robb scowl.

She isn't allowed to go to the feast; Lady Catelyn thinks it will insult the king to have a bastard dining with his precious children, and Arya has to take her supper in the kitchens like one of the servants. Usually she should sit beside Jon or try to eavesdrop on Robb and Theon, and it only serves to make Arya angrier, knowing Theon (a fucking hostage!) got to eat inside while she was sent away.

Arya finds one of the dull swords Robb and Jon practice with and takes it to the yard, attacking a post as if it is Rhaegar Targaryen, back from the dead. She hacks and strikes with moves she's learned from watching her brothers, and Arya does not take care to hide herself like she usually does. No one will come looking for her, not tonight, not when everyone is pretending like Ned Stark has five children instead of six.

"You're quick," a deep voice remarks from behind her, and Arya whirls to find Prince Gendry standing there, finely outfitted in Baratheon colors.

Arya supposes she should bend the knee or something, but she's too angry tonight to give a care about feigning manners; Lady Catelyn always says she's half-wildling anyway. "Quicker than you."

The prince smirks. "Care to prove it?"

Arya points to where the swords are kept, watches as he picks up one of the dulled blades and tests its heft in his large hand. "Don't go running to your father when I get your pretty clothes dirty."

Gendry arches an eyebrow as he assumes a fighting stance. "Don't go running to yours when I make you cry."

She'll be sore in the morning from the strength behind the blows Gendry manages to land, but she also knows she won't be alone, especially when she sees the way he rubs at the wrist she solidly cracked.

"Not bad for a - "

"Bastard?" Arya cuts in, preparing for him to throw an insult at her, a way to soothe his injured pride.

"Girl," he corrects, and his smile is friendlier than Arya ever expected a prince's to be. "You're Lord Stark's daughter?"

She nods. "I'm Arya."


If she was a silly girl like Sansa or Jeyne Poole, she would have blushed at the way his smile softens, at the way his eyes seem to take her in, lingering in the places which have only recently come into being; if she was a trueborn daughter, it could become something more.

But she is a bastard and the only use a prince would have for a bastard is one Arya has no interest in at all, so she straightens her back and tells him to stop staring at her.

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The news comes by way of raven, dark wings bearing dark words. Ashara is in Elia's solar, hidden away from court while mother's stomach cripples her, and Elia's beautiful face is ashen when she enters. For a moment Ashara thinks something has happened to Arthur but quickly dismisses it; no one can best her brother with a blade.

"What is it?" she asks, wiping at her mouth with a handkerchief, her anxiety only increasing as Elia's face folds into abject pity.


Tears rise in her throat, and Ashara curses them; she has never been a weeping woman and she will start now. "Elia, what has happened?"

"It is Ned," the princess begins, and Ashara tries not to think how odd it is to hear Elia say her beloved's name. Elia knows of Ned only through whispered stories and secrets and, like when they were girls, Ashara has only ever found support in Elia's presence.

"Has he...Is he...Was there a battle?"

"No," Elia manages. Clasping her hand over Ashara's, her brown eyes wet with sympathetic tears, she reveals, "Ned Stark wed Catelyn Tully a fortnight ago. He honored his brother's betrothal."

For a moment Ashara goes completely numb, unable to feel anything, her hearing and vision gone as the words sink in. Ned, her Ned, has wed Hoster Tully's daughter, is someone else's husband now; there will be no wedding for them, no life after Rhaegar puts down the rebellion and the world is right again. Now, when the war is done, Ned will return to Winterfell with his Tully wife, and she will be sent back to Starfall with their bastard.

"Ashara," Elia whispers, softly brushing Ashara's dark hair from her clammy forehead, but Ashara only shakes her head, a silent assurance she is will fine, she will be live. She is not the first woman who has lost the man she loves to another, not the first woman who will bear a child with the name "Sand."

She rises from her chair, crossing to the window and staring out at King's Landing. Ashara rests her hands on her stomach, already gently swelling beneath her gown, and the child she considered her wolf cub has now become a star. A bastard he may be, but with the blood of Houses Stark and Dayne in his veins, Ashara knows her son will grow to be someone great.

"I think I shall return home," Ashara states matter-of-factly.

She travels by ship to Starfall, stopping at the Water Gardens to bring news of Elia to Doran and Oberyn, and, as the warm winds scatter her hair, Ashara feels the child inside her stir.

I would not have liked the North anyway, she decides, staring out at all the beauty Dorne has to offer.

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She doesn't like to be touched.

The first few times she came to his bed, Gendry tried to treat her as he had treated the other women who shared his bed; he tried to give her sweet kisses, soft touches, the types of affections Jeyne taught him at the inn. But Arya would bite his lips when he tried to softly kiss her, would grunt with frustration and smack his hands away when he tried to caress her, and Gendry doesn't understand why she even comes to him if she doesn't want to be loved.

He says it to her one night, angry at her for not being like other girls, angry at himself for being unable to give her whatever it is she wants, and Arya just looks at him as if he is the stupidest man on the face of the earth as she declares, "I don't want to be loved. I want to be fucked. Don't you know the difference?"

He knows the difference. He wonders who taught her the difference.

She brings the leather straps with her one evening, and Gendry protests what she proposes. Arya's face shows nothing (it never shows anything now, not since she came back from wherever she was) but Gendry knows this is the tipping point; if he says no, she might not come back to him and Gendry isn't sure he is ready to say goodbye to her again.

Arya ties knots like a sailor, the leather tight and biting against the thin skin of his wrists. He lies on his back, nude and completely at Arya's mercy, and Gendry blushes despite himself as Arya studies him, her gaze never wavering as she sheds her clothing. She is so thin, he can count her ribs, and there are so many small, silvery scars upon her body, Gendry wonders how many battles she has seen. Her hair is still short and choppy, a mess which ends at her chin, and Gendry unkindly thinks he has bedded prettier women, women who never would have tied him to a headboard.

But those women were not Arya, so he stays silent while she takes him inside of her.

She is tight, hot, and unbearably wet, and he bites his lip to keep from shouting at the suddenness of her movements. Arya never takes her time, doesn't savor pleasures, and he jerks against his bindings, wanting to grab her slim hips to dictate the pace, but the leather holds; a smirk plays at Arya's lips and she breathes, "Stupid," as she plants her hands upon his broad chest and speeds her motions.

It is over in a matter of minutes. She comes silently (she never cries out, never moans, is always as quiet as a shadow), body quaking, cunt clenching so tightly around his cock, it brings him over. He is nowhere near as quiet; in fact, he takes a peculiar pride in being loud, in reminding her that he is here and not just some creature for her pleasure.

Arya takes several steadying breaths before reaching up, undoing the knots of his stays with nimble fingers, and his hands tingle with pain as the blood flows resumes. He doesn't move, lets his arms remain above his head, and Arya climbs off of him, slips back into her clothes.

She leaves without a word; he doesn't try to stop her.

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Ned looks terrified.

She doesn't know her good-brother well; he fought alongside Brandon and Robert during the Rebellion, quested to bring back Lyanna while she remained safe in Riverrun. Beyond a few glimpses and stilted conversations, Catelyn has not spent much time with Eddard Stark. All she knows with certainty is that he is nothing like her Brandon; he is not handsome or hot-blooded, not brash or exciting. Catelyn can read Brandon like a book; Ned is usually a mystery.

But as Brandon swaggers across the room in nothing but his smallclothes, coming behind her on the bed and tugging at the laces of her shift, Catelyn can see just how unsure Ned is about this. His uncertainty calms her; she isn't sure she wants it either.

It is Brandon who suggested this. There is a fortnight's worth of feasts and celebrations for the birth of Prince Joffrey; Tywin Lannister has spared no expense for his grandson's arrival, and hedonism is the name of the game. She rode into King's Landing with Lysa, and Brandon greeted her with kisses too passionate for public, but Catelyn is so grateful he is safe, she doesn't voice a word of complaint. So wrapped up in the festivities of the Capitol, such a wonderful change after years of winter in the North, Catelyn is genuinely stunned when Brandon slides into their bed and whispers, "Will you do me a favor, sweet Cat?"

He said Eddard has been lost since Lyanna's death, since Ashara Dayne threw herself from the Palestone Tower, leaving behind the son she shared with Eddard. Catelyn has played with Ned's son, the little boy he calls Jon, and she feels such sympathy for poor Ned Stark. So when Brandon says he wants to bring Ned to their bed, wants to "share her sweetness" with his little brother, she hesitates just long enough for Brandon to think she is alright with this.

Ned wears his breeches and undershirt, clinging to the wall, and Catelyn blushes as brightly as her hair when Brandon pulls off her shift and throws it to the ground, leaving her breasts bare. Brandon palms her breasts as if they are fruit, testing their ripeness, and his grip is a bit too tight; it is always a bit too tight, and she winces when he pinches her nipple.

Her eyes find Ned's, and there is something else in Ned's grey eyes now, a peculiar mixture of anger and desire. She bends her head, her hair hiding her face, and Brandon calls, "Come on, Ned. Come give Cat a kiss."

She is genuinely surprised when Ned comes to the bed, more surprised still when Ned gently raises her chin with two fingers so she can look upon his serious face. Brandon's hands slide down to her hips, almost proprietary, and Cat doesn't know what she is supposed to do; her septas sure as hells never instructed her in this.

"You're beautiful," Ned says matter-of-factly. His voice is deeper than Brandon's, no hint of laughter to his words, but the compliment makes her shiver because she knows Ned Stark does not give them out easily, does not say things he does not mean.

"Thank you," she manages, remembering her courtesies even now.

His mouth is firm beneath hers, the stubble on his face rasping against her sensitive skin, and it is instinct more than anything else which makes her raise a hand to cup his cheek. Brandon pushes at her hips, urging her forward, and she walks on her knees, bracing herself against Ned's broad chest. She gasps when Ned traces her lower lip with the tip of his tongue, and she feels serious Ned Stark smile against her mouth as the kiss deepends.

It startles her to feel Brandon's lips on her spine, warm and wet, and she is not sure who she should turn her attentions towards: her husband or his brother. The decision is made for her when Brandon begins to tug her smallclothes down, his fingers sliding with unerring precision against the most sensitive part of her, making her cry out. Ned watches, face as inscrutable as ever, and Catelyn flushes brightly at how wanton she must seem.

She is not sure when Ned undresses; Brandon keeps her distracted by pushing her onto her back and licking into her, his large hands keeping her hips pinned to the bed. All she knows is one minute she is crying out, hands flailing for purchase to keep her tethered to the earth, and the next Ned is there, clasping her hands and gently stroking her hair away from her sweaty forehead. When she peaks, shouting her pleasure as if she is some common girl in a brothel, Brandon laughs while Ned presses a soothing kiss to her forehead.

Catelyn suspects this show has been more about Brandon proving his prowess to Ned than any true desire to pleasure her, a suspicion which is confirmed when Brandon asks Ned if he has ever made a woman scream like that, but Ned doesn't answer. Instead he looks down at her - damp, flushed skin, scattered hair, thoroughly debauched - and asks, "May I kiss you again, Lady Catelyn?"

Even as she nods, she corrects, "Cat."

He looks puzzled as he bends over her. "I'm sorry?"

"You may call me Cat."

His kiss is more demanding now; Catelyn arches up, clinging to his shoulders, and, for a moment, she forgets about Brandon as she and Ned Stark switch positions, Ned now on his back while Catelyn lies half atop him. His touch is gentle, less practiced than Brandon's, his fingers more calloused; there is a particularly thick callous on his thumb which rasps delightfully against the swollen point of her nipple. It is not until Brandon lifts her, urging her to straddle Ned, that she remembers she and Ned are not the only two people in the world.

"Fuck him, Cat," Brandon orders breathily, his erection hard against the small of her back. His heated words makes her body clench with want, wetness trickling out of her; Ned is hot and solid between her thighs, and, as she slides down his length, taking him inside of her body, she shudders from the deep moan she wrenches from Ned.

