“And what would you give child, to do it all again? To erase the infinite, and revive the slain? To have a chance to wipe away all your love one's strife and pain?”
“Anything.” she promised.
The old witch smiled wickedly, red eyes gleaming. “Then it's time for a new reign.”
Arya opened her mouth to ask what she meant, but it was too late.
She gasped, springing up from her sheets, eyes wide and a thin layer of sweat kissing her skin. She glanced around wildly, taking in the hauntingly familiar sight of her childhood chambers, the cold dawn air breaking into her room. It...it worked. Pulling off the covers and stepping onto the cold stone floor felt like a dream, one that left her dizzy and slightly nauseous. This is impossible.
Having the sense to throw a gown over her small clothes and trying a cloak around her neck, she padded silently to her door. One shaking hand extended above the door knob. Her stomach was knots of kraken's tentacles twisting and pulling her apart inside. This is completely insane. She clenched her hand into a fist and brought it back to her chest, just staring at the door. A voice from another life whispered in her ear, giving her courage, Fear cuts deeper than swords. Exhaling she opened the door, pulling the heavy oak ajar. I'm weak, so bloody weak, she realized. She'd only the strength of a skinny nine year old girl, years of training lost on her body, yet not her mind.
The hallway was empty, it was early enough that most everyone was still in bed, and considering the peace that had held Winterfell for the past decade, there were no guards posted. We should have guards...you can never be too careful. Arya walked freely through the castle, lost in a trance as she took in the details she'd forgotten. The flower design of her mothers plates in the kitchen, the way the roof of the armory was slightly croked, the sharp fangs of the gargoyles and their wrinkled stone noses, and the silver rings around the torches lining the garnet halls.
She paused when she heard the steps, heart falling to her ankles. Someone was approaching from behind the corner, boots by her guess, shuffling and whispering lazily across the stone. Fear cuts deeper than swords. Mustering all the courage she could manage she stepped out behind the wall and froze in place when she saw him. Jon. Dark eyes gave her a curious look when they spotted her, a black cloak lined with white fur wrapped around him, and grey breeches and brown boots completed his look.
“Jon...” she breathed, heart hammering in her tiny chest.
“Little sister, what are doing up so early?” he smiled and it was the nicest thing she'd seen in more than half a decade.
All sense of keeping up the pretense of nine year old Arya Stark was lost on her then, and tears were stinging her eyes and making it hard to see. She felt stupid for letting herself cry, but how could she not? When he smiled like he knew her, and called her little sister? As if she were still that child full of mischief and hopes of adventure. As if she hadn't spent half her life on the run and missing him every step of the way. Like an arrow she shot forward and closed the distance between them, crashing into his chest and nearly knocking him over.
“Wha-” he was cut off by a sob, a high pitched cry of a child. Her hands wrapped around him and her little fists tangled in his cloak as tightly as they possibly could be. “Arya what's wrong?” Nothing, nothing at all.
It took a few moments for her sense to come back to her and she pulled away to see concern etched all over her sweet brother's face. “Sorry, I just...” Missed you so fucking much.
“What happened, are you alright?” he asked urgently.
A breath of laughter escaped her lips and Jon looked at her like she was mad, “Yeah, everything's fine...I just ah, had a nightmare is all.”
Arya grinned even more as she watched him try to bite back his own baffled smile, “Then why are you laughing?” he asked exasperated.
She shook her head, how could she explain her tears had been of joy and not fear? Instead she just embraced him once more. “I just missed you, okay?” she muttered.
“I saw you yesterday.” he argued.
“Well it feels like another lifetime.”
“That's it, you've lost your mind Little Sister. I'm taking you to maester Luwin.” They both laughed and Arya felt as light as a feather for the first time in years.
Pulling away again she wiped the tears from her cheeks, “You'll have to drag me there then.” she teased.
“I'd hardly call that a challenge” he shot back with a grin, and it was almost too much again. His innocent smile and glowing grey eyes. “Are you sure you're alright?”
Sniffling she nodded and managed a smile, taking a deep breath and letting her impossible reality set in. “Never better Jon, trust me.” she could see the uncertainty in his eyes still, but there was no time to question her, not when they both turned to see their father walking toward them.
Arya froze once more, her heart breaking all over again. The sounds of people yelling and Sansa screaming crashed over her, Ice gleaming and posed above her father kneeling below the Sept. She blinked away the memories, the fate she'd never let come to pass. “Something wrong?” he asked as he approached, brown cloak sweeping the floor behind him. Kind grey eyes boring into hers.
Arya shook her head and pawed at more salty tears from her eyes, cursing herself to rule her emotions. But she'd accepted a long time ago she'd never hear her fathers voice ever again. “No” she lied.
