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500 Ways to Date in the West(eros)

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There is no reason to be nervous, Davos tells himself. No reason whatsoever. I am a grown man, this is all perfectly legal and consensual. Still, while he is most certainly a grown man, he's also moseying ever closer to the far end of the spectrum that will eventually label him as an old man. That knowledge in and of itself is enough to give him pause with his thumb hovering over the Grindr app on his phone. Add to it the facts of daily doses of Metamucil, aches in his joints and lower back, the silver hair on his temples that has completely overrun the brown, and he has half a mind to not only delete the app but maybe douse his phone in bleach. 

"Don't be foolish," he mutters to himself. " Bleach can't even reach the cloud."

Whatever the hell the cloud is.

His gaze flicks from his phone screen to a re-corked bottle of red wine sitting on the kitchen counter next to a beautifully arranged bowl of fruit. Wine, of course. That will help mellow him out and give him a little liquid courage for his first foray into the world of sexting. 

A few moments later, he's got a large glass of old vine zinfandel in one hand and his phone in the other as he makes his way out of the kitchen, through the French doors that lead to the backyard, and then finally out into the evening. While he is the only one out here, it is far from quiet. Nightingales, thrushes, and one sleepy-sounding owl do their best to fill the late summer evening air, while the swimming pool's vacuum, ever on the move, provides a low steady hum to compete with crickets. 

The light from the pool glows in the otherwise dark yard, a wavy ripple of lemon yellow and, off in the deep end, a darker, calmer aquamarine. It's very peaceful, and very beautiful, and, he is somewhat pleased to notice, very romantic as well. As good a backdrop as any for some early evening online flirting. Online dalliances? A hookup? Whatever it is the crazy kids call it these days. 

He allows himself a few sips of wine while walking back and forth on the top stair of the pool steps, his pants cuffed and rolled to his calves, all while staring at his phone screen, the Grindr icon staring right back at him with its weird little yellow and black face.

"Well, here goes nothing," he says, his voice a low echoing bounce in his wine glass before he takes another long swallow.

He taps into the app, goes to his mutual swipes, of which there is only the one. Despite his nerves, Davos can’t help but grin, and he sets down his glass of wine first to wipe his mouth, and then to tap out a message.

StepdaddySailor: Why, hello there, handsome. Fancy a talk?

He knows he shouldn’t be nervous. There’s nothing wrong with this, right? He was told to put a little spice in his love life, and he thinks out of all his options, that this is the most convenient, the easiest, the most comfortable.

Especially most comfortable. If Davos were ever crazy enough to even attempt to put on a latex bodysuit like one of the guys at his firm suggested, he knows full well he’d never get out of one. And if he did, it would probably take forever, just like it’s taking for him to get a reply.

He frowns, staring at his screen, and he’s about to type out another message when the French doors behind him suddenly bang open. Despite knowing full well who it’s going to be, he lets out a girlish shriek of surprise and claps the screen of his phone against his chest.

“You cannot possibly be serious, right now,” a voice barks from the top patio step.

Davos exchanges his prepubescent squeal of surprise for a groan of anticipated frustration, and not the good kind of frustration this exercise was supposed to inspire. He twists around to look over his shoulder at his husband of 25 years. Stannis stands there with his own phone in hand, though the screen is aimed at Davos, a glowing white rectangle of light, a glowing white rectangle of incredulity, apparently.

“What? You agreed to this,” Davos calls out defensively, his phone still pressed conspiratorially against his chest. “And, might I add, you agreed to stay in the bedroom.”

“Stepdaddy Sailor? What’s next? A tawdry suggestion of matching whipped cream Speedos?”

“Well, I am a stepfather, and a sailor, and, well,” Davos finishes with a lame grumble. “It’s supposed to be, you know, seductive.”

Stannis snorts, audible even with half the backyard between them.

“There is seduction in propriety as well.”

Davos rolls his eyes.

“Oh, and I suppose you’re going to tell me next that the Victorians had it right the whole while? Flash a sliver of ankle? Send a sexual innuendo through the magic of floral arrangements?”

Stannis shifts his weight from one foot to another, looks down at the ground a moment before clearing his throat.

“Well, not that I was ever much partial to women’s ankles, but the idea of showing just a little in order to convey the—”

“And that sort of attitude is exactly why Shi-Shawn from accounting suggested a little mild role play. You need to shake the cobwebs out of the idea you have about passion, and I- well, frankly, I need to feel a little wanted every now and then.”

Stannis opens his mouth to speak, and then takes a step down the patio stairs. It is Davos’s turn to snort now, and he turns around to show his husband his back.

“Davos, you are my husband,” Stannis says slowly, his voice gaining in volume as he presumably walks closer. “Of course you’re wanted. I want to spend my life with you, just as I stated in my wedding vows.”

“It’s not vows I’m wanting, and you know it,” Davos huffs. “I want passion, the way we used to have. And you can’t even do that over the phone. And you love talking through computers. It’s your preferred method of communication in practically every avenue of life.”

Stannis’s only reply is by way of the scrape of a heavy chair against the brick patio floor they laid together when they bought the house all those years ago. Davos sighs, shaking his head, and he’s about to reach for his glass of wine when his phone buzzes against his chest. Frowning, he lowers it to look down at the screen.

SB1967: It is not my preferred way of communication with the man whom I love, but I will do anything for that man.

Davos smiles.

StepdaddySailor: That’s the main way we’ve been talking for years now

SB1967: After tonight, I will make the most ferocious of amends for it.

StepdaddySailor: Is that a promise?

SB1967: Yes, of course. If you’re willing to go to these lengths, then clearly I have been remiss.

Davos glares over his shoulder at his husband, who is sitting in one of their wrought iron patio chairs, his long legs cocked out at the knees, phone in both hands held halfway between his navel and his nose, his entire body angled towards Davos. He is this close to complaining about Stannis’s previously assured compliance in all of this, but then his phone buzzes again.

SB1967: You look extremely handsome tonight.

Another glance over his shoulder, and Davos can see the smallest of smirk-smiles playing in the corner of his husband’s mouth. Davos can’t help his own smile from forming, nearly identical to his mate’s. He turns his back on his husband in order to flirt with him.

StepdaddySailor: It’s supposed to be role play

SB1967: Fair enough. What are you wearing right now?

Originally he’d asked Stannis that they stay in separate parts of the house while they try out this role playing gig, but he has to admit, he finds immense comfort knowing his husband is just behind him, and he can’t help but think that Stannis perhaps is a little more courageous for that fact as well. So just as any well-seasoned spouse of over 20 years would do, Davos tests his theory.

StepdaddySailor: Chanel No 5 and a smile

SB1967: Intriguing. I can tell from your profile that you are a captivating man. That is why I could not help but swipe left.

StepdaddySailor: Right

SB1967: Ah, I admire your self-confidence.

StepdaddySailor: I meant that you swiped right, not left

There are a few moments’ pause, long enough for Davos to take another sip of wine and to hike his trouser cuffs up even higher so he can let his feet leave the first step and dangle over the second. Finally, another buzz of text.

SB1967: All I know is that you’re the only man I swiped any which way on. You are my only match.

StepdaddySailor: So I’m the only thing you crave?

SB1967: Tax breaks from a conventional heterosexual marriage didn’t keep me away from you before. Pardon me, I broke character. What I mean is, yes. You are all that I crave. Sailor.

Emboldened by that, by the wine, by the cool swish of poolwater around his calves, Davos grins and types out something salacious. There is a slow inhale of breath from behind him, through the gritted teeth of the man he knows so well.

Or at least, the man he thought he knew. The next flurry of texts out of Stannis are damn near enough to make Davos blush. Whatever Stannis said before about disliking online communication between husbands, there is evidently some comfort the straitlaced man gets from the relative safety of talking through screens. While the 25 long and sometimes trying years of their marriage – legal only these past handful – are thiiiiis close to driving Davos to point out that small hypocrisy, there is still the young romantic in him who is still so very much in love, still so very willing to gloss it over that he does just that. To his surprise and his joy, the texts continue to get raunchier, in their own individual ways, to the point where Davos has to wonder if this swimming pool suddenly turned into a spa, he’s feeling that warm.  

Then there is another notification from his phone, though this isn’t the discreet buzz from Grindr, but the chirrup of an iMessage.

Shireen: Hey, homie! How’s it going? Is dad being more romantic than a 2x4 yet?

Davos: Shhh, he can probably hear you

Shireen: LMAO dad, come on, it’s not a walkie talkie or anything, it’s a cell phone. Are you having fun?

SB1967: Are you commiserating with another man? Should I feel jealous?

Davos raises his eyebrows, just barely manages to keep himself from shrugging once he remembers Stannis is sitting right behind him. Another sip of wine, nearly finishing the glass. Another grin. Another final sip, because the wine is almost as delicious as this newfound sexually charged Stannis. And jealous, to boot. He puts down his wine glass in order to switch apps and text, almost knocks the base off the stem when he bonks it against the edge of the pool.

StepdaddySailor: Yes, I am

Davos: Would that make you jealous? 

SB1967: You are??

Shireen: Well no, I mean, I know we were going to go see Hustlers tonight, but that’s okay

StepdaddySailor: I am totally down with hustlers, you know that, I love keeping in tune with you young bloods, hon, just not tonight

“What in the hell is going on?” Stannis nearly shouts.

Davos: Am I what? Hot for all the filthy things you just suggested? I am MORE than hot for those, you dirty CFO

Shireen: OH MY GOD

Davos frowns, switching back and forth between iMessage and Grindr, more and more confused before he finally realizes what’s happened. He sucks in a mortified gasp. Old man he must be to get his texts so jumbled up. And a tispy old man, to boot.

“Oh my god,” he whispers hoarsely.

“I haven’t heard ‘oh my god’ out of you in forever,” Stannis growls out from behind Davos, his chair a heavy scrape against brick that nearly out-grates the sound of his voice.

Shireen: Imma pray to every deity I know rn in the hopes that this wasn’t meant for me, or even worse, that this wasn’t meant for my dad. Oh god it’s totally meant for my dad, isn’t it oh god I gotta go

Davos: Honey, I am so so sorry, I got mixed up, that’s all

He is about to continue on a diatribe of apologies to his stepdaughter, the one person he truly trusted enough to share, however gingerly, his recent woes over marital bliss that has not necessarily withered on the vine, but has suffered a drought nonetheless. She may be a grownup, you dolt, but she’s not your confidant. You should have known better. He is about to text her all of this, but then he’s tapped on his shoulder.

“What is this, hm? Are you texting Shawn from accounting, with his ‘good ideas’? If your intention is to make me jealous, Davos,” Stannis starts.

“No, not at all,” Davos interjects, glancing up at his husband.

But then his phone dings again.

Shireen: I want to let you know that this warrants about a billion barf emojis, but fuck it, go get him tiger (BAAAARF)

“If your intention is to make me jealous,” Stannis begins again, voice low and rough with want, “then it’s worked. I know how wanton accountants can be, and I will be damned if I allow one to sweep my husband out of my arms. Now you get your stepdaddy sailor ass in that house so I can prove that a Chief Financial Officer is so named for a reason.

It’s all Davos can do to keep from flinging his phone in the pool as they both sprint back to the house. Or, rather, sprint as 50-year old men can do.

