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Cold Blood

Chapter Text


Wind howling, sun scorching.

The sand beneath the length of his body felt too warm for comfort. Cloaked in layers that protected him from the harsh light, every inch was drenched in sweat, fingernails caked with filth from months spent on the run.

Jon inhaled deeply through his nose and exhaled inaudibly through his mouth, unhurriedly lowering the scope of his rifle to rub at a strained eye. He had been there for hours, laying prostrate for so long that the sun was beginning it’s descent into the horizon, turning everything in the landscape from a light sepia to red.

A week had passed since his arrival and luck had yet to find him. It did no favors that the Butcher’s tortured pets were reckless and unpredictable — their guard duty frequently reworked, daily raids perpetrated unscheduled. Still, Jon settled on the same dune day in and out, hoping for an opening that would grant access into the Crossing, hoping for a small chance to rescue his sisters.

His journey started over seven months ago, the beginning of what felt like the end of his life.

The Starks were all smiles and warmth as Robb married Jeyne at the last remaining weirwood tree in Westeros. Friends old and new gathered under the twinkling lights strung up in the godswood, sharing stories, food and drink as the night wore on. He remembered drunkenly dancing, or something of that variety, with Arya and the bride herself, Robb cutting in and jokingly accusing him of the poor attempt to sweep his new wife off her feet. It was all senseless and lighthearted, a rare thing in his miserable life.

The wedding was supposed to be the last slice of happiness before they departed for the south.

How wrong they had all been.

Laughter rapidly turned into screams as Ramsay Bolton, or the Butcher as he was fondly called behind his back nowadays, invaded the ceremony and abducted both Sansa and Arya along with his new sister-in-law Jeyne, leaving the rest to be massacred.

The bastard had found them vulnerable and, though he was known to be an accomplished fighter, Jon found himself powerless to help. Without weapons in his arsenal, he was useless, and brute strength could only get him so far. All he could do was feign death until the last man left, lying in the wet warmth of his family’s life, fighting the impulse to retch at the metallic odor permeating the air. He never thought himself a coward, but he sure felt close to being one that night.

Save them, were Catelyn Stark’s last words to him, bloody hand clutched weakly at his shirt, her voice no higher than a breath of a whisper as the light died from her eyes.

The mother of his beloved half-siblings didn’t even have to ask. He owed it to his family to get them back no matter the cost… even if it meant his own life.

Jon licked his chapped lips, swallowing to relieve the dryness that never seemed to leave his throat, and sat back on his haunches to grab at his pack.

“Tomorrow,” he rasped to himself, desperation settling deep into the marrow of his weary bones. Tomorrow he would rescue the three of them, come armed to the teeth under the cover of nightfall. It was his only way.

He thumbed through the folded map he’d looted off a dead scavenger ages ago. Seagard was close, but Jon knew that that area was controlled by Overlord Frey as well. If he so much as stepped within its vicinity, Frey’s men would imprison him and leave his fate to be determined by Bolton. His only other option was Greywater Watch, the only place in the Neck that wasn’t governed by Walder Frey. Westeros’s descent had turned the lands even more dangerous over time, its strange magic keeping the Freys, Boltons and Greyjoys from successfully conquering the territory. But scavengers were known to venture there frequently, usually to seek safe harbor, weapons, and food that didn’t turn their blood feral. Jon never traveled there before, but as of the moment, it was his best bet in obtaining the ammunition he so desperately needed.

The rumble of several engines nearby had him stilling his hand in his pack, dark eyes widening when he realized the volume was increasing with every second that passed.

Jon scrambled to his feet, stumbling a few times as he ran down the gentle slope of the dune. The sand made him sluggish despite his best effort, making the journey to his motorcycle seem farther than it actually was. Feet sunk into the earth, heavy with sand when he drew them out, over and over and over again. His breathing came out ragged as he shrugged his backpack on, strapping his rifle across his back before making it to Ghost, his bike. He made quick work of switching on the engine and booking it out of there, but Jon already knew it was too late. If the high-pitched taunts were anything to go by, they had already laid eyes on him, fully prepared to do their worst.

A bead of sweat trickled down his temple despite the wind whipping around him. He didn’t have to turn around to know they were gaining on him. Ghost may be quiet, but it didn’t rival the horsepower of the vehicles the Butcher had under his command.

The fluid coursing through his veins began to run hot, like fire blazing through every pathway, thrumming to life as his fight or flight kicked in. Jon squeezed his eyes shut in agony, shaking his head in a vain attempt to stave off whatever was threatening to overtake him.

One minute he was safe in the seat of his bike, handles gripped tight and twisted to the max, and then suddenly, air, ears ringing — and heat — an unbearable amount of heat.

Jon groaned once he crashed into the ground, hissing in pain when a piece of shrapnel cut at his temple. The strength to move couldn’t be mustered, his body leaden from exhaustion and dehydration, though that didn’t stop the tremors from wracking his body as it made an effort to calm down.

To his right, a door to a car slammed shut. Squinting against the light, Jon saw two familiar faces and one of a stranger. The two people he wanted to kill in Westeros and they managed to get one up on him at the same time: Ramsay Bolton and Theon Greyjoy. Jon felt himself sighing before he was even conscious of doing it.

“Well, well, well. Jon Snow. I never thought I’d see you again. You’re almost unrecognizable with all that hair covering your face,” Ramsay observed with a smile so wide that it was past psychotic. His hand moved to his hips, like he wasn’t quite sure what to do with him yet. “You Starks are hard to kill, you know that?”

Jon spit on Ramsay’s boot, felt his lips twitch into a small, satisfied grin. “I’m not a Stark, remember? Fucking cunt.”

This isn’t me, his mind cried out. I’m not in control.

He glanced down at his boot before dragging his gaze back to meet Jon’s. The off putting smile remained on Ramsay’s face, though his eyes held none of the joy he was trying to convey. “Careful now, Snow. I think you forget I could kill you right now.”

A breath of amusement escaped through his nostrils. “Didn’t forget. Was hoping you would.”

Ramsay’s low, calculated chuckle elicited a chill up his spine. “Now where would the fun in that be?”

“Boss?” Theon began, eyes wide and face ashen like he had just seen a ghost. And Jon supposed he had, never expecting the past to haunt him in the form of a brother he betrayed. “What do we do with him?”

“Load him up. I'm in need of a new plaything.”

The stranger beside Theon did as he bid, although the frown fixed on his face indicated he wasn’t too happy about it. With a huff, he bent down to pick him up, dragging his body until he was standing at eye level with everyone else.

Theon twitched uncomfortably, brows drawn together in what looked like fear… for him. “R-Ramsay, sir… If I may suggest something.”

“Out with it, Reek.”

“Jon has the blood of the wolf. I think he would be more useful as a bloodbag.”

Ramsay gave the gaunt man a long look before abruptly grabbing the front of Jon’s dusty jacket, face close as he sniffed the blood trickling down the right side of his face. Jon felt paralyzed by his sudden proximity, not so much as daring to breathe as he eyed him warily.

“A-ha! Wolf and dragon’s blood.” The crazed smile made its appearance once again. “And he’s feral too. Yes, yes, brilliant idea, Reek.”

Dragon? Either Ramsay knew something he didn’t or the madness was taking over. Jon surmised that it might’ve been the latter, despite the strange flutter in his gut. The confusion that crossed Theon’s features only heightened Jon’s uncertainty. But before either men could question Ramsay, the psychopath pressed a thoughtful finger to his lips.

“Now, as to who deserves it. Do I give the bastard to the one who gave me the idea, or the one who helped deliver him to me?” Cold blue eyes speared past Jon to the man keeping him upright.

So he’s the one who ruined Ghost, he thought bitterly, gritting his teeth to combat the urge to pummel him with what little strength he had left. He was aware it would be futile, but the compulsion was there nonetheless. Instead his fingers curled into fists.

“Just say the word, Bull, and you can have our little snowflake. Reek hasn’t earned such rare blood, yes?”

Theon lowered his haunted stare to the ground, lower lip trembling slightly as if he were holding back tears. It was only then that Jon realized that the man who stood before him was no longer the Theon he grew up with but rather a shell of the man he once knew, gutted and shaped into something that Ramsay could belittle and torment for pleasure. Bile rose up to his throat at the knowledge that he was a hair’s breadth away from suffering the same fate.

“I have no use for him, boss.” Bull’s strong voice came beside his ear. “But if Reek doesn’t get blood soon, he’ll die. Give him a bit of Snow’s and he’ll be under your thrall for far longer.”

A beat of silence.

Theon winced when Ramsay threw his arm around him, drawing him closer like they were old comrades, a sickly smirk plastered on his mouth. The thin man didn’t bother to put up a fight, though Jon could tell he had the desire to. “You’re quite right, Bull. I don’t think I want to be departed from my dearest Reek just yet.”

He cast a sidelong glance at Jon, the fire dancing in his eyes making his blood run cold. Ramsay’s voice dropped so low that the playful lilt present was nothing short of terrifying.

“There’s still so much left to be done, after all.”

The last sliver of the waning moon loomed high in the inky sky when Daenerys found herself standing anxiously at the balcony of her private quarters. Amethyst orbs scanned the vast emptiness of the desert all the way to the rocky mountains of the Vale, only a few headlights of Ramsay’s boys riding the hills of red sand as they patrolled the Crossing, collecting any scavengers they might encounter on their path.

Dany continued to furl the long, loose sleeves of her night robes. The itch to be out there, to escape this prison and finally go home, was tremendous.


It was strange to dream of it when she could scarcely remember what it looked like. But the people that lived there left a lasting impression rather than the actual place did.

She was only a girl of five when she last saw her place of birth. She remembered her loving mother singing to her softly as she fell asleep, her neurotic brother, Viserys, tugging on her long braids every time she grated on his nerves. But she also remembered the pretty, young dressmaker who sewed airy summer dresses that made her feel like a princess, or the grumpy cook that had a soft spot for her, sneaking honey cakes, custard and candied plums to her whenever he had a chance.

Sometimes when she closed her eyes, she could still feel the wet sand beneath her feet, the smell of saltwater, the cool breeze kissing her cheeks.

The bittersweet memory left her smiling softly, wistfully wishing she could turn back time, wondering if she would ever truly be happy again. Almost immediately after entertaining such thoughts, she swiftly banished them with a shake of her head.

If I look back, I am lost. I must focus on the task at hand. There was no time to be selfish little girl; if she left them, they would be lost too.

Dany worried on her lower lip, toying with a strand of hair as her anxiety began anew.

He was supposed to report to me an hour ago.

Squeezing her eyes shut, Dany clasped her hands together in prayer. She wasn’t a very religious person, but she prayed to the seven that her spy was safe, that he wasn’t found out while checking and debriefing the girls. She prayed that all of them would make it to Dragonstone, that those following her would remain unharmed while under her care.

She wanted to save everyone that lived at the Crossing — doing the impossible was ingrained in her blood, after all — but with her limited resources and lack of skilled fighters, she already knew it would be a failure. The slaves from Essos, suffering under the thumb of the Freys and Boltons would just have to wait another day.

But stealing Overlord Frey’s prized breeders from right under his nose? That she could do.

It would deal a significant blow to his whole operation if she robbed him of the women, the ones who were unwillingly providing him with future warlords.

Sansa and Arya Stark, Jeyne Westerling, and Margaery Tyrell. The four of them had rare blood, and the Overlord assumed that it would strengthen his future heirs once they took their mantle as warlords. And Missandei, her closest friend, she was there too. Though she didn’t have the right ancestry like the other girls, Frey robbed her of her freedom as a test to Dany’s allegiance.

Little did he know how close she was to releasing the dragon. She very nearly slit all of their throats in retaliation. How easy it could’ve all been, but Daenerys had to bide her time, wanted them to watch as she burned everything they worked so hard to obtain to the ground.

“Tomorrow,” she whispered to herself, her muscles aching from the tension wracking her slight body. Tomorrow she wouldn’t have to feel the white hot anger that coursed through her veins every time she laid eyes on their sleazy faces. Tomorrow would be the day of her ultimate betrayal.

Two perfunctory knocks suddenly came at her door.

Daenerys straightened, turning quickly to see Brienne allow the tall and imposing Hound inside. She eagerly met him halfway. His scarred face remained impassive, unrevealing of the status of her carefully laid out plans. She despised how it left her insides in knots.

“Well? Is it done?” She asked, voice managing to remain authoritative despite her nerves.

A single nod was all he gave her, lip slightly curled on the undamaged side of his face. “Everyone’s packed and ready to go. Your plan is sound, but… I managed nearly two weeks worth of provisions, just in case.”

Her heart nearly stopped, the gratitude she felt at that moment almost incomprehensible. It was a wonder how almost half a year ago Sandor Clegane wouldn’t do anything unless someone offered him the right amount of coin, all gruff and jagged around the edges like a wild dog. Now here he was, helping without a reward; still that broken man she met so long ago, but softer, as if someone or something tamed the fire within him.

With all the vocal disagreements she had with Brienne on the matter, she knew her instincts were correct in placing her trust in him.

“Thank you, Sandor.” She let out a long, steady breath, relief finally flooding through her. She made her way to the dining table near the balcony doors, drumming her fingertips on the surface. “How are they?”

“Fine. Trying their best not to show their excitement. The She-Wolf even bit me for good measure, just to make it more believable.” Sandor held up his right hand to display the indented crescent of teeth marks beneath his little finger, angry and red and deep enough to draw blood.

The corner of her lips lifted in a half-smile. Aside from Missandei, Arya was her favorite among the other breeders. In all honesty, she couldn’t quite pinpoint what drew her to the feisty little thing. Perhaps it might’ve been because she saw something of herself in the young woman. Whether it be her aggressive personality, her fierce desire to protect those she cared about or innate commitment to take matters into her own hands, Dany couldn’t help but admire her for her unshakable perseverance.

