‘There’s only one thing left to do’ Sansa pulls her to her feet ‘I have plenty have wine, you can have some if you stay sober.’
Arya goes to sit by the table as she watches her sister set two cups next to the wine pitcher ‘What am I going to do?’
‘There’s this thing that Jeyne and I used to do when we thought someone comely’ Sansa takes a seat next to her ‘we used to imagine ourselves kissing them, if it didn’t feel bad then we knew for sure that we liked him’.
‘You had some strange ways to pass the time’ Arya makes a face and fills their cups to the brim ‘What’s wrong with doing normal people things?’
‘That was normal, you savage!’ Sansa gives her an incredulous look ‘not everyone likes rolling around in the mud and sniffing random things!’
‘Sniffing random what now?’ Arya tries to give a stern impression but her amusement betrays her ‘Do you think I used to lick everyone I met too?’
‘You know, one of those days maybe you’ll try to change the subject and I’ll let it slide’ Sansa sips on her wine ‘but not today.’
Arya shoots her sister a dirty look that’s easily brushed off, and she almost wishes that Sansa was wary of her again. Maybe then they wouldn’t be having this stupid conversation.
‘What do you think it would lead too?’ she drains her cup dry ‘I already bloody know that I love him!’
‘On the contrary, little sister’ Sansa snatches her cup away and fills it with water instead of wine ‘if it feels even the tiniest bit strange then you’ll be forever done with this.’
Arya still doesn’t dare imagine Jon kissing her, she doesn’t really want to imagine anyone kissing her at all, it scares her in a way that nothing else really had before. It’s true she had kissed others before, enticed them even into making the first move, but that was different. She wasn’t Arya then and they didn’t mean anything to her, It was just a trial like any other trial that she weathered where failure meant death or something far worse. But this thing that Sansa bids her to imagine, this thing that she would have to live with after the fact, this thing that she would be afraid to ruin for completely different reasons, this thing makes her feel small and inexperienced.
‘I’ve never had any lovers before’ Arya’s voice is too subdued for her liking ‘I haven’t a clue on how it’s supposed to feel.’
Shock colors Sansa’s features, and to her credit she stifles it as best she could ‘But I thought you trained with the courtesans and the whores of Braavos…’
‘I did’ Arya swallows some of her water ‘ but I never really had a lover of my own, and there was never a need for me to lay with anyone, not that it would make a difference.’
‘I see’ her sister gives her a nonchalante smile, as if she isn’t thinking of how she can use this to their advantage ‘Well it’s only make-belief, there’s really nothing to it.’
‘Fine!’ Arya huffs and closes her eyes as she tries to forget that he already knows what it would be like to have a passionate kiss while she can only pretend, that he had already had two lovers while she had no one, that if it turns out bad then everything between them would be destroyed forever and that this would be worse than death. Fear cuts deeper than swords. She challenges her fear instead as she tries to focus on imagining herself pulling him in and jumping into his arms before he vanishes into smoke, she thinks about what it would be like to have his full lips mashed against her own and to have his warm ams wrap around her frame as his soft, small beard gently scratches against her chin…
Suddenly she realizes that her mouth is very, very dry…
‘Oh little sister’ Sansa watches as Arya drinks her water and rubs the gooseflesh away ‘just what are we going to do?’
Sansa has a plan.
It’s a very dubious, very weak plan that’s more likely to crash and burn but it’s the only one she has. Under normal circumstances, Sansa wouldn’t hesitate over going through with it. The plan is quite simple, and there’s little danger of any catastrophic consequences should it fail. There was only really one small problem with it.
The plan involved successfully lying to Arya and tricking her.
But Sansa doesn’t have much of a choice, if things were tense before, then they’re about to reach a breaking point now. It’s been days since Arya had last talked to her about Jon, and since then she’s been avoiding him like greyscale, practicing away from the yard and eating in her solar. The king on the other hand is looking more tired and haggard with each passing day, refusing to touch his food or to look Daenerys Targaryen in the eye and snapping in anger over every trivial thing.
Had she been anyone else in Winterfell who hadn’t known him since childhood, then she would have told herself that he’s only worried about the war to come, that the pressures of ruling were weighing down on him or that he’s perhaps coming down with an illness. But Sansa knows the one thing that could crush Jon Snow’s tenacious spirit as easily as autumn leaves , and it’s the only thing that can mend it back just as effortlessly.
She sighs, and goes through with the plan.
It seems that Arya must eat alone today.