An hour later, they’re laid out on their backs, sweat still drying, smiles still lingering, fingers still lightly clasped though only just, due to how humidly warm they’ve just made their bedroom.

“I have to ask,” Stannis muses. “Was it actually Shawn from accounting? Or was it another man on that app named after a sandwich? Jesus, Davos, it wasn’t a lawyer, was it?”

Davos chuckles, closes his eyes, shakes his head. He knows the truth will likely mortify his husband, but it’s far better than lying and saying he was flirting with other men. As if that idea could ever cross his faithful, loyal mind, no matter how horny he’s been lately.

“No. They were from Shireen. This was all her idea. Sorry, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking with anyone else.”

The lazy breathing from Stannis stops for a beat, and there is a brief, terrifying moment of silence. And then Stannis laughs, a chuckled exhale of breath through his nostrils.

“I suppose I’ll have to send her a floral arrangement in the morning,” he says, and then he gives Davos a dry little smile. “Stepdaddy Sailor.”

Chapter Text

Wooliam Shakespaw
Owner: Gregor

Scottish Deerhound
9 years old

Needs: Company, Outdoor time
Good with: Children, cats
Available on: Weekdays – daytime

Woolly is almost 10 years old which is very old for his breed. I have a new job and he gets lonely when I am not home. He likes to sniff things in the backyard but you have to stay with him, because he is pretty deaf and won’t hear you calling him. He loves to eat raspberries and having his ears brushed.

 

Walda nibbles on a biscuit as she scrolls through the series of photographs on Wooliam Shakespaw’s BorrowMyDoggy profile. He’s a big one, all scruffy and grey, but he’s got friendly eyes. In one photo, he’s standing next to his owner, and while he’s like to come up to at least her waist, he barely reaches his owner’s knee.

She taps the biscuit against her lips as she thinks about what to say in her message to Gregor. She keeps it simple, ultimately.

Hi Gregor!!

Wooliam is a beautiful boy! I would be honoured to spend time with him while you are at work during the day. I do not have any pets right now but I grew up in a very large family and we always had pets in the house. I can promise lots of snuggles and raspberries within reason! I work nights, but I would be available during the week anytime from around noon til 4pm. Let me know what works for you!!

Walda

An hour later there is a response in her inbox.

Hello Walda,

My brother says we should meet first to make sure Woolly likes you and also so we can meet in public which he says is safer. Do you want to meet at the park tomorrow? If Woolly likes you, I can give you my spare key and you can come over around lunchtimes. I don’t mind if you make lunch here. Just please don’t give anything bad to Wool, he does not always know if a food is okay for dogs.

Thank you,

Gregor

There’s something endearing about the way Gregor writes, Walda can almost picture him typing, a one-finger hunt-and-peck. After a few more back-and-forth messages, they arrange to meet at the park tomorrow, and Walda goes to bed that night humming to herself as she thinks about how exciting it will be to have a dog again, even if it’s only for a couple of hours a day.

The planned meeting goes well. Gregor is enormous, a full foot and a half taller than she is, but he carries himself with the cautious awareness of a man who knows he is too big for the world around him. He’s sweet, blushes when he looks at her, and he clearly loves his dog more than anything. It’s a mutually reciprocated feeling, and Walda immediately trusts a man whose dog is so enamoured of him.

By the time they separate, Walda has the spare key, Gregor’s phone number, and a promise to stay for dinner on her next available evening off.

Gregor makes (read: thaws one his sister-in-law made) lasagne, and they watch a documentary about wombats. Curled up on his sofa with Wooliam draped over her legs and Gregor’s arm draped across her shoulders, Walda feels a contentment deep down in her bones. From the way he heaves an exhausted, soulful sigh, Wooliam agrees.

Chapter Text

reddit.com /r/ recentlywidowed


posted by u/snakedlady

Update: hey all, snakedlady here! As many of you in this sub know, last night I had my first date since the unexpected death of my husband in all ways except legally according to the federal government. The date itself was much more fun than expected, she was stunning, and we just had this connection I haven’t felt since the passing of my lover. Thank you recentlywidowed community for encouraging me to get out there, I truly would have never done this without your encouragement.

comments (sort by BEST)

wolfpackdad   167 points

                that’s great to hear snakedlady! my girls are encouraging me to make the first move here too and go on a date with someone really special to me, but I got to admit the idea of dating really makes me nervous.

                lionesscrimsonqueen 52 points

                                who could the lucky lady be? ::winking emoji::

                                rockyroad4ever 31 points

                                                there’s no way it could be you lioness huh?

                                                edit: oof, sorry sarcasm doesn’t translate on the net.

                lionesscrimsonqueen 16 points

                                the world will never know if I never get properly asked out.

                                wolpackdad 58 points

                                                … should I do that?

                                                lionesscrimsonqueen 44 points

                                                                well, you have my phone number…

squidinkpie 130 points

                I’m not sure how snakedlady’s post turned out into WPD and LCQ FINALLY publicly commenting on a potential date, but I’ve been on this sub long enough to know that those two somehow ALWAYS end up flirting in every thread.

In the words of my 14 year old: I stan forever. (someone please explain what that means?)




(412) 555-3410: Hey LCQ… it’s WPD. I know this may seem sudden, but I was wondering if you’d like to meet for drinks this weekend? Maybe at the Paris 66 Bistro in Shadyside? Since we’re both near there…

(412) 555-9918: I would absolutely love that WPD. Saturday at 7pm? I’ll call and get a reservation.

(412) 555-3410: That works for me. I’ll meet you there. What name should I ask for, since we’ve never formally introduced ourselves.

(412) 555-9918: It’ll be reserved under the name Lannister. I can’t wait to meet you WPD, it feels like we’ve known each other forever.

Ned’s heart nearly stops when he reads the name Lannister. There’s absolutely no way this mystery internet woman who has enchanted him in so many ways these past few months could be Cersei Lannister right? No, definitely not. There has got to be several dozen women in the area with the last name Lannister, it’s decently common in these parts.

His phone continues to chime.

(412) 555-9918: The reservation is for 7:15pm. I’ll be in a red dress with blonde hair.

(412) 555-9918: My kids will all be out of the house that evening too. Just in case.

(412) 555-9918: I realize that last message was highly presumptuous of me, but I wanted my bases covered.

(412) 555-9918: Are you there dear? Did I frighten you off ☹

(412) 555-3410: No no no. I’m here. Just distracted by one of my teenagers.

(412) 555-9918: Oh good! I know exactly the feeling.

(412) 555-3410: Everything sounds excellent. I’ll keep all of it in mind. I’ll see you on Saturday!

Ned quickly puts all thoughts of Cersei Lannister to rest as his teenagers really do become a distraction. Bran needs him to sign a permission form for a field trip and Arya is trying to sneak the very nice Payne boy, who she insists is not her boyfriend and Ned knows is a freshman at Pitt, past him to hang out in the family room alone. Honestly, he’s not entirely sure where Rickon is, but he hasn’t seen Osha, his housekeeper/nanny/all around life saver, either so he’s not that worried, she never lets him get too far from the house without her.

“Hey dad?” his eldest daughter calls from the front hall as he hears the door open.

Sansa attends Carlow and majors in Political Science. She also thinks she’s being discreet about dating his eldest son Robb’s best friend, Jon Snow, but Ned knows more than he lets on. It also helps that Brienne, his family driver, and Osha don’t keep too much important information from him. Especially when Congress is in session and he’s down in Washinton DC.

“The kitchen darling,” he shouts back as the oven timer goes off, informing him that the lasagna Osha had prepped in the fridge is baked.

When his daughter rounds the corner, Ned’s heart breaks just a little. Sansa looks exactly like her mother, Ned’s wife Catelyn who passed two years ago after being involved in a tragic car accident with their son Robb, and every time he sees Sansa, he can’t help but be taken back to that. Even since she decided to change her deep auburn hair to blonde, something Brienne suspects happened because she also see’s Cat every time she looks at herself.  

“Jon’s coming for dinner, is that okay?” she asks after popping a kiss on his cheek.

Ned nods. “Arya has that Payne boy over too.”

Sansa rolls her eyes. “Dad, you know his name is Podrick. Don’t be salty just because things didn’t work out with Gendry. She’s still young and Podrick is a great guy. She doesn’t even consider him her boyfriend right now; they are just hanging out.”

“Like you and Jon are just hanging out?” Ned asks with a raised eyebrow. Sansa has the decency to blush.

“Actually. That’s why he’s coming over for dinner tonight. We’ve progressed on that front and I thought it was time for you to meet him as my boyfriend.”

“I’ve known Jon since he was in diapers. He and Robb were in the same daycare class since they were about a year old.”

“Yeah well. This is different Daddy. Please be nice?” Sansa pleads as her phone chimes in her hand.

Ned gives his eldest a kiss on the top of her head. “Of course.”



Dinner is almost entirely uneventful. Osha and Rickon wander back in the house about half an hour before they generally eat, and Arya and Podrick have already set the dinning room table without him needing to ask more than once. Brienne brought Bran back from his appointment at the physical therapists office and gladly accepted the offer for dinner just as Jon was walking in the door.

Ned stayed on his very best behavior when it came to both his daughters suitors, if only because he was about to break the news of his first-date-post-Cat while Osha served the cheesecake she had baked this morning.

He sets his fork down and clears his throat loud enough that all the chitter chatter around the table dies down.

“Thank you, Osha, for the perfect dinner and dessert, we’d fall apart around here without you if we’re being perfectly honest. And thank you to both Jon and Podrick for joining us tonight. I hope to see you both around here a bit more often,” Ned says with a nod of thanks to all three.

Sansa looks at her siblings over the rim of her water glass. “Um. Is there something going on Dad?”

“Yeah, you’re being a little weirder than normal,” Arya states as she stabs at her cheesecake and gives Podrick a half shrug.

“Well. I’m sorry so many people are here for this announcement, but since we’re all here, I figured this was the best time for it.”

Bran looks up in alarm. “You’re not quitting congress, are you? Or like, deciding to run for President?”

“No. No, no, no. Nothing like that son, don’t worry. I uh, I’ve met someone,” he states clearly, his eyes darting around the table hoping to catch the reactions of his four children.

Several things happen all at once; Sansa screams and knocks over her glass of water and it lands mostly in Jon’s lap, causing him to jump up from the table and half crash into the wall and bump a portrait off its hook. Rickon starts yelling something Ned can’t quite make out before he runs out of the dining room, causing Osha to take off after him. Arya starts stabbing at the piece of cheesecake with more force than necessary and refuses to meet his eye, but Ned notices the way Podrick wraps a reassuring hand around her wrist to get her to stop and leans in to quietly say something to her. Brienne is rubbing at her temples but has a grin on her face, and Bran just smiles back brightly at him.

Once the commotion settles down and Osha has gotten Rickon back to the table, the questions start.

“What do you mean you’ve met someone?” Sansa asks as Jon rubs her back between her shoulder blades.

“I took Brienne’s advice a while back to find a community of people in a similar situation as myself. I love you kids dearly, and I’d do anything for you, but I needed to be able to talk to other adults who are going through losing a spouse.”

“So you’ve just fallen in love with some random women from your support group?” Arya asks bitterly.