“Perhaps she’d stop biting you if you’d call her by her real name.” It wouldn’t happen, of course. The man was too proud to let a little girl win, but that didn't stop Dany from poking fun at him.

“I don’t want to give her the satisfaction,” he groused, his glare focused at the corner of the room as if Arya Stark herself were at the receiving end. It was all for show, of course. Arya, like the rest of the girls, unexpectedly wormed their way into the Hound’s heart. Dany found it equally amusing and endearing at how adamantly he tried to hide it.

On the verge of laughter, Daenerys lowered her eyes, fingers curled around the ear of a chair, her close-lipped smile obscured as she shook her head.

“Is there anything else you need, Clegane?” She wondered, amusement clear in her voice. “If not, I’d like to finally get some rest.”

He tilted his head slightly, unsure, avoiding the question in her stare for a second before ultimately deciding to come clean. “Actually, there is.”

When he didn’t continue, Daenerys lifted an eyebrow at him, curious at what he had to say. Sandor never asked for anything since he began working with her, so whatever he needed she would willingly provide.

The tall man shifted from one foot to another, grey irises hardened with conviction. “I’d like to come with you. I know Grey Worm and Brienne’ll be with you and the girls, but an extra hand can’t hurt. You know I can fight.”

Was that all? Dany half expected him to ask for all the liquor from her personal stores. There were no plans on returning and she knew how much he enjoyed drinking into a stupor, no matter how much she disagreed with it. This was far better than she imagined.

“You’re welcome to join us. But you’ll have to hide out with the girls in the tank. If the wrong person sees you, they’ll know something’s up.”

Sandor bowed slightly, his long, jet-black hair falling forward to cover his face. “You can count on me. Thank you, Imperator.”

Her gaze followed him as he left, the door shutting softly behind him.

Finally alone to her thoughts, Dany made her way over to the secret hatch in the wall beside her bed, shifting her nightstand over to access it. Inside were three bottles of alcohol: arbor gold, tyroshi pear brandy, and a clear one from the north she didn't know the name of. The glass glittered enticingly in the candlelight, sealed and begging to be opened. A small smile worked its way onto her lips before she reached out to grab them to add to her pack.

If everything went according to plan, there would definitely be a cause for celebration in the future and Dany could think of no better way to commemorate it.

Chapter Text

The hour was still early when Daenerys awoke, arms tightly curled around her pillow, legs tangled in the bedclothes. The sun had only begun to turn the sky blue and already she could hear Ramsay’s boys causing a ruckus outside, maniacally laughing and beating their weapons on seemingly just about every surface.

“C’mon, Locke! Let’s see the new prisoner!” One of the boys shouted excitedly.

“Shut it, you! There’s more important things to do than paying snowflake a visit,” the man, presumably Locke, chastised, swiftly attempting to put an end to their conversation. But in the end his friend was persistent.

Dany groaned and pressed the aforementioned pillow against her ears to block out the noise. Maybe it was the fact that she wasn’t a morning person, but she felt extra grouchy now that her sleep was disturbed before the long journey ahead.

Curse them to all seven hells , she groused in her head.

If she weren’t as naked as her nameday, she’d be of a mind to throw open the door and give them a taste of the dragon’s ire, but such was the case. The balmy night had left her skin sticky with sweat and she couldn’t think of another way to cool off at such a late hour. And besides, she discovered that the silk sheets felt much better against her bare skin anyway.

With a long sigh, she tossed her pillow aside and slipped out of the comfort of her bed, surrendering to the reality that no more rest would be given to her.

Nearly an hour later, fresh from her shower and dressed in her cleanest cream linen dress, three knocks sounded at the door. She was in the middle of plaiting the braid on the right side of her head, fingers accustomed with the movements from all the practice she received with Missandei’s absence. It must have been Brienne, come to deliver her breakfast while Grey Worm was no doubt off doing last minute preparations on Dragon’s Breath, her war rig.

Without parting from her reflection in the grimy mirror, she called out, “Come in!”

Like she had predicted, Brienne entered the threshold carrying a tray of black bread, thin slices of ham, and grapes. In her other hand was a small glass pitcher, its contents blood red with what appeared to be pieces of chopped up fruit. Dany’s mouth began to water, stomach grumbling as the scent of freshly baked bread filled her room. She didn’t realize how hungry she was until that moment; had barely touched her dinner the night before, too anxious to work up an appetite.

“Good morning, my lady,” Brienne greeted, bowing slightly before setting the food on the dining table.

“Morning,” she replied, believing the morning was anything but good. But now wasn’t the time to complain. “Any news?”

The sound of a chair scraped against the stone floor, a soft sigh following as Brienne settled at the table. “Old Frey wishes to see you, though I believe it’s only for a debrief.”

Dany rolled her eyes, annoyance steadily escalating. “Of course he does. How many times has he debriefed me already? Three? Four times?”

The other woman hummed her laughter, slicing pieces of bread to butter. “His mind is going.”

“His mind left a long time ago.” She began to work on another braid, this time on the left. “The old man better not die yet. Black Walder is especially cruel to the people, so I can’t imagine what he’ll do once he’s in power. I’d very much like to put a bullet between both their eyes myself before that happens. They deserve no less.”

“I don’t disagree,” Brienne answered without reservation, then, “What of the Boltons?”

Her fingers stilled at the question, lavender orbs flickering over to her companion’s form through the mirror. Of course, she always imagined they would receive the same fate as their co-rulers. But ever since the Stark girls became prisoners, she decided it wasn’t her place to judge what Ramsay and Roose deserved, not after she heard of the horrendous things Ramsay did to their family.

“I’ll leave it to the Starks. I’m certain Arya has plenty of ideas fit for punishment.”

“She’d probably enjoy doing it herself,” Brienne replied playfully, taking a big bite out of her bread. She tilted her head slightly, expression thoughtful as she chewed slowly. “I’d like to see that, I think.”

Dany’s heart felt lighter with the knowledge that at least one of her guards was in high spirits. She found that things were always far too serious when both Brienne and Grey Worm were in the same room together. After they pulled off this last mission, she would make sure to give them a long vacation.

After braiding the middle part, she pulled all loose ends and unbound strands into a ponytail, a flimsy strip of leather the only thing keeping her hair in place. Dany reached for the dark silver dragon ear cuff as she stood from her vanity, fastening it to the curve of her left ear as she moved to join Brienne at the table.

The other woman quickly dusted the crumbs off her fingers as she approached, filling Dany’s goblet and then her own.

She curiously lift the cool glass to her face, her nose wrinkling once the scent of alcohol burned her nostrils. “Wine, Brienne? This early in the morning? Do you take me for the Hound?”

Chuckling, Brienne rose slightly to set a prepared plate of food before her, popping a slice of ham into her mouth as she leaned back into her chair. “Believe me, no one could ever mistake you for Clegane.”

“I should hope not. I’m no match for his temper,” she quipped, biting into her slice of black bread. She was unable to hold back a hum of delight as the creamy butter immediately melted at the touch of her tongue, its richness accentuating the subtle sweetness of the black treacle in the bread.

Licking her lips, she reached for her drink again. Peering into its contents, her reflection stared back against the surface of the sanguine liquid, an eyebrow arched in confusion. “What even is this?”

“Chilled summerwine, my lady. With lemons, oranges, and their juices. It’s a Dornish drink, or so I’m told. I thought you might like to try some to ease the nerves.”

Dany scoffed, prepared to defend herself on the matter, but once she caught Brienne watching with a pointed stare, she couldn’t help but feel sheepish. She supposed it was foolish at this point to even try and hide it, especially from someone who spent the majority of their days with her. They’d known each other for so long it was easy to pick up once something was amiss.

Deciding to succumb to her guardian’s wordless persistence, Dany finally lift the so-called “Dornish” drink to her lips. The flavor was unsurprisingly tart given all the fruit Brienne added into the wine, but it was also wonderfully sweet, and not cloyingly so like the desserts she was so often served. She also found it delectably refreshing with the heat of the day already creeping in through the open windows.

It was simply delicious, though her stubbornness refused to admit it.

“The taste is sufficient, I suppose,” she finally said, raising the glass for another drink. It took a great deal of restraint to avoid Brienne’s stare, though she could feel the intensity of it burning through the crown of her head as she dove back into her food.

After some silence, Dany’s cheeks warmed once Brienne began to laugh lowly, amused at her leader’s rare display of childishness.

“As you say, my lady.”

“Bastard,” a woman’s voice hissed beside his ear. She was so close, he could feel the breath tickling his skin now, but whoever it was was enshrouded in darkness. “You couldn’t save us. How do you expect to save the rest of your family?” She had been repeating this for what seemed like hours, but now that she was near, he could practically feel the malice in her words.

Jon trembled, squeezed his eyes shut though it made no difference; it did nothing in preventing the voice from speaking again.

“Damned child! Insolent boy! No one ever loved you. No one ever will love y—”

“Leave me alone!” he cried out as he curled into himself, feeling like a boy again, hands pressed firmly over his ears now.

It wasn’t true! There was his father, brothers, and Arya. Even Sansa too, despite how difficult she was. And then… then there was—

Another woman interrupted his thoughts, one he was all too familiar with. “You know noth—”

"Stop!” he begged, eyes prickling with the telltale sign of tears. He didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to escape, his fear rooting him in place. It was alarming; the nightmares never usually lasted this long, and they so very rarely involved his former lover. He could only blame the feral blood coursing through his veins, corrupting his brain enough for the demons to finally begin consuming him.

“Just leave me. Please…”

“Traitor! You betrayed me!” she spat, her shadowed presence crowding him.

Jon sobbed, guilt all-consuming. “I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…” I can’t keep any of my promises, was left unspoken, and his apologies fell on deaf ears.

“You betrayed me! You betrayed me! You betrayed me! You—” On and on she went, voice morphing into something demonic. Then suddenly her hand wrapped around his wrist, her touch like molten lava, igniting every pathway in his body until he was fit to combust.

“No!” he screamed in agony, the pain like no other; unable to do anything but watch as his skin and muscle fell off his bones like water. He wanted it to end, wanted to stop suffering, just wanted to—


The cold shock of water forced Jon out of his nightmare, sputtering as he fought to turn his body away from the harsh force of the hose. The water felt as heavy as bricks, stinging his skin until it turned a bright pink. He grit his teeth against the pain, weeping though it was incomparable to the torture he just endured in his dream.

“That’s enough, Bull!”

Theon suddenly came into view once the water stopped running, digging through his pack until he procured a shirt hidden away at the bottom.

“Get dressed,” he urged, frantic. “Quickly, Jon.”

Fighting against his dizziness, Jon sluggishly sat up, hands still trembling as he tugged the dark grey henley over his head. “What happened?”

Theon stood over him, undoubtedly both concerned and curious. “You were burning up… shaking and screaming. We tried to wake you, but…” He shrugged. Clearly ordinary methods didn’t work. “We thought the water might cool you off.”

Jon nodded and breathed deeply, allowing — welcoming — his body to compose itself once more.

“Why haven’t you killed me yet?” He wondered. They worked for Ramsay, did they not? He couldn’t understand why they were helping him, or attempting to do so anyway.

Bull and Theon helped him to his feet, but not before shackling his wrists behind his back, guiding him back into a sitting position when they reached the stone shelf located at the far wall of the room.

“We’re here to help. But we need to keep up appearances,” Bull responded, wielding a straight razor to clean up the beard he accumulated over the months. Meanwhile, Theon hooked himself up to Jon, ignoring his wince of pain when he punctured the artery above his collarbone.

“Help me? With what exactly?” he croaked, throat still dry despite his ice cold dousing. The heaviness in his eyes made him want to lay down, to sleep and never wake up again. But the promise of what awaited him on the other side kept him from doing so.

Theon breathed a sigh of relief as Jon’s blood entered his system, a touch of color already bleeding onto his cheeks. Though he was still gaunt, life was flowing through him once again, his appearance almost akin to when they were stupid, foolish teenagers.

“We know where your sisters are,” Theon finally spoke, though he fought to avoid his inquisitive stare. The guilt over what he did to Jon and, by extension, his family still obviously ate away at him. “It’ll be difficult, but we’ll try to get you to them.”

Jon tried to fight a smile — he didn’t want Bull to accidentally nick his face — but he couldn’t keep the sarcasm dripping from his voice. “You’re the reason I was separated from them in the first place. Now you want to help reunite us?” He eyed Theon with distaste, and then, curiosity. “What happened to you?”

A grim expression overtook Bull’s features when Theon fell into silence once again, anguished in the memories from the darkest recesses of his mind. He wiped Jon’s face clean with a rag, tugging hard on his curls before shearing off a decent amount, thinking of what to say in his companion’s stead. “Unspeakable things. We’ve all been hurt by Ramsay, but Theon got the worst of it.”

There were stories about Ramsay he picked up from other scavengers during his travels. That he would castrate the men he captured, flay them until they’ve told him every one of their secrets, subject them to experiments that would destroy everything they once were. All of this so he could force them into unyielding loyalty. Before his family had been murdered, Ramsay seemed nothing more than a myth, someone untouchable, coming to steal you away in the middle of the night.

Looking at Theon now though, Jon recognized all the rumors rang true. But so help him, as long as that deranged creature bled, he could be killed just like anyone else.

Gloom heavy in the air, Jon was all too eager to change the subject, lest they begin asking him about the subject of his nightmares. “What’s your name? Your real one,” he acknowledged Bull, peering at the wiry man from the corner of his eye.

Bull and Theon shared a long look before the latter gave him a single nod.

“Gendry,” he replied simply, cautiously, like he was stepping on eggshells around him.

“And you’re helping me, because…?” Jon was aware of Theon’s inclination to assist him, to right his wrongs and whatnot, but this “Gendry” was nothing more than a stranger. Help usually never came for free these days, especially not in this region of Westeros.

