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Hold Back the River

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“I blame the Lannisters,” announced Oberyn Martell as he tipped back the contents of his glass.

Beside him Ellaria rolled her eyes. “You always blame the Lannisters.”

Oberyn shrugged, not deigning to deny the statement.

“For once, they had nothing to do with it.” She continued, sipping from her own glass of wine.

“Go back far enough,” Oberyn insisted, his stubborn streak showing through. “And there will be a Lannister at the root of it.”

Ellaria, as always, was more than willing to argue with him. How could she not be when half of their most exciting adventures had begun with an argument or two?

“The Lannisters are not the reason he was sent here, and they are not the reason he is so solemn and repressed.”

The glare of the setting sun made Oberyn’s normally brown eyes glow gold when he looked back at her.

No matter how many times she witnessed it, the sight still made her breath catch.

“That boy is so withdrawn and ashamed of being a bastard he is painful to look at. Somewhere down the line, someone convinced him that it made him lesser. And the Lannisters promote that idea more than most.” Oberyn looked morosely at his empty wine glass, rolling the stem between his fingers.

“From what I can gather, the blame rests with the Lady Catelyn.” Ellaria tried to reason with him.

Oberyn ignored her, still eyeing his glass as if the bottom of it held all the answers in the world.

His claims were only the barest of connections, but Ellaria had seen Oberyn connect mishaps to the Lannisters with much less to go on.

She didn’t blame him, of course she didn’t, he had more reason than most to hold a grudge against them.

“Tell me about him,” she demanded finally, once it became apparent he wasn’t going to respond.

She had yet to meet the infamous northerner, and was curious as to what it was what about him that had caught Oberyn’s wandering attention.

“About who?” Oberyn asked with a smirk.

Ellaria glared, aware that he was being purposefully obtuse.

“Jon Snow.”

Oberyn knew when to give in, “Well, the beginning I only know second hand…”

 


Winterfell, some months earlier...


 

The morning dawned cold, even for the hardy people of the northern stronghold Winterfell.

One such northerner barely felt the cold he was so used to it.

Jon Snow rubbed his hands together, contemplating the natural event that was his namesake.

Being named after something so wondrous should be a good thing he supposed, but when put in context the surname ‘Snow’ had a very different meaning.

‘Snow’ was the last name given to the bastards of the North, to the unwanted, to the demon-children of otherwise noble and honorable men.

Or so the Lady Stark would have him believe. She certainly did.

His only saving grace was that neither his father nor his siblings felt that way. Save for Sansa, the oldest of his sisters, who as she grew older began to adopt her mother’s view.

It had been hard to watch Sansa, his first younger sibling, go from adoring to distant and disapproving. At least little Arya and Bran hadn’t followed her lead once they too were old enough to understand what ‘Bastard’ meant.

“You're up early.”

Jon whirled around to see his father, honorable Lord Eddard Stark, approaching him. Ghost trailed behind him, circling to sit at Jon’s feet.

Ghost was a pup yet, but he always seemed to know when Jon needed him.

“The sun is up.” Jon pointed out idly.

Ned smiled, “And so you are.”

The Lord of Winterfell drew even with his bastard son, and spoke to the purpose of his searching out of Jon.

“I hear you wish to go to the Wall.”

Beside him Jon tensed, before forcing himself to relax.

“I’ll be ten and seven in a few months.”

“A man grown.” Ned agreed, tone mild. “Could I persuade you not to take the Black?”

That surprised Jon. He’d known his siblings hadn’t taken his announcement well, particularly Arya and Bran, but he hadn’t expected his father to try and stop him. Robb maybe, but then Robb had known of his intentions for years.

“And do what instead? Stay here?” Jon scoffed, “Your Lady Catelyn would not like that.”

“Would you?” Ned asked, not rising to the bait, “Would you like to stay Jon?”

Jon blinked. Of course he wanted to say.

But he couldn’t. Because he didn’t just want to stay. He wanted to stay and be a Stark, not the bastard Snow. And that wasn’t possible.

So staying wasn’t an option, not when it wouldn’t be how he wanted it to be. It would be torture, to stay and live out his life here, never amounting to more than the Stark's bastard, the blemish on first Ned’s and later Robb’s honor.

He couldn’t bear it.

“No, I wouldn’t,” Jon gritted out, grimacing when his father flinched.

Ned took a deep breath, “I had no idea things were so bad.” He offered finally.

Jon sighed, “I want to be more than a Snow, more than a stain on the house Stark.”

“And you think the Wall is the answer? The vows, Jon, you give up everything. Family, love, holdings…”

“Not like I have any of those to begin with.”

As soon as he said it Jon knew he had gone too far.

His father looked like Jon had struck him, and he had never wanted to take something back as much as he did right that second.

But he couldn’t. It was something he’d been dying to say his entire life. He had half a family, he had half siblings, he had a father who could never fully claim him, would never. He had half a home, a home he had a place in only because they deigned to allow it. None of it was truly his.

“I see.” Ned drew himself up, “That makes this easier.”

Jon frowned, how could anything be made easier by finally admitting how he felt?

“Jon Snow, you are forbidden from taking the Black. I will not allow it.” His father declared, and Jon staggered back as his one dream was ripped from him.

“Father.” He breathed, and was ignored.

“Instead you will journey to Dorne, where you will be fostered until your twentieth year. You are to build ties with the Martells and learn their culture so that you may guide Arya later. She is to be betrothed to the youngest Prince of Dorne.”

Jon couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Arya?” He exclaimed, focusing on the easiest part of that sentence, “She will hate that.”

Ned disagreed, “The Dorne are much freer with life, with social standards, I believe Arya will learn to enjoy life in Dorne.”

“And me? You’re sentencing me to three or more years in that desert. Have you thought about whether I will enjoy it?” Jon asked before he could stop himself.

“You will.” Ned said immediately, “And if you truly don’t, when you return you can take the Black. What is four years compared to your life time?”

Jon was silent for a moment,  and the only thing that kept him calm was Ghost’s warmth pressed against his legs.

“Do I have a say in the matter?” Jon asked finally, resignation already filling him.

Lord Stark didn’t hesitate. “No.”

He then turned and left his son standing alone in the courtyard, with all of his dreams shattered around him. Ned pretended not to hear Jon drop to his knees in the snow. He did not turn to see the tears that must accompany the young man’s sob


"How dare you?”

An emotionally drained Ned ignored his wife as she swept into his study.

“Ned! How could you agree to an engagement for Arya without consulting me? And how dare you send the bastard to stay with them in the mean time!” Catelyn ranted as she paced back and forth in front of Ned’s desk.

Filled with the knowledge that she would only continue to berate him if he didn’t speak, Ned finally looked up and met her irate gaze.

“Arya’s engagement helps mend the resentment between our houses, and as for Jon, I thought you’d be happy to finally see the back of him.”

“Why Arya then? Sansa is closer to marrying age!” Catelyn tried, ignoring the comment about her view of the bastard.

Ned rolled his eyes, “Do you really believe Sansa would find an ounce of happiness in Dorne? Their culture would offend her at every turn.”

“As it should.” Catelyn huffed.

“I don’t wish to quarrel with you my love,” Ned tried, “Arya will be happy in Dorne, arranged marriage notwithstanding, and we will find an appropriate prospect for Sansa as well.”

Catelyn gave in with a sigh, “But why send the bastard?”

“Proof. That I mean to follow through. Arya is too young, so Jon will go instead. And when it is time for Arya to travel to Dorne, there will be at least one familiar face awaiting her.”

He didn't add that he thought the Dornish view on bastards would be good for Jon. He certainly didn't say that he hoped Jon would make a life for himself there, beyond helping Arya. None of those things would sell the plan to his lady wife.

She sat in the armchair he kept by the fire, especially for her.

"Your mind is made up."

It was a statement, not a question.

He nodded.

"It is. The ship leaves on the morrow."


The first of his siblings to find him later that night had, of course, been Robb.

"Jon? Brother?"

He didn't look up from his hands.

Robb stepped further into his bedroom, crouching in front of him.

"Jon…"

"You heard then." Jon rasped, refusing to meet his brother's eyes. His half-brother. The legitimate one, the one he should resent.

And yet, the one he wasn't sure he could live without. He and Robb were close in age, not more than a month apart, and he couldn't remember a time where Robb hadn't been there.

Even with Sansa he could remember the time before she was born, remembered watching her sleep in her crib and understanding what a big brother was.

But Robb, Robb was different. In a lot of ways they were more like twins than half-siblings. In all the ways that mattered. To them at least.

The thought had him choking back tears, because gods curse it, he wasn't going to cry anymore.

"I'll talk to father," Robb was saying, "Make him change his mind."

Jon shook his head, remembering the look in their father's eyes. "Fath- Lord Stark has made up his mind. I'm going to Dorne. Tomorrow."

Robb reared back, blowing out a surprised breath. "So soon?"

"Eager to see the back of me?" he tried to joke.

It fell flat.

Robb gripped his arms, "Never. Your place is here Jon, by my side."

That was one lie, one reassurance, more than Jon could take.

He surged to his feet, knocking Robb's hands away as he began to pace. "But it's not Robb, it never was outside of our games. I'm a bastard, I can't be trusted around the Stark heirs. It's time we acknowledge that."

Robb growled, sounding so like their wolves that it surprised Jon into making eye contact. Their gazes locked for the first time since the flame haired Stark entered the room.

"Do not speak of yourself like that in my hearing. In fact, don't say that word in my hearing."

Jon blinked, and for a second he saw Robb as Lord Stark. As the man he would one day grow to be. Just as solemn and honor bound as their father. And just as stubborn.

He sighed, raking his fingers through his hair. He was exhausted, he didn't want to argue with his brother. Not now, not on their last night together.

"Not saying the words doesn't make it any less true, Robb."

Robb shook his head, climbing to his feet. He met Jon, not letting him break eye contact.

"You are more than those words Jon. You're my brother, my best friend. And one day, my most trusted adviser and warrior."

The words sounded nice, and they did warm some part of Jon, but his pragmatic side won out.

"How? I'm leaving Robb."

But his brother just shrugged, "So? You'll go to Dorne to hold Arya's place, but once she's old enough you can come home. Back to me. As long as I'm in Winterfell, you'll have a place here."

Jon bit his lip, "And if I want to go to the wall?"

It wasn't fair to test his brother, he knew, but after being blindsided by his father's denial he had to know. To be able to prepare himself if one day down the road Robb would be the one crushing his dreams of escaping.

Robb hesitated.

Jon looked away, biting back his disappointment. Robb was just like their father.

"You can take the black, if that's what you want."

He whipped back, uncaring that he was staring like a loon.

Robb ventured a smile, and it trembled on his face. "I'll just have to visit you at the wall when I need advice. And you can come visit, drag Uncle Benjen back to civilization with you."

After that, he couldn't not return Robb's smile. It was a small glimmer, a ray of hope, but it may just be enough to get him through the years in Dorne.

"Thank you Robb."

The other man nodded, opening his arms. "Now can we say a proper goodbye instead of moping?"

Jon barked a laugh, but relented, hugging his brother.

He had to blink away tears as he looked over Robb's shoulder, staring at the stone walls he'd been surrounded by for as long as he could remember.

"Robb!"

The brother's sprang apart, alert at the call from their sister.

Sansa was standing in the doorway, hair in disarray. A sign that she'd been running through the halls again. Likely for a different reason than usual. Arya was nowhere in sight after all, and she was the only one who could irritate Sansa into chasing her.

"Why are mother and father fighting?" she asked.

Robb and Jon exchanged a look.

In the end they didn't have to answer as Arya slid past Sansa. "Because of me."

For a moment the three older siblings stared at Arya but she held her ground, turning her gaze to Jon.

"I want to go with you now." She stated, though it came out more a demand than a simple statement. An iron will behind her voice that she would one day grow into. "Or you shouldn't have to go at all."

He sighed, moving to crouch in front of his other dark-haired sibling, meeting her gaze.

"You're too young yet, Arya. Enjoy your last few years in Winterfell. For the both of us." he told her, brushing her tears away. Somehow, he thought, she hadn't seemed to know she was crying.

She swallowed, throwing her arms around his neck in a death grip. "But I don't want you to go."

Jon buried his face in her hair, standing with her still dangling from his neck.

He Heard more than saw Bran and Rickon enter the room and pile on the bed, their wolves settling on the floor. He rocked back and forth, trying to quiet Arya's tears.

He didn't set Arya down until she stopped sobbing, placing her carefully on the bed next to Sansa. The older girl pulled Arya into her side, their differences set aside for the moment. Robb joined them, nudging until there was room for them all.

Jon looked at his siblings, all of whom were spread out across the bed now. They were grim faced and pale, eyes bleak. 

He choked down the lump in his throat.

"I'm going to miss you all. So much."

Robb tugged at Jon's hand insistently until he joined them in the bed. His siblings shuffled him so he was in the middle. Robb and Arya were on either side of him. Sansa curled around Arya's back while Bran and little Rickon spread out over his legs.

On the floor Grey Wind sat up and began to howl. Soon all their wolves were howling, their grief echoing the Stark children's.

It was the first of many near silent nights at the castle of Winterfell. No one spoke, drank, sung, or shared stories. Instead they listened to the dire wolves howl.


 Oberyn shifted impatiently on his horse, resisting the urge to wipe away the sweat trickling down his face.

You knew it was a hot day in Dorne when even their royalty showed signs of feeling the heat.

Distantly he felt bad for the northern men making the trip down, this weather would likely feel suffocating to them.

"My prince, the caravan approaches." One of the guards called from the outside of the waiting party.

"Finally." Oberyn muttered, turning his horse to watch the group approach.

He squinted into the glare of the sun, searching the party for the man he was really here for.

When they drew closer his eyes fell on one figure, and stuck.

It was a young man, riding a white horse and decked out in black and grey furs. He had to be suffocating under them, but hadn't made any attempt to remove some or switch to lighter clothes.

Oberyn's eyebrows rose, unsure whether to admire the strength of will or scorn the stupidity of the move.

The figure was the picture of the north though, with dark curls, pale skin and pools of brown for eyes.

The furs shifted as they drew up with Oberyn's party and the prince got another surprise.

Peeking out from under the furs was what appeared to be an adolescent wolf. A pure white one with eerie red eyes. It was almost too large to be riding the horse, only staying balanced thanks to the steady grip the boy had on him.

It was a disconcerting, yet adorable image.

He let his lips quirk into a genuine smile and spurred his horse into meeting them.

The Winterfell men drew up to him, spreading out so the boy with the wolf was their spearhead.

Definitely the Stark bastard then.

"Jon Snow." He said in greeting, pulling his horse to a just in front of the boy.

With their horses facing opposite directions he had a good view of Snow's face, of the scowl residing there.

He felt a curl of amusement; not here by choice then.

"Well met." He continued when Snow only regarded him in silence. "I'm Oberyn Martell and I'll escort you from here."

Finally the boy responded, with a jerk of his head. The guardsman to his right half bowed in his saddle, "Thank you Prince Oberyn."

The guardsman waved his hand and the other riders retreated, some with a call to the bastard, some with no farewell at all.

That just left the three of them, Oberyn's men having remained in position yards behind him.

With a glance at his charge the guardsmen began to turn his horse away, only to pause at the last moment.

"My name is Jory, milord, and I'll return in years time with the Lady Arya." he said, his eyes flicking back to Snow. "I expect our bastard to be waiting with you."

The 'and in good condition' went unsaid but heavily implied.

Oberyn bowed, "Until then."

The guard reached over to squeeze Snow's shoulder, and then spurred his horse into a gallop, chasing after his men.

After a moment Oberyn turned back to the boy, who had yet to say a word.

"That speaks well of you," He said in a casual tone, "Not many northerners are so protective of their Lord's bastards."

Still he was mute.

Oberyn cocked his head, considering.

He twitched his reins, his horse circling Snow's. "Did you take a vow of silence when you were sent here?"

The boy's frown, if possible, deepened. "No."

Oberyn reared back, dramatic as always. "He does speak."

He scowled at him and Oberyn grinned.

"Come Jon Snow, I think you will like Dorne."

Snow snorted but spurred his horse into pacing beside Oberyn's as they moved to rejoin his company.

Oberyn smiled, affecting a mysterious tone and look, "I do not lie, Jon Snow. Dorne will be good for you, we have rather different views on Bastards."

His words must have struck a chord, or a nerve, as Snow's head swiveled. Their eyes met and held, and Oberyn fancied he could see wariness and hope battling there.

The northern view of Bastards was clearly ingrained in him, in the way his shoulder tensed a bit every time he said 'Snow'. A new project for Oberyn, perhaps.

He did love converting people to Dorne's viewpoint of the world. It was freeing for them, and satisfying for him.

"Yes, you will like Dorne. And I rather think Dorne will like you Lord Snow."


 

Chapter Text


"Are you going to lock yourself in this tower for the entirety of your visit?"

Jon didn’t answer, preferring to bury his fingers in Ghost's fur instead. Since his arrival in Sunspear a few days ago he'd spent all his time in the quarters they afforded him.

In that time his only company was Ghost, and Prince Oberyn. Who, strangely, took the time to bring him his meals each day.

The prince circled his quarters. Pacing, but with no real agitation or intent behind it. Instead he moved with all the prowling grace of an at ease predator.

It didn't fool Jon into thinking the man was harmless. Nor did it fool his companion.

Ghost's red eyes unerringly followed Oberyn's movements, allowing Jon to relax back on the divan. The Dornish people seemed to favor long couches and benches, draped in colorful silks. Jon did have to admit that the cool touch of the silken cloth felt good on his overheated skin.

"How will you experience Dorne in all its majesty, hiding away like a widow in mourning?"

The image his words created sent a spark of humor through Jon, something he squashed. Nothing about his situation was supposed to be humorous.

At his feet Ghost shifted, pressing back against his knees. His wolf had been like that since they left the North. As if the further south they went, the more hesitant he was to leave Jon's side.

"Outside is too hot." He said after a moment of consideration.

Oberyn paused by the drawing table, his gaze flickering between Jon and Ghost. "For you or for your wolf?"

Surprised that he'd been read so easily, Jon leaned back. Further away from the prince, and eyed him.

"His name is Ghost." He said, knowing that would confirm which he was really talking about.

For all the man in front of him was a prince of Dorne, second only to his brother, who was second only to the king of Westeros, he didn't look like it. He dressed in the same bright colored clothes all the Dornish seemed to favor, with more tan skin exposed than Jon had ever seen, and wore no crown. No gems, no finery, no indication of either his standing or his wealth.

Jon didn't understand it.

The Stark family were more practical than their southern counterparts. But even they wore signs that indicated their high born status.

Their leathers were embroidered with their house sigil, theirs furs from the finest wolves, their cloaks warmer than any other's. If one knew where to look, their status was easily identifiable.

Jon wondered if Oberyn's was too, and he was just looking in all the wrong places.

"His fur could do with a trim," Oberyn was saying, even as he altered his route to draw closer to Jon and Ghost.

He blinked, taking a moment to draw his mind back to the conversation. "Ghost?"

Oberyn stopped just within arm's distance, rocking back on his heels and grinning.

"If I have servants shear his fur, will you let me give you a tour of the grounds? I think you'll like the stables and training area."

Once again Jon was startled. Oberyn brought him food, and spent a good amount of time trying to pry words from him. And now he wanted to show Jon around like he was an important visitor, like he was a highborn come to stay?

As if he wasn't a bastard who was essentially a hostage for a marriage treaty. 

It was an experience, a treatment, he didn't know how to reconcile.

But his answer to his question at least, was straightforward.

For all that he wanted to stay in here, where if he kept the curtains drawn and stared hard at the stone walls he could convince himself it was Winterfell, Ghost was his first priority.

The wolf was noticeably more lethargic here in the heat, laying about during the day and panting more than Jon had ever seen. He was a bit more active at night, but seemed reluctant to leave Jon. And he was shedding more than Jon had seen any of the Stark direwolves do. If shaving his fur would help, Jon would trade just about anything.

It could be worse than a tour of the place.

"Bring me the blades, I'll shear him myself." He answered finally.

"And the tour?" Oberyn pressed.

Jon sighed, "And the tour."

 


"Why do you spend so much time with the northerner?" Arianne Martell demanded of her uncle, "It took three days for you to convince him to tour the palace and then he spent the entire time frowning."

She crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at Oberyn.

For his part he was unfazed, watching her get worked up in the heat while he lounged by the fountain.

"Ellaria is at the water gardens, visiting our youngest children. I grow bored easily, Arianne, you know this."

"You could spend your days with me, Uncle."

"Do I detect a tinge of jealousy, dear one?"

Arianne huffed, "Jealous? He is just a boy."

Oberyn sat up a little more, unable to help but respond his niece's passion. They were more alike than he'd like to admit sometimes, and if one of them got going they were like to drag the other with them.

He'd do better to head this off at the pass. If he wasn't careful Arianne would undo all his hard work, he'd much rather she help instead.

"He's not just a boy," He said, careful to keep his voice nonchalant. He wanted her interested, but not overly so. "And he's only seven years younger than you. That's not so much when you think about it."

She flopped down beside him, turning her head to meet his dark eyes with her own.

"Why are you so invested in him?" she asked after taking a moment to reign in her temper.

He reached out to brush her curls from her face, "Why don't you find out for yourself?"


When the knock sounded at his door Jon barely glanced away from his task.

"Yes?" He called back as he finished penning his letter to Arya.

The door slid open and Ghost rose to stand, growling.

Finally, Jon was alerted to the change in their routine.

It was a bit past the time where Oberyn habitually showed with dinner and wine, but he hadn't thought anything of it. He'd figured the prince was growing bored of him. After all, shiny toys always lost their luster at some point.

Jon had no reason to think he'd be any different. He figured first the prince would be just a little late, leave little earlier, then he'd send servants with his food every other time, then every time… It wouldn't be long before the Prince ceased trying to draw him out.

The figure standing in the doorway was not Oberyn at all. A servant, it seemed his prediction was happening earlier than he'd expected.

"Good Evening. Your presence has been requested." The man, a servant maybe, said with a slight bow.

Or not.

Jon eyebrows rose even as he rested a hand on Ghost's scruff, calming him.

"My presence? For what?"

The servant didn't answer, he just waited patiently. Expectantly.

Jon suspected a refusal from him was not only not expected, but likely not to be possible.

He took a moment to straighten his letters, and blew out the candles before moving to the door. Ghost followed on his heels and the servant visibly took a step back.

"My mistress would prefer if your pet remained behind."

Jon held back a snarl, "He is not a pet."

The servant shrugged, "As you say. Nevertheless." he backed out the door, holding it open for Jon with a flourish.

Irritated, but curious despite himself, Jon ran his fingers through Ghost's fur one last time and moved towards the door.

