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Disenchantment

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Shivering, frozen mid the frosty snow in biting, stinging winds;

running to and fro to stamp one's icy feet, teeth chattering in the bitter chill.

To rest contentedly beside the hearth, while those outside are drenched by pouring rain.

We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously, for fear of tripping and falling.

Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and, rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.

We feel the chill north winds coarse through the home despite the locked and bolted doors…

this is winter, which nonetheless brings its own delights.

-Vivaldi, Winter

 

Daenerys crept along the darkened path, her heart pounding so loudly in her chest she was certain it would betray her location.  The satchel looped around her neck swung heavily into her hip with every careful, cautious step.  Her grief, coupled with a deep and unending chasm of loss that had cracked her heart wide open, were the only things that tempered her panic and kept her quiet as she waited for Greyworm’s signal.

“Now!”  When the harsh whisper came she was ready, darting quickly into the small stable and plastering herself flat against the interior wall until the older man joined her.

Her own pain was echoed there in his sad, shadowed eyes, but like her he seemed determined that it would not cripple him, not now.  Now there was far too much to lose, and neither were strangers to packing away such unwelcome emotions.  Those were things to be dealt with later.

“Your horse, my girl.  Saddle her as quietly as you can.  I will make sure we will not be stopped.”  Daenerys nodded mutely at his instructions, her trust in him outweighing her fright.  For Greyworm had loved her like she was the daughter he would never have, his Unsullied past rendering him incapable of giving Missandei a babe of their own.

No.  Don’t think about her now.  Later.

The young woman hurried, securing her silver mare and watching as Greyworm reappeared, lone torch in hand.

“Are you ready?”

Again, she nodded silently, not trusting herself to speak, because she knew this was another goodbye in the making, and she was unsure if she could bear this, after everything else that had transpired in the last few hours.

“Get on.”  He nodded his head at her mare, the graying hair at his temples the only thing that had finally betrayed his age.  She let her eyes soak him in, trace every curve and line of his face, wanting to remember how he looked right now, because she would never, ever see him again.

“What will you do?”  Her whisper was so quiet, so hoarse, that she was not sure if he had heard her, but the way his eyes began to glisten in the dim torchlight suggested otherwise.

The older man swallowed.  “I will take her home.  To Naath.  It is what she would want.”

Daenerys bowed her head, tendrils of silver hair tickling along her cheeks and shoulders.  No matter how tightly she closed her eyes she could not stop the tears, for if Greyworm had shown her the love her father never had, Missandei had been the only mother she had ever known, her own dying as she had given Daenerys life.

Greyworm’s arms were around her swiftly, embracing her tightly, as thought he wanted to remember how it felt to hug her to him, to comfort her as he always had.

“You are a good girl, Daenerys.  A brave girl.  Your father, your brother,” he shook his head in disgust, “they never deserved you.”  She felt his chest rise and fall, felt him shudder slightly, his voice breaking as he continued.  “Now you must be very brave.  You must go far away, my girl, as far away as you can.”  One hand left her back to reach into his leather armor, the Targaryen sigil embossed on the chest, and then he was pressing a coin purse into her hands.  “Go to the docks, find a ship to take you somewhere.  Anywhere.  But you must go, now, or it will all be for nothing.”

Greyworm gave her no chance to respond, instead lifting her red, hooded cloak around her shoulders, fastening it gently and drawing the hood up to hide her face in darkness.  Just as gently he led her to her mare, neither of them capable of finding their voices as he helped her up, though he knew she needed no assistance.  He had taught her to ride, after all.

Finally, her throat seemed to relax, air puffing in and out of her lungs fully again.  “Thank you.”  He merely gazed at her, smiling, shaking his head at her words.  “I loved you both, you know.  More than anyone, more than anything.”

“I know.”  It was Greyworm who struggled now.  “And we loved you as if you were ours, Daenerys.  But you have been a slave to your father’s whims for your whole life.  Now you break your chains.  Now you set yourself free.”  Her vision began to blur, fear and loneliness already creeping in, her eyes burning with unshed tears.  “Now you make your own happiness.”

“I will,” she swore.

Commotion outside the wide wooden doors claimed their attention, and Greyworm grew panicked, striding to the doors and throwing them wide open.  “That is the signal.”  He paced back to where she sat, atop her horse.  “If I do not see you again in this life, my girl, I shall see you in the next.  We both will.  Now go,” he urged, slapping a hand down firmly against the horse’s back flank, “and don’t look back.”

She rode into the night, the shadows swiftly swallowing her as she tore down the wooded lane, the Valyrian summer air stirred slightly by a welcome breeze that rippled the fabric of her hood as she made haste for the port.

She did not look back.

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Daenerys sold her horse in the early morning hours, exhausted from the travel but unwilling to allow herself a rest.  Not yet.

There was something inside her, something driving every step she took now, her satchel and coin purse now her only belongings as she eyed the ships lining the docks.  The Valyrian Freehold had no lack of patronage from other lands, and there were masts of every color and sigil imaginable.

Feeling her stomach begin to rumble she stopped, buying herself a honeyed roll and nibbling it absently as she fought to choose.

Where shall I go?

There were at least twenty ships along the dock, and so she walked, wondering if the answer would reveal itself so long as she kept moving forward.

But hope did not fill her heart, as she set one boot in front of the other.  For with every step she was consumed with growing dread, sickness pooling in her stomach.  She tried to fight it, terror welling inside her as agony bloomed white-hot behind her eyes, and she sank to her knees as pain knifed through her temple, crying out as she pressed her hands to her face, trying desperately not to see.

But see she did.

Fire.

Fire was everywhere, ash and smoke choking the blue skies of her childhood.

Heat threatened to char her skin and burn the hair from her head, blistering every part of her that was not convered, magma pouring down the streets and consuming the very docks she stood upon, the screams of thousands making her ears feel as though blood ran from them.

And then, oh then the ground itself shuddered and trembled, and the Great Doom was upon them, the mountains erupting with such massive force that she knew these lands would not survive it.

It was nothing but destruction, on such grand scale her mind could scarce conceive it.

The pain was gone, suddenly, as if it had never been there at all, but fear rendered her limbs useless, and she remained still, crumpled in a heap on the wooden planks, until she felt warm fingers sweep along her forehead.

For one glorious second she thought it must be Missandei, returned to her, the mother of her heart, but when her eyes opened her heart sank.  It was not her, of course, it couldn’t be.

Instead it was a woman, dressed all in red, with red hair that flowed like a river down her back, contrasting with her alabaster skin.  It seemed to Daenerys, in the early morning sun, that the woman glowed red with fire.  Which might be true, as she was clearly an acolyte of R’hllor.

“Are you well, child?”  The woman’s voice was gentle enough that she found the strength to force herself upright, at least enough to sit.  And when the woman’s hand extended, she took it, allowing herself to be helped to standing before she answered.

“Yes, it’s…,” her eyes darted around as she tried to find the right words.  “It was…”

“A vision?”  The woman’s red lips twisted into a knowing smile as Daenerys gave a shocked gasp.

“How did you know?”  The woman’s grip on her hand tightened, and she allowed herself to be led further down the docks, if only to hear the answer to her question.

The woman only answered by drawing her closer, waiting until they had reached the lone ship at the end of the dock before leaning in, the sleeves of her robes blending seamlessly with her own red cloak as they stopped.

“My apologies, my sweet.  I could feel you approaching, but I did not know where you were.”  Daenerys frowned as she worked over the woman’s words, aggravation building as comprehension dawned, impossible though it seemed.

“That was you?”  She drew back in horror as the woman in red gave an apologetic nod.  “But why?  Why would you hurt me so?  Why show me something so terrible?”

“I have shown you what is coming, Daenerys of House Targaryen.”  The woman’s demeanor shifted to stern solemnity, so swiftly that Daenerys was taken aback, her mouth agape and her eyes very nearly open as wide.  “I have shown you why you must leave.  Now.  With me.”

The silver-haired girl shook her head violently, her eyes darting around everywhere, quickly, the port city seeming to loom over her.  “But,” she said forcefully, twisting around to look upon the woman in red again, her eyes lingering on the choker of rubies sat upon that pale throat, “the people, my people, we must warn them…”

“Listen.”  The woman hissed vehemently at her, each word she spoke seeming weighted with import.  “Once these lands had dragons, dear girl, but those dragons are long dead.  Their magic held these lands together, and the last of that magic is very nearly gone.”  She drew closer still, their noses nearly touching, her eyes searing into the girl’s soul.  “When the last of it is gone, so too shall the Doom claim Valyria.”

Daenerys felt herself tremble at these terrible tidings, a fleeting twisting flicker of guilt emerging from her soul at the heavy contents of her pack before it, too, was consumed by her steadily encroaching dread.  Another thought shook her free from such dark thoughts, though, her panic enough to outweigh her fear.

“Greyworm.”  The woman’s eyes narrowed, but Daenerys pressed on.  “My friend…I cannot leave him to such a fate, I must tell him!”

The woman studied her for a long, infinite moment, then closed her eyes, rubies twinkling blood red at her neck.  When she opened them again, she was a solemn and stern as before.  “Your man will leave these shores before the Doom comes.  For you,” she graced Daenerys with softer, kinder eyes, but only for an instant, “The Lord of Light shall see it done.”  The redhead considered the silver-haired girl, tipping her chin to the side as she studied the younger woman.  “And in return you shall come with me, now.”

Daenerys knew she should not believe this strange woman.  Her mind told her to flee, now, to forget what she had seen and heard and felt, to stow away aboard another ship and hope for the best.

But in her heart, she knew it was true, all of it.  It had felt so real.  And if she really had set such a vision upon Daenerys, who believed in no Gods at all, then one with such magic was not one to be ignored.

It does not matter where I go.  If I stay, it is death, no matter the manner.

It was that truth that finally prompted her into action, and she gave a curt nod at the woman before turning her eyes up to the rippling masts.  It held the burning heart of R’hllor, surely marking this ship as one that hailed from distant Volantis.  The Lord of Light did not have many followers in Valyria, she knew.

Silently, she let her hand be taken again, mutely making her way along the gangplank and hopping down onto the ship’s deck gracefully.  Daenerys turned her eyes back, drinking in the land of her birth as she had the sight of the Greyworm hours before.  For this shore, too, she would never see again.

Never before had she regretted her tendency towards bone-deep certainty.  But then today seemed to have dawned as a day of many firsts for her.

“You seem to know my name.”  The woman nodded slightly, coming to stand at the railing, deckhands clad in red tunics and trousers suddenly appearing and scurrying about, readying the boat to shove off with almost dizzying speed.  “Will you tell me yours?”

With a regal dip of her chin and slight curtsy, the woman answered.  “I am Melisandre.”  Daenerys felt the sway and pitch below her feet as they began to move, could hear the dip and pull of oars churning away on either side, but this Melisandre seemed to notice none of it.  Her stern demeanor fell away by the second, kindness seeping in as they pulled further from the shore, her warm fingers entwining with the young woman’s.

“Don’t you want to know where we are going?”

It dawned on Daenerys, at the question, that she had been such a silly fool that she had not bothered with such inquiry while she’d stood upon solid ground.  But, in truth, it did not matter.

Valyria held nothing for her anymore.

“Are we not sailing for Volantis?”

Melisandre chuckled.  “I think you know where fate is leading you.  You have always known.”  The shore was now so far away that Daenerys could not distinguish the people who walked the docks, and she turned, the sun making the taller woman’s skin appear as translucent as marble in the morning light.

The white moon.

A land blanketed in ice and snow.

A frozen, barren wasteland, incapable of giving succor to the living, a graveyard now ruled by silence.

But life remained.

The wolves remained.

“Westeros?”  She breathed the question, her breath quickening, hope and disbelief warring within her chest.  “You mean to take me there?”

Melisandre was pleased; Daenerys could tell by the warmth that travelled from her smile to her ever-shifting eyes.  First thought to be blue, they now looked green, then shifted to brown in rapid succession.  If not for the trepidatious anticipation growing within her she might have been frightened, but she thought perhaps she had outgrown her fear, at least for now.

“Long have I waited for this day.”  There was a strange reverence in the strange woman’s voice, something ageless that made her throat constrict.  “And now you are here.  At last.”  With a heavy sigh, Melisandre spoke once more, the desperate hope in her voice enough to merit a small amount of relief inside Dany’s broken heart.

“Now we shall free them from their icy chains.”  There was a finality in the red woman’s words that brooked no disagreement from Daenerys.  Melisandre raised her hand, Valyria steadily disappearing behind them as they turned, together.  Along a pale, slender wrist there was a delicate silver and ruby bracelet, no doubt quite expensive, glittering in the warming rays of the sun.

Before Dany’s very eyes the bracelet seemed to wink out of existence, only to appear on her own wrist, warm to the point of stinging where it ought to have been cool.

“This will let you see the truth, dragon daughter.”  The woman pointed at the main mast as it whipped in the growing wind, and suddenly R’hllor’s burning heart was gone.

What replaced it was enough to drop her to her knees, an image from her dreams that she had only seen replicated on brittle parchment, and only in the slim volume she carried strapped to herself.

It was a direwolf, with great, snapping jaws, the sigil of a once Great House of Westeros, a House of the First Men.

House Stark, it had been called.

The Winter Kings, made of ice and snow and stone, warriors borne of a hard land.  They had ruled the North for thousands of years in the land called Westeros.

But that was before the Long Night had come.

And that was almost one hundred years ago, that much she knew.

The Wolves of Winterfell, who served the Old Gods of the Forest, who had commanded those great beasts they bore on their banners, just as her people had once ridden atop the backs of dragons, had fallen just as the other Kingdoms of Westeros had; An icy grave and endless night had come to claim them all.

She had spent her life, it seemed, trying to understand all that she could about them.  None had understood her obsession, save for Missandei, and Greyworm, once upon a time.  Her father had called her mad, just as Viserys had.

She had read every scroll and scrap of information she could lay her hands on, over the years, trying to find the answer to the question that haunted her.

If they were gone, as was known, why did she dream of them?

Her ancestors had dreamed of dragons, that was true.

But since she could remember, Daenerys of House Targaryen, born in the greatest storm seen in Valyria in a century, had only ever dreamed of wolves.

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Daenerys slept, dreamlessly, and did not stir until the sun had begun to dip below the horizon, and only then because of the brisk knock at the door of her cabin.

Melisandre peeked in, not waiting to be bid entrance, and gave a brisk wave of her hand in the younger woman’s direction.  “Come.  Hurry.”

Something in the woman’s eyes commanded her to obey, and she did, following closely as they made their way together down the narrow, cramped corridor and up the stairs that led above deck.

“Your man Greyworm has departed, Daenerys.”  Melisandre spoke absently, her eyes on the darkened, barely visible peaks of the Valyrian mountains barely visible.  “His ship has carried him well enough away, I think.”

The older woman drew in a deep breath, her stoic mask slipping as she seemed to steady herself, turning her face towards Daenerys as she approached.  They stood, shoulder to shoulder, for what seemed like an age, Melisandre not speaking again until a lone tear had trickled down her cheek.  “For everything that begins, there is also an end.  This is the way of things.”  The woman nodded, seemingly to herself.  “And Valyria has reached its’ end.”

No sooner had the words left those red lips than Daenerys found her hand gripped with an iron-like ferocity, the shock of which was only compounded by the sudden, violent assault on her ears.

Her eyes sought the Valyrian peaks frantically, her worst fears confirmed even as her body trembled, her legs weakening as she saw the great gouts of belching smoke and fire that were horribly clear in the ever-darkening sky.

“No,” she whispered, her chin quivering, refusing to believe what her eyes beheld, and she wrestled her hand free to cup both over her ears.  “Not this, not now.”

She screwed her eyes shut, unwilling to bear witness, but a firm hand under her jaw forced them open again, fire in Melisandre’s eyes as their gazes caught and held.

“You are the last, now.”  Daenerys could hear her as clear as day, her hands doing nothing to muffle the resonance of the woman’s voice within her mind, within her soul, telling her things she had no desire to hear, the thin veneer her grief hid behind threatening to give way.

“The last of the flame belongs to you, Dany-girl.”  Daenerys gave a start at the endearment; only Missandei had called her such, and only when she had been a young girl in truth and form, but Melisandre paid no mind.  “You must reach out and take it.  It is not given.  It must be earned.  For the power to save those who can still be saved,” her strange eyes shot to the smoking ruins in the distance, “you must be willing to pay the price.”

The words echoed through her head, thrusting her back in time, to her girlhood, to the solace of her dreams, before they had changed and shown her the truth, had revealed to her the icy nightmare that Westeros had become.

Meadows of long, sweet, grass, perfect for rolling in.

Three great wolves that frolicked alongside her, waiting patiently as she proudly counted to twenty, a grand achievement for her at the time, hiding in thickets and brush and under lush, rippling waves of green that seemed like an ocean to her then, biding their time until she found them and hugged them ‘round their thick necks.

They would lie still under shade trees, allowing her to curl up beside them, panting and snoring occasionally as she whispered everything and nothing.

They had been her only friends at a time that life had been it’s cruelest, their soft fur catching her tears as she mourned for her dead mother she had never known, and the absence of love from the family that remained.

The white wolf was her favorite.  Of the three, he was the sweetest, the most patient when her hands would twist in his fur, who would welcome her the quickest to sleep at his side, who would sweep her tears away with great licks that would send her into a fit of giggles, pitching her reliably from sadness to gladness each time.

The red was like a burnished copper coin, a sweet girl who seemed almost dainty in Dany’s young mind.

The grey was a wild thing, who loved to play chase and would drag all manner of branches, some comically large, for so long as Dany was willing to laugh.

They knew her name and she knew theirs, though she never spoke it.  She had heard them whispered in the wind, in the shadow of blood red leaves, but it seemed an important thing, not to say them aloud.

Names had power, the winds had whispered that as well.

Daenerys brought herself back to the present with a shake of her head.

“I care not for the price.  This task was always meant for me.”  She pulled back, straightening her spine, freeing herself from the woman’s grasp completely.  “That is true, isn’t it?”  She gave valiant struggle to the grief that roiled through her, her eyes straying to the smoking distant ruins of the land that had birthed her.  “It must be true.”  Her voice grew sharp, desperate, almost pleading.  “Why else would you have spared me from the fate of my people?”

Finally, her voice broke, and the tears she had fought broke free.  They were gone.  All of them.  Everyone she had ever known was lost to her now, in some form or another, and it finally occurred to her that she was well and truly alone.

“No,” Melisandre whispered.  “Not alone.”

Daenerys felt her head whip up, and she scowled, her emotions so ragged she felt she was liable to burst.  “Stay out of my head, witch.”  When the woman drew back, Daenerys pressed on, her anger at the intrusion only fueling the agony and fear inside her.  “I know what you are.”

Melisandre narrowed her eyes, suddenly pensive in the face of Dany’s scorn.  “No,” she shook her head, “you do not.”  Something unseen drew the woman’s attention, and then she was pointing one long, bony finger into the dark sky.

“There, dragon daughter.”  Though the red woman whispered, it seemed a booming echo, despite the wind that whipped her hair into a frenzied mess about her shoulders.  “Do you see it?”

Watching the older woman carefully, reminding herself to be on her guard now, she reluctantly looked up and into the night, where the woman wished.

And she saw it.

A lone ember, glowing bright, twisting and turning in the wind, and coming ever closer to their vessel.

“Reach out your hand, girl.”  This was a command, and though she was loathe to give in so easily, it did not seem that there was much choice to be had on the matter.

She obeyed, her hand raised, cupped, as the ember came closer still.

Daenerys braced herself, turning her face away, waiting for the sizzling burn that would follow the moment that glowing coal hit her skin.

But it did not come.

She opened her eyes to find it hovering before her, and an amused smile on the older woman’s blood red lips.

“This is the last of it.  The last of the magic given your people.  The only thing that will save a land not yet lost.”  Melisandre stalked forward, that red haze seeming to halo around her form, circling her head like a crown, and a trickle of fear crept down her spine at the notion that perhaps this was no common witch at all.  “Now cast aside your fears.”  Her voice was clipped, and firm, her ever-shifting eyes focused on the ember that hung between them.  “Take it.”

“Choose, girl.”  She came to stand beside Daenerys, power seeming to ripple off her in waves, and there was something so hauntingly familiar about the pulse of it, the rhythm of it, that she felt her worries slip from her like water through her fingertips.  “And do it with fire in your eyes, not fear.”

It felt like the beating of a heart.

She grasped it, and for one long, silent pause there was nothing at all.

In the next second, a white-hot heat consumed her, coursing through her, around her, inside her, and she knew her time had come.

She was dying.

She screamed, until her voice was raw and broken, her keening cries doing nothing to lessen the notion that this must be what it would be like to be thrust into the sun itself.

She had to be dying.

She was melting, condensing, becoming nothing more than a heap of ash.  She felt her limbs twist and contort, felt herself collapse onto the wooden decking, the intensity of the pain now familiar and a distant backdrop to the sounds around her; the lapping of the waves against the boat’s hull, the whistling wind that seemed to marry her screams to the screams of the millions now dead.

They are ash, and so I will be as well.

Something in her soul shifted, and turned, and at last she stopped fighting.  With a final, panting exhale she welcomed the end of her life, and end to the terrible pain, to the ghosts that lingered at the edges of her mind.

And then it stopped.

As swiftly as it had struck, it was gone, and though she now lay helpless she still mustered to strength to lift one arm, limply, certain it would be steaming with heat that had swirled through her like an inferno, but no trace remained.

Exhausted, she let the limb thump tiredly to the wooden planking, rolling onto her back to find Melisandre’s eyes examining her carefully, her approach cautious and measured as she stepped tentatively towards Dany’s prone form.

Daenerys let out an empty, hollow laugh.  “Am I dead?”

Melisandre smiled, tenderly, and Daenerys did not have the strength to fight as the woman gathered her into her robed arms and began to rock her, stroking silver hair back from the girl’s face.

“No,” she whispered, “now you are alive.”

Chapter Text

They were being watched.

Daenerys had felt it the moment they’d left their ship to the harsh mercies of icy waters in the port town of White Harbor.  Melisandre had taken back her enchanted bracelet while they were still aboard ship, and so it was difficult to discern how the witch managed to acquire living horses in this land of nothing but ice and snow and death.

She suspected it was the same as the crew she had seen aboard ship, only visible to her if she did not bear the ruby-laden bauble.

It was magic, of course, and as they’d ridden their way through the rocky, inhospitable terrain she thought she might not want to know the truth of it anyway.

It hardly mattered anymore.

They were riding for Winterfell, and though she knew each hoofprint in the snow only brought her closer to the sacrifice she intended to make to save this cursed land, she could not help but let her excitement build.

Knowing she was going to give her life for this cause did not mean she had to mope on it until such time came.

At least, that had been Melisandre’s advice, and by the time they’d made it to these wretched shores Daenerys had seen the sense in it.

But now, they were being watched, and her anticipation was soured with unease.

“Can you feel that?”

Melisandre cast her an inquiring look, so the last daughter of Valyria sought to clarify without alerting whatever might be lurking about.

“Something is out there,” she hissed, and the woman’s brows lifted in amusement.

“The night is dark and full of terrors,” Melisandre paused, frowning, “and in this land the night does not end.   They mean us no harm, they only protect us on our journey.”

Daenerys was puzzled.  “Who?”

The red woman scoffed, turning her gaze ever ahead.  “Do not waste your breath on silly questions, girl.”

The moon was the only light that guided their way, but it was blessedly full and, more importantly, the only reliable way Daenerys had found to mark the passage of time in the absence of the sun and its’ welcome warmth.  It clearly showed the consternation on the red woman’s face, an expression she seemed to adopt when she thought Daenerys was being dense on purpose.

“If it was them,” Daenerys replied dryly, “then why would they not show themselves to us?  Surely they know why we are here.”

Now Melisandre frowned.  “You must be more patient.  When they wish to be seen you will see them, and not a moment before.”  The woman’s face softened, slightly, as did her voice as she continued.  “We are guests in these lands.  You must not provoke them by seeking them out.  They will find you when they are ready, it is known.”

She could not immediately set aside the sliver of hurt she felt, that these friends in her dreams would not make themselves known to her, but now that she was here there was little left to her but time and her own wayward thoughts.  And, unfortunately, a rather sore arse that accompanied the endless days and nights on horseback, but she had borne worse, and she would bear this as well.

She had a goal, a mission, a purpose to fulfill.  Her death would not be senseless.  It would mean something, at least, and she let that bittersweet thought comfort her as she considered that the woman was probably right.

She would wait, and they would come to her.

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Winterfell was vast and grand and well and truly broken, a splendid and discordant array of grand stone walls and battlements, round gray towers and a large, ancient keep at the heart of the castle.

More than half the towers lay in broken, crumbling ruin, the curtain walls shorn near in two in places as they rode through the gateway, a rusted portcullis hanging brokenly to one side.

This she had expected.

She knew the tales of what had happened here, in this place.  It was called Winterfell before the Long Night had fallen, but now it was called the Land of Always Winter, and all her studies had given the same cautionary warning: none went to the Land of Always Winter and returned alive.

Neither, she supposed, would she.

But she had not expected to find the empty castle awash in torchlight, every tower and parapet visible and somewhat ominous to her light-starved eyes, throwing long, sharp shadows towards every dark corner.

The pair dismounted, quickly, and Melisandre cast narrowed eyes around before grasping at Dany’s hand.  “Do you have your things?”

Daenerys pressed her free hand against her lone pack, the strap no longer digging into her shoulder as it normally did thanks to the white, furred winter coat Melisandre had procured for her at an abandoned shop in the small town to the south.  “Yes.”

The grip in her hand tightened.  “Follow me, closely.  Touch nothing.  Do not speak until I give you leave.”

The urge to roll her eyes at the order was strong, but tempered by the anxious way the woman continued to look around.  “As you wish.”

The women picked their way through the empty courtyard and into the main keep, and Daenerys could not help but think there were things here she could not see, things this red witch was purposefully avoiding, but she had agreed to hold her tongue and so she kept such musings to herself. 

For the time being.

Finally, after climbing over the tumbled wreckage of corridors and stone staircases they came upon a hallway that was intact and lit by flickering torches.  Melisandre settled for a door at once, shuffling them both into a dusty but inhabitable parlor.  Daenerys turned in a slow circle as the other woman set to work, a fire soon burning merrily in the small hearth the room housed.

There was a door against the right wall, and quick inspection showed her a spacious bedchamber, with yet more finery; portraits framed in gilded gold, a large, spacious and comfortable, though dusty, bed.

These rooms had belonged to a fine lady, once, Dany could tell.  She opened the wardrobe along the wall, finding it filled with silken gowns riddled with moth holes, aged and worn but once items of delicate beauty, she was sure.

On the vanity was a leaden looking glass, and a fine, bone-handled comb and brush.  She thought of her own tangled silver mess and reached a hand out, only to be stopped by Melisandre’s sudden rebuke.

“Touch nothing!”

Daenerys widened her eyes at the reflection in the glass before turning to meet the woman’s eyes.  “May I speak now?”  At Melisandre’s terse nod, she continued.  “My apologies.  I did not know your request applied here as well.”

“Touch nothing here without permission, or we shall be doomed before we even begin.”

Daenerys nodded, chagrined, but she felt her brow wrinkle in confusion only seconds later.  “Whose permission, precisely?”

When the woman answered with that infuriatingly enigmatic smile she often lapsed into, Daenerys groaned.

“No, wait, please,” she urged, raising her hand in the air.  “Let me guess:  I will know when it is time.”

Melisandre nodded, pleased, seemingly oblivious to the sarcasm in the younger woman’s voice.  “Well done.  You are learning.”  As Dany looked on in silent aggravation the woman rubbed her hands together briskly.  “Now, I must attend to a task before we settle in.  Can I trust you, dragon daughter, to leave things to their rest while I am gone?”

Daenerys crossed her arms across her chest, the heat from the fire finally soaking through her layers enough that she knew she could shed her furs soon.  “Of course.”

Once the door clicked shut and those red robes were no longer visible, Daenerys was on her feet, exploring as deeply as she could without actually disturbing anything.

Books lined shelves inset in the stone walls, the names and titles of the works housed there detailed on the spine in the common tongue.  She thanked Missandei silently, ignoring the hurt that flashed through her, grateful at last for the hours and hours spent learning each dialect the former translator had known.

She found several drawers filled with endless ribbonry and needlework, all faded but still with traces of their former glory left behind.

Daenerys abandoned that search to examine the paintings on the wall.  Two were scenes out of fairy stories; a castle, a knight, a maiden in a tower to her left, and a great black dragon scaling the walls of a keep, a thousand arrows pointed towards its scaly hide.

There was only one other portrait in the room, and there was a small plaquard along the bottom that she could not quite make out in the dim light.  She squinted, swiping her thumb across the cold, flat brass, and finally the words upon the surface were clear.

“The Lady Sansa of House Stark,” she breathed, her eyes climbing to see this lady for herself, pulling down the canvas cloth that had been draped over the frame and gasping once the image was revealed.

She was so young; it was the first thing Daenerys noticed.  A girl younger than Dany herself when this was painted, she was certain.  But a lovely girl all the same, with fiery red hair and a dress of fine powder blue that matched her brilliant eyes.  Around her shoulders sat a cloak of grey fur, held together with silver clasps in the shape of snarling wolves.

She stepped back a step, then another, wondering that from this angle it almost looked as if the woman’s painted eyes were watching her.

Melisandre swung the door open then, with little announcement, her red robes brushing against the dust and cobwebs as she placed a bowl upon the small table situated near the frosted window.  “For three days and three nights you shall be tested.”  White fingers emerged from her sleeves and she waved Dany over, until both were peering down at the green, thick paste inside the bowl.

“Eat this,” the witch continued, “then climb upon the bed and sleep.”

Daenerys picked up the spoon stuck inside the dense mixture, stirring it listlessly, wondering if it would taste as awful as it looked.  A tumbler filled with water was placed beside the bowl, and Melisandre left Daenerys to consider her fate with one last piece of advice.

“Remember.  Names are powerful things.  Only give them when asked, and even then,” she paused, her eyes amber this time as they met with Valyrian violet, “take caution.  Give your true name to the Winter King, and only him, just as we practiced, for it is how he will know your mission is true.”

The silver-haired girl nodded, knowing better than to ask for clarity that would not be proffered even if requested.

“I shall see you in three days, then.  I wish you luck, dragon daughter.”

A hand cupped her cheek, and Daenerys trapped it with her own.  “The dragons are dead.”

Melisandre pressed a gentle kiss to her opposite cheek, and perhaps it was just passing fancy, but Dany thought she saw a tear in the woman’s eyes.  “Not all of them.”

With that, she left, and Daenerys sat in silence contemplation for several minutes before she left the bowl, untouched, and wandered back to the vanity.  Her reflection told her she already knew what she would do, and it would be better to get on with it.

“Well,” she whispered to the mirror, “it’s not as though we have much else to do, is it?”

She set her shoulders, marched to the table, sat and ate.  The paste was thick, and acrid first it touched her tongue, but it gave way to a flavor so instantly recognizable that she thought she might weep.

Lemons.

She finished the remainder gladly, oddly comforted by the familiar taste, and she thought she could smell the scent of the lemon tree that had grown outside her window as she climbed into the bed, mindless to the dusty cloud that rose when she pulled back the covers, tucking her pack tight against her as she lay back and drifted off to sleep.

------------

Daenerys opened her eyes to a blazing sun, a welcome sight after months in the endless night that had claimed these lands.  She stared around with wonderment, because while she found herself at the gateway to the old, crumbling, broken castle of Winterfell for the second time, everything was different.

It was whole, complete.  No place her eyes could reach showed any of the damage and destruction that she knew this cursed place had sustained.  She understood, then, that this must be some sort of dreaming, could feel the fuzzy edges curling around her like a warm blanket, and she was not afraid.

At least, that was the mantra she repeated over and over as her eyes continued their dance, staring in awe at the grandness of the old castle and its grounds; In this dream, everything was as it had been, long ago.

To her credit, she only gave a slight start when a throat cleared from behind the properly hung portcullis, the grill only partially obscuring the tall, feminine form just beyond.

It was the girl, from the portrait.  She was older now, the girlish youth captured forever in oil and canvas giving way to a woman just grown, who looked to be in her eighteenth year.  Her hair hung loose down her shoulders and back in waves of burnished copper flame, licking along the sides of the pale blue cloak she wore, fiery tendrils merging and mixing with the slate gray furs bunched at her neck.

The Lady Sansa Stark.

Her amazement at seeing this painted face brought to life rendered her speechless for a moment, long enough for the other woman to address her first.

“Why have you come to Winterfell, girl?”  Her eyes twinkled cold and blue like icy sapphires, all the warmth her youth had held now gone forever.

A ghost.  She is a ghost.

The thought ought to have shaken her, made her tremble in fear, but it had the opposite effect.  She spared a glance down at her old black boots and gray woolen trousers, the accompany gray underdress an ensemble she’d managed to cobble together from some salvaged blankets along the journey with the witch.

Not the best for begging an audience with the dead, she supposed, but it was all she had so she would simply make the best of it.  She straightened, pulling back the hood of her crimson cloak and trying valiantly to smooth down her own tangled curls as she licked at her dry lips.

“I seek an audience with the Winter King.”  Daenerys dipped her chin respectfully, wondering with growing suspicion that her answer garnered nothing but a snort of amusement from the specter before her.

“Do you?”  A red brow arched, and blue skirts swung gracefully about her feet as the other woman began to pace.  “And do you know the cost of entry to this place?  Did you come prepared to pay the price?”

“A name.”  Daenerys answered tensely, bringing her hands together under the cover of her cloak and twisting them together.  “You require a name of me, Sansa Stark of Winterfell.”  She did not hide her slightly smug smile as the other woman’s blue eyes widened, startled.

“Lady Sansa shall suffice, my dear.”  She began to smile, as well, something knowing and devious sparking to life in her eyes.  “But anyone with an iota of curiosity might have discovered that in my chambers, wouldn’t they?”

Pride dampened and extinguished within her chest.  “I may only give my name to the King of Winter, so I am afraid I cannot…”

The other woman tutted under her breath, her ceaseless circuit ending as she drew to a halt and gestured for Daenerys to turn around, to face the woods at her back.  Her voice was ominous, everything seeming to grow very, very still as each word fell from her lips.  “I do not require a name, silly girl.  The name must be given to another.”

“Who?”  Daenerys began to tremble, just barely, in the chill, suddenly exceedingly aware of how thin her coverings were, longing for the thick white coat that had not followed her to this dreamland.

“Her.”  Lady Sansa’s whisper crept past the shell of her ear, and then Daenerys saw it.

A flash of red was there, cutting and streaking through the white, a blanket of snow that sparkled like diamonds in the midday sun disturbed only by the massive form making short work of the distance.

The Lady’s eyes rest heavy on her back, and Daenerys feared that if it was terror she thought to rouse, then this Sansa Stark was in for a dreadful surprise.

But for Daenerys, whose lips spread into a wide grin, whose feet began to pound into the snow, bootheels sinking and churning as she ran, there was nothing but joy.

She could not feel the cold, not anymore, because her heart had carried her to a grassy, endless field, under a lazy summer sun, and though they met in the snow this time, this was a creature she would know anywhere.

They had met in her dreams, long before this moment.

The name lay heavy in her heart, as the red wolf stood panting before her, a tentative, wet nose sneaking close to sniff at her temple before that great body seated itself almost delicately on her hindquarters.

She waited, her blue eyes as knowing as her mistress’s had been, watching Daenerys patiently.

The name lay heavy on her heart, and on her tongue, begging for release, finally; it was the name the wind had whispered to her, and she knew it to be true as she reached a shaking hand up to stroke gently along the wolf’s muzzle.

“Lady,” she whispered, jumping back with a start when the wolf’s head reared back suddenly, a low, plaintive wailing issuing forth, the very ground itself trembling in response beneath her feet.

When it was done, when that cry had stopped echoing through the air, the wolf looked at Daenerys once more, licking a rough tongue along the tears that she realized had been leaking down her cheeks.

“You’re here.”  She wrapped her arms as best she could around the wolf’s neck, finding it a much harder task than it had seemed in the dreams of her childhood.  “My, you have grown!”  She pulled back, chuckling, when the wolf chuffed at her, nuzzling her nose into Dany’s neck before swinging her head around to look back at the castle, where her mistress surely waited.

“I almost forgot.”  Daenerys gave the wolf a smile, the sly whisper uttered as she lay her hand in the thick, copper fur along the wolf’s side.  “Will you come with me?”

Lady gave no answer but to begin to pad forward, the pair approaching Sansa Stark with the ease of the old friends that they were, and she could not help the flicker of amusement when violet eyes met sapphire blue, and she saw the very real, abiding shock in their depths.

“It’s you.”  The ghost staggered forward a step, then another, the gate between them lifting with a gesture of her hand, raised by invisible force.

“It can’t be.”  Her head tilted, birdlike and fragile.  “After all this time, can it be you?”  She shook her head, her hair a fanning fire that whipped across her cheeks.  “It’s been so long.  I thought…,” she stammered, coming close enough that the toes of their boots nearly touched, her height at this proximity so much greater that Dany found she had to crane her neck a bit to meet the woman’s eyes.  “We thought you weren’t real.  A trick.  I…,” she stopped, again, but appeared frustrated, as though she wanted to speak but couldn’t.

“Give me a name,” she pled, her hands coming to rest on Daenerys’s shoulders, fisting in the red fabric that lay there, “not your true name, but *a* true name all the same.  Give me the name you gave my wolf, so that I may know it is you at long last.”

“My name is Dany,” Daenerys whispered, smiling even as she was swept into an embrace that felt far to warm for one who was a ghost to manage.

“Yes,” Sansa whispered, her tears falling hot and searing against Dany’s neck as the other woman hugged her closer still, shudders claiming her slender form as she wept quietly.  “She remembers.  I remember.”  The redhaired girl pulled back, her cheeks flushed red, her eyes glassy and wet, but full of such a mixture of gladness and sadness that Daenerys was overwhelmed with it.  “You’re real.  You’re real.”

Sansa continued to whisper the words as she hugged Dany against her once more, her hands smoothing against Dany’s hair and face as though she meant to convince herself that those words were true.  Finally, seemingly content with that fact, she drew away.  She straightened herself with an embarrassed air, but that did not stop the warm smile she gave Daenerys as she held out her elbow, waiting for it to be taken.

“Your task is not yet complete.”  She gave a sniff, attempting to sound proper and dignified, giving a glance to her wolf who began to follow as they walked together.  “Two more names must you give.  Though,” she nudged playfully with her shoulder, “I rather suspect you shall manage.”

Daenerys looked around as she was led through the courtyard, seeing with new eyes the place that had been this girl’s home, long ago.  “Is this a dream?”

Sansa’s eyes remained forward, save for a small, curious slide at Dany’s question.  “It is better, I think, to call it a memory.  A reflection, perhaps.  The echo of a remembrance.”

“I’m supposed to set you free, you know.”  Daenerys chewed at her bottom lip, trying to understand what the girl meant.  “But if it is your memories that hold you captive, I am not sure where I might even begin.”

Sansa sighed.  “If only it were that simple, Dany.”  When she did not continue, the same aggravation twisting her face, Daenerys understood the truth, that where Melisandre chose not to offer explanations, Lady Stark could not.

She pressed no further, allowing herself to be led instead upon a path that seemed familiar, even without the destruction she knew these walls and corridors had given way to.  And so, she was unsurprised to find herself before this lady’s chambers, her breath catching as she was led inside, into the splendor she had only suspected lay under the grime and decay of time.

Sansa smiled when their eyes met.  “Is there something you wish to ask me?  A boon I might grant, for naming my wolf?”  Dany followed, her eyes falling longingly on a lovely silk gown of midnight blue that lay folded over a chaise, entering the bed chambers to find Sansa waiting and staring in exaggerated fashion between Daenerys and the vanity she now stood before.  Her pale finger slid along the bone handle of the hairbrush, and she almost seemed to grow impatient before comprehension dawned.

“May I ask guest rights of you, Lady Stark?”  She was gladdened, and not for the first time, that she had committed such time and energy to studying all that she could of Westeros, and of the North, what little she had managed to find.  “May I ask use of your hearth and home for my stay, and whatever comforts may still remain, should I find them?  I ask no more than what you willingly give, as the Lady of Winterfell.”

Daenerys gave a curtsy and a smart nod, relieved when Sansa clapped her hands together cheerfully.  “Oh, well-asked indeed.  You certainly may, as my personal and favored guest.   Avail yourself of whatever you might find in the castle grounds.”  She pulled out the high-backed wooden chair, gesturing for Daenerys to sit, their eyes meeting now in the looking glass as she reached for a comb and began to work at the tangles that haloed her face like a silver cloud.

Lady Sansa’s fingers were gentle as she tamed Dany’s hair, a small smile lingering on her lips as she hummed absently, but while she seemed content to keep quiet it began to grate at Daenerys, and so she sought something, anything to converse about, to break the silence that had begun to grow oppressive save for the Lady’s quiet song.

“Did you make them?”  Sansa met her eyes curiously, glancing at the wardrobe that stood dark and gleaming and freshly polished against the wall when Daenerys pointed.  “The gowns?”

“Oh,” Sansa gave her a sheepish twist of her lips, shyly ducking her head and busying herself again with a newly found snarl of tangles.  “Some of them.  Others I merely embroidered.”

Dany remembered the needlework she’d found in the chest drawers, of the fine needlework decorating the fabric.  “I saw.”  She gave the redhaired girl a reassuring nod, wincing only slightly as the move caused a sharp tug at her hairline.  “Your work is quite beautiful.”

“Do you really think so?”  Sansa asked the question with such desperate enthusiasm that she nearly ripped a handful of hair free, and she shushed and tutted anxiously when Daenerys let loose a ragged cry.  “Oh, my apologies, Dany, I’m so very sorry.” 

“Do not trouble yourself, my Lady, I have borne much worse.”  Sansa did not seem mollified by the pronouncement, only troubled, and her fingers rubbed at the spot on her scalp that still smarted until the ache had eased.  “But yes, you have a gift I could only wish for.”  Daenerys shrugged in bemusement, their eyes meeting in the glass again as she explained.  “I fear I possess neither the patience, nor,” she wiggled her fingers playfully before her, “the nimble hands.”

Sansa giggled in return, looking secretly pleased at the praise, and Dany marveled at the change from the icy woman the Lady of Winterfell had been only a short time ago.  Finishing with the now smooth silver hair, a fresh crown of plaits secured with a length of red ribbon, the younger woman laid down the comb, her hands clasped together under her chin as she watched Daenerys study her reflection.

“Do you like it?” 

Dany nodded happily, turning her chin this way and that to see the twisting, intricate braids.  Sansa clapped again, clearly in a fully excited state, her eyes widening as she glanced at the wardrobe.

“I have an idea.”  Sansa looked from Dany to the wardrobe stuffed with gowns, her finger tapping thoughtfully against her lips.  “You can’t very well go before the King dressed like that.  No,” she shook her head, even as Daenerys opened her mouth to protest, “You are my guest, I’m afraid I really must insist.”  Her voice remained pleasant, but there was an edge to Lady Sansa’s tone that brooked no arguments at all.

And so, Daenerys nodded her agreement, watching silently as Sansa swept the doors to the wardrobe wide open, her eyes flitting rapidly between Daenerys and the gowns as her hands sifted through the fabric.  Her fingers seemed to know which dress ought to be chosen simply from the feel, and from the mass of silk and trimmings emerged an elegant gown; It was a deep crimson, with fine black embroidery upon the hem, a trailing vine that crept up the skirts and down the bodice.  It looked to be a warm, soft wool, much thicker than the light, gauzy sheers that had been a necessity in the heat of the Valyrian summer sun.

“It’s lovely,” Daenerys breathed, glancing up at Sansa as she came close enough for the silver-haired girl to run her fingers along the full skirts.  “But I fear it will not fit.”

The Lady of Winterfell only shushed her quietly, sparing a look back at Lady who had curled her large body into a red mound of fur at the foot of the bed.  “She will learn, won’t she, Lady?” 

Firmly, she pushed Daenerys behind a changing screen tucked into the corner, impatiently tapping her booted toe against the stone floor as Dany hurried into the dress.  It laced in the back, beyond the reach of her truly clumsy fingers, and so she made her way around the screen slowly, too-long skirts gathered in one hand, bodice barely clinging to her shoulders, the lacings pulled just tight enough to hide the scars she dared not speak upon, not with this ghostly girl she’d only just met.

“Come.”  Sansa waved her over, placing a stool on the floor and lending an arm to aid in a most valiant struggle of woman versus oceans of fabric.

“It’s far too long, you see?”  The Stark girl paced in a circle once around Daenerys, quiet as she seemed to make all sorts of impossible calculations before coming to a halt, her circuit complete.  With the aid of the footstool they were now face to face, close enough to spot the consternation and amusement on the woman’s face before she gave one last whispered instruction.

“Close your eyes.”

Daenerys obeyed, the air seeming to shiver around her as her eyes slammed shut.  She waited for something, anything beyond a series of gentle nips and tugs of the materials encasing her body from what felt like a million different angles all at once.

“Perfect.”  Sansa’s whisper came so quickly that Daenerys could not stop her eyes from flying open, stunned to see the gown now perfectly tailored to her form, hugging her curves where she had positively swum inside the gown mere seconds ago.

“How?”  It was all she could manage, in this strange dreamland she had stumbled upon inhabited by ghosts and wolves, for even here it seemed she could still be surprised by such an act as this.

“Magic,” Sansa whispered, smiling contentedly as she offered her hand, guiding Dany off the stool.  “I suppose you might as well get used to it.”  Her lips twisted, something enigmatic behind her smile as she tucked Daenerys’s hand in the crook of her arm, preparing to take their leave of these chambers at last.  “We best be off, now that you have been properly refreshed.  I fear your journey has been long, and we have farther still to go.”

She walked, with a slow, measured gait, a ceremonial air to the way she held her head high, a true Lady even here in the depths of this graveyard.  But before they reached the courtyard, Sansa stopped, in the shadow of an archway, and took Dany’s hands in both of hers.

“I’m glad you’re here, Dany.”  She whispered so quietly that it was a struggle to hear, and Daenerys leaned as close as the space between them would allow.  “And so shall they be as well.  Don’t let my brother’s rotten manners convince you otherwise.”  Fingers squeezed her hands tightly.  “Nor my sister’s complete disregard for propriety.”

With that, Sansa dropped her hands away, leaving Dany alone to ponder what she meant, her retreating form soon vanished from view.

-------------

Lady stayed with her, keeping a bit of distance between them, leading Daenerys along a path only she seemed to know.  And, as the direwolf was the only living thing her eyes could see within these now-restored walls, she found herself inclined to follow.

They passed through the courtyard, her boots crunching in the thick snow that blanketed everything, even the blazing sun above doing little to thaw the ice below.  She allowed herself one small, silly twirl in the very center of the space, a happy moment where she felt nothing but the sun above and the warm wool sleeves of her dress, the chilled kiss of the air near welcome as her skin began to heat beneath the fabric.

When she slowed to a stop, her breath fogging the air, she saw the large red wolf, sitting on her haunches and watching Daenerys with her mouth hanging open, panting.

With a flush of embarrassment she began to trudge through the snow, but it seemed to her, for a second, that the wolf had been smiling.

-------------

Lady drew to a halt at the very moment the sound of clashing metal echoed off the stone walls, but while Daenerys searched in vain, her head whipping around for the source of the ruckus, the wolf contented herself with nosing at a small sack that lay discarded near the footpath.

Dany knelt, her skirts fanning into a crimson pool against the stark white snows, waiting until the wolf had finished her inspection and pulled back before slipping her hands into the bag.  She had no desire to cross paths with the sharp fangs embedded into those great jaws, after all.

Her hands closed around something smooth and curved, and she pulled it free; What she’d thought perhaps a bowl was instead a carved mask.  It was a wolf, with the eyes carved out, a leather strap hanging free at one side suggesting it had once been worn.  It was red, like Lady, intricate fur detail painted into the lacquered surface, almost lifelike in its quality.

She turned the mask over in her hands, finding a smoothly sanded wooden surface where the wearer’s face would rest.  The name ‘Sansa’ had been scratched inside with what looked like coal, in a child’s scrawl.

“I suppose this is you, Lady.”  She waved the mask in the wolf’s direction.  “It’s a close enough likeness to be getting on with, don’t you think?”

The wolf only chuffed, circling before laying herself down upon the snow, mindless to the cold and shielded by her thick fur.

Daenerys gave a merry laugh, reaching inside again, curious as to whether other wolves that had haunted her dreams would be found inside.  The next mask was a wolf whose mouth had been frozen in a half-snarl, a study in shades of gray, her head and muzzle of deepest slate before blending steadily to such a light shade of mist that it seemed almost white.  Daenerys smiled.  She knew this face.

Eager to see the inscription on the back, she flipped the mask over, speaking the short name aloud as her eyes scanned the surface.

“Arya.”

A loud twanging sounded, a sound Daenerys knew all too well, and she ducked in time to hear an arrow whizz past, thumping into a distant bale of hay.

Shaking, Dany turned, to find a slender, dark-haired girl clutching a longbow and examining her closely.

“Yes?”  The girl spoke with a polite indifference, as though she hadn’t just tried to shoot an arrow clean through her skull.

Daenerys rose slowly, carefully, her eyes on the girl as she fumbled in the sack, placing the mask back where it had lain.  Lady Sansa had mentioned a sister; it was only a small leap of faith to presume this must be her.

More than a small lack of impropriety, then.

Arya Stark looked at her with a scrutinous eye, biting her lip as though she fought a laugh when she took in Dany’s resplendent red winter gown, and the way Lady had roused herself to stand just behind the silver-haired woman’s right shoulder.

“I see Sansa’s already got her claws in you, then.”  She smirked, drawing another arrow from the quiver strapped to her body, now aiming well away from Daenerys, striking a distant, painted target in this vast yard.

It was a training yard, she realized, and began to suspect perhaps the girl had not been trying to sink an arrow into her eye socket, as she had first suspected.

“Didn’t mean to frighten you, just then.”  Another arrow notched, and then another target hit.  “I just didn’t see you there.”  Arya’s head swung around then, watching her carefully and obviously waiting for a reply.

Daenerys shook her head almost unconsciously.  “I was merely startled.  I ought to have been more careful.”

The dark-haired girl smirked, her eyes dancing with amusement when she lowered her bow and walked closer.  “You ought to be careful, as a rule.”  Ominous words, though the girl remained friendly.  “But it’s good to know you don’t frighten easily.  Very handy.”

As though she sensed Dany’s growing trepidation, she softened her tone, but it was not beyond noticing that her eyes remained as cold and hard as ever.  She had eyes of pale gray, of steel, and the notion swept Daenerys that this girl might be peering into her very soul.

“It’s not me you need to be afraid of.”  Dark hair bobbed as she nodded over Dany’s shoulder.  “It’s her.”

Now Arya and Lady drew back, together, as though they executed some silent dance, all as Daenerys slowly pivoted.

She was not afraid, for she knew what she would find.

The massive gray wolf, bigger than her copper-colored sister, crept forward, circling Dany with her nose to the ground several times before her head snapped up, her black nose twitching even with Daenerys’s own as their eyes caught and held.

“Nymeria,” Dany whispered, and was nearly deafened by the howl the wolf suddenly let out, a loud joyful sound that shook the snow from the tops of the walls that surrounded them.

Her arms were around the wolf’s neck before she could contain the impulse, her wild gray friend gentling under her embrace, allowing Dany to sink her face into the thick ruff of fur.  For one heartbeat, then another, it was just them, two friends reunited, Nymeria beginning to squirm to be freed only to coat her face in several furious licks.

Then, with a shift, she was nipping at her sister, the two wolves playfully given chase together, as mercurial here as she had been in those dreams of long ago.

A hand on her shoulder finally shook her from her thoughts, this sister thankfully much easier to look upon than the other, taller girl had been.  But this girl, this Arya Stark, was all warrior where her sister had been a proper lady, clad in training leathers, bearing a dagger upon one hip and a thin, slender blade upon the other.  The two could not have been more different, save for the way the girl now stared at her, a tremble at her chin, gray eyes growing just slightly glassy.

The Lady Sansa had done just the same, had looked at her with such poignancy, as though for all her gladness there was, just beneath, a deep and abiding grief.

Daenerys would ignore it, as she had with Sansa; she would not guess at what might be the cause of such troubled spirit, even in the midst of the excitement that grew in her eyes.

“You’re real,” the girl gasped, her hands squeezing both of Dany’s shoulders tightly.  “You’re really real.”  Arya drew her into a fierce hug, the younger girl of such slight build that her head was no higher than Dany’s own chin.

“Give me a name,” Arya whispered, drawing back and rolling her eyes, “but not your true name.  Give me the name you gave my wolf.”

“You may call me Dany, Lady Stark.”  Daenerys stepped back, offering a proper curtsy, chuckling when the girl crossed her arms across her chest, her bow discarded at her feet, and frowned crossly.

“You are Dany,” she agreed dryly, “but I assure you I am no Lady.”

Both laughed, then, an easy silence falling until Dany raised the hand she’d kept hidden in her skirts.  A white wolf was painted on its surface, the last in the bag, plucked free when she’d replaced the mask with Nymeria’s face.