“I, uh… knew your sister Arya long before the incident at Winterfell. We—”

“—were seeing each other,” Jon completed his thought with a chuckle, shaking his head in disbelief. “I knew she was keeping something from me.”

He recalled her frequent disappearances, usually under the guise of some half-assed excuse. Arya often said she was out with her friends, but he knew she had none aside from the cook’s son, Hot Pie. But even then, Jon knew he wasn’t allowed out, not with how dangerous it was outside of Winterfell. His little sister must have had her reasons for keeping her boyfriend under wraps, but that didn’t quell the hurt that resonated within him. The only thing he found curious was how they met, as he’d never seen Gendry before yesterday.  He supposed that was a story for another day.

“You don’t seem angry,” Gendry observed, tossing his razor off to the side.

Jon could only shrug. Arya never listened to anyone when it concerned the things she desired. Why would she start listening now? “As long as she doesn’t get hurt, Arya can damn well see whoever she wants.”

At that, Gendry let out a laugh, his fondness for Arya releasing a smile so wide all his teeth were on display. It was so infectious that Theon actually grinned along with him, wrinkles forming at the corner of his eyes.

“She’s more likely to inflict pain on me if I ever tried such a thing,” he confessed. “I may be a fighter, but Arya’s a little hellion. She can take care of herself, if need be.”

That sounds like her, all right. Jon allowed himself a brief smile at the thought, though there was one pressing issue on his mind.

“So I assume you two have a plan?”

Footsteps echoed against the stone hallways as Brienne escorted Imperator Daenerys to Overlord Frey’s war room, the chains from the young woman’s belt tinkling every time she took a step. They had just broke their fast, lending a hand in donning her boots, breastplate and thigh holster before they departed.

“You really should get better armor, my lady,” Brienne couldn’t help but say as they stood side-by-side in the elevator. The breastplate was more decorative than protective, riddled with cutouts that Daenerys seemed to favor. Not only that, she refused to wear anything else for defense, claiming everything else was too suffocating in the heat. It never failed to make Brienne nervous.

“It’s Valyrian steel, Brienne. I can’t just toss it out,” she argued. “I’m the one driving Dragon’s Breath anyway, so most of my protection is the war rig itself. And you and Grey Worm, of course. And now we have Clegane to add to that list.”

“His sole focus will be the girls, you know. Though I think he… favors one of them.” She had seen the way he stared at Sansa Stark, infatuated though she knew he would deny it. He probably wasn’t even aware of his fondness for the elder Stark girl, if she was being honest. He was just such a rough man, mean to anyone who so much as looked in his direction, that she’d have never guessed he would care for a woman so unlike him.

Daenerys looked up at her incredulously, a small smirk on her face. “I didn’t take you for someone who partook in gossip, Brienne.”

“I don’t, it was just an observation,” she replied, voice beginning to rise in defense.

“It’s no matter,” she waved her hand, dismissing the thought. “I don’t care to know who it is. But do you think it’ll be a problem in the future?”

Brienne slowly shook her head. “I don’t believe so, no.” The Hound may have shown favor to Sansa, but she knew that if any of the girls were in danger, he would come to their rescue and protect them with his life. Despite their disagreements over the years, she could at least give him respect in that.

The elevator finally came to a halt, the rusty doors slowly screeching open. “Then there’s nothing else to say,” Daenerys shrugged, stepping off the lift.

Brienne sighed, with no other choice but to trail after her. “We were talking about your protection too, you know.”

“I’m good with a gun, remember?” She could tell she was beginning to grow wary of the conversation, what with the way she was avoiding looking in her direction as she spoke.

But Daenerys wasn’t wrong. Brienne had seen her time and again on the battlefield, holding her own and miraculously leaving relatively unscathed. She was one of the best when wielding a gun, and it was her skill in this that raised her into the rank of Imperator in such a short amount of time.

“We’ll speak more of it later,” Daenerys added with an air of finality once they reached the double doors of the war room.

Brienne nodded once, deciding to let it go for now, and opened the door, waiting for the short woman to enter before following her into the room.

She stood at the entryway while Daenerys made her way further into the room, pointedly ignoring Ramsay — who was lounging with his feet propped up against the table, sharpening his blade — as she passed, hands clasped properly in front of her.

“You’re late, girl,” Old Frey muttered grumpily at the window, the eyepiece of the telescope held up to his pinched face by the Leech himself, Roose Bolton.

“Forgive me, my lord. It won’t happen again,” she responded dryly. Her apology was inadequate at best, but no one in the room seemed to really care. There appeared to be more crucial matters on their minds.

Walder continued to mumble to himself as he stepped away from the telescope, wrinkly fingers wrapped around the skull-shaped silver handle of his cane as he stepped down from the dais. “Best get going now. A storm’s a’coming.”

“What, really?” Shock colored her voice, her gaze shifting from Walder to Roose, looking for any sign of confirmation.

“It’s just a sandstorm, my dear,” Roose began with a saccharine smile, hands folded together behind him. There was no joy in his eyes. It was as if he simply told himself to smile because circumstances called for him to. “Luckily it’s coming from the south. But if you don’t leave for Moat Cailin soon, it’ll catch up to you.”

Brienne shifted uneasily at the news. They were due to head south, taking the Kingsroad before they reached the Trident, but a storm was something they hadn’t anticipated when coming up with their plans. There were only two ways it could go: it could either be a hindrance and they would most likely get caught and killed for their treachery, or it could work in their benefit, providing the perfect cover until they reached the tunnels in the Vale for shelter. With the way Daenerys was behind the wheel, Brienne comfortably placed her bets on the latter.

Daenerys nodded in agreement, and Brienne could see the same thoughts running through her head.

“Very well, I’ll leave at once.”

She straightened when Daenerys stepped away from them, ready to make her departure.

“Wait, girl,” Walder interrupted, leaning in close to the white blonde-haired woman. His beady eyes were squinty, mouth fixated into a frown. “You go straight to Moat Cailin, you hear? Talk to the Crow’s Eye and exchange the water for bullets. I expect you back in two days. No funny business, you got me?”

Daenerys peered up at him through her eyelashes, completely levelheaded in spite of the threat hidden behind his words. Her lips curled slightly in a sly smile. “Have I ever let you down?” She turned from the pair before they could form a reply. But the short answer was no, she hadn’t ever failed them, done every dirty deed to their liking. Brienne spent many nights comforting her leader after every particularly brutal assignment, talking it through and easing the guilt off of her shoulders.

She passed Ramsay once again. But instead of focusing on his knife like before, he smirked up at her, shamelessly patting and squeezing the curve of her ass but failing to draw his hand back. Daenerys froze at the unwanted contact and Ramsay only cackled at her reaction. “I’ll miss you terribly, love.”

Brienne’s grip tightened around the hilt of the sword strapped to her hip. She hadn’t realized her hand had moved there in the first place. But before she could pull it out of her scabbard and tell the little creep to back off, Daenerys suddenly grabbed his wrist and twisted it around painfully, a dagger she kept hidden underneath her skirt pressed against his throat.

Though he was caught off guard with her swift reaction, the crazed smile splitting his face indicated he actually enjoyed the pain she was inflicting on him. The look made Brienne feel uneasy, though if she were honest, just about everything that involved Ramsay Bolton made her uncomfortable.

“Touch me again, and I’ll cut your hand off,” she hissed, lips thin and eyes bright with lividity. “Am I clear?”

Ramsay tittered gleefully, happily pressing up against her dagger until it drew blood. “Crystal.”

Her glower darted to the trickle of blood descending to his collar, a look of unease briefly crossing her features before it returned to her usual stony countenance. She evenly met Ramsay’s piercing eyes once more, distancing herself until she reached her at the exit.

Brienne immediately pushed open the door for her, following her out and down the hallway towards the elevator. She could only watch as Daenerys’s hands shook, wiping the blood from the blade off onto the skirt of her dress, then slipping it back into its sheath. Brienne frowned at how affected her leader was by the confrontation with Ramsay. While she was aware that she could take care of herself, Brienne couldn’t help the concern building in the pit of her stomach. It was true that Daenerys had been independent most of her life, but now she had people close to her, people willing to protect her if she so wished it. Her only fault was that she always took on her burdens all by herself. It wasn’t healthy.

“My lady, are you o—”

“Meet me at the war rig,” Daenerys cut in, tugging the elevator open. Then she spoke quietly. “Make sure Clegane and the girls are good to go.”

Brienne nodded dumbly, stood confused at the sudden change in emotion before Daenerys left her, watched as her form stalked down the hall from where they just came with a newfound determination. It was curious, wondering what else she could possibly be doing on this level. Aside from the war room, only the breeder’s and Walder’s rooms were located on the same floor.

Shaking her head, Brienne finally stepped into the elevator, considering it best to not think about it at all, though telling herself this didn’t prevent her thoughts from running wild.

What in seven hells was she up to?

Chapter Text

Scrape. Scrape. Scraaape.

Ramsay’s ears perked up, hearing hypertuned to the sounds of the scratches the tip of his dagger made against the underside of his fingernail. The constant grating left the area raw, almost to the point of bleeding, but he was determined in picking the dirt, grime, and dried blood lodged beneath.


The monotony of his actions, as well as the murmurs of idle conversation between his father and Overlord Frey, left him in a daze.


His father stood at the window, watching and confirming Daenerys’ departure via the telescope while Black Walder stood silent, taking his time in reading an urgent letter from Harrenhal. On the opposite side of the war table, the older Frey hunched over the map in the north, making plans on taking over Bear Island with Ramsay leading the charge. The shoreline had receded so much since the fallout over two decades ago that Bear Island wasn’t so much of an island anymore. The loss of water over the years had formed a natural land bridge, connecting it straight to Deepwood Motte.


It was the next logical thing to do, of course, and had it been any other time, he would be all up for it. But he had a feeling things were about to take a turn, about to get a lot more interesting.


“That Lannister bitch is demanding more water, father,” Black Walder griped at the large table centered in the room, crumpling up the missive he just received and tossing it. Ramsay flinched when the balled-up paper came in contact with his head, the involuntary movement causing him to accidentally nick his middle finger.

Crimson blossomed at his fingertip, rising up into a bubble until it broke and trickled down the length of the digit like the veins and arteries hidden underneath his skin. The pain hardly registered to him at all as he stared in fascination, instead lulling him into a sense of comfort and bliss.

Ramsay sucked at the wound until it numbed, unmindful of the taste of copper overwhelming his senses. Yes, good. Very good.

“Let her complain. We have enough gasoline to last another fortnight. There’s no need for another exchange with her,” he heard the old man smugly reply, the tapping of his cane echoing against the stone walls as he stepped closer to his son.

Ramsay’s lips curled into a smile, going back to scraping the dirt from underneath his fingernails with the sharp point of his dagger. What little you know, you decrepit piece of shit.

He could already imagine the cold sweat breaking along Black Walder’s hairline, beading and trickling down his temple. The only person who turned him back into a green boy was Overlord Frey himself. Ramsay wasn’t sure why, frail as the old man was. He might’ve been a skilled gunman in his earlier life, but that didn’t hold as much bearing on the present. The only thing preventing him from carving out Frey’s throat from ear to ear was his father, and even then he couldn’t understand the reason for keeping him around.

Black Walder’s voice trembled in response. “But father, if we keep up at this rate, we’ll deplete our stores by the end of the week. I thought you knew.”

Old Frey’s voice quickly peaked with anger, disliking the prospect of being proven wrong. “What are you on about, boy!? What are the gasoline levels at?”

“Twenty-seven percent,” Ramsay finally piped up. The perfect chance to shed some light on the situation, or impending crisis as they might see it, practically fell onto his lap, and he would be a fool to pass up on the opportunity.

The older Walder, and even his father, hadn’t seen the shift in Daenerys’ demeanor earlier. She always stood tall and confident despite her short stature, determined to command the respect she thought she deserved. Instead of calling her out on it, he quietly observed how tense her shoulders were, the strange fidgeting of her fingers, the anxiety that danced in her lavender eyes when he touched her.

Not only that, but the tall tree of a bodyguard she insisted on bringing around all the time was a touch nervous as well. Add the unspecified disappearance of fuel from their reserves — fifty-two jumping down to twenty-seven percent — and Ramsay smelled something fishy in the air.

Daenerys was up to something, he just wasn’t quite sure what it was yet.

“Damned bastard,” Walder furiously cursed, striding over to where he was seated in a surprising amount of time, a feat in and of itself considering he had a difficult time walking around in the first place. He grabbed the lapel of his distressed leather vest, spittle flying from his mouth as he yanked him around. “You knew about this and kept your mouth shut? Why!?”

Ramsay shrugged, fighting the laugh that built up in his throat at the old man’s pinched, irritated face. Everything was turning out just like he imagined. “I wanted to see what would happen. Thought it’d be hilarious.”

His cheek twitched, scowl hardening before shoving him back into the chair. “Who took it? The Targaryen bitch?”

Dusting off his vest, Ramsay shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. It’s inconclusive.”

“She’s heading south,” his father suddenly muttered to no one in particular, still glimpsing into the eyepiece and making minute adjustments to receive a better visual.

South? What could she possibly hope to find past Harrenhal? There was nothing but sand, ruined cities, and more sand for miles on end. Well… there was one area left untouched, but—

“She’s really a dumb bitch if she thinks she can escape,” Black Walder stated, combing his fingers through his oily hair from underneath his aviator hat, completely unperturbed by Daenerys’ betrayal. “Cersei and her men at Harrenhal will capture her before she gets past them. I wouldn’t worry too much, father.”

I wouldn’t underestimate her, Ramsay berated him in his head, sheathing his dagger and leisurely lacing his fingers together. She’s smarter and a lot more clever than she lets on.

