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Under my Protection

Chapter Text

“Headliner my ass; she looks like a fucking boy.”
“And not even a cute one, at that! She better slather more face-paint on that mug than that if she wants to win over the men down here.”

One deep breath after majority of the strippers had left the dressing-room was the only indicator that the girl being referred to had been bothered by the insults directed at her.
“Fuck these jealous bitches; ignore them and do you, girl.”
If it wasn’t for the Northern accent (a rarity this far down south) Nym would have done exactly what the speaker had suggested, and dismissed her too, but it had been so long since she had heard a voice that reminded her of home, that it brought her to a complete standstill. So, rather than finishing what she was doing, she instead stopped applying the glitter eye shadow she had planned for the night and looked up to see who had spoken behind her. Betraying nothing, the tiny brunette stilled when she spied the gorgeous girl reflected in the mirror beside her. Her hair, Nym exclaimed as she followed the red waves that cascaded over one slender shoulder was everything: one of her best features. And she was from the North: two plusses in Nym’s way of thinking.
“Hey.”
The redhead took the one word response as indication that her company was welcomed and grinned. “Back at you, little girl,” she quipped as she pulled a chair closer and sat down in it. “I’m Ygritte,” she offered with grin. “And you are tonight’s headliner, right: Nymeria Love?”
“Actually, it’s LOUVE: Nymeria Louve.”
“Louve it is then. So, can I be forward and ask if you are even old enough to be doing this sort of thing Nymeria Louve? No offense you seem a little young, not to mention a tad bit overdressed for what we do here.”
“Can’t do much about my size, I’m afraid, but me, I am plenty old enough. And as it pertains to my attire…” She looked around at the women prancing around in a far greater state of undress than either she or Ygritte. “If you know your strengths and have the talent to back it up, you won’t have to remove much to get any guy off. Frankly I’m surprised Baelish settles for such mediocracy here at Cat’s: tits and asses are a dime a dozen here in King’s Landing.”
Ygritte chuckled and held a hand aloft appreciating when the young woman, who appeared just out of her teens high-fived her. “Well if it means anything, I’m glad you’re here tonight. All the ballers come out for the headliners, and even if it’s your leftovers we’re left with, then there’s still a lot of money to be had on the evening with the private dances they'll want. The extra cash will come in handy.”
“Have you been here at Cat’s long, then, Ygritte?”
“A while,” she answered evasively.
“Don’t you miss the North?”
“Often,” the ginger girl responded wistfully, “but there are definite compensations for being away from home.”
A faraway look crossed Nymeria, before vanishing just as quickly when she stood up and limbered up a bit. She was very flexible, which Ygritte was sure was part of her appeal.
Ygritte shook her head. These King’s Landing girls had nothing on this tiny spitfire. Her high waisted leather booty shorts and matching bejeweled bustier were on point, and when accessorized with her fishnet stockings and stilettoed thigh-high boots, she put every one of the pastel-lingeried wearing hoochies to shame. This girl will have her choice of any guy here tonight if that was her inclination. Which could pose a problem if she wasn’t careful.
“Hey Nymeria,” she called out when the stunning brunette made to leave for her set, “From one Northern girl to another: be careful out there tonight, okay?”
“I always am, Ygritte.”
********
If there was such a thing as restrained raunchiness it was captured in the song she had chosen for her set: Please Me by Cardi B and Bruno Mars. It was the perfect juxtaposition, with Bruno’s sensual singing providing the background to emphazise her sultry dancing style while the rapper’s blatant carnality would amp up the imagination of the audience, for whom she would become an object of desire for the four minutes she needed to accomplish what she had to tonight. Tousling her shoulder length bob one more time, she crossed the darkened stage and awaited the spotlight to shine on her. Time to entice a monster, she thought, as she grabbed hold of the pole at center stage and lost herself to the music.
Please me, baby
Turn around and just tease me, baby
You know what I want and what I need, baby
(Let me here you say)
Please….
Lollipoppin' (poppin'), twerkin' in some J's (ooh)
On the dance floor (uh-huh), no panties in the way (nope)
I take my time with it (ow), bring you close to me (ow)
Don't want no young dumb shit
Better fuck me like we listenin' to Jodeci
I was tryna lay low (low), takin' it slow (slow)
When I'm fuckin' again (ayy)
Gotta celebrate, do you man look good? Better put him away
If you can't sweat the weave out, you shouldn't even be out
Dinner reservations like the pussy, you gon' eat out

I'm gonna ride it, do it just how you like it
Tonight and after that
Let's do it one more time
Girl, I ain't one for beggin', but now you got me beggin….'
*******
Used to getting what he wanted when he wanted it Joffrey Baratheon tapped angrily on the buzzer in the VIP Suite, he waited in.
“How may I help you, Mr. Baratheon,” the soothing voice answered over the intercom.
On the verge of going ballistic, the drunk blonde playboy demanded the attendee to send Petyr Baelish to him in thirty seconds or he was bailing, never to return. Smirking at his entourage, he looked at his watch. “Anyone want to wager how long it takes now,” he asked out aloud, knowing the value of his patronage to the club owner. The group laughed along with him, barring one man who sat across from Joffrey nursing his drink. The quiet man turned when, true to form, the door opened with seconds and the oily proprietor entered. “Joffrey my boy, never let it be said that Cat’s ever disappoints.”
The younger man’s green eyes filled with lust, and he licked his lips. “She’s agreed then?”
“Indeed my boy, with one or two stipulations though.”
“What!”
“Nothing insurmountable, but she is, you have to admit, a rare gem and deserves some measure of regard.”
“She’s one step above a whore,” the blond man retorted, before backtracking, “What is it, then,” he asked and then turned his ear when the club owner began whispering.”
He didn’t hesitate when he heard the request, if anything it sounded a lot more to his liking anyway. Rubbing his hands gleefully, he sat up to attention. “Sorry guys, it seems my warrior queen is actually quite shy, and is looking for something a little more intimate. But all is not lost though, Baelish has arranged another room for you, with any girl of your choice for the evening.”
“If you would follow me, gentlemen,” the owner beckoned with his arm. “Mr. Waters,” he declared surprised that he too was there tonight when the pro-boxer stood. He looked over to his blonde patron for guidance.
“Well of course he can stay,” Joffrey mocked. “Brothers should stick together after all.”
“Of course, of course. Is there anything we can do for you, Sir?”
The blue-eyed man stared in silence for a minute before answering. “Yes, actually there is.”
********
Nymeria reapplied her gloss and then checked the choker’s dangling gems. She was minutes away from completing the job she had to do, and then she can get the hell out of this gods-forsaken cesspool. And then maybe, when justice had been served, she could finally get a life. After everything, she certainly deserved one she thought, as she headed for the VIP suite. She hesitated when she reached the door, slightly unnerved that this was it. The last one on her list about to be punished for the heinous crime he had perpetrated against her family. “And then I’m done,” she whispered to herself. She knocked softly on the door and affected as soft of an expression on her face as she could muster.
“Hi there,” she coyly greeted the demon who opened the door. “Are you Joffrey?”
“Nymeria,” he rasped.
The brunette pushed past him exaggerating the sway of her hips, before pivoting and pulling him into the room behind her. “I hear you’re considered the Prince of King’s Landing.”
“Well if that’s so then you would be milady,” the blond cunt countered smarmily.
“Maybe if she was a lady Joffe, but I suspect this one is far from that.”
Not certain if all her years in the House of Black and White could have schooled her from reacting, Nymeria turned in the direction of the sardonic voice. She felt the color rise in her cheeks but fought and regained some modicum of control. “I didn’t realize we were having company, Joffe; I thought it was alone time you had in mind,” she pouted.
“I think for the exorbitant price my brother’s paid for your company, that shouldn’t really matter. For that matter, perhaps you can just get on with it and just ignore the fact that I’m here,” the brawny man uttered.
“Brother…” Nym whispered aghast
“That’s a hell of an idea, Bull.”
“So, you’re the type who likes to watch, Bull? That sort of thing turns you on?”
“When it’s worth it. When it’s not…it’s not worth the time.”
The dancer fell silent, and if the malice emanating from her grey eyes were a weapon Gendry Waters would surely be dead.
“Come now, Bull,” Joffe interrupted, enjoying the fact that this beautiful creature was less than enamored with his bastard brother. “If I recall, you were as mesmerized as all of us. It was art, Nymeria, nothing short of art.”
“I’ve seen porn less manufactured than that performance.”
“Excuse me!”
“Your song choice…yeah that was spot on milady,” he added snidely.
He watched her head rise and a determined look come to her face. He didn’t waver when she glared at him furiously.
“Joffrey, do you like to watch,” she suddenly asked in the charged silence. One eyebrow raised when doubt entered the blue eyes opposite hers…good “By my way of thinking your brother could learn a lesson or two.” She looked over her shoulder at the blonde. “If you don’t mind that is.”
“I don’t think I'd mind at all,” the deviant answered, as he retook his seat and poured himself a finger of scotch. Reaching over he increased the volume of the receiver filtering the music from the club. His hand reached for his crotch in anticipation.
Swallowing, Gendry watched Nymeria as she leaned over him. When her mouth was a fraction from his, she used the distraction to take his glass from him and downed the rest of his drink. “I wouldn’t want you to spill anything on yourself, Daddy,” she whispered, before pointing up towards the speaker. “Ariana Grande – Break up with your Girlfriend, I'm bored, another favorite of mine,” she stated. “Do you have a girlfriend, Bull,” she asked as she took his hands and placed them on her slowly rotating hips. “Would you break up with her if I asked you to,” she cajoled as she teased him with her body.
“I don’t know about a girlfriend, but he’s got a ginger on his mind tonight. What’s her name again, Bull? Oh yes Ygritte, he asked for her personally.”
“Did he, now,” Nymeria asked through gritted teeth
His slight head shake went unnoticed, and furiously she leaned in, with absolute revenge on her mind. Reaching out she opened the vee of his fitted shirt and pulled it aside, fully intent of leaving her mark on him. Let his ginger get a good look at that, she reckoned as she gripped him and tugged harder than she would have normally. And that’s when she saw it: the miniscule mic taped to his upper chest. He was fucking wired…against his own brother? WTF! Shocked her eyes went up to his and then she grabbed his glass and pretended to fall; doing the only thing she could to extract herself from this suddenly perilous situation.
******
The cut was superficial at best, but copious enough to allow her to get out of there. As she anticipated Joffrey for all his previous attention wanted nothing to do with a now bleeding exotic dancer, but she had to suffer the unwanted attentiveness of Gendry and Ygritte who had come to the private room almost immediately. Thankfully, after bandaging her arm, Nym was able to cry off from the pair and make her way back to her flat. Every expletive she knew filled the drive home, as she considered what could be going on. The clock was ticking; she had get her things and leave ASAP…like tonight. Something was going down that she needed to avoid at all costs. Fifteen minutes she thought....fifteen minutes and then she was gone for good.