He is thicker than his brother, but the pinch of pain is over in a moment. Catelyn moves slowly at first, getting used to the feel of Ned inside her, but Brandon keeps hold of her hips, urging her to move faster. She scrambles to place her hands on Ned's chest, balancing enough to meet Brandon's tempo; her skin feels as if it is on fire, too tight for her body, and, when Ned begins to cant his hips up, pushing into her, she can't help but call out his name. Brandon's fingers tighten on her hips - she isn't sure if it is accidental or as punishment - but then Ned is grabbing at her hips as well, trying to make her match his pace, trying to cut Brandon out of the equation.

She feels like a toy two children fight over, and, in the morning, she suspects it will bother her even more, being the pawn in the rivalry between the Stark boys.

Her orgasm catches her by surprise, pleasure overwhelming her, and she feels Ned quickly follow, panting out her name as if it is something sacred and profane. She is exhausted, well-and-truly satisfied; all she wants is to collapse against Ned's chest and sleep, but Brandon is already urging her off of Ned, onto her hands and knees so he can take his pleasure.

When it is over, Brandon falls asleep, leaving she and Ned to the awkwardness. Ned climbs from the bed, dressing in silence, and Catelyn wishes she knew what to say; instead she draws the bedclothes up around her chest and watches, hoping he will know the right words and she can follow his lead.

All Ned Stark says to her is, "Thank you, Cat," so she replies, "You're welcome, Ned."

Nine moons later, when sweet Sansa arrives, Cat wonders which Stark brother gave her a daughter.

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His father doesn't tell him much about Winterfell. He just shows up one afternoon and announces he will be going North to serve apprentice with Winterfell's armorer and that he'll be leaving in a fortnight.

"You do whatever Ned says and, for Gods' sake, don't fuck his daughters."

Gendry supposes that is Robert Baratheon's idea of fatherly advice.

It's a month's ride to the North and a hard one at that; he hasn't seated a horse often and the men who accompany him smirk at his ineptitude. By the time they arrive at Ned Stark's holdfast, Gendry is completely exhausted and can barely remember his courtesies.

He likes Mikken, and it's easy living at Winterfell; he has a warm bed at night and food in his belly, which is more than he can ever say about life in King's Landing. Everyone is friendly here, especially Lord Stark's sons and his ward, and sometimes Gendry even forgets he is just a bastard apprentice.

The first time he sees Sansa Stark, he remembers Robert's words; she's beautiful, Lord Stark's eldest daughter, but she hardly acknowledges him. Her friend, the steward's daughter, flirts with him mercilessly, and Theon says he could get under her gown in no time if he wishes to do so, which he doesn't. He sees far more of Arya, who sticks close to Jon, and he genuinely likes the Starks' youngest daughter. Though he'd never say it aloud, she reminds him a bit of the girls in Flea Bottom, the ones who aren't concerned with courtesies and who do what they wish whenever they wish it. Sometimes he forgets himself with her; his words are a bit too crass or he'll wrestle with her as if she is his friend. Once Jon Snow caught them wrestling on the floor of the forge; later Jon warned him that if Lady Catelyn saw him handling her daughter that way, he'd be lucky to return to King's Landing with his cock intact.

She's always a mess: dirty face, tangled hair, torn gowns. Lord Stark's men call her "Arya Underfoot," which is nicer than Jeyne Poole's name for her; it's true Arya is not as pretty as her sister, but Gendry thinks she's pretty enough or, at least, she will be some day when she grows up.

He isn't sure when she grows up. One moment she is nine and always getting on his nerves, and the next there is talk of making her a marriage, especially once Sansa is promised to Willas Tyrell. There is talk of some boy from the Vale, and, when the boy arrives with his retinue, Gendry knows instantly that Arya will refuse him. He is a slight boy with dainty features, and Gendry would wager Arya could beat him in any physical challenge.

As the men dismount from their horses and Lady Catelyn urges Arya to step forward to greet her suitor, Gendry sees the pure distaste on her face. Her dress and hair are flattering, but she does not look like herself. She is thin as a reed, barely a bust to speak of, and Gendry can see the boy's eyes drift towards Sansa even as Arya is speaking to him. His anger for his friend flares bright, but Arya's expression gives nothing away.

Later he finds her in the godswood, her beautiful gown now filthy from sitting in the dirt. He sits beside her, staying silent as he stares into the pool, waiting; he has known Arya long enough to know something is coming.

Finally she says, "They don't even care I don't want a husband."

"You could run away."

"Where would I go?"

"The Free Cities," he offers after a beat. "I've heard stories about women there. They say they have more of a say in things."

Arya turns to face him, and he feels a peculiar tightness in his throat. "Would you come with me?"

"You sure you want someone as stupid as me with you?"

She rolls her eyes. "You may be stupid, but you're strong. Could come in handy."

"What a delightful proposal."

Her punch to his shoulder isn't painful. "Never mind, stupid."

As she rises to leave, he declares, "If you ever ran, I'd come."

Arya stares at him for a moment before nodding, disappearing between the trees. He forgets the converstaion entirely until a fortnight later when he wakens to Arya's hand pressing over his mouth to silence him. She points to a bag on the floor, and Gendry sees she is wearing men's clothing.

"Are you coming?" she whispers.

Gendry doesn't even think about it; he nods.

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It's common knowledge that, if you are walking the streets of Braavos with a blade upon your hip, you will be expected to prove yourself. It is for that precise reason Aegon sneaks from the house, fine steel gleaming in the moonlight, a challenge and a promise to anyone he crosses.

He's never gotten a chance to fight someone who is not Duck, who has not been told he is the true king of Westeros and needs to be treated gently. There is nothing Aegon wants less in the world than to be treated gently.

It frustrates him when several bravos don't challenge him. He has dressed in his finest clothing, making sure his sword is visible, but no one has risen to the bait. Aegon is wandering by the canals when he sees a bravo looking out at the water. The boy is slight, far smaller than Aegon, but, as he comes closer, Aegon can see the boy is lean with muscle, not thin with malnutrition. Aegon is almost on the boy when suddenly the boy pivots with the grace of a water dancer, a thin bravo's blade in his hand, and Aegon freezes.

He hadn't expected the little boy to be so quick. And now, as he can see the boy more clearly, he realizes he was wrong in his initial assessment. The boy is older than he thought, mayhaps in his mid-teens, and, though slight in build, there is steel in his grey eyes. This boy is battle hardened and bears his teeth like a wolf, and for a moment Aegon forgets he is supposed to be a dragon and wonders if he is about to die.

Aegon draws his sword because he knows he cannot back down now, and, if he cannot best some anonymous boy in Braavos, how can he hope to overthrow the usurpers of his father's crown?

He is used to the thrust and parry of sparring with Duck, but this boy does not fight like anyone Aegon has ever fought before; he is so light on his feet, it is almost as if he flies, and Aegon hisses in pain through his teeth when the boy slashes him across his arm.

"Dead," the boy taunts before twisting away. Aegon tries to focus, tries to anticipate the boy's moves, only to wince again as the point of the boy's sword pokes hard enough in his stomach to draw blood but not deep enough to truly injure. "Dead." He drops down, rolls his shoulders, and Aegon gasps as suddenly the point of the boy's sword opens a thin line across his collarbone. "Dead."

It only strikes Aegon then that the boy is playing with him, like a cat who has captured a mouse, and it enfuriates him. He swings hard, a powerful move if he can connect, but he doesn't; the boy dances away with awe inspiring grace and, with a sharp strike of his wrist, Aegon finds himself dropping his sword, the air rushing out of his lungs as the boy knocks him onto his back. His head spinning, it takes Aegon a moment to connect the sound of splashing water with the boy's movement; he flushes in embarrassment as he realizes the bravo has tossed his fine sword into the canals.

"A boy must earn his steel," the boy declares, and it is only then Aegon recognizes something peculiar about the boy's voice. It is soft and, while not particularly high-pitched, it is clear this bravo is either a eunuch or a woman.

"You're a girl."

"Just so," the bravo replies, and Aegon feels his shame deepen.

As she turns on her heel to leave, Aegon manages to get to his feet, his fine clothing now ruined from blood and filth. Each wound the girl has left on him stings and Connington is going to give him hell.

"Who are you?" he calls to the girl.

She pauses long enough to turn to look at him, and there is something about the girl's gaze which unsettles him. It is empty, fathomless, the look of someone who has lived three lifetimes and suffered through each one.

"No one," the girl finally answers. "I'm no one."

No matter how often he looks for her, he can never find the girl again.

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Robert comes to him early in the morning, marching into his tent with more care than he usually uses. Ned looks up from his breakfast, expecting Robert to still be drunk from the night before, but Robert is more sober than Ned can ever remember seeing him. Jon stands behind him, his expression inscrutable, and, for a moment, Ned feels a wild panic flutter in his chest.

Have they found Lya? Has something happened to Benjen?

"Hoster Tully will not call his banners for us," Robert explains, and Ned begins to relax, certain this is just another discussion of war.

That is, until Jon pipes up, "But he is willing to offer his men in trade."

"Trade? What do we have to give him?"

Robert looks away for a moment before finally meeting his gaze, his blue eyes full of regret. "Husbands for his daughters."

It takes Ned a moment to understand the implications of his old friend's words, and, when he does, nausea churns in his stomach. "He wants House Stark to make good on the contract."

Robert nods. "He proposes you will marry Catelyn and Jon will wed the younger one."

Ned turns to their foster father, surprised. "Lysa Tully is young enough to be your grandchild."

"Men have been forced to do far worse during war than marry pretty girls."

Though his words are laughing, Jon's demeanor is not; Ned has always been able to understand Jon Arryn better than anyone, and he hears the rest of his thought, which is unspoken.

We do not have a choice, Ned, not if we want the Riverlands.

He thinks of the one time he glimpsed Catelyn Tully, russet haired and laughing at something Brandon said. If she is as Ned recalls her, Catelyn will be a beautiful bride, the sort of lady a lord would be lucky to take as a wife.

But Ned fears every time he sees beautiful Catelyn Tully, he will think of his fallen brother and how nothing was truly his own.

Ned exhales deeply before looking Robert squarely in the face. "Is this a request or an order?"

"I hope to never have to give you orders, Ned," is all Robert answers.

But that does not mean you won't.

Getting to his feet, Ned weighs what scant choices he has. To deny Lord Tully's request, to deny Catelyn Tully's hand would not only be a grave insult but would push the Riverlands into Aerys's hands. If he accepts the offer, not only will the newly instated Lord of Winterfell have a fine bride but thousands of swords they can use to get Lyanna back.

Lya and Benjen are all I have left. I must get her back.

The only way to get Lyanna back is to have an army strong enough to stand against the Targaryens, and such an army requires Hoster Tully's men.

"Tell Lord Tully I will honor my brother's contract," he gruffly declares before leaving the tent, needing to be in the godswood.

Since Brandon's death, Ned has had to learn to do so many things he never wanted to do.

He hopes learning to love Catelyn Tully will be the one which won't feel like such work.

Chapter Text

Arya comes to him one afternoon, her face set in determination, marching clearly with a mission. He waits as she crosses the yard, walking past their brothers training with Ser Rodrik, and Jon wonders what is bothering her.

"Mother says some Frey boy is asking after my hand," Arya reports with a scowl as they walk towards the godswood. "She says that I'm 'of that age' now."

Jon hates the idea of Arya being sent away; he has always known Sansa would marry and leave, but Jon has always harbored a hope Arya would get to remain with him, the only person who loves him without condition. "You are."

"They're going to make me marry some Southron lord, and I'll never see anyone again."

Jon is startled to see tears in Arya's grey eyes (my eyes, Father's eyes), and it upsets him. Gently clasping her face in his palms, he swears, "I would never let that happen."

He doesn't mean to kiss her.

The guilt makes him ache (my sister, she's my baby sister), but Arya keeps coming to him in the godswood, sneaking into his arms and raising her lips. They're too much alike sometimes: always second best to their more pleasing siblings, too eager to be loved, too distrustful to let others do so. Jon tells himself it is alright because it is only kissing, just lips and tongue.

But one afternoon Arya makes this noise, high and needy, so unlike anything Jon has ever heard before, especially from Arya. She arches her back, pressing the small buds of her breasts against his chest, panting his name. It doesn't take much to cup her breast, to thrum the peak of her nipple with his thumb. He tells himself it's alright because he does not touch her skin, does not go under her gown.