But Black Walder’s words were only met with silence. Old Frey didn’t utter a single word, his gaze shifting to the window and back to the war table. He was lost in thought, brows pulled together, squinting as he scanned the map of the south. Then suddenly his eyes widened in realization, muttering, “ No ,” before he promptly left the room, the chains from his belt clinking together as he hobbled out.

“Father? Father !” Black Walder yelled after him, frown back in place at their superior’s odd behavior. “What the fuck’s gotten into him?”

Roose ignored Walder, briefly turning away from the telescope to acknowledge his son. “Ramsay, be a good lad and check on the old man, would you?”

Sighing to himself, he reluctantly stood from the comfort of his chair. “Fine.”

Ramsay made his first stop in Walder’s grand quarters, quickly sweeping the room for the old man but noting his absence. But before he left again to head to the breeder’s chambers, something caught his eye. On the floor near the back of the room lay a puddle of white, the containers holding the liquid scattered around it.

It was an absolute mess, like someone had kicked everything over in a fit of rage. No way would Walder do this. No way would he so easily discard his disgusting body fluid — his family’s future, as he puts it — like it were nothing but trash.

He wrinkled his nose as he stepped closer for a better look, the acrid stench becoming more and more severe. That didn’t stop the grin that stretched across his face, a giggle escaping his lips when he put two and two together.

Daenerys, you little minx.

Of course she would rid Walder of the one thing keeping his family in power. The old man couldn’t get it up anymore, and that crazy doctor Qyburn told him years ago he was firing blanks. These were Walder’s last resort, but Daenerys swiftly put an end to that.

If his baby-making juice is gone, then all that’s left is—

“That goddamned bitch !” Walder’s voice rang from down the hall, the angriest he’s ever heard him. Ramsay immediately ran to the breeder’s chambers, eager to witness the old man’s reaction.

The clatter of objects thrown at the wall, crashing onto the floor reverberated against the stone as he approached the thick safe door. It was left ajar, though only enough for him to squeeze through.

Inside, Walder flung a chair across the room in a surprising show of strength, narrowly missing Ramsay as he entered. The place was in disarray and completely devoid of the five breeders’ presence, including the guard dog that constantly kept watch over them.

It didn’t come as a shock that Clegane betrayed Old Frey too. A dog could only take being pushed around so much until he bit back. The fact that the ugly son of a bitch hadn’t taken advantage of any of the girls just showed how much he cared about them. He could try to hide it behind as many scowls as he wanted, but Ramsay ultimately saw the truth.

“Bloody traitors, all of ‘em!” Walder yelled, collapsing onto the dusty floor and out of breath.

Bloody brilliant, more like.

Ramsay bent to pick up a crumpled alabaster shawl off the floor, left behind in their haste to leave. The fabric was thin, soft and silky against his fingers, weaved from the finest materials. He raised the garment to his nose and inhaled the delicate scent of lavender and lemons.

Sansa , he thought elatedly. Her screams would be so sweet .

In truth, he held no preference over any of them. But the possibility of Walder handing over one of the girls as a reward, well… it was too enticing to ignore. He hummed with resolve, making the final decision to go after Daenerys even though he didn’t owe the old man anything.

“Well? What are you waiting for?” Ramsay tossed the shawl back onto the ground, already turning to leave the room. “Let’s get the bitch.”

Jon’s eyelids felt leaden, heavy with exhaustion as Theon and Gendry conversed amongst themselves. It probably didn’t help that Theon was taking so much of his blood either, but there was little he could say or do about that. He could only continue to pinch at the skin on his wrist to stay awake, dreading the return of restless slumber.

“You can rest, you know,” Gendry spoke from the opposite side of the room, taking note of his fatigue. He was using a push broom to clear the leftover water out into the gutter. “We can just douse you if you start burning up again.”

He shook his head, uneasy at the prospect of encountering the demon again. “I don’t—” his breath trembled. “I just can’t.”

“Who do you see?” Theon asked, arms wrapped around his knees. The thin man met his eyes expectantly — curiously — as if he’d seen his fair share of demons since he betrayed his family. And perhaps he had if he regularly filled himself up with feral blood. It was the main source of Jon’s excruciating pain and suffering.

“Catelyn, mostly. I’m not sure why though. Maybe because she already made my life a living hell; she has to do it in my dreams too.” And maybe because I haven’t fulfilled my promise to her yet.

Theon chuckled. “That’s an understatement.”

“Sometimes there’s father, Robb, Bran and Rickon.” Ygritte too, but that was a rare thing . She only made an appearance on his worst days, when there was nothing to dilute the poison in his blood.

Theon nodded gravely, lowering his gaze in remorse. He opened his mouth to speak, but they heard a commotion out in the hallway; shouting and men running like mad.

The door suddenly flew open, the metal door loudly clanging against the stone. A man with a long scar on the right side of his face, bisecting his eyebrow down to his cheek, entered like he had a bone to pick with them.

“What’re you fuckers sittin’ around for? Boss said it’s time to leave!”

Gendry leaned against his broom, nonplussed. “What’s going on, Locke? We aren’t scheduled to go on patrol until tonight.”

“Imperator Targaryen stole Overlord Frey’s prized breeders. Boss said we need’a chase ‘em down and gut the bitch,” Locke replied with a cackle, banging on the door once more before he left, no doubt to yell at more of Ramsay’s boys for not getting ready fast enough.

Theon stood up, eyes wild from the bomb Locke just dropped on them. “Daenerys took all of them? This ruins all of our plans! What are we sup—?”

Gendry swiftly covered Theon’s mouth with his hand, annoyance drawing his brows together into a glare. “Calm down, would you? Someone’s going to hear you.” He sighed, hand falling back to his side. “Here’s what’s going to happen. I’ll take Jon with me. We’ll chase Daenerys down and hope she doesn’t shoot us when we catch up to her. It’s the only option we’ve got.”

“Who’s Daenerys?” The name felt foreign on his tongue, stilted in his harsh northern accent.

“She’s on Frey’s counsel,” Gendry explained. “One of his most trusted. Don’t know much about her other than she’s particularly ruthless when it comes to killing.”

“They call her the Dragon because of her temper,” Theon added, eyes still wide with fear. “And because she used to favor using napalm and a flamethrower in destroying her enemies.”

This woman sounded trigger happy, but he wasn’t sure he could trust the words from a man who was under Ramsay’s thrall for so long. Anything could be said to anyone. Repeat it enough times to the right people and they’ll believe you. But she can’t be that bad if she betrayed her Overlord, right?

“I’m going with you, Gendry. I have to. This is the one thing I’ve got to do right. Please .”

Conflicted, Gendry argued, “But you’re a walking corpse! There’s no way you’ll make it out there for long!”

Theon held up the line connecting him to Jon. “We’re taking him along with us anyway! More feral blood to power me up. C’mon,” he begged, practically on his knees. “I’d rather die out there than in here.”

Gendry frowned, ultimately relenting to Theon’s request. “Fine, just don’t bitch about it later.”

Theon began to cheer, skinny arms raised up as he fist-pumped the air. Jon eyed him warily, aware, but not pleased, that his blood was affecting Theon in such a way.

“We oughta get moving,” Gendry began, cuffing Theon’s right wrist to a long chain. He twisted it around the line hooked up between them. “I need to put this on you, Jon. For appearances, remember?” He gestured to the iron muzzle he held in his hands.

Jon jerked his head away, hissing in pain when it tugged at needle punctured near his collar. “What? Why?”

“You’re still a raging feral, you know. Who knows what’ll happen on the road,” he replied, already fastening the muzzle to the lower half of his face.

It was true. Once his fight or flight kicked in, all bets were off. He could either go on a rampage and kill everyone near him or simply fall apart and succumb to his torment. With the way his dreams have been turning, he would guess that the former was more likely to happen.

He couldn’t afford that chance, not when they were the only two who could help reunite him with his sisters.

“Can you please stop be annoying for one minute?” Sansa pleaded, beyond irritated with her little sister. She had no idea how Arya acquired a silver stag or what compelled her to start tapping it against the metal walls of the tank they hid in, but the constant tap tap tap’s were driving her insane. How Jeyne, Margaery, and Missandei weren’t equally annoyed was a mystery to her.

It was as if the other three were in their own world. Missandei sat in the corner, reading from one of the few books she brought while Jeyne lay her head on Missy’s lap, rubbing the large swell of her own belly. Margaery, meanwhile, continued to practice sketching, softly humming a lullaby to herself.

Arya petulantly stuck her tongue out at her, blowing a raspberry. Spittle hit Sansa’s knee, her nose wrinkling in disgust.

“Gods, you’re so gross.” She forcefully wiped her knee against the tan strip of cloth covering Arya’s breasts.

Her little sister winced, a hand covering her small right mound as she pulled away. “Ow! That’s my tit!”

“Could’ve fooled me. I don’t see anything there,” she retorted dryly. She turned back to her canvas, content to let their short argument end so she could continue needlepointing in peace, but Arya seemed inclined to disagree.

“I’d rather have brains than a nice set of tits!”

“Are you calling me stupid?

“Yeah! And you’re a bi—”

“That’s enough!” The Hound’s booming voice echoed throughout the tank despite the ghastly mask obscuring his mouth. Only Sansa, Arya and Jeyne startled at his anger, the other two women accustomed to his random bouts of rage by now.

He pointed a finger at Sansa, the spikes on his gauntlets glimmering in the lantern light. “You, stop your whinging. And you,” he turned to Arya, “don’t be a fucking brat.”

The large man averted his gaze back to the little sliver of an opening at the sliding door with a shake of his head. His dark eyes looked pained as he muttered, “And don’t talk about your damned tits anymore.”

Arya rolled her eyes, pushing herself up into a sitting position. “What are you wearing that mask for anyway? You look stupid.”

Sansa thought his new armor made him look scary. She was familiar with his camouflage cargo pants and thick boots, usually shirtless like the rest of the men that wandered the Crossing, and mask absent. The burns that marred the left side of his face had frightened her a long time ago, but she knew he would never hurt her despite how hateful his words normally were.

But now his gauntlets and pauldrons were littered with spikes. And the mask that covered the lower half of his face mimicked a snarling dog, sharp teeth and all. Add the giant greatsword strapped to his back and the assault rifle slung over his shoulder and he made a fearsome sight.

“I think it’s scary,” Sansa murmured, pulling her knees up to her chest.

I think it makes him look handsome,” Margaery interjected. Her words were coquettish, a hint of mischief in her bright eyes. “Our strong, capable protector is a frightening man. Why shouldn’t he dress the part as well?”

A trace of something ugly churned in her stomach, though she quickly tamped down the strange feeling before she could think more of it. What it was, she didn’t know.

The Hound ignored Margaery. “I wear it because I’m nothing more than a damned dog. That’s all there is to it.”

When he peered outside this time, his stare hardened into a mask of indifference, often when he tried to conceal his emotions.

Did we say something wrong?

Before she even had the chance to push the matter out of her head, gunshots popped in the distance, proceeded by the loud pinging of bullets hitting the exterior of the war rig.

“Shit,” the Hound cursed, peeking outside when there was a break in the gunfire. He growled something under his breath, sliding the hatch shut and locking it. “Those cunts already caught up with us.” He stomped to the opposite side of the tank where they kept their food, gripping his assault rifle with his right hand.

“Clegane! We’ve got company!” They heard Brienne shout, banging an armored hand against the other exit nearest him.

“I’m coming, woman!” The Hound grumbled back, grabbing several packs of ammo and stuffing as much as he could into his pockets.

When he began to tug the door open, a part of her panicked. “Wait! What are we supposed to do?”

Dark gunmetal grey eyes evenly met hers over his shoulder, steely determination in his stare. “Don’t do anything stupid, that’s what.” He ducked slightly to avoid hitting his head as he stepped out into danger, the door shutting with a resounding thud.

Her breath shook as she exhaled, lower lip pinned under pearly teeth. The hands at her knees curled into fists, skin blanching into white with how tight she held them.

Please be safe.

Dozens of cars and motorcycles surrounded their buggy as they drove down the Kingsroad, a giant cloud of dust left behind in their wake. At the middle of the party was a huge truck, painted a brilliant silver with the tires that carried it almost as tall as himself. In the driver’s seat was Overlord Frey himself, a pale, ghastly aged creature with a look that could sour anyone's milk. Next to him sat a greasy, shady looking man that Jon didn’t care to know the name of. And manning the turret at the back was Ramsay with his goggles protecting his eyes, smile so wide you didn’t need a brain to figure out he was having the time of his life.

Jon clung to one of the rails at the back of Theon’s buggy, curling into himself so he wouldn’t risk falling off. He squeezed his eyes shut, the feel of his hair whipping around his face, the taste of grainy sand never leaving his mouth as the gaunt man pressed down harder on the gas. Gendry simply stood beside him, appearing completely at ease compared to him.

“I don’t like this!” Jon shouted over the gunshots, rumble of engines, and Theon’s hollering, holding on to dear life. The roar of the engine only grew louder in response.

Gendry chuckled, voicing his agreement though his body language suggested otherwise. “He’s gone completely mental, hasn’t he!?”

Theon drove closer to the truck, the chain connected between them rattling against the door of the buggy when he pounded on it. “Boss, look at me! I’m doing good!” Theon’s voice cracked with excitement, restless and eager in his seat.

Ramsay turned his obnoxious smirk to him. “Very good, Reek!” He began to giggle like mad at the sight of Jon cowering at the back. “You having fun yet, Snowflake?”

I’m going to die out here . If he didn’t perish from blood loss or madness first, accidentally being shot at or run over were quickly climbing up his list.

Theon zoomed ahead, the exhaust pipes popping and breathing fire, putting them ahead of the entire group and nearest to the war rig.

On top of the tank was a lookout, occupied by two men, one wiry like Theon but with darker skin and a buzzed head, the other large and burly with jet black hair that reached the middle of his back. The bigger man kept yelling obscenities at the boys who threw explosive lances at them, shooting back in retaliation.

