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Ice Would Suffice

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Her dragon scares everyone at Winterfell when he flies over, and Daenerys enjoys the feeling as he dips down into a cleared space within the castle walls that she assume is the courtyard. A wall of soldiers in dark armour surround a square of paved stones, swallowing at the sight of the massive beast. The rest of the castle gathers behind them at a distance, pointing and whispering. Daenerys ignores them as she focuses her attention at the two figures waiting for her close to the centre of the courtyard, distinguished by a greatsword in the hands of one and the dark red hair of the other.

The dragon lazily lands with a slight drop, snow scattering in the air as he snorts, the common folk huddling right up behind the soldiers to see him. Daenerys dismounts Drogon and faces the bearded man in black furs and the red-haired woman besides him. “Lord and Lady Stark? I assume you received the king’s missive for my visit?”

Ned Stark nods, his expression grim. “You are here to seal an alliance between you and King’s Landing by marrying one of our children.”

Catelyn’s expression hardens. “We are honoured to have you choose our family.”

Daenerys inclines her head, smiling. “The pleasure is all mine.” She keeps eye contact with Catelyn whose lips thin. “I was hoping to meet them today before nightfall.”

Ned grows grimmer. “Of course. The king mentioned that you may wish to get started right away.” He exchanges glances with his wife who turns away. “We will go get them.”

He gestures for her to follow and after barking a few commands to her men, Daenerys follows the northern lord with only Jorath and Missandei behind her with both having dismounted right after her. The Starks lead her into a winding path past stone bridges, arches, up to the gate of the keep, and inside its corridors. They enter through the main entrance, the enormous oak doors requiring four men to push them open, and, inside, Daenerys admires the bustle of servants throughout the keep, the crackle of wood in strategic fireplaces inviting her to come to them as the Starks take them to a cozy room two flights up.

Daenerys sits at the round table in the middle of it as the Starks asked for her patience in locating their heirs. She rests her cheek against one palm as she taps her long fingers along the worn, dark table. The room the Starks usher them in is large enough for the three of them but not much more. The grey stones of the wall have banners of the Stark sigil plasters down its length, and the single window on Daenerys’ left side shows the courtyard below with the inhabitants of the castle milling in bunches. “Why can’t we just take King’s Landing?”

Jorah glances at her. “And what would you do if you lose your temper during the attempt?”

“Probably burn the whole city down.”

Jorah shrugs as if saying, “There you go.”

Missandei walks behind her chair and leans in, gently laying her hands on Daenerys and giving her a quick massage. “Let’s give these things called negotiations and diplomacy a try. If you want to be a ruler instead of just a conqueror, you must learn to master them.”

Daenerys grunts, and Missandei smiles, letting go as Daenerys turns to watch her friend shake her hair out. “Besides, you can never tell how an invasion will go. I would rather keep my head, thank you very much.”

A knock sounds on the heavy, oak door, and Daenerys calls out to invite the visitors in.

Lord and Lady Stark enter with a young, handsome man with a heavy frown across his face. His armour gleams brightly, his black cloak new and clean, tossed almost carelessly over one shoulder. The way he held his head high and his shoulders back suggested the bearing of someone raised in a noble house.

This must be Robb Stark.

Robb sits across from Daenerys as Ned and Catelyn watch behind him. Missandei and Jorah stand with Daenerys with Missandei eyeing the young Stark son critically with a frown. Daenerys discreetly elbows her friends who turns her gaze away. Robb sits down across from her, lacing his fingers together in black sheepskin gloves. He smiles, his expression a little restrained.

Daenerys spots the wariness right away. “Would you kindly leave, so we may get to know one another privately?” She sweeps her gaze across the older Starks and her advisors. “All of you.”

Catelyn rises, her mouth open in a protest when Robb holds a hand out and nods in Daenerys’s direction. “I agree that would be best.”

Catelyn frowns but follows her husband when Ned heads for the door and squeezes her shoulder on his way out. Jorah nods and exits while Missandei subtly bumps her hip against Daenerys’ back. Once the door closes behind them, Daenerys turns her attention to Robb, handsome and resplendent in his armour and cloak.