She touches him first. They are kissing, hot and fevered, his hands buried in her hair, when he feels her fingers tugging at his laces, squeezing his painfully hard cock. He gasps, tries to pull away, but Arya shoves at his shoulder with a hint of irritation on her face, a sister's mannerisms entirely at odds with the lover's words she gives him.

"I want to see what I did."

His cock is red, leaking at the head and desperate for relief. Arya eyes it as if it is a mystery before wrapping her hand around the base, holding him firmly. He sucks air noisily through his nose, shaking as Arya brings one finger to the tip of him, seeming to marvel at the way the skin moves. She pumps once experimentally and then flicks her eyes up to look at him.

"This would fit in me?" she asks, her voice utterly calm as if inquiring on how to string a bow or hold a sword.

Jon moans at the image she presents, shaking his head, wishing he had the strength to push her away. "No, it can never - We can never do that."

"Theon says there's a whore in the village who takes his cock in her mouth." Arya caresses him with a gentler touch than he thought her capable of possessing. "Do you want me to do that?"

"Seven hells, Arya," is all he can choke out, but it is apparently all the answer Arya needs, for her tongue laves him from root to head.

It is the greatest sin Jon has ever committed, but he cannot help but wonder if all sins feel this wonderful.

A few days later, he gets Arya on her back beneath the heart tree, lifts her skirts and pulls down her smallclothes. There is a shyness to her as he shoulders apart her pale thighs, and he reaches out, finds her hand and squeezes it before bringing his mouth to her cunt.

She is so wet; Jon is certain her pleasure will be all over his face when they are finished, but the sounds she makes only encourage him. Arya is always so solemn, so weighted down by the disappointment others' have in her, and she is truly beautiful like this, splayed and flushed, calling out his name as she fists handfuls of his hair.

"Oh, Jon, Jon, let's do that again," she moans when he smoothes down her skirts, pulling him into a kiss. He is sure she can taste herself on his tongue, but, if it bothers her, she doesn't say a word. Instead she grabs the bottom of his shirts, slips her hands beneath them so she can touch his damp skin.

He hears the crackle of branches only a moment before Ned Stark steps into the clearing. His usually stoic face is painted with surprise, and, though he and Arya pull away from each other as quickly as possible, Jon knows they have been caught. Their mouths are swollen from kissing, their skin flushed; his laces are straining atop his erection, and Arya's gown is unlaced, her breasts sticky with spit even as she rushes to right them.

Ned doesn't say a word. Neither Jon nor Arya can look at their father, and they do not look at each other for nearly a fortnight. When he finally comes to Jon, Jon expects to be thrown into a cell, told to pack his bags for the Wall, even to be gelded.

"What happened in the woods will never happen again."

"No, Lord Stark."

Ned swallows hard with a minute nod. "Brothers and sisters, it happens sometimes. It's just child's play."

"Yes, Lord Stark."

When his father's eyes lock with his, Jon knows this is the only warning he will ever receive. "You and Arya are not children any longer."

Jon doesn't know what he and Arya are anymore.

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Robert Baratheon is his best friend. They have ridden together as boys through the Vale, fought two wars alongside each other, and Ned considers Robert as much his brother as Benjen.

But the way Robert looks at Cat makes Ned's blood absolutely boil.

Catelyn has always been beautiful, and Ned thinks motherhood has only made her blossom. She is flush with happiness upon his return from the Ironborn Rebellion, and, as Greatjon Umber spins her about the floor to the beat of the drums, her auburn hair scatters in all directions. He is grateful she chose not to bind her hair up in the Southron fashion; Ned thinks of Cersei Lannister back in King's Landing and how her golden hair is always held in braids or coils. His Cat may be the Lady of Winterfell, but fire burns in her blood.

Fire burns in Robert's blood as well. Ned has been close enough to feel its burn too many times to count.

"Seven hells, Ned, you're a lucky man," Robert declares, his voice wine-soaked. "I'd give anything to have a wife like that."

"The queen is a beautiful woman," Ned cautiously offers.

"The queen guards her cunt like the gold of Casterly Rock is kept in it." Ned tries not to flinch from his friend's crudeness, but Robert is too drunk to notice. "Your wife, though, she seems like the sort to welcome a man to her bed."

Ned clenches his fists tightly; if any other man ever spoke of Catelyn thus, he would have murdered them. But Robert is the king now; he is not the friend who would have forgiven him such a slight.

"Don't suppose you'd share?"

"That would be my wife's decision, your grace."

Cat blushes and giggles when Robert suggests it, thinking it a joke; when she sees the set of his jaw, the way he cannot quite look at his kingly best friend, she sobers some, once more the Lady of Winterfell instead of the young woman who loved to dance.

"I would not wish to dishonor my husband, your grace."

"Oh, Ned doesn't mind, does he?"

Ned is never quite sure how they end up in Catelyn's rooms; it is unbearably warm and, when he turns from opening the windows to allow the spring air in, Robert has already gotten Catelyn's gown off, her shift rucked up, large hands holding her breasts as his mouth attacks her nipples. It's too fast, too rough, not how Cat likes it at all; it is her comfort Ned is thinking of as he slips behind her, capturing her mouth in a sweet kiss.

Ned feels a familiar stab of inadequacy as Robert undresses; Robert has always been more handsome, more desirable, more charismatic. Ned is half-beneath Cat as Robert lays her back, her ass on the edge of the bed; he enters her with one thrust, clasping her hips tightly enough to bruise, and Ned wants to slap his hands away, wants to keep Cat from having to bear the marks of his inability to keep her away from the king.

It is over quickly; Robert strokes hard into Cat a half-dozen more times before pulling out, spilling his seed all over her belly. Ned is grateful for that; the last thing he wants from this night is to see Cat bear one of the many Baratheon bastards scattered throughout the kingdoms.

As Robert flops onto the bed with laugh, declaring Catelyn to be "one of the best I've ever bedded," giving her a compliment which makes Ned's sin crawl, Catelyn wipes herself clean of Robert's mess, a flush on her cheeks. Her fingers brush Ned's thigh, and she silently tilts her face up, her big, blue eyes seeking absolution and satisfaction.

Robert left her wanting, just as he always left every woman he has ever known; it has always been Ned's job to see it through, to tell sweet Mya's mother Robert is betrothed, to convince Lyanna that Robert would change for her, to calm the Florents when Delena grew heavy with child. Cat is just the latest Robert has disappointed, but, unlike the rest, tending to Cat is not a chore.

He knows Robert will mock him for it, but Ned likes to use his mouth, likes to feel Cat tremble as he licks into her. The first time he did it, she shouted so loudly, he was certain all of Winterfell heard; it is still the quickest way to make her wet, to make her come. Tonight his fingers and tongue are the only ways he will be able to satisfy his wife; his cock is soft and useless against his thigh, refusing to be a participant in a situation so distasteful.

Cat comes with a sharp cry, tugging at his hair as she arches. He lifts his gaze, smiling around the shape of her, and immediately frowns as he sees the way Robert idly plucks at her nipple. Ned has barely climbed to his feet beore Robert has passed out, and Cat wraps her limbs around Ned, holds him tight against her.

"I love you and only you," Cat swears, and Ned knows it is true; he does not blame Catelyn for this.

Robert and his men leave two days later.

Ned never mentions that night ever again.

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For a moment, he thinks he is seeing a ghost. She stands between two of Ned's children, a hint of a smirk on her generous mouth, impertinance shining in her grey eyes. The other women of the North are well put together for his arrival, beautiful gowns and perfect hair, but not her. There is dirt on the hem of her gown, her dark hair is loose around her shoulders, and Robert would bet if he ran his fingers through it, he would find it tangled from the wind as she rode her horse.

But Lyanna Stark is dead, has been dead for fifteen years, and this girl cannot be his lost love.

Ned introduces her as Arya, his youngest daughter; she is the age Lyanna was at Harrenhal, the last time Robert saw her, the last time she still belonged to him.

He finds himself watching the girl constantly, cataloguing all the ways she is like Lyanna: she bites the corner of her lip, she huffs with irritation whenever prompted to be more ladylike, she sidles up to her older brother and rests her head against his shoulder. One afternoon he catches her talking to some lowborn boy, laughing with her head tilted back, voice echoing across the yard, and Robert feels pure jealousy fill his veins. It is Lyanna's laugh, and the last time he heard it was only moments before Rhaegar Targaryen placed a wreath of winter roses in her lap.

"Have you made a match for her yet?" he asks Ned one evening as the girl shares a table with her brothers and the Greyjoy hostage, the only woman at the table.

"For Arya?" Ned chuckles, affection blatant on his usually stoic features. "No, she isn't ready to wed yet. To hear her speak, she'll never be ready. A man who marries her will have his hands full."

On instinct, Robert's eyes drop to the modest curves hidden beneath her bodice. "You should bring her to court."

"Arya would not care for that."

"With her sister wedding Joffrey, it'd be only proper." Taking a heavy swig from his wine cup, he continued, "Besides, hiding girls away in the North can cause different problems."

Ned's face darkens but Robert knows his old friend understands what he is saying. "She's a bit like Lya, isn't she?"

Robert nods solemnly. "She'll be safer at court with you, the Kingsguard, and the gold cloaks to make sure no harm comes to her."

The day they depart for King's Landing, Robert gifts the girl with a fine horse, swift and more expensive than the one Joffrey received on his last name day. Even as Cersei scowls, the girl grins, petting its mane and forgetting her unhappiness at being sent south. She thanks him, bestowing a smile upon him which makes his cock twitch.

"Thank you so much, your grace."

He failed Lyanna Stark, but the gods have seen to it that she has returned to him. He is older now, fatter and less graceful, but he is still a man, a king, still capable of making a woman happy.

This time, he will keep her close, know her well, treat her with more kindness; this time he will not take her for granted. Ned will disapprove, of course, but once he sees how much Robert loves her, how much she will love him, he will give them his blessing. All Robert has to do is make her love him.

How hard can it be to win the heart of Arya Stark?

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The story is Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped her, raped her, and held her prisoner in the Tower of Joy. This is the story the smallfolk will tell for years to come. This is the story Robert Baratheon will repeat to himself when she returns to him with a torn maidenhead and a darkness in her eyes. This is the story the histories will speak of when describing Robert's Rebellion.

This is the story Lyanna Stark agrees to tell when Ned and Howland Reed come to "rescue" her.

Her wedding is a grand affair. The Great Sept of Baelor is filled with high lords and ladies, with well-wishers and those who want to glimpse their handsome, young king fasten a cloak and place a crown upon his lady love. “The most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms,” the singers will sing.

The most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms was Elia Martell of Dorne.

There are no songs sung about her.

Tywin Lannister sits on the small council alongside Robert's brothers and friends. He is always finely outfitted in crimson and gold, and the lords all defer to him, the Lord of Casterly Rock, the financier of the kingdoms, the man who sacked King's Landing and secured Westeros for Robert Baratheon.

Tywin Lannister is the golden man who shields those who slaughter children and rape princesses.

Lyanna refuses to speak to him.

Her stomach grows with Robert's child, and the kingdoms are abuzz with excitement. Robert swears it will be a son to carry on the great Baratheon name; he drinks too much in celebration, as if his seed taking root in a woman is an unique occurrence, as if women in every kingdom haven't birthed black-haired, blue-eyed babies.

When their daughter is born, Lyanna takes a peculiar pride in denying Robert what he wants.

She thinks of Winterfell and the little boy who plays alongside his cousin, calling him “brother.”

Their daughters are small when Renly brings them kittens. Lyanna loves her youngest good-brother, hardly more than a child himself when Maester Cressen brings him to court, and she appreciates the gesture. Cassana and Myrcella giggle as the little balls of fluff chase bits of string Renly encourages them to pull across the floor, their laughter bouncing off the walls.

Cassana claims the black kitten as her own, cradling it against her tiny chest and insisting it be allowed to sleep in her bed.

Rhaenys Targaryen had a kitten once; Lyanna often wonders what happened to it.

When the Ironborn Rebellion begins, Lyanna insists Catelyn bring the children to the Red Keep while their husbands put it down. She makes a point of stressing to bring all the children, and, when they arrive, Lyanna instantly spots the serious-faced little boy amongst her russet-haired niece and nephew.