Exactly eleven minutes later the visitor she had awaited unlocked the front door and entered, and in the darkness she was more than ready for him. He stopped when he encountered the pointy end of her needle, and cursed aloud. "A fucking sword Nym? Really? Is there anything else I need to learn about you?" "Probably, but first things first. What's going on with you and that bitch, Ygritte?" "Ygritte? Oi!" He finished off with a yelp when she flicked his chin with her needle. "Did I stutter, Bull? Who the fuck is Ygritte to you?"
"Well that's telling isn't it," the woman in question answered from behind them. "She makes you, and instead of wanting to know why you were wired tonight she's more concerned about a potential rival. That must be one hell of a game you have going on, Bull." Her jokes stopped when she watched Nym reach with her right arm for her waistband. "Let's take it easy, Nymeria; you're not quicker than a bullet."
"You're a cop then," Nym asked of the man who towered over her, "and she's your partner," she stated, absurdly disappointed.
"You're half right Little-Wolf, about Ygritte at least."
Nym shook her head in disbelief. This was not happening, there was no way. But she was proven wrong when this third speaker stepped out of the darkness to confront her. "Jon," she whispered to the apparition from her past.
"Hello little sister."

Chapter Text

“Why are you here, Jon?”
In every instance; back when his younger self still believed in miracles, Jon Snow had never visualized the moment when he would finally be reunited with his baby sister to be anything but sheer perfection. Emotional: - yes without doubt their reunion would be. Tears: completely mandatory, but that too would be explicable. However, for the reality to bear any semblance to what was playing out tonight: a reconciliation rife with suspicion and no small degree of fear, this he would never have fathomed. Never this… not between him and Arya.

How was it possible for one slight female to appear both haunted and hunted at the same time, he wondered as the one relative whom he mourned for the most, adopted an almost feral expression as she glared back at him with something akin to loathing in the steel grey eyes that so closely mirrored his own. His soul wept for the loss of his sweet baby sister: his very first love in truth, and what may have happened in the missing years to bring them to such an impasse.

"Arya, how can you even ask me that," he appealed softly, unable to contain his emotions any longer.

The woman/child that was his little sister visibly flinched when he addressed her by her given name. And that’s not all. Her grip on Needle, the sword he had gifted her when she was a child, tightened, and her eyes once again warily slid in Ygritte’s direction. Not only that, he noticed as he observed her fighter's stance. She stood completely at the ready: on the balls of her feet just in case. What she may be capable of he did not know, but it wasn’t a chance he could take. Even if neither of his companions saw it, he recognized both her fear as well as the potential danger she posed in her heightened state.

“Arya,” he repeated gently.

"Leave Jon. Arya is gone; as good as dead. She died when there was no one left to acknowledge the child she was...no family to save her. A girl is no-one now. A girl has no name; she claims no name…especially the name Stark… She is no longer worthy of it.”

He tried not to give in to the wave of guilt her impassioned words evoked, but it was difficult. “I cannot accept what you are saying, sister. You are and will always be Lady Arya Stark of Winterfell. Daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn Stark. A beloved daughter of winter.”

“Never a lady, Jon, especially not now. You have to know that; if you have found me then you know what I have become.”

“But Arya all the same,” he croaked, misunderstanding the true meaning of her words as he saw only the evidence of his little sister’s victimization. “No matter what has happened, you will always be my Arya.”

Again, she shook her head, but Jon saw in her grey eyes, how she wavered ever so slightly. “I am sorry sister, that I wasn’t there… that I couldn’t stop…”

“Stop what Jon? Stop them from killing… from executing our family; Mother…father…Rob? Our little brothers? From doing what they would with me? You never even tried…” she exclaimed unfairly, knowing full well that he had in been in no position to aid any of them.

“I’m here now,” he whispered…sobbed more like it.

It near killed her.

She had to get away from him, lest she give in to every instinct that had her wanting to throw herself at him; to let him know that she meant none of what she was saying. She was a fool, but at least a fool who could do something to rectify her mistake, and keep her only brother safe, Arya thought. Jon was at his weakest when he was compromised, so in order to leave, she would need to eliminate the greatest threat first.

“And I neither want nor need you Jon Snow! Go, find another damsel to rescue if you need to appease your conscience. Consider me as good as dead to you from today. Trust me it will get easier as time goes by.”

A tug to her left turned the young woman’s focus, and she was startled to note that the man who she had previously held at bay, had come close to disarming her. “By the gods Nym, how can you say…”

“Do not tempt me into action Bull,” she growled furious that her stupid pride had put her in this position in the first place. She should have just left this apartment; meted out the needed justice and disappeared silently into the night as she had been trained to do, but no, she had to stay to get an answer from a faithless man who had managed to breach walls she had erected a lifetime ago. Walls that had served her well as she had set about avenging her family; a task whose completion was now in jeopardy because of one foolish decision to allow him to get close to her.

“Sansa is home now,” Jon suddenly announced, playing the trump card he believed would ultimately get through to his wounded sibling.

Arya schooled herself not to react in anyway.

In fact, he wasn’t telling her anything she didn’t already know. It had been seven months now. And she had almost died to make it happen.

Even though it had been Sandor Clegane who had taken Sansa the final distance to Winterfell, it had been the two of them who first liberated the older Stark girl from her deplorable captivity when it had been revealed that the beautiful girl, who everyone had initially believed had betrayed her own kin for the love of the Baratheon ‘prince’ had, after suffering untold atrocities in his household, been trafficked. Sold like chattel under the instruction of that blonde bastard. To this day, Arya was none the wiser how and why Joffrey’s former bodyguard had discovered her mission and then joined (well more like forced himself on) her quest to rescue her sister, but she was grateful. Arya had firsthand knowledge as well as the scars to attest to how dangerous it had been locating and then extracting a single victim from the flesh-trafficking network that had left her once exquisite sister a drug addicted shell of a woman. Death had come close to claiming both Stark sisters that day, but even today, Arya would suffer again every injury she had to aid her sister… And, it was not just the recollection of Sansa’s brutalization, but all the hapless victims she had been forced to abandon that had been the impetus that determined that Joffrey Baratheon’s end would be as terrible as the horrors sustained by the true Lady of Winterfell.

Arya blinked twice in rapid succession.

“Then I will never return North. I refuse to share air with a traitor! I would rather no family than one such as her,” Arya seethed.
“Nym, sweetheart…”
“Fucking Bitch…”

It was all too much: if she couldn’t stand to remain here to face Jon’s diatribe, then she certainly could not contend with any false endearments or the insults from either side of her. She shifted, fully intent of bringing this to an end, by any means necessary.

The seasoned warrior that he was, Jon immediately recognized what she meant to do.

“Stand Down, Arya!”

Her chin raised belligerently. “I am not one of your fucking crows, Lord Commander Snow!”

Jon stilled. His knew his rank in the Night's Watch's elite division was not common knowledge. Yet somehow, she was privy to this intel.

