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Stranger Than Kindness

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The day that Shireen receives the news of her betrothal is one of the hottest days in Dragonstone.

It is not her father that delivers this news, however, but Davos himself. She is sitting on a large, rough boulder by the coast. Her gown is rather thin and bears no sleeves, to lessen the barriers against the murkiness of the atmosphere, and she feels the sharp edges of the boulder dig into the skin below her bent knees as she plays with the edges of her fingernails. Her eyes widen at the statement of marriage—her marriage. Davos kneels only slightly to look her in the eye, and he attempts to explain the reasoning behind the arrangement.

“House Baratheon requires a stable allegiance to the Starks,” Davos assures her. “The bastard, Gendry, has been wed to the youngest Stark girl for the past year. However, his refusal of the legitimization that your father offered leaves him as a bastard, still.”

“I…” Shireen looks up at him with sad blue eyes. “I never thought I would marry.”

Davos grimaces. “Your father desires this bond, as does your lady mother. It would be wise to succumb to their wishes.”

She looked down at her chipped fingernails once more. “Do you…do you know what he’s like?”

“Rickon Stark isn’t the noblest young man.” Davos replies honestly. “I have only had the honor of meeting him once, but I do think that he possesses some qualities that you may appreciate. He is barely seven-and-ten, a boy, much younger than yourself. But you will be happy as a Stark, I think—as a queen.”

A queen, Shireen thinks. I’m to be queen in the North if I’m wed to him; when I’m wed to him.

She has an infinite amount of unspoken fears. What if Rickon Stark doesn't like her? What if she could never please him? What if he became so repulsed by her greyscale that their marriage was spent miserably and distantly—like her own parents? She does not want such a marriage—and yet, this may be the only marriage that she would be offered. She is already three-and-twenty, and many girls are wed at a much younger age. She would be a fool not to oblige.

And so she nods to Davos, and he smiles sweetly at her, kisses the edge of her hairline, and goes to speak to her father of her decision.

At dawn, she leaves for Winterfell.

---

The first person she encounters in Winterfell is Bran Stark.

She’s heard much about him, Bran the Broken, the crippled wolf-boy. She heard about him when his name turned to the second Bran the Builder—for taking a large part in the remaking of Winterfell’s castles.

Bran Stark sits in a chair-like contraption, with wheels, and the first thing she really notices is that the often named wolf-boy is now a man. Constantly by his side is his wife, Meera Reed, and every time she sees them share a loving glance or witnesses Meera press a light kiss to his cheek, her heart clenches and she feels ill.

She spends her entire first day settling into her new chambers and exploring the castle—not at all meeting her betrothed. She wonders if he was not present on the castle grounds, or if he simply did not wish to see her just yet. But she doesn’t let either possibility worry her; it wouldn’t do her any good at all. Before she knows it, night falls, and she sups with Bran, Meera, and Meera’s brother Jojen silently prior to settling into bed. She does not question the lack of Rickon Stark’s presence, and no one assures her of it either.

That night Shireen wraps herself tightly in her furs, legs shivering and teeth chattering, and she thinks to herself that she does not like Winterfell.

---

As Bran has informed her that she is permitted to freely roam the grounds, Shireen heads to the courtyard. There she witnesses Arya Stark—with whom she shares the same age, but not the same ferocity. Arya Stark was far more beautiful in person than many gave her credit for, Shireen thinks, and she watches the young she-wolf strike a sword against a wooden post with the utmost grace, moving composedly as loose strands of bark-toned hair escape the thick plait over her shoulder.

A few feet away from the post stands a dark haired, blue-eyed man—Gendry, she thought. She had not seen him in approximately a year, and does not realize until now that she somewhat missed her newly discovered cousin.

He leans against a free post with his arms crossed, watching Arya with love-struck eyes and a silly crooked smile, and she sees his lips move. In response, Arya stills, stares back at him, stomps up to him sternly with a threatening expression on her face. Although Shireen cannot make out Arya’s words, she picks up stupid and idiot and bull-head. But when Gendry grabs her wrist and laughs, pressing his lips to hers and hoisting her up so that Arya’s legs wrapped around his waist, Shireen looks away and begins to turn back to the castle, deciding to speak to Gendry another time, at the right moment. Somewhere in her heart, she hopes to someday be so free that she is as happy as Arya and Gendry are.

---

When she finally encounters with Rickon Stark, she runs into his direwolf first.

She is exiting the dining hall, having previously broken her fast, prepared to explore the weirwood, when the great black wolf obstructs the exit. The direwolf bares its teeth at her, and she has the urge to flinch, but she does not. She can feel other eyes on her, apprehending her reaction, she thinks—waiting to see if she jumps back in fear. She looks down at the beast. It growls at her, and then she stares into its eyes—yellow, like Baratheon yellow, and unlike its teeth, curious. In a sense, she also sees innocence. Carefully, she holds out her hand and slowly moves her palm towards its head. The direwolf immediately stops growling, moves its head towards her palm, and in a sudden moment she is caressing the dark fur between its ears.

Shireen hears whispers and murmurs around her, but pays them no mind. The direwolf is rather beautiful, she thinks; majestic, in a way. And suddenly the wolf stands on its hind legs, its arms hitting her chest so forcefully that she nearly falls backwards, but instead kneels on the cold ground, and in a moment it licks the left side of her face—the side covered in dead, withering skin—and she laughs because it tickles.