Robb Stark is good-looking, commanding, and charismatic. He also looks utterly miserable in a discussion of a potential betrothal with Daenerys. “It is an honour to be considered by you. It is not everyday a man gets to meet a visiting queen as beautiful as yourself.”

“Likewise. You look as handsome and strong as the rumours back in King’s Landing say.”

“Indeed. If you were to choose me, our...our children will blessed in many ways.” He falters, his eyes dropping. He stares at his hands. “And I am a man of my word. Say the word, and I will marry you.”

She studies him, the tightness in his jaw, the sorrow in his eyes as he spoke. “You already love someone else.”

Robb stiffens. “I know not what you speak of.”

She sits back. “It’s written all over your face.”

Robb jerks and drops his eyes. “Like I said, I am a man of honour, Lady Targaryen. If you choose me, I will serve in the best capacity I can to link you to the lords of the North.”

Daenerys taps her fingers along the table. “I expect nothing less.” She frowns. “I have gathered enough from our meeting to make a decision. Could you please find Lord and Lady Stark, so I may speak to them?”

His eyebrows rise in surprise, but he gets up at once. “Of course.”

The Starks along with her advisors come in shortly after Robb leaves. Missandei raises an eyebrow at her. “That was short.”

“Yes.” Daenerys studies her fingers on the polished wood grain in front of her. “He wasn’t the right one.” She raises her gaze to the startled Starks. “Do you have any more you could show me?”

Shortly afterwards, a young, lean man who lounges in his chair sits across from her. Bran Stark is a smart-ass. It’s written all across his face. He smirks with all of his sixteen years of arrogance. “I—“

Daenerys slams her hand on the table. “I’m done.”

Discussions with the Starks don’t go quite so smoothly after that.

Catelyn crosses her arms. “You will not have Rickon.”

Daenerys frowns. “Who is Rickon?”

Ned glances at his wife. “That would be our youngest. Nine years old as of this summer.”

Daenerys snorts. “Clearly, I wouldn’t take him, but I need to marry someone from your family.”

Catelyn’s eyes flick. “Ned has another boy.”

Ned casts a sharp look at her while Daenerys watches them. The queen sits back. “Only him?”

Lord Stark clears his throat. “Jon is known as Lord Snow around here. He is...a bastard.”

Daenerys watches Catelyn’s lip curl and files this moment and its implications away for later. “Is he still considered a Stark then?”

Catelyn drums her fingers on the table. “He is Stark enough for your purpose, isn’t he?”

Fair point. “Where is he?”

Ned glances at Catelyn. “He is practicing sword fighting with the others. I will have someone fetch him—“

Daenerys stands, alarming them. “No, I will get him myself. I could use the walk.” The stone grey room is getting on her nerves. “You must have more important matter than the matchmaking of your sons.”

Catelyn gives her a pointed look. “We know exactly how much importance your presence has.”

Daenerys bites the inside of her cheek to stop from smirking. After a short description of what Jon looks like, she excuses herself with her advisors and after some garbled instructions from a terrified squire who barely met her height, she found her ways to the courtyard where the clang of steel sound out. She spots a ring of young man cheering on two fighters as they face off inside the square, swords swinging in bright flashes in the winter sun.

Daenerys spots a young man with a head full of dark curls standing away from the others. He is the only one who turns when she approaches.

Jon Snow is tongue-tied the first time he meets her. When she nears, he lifts his head from his band of brothers and stares, freezing until she comes within arm’s reach of him. “Good day,” he breathes.

Daenerys resists rolling her eyes. “You must be Jon. Your parents told me so much about you.” She holds out her arm. “Would you care to give me a tour of your grounds?” She gives Missandei and Jorah a look, who back away to give her space.

Jon fumbles for her arm and clumsily loops his around hers. He guides her from the courtyard where quite a few heads turn at her entrance, and he begins narrating the history of the castle. Daenerys, for her part, finds it interesting, watching with amusement as his eyes linger on her just a tad too long to be polite. He takes her through the sections with the smithy, the guard’s hall, along the side of the walls that lead closer to the keep.

At some point, past the gate that leads north, someone dark and thin barrels into Jon, bellowing his name. “Did you see the dragon that landed?”

