I. They stand tonight facing north.
Here at the edge of all things, the white stretches past the horizon, flat and bright and eternal. The wind whips around the hilltop and blows bits of icy powder into their faces, but they keep their eyes open, their gazes focused far in the distance.
The white wolf and the black dragon stand on either side, their enmity long forgotten. Eyes of red, eyes of yellow, steam and smoke puffing from their snouts. But they are quiet and still as they wait.
Jon reaches for her, and she places her hand in his. Daenerys Stormborn wears no gloves, and he can feel the heat of her skin even through the oiled leather that covers his hand. Indistinct shapes appear in the far distance, and the wind carries the faded echo of a blood-chilling shriek.
She tightens her grasp on him, and he squeezes back in kind.
II. She crosses the sea without a fleet, slippery scales and pumping wings replacing ship decks and sails. Daenerys Stormborn and her children, all three- they sweep over the sea and up the coast, farther and farther, to where the air becomes crisp and thin. Her khalasar, if it can even be called that anymore, clings to the backs of Viserion and Rhaegal- barely a dozen bloodriders who came to her side out of self-interest more than loyalty. But they are all that remains to her of Essos, of her days as khaleesi, and in protecting them, she protects her memories.
(It’s sentiment, plain and simple, but she takes comfort in it, and there’s precious little she finds comforting of late.)
Dracarys . The word echoes in her ears, at the same volume, with the same cadence each time. The stench of burning flesh lingers in her nostrils, and there are times when she swears that she can still feel the blistering heat on her face, even as they journey up into the cold. When she closes her eyes in a feeble attempt at sleep, she sees crumbling buildings, singed fabric, and thick, billowing smoke- Meereen, naught but a memory now.
(Another to add to her collection, but she tucks it deep down; the pain, the guilt is still too fresh.)
They land on frozen ground, hard and cold, coated with a thick white powder that alarms the Dothraki with its strangeness.
( Snow , Dany thinks. This is snow, like they have on Bear Island . But her jaw still clenches at the thought of Jorah Mormont, and she has too much to do to wallow in rage.)
The dragons are weary, and she and her khalasar search for refuge, but their efforts are in vain; nothing but white for miles and miles. The cold pierces their flesh, crunching at their bones, but they have no furs, nothing to wear for protection. Days pass, and one by one, she watches her bloodriders shudder and fall still, silent, eyes open and skin pallid.
She has her dragons burn their bodies and buries the ashes in the snow, a swirl of grey and white.
And then she is alone.
She loses track of night and day; the sun here never seems to rise, save a brief period of brightness that cannot last for more than an hour or two (but perhaps she’s wrong about that- time means so little to her now). The dragon fire keeps her warm enough, but the dampness of the snow seeps into her clothing, weakening the fibers, cracking the leather. Her children swoop over the expanse of white and return with roasted carcasses, which she eagerly consumes. The meat is unfailingly tough and gamey- she knows not what creatures can survive in this climate, but she’d have expected something with more fat, blubber to keep warm.
(Drogon brings her the juiciest, tastiest meat, and she tries not to think of how the pieces resemble the joints of arms and legs, how the bones appear human.)
Dany despises the darkness- the black is all-consuming, with not even a faint glow of moonlight to provide respite. Dragon fire would make her too conspicuous; at first she cared nothing for that ( there’s no one here, no one in this frozen desert )- but then came the screams. The chilling, horrifying shrieks that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere; she sees no shadows in the dark, but she can feel the presence of something that should not be. She huddles close to her dragons, a mass of slippery scales and warm muscle, and she tries (and fails) to feel secure and safe in their presence.
For what creature would dare to cross a dragon?
They travel bit by bit- the cold air hurts her dragons’ wings, and she cannot bring herself to force them to continue in discomfort. A billow of smoke appears in the distance, and as they move closer, Daenerys can see the outlines of tents and banners.
The patrolmen are more courageous than she would have expected. As soon as they catch sight of the three hulking figures approaching their camp, they rush forward with spears and swords in hand.
And then they halt. Half their number drop their weapons and their jaws to the ground; she hears a low whisper- “It can’t be. Cold’s gotten to us- we’ve all gone mad now.”
The crowd shifts; the men in the front continue to brandish their swords, eyes darting back and forth between the three dragons, paying little mind to the girl who slides down over the great wings of the black one.
In spite of the cold and exhaustion, she can’t help but feel powerful, almost drunk on their fear. One simple word- dracarys- and she’ll have their camp, their swords, their furs.
(And their flesh will dissolve into ash, her eyes will water from the stench, another cruel, dark memory will nestle itself into the recesses of her brain.)
A slender young man steps to the forefront, a great white wolf at his side. The others tremble, but he just stares, still and contemplative. Her breath hitches in her throat when she meets his grey eyes- he has a peculiar look about him, as though he’s seen beyond the sphere of this world into the mysteries beyond. It’s a chilling sort of knowledge, but she finds herself unable to look away.