“Shaggy, to me!” She hears suddenly, and the direwolf gives her one last lick before trotting to its master. She is still kneeling, and when she sees a pair of brown leather boots, worn out and blistered. She looks up and sees the wild inside the irises of Tully-blue.

She rises slowly, adjusting the hem of her gown, addresses as “your grace”. He simply stares at her, silent, and even scopes her. Without a word, he nods, and she is confused. He walks past her, not touching her, not even brushing against her, and she shuts her eyes and doesn’t look back.

Later, she speaks to Bran and Meera about the occurrence.

“He doesn’t know how to communicate with you properly,” Bran assures her. “Rickon can be quite…reserved, so to speak. It’s normal for him to treat you this way until he grows used to your presence.”

“He did not even speak a word to me.” Shireen replies. “That is normal?”

“For Rickon, it is.” Bran repeats. “He’ll either bark at you angrily or not speak to you at all unless he grows comfortable around you. Only in time will he begin to speak to you, and from there he may even begin to treat you as his betrothed. He has experienced things differently than I have; he’s a bit more like our sister Arya in that sense.”

Although she wishes otherwise, Shireen completely understands. So she lets it be.

---

For the next few nights, Shireen sups with Rickon, Bran, Meera, Jojen, and—more recently—Arya and Gendry. She has been in Winterfell for ten days now, and she picks at her honeyed hen and green beans as she half-listens to Jojen telling an infamously old tale of the Crannogmen of the Neck when Arya Stark moves her seat to sit at her right.

“I have not yet had the chance to speak to you,” Arya says. “And I must say that the fault…is my husband’s.”

“Now, now,” Gendry replies when he hears the reference. “It’s not fair, bringing me into this. The fault’s every bit yours as it is mine.”

Arya rolls her eyes and turns back to Shireen. “Forget him, and tell me: has my little brother been treating you well?”

Shireen ponders over the query. He hasn’t been treating me like anything, she thinks, he acts as if I’m not even here. Instead she replies, “Yes, my lady, he’s been rather kind.”

“Don’t call me that,” Arya said sternly, and on the other side she heard Gendry chuckle into his pigeon pie. “It’s just Arya. And you’re lying; I can see it all over your face.”

“I…my la—Arya—”

“He hasn’t said anything to you at all, has he?” Arya mutters, partially to herself. “Figures. What an idiot.” She turns to face her. “It isn’t you, you know. He’s not particularly fond of communication, but he’ll get there.”

That’s what everyone seems to tell her, but Shireen has not been seeing any form of progress between her and Rickon. She wouldn’t say that she’s given up hope, but instead she’s put the concern aside. The most important thing is that by the end of supper that night, Arya Stark promises to teach her archery and her heart swells and she grins and now, she almost has a real sister.

---

As Shireen practices with Arya, she begins to dress in a tunic and breeches.

Arya tells her that she won’t be able to move as well in the thick, dark gowns that she normally wears. And so one afternoon, when Shireen returns from a long bath, she is not completely surprised to see a tunic, leather jerkin, and a pair of wool breeches folded on her bed.

It feels odd at the start, very odd, and she feels naked and exposed without a skirt to ruffle when she’s nervous or any embroidery to pick at when she’s bored. In the courtyard, she leans against the wooden fence before the stables as Arya explains to her how to use the bow, how to balance the arrow, and how to aim efficiently. On her first try, Shireen completely misses the target and the arrow swerves over the stone wall and she flinches, hoping that no one gets hit due to her ineffectiveness. By the end of the day, Shireen manages to break an arrow and lose three, and she nearly gives up. Shireen’s arms and shoulders ache, and although the breeches and the tunic are thick, they are not thick enough to protect her from the unfamiliar bite of the cold air on her skin. Nevertheless, Arya’s voice is firm, commanding, and surprisingly patient; and she mentions that she refuses to leave the courtyard until Shireen at least hits some part of the target.

“Gendry is working at the forge,” Arya says. “And I haven’t seen him all day. I want to get out of here as much as you do. But you have the ability to do this, and I’m not leaving until you do.”

Shireen blushes a little when Arya speaks about Gendry; the softness of her voice when she speaks his name is intimate and loving, and again Shireen is perplexed at the fact that someone as outwardly hard and firm as Arya Stark becomes so soft, so inexplicably human, due to the love that she bears for Gendry. Shireen releases a brief sigh and pushes back the raven hair that escaped from her own braid, picking up the last arrow from the bucket behind her and setting her feet firmly on the rocky ground. She keeps her back straight, legs apart, knees unbent and eyes focused—just as Arya taught her—and breathes deeply. Her arm is pulled back and she has her eye on the crimson dot at the center of the target, and suddenly the tension in her body is released and the arrow shoots forward.

She cannot look and she feels that maybe her arrow jumped into the bucket of oats or into a haystack once more, but then she hears an amused laugh from behind her and Arya Stark is smirking. Shireen looks at the target and grins. Her arrow just barely hit the edge of the target, only so far from the center. But she hit the target nonetheless, and she grins and laughs, too.

The next day she only loses one arrow, and gets closer and closer to the center of the target. The day after, she gets better. And by the fourth day, she hits the center and, for the first time in a very long time, Shireen Baratheon feels proud of herself.