“No. Not exactly. I’m not in love, first of all. And secondly, I haven’t even met this woman in person yet. We’re meeting for drinks Saturday.”

Arya rolls her eyes. “You haven’t even met her? Gross Dad, please tell me this isn’t a Tinder date?”

“No, not Tinder. We met on reddit actually.”

Sansa groans. “Oh god Dad, that’s even worse.”

“Well, I for one am happy for you Dad. You should get to be happy too,” his now oldest son says from his end of the table. Brienne gives him a gentle squeeze on the shoulder.

“Thank you, Bran,” Ned replies with a genuine smile.

“Is this lady going to be my new mom?” Rickon finally says, practically a mumble that Ned would barely make out if it wasn’t for the absolute silence the rest of the room is in.

Ned gets out of his chair as soon as it hits him what exactly his son is asking. He kneels down at his youngest child’s side and wraps his arms around his shoulders. “Never Rickon. Your mom will always be your mom, even if she’s not here with us. This is just a date, who is to know if it’s even going to work out?”

Rickon nods once. “May I be excused now?” he asks as Ned gives him a quick squeeze.

“You all may be excused,” he says standing up. “I’ll help Osha with the dishes.”

“I will too,” Brienne chimes in as all the kids and their partners make to go off to their own parts of the house.

Sansa stops to give Ned a kiss on the cheek goodnight and Jon gives him a handshake before they head out of the dining room. Arya attempts to exit without acknowledging him but takes one look at Podrick before she also heads over to hug him, albeit reluctantly. Ned mouths a thank you over his daughters’ head to the young man standing beside them, and the boy just blushes a spectacular shade of crimson and gives him an embarrassed nod. Bran uses his crutches to make his way out of the room and Ned gives him a rub on his shoulder and a kiss on the top of his head as he passes by.

He turns around to see both women giving him the widest smiles he’s ever seen on their faces.

“So, is it who I think it is?” Brienne asks as she starts piling plates up.

“Yeah. LCQ and I have finally decided to meet up,” Ned says with a hopeful grin.

Osha tsks at him. “Still no idea who she is though? Did you look up her phone number?”

“Unlisted. She did say that the reservations were under the name Lannister though,” he mentions casually as he turns the faucet on to rinse the dishes the ladies are bringing to him.

“Lannister? As in Cersei Lannister?” Brienne asks with a note of worry in her voice.

Brienne knew the Lannisters better than most, and not necessarily for good reasons.

Ned shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ll find out on Saturday I guess.”



Saturday at 7pm came much faster than Ned expected. He half considered sneaking out of the house, but Sansa ambushed him around 5:30pm to make sure he was dressed properly.

“Mom would come back and haunt me if I let you out on your first date looking like a congressman,” she chided softly as she went through his closet.

“I am a congressman,” he had tried to argue to no avail.

He found himself in a pair of Dockers he wasn’t aware he even owned, with a nice button down and sports coat. Sansa had even helped him with his hair and informed him that she wouldn’t wait up for him, but to either be home at a decent time or to make his morning return look like he had gone out to grab breakfast for everyone. He had sputtered at that, but his 19 year old just gave him an exasperated look before kissing his cheek goodnight and telling him to have a good time.

“Hello, welcome to Paris 66 Bistro. Do you have a reservation?” the hostess with seafoam green hair asked as he walked into the little waiting area at the front of the restaurant.

“Oh yes. Um, Lannister, party of two. I’m meeting someone here,” he says as he stuffs his hands into his pockets nervously.

“Oh great! I just sat your date, so if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you right over. My name is Wylla, and your server tonight will be Grenn,” the green haired hostess shared as she lead him through the dimly lit restaurant.

The closer Need gets to the table the faster his heart starts to beat. He really hasn’t thought about what he would do if the woman is in fact Cersei Lannister, the widow of his long-time best friend and someone who shared a mutual disdain with him. It’s not like he could just turn around and walk out of this place, despite the darkness the dim lighting provides, he’s a fairly recognizable public figure and someone would surely see.

Ned doesn’t have much more time to consider his options, because the hostess is stopping short just in front of him and making small talk with whoever it is in the booth.

And that’s when it happens, the flash of unmistakable blonde hair and a laugh Ned has heard thousands of times that makes the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

He freezes on the spot.

“Is that you, WPD?” he hears Cersei Lannister ask from behind Wylla, and all he can do if breath in deeply through his nose and step out from behind the young girl.

“It’s me,” he says as Cersei’s eyes widen.

“It’s you,” she repeats helplessly as the hostess wishes them a good dinner, completely unaware of what is happening right here.

“I’m sorry Cersei. I had no idea it was you,” Ned explains as he slides into his side of the booth. The blonde’s eyes harden as she studies his face and he can’t help but gulp nervously.

“Did it not occur to you when I said the reservations were going to be under the name Lannister, that it might be me?”

“It did, briefly. But it’s not like you’re the only Lannister in the city,” he says almost apologetically as he reaches for the glass of water that’s already poured for him.

Cersei scowls. “Of course, it had to be you. I should have known, wolfpackdad who lives in Pittsburgh, obviously that’s none other than Congressman Ned Stark.”

“Listen Cersei, I’m not particularly excited about this either. But if I go back to the house now, the girls are going to want to know why I didn’t stay for my date, and then I’d have to tell them that it was because it was with you,” Ned says evenly after a young waiter drops off their menus and tells them they will be back in a few minutes to take their orders.

A pair of green eyes roll at him from across the table, but Cersei makes no effort to complain further, and instead starts asking Ned about his wine choices.

It’s weird being on a date with the widowed wife of your best friend, especially when you know for a fact that the widow in question can barely stand you and would rather be anywhere else in the world at this current time.

“I suppose I should offer you my condolences, even if it’s two years too late,” Cersei says after downing her first glass of red wine.

Ned gives her a tight, polite smile. “It’s alright. Robert had only just passed when Cat and Robb had their accident, you were in the midst of your own grief at the time.”

Cersei’s eyebrows shoot up at that. “Grief is a strong word for my reaction to my husband’s death. Is it grief if you’re full of hate and relief?”

“I know the last few years were hard for you two, but surely-” he starts before Cersei raises a hand to cut him off.

“I warned him that he would drink himself to death if he wasn’t careful. I knew this was what was going to happen to him, what was going to happen to us, if he couldn’t find his way out of the bottom on the bottle. I loved Robert, once. He was strong, bold, and had a love for life that most people envied, but the only time he was ever happy was when he had a tumbler of whiskey in one hand and some woman’s ass in the other.”

The table lapses into silence as the waiter brings over their entrée’s. Ned had known that not everything was rainbows and sunshine at the Baratheon house, he’d witnessed his fair share of spats between the couple over the years, but he finds himself surprised at just how bad things actually were there at the end.

Feeling something other than mutual loathing for Cersei Lannister is hard.

After what feels like forever, Ned finally decides to break the silence. “How did we not know each other’s phone numbers? I remember, you called me after Robert died.”

Cersei just shakes her head. “I got your number out of Roberts cell phone. I never saved it.”

Ned nods in agreement, because he honestly had never bothered to save Cersei’s number in his phone over the years either. Their only real common connection was Robert, and once he was gone no one could blame them for not staying connected. Between that, the simultaneous loss of his wife and eldest son, and being an active and respected member of the US House of Representatives, Ned hadn’t given much more than a passing thought to his best friends widow over the past two years.

They fill each other in on the last two years over dinner. They may not have ever been very close friends, but at the very least they had always been aware of what was going on with each other’s families – even if it was only on the surface level. Of course, there are some things Ned realizes that he knows, since he’s been talking to Cersei for multiple months under the secrecy of reddit message boards. It is nice to connect some of the dots between things he’s talked to LCQ about and what Cersei is telling him though.

“We should have done this sooner,” he finds himself saying after a second glass of wine and a hours’ worth of conversation.

Cersei raises one perfectly arched eyebrow.

“Come again?”

“I just mean, we should have had talked before now. We went through some very similar things at nearly the same time, but never thought to discuss it with each other.”

“But we did. Discuss is with each other. We might have not known it was each other, but I can recall months of conversations with you about this very topic.”

“Doesn’t that make this strange?”

Cersei sips at her wine. “No. What makes this strange is knowing that I practically invited you back to my house after dinner in hopes of getting thoroughly fucked, before knowing that I was talking to Ned Stark. And considering keeping that offer open.”

Ned finds himself laughing at that, because while the idea would have seemed preposterous a mere handful of hours ago, this becoming less bizarre as the night wears on.

“Sansa warned me to either be home at a decent hour or to pretend that I was bringing home breakfast,” Ned admits as he slides his credit card into the card holder of the bill folder the waiter has brought them.

“The little dove is still preceptive huh? She was always too clever for Joff, I can’t say I’m disappointed they never worked out. Even if they were only high school freshman at the time they dated, Robert really wanted you as an in-law.”

“Sansa’s always been too preceptive. She’s majoring in PoliSci at Carlow and has been dating Jon Snow for a while now. And I agree, she was far too clever for Joffrey and I’m not at all upset they never worked out, fourteen is too young to decide that you’re never going to want to date anyone else ever again.”

“Cheers to that,” Cersei says with a raise of her glass towards Ned before finishing off the glass of wine.

When Grenn brings back the copy of the check for Ned to sign, he makes sure to tip the boy rather well for his excellent service and hopefully his discretion. He’s absolutely certain the boy had picked up pieces of the private conversation here and there, and there’s nothing like making a quick buck off of a gossip about a congressman.

Ned follows Cersei out to the front of the building and stops awkwardly as she digs through her purse for her car keys. He’s parked in the other direction from where she is, but it’s late and dark out, and leaving her alone on the sidewalk doesn’t feel right to him. Once she finds her keys, he follows her towards the parking lot that she parked her Audi in, not really sure what exactly he’s doing but knowing that whatever it is feels like the right choice.

“Um. Well, goodnight Cersei,” he says as she unlocks her drivers side door.

The blonde turns to him and rolls her eyes before she grabs him by the lapels of his jacket and presses her lips up against his. It’s a shock, at first, to be kissed by Cersei Lannister, but once the initial surprise falls away, Ned finds that it’s actually enjoyable being kissed again. It stops all too soon for his taste, finding himself pushed away just as quickly as he was pulled to her.

She looks up at his with unreadable green eyes before her lips twitch into a barely there smirk.

“You do remember where the house is, don’t you?”

Ned gulps and nods.

“Well. I still can’t decide if I hate you or not, but I have decided that I’m not wasting a childless night over that. Some of the best sex Robert and I had was when we hated each other the most,” she says as she opens her drivers side door and slides in.

“You can either meet me there in twenty minutes, or head back home and forget this date ever happened. I’ll leave that up to you, Ned,” Cersei says before she shuts her door and starts her engine.



Ned finds himself knocking on the familiar door less than fifteen minutes later.

The full on smile he receives from Cersei when she opens the door makes his heart flutter in a way he hasn't felt since Cat died. 

He briefly wonders how he's going to explain this to the kids, Osha and Brienne, but his entire train of thought is cut off by the feel of Cersei's lips pressed against his again. 