“No, you are not. You are no-one; not Arya; not my sister, you are nothing and need no-one,” Jon countered, an inexplicable smile suddenly brightening his face. “But as NO-ONE, you have certainly taken the time to discover that which is not basically known concerning someone who means nothing to you. Why would that be Nymeria Louve?”

Across from her brother, Arya began breathing heavily. He knew, she realized...he knew that it was all a lie.

“You claim no association with the northern wolves yet could not distance yourself completely, could you? A wolf by any other name is still just that. And to a wolf: pack is everything.”

Jon’s sudden glance over her left shoulder was all the warning she had. She was too slow in reacting, or the ataractic injected into her neck was just that quick, and the last thing she grasped was her brother rushing towards her and capturing her fast against him. She whimpered when she realized that even after all this time, he smelled exactly as she remembered...like home.
“Brother,” she whispered softly, just before she was rendered senseless.

*********

“Fuck, Jon, is that really necessary,” Gendry asked when his former Night’s Watch brother handcuffed his unconscious sister to the bed frame.

“Aye, it is and if you have any sense of preservation, you would take those off the nightstand and far out of her reach,” Ygritte declared indicating the daggers she had taken off Arya Stark body. “One thing’s for sure Jon Snow, your little wolf is resourceful as hell.” The red-haired woman gave the passed-out female another once over, before suddenly reaching into her inky tresses. “That’s my girl,” she uttered admiringly when, after a thorough search, she extracted an innocuous hair pin that had no place in the young woman’s unadorned hairstyle. “Take that too, Bull.” She laughed at the boxer's evident confusion. “Trust me, Gendry, If Arya Stark is half the woman, I believe her to be, she would have come to, freed herself with that pin, then taken out one of those pointy daggers of hers, and dispatched you before you even knew what happened.” She watched the man’s face blanche as he collected every item and took them out of the room.” Ygritte watched him go. “Not a devious bone in that one’s body, eh Snow?”

“None,” Jon replied sullenly. “I can only hope that remains the case after all these years.”

Ygritte stood and walked over to the northern man. Dropping every façade, she offered the man the comfort he so clearly needed. “She’s alive, and you’ve found her, Jon. Let that be enough for now.” He shuddered in the slim woman’s arms, and Ygritte raised her head to see tears streaming down his face. “You’re right,” he said, as he allowed her to swipe the moisture away. “If Samwell hadn’t said what he had…”

Gendry stood just outside the room, wondering if it was wrong for him to intrude, eventually deciding that with what he had been roped into, and what was now being expected of him, that he would need every bit of information he could get his hands on.

“What did he say, Jon,” he asked calmly entering the room. “I need to understand.”

“Perhaps in another room?” Ygritte suggested.

*********
Seated at the enormous island in his open-planned kitchen Jon and Ygritte took the coffee mugs from Gendry who stood on the opposite side of the granite-topped surface. He took a remote and adjusted the volume of the intercom system that would alert them if Nym (Arya he corrected himself) awoke. Not that they expected that to happen anytime soon. He scowled at the thought of that eventuality.

“Your home is lovely,” Ygritte said, interrupting his dour musings.

“Yeah, thanks. Taking a hit or two has paid off I guess.”

The trio sipped their drinks in silence, before Jon determined it was best to just get on with it.

“I guess I’ll go first.”

His mind cast back to earlier in the evening as he sat in the surveillance van outside the club. Samwell Tarley, their team’s IT guy had just confirmed every audio connection when their target had suddenly appeared on the main camera . “He’s here, Lord Commander right on time.” As Jon’s close confidant, Sam knew everything his friend had dealt with the annihilation of his family, and the toll it had taken on the man. “I can’t help but appreciate the irony that a she-wolf has drawn him out tonight,” Sam had mentioned off-the-cuff.

“What do you mean, Sam?”

“Nymeria Louve…Louve is a French surname name. It literally translates to Female Wolf.”

“Nymeria Louve…the She-Wolf,” Jon repeated.

“When we were little, we were given a litter of malamute pups; a wolf-type breed, that was as close as we would ever get to the real thing. It was fitting since our sigil is a direwolf. Ghost, Lady, Shaggydog, Summer, GreyWind and Nymeria. One for each of us: five Starks; one Snow. Nymeria belonged to Arya. Named after the warrior queen of lore, that Arya admired more than anyone. I didn’t give a second thought about who the…the entertainment would be tonight, only our mission,” Jon painfully uttered, still unable to wrap his head around the fact that his baby sister was there tonight at the seedy club, let alone…He shook his head to dispel those thoughts. “Anyway, it wasn’t until Sam offered up that bit of trivia that the name Louve meant She-Wolf that I even considered the possibility.”

“And that’s when he asked me to engage her,” Ygritte interrupted.

Gendry tried not to notice that undercover vice-officer had reached out to place her hand over Jon’s, and when the commander raised it to his lips. He didn’t know what the ramifications of the military operative and a woman who was technically his underling being involved were, but it wasn’t any of his business, not when he had his own problems on the horizon.

“It took everything in me not to barge into the club, once Ygritte reported back to me. As much as I didn’t want to consider it; everything she relayed spoke Arya to me. Gods,” he carped, “I still can’t believe it.”

“Just focus on the fact that you have her back, Jon; that’s the only important thing.”

“You’re right,” Jon affirmed as he leaned over and placed a kiss on Ygritte’s forehead. “But you’re wrong as well.”

He sat up straight and glowered across at their host. “You do understand Gendry, that while I am grateful for your assistance, I am well within my rights to inquire as to why the fuck you had keys to my baby sister’s apartment in the first place.”

Chapter Text

Hardened steel met to challenge the pair of unwavering cobalt eyes across the counter. Jon knew well the disarming effect of the piercing gaze that stared back at him, and it in no way, make him feel any better about the situation.
“My sister, Gendry. Her keys,” he repeated gruffly; his tone making it clear that he had moved beyond merely accusing, to already finding his brother-in-arms guilty of the unspoken offence.
“Gods be damned, Snow, how about you take the big brother routine down a notch,” Ygritte drawled. “Obviously the Bull knows Arya. As a matt…”
“And therein lies the problem,” Jon interjected, his eyes never leaving the ruggedly handsome face of the man he had known for years and considered a close friend. “The Bull has known many a woman; probably more than any honorable man should lay claim to. Some would even call it a hereditary trait; an addiction the men in his family are particularly susceptible to.”
He knew he had struck a nerve when Gendry’s jaw tightened. But he wasn’t finished, not by a mile.
“In fact, Ygritte, back during basic training we had a running joke, that had the Night’s Watch kept to its earliest directive of celibacy that Gendry would in all probability have been the first of our unit whose head would be on the block. From the tabloids, I would say that not much has changed since our days at the Wall.”
Ygritte had the audacity to grin, “So you are popular with the ladies, Bull? Why am I not at all surprised?” She leaned for forward coquettishly. To tell the truth, If I wasn’t into the sullen, broody type, I might take a shot at that…” she demurred with a sly wink across the kitchen island.
Gendry watched as Jon turned sharply to look at the wild northern woman. Ygritte shrugged, patently unimpressed with Jon’s theatrics. “What? He’s good looking guy, with a great body and if what you are intimating is true, he most likely knows his way around a woman’s body. Plus, he seems the decent sort… I mean, I’m sure you’ve had nothing but willing partners right Waters? And that few had any complaints in the end, eh?” She didn’t give the dark-haired man a chance to respond, before she voiced her opinion. “A girl could do a lot worse, Lord Commander.”
“We’re not talking about some random girl…”
“No, we’re not,” Ygritte surmised. “We’re talking about you sister; your baby sister who you will always see as the sweet little girl in braids who adored you. The sister who has gone through Gods knows what in these last years, but whether you like it or not Arya has grown up. She’s a woman Jon; a consenting adult and if…”
She rubbed Jon’s arm when he suddenly covered his eyes. “Look Luv, I understand, how hard this is for you; especially after contending with the aftermath of what Sansa has suffered. You have to be praying that your baby hasn’t experienced even a fraction of that; but attacking Gendry; it’s just not right. You could have lost her before you even got her back tonight if not for that key, Jon. For whatever reason, Arya was about run, but whatever lies between them held her back long enough for you to get to her.” She stared at the still silent man, who had yet to utter anything in his own defense. “At the very least, you owe him a debt of gratitude for being in her life at the right time.”
“I’m not sleeping with her, Jon.”
“But you care for her. You were pretty angry tonight,” Jon stated in a far calmer tone than before.
Gendry scoffed. He had been more than that; he had damn well lost the plot this evening, jeopardizing the entire operation. “That’s putting it lightly,” he agreed. It wasn’t everyday that the person you thought you had gotten to known for almost half year turns out to be a complete stranger.
“You didn’t know, did you,” Ygritte coaxed, “about the dancing?”
“I had no fucking clue.” He met Jon’s eyes. “Forget the fact that for the past seven months I’ve known her as Nym, Jon. The woman in that club…I’ve never laid my fucking eyes on, I swear. Gods-damned right I was pissed.”
A nod from Jon Snow, established that he had accepted this explanation. “So how exactly did you meet, Bull?”
*********
Five months ago,
Twenty minutes into his training session, Gendry “The Bull” Waters pulled his punch mid-swing and suffered for it immediately when his sparring partner found an opening and connected with a vicious right hook to the head that shook his very foundation.
Or maybe it was the sight of her: the tiny brunette rushing into the gym, that had.
Amidst the enthusiastic jibes from the younger boxer who was beyond excited to have gotten the better of the reigning champ and the voluble disgust of his manager, Davos, the pro boxer held one arm up to halt his practice and went over to his corner to grab his water bottle. Under the guise of hydrating, he leaned on the top rope and drank instead in the sight of the completely transformed young woman in his view.
Her hair was out today, and automatically Gendry’s mind drifted back over the previous months as he tried to recall if he had ever seen it loose before. He didn’t think so as surely; he would have remembered how the glossy mane framing her face emphasized those quicksilver grey eyes. Completely mesmerizing eyes, he corrected. But her hair wasn’t the only thing different about her, he realized as gave her a thorough once over.
She had been shopping, he realized and hell: he for one was glad for it.
It was unbelievable really that an act that normally had him fearing the damage done to his credit cards by whatever women was in his life, had him excited for a change. The fact that Nym had decided to invest in some new exercise-wear could only mean that she was beginning to believe in the changes brought about from her fitness regime. Whereas before he had admired mostly for her work ethic as she toiled endlessly in the male dominated gymnasium, today his regard rest mostly in appreciation for the trim figure she cut in her new tracksuit. The figure-hugging warm-up suit was a vast improvement from her usual attire, and he secretly hoped she had treated herself to a bunch of things and had burnt every baggy t-shirt and ratty pair of sweatpants in her possession. She was no longer the weak woman she was a few months ago. She was fitter and stronger, not to mention far shapelier than even he could have imagined, as he enjoyed the rear view, he was privy to. Fuck, she was stunning!