After all, the servant had said mistress. Whoever was requesting him was not Prince Oberyn.

Pleased, the servant led the way down the winding stairs. Jon followed a few steps behind, casting his thoughts around as to who it could be. He hadn't met many people outside Oberyn and a few servants and guardsmen.

Who here would be interested in him?

 


The door shut behind him with a bang and at his side Robb's hands clenched into fists. More and more frequently he left his father's presence frustrated.

He breathed out his nose in a gust, resisting the urge to rub his temples. His temper had been short as of late. He could pin pointt where it began, but he preferred not to.

Out of habit he looked to his right, half expecting to see Jon step out of the shadows. Ready to join him for their daily training both in the yard and at theirs father's shoulders. But he wasn't there, he wouldn't be there.

Robb squeezed his eyes shut.

He hadn't realized how much he relied on his brother, how much he took his solemn presence for granted, until he was gone. And without it, without his brother, his temper blew hotter.

Too much of his mother in him he supposed, and he no longer had an icy Snow beside him to calm it.

"Robb?"

He opened his eyes to see Arya standing in front of his, her hands clasped in front of her. The pose was appropriately demure for a lady and only served to set off alarm bells in his head.

Arya was many things, but a demure lady was not one of them.

"What is it?" he asked after a moment, his concern banking his temper.

She fidgeted, "I… Jon…before he left he was training me to fight." when his mouth tightened she hurried on, "He didn't let me handle a sword or anything. He said I was too young yet, but he was showing me the footwork. How to fall."

Robb was stunned, he'd known Jon was especially fond of Arya but he hadn't realized he was secretly training her to defend herself.

The more he thought about it though, the more sense it made.

His silence unnerved Arya and she took a step back, fearing his response.

"I shouldn't have said anything," she backed up another step and Robb's felt each step like a stab in the gut. "I just.. Thought maybe you could finish what he started?"

Her head shook and he could see tears beginning to gather in her eyes. Whether out of frustration or grief he didn’t know. And it didn't matter, he would do anything to keep her, to keep any of his siblings, from crying.

"Wait Arya," he took a deep breath. Their mother would hate this. "I was heading to the training yard. Join me?"

She looked up, a smile beginning to form. "You mean it?"

Robb chuckled, ruffling her hair as he stepped up beside her. "Yes. It's what Jon would want."

 


The servant stopped by an archway, turning to stand to the side of it. He sent Jon a look, and he realized he was meant to go on without him.

Jon swallowed down a burst of anxiety, squared his shoulders and entered the room. 

In the center of the room was a table, laid out with meat, fruit and wine. There were candles lit and flickering, and for a moment he closed his eyes, breathed in the aroma, and remembered home. But the smell of sweat, wolves and ale was missing.

There was always something missing.

He opened his eyes, noticing the figure standing behind the most ornate of the chairs. So much so he rather thought it ought to be in a throne room, not a dining room entertaining him of all people.

Her fingers danced across the top of the chair, smiling courteously at him.

Jon swallowed, "My lady?"

She moved out from behind the chair, giving him his first real look at her. Her dark hair and eyes reminded him of Oberyn but the similarities ended there.

Her dress draped over shoulders and cinched at her waist, leaving her sides bare, accentuating  her curves. It was more skin than he was used to seeing. Even the southern ladies Sansa admired wouldn't dare show that much skin.

"Greetings Jon, may I call you Jon?" Her voice was sultry and he found himself nodding dumbly. But the she leaned forward, the candlelight catching her eyes and turning them gold.

Oberyn.

He regained his wits, "Yes, princess."

She simpered, "Oh, found out so quickly then?"

Jon leaned back, crossing his arms in front of him. Unable to shake the feeling she was playing some kind of game with him.

For the first time since arriving in the Dorne he truly felt like he'd been thrown in a pit of vipers.

"Well Lord Snow, now that introductions are over, shall we eat?" She stood beside her chair, waiting expectantly.

He hesitated, not quite liking the title she'd given him. Her expression was still just as courteous but the emphasis she'd put on Snow was suspect. But then again maybe that was his own experience interfering again. So much of Dorne was strange to him.

If this was a game, a test, complying with her may be the wrong choice. But if it wasn't a game, refusing her would extremely rude.

In the end, he erred with caution and moved to pull her chair back for her. Once she was seated she glanced over her shoulder, giving him a pretty smile.

His suspicions only rose.

Still, he took a seat.

When in Dorne…

Chapter Text


 

Oberyn wandered through the training yard, seeking something to do. He was bored easily and it was this trait that tended to lead to some of his more inadvisable adventures. 

Somedays he'd do just about anything to alleviate the boredom.

Unfortunately, it was too early for many to be up and about. Not even the most dedicated of warriors were up this early. Or awake this late in Oberyn's case.

Because of this, he was surprised to hear the distinct sounds of a sword hitting wood in the background. He frowned, scanning the training yard but finding no one.

After a moment of thought he moved around to the back side of the yard where a crop of trees hid another section. Sure enough, here he found the source of the noise.

He blinked.

Jon Snow, the same Snow he'd had to coax and bribe into leaving his room, was the one practicing. He was the picture of concentration, his brow furrowed and his movements sure.

Oberyn was gratified to see that the young man had finally chosen to adapt his clothing style. He'd supplied him with cloths and robes of the lighter style Dornish preferred, only for Jon to turn his nose up at it.

It appeared the sun had finally gotten to him and he'd caved. To a degree.

From his waist down, much hadn't changed. While he'd lost the furs, he still wore dark leathers tucked into boots. His concession to the heat was his upper half. His shirt was now a thin tunic, one of the ones that folded over the abdomen and gaped around the neck (the only type Oberyn had suppled him with). 

He was amused to see that Snow had tried to tuck the edges closer together and prevent the cut from revealing his chest.  

It didn't work, to say the least. 

Perhaps Oberyn would get him a surcoat like his own, it would complete the look and help the young man feel more covered. 

He was less amused to see that the northerner had managed to pick the one shirt that was done in hues of grey and blue, instead of the richer reds and golds he'd supplied him with. The closest colors to black he'd given him. It made him want to shake his head. 

A further look around the clearing revealed Ghost, who was napping in the shade.

He cleared his throat, "You're pretty good."

Jon startled, his sword just missing the target. He staggered before regaining his balance, and looked up with a glare.

Oberyn just smiled, too pleased to have found a plaything to be affronted, "but have you ever really fought?"

As he expected him to, the boy huffed, "I've been trained with a sword since I could hold one."

The prince smirked, moving closer. He pushed the sword down with a finger, "that's not what I asked."

Jon frowned.

"If you mean in a real battle, then no." He admitted, looking for all the world like the admission physically pained him.

"Ah," Oberyn wasn't the least bit surprised, "have you ever sparred against a spear?"

The change in subject threw Jon into dropping the frown, as he thought about it. "No, none of the soldier's at Winterfell used one outside hunting. There was one who used a battle axe though."

Oberyn stepped back, tilting his head. He hadn't had a decent spar since he'd last seen his daughters.

With a nod to himself he retreated to the nearby weapons room.

Behind him Jon watched him go, thoroughly confused.

It was cleared up sufficiently when Oberyn returned, a spear in hand.

He twirled it, first at his side and then at his front before dropping back into a half crouch.

"Well?"

For the first time in his memory, Jon grinned. It made him look his age, a nice change from his regular sombre look.

Oberyn allowed himself to return it, settling further into his stance while Jon adjusted his grip on his sword and charged.

No wasting anytime then.

He turned it aside easily, sidestepping to the side. Jon faltered, his brow furrowing again as he gave Oberyn his full attention.

Oberyn spun his spear back around, swiping at him in the form of an upwards crescent moon.

The move forced Jon to stumble back. Oberyn adjusted his grip and reversed the swipe in a downwards crest, pressing his advantage.

He was impressed to see that even under his onslaught Jon had the sense to keep his sword up in a guard position.

Oberyn hadn't been lying when he said Jon was good with the sword. It had been plain to see earlier, his form was good and he handled the blade like it was an extension of his body.

He had the makings of a fantastic swordsman.

But he lacked experience and when faced with a spear, a form of fighting he'd never faced, he was almost helpless.

Oberyn crouched, reversing his spear to take out Jon's legs using the end without a blade. He landed on his back with enough force to send sand flying around him.

He lowered his spear and moved to stand above him.

Jon scowled up at him.

He looked away, scanning the trees before looking back down. "I heard you had dinner with my darling niece."

"Is this revenge?"

Oberyn's stared, before laughing.

Leaning over he offered his hand. With a wary glance, Jon accepted it and let the older man tug him back to his feet.

To give himself a moment to school his features, Oberyn brushed Jon off with all the attention of a practiced father. "No, I was just curious what you thought of her."

The question seemed to stump him.

"I…she…" He stuttered.

Oberyn could practically see the mental warfare. Should he be honest? Or should he soften his words to the girl's uncle?

He knew it was unfair of him to get a sadistic thrill out of it, but get it he did. So little thrilled him these days.

Intellectually he understood why his brother had asked him to look after Sunspear, but after the wild days of his youth he couldn't help but feel caged by it.

In his distraction Snow had moved to the side, looking down at his sword with a contemplative look.

"Princess Arianne is like the spear." Jon's tone of voice caught Oberyn's attention. There was something contemplative about it, "A skill I don't understand yet."

Dark eyes darted in his direction, unsure of his reaction Oberyn was sure.

His lips curled.

"Well first things first, meet me here again tomorrow. I'll teach you to use a spear."

He expected at least a token protest, but received none. Instead the younger man's face lit up. Already anticipating the challenge?

"The sooner I learn it, the sooner I can defend against it."

Oberyn chuckled. If only he'd realized sooner the way to Snow's heart lay in the sparring ring.

After that their days began more often than not with them meeting in that clearing. Oberyn found himself waking early to meet him on the days he wasn't still awake.

He dreaded the teasing he'd receive from Ellaria when she heard.

But he couldn’t deny that the mornings served a purpose. In between instruction and sparring he was able to wring some details out of the boy. Between their  sarcastic barbs, of course.

Oberyn had found that once the boy dropped his sullen respectfulness he had quite the biting wit.

His story of how he came to be in Dorne was interesting, if highly edited. Oberyn rather thought Jon's interpretation of his father's motivations was incorrect. As one father to another, he rather thought Lord Stark reasoning for sending Jon had much more to do with the boy himself than anything else. After all, Dorne was one of the few places a bastard could truly flourish. 

Not that Jon was ready to see that. Maybe eventually, Oberyn would coax the boy out of the rut they'd fallen into. And then he could show him the life a man could have in Dorne. 

This rut came in the form of a routine, one that allowed Jon to avoid really immersing himself in Dornish culture. Sparring in the morning before Jon retreated back to the tower. Oberyn let him be until mealtimes where he resumed his practice of taking him a meal and trying to coax him out to see Sunspear.

It may well have continued that way, except for Ellaria's arrival.

 


 

"My darling," Ellaria swept into Oberyn's study, her dress fluttering behind her. 

She stopped in front of his desk, a challenging look in her eyes, "I could tolerate your absence from my side no longer."

The ride from the water gardens had been long, and she was covered in a fine layer of sand and sweat. It didn't stop Oberyn from opening his arms, it didn't stop her from flinging herself into them.

She ran her hands up and down his back, lingering at his waist. She tucked in as close as possible, breathing in his familiar scent.

"I'm home," she wasn't referring to the palace.

Oberyn's arms tightened around her before he leaned back to catch her gaze. Without a word she met him halfway, their lips sealing together. Purposefully she kept their kisses chaste and playful, nipping at his lower lip before pulling away.

"We are going to get properly reacquainted, lover, and then you're to tell me about this boy who has your attention."

He tugged her back against him, nudging a knee between her legs.

"As you wish," he sealed the deal with a kiss much more searing than their previous ones.

 


 

Dusting the sand off his shoulders Jon took off his boots and turned them upside down one after the other.

He grimaced at the small mountain of sand that poured out.

Apparently finding sand everywhere was a fact of life living in Dorne.

Beside him, Ghost stiffened. His ears flicked back and forth. Jon followed his gaze to the tower his rooms resided in, "Ghost?"

The wolf darted off, disappearing through the doorway.

After a second Jon raced after him, without even bothering to out his boots back on. He took the winding steps two at a time, reaching the top to find Ghost waiting just outside his door.

It was ajar.

He moved around Ghost, and pushed the door open fully.

A woman was leaving over his desk, reading a familiar parchment. At the sound of the door opening, she set it down and turned.

Princess Arianne

Jon blinked.

She tilted her head, letting her hair fall over her shoulder in waves. Her smile sweetened as her eyes widened.

It reminded him of the innocent look Sansa would adopt when she and Arya got caught fighting.

He focused on her gaze, and didn't let his attention wander.

"Princess."

"There you are," she stepped towards him, "I was looking for you."

His eyes narrowed, "and the letters?"

Her shoulders rose in a graceful shrug, "you left them out. I was curious."

Jon knew that wasn't true, he kept all his siblings letters tucked away in the desk drawers.

Behind him Ghost shifted, blocking the doorway.

Her gaze flickered to Ghost, real unease flickering there before disappearing.

Jon stared her down, letting his silence speak his disbelief.

She dropped her innocent expression, her lips twisting.

"Did you honestly expect any privacy here Jon Snow?" Her voice was sweet even as her words were cruel, "you are essentially a hostage. Leverage against your Lord father."

He couldn't hold back a flinch.

"But Oberyn-" he started only to be cut off by her scoff.

"My, know him well enough to drop his title do you?" She sauntered closer, patting his cheek condescendingly. "My uncle believes the best hostage is a happy hostage. Less mess that way."

His mind reeled. What did that mean? Did Oberyn know she was snooping through his things? Had he ordered it?

Now that he thought it about, it was convenient that their spar had run late today. Of all days. 

"Now move out of my way," she said. Her tone made it clear it that it wasn't a request.

Numbly he stepped aside. She brushed past him, a victorious smirk on her face. He was too numb to react.

He slammed the door behind her, leaning against it. His legs were too weak to keep him standing and he slid to the floor.

He pulled his knees up close to his chest.

He was a fool. A naïve fool.

Oberyn had told him he was a guest, an envoy of sorts. Someone to strengthen the bond between the Starks and Martells.

And because Jon was naïve, because he wanted it to be true, he'd believed him.

The best hostage is a happy hostage.

Is that how Oberyn saw him? A burden to be tolerated and kept happy for political use?

His forehead fell forward, bumping into his knees.

Had he been so desperate for acceptance that he'd seen things that weren't there? Had he imagined the genuine fondness Oberyn had showed him?

Ghost pawed at his feet, and he kicked him away. His wolf was persistent though, and moved to nudging at his hand with his cold nose.

Jon pushed him away again.

That too didn't deter Ghost who simply moved to Jon's side. There he darted forward and liked his face once, then twice.

Jon grimaced and rubbed his face dry, turning to glare at Ghost.

He couldn't hold it though as his wolf crept close again, butting his head gently against Jon's.

With a shaky sigh he gave in and wrapped his arms around Ghost neck, hugging him close.

Ghost shifted to sit next to him, managing to do so without dislodging his arms.

Jon buried his face in Ghost's scruff. He was such a stupid, foolish, idiot.

He'd known better. He'd arrived convinced he was just a pawn in a political game.

Somewhere along the way he'd let himself believe otherwise. Oberyn had paid such attention to him, had gone out of his way to coax him into opening up, had spent time training him. Jon had begun to see him as a mix of friend and mentor.

Had he really not seen it? Maybe he hadn't wanted to see it?

His thoughts couldn't help but spiral and circle, stuck between castigating himself and despairing that Oberyn had tricked him so.

Hadn't he?

 


 

Hours later Jon scratched through his third rejected sentence, in his fifth attempt at a letter. He couldn't decide what to tell them, if anything.

Bran and Rickon were too young, Sansa only wanted to hear about the scenery, fashion, and culture. Arya didn't have the attention span for a long letter. And Robb… he had a temper and Jon couldn't be sure how he'd react to his suspicions that the Martell's had an agenda.

And somehow he was involved. Why else read his letters? It's wasn't like he'd learned any secrets worth telling. The whole situation made his head hurt. Was Arianne just wary of him? Had Oberyn been in on it? Had he ordered her to sneak in while he made sure Jon wasn't there?

This was a level of intrigue that just didn't happen in Winterfell. His father and northerners in general were just too straightforward. If they had a problem with someone they would say so, either through words or through a physical challenge.

He'd never imagined a princess going to such measures.

In his frustration, and distraction, he didn't register how late it was until there was a knock at the door.

As they'd dispensed with the formality of Jon inviting him in, Oberyn opened the door and poked his head in.

Jon stuffed his letter between the folds of his shirt.

If Oberyn thought anything of the move, it didn't show as he grinned at him.

"Jon, good." Oberyn's eyes had a mischievous gleam that put Jon on his guard even as it confused him. Had the prince not heard of his run in with Arianne? Was this proof he wasn't in on it?

But Jon knew he still couldn't rule it out, lest he be caught off guard again. He wouldn't let himself be tricked.

He couldn't trust Oberyn.

"-someone for you to meet."

Jon blinked, the words having barely registered when Oberyn swing open the door.

In the wake of the door a woman followed Oberyn.

Jon jumped to his feet, his lessons in etiquette making the move automatic.

The woman's dress was in the same colors as Oberyn's, her skin just as dark, and (under the heavy makeup) her eyes just as mischievous. Her dress was even more revealing than Arianne's had been, something Jon could hardly believe. 

All in all, she set off alarm bells in his head. Especially when the first thing she did was look him up and down, assessing, and then nod.

"I approve." she declared, her eyes flicking to Oberyn who had moved to wrap his arm around her waist.

Jon frowned, unsure of what just exactly she 'approved' but certain it was bad for him.

He glanced at Oberyn, his earlier frustrations forgotten.

Oberyn winked at him, "Jon this is my paramour Ellaria Sand. Ellaria this is Jon Snow."

She slipped from Oberyn's grasp moving towards Jon. He was surprised when she didn't offer her hand, but instead placed her hands lightly on his shoulders and pulled him forward to kiss each of his cheeks.

"Well met, brother." She finished with a quick kiss to his lips, leaving Jon reeling. He felt his neck and cheeks flush red. 

In the background Oberyn lounged against the wall and snickered.

Ellaria took pity on him first as she stepped away. "All bastards are my brothers and sisters, Jon. And it's my pleasure to meet another."

"I told you bastards are viewed differently here," Oberyn piped up.

Jon looked between the two of them, aware that his confusion was written all over his face.

They seemed pleased to see it.

He huffed and crossed his arms over his chest.

On the bed his blankets shifted, and a white snout poked out. The snout was soon followed by Ghost as he wriggled his way out of the nest he'd made for himself.

Jon relaxed, some part of him immeasurably comforted by Ghost's reappearance.

The wolf shook out his fur, before turning to fix his red eyes on Ellaria.

It spoke well of her, in Jon's eyes, that she didn't flinch away or tense.

Ghost loped off the bed, approaching her. He settled a foot away, sitting on his haunches and turning his head to the side.

Ellaria glanced at Jon, asking for guidance.

He let his arms fall to his side, "let him sniff your hand."

She offered her hand, palm up.

Ghost snuffled over her fingers, before butting his head gently against them.

Jon's eyebrows rose, "That means you can pet him."

She did, digging her fingers into the fur behind his ears.

Ghost's tail wagged, the appendage whacking Jon across the shins.

He grunted, sidestepping out of the way of a second hit. The move subsequently placed him next to Oberyn, back to the wall. Well out of the way as Ghost flopped to the floor, presenting his belly for scratches.

The two men watched, a bit dumbfounded as Ellaria crouched and Ghost turned to putty in her hands.

Momentarily forgetting his turmoil and his resolve to distance himself from Oberyn, Jon caught his gaze and shared a grin.

He'd remember to put his walls back up later.

 


 

"I don't know what changed," Oberyn groused, pillowing his head on his arms. 

From where she was sitting across from him Ellaria rolled her eyes, "does the reason matter? Jon is isolating himself. Fix it."

He picked his head up just enough to glare at her, "How? He doesn't show up for our spars anymore and he refuses to take meals with me. He either doesn't answer the door or disappears at meal time."

Ellaria resisted the urge to shake him, "and since when was that enough to stop you? Darling." She tacked on the endearment to soften the blow.

His ego was saved as a servant approached their table, placing a platter of fruits between them.

But Ellaria wasn't done with him yet.

"Are you or are you not a Martell? Will Jon Snow be the one to make you bend?" she picked up a grape and tossed it in her mouth.

Finally, Oberyn sat up with an expression she relished. It was the look he tended to get when he'd been challenged.

He leant over the table, stopping her hand form grabbing a second grape. "I only bend for you, my love."

The only appropriate response to that was for her to lean over and pull him into a searing kiss.

So she did.

When they broke apart she could tell from the glint in his eyes that he'd gotten more out of that kiss than physical pleasure.

He smirked, "I know what to do."

 


 

Chapter Text


 

Oberyn wrapped the cloth around waist, cinching it as he turned the corner.

He stepped through the archway and shut his eyes reflexively against the wall of steam. Long practice enabled him to blink it away in seconds. While servants were available to draw private baths in the quarters he still largely preferred the communal baths.

They were heated by the natural hot spring under the castle. Another factor that had likely gone into this choice in site years ago. One he was particularly thankful for.

He padded further into the room, making a point to head straight over to the pool. Pretending, for a moment, that he hadn't noticed the occupant already present.

Settling down on the built-in bench he spread his arms out on the ledge behind him, titling his head back with a long exhale. He could feel the muscles in his back clench and release.

He let his head loll to the side, his cheek resting against his shoulder, "you've been avoiding me."

The figure across the pool froze from where they'd been slowly inching away.

Oberyn let his lips twitch in amusement as dark eyes met his. The northerner lent back with feigned nonchalance, while also sinking further into the water.

To preserve his modesty?

It was a disconcerting image of duality. It took everything in him not to laugh at the sight.

"Have I?" Jon asked, one hand rising to push his damp curls out of his face.

Oberyn went back to looking at the ceiling, "you have. And you did it well, I only managed to corner you because of Ellaria."

Jon made an inquisitive sound but Oberyn had no intention of revealing how they'd done it. He wanted to have the option of bribing Ghost into leading them to Jon again if the need arose.

The wolf was strangely susceptible to belly rubs from Ellaria.

"Is it worth asking why?"

Jon's silence was answer enough, and it was an answer he'd expected.

He frowned, "Very well then." He hadn't wanted to be like the boy's father, hadn't wanted to force him into anything. But Jon was too stubborn by half and this was for his own good. "From today onward you're going to be my new personal body guard."

