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Cherry Wine

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Lord and Lady Arryn have been here for almost two months now, and Jon is running out of places to hide. He tries not to draw attention to himself when guests are here, loath to give Lady Stark another reason to glance on him with contempt and suspicion, but he cannot keep out of the way always. Jon Arryn seems to have taken a fondness to him though, probably only because he is Jon's namesake, and he's been too busy with Father to talk to him much – Jon knows that something is wrong, Father and Arryn speaking all in worried whispers behind closed doors, but Father hasn't deigned to inform the rest of them yet. Lady Arryn, for her part, hasn't seemed to have noticed Jon exists. He doesn't think they've had a single conversation, for which he should probably be glad. No-one seems to speak well of her, not even Lady Catelyn.

It is the library he chooses to take shelter in that brisk morning, knowing Septon Chayle won't be back from the sept for awhile yet and when he is, he'll see Jon in hiding and sigh with pity and let him stay. But no sooner than he secludes himself between the dusty shelves does he see Lady Lysa, wrapped in a thick white fur with a glass of red wine by her side, nose buried in a book of love poems, the sort Sansa has learnt off by heart. He means to sneak out and find somewhere else to hide before she can spot him, but he's not quick enough. She looks up at him, sudden, blue eyes blazing in the mid-morning sun. She does not say a word. Just like her sister.

Jon is left gawping a moment, and then he blushes. “Forgive me, my lady,” he says. “I was just – I'll go–”

“Stay.” She snaps her book closed and rises from her chair, approaching him slowly, unsteadily. Jon notices a winestain on her fur. “The bastard,” she says, and Jon feels a pang of hurt and anger. Yes, that's me. Has your sister introduced us? “I don't think we've spoken.”

“No, my lady.”

She draws closer, squinting at him suspiciously. “Catelyn doesn't trust you. She's not warned me away from you, but I can tell she'd rather we not talk.”

Jon looks away, unsurprised, but still wounded. Still, he should be glad Lady Stark isn't putting up banners.“I didn't mean to–”

“That's alright, she's not here.” When he looks up, Lady Lysa's whole visage has softened, a vague, hazy smile spreading from cheek to cheek. She's standing closer than she was before. “Cat always was the little matron, always telling everyone what's best for them. I never listened.” Lysa giggles childishly, and Jon, unsure how to respond, does his best to return her smile. It seems only polite. “You're a very handsome young man, Jon Snow. Has anyone ever told you that?”

Jon blushes deep red, as red as her wine. “Not – not often, my lady.” He's heard whispers and sighs from the serving wenches, but he doesn't talk to them enough for any of them to flatter him to his face. That's all it is, flattery, as to them he's as good as highborn. Sansa has called him handsome once or twice, but only while teasing him for his sullenness, and always carefully outside her mother's earshot. And then there was Ros, but surely she says that to every man.

It is a boy's mother who first calls him handsome, Jon reckons. And Jon doesn't have one of those.

“Damn shame. You are, you know, but of course no one will ever notice. Too busy praising your brothers and sisters to even notice you. I was the same growing up – I was just as pretty as Cat, but she was the firstborn and everyone always swooned over her and just blinked at me.”

Lysa pouts and Jon blinks; he couldn't truthfully call her pretty, but the more he looks, he can believe she once was, he can see traces of Lady Catelyn's beauty in her. Her belly is bloated, her face is puffy, she looks so tired – but her auburn curls are think and long, her cheekbones high and noble, her blue eyes bright and shining. She was pretty once. Age was just cruel to her. Jon isn't the sort of man to condemn a woman for failing to look like an marble statue.

“I'm sorry,” he says.

“It's not your fault,” Lysa quickly dismisses him. “You have a beautiful mouth. Such red lips.” Brazenly, she presses her thumb against them.

Jon blushes and darts his head away. “I have a whore's mouth,” he mutters bitterly, remembering Greyjoy's many, many snide remarks over the years. Then he blushes deeper and starts to panic when he realises what he just said to Jon Arryn's wife, the Lady of the Vale. “I mean – Sorry, my lady, I didn't mean to–”

“That's alright,” she says, and Jon is stunned she dismisses it so quickly. He's sure Lady Stark would want him flogged if she knew he had used such language in front of a noblewoman, let alone her own sister, and Father might just agree with her. “You have a lover's mouth, the sort young girls sing about. Red as two cherries. Do you like cherries?”

“I'm not sure,” he says. “I've not had them in years. They don't really grow in the north.”

“Shame. I always loved cherries,” she says wistfully. “Have you ever had cherry wine?” Jon shakes his head. “You must try it, it's wonderful. Dark and rich and sweet and... when we return to King's Landing, I'll send you a cask.”

“I'm not sure Lady Catelyn would approve of you sending me gifts,” Jon says.

“All the more reason to do it then.”