Still, looking fabulous wouldn’t save her from the rebuke coming her way for arriving late for her session today. Her coach was the gym’s owner, Yoren: a beast of a man, and a dictator when it came to time keeping. The fact that she was one of the few people, and as far as Gendry was aware, the only female that Yoren trained meant that the former professional boxer saw something special in her, but by no means would that count in the face of her breaking his cardinal rule. In the past, Gendry had seen with his own eyes the man literally reducing grown men to tears. The tiny female didn’t stand a chance. Raising one gloved hand, Gendry called for more time and exited the ring. He didn’t think why he was doing it, but he would be ready to intercede on her behalf should it become necessary.
Being the country’s number one boxer had to count for something around here.

*******

Nym had scarcely greeted the man before she was blasted by the wiry former boxer who coached her.
“Did you have a date and forget today’s session Nym? Is that the reason you’re so gussied up? You on the prowl girl?”
Nym’s back stiffened, and even though he couldn’t see her face, Gendry expected that the demure woman was mortified by the accusation.
“And what’s with that hair, how are you supposed to work out with that mess hanging from your head?” Yoren tapped impatiently on his watch. “Ninety seconds, Nym, in ninety seconds I want you sorted and warming up with the jump-rope. If you can’t manage it, you may as well fucking leave and don’t come back!”
Watching as she bobbed her head, Gendry approached the pair with a frown. Even by Yoren’s standards, this was pretty harsh.
“I’m sorry,” Gendry heard her whisper as she reached into a pocket for a band to put her hair up. Nym then swung around and barreled into him in her haste to follow her coach’s instructions. Gendry automatically reached out to steady her when she stumbled. He was about to ask if she was okay when she looked up at him and left him completely without words. Her face, as he expected was flushed, but that did nothing to detract from her appeal. And then, with his blood already trekking south, Nym drew his attention to her mouth when her tongue flicked out a second before she began nervously nibbling on her lower lip. He was never happier to be wearing his gloves, as they provided the barrier to the tightening of his hands that would no doubt would have scared the shit out of her.
“Unhand her before I show you what a real punch feels like, Bull!”
Gendry reluctantly left Nym and turned his attention to the gym owner.
“You have sixty seconds now Nym, or you can thank the Bull here for what happens next,” Yoren warned, before switching his ire to his establishment’s most famous member.
“Bad day, Yoren?”
“You,” He said jabbing the pro in the chest,” You stay away from her Gendry. She’s not your type…she's smart and a hard worker and most importantly a good girl.”
“Worrying about a client? You getting soft in your old age, Yoren?”

*******
Gendry paused in his recollections. The pair across from him immediately came to attention. “What is it,” Jon asked expectantly.
“I never gave it a second thought at the time, because it wasn’t actually out the norm for Yoren to ‘adopt’ a stray or two over the years. But now when I think about it, I had never seen him so affected. You have no idea Bull, what that little girl has been though, he said.”
Jon Snow nodded.

Gendry waited for the man to add something, but when he didn’t, he continued with his story. “He reiterated how good of a girl Nym was, far more than any of the men there deserved, including…especially me. Unfortunately, by this time, Nym was getting the notice of the other guys there. Many of them I wouldn’t let near any female relative of mine, and I could practically see Yoren’s mind working. She was done; I had no doubt that he would let her know that day not to come back, so I stepped up to help where I thought I could.”
“And why exactly would you do that, Bull,” Jon asked.
“That’s precisely what Yoren asked. And I’ll tell you exactly what I told him. Her dedication: I admired her for it. It hadn’t been an easy road for her, and it would have been a shame if she had to give up her training then, just because she was now a potential distraction. I offered to look out for her, to keep the wolves at bay,” Gendry commented ruefully. “Yoren agreed, with a caveat that he would be watching me as I watched out for her. And champion or not, he would kick me out on my ass, if I overstepped my bounds with her.”
“And you’ve actually abided by that,” Ygritte asked, her raised eyebrows expressing her skepticism.
Gendry went back to his Keurig Coffee Maker and brewed himself another decaf. “I’ve known Yoren since I was a child. If not for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He channeled the energy of a rebellious bastard, mad at the world: first in his gym, and then by encouraging me to sign up for the Night’s Watch. After my stint at the Wall was over, he connected me with my manager Davos Seaworth, and the rest is history. All of this,” Gendry stated, with all seriousness, “Is because he saw potential in me that I didn’t even know existed. He and Davos each, have been both mentor and father to me, far greater than the bounder who has only deemed me worthy of claim now that he has no choice. So yes, I’ve abided by what he asked of me; for the most part.”

Jon’s relief was evident, even with the afterthought Gendry was compelled to make. “I guess I should really be thanking you after all,” he supposed out loud.
Gendry’s response was to draw from the steaming mug he held tightly in his grip. He hadn’t exactly lied to Jon, unless the Lord Commander considered omission as such. Ygritte on the other hand, took a sip of her coffee and then smiled. It may have been better, Gendry thought if her smile reached her eyes, but it didn’t. She saw right through him; hearing his words, and more importantly, exactly what he hadn’t disclosed: that neither his involvement with nor his intentions for the woman they discussed where exactly as altruistic as they sounded. He wasn’t surprised that someone as astute as her had discerned the full truth.

That he had wanted the girl he knew as Nym in his bed for months now.

However, for some reason it seemed, the feisty redhead looked to be in his corner. Thank the Mother for an independent thinking woman, Gendry pondered.
“Another cup, Ygritte?”
“No thanks. Actually, I probably should make a show of leaving now.” She held a hand up to Jon’s chest. “Alone,” she insisted, knowing that Jon would want to see her home. “Remember, we made sure that I was seen leaving with the club with Bull. A few of the paparazzi even came along for the ride, so I suspect that a real industrious one or two may be holding out to catch my walk of shame.” She pressed a button on her phone. “I’ll just get an Uber. Mind you,” she added coyly, “I could probably use a hand perfecting my ‘well fucked’ look, Jon Snow. No offence, Bull.”
“None taken, believe me,” Gendry answered. “I’ll let the security guard at the gate know to let the ride in and check in with Nym in the meantime,” he said before moving around the island. “Let us know when you’ve reached home.”
Ygritte grabbed the boxer as he passed by her, placing an impromptu kiss on his cheek. “You really are one of the good ones Gendry Waters.”
***********
“Fuck, Jon Snow,” Ygritte moaned as the Lord Commander moved from her lips down her neck, suckling hard against her pulse that beat rapidly from his ministrations. She thread her hands in his dark locks and pulled his head back up, so she could capture his mouth again. “I’m supposed to look satisfied not raring to go again.”
“Maybe you are just insatiable,” Jon growled against her mouth. “Or maybe it’s simply a case of me ensuring that you will be thinking about the man you really want to be with.”
Her caress was much softer this time as she stared into the grey eyes she had come to adore. “Always,” she whispered. She hugged him, needing to know that it wasn’t just the intense physical connection that meant something to her. “I love you Jon Snow,” she murmured in his ear when her returned the embrace.
“Thank you, Ygritte. I don’t think I could have handled things without you here tonight.