“Clegane, you son of a bitch! They’re my property!” Walder’s wretched voice was amplified by the speakers hooked up to his truck, scratchy and grating on the ears. “You’re supposed to be loyal to me , you fuckin’ dog! I’ll have your head on a pike after all this!”

“Suck my dick, you ancient fuck!” Clegane yelled back though Walder couldn’t hear him, emptying another round of bullets on a few boys that managed to climb up onto the war rig. “You want them!? You gotta get through me first!”

Well… I suppose the girls are in good hands , Jon thought haltingly, equally put off by the raven-haired man’s aggressiveness and impressed by his resilience. He’d join them if he could, but the current matter of being chained to a five-foot-eight crazy Theon prevented him from doing so.

Gendry bashed on the hood of the car to get Theon’s attention. “‘Ey, pull up! We need to get the Imperator’s attention!”

“Aye-aye, mate!”

He clung impossibly tighter to the rail when the vehicle suddenly lurched forward, palms sweaty and body humming with the beginnings of his primal instincts kicking in. His blood roared in his ears, the hiss of the animalistic side of him whispering to let go, to let it take over. But Jon shook his head, a futile attempt at dispelling the thoughts.

This sickness already took Ygritte. I’d rather die before it takes me too.

“Imperator! Imperator Targaryen! You have to take us with you! We’re the good guys, I swear!” Theon’s raspy voice carried him out of his deep thoughts, waving at the woman driving the giant war rig like she was an old friend.

Her brows furrowed, eyes wide with unexpected shock when she turned to the trio. Quickly her features hardened once she realized who was beside her, anger suddenly replacing her surprise, and then she spat, “Oh I’m supposed to believe that? This, coming from the mouth of Ramsay’s favorite pet!?”

Wow… she’s…

The frightening little woman was impossibly beautiful even with the dirt blemishing her sun-kissed cheeks, full lips chapped and bridge of her nose sunburnt from days spent out in the harsh light. Even the way she spoke and carried herself was completely different to those of Overlord Frey, Ramsay, and the others. She may have dressed like everyone else at the Crossing, but that didn’t disguise her elegance nor the power she naturally exuded.

It was strange. This was the first time he’d ever laid eyes on Daenerys Targaryen, but already she quieted the wicked ridicules of the demons running through his mind. She didn’t acknowledge him, didn't even look at him, and he felt calm, something close to normal again. But that’s not the way it works. You can’t just be cured after simply looking at a stranger. It all sounded ridiculous in his head.

“No! Wait—!” Theon suddenly yelled. Jon missed their entire exchange, time rushing back to him once Daenerys stretched an arm out the window to point her shotgun at them, or more specifically, Theon. The car swerved out of the way once she pulled the trigger, the powerful gunshot setting his blood aflame all over again. But she didn’t miss entirely as she managed to blow out their front tire. They didn’t see it coming when she abruptly twisted the steering wheel, her war rig crashing straight into them.

With Theon unable to avoid her, both Jon and Gendry fell off the back of the buggy, with Gendry’s head coming in contact with the edge of the metal footstep they’d both been perched on. But Jon had the fortune of being attached to Theon and all he could do was watch as Gendry tumbled into the dirt, his figure becoming smaller and smaller as the distance between them grew. Jon spat the dust out of his mouth, weakly tugging himself back up onto the buggy with trembling hands. He didn’t know Gendry well, but the guilt churning in his stomach had him feeling disgusted with himself. I couldn’t save another person . I could’ve tried to do something. What in seven hells is wrong with me?

“Theon!” he began hoarsely, an unsteady hand pressed to the back window. “Gendry’s gone.”

What !?” He turned his head to briefly face him, not capable of taking his eyes off the road for very long when Daenerys was still nearby. Theon inhaled slowly. “We have no choice but to continue without him. Gendry would’ve wanted that anyway.”

“We just leave him!?”

“We’ll lose a lot more if we go back, Jon! This is the only way!”

There was no point in arguing. Theon proved to be unyielding in their new plans and Jon knew deep down that he was right. One man’s life compared to his sisters and sister-in-law was nothing. It was a no-brainer when likening each of their importance.

“Jon! Brace yourself!” Theon tightened the goggles around his face, adeptly switching the gear before slamming his foot down on the gas pedal.

Brace myself for what? In the peripheral of his vision, Daenerys tugged the goggles that framed her head down over her eyes. Jon struggled to his feet, grip tight on the rail above the rear window, and what he saw nearly stopped his heart.

From the ground to the heavens was nothing but a violent wall of dust, the rolls of thunder booming, the crackles of lightning branching from behind the sandstorm. Everyone who wandered the wasteland knew never to be caught in storms like these, and yet here they were, riding straight into one. Even with the knowledge of driving into the storm, Theon and Gendry didn’t even have the decency to give him any protection.

“Are you all fucking mad!?”

He heard Theon chuckle gleefully, oddly reminiscent of his psychotic owner. He’d be lying if he said it didn’t make him uncomfortable in the slightest. “Aren’t we all a little mad these days?”

The war rig rumbled louder to their right as Daenerys began to drive ahead of them, a small smirk gracing her lips as she saluted them goodbye.

“So long, boys!” Her taunt had an edge of flirtatiousness to it, a scarlet and onyx bandanna drawn up and over her nose when she averted her gaze. Tendrils of her long, pale hair trailed almost majestically in the wind, too ethereal for this shitty world they found themselves in.

Jon stared after her in fascination for far too long, and only when she disappeared into the barricade of dust did he return to reality, the combination of brutal wind and sand nearly hurling him off the vehicle once again. He raised a free arm to his face, uselessly shielding himself until he crouched back down to the rear of the car.

Tornadoes of dust and debris surrounded them, webs of electricity coiling around their perimeter. Where the other side was various hues of brown, beyond the barrier were vibrant shades of red, the lightning striking the earth blue, leaving behind a wonderful purple in its wake. Jon would take the time to admire the sight if his life weren’t in so much danger.

With the current and a flat tire hindering them, Theon struggled to keep up with Daenerys and her entourage. Seeming to have enough of this, the gaunt man released an impatient grunt, suddenly flipping a switch before slamming a hand down on a big red button that couldn’t mean anything good.

They jolted forward, accelerating past the war rig until Theon drove in front of them to block the way, a terrible attempt at retrieving their attention. Instead he was just slowing them all down.

Jon already knew this wouldn’t sit well with the Imperator, not when they were trying to outrun Frey and his men.

“Theon, stop! You’re only making her angrier!” Jon tried to warn, but it was too late.

Daenerys swerved to their left, the war rig pressing right up against their vehicle. The spikes on the rims tore through the buggy and its tires like water, a terrible screech of rusted metal against metal. The shredded door flew past Jon, other bits and pieces of the car puncturing his skin. The damage she inflicted was so great that the buggy collapsed, but with the speed they were going, it flipped over itself.

Jon’s body pulled in all directions as the buggy tumbled and crashed, hands attempting to grasp the chain whipping around with the car.

I’m going to die, I’m going to die…

The last thing he remembered as he was thrown around was the sight the tail end of the war rig, the sound of glass shattering, face first to the ground right before he lost consciousness.

Chapter Text

Theon awoke with a groan, a dusty hand immediately clutching at his side where he was certain were broken ribs if the excruciating pain he was experiencing was anything to go by. There was the give of flesh where it should have been firm from intact bones and just the small amount of pressure forced a startled yelp out of him.

Bad idea, he quickly realized. It would do him no favors forcing his bones into a worse position than they already were. He could already hear Gendry chastising him in his head about it.


Gods, why did he have to leave him in this godforsaken wasteland? Yes his partner enjoyed pestering him, a cruel joke often passed between them during uneventful periods at the Crossing, but this one certainly took the cake. What would happen if he managed to reunite Jon with his sisters? He was more than well aware that his old childhood friend bore no more love for him, with what little there was in the first place. And despite Theon’s desire to help, he was still wary of him. He couldn’t blame Jon for that. But what happens when he comes face to face with Daenerys Targaryen?

She would kill him in a heartbeat if any of them uttered a word of his deception of the Starks, that he might’ve been the solitary reason for their swift downfall. The young imperator knew them not, but he’d heard from Ramsay that she grew particularly fond of the Stark sisters, namely Arya, and if she could exact revenge for them, so she would. Gendry had been his only hope of remaining alive and those were dashed the moment he fell off their car.

What could he do? What could he possibly do?

Just lay here and die, if I’m lucky. With no vehicle in the middle of the desert, the chances of survival were already looking pretty grim. His injury would prove to be a hindrance as well.

He blearily blinked up at the sun hanging overhead with a slight shake of his head and was overcome with instant regret. With trembling fingers, he pressed them against his scalp, the only other place where the pain throbbed the most and was unsurprised when they returned stained with bright red blood.

“Fuck me sideways,” he whined breathlessly as he struggled to push himself upright. His teeth clenched, hissing through the pain that radiated from his abdomen. Yes, things appeared more than bleak, but he had to be strong and see through his mission. Theon wasn’t the same man as before and he’d be damned if he couldn’t prove that to those he wronged before he perished.

He dragged his body through the broken windshield of the car frame leftover from the wreckage. Every inch of him ached, muscles sore from undergoing such a severe thrashing, bones threatening to break under what fragile weight he had left.

He should’ve known better than to provoke a Targaryen. Even before their genocide, they were renowned as a ruthless people, their men stronger than every other Westerosi people, their women notorious for their ancient powers. They were unstoppable. Daenerys proved to be no exception with the way she single-handedly totaled his buggy as if it were nothing but a sheet of tinfoil. Though she lacked the powers of her ancestors, she remained a formidable opponent.

And he’d be more impressed if he weren’t at the receiving end of her ire. Now it only left him pissed and disappointed. At himself for acting so idiotically, at Daenerys for being so stubborn, at Gendry for abandoning him, at Jon for — wait.


Through his inner musings, he’d forgotten about Jon’s painstakingly obvious absence.

“Jon?” His voice croaked with worry, the state of his nerves only worsening when met with silence.

Ignoring the pain still wracking his body, Theon scrambled to follow the path of the chain locked onto his wrist, unearthing it and gathering the metal into his arms until he found Jon halfway buried and face first in the sand.

“Jon!” Theon shook him, panic swiftly taking over as the worst case scenario ran through his head.

Please don’t be dead, please don’t be dead.

Still there was no response. His body remained unmoving under his touch, too motionless for comfort. With bated breath, Theon flipped Jon onto his back and choked at the sight. The cut at his temple reopened sometime during the crash, washing his face in a bright crimson. But what made Theon blanch and empty his stomach was Jon’s notably absent left arm, torn right off at the shoulder.

His grip found its way around a rusty rod of the car frame, eyes shut tight as he heaved what paltry stomach contents he had towards the sand at his feet.

“Oh fuck.” His voice was faint even to his own ears, muffled further by the hand covering his mouth. “Fuck, this can’t be happening.”

Forget being murdered by Daenerys. Once Sansa and Arya saw what he inadvertently did to their brother, they would surely kill him.

The little she-wolf would happily do it too, nice and slow to remind me of every sin I’ve ever committed against her family.

Theon shook his head slowly to dispel those thoughts. Just breathe. Don’t be afraid. You can do this. He repeated it like a mantra in his head.

With a deep breath, Theon calmly collected himself before turning back to the unconscious man behind him. Back on his knees beside him, he cautiously pressed two fingers against Jon’s jugular vein and nearly cried out in relief. His pulse was thin and thready, but that didn’t mean he was in the clear just yet. With a quick swipe at his brow, Theon unhooked the line located both at the bend of his arm and Jon’s collar with newfound determination.

Afterwards, he hunted around until he found Jon’s severed arm, still twitching even while he removed the sleeve adorning it. Theon could only feel pride in that he didn’t throw up again. With the sleeve, he folded it and applied pressure against the gaping wound. It was terrible and ill-fitting at best, but hopefully it would be enough to hold off the bleeding.

The discomfort in his abdomen had numbed with his resolution as he hoisted Jon over a shoulder, allowing him to continue applying pressure even as they journeyed to… well, he wasn’t quite sure yet. If his calculations were correct from numerous trips to the south, Fairmarket was about a couple hour walk from where they were located. Sure, it wasn’t the best plan, but it wasn’t as if he was brimming with ideas to begin with. The only other option was to simply starve and die, or in Jon’s case, bleed out and die. Theon would gladly walk for hours if there was a possibility of survival at the end. It would mean another chance of uniting the Starks, another chance for absolution he so desperately needed.

However, as he turned away from the wall of sand that drifted further and further away from them, he caught sight of a familiar war rig parked a ways away from them. While both fear and contempt reared its ugly head in his gut, hope stirred within him above all else. Plans completely out the window, Theon hobbled in the direction of the great vehicle.

He fought to ignore the warmth of blood trickling down his chest, how sharp a contrast it was to Jon’s cold body at his shoulder. There remained that nagging fear at the back of his mind, but the helplessness was slowly easing out of his system as Daenerys Targaryen’s war rig become more and more within reach.

Just a little longer, Jon. You’ll live to see another day.

“And you’re absolutely sure none of you are hurt?” Her brows drew together in worry, fingertips running along the side of her war rig where several bullet holes punctured the dense metal. Walder must have taken out the heavy artillery from the repository to take her and her companions out. Strange that he’d even considered putting them to use against her, as the last time he did so was to take out the Starks of Winterfell. But then again, she hit him where it hurt the most: his precious legacy, faded into the dust, just like the names of the great houses he sought to destroy.

Targaryen, Stark, Tyrell, Baratheon and so on. Frey, the most despicable of the bunch beside Bolton, would join the list soon enough.