---

Shireen is in Winterfell for twenty-four days when Meera finds out that she’s with child.

Bran, however, is not present to hear the news. For two days he’s been out hunting with Rickon, Jojen, and a guard named Harwin whom they have chosen to accompany them. Shireen doesn’t know how to respond when Meera tells her—she’s never really had to deal with such things—and then Meera explains the importance of it.
“We have been trying for quite some time, Bran and I.” Meera says. “I’ve lost two already and I don’t know if I could handle losing another.” She laughs humorlessly then. “I have been through wars and battles and have experienced things some men could not even imagine, and I have feared nothing. But now I fear that another of my children would never be born. Silly, isn’t it?”

When Shireen leaves her chambers some time later, she hears a gut-wrenching sob that echoes throughout the corridor and it haunts her dreams that night.

The men return from their hunt at noon the next day, and from the window of her bedroom she sees Meera greet her little brother before moving to Bran and assisting him off of his customary saddle, placing him in his chair with her brother’s help. Meera’s lips are moving and Shireen knows what she’s telling him, because Bran kisses her chastely and gives her an assuring smile.

Later Shireen prays—to the Seven, to the Old Gods, to the Drowned God—that their child lives, for she sincerely likes Bran and Meera.

 

In the evening she is sitting by the pool in the godswood and is admiring the scene—she’s been here a great number of times since her arrival and, despite being raised with the faith of the Seven, she decides that she loves the harmony of it all. Her hair, normally pulled back and tucked or twisted in a braid—is free today, and it tumbles down her shoulders in waves and she likes the feeling of the soft breeze that pushes it against the skin of her neck. She can even feel it on the portion that is covered in greyscale, a discreet little tickle that reminds her that she’s still there, that she’s still whole and human despite her physical flaws.

Shireen hears crunches and the snapping of twigs and she turns abruptly, coming out of her serene reverie. She is now aware of the frostiness in the air and the tips of her fingers are tingling towards a state of numbness. Before she could even make the motion to stand, she sees a large bundle of black fur, and she loses tension.

Shaggydog’s yellow eyes are calmer than they were at her first encounter with him, and he approaches her carefully, probing her shoulder with the tip of his nose, and she caresses the fur on his neck. He sits next to her, eyes closing, and places his large head on her lap. He isn’t as frightening as most have said, she thinks, and her fingers regain their feeling as the fur warms her skin. She whispers soft nothings to the direwolf and looks around for his master, but sees no one.

“Does he know you’re here, boy?” She mutters into his fur as she continues to stroke it. The wolf growls a bit, and she smiles. “Perhaps not. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

She doesn’t know how, or when, she falls asleep, but when she is awakened by Rickon himself, she feels slightly embarrassed in her position. Her knees are bent to her chest and she has an arm wrapped around Shaggydog’s neck, and she and the creature are both leaning against the tree behind her. She blushes and sits up straight, Rickon Stark has one eyebrow pulled up and hands behind his back and looks at her amusedly, and suddenly she feels like a child again, about to be scolded by her mother or father for behaving improperly.

However, much to her astonishment, Rickon does not scold her. He commands, “Up, Shaggy, you may just be crushing the poor girl’s legs.” His voice is smooth, calm yet firm, and his demeanor reminds her much of Arya’s. She looks up at him as she feels Shaggydog rise from her lap and trot towards his master. Rickon Stark is, at first glance, all Tully. His eyes are a pale blue—blue like the skies in King’s Landing during her brief visit there—and his hair is a long, curly mess of auburn and his nose and cheekbones are dusted with light freckles. Yet in a distinctly Stark way, the shape of his eyes are squared, his nose is sharp, and his shoulders are wide and he towers over her with great height—and she always considered herself taller than the average woman. She stands now, and looks him in the eye and begins to address him as “your grace”, but he holds up a hand to stop her.

“If you’re to be my queen soon,” he explains, “You are permitted to call me by my name.”

“Yes,” She responds. “I mean—yes.”

He smirks then, and she feels so small, and then he says to her: “Shaggydog is quite fond of you.”

Shireen nods. “So it seems, your gra—Rickon. I have grown to be quite fond of him as well.”

“He normally isn’t fond of anybody.” He says sternly. “Not anyone, except me.”

“Well, perhaps no one else has given the chance.” She replies. “Or perhaps some are just too craven to try.”

There is a tug at the edge of his lips. “And you are not?”

“No,” She responds, and she feels unabashed. “I’m not.”

And then he laughs. A whole-hearted, melodious laugh that echoes throughout the godswood and the breeze blows harder and when he catches his breath and replies “good”, she smiles and laughs, too.

The next day she runs into Shaggydog in the courtyard after she’s completed her practice with Arya, and she knows that Rickon is not far behind. She smiles at the direwolf and strokes the fur between his ears—she notices he likes it there—and she also notices that he holds something between his teeth. She holds out her hand and pulls slightly, and when Shaggydog lets go and sits back, Shireen stares in awe at the crown of winter roses.

---

She realizes that Rickon makes an effort to spend more time with her, and over the following days he does something different with her. After the gift of the laced roses, Shireen decides to thank him in person for it and, for the first time she’s seen, he smiles shyly at her, looks down and away, and then offers to show her hidden parts of the castle. The day after, it is he who assists her with archery in Arya's stead, and she’s completely aware of his large hands on her hips as he corrects her stance, as well as the cold fingers on her wrist as he adjusts her aim. That same night at supper, he grins at her from the head of the table.