“This is exactly why we don’t investigate cases involving our loved ones, Jon. We’re too close for impartiality. It was only natural to see the worst, even in someone you trust.”
“So, you believe him?”
“You don’t?”
“He’s a man,” Jon answered simply.
“And whether or not you like it, Arya is a woman now. There is definitely something between them; something very mutual…but, for the most part I do believe him.”
“For the most part,” Jon repeated.
Outside the foyer, lights of an approaching vehicle beamed in the driveway.
“Aye, for the most part. The Bull’s a good man, but good men flout the rules all the time wouldn’t you say Lord Commander? Even the very best of men,” she sighed against her lover’s mouth one last time before she departed.

**********

Taking a seat in the accent chair beside the bed, Gendry stared worried at the Nym’s supine figure. Nym…Nymeria…Arya. Whichever name she answered to; she appeared tiny in the king-sized bed and not for the first time he wondered if the dosage he had injected her with may have been too much for someone as petite as she. By now he had hoped that she would have stirred, even a little. To know that she had not been adversely affected by the sedative would alleviate a lot of the guilt he felt for doing the deed; not that he was looking forward to what would come next. Explaining why he would basically betray her, well that felt a helluva lot more daunting. Raking his hands through his hair, he blew out a long breath. He closed his eyes, only to open them just as suddenly when a small whimper came from the bed.
“Nym,” he called as he approached the bed.
“Gen, what happened…where…” she broke of when she began coughing.
“Shit,” Gendry muttered as he propped her up, before pouring a small glass of water from the pitcher he had placed on the night-table. “Here Nym, drink some water. Slowly, Honey,” he urged. “Better,” he asked after he took the empty vessel from her lips. Guilty, he watched as she squirmed, visibly distressed by her confinement. Fuck this, he thought, about to go to Jon for the key to the cuffs.
“Gendry, wait…”
He turned to see her eyes brimming with tears, and he went straight to her, heavy of heart, with an apology ready on his lips.
“I can’t say that this is exactly what I envisioned when we actually got together, Gendry.”
Her tearful pronouncement was not at all what he had expected.
“I wasn’t certain that would ever be an option, Nym,” he answered her as he leaned in.
And it wouldn’t: not anytime soon at least, Gendry ruminated seconds later when he was literally fighting for his life…
**********

“Never trust a limping dog or the tears of a woman”
He had never professed to be the sharpest tool in the shed, but in those first seconds when he was more stunned than anything, the fact that he spent precious seconds trying to recall where he had heard that saying before and not actually fighting back was almost his undoing
He literally had no forewarning that she would attack, so when the headbutt she dealt him stunned him sufficiently, he had literally no defense ready when she pitched her lower body up and caught his throat in a scissor-hold, in her astonishingly strong legs. Even then, the sudden deprivation of air took him off his feet positioning him where she could do the most damage, as well as foiling any attempt to fight her off.
And then just when as he feared actually losing consciousness, she let him go, kicking him in his weakened state to the foot of the bed.
“You fucking deserved that, you bastard,” she grunted, exhausted by her efforts. “How dare you come to me wearing another woman’s lipstick!”
Gasping for air, Gendry propped himself up on one elbow. “Wh…what,” he asked before remembering Ygritte’s departure. He wiped his face, noting the coral stain to his hand, and then just looked up at her. “I think that Ygritte was right, you know, Nym. Your priorities are a bit skewed darling.” He pointed to her disadvantaged position. “You act like none of this matters, but a kiss goodbye…”
“Get out of my sight Bull!”
“The hell I will. Do you think you have the exclusive rights to being pissed off tonight? What the hell were you doing at that fucking club?”
“Making a living obviously,” she retorted, as if it didn’t matter one iota. “Does the truth of what I do for money offend you Bull?”
“When it comes to my damn half-brother yes. You have no idea the danger you were in being there alone with fucking Joffrey Baratheon,” he shouted, shutting his mouth upon realizing he had probably said too much.
“I wasn’t alone though, and you would never have let him hurt me.”
He got off the bed, suddenly hating the she understood him so well, when he hadn’t the luxury of the same chance to get to know the real her. “No, Nym or is it Arya… I don’t even fucking know, what to call you and that really hurts. It hurts a lot more than I ever thought it could. Wait let’s correct that; the fact that you were going to make a run for it tonight. That stings a bit too.”
She said nothing, and Gendry just shook his head. The fact that she could sit there in silence, and not even bother to attempt to address his complaints just exemplified the inequality of their relationship, and frankly Gendry had had enough. “Look, I’ll just go get your brother for you. Do everyone a favor and don’t run out on him, it will kill him.”
He passed Jon in the hall and was beyond caring whether the man had overheard the conversation with his sister. “She’s all yours Jon, I’m done.”
“Gendry,”
“I’m sorry about earlier, Jon. If there was any time that that blonde shit could have implicated himself, it most likely would have been tonight.” He looked back towards the bedroom he had just left. “I guess though every cloud really does have a silver lining,” he stated dolefully. “ The bedroom next to this one is made up if you want to get some rest. If not just take one of the cars; you know where the keys are." His smile was sincere as was the hug he gave the northerner. "No matter what, I am happy for you Jon. Take care of her.”

**********

Gendry was surprisingly refreshed the next morning when he woke, especially as fitfull as his sleep had been. Damn little wolf, he couldn't even find peace from her in his dreams in the end. She had at last come to him, climbing into his bed and his arms, where after wanting her there for so long, he had been content just to hold her. "Is this it then Gen," he remembered her asking when she realized that he would not make love to her, not now when he expected her to be gone from his life in a few hours. "It's called restraint, Nym. It's all I have to fall back on until I decide if I should bury myself in you or flip you over my knee and give you the spanking you sorely missed out on when you were little." She had tearfully giggled into his chest and had him chuckling when she asked what a girl had to do to achieve both. He had kissed her then, as ardently as he had when she had first taken the initiative that he would not months ago, but had since then. "It's not fair," she whispered, "No-one should be able to kiss like you, and be such a good person."
"For the most part," he answered.
And just because he finally felt that for once he held the control he had never had in their relationship, Gendry chose to show her exactly how good he could be with his kisses. He would dare say she actually preferred what he could do between her thighs when she wasn't insistent on being such an angry she-wolf. She was a howler his little wolf was when he really put his kisses to work. He made sure that if nothing else, she would remember him.

Chapter Text

Davos Seaworth looked over to his right side with raised eyebrows. “Was I wrong lad, in believing that, beyond the obvious comforts, one of the benefits of flying first class is, being first to disembark this steel tube? We do have to be somewhere shortly,” he added gesturing with the arm on which his watch resided.

“Just a minute. I promised our flight attendant a selfie and an autograph for her little brother. He’s a big fan.”

“Her little brother…of course he is,” the older man noted cynically, recalling how frightfully attentive the flirtatious woman had been for the duration of their flight. “And if nothing else, we must keep your fans happy.”

“Exactly,” Gendry reiterated irritably, “Be the People’s Champion; wasn’t that the whole point of flying all the way to Dorne for a live interview that could have easily been done over the telephone?” He smirked, knowing full well that his manager of six years would not disagree, especially as it had been at his insistence that they take the unnecessary two-day trip.

Unfortunately, the delay they were dealt, ended up being far more significant than anticipated when Gendry found himself basically cornered on the plane, when the other passengers from economy class realized that he hadn’t left. Not too many, it appeared, had connecting flights tonight that would require a quick exit, which meant that the ‘People’s Champion’ had to live up to his moniker for the meantime as they basically cornered him with one after another seeking him out. Autographs, selfies (with a few sneaky cheek kisses thrown in, by some of his more ardent female fans) were the result of his kindness; that and running the risk of being late for his next meeting.

Finally, with the end to the line of people clamoring for a bit of his time in sight, Gendry spied the blonde haired – green eyed attendant who had originally requested his attention. She clasped her hands and mouthed “I’m so sorry,” to him, a gesture that earned her a small grin from the pro-boxer. She kind of reminded him a bit of his half-sister Myrcella, even more so when she reiterated her apology as she finally came alongside him.

Attempting to make short work of their encounter, Gendry spoke before she did. “So, it was Ingrid, right? And your brother’s name…”

The tall blonde flipped her wavy hair over one ear and offered him her brightest smile. “Well, I have a bit of a confession to make, Bull. I’m actually an only child; just a single girl about to spend an overnight layover, all alone in King’s Landing beginning right now. Would you like to go and get a drink?”

Davos rolled his eyes, and took that moment to push past his protégé, “Thank you for the service, lass,” he bid the bold woman awaiting what she hoped was a favorable response. “Mr. Waters should you decide you are sufficiently hydrated; might I suggest you meet me in the parking garage.”