He is so sweet, good-tempered and gentle with his sisters. She tries not to show preference to him over Robb, not wanting to alienate Catelyn, but every night as the boy sleeps, Lyanna finds herself sneaking into his room and watching him sleep.

She thinks of Aegon Targaryen, his head dashed against the wall, and reminds herself it is safer this way.

Jon Arryn dies, and Robert declares they are going to travel North to Winterfell. Lyanna knows he wants Ned to take up the post as Hand, and she also knows Ned could not want anything less. The girls are restless, Tommen falls ill in the Riverlands, but none of it matters when she sees Winterfell, when she is reunited with Ned and Benjen and dear Jon.

When Jon declares he is going to take the black, Lyanna feels something like panic flutter in her breast. She grabs his hands, tells him he is meant to do more than man the Wall, that there is greatness in his blood.

“The Starks have manned the Wall for thousands of years,” he argues reasonably.

But you are not a Stark sticks in her throat, and she watches the last living child of Rhaegar Targaryen ride North while she rides south with the children of a man she despises.

Chapter Text

The Kingsguard does not run.

But Rhaegar makes Arthur swear he will keep Lyanna safe and, if things go badly, to take her and the child to Essos. When Lord Varys sends the raven announcing sweet Elia and her children are dead, Arthur does not hesitate. He wakes Lyanna, whispering apologies even as he insists they must go; to her credit, Lyanna Stark does not issue a word of complaint, something downright miraculous considering she is so swollen with pregnancy.

The Kingsguard does not run, but they obey, and Ser Arthur Dayne has always been the most obedient knight in all Seven Kingdoms.

* * *

Lady Lyanna goes to the birthing bed two days after they arrive in Braavos. There are no maesters, only an inn keeper's wife who volunteers to help. Lyanna grabs his hand, makes him swear he will not leave her, and, though Arthur knows nothing about childbirth, she looks so young and little in her bed.

The inn keeper's wife cleans the little prince before depositing him in Arthur's arms, seeing to Lyanna who is still losing blood. There is nothing of the Targaryens in the child's appearance; he is a direwolf, the same as his mother. Arthur has not held a newborn before, does not know if he is doing it correctly, but the baby quiets in his arms, snuggles against his chest as if he knows Arthur will lay down his life to keep him safe.

"Give him to me," Lyanna requests, and Arthur must bite his tongue to keep from calling her "your grace." She is not Rhaegar's second queen and he is not a knight of the Kingsguard any longer; they are only Lyanna and Arthur now.

She calls the baby Jon, and Arthur is certain he will do anything to protect them both.

* * *

He's a smart boy, gentle and sweet. The speed with which he absorbs information - languages, swordsmanship, courtesies, histories - is astounding, and Arthur finds himself swelling with pride each and every time Jon accomplishes something new. Lyanna laughs at the two of them together - Jon so small and Arthur so tall, Jon so dark while Arthur was so fair - but she never intercedes the few times Arthur finds it necessary to discipline the young prince.

One evening when Jon is five, the prince falls ill with a fever. It isn't anything too worrysome, just a cold, but it keeps him abed. While Lyanna goes to market to gather food for supper, Arthur keeps Jon company, telling him stories about the adventures he once had in Westeros.

"Can I be a knight of the Kingsguard?" Jon asks.

"No, you will be king, my boy, like your father and his father before him."

"But I want to be like you."

The love which swells in Arthur's breast makes him wonder if this is how all fathers feel about their sons.

Arthur must constantly remind himself that Jon Targaryen is not his son.

* * *

It only happens once.

They are in Lys for his name day, and Lya (she is only Lya now, not "Lady Lyanna" or "my lady" or "your grace") uses some of their gold to buy blood oranges and strongwine from Dorne. While Jon sleeps, they sit on the patio, sharing the skin, their hands sticky from the juices of the oranges.

He isn't sure who initiates the kiss. At first, Arthur is genuinely at a loss; he took his vows seriously and had not kissed a woman in far too long. But Lya's mouth is hot and inviting, her tongue pushing its way past his lips, and Arthur remembers the dance, picks up her rhythm.

The wisps of silk she wears to combat the Lyseni heat fall away from her body easily, and Arthur is suddenly ravenous for her. Her breasts fill his hands as if they were made to fit his palms; her skin tastes like cinnamon. She pants his name even as she fumbles for his laces, stripping him without embarrassment, skin flush with boldness. Lyanna Stark is half his size, but she pushes him onto his back as if it is nothing; he is powerless with her.

He has always been powerless with her.

"Arthur," she moans as she sinks down on his cock, wrenching a deep groan from his throat. She bends down, bringing her mouth to his even as she rolls her hips; her dark hair falls around their faces, and Arthur swears he can smell weirwoods.

In the morning, they do not make eye contact. They never directly address what happened that night nor do they make any attempt to do it again; a few times he catches Lya looking at him, a softness in her face, and Arthur wonders how different their relationship could be if the ghost of Rhaegar Targaryen wasn't between them.

* * *

Letters arrive every few years, bits of parchment sealed with a white, wax direwolf. Arthur never asks what they say, and Lya never offers. Instead she'll hold the entreaties from Eddard Stark above a candle's flame, letting his words be consumed by fire.

Everything else has been consumed by blood.

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Jaime comes to her in the Tower of the Hand, sneaking into her chamber as he has done a thousand times before; she isn't surprised when he appears in the looking glass behind her. Cersei isn't surprised by anything Jaime says or does (always so predictable) until he encourages, "Guess what I saw."

"If you want to play at riddles, go find Tyrion."

Jaime ignores her words, slipping his arms around her waist, pulling her tight against him; she can feel his hard cock pushing into the small of her back. "You'll want to guess this, my love."

"Either tell me or fuck me, but I'm not in the mood for games."

And then he tells her (because Jaime always does what she says) how he saw Ser Arthur Dayne, the most noble knight in the Seven Kingdoms, feasting on his sister's cunt as if it was his last meal.

"They're like us," Jaime breathes in excitement, palming her breasts through her shift with far less grace than usual.

No one is just like them, but Cersei can admit she is certainly intrigued.

She isn't sure how Jaime arranges it (he doesn't have half of her cunning, the heir of Casterly Rock) but he does. They agree to meet in Ashara's chambers, and Cersei makes Jaime swear he will not lay a hand upon Ashara Dayne. She waits for him to argue, to insist she not touch Arthur, but he doesn't (because Jaime was not born to make deals; he's too direct for it.)

Ashara is nude when they enter, spread across the bed like one of the goddesses from the Summer Isles, all soft curves, perfect skin, and dark hair; Arthur is in his smallclothes, broad and muscled and he isn't as beautiful as Jaime (no one is except her) but he still makes Cersei flush with desire. Jaime is already hard his pants, his face alight with excitement, but Cersei schools her face to hide her arousal.

Ashara crawls on her hands and knees towards Jaime, beckoning him for a kiss; Cersei moves quickly, stepping before her twin (he belongs to her) and offering her mouth instead. The younger Dayne laughs but complies; her mouth is sweeter than Jaime's, her hands more practiced. Her gown is off in no time at all, and Cersei wonders if Ashara has practiced this with the princess (would serve Rhaegar right.)

As Ashara urged her onto her back, Cersei catches sight of Jaime and Arthur, their mouths meeting brutally; the Dornish knight is squeezing Jaime's cock through his pants, her brother pushing his hips forward needily (always so impatient). She wonders if Jaime has done this with a man before, and, for a moment, she is so angry at her brother for doing something without her, she forgets about Ashara Dayne.

That is, until the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms parts her with gentle fingers and licks a stripe up the center of her. Cersei gasps sharply, unprepared, her attention immediately drawn to Ashara. Bright amethyst eyes sparkling with laughter and challenge lock with hers; Cersei grasps a handful of dark hair and pulls her down, spreading her legs wider.

"You don't stop until I peak," she growls, shivering as the tip of Ashara's tongue draws delightful patterns over her button. Ashara watches Cersei carefully as she slides one finger deep inside, gathering the younger girl's wetness on her tongue; Cersei forces her eyes close, fisting Ashara's hair even tighter as she begins to cant her hips upward to meet her tongue.

She peaks quickly (she's better at this than Jaime), warmth rushing through her veins. Cersei has barely returned to herself when Ashara lies atop her like a man would, her cunt resting against Cersei's. The first roll of her hips against Cersei's makes Cersei's blood reignite; she grasps Ashara's ass, desperate for more friction, and Ashara laughs before kissing her, thrusting her tongue deep. Cersei can taste herself, and it shocks her how much she enjoys the flavor of her own pleasure.

"Look at them," Ashara urges breathlessly, pinching one of Cersei's nipples. Cersei turns her head and gasps at the sight of Jaime (Tywin's pride) sucking Arthur's cock. His golden hair is tightly clasped in Arthur's hands, the knight dictating the pace, and Cersei feels more wetness escape her at how beautiful (subservient) Jaime looks like this.

"Look at our wonderful boys," Ashara breathes, taking Cersei's hand and bringing it down to her soaked cunt. Cersei presses two fingers into her, making her moan and shift until Cersei is above her (controlling her). She does not know why she bends to take one of Ashara's nipples into her mouth, but Ashara sighs in pleasure, holding Cersei's golden head against her.

Ashara falls apart with Cersei's thumb upon her nub, and, for a moment, Cersei understands why men call her the most beautiful woman in the world. She kisses Ashara hungrily, wanting more (she always wants more), but the older woman pulls away.

"Who do you want Arthur to fuck, you or your twin?"

Cersei grins at the way Jaime moans around Arthur's cock. "Both."

Ashara's and Arthur's laughter is so alike, they sound like the same person. As Arthur pulls away from Jaime, Ashara purrs, "Oh, we all are going to have so much fun together."

Chapter Text

She knows it is unkind, but Catelyn despises her good-sister.

It is not that Lady Lyanna is not kind or well-mannered; she has never said a sharp word to Catelyn, always makes sure to compliment her on how pretty she looks or how handsome little Robb is. Lyanna always apologizes for Robert, who often gets drunk and says improper things, and she makes certain to replace anything her boorish husband breaks in his wine-soaked merriment.

But Catelyn sees. Catelyn knows.

Whenever Lord and Lady Baratheon come above the Neck, Brandon changes. Though he has always been a bit scattered, he becomes like a small child when his sister is near. He doesn't greet her the way the Lord of Winterfell should greet the Lady of Storm's End; he picks her up off of her feet and twirls her about as they both laugh their wolfish laughs, pressing kisses too close to the corners of their mouths. Brandon tells the cooks to make all of Lyanna's favorite dishes despite how desperately Catelyn dislikes them, and he gathers winter roses into grand bouquets while never once giving Catelyn so much as a single bloom.

But she could forgive her husband all of that. The North is a cold, often unkind place, and it is only natural brothers and sisters become quite close. Catelyn is sure her behaviors with Lysa or Edmure irritate Brandon when they visit Riverrun, the split loyalties every husband or wife had to the family of their birth versus the family of their marriage.

No, what Catelyn despises her good-sister for is the boy, the one who looks not a bit like his black-haired, blue-eyed siblings. Lyanna's eldest is purely Stark, in look and in deed, and Catelyn does not miss the way Brandon watches him, the way he scoops the boy up and treats him with a tenderness he has never shown their children. Brandon dotes more on Jon Baratheon than he ever has on any of his trueborn children.

She has never seen Brandon act untoward towards Lyanna, never witnessed a single kiss or questionable exchange of words; they may be freer with each other than most siblings, but no one would ever dare accuse them of incest.

But Catelyn knows there is only one woman Brandon Stark loves with his whole heart, and it is certainly not her.

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The first time is not at Harrenhal; everyone will get that wrong when they whisper the stories in the years to come. They flirted and they talked, exchanged kisses and words, but Ned Stark did not come to her bed then. Rhaegar gave his sister the roses, and the Starks left quickly; Ned came to say goodbye, asked if he could write her, and Ashara thought she'd never see the laconic Northman ever again.