Chapter Text

 

 

ShoshiT
Single, Woman seeking a Man
23 years old from Highgarden, TR

Have kids: None
Wants kids: Yes
Height: 5’4
Religion: Jewish - Reform
Smoke: No
Education: M.Sc from Baelor U
Occupation: Botanist
Synagogue: High Holidays only

I’m like a rose – you love to look at me, but I’m a prickly bitch if you grab me wrong! I’m just looking to have a good time and meet some fun people. Must love dogs, or at least not hate them.

 

TheonGreygoy
Single, Man seeking a Woman
27 years old from Pyke, II

Have kids: None
Wants kids: No
Height: 5’10”
Religion: Non-Jewish/Other
Smoke: Occasionally
Education: Associates Degree
Occupation: Bartender
Synagogue: Never

I’m the goy who will make your daddy say oy! I’m not looking for anything serious, but I’ve been told I’m a good time and I love free food, so I’ll be your plus-one to every cousin’s bar mitzvah, every sorority sister’s wedding, I can even charm your mother and piss off your daddy at your Passover seder!

 

The profile is sparse, but he’s perfect. Margaery types out a quick message, and he must be at his computer, because he responds almost immediately.

ShoshiT: Please tell me you aren’t already booked for anything this coming weekend!

TheonGreygoy: I’m crashing a family dinner on Friday, but I’m free the rest of the weekend. What do you need, beautiful?

ShoshiT: My brother’s engagement brunch is on Sunday and my ex will be there. My grandmother hasn’t forgiven me for breaking up with him, so it’s going to be three hours of passive-aggressive barbed comments and I figure if she’s going to be hassle me, I may as well lean into it. Do you own a leather jacket? Maybe some big ol’ combat boots?

TheonGreygoy: Hell yeah, princess, I can go full industrial if you want. Are we looking to piss off the ex, too? I’m great at lechery, I’ll even throw in a few gropes. ;)

ShoshiT: No, the ex is fine. He’s the one my brother just got engaged to.

TheonGreygoy: Oh, damn. And grandma’s mad at you??

ShoshiT: I know, right?

Margaery makes arrangements to meet Theon at a coffee shop tomorrow, because she’s not about to bring someone home without ironing out their story to perfection first.

The next day she gets there early and sets herself up at a table near the back of the café. They’ve already seen each other’s profile pictures, but just to be sure, she’s told him to look for the brunette with the flower in her hair, and he’s promised to wear his leather jacket.

The door jingles, and she looks up as a man in a leather jacket enters the shop. He’s shorter than his profile said, but he moves with a sly confidence that more than makes up the difference. He swings himself down into the chair opposite her and shakes her offered hand.

She has a list of questions, ideas for their backstory, but sitting with him, inhaling the musky scent of his aftershave, they all fly out the window. His eyes are a stormy blue, his gaze focused on her like she is the most important person in the room.

She is surprised to find their conversation flowing easily, and she tries to remind herself that this is not actually a date. He’s funny, wry and quick-witted, and they wind up talking for two hours, drinks left to go cold.

They shake hands outside the shop before parting ways, and when he smiles at her, his grin is a promise of a weekend she’s never going to forget.


Margaery looks at her watch for the fifth time in as many minutes. Theon’s due to arrive any minute, and there is a flutter in her chest that belies the smooth face she is showing her family.

“Nu, Shosheleh, where is this boy you promised me?”

Her bubbe Olenna peers around, like she’d maybe somehow missed the arrival of someone new, as if she misses anything that happens in her home.

Margaery is saved from having to answer by the ringing doorbell. She jumps up, runs to the door before anyone else can beat her to it. Theon is leaning languorous against the doorframe, and he slides his gaze slowly up her body. His eyes, when they meet hers, are twinkling.

“Well, hey there.” He drawls, standing upright.

“Hey,” she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “Ready to face the queen of thorns?”

He grins, all teeth.

“Lead the way, darlin’.”

She grabs his hand, and he twines his fingers through hers.

Olenna is seated in her wingback chair, talking to Renly, Margaery’s ex-boyfriend and soon-to-be brother-in-law.

“Bubbe, this is Theon, my new boyfriend. Theon, this is my bubbe, Olenna Tyrell.”

Theon oozes charm as he leans down to kiss Olenna’s hand.

“Mrs. Tyrell, it’s so lovely to meet you. Margie has told me so much about you.”

“Boychik, I didn’t know you existed until this morning.”

“Bubbe!” Margaery hisses.

Theon laughs, pulls Margaery into a showy kiss. They’d talked about it at the coffee shop, but hadn’t practiced. It doesn’t matter, it’s easily the best kiss she’s ever received. She curls into him, hands coming up to grip the lapels of his leather jacket, his tongue sweeping into her mouth.

Renly whistles when they finally separate. Olenna’s gaze is sharp and calculating, and Margaery is sure she’ll be catching an earful sooner rather than later, but right now she can’t find it in herself to care.

 

Chapter Text

‘You’ve done bloody what?’ Edd stared at his friend, who he’d decided in this moment was absolutely not his friend at all.

Sam gave one his guileless beams, unpacking his lunch sandwiches. ‘I’ve created you a profile on mysinglefriend.com!’

Edd continued staring at him. They’d been working at Hadrian’s Wall’s restoration site for a year together, and he’d just about got used to this daftly cheerful bastard. But this was a whole other level.

Sam’s smile faltered just a touch. ‘Because . . . you know, it’s not like you’ve been seeing many women of late.’

‘Of late?’ Edd picked up his can of coke, shaking his head.

‘It’s just that since Gilly and I started seeing each other –’

‘Oh, God. Here we go.’

If there was one thing Sam Tarly never tired of saying, it was since Gilly and I starting seeing each other. Edd had heard it enough times to want to cut his own ears off.

‘Look mate,’ Edd said. ‘Just because your life’s a bed of bloody roses now, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen for everyone. The world’s not like that.’ The world was crap, almost all of the time. Edd had accepted that a long time ago.

‘But you don’t know unless you try,’ said Sam, his big eyes stupidly hopeful.

***

‘Better him than me.’ Sandor passed the phone back to Edd, raising his voice to be heard over the raucous Friday night crowd. ‘I’d have just written miserable bastard seeks a quick shag to take the edge off.’

Edd’s other friend was supposed to be helping him feel better. Commiserating. Agreeing that being with a woman wasn’t the be-all-and-end-all.

‘But look at it,’ he said, nodding at the profile on his phone again.

BETTER EDD THAN DEAD
Wry Yorkshire lad with a deadpan sense of humour seeks optimist! Edd is a really great, dependable and supportive guy looking for a girl who likes the sunny side of life. His interests include movies, the outdoors and current affairs. Newcastle, or a little further afield for that very special person!

It made him want to crawl into an open grave.

Sandor drew his pint over to him. ‘Well, would you rather you had to write your own?’

‘I’d rather just get on with it.’ There was a photo of him that Sam had cropped from some local news article on the Wall, looking rubbish, obviously.

‘Get on with being a lonely, sorry-arsed sod?’

Edd sighed. ‘Fair point. But it’s not like the lasses are falling over themselves. Why’s it going to be any different online?’

Sandor looked behind them, where a hen party of screeching ladies was doing exactly that. ‘Exactly, mate. What have you got to lose?’

Edd watched the women down tequila shots. ‘I guess it doesn’t matter anyway. No one’s going to be messaging me.’

***

Incredibly, the next morning, his phone beeped with an alert.

NO YGRITTES
Alright mate. Fancy a pint?

His first message was from a ginger-haired lass who lived in Bradford. She looked attractive, but the photos of her holding a bow and arrow and a dead rabbit, whilst sporting army fatigues and a bared-teeth grin, were a bit terrifying.

He would wait.

***

WAIF&STRAY
Wotcha. Fellow Yorkshirewoman reporting for duty. Let’s go paintballing. I’ll fucking smash you! And clean you up good and proper.

Hmm. Passive-aggressive wasn’t really his style.

***

BISHBASHBOSHA
Hey up. You look like you need cheering up a bit. Fancy a fuck? I’m as horny as anything right now.

He seemed to be attracting very strident women and frankly, this wasn’t his thing at all. The women of Newcastle were largely robust and no-nonsense, tottering out onto the streets on Saturday night in January wearing only a tiny strapless dress and heels. They scared the bejeesus out of him.

Edd scrolled through the profiles of women nearby. He kept returning to one: preposterously pretty, bi-racial, black curly hair and a beguiling beam. The type of girl that not once in a million years would ever be interested in a morose, pasty-faced bastard like him.

LITTLE MISS AWESOME
This incredible woman is my BFF and the best, biggest-hearted sweetheart ever! She works for a charity helping refugee children, has a thirst for travelling, and speaks five languages. She makes the best cupcakes in the Western world and loves nothing more than a quiet night in scoffing them in front of a cool film. She’s been a bit burnt in the past and is looking for a gentle soul to make her smile. PLEASE LET IT BE YOU!

Yep. Not a chance in hell she’d even look at him.

He kept scrolling. Went back to her. Scrolled again. Put his phone down. Watched the news to remind himself that the world was going to hell in a handcart. Went back to her profile. Thought about pressing the ‘like’ button. Drank a very large glass of red wine. Thought about it some more. Went to bed. Got up at half past three in the morning and pressed ‘like.’ Immediately wished he hadn’t. Went back to bed.

***

Edd woke up to find the little MySingleFriend icon at the top of his screen.

LITTLE MISS AWESOME
Hello. You look lovely. Fancy a movie? Do you like the Tyneside cinema?

There was a gentle, unfamiliar stirring in his chest. The Tyneside was the classic art deco cinema that didn’t show the likes of Transformers 4 or the latest Marvel nonsense. He loved that place.

BETTER EDD THAN DEAD
Hello. That sounds grand. Yes please.

LITTLE MISS AWESOME
Cool beans ☺ ☺ ☺ What’s your kinda thing?

Gloomy black and white dramas set in the Cold War, he thought. Das Boot, the director’s cut. A seven-hour documentary about Vietnam.

BETTER EDD THAN DEAD
You choose. I’m easy.

Christ. He’d sent that off too quickly.

LITTLE MISS AWESOME
Is that right? ☺ ☺

BETTER EDD THAN DEAD
One drink and I’m anybody’s.

He didn’t even know what he was saying. His fingers just kept typing. She would think he was a horrible sleazebag. She wouldn’t reply. Of course she wouldn’t.

LITTLE MISS AWESOME
JOKES ☺ ☺
It’s a date

***

‘That was sooo adorable,’ said Missandei, as they came out. ‘I’ve seen it before, but not for ages.’

‘It was,’ said Edd, who’d just watched the sort of twee French rom-com he’d usually run a mile from. Accordion music and everything.

Missandei, who was wearing a yellow jumpsuit and bright red lipstick, had shared her sweet popcorn with him and he’d shared his salty popcorn with her. He’d been acutely aware of the proximity of her forearm to his and had barely taken in any of the film.

She sighed. ‘It’s nice to remember that there’s goodness in the world.’

‘Yep.’ He tried not to think of the news again, the collapse of the country, the threat of mass extinction and all the rest.

‘Brrr,’ she said. ‘It’s well cold tonight.’ She pulled her scarf up around her neck as another gaggle of women staggered past in their glad rags.

‘Do you want my coat?’ He began removing it.