There was a grunt followed by a splashing noise and Oberyn straightened up for the first time since his toes had touched water.

Jon floundered in the middle of the pool, spluttering water. It was easy to surmise what had happened. The northerner had been taken off guard enough that he'd flinched or the like and slipped off the bench.

Oberyn tried not to laugh but couldn't hold it in, throwing his head back and giving into his mirth.

It felt good.

Once he got a hold of himself he looked back up to find Jon glaring at him with all the vigor of a soaked kitten.

This time he managed to contain himself to a single snort.

"Why?" Jon blurted out, his faked nonchalance falling away. "You've seen me, I'm still useless against a spear. And you have your pick of men from the guards. Why me? Why should I agree?"

Oberyn waited him out, letting him take a breath as he considered his answer. What answer would satisfy the eerily discerning Jon Snow?

For all that he could be startling naïve at times, he was also very good at seeing the truth of things. Oberyn would have to be careful lest Jon pick up on his ulterior motive.

"I can handle anyone with a spear," he shrugged, "as for the rest… you are essentially staying here for free. The least you could do is contribute."

Jon looked mulish at the slight to his honor, but let him continue.

"Guarding me will be easy, and it'll give you something to do with your time." Oberyn finished, watching Jon's face carefully. Looking for a signal, of whether he'd bought it or not.

For a moment he thought Jon had seen through him. Through his liberal use of the truth.

"My presence here was part of our families deal, I'm already doing my fair share." Jon said, his expression shifting into a scowl. It was ruined by his earlier dunk in the water, but Oberyn suspected it would one day be a fearsome look.

Oberyn spread his hands across the water, his palms open in an entreaty, "are you? We're supposed to be building bonds of friendship between our families. How is that accomplished when you hide yourself away?"

Jon faltered and sensing weakness, Oberyn went in for the kill. "Your presence here is required. Think of it as earning your room and board."

Still, he resisted. "If I refuse?"

Oberyn noticed he didn't ask whether he could refuse, which made sense in a way. If he were Jon he wouldn't introduce the idea that he didn't have an option into the conversation either. He wouldn't want to give anyone any ideas. 

Not that Oberyn intended to really give him a choice.

He put on his most ingratiating smile, the one he used on nobles who decided it was in their best interest to move against his family. This smile tended to persuade them otherwise.

"I'm sure my darling Arianne could find work for you instead if you prefer," he offered.

That was the deciding blow Oberyn knew when Jon gave a heaving sigh and inclined his head. A begrudgingly graceful move he must have learnt at Lord Stark's knee. "Very well."

Oberyn suppressed a victorious grin, settling for a small quirk of his lips. The out of place wolf had already been avoiding him for a reason he wasn't aware of, and until he knew why he didn't want to reveal too much.

The fact that he didn’t know the reason, was an itch he was putting quite an effort into ignoring.

He forced his thoughts to move on from the question, he'd figure it out in due time he was sure. He always did.

"Good. You will start tomorrow."

Jon nodded, "Yes, my prince."

Oberyn frowned at the return to formality but let it slide. For now.

It was a good decision, as Jon followed up with another question. One he might not have dared voice if Oberyn had insisted on a return to familiarity.

"Why do this? I'm just a no name bastard. I'm just a hostage for my father." Jon leant forward, apparently forgetting where they were as the he half rose out of the water.

Oberyn noted down the clues given away and answered with a smirk, "Why not? I could use a body guard skilled at fighting off swords. If someone were to attack, I expect it to originate north of Dorne. It isn't likely to be a spear."

Again, he took some freedoms with the truth, but it must have worked because Jon settled back into the water.

He could tell from Jon's frown that the boy was probably drawing all the wrong conclusions. It was apparent that he knew Oberyn had an ulterior motive, but he had a feeling it wasn’t the correct one. Whatever Jon thought it was about, he seemed wary of Oberyn.

Oberyn wasn't sure how to go about fixing that, other than forcing Jon out of his head. Out of his shell. He had to hope the rest would work itself out, at least until he knew what was going on.

Deciding he'd pushed enough he tilted his head back to the ceiling and closed his eyes again. Intent on relaxing and enjoying the rest of his bath.

"Sparring tomorrow morning. The usual place." He ordered quietly.

"Yes, Prince Oberyn." Jon answered, equally quiet.

He felt more than heard Jon ease his way out of the bath, the movement causing the water to ripple around him.

He hummed under his breath, letting his thoughts drift through the conversation. It could have gone better, but at the end of the day he was content with it.

Some indiscernible amount of time later, a throat cleared.

"Excuse the intrusion, my prince."

He lazily opened one eye, scanning the room. At first look, it appeared empty. Then, the torches flickered and a figure stepped out of the shadows.

The figure dropped down to kneel on one knee, head bowed, his dark robes and hood obscuring his features. Dark robes which were highly unusual among the Dornish.

Oberyn closed his eye again, "Ah. You've returned. Did you find anything at Starfall?"

"The rumors appear baseless," was the emotionless reply.

"Appear?"

"I can't be certain, not truly, but I don't believe the late Lady Dayne is the answer."

"And the other?"

There was a beat of silence following his question.

"We are still investigating, with your leave my prince."

Ah, that sounded more promising.

He waved his hand in acquiescence, and by the time he opened his eyes again the figure was gone.

 


 

The morning dawned cooler than normal, a cold wind gusting through the castle. Ghost delighted in it, prancing ahead of Jon as he made the trek to the training yard.

At least one of them was in a good mood this morning.

Jon couldn't help but be hesitant, he'd resolved to keep his distance. For his sake and the Martell's, he was no one's burden, not anymore. And yet here he was, once again sparring with Oberyn Martell.

And to compound it, he'd somehow ended up agreeing to spend more time with the prince than he had been before.

In a similar vein of luck, or the opposite of luck, he found Oberyn already waiting for him.

The prince twirled his spear around him in great sweeping arcs, leveling it off in his direction. A clear challenge.

"As punishment for missing training, we'll have a true spar. No mercy. No killing, but otherwise…" Oberyn trailed off with a smirk.

His expression was anything other than serious, but there was a look in his eyes that had Jon's hackles up.

Even Ghost settled down, his earlier euphoria gone as he trotted over to his now customary spot in the shade. 

Jon moved to retrieve his practice spear, only to find Oberyn's spear in his face.

He looked back to see the older man shaking his head, "Your sword."

After a moment of hesitating, his hand flexing at his side with the urge, he moved to unsheathe his sword.

The spear fell away as Oberyn spun back to give him the proper amount of space.

He fell into a guard position, waiting and watching.

Oberyn clucked his tongue at him, "Scared wolf cub?"

Jon forced himself to stay still, to respond neither verbally nor physically.

During their time sparring he'd learned the quickest way to provoke Oberyn into a mistake was to be quiet. To not respond to his quips or fall into banter with him.

It was a difficult thing to resist, some part of Jon couldn't help but want to get the last word, but it was worth it. An unsettled Oberyn made mistakes, and those mistakes were the only way Jon would win against the more experienced warrior.

"If that's how you want to play it," Oberyn snarked, shifting his grip on the spear.

Jon tensed, recognizing the stance and preparing for the onslaught to come.

 


 

Above them Ellaria watched from a balcony, idly tossing an apple up and down.

She watched as her beloved attacked Jon with a series of slashes designed to push him back into an unsteady stance. It was a testament to the younger that he managed to give his ground but keep his balance.

The apple went up in the air again, higher this time, and she caught it with an easy move of her wrist.

"Must you play with your food?"

Ellaria turned, tossing the apple up again as she smiled at her company.

"Princess Arianne," She dipped into a brief curtsy, catching the apple once more as she rose.

At her pointed look, Ellaria took a bite from the apple. Relishing it.

Arianne huffed, but joined her at the railing.

In silence they turned to observe the spar below them. This time Jon was on the attack and they watched as he advanced. He moved with measured blows, trying to get close enough to get under Oberyn's guard.

Oberyn laughed, audible even to their ears, and tossed his spear out and up. The unconventional move startled Jon into stepping back out of range.

In a move similar to Ellaria's previous move with the apple, he caught the spear and darted forward. What happened next surprised them all as Jon flinched, right into the blade.

His cheek bled, and Ellaria gasped.

Even Oberyn faltered, because he hadn't meant to draw blood she knew. Jon reached up with a hand to brush at his cheek, staring at the blood on his fingers like he'd never seen the like before.

A noise at her side drew her attention back to her more immediate surroundings. She glanced over, her eyes narrowing as she noted Arianne's expression.

She was smug about something.

Ellaria shifted back, resting her weight on her elbow in a deceptively non-threatening positon.

"What are your thoughts on our very own bastard Snow?" she asked, her eyes cataloguing even the most minute of responses.

The usually composed and refined princess scoffed, further arising Ellaria's suspicions.

"He is no different from any other bastard of the North," Arianne's tone at least was neutral. "I don't understand Uncle's interest."

Ellaria's eyebrows rose, her gaze flicking back down to the men. Just in time to catch Oberyn tripping Jon with the end of his spear. She couldn't help but stare as Jon threw his free hand out and caught himself, leaving him in an awkward backwards bridge.

It was only Oberyn's courtesy that allowed him a moment to straighten and regain his bearings. For all Oberyn had called for a no-holds-barred spar, he was clearly still playing fair.

In a real battle Jon would have no doubt been killed just there.

"He can't even offer a challenge on the battlefield." Arianne complained, having followed Ellaria's gaze.

Ellaria wasn't sure she agreed, "Do you truly not see it?"

She was referring to more than Jon's fighting prowess.

Arianne picked up on it, "His ability to fight, or rather to not fight, is apparent." She waved at the training grounds. "And his conversation skills leave much to be desired."

"You're referring to your private rendezvous with him a week back." Ellaria said, sending the younger woman a sly, knowing, look.

In another unusual show of unladylike behavior Arianne snorted, sending her a scandalized look. "It wasn't like that, Ellaria."

Ellaria shrugged, "I wouldn't judge my dear princess. He may be many things, but hard on the eyes is not one of them."

She was delighted to see Arianne's cheeks pink despite her clear scorn for the boy. This was fun.

"Isn't that enough reason for your Uncle's interest?" she continued. Sometimes she could be quite a bit like Oberyn, it was hard not to keep pressing once she'd spotted a weakness.

Arianne stared at her dumbfounded, "If that's what it is, why hasn't uncle bedded him and moved on?"

Her serious question broke Ellaria, and she leant against the railing. Not in a graceful pose, but to keep her up as she laughed.

"I don't truly think that's what his interest is Arianne," she gasped out, "even if Jon would likely pose a unique challenge to him."

Arianne huffed, crossing her arms in front of her.

"Ellaria." she snapped.

Sensing the real irritation behind her name, she straightened. She hid her grin behind her hand.

"My apologies princess," she replied, "I couldn't help myself."

Arianne turned her back on her.

Sober now, Ellaria examined her. She was truly on edge about this.

It made sense she supposed. Arianne was unused to having to share Oberyn's attention with anyone other than Ellaria or his daughters.

Before Doran had asked Oberyn to take care of Sunspear their visits had been brief. Ti compensate Oberyn had always paid special attention to dote on Arianne while there. Now that he was here on a more permanent basis Ellaria could see he hadn’t felt that intensive attention was required.

Clearly Arianne wasn't sure how to handle the change.

Ellaria couldn't help but slightly pity her. Arianne was Doran's heir, and as such had never been allowed the freedom Oberyn had always had.

Her spirit was too much like her uncle's to take that well.

"I think he has many reasons," she said finally, "the first was likely just fulfilling his duty."

Arianne turned back, giving Ellaria her full attention now that she could see she was getting a serious answer.

"Jon Snow is here to represent the Starks in your families dealings, it was only proper that Oberyn take a certain amount of interest."

Judging by her unimpressed glance Arianne wasn't buying that. But Ellaria wasn't finished yet.

"Oberyn would also appreciate the novelty of a norther bastard wolf adrift in the foreign world of Dorne," she mused, letting her gaze shift back to the spar.

They were back at it, trading blows in a dance like manner. Jon had clearly finally found his footing against a spear while Oberyn was moving almost as if he knew what Jon would do next. Like he'd been through this footwork before. 

Ellaria blinked, for a moment it was almost as if Oberyn was sparring with someone else. Jon replaced with a ghost, one that was not a wolf. Another swordsman who had challenged Oberyn to a friendly duel at a wedding, years and years ago. They had moved with this same fluidity, this poetry to their movements.

She shook off the thought, the comparison between Jon and Him fading away as soon as it had risen.

"Ellaria?"

Her hand rose to massage her neck, trying to rub away the sudden chill.

"Jon also stirs his paternal instincts I believe," she pushed forward, eager to forget her moment of unease. "He genuinely likes the boy."

Arianne made a noise, but seemed to be considering her points and not just dismissing them out of hand. That was enough for today, Ellaria thought.

"Now, are you going to tell me why Jon was suddenly hiding himself away from us?" She went on a limb, gambling on her instinct that somehow Arianne was related to the young wolf's sudden retreat.

The look on the princess' face all but confirmed it.

"I don't know of what you speak." Arianne demurred, glancing away.

Ellaria hummed her disbelief but didn’t challenge her on it. She would bide her time, for now Oberyn seemed to have it in hand.

There was a particularly loud clash of blades and the women turned back to see Oberyn disarm Jon with a flourish, sending the sword flying.

Jon bent over, resting his hands on his knees and panting.

Ellaria watched as Oberyn lowered his spear and moved to rest his hand first on Jon's should before reaching down to tilt his chin up. Examining the gash on his cheek. 

She rather suspected it would scar. 

While her eyes were focused there, her mind was miles away. As she remembered the half heard words spoken at night when shadows whispered to her beloved.

For all that she believed her earlier listed reasons for Oberyn's interest, she couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else beneath them all. Something more, motivating his continued interest. 

Oberyn looked up at her, his eyes twinkling as he blew her a kiss. She smiled back, shoving aside her ominous thoughts. For now, she was going to drag both boys to food and then to rest. Dark thoughts could wait till the night, where they belonged. 


 

Chapter Text


Jon trotted along behind the Dornish couple as they wove through the streets. The three had departed the castle as the sun began to set, with no words traded as to where they were going.

But then, he was just here in the capacity of a body guard. He shouldn't be surprised they hadn't seen fit to inform him of their destination.

They turned through an archway into a courtyard and he hastened to keep them in his sightline. He'd be a poor guard indeed if he let them get ambushed on a side road.

He rounded the corner, stopping short as he recognized the name of the den they were ducking into. Assuming he'd overheard the guards correctly, this was a brothel.

"Keep up, dear wolf." Ellaria called over her shoulder, and he scowled at the nickname.

Oberyn had called him that the other day, and it hadn't taken long before Ellaria picked it up too. He didn't care for it, but he'd take it over 'bastard' or a mocking 'Lord Snow'.

His irritation propelled him through the doorway before he realized what he'd just stepped into. He looked around, almost missing Oberyn and Ellaria ducking through yet another doorway. This one had silk drapes concealing it.

He paused, hesitating in what seemed to be a waiting room or sitting area. Was he meant to follow? Or wait here?

Before he could figure out what he should do, or what he wanted do, Oberyn ducked his head back out the doorway.

His eyebrow rose in an elegant metaphorical question mark and Jon's feet moved without thought on his part. Oberyn held the drapes aside, giving him just enough room to brush by.

He held his breath as he stepped in, immediately ducking to the left and pressing his back to the wall. Oberyn sent him an amused look, but didn't comment as he moved to join Ellaria.

Relieved to be forgotten for the moment, he leaned back, content to just observe.

The brothel already had a selection of… options for the couple. It wasn't his first time at a brothel, Theon had seen to that, but he was no less awkward now than he'd been then. 

Oberyn stepped up behind Ellaria, wrapping his arms around her waist. He dropped his chin to her shoulder, leering at the line of scantily clad men and women.

"Are any to your liking, beloved?" his voice was a purr that had Jon trying to press further into the wall. As if he could sink into the stone and disappear.

Ellaria hummed thoughtfully, "I don't know. Why don't we ask our  new bodyguard his opinion?"

Suddenly Jon found himself the center of attention. He cleared his throat, "Excuse me, my lady?"

To his mortification, even after clearing his throat his voice squeaked.

She smiled prettily at him but he wasn't fooled. Her fangs were as sharp and poisonous as the Red Viper's.

"We're aren't so cruel as to deny your participation Jon, darling, are we Oberyn?" as she spoke she gestured to a servant who had been pouring two goblets of wine.

Without question a third was produced and filled.

Jon gulped.

"Of course not," Oberyn answered, pressing kisses to her neck. "Since it's his first time, we'll even give him first pick."

Despite their easy postures and position across the room, Jon felt the constriction of two snakes winding around him. Waiting for the perfect moment to strike and go for the kill.

Unbidden, his eyes darted to the exit.

Neither Oberyn nor Ellaria missed it.

Just then the servant approached, offering the couple their wine. It gave Jon a moment of respite as they unwound from each other to accept it with thanks.

He edged closer to the entryway and calculated the odds that he could get away. Would they chase him? Or would they just laugh and turn back to their distractions?

"Jon." His head jerked up, hearing the command in his name.

Oberyn beckoned him over.

Straightening his shoulders, Jon drew up every ounce of courage and pride he possessed and obeyed. He had no idea of the image he presented, of how much he appeared like a wary wolf with his hackles up as he strode over.

The same servant offered him the third glass of wine, her eyes demurely turned away. No help there then, he concluded.

He cradled the goblet but didn't drink from it.

Oberyn wrapped an arm around his shoulders and steered him so he was facing the line of prostitutes.

There was an even mix of men and women, some exotic and some clearly identifiable as hailing from Dorne and upper Westeros.

Jon didn't let his eyes linger on any of them, or on the skin their scant silks displayed.

"Well?" Oberyn prompted, his arm heavy where it rest around him.

Jon imagined he could feel the viper's fangs pressing gently to his jugular. Not biting down yet, but there in warning.

"I-" his voice broke again, but he continued on. "I'd prefer not to participate my prince."

For a moment there was silence, and even the servants froze in the background.

Jon felt a trickle of unease.

But then Ellaria laughed, and the tension broke.

She came up on Jon's other side, winding her arm through his. She was careful not to jostle either of their wine as she did so.

"My, you are as virtuous as Oberyn thought."

He stiffened. Not just at the mocking tilt to her tone, but at the challenging look she leveled him with. "Do our pursuits offend you Snow?"

Sensing that a misstep here would cost him, he chose his words with more care than he usually bothered with. 

While he'd been raised on the principle that consorting with prostitutes was wrong, he'd always been a realist. It was all well and good for nobles with good prospects, or those who were married, to abstain very few actually fell in that category. And even those who did, didn't always abide by the accepted principles. Theon in particular came to mind. 

Even Robb had been persuaded once or twice. And Jon could never hold it against him, so how he could do hold it against Oberyn or Ellaria?

And in his time in Dorne Jon had begun to see that they treated distractions like this much differently. And more importantly, regarded those who indulged as no less than those who didn't.

"No, they don't my lady." he said, speaking quickly once decided. "I have… my own personal reasons for abstaining that are not at all a judgment on you or Prince Oberyn."

He knew he'd done well when she softened and pressed her side to him. She leant up to kiss his cheek, "good answer."

In the blink of an eye she'd moved forward, swinging her hips as she approached one of the more foreign appearing girls.

The girl smirked at Ellaria, her dark hair and slanted eyes making her mysterious. It was enough to entice Ellaria as she grasped her by the hand and drew her to the bed of pillows.

And still, Jon didn't relax. Because while Oberyn had remained silent for their exchange he still had his arm around Jon. He had made no move to follow Ellaria's example and make a choice.

Oberyn waved off those still waiting. And they knew better than to leave entirely as they moved to take seats around the periphery. They began to feed each other grapes and drink their own share of wine.

Once again Jon had to force his eyes not to linger, he knew it wasn't him they were trying to entice.

"May I ask what this personal reason is?" Oberyn's voice was low, but the moaning that had been coming from the bed quieted before resuming.

Jon glanced sideways at him.

Oberyn's brown eyes glinted at him, but held no malice or judgement of his own.

Suddenly thirsty, Jon took a long sip of his wine.

"I almost took part once," he confessed, watching the dark wine swirl in his goblet rather than acknowledge Oberyn or their audience. "Theon Greyjoy, a ward of my father's, took me and Robb to the local place."

Oberyn didn't interrupt, and without it Jon couldn't control his loose tongue.

"And the woman was so beautiful, I almost gave in. But at the last moment…" He shook his head at the familiar rush of self-disgust, "I couldn't take the risk."

This time Oberyn did interject, "Risk? I can assure you everyone here is regularly checked. They're healthy-" but he didn't go on as Jon shook his head vigorously.

"No," Jon burst out, his cheeks flushing red as his head jerked up. "That's not what I meant."

Their onlookers who had begun to appear a bit offended, settled at Oberyn's quelling look. Jon was so preoccupied with his mortification that he didn't notice.

"I can't take the chance she might get pregnant." Jon said after a moment of wrestling to regain his composure. "I could never curse a child of mine with the name of Snow."

In the resulting silence, even Ellaria and her partner had fallen completely silent this time, Jon tipped back the remainder of his wine. Eager to forget this night.

Oberyn's arm dropped his shoulder. "Oh, is that all?"

Jon lowered his goblet, watching in bewilderment as Oberyn approached one of the men from before. Oberyn offered him, a statuesque blond, a smile and a hand up.

The blond took it, allowing Oberyn to lead him over.

He stopped in front of Jon, who still didn't understand where Oberyn was going with this, and Oberyn stood behind him. He placed his hand on the man's bare hips, caressing the skin there.

Jon forced his eyes away and up to Oberyn's.

"If siring a bastard is what you're worried about," Oberyn said and realization began to dawn on Jon, "then he is just what you need."

Jon spluttered, and if he'd had any wine left he'd have sloshed it all over himself.

Oberyn chuckled, low and warm, seeing the answer on his face. "More for me then."

So said, he led the blonde to join Ellaria and the dark haired beauty on the bed. As he went he gestured two others over, who sauntered along in his wake.

Those not chosen slipped from the room, and Jon regained his senses with a shake of his head.

He stumbled over to one of the now free armchairs. He nudged it with his foot until it faced the entrance way and not the bed.

He half fell into it, and after only moments the servant girl from before was back.

She was kind enough to not only refill his goblet but to leave the pitcher nearby with a knowing wink.

He nodded his thanks and he began working on putting a dent in his second goblet. All while doing his best to ignore the increased noises from behind him.

 


 

The roads of Sunspear were deserted, lit by lanterns left out from the nights activities.

Oberyn and his companions disturbed the peace as he dragged them from the brothel, Jon between him and Ellaria.