Jon pushes back a lean girl with a serious, long face. “I did. Let me introduce you to its owner.” He turns to Daenerys. “Lady Targaryen, this is my youngest sister, Arya Stark.”

Arya watches her with sharp eyes. “How did you get a dragon?” Jon smacks the back of her head, and she grumbles. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lady Targaryen.”

“Please call me Daenerys. I like to eschew formality.” Daenerys smiles. “And if we become better friends, I will give you another name to call me.”

Arya’s brows furrow. “I already know several—”

Jon clamps his hand over his sister’s mouth and pushes her off in a random direction. “Sorry, Arya, but I need to finish showing her the tour of the castle. You can ask about dragons some other time.”

Arya slinks off, skulking, and giving the pair a dark look. Jon looks at her and awkwardly scratches the back of his neck. “I apologize for my sister. She can be—”

“Blunt?” Daenerys laughs. “I don’t mind. Better to have someone be straightforward to your face than whisper behind your back.” She pauses. “You say she is your youngest sister? Where is your other one?”

A movement catches her eye above them. Daenerys looks up and spots a girl with hair the colour of bright flame at the top of the wall beside them, leaning over the rampart and looking like she would like to jump.

Daenerys shields her eyes against the glare of the sun. “Who is that?”

Jon glances up and starts. “Sansa!”

The figure looks down before darting out of view. Jon mutters, striding towards a set of stairs on the side as Daenerys follows. “She’s leaning out farther than before.”

“Who is Sansa?”

“My sister. She—she recently became betrothed to prince Joffrey.”

“Really?” She’s poised to become the next queen of Westeros? Daenerys should meet her. “Then, why does she look ready to throw herself off?”

Jon shakes his head as they ascend the stairs. “You haven’t personally met the prince yet, have you?” He lapses into silence as he hurries up, eyes straight ahead, searching.

When at last they reach the top, they spot a figure sitting at the far end, wrapped in a large hood of black fur and glaring at them. Her expression is controlled, but her body tenses like a bristling beast backed into a corner.

“Jon.” Her voice cuts through the winter air like a whip. He winces. “You are too nosy for your own good.”

“Sansa.” He rushes over to her as she stands, nearly eye to eye, and Daenerys has a moment to admit that the Starks are too damn tall.

Sansa settles the hood upon her shoulders. She brushes by Jon’s outstretched hand, pausing only when she reaches Daenerys. “So, you are our esteemed guest?” She tilts her head, studying her with unreadable eyes and exposing the long lines of her neck. “My apologies. I have not properly introduced myself.”

She curtsies low, bunches of black fabric in hand as she lowers her gaze.

Daenerys eyes her. “You dress as if for a funeral or a wake.”

“Who is to say that I am not?” Sansa stands and bows demurely at Daenerys. Her expression is blank before smoothing it out with a smile that would almost be charming if it reached her eyes. “Good day, my guest.”

She strides past and down the stairs, disappearing in a rustle of black against the grey stone and snow.

Daenerys stares after her. “Your sister—“

Jon shakes his head. “She can’t say no.” He glances sidelong at her. “If she does, she’ll start a civil war. The only way we can break it honourably is if someone of a higher standing than the prince proposes to her, but there's no one in Westeros who could.”

“She looks like she would rather end her life than marry him.”

“With the way she’s been carrying about, we are afraid she might.” Job glances at her.

Daenerys peers down the stairs of Sansa’s flight. “That would be a shame.” She thinks of Sansa’s face—of the pleasing planes and shapes. “A real shame.”

The mood ruined, the pair head down the stairs to conclude their tour. Jon brings her back to the castle and shuffles his feet in the snow. He clears his throat. “I hope the tour is to your liking. If you like, I can bring you further outside of the castle to Winter Town.”

Daenerys smiles. “I would like that. By the way—” She leans, placing a hand on his arm and watching him swallow. “—do you know why I’m here?”

“You are here to choose someone to marry to seal a political alliance with our House.” Jon casts his eyes down, his tone bitter. “I suppose you will pick a real Stark.”