‘No, I’m all good. Thanks, though. That’s dead sweet of you.’

Not as sweet as you, he thought. In the cinema, she’d smelt of vanilla and raspberries. She’d brought him a homemade frosted blueberry cupcake in a little box and he’d eaten in about three bites, even though he never ate desserts.

This was it, he supposed, as they hovered outside the cinema. He waited for her to make her excuses and scarper.

‘Um, so,’ she said. ‘Shall we go to the pub?’ She looked at him hopefully.

A tiny, daring flicker of joy, deep in his stomach. ‘Go on, then,’ he said.

***

‘Mmm,’ she said, rolling away from him. ‘It was true.’

His heart was pounding and feeling more alive than it had ever felt before, because he’d just slept with the most beautiful woman in the entire history of the world, and she’d made fantastically lovely sounds and sighed his name, which no woman had ever done before.

‘What was true?’ he said.

‘You are anybody’s after just one drink.’

He turned his head to look at her. She shut one eye and grinned, ten million times more sweetly than Amélie in the film.

Maybe the world isn’t all bad, he thought.

‘Not just anybody’s,’ he said. Smiled.

Chapter Text

Winter Town – Missed Connections

You tripped outside the library; I broke character to help you up?

Me: Living statue working outside the library yesterday around 1pm. You: Trim beard, wearing a library lanyard. You tripped on something and I helped you gather your books. Your hands were so cold. I’d be happy to warm them up, maybe with a cup of coffee after work? Text me at (867) 555-4202 and tell me what colour your tie was.

Benjen only sees the post because his niece loves reading them, and has a habit of sending them around to the family if there’s ever something she thinks could apply to one of them. He’s certainly not the only bearded librarian around, but he is definitely the only one who tripped over his own two feet yesterday on his way in from lunch. It’s the busker’s fault, though to be fair the busker does not know that. Benjen passes him every day, to and from work on his lunch break, but yesterday was the first time he’d ever really looked at him. He’d been startled at how blue the other man’s eyes were, a piercing glacier-cool blue that left him feeling hot and parched inside, and he’d stumbled, lost so completely in the man’s eyes.

He rubs his hands together as he thinks about how to reply. His hands are always cold, the side-effect of an autoimmune disorder that leaves his extremities cold no matter the season. He thinks about how the other man might keep him warm, and his fingers tingle as blood rushes through his body.

Hi, this is the clumsy librarian, also known as Benjen. I was wearing a red and blue striped tie. I’m sorry I didn’t say it at the time, but thanks for the assist yesterday.

The reply is near instantaneous.

Hello Benjen. My name is Nigel. I was all too happy to help, gave me a chance to stretch my muscles. It’s rather exhausting work, staying still for so long. May I take from your contacting me that you would be amenable to meeting for a drink after work at some point? I am happy to work to your schedule.

Benjen looks at his calendar, thinks about the days ahead.

Yes, I would very much like to meet you. I am free on Tuesday afternoon; my shift ends at 3:30pm. You are welcome to use the facilities in the library if you want to change or wash off the face paint.

He doesn’t really mind if Nigel leaves the face paint, it’s beautifully intricate, giving him the appearance of ridges and whorls across his entire visage.

I prefer to leave it on, but I will be otherwise ready at 3:30 on Tuesday. I look forward to speaking with you more then.

There’s something stilted about the way Nigel writes, it’s more formal than Benjen is used to, even from his professional colleagues. It’s old-fashioned, even, and Benjen wonders at the possible age that lies hidden beneath the face paint. He wonders too if that is why Nigel wants to leave the face paint on, if he is worried Benjen will be disappointed in what he really looks like. Benjen is closer to 40 than 30, and the majority of his relationships have been with older men. He’s pretty sure Nigel is at least his age, but he tends to be attracted to men older than him, and he is sure that whatever signs of age the makeup hides, he won’t be disappointed.

The next few days are filled with work as exam week sends students swarming into the library in droves, and Benjen is unable to leave the building at his usual lunchtime. They text though, back and forth a handful of times throughout the week, Nigel commenting on the interactions he has with passers-by, Benjen sharing the more amusing of the patron requests he’s had. They exchange more personal information too, schools they went to, their family dynamics. After some gentle questioning from Benjen, Nigel does indeed turn out to be older than him, in his mid 50’s. It’s not a huge age difference, but it’s substantial enough that a thrill runs though Benjen when he thinks about the other man, and Benjen is nervous but excited as the hour of their coffee date approaches.

When he clocks out at 3:30 on Tuesday, he steps outside and into the cool afternoon. He shoves his hands deep into his coat pockets, trying to soak up some warmth from the fleece lining. Nigel’s usual spot is now occupied by a woman strumming an acoustic guitar. He looks around and finally spots the other man leaning against the wall of the library building. He is still painted and in costume, a vaguely medieval sort of trousers and jacket. He looks up as Benjen approaches, and once again Benjen is caught in that gaze like a tractor beam.

Nigel pushes off the wall, loping towards him. It’s strange, being this close to him, Benjen is surprised at how tall the other man is. The last time they’d been this close they’d both been kneeling, and now he can see that Nigel has an easy half a foot on him. He could easily overpower Benjen, if he wanted, and Benjen shivers a little at the not-at-all unpleasant thought.

Large hands come up, one cupping his shoulders and the other stroking his cheek, and the voice that pours out of the other man’s mouth is a rich bass, whiskey-smoke and dark chocolate.

“Every time I see you, you seem to be cold. Will you let me warm you up, hmm?”

The murmur works through his ears to his core, already warming him up from the inside. They haven’t broken gaze, neither of them so much as blinks, the spell broken only when Benjen finally finds his voice.

“Please.” He whispers, not knowing entirely what he’s asking for, but knowing that he’s warm, warmer than he can ever remember being, and not wanting it to end.

Chapter Text

“Who the hell are you?” escapes from her mouth before she can even process it.

Arya should be embarrassed, because fuck if that wasn’t one of the rudest things she’s ever said to a total stranger, but she’s watched too many episodes of that Catfish tv show with Sansa to not know exactly what’s happening right now. The dude that stands in front of her has a grace to at least turn a little red, but he just rubs a hand against the back of his neck and sits down in the booth across from her.

“Um. I’m Gendry, from Tinder? And you’re Arya, right?” says Not Real Gendry as he pushes the sleeves up on his bomber jacket and barely makes eye contact.

“Okay, here’s the thing. I know you’re not the guy I matched with on Tinder. You know you’re not the guy I matched with on Tinder. So, I repeat myself, who the hell are you?” she challenges as she takes a swig of the beer she had ordered to calm her nerves while waiting for her date to show up.

Three days ago, she had made a Tinder profile on a whim. There was very little thought put into it, expect for consulting with her roommate Wylla on which pictures to use – and sneaking in that fencing picture anyway - and she spent the rest of the night swiping left and right on multiple people’s profiles. When she got the notice that she had matched with a guy named Gendry, she had momentarily freaked out, because it was hard to forget the guy in question from his pictures. Not overly tall but built like a bull with stunning blue eyes and black hair – seriously stupid gorgeous and surprisingly funny in their DM’s. Basically, Gendry was her dream man and when he had asked her to meet him for drinks yesterday, she thought things were too good to be true.

Apparently, they were.

Fake Gendry just groans and places his head on the tabletop while mumbling something Arya can’t quite make out.

“What?” she asks from across the table, maybe a little more forcefully than she intended, but the dude jerks himself back up right away and looks her in the eye for the first time.

She did not expect to find the most startling, intense chocolate brown eyes she’d ever seen upon that initial eye contact. Fuck.

“I fucking told him,” Fake Gendry repeats himself as he takes a drink of his own beer while shaking his head.

“Who is him? What are you even talking about?”

Fake Gendry sighs deeply before he sits up a little straighter and holds a hand out across the table.

“Hello, my name is Podrick and I told my idiot roommate Gendry that you would know I’m not him, but for some reason I still agreed to do this?”

Arya takes pity on Podrick and shakes his hand briefly while doing her best to ignore just how her skin tingles upon contact with his.

“Hi Podrick. I’m Arya and what exactly did you agree to?”

Fake Gendry, or Podrick it seems, grabs his beer bottle and downs the rest of it in about 10 seconds flat before catching the waitresses’ eye and signaling for another one. Arya snickers in amusement when the boy across from her gives her the widest, most sheepish grin while thanking the waitress that hurries that new beer right to the table. Damn him, he’s almost too cute to be completely annoyed with.

Almost.

“Okay so. Gendry Waters is my roommate, we’ve uh, been rooming together since freshman year of university. Over the years its, uh, come to our attention that we look weirdly similar. In fact, a lot of people think we’re brothers, but we’re not even related as far as we can tell. We’re just, you know, two dudes with similar features,” he starts out, eyes trained to the table the whole time, until he falters when he looks up at Arya with those damned eyes of his.

“Go on,” she encourages him with a nod.

“Anyway. As I was saying, we’re roommates, but it’s not like we’re best friends or anything. That title would go to none other than this dickhead guy named Lommy,” he begins before Arya cuts him off.

“What the fucks a Lommy?”

Podrick snorts at that, and Arya can’t help but feel a little proud over his reaction. Which is strange considering they have known each other for all of ten minutes.

“Loman Michael Greene the Third. Lommy,” he explains with a roll of his eyes. Clearly Podrick is not impressed.

Arya shrugs. “So, what’s this Lommy asshole got to do with why you’re here on Gendrys Tinder date pretending to be him?

Podrick looks up at the ceiling of the bar and before letting out the biggest full body sigh she’s ever seen.

“Well. Gendry asked you to go on a date yesterday afternoon, right?” Arya nods. “Last night, he matched with this older blonde from his econ class that he’s been crushing on for the whole semester, and um, the only time she had available for a date was… now.”

Arya feels herself deflate, because of course the nice, funny, attractive charming dude she had been chatting with would pick a probably drop dead gorgeous blonde over her. That makes total sense.

“Wow, okay cool. Well, thanks for the info Pod, I can call you Pod right? I’m gonna head out now though, because this is not what I signed up for,” she says as she grabs the wristlet that Wylla let her borrow and starts to slide out of the booth.

“Wait, wait Arya. Let me finish?” Podrick asks as he grabs her hand and tugs her back down. Well, tugs isn’t the right word, considering that Arya doesn’t even bother to fight it the moment she feels his warm fingers wrap around her own.

“You’re buying me another drink,” she mumbles as she slides back into her seat. Podrick gives her a full smile that causes her heart to leap into her throat.

“Absolutely,” he says as he once again flags down the waitress.




Drink in hand and a large pile of nachos between them a solid fifteen minutes later, Arya finally asks Podrick to finish his explanation of whatever misguided scheme she had found herself in.

“So uh. Lommy right?” she says as she flicks a black olive off her nacho and back on to the pan. She can’t help but grin when she sees Podrick pick it up and place it onto his own nacho before popping it into his mouth.

“Yeah. Lommy,” he says after hastily swallowing his food. “So yesterday when Gendry realized that he had um, two dates, he was originally going to cancel with you, but Lommy convinced him to hold out and see if Dany was going to cancel on him first.”

“I see.”

“And when that didn’t happen this morning after his econ class, he uh, well, he panicked about what to do because he couldn’t be at two places at one time.”