Jon swayed on the spot, Ellaria ducking under his arm and pressing close to stabilize him. Oberyn tugged his other arm over his shoulder, ensuring most of the younger 's weight was on him.

Jon grunted, his eyes darting around. "Where are we going?" He asked, or at least that’s what Oberyn thought he said. The slurring made it difficult.

"We're going home," he explained as he began to steer them down the street.

Jon perked up, "home? To see Robb? And Arya?"

Oberyn froze, leaning around Jon to exchange a look with Ellaria, unsure of how to respond.

She shook her head, pressing closer to Jon, catching his attention. "No, dear wolf, we're returning to the castle. Where we all live, together with Ghost and Arianne."

That seemed to mollify Jon, and he became more pliable in their grasp.

That was until they hit a rough patch in the pavement and he stumbled, almost taking all of them down with him. Oberyn lunged forward, just managing to brace himself and keep them all standing.

Ellaria broke out in giggles, proving Jon wasn’t the only who'd had a bit too much to drink.

After huffing in amusement, Oberyn straightened them all up and hustled them further down the path.

He managed to get them up to the castle without too much trouble, Ellaria sober enough to help him guide Jon along. He made sure to pause and nod at the various amused guards they passed even as he steered them towards the royal wing.

From there it was short work to get to his private quarters.

Once in Familiar settings Ellaria pulled away, leaving an increasingly incoherent Jon propped against Oberyn.

 She straightened her top, putting herself in order.

"I'll go ahead, warm the bed." She moved in front of Oberyn, fixing his collar. She leaned up to kiss first his chin, and then his lips. Lingering there. "I trust you won't be far behind."

He tightened his grip on Jon even as his other arm snaked out to tug Ellaria close. Kissing her again - longer and deeper.

She laughed against his mouth, shoving him away. The wall behind him was the only thing that kept both him and Jon upright.

Ellaria grimaced briefly, having misjudged the force behind the push, but got over it in the space of a blink.

"Haven't you had your fill tonight?" She teased.

Oberyn grinned, vowing, "Never."

Rolling her eyes, she shifted her attention to Jon.

She leaned in, pressing a kiss to the corner of his mouth, "sleep well Jon."

Jon startled, seeming to orient himself for a second. "Ellaria?"

She caressed his check before turning away with one last waggle of her fingers towards Oberyn. He watched  her leave, his gaze following the swing of her hips.

"Oberyn?"

His tore his eyes away, turning to Jon. Who still had an endearingly confused look on his face. And as entertaining as it was, Oberyn knew they'd have to work on his tolerance.

"Come on, let's get you settled." Oberyn said, manhandling Jon to one of the larger lounges.

He slowly lowered Jon on to it, letting him drop the last few inches.

Jon landed with a groan, rolling over onto on his stomach. Oberyn watched, amused, as he rubbed his face against the pillow.

He shook it off though, glancing around. His goal spotted, he ventured away to retrieve it.

When he returned Jon was trying to sit up, "Oberyn? Where'd you go? Where are we?"

Oberyn pushed Jon back down gently, covering Jon with the blanket he'd grabbed. "I didn't go anywhere, and we're in my private living quarters."

Jon nodded, catching Oberyn's wrist as he made to move towards the water pitcher kept in the corner. He paused, glancing back to find dark eyes fixed on him.

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Why," Jon seemed to stumble for a second before regaining his train of thought, "why help me? Why be kind to me?"

Oberyn drew back, shocked.

When Jon slumps back against the pillow, his eyes closing, he writes it off as the ramblings of a drunk. But he can't completely forget them.

Frowning, his moves over to the pitcher pouring a goblet full. He then moved back, pocking and nudging at the near-comatose Jon until he rolled over and allowed Oberyn to prop him up.

Oberyn pressed the goblet to his lips, "drink this and then you can sleep."

He watched as his words slowly registered, and Jon parted his lips. Oberyn carefully controlled the angle of the goblet, being careful to not let Jon take too big of a sip.

Once all the water was drank, he settled Jon back and tucked the blanket back around him. The last thing he did was tug over a wastebasket and refill the goblet, leaving both in easy reach.

He can't help but glance back to make sure that Jon is well and truly passed out before he leaves. Good thing he did too, because Jon was stirring.

His head lifted an inch, just enough to fix both his eyes on the hesitating prince.

"Oberyn? Thank you." With that last slurred sentence, he flopped back into place and began to snore.

 


  

The Stark family had just sat down to break their fast when a raven swooped in.

This was cause of some alarm as ravens rarely bypassed the rookery to go straight to their recipient. Ned raised his arm, just in time for it to rest there.

With a frown, he untied the scroll.

Beside him Catelyn leaned closer, "That’s the Martell coat of arms."

He nodded, unrolling the scroll just long enough to scan it and make sure it wasn't urgent. It didn't seem to be, but what caught his attention was the signature scrawled at the bottom.

Catelyn tried to crane her neck to read it over his shoulder, but he rolled it back and tucked it away before she could.

Why was Oberyn Martell writing to him? He'd only ever corresponded with Prince Doran before.

 


 

"Don't be too embarrassed, Jon." Ellaria teased, "Nothing will ever beat the time young Oberyn, drunk Oberyn, woke up on the other end of the Narrow Sea. With no idea how he got there."

Oberyn groaned and threw his cloth napkin at Ellaria, who just laughed. She knew he wasn't really irritated with her. Oh, he might be mildly embarrassed at his youthful indiscretions, but his limbs were loose and unbent as he sprawled in his chair. A clear signal as to his real mood.

Meanwhile, Jon flinched at the volume, hunkering over the table as if he could block out the noise and light.

Ellaria and Oberyn exchanged a knowing look.

"To be fair," said Oberyn, "I could share the story of how Ellaria and I met, beginning with her running up to me in the streets and-"

She cut him off, a knife embedding in the table where his hand had just been resting.

"Darling," she purred, "that is not a story for polite company."

He just grinned.

At both the sound and the vibration of the knife hitting home, Jon actually covered his head and ears with his arms. It was truly a piteous sight.

Oberyn huffed a much quieter laugh, and waved his hand at her.

With a conciliatory smile she reached for the kettle and poured Jon a large cup of steaming hot tea.

She placed it just in front of him, where she knew his arms could feel the heat radiating off it.

"Drink this, and eat. You will feel better." She too made an effort to be quieter. They'd had their bit of fun, and now it was time to have mercy on the poor boy.

Jon lifted an arm to reveal a wary eye, glancing from the tea back to her.

She nudged it a bit closer, letting steel enter her gaze.

He relented, sitting up slowly before reaching for the cup.

"Good lad," Oberyn murmured as he snagged the kettle to pour himself a cup.

But Ellaria continued to watch Jon until he'd downed it all. Jon, despite his state didn't miss this, and made a show of turning over his cup to show it was empty when he finished.

Ellaria cut her eyes pointedly at the dishes filled with food.

Jon ran both his hands through his curls, leaving it in quite a state as he straightened up a bit more in his seat. The tea's effects kicking in enough for him to have some thought to his appearance. Even if his efforts left him worse off than before.

It was enough, however, to convince him to follow her second bit of instructions and begin to serve himself breakfast.

Then, and only then, did Ellaria turn to her own meal.

Out of the corner of her eye she watched both her boys as they ate. Oberyn choosing to stick to the sweeter fruits while Jon went straight for the protein available.

Oberyn woke up a bit more with each sip of his tea, and Jon's color was slowly coming back. Which was, of course, the moment their breakfast was interrupted.

A servant eased their way into the room, moving to stand unobtrusively behind Oberyn.

"Yes?" Oberyn asked without once glancing back over his shoulder.

He cleared his throat, "Princess Arianne is asking to join you."

Jon's fork slipped from his fingers, and even Oberyn appeared surprised to her expert eye.

But he hid it well, waving his hand, "Send her in, don't leave her waiting."

The servant bowed and went to do as bid.

Both Ellaria and Oberyn turned to Jon, only one of them confused at his reaction.

Jon refused to meet their eyes, staring fixedly at his clenched fists.

Oberyn opened his mouth, to ask about it Ellaria presumed, but Arianne swept in before he could.

The Princess was in a more casual dress today, her hair pulled back in a braid. Ellaria raised her eyebrow at the attire, wondering.

Arianne stopped by Oberyn leaning down to kiss his cheek. "Good morning Uncle, I trust you slept well?"

She didn't wait for an answer as she moved to Ellaria, kissing her cheek as well before taking the empty seat. It was at the opposite end of the square table from Oberyn, leaving Ellaria and Jon in the crossfire.

They watched as she daintily arranged her napkin across her lap and filled her plate. She looked up, eyes widening as if she'd just noticed Jon's presence.

"Ah, Lord Snow. Good morning to you as well," she said, spearing a piece of cantaloupe and eating it with a sunny smile.

Ellaria hid her smile behind her hand, pleased to see that Arianne was putting in some type of effort. Even if it was still masked in a veneer of mocking. 

Jon managed to nod back politely.

"So," Oberyn cleared his throat, "what news do you have Arianne?"

Arianne pouted, "I don't know what you mean Uncle."

He sent her a knowing look, "We both know you rarely join me for breakfast, unless you have something to share."

She dropped the pout, and rolled back her shoulders. Falling firmly into what Ellaria affectionately called 'Princess Mode'.

"We have a long day ahead of us," she responded after wiping her mouth.

And in that moment, Ellaria understood the Princess' choice in clothes. Her sudden appearance in their quarters... After all, Ellaria's return had been something of an advance party, though no one had put it in those terms.

"Father will arrive shortly before sunset, with three of your daughters accompanying him."

 


 

Chapter Text


 

Jon changed his shirt three times, modeling for both Ellaria and Ghost before failing to meet their standards and throwing them aside one after the other.

He didn't know why making a good impression to Prince Doran mattered so much to him, but it did.

On the sidelines, Ghost covered his eyes with his paws.

Ellaria giggled, and rose from where she'd been reclining on his bed with his traitor of a wolf.

She came up to him, picking up his discarded shirts. "Put on this one for now," she handed him the grey one, "I'll find a more appropriate one for tonight."

"Until then," she continued with a smirk, "you have errands to run with Oberyn."

Jon cursed, having gotten so caught up he forgot just who he was supposed to be shadowing. He tugged on the shirt, casting around for his boots.

He found them by the door, Ghost sitting beside them with an expectant look.

"What would I do without you two?" he asked, tone joking but meaning serious as he moved to shove his feet in.

Ellaria swatted at him, "You wouldn't last a day, now off with you. Oberyn should have made his way to the kitchens by now."

Jon thanked her, and got as far as the door before hesitating. He rushed back, leaning down to drop a kiss on her cheek.

Her lips parted in surprise, before twisting in amusement as Jon turned bright red and dashed out the door with Ghost on his heels.

Well then.

 


 

The kitchens were a disaster area.

Jon wasn't exaggerating either. There was food flying through the air, cooks and servants alike rushing around, and at the center of it all was Oberyn.

Edging his way through the chaos, Jon tried to a find path to his prince. Ghost, wisely, chose to stay in the relative safety of the doorway.

"Dori," Oberyn was pleading, "panicking is not going to help."

The rather short woman, harrumphed even as she smacked away a cook's reaching hand. "Not that one," she snapped, pointing at a second bowl, "that one. And don't you dare burn it."

Oberyn pinched the bridge of his nose. "Please, Dori. You know Doran loves your cooking, no matter what you make."

She threw her hands up in disgust, "It's not my cooking I'm worried about."

The cooks around her continued on, as if used to her disparaging remarks.

Just then Jon reached them, having managed it unscathed. He cleared his throat.

Oberyn glanced at him, "Ah, there you are Jon."

He flushed, muttering an apology. Oberyn waved him off.

"Jon this is Dorissa Essaris, the best cook in all the seven kingdoms. Dori, this is Jon Snow." he introduced them. The compliment didn't seem to endear him to the cook.

Dori looked him up and down and Jon found himself resisting the urge to fidget.

"So you're the one who had Oberyn fetching trays of food instead of dining like a proper prince."

Jon gaped at her.

Beside him Oberyn sighed, "don't take your frustration out on him Dorissa. It's not his fault my brother decided to drop a surprise feast on us."

She deflated and even sent Jon an apologetic look, "Yes, you're right."

"Now," Oberyn gestured at the mayhem still going on around them, "Isn't it time you got this under control?"

Jon had his doubts as to whether that was even possible.

But Dori drew herself up in indignation, and rolled up her sleeves. Apparently this was some kind of signal. The people nearest to her turned and drew the attention of those who weren't.

Before long all movement in the kitchen had ceased and she had their undivided attention.

She smirked, "Right troops, here are your marching orders…"

As she doled out her instructions, Oberyn tugged Jon backwards slowly. He didn't stop until they were safely in the hallway.

Jon sighed in relief, "are the kitchens always like that?"

"Gods, no," Oberyn laughed, "Dori just doesn’t take shocks well."

That was an understatement if Jon had ever heard one.

"Come now," Oberyn led him off, "we have many more stops to make."

Jon followed, a trickle of trepidation working down his spine.

 


 

 

Their next stop was the guard's barracks.

Here, the rush going on was more ordered but no less urgent. It seemed no one in the palace had been forewarned of Doran's visit.

One of the knights looked up from where he'd been overseeing a meeting of guards. He dismissed them, approaching Oberyn with arms open.

"Prince Oberyn, fancy seeing you here. Dare I assume you're actually getting your hands dirty?"

Oberyn laughed, hugging the knight. "Daemon! It's good to see you. I thought you were running errands for Arianne?"

The knight, Daemon Jon surmised, shrugged. "I got back a few nights ago. I've been kept busy since."

Oberyn nodded, gesturing to Jon. "This is Jon Snow, a guest of my family who is currently filling in as my personal bodyguard. Jon, this Daemon Sand, one of our knights and my former squire."

Jon stepped forward to grip the offered hand, unable to shake the feeling the knight already knew exactly who he was. Daemon Sand had hair to match his surname and blue eyes that looked like the desert sky.

That is to say, Jon felt woefully inadequate next to him. Particularly as he noted the sly looks the guards were sending Oberyn and Daemon behind their backs.

Or well, behind Daemon's back. They didn't seem to be making much effort to hide the looks from Oberyn.

But Oberyn didn't react or seem to mind, and so Jon didn’t either.

Daemon turned his attention back to Oberyn, "So what are you doing here? Despite my greeting, I know you're not here to help out."

Jon crossed his arms and barely held back a glare at the presumptiveness. He had personal experience that Oberyn could and would get his hands dirty, when required. After all, it was him Oberyn still took the time to train with every day.

He deflated soon after, Daemon would know that too. He had been Oberyn's squire in the past, a position that topped mere bodyguard.

If Oberyn noticed his distraction, it didn't show as he approached the guard roster Daemon and the others had been looking over before.

Daemon, however, sent Jon a knowing look before moving to join the prince.

"Do you have enough guards for the influx of people we are likely to receive as word spreads?" Oberyn asked.

Jon tuned out Daemon's answer as he found a place off to the side, his hand resting on his sword.

He didn't know why Daemon's presence was getting on his nerves. But he suspected it had to do with the man's connection to Arianne. Jon couldn't help but be wary about the princess. Despite the fact he hadn't had reason to believe she was up to something since he'd caught her in his rooms.

That Daemon seemed more amused by his reaction than anything else, didn't help his wariness.

A cold nose nudged his hand, and Jon looked down to see Ghost looking up at him.

He crouched down before the dire wolf, who was getting bigger every day, and gave him a good scratch.

"I'll always have you, won't I Ghost?" he muttered, his hand clenching in the coarse fur.

Ghost licked his nose.

"Is that a dire wolf?"

Jon looked over to see Daemon staring at them, or more accurately, at Ghost.

Oberyn glanced up, humming distractedly. "Oh you hadn't heard? All the Stark children have one."

That Jon had recieved one despite being a Snow, went unsaid.

Ghost slunk out of Jon's grip and he watched, dumbfounded, as he approached Daemon. He sat before him, tongue lolling out in a canine grin.

Closing his mouth, Jon staggered to his feet. Oberyn too, straightened, pulling his attention away from the roster to watch the byplay.

Daemon looked hesitant and awed at Ghost's presence. He raised an offered hand, glancing at Jon, "May I?"

Jon looked to Ghost, the dire wolf seemed perfectly relaxed. But this was so out of character for him that Jon was wary to give his permission. Ghost rarely approached strangers. What if Ghost had sensed his resentment of the other man and was lulling him into a false sense of security?

Ghost looked back at him, and in the end Jon nodded.

He watched, holding his breath, as Daemon crouched down and made to pet Ghost.

For a moment, it was all going well.

Then Ghost dodged the hand and lunged forward, head-butting Daemon firmly in the chest.

The knight toppled over backwards, the weight of his armor working against him as he fell in a tangle.

All activity and in the barracks came to a halt.

Jon swallowed, stepping forward with his hand wrapped around his sword hilt. Prepared to defend Ghost if the knight decided to take revenge.

But Oberyn waved him off, stepping over to look down at Daemon.

"You alright Daemon?" he asked, his tone filled with unrestrained humor.

Jon didn't fully relax until Daemon answered with a laugh. "I'm fine, now help me up, I'm stuck."

Once the knight was back on his feet he laughed again, running a rueful hand over his beard.

He turned to Jon, "That's quite the companion you have there, my friend."

He smiled genuinely at Jon and he returned found himself returning it cautiously.

Perhaps he'd judged the knight prematurely.

From his place below them, Ghost panted, pleased with himself.

 


 

Much later in the day, and after traversing the grounds twice over, Jon finally found time to track down Ellaria.

He found her in the living quarters she shared with Oberyn, getting ready herself. It wasn't long until sundown after all, and the traveling party's arrival was imminent.

She had his outfit, yes it had progressed from a shirt to an entire outfit, laid out for him.

He eyed it with a strange mix of trepidation and longing.

It reminded him of the style Oberyn favored, except the coloring was a steely shade of blue with brown and silver accents. And instead of suns embroidered on it, there were small silver wolves in their place. They were subtle, about the size of his thumbnail and the stitching blended in well. 

He reached out to feel the material, surprised by how light and smooth it felt.

"This isn't something you just had made today," he said with no inflection in his voice.

She came up beside him, "No, Oberyn and I had this commissioned not long after I arrived. We were waiting until we thought you'd accept it."

He turned to her, his hand falling away. "Ellaria, I can't. It's too much…" he trailed off, his eyes flitting back to it against his will.

He'd never been gifted anything of the like, certainly nothing this grand. Lady Stark had never been comfortable with him displaying either Stark colors or their symbol. He knew she'd hate to see him wear this. Even if it was just different enough that no one could say he was assuming the Stark name unfairly.

"Jon," Ellaria placed her hands on his shoulders, turning him to face her. "We want you to have it, and to wear it tonight to the feast. You don't have to hide here. Not that you're a bastard, and especially not that you're a Stark Bastard."

When he swallowed his emotions and nodded she smiled at him, pulling him into a hug that was foreign to him.

If he had to put a finger on the difference, it was the distinct maternal feeling to it.

 


 

The wind blew in the open window with a cold edge to it. Ned rushed over to shut it.

He sighed, running a tired hand over his face.

It had taken him all day to get a moment's peace, both from his children and his wife.

Arya had taken to demanding, on a daily basis, to be sent to Dorne to join Jon. And Robb was protesting his brother's absence as well, if more quietly.

He did everything Ned asked of him, to the letter, but no more. He didn't linger after lessons to talk, or try to entice him to spar anymore. He was the perfect heir, and no type of son. Their relationship had clearly suffered in the wake of his decision to send Jon away.

He pulled out the letter he'd received earlier that day and eyed it. This letter may just tell him whether that  decision had been worth the heartache.

Setting it on his desk, he moved to pour himself some ale. He needed some fortitude first.

Once settled back at the desk he stalled some more, shuffling through the other letters left about. Only when he had nothing else to look at did he turn back to the one from Dorne.

He took a deep breath, and picked it up again.

 


 

Jon rubbed away the sweat dripping into his eyes despite the setting sun behind them.

It seemed the entirety of the palace had turned out to welcome the traveling party, filling the courtyard.

Oberyn, Ellaria and Arianne were standing in front of him, in pride of place, waiting with decorum. Or with as much decorum as the three ever managed.

As Jon watched, Oberyn leaned around behind Ellaria to tug on Arianne's hair. When she glared at him, he pointed the blame to Ellaria.

Who elbowed him in the ribs as retaliation.

Beside Jon, Daemon snorted.

"They never behave do they?" He murmured, voice just loud enough that they all knew he meant the group to overhear his words to Jon.

Arianne glared at them, tossing her hair over shoulder with a huff when Daemon just winked at her.

"That never gets old," he said to Jon, his voice not meant to carry this time.

Jon resisted the urge to roll his eyes and ultimately failed.

Daemon seemed to take that as a challenge, "I am going to get you to laugh someday, I swear it."

Before Jon could reply the crowd's volume surged and drew their attention.

Jon squinted, searching the horizon for the party.

It didn't take long to spot as the stallion leading the group reared up, the rider giving a war cry.

Jon jumped, his hand falling to his sword.

"Don't mind her," Daemon said, glancing sideways at him. "That's Oberyn's oldest Obara. She has her father's patience, which is to say she has none."

As if to prove his point the stallion was spurred into a gallop, leaving the rest of the party in her dust as she traveled down the path.

Jon took Daemon's advice and turned his attention to the rest of the party. He didn't see anyone that looked like Prince Doran. Nor was there a litter or wagon that he could be concealed in.

"Is Prince Doran…?" He trailed off, unsure how to phrase his question in a way wasn't offensive.

But Daemon knew what he meant.

"He's likely coming in the back as we stand here," he explained. His volume lowered as Obara approached the greeting party. "He'll appear at the feast, but he tends to avoid this portion."

Jon supposed that made sense, he'd heard Prince Doran was a recluse because of his battle with gout. The last thing he'd likely want his people to see was him struggling with traveling. Waiting for the feast would give him time to ensure his composure.

By then Obara had reached them, her horse skidding to a halt just in front of her father.

Curious, Jon took advantage of the relative anonymity of his position to examine her.

She was tall and well-built with ash brown hair and eyes set close together. It was fair to say she hadn't inherited her father's good looks. But Jon would bet anything she had enough of his skill with a blade to make up for it.

Obara vaulted from her horse, approaching Oberyn with large strides. Like him, she carried a spear on her back along with a whip and shield.

"Obara," Oberyn greeted warmly, grabbing her into a hug. From Jon's vantage it appeared as if Obara was only grudgingly tolerating the hug.

In that moment she reminded him so much of Arya that he had to look away.

"My darling sister," a voice rang out, catching Jon's attention and bringing him back down to Dorne. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't leave us like that."

