Did my heart love till now? Foreswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
I: TWO HOUSEHOLDS BOTH ALIKE IN DIGNITY
It's obvious when Jon meets him in the doorway - his brother has been in another brawl.
Aegon's lip is split and his shirt stained with what Jon hopes is someone else's blood. His blade, thankfully, seems to have remained sheathed, but Jon gives him a sharp look nonetheless.
"Stark men?" Jon asks, already knowing the answer.
"Always Stark men."
"Who started it?"
"They were provoking me."
"But you hit first?"
Fool, Jon wants to scream. He has no love for the Starks - why would he - but his brother has a talent for attracting trouble. Brawling in the streets a time or two is neither uncommon nor against the law, but for Aegon to allow himself to be so easily provoked ... Foolish indeed.
"Easy, brother. A fight, is all. All three of them looks worse than I do, I'll wager." Aegon has the audacity to grin. Jon curses.
"Three? You took on three Stark men by yourself?"
"I was not alone."
"Who ..." Jon cuts himself of and curses under his breath when their sister enters the room, hair loose and eyes sparkling. Well, one eye sparkling - the other is so swollen you can't quite tell.
"You worry too much, brother", Rhaenys says with a fond smile. Jon nearly weeps from frustration.
"And if they'd had blades?"
"They had blades, brother", Aegon says, confused.
"If they'd used them?"
"We would have won." A lesser man would cower at the feral half-smile playing on Rhaenys' lips, but Jon just shakes his head.
"Aye, I know you would have won! That's the problem!" Jon runs his hands through his dark curls.
"Are you saying you'd prefer us being defeated? That's not very nice." Rhaenys is not taking this quite as seriously as he would like. Her cat has run up to her and she picks him up, stroking his fur with an amused look upon her face. Jon is almost stunned into silence at the strange contrast between Rhaenys I-just-nearly-killed-a-man-look and her fond coddling of the cat. Almost.
"You lot", Jon says, gesturing threateningly towards his siblings, whom appear annoyingly unthreathened, "are going to get exiled for murder, and then you'll wish you listened to me."
"It was Stark scum." Aegon shrugs.
"Grandfather approves of it", Rhaenys says in a low voice. "Says we should teach Stark men a lesson about Targaryen temper any chance we get. 'If they want to wake the dragon, let them burn' he says." Jon swallows.
Grandfather is mad, he wants to say.
But if this feud is supported by a madman, is the feud itself mad?
The family feud began hundreds of years ago, when Targaryens came to the Town of Spring and began rivaling Starks in nobility as well as fame and buisness. "They're greedy bastards, Starks", Targaryens used to say. "Not willing to share anything." After a few attempts at collaboration and, when those failed, mere peaceful coexistance had gone wrong, both sides blaming the other for violations of some sort or another, a seemingly immortal bitterness had spurred. Blood debts and a vicious cycle of violence and vengeance had kept the two houses enemies century after century.
Would it ever end? Jon wondered sometimes, when a Stark man taunted him in the marketplace or Aegon added another scar to his collection.
What would it take to put an end to centuries of bad blood?
II: A PAIR OF STARCROSSED LOVERS
"Anon, good nurse, anon!" Sansa meets her own gaze in the looking glass. Blue eyes stare back at her beneath the intricately crafted black mask that covers the upper half of her face.
Beautiful, is she? She can't quite tell. They all tell her she is, of course, but it's not for any of the reasons that matter. They tell her for money, they tell her for titles, they tell her to win her father's favor. All these balls and words and dances. All these strange little games she is part of.
"Sansa?" Her nurse calls again. She stands now, the formal dress flowing around her. With a clearing of her throat and a stratening of her back Sansa shakes the melancholy. When her nurse enters the room, Sansa is already halfway to the door, ready to smile and dance and hear men tell her the right things for the wrong reasons.
Jon truly can't believe he's here.
Like most trouble Jon gets into, it began with an idea from Rhaenys, and came about because of the arrogant enthusiasm of Aegon. Many times that lethal combination had lead to Jon wishing for a new family. Many bad ideas he had suffered from. But this - attending a ball at the heart of their enemies' nest? This one takes the price.
As Jon navigates across the dance floor, reluctantly admiring the splendor of the Stark mansion, the argument his brother used for them attending the ball earlier that evening echoes in his head. "Half the city will be there. No one will notice another attendant or three! Besides, it's a masquerade. We'll be irrecognisable."
When he first heard it, Jon thought the statement naïve and arrogant. But here, in the masqued, excited crowd, it is proven true. No one knows three Targaryens are here. Aegon was, for once, right. Jon would even have been big enough a person to tell him that, if only Aegon, you know, was here.
Right now, he is missing.
Jon made the big mistake of taking his eyes off of his brother, who unfortunately has the body of a very handsome young man but the sense and attention span of a toddler. (A truly unfortunate combination.) Aegon had run off somewhere doing gods knows what. Rhaenys and Jon split up to look for him when it became clear they had lost him in the crowd. Jon can see the bright golden mask his sister is wearing moving through the room now, glittering when Rhaenys turns her head to scan the crowd for their fool of a brother.
Aegon is probably with a girl in a bed somewhere. But if he isn't ... if someone figured out it was him and decided to teach the Targaryen a lesson in humility ... Jon doesn't dare finish the thought.
The dancing is just beginning beneath the chandeliers in the Stark manor, young people shyly asking eachother for dances, blushing and stuttering. Jon feels a thousand years old. He can't see his brother's ice blond hair amongst the dancers, no matter how hard he looks. The red mask that previously belonged to Rhaenys itches, and Jon is growing grumpier by the minute. He has but three goals now: to find his brother, kill him, and bring him home alive.
He is just about to leave the ballroom and see if Aegon is outside, when something black and red glitteres in the corner of his eye, approaching fast. Before Jon can react, he collides into this foreign object.
It turns out it is a person.
It turns out it is a girl.
And then she takes a step back and he does too and right when he's probably about to say something stupid like "I didn't see you there" or "watch where you're going", he looks at her and sees her and oh. Oh.
Beauty is not the word for it. Admiration is not the word for what he feels when he beholds her. Jon is quite sure he dies right then and is born anew. She is dreams turned flesh. She is impossible. She is everything. Hair of fire, skin of ivory - yet he can almost see the steel beneath it, eyes a sea he would gladly drown himself in. The thin black pearlclad mask enhances rather than hides her features.
Jon barely registers Rhaenys' gestures as she points towards Aegon dancing with a blonde girl, waving her off.
"Good evening", the girl before him says. (Her voice is a song of which he's sure he'll never tire.)
"'Evening", he blurts out a second too late. (He'll never think less of the stuttering younglings again.)
"What might I call you?" Yours.
"Jon." He should have lied, of course. He's just not sure he can anymore. "And you? What is your name?"
"Sansa. Sansa Stark."