“I’m sorry,” Gendry stiffly addressed the woman beside him as Davos jostled him when he left. “I actually have another engagement.”

“Oh…Lucky girl,” the woman said, as her quarry reached into the overhead for his carry-on.

No, she really wasn’t, Gendry thought, remembering basically how awful things had turned between him and the one girl who had occupied his thoughts since she had left without saying goodbye.

Carrying his designer weekender, Gendry hurried to catch a surprisingly sprightly Davos up. “Hey, did Yoren say what was so important? There’s someone I really need to see tonight.” If she was still in town, he added to himself.

“No, he didn’t. And I doubt if your Ygritte will not welcome your company, no matter the time of night, so put thoughts of her aside.”

“Ygritte?”  

Davos looked over in exasperation at his companion. “Ygritte: the tall red-head; the exotic dancer plastered all over the tabloids for the last two days; the one leaving your home with that oh so dreamy look of satisfaction…you do remember her, don’t you?”

“I know who she is, Davos. It’s just not how it’s being portrayed. She’s actually a nice girl, but...”

“But of course, she is! Petyr Baelish is after all renowned for the wholesome angels he employs at his honorable establishment! I’m certain that everyone last one of his workers’ fathers are proud of what their darling daughters have aspired to in that…pestilent palace of pleasure.” The older man stopped and faced the young boxer. “These last few months: I really thought things were different, that you were actually looking to the future with some maturity… but now this happens! Look lad, it’s not for me to judge. Gods knows I was young once many, many moons ago, but don’t fall into the trap that has plagued so many through Baelish’s manipulations. The man must be absolutely salivating at the thought that one of his girls has caught your attention! I’ve seen it happen before, Gendry: in your own family. Don’t turn into him boy, and risk losing everything you’ve worked for. For Gods-sake don’t become your damn father.”

*********

Slow down Little-Wolf, your father isn’t going anywhere!”

“Arya had paid Taylor, her security detail du jour, no heed, as she dashed (Needle still on her hip) from the garage through the mud-room en-route to the kitchen to grab the requisite cola that Daddy would expect when she barged in on him to fill him in on her latest  ‘dance’ lesson. It was hardly a secret that Mom had been on Daddy’s case about their sugar intake and had banned sodas from the house, but as always, whenever the teenager checked the fridge after her lessons with Syrio, there they would be: two bottles – iced and ready to go. Today was no different.

“Yes,” she exclaimed as she grabbed them before loping through the house. Taking the stairs to her father’s second-floor office, two at a time, she silently acknowledged the house staff as she passed them. She slowed down when she reached the landing, to both catch her breath as well as not give away her arrival. Just outside Eddard Stark’s office, stood her father’s most loyal man. She smiled at Jory Cassel, her father’s bodyguard who was stationed there. He raised one eyebrow and nodded at her, impressed. How cool that she had got a few steps closer today before the man noticed her. She was getting better at this stealth stuff for sure.

 “Good lesson Little Wolf,” the northerner queried in a low voice, willing as ever, to play along with her attempts to catch her father unawares.

“Amazing as always,” Arya answered. As she approached her father’s office, she pressed one ear to the closed door. Behind it, she could hear her father’s deep voice as he talked to someone on the phone and waited, mindful that he would soon realize the time and finish up his work, so they could enjoy their special time together. Just her and Daddy: two sodas and a recap of her lesson. In her mind’s eye, she could see him glancing at his watch, and hanging up the phone in anticipation of her arrival. Arya’s smile broadened when she heard him bid the person he was talking to goodbye. However, before she could knock on the door to announce her arrival something from downstairs stole both hers and Jory’s attention…

 

“So, Lord Commander, it’s north for the lot of you: tonight?”

Jon smiled at his father’s life-long friend. “Aye Yoren, we have a jet on stand-by fueled up and ready to go. We should reach Winterfell before midnight.” Jon looked over to his sister, with so much love. “The Starks: the entire north will forever be in your debt for what you did, Sir.”

The gym owner nodded from behind his desk. “Home at last, little Nymeria,” he said wistfully to the young woman.

“At last,” she repeated quietly.

The man stood. “In that case before you go, there is something I would like to give you. Something I’ve held on to for you, my love. I’ve just got it in my lock-up.”

Before anyone could say anything, Yoren stepped out, leaving his three guests momentarily alone in his office.

Arya took the opportunity to take a couple of deep breaths and look down at her hands. She was trembling a little, but she knew, if not for her training that it would have been so much worse. It was natural that her mind would cast back to that day now that things had come full circle. The place where her new existence had begun, was now bearing witness to her imminent return to her home, albeit a temporary one.

She looked over to Jon, who in Yoren’s absence, had reached out for Ygritte’s hand. In the past couple of days, she had taken the time to observe her brother and the undercover-officer’s interactions. If not exactly on the up-and-up, their relationship was not so bad. It clearly provided Jon the comfort he had needed most when he thought himself all alone in the world, and ideally it would do the same when the time came for her to tell Jon that she would not be able to stay. Not as long as there was unfinished business to attend to.  She figured he would be upset, but with Ygritte beside him, he would be able to cope. She cringed a little when her brother raised and kissed the back of the hand he held. Jon had become so touchy-feely nowadays, something that would take her a lot of getting used to…bloody sap.

But who was she to talk, she wondered uncomfortably, feeling an unwanted flush rise in her cheeks recalling recent touches, and their effect on her? As if she could read her thoughts, Ygritte suddenly caught Arya’s eye and winked her. “Penny for your thoughts, Arya Stark,” she teased.

Arya choked in response.

“You okay?” Jon asked worriedly.

“I’m fine, brother, just a little tickle.”

“You needn’t worry so much, Lord Commander, your sister is a fighter. She has always been.”

Unfortunately, one would never believe that when she reacted to what Yoren had carried back in his hands. Every ounce of control fled her, and Nym’s trembling increased ten-fold and she began to hyperventilate. She jumped up shaking her head, backing up to the door of the gym’s office.

Yoren followed.

“Do you remember that night little Nym? Do you remember telling me what your father said to you?”

She looked on the verge of tears and closed her eyes when the older man placed Eddard Stark’s Night’s Watch leather jacket around her shoulders. The weight of it crushed her.

“You are a Stark of Winterfell; a wolf from the north. Be Brave…be strong,” Yoren cited. “Do you remember, child?”

Tears fell in fat droplets down her cheeks as she nodded.

“Can you do that again, child?”

Held back by Ygritte, Jon stood in place after jumping up. “Yoren what is this all about,” he demanded, also recognizing the coat and wondering why it would have his sister in such a state.

There was little difference in the fit of the men’s coat that her father’s longtime friend slipped on her, and as soon as Yoren rest it there, Arya Stark straight away reverted to the adolescent she was all those years ago.

“You are a Stark of Winterfell; a wolf from the north. Be brave…be strong…Take Needle and run…go to Fleabottom…”

This time she heard the words in her father’s voice. However, the hands that gripped her shoulders firmly were not, and they brought her out of her reverie. She opened her eyes.

“Remember those words, Nym, be brave for a little while longer, that’s all I ask,” Yoren reinforced, before leaving the young woman to her brother who had come to her.

Yoren went back to his desk. “Lord Commander, before you take you leave, there is something you need to see. It came into my possession the same night your sister made her way to me. Only I and one other person have seen it. I would be doing you a disservice not to show it to you before you leave.”

Still attentive to his little sister, Jon guided her back to her chair, whipping around when his father’s gruff voice suddenly echoed in the room.

Arya knew what the video contained as soon as the audio began, and she began weeping in earnest.

“Be brave…be strong…” she remembered.

The only thing being asked of her, was the thing she absolutely could not do now.

*********

Arya had moved over to the landing and looked down the staircase where the soft but distinct sound repeated. This time, though, it was followed by a thud, a crash and then suddenly louder pops fired from inside the house. That repeated once…twice, three times: getting closer. She jumped, each time, beginning to suspect what it was and then she heard the frantic crackling over Jory’s earpiece. Beside her, the guard withdrew his firearm and swept her back behind him, just as Arya watched through the bannister as Taylor backed into the space below them rapidly firing his gun at some yet to be seen threat.

And then, the man who had been a part of her father’s retinue from before she was born, was struck in the shoulder and staggered. He looked up desperately to see his young charge before falling a final time, when yet another soft thump sounded and the back of his head exploded in an ocean of red. Code Winter Storm…she heard Jory repeat over and over, and Arya turned, with the understanding that she had to move now. Her father stood there holding his own weapon. Eddard Stark grabbed his daughter and rushed her into to his office, ushering her to the hidden egress in the wood paneled wall behind his desk, as Jory covered the two of them at the doorway. The secret door hissed open, and he pushed her into the passageway.

“Go,” he ordered her. “I’ll be there as soon as I get your mother.”

Arya began shaking her head, “No Daddy that’s not how it works…you have to come too. It’s what we practiced!”