Obara looked away from where she'd moved to greet Ellaria and Arianne, her hands on her hips.

The speaker was riding a white mare, wearing a cream dress that blended with the horse's coat. She sat with all poise of royalty, with the serene expression of a septa. Jon blinked, surmising this was yet another of Oberyn's daughters.

Despite her fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, something about her was undeniably of Oberyn.

"And how are you going to stop me, Tyene?" Was Obara's arch reply.

Daemon shifted over to Jon, "Tyene, the youngest of these three," he whispered in his ear. Jon had heard their names earlier, but it was nice to have faces to go with them.

Oberyn laughed, interrupting before the sisters teasing could truly get started. He stepped forward to lift Tyene down from her horse, swinging her around in a circle before hugging her as well.

Her bright, tinkling laughter drew the attention of the entire crowd.

"You'll spoil her father," another girl drew up, the last of the party dispersing around her.

Jon didn't need help this time to identify her as Oberyn's second eldest daughter, Lady Nym if he remembered right. Her birth name was Nymeria, he knew, but he had trouble associating the name with the woman in front of him.

Rather a dire wolf was what came to his mind. 

Of the three she looked most like her father, her dark swept away from her face in a long braid.

Like Tyene she didn't appear outwardly armed, but Jon rather thought he could spot the outline of daggers hidden in her silks.

Tyene ignored her sister's words, sweeping past her father to greet both Ellaria and Arianne. She lingered longest with Arianne, kissing both her cheeks after their hug. He was surprised to see the Martell's only princess thaw considerably in the presence of the younger Sand.

Still on her horse, Lady Nym rolled her eyes before dismounting herself. The move was graceful, barely ruffling her silks, in a way Jon knew Sansa would admire.

She was the only of the three to drop into a curtsy before moving forward for a more familiar greeting. Oberyn seemed to take her polite formality in stride with an aggrieved sort of humor, but with no less affection than he'd shown his other daughters.

Jon shifted his stance, trying to draw further back into the shadows.

Watching the family reunion... one where no one was whispering about the fact that the daughters were Sands. Where their father was free to show them affection. Where they were treated no differently than they would have been as true Martells... was affecting him more than he thought it would.

His hand fell from his sword to clench into a shaking fist. He failed to notice Daemon's concerned glance.

Jon swallowed, wondering what it would be like when he reunited with his siblings and father. If he reunited with them. Would they be in a public place where his family would be forced to be distant and formal? Would he be able to not resent them for it, if so?

Or would it be better if the reunion was in private and he never knew how they would have reacted in a public setting? He honestly didn't know. Sometimes, ignorance was bliss.

A sharp pain in his shin drew him out of his melancholy, and he blinked down at Ghost. His wolf, who'd slept through his departure earlier, had his jaw wrapped around Jon's calf. He wasn't biting down hard enough to draw blood or even pierce his pant leg, but it was enough to get Jon's attention.

"Er, Jon?"

He glanced sideways to see Daemon hovering there, looking as if he was unsure of how to help. Jon suddenly had the image of the knight trying to pry Ghost off his leg, only to topple over backwards again, and chuckled.

"It's alright." he reached down to stroke Ghosts head, who promptly released his leg, "see?"

Daemon sagged, putting a hand over his heart. "Don't do that."

"Do what?"

The two men and dire wolf turned to see that the party had finished greeting everyone. Giving them quite the audience.

Jon's eyes darted past the Sand Snakes to Oberyn and Ellaria against his will. They both looked rather amused at the position he found himself in.

He sighed in relief, even as the crowd's attention brought a flush to his cheeks.

 


 

Ned set the letter down, leaning back in his chair to stare at the ceiling.

On the surface the letter was innocuous. A father writing to another to assure them their child was doing well.

But what worried Ned was the last paragraph. Where Oberyn dropped some hits, and even outright suggested, that Jon would benefit from knowing who his mother was.

Ned sincerely hoped the other father had simply picked up on some of Jon's insecurities and was reaching out in genuine concern. Otherwise, Ned may have made a large mistake in sending Jon to a literal snake pit.

One filled with snakes who may not react well to Jon's parentage.

Ned stood, his chair scraping loudly against the floor.

Suddenly, a visit to the godswood seemed to be in order.


 

Chapter Text


 

The feast was unlike any Jon had seen.

Winterfell tended toward simpler affairs, with food and ale aplenty. Dorne on the other hand, went all out with several courses of food, wine and music.

As he watched from his place behind the high table, the music swelled. The dancers began to wind their way around the tables.

The people's after-dinner voices rose to be heard over the music, making it a very lively affair.

Prince Doran was at the tip of it all, seated at the throne at the high table. On either side of him were Oberyn and Arianne, all three were deep into their cups and it showed.

Or, it showed on Oberyn and Arianne. From Jon's vantage point it was clear to see that Doran was pacing himself, taking one sip of wine to their three or five. As a result, he was significantly more stable.

A good thing, perhaps, as Jon watched yet another noble approach the table to pay their respects.

That had been going on all night, and if Jon was tired of it he shuddered to imagine how the three Martell's felt.

Oberyn's daughters, along with Ellaria, were interspersed throughout the hall, working the crowd. Several times that night Jon had spotted Lady Nym holding court amongst the nobles, while Tyene was dancing with young men and women alike. A feat better left in her hands, as Obara scowled at anyone who so much as looked her way from the dance floor.

To his left, standing behind Arianne the way he was Oberyn, Daemon coughed into his fist. He looked as if he'd truly wanted to yawn, but had covered at the last second.

Jon could sympathize. Watching the feast had been initially captivating, the opulence and merriment truly a sight to behold. Hours into it, however, and he was ready for it to wrap up so he could have some of the leftovers Dorissa had promised him. Followed by finding his bed, ideally.

Between him and the knight was yet another bodyguard, one who dwarfed them both in height and shoulder width. His name was Areo Hotah and he was the captain of Prince Doran's guard. While he wasn't carrying it at the feast, Jon had heard the man wielded a terrifyingly large battle axe. It was enough to have Jon wary of getting on his bad side.

Ghost too was nearby, curled around Oberyn's feet under the table. His tail was just visible, sticking out from underneath the tablecloth. Every now and then his tail would flick, as Oberyn snuck him food on the sly.

Something in the corner of his eye moved, and Jon's mind latched on to it. He moved his gaze to the crowd, searching for what had caught his attention.

Whatever it was had moved out of his sight-line, obstructed by the high table and the chairs with matching high backs. Jon drifted to the side, as casual as he could manage as he tried to widen his angle.

Again, a figure shifted through the crowd and something about it was just off enough to send up mental flags to Jon.

Jon frowned, moving forward again so he was just in front and to the side of where Oberyn was seated. He narrowed his eyes, searching for the elusive person.

There! He spotted the figure again as it moved to an opening in the crowd. The man was standing oddly, both hands down and to the side, one crossing his body diagonally.

Something about his stance was familiar to Jon. It took a moment, and then realization hit.

It reminded him of Theon, when his father had taken them hunting. The archer had crept through the forest, weaving around branches and trees, his bow drawn and ready but down at his side.

Jon's breath caught.

The man's head turned, his eyes gazing straight at Oberyn.

Without thinking Jon leaped, in the air even as the figure raised his bow and loosed.

 


 

Oberyn cut off a hunk ham, casually leaning to the side and reaching under the table. A warm tongue lapped at his hand, and it took everything he had not to visibly squirm.

It tickled.

As he straightened up again, the screaming started.

Then, Jon was diving in front of him, hitting the table and then the floor, sending dishes and food alike to the ground with him. Thanks to years of experience in battle, Oberyn's mind didn't take long to put the pieces together.

And his body was already two steps ahead of that.

He vaulted over the table, paying no mind to his own safety in his haste to reach Jon. At the same moment, Ghost burst from beneath the table in a flurry of teeth and claw.

Oberyn barely spared a glance to watch Ghost as tackled the presumed assassin to the ground.

He reached Jon at the same moment as Ellaria slipped from the crowd; to find the boy curled on his side. The tip of an arrow was protruding from his shoulder.

Ellaria fell to the ground beside him and hesitated, a hand hovering above his shoulder. Wanting to touch, but not wanting to hurt him. "Jon?"

The timid cast to her voice tore at Oberyn, and he couldn't stop himself. He knelt on the other side of Jon and rolled him over, not enough to jar the wound but just enough to get a look at his face. He did it as gentle as he could be.

Still, Jon moaned in pain. But the couple hovering over him could only feel relief. It was the first sound he'd made since they reached him.

His face was paler than Oberyn had ever seen it, his eyes screwed shut in pain.

Ellaria made a distressed sound, a shaking hand moving into Oberyn's line of sight to brush one of Jon's curls out of his face.

Jon shifted closer to her hand, just a tad, but enough for Oberyn to relax a bit. That was a good sign. Any type of movement not immediately followed by screaming pain was good in his book.

Swallowing, he turned his attention to the wound.

The arrow had pierced Jon's left shoulder, through and through.

Oberyn winced at the sight. He shrugged out of his overcoat, using it to put pressure on both the exit and entrance wound. Prepared for but still flinching at Jon's pained moan.

Before he could think of doing anything else, Ghost padded over.

Out of the corner of his eye Ellaria drew back, and it only took a second for Oberyn to see why.

The wolf's snout was dripping blood, a morbid contrast against his white fur.

But Ellaria recovered quickly, slipping her wrap off her shoulders.

Ghost seemed to know what she wanted and moved to sit beside her. He even held still as she mopped the worst of the blood from his maw.

Assured by Ghosts lack of panic - he had a connection to Jon Oberyn didn't understand. One that left him sure the wolf would be in a much worse state if Jon's life were truly in danger - he turned back to Jon.

Whose eyes were beginning to flutter, a sure sign that he was coming around. Oberyn glanced at the shaft of the arrow again. It didn't seem broken or shattered, which boded well. The more intact it was, the less damage. Often, digging out shards and leftover debris was what caused the most damage when it came to arrow wounds.

"Don't try to remove it father," Tyene said as she dropped to her knees beside them. Her pale hands reached out, shifting Jon so his head was pillowed in her lap, "you may only make it worse."

Before Oberyn could reply Jon chose then to shift, jerking his shoulder in the process. He jolted awake with a yell, Oberyn leaning over and attempting to hold him still. Ellaria grabbed his legs, helped by Ghost moving to actually lay on Jon's shins to pin him down.

Tyene hummed her approval, "that's good, keep him still."

She looked down at Jon, her hands stroking his face. "What's your name?"

Jon's eyes darted around, his breath slowing as he managed to calm down.

"Jon," he gasped out, "Jon Snow."

Tyene smiled down at him, a guardian to her charge. "It's good to meet you, Jon."

Above her Obara and Lady Nymeria moved to flank her, looking down at the man who had taken an arrow intended for their father.

"We sent for a healer," Nymeria said, "the assassin is being dragged to the cells." One glance at her told Oberyn she dearly wished to carve into someone with her knives. Probably the aforementioned attacker.

Judging by the blood on Obara's knuckles, Ghost wasn't the only who'd gotten some shots in on the assailant before he was taken away.

Behind them, Daemon and the other guards were herding the crowd out of the hall. He didn't need to look around to know that Doran and Arianne were long gone, taken to safety by Hotah.

Jon shifted underneath him again. Oberyn knew from experience that while Jon drifted in and out of consciousness - his pain was constant.

Oberyn shifted his grip, trying to keep him still while keeping pressure on the still bleeding wound. The position left him hovering just above Jon's face, giving him a good vantage point of both the pained twist to his mouth and the look in his eyes.

Eyes that in this lighting, and in his pain, were darker than normal. A brown so deep and dark it almost looked purple. Almost looked like his favorite plum wine.

Oberyn froze.

 


 

The healer was in with Jon for several hours, leaving those worried for him in quite the state.

Ellaria narrowed her eyes at Oberyn as he made another circuit around Jon's bedroom. They'd been let in only an hour ago and Oberyn had spent the entire time pacing.

There was a huffing noise from beside her, and she turned to trade an exasperated look with Ghost.

On any other day she might have wondered at Ghost's intelligence. At how unlike a wolf he acted. At how unlike she rather suspected he was to other dire wolves as well. But for now it was just too much effort to contemplate.

Ghost was curled behind his human, his side serving as Jon's pillow.

She reached over to first stroke Ghost's head, and then to Jon's hair.

Across the room Oberyn turned on his heel again, his clothes whipping around him from the force of it.

Finally, Ellaria snapped.

"Darling," the endearment didn't sound very affectionate, "won't you come sit down?" She gestured pointedly at the empty chair on the other side of the bed.

When Oberyn hesitated she let her lips twist into a frown, "Oberyn."

He sat.

She leaned over Jon, her free hand grasping Oberyn's.

"You heard the healer, he's going to be fine." She said, her fingers stroking his. "A few days bed-rest is all. Even his arm will only need a few weeks before he can start using it again."

She knew better than to repeat the entirety of the Healers report. The first time had left them both pale and shaking.

He'd had to remove the arrow, and widen the wound on each side to ensure there wasn’t any shards left in it. Even given the milk of the poppy, they'd been able to hear Jon yell from the hall.

Any further down, or to the side, and his heart would have been nicked.

No, better not to remind Oberyn of that.

He covered her hand with one of his, the warmth comforting. Even so, his eyes were fixed on Jon.

Mercifully, he'd lost consciousness while the healer worked on him. Now he was sleeping what Ellaria hoped was a deep, healing rest.

Just as the tension in the room began to disperse into quiet reflection, someone knocked on the door.

"Come," Oberyn called.

Tyene slipped in, dipping into a brief curtsy. Sacrificing ceremony for the brevity she knew her father preferred.

"Father," she said, "We are about to begin interrogating the prisoner. If you'd like to join us?"

She crossed the room, passing something to Oberyn. "This was found on him."

Ellaria watched, curious, as Oberyn unfolded the bit of cloth and stared at it. His handsome face contorted into a scowl, and he jumped to his feet. The chair he'd been sitting in toppled over.

He nodded to Tyene, "thank you."

Her curiosity overcoming her, Ellaria reached out for the hand that dropped hers in his haste. "Oberyn?"

For a second, the rage in him lessened. He passed her the crumpled handkerchief.

"Can you still claim the Lannisters aren't the root of all evil?"

He dropped her hand, following his daughter out the door with nary a backwards glance at either her or Jon.

Ellaria spread out the cloth. In the corner, there was a rearing lion embroidered in red and gold.

 


 

Chapter Text


 

The hall feels hollow after the door slams shut behind him. Oberyn reaches up to massage his temples, his mind still reliving the end of the feast, on an unending reel.

It always started with the screaming, and in his memory it had become a mix of Ellaria and Elia. The woman who he dreaded to hear scream like that, and the one whose imagined screams still haunted his nights years after her death.

Then, Jon would enter the image, in slow motion as he landed on the table. In Oberyn's mind, where it was twisted to torture him, the boy stayed on the table longer. Just so he could get a good long look at the arrow in his shoulder, the shock on his face, and the fear in his eyes.

And in this version of events, when Jon tumbled to the floor Oberyn didn't jump the table. He just sat there, numb and useless as first Ellaria and then his daughters screamed for him.

When he finally did move, it was too late. He reached Jon just in time for Ellaria to roll him over, revealing his dark, unseeing eyes.

"Father?"

He jerked back into the present as Tyene shook him. When his eyes were able to focus again, he turned to see her watching him. Her blue, and very much alive, eyes were wide with concern.

He managed to muster a smile for her.

Tyene's mouth twitched, almost forming a frown, before she let it go. Instead she tucked her hand into the crook of his arm and began to tug him down the hall.

He covered her hand with his other one, squeezing her fingers. "Thank you."

It was a sentiment that covered more than he could express.

She leaned her head against his shoulder, her blonde hair spilling over.

He focused on his breathing as she led him towards the dungeons. With each breath he turned his mind away from reliving the same nightmare. When his mind inevitably dragged it back up, he again turned it away. He returned to his breathing, the warmth of Tyene beside him, and the knowledge that Jon was alive and recovering.

"Took you long enough," Obara grumbled as they met his other two daughters. They were waiting by the stairs that led down to the dungeons.

Nymeria rolled her eyes, shushing her sister. But the knife she was twirling between her fingers gave away her own impatience.

They all hid it differently, his daughters, but they were all vicious underneath. He couldn't help but be a little proud of that.

Obara wore her strength like an armor, daring anyone to try her. Nymeria hid hers behind revealing silks and cultured tones, always with a knife at the ready - her fangs on display. Tyene was perhaps the most like a viper, sunning herself on a rock. Seeming harmless, but the most venomous of the bunch.

Yes, he was every bit the proud father.

Obara opened her mouth, to remind them again that they were due for an interrogation, only to be interrupted by the sound of yelling.

They all exchanged a look as realization dawned. Nymeria was the first to react, darting down the stairs with Obara on her heels.

Oberyn and Tyene took their time, painfully aware that the damage was likely already done. And if not, that both Nymeria and Obara could handle it.

Sure enough, by the time they reached the cells, it was over.

In the first cell lay a man, strewn on the floor. His eyes were wide and unseeing. It reminded Oberyn too much of his own torment, and he had to look away.

Tyene left his side, weaving between her sisters and the flustered guardsmen to kneel down beside the body.

"What happened?" Oberyn asked, turning to address the guards.

The two men glanced at each other, shuffling their feet.

Obara growled low in her throat. They both jumped.

In other circumstances, Oberyn would have found that quite amusing.

The shorter one spoke up, his eyes darting between his fellow guard and Obara.

"We searched him, I swear, my prince," he said, "but then he reached for something in his pocket, and I didn't see what it was, but…"

The other guard seemed to get a hold of himself, "We thought he was going to attack us with it," he added, "but instead he used it on himself."

Nymeria hummed, glancing sidelong at her father. "Suicide, then?"

He didn't answer, turning back to Tyene. She had rolled the prisoner on to his back and had moved to searching the floor around him. Oberyn had an inkling as to what she was looking for.

Not long after she made an 'aha' noise, lifting something up into the light.

Oberyn stepped closer, peripherally aware of Obara and Nymeria following, to see it was a small needle. No bigger than his little finger.

Tyene held it up to her nose, sniffing it.

"Wolfsbane," she said after a moment of consideration.

Oberyn rocked back on his heels, whistling low and long, "that would do it."

"That's convenient," Nymeria said, her tone nonchalant. It didn't hide her rage well at all, not to her family, "and rather poetic. Considering who was injured."

Obara scoffed, kicking at the floor. The guards shifted nervously, likely fearing that they would be blamed.

Reaching into the folds of her dress Tyene pulled out a handkerchief, carefully wrapping the needle up in it. Oberyn stepped forward, and helped her to her feet, guiding her away from the body.

The guards jumped to attention, fairly vibrating with their anxiousness.

Obara eyed them, and the look in her eyes only increased their nerves. The shorter one turned pale.

Oberyn took pity on them, "You're dismissed, report to Daemon and then go home."

They just about fell over each other in their haste to escape.

Obara grumbled at yet another outlet for her anger disappearing.

Oberyn tried to work up the same anger his daughters were feeling, but could only feel tired. He supposed that came with age, as anger did with youth.

"We should go see Uncle Doran," Nymeria said, cutting Obara off before she could say anything about the guards.

Tyene seemed to agree, taking up his arm again. "Come father, you'll feel better after you get to rant some more about the dastardly Lannisters."

He couldn't help but snort at that, offering his other arm to Nymeria. She took it with a playful curtsy, never mind the dirt and gloom surrounding them.

Obara shook her head at the three of them, but led the way up the stairs.

"Fools, the lot of you." she could be heard muttering.

Oberyn grinned, his heart lightened.

 


 

Prince Doran watched the moon rise to its apex, absently listening to his brother and nieces explain the situation. 

The sand snakes were practically writhing in their anger, slithering over each other's words to condemn the assassin in their own way, while Oberyn was strangely calm.

It was his calmness that had Doran on edge, it wasn't like his brother. His brother was the raging hurricane, the tempest that picked up power before hitting with all its destructive force, leaving destruction in his wake.

He feared that this was merely the calm before the storm.

"You should have let me hit him some more at the feast," Obara was grumbling, "I would have gotten his employer from him before he could use his poison."

"Now, dear sister," Tyene temporized, "we could not have known he would commit suicide rather than talk."

Nymeria rolled her eyes, "it's what any assassin worth their salt would do."

Doran turned in his chair, facing away from the window to eye the three women.

Obara stood with her arms crossed and her legs braced, as if she expected to fend off an attack at any moment. Nymeria's stance was more deceptive, but just as ready.

It was Tyene's position close to Oberyn that drew Doran's attention however. She was only half paying attention to her sisters, the rest of her attention was on their still silent father.

So she too was worried by his calm.

"It was the Lannisters," Oberyn said, and the storm hit.

Doran cradled his head in his hand.

Obara and Nymeria paused, their argument pushed to the wayside as their father reminded them of his presence.

"Of course it was," Obara said, running her hand through her hair roughly. "they're behind everything.

Doran sighed; these truly were Oberyn's daughters.

Nymeria, too, seemed to agree. "Still, a confession would have been nice."

"All we have now is a handkerchief, hardly convincing." Tyene joined in, patting her father's arm.

Oberyn scowled, "isn't that enough? The Lannisters have always despised our family, for our connection to the Targaryen royal line, for the fact that we alone still maintain our own royal titles, the list goes on and on."

"But why now? When their rule, alongside the Baratheon's, is stable and all but set in stone?" Nymeria mused aloud, one hand absently caressing the dagger on her hip.

It was only in the presence of family that she would wear her weapons so blatantly.

Doran looked up, "exactly. I would not be so quick to point the finger at the Lannisters, brother."

Oberyn turned to face him, "and why not? I'll grant that this was too badly done to be by Tywin's hand but his children are known to be… sloppy."

"Or it could be someone else, who is using our known distaste for the lions to shift the blame. A piece of cloth is hardly convincing evidence. Unless you can think of something that would motivate them to strike at us now." Doran returned with a pointed look.

His brother and his snakes fell silent at that, glancing between themselves. Oberyn in particular looked uneasy.

Doran sat back, satisfied for the moment that they couldn't deny his alternative was entirely plausible.

"And for now, we have more pressing matters to attend to," he said, waving his hand at his nieces, "I need to speak to your father alone."

Oberyn blinked at him, thrown by the change in subject. The winds in his storm finding no purchase.

His daughters looked to him, to see if he would argue with Doran's request.

Doran watched with a degree of satisfaction as Oberyn nodded to him and turned to his daughters.

"If it's important for you to know," he said, trying to appease them, "You'll know soon enough."

Their response was predictable.

Obara was mutinous. To Doran's eyes, it looked as if she was considering making them force her to leave.