She usually eats in Sansa’s solar with her, but today her sister decided to be a pain in the arse and try to force her to dine with everyone else. The lady of Winterfell had ordered food to only be served in the hall where she would eat for he day, so instead Arya had sneaked some from the kitchens before heading out, ignoring her sister’s pleas to just come with her and not insult their guests with their absence any further.
I’d like to keep my dinner in my belly. She had told Sansa.
Her feet take her to the forge, away from Jon who's probably feeding the queen with his own hand while she gives him a wicked look and sucks on his fingers and why is she imagining a night in a Braavosi whorehouse? Arya groans before she takes a bite of her apple, and enters into the warmth of the forge. As soon as she steps inside, the hum of murmuring voices ceases as two figures turn to her, the castle smith immediately dips his head in respect as soon as he spots her while the other man…
‘Gendry?’ Sansa has made sure to treat him as one of her guests, no doubt to gain his favor should he take Storm’s end ‘Why aren’t you eating in the hall?’
‘M'lady!’ Gendry’s eyes go as wide as saucers, as if she’d caught him in a whorehouse instead of Jon with his silver queen, letting her squeeze his arms with her delicate hands, running his hands through her soft silver locks, flirting with her as they exchanged the same looks they kept giving each other until that fateful morning when she last saw either of them ’Arry?’
She snaps out of her pathetic thoughts to notice Gendry standing right in front of her, his inky brows furrowed in worry ‘yes?’
‘You don’t look too good’ he nods to the door ‘do you wanna go for a walk?’
‘Sure!’ She agrees too quickly, glad that he didn’t notice her blunder before she reminds herself that this isn’t Braavos, and Gendry won’t punish her for getting distracted ‘what were you doing in there?’
‘I could ask you the same thing.’ He evades her question, and Arya cannot help but smile at how he doesn’t even try to pretend like he’s not hiding something, it was as rare as summer snow in Dorne nowadays.
‘Aye, you could’ she stops and rounds on Gendry, making sure to stand too close to him and to stretch herself on tiptoe until their faces are almost touching, just to make him uncomfortable ‘but I asked first.’
‘Arya...’ his voice comes out husky, almost scratchy before he clears his throat. She watches his adam’s apple bob up and down, then her gaze trails upwards to his pretty eyes, she studies how blackness snakes over ocean blue and how his jaw tenses just so. It almost makes her feel powerful, this spell that she’s trapped him in. But then his tongue dart out to lick his lip and her mind suddenly slows down, and heat creeps up her neck as curiosity bubbles within her. Arya had never gotten this close to kissing anyone since that pretty blue haired Tyroshi back in Braavos, which made sense in retrospect, had had reminded her of Jon after all.
She wonders what would it be like to steal a kiss from Gendry right now, while it’s true that Arya had always thought he was handsome, even before she began to notice these things, the real reason is because this would be different from any other kiss she’d given. Gendry isn’t just a comely face, he’s someone whose been through thick and thin with her. He was cold with her, hungry with her, scared with her, helpless with her, hunted with her, captured with her. And through it all they had stood by each other, kept each other’s secrets and shared whatever little they had.
Until it wasn’t necessary to do so to survive.
She knows it might be unfair to still begrudge him for this after all time. But even so, the feelings she had felt that horrible moment all come back to her as the bitterness of treachery fills her mouth, the heaviness of grief in her chest and the hollowing loneliness in her bones ground her back to reality. No. She cannot kiss him, It would be wrong and cruel to start something that she can’t follow through with. So Arya blinks away her fascination and turns her back on Gendry. Walking away from him before she does something stupid that would surely ruin whatever friendship they had left, her questions and his own long forgotten.
Sansa smiles contently as she sits down and waits for him in Arya’s room.
Against all odds, the plan went splendidly! How the future lord Baratheon had evaded Arya’s probing was beyond her. In truth she was lucky that he still remembered how Needle looked after all these years, it was much easier to procure a copy than to somehow sneak the real thing away from Arya’s grip.
The door’s hinges almost break off as he furiously bursts inside, his eyes wild, his face panicked, his breath labored, the skinny sword she had snuck in his room ferociously clutched in his grip.
‘Arya!’ His shout comes out terrified, even more scared than when he told Sansa about the enemy in the north.
‘She’s already gone.’ Sansa, calm and unfazed, crosses her legs.
As soon as Jon’s eyes flit to her, his terror is chased away by something terrible and wrathful, ‘Where is she?’ His tone is dangerous and foreboding, making it clear to Sansa that she just woke a darkness inside him that she had only witnessed when his eyes had met Ramsay Bolton’s ‘what did you tell her?’