It takes an entire fortnight, and he offers to show her the woods beyond the castle, claiming he knows paths that most men are unaware of. She agrees, and they leave just after they’ve broken their fast together. Shaggydog is the only one who tags along, and in the woods she sees that Rickon is much more open than he is when he roams the castle. He lacks the tension and rigidness he had when she first met him, and he seems more a boy now than he does a king; she appreciates it very much.

When he sees her shiver at the cold winds that have just picked up, he wraps his cloak around her shoulders and pulls out her hair over it and smiles. They walk ahead a little longer, and every once in a while he points things out to her and she enjoys the innocence and the childishness he possesses in these moments. Shaggydog trots away from him to stroll beside her as Rickon continues to speak, nuzzling her leg, and when Rickon looks back at the two of them she sees in his eyes that he knows they’re both tired.

There is a particularly large tree that they find, and Shireen doesn't believe their luck when it starts raining after they’ve settled. Rickon seats himself next to her against the trunk, and he pulls out a loaf of bread, some dried beef, and two lemon cakes from a small sack that he brought with him. He holds it out to her silently, and she takes one of the lemon cakes and nibbles on it, to make it last. He tells her of his time in Skagos, and then he asks her about Dragonstone and she doesn't seem to stop talking about her home—her father, her mother, Davos, Edric, and the Red Woman that she wasn’t fond of. She wraps up a tale of a time she and Edric attempted to deceive her lady mother as she eats the last bit of her lemon cake when she feels Rickon’s fingers touch her face and she immediately stops.

She looks at him, suddenly aware of the little amount of space between the two of them, and he is wiping away a bit of frosting from the corner of the right side of her lips with his thumb and in such a small amount of time, her eyes close and his lips are on hers—soft and warm in this cold—his hand on her waist and hers on either side of his face. She breathes deeply through her nose and moves into him, and his tongue peaks out and she opens her mouth and gods, she’s never done anything like this before. But she knows now that she likes this and she wants to do it again and again; when he groans as she pulls on his curls or when she gasps as he bites her bottom lip. After what seems like hours, he pulls away, panting, and leans his forehead against hers before kissing her cheek and sitting back, bringing her with him. She sits in his lap a bit awkwardly and adjusts herself, and he brings her in to lean on his chest and she obliges. He whispers to her then:

“I’m sorry for before—for when we first met.”

There is a silent pause, and she doesn’t know what to say. Instead, he continues.

“I’m not very good with people…but even that’s no excuse for how I’ve been towards you, my betrothed…. But then Arya came up to me, after, and she, well, she scorned me, I suppose; told me I was being a right prick, and that if I continued to be so cold to you that you’d hate me, and we are to marry, and that you are good. She said that you are too good to end up with a marriage filled with frost and cruelty and hate, and I don’t want you to have that. I never did. So…the winter roses were her idea, initially, and everything else happened from then on.”

She moves her head to look up at him, smiling slightly, and thanks him. In her mind, she notes to herself that she’s to thank Arya as well. They both sit there for a while, as night falls and the rain continues to pour around them. Shaggydog sleeps a short distance away from them and she can hear the direwolf’s deep, ragged breaths. Then Rickon moves his hand to stroke the grey, dead part of her that occupies the area under her cheekbones and ends at the middle of her neck. She flinches. He holds her tighter and whispers, “It’s a part of you, I understand. Something you hate, something you would destroy, but something you cannot destroy. But Shireen, I think that you are still very, very beautiful.”

She nearly denies it, reflexively. She nearly tells him that he shouldn't dare call her beautiful when half of Westeros knows she isn't. She nearly says it...but now, her eyes are heavy and she is resting on his chest, and right before she is enveloped into her dreams she feels her heart flutter rapidly, like it could jump out of her chest through her throat and fly.

---

After they return from the woods the next day, Rickon leaves her to attend to some of his required duties. She ends up spending a portion of the day with Arya and Gendry, who she rather enjoys being around, especially when they aren’t constantly touching each other—which, it seems, is not very often. She does not see Rickon at all throughout the day, but later that night when she’s just changed into her nightdress, she hears a knock on the door and he is there holding wildflowers. She accepts them and puts them beside her bed, and he sits down at the edge of it as she pulls up her furs to hide herself.

Shireen listens to him as he speaks of his duties, and the letter he just received from his other sister, the lady Sansa, and how she is leaving for Winterfell in two days’ time from Highgarden and should arrive in two moons or so for their wedding. He looks at her sadly and she can’t help but stare, scrutinizing his face, his lips, and how she wants them on hers once more, and her desire is satisfied when he leans in to kiss her before he leaves.

He comes into her chambers for the following nights, and each day she learns to adjust to a new level of comfort with him. Eventually, they reach the point where they are both lying on her bed and facing each other, sharing furs and telling tales, kissing and holding, and one day he kisses away from her lips. His lips begin to travel up her jaw, nibbling the lobe of her ear, and then down her neck, to her collarbone, and at the neckline of her nightdress. And normally she stops him there.

One night, however, he continues, and she doesn’t stop him. He unlaces the front of her nightgown and kisses past her neck and, oh, she likes it, but she worries still.