Thankfully, for all their sakes, she acquiesced with a barely respectable nod.

Nymeria hid her own displeasure behind a sweeping curtsy, just low enough to be appropriate and no lower. Doran recognized it for the tongue-in-cheek slight it was, they all knew she usually afforded Doran more respect. 

He found himself more amused than irritated. After all, despite their surname, these infuriating women were his family.

Tyene on the other hand didn't appear to be either mutinous, nor hiding her displeasure as she surged forward to hug Oberyn.

She whispered something in his ear that Doran couldn't make out, before ushering her sisters from the room.

The brother princes listened as the trio moved off, Obara's grumbling and Tyene's giggling audible for some while as they took their time leaving.

"Will Tyene ever give it up?" Doran asked once he was sure the women were out of listening range.

"Her mask of innocence?" Oberyn said as he came to take the seat opposite Doran. He dropped into it, lounging with the casual grace Doran had always envied. "Whatever for? It’s a better weapon than any of her poisons."

Doran conceded the point with a tilt of his head.

"So?" Oberyn prompted when Doran didn't speak, "What is so important?"

The ruling prince folded his hands in front of him, considering his brother.

"Jon Arryn, the hand of the king, has died. And the King has announced a journey to Winterfell."

He watched as his words hit, watched the realization ripple across Oberyn. His brother straightened up in his seat, leaning forward to prop his elbows on his knees.

"Which means the next hand of the king will be…" Oberyn trailed off.

"Lord Eddard Stark." Doran finished.

They both took a moment to consider that, and how it would affect their own truce with the Stark family.

Ned Stark was moving into a position of great power, and one of great danger.

These events would undoubtedly affect their deal with him. especially if he accepted and moved south to Kings Landing. Perhaps, their timetable would be moved forward. Doran was already writing a missive to the other Lord in his mind.

It would have to mention his son's injury as well, Doran did not much envy whoever was around when Lord Stark received it.

"And in a similar vein, what have you discovered about Jon Snow?"

Oberyn grimaced at him, "Several shot down theories and one… that pushes believability but may yet hold true."

Doran rose an eyebrow, "you are being deliberately vague."

"Yes," Oberyn admitted, "you'll know more when I have some proof."

He stared down his brother, attempting to convince him to crack.

Oberyn stared back, "Trust me brother."

Doran sighed, collapsing back into his chair.

"Very well."

 


 

 

Jon woke slowly, dragged out of his slumber by the dull ache radiating from his shoulder.

The pain had a muted edge to it that spoke of milk of the poppy, but it must have been wearing off. He tried to find that darkness again, the innate knowledge that sleeping through the pain would be best, motivating him.

But oblivion was elusive, and danced just out of his grasp.

Finally, his eyes fluttered open.

Resigning himself to being awake, he took stock of the situation.

His left shoulder and chest were bandaged, tightly and with no red seeping through. He wasn't bleeding out then. That was something he supposed.

Behind him, something shifted and her turned to see Ghost curled around him and sleeping. That explained why his pillow was so firm and warm.

He tried to move his right, uninjured hand, only to find it pinned to the bed.

The culprit was Ellaria, who had fallen asleep at his bedside and happened to be using his forearm as a pillow.

His lips curled into a smile, something warm uncurling in his chest.

Out of the corner of his eye, the shadows shifted and he turned to find a third watching over his sleep.

Oberyn stood at his window, bathed in what little moonlight remained as the sky lightened. He hadn't noticed Jon wake.

Jon took advantage of his unawareness, examining the prince.

At least, Oberyn appeared uninjured.

And that was something that filled Jon with relief, he realized. At the feast, once he'd realized what the archer intended, he hadn't thought any further.

Not jumping in front of the arrow, had never occurred to him. Sometime in his stay here, he'd come to trust Oberyn despite his resolve not to.

And worse yet, he growing attached to the man. Enough to have not thought twice about laying down his life for him.

Instead of distressing him, the epiphany filled him with a resigned type of calm. He'd spent his entire life searching for a purpose. He had no name to carry on, no family that needed his service or protection, no legacy to uphold or honor. His desire to take the black had been motivated by his search for a duty, for a purpose to devote his life to.

How odd, that he'd find what he'd been looking for his whole life, the farthest south he'd ever been. The furthest from the wall he was likely to ever get. 

Protecting Oberyn, a loving father, a renowned warrior, a kind prince whose people adored him, a harsh but effective teacher, and most importantly - a man he was beginning to think of as friend? That was a purpose he could be proud of.

Jon relaxed back into Ghost's warmth, tension he hadn't realized he was carrying seeping from his bones.

The movement must have alerted Oberyn for he turned from the window to face him.

His tired face struck a chord within Jon before the elder smiled at him.

But then, the smile faded away. Leaving creased lines in its place, reminding Jon of Oberyn's age in the space of one breath.

"Why did you do it?" The question was ripped from Oberyn, the words appearing to pain him to a degree that alarmed Jon.

Jon didn't answer at first, as he was confused by the question.

"I don't…?" He trailed off, trying to keep up with Oberyn's train of thought.

Oberyn stalked over to the bed, his movements jerky with his frustration.

"Why did you save my life?" he demanded.

Jon leaned backwards.

"Were you just doing your duty as my bodyguard? Or was it for me? Do you think your life is so easily sacrificed?" Oberyn's questions came rapid fire, before his voice hitched on the last. He sagged forwards with exhaustion, one hand reaching out to rest on Jon's uninjured shoulder.

His eyes slipped close, "why are you so quick to martyr yourself?"

Jon reeled under the onslaught, struggling to keep up with the questions. The last of the painkillers left his system, his mind frightfully clear now.

As the words filtered and registered he shifted to consider Oberyn. He gave the questions the consideration they deserved, which in his eyes, was very little.

He shifted, trying to sit up, only to find Oberyn's hand pinning him. The aborted movement and resulting pressure pulled on his wound and he gasped.

His shoulder seared to life, reminding him he was injured.

Oberyn released his grip to help readjust his position against Ghost, shifting Jon so as to take any pressure off his left side. The gentle concern on his face makes Jon's tongue loose.

"It's not that I'm suicidal or that I think I'm some kind of martyr. But Oberyn, you're a prince. You're a father. You're Ellaria's. You have people that need you." Jon gripped Oberyn's wrist, imploring him to listen when the man looked like he was going to interrupt. "As for me? I have a few siblings who will be sad to hear of my death but what else? There's Ghost, but I trust that in my death you and Ellaria would look after him. Or that he'd look after you."

In his monologue, Jon failed to notice Oberyn's mounting fury.

"It comes down to arithmetic, and while I was never very good at it, this one was easy. You would be missed. I wouldn't. I'm just leverage over my father, and I have many true born siblings of greater value that could replace me."

Once he was finished Jon flushed in embarrassment, and shifted his gaze away, he hadn't meant to admit so much. But he wouldn't take it back, it was all true.

Oberyn broke, his hand moving to grab Jon roughly by the chin. Forcing him to meet his molten gaze.

"Listen to me Jon Snow, Wolf of Dorne, you are not worthless, nor are you replaceable," Oberyn said, his voice rasping with emotion, "You are not a shield to take arrows, and you would be missed."

Jon could only stare in shock.

But Oberyn wasn't finished.

"In fact," his voice had calmed, it was even now, "you're so irreplaceable that I refuse to give you up. Not to your father, nor to the Night's Watch. Not to anyone."

His last words were spoken with all the assuredness of a prince used to getting his way. He left no escape, no way that would allow Jon to escape.

And Jon was surprised to feel no rebellious urge. No indignation at being denied the watch, again. Just a strange sense of contentment.

For his part, Oberyn seemed satisfied without any response from Jon. He leaned forward to press a kiss to Jon's brow, taking advantage of the younger man's distraction.

With a twist of his wrist a vial slipped out of his sleeve, and before Jon could blink it was pressed to his lips. Jon didn't fight it, recognizing the strong taste that accompanies milk of the poppy.

He's asleep between one heartbeat and the next.

Oberyn pulled back only slightly. Tracing Jon's features with soft, questing fingers.

Neither noticed Ellaria shift, hiding a smile before drifting back to sleep herself.

 


 

Chapter Text


The halls of Winterfell had a chill to them that sunk into Sansa's bones. She wrapped her cloak tighter around her as she followed her dire wolf.

Lady was trotting down the corridor, stopping every few paces to look over her shoulder at Sansa. As if she was checking to see if she was still following.

Sansa shivered, "Lady, where are we going?"

They were in an older section of the castle, one she usually went out of her way to avoid.

Lady paused, letting her draw abreast of her. Then the usually mild-mannered wolf, tugged on Sansa's skirt with her teeth.

It shocked Sansa into flinching away, her hand tugging her skirt out of reach. Lady shifted impatiently, whining and nudging at her hand with her wet, cold nose.

"Lady…" Sansa said. She trailed off as Lady moved again, still intent on her destination.

Giving in with a sigh Sansa followed her.

Only to doubt that decision when Lady stopped by a familiar door, scratching at it.

Biting her lip she stopped beside Lady, resting her hand on top of her head. Her fingers automatically moved to massage between Lady's ears.

But her wolf wasn't to be distracted, pawing at the door again.

Sansa moved her hand from Lady to the handle, and then hesitated.

She hadn't been in this room since Jon left. Which wasn't remarkable, since this room had been his.

Lady yipped.

Sansa turned the handle, letting the door swing open.

She let out a breath, scanning the room for whatever had been calling to her companion. Before she could figure it out Lady lunged forward, knocking into her litter-mate.

Soon she and Grey Wind were rolling around the floor, play-wrestling.

Sansa rolled her eyes, but didn't call Lady to heel. For all their size, they were still pups.

A figure shifted on the bed, and for the first time she noticed Robb.

He had his back to her, staring at the far wall. His shoulders were hunched, and the fact that he hadn't reacted to her arrival worried her.

"Robb?" Her voice was tentative even to her own ears, and her hands compulsively adjusted her cloak again.

As of late Robb had been surly, short with everyone, save Arya.

It left Sansa wary as to how he would react to her intruding on what was clearly something private.

He finally shifted to look at her, and she couldn't help but notice the dark circles under his eyes.

"What is it Sansa?" His voice matched his eyes in how rough and tired it sounded.

She frowned and moved further into the room, perching on the bed beside her older brother.

"Nothing's wrong with me," she slanted her gaze at him pointedly.

He flushed from his ears to his neck, his own blue eyes avoiding hers.

"Robb…" she started before shifting gears, "the king and his entire court, including Ser Jaime and the kings guard are coming here. To Winterfell."

Robb barely reacted, a muscle jumping in his jaw.

Sansa sighed.

"I can't help but think you'd be more excited if Jon was here."

At that Robb finally reacted with a real emotion, his face twisting with grief.

"And that surprises you?" he asked, his barb lacking his usual panache.

Her unease and worry grew.

She tilted her head, considering how to put her thoughts delicately. Jon was a touchy subject with Robb, especially when it was coming from her or their Mother.

"In a way," she chose her words with care, "you two were always close. But Robb, he's not truly our sibling. He's family, yes, but not to the degree we are."

He stared at her, looking genuinely stunned.

Encouraged, perhaps falsely, Sansa forged forward. Now that she was voicing her view, she couldn't seem to stop.

"Bran and Rickon, they're more your brother than Jon. Can't you see that? His presence hurt mother, shamed father… Are things not easier with him out of sight?"

Robb jolted to his feet, pacing away from her. His sudden movement interrupted Lady and Grey Wind who moved out of his way. They took shelter on the far side of the bed.

At his side his hands clenched into fists and Sansa had her first inkling that she'd said something wrong.

But she was young, and sure of herself, so she dug her grave deeper.

"He's our half-brother Robb, a bastard." Despite her best effort, she couldn't quite keep her venom out of the last word.

Robb turned with a roar and punched the wall to his left.

Sansa jumped.

She'd never seen Robb lose his temper so blatantly.

His shoulders were heaving, his head bowed as he continued to face the wall he'd just bruised his knuckles against.

This time, she didn't dare speak.

For several long moments, the only sound in the room was his heavy breathing.

Sansa on the other hand, was holding her breath.

Finally, he spoke.

"Is that what you really believe?"

His voice was quiet, to the point she had to strain to make out the words. It should have put her at ease, he wasn't yelling, but instead she felt a trickle of fear travel down her spine.

For the first time in her life, Robb seemed as intimidating as their father could sometimes be. But she was a wolf, and fear wasn't enough to stem the tide.

"Yes? Robb, sentiment aside he's not family in the same way we are."

He turned on his heel, narrowing his eyes at her.

"We are? Sansa I don't say this to hurt you, but Jon is the sibling I consider myself closest to."

Sansa's eyes burned, her hands twisting in her lap. Some part of her had always suspected that Robb and Jon had a relationship, a closeness, she could never touch, never be a part of. It burned, for she was the one who shared the same blood with Robb. Not just from one parent, but from both.

And yet, she would always be second in Robb's eyes.

Having it confirmed aloud, from the source, was something she'd never sought.

Robb sighed, the anger seeping from his frame.

He strode over, crouching down in front of her, the way he used to when she was little.

Tears began to burn a path down her cheeks.

"Sansa," Robb said, reaching up to brush aside her tears. "You're my little sister, I love and adore you. You know that right?"

She swallowed, and managed to nod. "But not as much as Jon."

He sighed, "It's not a question of more or less, I just care about you both in different ways."

That failed to make Sansa feel better, it only confused her.

"I don't understand."

"I know you don't," he said, sitting back on his haunches. "Sansa, I don't remember a time without Jon."

She frowned, but didn't interrupt.

"For all that it mattered, especially when we were younger, Jon was my twin. We did everything together, went everywhere together. Until you were born, it was just me and him."

"But then it wasn't just you and him." she couldn't stop herself from interrupting this time.

He cracked a smile, sitting back up again to brush a strand of her strawberry hair aside. "No, then we had a baby sister. Who one of us adored."

She smiled back.

"Sansa, it's not easy for me to admit, but I wasn't the one who adored you. Not until I was older, at least."

She leaned away from him, her mouth dropping open.

"What? But Robb-"

He held up a hand.

"Please, let me explain."

She subsided.

"I was young, I had Jon for a playmate and I didn't particularly want to be a big brother. I regret that now, but it wasn't me who picked you up when you fell down chasing after us. I wasn't the one who learned how to braid your hair so you wouldn't get in trouble with mother."

Sansa gaped at him, her mind racing. She had vague memories of a little boy leaning over her, comforting her as she cried. Brushing the dirt off her after a tumble. It was all blurred with time though, she had vague impressions of the memories, but no details.

She'd always assumed the boy was Robb.

His next words hit her the hardest.

"And I wasn't the one who was heartbroken when my little sister learned what 'bastard' meant and began to avoid me."

She couldn't breathe. Her eyes burned with fresh tears as she imagined what that must have been like for little Jon.  Imagined how she would feel in that situation. How she had felt when Arya grew up a little and decided she'd rather chase the boys around than sit and sew with Sansa.

And yet, Arya had never been as cruel to her as she had been to Jon.

She began to sob.

Out of her siblings, she was the one who cried the easiest. Who heard sad tales or poetry and cried for long dead people.

Why had that empathy never extended to Jon?

Tears coursed down her cheeks, her shoulders heaved, and her chest was so tight it felt like she would never be able to breathe again. Had she really been such a brat?

Had her idolization of her mother, her desire to not have him around to hurt her, pushed her to it? Or had she resented him for his place in Robb's eyes?

Each seemed possible, and in this moment, neither was a good enough reason.

Arms wrapped around her, Robb pulling her off the bed and into his lap.

"Oh sweet Sansa, Jon never blamed you." He spoke into her ear, beginning to rock her side to side. "He writes to you still, does he not?"

Her heart-wracking sobs began to subside as she focused on what he was saying.

And it was true, Jon did write to her. Not as long of letters as Robb, Arya and Bran got, but more than she'd honestly expected.

His letters didn't say much of substance. He described Dorne, the castle, the people, the clothes they wore.

Things he knew she'd like.

Again, shame burned in her gut.

"I'm horrid," she choked out, hiding her face against Robb.

His arms tightened around her, and he rubbed her back. "You're not horrid. You're young, and you listened to our mother. Which isn't always a bad thing, but she has never been able to treat Jon fairly."

Sansa couldn't deny that, even in her eyes, her mother sometimes crossed the line with Jon. And she'd still taken her word as gospel, had blamed him for it. Because that was what her mother did and she wanted nothing more than to grow up to be like her mother.

Something bumped into her back and she pulled away just enough to see both Lady and Grey Wind pressing close.

With their combined weight, she went toppling further into Robb, unbalancing him. The result was two humans and two dire wolves, strewn in a mess on the floor.

For a moment Sansa laid there, stunned.

And then she began to laugh.

 


 

Catelyn slowly moved her needle up and down, working on the embroidery across her lap. She was sitting in her usual arm chair by the fire, while Ned was behind his desk.

What was unusual, was the presence of their three eldest.

Robb and Arya were seated in the chairs across from Ned. Meanwhile Sansa was perched on the foot stool that went with her own chair.

None of the three seemed particularly enthused at their inclusion, Catelyn mused as she carefully tied off her stitch.

Ned cleared his throat, "As you all know, the King is on his way here as we speak. Hosting the Royal Court is a tricky business, and it comes with certain expectations."

His gaze flickered to her and she set down her embroidery, taking the cue.

"There are standards we must maintain, in dress and in manners." She said, watching her children's reactions.

Arya's mulish pout was entirely expected, as was Robb's grudging acceptance.

It was Sansa that worried her.

For the last several days Sansa had been quiet and withdrawn, keeping to herself outside of meals. Catelyn had been sure her eldest daughter would be dancing around in delight. Worrying about whether she had a nice dress. Asking for story after story about their Royal visitors.

That wasn't what she'd gotten. In fact, even Arya was more excited about the visit than Sansa. And Arya was only excited at the chance to see some southern knights.

She'd tried to ask Sansa about it, but her daughter had demurred and steered every attempt to another topic. It was everything Catelyn had taught her to do, she'd just never imagined it used against her.

"Mother?"

She blinked, coming back to herself. Arya, the one who had spoken, was frowning at her.

"I apologize," she said with a smile, "I was just thinking about all the things we still have to do to prepare."

Her children all nodded, but Ned's glance in her direction told her that at least one of those present hadn't bought her little lie.

Before she could return to the topic at hand, there was a knock on the study door.

She rose to her feet, setting her embroidery and needles off to the side.

"Enter."

Jory poked his head in, offering first her husband and then her an apologetic smile and nod.

"Milord, milady, I was dispatched by the Maester with urgency."

He stepped fully into the study, two scrolls in his hand. Both carrying the Martell seal.

Catelyn moved to intercept him before her husband could, accepting the letters.

"Thank you Jory."

Hearing the dismissal in her tone, and after a quick glance over her shoulder at Ned, he bowed and left.

Once he was gone she glanced down at the scrolls, one was addressed to Ned and one to the Stark Children.

Both in markedly different handwriting.

She turned to hand Ned the one addressed to him.

"From Dorne," she dared him with her eyes to hide this one like the last one.

He sighed, but accepted the scroll.

Catelyn felt the rush of victory, he had no reason to avoid opening it now. Especially considering the urgency it was sent with.

They all watched with bated breath as he opened the scroll.

He began to read, his posture stiffening. Then, he drew in a shaky breath and Catelyn watched as all the color seeped from his face.

She hadn't seen him this shaken since the war.

He stood, one hand bracing himself against the table as he finished the letter. By now, she and the children were all on the edges of their seats - anxious about his reaction.

What could possibly elicit this from her usually calm husband?

His eyes fell shut, and when they open Catelyn sees an anger lurking there that worries her. His hand clenches into a fist, the letter crumpling within it as he makes for the door.

"Ned?" she asked, even as she dropped the second letter on his desk and moved to follow him.

Whatever had happened, it had to be bad for him to react like that.

What new shame had Jon brought to them now?

 


 

The door has only just swung shut behind their parents when Arya darted out of her chair. She grabbed the second scroll. Before she could open it Robb had lifted it from her grasp.

Robb flipped the scroll over in his hands, only half aware of Sansa shushing Arya's squawks.

He was at once eager to read the contents of the letter, and scared of what they might say.

The handwriting was not Jon's, and it was distinctly feminine. He could only think of a few reasons Jon wouldn't write the letter himself, and none of them were good.

"Robb?" Sansa's hand landed on his shoulder and he is startled into looking away from the letter.

In his distraction she had risen from her seat and moved to stand by him.

"Read it to us?" she asked, her voice the wrong side of shaky.

He swallowed, glancing over at Arya. She sent him an impatient look in reply.

Steeling himself, he unrolled the scroll and began to read.

Dear Stark Children,

My name is Ellaria Sand and I am penning this letter at your brother's request. Since he couldn't write it himself, I am transcribing his words.

Sansa gasped, one hand rising to cover her mouth.

They all knew that Jon's implied inability to write to them was a very bad sign.

Clearing his throat, Robb continued to read.

Do not panic.

Robb couldn't help but think that warning would have been better placed earlier in the letter. Out of respect to his sisters' distress, he kept the thought to himself and instead went back to the letter.

Jon will be fine, given time to heal. He insisted I help him write to you, lest you find out from another source. I will sum up the events that led to his injury and then he has messages for each of you.

At a feast, an archer attacked Oberyn Martell.

"That's the second prince of Dorne," Sansa said, her hand dropping from her mouth.

It was her turn to be shushed by Arya.

"Can I continue now?" Robb asked.

Properly contrite, they both nodded.

Jon, having taken on the role of bodyguard and dear friend, was the first to spot the danger. He bravely, and foolishly, dove in front of the arrow meant for Oberyn. (He'd prefer I not put it in these terms, but since I have the quill, he has no say in the matter.)

Robb had to stop again, this time to choke down a laugh. One he knew, if allowed to surface, would have a distinctly hysterical edge to it.

His sisters had similar reactions, Sansa rolling her eyes while Arya dared to snicker.

It did sound just like Jon.

The arrow pierced his left shoulder, through and through. He lost a lot of blood and it was touch and go for a time. But he's stable now and expected to make a full recovery. Until then he's on bed rest and forced to endure our unique brand of entertainment.

That sobered them again.

Now that that's out of the way, onto his messages to you all. These I have sworn not to alter, under the pain of death.

In no particular order:

Robb - I swear to the Old Gods, if you ride off on some harebrained scheme to come rescue me, I'll beat you silly myself. Injured or no. I'm going to be fine and I have more than one person hovering around me already. No need to add you to the mess. Besides, from what I hear, you're about to have bigger, more royal problems. Take care of yourself, and our younger siblings.