“Perhaps. But maybe I just need someone Stark enough.” She glances over her shoulder at a stunned Jon. She turns her head forward, smirking. When she returns to the keep, a servant guides her to her room with Missandei’s and Jorah’s right across from her. Missandei remarks dryly when Daenerys relays what happened about how serious and handsome Jon Snow is, like a hero from an epic.

Daenerys still hasn’t decided by the end of the night.

On the second day of Daenerys’ stay, she muses about her options, citing to her hosts that she must get to know her potential husbands better, particularly Jon. She informs them that he offered to show him around Winter Town just outside the castle walls. They nod in assent with Ned looking bewildered and Catelyn turning her face away. They send a guide with her and her advisors to the edge of the eastern gate where Jon elected to meet her.

The guide’s a damn chatterbox—a young woman with brown twin braids hardly older than Daenerys with a hunter’s bow sling across her back. “That was an impressive dragon you had. Haven’t seen one up here ever. Oh, no. It reminds me of the time I tried going to Essos on the back of a deer. Mind you, I didn’t know that Essos was across the sea, so I tried finding out if deer can swim. Well, you see—”

Daenerys breaks in. “What can you tell me about the Starks?”

“Oh well, The men are a pleasure on the eyes as you can tell, but the women—” She casts a glance around. “—the Stark women are wild. Tends to run in the family. I see it in the sisters.”

“Wild?” Daenerys straightens up, tilting her head. She thinks of the polished Sansa at the top of the ramparts. “The younger one I can see, but both of them?”

The guide shakes her head. “That’s because you don’t know her yet.”

Daenerys snorts. “I’ll see for myself then.” To Daenerys’ massive gratitude, Jon comes into view and waves at them at the edge of the gate. She bids her garrulous guide farewell and gestures for her advisors to reluctantly leave her be.

Jon grins, a hand resting on the sword at his side. “I’m glad you made it.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.” Daenerys smiles, and Jon’s grin grows wider. He gets the guards to let them out, and she blinks at the field of dark trees blanketed with snow stretching beyond her. The sight is blinding, and she squints to manage the amount of sunlight bouncing off of the snow.

Jon offers his arm to lead her, and Daenerys catches a motion out of the corner of her eye in the dark trees beyond the path. She studies the area and spots auburn hair as its owner pause, sensing something has seen her.

Sansa turns, and in the brittle sunlight, her eyes glow like a wolf’s in the dark. With her huge fur hood, heavy cloak, and dangerous glower, she looks every bit as wild as the sigil of her house. Something snaps in the wildness beyond her, and the spell breaks. Daenerys blinks, and Sansa darts sideways out of sight.

Daenerys takes a step to follow when she feels someone grab her arm. She turns to see Jon frowning at her. “The town is that way. Shouldn’t be more than a 10 minute walk.”

“I—” Daenerys glances at the trees again. “Is your sister out here?”

“Which one? Both went out for a walk earlier.” Jon frowns, studying her. “Are you well?”

“Yes. Yes, of course.” Daenerys puts on her best smile. “Lead the way.”

Jon takes her to the town where many of the household servants live. They gape at her while she passes, some with curiosity, others with narrowed eyes of suspicion.

Daenerys leans in close to him and feels Jon stiffen. “Friendly, aren’t they?”

“They need some time to warm up to you. We don’t get many people from other places up north.” Jon pauses when a nearby growl from something massive rings through the air. He grabs the handle of his sword, crouching. “What was that?”

Daenerys cocks her head, listening. “Drogon is probably close by. Sounds like he found people or they found him.”

Jon jerks up. “There’s a dragon in the nearby village?”

“He’s under my command. As long as you don’t irritate him, you’ll be fine.” Daenerys eyes a group of boys about waist-height bolting towards Jon. “By the way, you have a small army heading your way.”

Jon looks up just as the boys bowl him over, excitedly gibbering to see him and asking for him to teach them sword fighting. Jon gently tries to push some off before he gets swallowed by the pack. Daenerys chuckles. She turns towards the north where the roar came from and frowns, feeling something calling her there. “I’ll be back,” she says to no one in particular as she follows an instinct that tells her to come closer to Drogon.