“Who are you?” he asks.
And it is a worthy question- who is she anymore? The last Targaryen, the khaleesi, the Queen of Meereen, the savior of the weak, the burner of cities...
“Mother of Dragons,” someone chirps, and it nearly occurs to Dany to be amused, that her legend has reached so far.
But the young man stays silent for a time, those uncanny grey eyes continuing to search her face. Were she still a khaleesi, still a Queen, she would take offense at his impudence. But things being how they are, she finds that she doesn’t mind. Not at all.
He takes a step closer to her; Drogon growls and breathes steam through his nostrils, causing most of the men to shout and cringe, but she offers her dragon a gesture of calm.
When he stands a hand-span away from her, he leans forward, a lock of inky hair falling into his impossibly-full eyes. She feels a chill creep up her back; there’s something strange about him, to be sure, something otherworldly that she likely should not trust. And yet...
“Do you believe in prophecies, Daenerys Stormborn?”
A sharp sting pierces her temples as she recalls the House of the Undying, the words she’s tried and failed to dismiss- once for blood and once for gold and once for love.
She nods, slowly and reluctantly. And she cannot keep her lips from twitching upward when the young man offers her a smile.
III. In the end, the fires of R’hllor cannot conquer dragon fire, and Jon watches them fall: the Red Priestess, King Stannis, his troops, his servants, their wives, their children. He holds Melisandre’s ashen corpse in his arms- it is to her that he owes every breath in his lungs, every beat of his heart. She brought him back to be Azor Ahai, the Promised One, and he repaid her with still, silent betrayal.
Daenerys watches him with a dark shadow building in her violet eyes. She repeats the words she’s spoken again and again and again- “She would have killed me. It was her flames or theirs, her life or mine...what was I to do?” She gestures behind her to where her dragons rest against the snow-covered rocks. “What were they to do?”
There’s a shrillness to her voice, a girlish panic that nearly softens his steely anger. And indeed, Melisandre did mean to destroy her; “She’s Nissa Nissa, don’t you see? She has to die so you can live, so we can live...” But he hadn’t believed it; he may have been reborn, but surely she is the Promised, the Targaryen princess with her dragon children... does that make me Nissa Nissa, then? “Do you believe in prophecy, Daenerys Stormborn?” But perhaps prophecies are too easy, too simple- perhaps there is no path laid for us but the one we make ourselves-
He stares into the ruby at Melisandre’s throat; even the dragon fire could do nothing to mar the beauty of the stone. So engrossed is he in his own thoughts that he does not notice Daenerys’ approach, not until she kneels beside him and places her hot little hand on his shoulder.
“We can make a pyre for them....burn what’s left properly,” she offers. It’s always burning with you, isn’t it? he wants to retort, but he nods instead..
Across the sooty field, Ghost trots up to Drogon and narrows his red eyes, baring his teeth in a snarl. Jon’s stomach leaps with panic, but the black dragon only ducks his head under his wing in a gesture that almost seems penitent.
“I know that they were... friends of yours...” Daenerys’ lip curls at the word, as if it tastes strange in her mouth, “and I know that you would spare the innocents. But many innocents will die before it’s all over, Jon.”
He grits his teeth and puffs a sigh through his nose, and Daenerys strengthens her grip on his shoulder.
“Jon. The pyre.”
He helps her to gather fallen branches and dried pine needles, gathering it all into a pile and placing Stannis’ charred skeleton and Melisandre’s crumbling remains on the top. Daenerys extends a bough to Viserion, who sets it alight. The flames rise high, the smoke swirling black, black as the sky above them.
Even when the bodies turn to ash and the bones to dust, the ruby remains nestled in the powdery waste, bright and vivid and so, so alive.
IV. “It was my home.”
Daenerys frowns at the sight of crumbling walls and charred rubble. “This is no home for anyone,” she declares. “Leave it, Jon. It’s nothing, Winterfell is nothing now...”
“You don’t understand.” And the words sting sharp, for he’s right- she doesn’t understand this attachment to stone and mortar, this need to root oneself in a particular place. She is not a Dothraki by birth, but in a sense, she has always been a nomad.
Daenerys Targaryen knows how to take, knows how to conquer. But she knows nothing of building and restoring and reviving a dead legacy, and it is the unfamiliarity that gives her pause. And now that the Boltons have fallen (charred) and their supporters been punished (seared), Dany’s restless heart grains southward. Murmurings have reached them, even this far North- talk of a silver-haired boy claiming to be Rhaegar’s son Aegon building an army in Dorne, intending to march on the capital and claim the throne himself. And she hasn’t come so far, she hasn’t sacrificed so much to lose her birthright to a pretender....
But she has no army of her own, no khalasar to ride at her back. She has only Jon, and he wants so badly to restore this miserable excuse of a Northern stronghold.
And so she stays.
She and Jon take shelter in a small sentry fort on the outskirts of the grounds, a comfortable-enough space for the two of them and Ghost. She refuses at first to chain the dragons, but when livestock begins to go missing, she gives in to Jon’s preference and tethers them to the strongest steel-enforced walls.
Jon provides little company at first; he’s reticent by nature, and he treats her with distant courtesy. He’s obviously still angry about the dragon fire, and Dany wonders whether he expects an apology ( that he shall never have ). But wary as he is of the dragons (Drogon in particular), Ghost takes a liking to Daenerys, often opting to lie in her lap instead of Jon’s and to trot along after her as she observes the progress of the builders.
It’s the direwolf’s fondness for her that eventually brings Jon around. He proves to be a rather pleasant conversationalist, once he gets talking; he tells her about his childhood in Winterfell, a bit about his earliest days in the Night’s Watch (it’s still a difficult subject for him, and she tries her best not to pry). A warm glow appears in his grey eyes when he speaks of the former Lord Commander, affectionately called “The Old Bear”.
“This sword was his,” Jon says, gesturing to the blade of Valyrian steel at his side. “It was in his family for generations, passed from Mormont to Mormont.”
“Mormont?” she asks sharply before looking away to avoid the confusion in Jon’s stare. The anger and the sadness and the emptiness push at her core, but she will not address it, will not speak his name even in her mind.
She has already told Jon what she can remember of her childhood, and she’s told him about Qarth and Meereen. Every now and then, he’ll gently ask about her time with the khalasar, about Khal Drogo, but he does not push for detail any more than she does when they discuss his time on the Wall. They fall into an easy rhythm, giving and taking what is comfortable, deliberately avoiding what is not. As the hours turn to days and the days turn to weeks, Dany realizes that she trusts this man; she has, in fact, trusted him since the first moment he faced her and her dragons on the fields of snow.
When she pulls the furs over her head and drifts into slumber, Ghost curled up at her side, she sometimes thinks she can feel him there with her, his strong back pressed to her chest, their legs entangled and their faces close. But then she’ll wake and it’s only her and Ghost- and it was all a silly dream, anyhow.
Winterfell is not the castle it once was, Jon says; it likely will never be again. But their efforts have not been in vain; there’s a strong foundation, and enough of the buildings have been restored that a Northern lord could occupy the stronghold again...or a Northern lady.
Sansa Stark arrives with an army at her back, clothed in the white and blue of the Vale of Arryn. She immediately rushes to Jon and throws her arms around his neck, and he hugs her tight, as though he’d prefer never to release.
It occurs to Daenerys to back away and allow them this moment; but a queen, a khaleesi does not shrink into the shadows.
The last of the Starks approaches- she’s beautiful, tall and flame-haired, her chin easily clearing the top of Dany’s head. She stares at the dragons, but no fear appears in her blue eyes, only curiosity and a hint of wonder.
She curtsies low, and Dany nearly jumps with surprise when Sansa says in perfect Dothraki,
“You have shed the blood of my enemies and returned my home to me. What’s mine is yours, blood of my blood...Khaleesi.”
The girl unsheathes the dagger girded to her side and quickly swipes the blade over her pale wrist, the ruby blood dripping onto the snow at Dany’s feet.
She speaks again, but in the Common Tongue: “I thank you for what you’ve done and will gladly promise my fealty to you. This I swear.”
With one hand clenched in the snowy fur between Ghost’s ears, Daenerys Stormborn reaches her other hand out and places it on Sansa Stark’s coppery head.
“Then rise, Sansa of House Stark, Lady of Winterfell and Queen in the North.”
She catches Jon’s eyes over Sansa’s shoulder, and as she wraps the other girl in an embrace, she returns his gentle smile.
V. One afternoon, when Jon returns from a walk about the grounds with Sansa, he finds Daenerys perched in a windowsill, peering out at the snowy courtyards where he’d strolled beside his sister.
“You love her,” she says in her matter-of-fact way, seeming suddenly very small as she places her feet on the sill and draws her knees to her chest.
“She’s my sister,” he replies, although he can tell from Dany’s dismissive scoff that it is no proper answer at all.
“You were a family here.” She stares out into the distance, the clear blue of the sky reflecting in the purple of her eyes.
“Sansa didn’t see things that way,” he begins. “To her, I was the bastard whose presence upset her mother...she kept her distance as much as possible.”
Dany seems nearly relieved to hear this revelation; she’s spoken of Viserys in generally-vague terms, but Jon could easily picture the sort of brother he’d been. To her, Westeros had implied family, a legacy, something to connect her to the ancestry that she knew only through anecdotes and legends. She’d spent her life craving family- she calls her dragons her children, she still cannot speak of her fallen husband and her dead child for the freshness of the pain.