Desperation, Daenerys decided, was a good look on that wretched excuse of a man. But that didn’t excuse him and his cronies for nearly hurting her girls with carelessly aimed armor-piercing rounds. She would rest easier once they were safely tucked away within the walls of Dragonstone.

“I’m pretty sure we’d know if we had a gunshot wound,” came the snarky reply of the youngest wife. The corners of Arya’s mouth were downturned, arms crossed impatiently. Dany was aware of how much she wanted to help defend the rig, and her skills would’ve been an undeniable asset to their team, but with all the chaos she just couldn’t take the risk.

A flash of regret passed her features, a sheepish apology already spoken before Dany could even form a reply. Sheepish was never something she thought Arya could express.

“Sorry. I know you’re just trying to protect us, but — look, I’m more useful out here shooting things than sitting inside like a prim princess!” And just like that, all her fire returned tenfold. Dany idly wondered whether or not she was truly sorry at all. “I used to be a fucking bounty hunter! Being locked away for over seven months stifled my skills.”

Daenerys hopped down from the ladder affixed to the rig, dusting her hands off onto her dress and approaching the young woman with what she hoped was a commiserative smile. “Once we get armor and weapons for you, I’ll consider it. But in the meantime, I’m afraid you’ll have to play the part of prim princess for a while longer.”

“I’m all right with that,” Sansa piped up from behind her sister, an ivory shawl wrapped around pale arms, almost like a form of protection. “For me, I mean. I’d end up doing more harm than good anyway.”

“That’s because you’re as useful as a damn knob,” Arya snapped, rounding on the auburn-haired woman. But Sansa didn’t flinch under Arya’s threatening stare. Instead, she appeared completely drained, like she was more than accustomed to Arya’s random bouts of rage in her twenty-two years.

“I know how to do some things!” Sansa defended earnestly. Fingers curled tighter around her shawl, her mint lacquered nails digging into the skin of her forearms as she fought the compulsion to rise to Arya’s level. “You can’t just write me off because I can’t fight like you.”

“Too late, I already did that years ago.” Already Arya brushed her off, as if she were nothing more than a nuisance.

Sansa shook her head in disbelief. “You don’t mean that. The trip made you uncomfortable and irritated and because of it, you’re purposely saying hurtful things.”

“Newsflash, Sansa; I’m always saying hurtful things! Your skin’s just too thin to take it.”

Sansa suddenly steeled herself before Dany’s eyes, refusing to give in to whatever game Arya was trying to play. Her expression held a gravity that she’d never seen before. Frankly, it frightened her. “I’m not naive. Not anymore.”

Dany’s heart nearly tore in two. Though she cared for both girls deeply, she couldn’t help but side with Sansa in this. She commended the young woman for at least keeping civil, but why couldn’t Arya see the bigger picture? Constant bickering was time wasted and Dany would be lying if she said she wasn’t a bit envious. They had the luxury of picking a fight with each other while Dany could barely even remember her last conversation with Viserys or her mother. Gods take her, she didn’t even have the chance to meet her own father and eldest brother, Rhaegar. Yes, they lost the rest of their family at the hands of Ramsay, but they had no idea what it was like to be on your own, deprived of a loving touch for nearly your whole life. They didn’t know. They didn't know.

“Come now, girls. Is this really the time to fight?” Daenerys finally interjected. If they were like this whenever she didn’t visit, she couldn’t fathom how Missandei, Jeyne, and Margaery could tolerate it. The two brunettes, Jeyne and Margaery, were in their own world, taking turns quenching their thirst via a hose attached to the water tank at the back of the rig. Meanwhile, Missandei stood a few feet away from her person, providing unspoken support like she used to before Walder separated them.

Thankfully Margaery’s lilting voice rescued her from going outright mother hen on the sisters. “Yes, Arya, stop being so crabby! Come, have some water and cool off.”

Margaery only took a few steps towards Arya before the latter darted off. “Fuck off, Marge!” She sighed belligerently. “Gods I need to piss. No one even think about following me!”

“Don’t wander off too far, dear!” Jeyne called after her sister-in-law, remaining unmoved by her sour mood as she cradled the swell of her stomach. She was likely over eight months now, if Missandei’s calculations were correct. She was Overlord Frey’s most prized wife, the first woman in years to successfully carry his seed. But if what Missy said was true, then the child growing in her womb wasn’t a Frey, but a Stark instead. They were fortunate the old man never figured it out, otherwise he would’ve given Ramsay permission to feed her to his rabid hounds.

She hoped they would get to Dragonstone soon. The baby could come any day now and Dany wanted to assure Jeyne every comfort she could.

As she watched Arya disappear over a dune nearby, Missandei inched closer to her. Dany turned to her closest friend with a weary grin. “It’s times like these where I’m grateful I can’t have children.”

Missy returned the smile with a small exhale of a laugh. “A blessing in disguise?”

“Only in these moments,” she admitted dolefully with a small shrug.

Her fertility remained a touchy subject, despite learning about her predicament over a decade ago when Walder attempted to impregnate her. Yes, she used to be a breeder-wife just like the rest of the girls, but certain circumstances caused Walder to see a better use for her.

There was a reason why Targaryens practiced interbreeding: only Targaryen men carried the genes to withstand the powers inflicted by their women. The lore she discovered on this topic was only secondhand from Missandei, and even then it left her befuddled. But the main point she received was that she couldn’t have children, not when there were no Targaryens left in the world.

A Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing, she remembered her Great-Uncle Aemon whispering to her when she was young and tucked away in bed, back when the days were carefree and he entertained her with tales about their valiant ancestors.

It was a ridiculous concept to her at the time.  Weren’t Targaryens always together? They were always within an hour’s ride away from each other. There was no way a dragon could be alone. She could understand with the women, maybe, but the men could easily have children with others outside of the family. It wasn’t until recently that she fully grasped the notion, and it had nothing to do with children. No matter who she surrounded herself with, loneliness was a constant presence, nagging at the back of her mind.

Sansa’s timid approach broke her away from her thoughts, guilt written all over her face while wringing the end of her shawl. “I apologize on Arya’s behalf. She’s been in a shit mood even before we left.”

Daenerys felt the need to apologize was unnecessary and held her hands up to assuage the young woman. “It’s quite all right. We’ve all been on edge for the past week. A person can only take so much before lashing out at others.”

Sansa breathed a sigh of relief, briefly shutting sky blue orbs to collect her thoughts. “Thank you, Imperator. For understanding and rescuing us from that horrible place.”

“Don’t thank me yet. We’re stuck in dangerous territory with a busted engine. Speaking of,” Daenerys wandered over to the head of the war rig where Grey Worm and the Hound were, both Missandei and Sansa trailing after her. Dany shielded her eyes from the sun, “How’s it looking, boys?”

“Engine is working, Khaleesi,” Grey Worm’s halting accent spoke from the driver's seat. His buzzed head poked out of the window to glance down at her, but once he caught sight of Missandei, his entire expression brightened. Even her dear best friend was smiling shyly, a tinge of pink high on her cheeks. It was as if no one in the world existed besides the two of them.

Sandor was crouched over the engine, gradually pouring tepid water onto it from a jug. “It’s just overheated. Maybe about five more minutes and we oughta be good to go. That is if Grey Worm can quit eye fucking Missandei.” He continued his menial task, mask tucked underneath his chin to reveal his gruesome smirk. Come to think of it, it might’ve been the first time she’d ever seen some semblance of a smile from him. Fearsome as he was, it gladdened her to witness him finally let loose and joke around, no matter how crass it was.

Dany let out a small chuckle and peered back up at Grey Worm. “You heard the man. Work now, play later.”

His face warmed to a bright red, a hand coming up to bashfully rub the back of his neck. “Y-Yes, Khaleesi…”

Suddenly, two high pitched screams belonging to Jeyne and Margaery nearly made Dany and the others jump out of their skin. She readied the pistol strapped to her leg, holding a hand up for both Grey Worm and Sandor to stay put.

“Get the engine running, now,” she said gravely, turning on her heel to make her way towards the commotion.

On the way, Brienne burst out of the tank with a kick to the door, brows pinched, eyes blazing and shotgun cocked as she joined the three of them.

She was fully prepared to shoot down a group of Walder and Ramsay’s men, but when she was met with only two, one unconscious and the other holding his hands up in surrender, she was taken aback, mostly because the one submitting at the end of Margaery’s gun was Theon Greyjoy himself. He suddenly fell to his knees in exhaustion, the man draped over his shoulder limply tumbling into the sand, the clanging of the metal chain attaching the two of them together loud in her ears.

Please,” Theon begged, tears gathering in his eyes. “Don’t kill me. I just want to help!”

But Dany wasn’t paying attention to the gaunt man. Instead her eyes were focused on his companion. He was almost unrecognizable with the blood covering his face, his dark curls turned to ash from the dust, but she briefly remembered him cowering on the back of Theon’s car. Only now, he was missing an arm and on the brink of death. Remorse pooled in the pit of her stomach.

Is that my fault? I’m the one who crashed them.

Apparently it wasn’t just Dany who recognized him, but Sansa, Jeyne and Margaery too who all gasped at the sight of him.

“Jon! Oh gods!” There was no hesitation when Sansa suddenly ran to his side, hands trembling when she reached out to him. Jeyne joined her as quickly as a pregnant woman could, kneeling beside this ‘Jon’ to take his pulse.

“Marge! Find Arya!” Sansa’s voice shook, tears clinging to dark eyelashes but never falling. Margaery nodded and quickly ran off in the direction Arya disappeared, yelling the little woman’s name the entire way.

“He’s still breathing, but his pulse is weak. He’s in desperate need of blood. And I need to close up his wound,” Jeyne announced, ripping the loose cloth around her swollen belly to press it against Jon’s gaping wound.

“Wait, who is this exactly? How do you know him?” Dany wondered aloud, slipping her pistol back into its holster as she approached them to get a better look.

“He’s our brother. We thought he died with the rest of our family.” Sansa turned to Dany, pleading, “Please, Imperator, let us take him with us.”

A bead of sweat trickled down her temple, heart nearly stopping at her words. Their brother? Oh gods, they’ll truly hate me when they find out I accidentally hurt him.

“Of course. Help him into the tank so we can fix him up.” Any Stark was welcome on their journey, and it wasn’t simply because of her guilt from inadvertently causing his injury.

Sansa draped Jon’s arm around her shoulders after they freed him from his leash, with Missandei taking over Jeyne’s job in applying pressure to his wound while they shuffled up into the war rig.

“Shall I dispose of him, my lady?” Brienne had the barrel of her shotgun a few inches from Theon’s head, waiting for Dany’s signal to put an end to him. With a long drawn out sigh, Dany thought carefully. There would be no easy way of appeasing everyone with her decision. She knew the Stark sisters wanted him dead, but he could also provide good intel if he cooperated with them. Bringing Jon back to his siblings was already a good sign. Not only that, but he was a hell of a mechanic and driver. He was a force to be reckoned with when he was with his partner, Bull.

“Chain him and put him up with Grey Worm and the Hound. We can interrogate him later,” Dany finally decided, hoping her voice sounded firm enough to prevent any further questions. “Once Arya and Margaery return, we leave. Grey Worm knows our destination.”

Brienne nodded cautiously, obviously not fully agreeing with her judgment. Even now she wasn’t proficient at hiding her emotions. Hopefully she would understand in time, once Dany held council with everyone. “Aye, my lady.”

Once Daenerys made her way inside the rig, the three girls were already setting out to work on Jon’s injuries. Sansa cleaned the blood off her brother’s face with a wet towel, occasionally dabbing the fresh blood that trickled down his temple when Missandei began to stitch it shut. Jeyne disinfected the socket as best she could, long chestnut locks pulled up into a ponytail to help her focus as she began the tedious process of neatly closing his wound. Daenerys was thankful that Jeyne was a healer and Missandei read enough textbooks to at least have a decent grasp on what to do.

Underneath the lantern light, Jon was deathly pale, lips blue and exposed skin akin to a light grey. The girls could suture his injuries just fine, but without the right blood, he wouldn’t last long when he woke up. It was a mad idea, but if his body didn’t reject her blood, the blood of the dragon, then he would surely live. Sansa and Arya could lend theirs to him too if it didn't work out, but dragon’s blood was unrivaled when it came to its restorative powers and their time was ticking at an alarming rate.

Without a second left to think, Dany pilfered through their stores until she discovered two needles and one clear rubber tubing. She knelt next to Missandei while she set up the line properly, incognizant to the three shocked pairs of eyes scrutinizing her.

“What are you doing?” Jeyne finally questioned, absolutely gobsmacked that Dany was willing to share her blood with a complete stranger.

“What does it look like? You said he needed blood.” Dany hissed as she carefully inserted the needle above her forearm, unaccustomed to the process anymore. Back when she was a disillusioned teenager, she frequently donated vials of blood to Ramsay’s boys to help heal them. But losing so much of her life’s essence left her ill. And ever since she stopped allowing Walder to exploit her powers for immoral reasons, she denied giving it to anyone.

She waited patiently until the deep red liquid sluggishly reached the end of the tubing before handing the other needle to Missandei. “Insert it at the back of his hand, Missy.”

The curly haired woman obediently took it from her despite the hesitancy discernable on her features, prodding at Jon’s hand to find a good place to inject him.

“He might not take to your blood, Imperator,” Jeyne warned, uncertain to see what might happen next. Convulsions were a common complication — Ramsay’s men always thought it a god-sent sign right up until they died — but Dany thought it was worth the risk anyway. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t easily extract the needle once the signs started manifesting.

“We have to try! I’m the best chance he’s got at making a fast recovery, you know that. If it doesn’t work, his sisters can give it a go.”

Missandei finally attached the needle to his hand and all four girls observed with bated breath for any sign of a reaction, either good or bad. They allowed it transfuse for nearly a minute and when Jon’s cheeks already began to return back to normal, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Thank the Mother,” she barely heard Sansa murmur.

It was fascinating, beautiful even, witnessing how her blood brought him back to life, perpetrating something so essentially good when her touch has known nothing but destruction. It was a first for her.

The patter of two pairs of bare feet against metal signaled Arya and Margaery’s arrival, and a moment later they felt the familiar lurch of the war rig moving. The younger girl made her way next to Jeyne without actually sitting down, a smile nearly splitting her face and excitement dancing in her eyes. “No fucking way.” She practically barked out a laugh, hands on her hips while she shook her head. “You never give up, do you, brother?”

“Arya! This isn’t funny!” Apparently, this is where Sansa drew the line. Arya could insult her all she wanted, but cracking a joke in the midst of a serious situation wasn’t something she could tolerate. “He was dying up until a few moments ago.”

“But he’ll be all right! You just said so yourself,” Arya defended and Dany nearly put her face in her hands in annoyance. Not again. Even now with their brother reunited with them — what should’ve been a joyous occasion — they couldn’t get along. She almost snapped but Jeyne beat her to it.

“Would the two of you please shut up? I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m trying to work here. If you’re going to keep bickering, go bother Sandor or something.” Their sister-in-law didn’t trouble herself in making eye contact as she addressed them, and it was only then that they blessedly kept their mouths shut, their shame palpable in the quiet.

It was silent for only a good minute until Margaery spoke up. “We should get him cleaned up, yeah? He ought to be comfortable when he wakes up.”

“I can’t imagine he’ll be comfortable anyway once he discovers his arm missing,” Missandei replied bitterly, tying the end of the last stitch at Jon’s temple.

“Do what you want,” Jeyne muttered apathetically before snipping off bits of necrotic and crudely torn up tissue. “Just don’t jostle him too much.”

Margaery passed Daenerys to their stores, a slender hand already placed on a towel when Dany realized she still had a gun in her hand.

She snapped her fingers to get the brunette’s attention, pointing at the weapon when her dazzling cerulean orbs met her own. “Hey! What’re you doing carrying that around? Where’d you even get that?”

Margaery beamed demurely, soap and water in her arms when she returned. “I… might’ve borrowed it from Brienne before we took our breather.”

“You stole from her?” She thought the pistol looked familiar. There was no way Brienne would willingly part with it.

“Only for a little bit! I was going to put it back before she noticed.”

Dany rolled her eyes before she attempted to justify her actions, snatching the gun from Marge’s hand. If Arya couldn’t arm herself, then neither would anyone else. “No more of that, you hear me?”

“Of course!” Margaery winked playfully, sauntering off to where Sansa was. Dany held back a groan, accepting the reality that this wouldn’t be the last time she’ll resort to petty thievery.

How the hell did this end up getting more complicated?

It was early in the evening when Arya woke from her nap, earlier having knocked out from the excitement of the day. Her stomach grumbled as she stretched, the enticing scent of whatever was cooking wafting in through the open door. At the other end of the tank, Daenerys lounged beside an unconscious Jon. The blonde woman had her head resting on a pile of towels and getting some much deserved shut-eye, maintaining a safe distance from her brother in case she accidentally touched him in her sleep.

Arya could remember the first time she came in contact with Daenerys. It was about a couple of months after she arrived. The girls were joking around about something Arya couldn’t recall anymore, but the usual stone cold Imperator was full on grinning, pearly white teeth on display and all. Just when she thought she couldn’t get any more beautiful, she went ahead and proved her wrong. Arya properly teased the older woman, nudging her shoulder with her own, skin against skin, and… well, she felt a pain like no other.

Just from the briefest touch, it seared her, like molten heat reaching down to the marrow. Except the pain didn’t just radiate from the shoulder; it traveled everywhere else in her body in almost no time at all. One little bit of contact and it paralyzed her. Not literally, of course, but at the time it was the only way to describe it. The fear struck on Daenerys’ face was another heartbreaking memory. Her normally electrifying amethyst eyes were brimmed with tears, an apology hastily thrown at the five of them before she fled.

After they managed to calm her down, Missandei carefully explained to her and the rest of the group what Daenerys was to the best of her ability. Sirens, the common folk nicknamed them. Warriors of Light, the histories called her kind, beautiful and disarming, but every bit as dangerous as the legends say. Not much was known about how their powers worked — it was difficult to translate the few Valyrian textbooks they had — nor were there many scholars left who cared to find out.

Missy said Daenerys previously used her powers to fell enemies for Walder’s whims, genuinely enjoying her brief surrender into madness, but she gradually came to despise it. They even spread lies about her methods just to cover it up, even going to the lengths of denying she had any power at all. Most of the ones who witnessed it were dead anyway, and for the ones who were still alive, they were too crazy to believe. As for Walder, Ramsay and the others, they mostly rolled along with it. She still performed her job expertly to prevent warranting any complaints from them.

But it must be terrible; not having the opportunity to get close to someone because there was a huge possibility of killing them. Arya felt for her, she really did.

Determined to do something nice for her for a change, especially after she bit her head off earlier in the day for no legitimate reason, she crept out of the tank to follow the smell of cooking.

The war rig was parked in a large cavern, the ceiling high and dripping with fresh water. The place echoed with the chatter of those around the fire. We’re in the tunnels of the Vale, huh? It was possibly the safest place they could be at the moment. Back when she was still bounty hunting with the Brotherhood, they often took the tunnels to evade detection from Cersei and her men at Harrenhal. She idly wondered how Daenerys knew of the tunnels.

She passed a chained up Theon along the way with the deadliest glare she could muster, feeling nothing but unadulterated glee when he shrunk with fright underneath her stare. Brienne and Sandor were both stretched out on the two rows of seats inside the head of the war rig, snoring so loudly Arya had to plug her ears. Sansa, Missandei and Grey Worm all sat around the fire, taking turns adding last minute ingredients and stirring the contents in the large pot. Meanwhile, Jeyne and Margaery giggled over a book together, probably some trashy romance novel they asked Daenerys to procure for them a while back.

It still weirded her out that the two were friends. Her eldest brother, Robb, dated Margaery for far longer than he’d ever been with his wife, Jeyne. At the time, Arya was so sure that he and Marge would be the ones tying the knot, but things had taken a strange turn over the past couple of years. She never did figure out why they broke up, nor did she bother to ask as it was none of her business, but she heard from Jon that it was amicable in the least. But the fact that the two were close friends now, despite both being with her brother, Arya found it nothing but strange.

“Seven hells I’m starving,” she plopped down next to her sister. “The food done yet?”

Sansa continued to mix the stew, a hint of a smile on her features. “Patience is a virtue, dear sister.”

Arya rolled her eyes playfully, not even the least bit aggravated ever since their brother returned to them more or less in one piece. “I’m just asking if the bloody food is done! I was going to take some for Daenerys.”

The redhead hummed incredulously, sprinkling a bit more salt into the pot after taking a small taste. “That’s awfully kind of you.”

“Hey, I have my moments.” She shrugged indifferently. “She just looks knackered, y’know? And with all the blood she’s giving Jon, I can’t imagine she’s feeling too well.”

“Yes, moments far and few between,” Sansa japed with a small giggle, nudging Arya’s elbow with her own. Arya stuck her tongue out at her, but both knew there was no malice behind it. “Just a few more minutes and I’ll prepare a bowl for both of you.”

“Hey, Jeyne. How much longer until Daenerys should stop? It’s been hours now.” The Imperator was such a small woman, honestly not that much taller than herself. As powerful as she was, Arya didn’t think even she could trump the side effects of blood deprivation.

“She’s been going on and off for the most part, but I think she should be fine.” Jeyne flipped a page with her thumb, the crinkle of paper joining the crackle of the fire to fill the silence. “Daenerys knows what she’s doing. Just make sure she cleans her plate and give her plenty of water. Tell her it’s doctor’s orders if she refuses.”

Arya nodded. “Got it.” Food, water, make sure she doesn’t die from anemia. Err… wait, wasn’t she already passed out? That was a bad sign, right?

“Here you go. Try not to burn yourself while you’re scarfing it down like a wildling.” Sansa was unable to refrain from putting one last tease in about her eating habits as she handed two steaming bowls to her. Hearty chunks of beef, carrots, and potatoes swam in the rich stew. Arya nearly licked her lips. The aroma was simply divine.

Arya stood up, brushing the dust off her palms before taking the food. She shuffled awkwardly and worried on her lower lip, anxious to apologize for the discourteous words she spat at her while the war rig was being repaired. Not having the freedom to protect herself like before fired her up, and when she usually arrived at this mindset, she often did things she regret later. “Thanks. And, um… sorry about what I said earlier. I know I got a bit carried away, but I swear didn’t mean it.”

Sansa’s piercing sky blue eyes gave her a pointed stare while she continued to spoon stew into bowls for everyone. “I know you didn’t mean it, Arya. I’ve lived with you long enough now to tell the difference. Remember what father used to say to us? That we should look out for each other? We need to do that now more than ever, especially now that Jon’s back.”

There was the telltale prickle that signaled the coming of tears, but she held it back as best she could. Sansa was right, of course, though she was loathe to admit it. Their father was aware of the dangers that constantly surrounded them back in those days, how monumental a target they were because their blood was so valuable.

The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. It was these moments where she missed her family most.

“Oh, you two bring a tear to my eye.” Arya should’ve expected Margaery to poke fun at them. It was in her nature to deflect when situations became too emotional. For once, she was grateful for it. “Now just hug it all out.”

Arya shook her head with a humble laugh, tossing a “Sod off, Marge,” as she turned back in the direction of the tank.

When she returned to the war rig, Daenerys was already sitting upright and staring intently at her brother. The flicker of the lantern’s light cast an ethereal glow about her, her white-gold hair warm and already unnatural eyes shifting to a magenta. She appeared almost entranced by Jon, too distracted by something about him that she hadn’t even noticed her presence.

“Careful, Imperator.” Arya’s voice startled her out of her reverie. “Get any closer and you might kiss him.”

Daenerys flushed in embarrassment. “W-What? I wouldn’t—”

“I was just joking!” Arya quickly interrupted, sitting beside her in a show of cordiality. “You may not know him yet, but I already know wouldn’t hurt him. Not intentionally anyway.”

The rosiness at the apples of Daenerys’ cheeks refused to fade away. Her knees were pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around her legs. Arya never thought she looked so small before.

With a grin, Arya handed one of the bowls to her, secretly doing a victory dance in her head when Daenerys gingerly accepted it with a grateful smile. Even when she finally took a bite, her eyes couldn’t leave Jon’s motionless body.

“You look in awe. Did something happen?” Arya asked through a mouth full of food.

“N-No, I just… it’s silly really. All this time, everything associated with me has been constant death and ruin. I’ve never seen it capable of bringing back life. I mean… I know my blood has saved people before, but this is truly the first time I’ve witnessed it.”

“What, seriously?” The disbelief in her tone was evident, but when Daenerys simply nodded, it left Arya in a state of wonder. This must have been a big deal for her then, watching as Jon filled his lungs with oxygen, his heart continuing to beat because of her.

“He’s gone feral. Have you noticed?” Daenerys queried after Arya fell silent. “Hopefully my blood tamed him a bit.”

Jon? Feral? There was no way! He seemed completely normal to her, or as normal as he could get given the circumstances. “Don’t ferals act completely bonkers? Borderline suicidal, spewing nonsense, shite like that? How can you even tell? He’s been sleeping this entire time.”

“The signs are obvious when they’re asleep.” She pointed to both his hand and face as she explained, both of which were twitching every once in a while, mouth moving slightly like he was whispering to somebody. And if Arya looked closely enough, his entire body was trembling. Somehow she doubted it was because he was cold. “Twitching and muttering is a telltale sign. They sometimes have a persistent high fever too. And the dark circles under his eyes? Not enough sleep. That’s because they fear what awaits them in their nightmares.”

Daenerys gestured to his abdomen, his ribs evident even through his henley. It was curious how she never noticed before. Her excitement to see him again must have blinded her from the truth. “He looks rather thin too, yes? Almost like he’s wasting away? Eating game north of Harrenhal is toxic. If he’s been alone in the wasteland, then he didn’t have much of a choice.”

The blonde leaned back against the wall of the tank, glumly pushing around her food with a spoon. “Your brother must’ve gone through something traumatic to have him act so recklessly.”

“Wow, I had no idea. Most of my travels have been down south. And you rarely see ferals down there.” With the Brotherhood, she journeyed all the way down to Dorne, to the east in Essos during her short time with the Faceless Men. Both were more civilized areas, protected from the tyrants by the mountains and the sea, so it was rare to see someone full blown feral.

“I’ve seen too many people succumb to this illness because of the poison the three despots ravaged this land with, but I think your brother still has a chance of breaking from it. His will is strong if he’s made it this far.”

“He’s a stubborn arse, is what he is. But I love him anyway." A pause. "Think he’ll wake up soon?”

Daenerys shook her head, a few loose strands of pale hair falling across her forehead. “Definitely not tonight. His body is still mending itself. My blood is speeding up the process as much as it can though. So be patient for now.”

“Ugh, I already heard it from Sansa. I don’t need to hear it from you too,” Arya whined dramatically.

Her antics elicited an amused smile from her companion, even rarer when a soft chuckle came along with it. Arya wished Daenerys could smile more, unencumbered by her abilities to be happy and normal, but she supposed that was just a pipe dream. “That’s the last you’ll hear about it from me, I promise.”

Arya laughed along with her, tamping down on whatever sorrow was building up inside of her. Daenerys dealt with enough already, she didn’t need Arya’s melancholy to contribute to her own. “Good. We don’t need two Sansa’s running around. One is enough for me.”