“Is he here?”  She wondered aloud, not missing Arya’s grimace before she fixed a smile back on her face.

“About him,” Arya began, picking up her bow and gesturing for Dany to follow as they walked towards the short, squat building that seemed to be an armory of sorts.  “Do you have cats, where you’re from?”

Daenerys gave a confused bark of laughter.  “Cats?”  Mystified as to what this might have to do with the last wolf who had shared her dreams, secretly the dearest of the three to her bruised and battered heart, she raised her hands absently, shrugging.  “Certainly, yes, there were cats.”

Arya’s head ticked sideways.  “You know the wild sort, that live in barns, catch mice,” she hung her bow, calling gaily over her shoulder, “will scratch you to ribbons for trying to touch them?”

Dany sighed heavily.  There had been several that prowled the stables but refused her gentle touch, no matter how she fed them treats and left bowls of milk about.  She nodded, hastily scurrying to catch up as Arya began to make her leave.  “I’m familiar with them, yes.”

She followed just behind the darker sister, the rapid pace making her wonder at the other girl’s sudden hurry.  “Well,” Arya said, leading Dany inside the heart of the main Keep, lit torches aiding in the sun that streamed through windows carved out of the stone to brighten their path, “my brother is about a thousands times pricklier than the worst you’ve ever encountered, so just bear that in mind.”

They came to a halt just outside a pair of huge, ornately carved wooden doors.  “There’s something you must understand.”  Arya grabbed at her hand, clutching it tight and pulling it to bring Dany closer.  “It is not our wolves you are here to free.  It’s us.”  Dany felt her eyes widen, felt her stomach churn and sour with confusion.  “We have been trapped here for so long, together, it is hard to remember when we were not.  Luckily for us,” she continued, her voice incongruously bitter, “our memories remain, to remind us.”

Arya ducked her head, falling silent for a beat, her eyes somber as she stared into Dany’s own.  “Once, a very long time ago, we all believed that you would come, that you would save us.  Slowly, we stopped believing.  But,” the slim girl swallowed, “my brother believed for the longest.  Said he had seen it, in the flames, when he…”  The girl shook her head, falling rapidly silent, the same look of frustrated disquiet that had flashed upon Sansa’s features echoed now, in Arya’s.

“No matter.”  Arya straightened, still whispering, looking about.  “Just know that this isn’t who he is, not deep down.  It’s just,” she stammered, seeming to struggle for the right words, “been so very long.  Such a very long time indeed.”  She trailed off, melancholy, and reached for one of the large iron pulls.  “This will be a great shock for him, that you are here at last.”

An enormous knot of guilt had begun to build, just below her breastbone, coupling nicely with her churning insides, and it took all of Dany’s willpower to stay placid and calm, to not betray her newfound nerves with trembling hands or downcast eyes.

I must have fire in my eyes, now, not fear.

Daenerys gave a slow, regal nod, head high, and waited.

Arya pulled, the doors parted, and Dany prepared herself for the worst.

------------

Daenerys could see him, waiting silently, his profile a dark silhouette, lit from behind by a blazing fire.  He stood before an enormous stone hearth, paying no heed at all to her or Arya as they traversed the length of the Great Hall of Winterfell.

Sansa stood, as well, but where her brother seemed ignorant of their presence, the Lady of Winterfell nearly tripped on her long skirts when she spied them, rushing to meet the pair.  Gifting Dany an encouraging twist of her lips, *almost* as smile, she leaned down to whisper in her sister’s ear, a fiery curtain of hair hiding the words her lips formed.  Arya swatted away her sister’s hair in annoyance, grimacing briefly before her face fell.  With a withering look at her brother, she answered the older girl’s quiet question.

“Aye,” Arya nodded, pressing her lips together and frowning at her brother’s back.  “I warned her.”

“Good,” Sansa breathed out, her hands clasped tightly before her, and she adopted a mask of formality, speaking as though she addressed a royal host instead of one wayward, homeless sheep farmer’s daughter.

“You stand in the presence of Jon of House Stark, the Winter King, him they call the White Wolf, the King…”  The litany of titles was cut short by a put-upon groan, Jon of House Stark waving his hand as he finally turned to look upon them all.

“Enough of that horseshit.”  Sansa gave a harried, offended gasp, her eyes darting to Dany before she glared at the King.

“Jon, I must insist-“

Again, the Winter King raised his hand, cutting his sister off.  Until this moment, he had only thrown Daenerys a cursory, slightly curious glance, but now, finally, she gained his whole attention.

Instantly, she wished to give it back, to this insufferably handsome man.  There was no thought of speaking, no desire to part her lips at all.

Breathe, Dany.  Breathe.

He had the darkest eyes she’d ever seen, onyx and glittering as they stared into hers.  It suited him, though, this beast of a man clad from head to toe in black, from his boots to his battle leathers, from the inky furs on his cloak to the raven curls pulled back from his face.  A short, groomed beard decorated the line of his jaw, his look as he examined her as cold as the snows and ice that covered this land.

He was a Winter King, well and truly, and though she searched for it there was no kindness in his eyes.

Jon of House Stark remained silent, finally ending the contest of stares between them to take in in the rest of her, scowling as he looked at her dress and turning to address Sansa as she stood fuming.

“Did you give her that?”  His voice was gruff, and harsh, in a way that made her wonder if it was rarely used.

Sansa had clearly reached her limit.  “I most certainly did.”  The redhaired girl crossed her arms, her stance quietly challenging as she raised a brow at her brother, daring him to push.

The Winter King did not, his jaw clenching instead, and he nodded tightly.  “I see.”  He looked next to Arya, and Dany turned her head as well, to see the slight girl where she remained at her side.

This sister did not speak to her brother at all, only stepped slightly in front of Dany, as though she meant to intervene if the King could not scrape together at least a measure of hospitality.  Daenerys was surprised to see the dour man smirk at Arya, cuffing a hand to his sister’s dark hair and mussing it before her ticked his head towards where Sansa stood.  “Move.”

And then he turned, as well, midnight cloak swinging as he made his way to the throne that sat before the fire, an intimidating seat hewn of iron and black stone.

When the growl sounded, low and threatening, Daenerys thought it must have come from him, this man who now stared at her with barely contained disdain.

“Get on with it, then.”  He gestured uncaringly for her to turn around.

His look of surprise at her sudden grin remained fixed in her mind as she did so, her heart singing as she saw what it had yearned for most.

There he was, the largest direwolf of the three, graceful and silent and effortlessly deadly as he padded forward slowly.  There was the fur of snow white, unmarred, unblemished; There were those eyes as red as blood, shining like rubies, flickering firelight reflected as he came close enough for her to touch.

He did not growl, not anymore.

He knew her, and she knew him, and she felt her eyes grow hot with happy tears as she whispered, shakily, “Ghost?”

Where the other wolves had howled, Ghost let out a whimper of excitement, his head sliding against her side to rub against her with such force that he knocked her off her feet.  Daenerys did not care in the slightest, for here was the sweet, soft wolf who had comforted her in the dream-filled nights of her childhood, across the Narrow Sea when she was sad, who’d gladly let her scratch his itchy spots and nestle against his large frame to doze.

He remembered, she could see it in those red eyes, the affection, the recognition that wolf and girl shared between them.

Daenerys could scarcely believe it was real, silencing the part of her mind that screamed that this was yet another dream.

If it is a dream, I care not, now that I have seen them all again.

For a sweet second, she surrendered to the joy of their reunion, laughing as Ghost painted her face with rasping licks, her hands grabbing at his fur to hoist herself back to her feet.

But then, as seemed to be her lot in life, it was cut short by a harsh rebuke from the King this wolf belonged to.

“Ghost!”  She fancied that the wolf gave a great, heaving sigh at the sound, something sullen and regretful in the glance he gave her before slinking over to Jon Stark and coming to sit at the dark King’s side.

The dour man whispered something only the wolf could here, and Ghost lay down, his head on his paws, watching as the King’s sisters did while the Winter King finally came to stand before her.

“So,” he muttered.  “It’s you.”  His sisters had seemed glad to make her acquaintance, once she had named their wolves, making Jon Stark’s continued and obvious dislike even stranger in contrast.  He rubbed his hand across his jaw, making it difficult for her to ignore that he had rather nice hands for a man so thoroughly rude.  It mattered little, anyway.  She was not here to make a study of his hands.

“Give me your name.  Your true name.”  His hand dropped and he adopted an impatient air.  And something about it, about the way he looked on her with distaste, as though her very presence offended him, as though she was not here to aid them all, grew exponentially more bothersome with each second that passed.

If he wanted her true name, he could have it, all of it, just as Melisandre had taught her to say it aboard the boat.  There was an order to things, the witch had said, even magical things, and this answer was meant to be answered only one way.

So Daenerys answered, slowly, artfully; To speak Valyrian was to speak the language of song and poetry, and each syllable seemed to ring and echo throughout the hall as they fell from her lips.

“Nyke Daenerys jelmāzmo hen lentor Targārien, hen valyrio uēpo ānogār iksan.”  It was her turn to smirk as his eyes grew ever wider, his breath stuttering.  Her voice grew stronger.  “Tala hen perzys, ābrazȳrys hen sōnar, muñnykeā zaldrīzoti.”

It might have been her imagination, but it seemed to Daenerys that, as she spoke, the torches along the walls burned brighter, the hearth even hotter, flames growing ever higher.

And the cold King of Winter, his eyes widening, seemed to collapse in on himself, just a bit at least, the anger in his bitter gaze morphing into a bleak and grim acceptance.  He turned, cloak flapping darkly like the wings of a bat, and strode to his iron throne with exhausted air.

“You speak Valyrian.”  King Jon’s words broke through the brief quiet, more statement than question, and she offered little more than a slight nod in reply.  He leaned back at this, drawing off his gloves and raising a hand to rub tiredly at the back of his neck.  “Well, I do not,” he shook his head in bemusement, but she thought she heard that now-familiar bitter edge returning to his voice, “so I fear you must tell me what you said.”

Daenerys cleared her throat, casting a glance at Sansa.  The Lady of Winterfell had not moved throughout the exchange, gripping her sister’s hand tightly as she gave an encouraging nod.  “I said I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the Blood of Old Valyria.”  A startled gasp from Arya, accompanied by the dark-haired girl beginning to practically bounce up and down on the balls of her feet, made Dany grin.  Thankfully, Arya Stark gave her little time to wonder at the cause of her excitement.

“You’re a Targaryen?”  Arya turned smugly to her sister, who frowned down at her in turn.  “I told you, Sansa.  I knew it.”  Her steely eyes met Dany’s once more with something very close to awe shining from their depths.  “A dragon rider,” she breathed, causing Sansa to gasp in turn, earning a scoff from the icy King sitting upon the throne.

“A dragon rider,” he mimicked under his breath, and Daenerys turned back to face him with the deepest scowl she could muster.  That only seemed to amuse him, and he leaned forward, finally interested.  “And is that what you have brought, Daenerys Stormborn?”  He gestured around in the air above his head, inordinately condescending as he continued.  “Fire-breathing dragons to melt all this ice?  Is that how you will free us?”

Daenerys took a deep, steadying breath, staring down as she shuffled her feet, her scarlet gown feeling more like armor against this insufferable man.  “Not exactly.”

“Oh?”  The Winter King asked his question with such overbearing curiosity that she knew he was mocking her, but for the life of her she could not fathom why, could not sort out what offense she had caused without ever stepping foot into his presence before this moment.  “Come now, Daenerys of House Targaryen, tell us how it is that you mean to rescue us.”

“I’m not entirely sure what you-“   She stuttered slightly as she answered, cut off when he began to speak over her, snapping his fingers at Ghost when the wolf began to creep towards her as though he meant to comfort her.

“Surely, Daenerys, you have not come here without a plan.”  He gave her a scornful laugh, his eyes narrowing.  “Enlighten us.”  He leaned back, satisfied, crossing his arms as he stared down at her from his dark, forbidding throne.

“Let her be, Jon.”  Sansa’s hiss was loud enough to be heard by all, but her brother ignored her, continuing to glare down at Daenerys.

And Daenerys had just about reached her limit with Sansa’s brother.  She drew herself up, proudly, taking several long, slow steps until she stood before the dour young King.

“I have brought what is required to set you free, no more, no less.”  She addressed the Winter King with a confidence she did not feel, her tone curt, her every word as clipped and cold as he was.  “I am not fool enough to believe there will be no cost, Your Grace.”  She dipped her head stiffly, formally.  “But rest assured, when it must be paid, I am prepared to do so.”  Her eyes met his with polite coolness.  “Else, I can assure you, I would not be here.”

“NO!”  Jon’s voice boomed like thunder, a clenched fist crashing down onto the arm of his throne.  He cast himself from the seat altogether, stalking down to where she stood like a beast stalking his pray, his chest almost heaving as he came to a stop far too close than was proper.  “You don’t know anything, you foolish girl.”  He was almost growling, now, more wolf than man, practically thrumming with anger as he raised a shaking finger between them.  “If you did, this is the last place you would be.”

“Jon!”  Arya called her brother’s name with a yelp, her face flushed with frustrated embarrassment.  “By the Gods, what’s the matter with you?”

“Get out.”  He whispered the command fiercely at Daenerys, then stormed away from all three women and out the grand wooden doors with resounding, furious clamor, Ghost giving Dany one last, sad look before following his master.

Chapter Text

Daenerys shot upright, her heart pounding in her chest, her breath coming fast and shallow.  She squinted in the darkness, one lone, flickering candle nearly burnt to it’s base on the table beside the bed.

It was gone, now, that veneer of what had been, peeled away from her vision once more in the dark reality of this long, unending night.

There was no more sun.  And, while her eyes seemed to need to adjust themselves to the familiar shadows of the prior months, her nose took no delay in telling her these blankets and furs heaped upon her were just as dusty and aged as they had been when she had settled herself in the abandoned quarters of the Lady Sansa.

Cautiously, she climbed from the best, sneezing rapidly and rummaging through a nearby bureau.  In the bottom drawer there lay a stack of dainty handkerchiefs, embroidered in the corner with a tiny silver wolf.  She pulled several from the center of the stack, hoping to avoid those on the top that were coated with yet more dust.

Sidling up to the vanity she seated herself, a fleeting memory of Sansa brushing her hair, carefully and methodically, the very same brush and comb resting atop the wood, save for the decay time had wrought upon them.

The bone handle was still solid enough in her hand, however, and she gave only a moment’s hesitation before grasping it and setting to work.

“That,” she whispered to her reflection, “was the strangest dream I’ve ever had.”

Her reflection had little to say on the matter, only grimacing slightly at her as she hit a particularly tangled snarl of hair.  She came quite close to ripping out that handful of hair completely when the door to the room slammed open, hitting soundly upon the iron doorstop and bringing a vaguely frantic Melisandre into view.

“Daenerys!”  She rushed into the room, slim, red-robed arms sweeping around to embrace Dany with surprising warmth and care before the older woman pulled back.  “You survived.”  Spying the comb and the Valyrian’s fingers still tangled in her silver hair she made haste to take over, almost maternal as she fought to smooth Dany’s tresses.

“I hope,” Melisandre said, flickering eyes meeting Dany’s in the looking glass, “that you asked permission.”  When the woman’s words were followed by a pointed glace at the comb, *Sansa’s* comb, Daenerys sighed, rolling her eyes dramatically.

“I suppose I did,” Daenerys replied, raising a brow and studying the witch with skeptical humor.  “If one can ask permission in a dream, that is.”

Melisandre stopped, her hands falling away before grasping each other and disappearing in the voluminous sleeves of her robes.  She studied Daenerys silently, then touched a fingertip to the lovely silver bracelet on the younger girl’s wrist.  “A dream?”, she asked, raising a brow in return.  “Not at all.  Do you know any dreams that last for three entire days?”

Her brow furrowing, Daenerys stood, looking about in confusion.  “Three days?  You must be mistaken.”  Daenerys could discount the woman’s words easily enough, though as far as she could gather Melisandre had not made it a practice to lie to her.  It did not trouble the witch to keep close her knowledge, of course, but if asked she would answer readily enough, even if the answer was frustratingly mysterious.

What she could not discount was the gnawing, aching hunger in her rumbling stomach, or the realization that her mouth was absurdly dry.  She was absolutely parched, suddenly, and looked around absently for the tumbler and earthenware jug that had accompanied the bowl of strange paste she’d eaten.  She poured herself some water, gulping down the cold liquid and savoring the much-needed drink with quiet satisfaction.

“Did you see him?”  Melisandre was closer than she expected, and her eyes flew open when the witch’s voice resounded nearby.

Daenerys did not ask the woman to clarify.  She knew precisely which troublesome ‘him’ Melisandre referred to.  She nodded.  “The Winter King.  Yes,” she exhaled heavily, “I saw him.  And his sisters.”

“What did he say?”  The woman was almost breathless with anticipation, and Daenerys could not keep the scorn from her voice when she answered.

“He wanted to know if I brought dragons.”  Daenerys laid her drink aside.  “He wanted to know how I meant to free them.”

Fear bloomed in her heart when the witch looked across the room, to a tattered upholstered chair that Daenerys knew from her dream was once a dark shade of midnight blue.  Set carefully on the still stuffed seat cushion was her satchel, still latched shut, surely spirited away from her prone form while she slept, while she dreamed.  It mattered not, though; She could see from the way the woman’s eyes nearly caressed the item that she knew what lay inside.

“Did you tell him,” the witch asked finally, meeting her gaze, “about the eggs?”

Inside her pack lay three eggs, her final inheritance from her now-dead house; It was fitting, she reckoned: It was said that House Targaryen was the first of the Valyrian houses to hatch dragons, and now she and her petrified stone eggs, inert and useless, were all that remained, the first and the last, the beginning and the end of Valyrian magic.

“No,” Dany whispered, forcing herself to look away, walking instead to the cold hearth.  “Nor will I.  They will never become dragons.”  Her hands worked blindly, gathering kindling, striking the flint to coax a spark forth.

“That may be,” answered Melisandre, kneeling beside her and beginning to feed what looked to be freshly chopped firewood into the burgeoning flame.  “But they are not without their power, and neither are you.” 

Daenerys was silent, only the hissing and popping of the fire breaking the quiet that fell.  She considered the witch’s words, and let them simmer and stew with the angry King’s bitter questioning.  “How *am* I going to free them?”

Melisandre stood, wiping her hands briskly together and gesturing for Dany to rise as well.  “First, I have something to show you.”

“What?”  Dany’s question hung in the air between them, until the witch offered her a small, entreating smile.  She came close, caressing that enchanted bracelet around Dany’s wrist, an object that promised to show her the things still hidden from her eyes, the things that magic concealed.

“The truth, Daenerys.  You want to know how you shall free them?”  When Daenerys nodded in agreement Melisandre reached for the door, pulling it open and taking Dany’s hand.  “First you must understand what you will free.”

-------------

The first body lay just outside the door to the Lady Sansa’s chambers, right below a dark iron sconce cradling a freshly lit torch.  Daenerys felt horror rush through her, and she knelt gingerly beside the crumpled form, her eyes revealing a truth that she had trouble allowing herself to believe.

Her fingers shook, hovering in the air above a blue, frozen cheek, noting that though this woman’s entire body seemed to have been cast in blue ice, she could see the intricate detail impossibly captured and suspended in time.  It was the woman’s face, frozen in a silent scream, one hand reaching up as though to shield herself from an invisible foe, that shook her to her very core.

There was even a small, frozen dagger in this lady’s hand, and Dany hoped desperately, for this girl’s sake, that it had found a home buried in some long-forgotten foe, that in her final moment perhaps she had experienced one last triumph.

Daenerys knew this girl’s face.

“Lady Sansa,” she whispered sadly, her hand retreating.  Her knees began to ache against the cold stone floor, but she ignored the discomfort, instead searching for and finding Melisandre’s face in the shadowed corridor.

“Do not mourn her just yet.”  The red witch extended her hand, and Daenerys took it willingly enough, bracelet tinkling at her wrist as they forged a path through the debris-strewn hall.  When they turned she was greeted by more of the icy dead of Winterfell, blue-tinged men forged and frozen in mid-fight, their swords gilded in the snow that fell silently through the exposed roof.

“Are they all like this?”  Her mouth was growing dry again, her throat feeling scratchy, and she wished she’d thought to bring some water along, eyeing each drift of snow they passed now and wondering if she felt brave enough to shove a handful in her mouth, so that she might savor the blissful melt.

“All those who still drew breath when the Night King fell, yes.”  Melisandre’s voice dropped to a low, somber timbre.  “All the living North.”

They trudged onward, finding still more of these cursed Northerners huddled in great numbers in the refuge of the courtyard, while others kept an endless watch along the few battlements that remained intact.

“If I am able to end this curse,” Daenerys began, willing herself not to avert her eyes from the endless, silent screams on the faces she could discern in the meager torchlight, “they will be saved as well?  All the living North?”  She parroted the phrase back to the witch, her stomach rumbling anew as she realized they had made their way to a large, half-ruined kitchen.

One wall had completely collapsed, and rocky rubble covered a portion of the floor, but there was room enough to work in, and a large iron stove waiting only to be loaded and lit, promising warmth and, most pressingly, food.

Melisandre waited until they had done just that to answer, heat beginning to radiate from the glowing fire within.  “If you can end this curse, you shall save all seven Kingdoms of Westeros,” she said mildly, her attention focused solely on the pot of water she set atop the cooking surface.  “You see,” she continued, before Daenerys could unleash the storm of questions on the tip of her tongue, “when the Night King was defeated, there came a rather unintended consequence.”

The witch pointed almost imperiously to the small sack of oats peeking from their hamper of food, which seemed to have found a new home in this ramshackle, no doubt once stately and bustling kitchen.  Fetching them wordlessly, Daenerys watched as Melisandre prepared their meager meal, mulling over this new piece of information.

“Are you saying that what happened to these people,” Dany’s voice faltered slightly, her mind unable to divest itself of the faces she’d seen, twisted forever in terrified, icy torment.  She started again, trying to steady her voice.  “This happened elsewhere, as well?  Not just the North, I mean?”

Melisandre fetched their carved wooden bowls herself, setting them on the tabletop and pulling over a serviceable chair, while Daenerys followed her lead and procured a tall, backless stool from the far wall.  They seated themselves, the witch not answering until she had served them both and Dany had begun to tuck into her meal with renewed hunger, relishing each bite as though it were a grand feast and not bland, tasteless, lumpy oats.

“It began here.”  The other woman adopted the expression she usually wore when she meant to tell a tale, dreamy and faraway.  “But once the Long Night fell, it could not be stopped.  It spread, slowly, but it spread all the same.  Some fled,” Melisandre continued on, even as she rose and crossed the room, fetching a pewter pitcher and two cups, “but those who stayed, from the snows of Winterfell to the sands of Dorne, all met the same icy fate under the same neverending night.”

Daenerys knew this tale well, but she did not stop the witch, instead scraping her spoon along the contours of her bowl to catch any errant oats she had neglected in her initial fervor.  A small thump stole her attention, and she was surprised and more that a little angry when she saw what Melisandre had procured and tossed carelessly onto the tabletop.

“That’s mine!”  Dany was on her feet in a heartbeat, snatching up the thin volume and clutching it to her chest.  “You had no business rummaging through my things.”  She traced the leather binding, the wear and fray of the old book a familiar friend under her fingertips.

“Settle yourself!”  Melisandre rapped her knuckles on the table sharply, her stare commanding as Daenerys glared in return and lowered herself back onto the stool.  Dishing up another round of oats, each woman began to eat once more, stealing glances at each other until, finally, the witch deigned to speak again.

“It’s fairly accurate,” Melisandre said, mollified, her tone soothing as though Daenerys were a rabid animal and not a woman grown and flowered, “if you were curious.”  It was amazing, truly, that she managed to make such an unbelievable declaration so nonchalantly.

If only she had not, so recently, found herself surrounded on all sides by such unbelievable things.

Still, it was with no small dose of skepticism that Daenerys glanced down at the book, then back to Melisandre, her eyes narrowing as she studied the witch now, scrutinizing her carefully.  “How, exactly, would you presume to know that?”

It was beginning to make her skin crawl, that enigmatic, mysterious little smile that the witch seemed to favor.  “I was here, of course.”  At Daenerys’s startled expression the woman shifted in her seat.  “Well, not here *precisely*,” she stuttered slightly, glancing around at their broken surroundings, “but in the North.”

Fingers white as bone danced along the ruby-laden choker at Melisandre’s neck.  “It was before the Night King fell, of course.  Before this cursed Long Night plagued these lands.”  The witch eyed her cup of water before pulling a small skin of wine from her robes, taking a bracing drink before continuing.  “But I saw them with my own eyes.”  Glancing from Daenerys to the skin she reached across the table, offering the stronger liquid with haunted eyes.

“Saw who?”  Daenerys took a healthy swig, wiping her mouth messily with her sleeve and handing back the skin.

“All of them, girl.”  Now she was hushed, peering around as though speaking of the ghosts of the past might conjure them forth.  “The Night King, his army of the dead.”  Melisandre shuddered, closing her eyes briefly, a glimmer of horror there when they opened once more.  “It was far from here, however.  Farther north, still, in the Kingdom Beyond the Wall.”

A great many questions sprang to mind, and the scholar within her, who yearned for knowledge like her father had yearned for power, wanted nothing more than to demand the woman stay put until she had exhausted her endless inquiries.

The witch did not give her a chance, however, her eyes falling to the book Dany still clutched tightly in one hand.  “Where Winter Fell:  The Tragic Fate of Westeros,” she intoned solemnly, though her eyes danced with some secret only Melisandre seemed to know.  “The young maester who wrote that accounting was one of the few Westerosi to survive, after the Long Night claimed these people.  He was not here, for the battle.  He had been sent across the Narrow Sea, to search for anything that might help defeat the army of the dead.”

Daenerys gingerly laid the well-worn tome back onto the table, satisfied that the other woman wouldn’t snatch it away.  “This was my brother’s book,” she whispered.  “Rhaegar, not Viserys.”  She allowed her hunger to grow more pressing than her sadness, and took several large bites before she spoke again.

“He died before I was born.”  She could not help but smile as she spoke.  By all accounts, where Viserys had been just as hard and cruel as her father, Rhaegar had been kind, and good, and gentle, preferring books to swords, and songs to steel.  Over the years she had read every single book and journal and scroll and scrap that had been in the crates that held his few belongings.  It was the only way she had found to know him, and she liked to fancy that, had he lived, perhaps he might have made things more bearable.

Melisandre reached across, opening the leather cover to the first page, the author’s name scrawled in black ink there.  “Maester Samwell Tarly.”  There was an odd fondness in the way the woman’s lips ticked up at the corners.  “He would be glad, you know, to know his dearest friend survived where he did not.”

“Maester Tarly?”  Daenerys shook her head in confusion.  “I don’t understand.”

“No, not the Maester.  The Winter King, Jon Stark.”  The witch snorted lightly at Dany’s deep, answering scowl.  “Though I believe you two have met, yes?”

Dany dropped her spoon into her empty bowl with a loud clatter.  “That explains why he spoke of the man so glowingly.  Because the man described herein,” she flicked a finger in the direction of the book, “is not the same man at all.”

Melisandre merely blew out a breath.  “No, I daresay he is not.”  She stood, waving Daenerys along with her as she took her bowl and made her way to the heavy door that protected them from the wintry cold outside.  Together, they used handfuls of snow to wash their bowls clean, leaving them to dry on the table.

“Why is he so awful?”  Daenerys knew she ought to drop the topic altogether, lest the witch think she had any untoward interest in this unfortunately handsome, disagreeable man who apparently existed only in her unconscious mind.  She grabbed her brother’s book, slipping it into a pocket in the lining of her white furred winter coat, watching as Melisandre took a quick inventory of the meager food supply remaining to them.

“Come,” she told Daenerys, and together they walked from the kitchens and down a labyrinth of twists and turns, a smattering of icy blue, frozen bodies scattered around in sad, silent welcome.

She knew Melisandre had brought her to the Great Hall that had been home to her audience with the King and his sisters, but she was stunned anew by the destruction that had ruined the grand, austere beauty of the room.  One heavy door hung awkwardly by a single hinge, the other flat on the ground as though it had been blasted free by great force.

“Probably giants,” Melisandre said, answering the unspoken question.  Together, still, the approached the throne, or what remained of it.  It, too, appeared to have been ripped apart, the arms gone, two of the legs missing as well, and it was little more than a twisted heap of iron and onyx that gleamed dully in the light of their lone torch.

“He has known great suffering, the Winter King.”  Melisandre’s eyes left the crumpled throne, and she turned fully to Dany in a swirl of blood red fabric.  “Try not to judge him too harshly, just yet.  He is what life has made him.  He is what any of us may become, when hope is finally lost to us.”

Daenerys remembered what the dark-haired girl, Arya, had let slip.

My brother believed, for the longest.  Said he had seen it in the flames.

“Will you turn away from them, because you do not care for the King’s manners?  Will one man’s rudeness dissuade you from this task?”  The witch’s eyes, everchanging, seemed to glow amber in the darkness of the cavernous room.

“Of course not.”  She meant it, truly, but was overwhelmed by the sudden desire to be far away from this room, and the dreadful, angry man it reminded her of.

Melisandre nodded smartly, taking Dany’s hand in her strangely warm one, something friendlier in her manner now that she knew Daenerys would not flee at the first sign of trouble.  With a light pull she guided Dany from the room, and before long the women found themselves just inside the gate to the Keep, the very same she had passed through days before.

“We shall run out of food very soon.”  The witch sounded more concerned than Dany had anticipated, and a wave of worry swept over her at the woman’s statement. 

She opened her mouth to reply, to ask if the witch could not simply use magic to sustain their supply as she had to aid in their voyage, but she did not get the chance.

A howl pierced the air, starting high and ending low and forlorn; It was the only warning the pair had before two large, blurry shapes began to advance from the inky blackness that surrounded them.  The moon hid her face tonight, and so she could not clearly see what approached with just her eyes.

But her heart knew immediately, and it was with swiftly growing cheer that she greeted their new guests.  Lady came close first, dipping her head so that Dany could scratch along her muzzle, giving her hand a warm lick before sniffing curiously at Melisandre.  Nymeria followed suit, allowing Daenerys to stroke along her back, at least the bit she could reach, before examining the witch in turn.

Both wolves gave Melisandre a low, warning growl.

“They do not trust me,” said the witch.

Suddenly she felt a gust of hot, humid breath on her neck that filtered through her silver curls.  She turned, quickly, grinning widely.

“Ghost!”  Her exclamation echoed out into the night, and she hugged the largest wolf fiercely, an odd peace beginning to settle around her.  She might not fully trust Melisandre, either, but she trusted the wolves.

When she twisted her head around to glance at the other woman, Ghost painting her cheek in a rapid succession of rasping licks, she found Melisandre watching her with pointed interest.  And when Ghost deigned to acknowledge the witch, it was with a wet sneeze in her direction, delivered with such force that Dany could see the woman’s red hair sway with it.

“It seems,” the witch said, making a grand show of wiping her face clean, “they trust you, Daenerys Stormborn.  That is promising.”

“Why?”  Daenerys asked the question rather absently, choosing to scratch fondly at Ghost’s neck instead of focusing on Melisandre.

“Because,” the woman said, coming to stand behind Daenerys, the witch staring levelly into the direwolf’s red eyes, as though it was the white wolf she addressed, “they shall need to find our food.”

Dany marveled that Ghost actually seemed to understand, and he let loose with a low, put-upon growl in the witch’s direction before he turned his eyes to Daenerys.  He studied her, his head tilting this way and that, giving her a little whimper until she acquiesced and resumed her scratching.

Finally, his itch seemingly tended to, he sprang up, not even giving the Last Valyrian a look goodbye.  His furry sisters received one lone chuff as he passed, and then they too were off, as quickly as they had appeared, lost to the black of the night.

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Lady had returned to them much later, alone, her powerful muzzle wrapped around the throat of a stunted, bony elk.  Already, the meat had frozen, the extreme cold doing them all little good besides preserving the meat until it might be eaten.

The wolf seemed awfully proud of herself, as far as such things went, dropping the animal heavily by the side door to the kitchens, and Daenerys was glad she was there to welcome the beautiful creature, having come down without the witch to begin preparing their dinner.

“Oh, Lady, aren’t you clever!”  She scratched between the wolf’s ears when Lady lowered her head, and smiled when, once satisfied with her praise, Lady lay down beside the stone wall and began to delicately lick the blood spatters from her fur and paws.

“And so refined, as well.”  She dipped in a curtsy, because it seemed only proper.  “Thank you ever so kindly.”

Lady chuffed in her direction, watching through the open door as Dany came in from the cold to check on her pot of water.  It had yet to boil, and she doubted her watchful eye would coax it any faster, so she set to work preparing the oats, rummaging through the hamper to see if perhaps they had any dried figs remaining, longing for something to sweeten the bland offering.

A sound at the door gave her a start, but there was nothing there save Lady, peering into the shadowy room, her head swinging to and fro before she settled her eyes on Dany.

“Would you like to join me, sweet girl?  I would care for some company, if it suits you.”  Dany gave a wave of her hand to the surrounding room, inviting the wolf in.  Tentatively, the wolf entered, comically large in the space, which seemed to shrink in comparison the animal’s presence.  Lady butted her head gently into Dany’s leg, her nose sniffing at the oats as her piercing blue eyes flashed with something like recognition.

“Are you hungry?”  It had not occurred to her ‘til now that perhaps Lady had brought Daenerys and her companion what might have been meant to feed the wolf instead.  The red wolf only stared, unable to reply.  “Well,” Dany said, “if you would care for some oats I would be glad to share.”  She lowered her voice to a whisper, leaning close to the wolf’s ear.  “Though I must warn you, it will probably taste far worse than that elk.”

“She is a creature formed from magic, Daenerys, no mere wolf of flesh and blood.”  Melisandre’s words rang out from the doorway, and she gave a courteous bow of her head in Lady’s direction before looking to Dany.  “I expect she does not need to eat as we do.”

Lady gave Melisandre something resembling a glare, then settled herself by the hearth, where Dany had already set a cheerful blaze burning.  “Perhaps so,” Dany said, eyeing the scant handful of dried fruit left in one small cloth sack, deciding it might not be so terrible to add them, not when the wolf had so thoughtfully brought them many days’ worth of food.  “But it would be rude not to offer, all the same.”

“After all,” she continued, adding the oats to her now boiling water and removing them from the iron stovetop, “she’s brought us a whole elk to feast upon.”

Dany pointed towards the still partially open door, which had begun to sway ever so gently each time the chilly wind outside caught it.  Melisandre strode quickly to inspect, relief plain on her face when she closed the door firmly and turned to the girl and wolf.  “Many thanks upon you, servant of the Old Gods.”

It seemed to Daenerys that the wolf rolled her eyes, and it brought forth a giggle that she could not stifle.  Lady’s eyes remained on her, blue and piercing, as she scooped the lumpy mass into two bowls, scattering figs across the top with a flourish.

The witch took her bowl silently, waiting until Dany sat herself down to pull forth a small, lidded tin.  “Tonight, you must see them again.”  She removed the lid to reveal the same green paste Daenerys had eaten the night she’d first arrived.

“Why?”  It was the first question that sprung to mind, but she did not miss Lady’s low whine at her protestation.

“Think, Daenerys.”  Melisandre stopped eating to raise a pointed finger in her direction, as though she meant to scold.  “We must know exactly what happened, when the Night King was destroyed.  Even Samwell Tarly could only guess as to what transpired after he left these shores.  We must hear the tale from one who experienced it first-hand.  We must know what magic was unleashed, so we may know how to break this spell once and for all.”

Comprehension dawned, but it was with a slow, crawling tickle up her spine, and a shard of fearsome worry that pierced her coldly though the heart.  “You don’t know how to break it?”

She stood, panic growing, her stool falling to the floor behind her, Lady’s ears pricking up at the ruckus.  “You brought me here, to save them,” she spat at the witch, “and you do not know how?”

“It was prophecy that led me to you, Daenerys Stormborn, and prophecy that led us here.”  She seemed unruffled by Dany’s outburst, stirring her spoon around her bowl.  “Prophecies can be,” she paused, biting her lip, “tricky things.  They are vague, unfortunately, and so you and I are here, left to our very best guesses.”

Dany’s heart sank.  If she were to seek out the Winter King once more, and present to him that she would save him utilizing the very best guesses of a sheep farmer’s daughter and a witch of Volantis, she could not anticipate anything other than his utter disdain.  But, she realized just as swiftly, the witch was likely right.  And since it did not appear Melisandre would be offering herself up to solve this puzzle, it was left to Daenerys.

“You said it was not a dream.”  The thought was flung free from her tongue before it could be refined, and Melisandre squinted in confusion.  “After I ate this,” Dany picked up the small tin, waving it about, “what followed.  You said it was not a dream.”

“Ah.”  Understanding bloomed on the witch’s face, softening her sharp features.  “It was not.”  When she gave no further clarification Daenerys frowned, pushing harder against the woman’s stoic silence, growing rather sick of it.

“The Stark girl, Arya, she said it is a prison.”  Melisandre’s eyes widened as Dany spoke, growing ever larger with each second that passed.  Nodding sadly, she finally lay aside the remnants of her meal, smooth her hands over her lap.

“You have seen what became of the Lady Sansa’s body, Daenerys.  There she rests, suspended in time, as do her sister and brother.”  Daenerys discovered the cause of Melisandre’s slowly growing alarm, when a deep copper muzzle eased over her shoulder, Lady staring directly into the witch’s face, nose to nose.  A low, subtle growl began to bloom from the wolf’s great chest.  “But the Old Gods hold tight to their souls, even now.”

Lady snapped her teeth menacingly, causing Melisandre to slowly ease back from the table, and Daenerys found a tad bit amusing that the woman refused to turn her back on the direwolf.  Clumsily, finally, the witch’s back bumped against the door that led out to the icy, frigid night.

“I will see to the elk, girl.”  Melisandre nodded at the wolf.  “The lady wolf will see you upstairs.  But be warned, Daenerys.”  Those shifting eyes met hers, and there fell a theatric pause before she continued.  “Linger no longer than one night, lest you lose yourself in that magic web that binds them.”  She held up her index finger.  “One spoonful.”

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For all her size, Lady blazed a much more navigable path back to the sleeping chambers that had belonged to her mistress.  Dany had been left with little choice but to be led blindly, as torches that could burn and had not been coated in a century of ice were hard to find in this barren place. 

It did not escape her notice that, even in the pale, milky moonlight, Lady turned her face from Sansa’s frozen form, as they passed.

She dared not speak of it aloud, for she was increasingly certain that all three direwolves were perfectly capable of understanding what she said, and she was not the sort to poke at a wound that obviously still festered.

But Daenerys understood the sad, downcast eyes that Lady possessed as she made her preparations for bed.  It was not until she uncapped the tin that the wolf’s head snapped to attention.  Dany had just made to scoop a small spoonful out when Lady grasped the dusty shift she had slipped into with her teeth, whining as she tugged the silver-haired girl closer to the bed.

“You do realize, my Lady,” Daenerys scolded the wolf lightly, “that if you had just let the witch answer my question you might have spared me having to ask your mistress.”

She set the tin on the bedside table, climbing abed as the wolf so clearly desired, bemused when the wolf sat on her haunches, giving her a look that could only be described as flummoxed.

Don’t you want to see her?’, those sapphire eyes seemed to ask.

“Well,” Dany mused aloud, “I suppose I do.”  She fluffed the pillow behind her, sneezing at the cloud of dust that misted the air.  “Though I could do without seeing the King again, which I am sure you understand.”

Lady groaned, possibly in agreement, and came to lie beside the bed, her size allowing her to rest her head at Dany’s bedside, her snout flat on the straw mattress, atop the blankets and furs.

“We all have our trials we must bear, however,” she went on, in a melancholy voice.  Lady whined, watching closely as Dany finally took a spoonful of the paste, relishing the tart, lemony burst on her tongue before swallowing and laying back.

“Wish me luck,” she whispered, a gentle smile creeping across her lips at the feel of Lady’s tongue licking at her fingers, just before sleep claimed her entirely.

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Daenerys was standing in the chambers of the Lady of Winterfell, her back to the room, soaking up the sun as it blazed through the stone cut window.  It was not truly the sun, she understood that, but she had missed its warmth and light all the same.  In her mind, it was real enough to suit her.

“Daenerys!” 

Dany wheeled around to find Sansa behind her, seated at the writing desk in the corner of her parlor, the redhead sounding startled, as though she’d just realized Daenerys was there.

“Oh, I knew the green would be lovely on you.”  Sansa swept closer, wearing a lovely dress of dove gray, with black detailing at the cuffs and collar and hem.  Looking down, Daenerys realized she, too, wore a lovely gown.  The fabric was warm, and soft, of a texture she had never felt before.  It reminded her of the sweet, fleshy peaches that grew in their small orchard in Valyrian, nothing at all like the thick wool she had worn before, in this place.

It was a deep forest green, with gold filigree stitching along the bodice that trailed down the sleeves like living, growing things.  “It’s velvet,” Sansa trilled, almost dancing on her toes, her hands clasped together in excitement.  “Isn’t it decadent?”

Daenerys had no chance to answer, as the young Lady swept Dany into a fierce, sudden hug.

“I’m so pleased you returned to us,” Sansa whispered against her hair, giving the shorter woman another delicate squeeze before pulling away.

“You are far too gracious, Sansa.”  The gown was truly a marvel, not nearly so high-necked as the crimson gown had been, and she gave in to the urge to twirl, just one small little spin, enjoying the way her skirts fanned out, the gold embellishments glittering in the sunlight that streamed into the room.

“It is my pleasure, I assure you.”  Adopting a more formal tone, Sansa crossed back to her desk, gesturing to the chair set just before it where Daenerys might seat herself as well.  “Will you join me?”

Daenerys realized Lady was with them as well when a whining yawn sounded from across the room, and she turned in her seat to find Lady situated in the shadowy corner by the door.  Sansa took notice of the wolf as well, she noticed, watching as wolf and girl stared at each other in odd understanding.

“You wish for information.”  She was all business, now, this young woman who had been all sweetness and light mere moments before.  When Daenerys gave a halting nod, she smiled.  “I wish for information as well, Daenerys.  I believe we might help each other, you and I, on our quest for knowledge.”

She felt a bit mystified, unsure of what knowledge she might tell this echo of Sansa Stark.  “An answer for an answer, is it?”  To her mind, there was very little the girl could ask that she might decline to answer, giving her no reason to decline.

“Just so.”  Sansa leaned back in her seat, her hands resting delicately on the arms of her chair.  “Ask, and I shall do my best to answer you as well as I can.”

“What is this place, my Lady?  The witch who accompanies me says this is no dream, and yet I know it is not real.  Your sister called it a prison.”  Daenerys raised her eyebrows.  “What would you call it?”

Sansa exhaled slowly, closing her eyes, pale fingers pinching the bridge of her aquiline nose as she thought.  When she spoke, finally, it was in a voice burdened and beleaguered with sorrow.

“A safe haven, a prison,” she said, waving a hand absently.  “These are but two sides of the same cursed coin, I fear.”  She peered at Dany curiously.  “It is the last thread that binds us to the realms of men, but even then,” she sighed, her eyes falling on Lady, “only because of our wolves.”

“We thought that killing the Night King would end this nightmare.  That if he could be defeated,” she went on, her gaze falling to her hands, where her fingers worried against each other, “then his dead armies would fall as well, that this Long Night would never come.  That it could be stopped.”  Sansa trailed off, her expression so miserable that while Daenerys did not understand the full implications of what the girl hinted at, she understood at least this.

“You were wrong,” she said, and Sansa gave the barest dip of her chin.

“Partly,” she replied.  “Jon killed the Night King, you see.  And when his sword pierced that dread monster’s heart, his undead armies did fall.”

“But,” Dany prompted, when the girl fell silent again.

Quietly, Lady padded across the floor, bringing herself close enough that Sansa could touch her.  She was comforting the girl, Dany realized, and Sansa Stark buried her fingers in the wolf’s fur, grasping on as though she meant to anchor herself to the wolf.

“But killing the Night King did not stop the Long Night.”  Sansa’s chin trembled slightly.  “Quite the opposite.  His death unleashed this curse, it set free this terrible magic.”  The girl’s breath whistled out through her nostrils as she pressed her lips together ‘til they whitened.  “Before the ice could claim us, we warged.  At least that’s what we’ve been able to work out, between the three of us.”

“Warged?”  The term was familiar, but just barely, tickling at something in her mind.

“Lady is a part of me, Daenerys.”  Sansa gazed at her wolf, her fingers stroking in that red fur.  “When a Stark and Direwolf choose each other, they share everything.  Even a piece of their souls, such is our bond with our wolves.”  Sansa finally turned her face to Dany’s, deadly serious though she spoke of a strange and unfamiliar magic.  “Our bodies are lost to us; you have seen the truth.  You know what has become of me, out there.”

Lady whined.

“But this place?  This is a place where our souls still dwell, waiting for the one who would free us from our icy chains, who would free our lands, who would bring spring upon us.  This is a place of magic, to protect us until we might be saved.”  Sansa examined Dany’s face, searching for something the Valyrian could not determine.  “Where our wolves guard us against any and all harm.”

Daenerys finally relaxed, easing herself back in her chair, considering all the Lady of Winterfell had said.  Suspension of her belief in what she understood to be the natural order of things had been required since she’d met Melisandre, Priestess of R’hllor, on the docks many moons ago.  Which was for the best, she presumed, because now she must throw all her notions out the window altogether.

“I believe I understand,” Daenerys said slowly, her gaze flitting between the young Stark woman and her wolf.  “But will you allow another question?  It is related, I assure you.”  There was one thing she had wondered about, since she had last seen Lady Stark, and it seemed as good an opening as any to pose her question.

Sansa nodded her assent, her head tipping like a curious bird.  “Yes, alright.”

“You say you warged into your wolves.”  Sansa nodded affirmatively, again.  “And by that, you mean your soul escaped your body,” Daenerys pointed to the redhead, “and fled into hers.”  She pointed next at Lady, who still sat her silent vigil.  Sansa nodded for a third time, her eyes narrowing, trying, it seemed, to sort out just where this line of questioning was headed.

“Can you see what she sees?”  The Lady of Winterfell’s lips twitched, but she held her tongue when Dany continued on.  “When she is out there, with me,” Dany tipped a head away from Sansa, towards the window, hoping the girl would know what she meant, “are you there, too? With me?”

The smile that spread across the girl’s lips was full of admiration.  “You’re a clever one, Daenerys.”  Sansa looked fondly at Lady.  “Indeed I am.  But I do not control her, you must understand that.  Beast though she may be, she has her own soul, her own wishes.”  She swung her gaze back to Dany.  “Have you ever ridden in a carriage?”

Daenerys chuckled.  “On a few occasions, my Lady, though not many.  I prefer horseback, if given the option.”

Sansa gave a small, rueful laugh in return.  “Consider it thusly, then:  Out *there*,” she jerked her head as Dany had, “it is Lady who holds the reins, and I am merely her passenger.  An observer, of sorts.”  Lady Stark tented her fingers under her chin as she waited for Daenerys to absorb her words.

It was as she had thought, then, but confirmation that one was right was always preferable to the mere suspicion of correctness.

The Lady of Winterfell had answered her questions, and Dany could tell by the way the other woman shifted in her seat that it would soon be her turn.

Daenerys felt a jolt of nerves course through her when Sansa tapped a thoughtful finger against her jaw.  “Now I will ask my question, and you will answer me as best you are able.”

“Of course.”  She twisted in her seat, trying to settle herself, anxiety rising inside as her mind raced, wondering what it could be this girl meant to ask of her.

“You spoke Valyrian, when you gave my brother your true name.”  Sansa spoke evenly, almost nonchalantly, but Dany felt a dread take root in her gut, palms beginning to sweat, when she understood where the Stark girl might be leading her, realizing she had been wrong, before.

She was not at all sure she wanted to answer what she suspected she might be asked.

“You translated the first part of what you said, but not the second.”  She was pinned by the girl’s eyes, as blue as her wolf’s, and knew she had very little choice but to give the girl what she wanted, and now she was sure she knew what that was.

“You wish to know the second part?”  Daenerys hoped she would be proven wrong, but Sansa only nodded approvingly.

“Well,” Dany hemmed, dropping her eyes to study the soft, supple leather of the boots she wore.  Had the Winter King not been of such horrible temperament, she would have translated the rest while still in his presence, but it had been mortifying to even consider such once she had been introduced to Jon Stark and his brooding, miserable countenance.

“If I tell you,” she whispered, leaning across the desk so that Sansa might still hear her clearly, “will you keep such knowledge between us?”

“If possible,” Sansa agreed, “but know that my brother is King here, and if he commands it, I must obey.”  She answered with a measure of regret in her voice, and Daenerys knew it was as good an assurance as she could hope to get.

“I said, ‘I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, of the Blood of Old Valyria.’”  Dany swallowed heavily.  “And then I said,” she took a steadying breath, forcing the words out even as she winced, “’Daughter of Fire, Bride of Winter, Mother of Dragons.’”

“I knew it!”  Sansa bolted from her seat, her words pouring out in a screech of joy that startled them all, especially Lady.  The Lady Stark rounded the desk, grasping at Dany’s hands and capturing them in hers, pulling her to stand and bringing their clasped hands together between them.  “Oh, I knew it would be something like that.  ‘The Bride of Winter’ indeed!  It is so tragically romantic, don’t you think?”  Lady Sansa looked as though she might actually swoon, silly as it seemed.  “It’s like something out a faery story!”

Daenerys snorted.  “In your faery stories, is the King normally a tremendous arse?”

Sansa’s eyes narrowed, loosing one of her hands to toy with the chain around her neck, worrying it as she thought.  “Never you mind Jon,” she said firmly, pulling Dany over to the vanity and pushing the shorter woman firmly down into the seat.  “Now, let us see to your hair.”

Dany watched Sansa’s reflection in the looking glass upon the vanity, seeing the intense focus on the woman’s face as she set to work.  “You will not tell your brother?”  She hated how tremulous her voice sounded, betraying her fear.

“No need,” Lady Stark answered, comb in hand.  Her eyes met Dany’s in the mirror.  “I suspect all shall be revealed in due course.”

Chapter Text

The reason for her lighter dress was soon evident, when Lady Sansa led her out into the open air of the courtyard.  There was no snow, this time, none as far as her eyes could discern, the packed dirt of the yard brown and earthen and hardened by the sun as she gazed around.

“Summer,” Sansa said, their elbows joined, her manner near jovial as she came to a stop.  “At least,” she leaned in, “summer as I remember it.”

The sky was an azure blue, and if she kept her eyes pointed upward she could be forgiven for thinking herself home once more, lost in the endless fields, under a full Valyrian sun.

But Valyria was gone, she reminded herself, and home had not been a happy place.  She would not sully this time with the ghosts of her past clinging so tightly to her heart.

She didn’t suppose she had much time left, as far as such things went.

“Now, let us see where my wayward siblings are.”  Sansa eyed her askance, a devilish smirk dancing across her lips.  “Jon, in particular.”

Daenerys scoffed, huffing out a breath.  “I would be most pleased to see your sister again.  Your brother, less so,” she said, tossing her head so that her trailing silver curls tumbled down her back.

Sansa’s teeth latched themselves firmly onto her bottom lip.  They continued to make their way through the yard, but in a direction she had not been before now.  As they walked, the Lady Stark bit at the tender flesh, engaged in a private struggle Dany was not privy to.

“My brother’s heart is hard, I know,” Sansa explained finally, quietly, “but he has his reasons.  I am afraid he has known more grief than most, ever since he was a babe.”  The Lady of Winterfell seemed weighed down by this admission, her shoulders dropping, her eyes on the ground.  “For all that Arya and I might have suffered, before the last War, the Great War, Jon experienced tenfold.”

Sansa had brought them out of the Keep, away from the castle completely and to a place of such stirring beauty that Daenerys had to pause, to allow herself one quiet moment to drink in the scene before her.  In this place, this echo of what once was, where the sun still shone above, she was struck near dumb with wonder.

The Lady of Winterfell had guided them to a densely wooded sanctuary, ringed with stone walls.  Daenerys knew that if she ventured to this place in her waking hours, torch in hand, it would be a dead, barren place, thick with secrets buried beneath layers of ice and snow.

But here, now, she could only see the beauty of it, the dappled sunlight painting the path before them as Sansa Stark whispered instructions to her in a hushed, reverent voice.

“This is a sacred place, Daenerys.”  Sansa stopped walking, then, extending her hand in a graceful gesture to the great tree that lay at the heart of this wood, pointing to a sight that might have stoked a considerable amount of fear in her heart if she had been alone in the discovery.

The younger woman seemed to sense Dany’s flicker of hesitation, and gave a brief, reassuring squeeze of her hand against Daenerys’s arm before breaking their contact completely.

“For those who follow the Old Gods,” Sansa intoned quietly, “this is a place of worship.  This is where the Old Gods hear our prayers.”  Dany let her eyes drop away from the Lady of Winterfell’s face, to the haunting image of the imposing, white barked tree capped with scarlet leaves that seemed to watch her with carved eyes.  It was the only tree she’d ever seen that had a face, man-made or otherwise, and certainly the only tree she’d ever seen that cried tears of blood.