She makes her way to the edge of the houses to where the forest begins and continues on, brushing past trees and snow-covered shrubs in her thick boots before coming into a clearing with a familiar dragon and two Starks she’s seen before. She finds Sansa staring at Drogon with the other Stark girl who tries to climb onto him.

Daenerys smirks. “Most dragons prefer to be asked before they get ridden.”

Arya pauses at the sound of her voice, partway up Drogon’s hind leg when the dragon swats her off into a snowbank with a lazy swipe of his paw. Sansa runs over to her, only for Arya to get back up, brush off the snow, and circle around Drogon for another way.

Sansa sighs in frustration and glances at her sidelong. “So, he’s yours then. You like taming wild beasts?”

Daenerys glances back. “I do.” She studies Sansa, the glow of her hair in the sun, the tight set of her jaw. “I really do.”

Sansa yanks Arya off before Drogon can smack her off with his massive tail. “You can’t climb onto him without permission.” Sansa looks back at her and crosses her arms. “And in any case, Arya can’t ride. She’ll fall off.”

Daenerys smirks. “Do you want me to take you for a ride instead?” Sansa snaps her head so sharply at Daenerys’ direction that the queen laughs. “What’s the matter? Afraid you will enjoy it?”

Sansa stares. “I’m afraid you would. A little too much.”

Daenerys eyes Sansa. “Would you blame me?”

Sansa tosses her head back, a short harsh laugh escaping her. “Should I? Aren’t you the queen?” She leans against Drogon, who surprisingly lets her, huffing gently.

Daenerys feels something stir inside her at the sight on Sansa on her dragon. She suddenly would like to take Sansa for a ride.

Arya shoves past her sister, muttering. “Stop flirting.”

Sansa nearly snarls and pushes her sister back. “I apologize for her rudeness.”

Arya stomps her foot. “It’s not rude. It’s the tru—” Sansa shoves her into a pile of snow. The young girl howls in indignation as Daenerys chortles, covering her mouth with a gloved hand. Sansa glares at the snow-covered Arya, who clambers out. The older sister’s cheeks are as red as her hair.

Daenerys wipes at her eyes. “How kind of you two to entertain me.”

“We will be taking our leave now, your Grace.” Sansa grabs Arya and propels the girl in front of her.

Daenerys calls out after them as they leave the clearing. “That offer for a ride is still available, you know. I could take you back to the castle.”

Sansa pauses and glances sidelong over her shoulder. “Perhaps, you should offer it to Jon. He may appreciate it more.”

As she departs, maintaining eye contact all the while, Daenerys finds herself staring after her, thinking that she really wouldn’t offer it to him. She pats Drogon’s head and mutters soothing words before leaving the clearing back the way she entered. Jon finds her just as she re-enters Winter Town, absolutely frantic.

He pants, “Where were you?”

Daenerys shrugs. “I found your sisters, and they were kind enough to chat for a moment.”

Jon shakes his head. “I was afraid I lost you.”

Daenerys laughs. “You can’t lose what’s not yours.” She turns to the castle. “Shall we head back?”

Jon escorts her back to the keep where Daenerys reconvenes with her advisors about the whole day. She meets with Robb and Bran briefly again to confirm that yes, Robb is still in love with someone else, and she can't stand more than a minute with Bran. Later that night, she and her advisors get invited to a big supper with the Starks, and Daenerys smiles graciously at Jon the whole time as he tries to make conversation with her while Sansa ignores the pair of them. Across the table, the redhead would almost glower, the tension in her shoulders visible from Daenerys' seat. Whenever Daenerys tries to address her, Sansa would close down the conversation with a terse but polite remark that invited nothing further. Daenerys gives up after a few attempts and gives her attention to Jon and Ned beside her. As she is about the leave the Great Hall, Catelyn asks to speak with her alone.

Once they arrive in a room nearby with canvas-covered boxes and a dusty desk, Catelyn begins immediately. “Please take Jon. He suits your goal enough, and he doesn’t belong here.”

Daenerys watches her face, her hands. “You know not what I aim to do.”

“Conquer Westeros?” Catelyn crosses her arms. “It’s as plain as the eyes on your face.”

“And yet you entertain my requests?”