He sees it on her face, and for a moment he stops and looks up at her. It’s a rather strange situation, when she really looks at it, when he’s here now after nearly two moons of her being in Winterfell, her nightdress open and his face just over her breasts. He smirks.

“I won’t take your maidenhead until we are wed.” He whispers promisingly, kissing her lips softly.

She nods. “Thank you.”

Then he returns to her chest, focusing on her breasts, kissing above them, on them, around them, suckling them softly, and soon she’s panting.

“I won’t take your maidenhead.” He repeats. “But I don’t want to stop kissing you.”

She wants to scream. Don’t. Please don’t. She’s never felt so happy, so good, and she doesn’t want him to stop, not now. So she just nods, and she knows what her limits are but she’s sure that Rickon will find ways of sharing pleasure while still honoring her wishes.

There is one night, however, in which she comes extremely close to forgetting her own wishes of keeping her maidenhead. Her nightdress is hiked up to her waist and laced opened from the top, and Rickon’s tunic lies on the floor beside her. He raises her skirts and kisses down her belly; looks up at her with a gleam in his eyes as his fingers are tucked into the edge of her smallclothes. Her heart is beating wildly and she nods. And suddenly he is between her legs, opening her with his fingers, kissing, licking, sucking, and her hand is pressed against her mouth so that no one hears her. It feels so good and she wants to tell him to forget her maidenhead, and he knows. Instead, he finishes and she comes gasping, and he moves back up to kiss her after he’s wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He kisses her lips lazily, her cheek, her neck, and he pulls the furs over them. She snuggles into his side and he kisses her ear and whispers, “Soon.”

He falls asleep next to her and his lean body is warm against hers. She threads her pale fingers through his tangled curls and thinks to her first night in Winterfell, how she disliked it so. Now, things are different. Now she has an almost-good-sister who teaches her archery and is married to her cousin, and an almost-good-brother who already treats her like a sister, and his wife, who she already cares for and prays for her wellbeing, and the wellbeing of her unborn child. Now, she has Rickon, whom she cares for far more than she ever expected to, and he makes her feel good and beautiful and strong.

Now, she rather likes Winterfell.

---

About a fortnight before the wedding, Lady Sansa Tyrell arrives with her family.

The horn is blown just after dawn, and Shireen can spot the lavish green carriage from the window in her chambers—adorned with intricate gold patterns that swirl around and sparkle to create the images of flowers. Greeting the Tyrells is brief, and Lord Willas and Lady Sansa are led to one of the guest chambers with their young son and even younger daughter. Shireen also notices the hand that Lady Sansa places on her swelling belly, whilst the other is being gripped tightly by the tiny fingers of her daughter.

Robb and Calista Tyrell are beautiful children, Shireen thinks, for they both equally resemble their parents. Little Robb is only five, and he bears dark chestnut curls and eyes of Tully blue and possesses the energy of a wildling; constantly running and laughing, with big freckled cheeks and a wide grin. However, three-year-old Calista possesses her mother’s everything—her stance, her fiery hair, and her courtesy—except for the striking little chocolate brown eyes outlined by long red eyelashes. Only then does Shireen begin to think of her own future children. The thought of her being a mother has only briefly occurred to her, and she never dwelled on it. But in her mind she begins to see her own little sons and daughters, with Rickon’s wild curls and her eyes; with the loyalty of a Stark and the strength of a Baratheon.

---

That night, the hall is packed with guests who are present for the wedding. Lord Willas and Lady Sansa sit close together as their children are asleep in their chambers with a handmaiden. Arya and Gendry have decided to join for supper as well—they were not present for the past month for reasons unspoken—and many typically vacant seats were now filled with men who were the sons of powerful men and several other lords she cared not about.

Additionally, her parents were to arrive any day now, as was Jon Snow from the Wall, who only recently wrote to state that he was able to attend the wedding. Meanwhile, everyone sups on a great feast of honeyed chicken and beef-and-bacon pie and aurochs with roasted leeks and potatoes, huge racks of lamb and stewed venison and mashed turnips, and for dessert there is an array of baked apples and glazed honey cakes. She feels as if she hasn’t eaten in days, and perhaps she hasn’t with all her worrying, and so she shamelessly eats whatever she can; and with baked apples being her favorite sweet, she eats three of them and blushes at Rickon's amused grin.

With the increasing amount of people, however, Shireen begins to feel more and more self-conscious. She can feel the stares, hear the whispers, and although she stopped giving much care to what many thought or spoke about her greyscale, she feels quite nervous.

She doesn’t know who’s worse—the men or the women. The men are typically straightforward, and the women are discreet, doubtful. Shireen is also aware of Rickon’s appeal—he is decently attractive and many women make it clear that it is so—and the constant comparison of his beauty and ferocity to her disease and delicacy is what unnerves her.

She tells Rickon just so later that night, after he’s kissed and licked and bitten nearly all of her skin and they lean into each other. She sits up straight and sips from a flagon of Dornish red and says it in a whisper. His thick eyebrows furrow in confusion, and then disbelief.

“They don’t understand,” He tells her, sitting up with her. “To them you just have a disease. To me you’re a striking woman with a flaw that you have no control over. They don’t understand it, and so they don’t like it. They fear it. And all fear what they don’t understand.”

“I’m tired of being seen this way.” She breathes deeply and sips more wine. “I’m not fragile, and I don’t want anyone’s pity. I don’t want to be treated differently just because I've got something on me that I didn’t even ask for.”

“I won’t treat you differently if you don’t want me to.” He kisses her shoulder, then raises his eyebrows and bears a feral grin. “And I can be rough with you, if you like.”

Shireen rolls her eyes and smiles. “I actually can’t believe no one’s caught you sneaking into my chambers yet.”

“I’m the king.” He trails his lips wetly down her side as she lies back. “I can do what I want.”

“Now that’s an abuse of power, your grace.”

“And I’ll only do it for you.”

---

Her mother and father arrive two days later.

Shireen isn’t as excited to see them, however, as much as she is to see Davos. She can barely contain her excitement when she sees him, and she pulls her hand from Rickon’s, breaks out into a grin and runs to him. He holds out his arms and she wraps her own around his neck and hugs him tightly.

“Oh, I’ve missed you so much, Davos.” She says to him.

“My dear,” He laughs heartily and pulls back to look at her. “It seems the North does suit you, after all. You are astonishingly radiant.”

“Am I?”

“Your happiness can be seen from Dorne, sweet girl.” He kisses her forehead. “And I am happy for you.”

She grins and he moves past her to greet the others, and then her grin dissipates when she sees her parents. Her father. Her lady mother walks up to her slowly and fingers a strand of her hair.

“You keep it down now.” She states simply, and Shireen nods. She’s been using new oils for her hair and, with the help of some handmaidens, has taken to letting run down her back. She feels much nobler this way.

Her mother sighs and holds her briefly, and then Shireen looks at her father, only to receive a nod in return. Something in her heart had hoped that he would embrace her, but when has Stannis Baratheon ever truly embraced anyone? At that, she leaves it unanswered. Her hopes, it seems, are too high in regards to her relationship with her father.

Later in the evening, Lord Commander Jon Snow arrives with a few men from the Wall, and she and Rickon greet him as well. Now Winterfell is truly crowded, and she begins to feel suffocated; trapped. It is only after supper, however, that Shireen runs into Samwell Tarly, and he seems more excited to meet her than she him.

He’s a maester, he says, and he begins to speak of her greyscale, stating that he’s studied it for quite some time and has many ideas for various treatments for it. She wants to scoff, to scream, because so many maesters have attempted to rid her of her greyscale and no potion or serum or liniment has ever worked.

“And what makes you so different from all the other maesters that have tried to rid me of my disease?” She tells him aloud, and she wishes she hadn’t sounded so harsh, but she makes nothing of it.

“I beg your pardon my lady, I didn’t mean to offend.” He replies nervously. “I only heard of it and wish to attempt to create a cure for you. I’ve got many, but I never had the chance of testing any. If you don’t want anything, I understand that too.”

She is curious now, only slightly, and says, “How do you know that it will rid me of it?”

“Well, it might not, my lady.” Maester Samwell replies. “Although I am positive that it will at least lessen the visible amount, and most importantly, soften your skin, nurture it. At least that way it’s less likely to spread in the future.”

She ponders on this, and thinks that it would be nice to have at least a softer face during the wedding. She nods to him, and he smiles.

“I won’t disappoint, Lady Shireen, I promise.”

---

Maester Samwell hands her several vials three days before the wedding.

She sits on the edge of her bed and stares at them. She picks one up, a thin vial with a pointed cap, and remembers what he said. This one you drink, it’ll prevent spreading.

Then she picks up the flat, round canister and opens it up, scrunching her nose at the unfamiliar odor. This one is an ointment. Just put one layer on and it should soften the skin.

Shireen has been here before and she’s unsure. She is afraid; afraid that her hopes will be crushed when it doesn’t work, or that it’ll only worsen it. But she hasn’t any other options, and her wedding is quickly approaching, and she wants to feel free.

She is grateful that she and Rickon decided to reside in their own individual chambers until the wedding, and before she settles into bed she spreads the ointment carefully on her dead skin and gulps the entire vial of liquid in one attempt, shuddering at the unpleasant taste.

When she wakes up the next morning, she feels a sharp, cold breeze on her left cheek.

Suddenly, she sits up in her bed, her eyes wide. She feels a cold breeze on her left cheek.

She hops out of bed and her nightgown tangles around her ankles, but she cares not for she rushes to find a mirror in her chambers. She finds a small hand-mirror above her wardrobe and holds it up.

Then she screams and drops the mirror.

Several handmaidens and serving-girls rush into her room, voicing concern, and suddenly they all stop and stare at her.

“M-My lady…your…”

“I know.” Shireen breathes deeply. She kneels down slowly to pick up the small mirror from the cold wooden floors, and she looks at it again. It’s fading. Her greyscale is fading.

It is not entirely gone, for true, and under the still-greyish skin she can see scars. And yet she would rather have blending scars than hard grey splotches. At the very least, her skin no longer feels as if it's cracked. She is still attempting to catch her breath—her own left eye is just as blue as the other and she sees the point of a cheekbone that was never visible before. Her heart beats rapidly, and she quickly slips into a decent gown and wears her furs and runs out the door before her handmaidens can protest.

She finds Maester Samwell in an almost-empty dining hall, and she confronts him without warning. He notices her then, and smiles a silly half-smile.