Daenerys’ grin faded just a fraction, though her mirth remained present. “You don’t give her enough credit. She’s a formidable woman, your sister. Maybe it’s not in the typical way that you spoke of earlier, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”

Arya hated when others were right, even more so when it came from Sansa. All five of them had their strengths: Arya with her wide range of combat skills, Sansa with her pretty words, Jeyne’s expertise in curative measures, Missandei knowledge about all there was about everything under the sun, Margaery… well, she could rob someone of all their money just from batting her eyelashes. But even without all her flirtations, she was an adept pickpocket.

And Daenerys was excellent at everything of course, or she could’ve set up the illusion that she was, but even Arya knew that wasn’t the case.

“I know, I know…” she replied quietly, and that was that.

They fell into a companionable silence as they worked their way through their meal. As she slowly chewed around a cut of beef, her gaze fell upon her brother once again and everything Daenerys pointed out about him came rushing back to her.

“Your brother must’ve gone through something traumatic to have him act so recklessly.”

Brother, what happened to you while you were on your own?

Chapter Text

For what felt like hours, he’d been stuck in the limitless void, staring at the vast emptiness in hopes that it would somehow magically change. Initially, it was oddly serene, but now he found the silence suffocating without the presence of the taunting whispers from Lady Stark and appearance of a demonic Ygritte. He thanked the old gods for at least not invoking the latter. Ygritte was easily the worst manifestation, the sole person in his mind who actively sought to end him.

He still couldn’t figure out the line between nightmare and reality when her decaying fingers wrapped around his throat; it certainly felt real after he woke up, the burn from her touch left behind.

Jon’s hand instinctively reached to touch his neck, the thought that she could easily make an appearance made his skin crawl. Everything he loved about her while she lived didn’t exist in this purgatory. Her fiery locks lost its luster, eyes black as pitch, teeth sharp as razors, sickly skin melting off muscles like butter. This creature looked nothing like Ygritte, yet he knew it was her regardless.

With a drawn-out sigh, Jon lay back and laced his fingers together on his stomach. What was he supposed to do while he waited to wake up? If he woke up, that is. Gods, he didn’t even want to fathom that possibility. But this was the first time his dreams consisted of absolutely nothing.

Something was obviously wrong, but he couldn’t for the life of him figure it out.

Am I dead? Is this why nothing’s happened? The thought frightened him. He didn’t want to die just yet! Not when he was so close to reuniting with his sisters. But who knows how long he’d been knocked out? For all he knew, they could be in a whole other region of Westeros by now.

May the gods damn Theon and his pride. How much longer until he hurt someone with his bullheadedness?

Jon hissed, propping himself on an elbow when a short pinprick of pain shot out from the back of his right hand. He rubbed at the area in confusion, observing it closely. There were no marks that indicated he should be feeling any pain, so what could the cause be?

This never happens either. What the hell is going on with me?

Then slowly he felt it, the warm comfort of heat creeping up his arm. It was different this time, almost welcoming, by no means the scalding heat he was accustomed to feeling with Ygritte in his nightmares. It was strangely pleasant, the warmth licking up his spine as it spread to the rest of his body. The further it embraced him, the more the sense of loneliness made its presence known; a broken spirit in desperate need of mending. It was an emotion he was all too familiar with, amplified but too much for his own soul to bear.

The feeling curled at the center of his chest, the gentle cradle of a woman’s touch, and he found himself blinking away tears before he was aware they clouded his vision. It ached, this longing.

So much love to offer and no one to give it to, he thought sadly. No one stayed long enough to try anyway, the despair whispered back. What it was exactly, Jon wasn’t sure, though he imagined it was whatever warmth was filling his blood vessels.

Before he could dwell much longer on it, his surroundings gradually began to take form, like a gritty, gory painting come to life. The strung up lights flickered menacingly in this bizarre purgatory, tables and chairs around the long table turned over in the chaos, food left to rot with maggots. Nearby, the weirwood tree stood to his left, its crimson leaves dripping liquid of the same color into the pool below him.

It was only when he realized he was sitting in this ankle-deep pool that he quickly stumbled to his feet. The sharp scent of metal and decaying corpses suddenly attacked his senses; an oddity considering there were no bodies around him in the first place. He fought back a retch, instead covering his mouth and nose with a sleeve upon the discovery of his blood and viscera coated palms. He trudged his way out onto the small island of dry land where the long table sat, its entirety covered in leftover food platters, ceramic plates, glass cups, and silverware, glittering almost surreally beneath the lights.

Everything was just as he remembered it last. The half-eaten white wedding cake riddled with bullet holes, Arya’s silver hair ribbon she aggravatingly tore off before the attack lying limp and bloody on her chair, Sansa’s polaroids she snapped throughout the night left scattered across the floor. He recalled feeling annoyed when both of his sisters harangued him into a picture together, certain that it didn’t capture his happiness in that moment and rather like the grump he frequently was. Jon sighed wearily, picking up Robb’s boutonniere still pinned to the crumpled jacket, frowning when it fell apart in his hand. A few feet away laid Jeyne’s bouquet, flowers wilted and browned from months long passed.

Is this what remains of Winterfell? Devoid of life? Left to rot? Blood soaked into its dirt, its walls? Eternally haunted by the massacre? Jon wanted to doubt, that maybe some wildlings weaseled their way in and made a home, but in his gut, he knew it wasn’t the case. He should’ve buried them, burned them or something; anything but leave them for the crows. The taste of vengeance — the will to rescue his sisters — was too strong to ignore, and he left without even thinking about laying the dead to rest. It’ll come back to bite him in the ass, he was sure of it.

But why here where it all began? What more needed to be seen? Had he not suffered this memory enough?

He wrinkled his nose in disgust, coughing through the stench while he wiped the chunks of entrail off onto his pants. Real or fake, he couldn’t fathom the idea of who it could possibly belong to without his stomach churning.

A gentle creak at the entrance of the Godswood immediately caught his attention, the noise stark against the ceaseless silence. His head whipped around in its direction, fully expecting a person to be standing there, but found himself relieved when there was none, the gate only left slightly ajar.

Should he… go? Surely this was a sign. He’s never been allowed to leave before, never had the freedom to move about much in his dreams, but an indescribable feeling urged him, tugged at him like a thread towards the gate and, suddenly, his feet carried him forward without volition. The hair on his arms stood on end as he pushed past the entrance, the impression of being closely watched unable to be shaken off.

So there’s definitely someone else here. But why haven’t they shown themselves yet? Jon prayed it was neither of the two redheads who relentlessly plagued his nightmares. But who else could it possibly be? It was so rare when other members of his family made an appearance that it almost felt worse when they finally did; almost as if his heart had forgotten them. But it couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The crunch of dead grass under his boots tethered him back to non-reality, of a mind to exercise caution when following the trail of lit candles on the floor. Everything about this screamed that it was a trap: following a darkened path, barely anything to light his way, the mystery of whatever awaited him at the end. And still he felt the weight of someone's gaze upon his back.

It wasn’t until nearly a few minutes of shuffling in the darkness that he belatedly realized he was heading in the direction of his old chambers. Around the curve of the castle, edging the courtyard, descending the stairway between the stables and the main structure, and finally down into the castle’s cellar where his quarters were hidden away. He remembered the directions like the back of his hand, legs on automatic from late nights spent sneaking out with Robb and Theon.

The rasps of the grass made way to the patter of the familiar walkway when he finally arrived at the top of the stairwell. The air turned salty, humid from the gentle breeze emanating from the depths. With what courage he had left, he carefully stepped down into the corridor, hands braced against the stone walls for purchase. Moisture from the humidity left the stone walls and steps slick beneath his touch, but the hazard undeterred him from wanting to find out what lay at the end, even when he stepped knee-deep into the flooded passage.

It was water, thank the gods, and not the sticky, slippery mess that clung to his skin earlier by the heart tree. He bent slightly at the waist to rid his hands of the leftover blood. Fleeting wisps of steam tickled his cheek, blessedly soothing the ache in his muscles. A slow inhale and exhale through his nose and his limbs became heavy as he finally allowed himself to relax. A dream it may be, but it couldn’t hurt to allow himself this small luxury, would it?

He ducked under the archway at the foot of the stairs, discovering casks of Northern brewed ale floating and jostling about in the water as he wandered further into the spacious room. Back when things were less trivial — before Frey, Greyjoy and Lannister took control of the Neck — he often stole one for himself, sharing his spoils with his brother and friend whenever they would visit. Robb would moon over his girlfriend at the time, Margaery, and Theon would share tales of his recent escapades, ending more often than not with him and a damsel wrestling between the sheets. Jon believed none of it, of course, but he had to give him credit where it was due: Theon was an expert in spinning stories.

Before Ygritte stumbled into his life, Jon was always jealous of the two, feeling inadequate for being the only virgin of the three. Robb had managed to find love twice on this godforsaken continent while Theon seemingly fucked every woman he laid his eyes on with little to no effort. Meanwhile, he was off with the Night’s Watch, protecting the major cities of the North and everything in between. Of course, that didn’t turn out well in the end, their band of brothers thrown into disarray with the assassination of their commander, Jeor Mormont.

Duty and honor before love and pleasure were ingrained in his mind for so long that he had almost forgotten what it was like to have fun. So with the Night’s Watch disbanded — half of them scrambling to bolster Frey’s forces and the other half on the run — he decided the best place was back with his family in Winterfell, and if a woman came along, then so be it.

Sometimes when he was sharing a drink with the two, he’d think of the brothers he left behind at Deepwood Motte, their figures fading in the distance as the ship that carried them drifted further and further away. Sam, Edd, Grenn, Pyp, Satin, and even Gilly, the genial girl Sam could never let go of; he missed all of them dearly and hoped they were safe wherever they were now. If the smuggler he paid was true to his word, they’d all be safe in Oldtown, far from the reach of the three oppressors of the Neck.

Jon froze in his spot when he found the door to his room, except it wasn’t the same door he was accustomed to. This one was painted a deep ruby, worn and chipped away in some places, the metallic knob dulled from frequent use.

Curious, he brought up a hesitant hand to touch the wood. All at once, the emotions near the weirwood tree came flooding back. But unlike the last time, they felt less powerful, less present so to speak, instead replaced with a passion so strong he was forced to take a step back.

Soft, supple skin slick with sweat, silken hair falling through his fingers like water, the insistent press of her hands on his back, her sweetness melting on his tongue, the smile on her lips as they kissed…

Jon swallowed thickly, the stirrings of lust already working its way through his body.

He could feel her, could taste her, yet when it came to visualizing her he came up blind.

He’d been in love before, had thought that that was the capacity you could feel for another person, but clearly that was nothing compared to this. Were these feelings his or someone else’s? If they were his own, who could invoke such an ardent response from him? He figured himself to be a quiet lover, subtle in displaying his emotions and affections, but this… this left him speechless.

Determined to find out what was on the other side of the door, he strode forward to push it open, but as soon his hand landed on the knob, a loud “kraa!” shouted at the other side of the room.

On top of one of the casks stood a three-eyed raven, watching him intently, expectantly. Satisfied that it retrieved his attention, it called at him again before taking off in the direction of the stairway.

The red door completely forgotten, Jon mindlessly followed the raven until he was brought back to the godswood. It settled itself onto a branch of the weirwood, right above a russet-haired young man seated in a wheelchair.

Can it be…?

He stepped around the wheelchair, feeling nothing short of disbelief when coming face to face with his little brother. It was strange seeing how blank and lifeless his bright eyes were. His mind usually conjured up images of Bran screaming at him for abandoning them, but this version of him was entirely devoid of humanity.

“Bran? What… How—”

“Jon…” Bran interrupted, pitch deeper than he remembered, voice too flat for his liking. “You’re bleeding.”

His gaze flickered from his face until it was fixated at the center of Jon’s chest. And there, right above his heart was a gunshot wound, weeping and soaking through his filthy henley. With a trembling hand, Jon pressed a fingertip to the wound, feeling no pain except for the hollowness the bullet seared through his chest.

“W-What…?” Panic swiftly took over him, all the questions he wanted to ask Bran escaping his mind.

“Don’t worry, Jon. This will be the last.”

Jon frantically met his brother’s eyes, unsure of how to respond or how to comprehend his cryptic words. “Last what, exactly?”

“Many things,” he replied just as mysteriously. The corner of his lips twitched slightly, like he was attempting a smile to placate him. It only served to worsen his fear. “You’ll see soon enough.”

Tension suddenly crackled the atmosphere around them, apprehension causing the hair on his arms stand on end. He looked at his little brother again to see if he could feel it too, but Bran just continued to sit in the chair unperturbed, oblivious to the alarms currently going off in Jon’s head.

A chill traveled up his spine, the creep of a shadow of something large and otherworldly behind him. He turned to face whoever it was, but a clawed hand wrapped its cold fingers around his neck before he made it halfway. The nails bit into his flesh as it effortlessly lifted him off the ground, trickles of wetness dripping down to his collar.

Jon inhaled raggedly, choking as he struggled to breathe, hands attempting to pry Ygritte’s digits off to no avail. He continued to claw at her hand, strips of necrotic skin and muscle sloughing off in his desperation. But she remained unfazed, her grip tightening the more he fought her.

“You betrayed me!” The demon spat the familiar words, bearing her sharp teeth at him. “You betrayed me, and then you fucked another woman!”

“Y-Ygritte—” he choked, his vision already beginning to go dark. It didn’t happen! It couldn’t have! I would’ve remembered! I would’ve remembered…

“How could you!?” Her voice deepened, sight fading to black as he drifted into unconsciousness. He heard her repeat the phrase, inflection muddled and murky like he was submerged in water.

Bran’s low voice spoke right beside his ear, “It’s time to go home, Jon.”

He suddenly inhaled deep, shaky breaths, trembling as he endeavored to have some semblance of control over his body. Jon swallowed the dryness in his throat, finally allowing himself to blink blearily at his surroundings.

The air nearly escaped him once again when the first thing his gaze settled on was the woman kneeling beside him, her bright lavender orbs widened in profound shock.