No, their first time is in a pillow house, of all places; Lord Arryn has come to King's Landing to meet with King Aerys, bringing his wards with him. Ashara cannot sneak Ned into her chambers in the castle, and Ned does not want to bring gossip upon her by sneaking her into his room at the inn. Robert goes to a pleasure house near Blackwater Bay, and Ashara sends word she will meet him there; Ned objects, but Ashara insists, and Chataya gives them use of a room, insisting that any friend of Oberyn's is a friend of hers.

He has never been with a woman before, but she has known that since Harrenhal; his hands tremble when he touches her, and Ashara thinks all the men who came before Ned Stark were just practice, that he is the one she was meant to love. He spends quickly, blushing and sputtering apologies, but she shows him how to touch her, the callouses on his fingers stroking against the most sensitive part of her until she falls apart. The second time is better, and, by the third, Ashara forgets he is new to this.

The last time is at Starfall. He has a wife now and a trueborn son awaiting him in the North, and, when she comes to him in the middle of the night in nothing but a thin, silk shift, Ned whispers how it is wrong, how he made vows. Ashara thinks of her own son asleep in his cradle, the spitting image of his father, and, for the first time since Elia sent word that Ned Stark wed Catelyn Tully, Ashara begins to cry. Ned takes her into his arms, whispering apologies, his own face slick with tears, and Ashara thinks of all they have lost in this war, all Rhaegar and Lyanna's selfishness has taken from them.

He kisses her in an attempt to comfort, and what follows is a familiar dance which has now become sad. His mouth tastes like the salt of their pain, and, when it is over, all Ashara can think of is pretty Catelyn Tully and her son, those who have taken the places which were to be hers and Jon's.

She watches Ned with their son, guilt for getting a bastard on her balanced with the awe of holding his son, and Ashara feels spitefully glad that the first child Ned ever holds is her son. When she asks him to take Jon with him, to raise him at Winterfell, Ned does not refuse or twist away; all he asks is, "Are you certain?" and she assures him she is. A boy should have his father, she reasons, and Ned swears he will treat Jon no differently than he will treat his trueborn children. He even offers to allow Jon to visit her in Starfall, and she loves him so much then, loves him more than she ever has.

He sends a raven when he reaches Winterfell, writing that he and Jon arrived safely and, once Jon is weaned, he will pay for passage for Wylla to return to Starfall. Ned assures her that Jon is doing well and that he and his half-brother are already the best of friends.

Ashara reads it a dozen times, a peculiar peace settling over her; when she gracefully dives from the Palestone Sword, she hopes Ned will tell Jon wonderful things about her and the love they shared.

Chapter Text

When word reaches Riverrun that Joffrey is dead and Sansa has disappeared, wanted for her part in his murder, Robb knows it is a lie. Sansa has always been stronger and smarter than anyone has ever given her credit for, but he cannot imagine she could poison a man. His mother is beside herself, spending hours in the sept praying for Sansa, praying for the children she has already lost, and Robb swears then and there he will bring Sansa home.

The Blackfish is the one who hears talk from the Vale that Petyr Baelish has brought his bastard daughter from the Fingers to stay at the Eyrie. His great-uncle does not think much of the man who wed Robb's aunt, and his mother seems to think even less. When Aunt Lysa is killed by some singer, leaving Lord Baelish as Lord Protector, Robb begins to suspect there is something far more insidious afoot in the Vale.

He takes a small retinue of men with him, the ones he trusts the most: the Greatjon, Jason Mallister, Maege and Dacey Mormont. Robb gives the Blackfish command, and, by the time they reach the gates of the moon, Robb is starting to wonder if this is all for naught. It takes an entire day to reach the Eyrie on the backs of mules lead by the bastard girl with bright eyes, and Robb is exhausted by the time the servants greet them and offer them bread and salt. Lord Baelish will meet with him in the morning, and Robb falls into a restless, dreamless sleep.

In the morning, he quickly realizes why Lord Baelish is so disliked; Robb finds his disingenuous, slimy even. He details what happens to Lysa in a falsely mournful tone, and Robb asks to see his cousin. Petyr hems and haws, but Robb is insistent, and finally Littlefinger nods and asks for a servant to fetch the boy.

He is sickly and pale, a true brat. Robb resists the urge to wrinkle his nose at the petulance in his tone, thinking of Bran and Rickon who behaved much better. He tries to talk to Robert Arryn, but the boy is unimpressed by his cousin and king, upending a glass of honeyed milk and demanding Alayne, postively screeching. Robb sees his men exchange glances - no Northerner would ever allow a child to behave thus - and Robb is certain there is nothing in the Vale which will help their cause.

And then he sees her, a maester tugging her along by her wrist. Instantly Baelish is on his feet, trying to send the girl away, but little Robert runs to the young woman, flinging his arms around her waist and pushing his face into her stomach. The young woman is tall as he was, slender but curvaceous; her skin is pale as milk, her hair a nondescript brown, but Robb knows those eyes, those Tully blue eyes which match the ones in his own head. But most of all he knows her voice, that sweet, gentle voice who coos, "What is the matter, Sweetrobin?"


The name echoes in the hall, and the girl's head jerks at the sound of it. Baelish tries to explain this is his bastard daughter, Alayne Stone, but Robb knows, he sees his sister hidden behind the drab hair and gown. It has been years since he saw her, she has blossomed from a pretty girl into an exquisite woman, but she is still Sansa, his Sansa.

Carefully she unwinds the young boy's arms from around her body, brushing her hand over his hair the way their own mother used to do to him. Robb knows Baelish is still talking, but he doesn't hear a word, not once Sansa breathes, "Robb," and rushes towards him in a decidedly unladylike manner, flinging herself into his arms and clutching him tightly.

"Robb, Robb, Robb," she chants in a whisper against his ear, almost as if she cannot believe he's real, and Robb can feel the thundering of her heart against his chest. He thinks of the last time he held her, their last embrace at Winterfell before she rode South; she was still a child then, still innocent and pure.

There are shadows in her eyes now, an uneasiness in her body and tentativeness in her movements. She explains that Lord Baelish saved her but offers no details as to how; she calls him a friend, but Robb does not miss the way she carefully avoids his touch. They summon the bastard girl and her mules to take them back to their ship in Gulltown, and Robb promises Lord Baelish that, when he wins the war, his efforts for House Stark's preservation will not be forgotten.

Sansa flinches when Lord Baelish embraces her farewell; Robb is afraid to ask why.

He gives her his cabin, insisting she sleep in the bed while he rests on the floor. One evening after discussing plans with his men, Robb returns to the cabin to find Sansa pouring warm water over her head, the water in the basin staining a dirty brown. He has helped Jeyne wash her hair before and Sansa gives him the pitcher without a word, and together they manage to return her hair to the shining auburn of his own. Robb finds himself fingering the damp strands, and Sansa lifts her hand, sifting through his hair; she lightly scratches her nails against his scalp and Robb leans into it with pleasure.

"We match again," he tries to jape, and Sansa's eyes fill with tears as her fingers tug at his curls.

He doesn't know who initiates the kiss; all he knows is her mouth is warm and wet, her hands pulling so tightly at his hair it stings. Her tongue slides against his and Robb wonders who taught her to kiss like this, what men have taken advantage of his beautiful, broken sister.

Robb pulls away because he does not want to be one of those men, but Sansa follows, pulling at his shirt, trying to bring him back. "Don't stop, don't leave, please don't leave me," she pants, and Robb doesn't want to disappoint her so he kisses her again.

"I'm sorry," he breathes as he cups her breast, ashamed at how hard he is, at how good she feels.

"I knew you'd come," she offers in return, drawing her teeth over a tendon in his neck, making his hips snap against hers. "I knew you'd come for me. He said you forgot but I knew you would."

Robb doesn't know who "he" is, doesn't know why Sansa has such faith in him, especially when he is reaching into her smallclothes to stroke her; she is hot and wet, his fingers slipping over her flesh with ease, and Robb insists to himself that this is only for her, that all he wants it to make Sansa feel good.

She comes apart with a soft cry, contracting around his fingers, and Robb curses at the sensation, forces himself not to think of what it would feel like around his cock with her nails digging into his shoulders. He withdraws slowly, pressing soft kisses to her face and neck, and Sansa moans into his mouth before he pulls away, lying on his back beside her as their breathing regulates.

Robb is not sure how long they have bee lying there, Sansa's juices becoming tacky on his fingers, when she confesses, "They hurt me."

Tears sting Robb's eyes at all the implications of her words. "They won't ever again."

Sansa rolls onto his side, curling her body around his, one leg slipping between his. "I know. You're here now."

Robb wishes he had done something to earn such perfect trust.

Chapter Text

She met Ashara Dayne once. Her father had gone to court for some reason - a feast? Prince Viserys's birth? - and he had taken her with him. Catelyn can still remember how excited she was to go to King's Landing, to see the king and queen and the knights of the Kingsguard, all the stars on the songs and stories she so loved. Lysa was so jealous of her new gowns, complaining how Catelyn always got everyting, but all Catelyn remembered was how her father declared she was the most beautiful girl at court in her cerulean gown, her auburn hair intricately pinned up.

And then she saw her, Princess Elia's companion. All the men watched her as she took her place at one of the tables, her dark hair flowing freely over her pale shoulders, her gown as violet as her eyes. Catelyn was fascinated by her, by the way men paid her such attention, the way she and Princess Elia giggled together, the decidedly impertinent way she teased Ser Barristan and the other knights.

Catelyn was only eleven-years-old and, oh, how she wished to be as beautiful as Ashara Dayne. When she was introduced to Princess Elia later in the feast, Catelyn blushed beneath the Dornish princesss's gaze and, when Elia invited her to sit with them, Catelyn could scarcely believe it when Ashara leaned over and confessed, "I love the color of your hair. It is so beautiful."

Ashara Dayne, the most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms, had paid her a compliment, and Catelyn remembered how much pleasure it gave her, how important it made her feel. After the war, when word reached Riverrun that Ashara had thrown herself into the Summer Sea, Catelyn remembered feeling so much sympathy for Ashara Dayne, beautiful and charming and crippled by grief.

And then she arrived at Winterfell to find another son of Eddard Stark, one scant months older than Robb, a Dornish wet nurse caring for him, and, while Ned would not give her the name of his bastard's mother, all the servants whispered the same name: Ashara Dayne.

She could admit her knowledge of Ned was limited. They had only had a fortnight after their wedding, and, when she found he had gotten another woman pregnant, their conversations were short and clipped. Catelyn had come to their marriage bed a maid, and, from the tentative way Ned treated her, she suspected he was as well. She could not imagine Ned - stoic, honorable Ned - ever having an affair with a woman as vivacious as Ashara Dayne.

But it was not that Ned had known another woman; Catelyn was well-versed enough in the ways of men to know there were different rules for men when it came to lovers. No, what kept Catelyn up at night was the idea that Ned loved Ashara, that he had thought he would marry the beautiful Dornishwoman and raise their son together and instead was forced to wed his dead brother's betrothed, a strange woman who could not compare to the one he truly loved.

Ned never treated her as if she was a burden, but his courtesies were as practiced as hers; neither of them were living the lives they once thought they would.

For a fortnight, she tried to think of how to broach the topic of Ashara Dayne with her husband. Though she tended to avoid his bastard, she found herself looking at the little boy, trying to see some hint of Ashara in him, but all she saw was Stark, which infuriated her. Robb was a beautiful boy, but he was Tully through and through; when Ned looked upon his sons, he saw his reflection in Jon Snow's face, not the face of his trueborn son.

Ned came to her bed with regularity but not always to exercise his rights as a husband. Catelyn liked that he simply wanted to sleep next to her some nights, and, when he came to her chambers that night, Catelyn pulled back the furs to make room for him. They spoke about Robb and the harvest, and Catelyn did not know why she chose that moment to ask, "Is Ashara Dayne Jon's mother?"

Ned froze, his grey eyes hardening instantly. "What did you say?"

She repeated the question, trying to make her voice firm. It was only when she saw cold fury on Ned's face that Catelyn wondered if she had grossly underestimated this situation.

"Where did you hear that name?"