“It works, then!” He laughs. “I mean, it’s not what I expected, but it works.”

“What do you mean?” She asks.

“Well, it’s not completely getting rid of it, and I don’t think it’ll be entirely gone. It may also remain on your neck, my lady, I’m afraid the skin there is different than that of your face, and the greyscale is more prominent in that area.”

She shakes her head. “Thank you. I… I am so grateful, thank you. Even if I can’t be rid of it, lessening it is enough. This means a lot to me, Maester Samwell.”

---

When the day of the wedding finally arrives, she is up at dawn, for she cannot sleep any longer.

She doesn’t bother to change out of her nightdress or fix her hair, but she stares into the small mirror and notices that although the left side of her face is still toned grey, the skin feels soft at the touch of her fingertips. It is only until a handmaiden knocks and is ready with her bath that Shireen is snapped back into reality. She is marrying Rickon today.

She lets her handmaidens spoil her on this day, although she typically prefers to bathe herself. One handmaiden scrubs roughly at the thick waves of her hair while the other begins to pour lavender scented oils into the bath. When she’s finished, Shireen steps out and is immediately wrapped in linens and led back to her bedroom.

Shireen is stuffed into her smallclothes and placed in front of a full-length mirror, and as the maidens leave to retrieve her gown, she stares at her reflection. My body’s alright, she thinks. Rickon seems to like it enough anyhow. Her breasts were decently sized; her hips curved just enough to make her identifiable as a woman. And now her dark locks run messily down her back and the only rough, dead skin left on her is on her neck and slightly along her jaw.

It is Lady Sansa that walks in with her gown rather than the handmaidens, and she is followed by Arya, who, much to her dismay, was in a flowing blue gown, and her hair is braided neatly. Shireen slips into her own gown—a beautiful silver that is beaded at the bust and flows at the hips, covered in sharp white lace. Lady Sansa assists in tying up the back of her gown and quarrels teasingly with her sister, and when she’s done she smiles at Shireen and says, “You’re just right for him. He's needed someone like you.”

When her lady mother knocks on the door of her chambers, Sansa and Arya nod respectfully and leave. Shireen stands in front of the mirror and glances at her mother, who is holding the Baratheon cloak over one arm. She places it down on the featherbed and comes up to her, fingering the strands of her partially damp hair. Without word she begins to braid it, and Shireen stops her.

“Please, mother,” She says. “I would like it left down.”

Her mother nods, and Shireen notices there are tears forming in her eyes. Her mother presses down her hair and instead braids a single strand, pinning it back.

“I do love you.” Her mother brushes back her hair. “My daughter, my only child,”

Shireen holds her mother’s hand. “And I you, mother.”

Her mother strokes the left side of her face and smiles slightly. “For so many years your father and I tried to find maesters who could heal you.”

“It’s not completely healed.” Shireen replies. “It won’t disappear, mother, even if it’s faded. It’s a part of me. It always has been, it always will be, and I accept that. I only want you to accept it, too.”

As her mother nods in response, her father enters the room. Shireen internally flinches at his cold stare, but when he sees her there, gown and all, his eyes soften. Wordlessly, he picks up the cloak from the edge of her bed and places it around her shoulders. The trimmings of black fur tickle her neck, and she feels her father’s fingers dig into her upper arms. He still doesn’t speak, but when he looks at her she knows what he asks. Are you ready? She nods. She’s never been more ready.

---

Rickon grins when he sees her in her gown, and the marriage is a blur. They stand in the godswood with a septon—something to satisfy both of their beliefs—and they exchange vows and his cloak is placed around her shoulders and a cool silver-studded crown is placed on her head and she is named Shireen Stark, the Queen of the North.

The feast is jubilant and loud. Singers sing and the guests dance and feast and jest. Every once in a while, Rickon places small kisses on her cheek, her forehead, the inside of her palm, and she smiles in return. She’s not hungry enough to eat, although she wishes that she was, because the hall is filled with wonderfully smelling dishes that she would normally devour. Instead she sips at a goblet of wine, and she dances with Rickon, and then shares a few dances with Gendry, Jon, Davos, and even little Robb. Then Edric asks to dance, and she grins.

“I hear you're lord of Storm’s End now.” She says.

“I hear you're Queen of the North.” He japes in return. “You seem quite cheerful, Shireen. I’m happy for you.”

“How is Willow doing?” She asks. Although King Aegon offered Storm’s End to Edric after legitimately naming him Edric Baratheon, Edric refused to take the position unless he was allowed to marry Willow Heddle, whom he had met through Gendry.

“She’s alright.” Edric replies. “She’s back in Storm’s End; doesn’t feel very well. All the ladies in court guessed she was with child, and they were right. But she’s been told to stay in bed, and I couldn’t miss seeing you get married.”

Shireen nods understandingly just as the song finishes. She lets go of Edric, and someone abruptly yells out in a drunken stupor, “Time for the bedding!”

Everything happens quickly then, and she doesn’t even know how she should expect calloused hands tearing at her gown and attempting to strip her bare in front of everyone in the hall.

Suddenly she feels a firm hand on her upper arm, pulling her away from the crowd. She cannot see who, but she feels the heat of fingertips through the silk of her gown. She hears a firm “get off” and is startled at who the voice belongs to. Once she is led away from the crowd of drunken men with bulges in their breeches, she turns to face her father.