“Clearly.”

“Two hours ago I was locked up in my room doing homework when Gendry and Lommy come barging in and begged me to go on this date because it was too late to cancel with you without telling the truth, and Gendry figured you wouldn’t want to reschedule at such a short notice.”

“Sounds pretty presumptuous to me.”

Podrick flashes a wary grin. “Would you have been okay with it?”

“Fuck no,” Arya scoffs as she rolls her eyes and starts stacking the black olives in a pile on Podrick’s side of the pan. “But I don’t know how this is any better? I mean, you two look similar, but you’re not identical. What was Gendry hoping for, that I was basically blind and wouldn’t realize that I was out on a date with someone who wasn’t him? What if we went on a second date? I’m pretty sure I would know the difference.”

“All valid points I brought to his attention.”

“And what about you? How did they get you to agree to this?” she questions.

Podrick blushes slightly while adverting his eyes. He lets out another, weirdly endearing giant sigh before he looks Arya in the eye and offers one of those genuine, full face, wide smiles she already finds herself growing attached to.

“Honestly? I uh, stopped arguing against it when, um, Gendry showed me your pictures from your, uh, profile.”

Arya lets out a surprisingly girly and highly unexpected giggle. She can feel her face heat up by about 10 solid degrees and she knows for certain her complexion resembles something akin to a cherry tomato.

“Right,” she drags out sarcastically, because there’s no way Podrick can be serious.

To her complete shock though, he doesn’t laugh or try and brush it off. Instead he just shrugs his shoulders and plops a black olive from her stack into his mouth.

“You’re serious,” she states, because it’s really not a question at this point, she just wants him to confirm it.

Podrick nods sheepishly. “You’re completely out of my league Arya. This was my chance to go on a date with one of the prettiest girls I’d ever seen.”

“That’s ridiculous. You’re really cute alright? Like, how-do-you-not-have-a-girlfriend cute. And hey, I’m a huge dork that posted pictures of me in my fencing gear on Tinder for chrissakes. So, I’m definitely not out of your league.”

“I moderate a form for embroidery in my free time. I make custom embroidered pieces and sell them online to buy my schoolbooks. And just so you know, fencing makes you a badass,” he tells her, eyes all soft and genuine and voice sincere.

“So, you could like, monogram hand towels for my mother if I asked you to?”

“Well, yeah, I could, monograms are pretty easy with the right program and sewing machine. Now, if you wanted me to add a design to it, I would hand stitch it.”

“Oh cool. My parents will love that at Christmastime.”

Podrick laughs.

“I’m glad you got something out of this tonight. Sorry for wasting your evening Arya,” he says apologetically as he pulls out his wallet and leaves a couple bills to cover their drinks and nachos.

“I’ll uh. I’ll leave you my number and if you want those hand towels, you can just um, text me?”

Podrick makes to slide out of his side of the booth when Arya reaches across the table top and places a hand over top of his own. Podrick stops and looks down at their hands before returning his gaze to her.

“Where are you going? I thought this was a date, even if you’re not exactly who I was expecting,” she says soft enough that she’s not entirely sure he heard her, because he doesn’t react for a solid minute.

“Really? A date?” he replies in a daze as he drops back into the booth.

Arya takes a second to link their fingers from where her hand is still resting with his across the table. She nods lightly and looks up at his face and finds herself automatically matching the wide grin she finds there.

“Yeah I mean, I would much rather explain to my parents that my boyfriend embroidered the hand towels than some random dude who tried to quasi-catfish me at a bar by pretending to be their roommate during a Tinder date did them.”

Podrick’s eyebrows shoot up to his hairline, and Arya finds that she’s never truly appreciated a pair of eyebrows so much until this very moment. His ears are bright red and he makes a sound that’s half choking and half coughing and Arya is so proud she’s rendered his speechless. Not that it appears to be that hard.

“Boy- boyfriend?”

“I mean, eventually. We should probably go on a few more dates, and maybe kiss a couple of times before deciding anything.”

Podrick nods in a daze. “Uh yeah. We can, we can do those things.”

“Great.”

“Good.”

“Perfect.”

“Gendry is going to kill me.”

“I know how to fence, I have access to swords. You’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

“So uh, do you want to get out of here? I mean, not like that, this place isn’t exactly what I’d pick for a first date though.”

Arya nods her head eagerly and allows Podrick to assist her out of the booth bench. He’s taller than her, not by a whole lot, but enough that it’s a good height difference and she has to look up at him when they stand side by side. She catches herself breathing in deeply through her nose, a heady mix of cedar and tobacco with a hint of something sweet catches in her nose and she tries to not make it weird or obvious that she’s doing it on purpose. Podrick shows her out of the bar, hands still intertwined as they exit the front door and he turns left at the door to make their way down the street presumably to wherever he would have picked for their date if he hadn’t been pretending to be his roommate.

Podrick leads them through a crowded sidewalk past several other bars and restaurants, all while occasionally looking down at her and giving her a reassuring smile. She’s not worried though, she could probably kick his ass if she really needed to, but that seems unlikely to be necessary. He stops very abruptly in front of a brightly lit window display, and it takes Arya a second to read the words on the window, but she can’t help but laugh when she realizes where they are.

“Handmade ice cream? Who wouldn’t want this to be their first date?”

“Someone who I wouldn’t be interested in seeing, that’s who.”

“Yeah, same. Let’s go in.”

“Uh, just a sec okay?” Podrick says as he turns towards her fully. The space in between them is very minimal, and Arya relishes just how much warmth Pod radiates in this chilly autumn air.

“I’m going to kiss you now. If uh, if that’s okay?” he says in a whisper as he pushes a piece of hair behind her ear. Arya just blinks up at him and nods but doesn’t have a chance to say anything before he presses his mouth to hers.

It’s sweet and soft, the way he presses feather light kisses to her mouth while she stands there momentarily stunned. Eventually her mind catches up and she wraps a fist into the front of his bomber jacket and pulls him in even closer, forcing their mouths together more firmly. Podrick pulls away first after several absolutely delightful open-mouthed kisses that normally Arya would be embarrassed about doing in such a public place and rests his forehead against her.

“Yeah, we should definitely do a few more dates before anything is official, but if the kissing indicates anything, I’ll 100% be making embroidered hand towels for your parents at Christmas.”

Arya just laughs before she tugs him back down, all thoughts of being sort of catfished and handmade ice cream just disappearing when he swipes his tongue inside her mouth the first time.

Chapter Text

Tormund, 38, foraging expert, meets Brienne, 34, tree surgeon.

Tormund on Brienne

What were you hoping for?
The woman of my dreams!

First impressions?
The giant woman of my dreams!

What did you talk about?
Cheese, bears, sex in forests (with bears).

Any awkward moments?
Perhaps when I took her hand but accidentally got it in my mashed potatoes.

Good table manners?
Yes. She ate like royalty. She IS royalty.

Best thing about Brienne?
Everything. Her size, strength, fierceness, elegance, accusatory glares. My heart is full of her! I would move mountains for her!

Describe Brienne in three words.
Giant bewitching goddess.

Would you introduce her to your friends?
Only after making it clear that she was MY woman.

What do you think she made of you?
A rugged, cheerful warrior hungry for her love!

Did you go on somewhere?
Sadly, Brienne had to get up early the next morning. Otherwise I am sure we would have gone somewhere ALL NIGHT!

And . . . did you kiss?
A single, beautiful peck on the cheek that I have not stopped thinking about. My cheek burns with the memory! My heart burns! My COCK burns!

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Seeing Brienne for longer.

Marks out of 10?
20.

Would you meet again?
I have left several messages for her! I think her phone is not working.

***

Brienne on Tormund

What were you hoping for?
An enjoyable evening with an unpretentious man.

First impressions?
Hmm. Very enthusiastic.

What did you talk about?
Trees, being tall. He had a lot of questions about my biceps.

Any awkward moments?
His anecdote about sleeping with a bear. I assumed he was joking. Apparently not.

Good table manners?
Alarming. He ate with his hands throughout whilst staring at me unblinkingly.

Best thing about Tormund?
Um, very committed.

Describe Tormund in three words.
Gregarious, complimentary, misguided.

Would you introduce him to your friends?
I’m not entirely sure. He’s rather lively.

What do you think he made of you?
He seemed to find me attractive and kept telling me so every three minutes. Quite disconcerting.

Did you go on somewhere?
I declined his offer of a midnight feast (the feast part seemed to be him, naked, on a platter).

And . . . did you kiss?
No.

If you could change one thing about the evening, what would it be?
Him not proposing marriage outside the restaurant.

Marks out of 10?
6.5

Would you meet again?
I think it would be unwise.

***

Tormund and Brienne ate (copiously) at St. John Bread and Wine, London.

Chapter Text

~~


Catelyn Stark sat in poised discomfort at the table in the glitzy hotel ballroom. She wasn’t sure of this at all, although Sansa had been.

“Mum, you have to get back into the dating scene. It’s been years since Dad’s accident and you know he wouldn’t want you to be alone. You haven’t wanted to accept any of the set-ups that our friends have offered, so this is the way.”

The “way” was the “My Cheeky Date” event at a nice hotel in King’s Landing. Other women around her age were sitting at tables throughout the ballroom, and a group of men were milling about at the far end near the entrance.

Cat contemplated a speedy exit out the back door, but just then the organizer picked up a mic and signaled for the music to be stopped.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your evening of potential romance is about to begin! In just a moment, a chime will sound and the gentlemen will head to the first table on their lists. Every four minutes the chime will sound again, and the men will move to the next table on their list, and both ladies and gents will have a minute or so to rate the date. Afterwards, you can use our website to contact those you’d like to meet again. Are you ready?”

A cheer went up around the room. Catelyn was silent, and glanced about the room nervously. Another chime sounded, and suddenly men were hurrying to tables, but she didn’t see anyone coming towards hers.

Then, all of a sudden, someone came up from behind her and flashed a camera in her face, leaving Cat half blinded. She sat for a moment, blinking in shock, wondering why the organizer never said anything about photos.

But when the sparkles began to clear from her eyes, she realized that the man had sat down across from her.

“Hello love, I’m Bronn.” He flashed her a rakish smile that made her heart flutter for a moment, but maybe that was just the after effect of the flash.

“Umm, hello. I’m Catelyn. Are you the photographer?”

“I’m a photographer, yes. Freelance. I just like taking photos at these events.”

“Ah, you do this a lot, do you?”

“Every so often, yeah.”

“So what sort of photography do you do?” From the rough and tumble look of him, Cat imagined he perhaps did nature shots, or maybe urban scenes of everyday life.

“I cover news and sporting events – and the odd celebrity appearance or two.” Bronn winked knowingly at her.

“Oh?” That sounded interesting. “Who have you photographed?” She now imagined those coffee table books in which famous celebrities were profiled in graceful elegance around their posh homes.

“The royal family – you should see my photos of Prince Tommen and his new girlfriend. I caught her sunbathing topless at a private beach on Naath. And then there was the septon who got caught with his pants down at Hotel Baelor – you may have seen my shots of him beating a hasty retreat through an alleyway.”

“Um, no, I don’t think I did…”

“Who do you like? I can get the inside scoop on where they’d be. I’ll take you there now if you like – you can ride on the back of my scooter and get a good look. I’ve never missed a shot!”