“The enemy of my enemy...” Catelyn looks away. “Consider Jon. He is already half-in love with you. Anyone with eyes can see that.”

“I will contemplate my options and let you know in the morning.”

Catelyn nods a curt goodbye, and Daenerys makes her way back to her room. She already knows who she will choose, but something roils in her stomach at night when she lays down for bed. She sighs and gets up, throwing on a heavy fur cloak as she makes her way down silent halls and heads outside for a walk to clear her head. Her feet lead back to the wall when she first met the older Stark sister, and something tells her to climb. Daenerys makes a point of trusting her instincts, no matter how wild they seem.

‘I must be out of my mind,’ Daenerys thinks to herself as she huffs in the freezing night air, breath escaping in a white plume. Nothing in her body seemed to disagree with her assessment. When she gets up to the landing beyond the last step, she finds someone else there.

Sansa Stark paces like a caged animal on the stone floor. “What are you doing here?”

Daenerys eyes her coolly as she steps onto the platform, moonlight painting the stone and the girl in front of her in silver. “I had thought to go for a walk. It seems you had the same idea, Lady Stark.”

Sansa jerks her head. “My mother is Lady Stark.” She glares, lips thinning. “My name is Sansa.”

“Sansa.” Daenerys likes the feel of it in her mouth, the sounds that roll over her tongue. “What are you doing up here at this hour?”

Sansa looks at her, silent. “I also wanted to go for a walk.”

“Something on your mind?”

Sansa doesn’t answer. She studies Daenerys as if thinking something deeply, her gaze intense and sharp like a dagger. It makes Daenerys swallow as the roiling in her belly grows stronger. She turns away, pointing to a shining star far to the east and south. “My people’s homeland is over there.” She squints at the star and moves closer to the edge of the wall.

Daenerys leans over a parapet, hands flat on the stone below her when she suddenly feels the press of Sansa against her, her senses suddenly sharp and alert. She feels fingers grooming her hair, running gently through it, warm breath brushing by her ear with the smell of lilacs distinct in the winter air, and her entire body stiffens. Warmth creeps up her shoulders and neck.

“I was thinking that perhaps I have been colder to you than needed for your arrival.” The voice murmurs close to her ear—low and sonorous. Sansa presses closer, warmth and weight at Daenerys’s back. “What are you doing here so far from King’s Landing? If you wanted the throne, shouldn’t you be there?”

“Despite the rumours about me, I am aware of these things called tact and diplomacy.” Daenerys feels the rise of every one of Sansa’ breath against her back. Her own breathing grows a little ragged. “And I have been seen to occasionally use them.”

A hum. “And you came to the North for another conquest?”

“An alliance. If they will have me.”

“I’m certain that many will love to have you.” The warmth pulls back, and Daenerys turns to follow. Sansa stands before her, her expression unreadable. “Like Jon.”

Daenerys snorts. “He’s not subtle.”

Sansa’s eyes flicker. “Do you prefer subtle?”

Daenerys tilts her head slightly, studying her. “What interest is it of yours what my preferences are?”

Sansa gazes back before reaching forward to brush a wayward strand of silver hair behind Daenerys’ ear. “You would be surprised. I make it a point to understand all of my guests’—“ Her gaze flick towards Daenerys’ mouth briefly. “—preferences.”

Daenerys catches her hand as Sansa pulls back. “What of mine then?”

Sansa meets her eyes, and Daenerys is reminded of the ice upon the northern lakes she saw when she flew over. “You are more flexible with them than you show.”

Well-read. Daenerys steps close without thinking and Sansa retreats, shaking her head. Daenerys narrows her eyes. “What game are you playing with me?”

“Perhaps, the same one you play with Jon.” Sansa slowly lifts her head to meet Daenerys’ stare. “Jon, for his part, is a very honourable man. He’s the kind who would rather stab you in the front than the back.” She turns and leaves for the stairs.

Daenerys calls out. “What about you?”

Sansa pauses, one foot on the top stair. “What of me?”

“Are you honourable too? Or are you trying everything you can to get out of your own betrothal?” Sansa shoots her a sharp look. They stare at each other for a long while before Sansa puts her foot down and continues her descent.