Jon gave her an odd look and glanced back at father, “She says she had a nightmare, but I think she's losing it.” he gave her grin and she granted him a shove in the arm.
Father looked more concerned than either of them then, “Do you wish to speak about it?” he asked and Arya instantly shook her head, maybe a little too quickly.
“I'm fine, truly.” she swore with a practiced smile.
He frowned, “If you say so, I'll see you two at breakfast. I need to go speak with Hullen.” Hullen. Arya could see the man then, Harwin's father, slouched over with half a dozen stab wounds in his belly, telling her to find her father as blood trickled down his lips. Arya watched as her father walked away from her, back down the hallway she'd come from. She stared, memorizing the shape of his shoulders and the sound of his steps on the stone. It wasn't until she noticed Jon glancing at her with a calculating look did she finally tare her eyes away.
When breakfast finally rolled around Arya had come to the conclusion that Jon had been right, she was losing her mind. Or she was on the verge of it anyway. It was all she could do to speak when spoken to, but other than that Arya sat in silence and just watched in awe at the average family breakfast. Arya placed herself at the end of the table and Jon sat beside her with Bran next to him, and her mother beside Bran with little Rickon on her lap. Across from them sat father, Robb, Sansa, and Theon.
Sansa was talking to their mother about a new song she'd learned and Robb was boasting of how he was going to beat Theon in the training yard later that afternoon. Jon was teasing Bran about something and little Rickon was babbling incoherently about his eggs. Arya sat still as stone, one fist resting over her mouth as she tried to nail in the idea that this was not a dream, that she was home, that her family was not dead. She eyed Theon a moment, feeling her gut burn with hatred just at his stupid face, he hasn't done anything though.
Arya frowned and looked down at her untouched plate, and what of what I've done? The world she was in now knew her as an innocent girl who'd never gone a day without a meal, never been hunted through the woods, had no concept of torture or rape. A little girl no one had ever raised a hand to, a girl who'd never even seen a man die, let alone been the cause of it. No one at this table has any idea who I really am. It was not like she wanted them to know, yet the thought was just too depressing to ponder on. Glancing up at her family's easy smiles she noticed grey eyes and a concerned frown from the head of the table. Faking a smile she avoided her father's stare and started picking at her food.
Later that day she found herself stitching a damn scarf of all things. Admittedly her work had to be better than it was the day before, yet even with sixteen years under her belt, her stitches still paled in comparison next to Sansa's. In her old life it would have been enough to frustrate her to tears with one rude comment from Septa Mordane, now it was simply comforting. Arya's hands worked relentlessly as her mind raced with all her new problems, how the hell was she supposed to change anything from Winterfell?
She supposed she could wait for the King's visit and just kill Joffery then, but that would lead to madness. Cersei was insistent on killing Lady over a bite on her son's arm, a bite Lady had nothing to do with, what would she do if her son died in Winterfell? and it wasn't like she could go and kill every bloody Lannister...no, she'd have to think to before that. She'd have to keep her parents and older brother from ever going South, keep that fat king from ever looking North. Arya hummed absentmindedly as she brooded over what she could do to keep her entire family from dying, to keep the Seven Kingdoms from falling apart before winter finally came. For if they weren't united when the Wall came down, Westereos would become a wasteland of corpses.
“Septa Mordane?” Arya called to the older women.
“Yes Lady Arya”
“Now that I'm finished my work, may I be excused please?” she held up her black wool scarf for the Septa to examine. The older women walked over and held the soft wool in her hands, smiling a little as she handed it back to Arya. Sansa was too much of a Lady to call Arya out on her new found skills but she could read the suspicion behind those Tully blue eyes.
“That looks much better Arya, yes you can go, but only if you promise not to be late tomorrow.” The Septa gave her a stern look and Arya grinned.
“I promise.” she vowed, wrapping her scarf around her neck and picking up her cloak.
Snugly warm in her new scarf and cloak Arya wandered over to the training yard, black boots leaving tiny shoe prints in the snow. She still wasn't used to this, all morning and afternoon she'd felt a stranger in her own body; just a passenger that had taken harbor in a child. No one noticed her as she watched from a corner as Robb and Jon danced with blunt edged swords. There was something so surreal about it all, the snow landing softly in her hair, the sounds of her brother's swords clashing against each other, even Theon's stupid and obnoxious shouts brought her an odd sense serenity.
Sighing she sneaked passed them all, quiet as a shadow and into the armory. She found herself stopped by the daggers, picking up a few to test the balance. Finding one she liked she grinned, wrapping her hand around the cold steal hilt. No matter the time she found herself in, there was nothing like the feel of naked steel in her hand. Finding a thin sheath she tucked the dagger under her cloak, turning her attention to the long swords.
Arya had not felt less herself than when she picked up the hilt and instantly the sword's edge fell to the dirt floor. “Fucking hell.” she muttered.
A hoot of laughter caught her attention and she looked up to see Theon “And who taught you that?” he teased.
Arya didn't miss a beat, “You probably.”
“Hey, I know better than to curse in front of a Lady.” He frowned as she lifted the sword again, she had to use two hands or she couldn't even get it off the ground. “and you should know better than to be in here, your Lady mother would ground you for half a fortnight if she caught you.”
It was most likely true, but Arya didn't wish to hear any of it from Theon Fucking Turn-cloak. “A good thing you're not my mother.” she retorted.
Theon just shook his head and took the sword from her as if she were a mere child (she was still not accepting that she was) “What's your problem?” he growled, placing the sword where she pulled it off the wall.
“What's yours?” she hissed, “Why don't you go back to yelling at Robb and Jon and mind your own business?”
“I think you've been spending too much time with Sansa and Jeyne, they're rubbing off on you.” he accused.
“I don't need commentary from my fathers hostage” she shot back, pent up anger from another life boiling over. Theon opened his mouth to reply but stopped, seeming to think better of it as his eyes burned with cold anger.
“What's going on guys?” Robb asked cheerfully as he strolled into the armory, covered in dark padding and skin shinning with sweat, Jon coming in right behind him.
“The hell if I know.” Theon growled and pushed passed Jon, getting as far away from her as he could. I shouldn't of said that.
Robb looked the way Theon had left and back at Arya, “What did we miss?”
“Nothing.” she lied, making her way passed them she left and tried to ignore their worried eyes. Arya didn't know how to act, she'd spent years pretending to be other people, yet she had no idea how to pretend to be herself. She could hardly remember who that was anymore, the person her family had known only yesterday.
“ Hey ” Jon had caught up to her and was pulling her back by the arm. “What's going on with you two?”
“I told you, it was nothing.” she kept her expression as passive as she could.
Jon let go of her arm, “That didn't look like nothing.”
Arya sighed, what would her nine year old self tell him? The truth. The answer came instantly, followed by a hot wave of guilt. “He just mentioned something about me getting in trouble for being in there and I...I was a bitch.” she confessed.
Jon's eyes widened at her curse and she couldn't help but smirk at his shock. “You were... Arya. ”
She couldn't help a laugh despite everything, “I take it you know the meaning of the word?” she teased.
“Yes I know the meaning, but since when do you use it?”
Arya shrugged, “It's just the most fitting word...considering what I said.” she grimaced slightly at the memory. A wonder he turned his cloak if I'm not the first to make a comment like that. “Do you like my scarf?” she said randomly, in hopes to not only change the subject but to speak of something relating to normal.
She unraveled it and handed it over, “Made it myself, Septa even let me leave early today.”
Jon eyed her suspiciously over her change in subject before giving her scarf a second glance, “It's...really good.”
“Try not to sound so surprised” she muttered.
“I thought you hated stitching, and last I checked...you weren't very good, no offense.”
“There are worse things” she decided, “and might be I've just been pretending to be terrible in hopes mother would relent in making a Lady of me.” Jon didn't smile as she hoped he would. “That was a jape.”
“Could of fooled me.” he managed handing her scarf back.
“Keep it.” she told him, his frown cutting a hole in her chest. No matter how she tried, she'd no idea who she was anymore, let alone who she'd been when she was nine. Jon Snow knew her too well. She could see it now on his face, every word she said wasn't right and every phrase somehow off. Obviously he had no inkling to what was really happening, yet the guilt was tearing her apart. “I'll see you later” she mumbled and turned around before he could tell her to stay.
After her conversation with Jon it occurred to her silence was probably her best bet. At least that way she wouldn't blurt out something stupid, or something she shouldn't know. If anyone said anything she need only say she was tired, it wasn't as if anyone would figure out what was going on themselves. Arya retreated to her chambers, hanging her cloak and lying flat on her bed with the fate of the world on her shoulders. Once again the possibilities of what she could do to change the future began playing in head like an song with a thousand endings, how could she find a bridge to the coda she wanted? What exactly was the ending she was even striving for?
Sitting up she noticed the clothes unraveled on the floor, her blankets and sheets half falling off the bed, and the general mess that was her room. Arya got up and folded the clothes and packed them away, made her bed to her mother's version of perfect, dusted the shelves, and swept the floor. It was while she completed these mundane tasks that were always expected of her at the House of Black and White; that she finally came up with the beginnings of a sensible plan. Throwing her cloak on once more she made her way through the halls but halted when Bran called her name, “Arya, come on dinner's almost ready.” he told her. She glanced the direction she was heading but sighed in defeat and turned and followed her younger brother to the Great Hall.