Cat just stared. It appeared that she was speed-dating a Paparazzo. “Oh, well, umm, thank you. But I think I’ll just stay here for now.”

“Suit yourself, love.” The bell rang for the dates to change, Bronn flashed another smile – and another photo – at Cat, and disappeared.

Cat sat blinking, wondering what or who on earth she could expect next. Maybe this really had all been a big mistake.

A shadow blotted out the light, and a great, hulking man sank into the seat across from her, causing it to groan with his weight. “Good evening, my dear. I am Wyman Manderly. I hope you don’t mind.” He grabbed a little decorative toothpick and stabbed a piece of shrimp cocktail from the plate of hors d’oeuvres in the center of the table.

“No, of course not. Help yourself.” Cat slid the stack of small plates closer to him and watched as he took one and proceeded to stack it high. “I’m Catelyn.”

The big man mumbled something through his mouthful of shrimp, then politely blotted his mouth. “Ah, um, excuse me. Indeed, I’m very pleased to meet you.” He snatched another shrimp, but paused to say, “I can never resist seafood, though I generally prefer a good meat pie. Aren’t you having any?” He gently pushed the tray her way. “You’re much too thin.”

“Oh, well, thanks. I ate earlier. I’m never comfortable eating at big events. Nerves.” She took a quick sip of her wine.

“I understand. I much prefer it when I’m the one providing the meal.” The man looked at her sympathetically. “Is this your first time at one of these events?”

“Yes. My daughter talked me into it.” Cat wasn’t sure why she was telling him this, but he seemed very kind.

“Really? Mine too! I’ve been a widower for eight years and she said it was high time I start seeing someone.”

“Exactly what my daughter said. Well, I’ve only been a widow for four years, though.”

“I’m so sorry. It’s hard to get over the loss of a loved one, isn’t it?” He looked at her with real understanding in his eyes. Then he glanced down at the plate of shrimp. “Ooh, better hurry or the bell will–”

The chime sounded and the man wolfed down a couple more shrimp before he bowed politely and moved to the next table, taking his plate with him.

Catelyn thought he seemed promising, though worried that he might be more interested in food than in her. She noted on her card that he had been polite and sympathetic, and that she might like to meet him again.

A slim, well-groomed man now approached the table with a calculating look in his eye. He sidled up to the table, dipped his head graciously, and took her hand.

“Petyr Baelish, at your service, my lady. May I just say how beautiful you are.”

Taken aback at his stylish entrance and compliment, Cat just stared at him. Then she realized that she was being rude, and hurriedly murmured, “Thank you. I’m Catelyn Stark.”

“Stark? Ah, of the Winterfell Starks?”

“Yes. You know of us?”

“Indeed, there is very little that I don’t know.” He slid smoothly into the chair. “Your husband was in politics, so of course I know of him. I’m a political adviser – I’ve advised some of the most important politicians in the realm. Currently I work with the MP in the Vale. I encouraged her to dump her husband because he was ruining her image. She recently won his seat in the hotly contested Vale district, thanks to my help.”

“Ah–” Cat started to comment, but the man continued without a breath.

“Now that I think of it, I recall a photo of you and your family. You have a daughter who looks a great deal like you, do you not?”

Catelyn was a bit taken aback, but saw no reason not to answer. “I do. Actually, she was the one who encouraged me to come to this event.”

The man’s eyes lit up. “What a caring daughter she must be. But if she’s anything like you, she must be a most gracious and loving girl.”

“Um, yes, thank you.”

“I would really love to meet her – and all of your family. Perhaps we could all have dinner some time.”

Cat was getting very uncomfortable. Did this guy want to date her, or her daughter? “I don’t think she would have time. She’s very busy with her career.”

To Catelyn’s relief, the bell chimed before Petyr could answer. He rose, gave her a smarmy smile as he tried to take her hand again, and when she kept it firmly on the table, he left.

Shivering slightly, Cat thought again about leaving. This evening was not going quite as she had imagined. As she quickly marked the “Do not wish to meet again” box on Petyr’s card, another potential suitor sat down before her.

A jolly, portly man with a beer in his hand arrived at the table, stuck out his hand, and shook hers vigorously when she offered it. “Hello there, Robert Baratheon, call me Bob.” He plunked the beer on the table, then sat down with a huff, as if glad to take the weight off his feet. “Great event, isn’t it? I enjoy meeting so many people, don’t you?” He eyed her with interest, making her wish she’d not worn such a low cut blouse.

“Ah, yes. Very interesting.” To change the subject, she asked, “So what do you do?”

“I have a travel business – I lead safaris in Essos. Nothing like hunting big game to liven things up for all those chartered accountants who sign up. You should hear about the time that I had a run-in with a wild boar…”

“Uh-”

The man proceeded to give all the gory details of a hunt where he literally was gored, but fortunately was rescued and made it back to civilization all in one piece. “But the boar didn’t fare so well! We roasted him on a spit!”

“Hmm, lucky you.” Unlucky boar.

“So someone as pretty as you must have been married?”

Ignoring the compliment, Cat answered, “Yes, I’m a widow. I have five children.”

“Ah, sorry to hear that. Uh, that you are widowed, not that you have five kids. I have three kids myself. Well, my ex says they are mine, but who knows? She was awfully cozy with my business partner, but I can’t really be upset – I have a few not-so-well-kept-secret love children of my own around, heh-heh.” Bob gave her a devilish look.

Cat really didn’t know quite what to say about this, but was very grateful when the bell sounded and the man hefted himself up and moved on. She ticked the “Do not wish to meet again” box once again and took another sip of her wine for fortification.

Another man took his place, a rather beady-eyed, pasty-faced fellow, with strangely pale eyes. He sat down without saying anything, just giving Catelyn a cool look.

So Cat took the lead. “Hi, I’m Catelyn. How are you?”

“Not so very well. I have a condition. I’ve had treatment for some time now.”

“I’m…I’m sorry to hear that. I hope it’s not too serious?”

“Nothing a few leeches can’t relieve on a regular basis.”

“Did you say ‘leeches’?”

“Yes, I swear by them. They get your blood moving, I assure you. You should try them.”

“I believe you.” Cat cast about for something else to say. “So, have you been married?”

“Yes, I’m a widower, many years now. And I have one son.”

“Ah, I’m also a widow. I have five children, three boys and two girls.”

“Oh, how old are they?”

“They are all adults now, the youngest has just started uni.”

“My son is in his 20s – he’s thought of coming to one of these events himself. Doesn’t get out much – busy with our business. I’ve turned it over to him now, mostly.”

“What business is that?”

“Butcher shop. He specializes in filet cuts.” The man’s eyes lit up and he licked his lips when saying this. “When he’s not enjoying his dogs. He has a kennel of mastiffs.”

“I see.” Cat was a bit taken aback with all this talk of the man’s son. But there was at least another minute in their date, so she said, “My family likes dogs too – we have an Irish wolfhound currently. Well, it’s my daughter’s dog, but we all love her.”

“It sounds like my son and your daughter would have much in common. Shall we have them meet?”

Cat wasn’t sure how an interest in dogs constituted “much in common,” and this man rather creeped her out. So she lied, “Oh, no, my daughter is in a committed relationship. Uh, both of my daughters, actually.”

The chime sounded, but the man just sat staring at her. Then he dipped his head slightly, and rose, saying “Do try the leeches. You won’t be sorry.”

Shaking her head to try to get the image of leeches out of her mind, Cat wondered if she should just leave. But before she could figure out how to slip away, another man had joined her at the table.

He handed her a perfect red rose. “My lady,” he said, bowing a little as he sat. He was a stout, balding man with a friendly demeanor. This was an improvement.

“Why, thank you.” Where had he gotten a rose at such short notice? “It’s lovely.”

“A lovely rose for a lovely woman.”

Cat sat back in her chair, resolved to give this another chance. “So what do you do?”

“I’m a grower – you may have heard of High Gardens? We specialize in roses, but have bulbs, and all sorts of trees and shrubs as well.” He lowered his voice and leaned in. "We've recently expanded to reach the, shall we say, 'green' crowd. It's not called High Gardens for nothing." He laughed.

Cat coughed lightly. “Ah, yes, I believe I’ve heard of you.”

“Of course you have, we have nurseries throughout Westeros. Just bought out Blue Rose Floral here in the city. My daughter Margaery has moved here – marrying into a very prominent family. It will be great for the business.”

“Oh, I see.”

The man launched into a discussion of his various children and how each was involved in the family business. Cat found it all a bit self-aggrandizing, and while the man was nice, she found herself relieved when the chime sounded yet again.

As the man left his chair, he retrieved a bucket of roses from behind it. She watched as he took out another flower and headed toward his next table.

The next man strolled up strumming a lute and singing Two Hearts that Beat as One. He was tall, dark, rather good looking, and wore a grey and white fur coat. Finishing the song, he sang out, “Hello, my love. I’m Mance Rayder.”

Catelyn should have been enchanted, but was wary. “Hello. I’m Cat.”

He sat down and continued strumming the lute. Cat thought she recognized the chords to The Bear and the Maiden Fair.

“Are you a musician?”

“Not by trade, but I enjoy playing now and then for an audience. I spend most of my time in the wilderness. I am a survivalist. We have a compound north of the Wall.”

“Funny that you should be here in King’s Landing then.”

“Yes, I am only here to play for a friend’s son’s wedding. But then he suggested that I try to meet a few women while I am here – I lost my wife a while ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m a widow too.”

“Sorry to hear that. But you wouldn’t be lonely living north of the Wall with us. Lots of long nights by the fire – great stories of the old days up north. We hunt our own food and skin our own furs.” He went on to describe all the things they did the old-fashioned way.

Cat wasn’t all that fond of the wilderness or the old-fashioned ways of doing things. “Thank you, I’ll consider it.”

The bell sounded, so Mance rose, strumming his lute, and sauntered away singing The Winter Maid.

Another man strode up to her table, glancing disparagingly at the man who’d just left. “Who was that fool? Was he serenading you?”

“I suppose so. He seems to be playing for all the women.”

“Waste of time. Should get down to business with the little time we have.” He sat down with a look of determination on his face.

“As you say. I’m Catelyn.”

“Stannis. Divorced, with a daughter. You?”

A little surprised at his directness, she replied in turn, “Widowed, with five children. Three sons and two daughters.” When the man’s eyes flickered, she presumed he was reacting to the large number. “I know, that’s a lot of kids. We had intended to have less, but-”

“Fewer.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Fewer – you used ‘less’ but it should be ‘fewer’ with countable items like children.” Stannis seemed dead serious as he made this pronouncement.

“You’re correcting my grammar?”

“Everyone should use good grammar.”

“I suppose so.” Cat was irritated at the man’s tone. “You must be a teacher.”

“No, army colonel.”

So that explained the imperious tone. “And the army requires the troops to use good grammar?”

“No, but I do. There’s no excuse for sloppiness of any kind.”

Cat suddenly felt like she should sit up straighter before this man commented on her posture.

“Have you thought of having more children?”

Now Catelyn just felt more uncomfortable. “Well, mine are all grown, so not really…”

“Why not? It’s not too late. I need a son to follow in my footsteps.”