Jon can't help but laugh at that. Lady Lysa no longer looks so tired, something in their talk seems to have sparked some life in her. Jon is happy for her, but still, a voice at the back of his mind says something is wrong. Mad old bat, Theon keeps calling her, or sometimes mad old trout, and while Jon is loath to trust Theon Greyjoy's opinion on anything, there is something... off about her. Still, why should Jon dislike her when she's being kind, even if a little oddly so?

“Have you ever been kissed, Jon?”

He blushes again. “Once, my lady.” He remembers Ros, her dirty smirk and soft curves and red locks and soothing words and filthy wet mouth she fixed upon his own. He'd wanted her that night, gods how he wanted her. And she'd done a half-decent job playing like she wanted him. But Jon couldn't. He could just imagine her body swelling with child, the look on his father's face if Jon told him what he'd done and now there was another bastard he needed to take care of, the look on Lady Catelyn's face...

“You needn't be embarrassed,” she tells him. “I remember my first kiss, in the Riverrun godswood. He was such a brilliant boy, the best boy I've ever met. The way he smiled...” she trails off. “Who did you kiss?”

“A whore,” he admits. Lysa looks so wounded it's as if he struck her, and Jon hurries to explain. “It wasn't my idea, it was Theon, he said I'd stop being such a moody prick if I... but I couldn't. She was beautiful, and she was charming, and she was kind, but I couldn't. I thought, what if I got a bastard on her, what would your sister say, and...”

He trails off, afraid he's said too much, afraid he'll push her away somehow. He thinks she might come to Lady Catelyn's defense. Instead, she reaches forward, and gently winds her fingers through his hair. Her hands are thick and clammy, and yet her touch is warm and soft. “Poor boy,” she muses. “Cat used to dance, you know,” she then whispers, and Jon blinks in confusion, wondering what that has to do with anything. “Oh, how she loved to dance. Every night there were men in the house, she would dance and dance and dance until I thought she'd fall on her back in the middle of the great hall from exhaustion.”

Jon frowns, steps away from her slightly. Whatever problems he and Lady Stark have, he knows enough about her to note slander when he sees it. “My lady – whatever you're implying–”

“Shush.” Jon obeys, and feels sick with himself for allowing her to run her fingers through his hair again. “You are so handsome. More handsome than her sons. Your mother must have been a great beauty.” She pauses. “I did hear a rumour once, about Lord Stark and a Dornishwoman. They said she was like something from a song, something from another world, some sort of magical creature. Skin like pearl and eyes like amethysts and hair as dark as death. The most beautiful woman in the Seven Kingdoms. More beautiful than Cat.”

Jon is stunned speechless. She knows who my mother is? No, she doesn't, she's only heard a rumour. But a rumour is more than he's ever been graced with. “My lady – do you–?”

“I want to kiss you,” she declares. Jon blinks. What? “You beautiful, sweet, innocent boy. Don't you deserve to be kissed by someone who wants to?”

He doesn't understand. She cannot mean it. But why would she ask otherwise? Would it be just a kiss? She is Lord Arryn's wife, and Lord Arryn is Father's friend, I couldn't. But she wants him, and the thought is sweet and heady like the cherry wine she wants to send him. He remembers Ros, all red curls and a motherly kiss to his brow, and what he couldn't bring himself to do to her. But he remembers what they say of Lady Lysa, her beds of blood and bitter disappointments, and he thinks he would be safer with her than any other woman. She is not such a great beauty as her sister. She is fattened and wrinkled with age, her make-up cracks upon her face, her teeth are a little yellow and her fur is winestained and she might just be mad. She is not perfect, not so perfect as her sister. But if she is imperfect, perhaps she could debase herself to care for something born of lust and betrayal, something that could never be perfect?

“Lysa–”

“Just close your eyes. I promise it won't hurt.”

And slowly, almost against his will, his eyes flutter shut.

“Lysa?”

Jon jumps and his eyes snap back open. There in the doorway stands Lady Catelyn, who sees him, but does not deign to acknowledge him aloud. Still, she eyes him with more contempt and suspicion than ever. She almost caught me in bed with her sister. Of course she does. “You weren't in the sept today,” she continues, eyes drifting over his shoulder to her sister.

“I felt ill,” Lysa answers. Jon has seen Lady Catelyn drag herself to the sept when she can barely walk from sickness, so he doubts that excuse will impress her. “I thought I'd do some reading, then Jon and I got talking.”

“Oh,” says Catelyn, and Jon looks back to see the smile on Lady Lysa's face. He feels ill. She doesn't want me. She wants to spite her. Gods, what sort of idiot is he not have noticed that?

“Excuse me, my lady,” he says, blushing deeply, and Lady Catelyn, ever eager to be rid of him, quickly steps out of the way. Jon rushes out, wanting to just run back to his rooms and hide.

“I'll talk to you soon Jon!” Lady Arryn calls after him, but he doesn't look back. The whole way he goes, Lady Stark's withering glare follows him.