Ned Stark smiled and kissed his youngest daughter’s forehead. “You can lecture me and your Mum when we’re all in the safe room, but I need you to go now child: raise the alarm.”

The panel between them closed, and after a moment’s hesitation, Arya started to run the route they had practiced. But this was not a drill…like her father said if she was the first to reach the panic room, she would have to be the one to call for reinforcements. Her parents’ lives could depend on it.

Her eyes closed against the view of the footage that had her memories of that horrific day flooding back, Nym covered her ears. “Turn it off,” she whispered, “Please turn it off.”

But no one heard her. Or they just didn’t listen.

Be brave…be strong…Take Needle and run…”

**********

“State your business, wee lad.”

Davos was the first to speak “I didn’t realize that Yoren had taken to employ colossal northern doormen. We are expected; check the list,” Davos heartily replied to the giant of a man who, upon their arrival at Yoren’s, blocked their entrance into the gym.

“Mayhap you are, mayhap you aren’t,” The ginger remarked, but kept his focus on the younger of the two. “State your name, boy.”

“Perhaps the question should be, who exactly are you, that you don’t recognize him,” Davos retorted. “This here, is…”

“Oi, you want to get out of my way, or what, Stilts?”

The ruddy-faced man snorted. “Stilts…ah, the height thing. Is that what passes for wit, down here in the south, boy? It’s no wonder you cannae hold on to the feisty lass. Northern girls tend to be a bit more discerning, but once they’ve taken a fancy to ye…Is that it then, have you come to gym to build up your stamina to keep up with the little miss, before she seeks the arms of a real man?”

Gendry frowned. Who in the seven hells was this man, and what the hell was he on about?

“Tormund, stop being a Wildling cunt, and let them in, you, great big arse!”

Gendry looked behind the huge stranger, and while thoroughly confused,  he was happy to see a familiar face from his time with the Watch. “Dolorous Edd? For fuck’s sake what are you doing here in King’s Landing?”

“Protective detail, Champ,” the naturally dour man responded. “Lord Commander summoned us down two days ago. We will be escorting precious cargo back north shortly.”

Gendry’s stomach flipped. “They…Jon is here…now,” he asked, “and you are leaving afterwards, the city itself?”

“Aye,” the man called Tormund interjected. “Time for my little crow to fly back North. He and the sweet lassie. A beauty she is, tiny but with enough curves to fill a man’s hands just right. If I was…”

Gendry gripped the man who towered over him by at least five inches. “Don’t even think about it,” he growled. “I swear you will regret it if you even think anything but the most respectful of thoughts about Arya Stark, you hear me? Better yet:  Don’t. Think. About. Her. Ever.”

The massive man’s eyes narrowed as he studied the younger man, and then he grinned affably. “My apologies, lad,” he mentioned, as he easily removed the clenched fists from his shirt. “We appear to be at cross purposes. You see my partialities lie with a lass with hair kissed by fire, and a nature just as hot. Which, by the media reports, so did yours.” Even more laughter came to the man’s blue eyes. “But they have been known to get things wrong from time to time. I’m certain that our Lord Commander will be well pleased to learn of the high regard you hold for his kin. Not that I expect a fine northern lassie to settle with a southern lad such as yourself. Wolves and Stags aren’t a natural fit, you know, boy, even southern champion’s such as yourself.”

“Well it’s a good thing that yours isn’t the final say in matters that are not your concern, isn’t it? Jon Snow assuredly has more sense than to rely on the word of some Wildling moron, when it comes to what and who may be best for his sister,” Gendry muttered, as he swept by the man.

Only Davos caught the mirth in Tormund’s eyes as his boxer passed the threshold, and when the man raised his index to his smirking mouth.

Everything he had heard was true: the old man thought. They grew them large, and exceptionally strange in the ‘true north.’

Chapter Text

“How bad Little-Wolf?”

More frightened by what Robb may consider doing should he learn the truth of the situation; Arya hedged as long as possible before answering her eldest brother.

“Arya, answer me: Dammit!”

“Pretty bad,” she finally admitted. “It’s a mess from what I can see…and …and Mum and Dad; they haven’t come yet, Rob.”

“Check the security cameras, Arya. Locate them…”

The teenager quickly referenced the bank of monitors that were currently capturing the happenings in and around the house, trying to get an accurate count of the assailants who were scouring every inch of the property. Hunting and killing.  Despite what Rob had ordered, at this point she didn’t dare look closer for her parents amongst the active skirmishes between the masked intruders and the dwindling Stark security team. Not when it was impossible not to notice that there seemed to be far more of “them” now in comparison to the protective detail assigned to their family. She could only hope that Daddy had located Mum and that they were making their way via one of the home’s other hidden passageways that led to the secure room.

“I can’t see them, Rob.”

“Fuck! And Sansa? What about Sansa, Arya,” Rob barked in her ear.

Just the thought of her sister increased the stream of tears racing down Arya’s cheeks. They hardly saw eye-to-eye anymore, but she loved Sansa no matter what. And today was literally the one and only time she was glad that Sans had decided to spend the afternoon with her jackass boyfriend/ fantasy-fiancée. At least her beautiful sister was out of harm’s way. “She’s at Uncle Robert’s…with Joffrey…she’s safe,” Arya croaked, her voice cracking with unspent emotion. Whatever confidence she thought to maintain was exhausted and her fear betrayed by one sob that then escaped on its own volition.

“I’m coming back for you, sister.”

“You cannot, Robb. Talisa, Bran and Rikkon are with you. You must head north. The future of House Stark depends on the four of you.”

“And what the fuck are you then, Arya? You cannot seriously expect me to desert you, my baby sister, to save my own skin.”

“Not just yours Robb… the future of our family…our pack.”

“To hell with that patriarchal bullshit. I swear your fascination with all things medieval and playing with swords has completely warped your thinking. If you think you are any less important…”

“You have to go North, Rob…Uncle Robert will send help, he…Robb wait, I think I hear someone coming…”

“Arya no! If it’s Mother and Father, they will have the access code to come in…. Arya!!!”

 

Distraught, Arya banged her head against the back of her chair as she was confronted by those memories, she wished had stayed locked and bolted in the hindmost regions of her mind.

If only she had remained silent, had not cried out when the door opened to danger, by her own hand. She would forever imagine that it had been her startled exclamation and the ensuing struggle that had spurred Robb to take the decision that would cost him his life…all of theirs. Yet more deaths for her to feel responsible for. And now it, and all her sins were about to be laid out bare for Jon to see.

He would hate her; probably as much as she hated herself if not more.

She could only brace herself when, over the internal screaming in her head, she heard Jon’s gasp on comprehending what was unfolding before him.

 

**********

 

About to announce his arrival, Gendry was taken aback when the office door was forcefully pulled backwards and away from his fist’s downward motion. Coming face-to face with the visibly hysterical woman standing there when it opened, he promptly acted on instinct and reached for her. Nym practically fell into his arms and began noisily sobbing against his chest.

“I can’t live this again, I can’t…I’d rather die, Gen. Take me from here.”

“Nym…”

Her grip on him tightened as she burrowed closer. “Please…please…I can’t.”

In his peripheral vision, Gendry noted that of the three people in the office, only Yoren was expressing any concern for Nym’s condition. The other two: Jon and Ygritte, were instead transfixed by whatever was playing on the laptop facing them. Seeking his own answer as to what could be more important to Jon above his sister’s distress, the boxer angled his head so he could get a better vantage of what had bagged the couple’s complete interest. It took him a second before it hit him; with the footage’s audio reiterating what his eyes registered and had immediately refuted.

“Why is she bleeding, and where the fuck is Lawrence?”

The thug who was not gripping the young teen they had dragged into the room, lobbed a bloodied sword over to the man who had spoken, eager to explain. He, the questioner, no doubt, was the boss of this operation.

“Little bitch: she took out Lawrence, and then came for me with this, boss. I knew you wanted her intact, so rather than shoot the little cunt, I just knocked a little sense into her. She may be a little dazed, but she’ll live… Just like you asked.”

Leaving his other two hostages under the watchful eyes of another of his subordinates, the veiled man walked over and roughly grabbed the girl by the chin and lifted her head up to him.

“Dark hair and quicksilver eyes: a true child of the North. She favors you Ned, very much. I suspect that fact pleases you immensely, particularly with your other children taking after their mother so much. Attractive all the same, but none, but her with the wild allure that encapsulates the North. Arya Lyanna Stark…so much like her late aunt… I can easily imagine that she is your favorite, Ned.”

The man then took his thumb and swiped the trickle of blood from the side of the young girl’s mouth. “And now that we have her, that makes all five Stark offspring now in our custody. Which by my estimation, gives me the upper hand; don’t you agree? Consequently, that should mean that if I were now to ask you for the evidences you’ve collected, that the chances that you will give me exactly what I want are extremely high, eh Ned?”

“Liar! He’s lying Daddy, none of it’s true. Don’t believe this lying bastard! Sansa is safe with Uncle Robert and I just spoke to Robb…He, and Rickon and Bran…all of them are safe…don’t give him anything!”

The man tightened his grip on Arya’s chin and chuckled. “Fearless this one is. I know so many men who would pay just about everything they have for a girl such as her. The opportunity to break her in; to tame such a warrior-princess, would be their greatest pleasure.” His eyes gleamed as he studied the slender female in his grip. “Your sister, little one is safe for now, only because she has seen the wisdom in allying with the right family, but as it pertains to your brothers…I am so sorry, but there will be no hope for…” He paused when the brash teenager spat in his face.

He immediately retaliated with a backhand that would have felled the girl had she not been supported by her captor. “Put her on her knees,” the man angrily ordered pulling out his weapon. He trained his gun on the young girl under the vocal protests of her parents. “One would think that with such a gracious woman as Catelyn Tully for a mother that you would have an ounce of class! Young lady, spitting is a filthy habit, and not becoming of someone of your pedigree. James,” he called out to the man that had been injured when he had brought the little firebrand to him. “Why don’t you come here and show this she-wolf a much better use for that mouth of hers!”

“Like you said: she’s a fighter, boss. Biting might be an issue,” the cretin retorted, indirectly pushing to see to what extent his boss would allow him to toy with the teenager.

“Then make the bitch scream! Do you think you can do that, James?”

“With fucking pleasure, Boss.”

 

Gendry’s stomach knotted and he felt his heart begin a too-rapid beat in his chest as he watched on the screen the man as he approached the years- younger Nym with ill-intent emanating from his dark piercing eyes. He couldn’t even begin to fathom how Yoren or any of them thought that rehashing this in her presence would be acceptable. Did none of them give a damn of how this would affect her. His arms tightened around Nym and he made his decision and fuck every one of them if they had a problem with it. It was only curtesy that he advised Davos of his intention to leave.

Unfortunately, as plans went, this was short-lived.

“As much as I would like to, I’m afraid I can’t let you leave with her,” the man called Tormund stated soberly, as Gendry crossed the gym with a shuddering Nym tucked under one shoulder.

“Edd, tell your mate, now really isn’t the time for this shit. Let Jon know that we’re going to my place. He can come there afterwards, but she is not staying here.”

“I’m sorry, Champ. He’s right. She doesn’t leave without her brother.”

Gendry cursed when the cacophony resonating from the back office was punctuated by what sounded like shots fired. Simultaneously, Nym doubled over. “Mum,” she wailed, caught up in the horror etched deep in her memory.

“For God’s sake, then at least close that fucking door,” Gendry hollered as he pulled the bawling brunette to the opposite side of the gym, as far away from the source as possible. When her knees buckled, he slid down to the floor with her, holding her fast as she collapsed with grief and mourned the past event, that had to have tormented her all this time, which now firmly held her in its evil talons again.

He kissed her forehead; shushing her as he sought some way to pull her free from the grip of her tortured thoughts.

“You’re okay, Baby. I’m here for you, and I’ll take care of you.”

“It’s all my fault…. It’s all my fault,” she lamented as she began rocking herself. “They’re all gone because of me... I’m all alone… They’re all gone.”

“That’s not true…you know that’s not true. You have Jon and you have your sister.”

She shook her head. “Not anymore; not after they learn the truth of what happened.”

“Nym…Arya, look at me.” He cupped her face in his hands as he urged her to comply. “They will never turn away from you; never. I was with Jon when it he got the news. I know exactly how much he loves you, and that will never, ever change.” He moved his lips closer so that they hovered over hers. “And even if the impossible was to happen where he and your sister were to turn their backs to you, then I will be right here. I will be here for as long as you want me around… No matter what it is you feel you’ve done, I won’t abandon you.”

“No…no, you won’t…. Not when…”

He silenced her by lightly brushing his lips over hers and then resolutely restating what was tantamount to an oath to her. “I am not going anywhere.”

She cried harder at this, and Gendry could only consider that his words had made some difference, when Nym launched herself at him so suddenly, that when she encircled his neck, she landed practically in his lap. Pressed against him, she continued to sob, but now with an unmistakable air of relief to her crying. He rocked her as she cried, offering solace in silence, with the clear-cut understanding that the simple connection between them was far more important than added words.

*********  

Jon didn’t know at what point his eyes had welled up, but when his tears had finally exhausted themselves, Jon found he no longer had an avenue, nor the will, to check the rage that sought immediate gratification for the atrocities he had just viewed.

“And you are certain that Robert Baratheon was behind this,” he asked of Yoren when the man had removed the flash-drive that held the footage they had just watched and handed it to him.

“I am saying that the evidence points to it. In the first instance, it was Robert Baratheon that secured the home that your family moved into when they relocated to King’s Landing; suggesting that he would have knowledge of and the ability to access the panic room. Your father,” Yoren continued, conscious of the effect of watching his parent’s demise had had on the younger military man, “After he unmasked the men he killed after saving your sister…Your father’s own words to you sister to come here and not make any attempt to go to his oldest and dearest friend speaks volumes. He must have recognized their faces and knew them to be Baratheon’s men”

“But he was the one who asked,” Ygritte piped in. “Robert Baratheon requested your father to come specifically to lead the task force against the criminal activity that had taken root here in the capital. He knew your father’s capabilities; and to boot, they were best friends by the Gods! Why would he do this, only to turn around and assassinate him? Surely if Robert Baratheon wanted your family dead there would have been a more plausible, and less evidential, way to carry it out. Anyway, this is neither the time nor the place,” the red head insisted. “Arya needs you more right now than this crime needs resolving.”      

Jon Snow closed his eyes, when a few remaining tears managed to surface at the thought of his little sister. Ygritte was right but knowing that his sister was with Gendry, he recognized her to be in safe hands for the moment.  In a voice as cold as the Stranger he asked the one question he absolutely needed an answer to. “Yoren, have you managed over the years to get any clue on the identify the man who ordered my sister’s attack? Does he have any ties to Robert Baratheon?”

The older man grimaced. “He would be dead if I had,” he answered. “If not by my hands, then by her own.”

Jon nodded, still not one hundred percent comfortable with his father’s former comrade’s summation. That Arya could be what Yoren suspected was unbelievable and would take some time to investigate, but for her to have sought out Joffrey Baratheon a few night’s ago for any other reason than revenge made no sense. And yet he could not wrap his head around the idea that his little sister was a cold-blooded killer.

As if she could read his thoughts, Ygritte again interceded. “She is not some sort of assassin; not in the true sense of the word, Jon. Undoubtedly she has received some training, but a killer cannot afford to wear their emotions on their sleeve. You saw through her, and Gods knows when it comes to him…”

“He has been good for her,” Yoren stated. “Actually, to tell the truth they have been good for each other. I asked him to come tonight for both their sakes. I knew she would need him, and he hasn’t been the same for the past couple of days. It was easy to put two and two together after you got in contact with me.”

“He is a Baratheon,” Jon stated brutally as if it was a foregone conclusion that the name alone condemned his friend.

*********

“She was so beautiful and elegant and I’m sure that every day she must have wondered how she could have given birth to such a hellion. I’d lost count how many times she begged me to be more like Sansa, to walk instead of running, to fix my hair…to be just be more lady-like.”

Gendry continued caressing Nym’s back, silently encouraging her to continue talking once she had begun.

“I was so horrid to her.”

“I think all teenagers are horrible, Nym.”

“I miss her so much, Gen. Even though it was mostly Daddy and me, I miss her so much…”

“I know, Baby. I know.”

Sensing the approach of the others Gendry looked over Arya’s shoulder.  Jon’s ravaged face did not bode well for what the had been divulged to the Lord Commander tonight.

“Arya.”

The young woman stiffened when she heard her brothers voice, but stoically she responded to underlying command in Jon’s greeting, and removed herself from Gendry’s embrace and stood to face her brother.

“Did father indicate that Robert Baratheon was behind the attack that day? Is that why he ordered you to come to Yoren?”

Her hesitation to answer had Jon following a different line of questioning.

“Did you specifically target Joffrey Baratheon two nights ago at Cat’s because of what happened to Sansa?”

Again, she chose not to speak.

“I know what happened to you Arya. Everything…I know they killed Lady Catelyn when she tried to save you but kept father alive a little longer so his last sight would be of what they would do to his baby…I heard your screams little sister. I’ll never forget them. And now I just need to know the truth and then I will take care of it. I will wipe out the entire Baratheon line, if you tell me to. Every one of them: man, woman and child. They deserve no less than that after what was done to our family.”

Both she and Gendry spoke at the same time:

“you cannot do that, Jon.”

“Jon, What the hell are you saying!”

The Lord Commander withdrew his sidearm and pointed it in Arya’s general direction. Not at her, but instead at the man who dared to step up to stand beside his sister.

“Every single last Baratheon, Arya. Starting with him.”