“Yes, well. That’s a thought, isn’t it?” She had no intention of having a child with this fellow, and wouldn’t want him to follow in his father’s footsteps if she did! What was taking that bell so long to chime?

At last it did, and Stannis moved off without a parting word. Cat was relieved.

As she looked down to fill out her card, she had the distinct feeling of being watched from above. She glanced up and saw a large bird, perhaps a small eagle, flying around over her head. Startled, she began to rise, but suddenly the bird swooped down and landed on a man’s shoulder. She looked over and saw that he had very strange eyes. They were solid white – and just then, they rolled and he suddenly looked normal. He turned to the bird and fed it a bite of shrimp.

“Good boy.” The man turned back to Cat and flashed her a cheeky smile before he came to sit down across from her. “Hi, I’m Orell.”

“Uh, hi, I’m Cat. You brought a bird?”

“Yes, he’s my therapy animal. I don’t go anywhere without him.”

“Ah, I see.” She glanced again at the bird, which seemed to be glaring at her.

Orell sank back in his seat and rolled his eyes back in his head. The bird suddenly rose again and flew over and around Cat. Then the man awoke and raised his eyebrows at her, giving her a suggestive glance. She felt a sneaking suspicion that he had used the bird to look down her blouse.

“Does he have to do that?”

“It makes me feel better when he does.”

“I’m sure it does. But it doesn’t make me feel better.”

“I guess I should have brought my snowbear or my shadowcat then. They are my other therapy animals. You’ll love them once you get to know them.”

Catelyn doubted that, but listened while the man talked about his various animals and how upset he was that he couldn’t take his bird on a flight with him. She expressed sympathy, but was glad when the bell sounded again.

The next man was considerably older than Cat, a tall, thin man, with a leering grin. “Ah, an autumnal beauty,” he said as he approached. “Walder Frey, at your service.”

“Catelyn. Nice to meet you.”

The somewhat rickety man perched himself on the chair opposite Cat and looked her over as if he were sizing her up. “You’ll do quite nicely.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“I’m looking for a new wife – why else would I be here?”

“That’s a bit sudden, don’t you think?”

“No, no, at my age you can’t take too long making these decisions. Although the children might just prefer me to stay single.”

“Oh, mine encouraged me to come to this event.”

“How many do you have?”

“I have rather a large family – five children.”

“Ha! That’s nothing – I had thirty at last count, and the gods know how many grandchildren.”

Cat was shocked. “Th…thirty?” How was that even possible? Perhaps some were adopted?

The man went on to explain without a scintilla of chagrin. “I’ve had eight wives – they’ve all had a few children each. It adds up! Children are a blessing, don’t you think?”

Catelyn did usually think so, though just now she was ready to read the Riot Act to one particular child for setting her up on this fiasco! But the man was still talking.

“You should come have a meal at my family restaurant. It’s called Castle Twins. Down on the river. You’ll love it. We’re having a special celebration next weekend – you should join us.”

“Perhaps another time.”

“Suit yourself – but I won’t be on the market for long!”

The spindly, but spry old man darted away from the table to leer at a pretty blond at the next table, and Cat breathed a sigh of relief.

She was about to make a dash to the back door, when a very handsome man sauntered up to the table. He had a gorgeous brunette on his arm. They both looked like they could be Dornish or perhaps from somewhere in Essos. She wasn’t sure why they were stopping at her table.

The man raked his eyes over Catelyn. “Ah, ma chéri,” he said, seeming to be talking to the woman on his arm, “look at this très belle femme – perhaps she is the one?”

Cat was confused. “Umm, don’t you have a date already?” She reached for her wine glass.

“No, cara mia, we are dating together – we are looking for a mature third for a threesome. You seem perfect, bella.”

Catelyn nearly choked on her wine. Trying not sound provincial or shocked, she asked instead, “Are you French or Italian?”

“Both, cheri, the world is my oyster. Spanish and Dornish too. I am Oberyn, and this is Ellaria.”

“I’m Catelyn. Uh…nice to meet you...both.”

The beautiful couple sat down, the man running his hand smoothly up the woman’s arm, the woman nuzzling his cheek. Then she turned, as if confiding in Cat.

“You know, we are very skilled. We could find ways to make you extremely happy.”

“Um, I’m sure.”

“You could bring someone else along if you like. We love to sample all sorts.”

“Uh…thanks?”

The dark-haired couple went on to share details of some of the encounters the two of them had had. Cat was sure that her face was as red as her hair before the bell chimed.

To her relief, and the couple’s disappointment, the organizer announced that it was the end of the event. There would be time for the people to mingle and perhaps talk again with some of those who they had enjoyed meeting. Or they could go to the organization’s website later to contact those who interested them.

Oberyn reached to take Cat’s hand saying, “Won’t you join us for drinks…and perhaps more?”

But Cat had had enough. Rising quickly, she muttered a parting farewell to the couple, and headed to the door.

Outside in the hallway, she breathed a sigh of relief and hurried toward the elevators. One was just about to leave. “Hold the door, please!” she called to a large man who had just entered.

He did, and she slipped into the car. “Thanks.” He was standing close to the panel, blocking the controls. “Lobby, please,” she said.

The man nodded, muttered something that sounded like “ground floor” and punched the button.

They descended in awkward silence for a bit, and Cat hoped the man wouldn’t try to make conversation. But the silence got to her, so, a bit flustered, she blurted, “I’m afraid I was in a bit of a hurry to get out of there. You too?” She glanced up at the bearded man with graying hair.

Again, he nodded, and then mumbled, “Oh, more.” She realized that he probably had had a worse time than she did during the dating rounds. She wondered why she hadn’t seen him. Maybe there were more men than women at the event?

At last they reached the lobby and the doors slid open. The man held back as Catelyn exited, and she turned and gave him a grateful wave. He smiled and waved back.

Catelyn hurried out of the hotel and leaped into one of the cabs that waited at the curb.

As she sank gratefully into the seat, she was startled by a movement to her right.

“Well, hello,” said a deep, warm, voice with a brogue.

The cab was already occupied! Cat turned to see a gentleman about her age, slightly balding, with a graying beard and very kind eyes smiling gently at her. She put her hands to her face in embarrassment. “Oh, I’m so sorry! I didn’t even look!”

“That’s alright. I was just waiting for a friend.”

“I’ll go find another cab.” She started to open the cab door.

“No, no, stay put. My friend just texted me. He’s staying to have drinks with someone at the event he was attending.”

“Event? At this hotel?”

“Yes.” The man gave her a sheepish grin, leaning in slightly, as if he was sharing a secret. “It was a speed-dating event. You’ll probably think it’s crazy.”

“I do. And it is.” Cat surprised herself with her own audacity. She gave the man a wry smile. “I was just there!”

“Were you? Maybe you met my friend. Hmm, as a matter of fact, he did text earlier about a lovely redhead that he’d met. He’s slim, about my age, balding, but keeps his beard shorter than mine.”

That could have described more than one of the men she’d met. “Umm, maybe. I think they try to have us meet everyone.”

“Oh, let me see. He’s texted me a photo.” He leaned over to share it with her as it was loading.

She recognized the man who’d introduced himself as Stannis – with another redhead, a glamorous, drop-dead gorgeous one.

Her cab companion pulled the phone away abruptly. “Oops, sorry, I just assumed…”

“It’s alright. No offense, but I found him a bit…umm…stuffy.”

The man laughed. “That’s Stannis! He does come across that way sometimes. But he’s really very nice when you get to know him. Did he correct your grammar?”

“Yes! I couldn’t believe it.”

“It’s a quirk of his. Used to drive me nuts. Now I have to watch myself so I don’t do it.”

Cat laughed and looked at him appraisingly, wondering why she felt so comfortable staying in the cab talking to this stranger. She glanced at his hand, looking for a wedding ring, and was startled to see that he was missing some fingers on his right hand.

The man noticed her looking. “A sailing accident from long ago. Mostly Stannis’ fault – it’s a long story. And I’m not married.” He held up his other hand upon saying this, showing a bare ring finger.

“Oh, um, sorry.” Catelyn was sure her face was beet red.

“Not at all.”

“So why didn’t you attend the event with your friend?”

“He tried to get me to attend, but I prefer to meet people the old fashioned way.”

“And what is that?”

“By chance.” He gave her a meaningful glance. “You wouldn’t consider having dinner with me, would you? I was going to join Stannis for dinner after his event, but I think you would make a much more pleasant dinner companion. There’s a restaurant in Cobbler’s Square that I really love.”

Cat hesitated for only a moment. They’d be in a public place in a nice part of town, were going there by hackney cab, and most importantly, this man seemed genuinely nice. “I’d love to,” she said with a smile.

“Great.” The man gave the cabbie the directions, and the cab took off. The man turned to her, holding out his hand. “I’m Davos, by the way.”

She put her hand in his, surprised at how warm and comfortable it felt. “I’m Catelyn.”

As the cab sped into the night through bustling streets and the bright city lights, Catelyn smiled to herself. This evening might just turn out to be better than she’d expected.

 

~~

~~

Chapter Text

Grenn anxiously checks the timer in the corner of the screen, mentally trying to will it to count down faster. It’s Friday night, and his roommates are out celebrating the end of exam week, so he has the apartment to himself. He hadn’t been able to sign on to the members-only livestream last week, and so he feels more antsy than usual.

Barring the rare occasional evening when his roommates don’t go out, Grenn’s Friday nights have been the same for the past few months. He lowers the blinds, dims the lights, and logs on to Bronn Blackwater’s website in time for his weekly private show. It’s his one splurge, his one moment in the week that he can take for himself.

The timer finally clicks down to 00:00 and the window on his screen lights up. There’s a man reclining on a bed, and he smirks into the camera.

“Evenin’, my lovelies.” He purrs.

He leans over, looking at his own computer, where there is a fast moving chat. His smile widens.

“Nice to see you, Watcher92, I missed you last week.”

Grenn flushes hot. The stream is full of viewers, he is one of many, he can’t believe Bronn noticed his absence. He doesn’t participate in the chat, he prefers to keep his hands otherwise occupied, but he clicks the tip button and Bronn winks at the camera.

“Thanks, darlin’,” he lies back against the pillows, one hand reaching for his belt buckle. “Now how about I get to what y’all came here for, hey?”

The chat box fills, viewers putting in their requests and sending expletive-laden compliments. Grenn sets his laptop down on the coffee table, spreading his legs and leaning back into the couch cushions, getting comfortable.

Bronn Blackwater is Grenn’s favourite camshow performer, his solo sessions are sizzling hot, the memories of each one enough to sustain Grenn through the next week. At the end of every session, Bronn chooses one lucky viewer to get an extra-private show. He probably chooses based on the size of people’s tips, so Grenn never really expects to get the invite, his tips limited to a few dollars per show.

Half an hour later, Grenn’s pants are pooled at his feet, his head thrown back against the couch as he gasps out the last moans of his second climax. Bronn’s been keeping himself on the edge, working his hands up and down his entire body, and when he finally comes, it spatters thick across his chest, and Grenn’s mouth waters at the sight.

It’s time for Bronn to invite someone to his private chat, and Grenn watches with disinterest as other viewers vie for attention, the tip bar steadily growing as people put in their bids. