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a taste of poison paradise

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The Mother of Dragons’ arrival in Winterfell is one that is fit for a queen. The sight of her army stretches back even beyond the horizon, and she sits atop a horse that is as pale as her moonlight hair. Arya Stark notes all these details in the one moment it takes before her eyes catch upon her companion.

Her heart stops for a beat before it starts anew in a staccato that is audible to her ears like the sounds of a warhorn.

Jon .

She almost jumps in front of the marching army, but barely holds herself back. She must have made a sound or something, must have , because Jon’s eyes find hers in a whiplash and just stops.

Jon has stopped moving, the army at his back coming to an abrupt halt. The silver queen is looking at him in askance, but Arya cares for none of it.

It feels as if the entire world has come to a standstill.

Jon seems to have stopped breathing. Arya is breathless.

He looks like a man grown, nothing like the brother who had left her years ago. He has scars now, old and new, some faded over time and some still livid against his pale skin, and Arya’s heart aches.

She wonders what he sees when he looks at her. There is little left of the girl he left in the woman she is now.

Will you hate me for what I have become, brother? Or will you love me and want me the same?

She watches with baited hope and long forgotten dreams as Jon leaps off of his horse, ignoring concerned yells and crosses the distance between them in three quick steps. When he stops in front of her, Arya is startled to see tears clinging to his eyelashes and falling freely down his cheeks. All at once, she wants nothing more than for everyone else to disappear. This, what she and Jon have, is sacred and theirs. It should not be a spectacle for all of Winterfell to see.

Her wishes have counted for nothing for years, though, and so she smiles tremulously at him. She is aware that she is crying as well, but for once Arya Stark does not care if her tears make her look weak. She has been strong for so long, but Jon has always held her heart and with him, she does not have to be strong.

“Arya,” Jon breathes out reverently, “Little sister.”

He pulls off the glove off one hand with the other, fingers trembling, and rests his palm against her tear-stained cheeks. The touch makes her shiver from its gentleness. His skin is as cold as the ice beneath her feet but she has never felt warmer.

Arya does not know who moves first; maybe it is her, maybe it is Jon, or perhaps it is both of them, but they crash against each other in a fierce embrace, heedless of the crowd watching them. One of his hands moves from her cheek to bury itself in hair, and the other wraps around her waist, tightening almost to the point of pain, but this is good. The pain reminds her that this is real, that Jon is not a dream that will slip away from her grasp come morning light.

“Never again,” Jon murmurs into her neck hoarsely, “I will never let you go again.”

It is a sentiment she wholeheartedly agrees with. She never wants to part from her brother again, but her skin prickles from the stares and reluctantly, she detangles herself from him. She smiles at him again and looks to the dragon queen who is watching them with curious eyes.

Jon follows her gaze and grimaces. He knows he will have to return.

“Go,” Arya tells him, voice soft and gentle in a way it never is anymore, “I will follow.”

Jon looks like he wants to refuse, but sighs wearily and nods, pressing a tender kiss against her brows. Arya watches him go wistfully, before schooling her features back into a blank mask again. She doubts anyone will believe her mask after witnessing what they did, but they will not dare voice it out loud.

Now that the euphoria of seeing Jon again has somewhat faded, she can see what she did not previously. Not faded, she amends to herself, it will never fade but she has more control over her thoughts now and what she notices is intriguing. Namely, the way the dragon queen is looking at her brother. And the way her brother is looking right back. But his gaze also holds guilt and she resolves to find the reason why.

Arya follows the march from the sidelines at a more sedate pace, and watches impassively as her sister greets Jon with a stilted embrace and the queen with a smile carved out of ice.

None of us are summer children any longer.

Bran’s words ground them all into reality, reminding them of the impending battle between the living and the dead. Arya wonders if they will ever be free of this heartache. She has grown up with weariness in her bones. They all have.

We are the children of war.

Hiding her musings from prying eyes with expert ease, she chances another curious glance at the queen. She stands tall and proud, beautiful with a kind face.

Arya vows to reserve her judgment.

Jon would not love someone unworthy.