She wondered, idly, if perhaps the Old Gods wept for the fate of their people.  She wondered, darkly, if anyone would weep for her, once she had paid her blood price to save them.

“Don’t be alarmed.”  Sansa was whispering again, dragging her away from her maudlin thoughts.  “It’s only sap.”  She pointed once more, at the puddling red liquid that decorated the exposed roots at the base of the tree.  “It is called a weirwood.  It can be a bit… disturbing, I know.”

“All magic is a bit disturbing, Sansa.”  Daenerys gave the girl a tight smile, starting a bit as the name left her lips, hoping she had not offended in addressing the Lady of Winterfell with such familiarity.  “May I call you such?  It seems rather arduous, to speak to each other with such formality.”

“I would be honored, Dany.”  Sansa gave her a genuine smile, small and secret but filled with warmth, the air still and silent around them as though the trees themselves were listening.  “My wolf is quite fond of you.  I should like for us to be friends, if it suits you.”  Now she took Dany’s hand, pulling her along, closer to the strange tree, seeming to relax.  “And in times such as these, I must offer my own personal philosophy, that much like dresses, a lady can never have too many she counts as friends.”

Daenerys chuckled, slipping her free hand along the soft, smooth fabric of her borrowed gown.  “It suits me just fine, Sansa.  Although,” Dany checked her gaze downward, old hurts creeping in, “I cannot say I have many friends.”

Sansa’s hand tightened in hers, a shadow of understanding passing across her face as their eyes met.  “Neither do I.”  She cleared her throat, giving herself a shake as Dany watched, the Valyrian realizing with sudden certainty that there were more than her own ghosts circling ‘round them as they walked.  “And so, I must consider this a very fine day, indeed.”  Her voice was stronger now, and she brought them to a halt before that weeping, haunted face carved into the chalky, curling bark of the odd tree.

Daenerys looked around, wondering, as the pair stood in silence, if they were meant to be waiting for something.  Or, perhaps, someone.

She was given no time to ask, however, as Arya Stark came crashing through the undergrowth of the surrounding woods, skidding to a halt before the other women, kicking up dust in her wake.

“Dany!”  Arya’s shout indicated she cared very little for the sacred nature of this sanctuary, a suspicion cemented when the dark-haired girl twisted to glance at the mournful carved face behind her and made an extremely rude gesture.  It was a move so at odds with Sansa’s respectful awe that Daenerys had little choice but to let loose with a shocked laugh, which seemed to please Arya as much as it dismayed her sister.

“I’m glad you’re back.”  Arya ignored Sansa’s pointed glare, smiling widely at Dany instead.  “You can’t imagine how utterly *boring* it’s been, stuck here with these two.”

This prompted a censorious tutting from the Lady of Winterfell, who seemed on the verge of her own rude gesturing, but the girl’s words set Dany to looking about, as they suggested that there was another there, with them.

Her eyes finally fell on the Winter King as he stepped out from behind the eerie tree, pointedly ignoring Daenerys until he came to a stop before the three women and had little choice but to acknowledge her presence.

“You’re back,” he uttered, flatly.

Arya punched her brother in the arm, with a fair amount of force if the resounding smack of her fist on his leathers was any indication.

“Would you stop being so fucking awful for one minute?”  Arya sounded equal parts frustrated and desperate, her head swinging back and forth between her mutinous brother and Daenerys.  “You’ll run her off.”

“That’s the point,” Jon Stark bit out, his hand rubbing at his bicep as he frowned at his sister.  “What sort of fool keeps returning to where they aren’t wanted?”

Dany rolled her tongue across her teeth, willing herself to be patient, to remember what the Red Witch and this man’s sisters had told her.  With barely scraped together resolve, she smiled thinly at the unfortunately handsome man.

“This sort, apparently.”  She shrugged, her smile becoming slightly more real as she saw the way her answer seemed to aggravate him.  “I’m the very worst sort of fool, Your Grace: the sort that has nowhere else to go.”

The seems to stymie him, at least momentarily, but her words were not lost on the Sisters Stark.

“What do you mean?”  Both girls watched her, but it was Arya who voiced the question, haltingly.  “What about your home?”

There was no point in lying, not to them.  And it hardly seemed to matter, in the grand scheme of things, but the words were still left the bitter, acrid taste of smoke and ash when she spoke.

“Valyria is no more.  My home is no more.  My people are no more.”  Her voice broke at the end, hot tears beginning to well in her eyes, but she willed them not to fall.  Perhaps she might show such weakness to Sansa, or Arya, but never to their beast of a brother.  “I have nowhere else to go.”

Arya swallowed, her throat bobbing, her eyes full of sadness.  “I shouldn’t have asked.”  The slight girl looked down.  “I’m sorry.”  Daenerys found herself swept into a fierce hug, and as Arya pulled her closer she leaned in to whisper in Dany’s ear.  “This can be your home now, Dany.  With us.”

Dany felt her eyes widen, felt the rebuke of that false hope on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn’t do it.  She could not tell this girl the truth, not when she saw the fragile hope in Arya’s eyes.

If she spoke of it, here in this sacred place, it would surely sour whatever happiness her presence had provided the sisters.  How could she tell them that their survival depended on her willingness to die for them?

Instead, she nodded, giving Arya a tentative twist of her lips that she would hope passed for a smile, her eyes flying to meet Jon Stark’s rather against her will.  But he was there, in her line of vision, and though he may not have heard his sister’s words, there was a bleakness in his returning stare that made her wonder what he knew.

“How did they meet their end?”  To his credit, it didn’t seem that the Winter King wanted to press such a question upon her, to ask her to describe the destruction of her homeland, but he asked it all the same.  The air around her seemed to chill a few degrees as all three waited for Daenerys to answer.

Dany found she couldn’t bear to look at them, any of them, as she pondered her answer.  Sansa’s face held only sorrow, Arya’s a curious dread, and Jon’s a morose impassivity.  Instead she turned, slowly, her eyes lighting on things she had not noticed before, settling on the small, placid pool to the left of those weeping red eyes that watched her from a lifeless, wooden face.

“It’s hard to explain.”  She barely understood the cause herself, Melisandre having provided scant explanation save the revelation that Valyria’s volcanic formations had triggered, simultaneously, causing the rivers of glowing red fire that she had seen erupting from the rocky peaks, even at a distance.  She knew there was more to it, knew that whatever magic the witch had spoken of, that Dany had taken into herself that awful night aboard ship, had been necessary, but there had been no further expounding on that particular detail either, no matter how she pressed.

It was Sansa who gasped, then, her eyes falling on the same still watery surface, before meeting Jon’s quickly.  “She could show us.”  Jerking her chin towards the pool, she grabbed Dany’s hand, leading her there before her brother could raise an argument against whatever the eldest sister had in mind.

Arya was hot on their heels, nodding in agreement as she quickened her pace to keep up with her sister’s longer stride.  “Sometimes it’s easier to show than to tell.”

The Winter King brought up the rear, shaking his head and giving both girls rather a cross look.  “We don’t even know if she can.”  He spared Dany a brief look, something nearing apology in his eyes, and she thought it might have been the most congenial he’d ever behaved towards her.  “She does not have our magic.”

“But,” Sansa interjected, gathering her skirts delicately and seating herself beside the water’s edge, gesturing for Dany to do the same, “she *does* have magic.”

Daenerys complied swiftly enough, only sparing one nervous look around at the forest around her before she sat down as well, her own reflection staring at her as she glanced down into the still water.  Her velvety green skirts blended almost seamlessly into the grass, and she fancied she might find herself rooted to the spot if she tried to rise.

Arya sat on her other side, and it was in such a state, flanked by the Stark sisters, that the King finally approached as well, drawing near but keeping small distance from the trio.  He remained standing, seeming cloaked in shadow with his dark hair and black, leather-clad form, his arms crossed, his face stormy as a thundercloud.  “Don’t get your hopes up.”

Sansa rolled her eyes exaggeratedly, paying no more heed to Jon’s grousing as she took Dany’s hand.  “Now, all you must do,” she explained, “is think only of the memory.  Focus on it, let all else fall away.”  Shifting their joined hands above the water, she looked to Dany encouragingly.  “When you hold it firmly in your mind, touch your hand to the water, but only when you are ready.”

Daenerys nodded, not entirely sure she wished to relive this particular experience, but willing to try if it would spare her having to describe such horror, such agony, in words.

She tried.

Truly, she did.

But it was near impossible to immerse herself in such terrible recollection with them all staring at her so expectantly, and, in Jon Stark’s case, impatiently.

“Close your eyes,” Arya whispered.  “Then try.”

Dany glanced at the girl, then back at the water, staring at her own, somber face.  She licked her suddenly dry lips, swallowed hard, and closed her eyes.

It was there, fresh in her mind, so quickly she dropped Sansa’s hand, almost recoiling from the waves of pain and anguish remembrance brought, but fighting through it, holding the memory close as she had been instructed.

Now, when she opened her eyes, she could only nod grimly.  “I’m ready.”  At Sansa’s encouraging nod, she lowered her palm to the surface, the water as shiny and silver as a looking glass, ripples marring the smoothness immediately when her hand made contact with the surprisingly cold liquid, so at odds with the warm summer air.

Slowly, the water grew still again, and it happened.

In the mirror-like pool, she could no longer see herself staring back.  Instead, it was as though they all watched through her eyes, which was jarring, but at least made a muddled sort of sense.  Valyria still stood in the distance, only in her memory now, and even Jon Stark finally crouched down, leaning close to watch what was to come.

When Melisandre appeared in the surface she heard the unhappy King curse under his breath, all the confirmation she needed that the witch had spoken true, that the two did indeed know each other, for she could not fathom what else might prompt such response from him.

The witch’s mouth moved, in her reflected recollection, but as she watched it all unfold there was nothing but silence where once Melisandre had spoken aloud.

She looked questioningly at Sansa, then Arya, then finally the King, and it was he who answered her unasked question.  “It is merely a reflection, no more capable of being heard than your own in a looking glass.”

He frowned deeply, letting out a heavy, miserable sigh at the sight of Melisandre, until the witch was gone from view, and her last memory of home returned.  It was coming, now, and she steeled herself for it.

All three Starks watched in mute silence as the terrible tragedy unfolded before their eyes, the Valyrian skyline birthing red fire, consuming everything in its’ wake.  And still they did not speak, as that lone spark, carried by the wind, was grasped in Dany’s hand.

They held their tongues, despite Dany’s own shocked exhalation, when there was nothing but orange fire to be seen, then blackness, when Daenerys knew she’d passed out right there on the deck of the ship.  She was only marginally gratified to see that perhaps the heat that had seemed to blister her skin had perhaps been real, not merely a figment of her imagination.

Though, considering her present company, there appeared to be a great many things that may well be figments of her imagination.

“How many people?”  Jon Stark sounded angry, exceedingly so, but it did not seem to be directed at her this time.  He stared at the carved face that cried its’ bloody sap tears, eyes narrowed to slits, standing once more with his hands balled into fists.  When she did not immediately answer, his gaze turned to her, and she was taken aback at the fury in his eyes.  “How many dead?”

“Millions.”  The King only grew angrier at her quiet answer, but she was distracted from pondering the exact cause when both her hands found themselves clasped, each Stark girl taking one and holding it fast.

“Oh, Dany.”  Sansa’s voice trembled, and she was surprised to see a tear track down the girl’s cheek, wondered that she would mourn for a people she had never chanced to meet, caught as they all now were in this tomb of ice.  Arya’s eyes, at a glance, also welled with wetness.

Not Jon’s, though.  In a rather surprising move, he unsheathed his sword, a blade she knew to be Valyrian steel the moment a ray of sun exposed the telltale ripple in the metal.  She thought he meant to advance on her, but he did not, instead stalking to the ashen tree and thrusting the tip of the blade into the soil at the roots, full of a righteous fury that made him impossible to look away from.

“What more will you take?”  He did not shout, but he did not need to.  Power seemed to roll of him in waves, now, the air growing ever colder as he addressed the tree.  It might’ve seemed silly, to see this stoic man venting his anger at something that could never possibly answer back, but in his torment he had finally dropped his icy mask, and was something approaching beautiful in this newfound animation.

“How much blood must you have ‘til you have had your fill?”  Silence was his only answer, but he did not seem to require a reply, working up an impressive head of steam as he paced.  “How many lands must fall to sate your hunger, you rotten, useless fucks?”

Sansa recoiled as though she had been struck.  “Jon!”  She rose, her every move a study in reprimand as she scolded her brother.  “You must not speak to them in such a manner.  You will anger them.”  The girl glanced all around, averting her eyes from the tree the King had been dressing down soundly.

“Who?”  Three heads flew in Dany’s direction at the question, but Jon Stark looked away quickly, leaving only the sisters to answer.

“The Old Gods,” Arya replied, sounding less than pious, an edge to her voice that suggested she shared her brother’s disdain.

“Fuck the Old Gods,” the King spat out, retrieving his sword and leaving swiftly, anger still swirling around him like a cloud.  And though the summer sun still shone above them, it seemed to Daenerys that, as he took the path that led away from this place, from this sacred sanctuary of the Old Gods, the leaves on the trees began to turn, vibrant greens becoming copper and red, before withering and turning first brown then black.

Dany stood, brushing off her skirts, her eyes following the King’s progress ‘til he had disappeared from view.

She turned to the Stark girls, intensely curious, the grief her recollection had invoked receding in the face of this new mystery.  And though she wished it otherwise, she could not deny that the impetus was there, in her inordinately foolish heart, to follow him, to ask him what it was he’d meant by that display.

The sisters were huddled together, Sansa speaking urgently in Arya’s ear, both pairs of eyes glued on Dany.  As she looked on, Arya pulled away, looking between Daenerys and Sansa with surprise and a hint of amusement.  The Sisters Stark nodded to each other decisively, as though they’d come to an agreement betwixt the two of them, and then Arya was sidling up to her, grasping her arm at the elbow with a firm grip and beginning to pull Dany along the path her brother had taken moments before.

Dany looked questioningly over her shoulder, casting a confused look back at Sansa who stayed behind, still with an air of sadness about her but with a small, indefinable smile dancing across her lips.  “I shall see you soon, Daenerys!”  With a small wave, the taller girl turned, leaving Dany in Arya’s care.

“He doesn’t hate you, you know.”  Arya let her hand fall away from Dany’s arm as she spoke, satisfied the Last Valyrian would follow on her own.  “Not that you’d know it from how he acts.”

Daenerys sniffed, looking about at the wooded trail, at the slowly decaying trees the Winter King had left in his wake as they walked.  “It matters little to me, Arya.  I do not need fawning platitudes from your malcontent brother to do what must be done.”  She tossed the dark-haired girl a sideways look and a half-smile.  “Though it would certainly make things more pleasant.”

Arya snickered.  “I like you, Dany.”  The girl’s amusement fell away.  “That’s why I want you to understand.  It’s the Old Gods Jon hates.  And in his mind, they hate him just as much, if not more.”

This revelation brought her to a full stop, this notion that she had not come to sacrifice herself to some kindly, benevolent Gods who wished to free their people.  “Why does he think such?”

Arya halted as well, shutting the iron gate that guarded the sacred Godswood behind them before climbing the ornate ironwork with surprising agility and perching herself atop the high stone wall it was joined to.  “Well,” she drawled, “they’ve certainly given him every reason to think that.”  Dany met the girl’s stony iron stare as Arya grew more serious.  “All his life, he has suffered at their hands.”  She studied Daenerys with a sudden and intense scrutiny, considering her words before she next spoke.

“He knew it was you.  The first time you dreamed with our wolves, when you were just a wee girl,” Arya drew a breath, letting it out cautiously and peering around, as though she were divulging a secret she ought not tell.  “He had seen you before, long ago.  A vision, in the flames, shown to him by a witch from Volantis before the Great War.”

“North of the Wall,” Daenerys whispered absently, rocked by this revelation in a way that made her stomach twist into knots.  That was what Melisandre had told her, at least.

“Yes.”  Arya’s gaze sharpened.  “I do not know what he was shown.  Nearly one hundred years, trapped here together,” the girl waved a hand in the air around them, “and my brother still has many secrets he will not share.  But it was enough for him to recognize you, for him to start to hope that you might really come to us one day.”

“Then why does he speak to me as he does?”  Resentment was hot knife in her chest, piercing her heart, making her keenly aware that, try as she might, she had not been able to lessen the sting of their first meeting.  “Why act as though he would rather gouge his eyes out than look upon me?”

Arya regarded her for several moments before she answered.  “He’s afraid of you.”

“Why?”  Of all the responses she had anticipated, she had not counted this among them.  Dany looked down at herself, clad in her green gown, no imposing figure come to do any harm at all.

The girl’s dark hair brushed her brown leathers as she tipped her head to the side.  “You’ll have to ask him.”  And then Arya Stark was standing, making her precarious way along the top of the stone wall, turning after a moment to point over her shoulder towards the Keep.  “Try that way.”

-----------

Daenerys found Jon Stark in the empty training yard, alone save for Ghost, who ambled up to her immediately, sniffing about her head and face before delivering a lick to her cheek before he loped back to the shady corner he’d been dozing in.

The Winter King was oblivious to her presence, focused solely on beating the training dummy into submission, his sword flashing in the sun as he attacked without mercy.

“I think he’s dead, Your Grace.”  He did not turn as she called out to him, but he grew still, his shoulders slumping at the sound of her voice.

“Where are my sisters?”  The King did little to hide the aggravation in his voice, resuming his blows, though with less force than before.

“I’m not sure, actually.”  Dany clasped her hands together, approaching the man with caution, as she would a wounded animal, his sister’s words still ringing in her ears.  If left to her own devices, she might have wandered the Keep, not at all sure she wished to converse with him now, but knowing that Melisandre would expect answers to the questions that needed to be asked.

“A handsome blade.”  Jon merely grunted at the compliment, landing another strike and sparing no look for her.  “Valyrian steel, isn’t it?”

“Aye.”  He bit the word out gruffly, finally giving her a brief glance before focusing on the stuffed straw dummy.  “There are a fair few in Westeros.”  He stopped, raising a hand to wipe at his brow, panting slightly with exertion.  “Though they are rare enough to be very costly, and highly sought after.”

She did not look at him, only at the length of rippled steel.  “In Valyria, as well.”  Dany was disheartened and sickly gladdened to find that he looked comely when surprised.  “My people lost the secrets to forging Valyrian steel when the dragons died, and that was very long ago.”  She clenched her jaw tightly, fingers twisting together before her, still not meeting his eyes, though she could feel his weighing heavily upon her.  “Though I suppose those secrets shall never be recovered now.  My people have lost the ability to do much of anything, anymore.”

When he did not respond she chanced a look up, to find him staring at her in solemn pity.  “I’m sorry.”  He seemed to stutter a bit, almost as though he were unsure of himself now, in the absence of his usual venom.  “About your people.  But,” he continued, “they aren’t all gone.”  He looked her up and down.  “You’re still here.”

There was little solace for her in his words, for she knew a truth he did not.  She laughed, mirthlessly, breaking their shared gaze and looking about the yard.  “For now.”

His silence was deafening.  She finally met his eyes only to find horror in those dark, iron depths.  “You know, don’t you?”  He began to shake his head, the raven curls not caught back and away from his face swaying with the motion.  “Fuck.”  The Winter King tossed down his blade haphazardly, a small cloud of dust rising from the impact, beginning to pace, looking for all the world as though he might be sick.  “No.  Not this.  No, no.  This is so much worse.”

Dany could only watch mutely as he made his way to the thick, smooth stone that surround the yard, collapsing against his, sliding down until he was seated, his head falling heavily into his hands.

How can he know?

She could not comprehend how, but it was clear that he did, and she found herself swamped with a warped sense of relief that she could, perhaps, speak a bit more freely around him in light of this shared knowledge.

“Yes,” she agreed quietly, “I know the cost, Jon Stark.  It is as I told you.  I came prepared to pay the price that your freedom demands.”  She sat herself near him, mirroring his pose, mindless of the dirt that sullied her skirts.  “There is a little comfort to be found for me, that I should be spared where my people were not, save that my life is a small price to pay for the lives of millions.”  She was stunned by the way his face twisted at her words, as though each syllable struck a blow to him as surely as his sword had upon his inanimate enemy.  “Only death can pay for life, and that is a truth I can accept.”

Jon remained silent, his jaw working mightily, as though he might say a million things or nothing at all, and could not quite make up his mind.  There was something he was not telling her, something that tickled at the back of her mind, and she remembered Arya’s words.

“What did you see in the flames, Your Grace?”  The King’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, his hand finally falling away as long fingers began tracing patterns in the dirt at his side.  He refused to look at her, then, turning his gaze to the sky.

“Your death, you foolish woman.  I saw you die.”

It was the latest in a long line of unexpected answers from this gloomy man, but still she could not think he was keeping something from her, that he knew more than he wished to divulge.

“That’s all?”

The Winter King seemed frustrated by this, only cementing her belief that there was more afoot than he let on.  He rose, hurriedly, in a flurry of motion, but she did not miss the way his hands shook as he brushed the dirt from himself.  “It doesn’t matter what else I saw.”  He retrieved his weapon, sheathing it at his waist and turning ominous eyes to hers.  “You may be foolish, Daenerys, but I do not believe you are stupid.  When you awaken, you ought to leave this place while you still can.”

Of all the things this man had done to frustrate her, telling her what she *ought* to do what swiftly rising to the top of the list of his infuriating behavior.  She crossed her arms, teeth clenched, eyes hard as she squared off with him.

“No.”  She could feel herself growing more agitated with each passing moment, the look of mutinous pity in his eyes at her response only causing her to become as flustered as he had.  “And I don’t care how horribly you speak to me, or how often you insult me, or what a tremendous arse you make of yourself when you chance to see me.”  She glared at him, and he glared right back, his lips pressed tightly together, hands fisting and loosening at his side.  “I will do what I came to do, and you will not stop me.”

Daenerys had not realized she shoved her pointed finger right into his chest until the contact had been made, until the handsome, miserable man before her drew back as though she’d doused him with scalding water, his eyes wide as saucers, his chest heaving.

“Why did you have to be so bloody brave?”  The words had just escaped his lips, uttered with breathless, helpless surrender, and then he was touching her.

Not just touching her.  He swept her into his arms with ease, bringing his lips to hers with a softness that belied his hard exterior, kissing her so gently, so sweetly that she wondered if he thought she might break.  She knew she ought to push him away, but the taste of his mouth on hers made all other delicacies pale in comparison, his lips surprisingly plump and soft beneath hers.  He kissed her with a skill that made her wonder how many others he had kissed in such a fashion, but it didn’t matter, because when she brought her hands up to lock behind his neck he groaned as though he were wounded.

She moaned in return, lost to all but the feel of his arms around her, his strong body cradling her slight form against him, and she parted her lips, tasting the seam of his with a teasing lick meant to open his mouth to hers.

Instead, to her surprise and mounting chagrin, he pulled away, chest heaving and eyes wild and full of regret.

“That should not have happened.”  He seemed to be speaking more to himself than her, but she shook her head in disagreement all the same, ready to argue that his kiss was preferable to his acid tongue.  “Keep your distance from me.”  He shuffled away from her, as though he worried she might strike the moment his back was turned.

And then he was gone, in a flurry of leathers and steel and fear, and she realized that Arya Stark had been right.

The Winter King was afraid of her, and she was not sure she would be able to change his mind, to undo whatever it was that had prompted such, not in whatever little time remained to her.

It ought not matter, but it did, and she felt lonelier than she had in some time as she slumped back against the wall once more, her eyes falling on Ghost who lay watching her with a sad, knowing stare.

“Well,” she muttered bitterly, “that went well.”

------------

Daenerys sat up slowly, rubbing her eyes, thankful for once that the unyielding darkness that blanketed this land provided no bright, morning sky to greet her.

Some things, she knew, were best pondered in the dark.

Dany climbed from the bed, stretching and yawning, glad to see that the red wolf who’d kept watch while she slept had not abandoned her post just yet.

She leaned down, her thin shift pooling around her feet and providing scant protection against the chill of the room, and laid her head atop Lady’s furred one in greeting.

“Hello, friend,” she whispered, addressing more than just the wolf now, silly as it seemed.  She had been truthful in her admission to Sansa; true friendship had been a rarity in her life, ‘til now.

Lady’s tail thumped the floor in return, a happy gesture, coupled with several panting, open-mouthed breaths in which Daenerys thought the wolf was trying to smile at her.

“I should like for you to know,” Dany whispered against the red fur that tickled at her nose when she rested her head against Lady’s once more, “that I greatly appreciate your company.”  She gazed around the dark room, hearing the wind whistle through the sash of the window, and shivered.  “This would be a very lonely undertaking, otherwise.”

Lady kept her silence, of course, but wiggled her body a bit as though she understood, as though she agreed.  Dany scratched under to wolf’s large muzzle, giggling when one hind leg began to tap against the floor.

She pulled back to look into Lady’s blue eyes, pondering what she ought to do first, not quite yet ready to find the Red Witch and confess that while she had discovered some answers from the long-lost members of House Stark, she had not obtained them all.

Stretching her legs out before her, she looked at her toes, grimacing when she realized how filthy her feet were, how grimy she felt overall, her last bath being a frigid, bracing venture in an icy stream a day before she and Melisandre had reached this abandoned Keep.

“You would not happen to know where I might find a warm bath in all this cold, would you?”  She wasn’t expecting a response; It wasn’t as though Lady might draw her a map of the grounds and wish her well.

But the wolf rose in an instant, jostling Daenerys backwards so quickly she thrust her hands behind her to brace herself.  Lady looked at her with keen intelligence, walking to the door and yipping at Dany until the girl heaved herself up from the ground to join the wolf where she waited.

“*Do* you know where I might find a hot bath?  Is that even possible?”  Another yip, and then Lady was nosing at the iron pull affixed to the door, restlessly shifting her feet, panting again.

It was unwise to allow the flicker of hope that rose in her chest; Surely there could be nothing of the sort, but perhaps the strong beast meant to help her lug in bucketfuls of water for boiling in the kitchen below, and that would be more than enough kindness to be getting on with.

“Lead the way, my Lady.”  Dany pulled open the door and followed the red wolf out into the corridor and into the dark, empty castle.

------------

It was the last thing she’d expected to see, this vast underground cavern that lay beneath the old, crumbling castle now somewhere above her head, but the steam rising from the bubbling pools scattered in the cave was enough to bring tears of joy to her eyes.

“What a marvelous secret,” she breathed, her voice full of gratitude as she spoke to her beastly companion.

She’d lit the brazier nearest her the moment they’d entered, she and Lady, fumbling in the dark until she’d thrust her lone, lit torch into it, and now she made her way to the others dotting the perimeter of the hollowed-out stone space, noting benches carved from the walls themselves here and there.

But her main focus was what she had come for, the warm, humid air in this cavern all the prompting she needed to shed her red hooded cloak and begin to shoulder her way out of the loose shift she’d pilfered from Sansa’s things.  Daenerys didn’t suppose she ought to mind the wolf bearing witness to her state of undress; no doubt both wolf and the girl locked away within would be offended by such, and Dany was certainly no prude about these things.

She approached the edge of the nearest pool, dipping a toe into the water and groaning in satisfaction at the warmth she found there.   It struck her that she had nothing to properly clean herself with, save for the water, and she threw another glance to where Lady sat waiting.

“I don’t suppose you know where I might find some soap?”

Again, the wolf was ready and willing to aid her, the large animal stalking the walls of the cavern until she found her quarry, looking expectantly at Daenerys.  With a slight skip in her step, Dany came over to inspect what Lady had discovered, a disintegrating woven basket that held three large bars of what smelled to her to be lye.

“That will do quite nicely.”  She gave a curtsy to the wolf.  “Many thanks, Lady.”

Humming a tune under her breath, more content than she had been in some time, she made her way back to the bubbling pool, setting the soap on the stony edge before throwing caution to the wind and jumping in haphazardly, like the girl she used to be.

She needn’t have worried about any unseen obstacles, she found, not finding the bottom of this hidden hot spring, happy to remain below the surface, wallowing gladly in the ebb and flow of invisible current around her for as long as she could hold her breath.

Finally, lungs ready to burst, she resurfaced, allowing just her face above the water level and floating on her back, her hair billowing around her shoulders and head like a cloud.  It was heavenly, like a warm, safe cocoon she need never escape from, save for the fact that she didn’t fancy spending the remainder of her life wrinkled as a raisin.

Dany swam lazily to the edge, grasping the soap and settling herself on a rocky formation that served as a makeshift ledge, scrubbing and humming again as she set to work.  And Lady remained, silently, politely, as she cleaned herself, snout resting on her paws and eyes averted as though she meant to give Daenerys what little privacy she could.

Her rumbling stomach, no longer able to be ignored, ultimately urged her from the warmth of the baths, and she pulled herself, dripping, back onto the stone floor.  Dany swept her flowing silver hair over her shoulder, wringing it out as best she could, eyeing her clothes and realizing she had naught to dry herself with, cursing that she had not sorted this little detail out before she’d bathed.

Lady, however, had anticipated this need, evident in the sudden appearance of the wolf at her side, a dusty, aged length of what looked like muslin clenched between her jaws, her tail wagging slightly as she waited for Dany to take the fabric.

“I must say, Lady,” Dany warbled, clutching the fabric to her and shaking it out before wrapping it around her body, “you are a most excellent host.”

The idea that the wolf dipped her head in acknowledgement of the complement was probably one that suggested Dany might be going mad, but then again, she had found herself surrounded on all sides by positively mad circumstances as of late.

Daenerys was growing rather certain there was far more madness in store for her on this path she had chosen, and so it might be for the best to embrace these things, rather than question them.

She finished drying herself, rubbing down her arms and chest briskly and patting at her wet locks of hair before finally being satisfied that she could dress.  It was as she turned, reaching down to retrieve her shift where she’d dropped it in a rumpled heap, that she felt it.

A wet nose, pressed against the bare skin of her back.

She shuddered, aghast, because she had actually managed to forget, and she didn’t want to face Sansa’s wolf now that the beast had seen her scars.

If the wolf had seen them, then so had Sansa, and Dany wasn’t sure she could stomach pity from either.

She dressed silently, not meeting the wolf’s piercing blue stare until she had fastened her red cloak back around her shoulders.

“I don’t wish to speak on it, Lady.”  The wolf sat on her haunches, regarding Dany with a heavy, serious stare, and it was inordinately puzzling to see something approximating dreadful understanding there in the animal’s eyes.

Daenerys chose not to acknowledge the look, instead plaiting her still-damp hair into a loose braid and securing it with a small length of leather, clearing her throat and putting all the hurt those scars, and the one who’d given them to her, into the past where the belonged.

She could only look forward now, only focus on the destiny set before her.

“Let us find the witch, before my stomach begins to devour itself in protest.”

Lady obliged willingly enough, the strange haunted look gone, but her watchful gaze was on Dany for the remainder of the day.

Chapter Text

Daenerys spent the rest of the dark, daytime hours exploring the old Keep, the three direwolves keeping her company intermittently, and so it happened that Ghost was with her when she pushed open the rotting wood door of a low, drum-shaped tower.  It seemed older than the rest, and as she bracketed her torch on the wall, allowing the light to reveal whatever secrets this tower held, she realized that it had fallen to disuse long before the areas she had already discovered in the Castle of Winterfell.

Furniture seemed stowed here haphazardly; Wooden bed frames, fractured and unusable, were stacked like cordwood along the western edge, while crate after crate lined the eastern, some still sealed shut, some missing their tops as though they’d been looted and pawed through.

Ghost explored with her, sniffing curiously within the halo of light her torch cast around them, checking his red stare back to her every now and again as though he sought to reassure himself that she was still there.

Smiling, she followed behind, halting when she came to several dusty, molding portraits leaning against the wall.  Remembering the one of Sansa, that hung still in the girl’s chambers, she knelt, curious as to whether there dwelt a similar depiction of a small, scowling Arya, dagger at her hip, or perhaps the dour, unsmiling Winter King whose lips had proven far warmer than his heart, before he’d pushed her away.

Her smile gave way to a frown, and she muttered several choice words in Valyrian under her breath, noticing she’d drawn the wolf’s attention when she glanced his way.

Dany ignored that searching red gaze for now, especially since Sansa had confirmed that Jon lingered somewhere within as well, listening, watching as his wolf did.  Instead, she began pulling at the frames, examining the images one by one as she made her way through the pile.

They were all rather mundane, to be honest, pastoral scenes that depicted the Keep of Winterfell in autumn, another depicting a hunting party in motion, yet another of the Godswood and it’s terrifying weirwood tree at the heart of the woods.

It was the final portrait that gave her pause, and she sat back on her heels at the sight, her breath escaping in a large, surprised huff.

It was a woman, with dark, flowing hair that was braided away from her temples but slid in soft, cascading curls down her shoulders.  She wore a gown of deep gray, a slender, silver crown upon her head, but while perhaps other ladies might have been depicted with a bundle of sewing, or perhaps a babe in arms, this woman held a spear in her hand, gazing off into the distance as though she were alert for any and all danger, at all times.

She was a beauty, to be sure, but there was a hardness in her eyes that told Dany this woman had been a warrior at heart.

And so consumed was she, spellbound by this mystery woman, that for several moments she did not notice the insistent tug on her skirts, surprised when the movement finally registered to find Ghost pulling on the fabric rather frantically.

She spared one more glance at the picture, a glint of metal catching the torchlight, and whispered the word she found along the bottom, the only word etched into the bronze plate set into the wooden frame.

“Ashara.”

Ghost froze at the sound, and she fretted that she had committed a terrible violation without meaning to, something private and painful flickering in that unearthly ruby stare at Dany’s utterance.  She hated the notion that she had offended the wolf, for he had proven to be the truest of friends to her, if only in her dreams, so she stroked a tentative hand across his head, scratching behind white ears in a manner she hoped was soothing.

“What a lovely name.”  At her words the direwolf’s eyes flickered with sadness, and he gave a low, pitiful whine.

Dany stood, brushing her hands along her red cloak.  It was time to be leaving, to let these ghosts of the past rest so she might not disturb the one still living.

“I think that’s enough exploring for one day, don’t you, Ghost?”  The wolf’s spirits seemed to lift at this, and he rewarded her with a lick to her hand as he turned at once, waiting for her to retrieve her torch before he shouldered his way through the doorframe and back out into the wintery, barren night.

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Melisandre appeared to dine with Dany before she retired for the night, listening quietly as Daenerys recounted what she had discovered, frowning mightily at the revelation of what she had *not*.

“We must know, Daenerys.  I know he can be rather…blunt-“

“Rude, is more like it.  Cantankerous and rude.”  Daenerys’s interruption only served to prompt a chuckle from the witch.

“Perhaps.”  Melisandre took a bite of the elk Lady had so thoughtfully provided them with the day prior, watching with slight amusement as Dany grasped a strip of meat between her fingers and tossed it to the largest of the wolves, the white wolf who had remained at her side since their discovery in that abandoned tower.  “But we must know precisely what happened if we wish to undo what was done.”

Dany sighed, her eyes meeting Ghost’s.  “Alright.”  She finished the last of her meal, chewing and swallowing the gamey meat before rising to clean her bowl and utensils, the wolf a persistent shadow at her side as she swished handfuls of snow against the items just outside the kitchen doors.

“I will try,” she promised Melisandre, her task complete, her hand falling to the pocket of her cloak where the tin of paste rested securely.

“See that you do.”  The witch might as well have dismissed her, then, because she began to tend to her own cleaning now, their conversation clearly over.

It was enough for Ghost, she noticed, who stood waiting by the door, ready to escort her to the chambers where she would sleep.  It would not do to keep such a respectful guide waiting, and so she ran her hand through the ruff of fur at his neck, grasping hold and opening the door.

“Lead the way.”

Ghost seemed to have a destination in mind, a singular focus, and while Dany was still distracted by the frozen forms that occupied every corner of this castle, the wolf was not.

And it dawned on her, as he stopped before an unfamiliar door, that he had not led her to Sansa’s chambers.

“Where have you brought me?”

Ghost merely nosed at the door, much more ornate that Sansa’s had been, complete with a snarling, iron Direwolf in silhouette, howling at some unseen foe.  She had a sneaking suspicion she knew exactly whose chambers these were, but she couldn’t imagine he would endorse such undertaking by his wolf.

Shrugging, she opened the door, unsurprised to see they were far larger and grander than the Lady Sansa’s had been.

These were a King’s chambers, and despite the dust and grime that coated near every surface, she could tell they had once been quite fine, with stately dark wood furniture accented in iron, the parlor large and inviting with several chairs grouped about here and there, and an enormous desk dominating the windowed wall.

No portraits lined these walls, but then the Winter King didn’t seem the sort for such vanity.

She walked carefully, exploring with her eyes, mindful that while Sansa had been more than happy to house Dany in her quarters, Jon Stark had given no such permission.

Ghost did not seem to notice her hesitation, forging a direct path to the side door, surely where the King Jon had retired while he still drew breath.

As he stood, waiting, she breathed out a question, her breath fogging the chilly air.  “Are you sure?”

The wolf only waited, staring her down, willing her to trust him.

So, she would.

She did not have Jon Stark’s permission, but she had his wolf’s, and that was more than enough for her.

Ghost led and she followed, once the door was pushed open by her hand, and she quickly set to work building a fire, the candle she’d brought along in it’s metal holder flickering merrily and ready to light the kindling she piled in the cold stone hearth.

Once she was satisfied that she would not freeze to death in the Winter King’s bedchamber she turned, finding a large, surprisingly welcoming bed, happy to find it so heaped with furs and blankets that stripping off the first few aging layers still left her with relatively clean linens for her rest.

Dany stripped off her red cloak, leaving on only her shift, kicking off her boots at the foot of the bed before climbing up, feeling swallowed by the size.  To her happy surprise, the wolf hopped up readily, flopping down a fair distance away, watching as she opened the tin of paste rescued from her red garment and scooped out a spoonful, swallowing it quickly before settling down near the wolf’s warm body.

“Sleep well, Ghost,” she whispered, before darkness claimed her completely.

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It was in the King’s chambers that she remained, standing at the hearth that flickered even here, though daylight streamed through the windows and a sweet spring breeze swept through the chambers.

“Right.”  A stern voice sounded at her back, and she spun around to find Jon Stark standing in the doorway, his dark glare bouncing between woman and wolf in equal measure.  Ghost shuffled nearer to Dany, nosing at her hand, staring right back at his master as though he meant to challenge the man.

Daenerys hid a grin, adopting a cross look herself, hands coming to rest on her hips.  “I had permission.”

“From him.”  The words were little more than a grunt, the King crossing the room to stand before his wolf, the white beast drawing himself up so that muzzle and face were even.  “We talked about this, you rotten cur.”

Ghost licked him full in the face, pink tongue leaving a wet trail that started at Jon’s chin and ended at his hairline.

“Rotten to your very core,” he muttered, still looking harassed as he gave the wolf a rueful swipe of his hand along the beast’s chest.  His eyes shot to Dany’s, only a brief, glancing look, but enough to see his irritation had not yet abated.

She didn’t care for the notion that perhaps she brought out the very worst in this man, that her very presence was a torture to him, but she was not sure how to repair that state of affairs.

“As for you,” he drawled, walking back to the door even as he spoke, clearly intending for her to follow, “let’s get on with it.”

Dany stood for a moment in the ensuing silence, now alone in the room save for Jon’s wolf.  Shaking her head, she finally followed, the animal keeping pace, following her and setting himself along side her as she took a chair before the desk the King had seated himself at.

He steepled his fingers before him, tapping them against his chin as his elbows came to rest on the wooden surface.

“What does the witch want to know?”

There was little point in working up to her questions, she supposed, so she dove in straightaway.  “What happened, when you felled the Night King?”

Jon Stark dropped his hands, bowing his head, taking several deep breaths before he found his way to an answer.  “I faced him on the field of battle.  I struck him in the heart with my sword.”  A heavy exhalation came, as though it pained him to speak his next words.  “And then the sun died.  Everything went black.  But not before I saw the ice claim my people.  People I had grown up with, brothers and sisters in arms, frozen where they stood.”

“But not you?”  Her voice was soft, and she did not wish to push, could see how this was an injurious thing to his spirit.  He was no longer the formidable, intimidating King she’d met that first day.  Before her, now, was just a man, an unerringly sad and tired man who had been made to watch his people suffer a most tragic fate, just as she had.

There was a kinship in such shared misery that she felt herself thaw, just the tiniest bit, in her own aggravation with him.  Now, she thought she might be coming to understand his thorny nature.

“No.”  He gave a mirthless laugh.  “No doubt the Old Gods wished to feast upon my horror before I suffered the same, just like Sansa, just like Arya.”  The Winter King finally met her eyes.  “It was only our blood that spared us, that brought us here.  Our blood,” he said, “and our wolves.”

“Magic,” Daenerys uttered, and he nodded begrudgingly.  “I’m sorry,” she continued, “about your people.”

Jon Stark scrubbed a hand down his face, looking exhausted and weary.  “It was a long time ago.”  He looked about, as though he could not decide where to settle his gaze, finally deigning to hold her stare as he continued on, subdued.  “But I thank you.  You might be the only other who understands.”

She cocked her head, curious, until he explained himself.  “What it’s like,” he clarified, onyx eyes glittering, “to watch your people die and be powerless to stop it.”

“Oh,” Dany breathed, dropping her eyes to her lap, where her fingers traced circles on her red cloak.  She noticed, with interest, that she still wore her actual clothes, none of Sansa’s finery to insulate her from such painful circumstances.  “You are right, I suppose.  With one minor difference of course.”

He studied her, his interest piqued.  “And what might that be?”

“My people are lost forever, Jon Stark.  The Blood of Valyria ends with me.  But your people,” she rushed on, as his lips parted to rebut her claim, “may still be saved.  You may still be saved.”

Daenerys marveled at the way this reminder of her impending death made him grit his teeth, something sparking to life in those dark eyes that made his gaze fly to the hearth behind her rather than allow her to see what lay there.  “I don’t imagine you will be swayed from this course, even if I tell you that they do not deserve it.”  He rose, agitated.  “I don’t imagine you will leave this place, even if I tell you that before this fate took us all, they were all of them little more than squabbling children, fighting over table scraps.”  He strode to the hearth, angrily tossing a log in, staring into the sparks that flew up at the impact.  “Seven Kingdoms, all scratching and clawing for power and power alone, no matter the consequence to themselves or their people.”

She contemplated his words for several moments, knowing he was correct in his assumptions.  It did not matter to her what had come before, only what lay ahead.  To dwell in the past was a fool’s game, and it was one she was done playing.

“Your sisters deserve it,” she finally responded, quietly.

She could hear his defeated sigh from across the room, and he leaned against the mantle, bracing himself on an arm, while Ghost and Dany looked on.  “Aye,” he agreed, “they do.”

“Then that is all that matters.  *They* have been very kind to me.”  He did not miss her pointed emphasis, his shoulders dipping, flinching as though she’d struck him.

“You do not need my kindness, Daenerys of House Targaryen, nor should you wish for it.”  He was right again, because the sight of him consumed by this obvious sorrow and resignation was doing something odd to her, twisting inside her chest like a dagger, and she suddenly wished to change the subject, to divorce herself from the pain that seemed to radiate from him.

“You warged, didn’t you?”  She cleared her throat softly when he didn’t respond right away, and he dragged his heavy gaze from the flames to look at Ghost.

“Yes.”  The Winter King approached, fondness a fleeting wave across his features before they settled back into their somber mask again.  “And now here I stay.”

They had placed these chains upon themselves, she realized, and found themselves stranded in this place that was not for living but not for the dead, either.

She would break them, she resolved, even for him, her eyes tracing the sad set of his mouth, his downcast gaze as he looked at his wolf.  Even if he did not wish it.

Daenerys had lost herself in this study of him, taking advantage of his distracted state, startled when he met her stare head-on.

“What happened to your back, Daenerys?”

Shame washed over her, chased swiftly by a defiant swell of anger.  “That is none of your concern.”  The words escaped in a hiss, his brows climbing up his forehead as she answered.

“Oh,” he said, knowingly, only proving more maddening.  “You want to ask questions, but you do not want them asked in return.”  He nodded to himself.  “That is not how this works, Daenerys.  A question for a question.  Was that not your agreement with my sister?”

Dany sat, jaw pushed out in defiance, grinding her teeth.  It was not a betrayal for Sansa to have told her brother what she saw, through her wolf’s eyes, but that did not stop the resentment that began to fester away inside her.

The Winter King did not back away, standing tall to cross his arms across his chest again, waiting.

“Punishment.  That is what happened to my back.”  Though she remained seated she glared up at him mutinously.

“At whose hand?”  She swallowed at his next question, his tone gentling by a fraction, his eyes searching in a way she did not care for at all.

“My father.”  She couldn’t bear to look at him anymore, having no need or patience for his pity.  “My brother.”  She took a steadying breath, cursing the anguish that raced through her, demanding her eyes allow no tears to well up and spill over, to reveal her pain to him more than she already had.  “But it is as you say, Your Grace.”  Her voice trailed off and she waited a beat before pushing forward, willing the tremble from her voice.  “It was a long time ago.”

He did not say anything.  At all.  Just looked at her, with those sad, dark eyes, his hand clenching at his side.  He watched as she gathered herself together, pulled back and withdrew into herself, done speaking of what had befallen her a lifetime ago.

“Ashara.”  It was a one-word offering, she realized.  It was a name that had pained his wolf, and surely must pain the man before her, but he ripped open the wound in exchange for the distress he had caused her, and she straightened in her seat at the whisper.

“The portrait you found.”  When she nodded, he pressed on, though his words grew low and gruff.  “Ashara was my mother.”  Daenerys held her breath, the revelation not completely unexpected, but welcome all the same.  They had the same hair, she realized, the same nose, the same full lips.

Jon rounded the desk, dropping himself back into his chair as though he could no longer bear to stand.  “She died, birthing me.”  Dany did not think it would ease his suffering, if she were to tell him her mother had been lost to her in the same manner, and so she held her tongue.  “When my father remarried, the new Queen in the North removed all traces of her.  My father loved her very much, you see,” he rubbed at his bearded chin absently, lost in thought, “and Lady Catelyn could not bear the sight of her.”  Jon Stark’s throat bobbed as he swallowed heavily.  “Or me.”

Daenerys thought back on Sansa’s advice, and Arya’s, both girls having mentioned Jon’s suffering from a young age, and understood what it was he did not say, that his childhood possibly been as unhappy as her own, that he shared this with her to tell her that he understood what had befallen her at her family’s hands.

And so, they sat in quiet regard of each other, a mutual, if unwelcome, thread of understanding binding them together.  Finally, Jon rose once more, the slight groan of his ever-present black leathers the only sound in the room besides the hissing and popping of the fire in the hearth.

“You’d best be on your way.”  He was at the fire, a dark outline against the bright flame, retreating from her as best he could.  “My sisters will be most anxious to see you.”

Dany nodded, though he could not see such with his back turned, her gaze flitting between man and wolf as she made to leave.

She had just grasped the iron pull when his voice carried out to her, once more sounding scornful, detached.  “One more thing, Daenerys.”

Twisting to look at him, her hand still ready to free her from the confines of the room, from *him*, she waited, and while he did not smile in the slightest, she thought she could detect a hint of jest in his next command.

“Stay out of my things.”  He looked about the room purposefully, his meaning clear.

She smirked, glad to be the cause of his irritation rather than his sorrow.  “We shall see, Jon Stark.”

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Ghost led her to the training yards, and she thought she’d found herself abandoned when he turned tail suddenly and left, without so much as a look of farewell.  It was not until Nymeria emerged from the squat, awning covered door to her left that she realized she wasn’t alone after all, not really.

Arya was close behind, giving a startled squeak at finding Dany there, but it was no more than a second before she was giving Daenerys a wide grin in greeting, the girl’s hand straying to her wolf as she welcomed her guest.

“Back again, I see.”  The dark-haired girl glanced over her shoulder, at the door she’d emerged from.  “D’you want to have some fun, Dany?”

With a wave of her fingers, the girl skipped into the building, and Daenerys found herself, in short order, in an armory of sorts.  Weapons lined the walls, and her breath caught at the sheer variety, more than she’d ever seen at her father’s manor.  Aerys had managed to run off most of the household guards, over the years, through a variety of means, the least of which being his uncanny ability to burn through whatever gold they managed to acquire in short order.

Most, though, had left because they couldn’t stand the man, and the pittance he offered as payment was rarely enough to keep a full guard employed.

Greyworm had stayed, but that, Daenerys knew, had been for Missandei, and for her.

Arya gestured around to the walls on either side, giving Nymeria a sideways smile as she brought up the rear, the animal’s body crowding the doorway and blocking them in.  “Do you know how to fight, Daenerys?”  The younger Stark sister reached over and twanged the bowstring of a nearby longbow.  “You dodged that arrow pretty well the other day.”

Dany chuckled, raising her eyebrows at the smaller girl.  “Were you aiming for me?”

Arya tossed a rueful smile her way, shaking her head as she hefted a short sword.  “Not really.  Just testing your reflexes.”  When Dany’s eyes widened at her answer Arya laughed full-on, a merry sound in the sweet spring air.  “Besides, it wouldn’t have hurt you.  Not really.”

To Dany’s horror, the girl drew the sharp edge of the short sword along her forearm, then raised it, illustrating her point.  The blade drew no blood from the girl’s arm, did not even score her flesh.  Arya grinned wickedly, pointing to the other assorted blades on the wall.  “I will ask again.  Do you know how to fight, Dany?  I can show you, you know.  I’m a fair fighter.”

Daenerys suspected the girl didn’t wish to brag, that she underplayed her true ability.  She’d seen the way the girl had struck her targets when armed with arrow and bow, and she did not doubt this girl probably knew her way around steel as well.

But, then, so did Dany.  She walked the perimeter of the long, narrow room, cloak sweeping the dirt as she came upon her quarry, a long, ornately decorated spear leaned haphazardly against the wall.  Here, in this place of dreams, where time had not touched every surface, it shone in the shafts of sunlight that filtered in from narrow window slits carved into the stone walls.

“I should like to try this, if I may?”  Arya looked at her with wide eyes, nodding slightly, and Dany lifted the spear, hefting the weight in her hand.  It was wonderfully made, perfectly balanced as she raised it to look down the length, the glittering steel tip pointed at the King’s wild sister.  Daenerys gave a happy sigh, the familiar weight of a weapon in her hand an unexpected relief, her earlier conversation with Jon fleeing quickly in the face of this new, most welcome diversion.

Arya cocked her head to the side, her hand falling to the pommel of a slim, elegant sword sheathed opposite the dagger at her waist.  “D’you know how to use that?”

“I would never be foolish to point a weapon at someone without knowing how to wield it, Arya.”  The girl only grew more excited at Dany’s answer, grabbing another spear, this one shorter, better suited to the girl’s smaller frame.

“Show me,” Arya ordered merrily, traipsing out into the yard, leaving Dany and Nymeria staring after her.

“After you,” Dany said to the wolf, smiling to herself as she followed beast and girl out in the sun’s warm embrace.

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While Arya was extremely proficient with her blades, she was not nearly so skilled with staff or spear, a fact she readily admitted after Dany managed to knock her arse-first into the dirt for the third time.

“Where did you learn to fight like that?”  Arya’s tongue was caught between her teeth as she kept a careful distance now, having learned that Dany would strike hard and fast if she came within reach of the spear in Dany’s hand.

Daenerys gave her a feral smile, rocking back on her heels, watching the girl’s shoulders as she circled, waiting for her to telegraph her next move, just as Greyworm had taught her.  She relished the fact that here, she did not tire, wondering if it had been hours or days that she had been here, fighting the little spitfire who paced like a caged animal.  Her only regret, now, was that she had not asked Arya if she, like her sister, might be able to conjure clothing a bit more suited to the melee than her simple dress and cloak.  She absolutely despised fighting in a skirt, a dislike placing second only to her contempt for riding in them.

“In the Freehold of Valyria,” Dany replied, jumping as Arya lunged and swung her the butt of her spear low, trying to sweep her feet but missing, “it was not uncommon for those for had found themselves enslaved to come, in search of freedom, a better life.  My father had a man in his service, one who had been trained in the manner of the Ghiscari, who had been amongst the Unsullied armies of Astapor before he freed himself, and his woman.”

Arya stopped suddenly, her eyes alight, drawing in a breath.  Daenerys relaxed as well, resting the butt of her spear on the ground and leaning against it, watching as the girl absorbed her words.

“You were trained by an Unsullied?  A Ghiscari warrior?”  A hunger flared to life in the girl’s eyes, steel flashing silver in those smoky depths.  Daenerys smiled ruefully, nodding in assent, and then the girl was upon her, gripping her by the collar of her crimson cloak, her voice desperate.

“Teach me.”  The girl stared up at her, pleading, and it was a pleasing discovery to find that there was something she might give this girl, a gift that she would remember long after Daenerys was gone.  Something to remember her by, perhaps.

Dany motioned to the slim blade at the girl’s hip.  “I will offer you an exchange.  I shall show you everything I know, and you, in return, shall do the same.”  She shrugged, giving the shorter girl a bashful smile.  “I’m much better with spear than sword, you see.”

Arya beamed, her eyes catching something over Dany’s shoulder that made her lips stretch even more broadly.  “I accept.”  She clasped Dany’s forearm with her hand, nodding that the Valyrian ought to do the same.  “Our bargain is struck.”