Daenerys stands, catching her thoughts as they spin around from the interaction with Sansa. Never had she met someone who read her so well. For a moment, Daenerys almost reconsiders her choice before she shakes her head and follows Sansa’s trail down the stairs, seeing neither sight nor hair of her.

In the morning after breakfast, she tells her hosts she chose Jon.

Ned frowns, deep furrows between her brows while Catelyn hides a satisfied expression with a feigned cough. Ned studies her, frown deepening. “Why Jon?”

“Why not?” Daenerys looks at Catelyn who hurriedly hustles to the kitchen entrance.

Lady Stark doesn’t glance at them as she exits. “We need to let the servants know, so they can prepare a wedding feast for tonight.”

Ned looks like she clubbed him with his expression. He clearly did not expect a wedding so soon.

Daenerys is ushered from the meeting room by servants and guided back to her room by her guards. She scribbles a lazy note to King Robert, declaring her choice of husband and announces that she would be riding back with him within two days’ time. Once she sends the message off by courier, she spends her day catching up on reports from her various cities and allies.

Nighttime comes, and Missandei barges in to pull a blue dress onto her and touch up her face, ignoring Daenerys' fussing. They make their way down to the Great Hall with Jorah muttering the entire way.

“You picked the bastard,” Jorah hisses as they make their way down snowy streets to celebrate Daenerys’ choice. It never seems to stop snowing in the north. “You had two Stark men, and you pick him.”

“Why, Jorah, you almost sound jealous.” Daenerys keeps her gaze ahead. “It would be in name only, and he seems to be the most handsome one. Don’t you agree?”

Jorah makes a noise in his throat, and Daenerys smiles to herself. She inclines her head slightly. “He also seems the most smitten with me, and hence the most...agreeable.”

Missandei hums in her throat, tapping her fingers along her arm. “I would think there are other Starks smitten with you.” When Daenerys shoots her a sharp look, she shrugs. “If you have not noticed, it is not my place to say.”

“Missandei,” growls Daenerys.

Missandei shakes her head. “Have a great betrothal party, Daenerys.”

The moment they step into the Great Hall, the air explodes with clapping and excited shouts. Jon, the man of the hour, grins shyly from her across the hall, pink-faced with a goblet in his hand. Robb wraps an arm around his shoulders, congratulating him and looking distinctly relieved. A host of people crowd up to her, congratulating her, and she loses sight of her advisors in the tumult.

Lord Stark rescues her as he pulls her from the crowd, citing personal congratulations to give. Once pulled to a corner of the room where there is less people, Ned hands her a golden goblet of sweet-smelling wine several shades darker than his wife’s hair. “To the joining of our families.”

Daenerys takes it and looks around the hall. Guards, tutors, and maids dance and hang around the great hall in guffawing groups. Even the servants and the cooks mingle amidst the Starks, chatting and laughing as if old friends. “You sup with your servants?”

“I dine with my friends.” Ned nods. “This is the custom of the North.”

“Well, then I still have many things to learn of your traditions.”

Ned is quiet but brimming with something to say. Daenerys raises an eyebrow and gestures to a secluded alcove. “Something to say, Lord Stark? Some fresh air would do some good to loosen the tongue.”

Ned jerks but nods stiffly as Daenerys turns to lead to the alcove, a curved recess in the walk with cushioned seats underneath a solemn painting of bare trees in a snowstorm. Once they are out of earshot of the others, Ned begins immediately.

“Please don’t take Jon,” Ned asks, quietly. “It would not...it would not be good for either of you.”

Daenerys raises an eyebrow. “Your wife is of a different opinion.”

“Catelyn...Catelyn doesn’t understand.” He winces. “My failing, really.”

Daenerys tilts her head in thought. “Say I do change my mind, which of your children will you offer in place of Jon?” When Ned doesn’t respond, she shakes her head and moves to slip past him. “That doesn’t work for me, Lord Stark. I need to take someone.”

Just as she’s about to step out of the alcove, she hears Ned’s voice call out behind her. “Is there anyone else you would rather take?”