She pulls torn pieces of her gown up to cover her chest. “Father—”

“Say nothing,” He interrupts. His eyes soften then. “Mayhaps I have not been the greatest father to you, but you are my daughter nonetheless.”

Her heart swells and she looks up at him. “I only ever wanted for you to love me.”

He places a hand on her shoulder and fingers the white trim of the cloak, once Rickon’s and now hers. “I always have.”

She tries not to cry, she cannot cry; she is too strong. And yet she feels a tear run down her cheek and she wipes it away. She’s leaving her father now…and her mother, Davos, Edric, Dragonstone…and it hasn’t hit her until now. Her father gives her shoulder a light squeeze and whispers, “If he hurts you, I won’t hesitate to send my whole army to attack the North.”

She grins and thinks: that was the one thing you were truly good at, dear father. He nods at her and turns away, and she pushes open the door to her and Rickon’s chambers and walks up to the large bed.

She thinks that perhaps she should remove her dress. He won’t be walking in with anything, after all. And suddenly she’s afraid. She shouldn’t be, she thinks; she and Rickon have been intimately comfortable with each other for a while now, and she assures herself that this cannot be any different. Yet she knows in her heart that this is different, and when she sits on the edge of the bed in her smallclothes she shudders and pulls her knees up to her chest.

When Rickon enters, he’s only in his smallclothes as well, and he’s swatting away several hands with an amused smirk. He shuts the door and locks it, and he looks straight at her with wide eyes, as if she’s his most cherished, most precious.

He kneels on the ground before her in order to be at her eye-level. He trails his fingers down her cheek and kisses her neck and whispers, “Gods, you’re beautiful.”

He puts his lips to hers now, and as he continues to kiss her, her worries lessen. He slowly leans her back onto the featherbed, not once breaking the kiss, and trails his hand through her dark tresses. His lips are soft and warm, slightly chapped from the biting cold that’s been lingering in Winterfell. He pries open her mouth with his tongue and kisses her deeply and she can’t help but release a moan.

He shudders and pulls back slightly to kiss down her jaw, humming contently. His hands are running up her legs, wrapping around the tops of her pale thighs, and his kisses move to her breasts. He pays close attention to them, sucking on one slowly and biting and licking, before he switches to the other. She gasps in satisfaction at the rush of pleasure that she feels, and the hands on her thighs make their way to the edges of her smallclothes and he pulls them down. He then proceeds to remove his own.

She moans when she feels his fingers entering her, and he groans into her neck in return. His fingers move slickly in-and-out of her, creating a steady rhythm, and when she’s panting and humming and she’s close, she stops him and whines, “Now, please, Rickon.”

Removing his fingers, he kisses her lips again and breathes deeply, as does she. She can feel him between her thighs and she moves one leg to curl around his hip. The tip of him enters her and he fills her slowly, and when he reaches the barrier of her thin veil, he pushes carefully. It’s a sharp pain, but quick, like the sting of an arrow scraping her skin, which she’s experienced quite a few times in her training with Arya. She doesn’t cry or scream, but she can’t help but release a small gasp as he fills her.

“Rickon,” She breathes.

“Are you alright?” He mutters into her neck. She nods rapidly as he reassuringly kisses down her jaw and, when the pain begins to lessen, rolls up her hips to meet his.

He groans at the action and places his forehead on hers. “Gods, Shireen.”

He begins to move slowly, steadily, but it’s too slow for her—too gentle. All her life the people surrounding her have treated her far too gently and she doesn’t want to feel delicate anymore. So she wraps both legs around his waist and wraps her arms around his neck and pushes up, inexperienced yet sure of herself, and he begins to speed up, knowing she wants more. Soon she begins to clench around him and he rasps out a hoarse groan with his final thrust, emptying his seed inside of her.

When he rolls off of her, they’re both attempting to catch their breaths. He leans into her still and strokes her belly.

“How do you feel, your grace?” Rickon jests with a wild grin.

“Sore.” Shireen replies honestly. She smiles. “And I’ve still yet to be used to that reference.”

“You hold it better than anyone.” He tells her. “You are going to be one of the greatest queens the North will ever see. Westeros even. Queen Margaery has absolutely nothing on you; the Princess of Dorne as well.”

She rolls her eyes. “Please, Rickon.”

He leans up on his elbow. “For true, Shireen, I wouldn’t have anyone else here but you. And…I’ve never really loved anyone else, except Bran and Arya and..and Osha. I don’t even remember my parents enough to love them. Robb is just a distant memory and Sansa...well, I do care for Sansa, but I try to remember her and I can't. She was wed not long after her return. I love you, though; that I'm sure of.”

“And I love you,” She whispers softly in reply. She could hardly believe it, really, admitting such a confession to a young man she’s known for three moons that she’s now sharing a bed with; as well as a name.

He sighs contently and leans back into his pillow, kissing her cheek. “We’ve got a great deal of adventures awaiting us, Lady Stark. I only hope that you’re able to handle it.”

I am able, she thinks as she drifts off to sleep. And despite the fact that she is now “Lady Stark”, she still feels wholly Baratheon. I am able because I am a Baratheon. I have my father’s blood in my veins and the blood of his father before him. I am able.