"Ned, I was only - "

"Where did you hear that name?" he shouted, and Catelyn startled at the uncharacteristic display of anger. Ned had never once raised his voice to her, not even when she slapped him after realizing he had brought a bastard into their home.

"I - I do not know. One of the servants - "

"Give me their names," Ned ordered as he climbed from bed, stripping off his night shirt and pulling his clothing back on with the speed and efficiency of a soldier.

"It is the middle of the night - "

"I will not ask you again, Catelyn."

There was something dark in his voice, something Catelyn could not and did not want to identify in her peaceful husband. Tears began to threaten, but Catelyn swallowed them back, forcing her voice to remain steady as she gave him the name of two kitchen maids. He slammed her chamber door as he left, and it was only then she allowed herself to shakily exhale, drawing her knees up to her chest as tears rolled down her cheeks.

When Ned returned an hour later, his body was still tense with anger, but Catelyn met his gaze unwaveringly, refusing to be cowed again. He did not strike her or shout again; all he said was, "I never want to hear her name in these walls again, do you understand?"

Catelyn nodded. "Yes, my lord."

In the years to come, Ned would apologize for countless things - an unkind word, a perceived slight, trivial matters - but never once did he apologize for what transpired that night. It was, as if, after sending away the maids, the night had not happened at all, but Catelyn could not forget it, could not forget the glimpse of a man she never knew, a man she never wanted to know. She never said Ashara Dayne's name aloud ever again.

But for the rest of her life, every time she thought of the dead woman, Catelyn did not think of feasts and compliments but her husband's impotent rage and the bastard who haunted her son's steps.

Chapter Text

Catelyn has been gone for only three moons when the raven arrives from King's Landing. Robert offers his condolences for his wife, congratulations of Brandon's birth, and then tells him Margaery Tyrell is on her way from the Reach to wed him. Ned barely sees the words on the page; Maester Luwin will tell him of the justifications later, but all Ned knows is his wife - the mother of his children - is dead and a girl who is little more than a child herself is coming to be his new bride.

Robb, Jon, and Theon understand when he tells them; Sansa's little chin quivers but she does not say a word; Arya squirms off of Jon's lap and crawls away. None of the children look any more thrilled than he does at the prospect of some Southron girl coming to Winterfell, but Ned makes sure to stress that they are to use their best manners with Lady Margaery.

She arrives with a large party from Highgarden; Mace Tyrell shakes his hand tightly as if they are friends, gives him the names of his sons who have accompanied them, and then Ned sees his new bride. Her dark, shining hair is pinned up in one of the complicated Southron fashions, her dark eyes lined in kohl; she is slender, more slight than Cat was, but even in her demure emerald gown, Ned can make out the womanly curves of her body. As she curtsies to him, her face the picture of innocence, Ned glimpses shrewdness and steel in her gaze, and he suspects she is not any happier about being given to the North than he is to receive her.

She is sixteen-years-old, even younger than Cat was when they wed.

Margaery smiles as he names each of his children, but Ned sees the way her eyes flick in panic towards one of her brothers, the Knight of Flowers; he suspects Robert had not told her six children were at Winterfell, four trueborn heirs, one bastard son, and a hostage from the Iron Islands. Theon welcomes her more warmly than his children; even Jon, who was never close to Catelyn, seems uncertain of Margaery Tyrell, and, when Margaery bends to look upon Arya's face, Jon holds his baby sister a bit tighter.

"You have beautiful children, my lord," Margaery offers, dropping her gaze when her father booms that they will also have beautiful children.

Ned cannot imagine bedding this girl, but duty is duty and so he does. He tries to be gentle for her, tries to soothe her with kisses and touches, but Ned feels nothing for poor Margaery Tyrell, and, despite her pleasantries, he knows she feels the same. Her nails bite sharply into his shoulders when he enters her, breaking her maidenhead, but she does not cry out, does not shed a tear. Margaery Tyrell bears her duty well, and, when the act is finished, her blood and his seed drying on her thighs, she calmly says, “Thank you, Lord Stark.”

If Ned didn't know any better, he would think there was Northern blood in this girl.

If she cries those first few moons, Ned does not see it or hear word of it. Every morning Margaery appears to break her fast in any number of fine, Southron gowns, her hair always perfectly styled, tasteful but obviously expensive jewelry glittering in the summer sun. The servants whisper and giggle about her, call her “the Queen” when they think no one is listening; they all exchange words about how the first Lady Stark never dared paint herself so pridefully, never flaunted wealth.

“Lady Stark was a true lady,” one of the kitchen maids declares one day, and Ned knows he should chastise them. After all, Margaery is Lady Stark now, and none of these servants could ever know what Catelyn had been like at Riverrun, achingly beautiful in gowns much like Margaery's, her hair elaborately done, a string of sapphires and rubies around her throat.

“We're a bit more subdued in the North, my lady,” Ned ventures one evening when Margaery appears at the meal in a gown of rich purple silk.

“Yes, I've noticed that.”

“What I mean to say is, mayhaps we can have new gowns made for you, gowns which are a bit more...”

“Subdued?” she suggests wryly with an arch of her eyebrow. She sets down her cutlery, folding her hands primly on the trestle table. “I like pretty things, Lord Stark. Mayhaps it is not the Northern way, but I am not a Northern woman.” Reaching for her cup of wine, Ned hears the first hint of vulnerability in her voice as she adds, “Northern gowns won't make your bannermen love me, but if you will it, who am I to argue?”

He doesn't have new gowns made for her; new gowns will not make her Catelyn, and that is what everyone finds disagreeable.

One morning, as they are about to break their fast, Ned notices Sansa is not at the table. When he asks Septa Mordane where his daughter is, she only says that Lady Stark told her she would get Sansa ready. Ned climbs the stairs to Sansa's chamber, concerned; he has never seen Margaery interact much with his children, and, of everyone, Sansa was taking Catelyn's death the hardest. He has barely cracked the door when the sound of Sansa's laughter reaches him, instantly bringing a smile to his lips; he has not heard Sansa laugh since Catelyn died.

Sansa is standing on the seat of her vanity table, Margaery standing behind her, holding the girl's shoulders to keep her balanced; Sansa's long, thick auburn hair is now curled, braided, and pinned into one of the Southron styles, and his daughter is grinning broadly as she notices him.

“Look, Father! I'm a princess!”

A lump of emotion rising in his throat as he crosses to them, Ned picks her up, brushing a kiss against her cheek. “Aye, you do. Did you thank Lady Margaery?”

“No thanks are needed,” Margaery smoothly replies, smiling with great tenderness upon his daughter, “not for the prettiest girl in Winterfell.”

Later, when the boys head to the yard for lessons with Rodrik and Septa Mordane takes the girls, Ned catches Margaery by the wrist, stilling her retreat from the hall. She looks at him placidly, uncertainty shining in her brown eyes, and Ned wonders if she fears him, if the silence and distance he has provided her has made this transition even more difficult for her.

“Thank you for what you did with Sansa. She's...Well, she has not had...Her mother...”

“There were so many women around me when I was small,” Margaery says, ending his stumbling attempts at explanation, “sometimes it felt as if I had a dozen mothers. Sansa is such a sweet girl. I only wish to make things easier for her.”

“Thank you,” he repeats, surprising them both by leaning forward and pressing a soft kiss to her lips.

He still does not go to her room at night, does not try to exercise his rights as a husband. Instead, Ned begins to watch her. The servants still whisper about her strange Southron ways, the way she does not seem to frequent the sept or the godswood, the way she does not chastise Theon for being too flirtatious, but those are not the things Ned notices.

He sees the way she teases Jon, ruffling his curls and wrenching smiles from him when no one else can. He sees the way she will stand in the yard and watch Robb train with Ser Rodrik, clapping when he does well, cheering him as if he is competing in a tourney rather than a lesson. He sees the way she dotes on Sansa, threading pearls and ribbons into her hair, using her own gold to have the finest gowns made for his eldest daughter. He sees the way she lets Arya hold her fingers and toddle around, laughing when Arya falls onto her backside and makes the most frustrated face. And he sees the way she cradles Bran in her arms, cooing and singing.

“You're very good with the children,” he offers one evening as Margaery mends one of Robb's tunics.

She smiles without looking up from her work. “My brothers, Willas and Garlan, they have children, and I have dozens of cousins. Your children are far better behaved.”

“Do you wish to have children of your own?”

Margaery shrugs. “If that is your will - “

“I am asking of your will,” he cuts in.

Finally she lifts her gaze, and Ned recognizes the steel he has glimpsed the few times Margaery has dealt with his bannermen. “I was never the most dedicated student, my lord, but it would seem we do not do the act which is required to make a child. It is not I who keeps from your bed. Therefore it is your will.”

Swallowing hard, feeling remarkably chastened by his wife, he manages, “I have no desire to take an unwilling woman.”

Margaery chuckles mirthlessly. “You've never given me a chance to be willing. I know you did not want this marriage, and I will confess I did not want it either. But we are stuck with each other, Lord Stark, and I am not in the business of being unhappy. You know the words of House Tyrell?”

“Growing strong.”

“I was raised to adapt to any situation I was put into, to grow strong no matter what. You're kinder than I thought you'd be, and Winterfell is nowhere near the wasteland my father made it out to be; I know your men do not like me, but they will. Northmen or not, they are still men at their core, and men always like me. You needn't get children on me; you have more than enough heirs. I would not mind a child, but I would not be unhappy tending those you had with the first Lady Stark. But do not dress up your reticence to share my bed as some exercise in nobility. I won't ask much of you, but I will ask honesty, and you, Lord Stark, honestly do not desire me.”

And with that, Margaery resumes her stitches, leaving him stunned.

By the time Benjen comes down from the Wall, Bran has recently celebrated his first name day and the children are starting to return to the way they were before Cat's death. Some of his bannermen come to Winterfell, and Ned agrees to a small feast; as they eat and couples dance, Ned looks up from his conversation with Benjen and the Umbers to see Margaery seated at the head table; tonight her dress is a brilliant blue, her brown curls held in place by sapphire pins. She is easily the most beautiful woman in the hall, the very picture of youthful loveliness. And yet no man has asked her to dance; no woman has engaged her in conversation. Instead Margaery sits silently, sipping honeyed wine, head held high even as Ned sees the angry clench of her jaw.

He excuses himself from the conversation, crossing to the head table. Though he has always despised dancing, he asks, “Would you do me the honor of allowing me to partner you?”

“Would you do me the honor of not pitying me in full view of your men?” Margaery sharply retorts, her placid expression never faltering.

Blinking in confusion, he manages, “My lady - “

“If I dance with you right now, they will see a pathetic girl who needs her husband to help her save her pride. I would rather sit here all night and let them feel the shame of acting disgracefully towards their liege lord's wife.”

It is the first time Ned has ever been ashamed of his men, who would slight a lady simply because she was not Catelyn Tully, because her father fought for the Mad King rather than Robert, because she was from the Reach and not from the North.

“She's a beautiful girl,” Benjen says later as he and Ned share a skin of wine in the godswood. “And she's smart. But you don't like her.”

“I like her,” Ned argues. “But she's just a girl.”

“She's not that much younger than you. You act like you're Walder Frey.”

“She's young enough. Robert never should have sent her to me, never made us - “

“Yes, what a terrible fate it is, having a young, beautiful bride forced upon you,” Benjen drawls with a roll of his eyes. “There are far worse burdens to bear, and you've bore them. I know you miss Cat; she was a fine woman and should have lived a long life. But if you're going to mourn yourself into celibacy, you might as well come with me back to the Wall.”

Benjen's right, he knows; nothing will return Catelyn to him, and Margaery Tyrell does not need to be punished with a lifetime of distance because of his grief. He decides to make more of an effort with her, will try to be as good of a husband to her as he was to Catelyn.

A fortnight after Benjen and his bannermen leave Winterfell, Ned finds Margaery in the yard with Sansa, Arya, and Bran, the quartet seated on on the grass feasting on lemon cakes. Bran is half-asleep in his stepmother's arms while the girls gather wildflowers in their hands, and it is a pretty picture. His wife smiles as he bends down, accepting a fistful of weeds and uprooted grass from Arya.