Daenerys pauses for a long moment before continuing on her way. She makes her way around the hall, smiling at her congratulations to the point where her face became stiff, and she retreats up the stairs to a secluded section of landing for a tactical pause. She runs into Sansa Stark, reclining on a long chair with something dark in her eyes and a drink in hand. Sansa toasts her as Daenerys approaches.

“You must be so proud. You got the best Stark.” Sansa lifts her goblet, her tone almost mocking. “A toast to the dragon queen and her bastard.”

Daenerys watches her gulp down the wine. “This isn’t your first glass.”

Sansa laughs, high and tight. “Forgive me. I have forgotten how observant you are.” Spots of red light up her cheeks. “Am I not allowed to celebrate, dear soon-to-be-sister of mine?”

Daenerys steps forward and sits down next to her, pulling the cold goblet from Sansa’s fingers, brushing against hers. She meets Sansa’s sharp gaze. “Most people celebrating look happy, not as if they are trying to poison themselves with wine.”

“Then, what do you propose I do?” Sansa’s tone could cut through flesh. “Await here witlessly for my betrothal to a prince who—“ Her upper lip curls. She exhales slowly. “This is not about me.” Drawing back, she plasters that not-quite smile on her face. “Congratulations to you. I pray for many blessings and children for your marriage to come.”

Daenerys studies her. “And I would wish the same for you, but that seems to be the last thing you want.”

Sansa’s lips thin. “What would you know about what I desire?” She shifts back and sweeps her gown behind her, glaring at Daenerys with that look the queen can’t quite decipher.

“I know you don’t desire your marriage.” Daenerys leans forward, watching Sansa who tenses but doesn’t retreat. “And that you don’t desire Joffrey Baratheon. The question is what is it you really want?” She closes the gap until their gowns brush, and she hears Sansa inhale sharply. “Or who?”

Sansa tosses her head back and laughs, a twisting, bitter sound. “What matter is it what I want?” She shakes her head. “You forget here in Westeros, women are pawns and toys, not conquerors.”

“I plan to change that.” Daenerys slides closer.

“That is of little doubt.” Sansa looks at her, and something in her gaze changes, becomes softer, hungrier. “It is admirable in a sense.”

“Is it something you admire?” Daenerys feels her eyes slide to half-mast, bathed in the scent of lilacs and lilies from the woman in front of her. Sansa’s breathing deepens as Daenerys reaches out to trail her fingers along the side of the silk gown. “If so, careful. You may not want your brothers to hear.”

“Perhaps, I do not care what they think.” Sansa tilts her head, eyes half-closed.

“I find that unlikely.” Daenerys inhales when she finds Sansa inching closer, leaning in with her eyes fluttering closed. Underneath her perfumes, there is the strong stench of ale, and Daenerys snaps out of her mood. She glances around, noticing people climbing up the stairs for a retreat, their eyes on them, and, regretfully, slowly, places a hand on Sansa’s chest to push her away.

“You are drunk, Lady Sansa,” Daenerys whispers, and the spell breaks.

Sansa staggers, a quick retreat backwards as if burnt. “I beg your forgiveness. I have said things that are merely passing fancies.” She ducks her head, knuckles white on her dress. “I will leave you to enjoy your celebration.”

She rises and hurries down the stairs, and Daenerys calls out. “Lady Stark!” When Sansa doesn’t stop, she tries again, ignoring the curious stares cast her way as she hurries after the fleeing woman. “Sansa!”

Sansa twirls around in the middle of the stairwell, the party just below her, with a brittle expression like cracking glass, desperation fresh across her face like a girl drowning. Daenerys speaks before she thinks.

“If you do not wish to marry him, marry me instead.”

It is Daenerys’ luck that the moment she speaks these words, a lull settles in the buzz of conversations around them. The hall falls silent—the words ringing in Daenerys’ ears like the aftermath of an explosion. Jon from across the hall has his face drawn, pained while Ned’s jaw drops and Catelyn’s face twists with fury. Too late to retract the offer, it hangs heavy in the air like wildfire waiting to spark as Sansa Stark pauses, silent, and the hall watches.

“Do you mean what you said? If you did, and you are a woman of honour...” Sansa turns her eyes onto Daenerys, a strange, hard light in them that makes her features like stone. “My answer is yes.”