Robb took a deep breath only to then wonder why anyone advised doing so in times of distress. All it achieved was making him want to use his new supply of air to scream or shout.

Instead, he released it through his nose in one long controlled stream.

Both Sansa and Arya were watching him, he couldn't afford to lose it in front of them. He moved on to the sections addressed to them.

Arya - What I wrote to Robb, applies to you as well. Don't overreact. I'm not seriously injured. And if Prince Doran gets what he wants, I may be seeing you sooner than you think. I hope you're keeping up with Needle. Try to stay out of trouble once the Court is there. 

Robb paused, this time to give Arya a moment to process.

From the conflicted look on her face, she had yet to learn to hide her emotions, he knew she wasn't sure whether to be annoyed at his insistence of being fine, or intrigued at the idea she may see him soon.

Robb supposed it made sense. If the King really was on his way to ask their father to be his hand, it followed that he would go with him to Kings Landing.

And perhaps take some of Robb's siblings. If that happened, was Jon implying that Doran would want Arya to journey to Dorne sooner?

Sansa cleared her throat, and for a moment she sounded so much like their mother that he jumped.

Her eyes were narrowed, but he could see then tension in her frame. She was worried about what Jon's message to her may say.

He gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile. Jon may feel many things about his issues with both Sansa and Catelyn, but Robb could never see him deliberately lashing out either.

It just wasn't in his brother. He was just much too kind, even when it was to his own detriment. And too insecure, too much so to think he had the right to lash out at them. 

Rather than linger on that, he began to read Sansa's passage.

Sansa - I know I don't have to worry about you doing anything rash. Please, do me this one favor, and keep the others calm. I'll write again once I'm able and describe the feast. You would have adored the music and dancing.

Robb respectfully didn't comment on the tears beginning to gather in Sansa's eyes. He knew based off their conversation a few nights ago that she'd finally realized how unfairly she'd treated their brother.

And unfortunately for her, Jon's kindness likely stung all the more for it. It would serve to remind her how cruel she had been in return.

It left Robb in a quandary. On one hand, he was petty enough to be glad Sansa was feeling the sting Jon had felt his entire life. On the other, he hated to see any of his siblings hurting. Even when they'd earned it.

Arya kicked his shin, "Is there anything else?"

He skimmed over the sections for Bran and Rickon, choosing not to read them now. He'd make sure to read it to them later.

There was only one thing left after that.

All my love,

Jon

(Transcribed by the beautiful and gracious Ellaria Sand, without whom Jon would be lost)

 


 

The snow fell in a flurry around her as Catelyn strode through the Gods Wood.

Of course the first snow of the season would happen on this day, of all days.

Even in the dim lighting that came with the sunset, she had no trouble spotting her husband.

Instead of sitting sedately under the Heart Tree, he was pacing circles around it. As she drew closer it was apparent he'd regained some of his color, replacing fear with rage.

She drew herself up, adjusting her cloak so it fell over her more securely. Even after decades in the North, she was still not accustomed to the constant chill.

"Ned? Darling?"

He ignored her, continuing his pacing.

Her patience snapped.

"What happened? What could that boy have possibly done to anger you so?" she demanded, stepping in his path and forcing him to stop or run her over. He stopped, his chest heaving as he stared at her with wild eyes.

She gentled, one hand reaching up stroke his cheek.

"Whatever Jon did to dishonor us, we can fix it. Just calm yourself, my love."

Her words did not have the calming affect she'd wanted. Instead Ned whirled away from her, as if the other option had been to strike out at her.

The thought shocked her.

Ned hadn't been this angry at her in years, not since her last attempt to cajole Robb away from Jon. Then too, Ned had appeared to barely hold onto his temper.

He'd made it very clear where the line was. She could say all manner of things to Jon, could force him to eat with the servants when they had noble guests. But the one thing she could not do was interfere with his relationship with Robb.

It had been a bitter medicine for her to swallow then, just as his clear reprimand now was.

"Disgraced us?" His voice was one shade away from yelling.

She resisted the urge to shy away from him as he turned back towards her.

He reached up, and she flinched. But he was just running his hand through his hair.

Mentally, she scolded herself for her reaction. Ned would never let him get so into a temper that he'd hit her, his moving away from her was proof of that.

"Cat, he didn't disgrace us." his voice was noticeably softer now, then anger draining from him to leave only sorrow. "He honored us, he protected a Dornish prince at no little price to himself. He brought glory to the Stark name, no matter how I wish he hadn't put himself in danger to do it."

She frowned, going over his words again in her mind.

"I don't understand, why are you enraged by the letter then? Surely the Martell's are grateful." she said, trying to make sense of the situation and his reaction to it.

He snorted, "Oh they're properly grateful alright." He waved the crumpled letter in the air. "Prince Doran doesn't outright say it, but he hints that their preference is for Jon to remain with them. Even after Arya fulfills the deal."

This time, Catelyn tried to choose her words more carefully.

"And that's a bad thing?"

He growled.

"Yes. No. Yes. When it means my son almost died, and I was too far away to do anything about it. To even know about it until long after the fact."

Catelyn tried to interject, to remind him that this wasn't his fault. He'd sent the boy to Dorne, yes, but he'd had no way of knowing he'd almost die there. But Ned talked over her.

"I'm going to write to Doran tonight," he moved past her, towards the castle, "ask for Jon to be sent home. If he's on a boat with the next few days he may even beat Robert here. The court travels slow."

She glared, chasing after her husband. This was madness and she wasn't going to let him act on it.

"Don’t you dare take one more step Eddard Stark."

He stopped in his tracks.

"From my view, it appears that your son," it galled her to refer to Jon in those terms, but if it got through to Ned, she'd do it. "strengthened our alliance with the Martells. The one you wanted."

His face twisted in a grimace, but she knew she was getting through to him. While she'd initially been against this alliance, she wasn't going to let him destroy it in a fit of rage for a boy that wasn't even his trueborn son.

"Will you undo all you've done, all Jon has done, in one letter?"

She may have been born a Tully, but she'd spent enough time with wolves to know where the jugular was. And when she'd won.

Ned closed his eyes, and she watched as he visibly calmed down again.

She reached out and gently removed the letter from his hand, smoothing out the wrinkles. "You can write a reply to the prince tomorrow, when you're in your right mind."

"Yes, my dear."


 

Chapter Text


 

"Was the divan really necessary?"

Ellaria rolled her eyes from where she was leaning against a column, a bowl of grapes balanced on her palm. 

"Yes. Yes it was."

When he continued to glare at her, she threw a grape at him.

The first one hit him in the middle of the forehead, and she couldn't help but laugh at the wide-eyed look Jon sent her. His face was rather comical in his surprise. She rolled a second grape between the tips of her fingers, the peel cool against her skin.

On a whim, she threw another one. This time he craned his neck, trying to catch it in his mouth.  He missed.

Instead the grape hit his cheek, rolling down to land on his chest. It came to a stop only when it hit the barrier of his left arm, strapped down so that he couldn't move it.

A requirement that she and Oberyn were having trouble enforcing. Who would have guessed that Jon would be a bad patient? He was as bad as Oberyn could sometimes be, chafing at being confined to resting.

But Oberyn's pout had nothing on Jon's. Ellaria had found her resolve tested more often than not in the last few days.

Meanwhile, Jon was scowling at her. "Again," he said.

She grinned, rolling yet another grape between her fingers before tossing a third at him. She made more of a show of it, telegraphing her arm movements to help him predict the toss.

This time, he managed to catch it - barely. Once he'd swallowed it, he grinned.

If he'd been any other boy his age, he'd have crowed aloud with triumph.

The thought sobered Ellaria. It served to remind her how much the younger man's life had shaped him. To the point that even when he did take joy in childish things, it was always reserved. Held back. As if he feared being mocked for it. As if he'd never learned how to let go and just enjoy something. 

It made something twist within her. Rage and protectiveness quarreling in her chest. Sometimes, she wondered if Catelyn Stark would be her 'Lannisters', if Oberyn was finally rubbing off on her.

He knocked over a vase, and it was the Lannisters' fault. There was a drought that year, and it was due to the Lannisters' angering the Gods. Jon was insecure and fatalistic - and it was the Lannisters' fault.

According to Oberyn anyway. Ellaria rather thought the Lady Stark had more of a hand in that last one, and if they ever crossed paths…

Ellaria would prove that it wasn't just wolves who were protective of their young.

"Well," Jon's voice jarred her out of her increasingly morose thoughts. "If I'm forced to sit here - despite it being my upper body that's injured, not my legs - the least you can do is join me."

She considered him, her eyes flitting between him and the divan she'd had the servants drag outside that morning. In the background she could hear the clang of metal and murmur of voices.

Jon was well enough to be allowed out of his rooms, but not to the point where he could take part in his customary morning spars. So she'd had it set up so he could at least watch. She'd known he was going stir crazy. Especially so once Ghost deemed him well enough to resume stalking through the castle.  

Before the wolf had spent his nights exploring the grounds while Jon slept. But now that Jon was injured, and unable to guard himself at night, Ghost watched over him in the evenings. He stretched his legs in the daylight hours instead, trusting Ellaria and Oberyn to watch over Jon. 

It was a trust Ellaria took seriously. 

She knew Jon understood that Ghost was at heart a creature made to be outside, but that didn't make it easier when he went off on his own.

Predictably, when she'd suggested sitting in on Oberyn and his daughters sparring, he'd jumped at the chance to get out of the tower.

But he'd balked at the divan, as she'd known he would.

She examined his expression. On the surface it was calm, maybe even teasing. But there was a pleading to his gaze that had her moving to perch on the end of the divan.

He sighed in relief, and said "thank you."

Ellaria leaned back, squeezing his knee. "Of course."

 


 

Oberyn blinked the sweat out of his eyes, the sun just beginning to beat down on them. The heat kissed his skin, as familiar as the lips of his lover.

No matter where he traveled, the sun was his constant companion. No matter what happened, what tragedy he faced, the sun rose in the morning.

His gaze unerringly skittered to the side, attracted by the sound of laughter.

Ellaria and Jon were lounging on the divan, taking turns tossing grapes at each other. Jon missed more often than Ellaria, sending them both into peals of laughter more like that of children than adults.

Something warm twisted in his gut at the sight.

It didn't last long though, as the blunt end of spear landed there. It knocked the warm feeling, and his breath, from him.

"You are distracted," Obara said, stepping back to let him regain his composure. "It makes for a boring spar, father."

He straightened up despite still not being able to breathe normally, and glared at her as he rubbed his midsection. The ache under his hand told him that it would be a nasty bruise come tomorrow.

A minor injury when compared to past spars with Obara.

"Don't bother, Obara." Nymeria chimed in from where she was practicing throwing her knives. A pastime she wouldn't usually engage in where anyone could stumble on them. But they were in a secluded enough area, one the guards had learned to avoid in the last few weeks. "Our darling father is hopeless when he gets like this."

Obara grunted, resting her spear on her shoulder. "True enough."

Oberyn pouted. "Such disrespect. What other father would put up with it?"

The question was rhetorical, which of course meant he got an answer from both of them.

In one swift move Obara shifted her spear from her shoulder to a downward sweep aimed at his knees. He barely managed to jump over it, his own spear planted in the ground to give him leverage and height.

Nymeria laughed at the sight and his previous complaint, "As if you could stop us."

One of her knives twirled between his fingers, metal flashing in the sunlight, before she threw it over her shoulder.

Oberyn didn't have to look to know it had hit the bullseye. With his daughter, it was a given. They'd all been born with fangs, with weapons in their grasps before they could walk.

He wouldn't have had it any other way. Perhaps if Elia had been similarly inclined she would still be alive today. But then again, few could stand against the mountain.

He stopped that train of thought before he could spiral.

"And I'm not fool enough to try." he grumbled, only half joking.

They both knew it too, judging by their smug looks.

 


 

"I didn't expect to see you before the sun was high in the sky," Tyene commented as she linked arms with her cousin.

Arianne tilted her head, eyes curious as they began to stroll through the gardens. Gardens that unknown to her, were on the opposite side of the palace grounds from Tyene's father and sisters. In the short time since her arrival Tyene had picked up on the tension between Arianne and Jon. And with Oberyn and Ellaria circling Jon like mother hens - it wasn't a good time to introduce Arianne to the situation.

Hence why she had no intention of letting them wander anywhere near that side of the palace.

"Whatever gave you that idea?" Arianne asked, her voice light. But not light enough to fool Tyene into believing her cousin didn't know to what she was referring.

Tyene winked at her. "Last I saw you were absconding into the night with that pretty knight," she said.

She watched, distantly amused, as her cousin's lips began to form a denial only for it to die before it truly could.

"It was just a…lapse." she said after a moment, her dark curls falling forward to hide her face.

Tyene hummed her disbelief.

Anything that involved Daemon Sand was never simply a 'lapse'. This was the knight who had dared to ask her Uncle Doran for Arianne's hand in marriage after all.

No one, save perhaps Daemon himself, had been surprised at the denial he'd received. Even Arianne had seen it coming, had resented and avoided Daemon for months after.

Tyene understood how it could be awkward. Especially since, more often than not, Doran tasked Daemon with protecting Arianne. A more blatant example of her uncle's manipulative side than one usually saw.

But, then again, he'd never had qualms about using other people's emotions against them when it came to protecting his family. And few would risk more than Daemon would for Arianne.

Arianne cleared her throat, the sound as delicate and regal as could be. She knew from experience that such affectations took practice and skill. No one was naturally that graceful.

"Tyene? Can I ask you something?"

The change in subject was less than subtle but Tyene let it happen without acknowledging it outwardly.

"You can ask," she said with a playful glance.

Arianne relaxed, leaning against her as they reached the koi pond.

"It's about Jon. Both my father and yours are… unduly interested in him. Do you know why?" Her voice was hushed, anticipation lining the words.

It was a question her cousin must have asked before, one she hadn't received satisfactory answers for. Tyene wasn't sure she could do any better. She could see the appeal in Jon. The traits that must tug at Oberyn and Ellaria. But she couldn't decipher what had initially brought their interest. Nor what held their interest so thoroughly. 

The two were infamous for finding and discarding their toys. Jon had lasted a record amount of time, and displayed no signs of being the type of 'toy' they played with.

And Doran was even more of a mystery, other than her confidence that his interest at least, was political. Somehow, Jon would be a boon to their family. She just couldn't see how yet. 

Tyene moved away from Arianne, crouching down to dip her fingertips in the water. She watched the water ripple around them, waves expanding from the center. Consequences from one action.

"I don't know details," she glanced back over her shoulder, purposefully widening her eyes to appear more innocent. Sometimes, she kept up the act so well that she herself forgot what was faked and what wasn't. "But I do know my father has been causing… rumblings with his questions about him."

Arianne straightened her spine, her chin jerking up. "Rumblings that might have led to an assassination attempt?"

Tyene shrugged, "I wouldn't know."

She rose back to standing, brushing off her dress and her ruminations. Her thoughts wouldn't amount to more until she had more information, from multiple sources preferably.

One never got the full picture without looking for it, without examining the context. 

"And I suspect we won't know the truth of it for some time yet. With the king moving north, we have bigger problems on the horizon."

Arianne snorted, lacking any of her previous elegance. "You're telling me. I spent the last two days helping father deal with the nobles. None of them like change."

Tyene tapped the side of her nose.

"Change brings opportunity, sweet cousin."

 


 

 Jon hadn't been avoiding Oberyn, per se.

If he happened to be 'sleeping' when Oberyn took his turn sitting with him... if he encouraged Ellaria to be the one to accompany him when he needed fresh air... if he insisted on setting their divan farther away from their sparring than strictly necessary... well that was just coincidence.

He wasn't running away, certainly not.

Beside him on the bed, Ghost grunted.

He turned to see red eyes watching him, distinctly unimpressed.

Jon slumped back against his pillows, defeated. If he couldn't convince himself, or Ghost, there was no denying it.

He was avoiding Oberyn.

But he had good reason. Truly he did.

His memories of the night he'd been injured were a bit of a blur, caused both by the pain and later the medicine, but a few things stood out.

Because of course the parts his mind remembered in stark detail were the things he wasn't sure he wanted to think about. The things that left him with a mortified clench in his gut. He'd bared his soul to Oberyn, confessed insecurities that he'd kept to himself before.

Spoken words that never should have left his lips. That never would have under normal circumstances.

And Oberyn had answered with assurances he'd never expected and a declaration that had never crossed his mind was even possible.

It had left him reeling.

What could he say to that? What did he want to say to that? Did he thank Oberyn? Condemn him for denying him his one dream? His one escape from what he'd thought was a doomed existence?

A dream he wasn't sure he even wanted now?

All of this had led to the avoidance he still didn't want to admit to. It seemed easier that way, if he put it off long enough, maybe the conversation would never be had.

A derisive voice in his head, that sounded rather like Arya when he stopped to think about it, told him how idiotic that was.

Ghost shifted, pawing at his arm.

Seconds after there was a knock at the door. Jon glanced at his wolf, before calling for them to enter.

As if summoned by the focus of his thoughts, Oberyn eased in.

He was balancing a tray of food, familiar small scrolls peeking out from the edges of his tunic.

Jon experienced a moment of déjà vu, Oberyn's appearance reminding him of his early days in Dorne. When the prince had brought him his meals and letters, catering to Jon's desire to hide away in the tower.

He shook it off as Oberyn moved towards him.

"I have finally cornered you, you sneaky wolf," Oberyn said.

Jon flushed, embarrassed to be caught out but relieved that Oberyn's tone was playful and teasing.

He cleared his throat, "is that dinner?"

Oberyn nodded, setting the tray down beside the bed. He perched on the edge by Jon's knees. He reached over to pet Ghost in greeting, the wolf nudged his hand when he paused - inviting more pets. "I stole it off Ellaria, convinced her to go spend time with the girls instead."

Well that explained how his master plan to avoid Oberyn had failed.

Jon looked down at his hands, fiddling with the blanket. It was an extra throw blanket that had mysteriously appeared after his injury. He'd woke the second morning, the chill left over from his shoulder chased away by it. 

He had two guesses as to who had left it, and he rather thought it was a concerted effort. 

"Do you want to talk about it?" Oberyn asked, this time his voice had dropped all playfulness.

It was a serious offer, Jon knew, but also one he could refuse without Oberyn pressuring him. If you'd asked him even a few weeks ago, he never would have believed he'd be at the point where he could read a Dornish prince so well.

And yet, here he was. Sure of Oberyn's intent based of his tone of speech alone.

The thought emboldened him enough to respond, but not enough to look up. "Which part? My graceful dive in front of an arrow or my embarrassing confessions afterwards?"

Oberyn huffed, just the right side of amused. "First, as graceful as that dive was I'd still rather you hadn't. Second, nothing you said that night was embarrassing."

That got Jon to look up, just long enough to shoot him an incredulous look.

Oberyn didn't smile or smirk or give any other sign that he wasn't being completely serious.

Which meant…

Jon swallowed and turned his gaze back to his hands. He found a loose thread and tugged at it, the edge unraveling in his grasp. Rather how his composure was. 

"Then, what you said that night?" He left the question deliberately open ended, not sure how to ask what he wanted to know.

There was a moment of silence before Oberyn spoke.

"Will you look at me Jon?"

He considered not acquiescing, but that felt petty and more than a bit childish so he tilted his chin up and met Oberyn's gaze.

It was warm and kind. He had to resist the urge to look away.

Oberyn smiled and leaned closer, his voice dropping to a lower volume. "I meant every single word."

He leant back, shifting from kind to amused with a speed Jon was learning to keep up with.

"Now, eat up or I'll have Ellaria after my head."

Jon reached over and snagged a roll, tearing off a piece.

A cold nose nudged at his arm and he sighed, but fed Ghost a piece anyway. His wolf was well on his way to spoiled.

Oberyn snickered pulling out the scrolls Jon had noticed earlier. He deposited the pile on Jon's lap, "I think it's safe to say your siblings heard of your heroic antics."

He eyed them with some trepidation. Jon wasn't sure what his siblings reaction would be, wasn't sure what he wanted it to be.

Oberyn must have read some, or all of that, on his face because he reached over to nudge his good shoulder.

"You can read them later."

When Jon agreed he expected to feel a rush of guilt, a self recrimation for putting off his siblings. For not immediately reading and responding to their likely worried and frantic letters.

But he didn't.

He wasn't ready to read them, and so he wouldn't.

Oberyn pushed more food on him, sending him a point Ted look.

"Perhaps tonight, once Ellaria joins us and after some wine."

"Yes, perhaps." Jon repeated, one hand accepting the apple while the other carefully set the letters aside.

 


 

Chapter Text


Jon was beginning to think nothing would make him feel better. And then he was let off bed rest.

He still had to keep his arm in a sling, but he no longer required a baby sitter. He could walk around but he couldn't do anything more strenuous.

With a grin he shoved on his boots, eager to stretch his legs. He stood up, his gaze drifting to the still unread letters on his desk.

By the door Ghost whined, nudging it open. Oberyn must not have shut it all the way when he'd left earlier.

Jon picked up the letters with one hand and grabbed his shirt with the other. He'd put it on later.

Between his injury and the sling putting on a shirt would take too much time. He might get some strange looks - but no one would say anything about him wandering around shirtless.

Since the feast, everyone had been treating him with a level of deference he wasn't used to. Even the ones who had never interacted with him before. Especially those ones.

They'd never treated him poorly, nowhere near to treatment he was accustomed to in the North. But before there had been a polite indifference to it. No more.

Which, he supposed as Ghost led the way out, was understandable. Most of them, if not all of them, adored Oberyn.

He jogged down the stairs, taking them two at a time.  And as if to prove his thoughts, a maid at the foot of them dipped into a low curtsy. She didn't rise until he passed her with a nod.

He slowed his pace, attempting to control his breathing.

But his burst of energy had waned, leaving an ache in his shoulder and a layer of sweat on the back of his neck. He braced his good hand against the wall and took a moment to regain his breath.

The sound of claws on stone made him look up.

Ghost had circled back and now was sitting in front of him, panting.

Jon waved him off and straightened, "lead the way boy. Oberyn and Ellaria are waiting."

The dire wolf tilted his head - as if judging whether Jon could keep up before shifting to stand and lead the way again.

Jon grinned and  followed, at a slower more steady pace this time.

 


 

"May as well get it over with," Ellaria reasoned as she topped off their goblets of wine.

Jon huffed, sliding lower in his seat in a pout that was only half put upon. But it succeeded in making Oberyn chuckle.

Her lover had returned from another meeting with Doran in a foul mood. It had taken one glance between her Jon to have them conspiring to improve it.

"It won't be so bad," Ellaria consoled Jon. Meanwhile, her eyes were on Oberyn, "but perhaps you shouldn't start with the one from Lord Stark."