“It's a beautiful day, isn't it? At Highgarden, all the orchards would be bearing fruit now. Have you ever had a freshly plucked peach?”

Ned shakes his head, ghosting a finger down Bran's smooth cheek. “I cannot say I have.”

“They're delectable. I shall write Willas; mayhaps he can send some in an envoy.”

He nods absently, watching as Sansa takes her sister's hand and leads her towards the bright yellow blooms which grow like weeds. After a moment, Margaery shifts, studying him speculatively, and Ned feels naked under her gaze.

“Did you need something, my lord?”

His courage leaves him for a beat, and Ned feels a flush of shame; he would rather ride into a thousand battles than have to verbalize anything he is feeling. Finally he chokes out, “I was wondering if I might call on you tonight.”

The hint of a smile plays at Margaery's rosebud mouth before she demurely lowers her face. “I would be pleased to have you, my lord.”

“Ned,” he corrects. “Please call me Ned.”

“Ned,” she dutifully repeats, and it occurs to him that this is the first time he has ever heard Margaery say his name.

He does not know why he thrums with anxiety as he enters Margaery's (Catelyn's) chamber; gods know he is not some green boy. But beyond their horrendously awkward wedding night, Ned has not truly shared a woman's bed since before Bran's birth, and Margaery is so young. The last thing he wants to do is make the bedding unpleasant for her.

Ned's breath catches as Margaery comes into view. She sits in the center of the large featherbed, her legs folded beneath her; her soft curls cascade over her shoulders, which are all but bare in the silk night dress she wears, the material so diaphanous Ned can see every inch of her in the candlelight. Desire warms his blood as Margaery rises up on her knees, her eyes darkened with passion as he climbs onto the bed.

Her mouth tastes like honeyed wine, and Ned swears her skin smells of roses.

The night they were bedded, Ned had not taken the time to truly look upon her; he drinks her in now, running calloused hands over the length of her. She inhales deeply through her nose as he touches her breasts, and, as he captures a nipple between his lips, Ned feels her heart speed up beneath his face. He has only ever shared a bed with Catelyn, but, as Margaery breathes his name, her fingers sinking into his hair, Ned wishes to show Margaery the pleasures which can be found in the marriage bed.

She cries out in surprise as he drags his tongue up the length of her cunt, her fingers biting painfully in his hair; Ned sees she is trying to rise on her elbows, lower body moving as if she is not certain whether she is trying to move away or move closer, and he gently pushes her hips against the mattress, lifting his head to meet her gaze.

“Trust me,” he requests huskily, and Margaery's eyes widen before nodding, settling back against the pillows, her breathing hitched with arousal and nervousness.

It takes mere minutes to make her peak, two fingers crooked inside of her, his tongue gathering her wetness; when he suckles at her nub, Margaery shouts as her body tenses in pleasure before every muscle relaxes. She whimpers as he withdraws, peppering kisses up her body as she comes down, and, as he carefully eases himself inside of her, Ned groans as she spasms around him.

Margaery catches his rhythm easily, raising her hips to meet his thrusts, and Ned knows he will not last long. He slips an arm beneath her thigh, hitching her leg higher, and Margaery moans loudly as he sinks deeper into her, tossing her head back with the sensation.

“Ned, Ned,” she begins to chant, and it is hearing her voice – raw and desperate – saying his name which tips him over the edge, spilling his seed deep inside of her.

They lay joined for several moments, both trying to catch their breaths, before Ned moves off of her; to his surprise, Margaery follows, settling into the crook of his arm, resting her head against his broad chest. She kisses the patch of skin in front of her before sighing, “I quite liked that.”

The bark of laughter catches them both by surprise, but it immediately sends Margaery into a peal of giggles. Ned rises from the bed to throw open the windows, Margaery pulls back the bedclothes, motioning for him to join her. As he slips into unconsciousness with the taste of Margaery still on his tongue, Ned thinks this is the first time she has truly felt like his wife.

In the morning he wakes to someone tracing the scars on his chest. Ned opens his eyes to see Margaery sitting up beside him, unconcerned with her nudity, fingertips gliding across the puckered skin; if she is embarrassed at being caught, she does not show it. Instead she just smiles and greets, “Good morning, Ned.”

“Come here,” he orders in a sleep-roughened voice, pulling her down for a kiss.

It is the first – but, by no means, the last – morning Ned urges Margaery atop him, watching as she gracefully rises and falls upon his cock.

He is not good with words. Though their conversations come easier, especially in regards to the children or the running of Winterfell, Ned finds himself struggling with intimate discussions. Margaery often leads the conversations, and Ned appreciates it; he has always found out more by listening, and what he quickly learns about his wife is that Margaery is shrewdly intelligent, bitingly funny, and, beneath her beauty, has a spine of Valyrian steel.

Ned begins to wonder if Robert had known this when he sent Margaery north.

She tells him she is swelling shortly before Bran's fourth name day. Though all of Winterfell had whispered about how it boded ill that Lady Stark had taken so long to become with child, Ned is grateful for it. Even now, years since Cat's death, he remembers the way his wife looked as she succumbed to birthing fever, the way she wasted away until she hardly resembled his vibrant wife at all. Ned would have been perfectly happy if Margaery never got with child; a wife who was not breeding was a wife who was not at risk of dying.

“I shall be fine,” Margaery assures him dozens of times with the arrogance of youth, rubbing her hands over the bulge of her middle.

Ned sees it on the children's faces too, especially Robb's and Jon's; they remember what it was like to see Catelyn enter the chamber to birth Bran to never leave again. Sansa, who has only the barest memories of Cat, is equal parts excited for the baby and nervous at the potential loss of Margaery; for Arya and Bran, who have only known Margaery as their mother, they simply discuss the baby as if it is a pet they will be able to play with when it arrives.

Margaery is a fortnight past the time Maester Luwin predicted she would deliver when her waters break. Ned finds himself pacing the corridors of Winterfell like a man possessed until, four hours into the delivery, Maester Luwin emerges from the room, a smile on his face.

“You have a healthy son, my lord.”

Margaery leans against the headboard of the bed, cradling a bloody, fussy bundle in her arms; her hair is plastered to her sweaty face, but Ned does not think she has ever looked so happy. As he approaches the bed, he sees that the child - our son - has brown hair shot through with hints of red on his head, and, when he opens his eyes, Ned sees they are the Stark eyes.

“Rickon,” Ned breathes, and Margaery smiles, passing their son into his arms.

“I may be biased, but I do believe he is the most beautiful baby I have ever seen,” Margaery declares in a soft voice.

“He's wonderful,” Ned agrees as a grin stretches across his face. He bends, brushing a kiss against her mouth, before announcing, “Once you and the baby are clean and rested, I'll send for the children. They'll want to meet their brother.”

Later, as Ned watches his children gather around Margaery's bed, awe in their faces as they look upon Rickon, Ned thinks they may be fine after all.

Chapter Text

Ned has never cared for the south. So often he longs for the Eyrie, for Winterfell, for a life he did not appreciate when he had it. If Brandon was alive, he'd roll his eyes, mock him for being the only man in the world who turned up his nose at being king, but, then again, if Brandon was alive, Ned would not have to sit the Iron Throne and pretend to be something he wasn't.

Cersei thrives here. Ned isn't sure why it surprises him; she is Tywin Lannister's daughter. The only warmth he ever sees in his wife is directed towards Joffrey, only three-years-old but already far more spoiled and surly than any child Ned has ever seen. No matter how hard he tries, his son does not seem to care for him, and, when the raven arrives from Winterfell announcing the birth of yet another of Benjen's children, Ned declares they are going to go North.

Ned misses his younger brother. Benjen has always been the most agreeable of his siblings, the one who goes with the flow and never raises a fuss; when Ned had asked him to honor Brandon's betrothal to Catelyn Tully, Benjen hadn't even hesitated. And, if four children in five years is any indication, Ned thinks his brother is quite happy with Hoster Tully's eldest daughter.

Benjen grins broadly as Ned dismounts; he is not even halfway to the ground, taking the knee for his king, when Ned orders him to stand, orders all of Winterfell to stand. He clasps his brother tightly, grateful to see one of the few people he trusts absolutely. Catelyn stands next to him, her smile warm, and Ned is surprised by how attracted he is to her, how much he envies his brother for his pretty wife with long, auburn hair and generous curves.

Cersei has never smiled at him with as much warmth as Catelyn, a relative stranger, does.

His envy for Benjen only grows the longer they remain at Winterfell. While Joffrey always looks at Ned with barely contained disgust, blatantly preferring his mother, Benjen's children obviously adore him; Robb and Jon, the twins, rush towards their father at every opportunity, sweet little Sansa giggles as she peppers kisses over Benjen's face, and even baby Arya quiets in Benjen's arms. Ned has never been an envious man, but he is sick with jealousy at the sight of Benjen, Lord of Winterfell, romping with his children in the yard while Joffrey remains clinging to Cersei's skirts.

But if Ned is jealous of Benjen's relationships with his children, he positively aches with the desire to have a wife like Catelyn.

He watches the way his brother's wife leans into Benjen's touches, the way Benjen instinctively moves closer to her at the dinner table, the way they laugh at each others' japes and genuinely listen to what the other is saying; it is the sort of marriage most are not fortunate to have, and, for the first time, Ned wonders if he made the wrong decision in giving Catelyn to Benjen rather than wedding Catelyn himself.

On the court's last night at Winterfell, Ned cannot sleep. He rises from his bed, insisting Ser Barristan need not accompany him as he makes his way down to the kitchens for wine. The corridors are dark, the castle asleep, but Ned could find his way even if he were blind. He has just entered the kitchens when he hears a strangled noise, a hitch of breath; Ned finds himself stunned as his eyes adjust to the darkness and realizes what he is seeing.

Catelyn is nude, laid out across the table; Ned can make out bits of pastry cream on her breasts, and he bites the inside of his cheek to keep from gasping as he watches Benjen burying his face into Catelyn's cunt. His good-sister is biting her hand to keep from shouting, but her hips move desperately against Benjen's questing mouth. Benjen lifts his head, a breathy laugh escaping his lips before quipping, "I'm not sure which cream is sweeter."

"Don't stop, Ben!" she pants, arching hard off of the table, and Benjen obeys, returning his tongue to her.

Cersei has never responded to him like this; Ned did not know women ever responded like this.

In the morning, he cannot meet Catelyn's gaze as he bids Winterfell farewell; Benjen hugs him tightly and wishes him well.

As Ned rides back to King's Landing, he tries not to ache for what might have been.

Chapter Text

It isn't the first time Cersei has sent him from her bed. Sometimes he dances too closely to the line his twin has drawn in the sand, and she gets it in her head to put him in his place, to remind him that she has the power in the relationship and that, when the day is done, he is just a servant. Jaime lets her harbor the illusion; she may be queen and she may dictate the pace at which his world moves, but Jaime knows she cannot live without him any more than he can live without her. It is just that, sometimes, Cersei can be so damned petty.

He can be petty too.

It's easy enough to unseat Loras Tyrell, and he takes the crown of roses for the Queen of Love and Beauty from some man in Baratheon livery. As he leisurely trots down the field, he can see Cersei straighten in her seat, lips starting to perk into a subtle smile; he has won dozens of tourneys and it is always she who receives the flowers, always she who is the most beautiful lady in the land. And she is beautiful, more beautiful than girls half her age, but Jaime remembers the ugly twist of her mouth as she told him he was not the only handsome man with a thick cock in King's Landing; the flowers would make Cersei happy, and Jaime does not want to come groveling this time, does not want to give her the satisfaction.

No, this time he wants Cersei to recognize that there are other beautiful women in the kingdom, women whose skin in unlined, whose breasts have never suckled a child, whose cunts are as tight as Tywin is with his gold. He'll never fuck them, of course, but it will be worth it to see Cersei's reaction.

He spots her in the front row, seated between a septa and her sour-faced father, and Jaime nearly crows with anticipation. Angering Cersei and fucking with Ned Stark? Oh, it is a happy day indeed. Pulling the reins of his horse, he stops before Sansa Stark and watches as her blue eyes light up with surprise and pure joy.

"For the most beautiful woman in all seven kingdoms," Jaime says, making sure his voice is loud enough to carry all the way up to his queenly sister, making a show of setting the roses atop Sansa's auburn head.

"Thank you, Ser," Sansa murmurs, cheeks bright with a blush which only enhances her beauty, and Jaime is suddenly assailed by the strongest memory of Catelyn Tully at sixteen, fresh-faced and sweet. As Ned Stark glowers at him, Jaime wonders if little Sansa's mouth would taste like her mother's had, like Dornish red and apples plucked from trees in the Riverlands.

Cersei fucks him raw that night, claws his back bloody, bites him hard enough to leave impressions in his skin; it is a claim, and Jaime wants to tell her it is unnecessary, that he has always belonged to her and always will.

But sometimes, when he takes himself in his hand, Sansa Stark flits into his mind, looking at him as if he is the purest knight in Westeros, and Jaime hates how much he misses being someone's hero.

Chapter Text

The third year of their marriage comes and goes and still Catelyn does not become pregnant. It would be better, she thinks, if she had conceived and bled; at least then the North would know she was not as barren as their soil, that there was some use to her. Brandon never says a word about her inability to conceive, and Catelyn decides she hates that. Fiery in all other things, Brandon's coolness in regards to her fertility makes her want to scream.

When he makes the suggestion, Catelyn cannot believe it. He says it as they sup in his solar, offering the idea as if he is discussing nothing more serious than the weather. Words fail her and it is only when he notices her silence that Brandon sighs, the facade breaking.

"I need an heir, Winterfell needs an heir. All that matters is the child has Stark blood."

Catelyn manages to choke down a mouthful of wine. "I cannot believe Ned would ever agree to this."

Brandon shrugs. "Ned will agree to whatever is best for the North."

She knows it is true. Ned Stark is her husband's most loyal man, serving as his steward and running Winterfell when Brandon finds an excuse to leave. Catelyn is not so blind as to not know Brandon spends the majority of his time riding the rills and Barbrey Ryswell too, and she has grown to enjoy Ned's company. While he runs Winterfell, Catelyn embroiders shirts and reads stories to Ned's bastard son Jon, and Catelyn often hopes the solemn-faced little boy is not the only child to grow in Winterfell. She thinks of Jon Snow now and understands why Brandon is suggesting Ned; whereas no one in the North has ever claimed to bear Brandon Stark's bastard, Ned Stark has proven he is able to produce a healthy son.

The night Ned comes to her bed chamber with Brandon, Catelyn is drunk. It is an accident; she only meant to calm her nerves with a few sips of Arbor gold, but then the skin was suddenly empty and her head was spinning. Brandon seems amused by it; Ned's face gives away nothing.

She closes her eyes when Brandon kisses her, strips the gown from her body. If she cannot see Ned Stark, Catelyn reasons, there is no sin in this. She thinks of her sour faced septa back in Riverrun, remembers the speech she was given before her wedding about bearing her wifely duty with grace and silence, and she thinks no septa could imagine a situation such as this. His touch is familiar, and her body betrays her. The peaks of her breasts stiffen; she grows wet between her thighs. Brandon works her with calloused fingertips, and Catelyn bites her tongue to keep from crying out. If it were only them, Catelyn would not hesitate to make noise, but she does not want Ned to think her a slattern.

The thought almost makes her laugh. She is about to fuck her husband's brother; if that is not the definition of a slattern, she does not know what is.

"Come here," she hears Brandon encourage, and Catelyn braces herself for Ned's touch. The brothers speak softly to each other, and Catelyn cannot help but open her eyes. Brandon is gesturing towards her, and Catelyn reads the reticence in every muscle of Ned's body. She thinks of how many times she has seen him come and go from the godswood as she comes from the sept, and Catelyn knows he doesn't want this anymore than she does.

But Catelyn does want a child, so she lies, "It is fine, Ned. Come here."

Catelyn forces herself to look only at his face as he opens his breeches. Brandon swaggers about the chamber shirtless, pouring himself some wine, and Catelyn wants to tell Ned to please undress, to not make her feel like a girl in a brothel. As Ned gently lowers himself over her, bracing his weight on his elbows, Catelyn looks into his grey eyes and she is shocked to see the fear there.

"Are you certain?" he murmurs. "We do not have to do this."

She can feel him hard against her inner thigh and the offer touches her. "Yes, we do."

It is strange to have a man inside of her who isn't Brandon, who hasn't even kissed her. Ned's eyes flutter shut as he sinks into her, and Catelyn trembles; she feels the bed depress as Brandon perches on the bed, and she wonders what he is thinking. Does it disgust him? Does it excite him?

"She likes it fast," Brandon offers, and Catelyn wants to tell Ned he's wrong, that she likes it best when it is slow and hard, when Brandon uses his mouth to make her come, when he rubs her bud with his fingers as he moves inside her, but Brandon hasn't made love to her like that since the first year and she hardly has a voice now, not with Ned moving at a steady pace, his face so close to hers.

She draws her knees up, more instinct than anything else, and Ned moans softly against her ear. The sound does something to her, tugs at the center of her, and she tightens around him. She moves with him now, her hands finding his sides, nails biting into his skin. "Please," slips past her lips before she can catch it and Ned seems to know what she needs, sliding his hand between them, his thumb finding where she aches. Her peak is fast and sharp, and Catelyn cannot even remember the last time she peaked when she and Brandon shared a bed.

Ned's hips snap once, twice, and then she feels his pleasure inside her. He looks at her for only a moment before averting his eyes, pulling away and fumbling with his breeches while Brandon thanks him. Ned leaves as Brandon removes his clothes, preparing to take his turn, and Catelyn watches Ned disappear, feeling a peculiar mix of hope and shame in her chest.

Her moon blood doesn't come that month or the month after, and though Brandon crows as if he is responsible for it, Catelyn knows it is Ned's seed that has taken root inside her, Ned's son she brings into the world nine moons later under the cover of night.

"Robb Stark of Winterfell," Brandon names him, showing him off as if he is the first baby ever to be born, but Catelyn can only wonder what Ned thinks of the child they created.

"A strong boy," is all Ned says when he and Jon come to see Robb, and Catelyn swears she will force herself to think of Robb only as Brandon's child and forget the night he was conceived.

"Robb should have a sibling," Brandon declares shortly after Robb's third name day. It has been three long years of marriage with Brandon gone more often than he was at home, and Catelyn cannot help the nervous rush of excitement at the proclamation. She has thought of that night with Ned more often than she'd like to admit, sometimes with a hand between her legs, and it occurs to her that if Brandon can bed every willing woman in the North, she can take Ned to her bed with her husband's blessing.

Ned kisses her this time. She's startled by it at first, but Ned's mouth is strong and sure. He kisses her throat, suckles her breasts, follows the meridian of her body to the auburn hair covering her mound, and Catelyn cannot control her sharp cries as he licks her. His mouth is hot and certain, and she twists her fingers into his long hair to hold him still. Vaguely she glimpses Brandon scowling from across the room and, as her pleasure builds to a fever pitch, he snaps, "That won't get her pregnant!"

If Ned hears his older brother, he ignores him and Catelyn comes apart under his tongue.

Ned pulls her atop him this time. Catelyn moves over him desperately, grinding down against his cock as Ned's hands urge her hips to move. She leans forward, catching his mouth, and she moans at the taste of herself on his lips. When he peaks, he squeezes her hips so tightly, Catelyn knows she will bear fingertip shaped bruises for the next week.

Brandon looks furious when Ned leaves, but he does not try to fuck her. Instead he takes his wine skin and retreats to his own chambers, and Catelyn draws her legs up, prays to the gods for another child to love.

Sansa arrives, beautiful and healthy, and even Brandon cannot deny her perfection. This time when Ned and Jon come to call on the latest member of House Stark, Ned brings a flower from the glass gardens for Catelyn and carefully lifts Sansa from her cradle.

"She's beautiful, Cat," he tells her, and it is the first time he has ever called her Cat.

Arya is conceived by accident and wholly without Brandon's consent.

Her husband is already gone, headed for the Iron Islands while Ned remains behind to lead the rest of the bannermen. Catelyn is a jangle of nerves, terrified for Brandon and Ned, scared for herself and her children. There is so much that can go wrong in war, and she does not want to be left behind again. She will swear for the rest of her life she only followed Ned into the godswood to beg him to be safe, to return to Jon and Winterfell and keep Brandon safe.

They fuck beneath the heart tree - and Catelyn does not even bother trying to convince herself it is anything other than fucking - with their clothes half-off, her smallclothes torn, desperately kissing and clawing at each other. Ned pants her name like a prayer, and Catelyn finds herself pleading, "Come back to me."

She does not send word to Pyke that she is with child, and Catelyn labors alone to bring her second daughter into the world. Unlike Robb and Sansa with their Tully looks, Arya is a Stark through and through, as dark haired and grey eyed as Jon Snow. Catelyn lights candles in the sept, praying to every god that her husband and the father of her children return to her, and it is the first time she wishes they were the same man, a solemn-faced, quiet man who loved her more than Catelyn thought anyone ever had.

Brandon scarcely looks at Arya when he returns home, and he speaks to Catelyn not at all. She is used to his tempers, but the silent disregard hurts the worst. Ned tells her that Jon is to be fostered at the Eyrie like he and Robert were as boys, and Brandon has asked him to go to Bear Island and help the Mormonts rebuild. He says he is unsure when he will return, and Catelyn understands that Brandon is sending him away.

It is love as much as it is vengeance when Catelyn creeps to his chambers and wakes him with her lips sealed around his cock. They make love a half-dozen times that night, and when Ned rides for Bear Island in the morning, Catelyn knows she will never forgive Brandon for sending him away, for forcing this upon all of them and then pouting over the results.

She sends a raven to tell him of Bran's birth, but Ned never responds. The children grow older, Brandon grows more distant, and Catelyn becomes used to running Winterfell in his absence. She is not the young girl who came North all those years ago, and she does not need Brandon Stark to show her the way anymore. His indifference hurts the children more than it hurts her, and Catelyn becomes overwhelmingly grateful for Old Nan, Rodrik Cassel, Maester Luwin, and Jory.

Brandon declares that Ned is to marry a Manderly of White Harbor, and despite the girl being hardly more than a child, Ned returns from Bear Island for the wedding. Catelyn's heart catches in her throat as he rides through the gates, and she feels herself melt at the smiles he bestows upon their children. Brandon and Ned greet each other coolly, and if Ned is unhappy about being married to a girl scarcely older than Jon Snow, he does not say it within Catelyn's earshot.

"You will make a fine husband," Catelyn tells him the night before his wedding, trying not to think of the pretty Manderly girl with breasts still perky from never suckling a child, a stomach still flat from never having to stretch to accommodate a growing child. There are lines on Catelyn's face now, and she is not the pretty thing she was the first time Ned saw her.

Ned says nothing, only touches the inside of her wrist with a soft brush of fingertips.

They make love in her chamber, the windows thrown open to let in the cool air, and Catelyn does not bother to stifle her cries. She childishly hopes all of Winterfell hears her, and Ned seems to share the same thought. When they are done, Catelyn aches from their lovemaking, and still she clings to him, wants to beg him to stay or suggest they run away to Essos with the children. Catelyn wants to tell him she loves him, that she thinks she has loved him since the night they created Sansa, but she doesn't because she is Brandon's wife and her duty is here.

Catelyn announces her final pregnancy a scant few days before Ned's wife announces hers, and she knows Rickon is the final straw for Brandon.

"You should take the children to Riverrun," he says one morning, and Catelyn knows this is an order, not a suggestion. It does not matter to him that Rickon is still on the breast, that it is a fortnight's journey and a hard one even without four active children underfoot. She sees in the set of his jaw he means to send her back to her lord father, and it would not surprise her at all if he never asks her to return.

"You said you would love them no matter what," Catelyn reminds him, her throat tightening with emotion.

Brandon looks at her then, and she thinks he has never seemed so small. "I suppose I am not as good of a man as I thought I was."

She thinks of the five children sleeping in the castle and sighs, "A fine time to realize that."

Brandon says nothing else, simply leaves the table, and Catelyn knows then she hates him. But most of all she hates herself for ever thinking this could end any other way but this one.