A voice sounded, then, and she turned to find the Winter King and his Lady sister making their way across the dirt-packed yard to join them.

“I wondered where you got off to, Dany!”  Sansa skipped ahead of her brother, coming to the wooden fence that lined the sparring yard, looking between Daenerys and Arya where they stood still, weapons in hand.  She eyed Dany, shaking her head and tutting gently under her breath.  “Now this will not do at all.”  She leaned on the cross post, tapping at her chin with her finger in consideration before she gave Daenerys what could only be described as a wicked, slow grin.  “Close your eyes.”

Unsure, but having little reason not to trust Sansa, her earlier resentment having evaporated into the air like mist, she obeyed, feeling the air warp and shift around her, until the Lady of Winterfell whispered, “Now, open them.”

Dany looked down, already feeling the supple leather that hugged against her, fitted to her like a second skin; She wore black leathers, accented here and there with silver, remarkably similar to what Jon Stark wore, save that the design more closely resembled Arya’s slightly more feminine tailoring.  These were fighting leathers, and she smirked at Arya’s low whistle.

“Well done, sister.”  Arya glanced at her sister, adopting a put-upon expression.  “She looks every inch a warrior now.  Why don’t you ever conjure up something like that for me?”  The two glared at each other good-naturedly.

“You could do it yourself, if you could be bothered to do anything more than *this* all the time.”  Sansa gestured towards her sister, then looked back at Dany with bemusement.  “She’s dreadfully lazy at some things.”  Arya merely rolled her eyes, a scoffing laugh escaping at her sister’s accusation.

When she risked a look at Jon, unsure of what she might find, she was startled to see he wasn’t looking at her at all.  He was staring only at the spear still gripped in her hand, his head finally jerking in Arya’s direction as he huffed out, “Where did you get that?”

“Don’t be angry, Jon.”  Arya stepped closer to the fence, between her brother and Daenerys, but the move did not stop him from hurdling the barrier in an easy move, the man landing gracefully and staring at his sister with eyes that were far more wounded than furious.  “It was in the armory.  She chose it.”

He whirled on Dany, the slight thaw from earlier now gone, reproach painted clearly on his face.  “Just because you have guest rights here does not mean you can take whatever you wish.”  His hand flew out, grasping the spear just above where she gripped it, until Arya’s voice stopped him.

“She knows how to use it, Jon.  She’s promised to teach me.”  Arya shouldered her way between them, peeling her brother’s fingers from the weapon one by one, the same pleading look on her face as she’d had earlier, when her bargain with Dany had been struck.  “She didn’t know,” the slender girl finally whispered to her brother, and he stepped back, the fight in him gone.

“Do as you will, then.”  He spoke bitterly, addressing them both.  “Who am I to stop you?”  He hurdled the fence again, Ghost coming up to nuzzle at him.  “I’m only the King, after all.”  He began to stalk away, still calling out recriminations, his irritation abundantly clear.  “No one need listen to me, it seems.”

The three women watched him go in communal silence, until he and his wolf had disappeared from view completely.  Dany looked between the two Stark sisters, then, spear still clenched tightly in her hand, confused and more than a bit bothered by what had transpired.

For their part, the two Stark women seemed to have a wordless argument, their faces tightening and eyes narrowing at each other until Arya, with chagrin, cast an apologetic look Dany’s way.

“It was his mother’s,” she said, her eyes falling to the spear.  “That’s why he was so aggrieved.”

Daenerys looked at the weapon with new eyes, aghast, recognizing at last that this was, indeed, the spear the lovely Ashara had clasped in her portrait.

“Well, of course he is.”  Dany whispered the words more to herself than the other two women, but they heard her all the same, Sansa finally turning to peer in the direction Jon and Ghost had just escaped. 

“I should go talk to him,” Sansa said, but Daenerys halted her just as Lady sidled up to her mistress.

“No.”  Dany handed Arya the spear, with a newfound reverence, and began to walk, leaving Arya and Sansa to their own devices as she followed Jon Stark’s path.  “I will speak with him.”

-----------

She found him on a hunch, before the terrible weirwood tree, Ghost seated in most dignified fashion at the King’s side, alert and watchful.  The King sat upon a large stone beside the clear pool, his sword freed from its’ scabbard and propped up before him, his hand sliding a sharpening stone up and down the length of steel.

It was the sound that had given him away, the steady, even rhythm of a blade being honed, one she had become quite familiar with after years at Greyworm’s knee.  Every night, as a girl, the man who had been more a father than her own flesh and blood would perform this same task, and the familiarity of it calmed nerves that had become jangled and jostled by the time she came upon him in his self-imposed seclusion.

The Winter King paid her no mind at all, did not even raise his gaze, his focus only on his sword.  Ghost, who proved by the day to be of much more polite temperament, gave her a chuffing welcome, but did not abandon his post.

Daenerys found she did not mind the King’s silence.  It gave her time to collect her thoughts before she spoke to him, and in light of what had prompted his most recent aggravation she knew it might be for the best.  She sat herself beside the pool, studying her own reflection, thinking on what could be spoken that would broker any sort of peace between the two of them.

Giving her a reflection a frown, she finally looked up, studying the cross set of his face as he continued to pretend she was not there.

“It seems no matter what I do, Your Grace, I manage to offend you.”  He did not respond, working the opposite edge of the Valyrian blade, the only sign he’d heard her at all his deepening scowl.

“I will use a different weapon in the future.  I am sorry, really.”  She did not know what to make of the pleading edge in her own voice, something within her foolish enough to believe that if she could just make him understand, just make him see that-

“If you really mean to train with my sister, then you ought to use it.”  He shrugged lightly, attempting to sound as though he did not care, but his hardening features suggested otherwise.

“It wouldn’t be right.”  She blew out a breath, plucking a stone from the ground and rolling it around in her hand.  “Your armory is full of fine weapons.  I can easily select another.”

A flurry of motion caught her attention, just in her peripheral vision, and she jerked her head upwards to find him standing, now, and glaring down at her.

“Just use the bloody thing.”  Daenerys was taken aback by the fire in his eyes, the fury that seemed to have gripped him at her assurance that she would *not* use his mother’s blasted spear, and realized that she had, in short order, hit her limit.

She clambered to her feet, glaring right back, finished with her attempts to be polite, to befriend him as she had his sisters.  He had made the task impossible, irrespective of the tiny fact that he’d had the audacity to kiss her when she was here last and then pretend as though it hadn’t even happened.

“See here, Jon Stark,” she began, just as seething as he was, advancing on him, her finger stabbing the air as she pointed at him.  “I have tried to show you kindness.  I have tried to have patience.”  His eyes grew large as she came towards him, the fear Arya had warned her of surfacing at last.  For each step forward she took, he stepped back, though he could not escape the words that she finally set free.

“I want to know just what I’ve done to make you hate me so much.”  She spat out the words, not backing down an inch, even when he tripped slightly over Ghost’s massive form, and they both seemed surprised when he grabbed the nearest object for balance, her outstretched hand.

Together, in stunned silence, they looked at their now joined hands, and suddenly, in a sweeping, gusty exhale, his anger was gone, drained from him all at once, leaving nothing behind but misery and sorrow.

“I wish I hated you, Daenerys.  You cannot begin to know how much.”  His face inched closer to hers with every syllable, and the breath in her chest seemed stutter as she wondered if he was about to kiss her again.

And for all his sour looks and angry words, she could not deny that a traitorous part of her heart wished that he would.  She’d never been kissed by another as he had kissed her, because while he seemed full of contempt at the very sight of her, he kissed her as though he loved her.

It was a ridiculous notion.  She’d only made this journey thrice, and no magic in the world would be enough to thaw this man’s heart.  She was being foolish again, which was nothing new.  She was beginning to suspect she might be as foolish as he claimed she was.

“But I cannot,” he finally continued, now close enough that each word was punctuated by a puff of air against her lips.  “I had stupidly hoped that, instead, I might cause you to hate me.”  She could not look away, his eyes level with hers, mere inches away, their foreheads nearly touching.  “Is it working?”  He tried to sound hopeful, she could hear it coloring every syllable, but still his gaze was all leaden despair.

“You want me to hate you?”  Her question finally caused him to pull away, perhaps the sensation of her breath upon his lips too much for him to bear, and she resolved to be grateful.  His sweet kiss would serve no purpose other than her own torment.

“It would help immensely.”  He flopped himself down upon the stone, gloomy and quiet, and picked up his sword, stone in hand.

She waited for more, for an explanation, anything to help her understand why he would wish for such, when he looked upon her, iron gray clashing and holding her own amethyst stare.

“It’s time to wake up, Daenerys.”

-------------

Melisandre was watching her, when she stirred, when she stretched and yawned and rubbed the sleep from her eyes with tired fingers.

The King’s chambers were far roomier than those belonging to his sister Sansa, and so it was that she found it easy to give the red witch a wide berth, averting her eyes as she rose from the bed, Ghost clambering down beside her, rigid and suspicious as he saw Melisandre there, seated by the fire.

“I do hope you slept well, Daenerys.”  There was something melodic about the woman’s voice; Daenerys had wondered on more than one occasion if even in her speech the woman worked magic upon her, calming her and priming her to be more receptive to the witch’s wishes.

Dany allowed herself a halting nod, shivering at the chill in the room without the mountain of furs that she’d buried herself under to ward off the cold while she slept and creeping closer to both the woman and the fire she’d obvious kept fed while Daenerys took her audience with the last remnants of House Stark.

Melisandre waved a hand mildly at the chair opposite her, her lips twitching as Dany seated herself, Ghost immediately wrapping his large body around the chair as best he could and laying his head in her lap.

“What have you learned?”  There it was again, that lilt in the other woman’s voice that suggested it was only natural to share what the Winter King had grudgingly told her.  With a glance at Ghost, whose ruby eyes reflected the flame and held a sort of helpless acceptance, she sighed, relaxing farther back into the dusty upholstery and doing her best not to sneeze.

“The King said,” she began, her fingers sinking into the wolf’s white fur, “that it was his blade of Valyrian steel that struck the Night King’s heart.”

Melisandre nodded, her brow creasing with thought.  “Yes, such blade forged in dragonfire could surely complete the task.  It was always meant to be fire that ended such threat.”  The witch leaned closer.  “But then what happened?”

Her fingers tightened in snow fur almost reflexively.  “He said he saw it happen.  The curse.  The ice that claimed his people. It took them, first, before it came for the blood of the Starks.  They warged into their wolves before the process was complete, as I understand it, at least.”

Now, the witch leaned back herself, contemplative.  “Yes,” she finally replied, “now I see.”  Eyes of shifting color flitted between the Last Valyrian and the King’s direwolf.  “It is lucky for us that a man of such old, cold blood had enough magic in his veins to bear it, to witness things unfold.”

“Lucky?”  Her fingers clenched so tightly that Ghost flinched, finally, and she gave him a sorry glance before glaring at the witch.  “I fear I cannot count watching your people die as a lucky thing.”

“No,” Melisandre whispered, her gaze shifting to her red-robed lap, “I suppose not.”  The woman stood, leaving eyes of lavender and eyes that shone like rubies to track her movement as she moved up and down the length and breadth of the stately quarters.  “But you must understand something, Daenerys Stormborn, a particular something that the Winter King has already learned.”

Dany exchanged a skeptical glance with the wolf.  “And what is this wisdom I must understand?”

If the witch heard the sarcasm in her voice, she ignored it, choosing instead to arrange herself before the darkened window, into the snowy endless night.  “For every end there is a beginning, Daenerys.”

That might be true enough, Dany realized, but it was an empty comfort all the same.  There was something else that bothered her, however, something she had been puzzling over since arriving in this barren land, since she had learned the truth of what had brought about this terrible curse.

“Why would he succeed in saving his people, in defeating the Night King, only to have this happen?”  She waved her hand toward the window where the witch stood, where time itself had coupled with the icy climate to hold the inhabitants in this suspended state between life and death.  “Why would his Gods punish him for trying to save his people?”

For several long, ponderous moments the witch did not answer, only staring at her reflection in the glass.  When she turned, it was with a heavy sigh, and she seemed reluctant to meet Dany’s eyes.  “I have a theory,” she finally responded, “but I do not think you shall like it.”

Barely fighting back a groan, Dany maintained her steady stare, willing herself to have patience with the endless riddles the woman seemed to prefer over straight answers.  “Out with it, if you please.  I hardly think it matters much whether I like it.”

Melisandre slowly returned to her seat, arranging her robes carefully around her as she settled, eyes ominous when they finally crawled up to meet Dany’s.

“They had to wait, Daenerys.”  The woman’s jaw worked, as though she sought to speak very carefully.  “They had to wait for you.”

-----------

Melisandre had finally left her alone with Ghost in the wake of her pronouncement under the guise of preparing to break their fast, no doubt growing weary of Dany’s ensuing silence.  Now she lay abed once more, atop the furs, Ghost stretched out beside her, his muzzle only a foot away from her face.

“It’s my fault,” she whispered forlornly.  Ghost’s head began to toss about, side to side, and if she were up to such flights of fancy, she would imagine he was disagreeing with her assessment.

But fancy had fled, leaving only numbness behind, because it made a rather twisted sort of sense, if viewed from afar, if she could divorce herself from the devastating guilt it wrought within her, now that she *knew* them, these Starks of Winterfell.

Jon Stark had told her as much, that first day, in his angry, clipped voice.  He had told her that he’d thought she would come, that she was meant to save them, hadn’t he?

Hadn’t his sisters both explained the hope that had lingered, that still she might come, even after they’d fallen victim to this magic that surrounded her now?

She felt a tear escape and buried her head into the feather-stuffed pillow, sniffling and allowing the linen to soak up her misery.  She knew, deep down, that it was not her fault in the sense that her absence was willfully imposed, but she could not shake the notion that they’d been forced into this prison all the same because of the requirement of her existence.

A whine at her side finally dragged her attention back to the present, to the wolf staring at her with mournful eyes, so much like his master’s.

That brought her back to a different, more distracting problem, but the distraction was, at least in this moment, welcome.

She did not want to think about Jon Stark and his sad eyes and dark moods and sweet lips.  But here she was, in his home, in his chambers, in his bed, haunting her all the same.

A question seized her mind, so swiftly that she started, and she sat up quickly, twisting to look Ghost in the eyes.  She had seen what had become of Sansa’s body, frozen and still outside her chambers, but as to Jon and Arya she had seen nothing at all.

“Where is he?”  The wolf’s ears pricked up at her question, and he gave a low, rumbling groan, his legs sticking out comically straight as he stretched before jumping off the bed and making his ambling way to the door to the King’s chambers.

A look back, over his shoulder, told her what he wanted.  He understood, she realized, what she meant.  Whom she meant.  He waited as she scrambled back down, his tongue lolling out as she pulled the door open, leading them both out into the hall.

Daenerys gave another shiver, looking up and down the hall before glancing into that crimson stare.  “If we’re going outdoors,” she whispered, “I’m going to need my coat.”

----------

She wrapped a spare fur around her neck like a scarf, warding off the icy wind that whistled still at her ears, Ghost reliably solid and warm at her side as they slogged through snow drifts in a vast field outside the walls of the Keep.

Snow had begun to fall in thick, heavy flakes, but they did not stop, even as her nose began to redden and her eyes began to sting.  It fell so densely, in fact, that it was not long until it obscured all but the few feet around her in a wall of night and white nothingness, as though even the weather meant to hide Jon Stark from her sight.

It seemed to her they pushed forward for hours, but that consideration fell away when Ghost came to a halt, because something very strange happened.

The snow stopped.

It did not taper off, slowly, like a storm abating.

It simply had been snowing, and then it was not.

The clouds, unseen in the darkness, that must have been obscuring the moon above, parted.

Daenerys turned around, in a solemn circle, and found herself in a graveyard.

All around her, every inch of snow exposed in the newfound moonlight, was death.  Frozen forms swarmed the snow like ants, line after line, wave after wave of them.  There had to be thousands, but quickly her eyes spied one body in particular, one man who stood alone and apart, though as she came closer with his wolf, she realized Jon Stark was not standing at all.

He knelt, icy and still, his sword no longer rippled steel but hewn from crystalline cold.  He looked defeated, down on one knee, sword point buried in a small drift, but it was his face that stole her breath.  Even in the face of the horror he had witnessed, she saw, his eyes remained on the heavens, searching for his salvation.

For her.

She crept close, her fingers ghosting over his frozen cheek, not quite touching.  She remembered herself, then, looking to Ghost who followed her movements with his eyes, and her hand fell away quickly.  It was easy to forget, in such quiet company, that there was another who watched, tucked away, but witness all the same to what happened during her waking hours, at least when a wolf accompanied her.

The wolf grasped the hem of her jacket with gentle teeth, tugging her away, and she sniffed quietly, knowing he was right.

They ought to leave, before her tears froze on her cheeks, before her heart became as frozen as all those surrounding her now, forgotten people awaiting their freedom.

They left, but she could not erase the sight of him in her mind for the remainder of her darkened day.

Chapter Text

Ghost, it appeared, had very specific wishes when it came to where Daenerys would sleep that night; When she wound her way back to Lady Sansa’s quarters, before her evening meal, he had chuffed and whined so pitifully that she’d had to give him several pets and quiet assurances that she was merely retrieving her things.

Not that she had that many, of course, but what little she’d carried with her from a land now lost, tucked away inside her satchel, were items more precious than gold.

And after she and the witch had eaten a near-silent meal, and Ghost had made a beeline for Jon Stark’s spacious, abandoned chambers, she went along amiably enough.  There were more furs to be had there than any other room, and the hearth was near enough to the bed that the room seemed the warmest she’d found thus far, though she hadn’t yet made a thorough exploration of the grounds.

“Tomorrow,” she told the wolf, as she sat beside the fire, soaking in the heat before she retired for the night, “perhaps you might show me your very favorite place?”

Ghost’s head tipped quizzically, and she chuckled softly as he seemed to consider her question.  With a grunt, he finally lowered his muzzle to his paws, his fringed white tail sweeping the floor.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Dany laughed, reaching down to grasp the bag she’d set at her feet, the roughspun straps chafing at her palms as she sat it upon her lap.  “Would you like to see something very fine, Ghost?  Something you have never seen before?”

The wolf grunted again, clearly as tired as she was, as instead of rising and crossing the small space between them he crawled forward to sniff at her boots.  Dany gave him a scratch behind his ears, smiling down at the large beast, as even in repose his head nearly brushed her knee.

She reached one slender hand into the depths of the bag, surprised at always at the warm, scaled curve that greeted her questing fingers.  Stone though they may be, her eggs still harbored fire within.

“Look,” she said, presenting the object to the wolf with an exaggerated flourish, excited by his interest as he cautiously lifted his head, sniffing with interest now at the iridescent green scales tipped in bronze.  When his ruby eyes dropped to the bag, then to the egg, then back to the bag again, she thought she understood his unspoken question.

“Yes, there’s more.”  Dany rose, snagging a spare, thick fur from the bed and bringing it back with her as she sat herself on the floor beside the wolf, so they might be eye to eye.  Gently, she laid her green egg in the makeshift nest of silky fur, reaching into the bag and pulling forth another, this egg of cream tipped in gold, the scales glistening in the firelight.  “Isn’t it lovely?”

The wolf’s only response was his standard panting smile, though she thought he seemed of good cheer at the sight of such wonders.  At least, she hoped so.  She had the sense that he had been quite lonely, before she came, and it pleased her to think that she could remedy that, if only a bit.

“See here,” she whispered, pulling the last egg free, this one black as onyx and spiked with crimson accents, as though each scale had been dipped in blood.  This was an egg of most terrible beauty, the egg that felt to her as though she held magic itself within her hands.  Even Ghost seemed enchanted at the sight, his eyes tracking her movements as she laid that egg with it’s nestmates.  “Now,” she said primly, folding her hands in her lap as both woman and wolf stared at the three eggs nestled in dark, sable fur, “what do you think of that?”

Ghost gave a lick to her fingers, barely glancing at her before turning his attention back to her precious cargo, items that had been the cause of so much misery not so long ago.  She had paid a blood price for these eggs, and she would care for them as best she could, even if there was no life that lingered within.

“This is a puzzle I must solve.”  Dany traced a loving finger along black scales, wondering at the way her finger tingled each time she touched them.  “For the secret to hatching dragons was lost to my people very long ago.”

In the ensuing quiet she looked at the wolf, who had finally shifted his focus at her words.  “I think this,” she continued in a hushed voice, “is how I will save them.  But I’m not sure how, Ghost.”

There was no answer to be found in those ruby depths, only commiseration, in the face of this impossible question that presented no answers for either of them.  With a sigh, she stood, the wolf’s eyes heavy on her as she made a slow circuit around the room.

She twisted her hands in the skirt of her shift to stop her curious fingers from opening cupboards, pulling open drawers, as Jon Stark’s request echoed through her mind.

‘Stay out of my things.’

And perhaps he watched her now, behind his wolf’s eyes, to see if she would obey.

A wave of exhaustion swept over her as she eyed the bed, and the tin of paste still set upon the nightstand, beside a guttering, half-burnt candle in a bronze holder.

With a resigned sigh, she crossed to the hearth, gathering her burlap bag and starting when the last item remaining within its’ depths made itself known through the layers of fabric, her hands tracing the outline before reaching in to pull the slim volume full of words she knew by heart out and into the firelit room.

Daenerys looked between the wolf and the book, realizing she had yet to take Melisandre’s advice.  She had not told the Winter King of this, not yet, and she began to smile as she walked towards the large bed, climbing up and propping the pillows against the grand wooden headboard before patting the space beside her with an inviting hand.

“Ghost,” she called, “come and see this.”

The leather book was a familiar friend in her hand, and when she opened the cover, to expose the first page, she turned the book to the wolf, who’d come to stand beside the bed, his nose intently sniffing at the object before he seemed to leap backward, shocked.

“Where Winter Fell,” she read aloud, watching out of the corner of her eye as the wolf stopped and settled down, red eyes intent on the book in her hands.  “The Tragic Fate of Westeros,” she continued, taking a breath, “by Maester Samwell Tarly.”

Ghost let out such a high-pitched, frantic whine that she was forced to look fully at him, unsure whether it was excitement or sadness that had prompted such from the beast.

And she could not be sure of what she saw when she looked in his eyes.  Was it a trick of the light, the flickering shadows thrown by the fire that blazed in the hearth, that caused a flash of gray in the wolf’s eyes?

She licked her lips, patting the bed again, her concern soothed when the white wolf clambered up eagerly, laying his head in her lap and nudging the book with his nose.

“Shall I read it to you?”  Ghost licked her fingers in answer, another whine issuing forth, this one low and pleading.

Daenerys smiled, and leaned over to the tin of paste, scooping up a hasty spoonful and swallowing eagerly, the hint of lemon on her tongue something she savored for a few moments before she settled.  “Alright, my Lord.  Let us begin.”  She turned the page, bracing an arm atop his neck as he lay still and calm, and began to read.

------------

The Winter King was waiting for her, in the place where the sun still shone, in this land of dreams.

He did not speak when she approached, simply staring at her for a long moment that seemed to stretch on endlessly, as he towered above her on his saddled horse.  She did not miss the riderless mare beside his own mount, the reins gripped loosely in his gloved hands.

She waited.

Finally, he smiled, a small little thing that might have easily been dismissed as mere courtesy, were it not for a newfound warmth in his eyes as he looked down at her.

“Daenerys.”  He dipped his chin.  “Before you scurry of to meet with my sisters, I wish to show you something.”  He was dressed as he always was, head to toe in black, but this night he did not seem so cold and aloof, and it was easy enough to smile and nod in agreement.

“As you wish, Your Grace.”  She had to laugh at the way his face screwed up at being addressed as such, as though he’d bitten into something sour, and he thrust the reins in her direction as he clucked his tongue.

“Enough of that nonsense.”  His eyes followed her as she easily swung herself up and into the saddle, her hand smoothing along the dappled neck of her horse as she settled herself and then looked at him expectantly.

“Where are you taking me?”  She was not worried, merely curious, and she was most pleased when his smile grew bigger.

“It’s a surprise.”  He spurred his horse, seemingly in no hurry as he kept a slow, gentle pace, and she did the same, unable to stop her own smirk as she looked ahead at the path that lay before them before turning her eyes back to his.

“It certainly is.”  She chuckled when he squinted at her.  “Forgive me, Jon Stark, but when last we met you said you wished for me to hate you.  That you would now wish to share my company is,” she drawled, “surprising.”

The Winter King looked down, silent for several moments, and gave her a sheepish grin.  “I know when a battle is lost.  Besides,” he said, the warmth in his eyes finally spilling over into his voice, “you have done me a great kindness.”  A flicker of wistful sadness flashed across his face.  “Now I shall repay that debt.”

“The book,” she whispered, understanding sweeping over her.  They rode, side by side, the silence that fell between them no longer the heavy, ponderous thing it had been on previous visits.  But she was, as ever, always hungry for more knowledge, to truly *know*, and it was she who finally broke the quiet.

“Will you tell me about him?  Samwell Tarly?”  She gripped her reins tighter at the way he grimaced before nodding, wondering how terrible it must be to discuss such things, grateful that he seemed, at least, willing.

“Sam.”  He whispered the name, and the wind carried it to her ears like a gentle caress that swept her silver hair across her cheek, her hair only partially swept back this night, the leathers Sansa had conjured for her previously creaking slightly with each swaying step of her mare.  “My best friend.”

Jon Stark gave her a sweet smile, and began.  “The first thing you ought to know about Sam, was that he was no fighter.”  He paused, meeting her eyes quickly before he seemed to catch himself, facing forward again and straightening.  “He always wanted to be a Maester, but he found himself amongst the Night’s Watch all the same…”

-----------

She could not be certain how long they rode, but she was certain she’d never expected the cold Winter King to be, well, so very animated.  But along their journey to this mysterious destination he regaled her with stories of this man who had forged a link between the two of them, a bond that had transcended time and distance, and she soaked in every word, stored them away in her heart where the words Jon Stark’s friend had etched themselves long ago.

And by the time Jon drew his horse to a halt, she felt a strange peace settle over her, something that firmed and rooted itself deep within her when he spoke once more, this time haltingly, almost shyly.

“I’m sorry.”  When she furrowed her brow at him, he cleared his throat, the hand holding his reins fidgeting.  “For how I was before.  I think,” he drew in a breath, finally daring to meet her eyes, “that I should like for us to be friends, Daenerys.”

“Ah.”  She nodded sagely, trying to appear as though she was considering the offer.  “I suppose that can be arranged.  Am I to assume you have now plumbed the depths of your rudeness and lack of manners?”

Daenerys wondered if she had ruined the moment, relieved when he laughed and gave her a mock glare.  “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he grumbled, and swung down from his saddle, his boots smacking loudly on the ground below as he turned to look at her.  “Are you coming, or not?”

She looked around, not seeing anything especially noteworthy about their surroundings, thick woods encroaching in every direction, save for the ridgeline just ahead of them.  “Where, precisely, are we going?”  Even as she asked, she dismounted, and he took her reins, his hand just brushing hers with the action.

She forced herself not to blush.  He meant to be friends, and friends they would be.  Nothing more, she told herself, that was the wise course.

“Wait here.”  He walked the horses to the nearest copse of trees, tying off both beasts before slowly walking back, a nervous energy surrounding him now.  Still, he offered an elbow, and she took it willingly.  “It’s just over here.”  Pointing up at the ridge, he looked at her, as though he waited still for her approval.

“Well then, let us end the suspense.”  He snorted at her cheeky tone, whatever lingering awkwardness that remained subsiding as he rolled his eyes.  They ascended the ridge together, his arm steadying her as they picked their way up the rocky slope.

And when they reached the top, when her eyes saw what it was he meant to show her, where he had brought her, it was impossible to contain the joy that flooded her, for this was a place she knew.

A grassy ocean lay before her, long blades of green swept about in the spring breeze as the sun blazed overhead, and her hand tightened enough on his bicep that he gasped, and at the sound she tore her eyes away from this beloved sight to find him wincing, but still smiling, a secret smile that made her feel warm and full.

“Do you remember?” 

She could only nod, her breath stolen, her eyes growing misty as his face blurred suddenly, and she dropped her hand away to hastily wipe at the tears that had begun to trickle down her cheeks.

“It’s real,” she whispered, her heart pounding, everything now so familiar that she felt as if she were a girl again, a sad lost little girl who had dreamed of this place, this place that had been her only solace, her only escape from the terrible reality of her childhood.  “It’s real.”

“Aye,” he whispered, watching her carefully as she swiped at her face once more.  “My father used to bring us here, when I was a boy, to hunt.”  There was a tremble in his voice, and before she could stop herself, she’d grasped his hand in hers, squeezing it tightly.  “It was always my favorite.”  His gaze shot up, suddenly, and with a growing grin he inclined his head towards the swaying field of grass.  “And theirs.”

She whipped her head around to see them, the friends of her childhood, gathered once more.  Ghost, Lady and Nymeria had emerged from the trees, canting and frolicking in the grass, and she felt lighter than she could ever recall.

There was no other course of action left her to, then, but to embrace him, to throw her arms around his neck and hold him close to her, to ignore the way her tears fell freely and must surely be wetting his neck as she sniffled and whispered in his ear, “Thank you.”

The Winter King, to her surprise, allowed it, for longer than she might have expected, but all too soon his hands rose to her shoulders and gingerly pushed her away, turning her around to where to wolves waited for her.

“Go on,” he said, his voice thick with emotion.  “I should think they want to play.”

Giving him one last, lingering look over her shoulder, she let out a whoop, and began to run towards her old friends, happy beyond measure that there remained one last chance to play their old games.

When she was within yards of them, she giggled merrily and came to a halt, covering her eyes with her hands and beginning to count.

“1…2…3…”

------------

The Sisters Stark had matching, smug smiles on their faces when Jon and Daenerys arrived back at the Keep, and it did not escape her notice that the King seemed to redden under his sisters’ knowing looks.  He did not bother to dismount, taking his leave hurriedly and ignoring all three women, save for the rude gesture he made in Arya’s direction when she began to laugh under her breath.

And when both sisters looked away from their brother’s retreating back, and turned their attention fully upon her, she felt her own blush creep across her cheeks.

There was no reason for it, of course.  They hadn’t been doing anything to encourage this heat that filled her, after all.  It was as Jon Stark had said.

They were friends.

Sansa Stark reached out a hand, sweeping her fingers against Dany’s silver hair with a half-smile before glancing meaningfully at her sister.

“You’ve got grass in your hair, Dany.”

With a rueful chuckle Daenerys shook her head, looking between the two women.  “It’s not what you think.”  She began to walk, just ahead of the pair, unable to fight off her own small smile.

She had merely played with their wolves, that was all.  Like when she was a girl.  And they had talked, she and the King, and it had been…surprisingly pleasant.

When he wasn’t acting like an ornery cart mule, Jon Stark was rather enjoyable to be around.

In a friendly way, of course.

Arya hummed, unconvinced.  “Really?”  The smaller girl skipped ahead, rounding on Dany and walking backwards now so that they were face to face.  “Are you certain?”

Sansa’s smirk was only there for a flash, but long enough for Daenerys to spot as she came to a halt and gazed at the redhead with a put-upon glare before glancing back to the darker sister.  “What exactly do you imagine happened?”

Arya wiggled her eyebrows suggestively.  “You tell us.  It’s rather dreary in the North, in case you hadn’t noticed.”  She spun, then, her bobbed hair swinging about her shoulders as she skipped ahead, towards the training yard and the armory that housed Winterfell’s arsenal of weapons.  “I fear we can be rather lacking in the imagination department,” she called over her shoulder, before nudging open the door and disappearing, leaving Dany alone with Sansa.

“Honestly, she’s so aggravating at times.”  Sansa huffed out a breath then looked askance at Daenerys.  “Though it is good to see that relations with my brother seemed to have…thawed somewhat.”  At the observation Dany offered little more than a shrug of her shoulders, worried that she might undo the tentative peace she had achieved with the King if she spoke of it.

Sansa traced the toe of her fine leather boot in the dirt for a moment, her eyes drifting away to watch the motion before she raised her gaze to Dany’s again, and there it was, that look.  The look her wolf had possessed, when she’d seen the scars that marred her back, there in the hot springs.

“I must ask your forgiveness, Daenerys.”  The redhead took Dany’s hand between both of hers, then, something in her voice pleading for understanding.  “When Jon asked what troubled me so, I fear he commanded that I tell him.”  Her fingers were squeezed, tightly, the taller girl leaning close.  “I never meant to cause you any distress, I swear it.”

Daenerys could hardly bear the misery in the girl’s blue eyes.  She knew what Sansa was referring to, and it was not that second, secret string of Valyrian words. 

It was her scars. 

Gently, she pulled her hand free, setting each of her hands on the Stark girl’s shoulders.  “Do not worry yourself.  As best I recall, I’ve only asked you to keep one secret.  Have you told him that?”

Sansa shook her hand frantically.  “No.  Blessedly, he has not asked.”

Dany smiled.  “Then please, I beg you trouble yourself no further.  I imagine he might have found out eventually.”

At this, the girl’s brows shot nearly up to her hairline, her lips beginning to curve upwards in an interested smile.  “Really?”

Her insinuation was clear enough to make Dany blush, and she drew back, partly scandalized and partly chagrined at the knowledge that such intimacy would be nigh on impossible to share with the brooding, icy Jon Stark unless it was random chance, nothing more.

They were friends, only friends, of course.  They had agreed.

“Not like that.”

Sansa tipped her head and shrugged, then bit at her lip when Arya called to them from inside the squat building.

“Would it be alright if I joined you?”

Daenerys nodded slowly, but couldn’t hide her surprise at the question.  “You know how to fight?”

Sansa shook her head again, her hesitancy warring with something else it seemed, until a hard light shown in her eyes.  She straightened.  “Not yet, but I should like to learn.”

“Why?”  She hoped the redhead didn’t misinterpret, keeping her tone light and curious, but it struck her as a rather strange request from such proper lady as the one before her.

A tentative hand grasped Dany’s, and tucked it at Sansa’s elbow, and it was not until they closed the distance to the armory entrance that the elder Stark sister answered, in a low whisper.

“Because I have scars, too.”

When their eyes met, and she saw the understanding in Sansa’s eyes, the pain just underneath, she nodded again, and gripped the other girl’s arm more firmly, as they joined Arya Stark for their first lesson.

Together.

------------

Jon Stark was waiting for them when they left the training yard, leaning casually against the wall of the armory, tucked into the shade under the eaves, crunching away on an apple.

Daenerys thought, smiling inwardly, that he seemed to be trying a bit too hard to seem uninterested.

Ghost had no such compunction, and made a beeline for her, nudging at her hand to beg for attention.

Jon only watched, looking as though he were oblivious to the way his sisters began to giggle and whisper behind cupped hands to each other when they spotted him.

With a heavy sigh he pushed away from the wall, tossing the apple core aside and sauntering over, crossing his arms as he eyed the Stark girls with clear intent, jerking his chin to the side as he muttered, “Run along, then.”

Staring at a new friend’s lips was probably inappropriate, so she averted her eyes, watching instead as Arya rounded on her brother, and mirrored his pose.

“Well, now, I don’t know about that, brother.”  She grinned knowingly, peeking at Dany before staring at the Winter King with a sudden, intense scrutiny.  “Are you done acting like an idiot?”

He frowned.  “I make no promises.”  Now he was the one glancing at Dany, and she fought to keep the laugh that welled within her chest at his rather sheepish look contained when he trained his gaze back to his sister.  “Besides, I reckon Daenerys can take care of herself.”

Sansa and Arya merely looked at each other, perfectly in sync as their heads turned and they shared a meaningful look.  “Of course she can,” Sansa said primly, nodding and giving Dany a bit of a curtsy.  “Come along, Arya.”

When the younger Stark looked ready to argue, Sansa leaned down, eyeing both Jon and Daenerys in a manner that made Dany wonder exactly what it was the two were up to.  She blew out an embarrassed breath when Arya clapped a hand over her mouth, beginning to giggle.  “Alright, then.  Oh, and Jon,” she called out, as Sansa began to physically pull her down the trail that would eventually, Dany knew, lead them back into the stone Keep that was their home, “do try to behave yourself!”

“Fuck off, Arya!”  He sounded far more hostile than he really was, and clearly Arya took no offense at all, only laughing harder at her brother’s command.  Jon did not speak until the pair of women had disappeared from view, and she was surprised to see the tips of his ears were red as cherries when he finally met her eyes.

“Sorry about that,” he muttered, rubbing at the back of his neck.  “My sisters like to have their jests.”

He was embarrassed, too, and she found it strangely comforting.

She smiled at him warmly.  “It must be a fine thing, to have sisters to jest with.”

Jon Stark shook his head slightly, beginning to walk in the opposite direction from the one his sisters had taken, the sun still burning its way across the sky above.  “You haven’t been stuck here with them for a century.  I can assure you,” he said, peeking over his shoulder to find her still behind him and waiting ‘til she drew even with him before continuing, “they’re mostly aggravating.”

He didn’t truly mean that, she could tell, from the fondness in his voice and the way his lips curled up at the corners.  It caused her to wonder what other things he might’ve said that he didn’t mean, things meant to push her away, to make her want to leave, rather than to stay here, with them.

She still did not understand this part of him, why he had felt so compelled to treat her with such disdain when they’d first met, but he gave her not time to linger on those thoughts.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “about your eggs.”

“Oh!”  She felt her eyes grow wide, and she clasped her fingers together, worrying them against each other as they walked.  “They’re beautiful, aren’t they?”

Jon Stark nodded, but his smile fell away, his face growing serious.  “Aye, they are.”  Dark eyes caught and held hers.  “They’re also stone.”

His words hung heavy in the air between them, and finally she nodded, shaking her head sadly.  “As they were when they found me, Your Grace.  The last of the dragons died off more than a thousand years ago.  I shouldn’t think it impossible these eggs are at least that old.”

The Winter King stared ahead, lost in thought, pondering her words.  “There’s still magic in them.  Maybe it’s enough,” he said with a sigh, “if you can manage to crack them open, of course.”

Daenerys stopped walking, suddenly, staring at his back until he realized she no longer followed, a curious thought niggling away in the back of her mind.  He had seem so determined to stop her, to make her hate him, to drive her away; It was difficult to marry that man with the one who stood before her, now, who had stopped as well and turned to stare at her questioningly.

“You’re going to help me?”  She tipped her head at him.  “Why?”  When he frowned she pressed on, words escaping with each step she to towards him.  “Forgive me, but I don’t understand how it is that you’ve gone from thinking me foolish for coming here to die, so that all of you may live, to helping me accomplish this task.”

When he didn’t answer, when his eyes flew to his feet, she felt her confusion only grow, and she took another step, far closer than she ought to stand, close enough to touch him if she wished.

And when he looked up, pinning her with those thundercloud eyes, there was nothing but resignation there, and something else stirring underneath that made her feel as though a thousand butterflies had been set free in her stomach.

“You’re going to do this whether I like it or not.  You’re going to die, and there is nothing I can do to stop you.”  He spoke painfully, as though each syllable was a shard of glass that cut away at him.  “If you’re so set on this, the least I can do is offer what assistance I can.”  Jon Stark leaned in closer, close enough for her to feel his breath upon her cheek.  “You might find it hard to believe, but I’m not always a ‘tremendous arse’.”  His lips quirked up at the end, even though his eyes remained unbearably sad.

And then, she thought she understood why he had acted as he had, at least a bit more than she had before.

He grieved for her, already, though he hardly knew her at all.  It pained him, what she would do.  It was a sacrifice he did not want her to make, for him, but he had finally accepted that she would not be dissuaded.  After all, they had agreed that his sisters, Arya and Sansa, deserved another chance at life.

She was starting to think that he did, as well.

“After all, we are friends now, aren’t we?”

Dany watched his lips as he spoke, allowed herself one fleeting remembrance of how they had felt against hers, then flicked her eyes upward, to where he watched her closely.

“Right,” she whispered.  “Friends.”

He licked his lips absently, his stare never wavering.  “May I ask a favor of you, Daenerys?  As a friend?”

She took a step back, tilting her head back to look upon his face more fully.  “I suppose.”

“You fell asleep while you were reading.  Tomorrow,” now it was he who worried his hands together, something shy and almost endearing in the motion, “would you finish it?”

“Of course.”  His smile at her words was blinding in its beauty, and her breath caught in her chest.  She cleared her throat, wondering that such a sad, somber man could be gifted with such a lovely smile.  “Anything for a friend.”

Chapter Text

And so it was, bound by this understanding, that she fell into a routine of sorts, for the remainder of her first moon spent in the Lands of Always Winter.

By day, absent the sun, she would roam the abandoned grounds of Winterfell, always with a direwolf beside her, seeking to uncover whatever secrets might still remain.  Melisandre seemed content to make herself scarce, appearing only when it was time to eat, and even then she took less for herself with each passing day, insisting on rationing their remaining food stores.

By night, with the ghosts of those who had fallen victim to this terrible curse, she lingered, her sleep full of dreams that felt so real she began to imagine that it was only while she slept that she truly lived.

-----------

On the first morning of the moon’s second turn, she awoke, the bedchambers of Jon Stark now becoming more familiar to her waking eyes, and burrowing down under the furs she rolled over, intent to wallow in the comforting warmth a bit longer.

And then, she screamed.

The creature before the fireplace screamed as well, at a frequency so high she thought her ears might bleed, and with haste she cupped her hands against her head on either side to muffle the noise.

When she stopped screaming, so did the small, green-skinned being, who still stood, fire poker in hand, tending to the flames dancing in the hearth of the King’s chambers.

They stared at each other mutely for several moments, until Daenerys managed to find her voice.  “Who are you?  What are you doing here?”

Amber eyes bored into hers with inhuman air.  “I am Leaf.”  Child-like fingers pointed to the flames.  “I was tending your fire, Dragon Daughter.”

The heavy wooden door burst open before any other explanation could be made, revealing a harried Melisandre and near-frantic Ghost.  The witch remain in the doorway, but Ghost shoved his way past her with little care, nearly toppling the woman in his haste to reach Dany.

He sniffed at her carefully, inspecting her for harm, Dany mused, before he wheeled about and let out a low growl in poor, trembling Leaf’s direction.

“Peace, Guardian.”  The poor creatures hand shook terribly as she set the poker on the floor and raised both hands in supplication to the wolf whose sized dwarfed her by comparison.  “I meant her no harm.”  Ghost did not stop growling, but he did turn his red eyes to Daenerys for confirmation, and the Valyrian nodded, raising a hand to soothe him by stroking along his furred neck.

“I was only startled.”  She had stopped her own trembling at the fright of finding this stranger near her, and as she sifted her hand through the wolf’s fur she felt the usual calmness such an act seemed to bring about in her beginning to rise up in her chest.

“I see you have met one of the Children, Daenerys.”  Melisandre swept into the room in a swirl of red skirts, the barest of smiles gracing her lips as she gave a deferential dip of her chin in Leaf’s direction.  “Though I thought we had agreed,” her tone grew sterner, as she addressed the small, green-skinned girl, “that you would remain out of sight.”

Daenerys frowned, growing suspicious at the red witch’s scolding.  “Why would they need to hide from me?  And for that matter, how is she even here?”

Without giving Melisandre the opportunity to give her some vague, half-answer cloaked in a riddle, she swung her head to look upon Leaf, whose golden eyes grew wide.  “How did you escape this curse?  How do you walk these halls, when the others do not?”

Leaf chanced a look at Melisandre, who merely nodded and seated herself by the hearth, clearly waiting for the small being to explain herself to Daenerys.

“I am one of the Children of the Forest, Dragon Daughter.  I belong to the Old Gods, like the Wolf.”  Ghost let out another warning growl but settled himself in beside Dany, as though he were her protector.  She couldn’t imagine why, though; the slight creature seemed ill-equipped to cause her serious injury.  “We are creatures borne of magic, then flesh.  The others,” golden eyes dipped to study the stone floor for a moment, “they are creatures of flesh, their magic borrowed.  That curse was not meant for us.”

Melisandre made a harsh sound, something approaching a sneer on her face, and she studied Leaf now with thinly veiled dislike.  “Awfully convenient, isn’t it, Daenerys?”  She raised one bone-white finger in the small creature’s direction.  “You tell her who created that monster, child of the Old Ones.  Tell her who unleashed that horror on these lands.”

As though the witch’s words compelled her, the being called Leaf began to speak, haltingly at first, risking only nervous glances at Daenerys.  “Long ago, before the age of Man was upon us, these lands belonged only to the Old Gods, and those who served them.”  Amber eyes raised to look at Ghost’s massive form, with something akin to respectful subordination.  “The greatest of these were the Guardians, the companions to the Old Ones, those who would protect the sacred places.  The Direwolves.”

Dany felt a smile begin to form when, under her hand, she felt Ghost’s muscles bunch under his sleek fur, felt the animal draw himself up high and proud, something preening in his ruby eyes as he peeked at her over his sturdy shoulder.  “A most noble beast, indeed.”  Leaf peered between the Valyrian and the wolf at Daenerys’s praise, only continuing when Melisandre cleared her throat, a prompt that she should speak on.

“The Children of the Forest,” she whispered, her gaze darting about the room now, resting everywhere and anywhere but on Dany’s face, “are what you might consider the servants of the Old Gods.  In all things we do their will, and in return, they protect us, they provide for us, they keep us safe.”  She shuddered, her voice growing full and taut with sorrow.  “But when the men came, with their iron swords and axes, they began to take all that was ours.”  A tear ran down the small girl’s cheek.  “We could not protect ourselves,” she uttered, diminutive hands gesturing at herself, “not against them.  We needed something more.  We prayed to the Old Ones, that they might fulfill their oaths to us, their children.  That they would protect us, as they had promised.  They showed us the way.  They gave us the power to forge the weapon that would save us.”

Melisandre scoffed under her breath, her shifting, kaleidoscope eyes colder than Dany could ever recall seeing them as she scowled at Leaf.  “They chose poorly.  They gave you power you did not understand, and what you unleashed…,” she trailed off, her lips pressed tight together as though she sought to suppress yet more recriminations.  “Tell her,” she finally commanded, and poor Leaf did tremble again before Dany’s eyes.

“The Night King,” the small creature whispered, her voice quivering, “was meant to save us.”  She crept close to Dany, despite the warning rumble that sprang forth from deep in Ghost’s massive chest, coming as close as she dared in the face of those razor-sharp fangs.  “We did not know what he would become.  His power grew far beyond our control.  He grew to hate us more than the men he was meant to kill.”  Leaf was crying silent tears, now, pleading for understanding.  “It was not long before he simply killed anyone and anything, to raise more soldiers for his undead army.”

Daenerys let out a soft sigh.  She’d already heard from Jon Stark what he knew of the Night King and how he had come to be, but this was further knowledge still, and perhaps from this servant of those Old Gods that Jon hated most she might come closer to solving the puzzle of how to free them.

“You say it was the Children of the Forest who created the Night King,” Daenerys said, one hand still idly stroking Ghost’s fur.  “How?”

“A knife,” Leaf’s voice had dropped lower still, and it was a blessing that she stood so close, but the being’s golden eyes remained locked on the wolf as she responded.  “Forged of dragonglass, very old, from deep underground, from places time has forgotten.  Plunged through the heart of a living man.”  Leaf swallowed heavily, finally glancing at Daenerys.  “Blood magic.”

Fear blossomed from within, a hot bloom that burned inside her chest, but she did not let it show.  “And tell me, Leaf, servant of the Old Gods,” she continued, inclining her head to study the small woman, “do the Ones you follow know how these cursed, captive souls might finally be freed from what you have wrought upon them?”

“Blood magic,” she whispered again, and made a move to grab at Dany’s free hand, relenting and jumping back when Ghost snapped angrily at the offending limb.  “Blood of fire is all that will save them now, the one with the living flame who can melt those icy chains.”  Though Ghost glared mightily at her, Leaf stood her ground, something worshipful in her stare that made Dany decidedly uncomfortable.  “The Dragon Queen is their only hope.”

“Yes,” Daenerys answered, turning her face to the darkened windows along the wall of the King’s chambers, acutely aware that self-same King could hear every word spoken, “I surely am.”  Ghost issued a low whine, as he always did now when within earshot of any utterance of Dany’s eventual fate, and she clucked her tongue at him.

Melisandre finally distracted them all, rising from her seat and moving to stand before the hearth, her face to the flames.  “Leave us, and see to your Old Gods.”  There was no kindness in the witch’s voice.  “We shall have to clean up the mess you made.”

------------

“I have a theory.”  Jon poked a finger into her shoulder, his face awash in the rays of golden sunlight that only existed in the realms of her dreams.

They sat, side by side, on an old wooden dock, on the shore of a large, placid lake.  In the distance were the mountains that Dany could see reflected on the still, watery surface, mountains of dark stone capped white with snow.  She looked at the Winter King when he spoke, tossing him a skeptical look as she dangled her feet in the cool water.

“This ought to be good.”  At the sarcasm in her voice he gave her a mocking glare and reached down, cupping a handful of water and splashing it at her, not enough to drench her but certainly enough to dampen the fine linen skirts of the summer dress Sansa had so thoughtfully provided for her this night.  He let out a sharp bark of laughter when she gasped and shoved him, hard in the shoulder, forcefully enough that he had to brace himself against the wooden planks with both hands to stop himself from going headfirst into the lake.

“No need to be rude, Daenerys of House Targaryen.”  When her eyes grew impossibly wide and her mouth dropped open at his blatant hypocrisy, he only laughed harder.

“You’re one to talk,” she grumbled, drawing her skirts up to her knees and attempting to wring them out, not noticing for a moment how quickly his laughter died away.  When she narrowed her eyes and glanced at him, it was to find him staring at her exposed knees and calves in something akin to wonder.  All to quickly, however, he took note of her attention and whipped his head up, staring out at the hills in the distance, verdant and green and full of life.

This, he had told her when she arrived, was Winterfell in Spring.

“Aye, you’re right.  I am an expert at rudeness.”  He scratched at his bearded jaw, and she was tempted to sit on her hands to curb the impulse that struck her, surprised at how much she wanted to run her own hand along his cheek, to feel the rasp of the close-cropped hair there against her palm.

She wouldn’t do that, of course.  That would be far too *friendly*.

“Now,” he said, pushing past the moment of awkwardness that lay between them, “back to my theory.”

He had several, each more outlandish than the next, she’d found, and each night that she dreamed with him he regaled her with a new one.

“What if all of this,” he waved one hand around, gesturing all about, “is nothing more than a dream you are having.  What if it’s all just a trick of the Old Gods, meant to make you feel attached to this place, so that you will spill your blood to save it?”

Daenerys pretended to consider his words, humoring him, trying to ignore the whispered voice inside her head that told her that if this was a dream, it certainly wasn’t one of hers.

If this were my dream, you would kiss me again, you fool.

“No,” she said finally, looking him squarely in the eyes, “I don’t think that’s it.”

Jon Stark nodded sagely.  “I see.”  He gazed steadily back, a hint of challenge in his eyes.  “What makes you so sure?”

Such unwise thoughts flickered through her mind, then, any number of refutations that would be acceptable, but mundane, and perhaps it was the persistent feeling that her time truly was drawing to a close that caused her to choose the boldest, most foolish response she could.

Perhaps it was, instead, the wish to push at him, to jolt him from this dance they seemed to be engaging in whenever they were in each other’s company, drawing close, but never quite close enough, and never far enough away for her to forget that *he* was the one who’d started this, in truth.  He was the one who’d kissed *her*.  It had been easy to push aside the attraction she felt towards him when he was so abrasive towards her, but he had dropped that façade, and what remained in its wake was a man she found increasingly irresistible.

Perhaps it was that she had come to realize that the very real possibility existed that she was falling in love with a man who was, in truth, nothing more than a memory.

“Because,” she said, her voice dropping low, as she leaned close enough to brush her shoulder against his.  “My dreams are never quite so,” she lowered her eyes to his lips when she paused, making sure he saw, leaving now doubt as to what it was that she wanted, “boring.”

And though it was wrong, though it flew in the face of this agreement between them, this friendship that was not quite a friendship at all, she gloried in the way his chest began to heave, the way his eyes had darkened, the way they danced frantically between her own eyes and lips.  “Is that so?”

His voice had become little more than a growl, for here was the beast inside the man, as hungry as she was.

“It must be one of yours, Jon Stark.  For I can assure you that my dreams are far more exciting.”  She wanted to giggle at the way his jaw clenched, then, but she was more distracted by the breath he let out slowly, while his hand inched over to entangle with hers between them.

He cocked a brow at her, barely noticeable with as close as their faces had become.  “While I cannot argue with your logic, ‘Dragon Queen’,” he muttered, emphasizing the title Leaf had bestowed upon her that morning, “I have to say, you’ve almost managed to hurt my feelings.”

Now she did chuckle quietly, her shoulders shaking, her fingers warming where his wound through hers.  “Really?  I find that hard to believe.”  She leaned near enough that if he wanted to kiss her, he need do little more than lean in himself.

“If you are bored, then perhaps I know the remedy.”  He flashed a wicked grin, and it was her only warning before the world shifted, tilted, and she found herself plunging into the cool lake waters, surfacing and spluttering, to find him howling with laughter his hands wrapped around his torso to hold at his sides.

“Jon Stark!”  Her shriek seemed to double his mirth, but he managed to straighten himself enough to extend a hand.  “You are an awful man!  Truly and completely awful!”  With that declaration, she pushed as hard as she could, heaving a great sheet of water that splashed him full in the face, his laughter fading as he tried to shield himself and failed.

Wiping a hand down his face and staring down at her cross one, water dripping from his chin and the tip of his nose in an infuriatingly desirable fashion, he finally managed an apologetic look.  “That was very rude of me, wasn’t it?”

Daenerys stood, half-submerged, the water reaching her waist as she crossed her arms across her water-logged chest, the linen now sticking and growing slightly chilled in the spring breeze.  “I would have chosen a much stronger word than that.”

“You’re right, of course.”  With that, he rose nimbly and jumped in, and she barely had enough time to turn away before a wave came splashing against her with the impact.  “Now,” he jested, standing near, as drenched as she was but infinitely more amused, “we’re even.”

She didn’t know what she wanted to do, just then, her mind a jumble of want, and need and fear and worry, so she did the only thing she could.

She grasped the wet collar of his tunic, and pulled him close, her mouth fusing with his before he could utter another word, triumph filling her when he immediately melted against her, his hands hot as his palms splayed against her back.  One rose up to just between her shoulder blades, pulling her even closer against his chest, while the other, to her surprise, fell low on her hip, gripping her firmly against that rounded curve.

He kissed her ‘til she was breathless, with such grace and skill that her irritation was swiftly replaced by a low, slow burning, and she fisted her hand tightly in his collar while her other rose to cup his neck, keeping him captive as his tongue traced along her lips, as he suckled at her bottom lip and groaned into the cavern of her mouth when she allowed him entry.

All too soon, however, he drew back, his eyes hooded and heavy, and she was struck with how he looked at her just then.  She did not think any man had ever leveled such at her, this gaze so full of longing and lust that her knees began to tremble with the force of it.

He rested his forehead against her, his breath puffing out against her lips with each ragged exhale.

“We should go,” he whispered. 

She didn’t understand, not until he pulled back enough to let her see him fully, to allow her to finally view the deep well of grief that surfaced within him.

“I’m trying to behave myself, you know.  To be honorable.”  He hung his head, not meeting her eyes again until she placed a finger under his chin and tipped his face up.  “You’re not making it very easy, you know.”

“I didn’t ask for your honor, Jon Stark.”  She pressed herself against him again, pressed her wet chest against his, but he stepped back, breaking contact with her but taking her hand and pulling her with him back to shore.

Daenerys did not like the anger that welled within her, and she tamped it down, tried to bury it deep, choosing instead to glare at him and then back down at her soaked clothes.

The Winter King snapped his fingers and a great wind was suddenly upon them, buffeting her and threatening to throw her from her feet, but she gritted her teeth and braced herself, determined not to stumble in front of him.

When the winds died down, she was as dry as she had been, and so was he.

He did not use magic much around her, here, not like Sansa did, but she was beginning to understand that he had power the others did not.  He was the Winter King, and this was his domain, whether it was his dream, or hers, or someone else’s entirely.

But she also realized that she didn’t care.  He was still pushing her away, and though she knew he regretted what she would do, resented this sacrifice she would make, she could not understand why he would not grant her what they both plainly wanted.

“I wish I could explain,” he said, refusing to meet her eyes.  His face twisted, and finally he looked at her, offering his elbow, which she grudgingly took, and set them both upon the path that led to where their horses were tethered.

“Where are we going?”  She didn’t bother to hide the sadness in her voice, and at the sound his shoulders slumped.

“There’s something I ought to show you.”

------------

 

He led her into the ancient Keep of Winterfell, and down the stone corridors, and through the stone archways, and up the stone stairs, until they reached a familiar door.  He did not speak a word as he led her into his chambers, but he dropped her arm.

“I told you to stay out of my things.”  It was a statement, not a question, and she did not respond.  She stood, watching, firelight flickering from the torches set about the room and casting them both into shadow.

With a wave of his hand he beckoned for her to follow, entering his bedchambers through the door set into the side wall, and into the very room in which she knew she now slumbered.  Jon Stark headed straight for the large, ornately decorated trunk set against the wall, and with a backward glance, threw open the lid, rummaging for several seconds until he found what he wanted.

“Tomorrow, when you wake.”  He raised his hand to show her what he held, a slim leather-bound volume of parchment, a journal or log of some sort, and as he shook it she could see scant glimpses of pages filled with neat, precise script.  “You have my permission to take this from my trunk, and look upon on.”

Daenerys reached a hand out to take it, but he pulled back, keeping the book just out of reach.  “Not now.  Tomorrow.  I fear I cannot bear to watch you read it.”  He tucked the item under his arm and walked out of the room, and she slowly followed, feeling more lost than ever.

The Winter King seated himself behind his great wooden desk, looking miserable and resigned with a slight hint of terror coloring his ever move, and he buried his head in his hands.  “My sisters are waiting,” he said, his words muffled by his palms, and she turned on her heels and left.

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Morning came, and her eyelids snapped open, this time finding herself blissfully alone.

Daenerys sat up slowly, rubbing at her eyes, glancing about for Ghost who seemed to have made himself scarce.

‘I cannot bear to watch you read it.’

“Right.”  Her slight whisper was her only company, she realized, and she crawled out from under the furs, escaped the Winter King’s bed and made her way to the trunk he had shown her.  It looked the same, if not a bit more ragged and worse for the wear, and anticipation made her fingers tingle and tremble slightly as she threw the latch and raised the lid.

Inside, she found a jumble of things that looked to be Jon Stark’s most personal possessions; Pieces of well-used armor that gleamed dimly in the flickering torchlight, scraps and scrolls and then she saw it.  There, bound in the same dark leather, was the book he had shown her, the lack of embossing on the cover suggesting this was no accounting as Maester Tarly’s had been, meant to be read and seen by many.

This was something personal, as she had suspected.

She took a deep breath, closed her fingers around the spine, and pulled it free.

Taking a spare fur from the heap on the bed, and letting it trail behind her as she took a seat at the hearth, she settled in beside her nest of dragon eggs and opened the cover.

I am lost.  I do not know what has happened.  I cannot let myself think on it too long, lest madness consume me completely.  A betrayal of such magnitude cannot be forgiven, and yet I pray my Lord Father does not learn of his ladywife’s treachery.  I must make for Castle Black before word of what has transpired reaches him, but I fear I shall not make it in time.

I must, though, for this will surely mean war.

The writing here was shaky, inconsistent, as though Jon Stark’s worry had permeated and warped the page.  She looked down to the next passage.

Davos cannot fully explain what has become of me.  The Freefolk call me a God, call me the Snow King.  Mance has sworn his sword to me, in recompense for what his daughter has done, but even still it may not be enough to soothe my father’s anger.

The witch has disappeared.  None seem to know where she came from, save that she appeared in my hour of greatest need, but I cannot seem to find gladness that she did.  She ought to have let me die, let me finally have peace.

But I worry there will be no peace for me anymore.  I have been made an unnatural thing, an abomination.  The Old Gods have finally forsaken me, for this cannot be their working.

Dread formed a tight knot in her stomach, as she remembered what Jon Stark’s sisters had told her, of his endless suffering, and suddenly she was gripped with certainty that she might not want to know what else lay within these pages.

But he had given her leave to see.

She looked down again, her eyes tracing his cramped writing like a carress.

She is here, at Castle Black.  The Witch.  She has shown me a vision in the flames, and I cannot let myself believe it to be true.

There is something coming, something terrible and wicked that will kill us all, those of us who draw breath.  She knows.  She has seen, just as I have.

The dead are coming for us.

But I am already dead, aren’t I?

If can defeat them I pray to the gods of my childhood that they will end my life once and for all, for there is nothing for me here.  My heart is dead and cold, though it beats in my chest, and I shall never be warm again.

It was not until a tear dropped onto the page that she realized she had begun to cry, and she wiped below her eyes, surprised at how wet her cheeks were.

She read on.

Another night.  Another vision in the flames.  It is the Lord of Light she serves, this witch.  I care not for any gods, not anymore.

But the one I saw this night, the one in the flames, the witch says that she is the one who will save us from this Night King, from the Long Night that comes to claim us all.

Patience, she tells me, and I think I can be capable of such.  I can wait, if I must, for her, the one in the flames.

The witch says that she will come and bring the fire of Valyria with her on great and mighty wings.  She says that she will be our salvation, but now, when I close my eyes, I must believe that she will be my salvation alone.

She looked at me, this woman with hair like moonlight.  Like none other has, like she loved me and none other but me.  And then, I saw the wings, of her great black dragon, and my heart began to beat again, in truth this time. Perhaps for the first time.

I can wait for her, I know it is possible.  She will come for me.

Now I must pray that the Night King and his dread army can be patient as well, until my beautiful savior arrives.  There is no hope for me, anymore, save what I can find in her.  Finally, I feel alive again.

Daenerys set down the book, gently, as though it were formed of spun glass, as thought it might crumble to pieces in her hands.  She knelt down before her eggs, and lay a tender touch upon each hot, scaled surface, before burying her face in her hands, just as Jon Stark had, and weeping.

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When she found Melisandre, her face still red and swollen, the wind chafing at her face and snow whipping her hair into a wild frenzy, the woman stood in the Godswood, surrounded by three of the Children of the Forest.

And Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen planted her feet, facing the Red Witch who’d brought her to this barren land full of ghosts, and addressed Melisandre in a clear, determined voice that brooked no argument at all.

“What did you do to Jon Stark?”

The Red Witch bowed her head in sorrow.

Chapter Text

No answer came, not immediately, just the weighty stares that anchored her where she stood, knee deep in a snow drift in the Godswood of Winterfell.

She repeated herself, this time with a bit more venom, including the amber-eyed Children of the Forest who glanced away in turn when she met their watchful eyes with her own accusatory scowl.

“What did you do to Jon Stark?”

“I saved him, Daenerys.”  The wind whistled past her ears loudly, but she had no trouble hearing what the witch said, even if her mind struggled with belief.  For this was truly an impossible thing.  “When I came upon him, in the Lands Beyond the Wall, the poor Prince of the North was little more than a corpse.”

When she walked, she looked like blood upon the snow, ribbons of scarlet swirling around her body, a torch held close with both hands before her, lighting her face from below.  She could be a ghost, or a god, Daenerys thought, but what mattered most were all the secrets she’d been harboring to herself.

“The Lord of Light reached down his hand, and with his mighty flame did breathe new life into Jon Stark.  It was not his destiny to die there, in the snows.”  The witch’s voice took on a dreamy, ethereal quality.  “His heart, now fashioned from the flames, lie in wait for the one meant for him, whose heart could fit so perfectly with his own.”

Daenerys made an irritated noise, her teeth clicking as she snapped them together, firmly and completely done now with these riddles and superstitious nonsense.  “You brought him back from the dead.  Raised him.”

Melisandre shook her head, mindless to the tendrils of hair that lashed at her face and neck.  “The Lord of Light had a purpose for him.  I was but a vessel, to do my Lord’s bidding.”  The woman sneered at Leaf.  “His Gods were so very careless with him, though they had their own plans for our sweet Prince.”

Sweet was not entirely a word she might have chosen for Jon Stark, though he had his moments as of late.

“Who killed him?  Did you see?  Were you there?”  Jon had spoken of treachery, of betrayal, of something do with the wicked stepmother who’d hid all traces of his own mother away.  She had experienced her own betrayals, after all.  She had to know, if it could possibly be that his own hurts ran as deep as hers.

But Melisandre turned her face, looked upon the weirdwood tree that Daenerys had, until now, only seen in her dreamings.  “That, I do not know, Daenerys.”

“The trees remember.”  It was Leaf who spoke first, her words then echoed by the two of her kind who stood before the great and terrible tree with its weeping red eyes.  Her amber gaze flicked to Daenerys.  “You could ask the trees, Dragon Queen.”

“Yes,” came the chorus of voices from Leaf’s sisters, “ask the trees, ask the trees and they will show you what you seek.”

She looked to Melisandre, remembering how ardently it was that Jon Stark hated the Gods the Children served, wondering if it was to be a more dangerous undertaking than she anticipated, to do what they now encouraged.

“If you wish to know,” the witch finally said, suspicious and wary, “you could ask the tree.  Or perhaps you could just ask the Winter King.”

Daenerys looked upon the tree, a fearsome and beautiful sight, her skin beginning to tingle at the magic she imagined she could feel pulsing from that all-seeing face carved into the bone white bark.  She would not press such a request upon Jon Stark, she decided.  She would not ask that sad, tortured man to recount his own death.  He had suffered enough to be getting on with.

“What must I do?”  At her question, Leaf stepped forward, ignoring Melisandre’s heavy sigh and taking Dany’s warm hand in her slight, cold one.  She led her to stand before the tree, and leaned close.

“Place your hand upon the tree, and in your soul, ask for what you seek.  If the Old Gods find you worthy, they shall show you what they remember.”  The instructions had barely left the small creatures green lips when a growl sounded behind her, and then another, followed by a third.

Three Direwolves stood in the snow, Ghost, flanked by Lady and Nymeria.  They did not try to stop her, did not approach, but she understood then that she must take care.  She dipped her head at Ghost in acknowledgement, and whispered, “I shall be careful.”

Grudgingly, Ghost sat, his sisters taking up position to her left and right.  They would stand guard, as she undertook her task.  At the sight, the worry within her retreated, but she could not shake the notion that this was far simpler than it ought to be.

She turned back to Leaf, her slender, pale hand still held within a smaller, green fist.  “And what shall they take from me, as payment?  All magic has a price, dear Leaf.”

“I cannot say that this is wise, Daenerys.”  Dany did not turn as the Red Witch spoke, merely nodded to herself as she waited for Leaf to answer.

Regarding the Valyrian with sudden solemnity, this Child of the Forest finally spoke.  “A memory for a memory, Dragon Queen.  That is the cost.  Do you accept?”

“Yes.”  No sooner had the whisper left her lips than the creatures grip grew strong, and she found her palm forced against the ashen, rough surface with great force.

“Ask,” Leaf hissed, “but do take care.”

It was unsettling, how warm this tree felt beneath her hand, as though it were alive, truly alive.

She asked, inside her mind, pushing with all her might against this unfamiliar magic.

How did Jon Stark die?

And the world went black.

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She awoke in a world of dreams, but not one to which she was accustomed.

In this place, she could feel the air around her limbs, thick and dense, and she moved slowly, as though through water, against a current as strong as a raging river, raising one hand to shield her face from the fat, thick flakes of snow that battered against her.

She came upon a sight that stopped her in her tracks.

Before her loomed a great wall of ice, that towered so high above she could scarcely see the top.  A large black gate was set into the base, but it was open, as if in welcome.

She walked forward.

Though she found herself alone, she could not shake the notion that she was being watched, by a thousand eyes and more, and when she came close enough to pass through the shadowed entry she heard a voice sound.

“Welcome, Daughter of Fire.”  A wizened old man stood to her left, a torch in one hand, the other holding a longstaff which seemed to bear most of his feeble weight.  He was little more than skin and bones, but his eyes were alive and peering into her soul.

A raven sat perched upon his shoulder.  “Snow,” the raved cawed, clicking its beak at her.

She was afraid, then, but she would not show it, not to this harbinger of such cruel Gods as the Old Ones.

“Greetings.”  She gave a polite curtsy, her eyes never straying from the raven with its deadly sharp beak.

“I am the Bloodraven,” the old man said, “and I shall show you what you seek.”

He spoke no more, and together they began to walk, at such slow, agonizing pace that finally Daenerys took the torch from the aged man’s hand, offering her elbow.  “Let me help you, Old Father.”

His eyes twinkled, his white hair patchy and thin, though it flowed past his shoulders, his black robes moth-eaten and worn and covered in dust.  “Such kindness,” he wheezed, “in such an unkind place as this.”

They walked forward.

Together, arm in arm, they passed through the wall, the snows on the opposite side still thick and heavy, but now, with her companion, they seemed to avoid the pair, blowing around and away, leaving her vision clear to see what lay ahead.

A lone tent stood, walls flapping in the strong winds, but the Bloodraven stopped short, pointing his staff to Dany’s right, to a familiar figure that lay still in the snows.

“Ghost,” she whispered, panic gripping her heart, for the wolf lay silent, tongue lolling out into the snow, his great white chest barely expanding, barely breathing.

“Poison,” Bloodraven whispered, “for the Wildling Princess was nothing if not cunning.”  She yearned to reach for her friend, to aid him, but the old man kept a tight grip on her arm.  “No, you cannot help him.  ‘Tis just a memory, of things that happened long ago, and they are beyond your reach, all of them.”

Daenerys swallowed heavily, her attention finally captured by a hoarse shout that rose from within the tent.  She could not be sure, but to her ears it sounded like…

“The Prince,” the Bloodraven said.  “Hurry and see, if you truly wish to know.”

Her arm was released, and she ran, throwing back the tent flap.

She wished she had not, the moment her eyes took in the grim scene, lit only by scattered oil lanterns.

Jon Stark lay atop a pile of furs, his chest bared, trousers loosened, a dagger plunged into his heart.

And sitting atop him was a woman, with wild hair like fire, her chest also bare, a wicked sneer on her face.

Daenerys hated her, in an instant, her heart thumping in her chest, her body shaking with rage.

“I shall have no weak Southron husband, Jon Stark.”  She pulled the dagger clear, then sunk it in again, and Daenerys knew she’d hit Jon’s lungs at the whistling, wheezing sound that escaped when she pulled the dagger free.

Jon didn’t even struggle, his arms spread wide.  This wicked woman must have taken him by surprise, and she ignored the ugly jealousy that roared to life, that they must have lain together just prior.  Clothing lay scattered, confirming her guess, and then she was in motion, though she knew it was folly.

“No!”  She shrieked and ran at the woman, running right through her, the image disappearing like a fine must as she passed through the remembrance before reforming behind her.

The dagger raised and plunged into Jon Stark’s chest again, and again.  Seven times it found a home, and now she could hear the wet gurgle from his parted lips.  She crept close, knowing she could not touch, unable to resist the urge to be near him, even though she could not help him.

“Stop.”  Bloodraven’s whisper cut through the air.  The memory froze, and he stepped near, a hand covered in liver spots trembling just a touch as he pointed to the knife in the awful, treacherous woman’s hand.  “Tell me, Daenerys, what do you see?”

She let out a shuddering breath, not wishing to gaze for even one more second at the destruction that had been wrought upon Jon Stark, but willing herself to look anyway.  This was what she had asked to see, though she regretted that request more with each moment she tarried in this memory.

“Valyrian steel,” she whispered.  Her eyes traced the short length of the razor-sharp blade, to the handle.  There, set upon it, was a shape, an animal.

A fish.

“A most awful betrayal,” the Bloodraven whispered to her.  With a wave of his hand, this awful memory continued, and she watched blood trickle from the corner of Jon’s lips, those lips that she longed for now stained red, as he drew his last breath.

“A pity,” the girl said, standing and staring down at him, though Daenerys thought she didn’t sound sorry in the least, and she wished harder than she ever remembered that she could wrap her hands around the girl’s scrawny neck and watch the light in her eyes die out.

A hand grasped her elbow, and pulled, and she stood reluctantly and watched with her companion as the girl gave a sound kick to Jon’s ribs.

“That bitch,” she muttered, baring her teeth, something fierce and hot boiling over inside her chest.

The Bloodraven gnashed his teeth in agreement.  “A wicked soul, a wicked deed.”  The Wildling girl waited a few moments, frowning down at Jon’s dead form, her eyes darting to the tent flaps and back to him again before she rolled him onto a large fur and drug him, lifeless, out into the snow.

And Daenerys and the Bloodraven looked on as the girl finally showed a bit of worry, glancing off into the distance where Dany knew Ghost lay, unable to help his master.

The Wildling Princess buried his body in a snowbank, then spat upon it.  “Perhaps they will find you, when the thaw comes.  If it ever comes.”  She thrust the dagger into the snow, and left.

Time moved quickly then, and the tent was gone, as though it had never been there.  The sun circled the sky once, then twice, and then red eyes opened.

Ghost stood on shaky legs, a frantic search ensuing, and though the freshly fallen snow had covered the evidence of this horrible crime Dany could see that the wolf understood.

He threw back his head, and let out such a loud, lonesome howl that she felt tears form.

She understood, as well.

The wolf began to dig.

Finally, he found Jon, and he whimpered and moaned and licked at Jon’s still face, where the furs that encased his body had fallen away.  Ghost fixed his large fangs into the furs, and began to pull.

And Daenerys and the Bloodraven followed, her heart breaking with each step they took, the wolf’s devotion a pure and lovely thing to see, his same sad moans a familiar song to her ears.  His heart was breaking, too, animal though he was.

Finally, she saw they were coming to an encampment, guarded by large, wild men who dressed much like the Wildling Princess had.

Shouts sounded.

“The Wolf!  The Prince’s Wolf!”

People streamed out of tents, but she did not recognize any of their faces, save for the one who stood alone at the gates, who did not run to discover what Ghost had brought.

And Daenerys was very glad to see the terror that finally washed over the redhead’s face, as her eyes locked with Ghost’s.

But the Bloodraven beckoned her past the scene with an iron-firm grip on her arm, surprisingly strong for a man of such advanced age, and led her to a large tent at the center of the encampment.

It was full of these people, these Wildlings.  They were all silent, save for that dreadful wild Princess.  To Dany’s satisfaction, now the girl was bound in chain, iron circling her wrists and ankles, and though she knew it would go unnoticed she spit at the girl as they passed her, just as she had spit at Jon Stark.

The Bloodraven laughed beside her, darkly, pleased.

“Snow,” the raved cawed, and then a gust of wind swept into the structure as the flaps parted.

Despite the chill in the air, Jon Stark still wore no shirt, and though she thrilled that he was standing, moving about, she closed her eyes against the fresh wounds that marred his chest.  They were so raw, stitched closed with horsehair threads, and all in attendance watched with fearful eyes as the Prince stepped slowly and methodically to the center of the room.

An older, grey-bearded man stood beside him, his eyes hard and full of hatred as he cast them about the room.

On Jon Stark’s other side was a most familiar face, the Red Witch Melisandre, her face drawn and wan, ever pale and clad in her scarlet robes, her hands hidden in the voluminous sleeves.

A man sat beside the Princess who was now a prisoner, in a great wooden chair.  He stood on shaking legs, his eyes never leaving the resurrected Prince of the North, and he raised the chain he held in one large fist, jerking it hard and pulling the awful woman who had killed Jon to her feet.

“Her life is forfeit.”  The man’s voice was as hard and rough as his lined face, and there was no pity in his eyes for the redhaired girl who had committed this terrible wrong.  “You are no daughter of mine.”  He looked back at Jon, who had spoken not a single word, and Dany could hear the note of pleading that entered his voice.  “I want no war with the Winter King, White Wolf.  Do with her as you will.”

Jon’s chest rose and fell, once, heavily.  He turned to the man beside him.  “Davos,” he said gruffly, “fetch me a block.”  He turned to Melisandre.  “You, witch.”  Another heavy breath, and then he held out his hand.  “My sword.”

Bloodraven stepped forward then, and waved his age-spotted hand in the air, and everything melted away, leaving the pair of them stranded alone in a barren, empty snowfield.

“Wait,” Daenerys sputtered, left bereft of the sight she longed for, to see that woman’s head shorn from her body, to see Jon avenge his death with his own hands, as hers could seek no justice for him.

The air around her thickened again, everything slowing, and the Bloodraven’s robes seemed to float about him in the wind.  “You have seen what you desired, Daenerys.”  He peered at her, cocking his head as his raven did the same.  “Are you not satisfied?”

She breathed out sharply through her nose, her lips pressed tight together, and pulled her arm out of the old man’s grasp.  “I suppose that must suffice.”  Slowly, her eyes crawled up to meet his.  “Now you shall take what you are due, is that right?”

“Ah, yes.”  The old man looked at the raven.  “A memory for a memory.”  He peered down at Daenerys, considering.  “But first, I think I shall grant you a boon.  There is great kindness inside you, and as you were so kind as to aid me, before…”  His voice trailed off, and he peeked back at the raven, who cawed his assent.  “Yes, I think we shall help you, Dragon Queen.  For you see,” he breathed out, leaning down, “we wish to be free as well.”

He did not let her ask the thousands of questions that lay on the tip of her tongue at the pronouncement, instead reaching a shaking finger up to stroke the raven’s black head.  “Tell her,” he whispered, “what she needs to call the dragons from their eggs of stone.”

Daenerys waited, still and trembling, and when the answer came she wondered that she had not known it all along.

“Fire!”  The raven’s call sounded through the wintry air.  “Fire and Blood!”

Bloodraven chuckled, then, quick as lightning, far faster than he ought to have been able, he placed his hand upon her forehead, and she was overtaken by such piercing pain that she screamed, shutting her eyes against the terrible, ripping sensation that threatened to split her skull in two.

And the world went black.

------------

She was still screaming when she came to, sprawled at the base of the weirwood tree, but when she felt the witch’s hot palm grasp her wrist and tear her hand away she stopped, her breath coming in harsh pants, her eyes darting around as she sought to remember where she was.

Melisandre’s eyes were not without kindness, as she stared down at Dany’s prone form, but there was a hint of reproach there as well.  “I told you, I did not think this was a wise idea.”

Dany stood, wobbling on weak knees, until Ghost crawled forward, nosing his head under her arm, wordlessly demanding she rest her weight on him.  She pulled her hand away from the witch, her mind a jumble, her only certainty that she wished to be alone, save for the wolves.

“I need to rest,” she whispered hoarsely, and the witch nodded her assent.

Slowly, surrounded by the wolves, Daenerys returned to the Keep, and with the aid of the steadfast Ghost, made her way to the King’s chambers, where she wearily crawled abed, exhausted though she had only awoken mere hours before, and slipped into a blissfully dreamless sleep.

-----------

For the next three nights she did not eat the thick green paste, and did not dream with the Starks.

She did not leave the King’s chambers, either, save to relieve herself in the privy just off the main quarters, and once to avail herself of the hot springs.

Melisandre would bring her meals, though she found she had to force herself to eat, her appetite departed as she struggled to reconcile why all this misfortune might fall upon one lone man, feeling certain she need to set her mind to rights about all she had seen and learned before she visited him again.

She spent long hours seated upon the bench that lay just under the windows in his bed chambers, staring into the bleak and endless night.

Sometimes, she sat beside her stone eggs, the last of their kind, just like her, and stroked them gently and with great care.

Sometimes, when she could bear it, she read his journal, page after page filled with brief accounts of his journey, but mostly with carefully written musings about her.

Then she would set herself upon his great and stately bed, and Ghost would climb up beside her, and whine pitifully, and she would bury her face in his fur and sob, hoping to muffle the sound, wishing to be alone with her misery.

But by the fourth night, as she prepared to sleep, brushing out her hair and braiding it into one long, simple plait that trailed down her back, she thought she had wallowed for long enough.

And when Ghost spied the tin in her hand, when he saw her scoop the spoon high with the lemony paste, his tail began to wag most rapidly, nearly leaping up onto the bed to wait as she climbed in with far more refinement.

“I shall see you soon, then.”  She closed her eyes, and set off to dream.

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It was night, in her dreams.

The Stark sisters stood by the gates of Winterfell, clad in heavy fur cloaks.  This, she knew, was Winter, and from the long looks on their faces she thought she suspected why, though they were both quick to offer embraces and quick smiles.

“I must speak to your brother,” Daenerys said, and Sansa looked to Arya and nodded.

“He’s waiting,” Arya answered, “in the library.”  She huffed out an aggrieved breath, looking put-upon and weary.  “He’s in a dreadful mood.”

Daenerys wasn’t at all surprised to hear it.  Sansa came forward and grasped her shoulders, instructing her to close her eyes, and in the next moment she was in clothing far more fitting the environment, a heavy woolen dress of midnight blue, embroidered with silver threading, and a heavy black cloak much like their own. 

“Good luck,” Sansa whispered, with a chagrined smile, and gave a wave in parting as Arya led her through the darkened Keep to a place she had not explored, not sparing a word until they stopped, together, before a set of heavy, wooden double doors.

“This is the library,” Arya announced, glancing up and down the torchlit hall.  “Try not to bore yourself to tears in there.”

Daenerys gave her a half-smile, then raised a hand to shoo the shorter girl away, taking a deep breath.

She pushed open the doors, and braced for the worst.

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Jon Stark sat at a desk, a thick book opened to the center in front of him.  He had heard her enter, he had to have, and yet he did not look up right away.  For a heartbeat she saw him as she had in that terrible memory, dead and lifeless, and her heart seemed to stutter in her chest.

Then, he glanced up, giving her only a brief, dark look before his eyes fell back to the book before him.  Sullenly, though, he waved a hand to the seat opposite him, and she sat, settling her skirts around her and unfastening the black cloak, draping it across the seat back behind her.

“I don’t want your bloody pity.”  She met his onyx eyes to find them full of defensive irritation.  “So if that’s what you’re here for you can save it for my sisters.”

He looked back down, dropping his chin swiftly as though it was a battle not to look at her, color creeping up his neck.  He was embarrassed again, as she had thought he might be.

After all, he had shared a very personal thing with her, had shown her his heart, knew what she had sought beneath the weirwood while she was awake.

The only way to remedy such, she had decided in the time before she had returned to this land of dreams, was to share something of her own.

“I was betrothed once.”  Jon Stark looked up suddenly, his brow wrinkled with slight confusion.  “Have I told you that?”

Silently, he shook his head, interested but certainly trying to hide just how much.  His fingers began to toy with the page of his book, and his eyes flitted back to the words it held, but he was listening.

“A year ago, it must be.  Whatever riches might have once belonged to my house were long gone, even before my birth, but my father had a plan, to restore our fortune.”  Now it was her turn to look away, to trace her finger along the silver threads that were shot throughout her skirts, and it was his turn to gaze upon her.  “My father was a foolish man, and cruel,” she said, with a sniff of disdain, “but none could say he was not cunning when he wished to be.”

She pressed on, despite the lump that rose in her throat, threatening to steal her voice, and Jon Stark closed his book, leaning back in his seat, his face a mask of trepidation.  He must have already discerned, she thought, that this was not a happy tale.

“He decided he needed an army, that he would raise it against House Velaryon, for while we had diminished in stature they had flourished, and he had a notion to take it all back.  A trade, you see.”  She swallowed, hoping for the strength to share what she needed to, so that he would finally understand that it was her own pain that stirred her heart in the face of his.  “His maiden daughter, married to a Dothraki Horselord, in exchange for an army.”

Jon Stark’s eyes narrowed and his nostrils flared, one fist clenching on the desk, but still he said nothing.

“I was terrified, of course.  I wanted nothing to do with it.  But I had no other choice, you see.”  She tilted her head, heaving out a breath, wondering what sort of fool he might think her when she told him the next part.  “I was desperate, and I came up with a truly stupid plan.  I thought to myself,” she said in a rush, not daring to meet his eyes, “that if I were no longer a maiden perhaps the deal might not be struck, and my father might find some other pawn to use in his games.”

She looked up, staring past his head, to the shadows that danced on the endless rows of shelves this room housed.  “When he left to finalize the deal, to meet with my soon-to-be husband,” she spat the word, “I let one of the stable hands take me for a tumble and take my maidenhead.”  She let out a rueful chuckle, finally risking a peek at his face to find it expressionless.  He merely sat, waiting, listening intently, no judgment clouding his features.  “I regret to say it worked, but not in the way I intended.”

Now he frowned, and his hand rose to rub at the back of his neck, and she wondered that this was something he did when he was nervous, or bothered.

“My brother Viserys found out, you see.”  She closed her eyes and bowed her head.  “And he was sore wroth.  He decided, in my father’s absence, that he must punish me.”  She could not look up, understanding his intense desire to push away her pity as she now sought to avoid his.  “So, he got my father’s whip.”

There came a forceful thump, and she looked up to find it was Jon Stark’s other fist hitting the desk.  “Sorry,” he whispered, and she waved it away.

“I lost count of how many lashes he gave me.  Perhaps, if Greyworm had not travelled with my father, he might’ve stopped him.  But,” she said sadly, “the men left behind were loyal to my brother, and they held me down while my brother set about teaching me a lesson.”  She exhaled heavily, the sound of a whip cracking ricocheting through her mind.  “It lasted well into the night.”

If Jon Stark clenched his jaw any harder, she mused, he might snap his teeth clean off, but still he held his tongue, mutely listening, anger burning hot in his dark eyes as he stared at her, not daring to look away now.

“When my father returned, with my betrothed in tow, we all learned together that while the Dothraki care very little for a woman’s purity,” she sneered in remembrance, “they will not wed themselves to one who is little more than a slave, to one who has been whipped and lashed as their livestock are.”  She gave a humorless laugh so that she would not cry.  “With his punishment it was Viserys who’d ruined things, not me.”

She fell silent, her fingers still toying with her skirts, when the Winter King finally spoke.  “What happened next?”

Dany placed her elbow onto the desk, and leaned into her hand, her gaze trained solely on the man before her.  “My father whipped my brother in turn, for sullying me so.”  Next came the part that had troubled her the most, more than her own pain; the fate she had brought upon another.  “Then he brought the stablehand in, and slit his throat before me.”  She cleared her throat softly.  “Told me that ought to teach me what happens if I thought to make myself a whore.”

She leaned back in her chair, and he did as well, though she could see his hands trembling, did not miss the way his eyes fell to the pommel of his sword where it leaned against the desk beside him.  “It was a month, at least, before I could wear something that covered my back.”

When she fell silent, she saw it, the sadness he could not hide from her, his grief, his pity.  And though she knew where it sprung from, remembered the rage that had filled her at the sight of that horrible bitch plunging her dagger into his chest, she knew that nothing good would come from living in the past.  She had to let go of it, now, and then perhaps he could as well.

Now they were on more equal footing than before.

“Do you want to know the worst part?”  She managed a smile and leaned forward, as though she meant to tell him a secret.

“What?”  He seemed hesitant to ask.

“It wasn’t even that pleasing a tumble,” she whispered, and she had to clap her hand over her mouth at his surprised expression, her shoulders shaking in silent laughter when his surprise melted into scandalized interest.  “It was over far more quickly than I was led to believe such things took.”  She felt a fit of giggles overtake her, her nerves frayed to a ragged edge from the last few days, and she clung to her amusement like an old, welcome friend so that she might put her suffering back where it belonged.

When he snickered and rubbed at his chin she uncovered her mouth and smiled at him, shrugging.

And then he leaned in, and she did as well, so that she might hear him when he whispered, “Do you know the worst thing about the Wildlings?”

She shook her head, pleased to see her amusement had fed his own, that he was sloughing off the grievous air that had lingered over him like a cloud when she’d first entered.

“They hardly ever bathe,” he replied, put-upon horror widening his eyes as he spoke exaggeratedly, “*ever*.”

When she realized what he was referring to she felt her face twist in disgust, and to her delight he let out a full and hearty laugh, and something inside her was soothed that he had found the woman so distasteful, that jealous little monster that had been born inside her when faced with the memory that wretched woman bare-breasted and straddling the man now seated before her.

“How dreadful,” she wheezed, and together they laughed for what seemed to be endless minutes, before Jon seemed to remembered that he had a brooding reputation to keep up with, and bit by bit he adopted his somber, familiar mask.

Letting out a harsh breath he rose, his chair dragging loudly on the stone floor as he shoved himself back, and he fastened his sword belt around his waist as he looked down at her.  “I’m going to go hit something for a very long time, Daenerys, lest my head pop clean off my body right here and sully all these books.”  He was still angry, she realized, on her behalf, and though she regretted he would leave she was pleased that his own righteous anger burned as deep as her own had.

“Avail yourself of any book here, if you wish it.”  An interesting look flashed across his face then, something near-devious in his eyes, as he came to stand beside her and their eyes met.  “But do you see there?  Up on the high shelf?”

Dany twisted in her seat, her chin brushing her black fur cloak as she looked where he indicated, to a spot on the shelf that was covered by a small, brocade velvet curtain, as though it hid something from view.

“I fear there are some books of more…” he scratched at his chin as he sought the right word, “salacious nature on these shelves, certainly not of interest to a proper Lady such as yourself.  Make sure to avoid them, Dany, or else your mind shall be positively tainted by the contents.”

When she gave him a scowl and crossed her arms across her chest, he grinned.  Now, finally, it seemed the air was cleared between them, and though she did not know exactly where they ought to go from here she was glad to return to conversations of much more enjoyable nature.  “Please,” she scolded in jest, “I should never wish to see any such thing, you wretched man.  Don’t you have a practice dummy to beat upon?”  She straightened and lifted her chin, the picture of propriety, and took the book he had been perusing, spinning it on the surface of the desk and placing it in front of her.  “Some of us are trying to read.”

“Naturally,” he agreed, though the playful mocking in his voice did not escape her notice.  “I merely sought to warn you, of course.”  He strode away, and it wasn’t until heard the door latch behind him that she turned to be sure he was truly gone.

She nibbled at her lip, her eyes flying from the book before her to the shelf he had made sure to point out.

And in the end, she was inordinately proud that she lasted, by her count, an entire ten minutes before she drug the ladder over, and climbed up, throwing back the short curtain and drawing out a heavy, ornately decorated book from the shadowed depths.

Carefully, she climbed down the ladder, looking about nervously before shoving Jon’s other book aside and laying this one in its place.  The cover gave little away.

“Congress:  A Study” it read, and now very curious, and with one last searching glance around, she opened to a random page, and gasped.

“Oh,” she whispered, feeling her cheeks heat as she took in the man and woman depicted on the page before her, in vivid detail, and without a single stitch of clothing on, doing some quite intimate things to one another.  She turned her head to the side, to see from another angle. “Oh, my word,” she whispered again.

The room brightened, swiftly, and suddenly, as the sun came out.

Chapter Text

By the third week of the second moon, Dany was training with both of the Stark sisters in earnest.  Arya had been true to her word; She was much more skilled with the sword than the staff, and had proven surprisingly patient in helping Daenerys adapt what she knew of handling a short sword to a longer, more unwieldly weapon.

Sansa, for her part, had taken to knives quite quickly, those of the sort that might be strapped to the body in hidden places, that could be thrown to swiftly find their mark, and that very day, as Dany and Arya sparred, she managed to hit her target at her farthest distance yet.

“I’ve done it!”  Sansa clapped joyfully, drawing their attention and pointing as both Dany and Arya turned, finding the short hilt of Arya’s dagger trembling from the skin of an orange pumpkin Arya had placed upon a post, a sneering face drawn onto the husk with a lump of charcoal.

“Good,” Arya grunted, laying down her sword carefully and hurdling the fence of the practice yard, and she gave her sister a small, proud smile as she crossed to yank the dagger out.  The dark-haired girl stalked over to her sister and spun the blade, presenting it to Sansa.  “Now, do it again.”

The Lady of Winterfell groaned, but took the dagger from her sister willingly enough, and it was as she palmed the hilt that Dany realized how very familiar the blade looked.

“Hang on,” Daenerys said, laying down her own blade and climbing the fence posts, an awful certainty knotting in her chest when she was close enough to see the shape etched onto the hilt.

And the blade itself; How had she paid so little notice before?  This blade, this dagger was usually sheathed at Arya’s waist, she supposed, and so she’d not paid much mind to it other than watching Arya correct her sister’s form.

There was a fish on that hilt, and she knew, then, exactly what this blade was.

This was the blade that had killed Jon Stark.

“Has this always been yours, Arya?”  Sansa handed it over when Dany extended her hand, silently asking to examine the weapon, and the afternoon sun glinted off the keen edge.

Arya shook her head, squinting hard at Dany and glancing between the Valyrian and her sister.  “It’s called the Catspaw.  It’s the Valyrian steel of House Tully,” she continued animatedly, seemingly oblivious to what this blade had wrought upon her brother.  “My Mother’s house.  House Tully rules the Riverlands.”

Dany turned it over in her hands, this wretched blade, remembering anew the way it had looked buried in the Winter King’s chest.  “Did your brother give this to you?”

Something flared to life in Arya’s eyes, affection mixed with pain, and she cut her eyes quickly to Sansa who watched the pair with interest now. 

“He did.”  Arya softened, as much as a hard Northern girl like her was capable, watching her sister carefully.  “After he came back from beyond the great ice wall.  After Father was killed, and Mother as well.  After the Boltons took this place.”  Sansa shuddered at her sister’s words and Arya covered her sister’s hand with her own, where it rest against the railing.  “After Jon killed that rotten fucker Ramsay Bolton and took Winterfell back for us.”

There was obviously more to the tale, and as Sansa’s eyes glazed with sadness laced with fear, she remembered what it was the elder sister had told her.

Because I have scars, too.

Unlike their brother, who had already shed his secrets, neither girl seemed inclined to say much more about their own misfortunes, and Daenerys secretly found herself glad.  She was not sure how much more of this misery she could bear.

Already, each night that she dreamed, though she treasured her time with them all, was a test.

These girls who had accepted her so warmly, who kept her company, who made her feel as though she was one of them, a sister they had taken in, did not know that she would leave them soon, and forever.

She could only wish that, in all they did together, as they learned from one another, she might leave them with something fine and good to remember her by.  That was all that was left to her, the only legacy she would leave, should she prevail.  She would be to them as they were to her; A ghost, a memory, and even that would fade eventually.

And then no one would remember her at all.

A wet nose sniffed at the back of her neck, and shook her from her somber musings.  She did not need to turn to see who came, for Lady and Nymeria never intruded in her personal space as Ghost did.

But he knew she did not mind, just as his wayward master knew, and she chuckled even as she playfully shoved that large snout away.  “Do you mind?”  Ghost merely gazed at her when she twisted about, his tongue lolling out.

“That’s the trouble with him,” came a familiar voice, one that, as of late, made her heart quicken even as she gave a sigh of irritation.  “Positively no sense of decorum.”  How it was that Jon Stark managed to speak such hypocrisy with a straight face was one of the mysteries that still remained about him, but she was glad to see his mood improve by the day since they’d learned each other’s secrets.

A few of them, at least.

“Hmmmm.”  Dany looked between the King’s sisters and pulled a face.  “Jon Stark,” she said, keeping her tone even and cordial, “has anyone ever told you how very charming you are?”

“Well, no,” he exclaimed, sounding inordinately pleased, coming around to stand near Dany and his sisters as he and Ghost exchanged mystified looks, “I don’t think they have.”

She almost felt a twinge of guilt for what she was about to say, but she had to remind herself that this was how they all teased each other, and in truth it made her feel as though in some small way she really was one of them.  Besides, Jon Stark had been a tremendous arse to her not that long ago, and he still had a fair bit of ribbing headed his way, as far as she was concerned.  She gave Arya the hint of a smile and then smoothed her expression to stare at Jon Stark.

“I can’t say I’m surprised,” she said, as blandly as she could, inwardly thrilled when he blinked, and then began to laugh, in great guffaws that appeared to surprise even his sisters.

“Now you see, sisters,” he remarked, his voice laden with mirth, his gray eyes dancing as he regarded his Stark siblings, “that’s how it’s done.”  His lips twitched as he eyed Dany in turn.  “You very nearly hurt my feelings that time.”

“What feelings?”  Arya danced away when Jon reached out an arm to swipe at her hair, ducking his arm and plucking her dagger from Daenerys’s open hand, now openly smirking as the looked between her brother and Dany.

Even Sansa gave a giggle, before clearing her throat and trying to maintain her ever proper façade.  “Arya,” she drawled, “perhaps we ought to practice more while Jon sees to our good friend Daenerys.”  She held out her hand for the dagger and looked at Jon with wide, purposeful eyes.  “I suspect we’ve kept her to ourselves long enough this night.”

“Our *very* good friend Daenerys,” Arya agreed, sauntering past her brother and nudging at his side with her shoulder before sticking her tongue out at him.  “Right, brother?”

“C’mon, Dany, let us take out leave, before my sisters work themselves up past the point of propriety.”  He sounded rather put-upon, but she spied the tell-tale redness of his ears, and had his short beard not hidden his cheeks she knew they’d be rather pink as well.  It was just as well, she thought, for she knew they would tease him relentlessly if they stayed, and she could not deny her desire to linger for awhile with him, alone.

“By your leave, my ladies.”  Dany stood from the haybale she’d sat herself on, brushing imaginary dirt from her tunic and trousers, no leathers for her today. 

“Who’s she talking to?”  Arya japed with Sansa, who gave her sister a shove and rolled her eyes exaggeratedly.

“Until next time, Dragon Queen,” Sansa said, with a smart curtsy.

-----------

They walked together amiably, beside a small creek that cut through the countryside near the Keep, the leaves of the trees around them just beginning to turn beautiful shades of copper and orange, the branches ablaze with the colors of autumn.

“I have another theory for you, Dany, and I am curious as to what you think.”

Daenerys chuckled, content to keep her eyes on the path ahead, entirely to aware of how closely they kept to each other now, their hands occasionally brushing as they swung at their sides, though neither actually acknowledged such.

Perhaps the Winter King feared, just as she did, that to speak of it was to sully it, to bring it to and end, and she was glad to keep him close for as long as was left.  For his initial coldness and anger had well and truly fled, and his nearness had become something she craved like air, or the warmth of the sun on her cheeks.

“I can hardly wait to hear this one.  Wait, let me guess,” she said, raising one hand to play with a thick strand of loose hair that curled over her shoulder.  “I shall actually turn into a dragon.”

Jon turned his head to peer back at Ghost, who followed at a respectful distance, watchful but trailing several paces behind.  “That would be something, wouldn’t it boy?”  He smiled, but shook his head.  “No, but perhaps that’s close.”  He fell silent for a moment, mulling over his thoughts.  “I believe you are a warg.”

“Like you and your sisters?”  Daenerys let out a hum of disagreement.  “I’m not so sure.  I may be quite fond of your wolves, Jon, but I do not know their souls as you do.”

He kicked at a rock, still smiling.  “Like us, but not exactly.  The magic within you, Daenerys, is not like the magic of these lands, the magic the Old Ones gave House Stark very long ago.  But,” he continued, looking at her curiously, “I think it is similar.”  He stopped, waiting for Ghost to come close, scratching fondly behind his wolf’s ears.  “I read once that the Targaryens were the first to ride dragons.  Is that true?”

She stopped as well, genuinely wondering where he was headed with this line of thought.  “That’s what the tales say.  The first to hatch them, the first to ride them.  Likely,” she said dryly, “the first to lose them as well.  I fear I descend from a long line of fools.”

For all the ease with which he’d thrown that word around, when first they’d met, now it made him frown.  “No,” he disagreed, “not foolish.  Reckless, perhaps, but not foolish.”  He seemed to stop himself before he said more, drawing a breath and refocusing on his point.  “I’ve also read that the other Valyrians needed outside magic to control such creatures, sorcerers and the like.  But not the Targaryens.”

“No,” she agreed, a hint of pride sneaking its way into her voice.  “Not the Targaryens.”

He nodded, satisfied.  “There you have it.  If you were not a warg of some sort, if that power did not lay within you, Dany, you never could have dreamed with our wolves.  I daresay you could not dream with us, here, now.”  He held up a hand when she opened her mouth to disagree, and to her surprise, lay one long finger across her lips.  “Let me ask you this:  when you touch those eggs, what do you feel?”

Slowly, he drew his finger back.  She wondered what he might have done had she been more daring, if she had drawn that digit between her lips, but for all her bravery she was not yet brave enough for such boldness.

“Well,” she took a quick breath, considering, willing herself to behave.  “They’re hot, when I touch them, though I do not place them in the flames.  And sometimes,” she hemmed, for this was something she had told no other, not even Melisandre.  “Sometimes,” she whispered, “I can hear something from within.  A voice, small and quiet.”

“What does it say?”  He inclined his head.  “Can you understand it?”

“Mother,” she said, swallowing hard.  “It says ‘Mother’, but that ought to be impossible, shouldn’t it?  They are stone, petrified.  Though I agree, there must still be magic within them.”

“Aye,” he rasped, watching her intently.  “Of that we can be sure.”

Quiet fell between them, and she could not help but ask the question that had bothered her since she’d realized what blade it was that his dark sister bore.

“You didn’t tell them, did you?”  He peered at her questioningly.  “About what their mother did.  You gave your sister that dagger, and did not tell them that it had been used to kill you.”

The Winter King shifted nervously, staring at Ghost before ducking his head.  “No, I didn’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” he sighed, “by the time I saw my sisters again, by the time I understood what horrors they had faced, in my absence, she was already dead.  I suppose I didn’t tell them for the same reason you haven’t told them what you mean to do.”

Now it was she who looked down, studying the brown dirt under her bootheels.  “It would only hurt them to know,” she said quietly, looking up when he made a hum of agreement, understanding painting his face with a sadness she knew too well.

“They’ve suffered enough.”  He let out a heavy breath, giving himself a shake.

Another thought sprung to life in her mind, and it occurred to her that perhaps only he would understand, and in such she might feel a little less alone in her worry.

“I’m afraid, Jon.”  His eyes flew to hers, dark and knowing.  “Of what I must do now.  I am sore afraid.”

She closed her eyes, embarrassed by her admission, only opening them when she felt his hand cup her cheek. 

“S’alright to be afraid, lass.”  His palm was rough and warm where he held her, no doubt shaped by years of swinging a sword, but it was the gentlest touch she could remember, save for Greyworm and Missandei, and they were long lost to her now.

But he was here, and he understood.  “My father used to say,” he whispered, coming closer, “that a man can only truly be brave when he is afraid.”  He gave her a sad, reassuring twist of his lips, not quite able to bring himself to smile.  “I should think it is rather the same for Dragon Queens.”  He closed his own eyes, as she stared at him wordlessly, not wishing to break the spell between them.  “I am afraid, too.”

“Of what?”  Her hand rose, of its own volition, to rest upon his wrist, to keep the contact, to trap his palm against her cheek.

“Of what it will be like,” he breathed, “when you are lost to me forever.”  She thought he might kiss her, then, that he might give in to what they both wished, but he only leaned his forehead against hers.  “I fear what I will become when I have no hope at all.”

It was inevitable, really, that she would bring her lips to his, to allow that sweet press of his mouth on hers, though she did not deepen it, for this was not the time for such heated gestures.  Instead, she raised her other hand and stroked gently along his bearded jaw.

“I have no wish to hurt you, either, Jon.”  She huffed out a breath, watching as he tried to take it in, his lips parted and wet.  “And I worry this will only make things worse, for you, once this terrible deed is done.”

He pulled back, just barely, his hand still upon her face, and reached his free hand behind his back.  “Close your eyes,” he whispered, and she obeyed.

“Open them,” he whispered, and she obeyed.

In his hands he bore a wreath of lovely roses, blue and smelling so sweetly that she smiled in spite of her sadness.  He set it delicately upon her head.

“A crown,” he said, “for the Queen.”

Without another word, he took her hand in his, and began to walk.

----------

That morning, when she awoke, her heart was heavy with an unfamiliar ache, because for the first time she realized he ought to be there, beside her.  For the first time, knowingly, she wished she knew what it was like to rise to greet the day with him there, to truly have his hands upon her, to feel his kisses outside of her sleep.

But she would not, she realized, and she understood the truth that must have tormented him for an age.

She would die, so that he may live.

If they belonged to each other at all, it was only in their dreams.

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Three days later, as her second moon in the Land of Always Winter came to a close, she awoke to find that she was, yet again, not alone.

Melisandre stood, robed in red, just inside the door, and near the hearth there stood the Children of the Forest, Leaf and her two sisters, whom Daenerys had learned were called Twig and Fern.

“Daenerys.”  Melisandre smiled serenely, in the odd, annoying way that had become her habit.  “Do you know what today is?”

Dany yawned and rubbed at her eyes, looking at each face in turn before shrugging sleepily.  “Forgive me, but I fear each day seems to run together here.”  She waved a hand towards the lingering darkness outside the window.  “A bit hard to tell, without the sun.”

Melisandre ignored her sarcasm, clasping her hands together with more excitement than she’d seen from the woman in quite some time.  “Today is your nameday, Daenerys of House Targaryen.  Today,” she announced to the room at large, “you begin your twentieth year.”

“Oh,” Daenerys breathed out.  “I suppose in all the excitement, I’d forgotten.”

“An auspicious day,” the witch continued, then gave an imperious nod to Leaf, who walked forward and placed a small, brown pouch on the furs at the foot of the bed.

“A gift,” Leaf said, “meager though it is.”

Daenerys grinned, a whisper of elation skating through her.  She reached for the pouch, untying the leather strap that bound it to find it full of an assortment of dried berries, a most welcome sight after the meager offering of figs Melisandre had brought with them to this land.

Her eyes lit up, and she clambered from the bed, hugging each surprised creature in turn.  “I thank you most kindly,” she said, popping one into her mouth and savoring the brittle tartness that mixed with sweet.  “They’re quite good.”

“I have a gift for you as well, Daenerys, though it is not quite ready for your inspection yet.”  Melisandre stepped forward, reaching a hand into her robe and pulling out a lovely necklace, a large ruby set in gold, on a thin chain, that twinkled in the firelight.  “For now, this shall have to do.”

“Oh my,” Daenerys exclaimed, sweeping her hair to the side as the witch moved behind her to fasten the chain at her neck.  “But this is far too fine.  I cannot accept this.”

Again, Melisandre seemed oblivious, patting a hand on Dany’s shoulder and leaning in to whisper against her ear, “It is yours, Dragon Queen.  May it serve you well.”

Dany’s breath stuttered as she touched a fingertip to the gem, feeling it burning pleasantly in her hand.  “What does it do?”  She had learned well enough, casting an eye to the bracelet that winked at her wrist, that rubies meant enchantments.

“It will help you find what you seek,” the witch said, offering no further explanation and stepping away, rounding the Valyrian to inspect her handiwork.  “Now, don’t you look lovely.”

Dany looked down at her white, plain shift, and the ornate necklace that seemed positively out of place.  “I shall take your word for it.”

From the corner of the room, finally making himself known, Ghost emerged from the shadows, his eyes glowing with reflected flame as he stared at the necklace now hanging around Dany’s neck.

“How do I look, my Lord?”

Ghost gave her a panting smile.

----------

That night, when she dreamed, it was night once more, but torches burned from every sconce, and the Keep seemed almost alive with light.

The air around her was balmy and warm, the summer air most welcome after the chill of the day, despite the meager festivities she and Melisandre and the Children had partaken in.

She was surprised to see the witch’s gift still hung around her neck, even more flummoxed when she looked down and saw what exactly she wore, her eyes starting to tear at the sight.

This was a dress of Valyrian design, and she recognized it as one she had sketched out roughly at the Lady Sansa’s request, the girl being intensely curious as to the fashion of such foreign lands, confessing that at times she found the heavy, stiff Northern styles rather laborious and longed for the sheer fineries they wore in the south.

And this dress was fine indeed, though she had to stifle a laugh at what the Winter King would say when he chanced to see it.  She wondered that he might be rather flustered at the sight of so much skin, the straps of the gown skimming her shoulders to cross at her bare midriff, her navel exposed to the air before the sheer skirts began, and inside her grew a selfish, heated need to feel his longing stare upon her.  She had not told Sansa of the colors of her house, was unsure how the girl had known, but this gown was fashioned in those very colors: the straps and hemming in rich black, while the skirts and fabric that covered her breasts, though just barely, were a deep crimson, her ruby pendant twinkling at her chest as though it had been made to be worn with just this dress.

“Oh,” came a voice from her left, “don’t you look remarkable!”  Sansa emerged from the shadows, Lady at her side, her hand coming to cover her mouth as she took in her handiwork.  “It’s even better than I imagined!”  The Lady of Winterfell was, herself, richly bedecked, a lovely satin gown of amethyst hue the one she’d chosen for herself, though it was not nearly as revealing as Dany’s own.

“Your gown is wonderful as well, my Lady.”  Sansa did not speak as she circled Daenerys, but she felt the girl’s hand sweep her hair, her scalp tightening as the loose strands were caught up into an intricate band of braids along the crown of her head, loose curls now brushing the bare skin of her back.

“I’m glad you like it,” the redhead said, brushing her hand against her own full skirts as she came to stand before Dany once more.  “It just matches your eyes, I think.”  The girl pursed her lips as she eyed Dany from her crown of braids to the soft crimson slippers of satin on her feet.  “I made you that gown as a gift, Dany, for your nameday.”

Before Daenerys could offer her profuse thanks, there came another voice, this time from her left.

“You both look very nice, and all, but nameday or not,” grumbled Arya, clad in a fine, embroidered tunic and remarkably clean trousers, “I’m not wearing a dress.”

The Last Valyrian laughed, noting that it seemed Arya had even managed to tame her wild, dark hair.  “Not necessary, I assure you.”

Arya smiled, finally, presenting a bundle of dark fabric to Dany as she came near.  “I’ve a gift for you as well.  Sansa helped me do it.”

Touched, Daenerys took the bundle, and at Arya’s encouraging nod, she untied the cord that bound it in a neat square and shook it loose.

It was probably unladylike, the sob that tore from her throat, for now she was greeted with a sight that she had long missed, something she had not seen since her final days in her dead homeland.

It was a cloak, not one meant for warmth, that she could tell, for it was a fine, soft fabric, nothing like the thick furs that one might normally wear in the cold Northern climate.  And there, on the sea of black, was the sigil of her house.  The Three-headed dragon of House Targaryen blazed to life in a bright crimson that matched her gown just so.

“Do you like it?”  Arya sounded worried, perhaps at the tear that trickled down Dany’s cheek.

Daenerys hugged the fabric to her chest, looking at both sisters, wondering at such kindness, for she was little more than a stranger to them, but these gifts were among the finest she’d ever received.

“It’s lovely,” she reassured the girl, who grinned happily in response.  “I just never thought I’d see it again.”

Each girl embraced Dany in turn, and she felt the familiar twinge that gripped her heart, that stupid silly wishing in her heart that she wouldn’t have to leave them, so soon after finding them.

“Come on,” Arya said, grasping her left hand, while Sansa took her right.  “I want to see Jon’s eyes pop out of his head.”

And together, laughing, the three women entered walked toward the Great Hall of Winterfell, where the Winter King waited.

----------

If she’d thought Arya to be exaggerating, she was swiftly proven wrong the moment the trio swept into the Great Hall, now set for a large feast, side tables along the walls heaped with food and shadows jumping along the walls from the torchlight that ringed the room in an orange glow.

Jon Stark’s eyes *did* threaten to pop clear from his head, bulging and wide as he took her in, a long, heated look that swept her from head to toe, and she saw his chest hitch as their eyes met.

“Sansa,” he said, as they reached where the King stood, just before the grand table meant for the heirs of House Stark, “where’s the rest of it?”  He spoke to his sister but his dark eyes did not stray from Dany.

“The rest of what?”

He gave an audible gulp and cleared his throat hastily to disguise it, but Daenerys noticed and gave him a sly smile.

“Her dress.”

Sansa just gathered her skirts, and made her way around the table to seat herself, Arya following on her heels.  “Honestly, Jon, that is the style worn in Valyria.  I’m sorry, Daenerys, my brother seems to have no sense of culture at all.”  Blue eyes looked scornfully at Jon’s standard attire, all black, as always, though it appeared as though he had take care to shine his boots, and his hair was swept back neatly enough that she thought he’d taken extra pains to look presentable.  “Or fashion.”

Jon gave a snort and wrinkled his nose at his sister.  “I should certainly hope not.”  Then he looked back at Daenerys, almost entranced, and offered his elbow.  “Daenerys.”  He gave slight bow, and gave a half smile when she grasped his arm.

“Jon.”  She dipped her head courteously, enjoying the sweep of her fine cloak as it danced with the movement, letting him lead her around the table and to the seat in the very center.  She glanced at him, her brow furrowed.  “That’s your seat.”

He simply smiled more widely, with longing eyes, as he pulled the chair out and gestured for her to sit.  “Tonight, it is yours.  You are our most honored guest.”

He took a seat to her right, giving his sisters a cursory glance.

And his eyes did not leave her for the rest of the meal.

----------

Later, when he led her to his chambers, leaving everyone else behind, even Ghost, she felt her senses come alive.

She dreamed still, she knew, but every part of her felt alert and waiting, wondering what he might still have in store, while the wise part of her heart warned her not to go about wishing for things that might not be.

For his part, she thought she sensed a nervous trepidation to the way he carried himself, and he licked his lips as though they were dry as he brought her to stand before his desk, the fire in the parlor burning away, a few oil lamps guttering here and there about the room.

“I’ve a gift for you, Daenerys.”

She gave a small laugh under her breath, smiling slowly as she eyed him with the same hungry scrutiny he had bestowed upon her.  “I’m sure you do, Your Grace.”

Fire ignited in his eyes, and they glittered with barely concealed hunger before he turned away and walked to his desk.  “You’ve a filthy mind, Dragon Queen.”  Her cheeks flushed hot as he sat in his wooden chair and gestured for her to take a seat as well, across from him.  She did, her hands positively trembling with nerves, wondering if she had been wrong about why he’d brought her here.

He opened a drawer, and drew forth one lone piece of parchment, keeping the contents concealed as he placed it, face-down, upon the wooden desk.

“I believe I’ve come upon one final theory, Dany.  And this one, I think, is the final piece of the puzzle.  I think I know how you must call forth the magic from your eggs.”

His rapid change of subject flustered her further, but she fought not to let it show, straightening in her seat and raising a brow.  “Really?”  She knew she ought to be more interested, this was her purpose for being her, but dwelling in his chambers with him, alone, was entirely distracting.

“Those eggs may no longer harbor dragons as they once did,” he said, low and quiet, as though he didn’t want to be overheard.  “But do you remember when you first came?”

She nodded, leaning back in her seat and letting out an irritated breath.  “How could I forget.”

He had the decency to look abashed.  “My rudeness notwithstanding,” he continued softly, “only the one who had dreamed with our wolves, who knew the names not spoken aloud in this place in a century could have passed the Old God’s test.  You would surely have been killed if you had failed.”  Now he raised a brow at her, his eyes falling to the parchment.  “Others have tried and failed.”

“I see,” she said finally.  “How very lucky for me.”

He shook his head, the raven curls gathered at his neck shifting at the movement.  “Not luck.  You dreamed of them, as a girl.  You knew them, even before you came here.  There is power in names, Daenerys,” he whispered, trailing off and having a sigh as his fingers toyed with the edge of the page.  “I dreamed, as well, as a boy.”

She lifted her chin, her curiosity now overwhelming the desire she sought to bank.  “Of what?”

He studied her for an age before replying, almost unsure, it seemed of what he was about to reveal.  “Dragons.”

He turned the page over, and there, scrawled onto the page with a child’s hand, were three figures.  One, curled around itself, at rest, had been stained green as grass.  Another, posed gracefully, as though it were about to take flight, had been chalked to look creamy white.  And the third, and final figure, coal black and menacing, in the very center, looked poised to attack.

“Dragons,” he repeated, and reached his hand across to pointed below each, to the names he must have written there as a boy.  She looked up, in stunned wonder, for these were Valyrian names, known to her, common in the lore of her House, but surely uncommon to a boy of Winter, thousands of miles away, across the Narrow Sea.  “There are their names, Daenerys.  There you see who you must call forth, the magic you must summon with the power those names will release.”  Now a note of warning colored his words.  “But only when it is time.  Do not speak them until the hour is upon you.”

With fingers that shook she touched each one in turn, and her breath came in ragged bursts.  “Do you think it will work?  Truly?”

Now he looked pained, his mouth twisting in an unhappy grimace.  “Aye.”

Solemnly, she nodded, suddenly weary and wanting and tied in knots.  “I thank you for the gift, Jon Stark.”

Slowly, methodically, he took the page back, saying nothing, tucking the page away carefully into the waiting drawer and shutting it firmly.  Then, with careful air, he stood, each step he took as he rounded the desk filling her with equal parts sorrow and need.  He knelt before her, just brushing against her sheer, scarlet skirts, and gathered her hands in his.  “That’s not your gift.”  He gazed up at her, showing her everything now, his own great sorrow and grief, but even that was swamped by the love that shone forth.  “But I thought I ought to tell you.”

She leaned close, relieved at his nearness, and brushed the tip of her nose against his softly before pulling back to meet his eyes.  “You did say you had a gift for me, didn’t you?”

He was so hauntingly beautiful, this tortured man who, by his own recorded words, had loved her before she’d ever drawn breath, who’d waited for her and her alone in this barren wasteland.  He nodded, risking a glance down at her scarcely covered form before his eyes skated up to clash with hers.  “That I do.”  His breath began to quicken, and ever so slowly his hands released hers to rest upon her knees.  “Tell me what you wish, and I will make it so.”  He licked his lips again, and she followed the movement of his tongue with her eyes, blatantly and obviously.  “Whatever you wish.”

Her mind was a jumble, a thousand requests ready to pour forth, as she had spent more time that she would ever admit to pondering what it was she might like to do with him, if ever presented the chance.  That blasted book in the library had only fueled her imaginings.

Her only prior experience, Daario, that poor stablehand who’d paid for the privilege of bedding her with his life, had been just barely a man when she’d allowed him to lay with her amongst the haybales of her father’s stable, and the entire experience had left her first unimpressed and then deeply scarred, as she’d watched him die.

But that was the past.

And here, now, before her, was a man grown.  A King.  A warrior, with rough hands and hard eyes that could turn soft in a split second, a man who’d cheated death and returned only to be cursed and imprisoned in his icy cage.

She knew exactly what she wanted from him.

“Page twenty-three, then, if you please.”

His brows shot almost to his hairline as he repeated her request.  “Page twenty-three,” he echoed, barely seeming to breathe, and then his gaze sharpened.  “Someone’s been doing a bit of reading.”

Jon Stark left her no time to shy away, rising in most predatory fashion and sweeping her up into his arms, her cloak trailing down his side as he carried her to his bedchambers and kicked the door open before setting her on her feet, letting her body slide down his until she stood unbearably close to him, the backs of her knees just grazing the edge of the bed she had become used to sleeping in alone.

She shivered, gooseflesh rising on her skin as he trailed his fingers up her arm to where her cloak was pinned at each shoulder.  “Do you know,” he began, his hands making quick work of the clasps and pulling the cloak away, baring yet more of her skin to his eyes, “I’ve never actually done page twenty-three?”

Dany tried to pay attention, hoped her hum of acknowledgement sounded interested, but it occurred to her there were other things she wished his mouth would attend to.  She wrapped her hands around his neck, anchoring herself to him and pressing her body into his as she claimed his mouth, allowing only a few soft kisses before she teased her tongue against his lips, and to her consuming, burning delight he did not pull away at all, his hands falling to her hips in a familiar motion, pulling her closer still while he teased the tip of her tongue with his, groaning when she suckled at it before drawing back slightly to draw his bottom lip into her mouth and pull lightly with her own.

“Dany,” he managed, his hands now travelling everywhere, smoothing against her hips and grazing the sides of her breasts in a manner that made her shift, and made a pulsing heat begin between her thighs, where she’d begun to ache with the need to have him fill her.  He fingered the strap of her gown, a generous description for these scraps of fabric, and panted against her lips.  “Is this made of silk, d’you think?”

She moaned when his slid his hand farther south, just teasing the tops of her breasts where skin and fabric met.  “Perhaps.”  She took his mouth again, reveling in the way he seemed to forget himself altogether, their tongues slicking against each other as he blessedly, finally cupped one curve, his thumb just brushing against her nipple through the fabric of her dress.  He pulled his mouth away to tip his chin down, watching his hand as it caressed her, as he teased the stiff peak and made her moan his name.  “Jon,” she breathed, “does it matter what the dress is made from?  I should very much like to be rid of it, now.”

His breath was hot on her neck as he leaned in, teasing the tender skin at her collarbone with the edge of his teeth before licking a sinuous path up the slender skin of her throat.  When her head dropped back at the sensation, he teased the lobe of her ear in the same manner, before he answered.  “I’ve always wanted to rip a silk dress off a woman, that’s all.”

She let out a throaty laugh as his lips did sinful things to the pulse that beat insistently at her neck.  “Then yes,” she sighed out, “it’s silk.  I’m certain of it.”

Jon drew back, his lips quirked in a tiny smile, his eyes full of lingering question.  “Are you sure?”  Even as he asked he turned her, slowly, so that she faced the bed, his lips pressing open-mouthed, searing kisses to the bare skin of her shoulder as he swept her silver curls to the side.  She stiffened, knowing that this dress would show what her brother had wrought upon the skin of her back, and he seemed to anticipate her tension, his breath fanning the shell of her ear as he whispered, “Here, Dany, we have no scars.  We leave them outside.  Here it is just us, as we want to be.”

She had forgotten that he bore his own, that perhaps he was as self-conscious of them as he was, and a wave of relief swept her at his guttural pronouncement.  She sagged against his chest, her back pressed tight to him, and brought their joined hands to the fabric where it strained against the fullness of her breasts, aching for his touch there, on her bare skin, tired of wearing this lovely gown, of hiding from him.  “Do it,” she urged, something primal in her voice that made him give a rumbling groan from deep in his chest.

He tucked his head into the curve of her neck, looking down at their hands as together, they rent the fabric in two, the straps falling away as her chest was exposed, her breasts swaying with each ragged breath she now took, excitement coursing through her. 

She reached behind, to cup one hand around the base of his neck, threading through his dark hair and gripping hard as he filled his hands with her breasts, each of them letting out satisfied moans as he began to toy with her pebbled nipples.  She arched into his hands, twisting up to tangle her lips with his as he began to explore, to see which touches elicited the loudest sighs and what, precisely, made her begin to writhe and push her hips against him.

Her blood seemed to run ever hotter when she felt him, hard and excited against the curve of her arse, pressing against his trousers, and he pushed his hips against her in turn, seeking purchase, before dropping one arm down to her waist to anchor her against him more firmly.  “Jon,” she whimpered, some wanton creature that had lain dormant within her springing to life, her free hand slipping between their bodies to trace the shape of him, palming him then stroking as his hand stilled where it plucked at one pink nipple.

He spun her then, urgently, and she placed a slender hand on his chest before he could take her in his arms and ravage her mouth with his.  “Take off your clothes,” she whispered coyly, then dropped her hands to where the bodice of her dress dangled at her waist, shoving the garment down her hips as he watched with eyes that threatened to sear her where she stood.

His heart, now fashioned from the flames, lie in wait for the one meant for him, whose heart could fit so perfectly with his own.

The witch’s words replayed in her head as she looked at him demurely, backing onto his bed of furs and reclining on her elbows, her legs sliding against each other as she pressed her thighs together, all too aware of how slick they were now that she was fully bared to his starving gaze.

He complied, pinning her with his eyes, not even seeming to blink as he shrugged off his own cloak, tossing it haphazardly behind him and tugging at the laces of his jerkin.  He moved so quickly it seemed as though his fingers flew, and soon enough his chest was bared, so sign of the scars she knew he bore.  Still, she waited, biting at the plump flesh of her bottom lip as she stretched out one leg as far as she could, her toes just barely brushing against the wool trousers he still wore and tickling against the fabric.  “Those, too,” she whispered.

He let out a sharp exhale through his nose, looking down at her as though he would devour her in an instant.  “I should have expected such impatience, from one whose blood runs as hot as yours.”

“Yes,” she agreed, sliding her legs apart, baring herself to him completely and smiling wickedly as he stood, gaping for a moment, then practically tore his trousers off, making short work of his remaining clothing and climbing gracefully onto the bed between her spread thighs, eyeing her cunt as though it were a delicacy he was starved for.  He trapped one ankle with his long fingers, gently tugging until her thigh rest upon his shoulder.

“Dany,” he breathed, slipping fully between her legs to slide his hips against her own, and it was his name that escaped her lips at his hot, thick length spreading her apart, growing wet and slippery with the pooled desire that escaped her core.  He gave another heavy, helpless groan and then his lips were capturing one hard, pink nipple, his tongue teasing and flicking the sensitive peak within the cavern of his mouth as the hand not gripping her thigh for support toyed with the other.

She buried her fingers in his hair, his name an invocation that fell as a chant from her lips, for this was the real magic, what they did now.

It was magic, the heat of his mouth on her, the way he sucked and pulled and kissed a line of fire from one breast to another, the way his lips could not help but find hers in fits and starts, as though he could not decide what he wanted to do, because he wanted everything.

It was a greedy magic that made her circle her hips up and into his, that tried desperately to align his insistent, prodding length with her weeping entrance, hungry to feel his length inside her, certain now that this would be nothing like the fumbling fuck she’d endured once.

Jon Stark was a King, and as he reached down, his fingers brushing against her, searching and circling that bundle of nerves she had only ever discovered on her own, she realized he meant to fuck her like one.

He was magic and he was greedy, and down deep he was an animal, just like her.  She felt her own fire rise, something dark and wonderful spreading mighty wings as his questing fingers sought her pleasure from this alone, his thumb now joining the fray as he teased at her clit while two fingers thrust inside her, stretching her pleasantly, the sensation of fullness exactly what she wanted, and though her eyes slammed shut she could sense him watching her, looking for what she wanted, gauging her every reaction as he increased his pace.

She was greedy, as well, so very greedy for what he gave her, so much different from what she’d learned to do for herself, and his thumb swiped at her with just the right pressure, enough to make her back arch and seize, to make her mouth fall open in a silent scream as every muscle in her body seemed to lock, save her cunt which began to flutter and squeeze at his fingers as they continued their delicious slide in and out of her depths.

She was flying, then, and there were stars behind her eyelids as he wrung her pleasure from her, as he sent her spiraling into a release that seemed to feed on itself, until finally she was a breathless, boneless heap of ash beneath him.

When she managed to drag her heavy eyelids open, he was still watching her, his eyes hooded and dark and his lips curved in a sinful smile.

She reached her arms up, pulling his head down to hers in a messy kiss before she let out a breathless giggle, her chest still heaving as she struggled to calm the pounding in her chest, her skin now slick with sweat.  “That wasn’t page twenty-three.”

Jon just dropped his head to her chest, his lips pressing an open-mouthed kiss in the valley between her breasts, before rolling his head up to look at her, the hand still on her thigh adjusting to get a better grip for the purchase he would need.

Her other leg was swiftly hooked by his other arm, her knee bent over his elbow, and he dragged her to just the edge of his stately bed and planted his feet on the floor.  “Of course,” he laughed, the head of his cock bobbing against her wet folds and teasing deliciously, just shy of where she wanted him.  The Winter King squinted down at her playfully as she reached her hands to her sides, her fingers twisting in the furs to brace herself. 

He dropped her bent leg just long enough to fist himself in his hand, a new magic was born, with the first full thrust of his cock inside her, a wail escaping from deep within her chest as he hissed out a breath sharply, his teeth clenched with the sensation.

“Oh, fuck.”  He was groaning, near constantly, her leg back over his elbow as the knee over his shoulder was held in an iron-tight grip, and she rolled her hips urgently to meet each smooth stroke, glorying on the way it felt when he was seated deep within her.  “Oh, Dany,” he pressed his mouth to the thigh near his cheek, his beard rasping against the sensitive flesh before his teeth were biting lightly into her, and she realized he meant to muffle his own cries.

“I want to hear you,” she gasped, her hands slicking down his sides to grasp at his weights, her nails scoring the flesh of his back where he could reach, her hips bucking up to slap against his as he set a punishing rhythm.

“I love you, lass,” he moaned, his breath stuttering from his chest, driving into her even as his eyes turned molten and soft.  He thrust harder, his back bowing with each push within her, and she felt the pressure building within her again, deeper and darker, felt drawn as taut as a bowstring about to snap as her own spine curved, her shoulders pressing back against the furs and she could only chant his name, and plead in broken Valyrian.

“That’s it,” he murmured, watching her with eyes now black as night.  “Again,” he commanded, and angled his hips so that each thrust would give her just a bit more friction, leaning closer and pushing at her legs to spread her wider as he turned his head to suckle roughly at the tender flesh inside her knee.  “Let go,” he whispered hotly, and the sheer want in his eyes, coupled with the stroking length of him plunging forcefully away, was enough to do her in.

Light sparked inside her mind, and she thought the earth seemed to tremble around her, wondered what magic they might have truly unleashed in this land of dreams as he bucked and shuddered and spilled himself in turn, her clenching walls milking each wave of release from him as he cried out her name and fought for breath.

He slowed, gentling, no doubt as sensitive now as she, as raw and exposed and tender as her body and her heart were, and finally he collapsed beside her, his hand resting heavily against her cheek as he gasped beside her.

“Dany,” he uttered, when he found his voice, forcing her bleary, dreamy eyes open to meet his, a shy smile dancing across his lips when their gazes locked.  “In a bit, I thought we might try page seventy-four.”

She groaned, chuckling as he gathered her to him, nuzzling against his sweat-slippery neck before teasing the skin with an open mouth, marveling at the salty taste and how it tingled on her tongue.  “Is it my nameday, or yours, Winter King?”

He gave her a cross look, but his lips twitched as he tried to maintain a disaffected air.  “Well, if you aren’t interested,” he trailed off, speaking no more when she clapped her hands over his mouth.

“I didn’t say that, you wicked man.”  She leaned up, her hand dipping under his head to free his hair from the leather tie that bound it, loving how wild and free he looked, how young and untroubled he was just now.  “I love you despite your wicked ways, though, so I suppose page seventy-four can be arranged.”  His smile, when it came, was radiant as the summer sun, and she mimicked his shy smile from moments ago before pressing a finger into the smooth, muscled wall of his chest.

“After all, there is not much time left to us, Jon.”  She swung her leg over his hips, her cunt resting just above the stem of his cock, and took his hands in hers, bringing them to her chest and giving him a meaningful look.  “We ought to make the most of it.”  Her necklace swung heavily between her breasts, and he gave it a long, discerning look before he raised up to claim her lips again, his hands beginning to work their magic anew.

“I couldn’t agree more.”

Chapter Text

Her third moon in this icy land was upon her now, and in such time since her nameday, she and Jon Stark had discovered another thing they shared in common, a trait that Arya Stark seemed to find them both in possession of, and had little hesitation in telling them so in the time that had elapsed since the night of her feast.

They were little more than animals, the pair of them, or so the youngest Stark sister had informed them.

Sansa was wholly unbothered, as though she had expected exactly that, and with each night that she dreamed, the Lady of Winterfell would make great haste to hurry herself and her sister away, before Daenerys and Jon would forsake all sense of propriety and engage in displays that would redden Dany's cheeks, though she found it harder and harder to stop herself.

At the end of that first week she lay down to dream with her King, Ghost’s red eyes the last thing she saw as she fell willingly into her dreams.

When she opened her eyes again, she was in a place she did not recognize, certainly no place she had ever seen before while waking or asleep.

A warm hand took hers, and she looked up to find Jon’s smiling face staring back.  “Do you like it?”

There was a waterfall nearby, that flowed from a sheer rock face down to a wide, blue pool below.  He turned her in a slow circle with gentle fingers on her shoulders, as she took in the heavily wooded sanctuary around them, his eyes on her face as he watched her mouth fall open.

It was beautiful, and serene, the only sign of life a small cabin tucked into the nearby copse of spruce.

“Where are we?”  She didn’t want to raise her voice above a whisper, to break the peaceful quiet all around them, save for the chirping of birds as they sang from the branches above.

“Someplace private,” he drawled, pulling her firmly into the circle of his arms to kiss her soundly, and for moments she surrendered to the touch of his lips, his sweet kiss setting her afire once more, until he pulled away, his eyes hot on hers.  “My sisters have made it clear they grow weary of our,” he paused, grinning wickedly, “antics.”

Daenerys let out a rueful chuckle, ducking her head under his chin and tucking her face into his neck.  “Well,” she said, pressing a kiss to the hollow of his throat, “I shouldn’t blame them for that.”

Jon Stark merely shrugged, not at all embarrassed anymore by his sisters’ teasing remarks.  “That aside, I wanted to show you this place.  My father used to bring us here, in the summers, to hunt and holiday.”  He rested his head against the crown of hers, hugging her to him.  “I just wanted you to see it.”

Dany leaned her head back to gaze up at him, the sun lighting his features and making him look more alive than any dream ought to be capable.  “Then, show me.”

---------

The meandered by the pool for hours, stripping off each other’s clothing and taking each other at an unhurried pace, before jumping in and splashing and frolicking like children, until their hair was plastered flat to their heads and they looked more like drowned cats than people.

As they lay on the soft grass by the shore, letting the Northern summer sun dry the water from their skin, legs entangled, she thought that this was what it meant to be content, his heart thumping steadily beneath her ear where she lay against his chest.

She never wanted to leave, and it was as though he plucked the thought from her mind, as he whispered, “I wish we could stay here, forever.”

Daenerys huffed out a silent laughing, leaning on her elbow beside him, wet strands of hair sticking to her shoulders and streaming down her back as she smiled down at him.  “That’s a bit greedy, isn’t it?”

He raised his hand to trail his fingers down the length of her spine, finally palming the curve of her hip as he peered at her.  “Is it?”  His other hand scratched thoughtfully at his jaw.  “Well, then,” he finally rasped, “a thousand years shouldn’t be too much.”

There it was, that hint of awful, terrible grief that crept in at the corners, always during their sweetest moments.  There was the truth they did not speak of anymore, of what was to come all too soon, the loss that he feared would break him, the pain she couldn’t help but cause.

“There is only now,” she murmured, dipping her head to kiss him gently, to ease the ache in her own heart, “and that is all I could ever wish for.”

---------

Later, when they’d sated their hunger again, he showed her the cabin, rustic and austere and exactly what she would expect, with little ornamentation save for the homespun, thick rugs laid upon the wooden floor, enormous antlers mounted to the walls, and a large, ornate stone hearth capped with carved direwolves snarling at each corner.

Dany wandered the rooms, trailing her fingers over each surface, listening intently as he told her stories of his childhood, each one making it clear that while he had known little love from his stepmother, his father had loved him dearly.

There were but two bed chambers in this cabin, one outfitted with bunks that Jon explained as being where the children and his father’s men might bed down, the other containing a large, four-posted bed bedecked with a canopy.

“I wasn’t allowed in this room often,” he whispered, leading her in by the hand.  “This was my father’s,” he uttered, only the barest grimace as he continued, “and the Lady Stark’s.”

She looked about the room, at the hint of feminine touches that suggested that the woman had certainly spent some time here, when her eyes fell on a portrait, hanging on the wall.  This one contained several people, and she stepped nearer, dropping Jon’s hand to inspect more closely.

There was a man, seated upon a black throne, the throne of the Winter King, she knew.  On his head was a crown hewn of iron and bronze, and though he looked stern, the artist had managed to capture kindness in his gray eyes.

Those were Jon’s eyes, and she knew who this man must be.

“Your father,” she breathed, “is that him?”

Jon nodded with a sad twist of his lips, coming to stand beside her.  “Aye, that’s him.  King Eddard.”  He cut his eyes at her, before they darted back to the canvas, and gave a chuckle.  “I’m sure you can guess who this sour lad is.”  He raised a finger and pointed at the tallest child, raven-haired and frowning, with such a sad and lonely air that she would’ve known even if he’d left her own devices.

“So handsome,” she answered, her own lips curving up as she trailed a finger across the young Jon’s face.  She looked at the faces surrounding him.  “Sansa,” she said, pointing to the young, fire-haired girl holding tight to her father’s hand.  “Arya,” she said, her gaze falling to the girl standing at Jon’s side, as sour-faced as her older brother had been, and just as dark of hair.

The woman in the picture, with Sansa’s red hair and a rather pinched smile, made her narrow her eyes, an irrational dislike rising in her chest.  “The Lady Stark, I presume.”

“Aye,” Jon whispered in response, absently rubbing at his shirt, on the skin above his heart, where Dany knew that treacherous blade had sunk.  “The Lady Catelyn.”

To her confusion, then, Dany spied another in the painting, someone she did not recognize.  On the Queen’s lap sat a small lad, with dark hair and a long, skinny face, who did not smile and did not frown, just sat, impassive and still.  “Who is that?”

“My brother,” Jon muttered, with melancholy.  “Brandon.”  He blew out a breath slowly, his eyes locked onto that small face.  “We called him Bran.”

She did not miss the tense he spoke in.  “Called?”  She squeezed his hand where it lay in hers.  “He was lost to you as well?”

Jon did not answer, right away, but led her to the bed, crawling up and waiting for her to join him, waiting until she settled in the way they usually lay, his head upon the pillow, her head upon his chest.  His voice became a vibration against her check when he finally spoke.  “You could say that.  He is not here, that much I know.  Though I do not know what has become of him out there.”

Dany swallowed, her hand tracing idle patterns against the fabric of his tunic.  “Were you close?”

“I loved him, of course.  He was my brother, my only brother.  But it is also true that, after his birth, the Lady Catelyn’s hatred of me grew ever stronger.”  When he fell silent she pushed up, laying her head upon the pillow beside his so she could look into his eyes when he spoke, her hand now tangling with his.  “That’s why she did it, you know.  It was one thing to live with my mother’s ghost, when I was the only male heir.  But when she had Bran, I believe it was then she began to plot.”

She raised their joined fingers to her lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles.  “To make her son the King, instead of you.”

Jon nodded slowly.  “I suspect so.”  His brow knitted with exasperation.  “And still, all her plotting was for naught.  I lived, she died,” he paused, hesitant, “and Bran was lost to all of us.”

A shiver travelled down her spine, and she sat up, leaning against the wooden headboard, hugging her knees to her chest.  “What happened to him?”

Jon slowly pulled himself up to sitting as well, leaning back and snaking an arm around her, seeking the contact of her body against his, and she snuggled in closer to the crook of his arm.  “He fell, just before I left to wed the Wildling Princess.  He loved to climb, but one day he went too high, and fell from a tower.”  He looked so very sad, then, speaking in low, quiet tones.  “But he lived, and the Maester said it was a miracle.  All I know, for certain, is that when Arya escaped the Keep, through the crypts, once the Boltons had taken it, she tried to take Bran with her.”

Daenerys stroked a hand along his jaw, her fingers gently scratching through his beard.  “Then what?”

“He was too heavy for her to carry.  He woke up, but his legs never worked again.  She left him, in an abandoned passageway, where the roots of the weirwood tree above might hide him.  She said she meant to send help back to him, as soon as she might,” he paused to turn his face into her caress and kiss her palm, “but by then it was too late.”

She shook her head, confused.  “What do you mean?”

“The Old Gods took him, claimed him.  The tree began to grow around him, for they granted my sister’s wish, only not as she had hoped.  Then,” his voice shook with something approximating real fear, “he wasn’t Bran anymore.”

Dany tried to pull her hand away but he gripped it with his own, holding tight, and she cupped his jaw instead, directing his eyes to hers.  “Who was he?”

“He said his name was the Bloodraven.”  Jon shook his head, pained, his eyes shut tight.  “Whatever he was, he was no longer the little brother I remembered.  Bran was gone.  Only the Bloodraven remained.”

----------

Daenerys awoke to perpetual night, alone in the Winter King’s chambers save for the small, scuffling noise near the hearth.  Her eyes tracked the sound, and there stood Leaf, feeding the flames to keep the room warm and comfortable while she slumbered.

“Leaf,” she said, climbing from the bed and approaching the creature she’d come to treat as something akin to a friend in the time since they’d met, “does the Bloodraven still live?”

Amber eyes glowed with reflected firelight, and Leaf’s eyes grew wide when Daenerys spoke that name.  “Bloodraven?”  She looked around wildly, her fingers fumbling to regain their purchase on the small log she held.  “Why do you ask about him?”

“Is he alive?”  Leaf flinched at the force of her question, and she took a deep breath, fighting to control her dreadful curiosity.  “In this world, does he linger?”

The Child looked around, frightened, then clutched at Dany’s hand with a surprisingly strong grip.  “Do not ask such things.  They are not meant for you to know.”

If the small woman meant to frighten her, she was doing a poor enough job.  Dany wrenched her hand free and scowled fiercely.  “I’ve already seen him, when I begged my question at your Heart Tree.”

Looking disgruntled, but resigned, Leaf fed one more log into the fire, then took her hand again, more gently this time.  “’Tis better I show you than you stumble upon him yourself, roaming these halls as you do,” she grumbled, tugging Dany from the room.  “But I should warn you now, Dragon Queen, it is not a pleasing thing, the answer to your question.”

“That is the case with every question I ask here, Leaf,” Dany muttered, stone-faced as together, they made their way past the icy bodies that littered their path.  “I’ve learned to limit my expectations.”

----------

It was as they stood before the doors to the Crypts of Winter, where the dead of House Stark were kept, that Daenerys finally found Arya Stark, her mouth open in a frozen scream, her skin an icy blue, a thin blade grasped in her hand and held aloft to sink into an invisible foe.

“Oh, Arya,” Dany said, her heart twisting at the girl’s bravery, even in death.

“She stood guard over the children and infirmed that sheltered in these crypts, when the dead ones came.”  Leaf stared at the Stark girl’s face, her tone one of quiet respect.  “A true wolf.”

Together, the Last Valyrian and Leaf of the Forest pried open the frozen doors and entered the crypts, Leaf having the wherewithal to pull a torch from the sconce near the entrance so they would not be plunged into complete darkness as they stepped into the chilled silence depths of the tombs below.

There were more people to dodge and avoid here, small children peering, sightless and frozen, from around stone monuments, a scattering of adults gathering as many of the smaller bodies in their arms, terror etched forever on their faces.

Dany breathed in the stale, cold air, a whistling wind wafting past her ear as they walked, and she wished she’d taken her coat, but the deeper they journeyed, she realized the air was warming.

“The springs,” Leaf explained, answering the unasked question.  “It heats the earth from below.  It was here my sisters and I sheltered, where we still remain, foraging for what we can find to sustain ourselves until this curse is broken.”

Deeper still, they went, until the air practically steamed around them, indeed as warm as those springs felt when she immersed herself in them, and the ceilings of each dark corridor they turned down became thick with white, ashen roots.

Leaf held out a small green hand to stop her, just before they entered yet another dirt-packed archway.  “Be respectful, when you approach, and perhaps you will not come to harm.”

Dany let out a shuddering breath, and in that moment she thought she’d never missed Ghost’s solid, safe presence us much as she did just then, wondering where the white wolf might be.

Leaf walked ahead, quietly, and in this chamber, craggy and stony and smelling of mildew and damp, there sat, along one wall, a throne of sorts, fashioned from the roots of what she knew was the weirwood tree above.  They were below the Godswood, she realized, and she followed in Leaf’s footsteps, almost afraid to look up, to see what it was that sat upon this deathly throne.

“The Bloodraven,” Leaf whispered, and when Dany finally lifted her gaze, near enough to make out what it was that sat upon this seat, she bit hard at her tongue to fight back a scream.

For there, tangled in the roots that twisted like bony braids around his form, was a monster.  In some places, it was hard to distinguish skin from bark, and in one hollowed, empty eye socket emerged a twig with leaves as red as blood. 

If it had been a man, that had sat upon this awful chair, time had caused an awful, chilling destructions, his skin patchy and falling away, exposing his bony jaw, his femur, one foot shoeless and dead, having no more flesh at all.

She took several breaths to steady herself, unsure of what she meant to do now that she had seen him, finally offering a deep curtsy as Leaf watched with trepidation.

“My Lord,” Dany said, proud that her voice shook only a little, willing herself to look upon him.

To her growing horror, his other eye opened, slowly, glinting like a ruby in the low light and then there was a voice in her mind, a grating, awful voice that made her think of branches rubbing against each other, bark on bark, harsh and unyielding.

What do you want, Daughter of Fire?

Swallowing hard, she thought frantically, searching for something to ask now that she was before him.  “Does Brandon Stark still live?”

No.  He is but a memory now, that dwells amongst the trees.

Dany worked her jaw, a small part of her relieved that at least she could share this with Jon, that his younger brother no longer dwelt in the realms of the living, but wondering all the same why it was that he did not share this land of dreaming that contained his family.

One cannot warg without a wolf.  Not a Stark, at least.  It was the wolves’ magic that saved their masters, their will and the will of the Old Gods.  And Brandon Stark’s wolf did not live to save him.

Dany’s eyes flew up to that long-dead face.  “Is that what you are now, one of the Old Gods?”

Merely their eyes.

She thought of the bleeding, sightless face carved onto the tree above her.

You have met Brandon Stark, Dragon Queen.  Do you not remember?

An audible groan issued from the dead man who sat within the tree, and Leaf jumped with fright, but Dany stood firm.

“I have done no such thing, my Lord Bloodraven.”

I am no Lord.

The voice paused.

I can show you.  Help you remember.

This was a road she had already travelled with this Bloodraven, and this time she would not be taken in quite so easily.  “And the price?”  After a beat, with no reply, spoke again.  “Surely you will exact a cost once more.”

A heavy groan sounded again, like the wind howling through the trees, and finally she was answered.

A cost, yes.  But not for you.  This price has already been paid.  This memory is freely shared.

And as before, just as she had under the branches of the weirdwood tree above, Leaf grabbed her hand and pressed her palm to a nearby root, that seemed to inch and crawl and warp the ground as it crawled away from the Bloodraven’s final resting place.

----------

This time was gentler, as though she was being handled with care, not thrust into this web of memories that only the trees were privy to.

She was walking, along a tree-lined path, and as she walked she realized that this place was familiar.  She crested the hill, and spied the ridge ahead, but it was the aged Bloodraven who walked beside her in his dirty, moth-eaten robes that stopped her with cold, spindled fingers on her forearm, before she could run towards the meadow that she knew awaited her.

“Not yet,” the Bloodraven said, and as he shuffled she offered her arm, just as she had before.  A raven flew down to light on his bony shoulder, but the old man ignored the beast to give her a slow, creaking smile.  “I wonder, Daenerys, is it kindness or fear that drives you onward?”

She turned to look at him, to truly look at him as they walked, wondering if this was what Brandon Stark would have looked like, had his life not been claimed far too soon by the Old Gods his family was sworn to serve.  “What have I to fear?  What is left to me, anymore, to fear?”

“And yet there is fear in your heart, girl.”  He eyed the raven at his shoulder.  “We can sense it on you.”

Daenerys huffed out a breath, turning her eyes to the path ahead, considering the question he’d asked.  “I am afraid I will not succeed.  That I will not be able to save them, after everything.”

Bloodraven ceased his forward momentum, making her halt as well.  “Why do you want to save them so badly, hmm?”  Though their arms were still joined he leaned his weight onto his staff, studying her intently.  “What are these Starks to you?  You are a stranger to these lands.  You do not serve these Gods.”

Dany sighed, raising a hand to pat gently at the thin arm below his robes, the one threaded through her own.  “Their wolves were friends to me, once, far from here, in the land that was my home.  They were kind to me at a time when I knew very little of kindness.”  Even here, the remembrance threatened to claim her voice, her eyes welling.  “I do not know what would have become of me, then, left to just my own misery.”  She choked back a small sob.  “They saved me, and I will see that debt repaid.”

“The wolves,” the Bloodraven echoed, sharing another look with his raven.  “Precisely.”  He began to walk, again, and as the pair walked she noticed, slowly, that his gait became less stilted, and as she watched, he seemed to grow younger, healthier, more vibrant.

She said nothing, just watched, as the Bloodraven smiled at her.

Once they reached the ridge, he was a young man, with a long, narrow face and dark, close cropped hair that seemed terribly familiar.

“Brandon Stark,” she whispered, and his smile grew wider, though it did not reach his eyes.

“I was, once,” the Bloodraven answered.  “Tell me, Daenerys, do you remember the first time you dreamed with the wolves of Winterfell?”

They scaled the ridge, just as she had with Jon, and together stared down at the meadow of long green grass.  “I remember playing with them, that first time, yes.”

He seemed not to have heard her, this thing that had been Bran Stark staring at the field with his raven.  “When you were born, Daenerys of House Targaryen, amidst the greatest storm these realms have ever known, even the Gods took notice.”  Now he gave her a genuine smile.  “I could feel you, Daughter of Fire, even from the other side of the world.  I could see you.”

Now he reached out a hand, pointing a long finger in the distance, where she saw him, walking through the field of grass.  “So, when you were old enough, Mother of Dragons, I went to fetch you.  You could not have wandered here on your own, after all.”  He spoke on, even as she kept her eyes trained on another who looked like Brandon Stark, who emerged from the far treeline with a small, silver-haired girl in tow.  “The magic inside you is similar,” he drawled, “but you needed a bit of guidance to find them.”

As they watched, he fell silent, blissfully, and even from here she could hear her own girlish squeal of glee when the wolves appeared from a copse of trees, watched as her small hands patted and petted and her tiny face was washed with friendly licks from the wolves who had become her dearest friends.

She did not remember, being led here, to this place, but she thought it must be true, saw the Brandon Stark who stood far off in the distance raise a hand their direction, in greeting, as if he saw them.

“Can he see us?”  She was startled at the loud screech the raven let out, understanding after a moment that the bird was amused by her.

“I see everything,” the Bloodraven said.

----------

She was happy to find herself still standing, and not screaming, realizing the Bloodraven had been true to his word, that he had not exacted a cost from her in exchange for this memory.

Daenerys took a step back, her tongue wetting her dry lips, Leaf still gripping her hand and seeming to vibrate with nervous excitement.

And she looked upon what had become of Jon’s brother, of poor Brandon Stark, and felt her heart grow softer with sadness and pity.  He, like the others, had been a pawn in a game the Gods sought to play.  She came close, seeing his hand, gnarled and dry, where it rested, half-hidden by the ashen bark of this awful, beautiful tree.  Carefully, holding in her breath, she lay her fingers upon his.

“Is there anything I may do for you, Lord Bloodraven?”

Leaf gasped, beside her, at the contact, and the question, her mouth falling open in what was sure to be admonishment, when that grating voice answered, in her mind.

Kindness, then.  It must be kindness.  I shall tell you what you may do for me.

Daenerys stood, still as stone, waiting, as the very air around her seemed to contract.

There is strength in kindness, Daenerys.  Should the time come that you must choose, between justice and kindness, choose to be kind.

She waited, Leaf swaying by her side, but the tree spoke no more.

Chapter Text

That night, when they convened for their evening meal, Ghost finally reappeared, with his sisters trailing behind him.  Each of them dragged a deer, none of the game looking particularly healthy, but food was in short supply, for the stores of grain Winterfell had once held had rotted long ago.

Daenerys was most pleased to see them return, her teeth on edge since her visit to the Bloodraven, and it was a great relief to have their watchful eyes upon her, a safety in their presence that was lacking when she could not spy them roaming around nearby.

It had become common practice for the Children to join them as well, when they were wont, though they said little in the presence of the wolves and the Red Witch, and ate less.  They were always willing to share what they’d been able to scavenge, and on this evening Daenerys had managed a venison and mushroom stew that was far more palatable than the dried strips of elk they’d been left with as their meat supply began to run low.

Melisandre, for her part, had chanced upon stores of ale and wine that, in a few instances, had not yet soured beyond drinking, and Dany decided they must have some wine for their makeshift feast.

They ate companionably, this group that had become something of a family to her, during her waking hours at least, and even Melisandre seemed to be in good spirits as they seated themselves in the kitchens and began to tuck in.

“I should like to tell you a story, Daenerys, that you may find of interest.”  The witch waited, her lips pursed until Dany nodded her silver head, not even pausing in scooping a spoon of stew into her mouth as Melisandre began to speak.

“Do you know the tale of Azor Ahai?”  The name sounded vaguely familiar, but Valyria had been a land of many tales and legends, so she shook her head, smiling at Ghost where he crunched down on a thigh bone nearby.

“In the lands of Asshai it was said that he was a hero of the usual sort; Slaying monsters and saving villages.”  The Red Witch took a bite of her meal, making a sound of enjoyment before she swallowed and continued.  “But then a monster came that no sword forged could slay, and so Azor Ahai set out, with his wife, the lovely Nissa Nissa, whom he loved beyond measure, to find the means to end the threat for good.”

Dany leaned on her elbow, stirring at her stew.  “And did he?”

“Oh, yes,” Melisandre intoned, “but it took him several tries before he found just the right way to forge such weapon, for he was also a gifted smith, you see.”

“Of course,” Dany replied dryly, risking a look at Leaf who sat near the ovens, chewing a handful of berries and listening rapturously.  “What a marvelous coincidence.”

“Be that as it may,” Melisandre continued, with a curt look in Dany’s direction, “It came to be that he discovered the answer to how he might craft this weapon, but it would require a great and terrible sacrifice.”  Daenerys straightened, beginning to listen a bit more closely herself, now, for this tended to be the witch’s way, when she wanted to tell the Valyrian something important.  Always riddles and illusions and half truths cloaked in fable, never a straight answer.  “In that time there were dragons across all the realms, you see, and it came to Azor Ahai that his blade must be forged in dragon fire.”

Dany took another bite, chewing thoughtfully at the savory venison.  “Like Valyrian steel.”

Melisandre gave her an approving smile.  “Yes, clever girl, just like Valyrian steel.  But,” she said, her smile falling away, “with one difference.  For this creature he meant to slay was so very powerful, so full of magic and might, that this blade must have additional power, beyond that which dragon fire can bestow.”

Leaf and Twig exchanged glances, their golden eyes glowing bright in the candlelit room.  “What was it?”  Leaf’s whisper echoed Dany’s own curiosity, and all waited with bated breath until the witch finally answered.

“His blade required a blood sacrifice, you see.  Azor Ahai had to kill that which he loved most, to sacrifice the one thing in all the lands he valued, the thing he could not do without.  Only then would the blade’s enchantment be great enough to slay the foul beast.”

Daenerys felt her stomach twist with dread, and she gazed fitfully down at Ghost, only looking up when she felt the witch’s stare resting upon her.  “What did he do?”

Melisandre waiting until Dany met her shifting, every-color eyes.  “He plunged his blade into the heart of his beloved Nissa Nissa, whose life she gave willingly to save all others.  And in her sacrifice, with her life’s blood upon her husband’s blade, he did slay his foe and the lands were saved.”

Her hunger faded completely away, now, and Dany pushed her bowl away, her hand reaching automatically for Ghost who crept closer and whined softly.  Sinking her fingers into his silky fur, she turned her face back to the witch.  “That’s a terrible story.”

The Red Witch hummed in agreement, taking a bite, then swirling her spoon about in her bowl, stirring the broth.  “It is.  But it is also a lovely tale, of love, and sacrifice.  Of what wonders may be wrought with fire and blood.”

Fire and Blood.

The raven had told her exactly that, and she let out a shaky breath, looking only at Ghost’s white head where it lay heavily upon her booted foot.  She shivered, though not from cold.  “Is that what you will have me do?  Plunge a dagger through my own heart?  Is this how you think they will be saved?”

She’d expected more morose looks, but the witch smiled.  “Not exactly.  But I daresay that, perhaps,” she paused, her eyes dancing as she looked at the enormous wolves crowded into the kitchens, “you might have some idea where we might come by such a blade.”

“I can try the armory, Melisandre, but I do not think…”  The witch stopped Daenerys with a wave of her hand.

“Is there no blade you can think of, forged in dragon fire, plunged through the heart of the one you love the most, Daenerys?”  Melisandre peered at her knowingly.  “For I think you know of just such a weapon, I think you know of a blade that has tasted your King’s blood.”

Dany’s gaze darted around the room, finding every eye upon her; She focused on what was immediately before her, studied the wooden grain in the table and began to pick at it with her thumbnail.  “I do,” she finally confirmed, her voice tinged with bitterness, “but I do not know where to find it.”

Melisandre looked to the heavy pendant that hung around Dany’s neck, standing out brightly against the pilfered gray dress she’d taken from Sansa’s room and painstakingly hemmed until it did not drag the icy ground when she walked.  She’d found boots, as well, and shoved handkerchiefs into the toes until her foot fit snugly.  “Ask the wild girl, the dark sister,” the Red Witch finally said.  “And if that does not help, use the necklace.”  Waiting a moment, Melisandre then shoved Dany’s half-eaten stew back in her direction.  “And eat, silly girl.  You need your strength.”

Daenerys blew out a harsh breath through her nostrils.  Usually, she could not wait to finish her meal and scurry off to Jon Stark’s bedchambers, her haste to be with him once more a drumbeat that pounded through her blood like her pulse.

Tonight, though, she feared she must ask questions she did not want the answers to.

----------

When she entered the dreaming, she found herself in the library, a not uncommon occurrence.  What was uncommon, however, was that she was not alone.  She was standing before long table, and each Stark was seated there, with serious, somber looks on their faces.

“We heard what the witch said, Dany.”  Arya spoke first, unblinking even as Jon rose to thread his fingers through hers, and pull her to sit besides him, not letting go of her hand even as they settled in.  “We want to help,” the girl continued, her voice trembling slightly, “but we must know everything.”

Daenerys released a shaky exhale, staring down at the folds of the subtly patterned emerald green dress that Sansa must’ve decided upon for her this night.  Jon’s hand tightened against her, and when she peeked up at him, reluctantly, he gave her an encouraging nod.  “They ought to know, Dany.  Maybe they can help us sort it all out.”

The Winter King’s dark black leathers had return, as though he meant to armor himself through the thick, heavy layers against the secrets they would both need to reveal.  She could think of no other way to explain the need for *that* dagger without Jon’s confession as to why it was so very important.

“Everything?”  She hated the weakness in her voice, the way her eyes began to fill with unshed tears, but when their eyes met again she saw it was the same for him, and squeezed his hand tightly.  At least, in this, they were together.

“Aye,” he replied, his gaze now turning to his sisters who looked at them with matching furrowed brows.  “I reckon I should go first.”  His fingers twitched, and now it was she who held on tightly, trying to reassure him with her touch as he began, haltingly, to explain.

And Dany held her tongue, as Jon recounted the story his sisters did not know, of his journey to marry that awful wildling woman, of what had happened to him on his wedding night, of the blade that had stopped his heart, but not forever.  When the source of the treachery became clear, Sansa began to cry quietly, dropping her head into her hands, shaking her head against her palms as though she could bear to hear no more.

It was Arya who reacted more strongly, who snatched the blade free from the sheath at her waist, and threw it upon the table with a loud clang, who glared at Jon with a clenched jaw.  “How could you give me this, brother?  How could you think I would ever,” she spat, “want to wield this after what was done with it?”

Despite the venom in her voice, Dany knew the girl’s ire was not directed at Jon, and even as she hissed out her question she was closing the distance, throwing herself at her brother and wrapping her slender arms tight around her brother’s neck as she, too, began to cry against his furs.  “How could she do this, Jon?”  She was heartbroken, this wild girl, there was no other name for it.  “I hate her, I hate her!”

Sansa looked up, finally, at the pair of them, despondent, her face red and flushed and wet with tears.  “Why didn’t you tell us, Jon?  Why?”

Jon gave a heavy sigh, his own eyes glassy, and slowly let go of Dany’s hand to pat Arya’s back as the girl continued to cry angrily at his shoulder.  “She was already gone, Sansa.  Just like father,” he paused, his voice breaking, “and I didn’t think either of you needed more hurt.  Not then.” 

Arya pulled back, swiping below her eyes, grief-stricken yet still full of righteous fury.  “No more secrets, Jon.  Not between us.  Any of us.”  She poked him hard and the chest, and Jon nodded, looking between both girls.

“Aye, I give you my word.  No more secrets.”

Sansa sniffed, then patted at her face with one of her lovely embroidered handkerchiefs.  “Good,” she said, her voice growing stronger, and Daenerys couldn’t help but startle when the Lady of Winterfell pinned her with a firm glare.  “What are you not telling us, Daenerys?”

Dany held her tongue for a moment, closing her eyes, hating what she must now share, but they were right; Perhaps it would be best that they knew, these girls who’d come to treat her as family.  She’d thought to spare them this pain, but they were not children.  If they wished it, then she knew she must tell them.

She jumped when thunder boomed outside the stone walls of the Keep, and when her eyes met Jon’s he was pensive, his face a mask of resigned doom.  Rain began to patter on the glass windows, and then, mindless to what his sister’s might think, he stood, picking her up easily in both arms, and seating himself again, perching her atop his lap so that she might tuck her head into the curve of his neck, just as he knew she liked most.

“I can’t,” she whispered against his skin, where only he could here.

His arms banded around her, strong and firm, and his answering whisper was meant for her alone.  “They should know.  Let them, at least, have the chance to bid you goodbye, Dany.”

She sat back enough to rest her forehead against his, her eyes cracking open and her focus on his lips, those lips that would someday kiss another, as he lived and she died.

But he was here, now, and his hands shifted to rest warmly at her back.  

“Dany?”  Arya’s questioning voice sounded behind her, and she shifted, turning to face both girls while Jon’s arms remained around her, grateful for his presence as she prepared to share this most hated truth.

“When it is time,” she said, her gaze darting between both girls in turn, “when this curse is broken, you will be free, that is true.  But there is a price that must be paid, for such mighty works as this.”

Sansa rounded the table, dropping into the seat that Dany had been occupying, her eyes wide and fearful.  “What price, Dany?”

Her answer lodged somewhere in her throat, and as she fought to give voice to the words Arya came near, standing beside Jon, her hand falling gently on Dany’s shoulder.  “Just tell us.”

Daenerys nodded.  “My life is the price, my ladies.  For you to live,” she glanced at Sansa, who grew increasingly more horrified by the second, to Arya, whose face had become a work of living fury, “I must die.”

Lightning flashed, followed quickly by another rolling wave of thunder, and Jon dropped his head to her shoulder.

This time it was Arya who began to cry, letting out a loud, angry wail, her head shaking back and forth frantically.  “NO!” 

Sansa, who seemed to have run out of tears to shed, stilled, and, as Dany twisted in Jon’s lap to look upon her more closely, her face grew hard as stone.

“No,” she echoed, “no, this I will not stand for.”  She seemed eerily calm, and Dany looked back to Jon, who was watching both sisters closely.  “No,” Sansa said again, standing and wiping her hands along her light blue skirts, and crossing to stand before them both.  “No, that is not what is going to happen.  I simply forbid it.”

Arya, for her part, had quieted quickly, her eyes on Sansa, and now that same calm seemed to envelop her as well.  “Yes, that’s right.”  She came to stand at her sister’s side, dark where the other girl was light, but both their faces carried the same, determined set, now.  “We won’t allow it.”

Jon and Dany exchanged a heavy look, and the Winter King pressed a gentle kiss to her lips before he slid Daenerys off his lap and stood as well.  “Girls,” he said, staring down at his sisters with commiseration, “we cannot stop this.  Believe me,” he sighed, attempting to look crossly at Dany where she stood pressed against him, his hand squeezing her shoulder, “I’ve been trying to talk her out of it since she got here.”

Arya’s lips went white, pressed together in a thin line as she crossed her arms over her chest and glared between the two.  “So that’s it, then?  You’ve just given up?”  The girl’s dark hair swung at her shoulders as she leaned over to snag the Catspaw dagger from the table, sheathing it firmly, her eyes narrowed and sharp on her brother.  “I have to say, Jon, I’m surprised at you.”

Sansa became a whirlwind of motion, gathering parchment and quills and inkpots from vestibules and nearby drawers and setting it all upon the tabletop.  “Sit,” she ordered Jon and Dany, and so they did, bewildered and bemused, watching as Jon’s sisters took charge.

Arya began to pace, as the rain continued to fall, and under the table Jon twined his fingers through Dany’s again.  “I haven’t given up, I’ll have you know,” he said, and his sisters spared him only the barest of notice.  “I just cannot allow myself to hope.”

“Well, then Arya and I will hope enough for all of us.”  Sansa grabbed a quill and seated herself across from the pair.  “Now, let’s begin with what we know to be true, then we shall consider the things we suspect shall come to pass.”

And for the first time since she’d arrived here, Dany allowed herself the tiniest flicker of hope, a very dangerous thing.  She began to think that maybe, just maybe, she might yet live.

----------

“Alright,” Arya called out, perched on the sill of the stone window.  “Take us through it again, Sansa.”

The Lady of Winterfell groaned, pulling the candleholder closer, the sky outside still dark with thunderclouds.  “Again?”  She dropped her quill, ceasing her scratching at the long roll of parchment where she had taken neat, copious notes.  “We’ve been through this several times already.”

Jon had moved, sitting on the floor, his back supported by a bookcase, and Dany had unceremoniously lain herself beside him, on his spread cloak, her head resting on his thigh, one of his hands idly toying with the silver strands that spread across his lap.  “Arya, what is it you’re looking for?”

“We’re missing something, I just know it.”  She hopped down, stepping towards her brother and Daenerys, her head tilted as she peered down at them.  “Is there something *else* you needed to attend to, brother?”  She began to snicker when Jon let out an aggrieved huff, and Dany had to cover her mouth to stop her own grin from betraying them.  “Well, keep your trousers on a bit longer, brother, so that perhaps we can sort this out.”

“Arya!”  Sansa’s scandalized yelp was followed quickly by Dany’s uproarious laughter, and she righted herself, sitting up and backing into the bookcase, leaning against Jon’s arm now as he gave her a grumpy frown.

“Now, listen.”  Arya crouched so that she was at eye level with Dany, ignoring her brother’s scowl.  “Jon’s friend Sam had managed to get ahold of some of that dragon glass shit he was always going on about, before the Night King came.  So,” she continued, pulling that awful dagger free and waving it before Daenerys and the Winter King, “I lent this to Jon’s Hand, Davos.  We were guarding the crypt when the curse struck, when we froze where we stood.”

Now it was Dany’s turn to frown.  “I think I remember seeing him, there.  But Arya,” she said, her eyes catching on the shining edge of the blade, “he had no weapon in his hand that I saw.”

Arya only shrugged.  “Must’ve dropped it then.  Davos wasn’t really what you might call a skilled warrior.”  She looked down, lost in remembrance.  “We were so relieved when the dead men began to shatter, and I knew Jon must’ve done it, must’ve killed the Night King.”  She nodded, thinking hard, as though she’d reached some final conclusion within.  “Yes, that’s where you ought to look.  The entryway to the crypts.”

The room fell silent, until Sansa shoved her chair back, the screech of wood on stone enough to make them all wince.  “Sorry,” she said, abashedly, coming to join her sister.  “But, Dany, may I ask you something?”

“Of course.”  She did not stir from Jon’s side, her head pressed against his shoulder as she regarded the King’s other sister.

“When you were on the ship, with the witch, and she asked if you were willing to come here, to die for us, to set us free,” Sansa’s voice trailed off and she squinted at Dany, “did she ask if you were willing to pay the blood price, or did she tell you that you would?”

Dany sat up, thinking back, her eyes flying up to clash with Jon’s dark, depthless ones as she considered.  “She asked.”  Frowning, she sighed, trying to recall exactly what it was the witch had said that fateful day.  “At least, I believe so.”

Satisfied, Sansa shifted her focus to her brother.  “And Jon, when she showed you that vision in the flames, when you saw Daenerys there,” her voice dropped, tentative, “did you actually see her die?”

Jon’s eyes slammed shut, his chest heaving with a leaden breath.  “She was consumed by the flames, stepping into a great, burning pyre, Sansa.  And no matter how much magic she may have,” he barely opened his eyes, staring at the candle on the table and not willing to meet any of their eyes as he spoke, “none can survive the flame.”

Even the rain seemed to pause in its endless lashing, the silence stealing the very air from the room as Jon finally turned his head, his gaze only for Dany, as though, for a second, it was just the two of them in all of existence.  “That’s enough for today,” he muttered, and no other instruction was needed as his sisters began to gather their things, making haste to leave the room without another word.

“We aren’t done with this, Jon,” Arya called out as the sisters filed out through the wooden doors, “not in the slightest.”  Her eyes shifted to Dany.  “We won’t lose you too, Dany.  We’ve lost enough.”

Daenerys just nodded, speechless, until both Stark girls had gone, risking a glance at Jon to find him shaking his head bemusedly and chuckling.  “Oh, pray tell, *Your Grace*,” Dany said, looking askance at the King, “what is possibly amusing about all of this?”  She waved her hands about wildly, so many emotions warring inside her that she feared she might break, under the slightest push.

“I think that went rather well,” he said, reaching his arm around her shoulders to trace a hand along her shoulder.  “All things considered.”  When she did nothing but glower at him, he leaned in, the tip of his nose just brushing against hers.  “I suppose I’m just relieved.  I’ve carried that secret for so long.”

Dany nodded in agreement, finally understanding, also realizing that for as much as she loathed the wild goose chase these women had entangled themselves in now, it was a burden off her shoulders that they knew the fate that awaited her, even as they sought a way around it.  She raised a hand, tracing her fingers along the leather at his chest, smiling and leaning back slightly, studying him with considering eyes.

“I don’t suppose they shall be dissuaded from this.”  Jon shook his head at her question, teeth sneaking out to gnaw at his lower lip.  He shifted his body so that they faced each other, eye to eye and chest to chest where they still sprawled before one bookcase laden wall.  He cupped her cheek sweetly before letting his fingertips trail down her neck, coming lower still to dance along her collarbone.

“My sisters,” he finally said, his eyes dark and wild, “still believe the Old Gods will heed their prayers.”

Daenerys raised her fingers to the buckle that held his gambeson closed, well-practiced by now at flicking them open, the two of them having embarked on several competitions as to who might undress the other first.  He usually won, of course, because he was a rotten cheater who wore too many layers, but that was a discussion for another time.

“And you think the same?”  She inched closer, releasing both his shoulders and helping him remove the garment, her fingers dropping to tickle at his sides as she tucked them into the waist of his trousers.

“No,” he answered plainly.  “The Old Gods enjoy my suffering above all others.  And when you are gone, they shall surely have their fill.”  He shuddered, dropping his head to her shoulder, his lips tracing the line where the neck of her dress met bare skin, even as his hands snuck behind her back to unlace her and set her free.  “When you are gone, there shall be nothing left of me but misery.”

She would not cry.  She could feel him tensing, as well, forcing his own torment back, beating it into submission so that he would not sour the time that remained to them with this beautiful agony.  It was just as unbearable to her, to know that every touch, every taste, every moment spent in each other’s arms would make the loss that was to come a thousand times harder for him to bear.

But they would be brave, now, despite their fears, together, and she forced a vixen’s smile onto her face, even as her hands shook.  “Now that we find ourselves alone,” she whispered, raising her brows at him invitingly as she tugged at his trousers, “whatever shall we do?”

“I was thinking we ought to start with page four,” he said, raising his head, his hunger returned, his eyes ravenous for her as he worked her bodice loose, the delicate shift beneath so thin he could surely see the way her breasts strained against the fabric, her nipples already hard and begging for his touch, only his.  Always his.

Page four always made her blush, no matter how often he performed it, as it was only ever him who had done such to her, brought her to her peak with his mouth between her thighs, his tongue proving itself a master of diplomacy when allied with her aching center.  Just the thought of page four had her growing ever wetter, longing building and heating low inside, making her feel languid and liquid and wanton with the things they would still do.

“You do have remarkably good ideas,” she began, standing to slip free of her gown, leaving it in a heap at her feet as she held out a hand to him and helped him up as well, allowing a generous few seconds of her palm against his before she was unlacing his trousers and sliding them down his thighs, nipping at his bared thigh as she straightened, savoring his groan.  “But I thought we ought to start with page six.”

She traced a finger along his length, where his cock stood erect and pressing insistently at his small clothes, and then he was near ripping them off, and shedding his tunic before hooking both fingers in the straps of her shift and pulling her close, so that their fronts were sealed together.  “And I suppose you want to go first,” he uttered, kissing her hotly before she could respond, the tip of his tongue slipping between her plump lips to tangle with hers before he forced himself back, nipping at her bottom lip and then gazing at her, awaiting her answer.

Page six involved something that still made him blush a bit as well, for he had confessed that the act was not one done by ‘proper’ ladies of Westeros, instead the sort of thing a man would seek out at a brothel.  That he never had, before her, that she was the only to have pleasured him in this manner, his cock in her mouth until his spent himself, their gazes locked until his entire face would contort and twist so magically, lost in his release, made her proudly possessive of him.

In this, she would always have had him first, he would always remember her, no matter who might do this for him in the life he would live without her.

And so, as in all things, she sought to be the best, as well, and she shoved him down rather roughly into the seat she had abandoned at the table in his library, letting his eyes roam heatedly over her as she stood between his spread thighs, slowly drawing down the straps of her shift, teasing him as she painstakingly stripped herself, even as he took himself in hand to watch her, fisting himself loosely.  His breath escaped in a loud hiss through clenched teeth as she let the fabric fall from her hips, watching as the King of Winterfell eyed her as though she were his final meal, one he intended to savor.

Stepping closer, she caught his wrist with her hand, stopping his lazy stroking and bringing his hand to her lips, drawing one finger into her mouth and sucking at it lightly as he shifted in the chair, near enough now for his cock to press against her soft thigh.  He raised his free hand to cup at her arse, moaning and arching into his touch when he squeezed roughly.

She moaned again around the digit, letting it slip free from her lips as she dropped to her knees, no gray at all in his eyes now, just endless onyx depths, the only sound his panting breaths and the rain that hammered against the windows.  “I do so enjoy getting my way, Jon Stark.”

“Well,” he drawled, his hands falling to her breasts and cupping, his thumbs swiping across the stiff, pink peaks of her nipples, his mouth falling open as he watched her twist and push herself more fully into his palms, chasing the sensation he so easily coaxed forth from her, “it would be rude of me to deny you.”  She grinned, even as her hips twisted, searching in vain for the touch she also craved, knowing he would provide that soon enough.

“So magnanimous,” she breathed out, letting her lips fall to the skin just below his navel, her tongue snaking out to lick and tease, silver curls streaming over her shoulder and slipping against his cock as she let her cheek slide against his hot, rigid length.  When her questing mouth traveled down the line of hair that led to the root of his cock, his hips thrust up, just a gentle roll, but enough to hint at where he wanted her mouth next.  Still, she denied him, just for a moment, looking up at him demurely through her lashes even as she dropped her head, her tongue now dancing along one of his stones, until he could not bear it anymore and his head fell back and his thighs tensed on either side of her.

She hummed against him, taking his other stone in her mouth, now, suckling gently as she traced the shape of him with the tip of her tongue, her hand finally rising to curl loosely around his near-throbbing cock.  She could feel his length pulse, ever so slightly, with each pounding heartbeat, and then suddenly his head dropped forward, his midnight eyes hooded and heavy and watching her with something akin to awe.  “Dany,” he groaned, “please.”

Daenerys granted him the mercy he sought, releasing him and flattening her tongue against the base of his cock to slide it slowly up to the tip, taking just the fat, rounded head of him into the wet cavern of her mouth as he dropped his hands to grab at the wooden seat of the chair, his knuckles white as he stared down at her still.  “Fuck,” he growled, his hips rolling against as she leaned forward to repeat the motion, over and over until he was slick with her saliva, and she tightened her hand, beginning to stroke as she bobbed her head, taking him ever deeper, her lips sealing against her fingers.

“Dany,” he moaned, his jaw tight, his hips rising just barely with each dip of her head, “don’t stop, that’s it.”  He was much more vocal than she had thought he’d be, but then again, they were learning many of these things together, though neither had been completely green when they’d first joined themselves, and he was most pleasingly free with his praise when he enjoyed her tender ministrations.

Releasing him with an audible pop, she stroked him, keeping her pace, fisting him a bit more tightly and staring at him boldly as she bent to mouth at his stones once more, and he cried out mindlessly, full words escaping him as she licked and sucked each on turned, minding what made him growl deep in his chest, the swirl of her tongue against the tightening skin coaxing one of his hands free to rest at the base of her neck, and finally prompting him to thrust with abandon into her hand.  “Oh, yes, Dany,” he chanted, “just like that.”

Here was a King, mindless and nearing the end of his control, his focus narrowed to nothing but her mouth and hands upon him, and she could not deny there was a heady, addictive quality to the power she had over him in this moment.  She raised her head, their gazes still locked, something ferocious and feline rising within her own chest as she bit her lip teasingly, her free hand replacing her mouth at his stones and her fingers teasing as she kept stroking ardently.

“Are you close, my sweet Jon?”  He nodded frantically at the question, his own teeth now grasping his lower lip near hard enough to draw blood, if he were able to be bled in this place.  She moaned with want, her lips hovering just above the head of his cock, letting her breath puff out, hot and humid, just shy of where he wanted to be.  “Good,” she said, licking lasciviously at his tip as he watched, glorying in the way his breath faltered at the sight, “I want to taste you.”

He made a pained, tortured sound, the hand at her neck tightening, not hard enough to force her, but enough to beg her to have mercy on him.  And she complied, having learned him well now, knowing that slight grimacing twist of his lips in response to her words, his teeth now bared as he fought for control, meant he was ready to give in, to submit to her request.  She swallowed him down, her lips stretched wide as she tried to take as much as she could, humming along his length as her hand chased her mouth and sucking with just enough pressure to make him shudder and moan incoherently.

Jon’s hand gripped the back of her neck tightly now, and she kept her pace, swallowing as he spent himself on her tongue, her hand sliding to his thigh to smooth soothingly along the muscled expanse as he calmed, her mouth easing away as he gazed at her, dazed and glassy eyed.

“Have you had your fun?”  His chest was still heaving as he relaxed his hand, and she smiled primly as she stood, pretending to consider his question and wrapping her arms around his neck, giggling when he pressed head between her breasts and kissed her there before he gazed up at her, his chin propped against her skin, his hand lowering to palm her hips and hold her tight to him.

“Almost.”  She cocked her head at him, then glanced back over her shoulder to the table.  “Though,” she said, turning and leaving him bereft, to saunter over and hop up onto the wooden surface, her legs crossed chastely, “I was promised page four, if I recall.”  She crooked her finger at him invitingly, a smile dancing at her lips, and he stalked toward her like a predator, like a beast.

The Winter King came close, his large hands falling to her knees and pulling them apart, nudging at her to scoot farther back as he surveyed her as though she were a thing to be studied and explored.  That was the truth of it, she thought, they were each, unto themselves, a foreign land, and they conquered each other over and over again with each foray into unchartered territory.

His mouth dropped to tease at one nipple, and she didn’t bother to hide her excited whine, already knowing he would make short work of her, please her again and again until she had to beg him inside her, and she surrendered quickly, laying back completely and threading her fingers in his hair as he licked and sucked first one sensitive peak and then the other between his lips.

“Page four,” he whispered against the curve of her breast, “and then I think page fifty-one.”  His lips continued their southern journey, and she arched away from the table, moaning when he dipped a tongue into her navel, twisting against his hands fitfully when both came to rest at her hips, holding her there, anchoring her to the table.

He leaned down, shouldering both her legs up, kissing wetly at one calf and then giving her a wicked, carnal smile.  “Yes,” she said, nodding quickly, “please, Jon.”

Jon released her hips gently, the tips of his fingers trailing over her hip bones and sliding along the crease of her thighs where they joined her body, ever closer to where she was soaked and wanting, the fire within her raging at his teasing touch.  “Look how ready you are,” he whispered, always so surprised, though he had little reason to be anymore.  She always wanted him, and in her dreams there was no shame in showing him exactly how much, and she rolled her hips lewdly towards his lips though he held back slightly, clearly intending to torture her as she had him.

“Now, now,” he tutted, his black eyes searing into her as he stared at her, so that he might bear witness to each wave of pleasure as it washed across her face, “patience, Dany.”  She braced herself upon her elbows, giving him a mock glare even as her hips circled again.

“Jon,” she urged, “I want your tongue.”  He flashed her a satisfied smile and complied eagerly, the tongue she so desired spearing between her slick folds, and together voiced their pleasure, Dany’s head lolling back as she cried out weakly, Jon letting out an excited hum as he licked his way from her center to the small bud that practically begged for his teasing torment.  Her cry became a plaintive wail as he wasted no time, clearly noticing exactly how eager she was for him, his lips sealing around her clit and his tongue flicking and circling in just the way he’d learned she liked best.

“Finally,” she moaned, her stomach tightening as he settled in, one of his rough palms sliding up to pinch and twist and play at her breast while the other barely dipped into her weeping entrance, gathering her desire and sliding his slippery fingers inside her, one at a time, finding all those places that he’d claimed as his own, this territory now intimately well-known to him.

And when his eyes clashed with hers once more, and she raised her own hand to tease at her other breast, he let out such a needy growl against her tender flesh that she keened and had to look away; Her eyes slammed shut as he sealed his mouth against her, now, his tongue laving her and keeping her moaning and twisting up and against him as his fingers fucked her more forcefully.

It was coming closer, the release he would force out of her, more quickly than she’d anticipated, his cheeks and her thighs now damp with her pleasure as he worked her with intent, and it was all she could manage to grab at his head with both hands, as tightly as she could, holding him there and grinding shamelessly against him as she cried out his name, along with a string of curses that made his lips curve upward against her, and he did not relent until she was clenching and milking his fingers within her tight walls, her voice breaking as thumber rumbled outside the stone walls and lighting painted the sky.

And when the final waves of her release began to abate, when he pulled away to press small kisses to her thighs, and hips, and anywhere he could reach, when he made his way up her body to smile at her crookedly, she knew she’d never loved anymore more, not like this.

She understood what he’d meant, about the way she’d looked at him, in his vision of her, claimed by the flames.  For sure was certain no one had ever looked at her as he did, with such innocence and love mingled with unabating want, and she hoped, with everything inside her, that his sisters might be right.

----------

When she awoke, it was to find Melisandre seated by the bedside, a look of perilous doom etched across her normally serene face.

“It shall be upon us soon, Daenerys.  I have seen it in the flames.”  She reached out and took Dany’s hand, fishing it out from the heap of furs on Jon Stark’s bed, holding it tightly.  “When the third moon ends, it will be time.”

That left a fortnight, and just barely.  A fortnight to spend with the Starks, before she would perish for them.  “No, surely not.”  Panic rose, hot and bitter on her tongue, and she thought she might be sick.  “Not yet, please, it’s not enough.”  She fought back a sob.  “I need more time!”

She saw the flash of pity in the woman’s eyes, though she hated it, knew exactly what it meant.  “I’m sorry, Daenerys, truly.  But we must prepare.”

The witch said no more, just silently strode from the room as though she had not just brought Dany’s world crashing down around her.

The Last Valyrian put her head in her hands, and cried.

Chapter Text

Daenerys donned her white winter coat, her oats sitting leaden in her stomach after Melisandre had insisted, as ever, that she must eat, that she needed to be *ready*.  She’d eaten a sparse few mouthfuls, unable to manage more.

She was consumed with melancholy, and could not fathom what strength her body would need here, so close to the end, to die.

She spared Ghost a look, as he watched her keenly, and gave one last caress to the eggs that sat, still, undisturbed by the hearth in the Winter King’s bedchambers.  In her mind they cried out to her, as she had told Jon not so long ago, the echo of their screeching cries another impossibility.  They were stone.  They would stay stone.

“Well,” she said, meeting Ghost’s red eyes, “I suppose we have a dagger to find.”

Together, she and the white wolf traversed the corridors lined with dead, the sight no longer inspiring fear and sadness in her heart.  Now, they were becoming old friends, acquaintances here in the land of the dead, in this graveyard of the North, and in a strange, morbid sense she felt less alone.

They were her reminders, that was it, she thought.  They were the constant proof that her sacrifice would be worthy, each one who had once lived, and would live again.

But by the time she and Ghost had reached the entrance to the crypts, just as Arya had suggested, something odd was happening to her.

She was sweating.

The air was still frigid and biting, of that she had no doubt.  She’d taken to keeping her long silver hair in a thick plait down her back, any other style leaving her face lashed with strands of it in the icy winds, the moment she stepped out of doors.

But today, to her surprise, her skin was growing damp beneath her layers, and finally she could take it no more, a trickle of it sliding down her spine as she looked between Arya Stark’s frozen form and the man she’d called Davos, the Hand of the King.  This was the man she’d seen in Bloodraven’s vision, she was sure of it, the one who’d gone off to fetch a block.  They stood, together, just under the eaves before the double doors that led to the resting place of the dead Starks who had come before.

Poor Davos’s hands were empty, and she gave an aggrieved huff, her breath a cloud in the endless night air.  “Of course,” she muttered, and she looked about for somewhere to lay the furred coat she stripped off, a relieved exhale escaping as the crisp air caressed the folds of the pilfered tunic that lay beneath.

Sansa’s gowns had proven time-consuming to tailor, save for the one she’d managed with Leaf’s help, and today she’d taken on of Jon’s tunics and a pair of his woolen trousers, rolling up the legs where they swallowed her booted feet and using a piece of rope she’d found in the abandoned stables to fashion a makeshift belt.

She didn’t suppose he’d mind.

And, if she were being perfectly honest with herself, it was a way to keep *him* close to her, though his wolf was never far away.  Ghost cut his eyes at her then, seeing she’d shed her outerwear, and tipped his head to the side questioningly.

“It’s unbearably hot today, Ghost.”  He chuffed, still staring.  “Don’t look at me like that, I can’t explain it either.”  She folded her furs over Arya’s arm.  “If it’s not too much trouble,” she said to Arya, dipping her chin courteously at the youngest Stark who remained as silent as she had before.

Dany lowered gloved fingers to the snow at the icy man’s feet, scooping away great handfuls but to little avail, as the snow falling thick around her seemed to fill it in just as quickly as she made the barest dent in the drifts that had gathered near the doors.  Exasperated, she glanced up, to see Ghost had approached, and he none-too-gently nudged her aside with his head, large paws beginning to dig frantically where she had been, and she watched with slight amusement as her helper set to work.

He did not cease until a strange sound filled the air, sharp nails clicking and sliding against what sounded like stone, and the wolf drew back panting with exertion as she rejoined him, dropping to her hands and knees to see what had stopped him.  She pulled off her gloves, and he shifted aside to use his large body to block the snow that blew in, though it began to lighten, thankfully enough.

Ice.  A thick sheet of it, nearly a foot thick, if she had to guess, and there, glinting dully, barely visible in the light of her lantern, was that dread blade that she sought.  For a split second she felt a shameful glimmer of relief, that she would not have to hold it in her hand, but it flew away quickly as she gazed down at it, the knowledge that it was necessary, that she must have it, making a dull headache begin behind her temples.

Then, she felt it.

Under Jon Stark’s tunic, where she’d tucked her nameday gift from Melisandre, there came a queer warmth, that seemed to beat and pulse like a heart.  The wolf seemed to sense it to, his head cocking as though he were listening, his eyes locked onto Dany’s hand when she pulled at the chain and drew the glittering ruby out.

It will help you find what you seek.

That was what the witch had told her, wasn’t it, when she fastened the necklace around Dany’s neck?  She looked at Ghost, who drew back, as though he sensed the magic at work now, a magic that was not of this place of ice and snow at all.

Daenerys swallowed, letting the stone hang free, staring once more at the dagger that lay entombed in the thick ice.  That rhythmic throbbing was no random pattern, not at all, but began to keep time with the beating of her heart that began to pound.

It was hard to know if she ought to fear this hot pulse that began to swirl and rise within her, the locus of which seemed to be just below her breastbone, where the ruby now lay.  She was afraid, she realized, at least a bit, but Jon Stark had spoken to her truly when he’d told her of his father’s words.  She must take her fear and fashion it into bravery, for she was at the end of things now, and she must not let such weakness cripple her, not so near to her goal.

Her palms, she noticed, began to itch, then burn, but when she held them up before her face, they looked no different than they always looked.

There was a creeping thought that grew ever larger, more insistent with each moment that passed.  She glanced from her palms to the ice, the ruby at her neck now hot as a forge fire, even through the thin fabric of her borrowed shirt.  She spared a breathless look down to ensure it was not burning a hole in the material, and it wasn’t, just winking at her smartly in the lantern light.

Her palms now felt unbearably hot, and it seemed a grand idea, just then, to lay them against that ice, to relieve the burning in her flesh, and so, with one last unsure glance at Jon’s wolf, she did.

It was harder to say which of them was most surprised, lady or wolf, when the ice beneath her fingers began to melt away, as easily as a hot knife slicing through butter, water streaming and the air steaming where her palms pressed against it, as Dany gave and audible gasp and Ghost let out a loud yelp and jumped back as though frightened.

“Fucking hells,” she breathed out, chasing the utterance with a small laugh when she realized perhaps the Winter King was rubbing off on her, for that seemed to be one of his most favorite phrases, useful in any number of situations.

Ghost, somewhat calmer and creeping forward in slow, measured steps, finally entered the circle of light cast by her lantern and sniffed at the air, as though he could scent the magic that seemed to flow from somewhere deep within her and out through her fingers, though she could see his was still extremely wary.

“Don’t be afraid,” Dany whispered, offering the wolf a tremulous smile, her hands shaking even as they pressed, ever harder, into the ice below.  She began to feel exhausted, her limbs trembling as she crouched, icy water beginning to seep into the hem of the trousers she wore, but she could not stop, of this she was certain.

Finally, several minutes later, the dagger was free, the ice cracked around it as she grasped the handle and pulled, collapsing back onto her arse, exhilarated though she felt her last remaining strength begin to flee, and she realized with chagrin that perhaps she ought to have heeded the witch’s advice after all.

Dany lay back, mindless to the cold snow that crunched under her back and fell upon her face, and let out a giddy, amazed laugh.  “I did it, Ghost, did you see?”  She pushed herself back up, wearily, and rolled her head to where Ghost stood in silent perusal of her.  She raised the dagger, her hand shaking all the while.  “We found it, boy.”

With a groan, she rose to her hands and knees, her eyes on Arya’s lifeless form, and she gritted her teeth, forcing herself to her feet, swaying and weaving as she retrieved her coat, her skin now chilled and growing colder in the winter air, the fire inside her now extinguished.

Her teeth began to chatter, and just as she thought her knees would give out and send her tumbling back into the snow, Ghost was there, his solid warmth pressed against her, and she threw an arm around his neck.  “I think I shall need your assistance, Ghost.”

It wasn’t terribly far, back to the main part of the Keep, at least to the kitchens, where she might find a meal to sooth the now ravenous growling of her stomach.  But she could tell with the way her limbs now ached that she would be hard-pressed to make it on her own.

The white direwolf looked back at her, over his shoulder, as though he were considering their predicament as well, and with a put-upon groan, he crouched down low, on all four paws, and waited.

When Dany realized what he intended, she found herself reluctant.  This was a direwolf, Jon’s wolf, the Wolf of the Winter King, one of the ancient guardians of the Old Gods to hear Leaf tell of it.  He was no cart mule to lug her weary bones around.

“Surely not, Ghost.”  She pressed her face into his fur, bracing her hands on his back to force herself to stand again under her own steam.  “That would not be proper.”

Ghost let out a low growl and tossed his head wildly, as though he would hear no argument from her, and leveled her with a hard, red stare until she finally climbed atop his broad back as best she could.  He was no horse, and so there was no saddle, no horn to grip to keep herself steady; She grabbed where she could with her free hand, clutching one fist into the thick fur at his neck, her precious cargo clenched in her other first tightly.

He stood, gingerly, and she wobbled, neither of them used to such accommodations, and he began to lope easily for the kitchens, Dany hanging on, her head spinning, under the dark and endless night.

---------

Daenerys forced open the door and stepped into the darkened room, unsurprised to see Melisandre calmly sitting before the only light to be found in the space, in a chair before the blazing hearth.

“Come, Daughter of Fire, and warm yourself.”  The witch did not even look up, absorbed with whatever it was she saw inside the dancing flames, even when Dany dropped exhaustedly into the chair that had been placed beside the other woman’s.

Finally, the Red Witch turned her head to gaze at Daenerys, looking inordinately pleased when she spied the dagger Dany still held in her hand, unwilling to release her quarry now that she had obtained it.  “Well done, Daenerys.”  Her shifting eyes examined the Valyrian and her brow wrinkled.  “A bit tired now, are we?”

“You knew.”  Dany reached up to clutch at the ruby around her neck, holding it up before the flickering flames.  “You gave me this because you knew I would need it, to get the dagger.”

Melisandre’s faced smoothed, expressionless, but there was a twinkle in her eye that Dany found exceedingly aggravating.  “I guessed, child.  There is a difference.”

Dany just stared at the woman, her chin jutting out mulishly as her head swam with all that this witch might still be holding back, to be later addressed as *guesses*.  “Just how old are you, witch?”

Melisandre turned fully to face her, her face cast into two now, one half in dark shadow, the other painted red and gold by the firelight.  She raised a brow.  “An impertinent question.”  When Daenerys only narrowed her eyes in response, the witch sighed.  “Far older than you can comprehend, Daenerys.”

With a sudden flurry of motion, Melisandre leaned forward, grasping the thin gold chain around Dany’s neck and yanking hard.  The chain gave easily, and as Daenerys gaped at her, confused, the woman wrapped the length of chain around the stone and tucked it away inside her scarlet robes.  “You are done with this gift, I think.”  The witch’s eyes returned to flames.  “It has served its purpose.”

“And I will be discarded just as easily, won’t I?”  Anger was rising in Dany’s voice, her chest tightening, squeezed like a vice.  “Once my purpose is served.”

That got Melisandre’s attention, and her head swung around once more, her stare stony and unflinching.  “And if you were?  Would it change your desire to save these people?  All these people?  Millions of people?”  The witch’s eyes narrowed.  “Perhaps I have misjudged you.”

Daenerys felt her cheeks redden, slightly ashamed, but still frustrated.  “No,” she finally huffed out, “I would still see them saved, all of them.”  She gazed down at the dagger in her hand, resting in her lap, before turning her eyes to the witch, who sat frowning at her.  “But I cannot help feeling you are keeping things from me, still.” 

The witch’s face softened, slightly, and now she looked down at her skirts, picking at the fabric.  “That is fair.  I am keeping things from you.”  Dany’s mouth fell open, and she supposed it was due in large part to the fact that she hadn’t imagined Melisandre would choose now, of all times, to be forthright with her.

“You’re a clever girl, Daenerys,” the witch let out a sigh, “but I am afraid I must ask that you have precisely that which drove you to accompany me in the first place, that which led you to board a ship bound for a destination you did not know.”  There was a plea in the woman’s voice, buried deep, but Dany could hear it in every word.

“And what is that?”  At her question, the witch leaned closer, her red hair blending almost seamlessly with her robes.

“Faith, Daenerys.”  The witch’s whisper smoothed and slid against Dany’s ear.  “You must try to cling to it, just for a bit longer.”  Melisandre grabbed her free hand, and squeezed it tightly.  “Please.  I swear to you, when it is time, you will know everything.  We’re so close, Daenerys, so close now.”  The woman slid from her sit, falling to her knees before Dany’s chair, one slim, pale hand rising to sweep the errant silver strands of hair back from her cheek.  “Have faith in yourself, that you can do this thing that is asked.  Have faith that all will work out as it should.”

What was left to her, then, but to nod in agreement, despite her own misgivings.  It was true, what this witch said; She had begun this journey for many reasons, but one in particular – the overriding notion that this place, these people, this cursed land was her destiny.

Satisfied at her silent assent, Melisandre stood, looking down at her sternly.  “Now, girl, you must eat.  I told you, did I not, that you would need your…”

Daenerys cut her off, rolling her eyes and glancing at Ghost, who looked on as ever from the shadowed corner of the room.  “Yes, I know, I need my strength.  So you have said.  Many times over, in fact.”

The witch nodded curtly and began to prepare lunch for the two, handing Daenerys several pieces of dried meat and a tumbler of water to graze on while she waited.  “Now that you have seen the toll such magic takes on the body, Daenerys, you will take my warnings more seriously.”

Dany said nothing, closing her eyes and letting the heat from the hearth soak into her bones, until a rustling caused her to crack open her eyelids.  There was Ghost, coming closer, looking up at her dolefully as she took another bite of meat.  Smiling, Dany tossed the last of the strip of dried elk to Ghost, who caught it and began to gnaw on it with fervor.

“The beasts begin to hunger again.”  Melisandre’s intonation gave her a start, but she settled back, becoming used to the odd statements the witch liked to make.  “That is promising.  Things are changing, becoming ready.  The magic is gathering and building.”

Daenerys thought back to the way she’d freed the dagger, to the strangeness of how it had felt, the pressure in her ears and the burning in her palms, the way her head had ached and throbbed as the ice had melted beneath her hands.  “Melisandre,” she called out, not needing to see the witch to know she was listening, “was it the necklace, earlier?”  There was only silence.  It might be that the woman knew that wasn’t the entirety of her question.  “Or was it me?”

There was nothing then but the crackling of the hearth and the clanging of the metal pot Melisandre stirred, coupled with the sound of Ghost smacking away on the elk she’d given him and then giving her an open-mouthed pant that she’d come to fancy was his way of smiling at her in thanks.

“Let us say that it was both, Dragon Queen.  The stone could only help you find what you seek, encourage you to use the magic that already wells inside of you.  That was the nature of the enchantment I laid upon it, of course.”  Daenerys took a deep drink of her tumbler before turning in her seat to look askance at Melisandre, who focused on her preparations, even as she spoke.  “But within you lies the last living flame, Daenerys.  You took it, willingly.  Don’t you remember?”

And she did remember; She remembered grasping that dying ember from the air aboard the ship bound for Westeros, she remembered feeling as though she were burning alive.

“You are the last of your kind, Daenerys.  And you shall do impossible things.  It is R’hllor’s will.”  There was a pause, and then the witch was staring at her intently.  “And yours as well.  Always your will Daenerys, always your choice.  Do not forget that.”

She wrinkled her nose at Dany and pursed her lips, in a way that had always rubbed the Valyrian as entirely too condescending, but this day it didn’t bother her quite as much as it usually did.  On this day, her stupid, reckless hope, deeply rooted in folly and her own selfish wishes, was in dire need of being indulged, before they were inevitably dashed against the frozen rocks and limitless snows of the Lands of Always Winter.

----------

That night, when she dreamed, of a place where the sun still shone in the sky, she found herself inside a lush, warm garden.  This was a place she had not yet seen, the air warm and humid, all manner of green things growing and blooming and blossoming everywhere she looked.  As she looked directly up, to the blue skies above, she realized there was a ceiling of sorts, made of glass, and her eyes traced the lines of the panes, ascertaining that the whole place, this lush garden, was encased within glass walls as well.

“Welcome to the Glass Gardens, Dany.”  Sansa walked out from behind a tree, wearing a lovely lightweight gown of cream, smiling broadly and extending her hands to clasp Daenerys’s when she was close enough to reach.  “Aren’t they wonderful?”

The Lady’s smile was infectious, and Daenerys couldn’t help but grin in return, her eyes wandering to take in the paradise she’d awoken to.  “It’s lovely, Sansa.  Just wonderful.”  And it was, green grass underfoot, the smell of soil and flowers surrounding her, but still she glanced about, wondering where the King might be.

“He’s waiting, with Arya,” Sansa supplied, seeming to know all to well what it was Dany sought, and she smirked as she looped her arm through Dany’s and began to escort her farther into the gardens.  “Do you like your gown?”

Dany looked down, seeing it was another familiar design, more casual that the dress Sansa had crafted for her nameday, this one a cerulean blue that reminded her of the seas of her homeland, that draped over one shoulder and gathered at the waist before flowing loosely to the ground, completed with leather sandals that strapped around her ankles.  “Oh, Sansa,” she exclaimed, meeting the girl’s excited eyes, “it’s exactly right.  It’s perfect.”

Sansa gave a happy sigh, leading Dany into an orchard, in which all manner of fruit trees grew, to a cluster of benches under several lemon trees, the scent filling her with nostalgia.  It smelled like home, and she was filled with warmth, both at the smell and the sight of the Winter King and Arya who sat, clearly awaiting their arrival.

Jon was on his feet before they reached the benches, and Sansa gave a quiet snort when he grabbed Dany’s free hand in his own, tugging her into his side and away from his sister.  “Finally,” he breathed against her hair, which was only loosely gathered away from her face and flowing in silver curls down her back, “they’ve been driving me absolutely mad.”

Arya hopped up, assessing Dany with a slight twist of her lips.  “You did magic today, Dany.  Out there.”  The slim girl looked up at her, excitedly.  “How did it feel?”

“Exhausting,” Daenerys replied, her skin prickling at the weight of Jon’s stare, glancing up to find him staring down at her with concern.  “I’m fine,” she whispered, leaning up to kiss his cheek, ignoring the retching sounds Arya playfully made as Jon gave her a heated look.

He swung his head around to scowl at his sister, as he pulled Dany towards the bench, waiting until she’d situated herself on the seat before sitting himself, his arm sliding around her shoulders to bring her flush against his side.  “Oh, fuck off, Arya.”

“You really make it too easy, Jon.”  The younger girl shrugged nonchalantly, exchanging a look with Sansa before perching herself up along the back of the bench opposite them, her boots tapping on the seat.  Sansa finally joined her sister, frowning at Arya slightly before seating herself primly, arranging her skirts and clasping her hands together in her lap.

“Now,” Sansa began, “I’ve been thinking.”  Arya let her head drop to her chest, pretending to snore, only to yelp when her sister gave her a hard shove that sent her tumbling over the back of the bench and landing arse-first on the grass below.  “Save your cheek for another time, sister,” Sansa continued smoothly, and Dany felt Jon’s chest shake where it pressed against her in silent laughter.

Sansa focused her gaze on Dany, ignoring Arya’s sputtering as she righted herself and resumed her perch while glaring at her sister.  “That vision you showed us, in the pool, do you remember?”

Of course, she remembered; it was a scene that haunted her, the death of so many, save for herself.  She nodded, feeling the silent support of Jon’s hand at her shoulder as his thumb began to stroke.  “It’s hard to forget.”

The Lady of Winterfell grimaced, apology clear on her face, but pressed on.  “And you said Bloodraven told you that our freedom would require fire and blood.”  Again, Dany nodded.  “And the dagger, you must use the dagger as well, that was what the Red Witch explained?”  Daenerys nodded once more, her eyes narrowing as she tried to sort out where Sansa was heading with all this.

“Right,” Sansa said, nodding now as well, rather smartly, as she looked between all three.  “And what was it you said, about the price that must be paid to save us?  It was specific.”

Dany leaned her head against Jon’s shoulder, resigned.  “Only death can pay for life.  An old Valyrian expression.”  She released a heavy breath.  “And I do not think there is any way around that particular cost, Sansa.”

“That’s just it, don’t you see?”  Sansa was animated now, her hands gesturing wildly as she stood and began to pace.  “It’s already been paid!  At least,” she cautioned, “that is my speculation.”

Dany sat up straighter, feeling Jon do the same as his black leathers creaked with the motion.  “What do you mean?”

Sansa stopped suddenly, wheeling around to look anxiously between Jon and Dany.  “All of Valyria is gone.  Why?  To what end?  It cannot be mere chance.  I believe,” the redhead continued breathlessly, “that it was Valyria itself that paid the blood price, so that Westeros might live again.”  Dany began to shake her head in disagreement, but Sansa would not be dissuaded.  “No, listen, Dany.  That ember, what did the witch call it?”

“The Last Living Flame,” Dany whispered, not missing the way Jon tensed beside her.

Sansa nodded, almost frantic.  “Fire,” she stated, “and it is inside you now, Dany.  It is the magic that runs in your veins.  It’s what let you free that dagger today.  It’s in your blood, now.”

“Yes,” Jon agreed bitterly, the muscle in his tensed jaw ticking away, “and these lands are hungry for blood, Sansa.  They will bleed her dry.  The Old Gods are not kind, I don’t know how many times I must make that clear.”

Sansa crossed her arms over her chest, pinning her brother with a forceful scowl.  “Have you considered it might not be up to them?”  Jon glared back, blowing out a breath through his nose, his lips pressed tight as thought he were forcing himself not to argue with the girl standing before him.  Dany let her hand sneak up to join with his where it still lay on her left shoulder, nudging in closer with her right to rest her head against his chest, willing him to relax a bit.  They’d surely not come any closer to solving this puzzle if they warred amongst themselves.

“She’s right, Jon.”  Finally, Arya spoke up, dipping her chin in Sansa’s direction.  “Didn’t the witch say that the Old Gods had made this mess, and you were here to clean it up?”

Dany licked her lips nervously.  “Something along those lines, yes.”  She tilted her chin to peer up at Jon, his profile still tense as he shifted his focus to Arya.  “And that they had been careless with your brother.”

Arya climbed down, advancing on them to stand at Sansa’s shoulder.  “She’s right.  It was their magic that made the Night King, their magic that cursed these lands.  Maybe it’s been a different sort of magic that’s been needed the whole time.  Fire,” Arya ended her address with a whisper, looking meaningfully at Dany.  “Dragons.”

Now it was Dany who tensed.  “Sansa, Arya, you must understand.”  She glanced again at Jon, who looked back at her morosely, his fingers tightening against hers.  “Those eggs that I brought, they are petrified, they are stone.”

Arya’s face fell, but Sansa would not be denied, shaking her head vehemently.  “I read once that dragons are fire made flesh, Daenerys.  And House Targaryen was the first to hatch them.  How do you know those first eggs were not stone as well?”

Dany’s mouth opened and closed several times, before she finally just shook her head.  This question she had no answer to.  “I…,” she stuttered, “I suppose I don’t.”  She only wished she could share in the girl’s optimism.  But while such hope helped to calm her heart while she was awake, it was almost unbearable here, suffocating, to see how deeply they wished for her to stay, to know how much she wished for the same.  Because right behind that hope was the knowledge how quickly that hope would turn to grief if she did not survive.

Perhaps the Stark girls could bear it.

Their brother, however…she was not certain she could say the same for him.

Finally, she gave a grudging nod, a jerky, halting motion, forcing a vague smile to her lips.  “Perhaps you are right, Sansa.”

Maybe it was that Jon heard the sorrow just under her forced cheer; maybe he had his own grief only barely packed away, but whatever the case, he released her swiftly, rising to place a hand on each of his sisters shoulders, nearly pushing them into each other as he began to speak.

“It could be you are right, and it could be you are not,” he glanced over his shoulder at Dany before turning his head back, “but I would like to be alone with Dany now.”

“But, Jon,” Sansa started, only to stop, her voice faltering at the look on her brother’s face.  Her lips pursed, and she swallowed down whatever she’d meant to say next and grabbed Arya’s hand.  “C’mon, Arya.”

The younger Stark looked as tough she might protest, but something in Jon’s expression seemed to make her think better of it, and she went along willingly enough, allowing Sansa to pull her away, making sure her sister wasn’t watching when she made a rude gesture and stuck out her tongue.

When the two had disappeared from view, Jon turned, and she was only slightly surprised to see his bemused smile.  “She’s so very charming, my little sister.”

“They’re very sweet,” Dany said, smiling sadly at Jon as he came to sit beside her again, “and I know they mean well.”  His dark eyes settled on her, and it was almost natural to slide into his lap, wrapping her arms loosely around his neck, their faces now even as her legs draped across his thighs.  “I only wish I could share their enthusiasm.”  When he closed his eyes defeatedly, she pressed her forehead against his, content to feel his every exhalation against her lips, to savor the feel of him, to be quiet and still and simply together, even as this gnawing worry crept in.

“I wish for many things,” he whispered, punctuating the confession with a gentle kiss against her lips, his hand falling to the curve of the hip not pressed against him.  “Oddly, they all seem to revolve around you.”  Jon opened his eyes, brushing his nose against hers fondly.  “I don’t know if I mentioned, but I like your dress.”

“Hmm,” she hummed, kissing him in return, chastely, even as his fingers began to rub circles against her hip bone through the blue fabric of her gown.  “I’m sure you do.”  She tipped her head down, glancing at the way the fabric draped across her breasts, at the cleavage the neckline exposed, then raised her eyes to his, biting her tongue so as not to giggle when he did the same and wiggled his eyebrows at her.  “What do you wish for, Jon Stark?  What sorts of things?”

His hand ceased its motion, palming the curve now with a heavy, purposeful grip.  “I am a simple man, at heart, Daenerys.  I wish for only for everything,” he squeezed, “with you.”

“Only everything?”  Now she did not hold back her light laugh, shifting even as his other hand dropped to guide her to straddle his thighs, her skirts bunching as she seated herself more fully on him, her arms wrapping tighter and their chests pressed together.  “A simple request, to be sure.”

“You asked,” he chuckled, hands now gripping her waist tightly.  “I wish I could see you under a real sun, Dany.  I wish I could see you, out there,” he tipped his head away for emphasis, “with my own eyes, not my wolf’s.  I wish you did not awaken alone in my bed every day.”

Tears gathered, though she was certain that by now she should surely have run out.  “I wish for those things, too.”

“I wish I could make you my Queen in truth, Dany.  For I would wed you without hesitation.  Give you all that I have, in a heartbeat.”  His face twisted, so near her own, and his voice was laced with pain, breaking slightly when he next spoke.  “But if I allow myself to think those things are possible, Dany, only to lose you,” his shoulders trembled beneath her arms, “I fear what will become of me.”

She loosed her arms from around his neck, leaning back onto his thighs more soundly, her knees hugging his hips as she traced his face with tender hands.  “I know,” she whispered.  “I hate that loving me will only bring you more suffering.  I can hardly bear it, but I cannot seem to stop myself.  Out there,” she mimicked his gesture, “I think only of you.  I think only that this place is more real to me than anything ever has been, with you.  And surely none have ever loved me as you do, Jon.”  She trailed a fingertip across his lips.  “I wish I never had to leave you.”

Jon stared at her, mutely, his chest rising and falling heavily against her, nostrils flaring and his lips a firm, white line as he regarded her.  “This is my fault, Daenerys.  I’m cursed.  I always have been.  My Gods have forsaken me.”

“Jon,” she leaned farther back in his embrace, so that she could look him fully in the face, and released a tremulous breath.  “I am the one who is cursed, not you.  There’s a reason I was at those docks that morning, Jon, a reason I was all to happy to board that ship with Melisandre, a reason I cared very little for where we were going.”  This was a secret she was loathe to share, but she had to make him understand why; He needed to know that it was her sins, not his.  It was her act that had made her life forfeit, before whatever Gods watched over them now.

His head was already shaking, his lips parting as he readied himself to disagree with her, to claim the mantle of misfortune solely for himself, but in this, she could not allow it.  “Jon,” she said, her voice shaking, her hand lowering over his mouth, “I was running away, when I came upon Melisandre.”

The Winter King stilled, and his lips delivered a kiss to her palm where she held it against him, until he grasped her wrist and gently pulled it away.  “From what, Dany?”

“From the consequences of what I did, Jon.”  He frowned slightly, but did not interrupt again, and so she continued, her heart hammering away inside her chest, wondering what he might think of her, once he knew what she truly was.

A Kinslayer.

“I killed someone, Jon.  Greyworm, some of my father’s men, they helped me escape, in the night, before my father found out what I’d done.  The eggs I brought,” she bowed her head, not daring to meet his eyes, “I stole them, in a manner of speaking.”

He only frowned further, confused, but there was no judgment in his eyes, to her great relief.  “Dany, I cannot count the number of lives I have taken.  All I have ever done, since I was old enough to hold a training sword, is fight.  Some men are born with great gifts, but I am cursed, as I said.  There is only one thing I’m good for, Dany, and that’s killin’.”  His voice was growing thick with emotion, as though he meant to convince her that he understood.

But he couldn’t, she knew.  Perhaps he was only meant for war, perhaps that was his lot in life, but she doubted even he had committed an act so heinous as she, an act that the Gods had surely damned her for.

“And as for stealing,” he continued, oblivious to her inner turmoil, “you stole my clothes, as well, and I can’t help but think they’ve never looked as good on me as they do on you.  I’m sure those eggs are in much better hands as well.  I don’t think you’d be able to save us without them, that I truly believe.”

But still, her heart only sank, though her lips quirked up at the mention of his trousers and tunic.  “No, Jon, you don’t understand.  It’s not that I killed,” she paused, guilt and shame rising like bile and burning her throat with bitter fire, “it’s who I killed.”