Had someone given her that incensed glare some years ago, she would have probably quailed back in fear, cowering and shrinking into a cocoon of horrified silence so small that they would deem her too useless to bother with. But she is no longer that little girl, she is lady Sansa Stark of Winterfell and she will not be cowed by anyone anymore. Be it lion or mockingbird or dragon or some other monster, she will tear out their wings, snap their fangs and grind their claws to dust if they try to hurt her or her pack.
And hurt her pack he did, Jon had speared through their heart and almost drove them out of Winterfell.
‘How dare you?’ Her voice is quiet and controlled, but the fury inside still laces her tone ‘how dare you suggest that I’m the one who bid her to run away? I am not the one who desired her in my bed, and then made her feel like scrap of dirt on my boots for it, I am not the one who glowers at her friends when I think she’s not looking, my lord prince.’
Her words hit him like arrows dipped in wildfire, and his features instantly shift a mixture of shock and guilt that fills Sansa with vicious satisfaction. ‘Had you truly thought that I hadn’t noticed?’ She pours salt into the open wound ‘That all the painstaking subtlety you learned from wildlings had blinded me after all my time in King's landing?’ She stands and walks up to him, her heavy wool skirts rustling behind her ‘do you think I am so oblivious that I did not already know how you’ve bent the knee without consulting your bannermen, my lord prince!’
Sansa expects him to defend himself, to say that he didn’t choose to want her little sister, that he pushed Arya away out of honor, that her friends are not worthy or proper, that he only bent the knee so they could survive a much greater threat. What she doesn’t expect is the way his face crumbles in regret and despair so raw that her own heart almost twists at the sight of it.
‘Do you know where she went?’ He asks, begs her to tell him ‘please Sansa, I must speak with her. We’ll talk about all those other things later, but I have to find her before it’s too late!’
‘She doesn’t know anything if that’s what you’re scared of’ Sansa softens at the way he reminds her of Arya asking about him ‘I hadn’t told her.’
She had thought about doing it, especially after Arya figured out her own feelings towards Jon. But Sansa knows that it would be best if they resolved this without her interfering. Who knows, mayhaps this way no one would confess anything, And they would stay as loving brother and sister and make life much less complicated for everyone involved.
‘I still have to find her and bring her home’ his dread loses a bit of its edge as his features turn resolute, as if he isn’t looking for someone who can disappear like a puff of smoke ‘had she told you where is she heading to?’
‘She told me not to tell you’ Sansa makes him suffer a little more, if this is the next best thing to dethroning him then she’ll take it ‘and I doubt you’ll be able to find her.’
‘There isn’t anywhere in the world she’ll go where I wouldn’t look’ His entire figure takes on a battle-ready sharpness, and he looks at her with the authority that had earned him command wherever he went ‘and when I find her, because I will find her. I promise to let her know that you betrayed her anyway. So I suggest you save us all some time and tell me, then maybe I’ll make her think that I found her on my own.’
Sansa giggles. She can’t help it really, not when he thinks that he can pressure her into doing anything she doesn’t wish to do ‘Go ahead’ her laughter settles into a smile ‘we’ll see how well you can really lie to Arya’
He opens his mouth to retort, but then he closes it again as his eyes shift into desperation once more. That’s when Sansa finally decides that she’s had her fun ‘She said she’ll head out to the Godswood to pray first, if you hurry now, you...’
He’s already bolting out the door.
The lady of Winterfell hides her smirk and goes back to her duties.
Left. Up. Leap back. Strike foreword. Quicker than that. Don’t waddle like an over-sized bear. Now jab again and hold The blade straight.
Arya slashes and parries and dances against her invisible opponent. She appreciates the stolen moments of peace that Needle gives her. When she can turn off her swirling thoughts and focus only on the feel of a sword in her hands, on being quick without losing her footing, on being steady without being rooted to the ground.
She had trained in languages and speech with the faceless men, in poison-making and in trading lies and secrets too, learned allure and seduction from courtesans and whores alike, studied how gold can make nations rise and fall in the iron bank, watched the intricacies of politics unfurl before her in the palace of the Sealord. Arya had drank all that knowledge and so much more like parched sand. But out of all her teachings, water dancing with Needle was still her favorite, her first lesson had proved to be the most useful after all.
No! You will not be distracted now! Focus on your surroundings!
But that proves useless too, the sound of familiar footsteps carefully crunching the leaves stops her. And she starts to quickly gather her things when the footsteps turn into a jog and a comforting sound calls to her.
‘Arya!’ She turns her back on the relieved voice ‘please don’t go!’
Will she ever be able to deny him what he wants? Arya halts but she does not, cannot turn around and look him in the eyes.
But apparently only stopping was enough because Jon starts talking ‘I know I’ve been acting like a fool, and I know that I don’t deserve your forgiveness. But if you can find it in your heart to listen to me then...’ she hears a hitch in his breath and catches the way it breaks away from his control ‘Arya I’m so, so sorry. And I’m so ashamed of what I’ve done. If I could take it back, I swear that I would. I would do anything to make you happy again. To have you smile once more.’
Her heart clenches at the way the cadence of voice, usually steadfast and strong, wavers. And she whips around to look at him, barely stopping herself from running to him when she sees the tears gliding down his cheeks ‘Please don’t leave..if you… Gods Arya, I don’t know what would happen to me. I know I wouldn’t bear it’ the last word comes out half whisper-half choked sob ‘please..’
Leave him ? What is he on about? As if she could ever part from him again. Doesn’t he know that she loves him more than anyone in this world? Doesn’t he remember that she was the only one who truly stood up for him? Has he forgotten that she would never betray him to anyone?
Seeing how small he suddenly looks reminds her of the lanky boy who left for Castle Black, and she remembers what shame and guilt and her own insecurities had made her forget, and unearths what their awkward reunion and cold attempts at a conversation had buried. Catching a glimpse of that boy, beloved and precious to her heart, in the man in before her feels like all the fragments of the riddle are finally coming together.
He’s been an idiot, and true to how it’s always been, so has she. And realizing it just..it feels…marvelous..
It feels like what had shrivelled inside her the day she reunited with him blooms anew, more lovely and joyful than ever before, because this is Jon . He is not the kindly man, offering her a home and challenging her to earn it. He is never going to turn his back on her because she is too highborn or lowborn for him or any of that nonsense, he would gladly follow her to the ends of the earth if she asks him. Because this is her Jon, her blood, her pack, her cousin, her brother, her friend who loves her best in this world just as she loves him.
Arya’s heart roars with happiness and she flashes him her biggest smile as relief floods through every inch of her body. She saunters towards him leisurely, her gait slow and self-assured, because she knows he’d wait for her even if she takes a thousand years to reach him because this is Jon and she has him and he’s grinning back and his arms are already open for her and he is hers, he is hers, he is hers…
He picks her up as soon as she reaches him and instantly crushes her to his leathered chest. He buries his face in the crook of her neck before twirling her around, as if she weighs no more than she did at nine years old. And laughter bubbles out of her lips, loud and unabashed and true before his own laugh joins the chorus, the sound unburdened and lovely .
She cups his cheeks and scatters her kisses to where the tears have rolled, she kisses his eyelids, his cheeks, his beard. And through it all he holds her.
Arya's eyes bore into his own, grey reflecting grey, unparalleled affection meeting its equal. And when she feels like she wants to kiss him again, she does not hesitate because this is not some trial or test of character that she has to push through, this is different, this is her Jon. Brother or cousin. Boy or man. Bastard or king. Turncloak wildling or Lord Commander. Son of ice or champion of fire. She is the queen of his heart forever and always, and nothing will ever change that, not past lovers and certainly not some kiss.
So she presses her lips onto his own, and sighs into his mouth when she feels one of Jon’s hands cup her face while he keeps the other one on the small of her back, not letting her down for even a moment. Thank the Gods for that. She doesn't know if her knees could take it if he does. Arya’s heart thrashes in her chest, and she can feel Jon’s own heartbeat howling with delight against her own. If this is how a true kiss should feel, this unbridled passion and overwhelming enchantment, like when she held Needle for the first time but so much more intimate, then she’s glad that Jon is the one holding her in his arms. Later she will find Sansa and they will whisper about this all night under the covers, but for now she simply melts into him and revels in all these new sensations.
When they finally hey break away for air, Jon pecks her lips once more before he rests his forehead against hers ‘I’ve missed you dearly, little heart.’ he breathes in awe.
She doesn’t bother telling him how she’s missed him so much it had ached, Jon already knows that. Instead she keeps smiling like a halfwit and nuzzles her head into his neck, letting the heat of his skin warm the tip of her nose as she breathes in his scent ‘We’re home now, and this time we’re not leaving.’
‘Never again’ He insists as he tangles his fingers through her hair.
‘Never again’ Arya agrees, and plants a kiss on his jaw.