Oberyn coughed, choking on the wine he'd taken a sip of moments before.

"I second that," he said once he'd cleared his throat. "One of your siblings would be a better place to start."

It was the first genuine opinion he'd offered since they sat down to eat. The first words that weren't either meant to cut or to draw a laugh. A sign that they were coaxing him out of his less than pleasant mood.

The letters were a good distraction, Ellaria knew, and Jon did need to hear what they said. His mind was no doubt imagining the worst, imagining words the letters would not say.

Beneath the table Ghost shifted, his tail brushing against Ellaria's shins. She didn't need to look under the table to know Ghost was letting Jon know his opinion as well. Likely through either a nudge or a nip.

The wolf was precocious like that.

Jon sighed and raked a hand through his mess of curls. He would need a haircut soon if he did not want his hair to begin to get in his way. Perhaps she could persuade him to tie it back rather than cut it? It would suit him, she thought.

Then Jon waved a hand at the letters piled in the middle of the table, "why don't one of you pick which one then?"

She glanced up and caught Oberyn's gaze, he too gestured to the pile. "Why don't you do the honors since you helped write to them?"

"I suppose," Ellaria demurred even as she leaned forward to examine them. She passed over the one with the official Stark seal on it, as that was likely Lord Stark's.

Instead she grabbed the one just under it, with Jon's name scratched into it in a way that bespoke of a male.

She tried to pass it to Jon but he shook his head, leaning away from it like the letter would jump from her grasp and bite him.

"Jon?"

He didn't answer, and his hand shook as he reached for his wine. She honestly hadn't realized how nervous he was until that moment. He'd gotten better at hiding it, at acting casual.

Again she found herself struggling to hide her anger. If Jon saw it he would undoubtedly think it directed at him when it was anything but. Catelyn Stark, and her lord husband for that matter, better pray their paths never crossed hers.

She reclined back in her seat, and considered her options. Men had their pride, Jon more than most, and she wanted a tactful way to handle this.

Oberyn coughed again, this time as hint for her to do something. The silence was beginning to stretch.

"Shall I read it aloud?" She asked Jon, careful to keep her tone teasing and light. She even gave him a playful but aggrieved look.

Across the table from her Oberyn laughed. "Don't pay attention to her Jon, she acts like it's a hassle but she's dying of curiosity."

That seemed to ease Jon who shot her grateful look, "yes, please do."

She nodded, carefully unrolling the scroll. Unable to help herself she glanced down to see which sibling this one was from. As she'd expected, it was from Robb.

After clearing her throat, she began to read.

My dear foolhardy brother,

I hope you are aware that you have now forever lost any high ground over me when it comes to 'reckless' behavior.

Ellaria paused, glancing up to observe Jon's reaction. He rolled his eyes, his rueful grin beginning to lighten the room. Oberyn seemed to be affected as well as he laughed, reaching over to shove Jon's good shoulder playfully.

Robb was a good one to start with, she congratulated herself as Jon relaxed and Oberyn cheered up.

She turned back to the letter.

Now that that's out of the way, I'm glad you're going to be okay Jon. You're not allowed to die down there, you hear me? Consider it an order if that's what it takes.

Ellaria winced at the wording, this time wary of Jon's response. But she needn't have - he was still grinning, there was even a happy glint in his eyes.

She glanced at Oberyn for an explanation but he only shrugged. There was a knowing look in his gaze, however, that told her he understood it.

Perhaps it was a brother thing then.

Deciding she'd attempt to get an explanation from Oberyn later she returned to the letter.

Unfortunately to get these replies out quickly we had to keep them brief. I'll send you a longer one soon, once the royal party arrives in a few days I should have much to tell you.

Please no more hare-brained stunts. Or I'll sic Grey Wind on you next time we meet.

Love,

Robb

"See?" She teased, "that wasn't so bad."

Jon rolled his eyes, but conceded the point with a salute of his wine glass.

 


 

"I don't like this," Obara grumbled even as she obediently trailed after her cousin.

Arianne shushed her, lowering the lantern so there was less of a chance the guards would spot them.

"You can't deny you're going stir crazy too," she whispered, "it's just a quick jaunt under the moonlight. It'll be fine Obara."

Obara was silent. It was true that since the assassination attempt her uncle Doran had placed the castle on lock-down. Especially his own family. And like Arianne insinuated, she wasn't taking it well.

Neither was her father apparently, as it was the only reason Obara could think of for why he'd stormed out of Doran's rooms earlier that day.

"Why didn't you ask Tyene?" She asked, catching her cousin's arm before she could scurry off again. They both knew Obara wasn't usually her first choice as a partner in crime.

Arianne sighed, tugging her arm free. "She was otherwise occupied."

Obara knew what that meant, either her sister had found a new plaything or she was up to something. If it was the latter, Obara knew from experience that she was better off not knowing.

"Besides Daemon mentioned that a band of mercenaries has been spotted nearby, they've gone a bit rogue."

Obara shifted, her spear resting on her back reassuringly. So that was it. She was insurance as well as company.

"Now, are you coming?" Arianne demanded, her limited patience having run out.

"Alright, but we better be back in time for breakfast."

Arianne grinned at her, reminding Obara of the joyful mischievous girl she'd been before. Before the weight of her title had begun to ride her shoulders.

With one last sigh Obara followed as Airanne led the way. Sneaking out from under the guard would a challenge, but one that Obara relished. It had been awhile since she'd been able to stretch this part of her training.

 


 

Oberyn tapped the elephant figurine against the edge of the board, humming under his breath as he considered his next move. Seated across from him Ellaria took a long sip of her wine, letting the glass dangle from her fingers after. She licked her lips, and he could tell she was deliberately trying to distract him.

Him being aware of it didn't mean it wasn't working.

He looked to Jon, but he was busy examining the cyvasse board with a furrowed brow. No help from that corner then.

After Robb's letter they'd decided to take a break before the next one, and naturally that had led to a game of cyvasse. Jon had never played as a child and they'd begun teaching him during his convalescence.

But mostly, he just watched.

Ellaria kicked him under the table, "sometime this century lover boy?"

Oberyn blinked, returning his attention to the board.

He frowned, she'd well and truly backed him into a corner. Evasive moves were in order.

"Or we could read Jon's next letter?"

Jon's head jerked up, his eyes going wide. His reaction was just a second late, a sign that the wine was beginning to get to him. They had worked their way through an entire bottle. And Jon was more than pulling his weight.

"What?"

Oberyn smirked, cutting his eyes pointedly to the still unopened letters.

Jon groaned, slumping over the table and letting his head drop to the table with a thud.

Ellaria laughed, reaching into the pile. "One of your sisters this time I think," she teased tossing the scroll to Oberyn.

He caught it right before it smacked him in the face.

"My turn then?"

Jon waved a hand in agreement without lifting his head from the table.

Judging by the perfume still lingering on the letter, Oberyn knew this must be from the older of the two girls. As such, he opened it with care and scanned it quickly.

"This one's from Sansa," he warned instead of starting to read the letter. From what he knew of their relationship, Jon would appreciate knowing.

The boy groaned again, but reluctantly lifted his head from the table. He rested his chin on his forearm, the one in the sling pressed against the edge of the table in what had to be a painful manner.  There was a guarded look to his eyes that gave Oberyn pause. 

But, Oberyn was amused to note there were red creases marring his forehead. A gift from the table.

Jon narrowed his eyes at him, perhaps misreading the cause of his amusement.

Deciding it was best to get on with it, Oberyn turned his attention to the letter.

Dear Jon,

I'm gladdened to hear you will make a full recovery, though I was less glad to hear how the injury came about. It was very foolish of you.

Jon slumped further forward, moving his good arm to rest his cheek against the cool wood of the table. He faced Oberyn, a resigned scowl forming around his mouth and eyes.

Next to him Ellaria shifted in her seat and Oberyn knew she was resisting the urge to coddle Jon. Unfortunately, they both knew there were somethings they couldn't protect him from. That there were more things it would be a disservice to shelter him from.

Jon looked to be about to speak up, but before he could say anything Oberyn held up a hand.

His mouth clicked shut. After all, Oberyn was the only one who knew what Sansa wrote next.

But it was very brave.

Ellaria straightened up, her frown that had formed as soon as Oberyn had said 'Sansa' fading.

Jon, too, seemed surprised. Enough so that his expression slacked, the scowl easing away.

"I think that's the first compliment she's ever given me." He breathed out.

Oberyn frowned, his grip beginning to wrinkle the edges of the letter.

"May it be the first of many," Ellaria proposed, resting a hand on top of Jon's tense arm.

She always did know what to say, Oberyn mused, not for the first reminded why she was so central to his life. He could not imagine a world without her, did not want to imagine one.

A world without her, his daughters, his brother and Arianne, or even one without Jon, held no interest for him. It was the people on this earth that made it worth anything to him. Without them, it could all burn for all he'd care. He may even start the fire.

He smoothed out the wrinkles and once he felt their eyes return to him, finished reading the letter.

I will look after our siblings as you requested, it is the least I can do. We all miss you. Arya is eager to write her bit, so I'll leave it at that for now.

Stay safe,

Sansa

p.s. I'm sorry for how cruel I treated you in the past. I hope to make amends properly next we meet.

If Jon was surprised to hear the compliment he was dumb stricken at her apology. His mouth opened and closed, and no words came out.

Oberyn set down the letter and reached over to grip the back of Jon's neck, squeezing gently. The younger man looked up at this, his eyes desperately seeking Oberyn's. Searching for something that made sense, something that made sense of his sister's turn around.

He did his best to keep his own gaze warm and steady, even as he gave Jon a little shake. He shifted to grip his shoulder, careful of his wound, and tugged until Jon was sitting upright again. "Realizing how you've hurt others, intentionally or otherwise, is part of maturing. You can judge her sincerity next you see her."

Ellaria stood, moving to a nearby side table to open a second bottle of wine.

"I think," she began, her voice rasping a bit. A sign that the wine was beginning to affect her as well, "the thing to do now is to get well and truly drunk."

Oberyn chuckled, lifting his glass so she could fill it more easily. Jon leaned back into his chair and away from the table. But he too offered up his glass.

 


 

Arianne tumbled down a sand dune, Obara tripping after her. She just managed to catch her weight with her spear as leverage. It allowed her to stay standing, sliding down the sand in a controlled manner.

Her royal cousin wasn't so lucky as she continued to roll until she hit the rise of the next dune. Her head smacked into a rock, the crack audible. She lay there, her chest heaving but otherwise not moving.

Obara dropped to her knees beside her, giving her a quick once-over. Just enough to deem her relatively well. She was more concerned with the figures still standing at the top.

The mercenaries laughed and yelled a mix of curses and cheers. She staggered to her feet, one hand cradling her injured side while the other gripped her spear. The raiders had managed to take the two of them by surprise, and one had gotten in a lucky hit with the blunt end of his ax.

Hopefully, she'd only broken a rib too.

She shifted so she was standing in front of Arianne, her back to her.

"Can you stand?" she spoke from the corner of her mouth so it wouldn't carry.

Arianne tried to, but her hands slid out from under her when she put her weight on them. She groaned into the sand, "Obara..."

A cloud shifted, the setting moon peek out from behind it. It lit the group above them, and Obara knew they were grossly out numbered. 

She knew she shouldn't have let Arianne coax her out of her warm bed.


 

Chapter Text


Obara wrapped her hands around the rope in front of her even tighter, and struggled to keep on her feet. It was hard, they had tied her behind a horse that had a longer stride than she could hope to match.

The extent of her mistake about tonight was becoming more apparent with every stumbled step.

"Do you have any idea who we are?" Ah, and there was her dear cousin. Stirring things up again.

Obara was usually more generous towards Arianne, but it was hard to be so tonight. Not only had Arianne gotten her into this situation - Arianne was tied up but riding on a horse.

And actively antagonizing their captors it seemed.

"I understand if you'd don't recognize her," she was saying and Obara huffed. "but you must have recognized me by now."

No one answered her and Obara allowed herself to hope they wouldn't. Being recognized could be a boon - if this rogue group had any loyalty to their family. She was sure Arianne was banking on that.

But it was equally possible they may have a grudge against their family. Or they simply may care more about the money they could ransom.

"My name is -" Arianne said and Obara threw herself to the ground with a shout.

Her gasp of pain wasn't faked as she landed on her ribs.

"Obara?" Arianne yelped, distracted. Obara imagined the sight of her being dragged face first through the sand was very distracting.

The things she did for her family.

"Stop! I demand you stop this instant!"

And still, Arianne was talking.

Obara lifted her head out of the sand, spitting some from her mouth. The horse was still moving. Because of course, it was. Obara had the worst luck. She tried to get her feet under her only to stumble again as the ropes went lax. A hand grabbed her shoulder, tugging her roughly back to her feet.

Obara met the gaze of her helper - one of the younger looking men. He looked to be around Jon's age. Wet behind the ears and out of his depth, no doubt.

He looked her up and down, brushing some of the sand off her. She ignored him in favor of looking around.

It seemed the group had reached their camp.

It burned to know that was why they stopped and not because they'd taken pity on her.

"If I tell your royal cousin we know exactly who she is, will you stop making a fool of yourself?" the boy asked, his voice pitched low enough that it was meant only for her ears.

Obara scowled. That meant her embarrassing tumble in the sand had been for nothing. Marvelous.

Still, she didn't reply.

The boy sighed but untied her rope from the horse and tugged her towards the center of the camp.

Nearby two other grunts were lifting a scandalized and protesting Arianne from her horse.

Obara closed her eyes - praying for patience and a bit of luck.

 


 

"I hear you betrothed your youngest girl to the Martell boy."

Ned looked sideways at his oldest friend. He didn't answer right away, returning his gaze to the statue of his sister Lyanna.

"It's long past time we try to better relations with the Martells." he said finally.

Robert grunted but didn't disagree.

"It is strange you found a match for your youngest first," he said a touch too casual for Ned's tastes.

"Arya will do well in Dorne but it would not have suited Sansa."

Robert nodded, "how about Kings landing? Would that suit her?"

It was as Ned feared. Robert had already asked him to be his hand, surely that was enough for one day?

"Arya?" he tried to play it off, "No, I don't think she'd like the capital much."

Robert gripped his shoulder and after one last look at Lyanna's likeness steered him away.

"Don't be obtuse Ned, you know what I meant," he said, his tone reprimanding. "I'd like to see our houses joined and your Sansa is of an age with my Joffery."

He sighed, "I'll have to talk to Cat. She'll have my hide if I set up another betrothal without talking to her."

Robert laughed.

 


 

The sky was beginning to lighten as Obara was shoved to her knees in the center of the makeshift camp.

Arianne was placed down next to her more gently.

Despite her annoyance with her, Obara shifted closer and looked her over. There was a nasty bruise forming on her forehead and Obara didn't like how unfocused her gaze was. She needed a healer, and soon. Head injuries were not to be taken lightly.

The men around her weren't feeling her urgency as they set to arguing amongst themselves.

Obara sighed. Her head was pounding, her side ached something fierce, and she just wanted to be back home already. To be able to crawl into her bed and sleep for at least ten hours.

She tried to pay attention to the squabbling. From what she could make out, there were three camps of opinion in the group.

One just wanted to kill the two of them and dump their bodies. She made note of those faces - she'd keep an eye on them in particular.

A second group wanted to try and ransom them, especially Arianne.

The third group was the most sympathetic to her and her cousin. Naturally, it was the smallest. They were made up mostly of men who looked to be born Dornish. They wanted to release them, even see them back to the palace.

Beside her Arianne groaned, swaying on the spot.

"Arianne," Obara hissed under her breath, "you have to stay awake."

It was not encouraging that Arianne didn't seem to hear her. They were running out of time. It almost didn't matter which faction won out, the time it would take to pick and then do something would be too long. Obara frowned, searching for another option. Her sisters had largely gotten all of their father's cleverness. But Obara wasn't stupid, she simply did better with the straightforward approach.

What would Tyene or Nymeria do in this situation?

Tyene would already have them wrapped around her finger. She'd twirl her hair and turn her big eyes on them until they danced to her tune. And if that wouldn't work? She'd make use of any number of poisons she kept hidden on her person.

None of that would work for Obara.

Perhaps she could take a page from Nymeria's handbook instead. Except Nymeria was just as slippery as father and Obara had trouble imagining what she would do if it were her. After a moment Obara decided that Nymeria likely would have taken the first man to get close to her hostage. Something she could do thanks to how easily hidden her knives were.

Obara's spear and shield didn't lend themselves to such tactics.

Her only option was something straightforward then. Something in her wheel house.

She eyes the men around her. They were all mercenaries who had either left their companies voluntarily (not enough jobs or gold to go around?) or they'd been kicked out. It was the latter group that worried her.

You had to be a certain level of nasty to be turned away by mercenary companies.

But at the end of the day, they were all warriors. And that came with a certain set of values, a respect for strength above all.

Obara bared her teeth in a parody of a grin.

She had an idea.

 


 

The sun bled into Oberyn's quarters, light streaming in through the arched windows.

A circle of light fell across the center of the small sitting room, warming the sprawled figures of Ghost and Jon.

Oberyn smiled at the sight. At some point between the second and third bottles of wine, Jon had joined his wolf on the floor. The events were a bit fuzzy.

He and Ellaria were still seated at the table, though they'd shifted their chairs to better face Jon.

Ellaria was slumped deep into her seat, her neck at an awkward angle as she snored softly.

With a grin he shifted to lean into her space, running his nose over the curve of her neck. She shifted away from him with a soft noise.

He grinned, following to press kisses there.

Again, she tried to move away, her eyelashes beginning to flutter. Before he could chase after her a third time, he was interrupted by the door to his quarters bursting open.

Daemon Sand ran into the room and one look at his face told Oberyn that something was very wrong.

He bent over panting and yet still trying to speak.

Ghost shifted on the floor, nudging his human. That woke Jon, who sat up with a confused grunt.

All their reactions were slower than normal. Due to the wine no doubt.

"Arianne….Obara….missing," Daemon managed to get out between gasps.

In the space of a moment, Oberyn was on his feet, moving to Daemon's side.

"Breathe," he said, his hand falling to rub Daemon's back. "Once you're calm you can explain."

Daemon shook his head, still trying to speak.

Oberyn opened his mouth to reprimand him or repeat the order when Ghost was suddenly there, shoving his nose into Daemon's gut and snuffling.

The knight stilled and finally slowed his breathing. His hand dropped to rest on Ghost's head.

"Good, that's it, breathe for a moment. A few more seconds won't make a difference." Ellaria said, signaling that she was awake too.

Oberyn looked around. Ellaria had stood as well and was making her way over. Jon had moved to the table, and grabbed his sword. He hefted it despite his dominant hand being strapped to his chest. His grip was clumsy but determined.

Oberyn's stomach twisted as he turned back to Daemon.

"Princess Arianne and Obara are both missing from their beds," Daemon said. He spoke with urgency - his brow creased with worry.

Oberyn froze. 

"Tyene? Nym?" Ellaria asked, moving to stand on Daemon's other side. Hands hovering over his shoulders but not touching. Ghost shifted out of the way, prowling around the edge of the room before stopping by Jon.

"Both safe. Tyene is sitting with Prince Doran. Lady Nym is questioning the guards," Daemon said, "they seem to think Arianne and Obara snuck out last night."

Oberyn stepped back, trusting Ellaria to tend to Daemon. He looked to one of the guards who had slipped in behind Daemon largely unnoticed.

"Ready my horse, and Lady Nym's," he ordered. They couldn't be sure where his daughter and niece had gone once outside the castle. But he couldn't sit here and do nothing. 

"Mine as well," Jon spoke for the first time since they woke up.

Both Oberyn and Ellaria whirled around to face him.

"No."

"Absolutely not, Jon, darling wolf, you're still injured."

The guard was well trained enough to take that answer, bowing as he rushed from the room. Jon would never be so obedient. Usually, Oberyn relished in that.

Daemon sensing the rising tension, left on the heels of the guard. Likely to ready his own horse and gear.

As it was, Jon frowned at them. "I'm not so injured I can't use my eyes. I'm well enough to ride a horse and help look."

Oberyn met his fiery gaze, "If only it were so simple. They grew up in these deserts Jon, they're not lost. Something more nefarious is afoot."

The younger man didn't back down, "all the more reason for me to come along. This may be a trap Oberyn, meant to draw you out."

"And what will you do if that's the case?" Oberyn snapped, "Dive in front of another arrow? You can barely hold that sword straight let alone fight anyone with it."

Jon flinched away from him. His eyes flickered down and to the side, his jaw clenching.

"I forbid it. You will stay here with Ellaria, if we don't return by noon send a second retinue of guards after us." Oberyn wanted to smooth over his harsh words, but he didn't have the time.

Ellaria, ever perceptive, did it for him. She stepped in, curling herself into Jon's side. She covered his shaking hand with hers, guiding him to return the sword to the table.

Jon slumped in defeat and Oberyn left the room to retrieve his spear. Half his mind was focused on finding his daughter and niece, the half on Ellaria and the stricken look on Jon's face. He felt like he'd kicked a puppy instead of ordered a man barely out of boyhood to stay somewhere safe. 

He'd make it up to him later, he decided, stepping back into the room.

Ellaria gave Jon a kiss on his cheek before moving to drag Oberyn into a much more passionate, deep kiss.

When she pulled away they were both breathing a bit heavy. "Return to me, my love, I cannot bear this world without you."

"Always." he pressed one last kiss to her lips.

He glanced at Jon but he wouldn't meet his gaze. No farewell on that end then.

Oberyn sighed and moved to leave.

He hadn't made it two steps when Jon spoke.

"Wait."

Turning back, he tried to hide both his hope and his impatience. He didn't have time for this, and yet he would always make time for this.

Jon crouched down in front of Ghost, the two of them looking into each other's eyes. They did this sometimes - it was eerie if Oberyn was honest. Ghost was smart for an animal, too smart. He could accept that. But it was unnerving to see these two communicate without a word.

Apparently done, Jon stood back up. "At least take Ghost with you."

Oberyn blinked.

Ghost licked Jon's hand before trotting to his side.

He opened his mouth, for once without a plan for what to say, but Jon shook his head. "Go."

Ellaria nodded her agreement, her mouth set in a thin line. "The sooner you go, the sooner you return with our girls."

Oberyn wavered, warmed and set on edge by the gesture.

Jon was sending Ghost to watch his back, was trusting Oberyn to watch Ghost's in turn. It felt like a victory, a confirmation of how far they'd come.

At the same time, it made the situation real, made the danger more real. A dire wolf was coming to keep him safe. An honest to the gods dire wolf.

He swallowed over the lump forming in his throat. With one last look at his lady and his friend he turned to leave, Ghost on his heels.