“Dany,” he muttered, his eyes narrowing, “I don’t care.  You could’ve killed hundreds, thousands, millions even and I wouldn’t care.  What’s in the past is in the past.  There is only now, isn’t that what you told me?”

She nodded, pressing her lips together to hold back a sob, feeling one hot tear track down her cheek.  “I did, yes,” she stuttered, “but this is different.  I killed…,” she began, but the words died in her throat.

Jon nodded encouragingly, his hands linked behind her back now, caging her against him.

“I killed…,” again, the words would not come, and her stomach began to churn.

Surely not.

Surely it was not this that the Old Gods had taken.

She had to make him understand, and they had taken it from her.

The memory, the Bloodraven’s price, her most shameful moment.

It was gone.  She could not speak it.

“Tell me,” he urged, but she could only gasp, sucking in air as she fought back her panic.

“I can’t,” she cried, more tears escaping, one hand rising to clutch at her throat.  “I can’t, I can’t speak it, I’m trying, but it’s,” her wide eyes locked onto his, “it’s gone.  It’s just gone.”

The Winter King drew in a sharp breath, his eyes darting all over the orchard, the dappled sun that filtered through the branches above painting him in streaks of golden light mingled with shadow.  “Those fuckers took it, didn’t they?”

She nodded, sagging against him in relief, hugging him tightly as she tucked her face against his neck and began to quietly cry.  He understood, and that was a blessed thing indeed.

Dany thought she ought not have been surprised, though.  He was the Winter King, and this was his domain.

His hands rubbed soothingly against her back, and he shushed her, just barely beginning to rock her against him.  “Do you really want me to know?”  She pulled back at his hoarse question, considering him silently then nodding.  “You know I don’t care, don’t you?  I don’t care who you killed, or what you stole, or what lengths you had to go to before you came to these shores.”  Again, she nodded, but it was grudging, and that only seemed to agitate him further.  His palms cupped her cheeks, suddenly, and there was no escape from his dark, penetrating stare.

“I have loved you for as long as I can remember.  Since before you were ever born.  You were the one thing that I lived for, that one day I might meet you.  At least I thought I did.”  He leaned closer, his voice growing stronger, near desperate to convince her.  “And then you were here, and you were more than I ever dreamed, and I knew I was going to lose you, knew these Gods would never allow me the one desire of my heart.  You.”  Now he whispered, forcefully, his lips so close to her own she could feel each word as he spoke.  “And though I know it will tear me apart, Daenerys, I cannot help but love you all the more, every moment I am near you.”  He kissed her, soundly, his lips and tongue telling her the things his words fought to make clear, dancing with her own, fitting against her so sweetly that it was as though they were fashioned only for each other.

Jon was panting when he pulled away.  “I ask you again:  Do you want me to know?”

“Yes,” she gasped, her breath escaping raggedly, “I want you to know all of me, Jon, I need you to know so that you will understand.  Please.”

He nodded, slowly, and he stared off into the distance for a moment, lost in thought.  Finally, his eyes met hers, iron on amethyst.  “It belongs to the trees now, your memory.  You will never be able to speak it to me as you once might have.”  His thumbs stroked her cheeks.  “But,” he said, “there is another way.”

“How?”  He regarded her solemnly at the question, the pad of his thumb sweeping across her lips.

“I shall take you to the Godswood, Daenerys.  They will not give it to you.”  His eyes grew hard and determined.  “However,” he promised, “they will give it to me.”

Dany pulled away, bracing her hands on his shoulders.  “You will ask them?”

He snorted, his face twisting into a hateful grimace.  “I ask them for nothing anymore, Dany.  I am the Winter King, and this is my domain.  I will command, and they will obey.”

Chapter Text

As they walked to the Godswood, Jon’s mood was evident.

It was summer no more, in this land of dreams.  Frost gathered and curled the leaves of the trees as they made their way to the Heart Tree, snow beginning to float down and land in cold, icy drops upon her cheeks, and with each fall of his boots, ice began to form in thin sheets along the well-packed path.

Their breath escaped in heated, fogged puffs, Ghost lingering just behind as they approached that awful, weeping face, the scarlet lined branches the only ones in this copse of trees that seemed immune to Jon’s cold anger.

But all around, icicles began to dangle perilously from above, tinkling like windchimes as a bitter breeze swept her hair into a silver cloud at her back.

Jon stopped them just before the roots that emerged like bony, white fingers from the dark earth, and cast a questioning gaze down at her.  “Shall I send for the girls?”  Her arm, threaded through his, tightened, and she pushed herself closer into his warmth.

“Yes,” she said, finally.  “They ought to know.”  She abhorred the thought of stealing their hope from them, so soon after they had found it, but she had to believe that the Gods of this place were of the same mind as all the other Gods she’d ever heard tell of, and as far as she could remember, they were all united in the opinion that to spill one’s own blood was a cursed act.

Jon turned his head, giving Ghost a curt nod, then looking back to her with assessing eyes.  “Are you cold?  Sorry,” he smiled sheepishly, reaching a hand behind and presenting a warm fur cloak to her, of similar design to his own, save for the color:  where his cloak was a study in darkness, this one was as white as the snow that was beginning to pile up around them in small drifts, with a collar of soft white fur at the neck.  At her tiny grin in return he let the fabric unfurl, wrapping her in the warmth it offered and fastening the ties with gentle fingers.  “There,” he said, satisfied, “better?”

“Much,” she replied, leaning instinctually closer as he wrapped his arms around her, his hands rubbing circles on her back as he glanced around before bringing his face dangerously near to hers.  “How do I look?”

Jon pulled back just barely to examine her from head to toe with a sly look.  “Same as always, Dany.  Terrifyingly beautiful.”  When she wrinkled her nose at him and frowned, he just chuckled, wrapping his arms around her more tightly.

Dany sighed.  “I’m sure that’s meant to be a compliment.”  She squirmed when his lips captured the lobe of her ear, feeling more than hearing his response when he murmured a reply against the sensitive skin.

“It is, I assure you.”  His warm lips curved against her neck, now.  “For I am a man of uncommon and, some might, say, dangerous tastes.”

Dany gave a loud bark of laughter, shaking her head when he drew back, pleased to see he’d amused her.  “Some might say?”

“Alright, just me.  I might say.”  He opened his mouth to speak again, but something over her shoulder, out of her line of sight, had him standing taller, his smile falling away.

“Sisters,” he gruffed out, and Dany straightened as well, tensing, before turning and face them.

Arya was scowling at the pair of them, and stalked over to glare up at her brother, even as he wrapped his arm around Dany’s shoulders.  “Honestly, Jon, I pray you didn’t summon us here just to watch you ram your tongue down our good friend Daenerys’s throat.” 

Jon cut his eyes to Dany quickly, snickering, before he looked back to his sister.  “Believe me, Arya, in the rare event I wished for witnesses you would be the *very last* on that list.”  Grudgingly, Jon released her from his grasp, waving a hand at Sansa so that she might approach as well.  “The Dragon Queen has something to show us.”  He gave a dark look to the carved face upon the tree, this sigil of the Old Gods.  “A memory.”

Arya looked intrigued, nodding, but it was Sansa who seemed to sense this would not be a happy event, and she took Dany’s hand in her warm one.  “You seem troubled,” she whispered, while Lady came up to Dany’s other side and nudged at her hand.  “Are you sure you wish to do this?”

The girl’s enduring kindness was almost too much to bear, and Dany wondered whether it would fade from existence, once the Lady of Winterfell witnessed her crime.  “If nothing else, Sansa,” she answered, holding tight to the fingers that grasped hers, “I must have you manage your expectations, of what is to come.  Of why I may not survive, even if I should succeed in saving you.”

Sansa let out a long-suffering sigh.  “I very much doubt I shall be swayed, Dany.  I am unyieldingly stubborn when I wish to be.”  The taller girl gave her a reassuring smile, even as Arya called out her agreement.

“It’s true, Dany, she can be a right horse’s arse when she’s set on something.”  Arya merely cackled when Sansa whipped her head around to pin her sister with an imperious look.

“Quiet, you,” she chastened, “and come and hold her other hand.”  The dark-haired Stark girl gave her sister a puzzled look, but came willingly enough, fitting her hand in Dany’s free one, Jon watching them all quietly and stepping up to the Heart Tree with a hint of disdain.  “Go on, then, Jon.”

Jon looked only to Dany, tenderly, still seeming reticent to continue without her reassurance as well.  “Are you ready, Dany?  You have walked in memories before, you know what to expect from this, yes?”

Daenerys took a deep, steadying breath, a sliver of fear piercing her heart as surely as any blade might, at the notion of revealing this last, painful secret she had locked away.  But she could feel it rising within her, as well, that bravery Jon had spoken of, born of fear, perhaps fueled by it, that straightened her spine and raise in chin in defiance of it.

“Yes,” she said.  “I’m ready.”

Jon gave her a tentative smile, the warmth in his eyes, the understanding that passed between them then enough to make her swallow the last of her fears, and she gripped the Stark girls’ hands tightly as he laid his palm against that ashen bark, speaking in a clear, commanding voice to the Old Gods.

“Show me.”

----------

Then came the swirling mists, that stole away the icy winds and robbed them of the sun’s light above, and when it cleared there was only a full Valyrian moon that hung shining down.

They stood, all four, outside the manor gates, her father’s manor, looking just as it always had.  The sandstone walls, and heavy oaken doors, the scattering of Unsullied guards that remained under the employ of House Targaryen stationed here and there, guarding the sheep she’d always supposed.

There had surely been little left to them but their livestock, in the end.

On either side, Arya and Sansa gasped as one, looking about in wonder.

“Is this,” Sansa began, trailing off at the manor house of unfamiliar design to her Westerosi eyes.

“…Valyria,” Arya finished, stating it rather than asking, her eyes widening at the sight of Greyworm as he stood at attention by the main gate, in his sleeveless black leathers and matching boots, spear and shield in hand.  On his chest was emblazoned a three-headed dragon, matching the banners flung over the walls.

“Yes,” Dany agreed sadly, walking forward to lead both sisters to stand just at the edge of the path that led away from her home, feeling rather than seeing Jon come to stand close behind her, welcoming the heavy weight of his hand at her shoulder.

With them, beside her, around her, these wolves of Winterfell, she did not feel alone.

“Watch,” she whispered, and they did.

Suddenly, there she was, running as fast as she could from a side door, the servant’s entrance carved from the wall, stumbling to a halt before Greyworm, who looked about before leaning low to speak.

“Have you got them, my girl?”

Daenerys watched herself smile at the man who had been a true father to her, watched as she patted the satchel that thumped against her hip, in this awful memory, wondered at the innocence she’d possessed when she thought she would flee her father’s home with those eggs with no consequences.

“Yes,” the other version of herself whispered.  “Just here, and all my worldly possessions, meager though they may be.”

Greyworm raised a hand, ruffling the ends of her hair, straightening her red cloak at the shoulders.  “Best be on your way then.  The other men know; Go to the south stable and count to one hundred, then saddle your horse and ride for the port.  We will take care of the distraction.”

Silently, Dany began to cry, for she knew what was coming, but she could not look at her companions, not now.  She could only watch with growing horror at what would come next.

“Here it is,” she whispered to the wolves, those long-forgotten Starks who flanked her, and then Viserys was there, throwing open the gates so that they crashed against the stone, a dagger in one hand, and Missandei in the other.

He had spotted her right away, she realized that now, watching it all play out, though Greyworm tried to shift her behind him, to hide her from her brother’s eyes.

“What are you doing?”, Greyworm asked, in that formal, soldierly tone he often adopted with Vis, to make him back down.  She hated the way his eyes widened in terror at the sight of Missandei so close to that blade’s edge, detested the burning in her stomach at what her brother would still do with it, but she knew she must bear witness.  “Let her go, Viserys, or your father shall here of this.”

“Oh,” her brother sneered, his silver hair mussed and unkempt, reeking of wine and debauchery, “he shall hear about this, old man.”  He used the dagger to drunkenly motion for Daenerys to come out.  “Show yourself you little thief!”

And sweet Missandei, the mother of her heart, began to panic when her remembered self crept into view, her eyes wary, stepping aside and walking carefully close to where her brother stood threateningly.

“Run, Dany.  Go, my sweet.  He will kill you!”  Viserys let out a vengeful laugh at Missandei’s words, wrapping his arm around her neck and pulling the woman dangerously close, pressing the blade of the dagger just under her chin.

“No, no, Dany.  No running.  Not if you want your sweet mother here to live.”  He had always been mean, Viserys, that’s what Missandei had always told her.  Mean as a snake since the day he was born.

The Daenerys who stood watching trembled, even as the Stark sisters pressed in against her, even as both of Jon’s hands now rested on her shoulders, his lips pressed a gentle kiss to the side of her head.  “It’s alright, Dany,” Jon whispered.  “It’s only a memory, it cannot hurt you.”

“Yes, it can,” she replied, watching her other self glare daggers at her brother.  “Let her go, Vis!  What are you doing?”

Her brother gave another sinister laugh, pulling the dagger away long enough to jab it in the air in the direction of her bag.  “The eggs, you treacherous whore.  Those do not belong to you.  Hand them over,” he wheedled, attempting to sound placating and sincere, “and I shall let your slave mother go.”

“Dany,” Missandei warned, “leave.  Please,” the woman begged, and though Dany wanted to shut her eyes against the coming terrors she fought to keep them open, a high keening whine escaping from her despite her best efforts at silence.

The Daenerys she had been ripped the satchel free from her body, tossing it in her foolish brother’s direction.  “There,” she spat, “take your precious eggs, just let her go!”

Viserys stood, for a moment, and everything seemed to fall still in the world as brother and sister engaged in a battle of wills.  For a moment, Dany remembered thinking things would be alright, that the situation could still be brought under control, that her brother might still be brought to heel.

She was wrong.

For then, surprisingly fast for his state of inebriation, his knife slashed through the air, and he released Missandei, shoving her to the ground as the woman’s hands rose to her throat, where Viserys had slit her from ear to ear.

“NO!”  The dueling screams from her other self and Greyworm were near deafening, but now the moment was upon them, and though she remembered it as seeming to happen slowly, as though she’d been moving through molasses, she saw everything happening at such speed that it was hard to take it all in.

Greyworm dropped his weapons, hands outstretched towards Missandei, his scream abruptly cut off as he pulled her into his arms, even as her life’s blood poured from the wound in her neck, her final breaths escaping in whistling burst from the slash, her eyes only on her husband.

The other Daenerys, her scream of rage only beginning, dropped a hand to her boot, pulling out the dagger Greyworm had given her, the one she wore always, since she’d been a girl, first learning how to master the blade.  She was on her brother like a rabid animal, the silver blade flashing in the moonlight as she stabbed it deep into his neck, pulling it free and screaming again, stabbing into the socket of his eye.

It was then that her other self seemed to shake free from her bloodlust, her screams becoming agonizing wails as her brother fell into a heap at her feet, his blood slowly soaking the soil, and mingling with that of the woman she loved most in the world, who lay dead in her husband’s arms.

Greyworm sobbed quietly, and Dany watched herself drop to her knees beside the man, watched the pair of them weep together for the one woman who’d made them a family.

Beside her, she could feel Sansa shaking, and she risked a small glance to see that the girl cried as well, her eyes red and watery, the tracks of her tears glistening as her blade had in the pale light of the Valyrian moon.  “Is he the one who hurt you, Dany?  Who gave you those scars?”

“Yes,” Daenerys replied, brokenly, her voice quivering then leaving her all together as she mutely watched another Unsullied arrive, with Willam, their master-at-arms, close behind.

“Oh, no,” Willem breathed, looking from the trio to where Viserys lay, at the pools of blood that ran between them, “oh, shit.”  The old man knelt beside Greyworm.  “Oh, I’m so sorry my friend.  But we must move.  We must make haste.  His tired eyes took in the other Daenerys, who was cupping Missandei’s face in her bloody hands.  “You have to leave, Dany, *now*!”

Greyworm got hold of himself, at the other man’s words, right before their eyes, giving Dany a stricken look.  “Your father will kill you, Daenerys.  We must get you out of here.”  He looked so aged then, so small and helpless, that it was hard to reconcile him with the stoic, quiet, strong warrior she had grown up with.  “Willem,” he gasped, looking pained and heartbroken, “you must take Missandei, wrap her and prepare her for travel.”  He let out a harsh breath.  “I shall leave this night as well.”

Willem turned to the silent Unsullied guard who stood in mournful silence.  “Get him out of here,” he gestured roughly at Viserys’s body.  “Hide him ‘til morning.”  He looked purposefully at the Dany she had been.  “You get to the stables and get out of this fucking place, do you hear me?  Don’t you ever come back here.  He’ll kill you without a second thought.”

Jon’s hands were her silent strength; save for his grip on each shoulder she thought her knees would betray her, that she would crumble like dust as she watched the events transpire once more, the very worst moments in her life on display, witnessed by the Winter King and his sisters.

The four watched as Greyworm gently handed Missandei’s body off to old Willem, watched the old man stare as the Ghiscari warrior grasped for Dany’s hand, each palm coated in scarlet, watched Dany retrieve her satchel, the eggs within paid for by Missandei’s blood, and her brother’s as well, watched them flee together to the safety of the stable, where she would, indeed, ride away, never to return.

“Enough,” Jon commanded from behind her, and the swirling mists consumed them all.

----------

The snow was blinding, when her vision cleared, and she fell to her knees, finally, her stomach rolling, her hands falling out before her to catch herself.  She thought she would be sick, shame and misery rising hot in her throat, making her head pound.

Oh, how she wished Missandei was there, now, with her, to hold her and comfort her.  They were gone, all of them, even the ones she hated the most, Viserys and her father and their cruelty buried beneath hot ash, her homeland and all the people within lost to the annals of time.

But there were arms, in this place, and they were strong enough to bring her back to herself, the pull of her heart outweighing the burden of her guilt and loss, and there was the Winter King, kneeling as well, his black cloak pooling around him as he wrapped her in his embrace.

It wasn’t the same, as what she’d had before.

But, she allowed, perhaps it was better.  Other hands stroked at her hair, gentle hands that tried to soothe, even as she began to sob roughly against Jon’s shoulder.  The King’s hands were locked around her, the solid warmth of him a balm to her weary soul, as he did not shy away from her in the slightest, despite what she had done.

“Now you know,” she croaked out, her face wet and cold as she lifted her head to peer miserably to her right, where Sansa seemed determined to coax her sadness away by sifting her fingers through Dany’s curls and smoothing them down her back.  “I am cursed, don’t you see?  I am a Kinslayer, forsaken by the Gods.”

A finger jabbed into her side from her left, and she turned to find Arya staring at her, the girl’s face set and determined.  “Now you listen to me,” Arya said, full of righteous fury, “I don’t give a single shit about the Gods.  Your witch said they’d fucked it all up well and good anyway.”  Dark hair swung as she shook her head vehemently.  “I don’t think they’re in any place to judge you.  We certainly aren’t.”

“What do you mean?”  She sniffed, waiting for one of the sisters to respond, her attention shifting to Jon’s solemn face when it was he who answered, his chest rumbling against hers when he spoke.

“Oh, Dany.”  He let loose with a mirthless laugh.  “Don’t you know?  We are, all of us, murderers here.”  He gave both his sisters pointed looks, and when Daenerys looked at them each, in turn, they nodded in agreement.

“It’s true, Dany.”  Arya knelt down, still at her side, tucking silver strands of hair behind the Valyrian’s ear.  “We all have blood on our hands.”  She glanced over at her sister.  “Don’t we, Sansa?”

The redhead continued to busy herself with Dany’s hair, her blue eyes icy and hard when they finally met Dany’s.  “Aye.”  The girl gave a shaky exhalation.  “That we do.”

---------

Later, they lay abed in his chambers, just she and her King.

Face to face, she let her fingers skip and dance along his face, each line and ridge and curve one she had come to know as well as her own, features she stowed away, held close for those hours that she must be away from him, back amongst the dead, in the land of the living.

But in her dreams, they belonged to each other, and he cared very little for whatever liberties she dared take when it came to her touch upon his skin.  On a similar journey, transfixed this night with the stretch of skin that began at the curve of her bare hip and ended just below her breast, his hand skimmed her side, his eyes tracking the movement, as though he was trying to do the same.

He wanted to remember her.

When her fingertips would slip past his lips he would kiss them, and his eyes would catch with hers, all the longing he managed to hide when they had company spilling out, catching her up in the spell of flesh they had wrought between them, making her hunger for him once more.

“Jon,” she whispered, “do you think there’s a chance they are right?  Your sisters?”

His eyes had dropped again, his fingers playing where the linens were bunched at the tops of her thighs, smoothing and dipping and teasing with intent.  “There’s always a chance, I suppose.”  The corners of his mouth turned down, and she feared that she’d spoiled the moment.  “But I think that you and I have learned the folly of pinning our hopes on chance.  It is easy for me to prepare for the worst, Daenerys, for it is all I have come to expect.  One terrible thing happens, then another, and the only tonic during such times is the notion that things can always, always get worse.”  He sighed, his hand leaving her to sweep across his face, before landing heavily on the bed between them.  “And then they do, and then, at least, it’s not a surprise.”

Dany dropped her hand from his face, her other tucked below her cheek on the pillow, and joined her fingers with his.  “I can scarce contain myself in the face of your relentless cheer, Jon Stark.”

He laughed, in spite of himself, raising their joined hands and kissing each of her knuckles in turn.  “Yes,” he said drolly, “I am often complimented on my light-hearted disposition.”

Daenerys shook her head, chuckling at his clear jest, and raised herself up slowly, climbing her way along his body and shedding the bed coverings to straddle him, the ease between them in such intimate circumstance enough comfort to free her from her own dark worries, at least in the moment.  It was an ease borne of familiarity, now, as their hunger for each other had only grown with every exploration, each touch only feeding that fire that blazed between them, if only in their minds.

“I’m sorry,” he said, even as he watched her, his eyes darkening and lids growing heavy as she sat herself atop his thighs, freeing her hands to slide them up and along his chest.  “About your family.”

He did not mean Viserys, that she knew for certain; She had told him, in those quiet moments after they had sated their mutual desire, of Missandei and Greyworm and all they had meant to her.  And though it still stung, the loss and grief of the past, it grew easier to bind those wounds, here, with him.

“And I, yours, sweet Jon.”  She rose up on her knees, bracing her hands above his shoulders and dipping her head to kiss him.  “But we cannot live in the past forever, can we?”

“No,” he breathed against her lips, “We can’t.  And I’m not sweet,” he grumbled, his tone a stark contrast to the way he raised his head instinctively from the pillow to seal his mouth against hers, his tongue flicking out to tease against her lips, tasting, before withdrawing and settling back, waiting to see what she would do, the barest of smiles ghosting across his lips.

She grinned, sitting up, enjoying the way his eyes studied her, the way he hardened further beneath her, pressing insistently against her core, though he betrayed none of it, seemingly content to let her lead them where she wished.  “Yes, you are.”  She took his large hands in hers, locking their fingers together, pressing them above his head, keeping him captive.  “I have a new theory, did I tell you?”

He allowed only one lingering look at her breasts as they swayed temptingly close to his face, and met her eyes.  “Indeed?” 

She slid down slightly, presses the curves of her breasts against his chest, adopting a serious tone as she brought her face close to his.  “Yes, perhaps you are right, and I shall hatch real dragons from my eggs of stone.  Perhaps,” she said, lips twitching, “I have truly come as a foreign conqueror, and I shall make you my prisoner.”  She pressed their joined hands harder into the pillows above his head to prove her point, smiling wickedly as he thrust his hips up against her.  “All a part of my wicked plan.”

Jon grinned widely, as she gasped, when his cock slid against her slick folds.  “Or perhaps I seduced you into doing so, because I tire of ruling, and would rather pass my days in your bed, left to satisfy you as best I can, lest you burn me alive with your dragons.”  She let her teeth toy with the skin at his neck, just above his collar bone, in a manner she knew he liked, that would make him moan and twist under her.  He did not disappoint, groaning and rolling his hips against her impatiently.  “I can say on good authority that there would be no finer way to perish.”

She writhed against him in return, ready to be done with this teasing and have him again, but wanting equally to linger in this playfulness that arose between them, something surprising, something she’d hadn’t expected to enjoy quite so much.  “Is that so?”  Dany let her tongue lave a hot, wet path up his neck, nipping at his lips, begging entry before letting it dance with his as she ground herself against him, her want for him plain as his cock now slipped against her with ease, coated in her wetness.  “Well, then, I suppose you’d better get on with satisfying me, shouldn’t you?”

He cocked a brow, his hands tightening in hers, and suddenly she was on her back, her King looming above her between her spread thighs, now his captive, their fingers locked together so tightly she thought they might never be extricated from each other.

She liked that thought more than she ought to.

“You make excellent points, Dany,” he said, near breathless, his mouth dropping to capture her nipple, his tongue flicking against the hard peak as his mouth fastened itself to her skin.  When he released her, the corners of his mouth curved upwards, pleased at the way she whimpered and squirmed against him, her body begging for more.  “I find myself hoping this particular theory proves true.”

She tugged at their hands, frustrated, overcome with the need to simply have him, inside her, to feel the things he made her feel, to feel alive in a way she only did with him.  Her hands were freed from the prison of his to wrap tightly around his neck and she claimed his mouth, hard, kissing him with bruising force, teeth clashing as she released the tethers that bound her to the last of her control.

“Jon,” she huffed out, breathing hard, canting her hips up, the head of his cock just glancing her entrance as still he held back.  Though, by the way his midnight eyes glittered in the darkness of his chambers, she knew that would not last much longer.  His hands lowered to her legs, hitching them up around his hips, and then she was wrapped around him as well as she could be, her ankles catching at the base of his spine, and she gave a slow roll of her hips, biting her lip as his eyes fell shut and he gave a heady moan of her name.

“Enough talking, Winter King.  Fuck me.”

He was inside her before she could finish speaking, the final syllables breaking on her open mouthed cry as he thrust inside her, and she clung to him fiercely as he set them on a frantic, punishing pace, his own control finally relinquished as his mouth fell to her neck and began to suck and lick hard enough to mark her and brand her.

If, she thought wildly, her last clear musing before she abandoned herself once more to the pleasure he could give her, any of it was real.

---------

 

When she awoke, to the persistent darkness of the living world, the fire blazed in the hearth, surely tended by Leaf while she slept.  She turned on her side, her hand pressing in to dent the pillow there, unoccupied while she was awake, until it looked as though he had lain there in truth.  She closed her eyes, just for a bit longer, just to pretend he’d only gotten up for a moment, that he would surely be back soon.

In her mind the lingering echo of his last words to her, before they’d been parted yet again, played over and over.

As she went through the motions of her day, forcing food into her mouth though her skin no longer crawled with that fiery magic, she heard his whisper.

As she walked in the darkness, torch in hand, Ghost by her side, through the shattered remnants of the Glass Gardens, where nothing grew anymore but snow drifts and ice, she heard his whisper.

As she bathed herself in the underground springs, Lady standing guard at the door, politely averting her eyes, she heard his whisper.

And she hoped, though she knew she had no practical reason to, that he was right.  If he was not, if he was wrong and the Gods cursed her still, at least she knew that he did not hold it against her, what she had done, the blood she had spilled in the lands that had once been her home.

“He deserved it, that and more.  You are no kinslayer, for no kin would harm one such as you, Dany.  You gave him justice, for his crimes against you, nothing more.”

Perhaps, wherever they lay in wait, hungering for her blood of fire, his Gods and hers would agree.

----------

Precisely six days before she would meet her doom, she lay down to dream in Jon’s chambers, awakening to find herself in a wooded grove near the Keep.  She could see the towers of the ancient Keep through the wide trunks of the trees, could feel a sweet spring breeze on her face, but she was alone, which was a rarity as time dwindled down to nothing.

“Dany!”  A shout came, Arya’s voice, she was certain of it, but as she twisted and turned in a circle, waiting to see the girl emerge, her search proved fruitless.

“Dany!”  The call sounded again, this time chased with a laugh, and Daenerys smiled, finally looking up to see a rope fall from a nearby tree, knotted along its length and hanging from a thick branch.  She looked up to find Arya’s face peeking out between the green leaves.

“Climb up!”  The dark-haired girl waved a hand excitedly, then pointed to the structure she could barely make out at the juncture of several branches, a little wooden box that looked like a small shack, set high off the ground.  “Come see!”

Dany gazed at the swaying leaves, and the blue sky above, thankful that Sansa had apparently seen fit to outfit her in trousers and a loose, blousy white tunic embroidered along the neck with blue roses.  She wiped off her suddenly sweaty hands on her pants and took a deep breath.  “I’ll try,” she called back, grasping at a knot and pulling herself up along the rope, her legs wrapping around the swaying length to help herself along, and before long she had done it, pulling herself up onto the small platform that had been nailed down firmly to support the weight of the little house she found there.  Arya smiled at her, sitting on the boards, her legs swinging as she watched Dany’s arrival.

“Welcome,” the girl said grandly, throwing her arms wide, “to my secret hideout!”  She stood, taking Dany’s hand and helping her stand, ducking under the squat doorway that had been cut into the side and pulling Daenerys along with her into the tiny structure.

“It’s wonderful,” Dany remarked, and she meant it.  She would have adored such a place, back home, a little spot to hide from the rest of the world, and it was clear the other girl had indeed spent some time in this place.  She looked around, noting the roughspun canvas that had been tacked above the square window, a curtain of sorts, and the pair of small stools that sat in the corner.  An overturned crate served as a table, with an unlit candle in a brass holder on its surface, and she spied an old, small bow with a scattering of arrows in the opposite corner, along with a few books haphazardly stacked alongside.

Arya grinned, tossing Dany a ripe, red apple, taking a bite out of the one she’d kept for herself and sitting, her back to the shack wall, stretching her legs out before her.  “You like it?”

“I do,” Dany said, nodding and sitting herself in the same manner, against the opposite wall.  The girl seemed pleased at her answer, as she gazed around the room fondly.

“This place,” she began, “was Jon’s first.  But when he got to big for it, he gave it to me to use.  It’s an excellent place to hide, if you don’t want to be found.”  She gave a decisive nod when she finished, taking another loud crunching bite and chewing thoughtfully.  She was wearing her own satchel, this night, her leather one, the one Dany had happened upon the first time she’d met the youngest Stark sister.  When she noticed the Valyrian’s focus, she pulled the strap over her head, and tossed the pack to Daenerys.

Dany set her apple on her lap, her hands smoothing along the worn leather surface.  “What were you hiding from?”

“Sansa, mostly,” Arya said, tossing her hair over her shoulder.  “Sometimes Mother.”  The girl’s face screwed up in disgust.  “Things I didn’t want to do,” she continued with a shudder, “like sewing.”  Arya tipped her head towards the bow in the corner.  “And here I could hide and practice the things I *did* like to do.”

“I see,” Dany said, with a hint of a smile.  “Wise.”  She looked back at the pack in her lap.  “May I?”

When Arya nodded, Dany pulled the leather cover back, the sun filtering in allowing just enough light for her to examine the contents.  There they were, just as she remembered, three wooden masks, each bearing the face of a snarling wolf.  “These are very well done,” Dany said, turning over the mask that belonged to Arya in her hand, Nymeria’s face painted on the surface.

“A merchant came to Winter Town, when I was very small, and my father commissioned them for all of us.  Bran had one as well, but,” Arya sighed sadly, “I don’t know what has become of his mask.  I’ve looked everywhere, in this prison of memories, and I cannot find it.”  She was watching Dany intently as she spoke, and when she held out a hand Daenerys gave over the mask willingly, watching with amusement when the girl held it to her face, obscuring all trace of Arya, then, leaving only the wolf she commanded.  “They’re also good for hiding things, aren’t they?”  Her voice was muffled by the wood, and she pulled the mask away again, revealing the familiar face that lay behind it.

“They are,” Dany said, holding Jon’s mask with a particular sort of reverence, tracing Ghost’s painted face with a fingertip.

“My bag of faces,” Arya responded.  Her head ticked to the side, and Dany could sense the wariness in the way the girl now regarded her.  “I used Jon’s when I slaughtered House Frey, in the Riverlands.”

“What?”  Jon’s mask fell from Dany’s fingers, dropping back into the leather bag.  “An entire House?  By yourself?”

Arya nodded, a feral sort of pride glinting in her eyes.  “House Frey often warred with my mother’s house, you know.  And when new came that something terrible had happened to Jon, beyond the Ice Wall, in the Kingdom beyond,” the girl paused, her eyes searching for something unknown in the pattern of the wooden wall, not daring to meet Dany’s now, “the Freys joined with the Boltons in ambushing my parents on the road to Castle Black.  They’d been planning it, your see.  The Boltons wanted the North and the Freys wanted the Riverlands.  They kidnapped my mother’s brother, held him hostage at their Keep in the Twins.”  At her side, Dany could see the girl’s booted feet rubbing against each other nervously, as though she worried what Daenerys might think of all she said.

Dany swallowed, watching the girl’s face closely as she still refused to meet her gaze.  “It sounds like you had good reason, then.”

Arya set her jaw, nodding tightly.  “We kept our wolves away, Sansa and I, when the Boltons took Winterfell.  Ramsay said if Sansa married him, he would spare our people, that it would make him their rightful King, if he wed a Stark.  But it didn’t stop him from killing Summer.”  Dany frowned, her brow wrinkling, this name unknown to her.  “Bran’s wolf.”  Arya heaved a great sigh.  “We couldn’t let him have ours too, but they never strayed far.  When I escaped, I didn’t know what had become of Jon.  Word came that he was dead.”  Arya’s hand strayed down to rub absently at her leg, her fingers fretting against the fabric.  “So, I went to the Riverlands, alone, save for Nymeria.”  Finally, the girl’s flinty eyes caught Dany’s, before dropping to the leather satchel.  “And my bag of faces.”

Dany reached for her apple, taking a bite, savoring the tart sweetness.  She swallowed, giving Arya a considering look, a question nagging at her in her mind.  “But how did you manage to kill of an entire House?  Just you and one wolf?”

Finally, the smile returned to Arya’s lips, something sharp and lethal, like the edge of a blade, in the motion.  “Nymeria took care of the guards outside.  The rest of them were inside, celebrating, feasting, drinking toasts to each other for what they’d done to my family.”  Slowly, the girl blinked, and her jaw worked tightly.  “Poison works remarkably fast on a House full of drunkards, Daenerys.  Especially when they celebrate a victory that was so very,” her smile grew, “premature.  They should’ve made sure we were all gone.  Leave one wolf alive,” she said, taking a crunching bite of her apple and chewing loudly, her mouth still full of the bite as she continued, “and the sheep are never safe.”

“How many?”  Dany could feel her brows climbing their way up her forehead, amazed that this small girl had managed such an impossible feat.

“Hundreds,” Arya answered, swallowing and leaning in.  “I left a few alive, of course.  I took off my mask, after I walked their hall, after I set my Uncle and his bannermen free from the dungeons, made sure the serving girls standing trembling in horror saw my face when I told them what to tell the others, when anyone asked what happened to House Frey.”

Dany leaned in as well, spellbound by the tale.  “What did you say?”

“I told them the North remembers.  I told them Winter came for House Frey.”  The girl leaned back, now, thumping soundly against the wood.  “Then Nymeria and I left.  Then,” she said heavily, “I learned my brother lived, that his men and the Houses of the North that were still loyal to House Stark were raising an army to take Winterfell back.  And then I found my brother, and we did just that.” 

Dany shook her head, struck anew at suffering that had befallen all of them.  “That is quite a tale, Arya Stark.”  Silence fell as each finished their fruits, and when the girl saw Dany was done as well, she took both the cores, tossing them out the window, almost fearful when she looked again at Daenerys.  “Do you think me a monster, for what I did?”

The answer fell easily from her lips.  “No.”  Dany rose to her knees, crawling across the short space to sit beside the smaller girl and taking her hand.  “You sought justice for the wrongs done to your family.  There is no shame in that.”

Arya gave a small nod, satisfied, relaxing slightly.  “As did you.”  The girl’s fingers tightened against Dany’s.  “And if you hadn’t, Dany, you wouldn’t be here, with us.  Surely the Gods cannot hold such act against you.”

“That’s what your brother says, as well.”  At Dany’s whisper the girl smirked knowingly.

“Aye,” she said, “he’s right.”  And when the girl looked at her now, she did so with a warmth in her eyes that reminded her of the brother they spoke of.  “Now,” Arya said, rising suddenly, the spell broken as the girl stood and made for the doorway, “let’s go train.  You’re going to fall behind, you know, since you’ve been spending so much time fucking my brother.”

Dany’s eyes widened impossibly, and she felt a wave of embarrassment overtake her, reddening her cheeks as she covered her face with her hands.  “Arya, I…”

The girl only laughed merrily, her seriousness of moments ago falling away, her hair swinging as she waved for Dany to follow.  “It’s really too easy to take the piss out of you two.  Come on then, before we waste the whole night up here in this tree.”

Dany stood as well, ready to leave the ghosts that haunted them both behind, in the shadowed corners of the tiny house in the tree.  She hoped they would have the decency not to follow.

---------

Melisandre grew increasingly excited with each darkened day that passed, a marked contrast to Dany’s own sinking spirits, her every moment now spent with all three wolves.  They stayed close, ever alert, as though they meant to protect her from her fate, from herself.  She wished that could be the case, but there was a dreadful certainty growing inside her that she was beyond rescue.

Even Leaf and her sisters seemed to grow more mournful as time crept forward, casting sad, soulful looks at Dany when they shared their meals, and it began to fray her nerves, their pity almost too much to bear.  This was the choice she had made, the fate she had chosen for herself.  She grew weary of the scrutiny, as it served as a constant reminder that she could not escape, from any side.

She was very nearly out of time.

---------

Three days before she would, almost certainly, perish, she lay down to dream, and found herself in a dark, dreary dungeon that she had not seen, not even in her waking hours, when she’d explored the crumbling Keep exhaustively.  She glanced down, curious, finding herself in a high-necked dress of dark gray, the color of Jon’s eyes, of iron.

Sansa stepped out from behind a stone wall, her face a mask of misery, her gown black as midnight, free of any ornamentation.  She wore only a heavy, silver necklace around her neck, her flaming hair gathered back from her face, her sapphire eyes piercing and raw as she looked at Dany.

“Welcome back, Dany.”  She offered her elbow, her black clad arm locking with Dany’s gray sleeve automatically, a practiced gesture now for them, and began to walk with an almost tortured gait.  “Tonight, I fear our visit will not be a pleasant one.”

“Sansa.”  The redhead stopped at the sound of her name, and Dany clasped the girl’s forearm with her free hand.  “You need not share this, whatever it is that is troubling you so.”

The girl only pressed her lips into a tight, thin, white line.  “Yes,” she finally said, “I must.  I count you among my dearest friends, Daenerys, and I would have you know this.”  They began to walk again, and Sansa led her through a maze of cells that dripped with collected moisture, the air thick and heavy hear, mildewed and musty.  She thought they must be underground, this prison set below the Keep itself, where Winterfell seemed to store many of it’s secrets: in the deep dark earth below.

They stopped before a large barred cage, tall enough for a man to stand freely, doors set into one side of the stone that surrounded it on three sides.  “This is where my Lord Husband died, Daenerys.”  Gingerly, Sansa pulled her arm free, only to grab at Dany’s hand blindly to whisper, “Only it was not my brother who killed him.”

Dany thought of all she knew of this Ramsey Bolton, this monster who had surely scarred the girl before her, though Sansa had only touched on the truth of such in the past.  And some scars, Dany knew, ran far beneath the skin, secret scars only the bearer could see, the sort that never really healed.

“He enjoyed hurting me.”  Daenerys had never seen this girl truly angry, the Lady of Winterfell almost always proper and well-mannered, all that a fine lady should be, but in the damp, dark dungeons of her home she blazed as brightly as the torches along the wall in her fury.  “He found all sorts of ways to do it.  Sometimes those ways bled me, in fact.  But those weren’t enough for him.  He wanted to break me, and he very nearly did.”

“Arya told me,” Dany replied quietly, squeezing the girl’s hand.

Sansa gave a watery sniff.  “Yes, I know.”  Dany stared at the girl’s profile, waiting, as Sansa stared into the cage, at the seat bolted to the floor in the center.  “I cried every time my Lord Husband bedded me.  He hated me for that more than anything else, tried to fool himself that one day I would love him.  He decided to take one of my ladies in waiting, Jeyne,” the girl’s chin trembled, “and chained her, took her to the woods beyond the Keep.” 

Dany could feel horror creeping in, the girl’s growing distress as she spoke doing nothing to assuage this gnawing certainty that perhaps it was Sansa who had suffered the most.  She gripped the other woman’s hand tighter as she continued to speak in a voice that only barely trembled.

“He liked to hunt.  He had a pack of hounds,” Sansa swallowed heavily, “vicious things.  He would starve them before he set out to hunt, you see, said it made them more hungry for the kill.”  She stopped, taking several steadying breaths, mastering her sorrow.  “He took me out to the woods with him, made me watch when he set his dogs on a girl who had been my companion since we were little more than babes.”  Her voice broke, finally her face crumbling.  “They ripped her apart, my husband’s hounds.”

Dany felt her own tears begin to well, even as Sansa’s began to fall, and she embraced the taller girl almost without thinking, what she described filling her with near immeasurable agony for the Lady at her side.  “Oh, Sansa.”  The girl’s shoulders began to shake, and Dany rubbed her hand soothingly against the girl’s back, letting her cry against her shoulder though the redhead had to stoop a bit to do so.  “I’m so sorry, so very sorry.”

Sansa pulled away, shaking her head vehemently.  “Don’t be.  He got what he was due, Dany,” she whispered, settling her hands on Dany’s shoulders.  “Just as your terrible brother did.”  She sniffed again, her voice clearing, her tears drying as her eyes rested on the seat in the caged cell.  “When Jon and Arya came, when they took back the Keep,” she said, “Jon near beat Ramsey half to death with his own hands.”

Daenerys smiled in spite of herself.  “I’m not surprised.”  She could picture him, now, as brilliant in his fury as Sansa had been moments ago, dealing blow after blow to this man who had harmed his sister so.  She wondered for the hundredth time that perhaps her own fate might’ve been much different, if she’d been blessed with a brother as kind as Jon Stark was, if Rhaegar had lived and been there to intervene on her behalf.

But those were things best left behind, the regrets and questions of how things might have changed for her, because she was certain she would not have been brought to these shores if that had been the case, and it was impossible to imagine a different fate from the one she had chosen, so intertwined with the wolves that had taken her in.

Sansa gave a watery half-smile in return, but her eyes grew hard and cold, just as they had appeared when the two women had first met.  “Then Jon saw me standing there, watching, and he stopped.  He said Ramsey’s fate was mine to decide.  His death was mine to deliver.”  She stood taller, this fine lady before her, and she turned Dany so that they both looked inside the cage, where Ramsey Bolton had met his final end.

“I did not hesitate then, Daenerys.”  The whisper sounded close by her ear, and Dany fought a shiver at the sinister edge the girl’s voice had taken.  “I had him chained to that very chair, and Lady and I stood just here.”  There came a pause, and then, at her other ear, the girl’s voice sounded again.  “I fed him to his hounds.  Watched as they ripped him apart, and I did not stop watching until they’d torn him limb from limb and gorged themselves on his flesh.”  Dany turned her head, just barely, seeing the satisfied smile dancing on Sansa’s lips, and though some might have found what the woman said disturbing, Daenerys realized she was proud of the girl, for destroying the monster who’d tried to destroy her.

And, just as quickly, she realized what it was the girl meant, in sharing this with her.

They were the same, she, and Sansa, and Arya, and even Jon.  Especially Jon.  They killed those who deserved that death, not for sport, but for justice.

They all had blood on their hands, but that stain need not last forever.

“It was one of the finest days of my life, Dany.  My bravest day.  The first day, in a long time, that I felt safe again.”

Another thought occurred to Daenerys then, and she turned completely, facing Sansa and putting the cage at her back.  “Is that why you wanted to train with us?”

Sansa nodded, biting at her lip for a moment.  “We shall be free, soon, and there will be those who wish to harm me, to harm us.  I will not face my freedom without the means to defend myself, or my family.  And you are among that number now, as well.”

Dany couldn’t stop her face from falling, her eyes downcast as she uttered, “For a bit longer, at least.”

She thought the girl might scold her for her doubts, for Sansa had remained stalwart in her belief that Daenerys would surely survive what came next.  Soft fingers crept below her chin, tipping it up, Sansa’s blue eyes equally as soft as peered down at Dany in the gloomy light.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that, when I walk the grounds of my home again, in truth, you will be there too.”  She smiled, relief seeming to consume her as her tale was done, her deed disclosed, and the prim, proper lady returned.  “Now then,” she said, joining their arms and beginning to lead her away, “enough of this dreary place.  Let me show you to my solar, and we shall have some tea.”

--------

It was her last day in the perpetual darkness of the Lands of Always Winter, most likely her last day amongst what remained of the living, and Daenerys found her day passing in a hazy sort of fog.

She ate, though she could not say she tasted the food she placed upon her tongue.

She visited the places that had become dear to her, over the last three moons spent in the old, crumbling Keep of Winterfell, but her eyes barely even registered what was before her.

Melisandre spoke to her, she was certain of it.  Leaf as well, and her sisters, and it was most likely the same sort of vague, placating reassurances they had all taken to saying, over these last final days.  She couldn’t hear them, though; There was nothing but the whistling wind in her ears, a lonely hollow sound.

The real world, this world she seemed destined to save, had stopped seeming real to her altogether.

The only truth she knew, anymore, the only thing in all of it that was real, was when she dreamed of them together.

But as the hour of her final sleep approached, she found herself hesitant to climb into his bed and settle her head upon his pillow.  For as much as she mourned the loss she expected to come, her true grief was for him.

If she died, he would have to go on without her, and she wasn’t sure he was prepared to do so anymore.

And as she made her way to his chambers, one last time, she found the white wolf at her side seemed to be moving slower than usual as well, an air of listlessness about him that only deepened her own aching sadness.

The wolf was worried, as well.

Together, the entered Jon’s suite of rooms, and she walked a slow circuit, running her fingers along the spines of the books along a shelf, across the surface of his great wooden desk, before entering his sleeping chambers, the fire blazing away as it always was, now.

She shed everything but her plain, thin shift, the air in the room so warm this night she wondered that she might even need the pile of thick furs, her eyes lighting on her eggs snug and secure in their own little nest of rabbit pelts and fox fur.  She knelt, her legs tucked under her, and touched the pad of her index finger to the black scaled egg, starting and drawing it away when a heat that threatened to sear the skin greeted her.  She examined the digit, finding she had not been burned, and looked at Ghost, who sat nearby, watching with interest.

“That’s odd,” she whispered, and tested the other two, first the green, and then the cream, and both were equally as heated.  She looked to the flames, then at the wolf once more.  “Perhaps I’ve left them too close to the fire.”

Ghost gave her a look that suggested he didn’t believe that justification for a moment, and in truth, neither did she, but her body had grown as tired as her mind, and she was ill-equipped to do little more but think of Jon, just then.

He weighed heavy on her mind and heart as she rose, stretching and padding on bare feet over to his bed, a sliver of solace to be found in the notion that, at the very least, this was the last night she would sleep in it alone.

Dany reached for the tin, staring out the window into the moonlit night, and absently swallowed the lemony spoonful.  One day the sun would shine again in these lands, and though she might not survive to see it, she could feel that warmth on her face just once more, in her dreams.

---------

The Winter King sat, forlorn, before his own hearth, his head in his hands.

He did not budge, made no move that he heard her approach, save for the way his muscles seemed to sag in relief when Dany came to stand behind him, her fingers lighting on his shoulders, her head dipping to press a kiss to the nape of his neck.

“Dany.”  She could hear the pain in his voice, and she rounded the chair to kneel before him, pulling his hands away from his face, unsurprised to find his eyes red, his cheeks wet with tears.  He tried to cover his face again, but she held tight, her palms pressed against his, until he finally looked at her fully.  “I don’t want you to see me like this.”

Daenerys set her jaw, giving him a warning look before pressing his hands against his knees, meaning for him to leave them there.  She raised her fingers to wipe away the tears that streaked his face, leaning up to kiss him, gently, just the slightest press of her lips to his, before pulling back an inch to whisper, “Do not hide from me, Jon Stark.”

“They won’t listen, Dany.  They won’t listen to me.  I am a King, and I am not a man who grovels and pleads…,” he trailed off, his voice growing louder and more frustrated, his eyes black as pitch and darting around frantically.  “But they will not hear me!  I beg them and they pay me in silence!”

“Who, Jon?”  She could only watch, bewildered, when he stood, sidestepping her to stand at the mantle, both hands gripped the stone until his knuckles whitened.

“My Gods, Daenerys.  They have forsaken me, just as I thought.  They will not hear my pleas.”  He was growling like his wolf, now, a barely concealed rage making his arms tremble as she watched him fight for control of himself.  “For three moons now, I have begged and supplicated myself before them, begged them to trade my life for yours, and they refuse me.”

She stared at his back, her own anger building, but not for his Gods.  “Jon.”  He did not turn, and she called to him again, louder.  “Jon!”  Finally, his head turned, and he gave her a chastened look before pushing away from the fireplace and coming to stand before her.

“It was foolish.  I know.”  His hands settled at her waist, and she noticed that she was wearing exactly what she’d fallen asleep in, just her thin shift.  “But when it comes to you I fear I am little more than a Northern fool, stamping his feet and cursing the Gods when I don’t get my way.”  She was cross, to be sure, that he was still trying to take this burden from her, when it was not his to bear.  This was her sacrifice to make, not his.

But it was difficult to stay aggrieved when she held her so closely, when their time together was slipping away, when this dream they’d shared would soon be finished for good.  So she deepened their embrace, instead, wrapping her arms around his torso, letting her palms skirt his sides where she knew he was a bit ticklish and enjoying the way he jumped slightly before fixing her hands together at the small of his back.  She lay her head against his chest, just listening to the steady beat of the heart within, that heart of ice that had thawed, slowly but surely, when he’d given it to her.  “I asked my sisters to leave us be tonight.”  His voice was a rumbling vibration against her cheek, and she closed her eyes, content to listen as he quietly spoke.  “An easy task, it would seem, as they busy themselves making plans on what they shall do, once you have freed us, once we have returned to the realms of the living.”  She knew the Stark sisters had grown increasingly excited, with each passing night, as they neared the end of this enchanted imprisonment.  But Jon sounded not at all pleased, only sounding more somber with each word.

Dany leaned her head back, her chin tilted up to look at his morose, handsome face, and she managed to scrape together a smile, she hoped, as she stared into his eyes.  “And what will you do, this night?  What plans shall you make?”  She was determined not to spend this final night in the depths of despair, even if they dwelt their together, and so she slipped one hand down to rest on the curve of his arse, squeezing gently and raising a brow.  “Anything *particular* that Your Grace has in mind?”

He exhaled slowly, staring down at her as though he could see right through her.  And thought she could see him trying to fight it, eventually the corners of his lips twitched.  “You’re trying to distract me,” he whispered. 

“Yes.”  She licked her lips, glad to see that despite his gloomy mood his eyes still tracked her every move with predatory intent.  “Is it working?” 

Jon’s throat bobbed, and she fought the urge to chase the movement with her tongue and teeth, to gorge herself on him, needing rising within her like a wild, untamed thing, each beat of her heart reminding her that this was her last chance.  “I’m certain it will, fairly soon.  I’ve found it rather impossible to resist you for long.”  He released her, and she frowned down at her bare feet, bereft, until he took her hand in his and led her to the foot of his bed, perching on the edge and patting the space next to him, motioning for her to sit.

“My head and heart are at war, Daenerys, with what I believe will come to pass and what I desperately hope will come to be.”  He sounded so tortured, every word that passed his lips sounded as though it were cut from his soul, and when she pressed her shoulder against his, and he peered down at her, she could see the way his heart was breaking, right before her eyes.

“Oh, Jon.”  She stood, hesitantly, but more sure of herself as she insinuated herself between his legs, as he wrapped his arms around her as tightly as he could, his head buried in the fabric of her shift, between her breasts.  His tears, though silent, began to wet the material, and she fought back her own sob as her fingers smoothed and combed through his dark hair, as she hugged her own arms tightly around his neck, anchoring him to her.  “I don’t want to leave you.  It’s the last thing I want.  But what choice is there?”

He shook his head against her, helplessly.  “There are no choices.  We are well past that now.  But if I could choose,” he drew in a breath, looking up at her suddenly, the entirety of his heart, that most secret truth, all there in his eyes, “it would only be you, always you.”

Dany’s tears began to fall in earnest, now, and she traced a trembling finger along his brow, the other hand clasped firmly at the back of his neck.  “I love you, Jon.  More than anyone.  More than anything.”

He ducked his head, breathing heavily, his face obscured once more as he pressed it against her chest.  With a ragged, heaving sigh, he responded, his words blurring her vision, causing her to hold him ever tighter to her body, wishing she could hold him forever.

“I have only ever loved you, and I fear it is not enough.”  His chin tipped up, and his own eyes were full of tears again as he whispered, "But, by the Gods, Dany, I wish it was.  Just this once, I wish it was."