He cannot help but feel sorry for her, but he knows how much she dislikes pity.
And so he says nothing more, only leaning against the wall behind her and staring out at the horizon, hoping in spite of himself that she might take comfort in his nearness.
The shrieks tear through the thin air like a blade slashing through parchment. Jon and Sansa’s enormous lady-knight venture out past the grounds, both armed with Valyrian steel. And they return with grotesque, bloated corpses, all with their eyes open, glassy and intensely blue.
“The Watch grows weaker every day, and the White Walkers are becoming more and more bold,” Jon tells Daenerys and Sansa, a deep crease of worry forming on his brow. “I don’t know how long these walls will hold against them.”
Dany nearly laughs; she’d only heard tell of the White Walkers from Viserys, when he wanted to frighten her with his scariest stories. “But no one has seen the White Walkers for thousands of years...”
“I’ve seen them,” Sansa interrupts, her voice quiet but clear.
“As have I,” Jon replies. He takes Sansa’s tiny hand in his, squeezing tight, and Dany forces herself to ignore the tightening in her belly at the sight.
VI. “I need to go South. The Iron Throne-”
Jon shakes his head and bends his knees enough to look Daenerys straight in the eyes.
“The wildlings have said it for years, and no one paid any mind- our war isn’t South, it’s North. There are scores of White Walkers south of the Wall, more and more every day.” He nods out the window to where Drogon, Viserion and Rhaegal are tethered to their patch of wall. “But if we have dragon fire-”
“Do you realize what you ask? Truly, do you?” Violet eyes flash dangerously with each word. “The Throne belongs to me, and a pretender sits there now and claims my family name. How can I allow that? I am Daenerys of House Targaryen-”
“Yes.” Jon inhales deeply in an effort to push his burgeoning annoyance out of his tone. “You are a queen and a conqueror, already a figure of legend. Why would you want something so ordinary as a crown, when you can be a savior instead?”
She remains quiet for a time, and he waits.
“I want what is mine.”
“If the Walkers move South, it won’t matter what’s yours or mine or Aegon’s or anyone’s. Those bodies that Brienne and I brought back? There are hundreds of them- thousands, perhaps. And they want nothing more than to force others to share their fates.”
“If you think to frighten me-”
What little patience Jon still possesses flies away like snowflakes in the wind, and he all but shouts at her, “Then go South, if you want. Burn every city from here to King’s Landing, take your precious Iron Throne. You have three full-grown dragons; this war of conquest will be a short one.”
She turns on her heel and storms from his solar, slamming the heavy oaken door behind her.
He wakes that night in Ghost’s body, as he has many times before. He curls closer to Daenerys, and she wraps her arms tight round him, the scents of spices and lands far away still clinging to her silver hair. And he cannot help it; he licks her pale, perfect cheek, and her lips curve into a smile as her eyes flutter open.
She rubs the top of his head and looks into his blood-red eyes- and then a blink, a flicker, the knitting of eyebrows.
Her hands grip either side of his head, and she brings her face very close, the tip of her nose nearly touching his damp, cool one.
“I’ll go North with you,” she whispers before nuzzling her face into the fur between his ears and heaving a weighty sigh.
There are no words between Jon and Daenerys in the morning. They assemble their packs, bid farewell to Sansa, and mount the dragons- Daenerys on Drogon, Jon on Viserion, Rhaegal flying just behind.
When they soar over the walls of Winterfell, Jon calls to Dany-
But the wind rings loudly in their ears, and he doubts that she can hear.
VII. Here at the edge where the earth meets the sky, here where the maps end (just a region of white, labeled “The Land of Always-Winter”)- a khaleesi and a commander, a dragon and a wolf, a girl and a boy.
Rhaegal and Viserion circle overhead, and Daenerys squints against the midnight sun, trying in vain to discern the size and shape of the shadows that dart with grotesque speed over the whiteness.
“Are you afraid?” Jon’s voice sounds far away, muffled by the howl of the winds. But Dany hears the words clearly enough to turn and offer him a frustrated roll of the eyes.
“I’m every bit as brave as you, if not braver,” she snaps back, and his cheeks flush pink.
“My father used to say that a man- a person can only be brave when they are afraid.”
It’s a condescending comment that would infuriate her from anyone else, but Jon’s tone is so earnest that she can do nothing but nod.
The dragons fly upward and circle overhead as the distant otherworldly shrieks pierce through the frigid air.
Daenerys Stormborn watches her children approach the weird, spindly silhouettes. With the fingers of one hand lacing with Jon’s and the fingers of the other combing through Ghost’s sleek fur, the last of the Targaryens cries out a word in the most commanding voice she can manage: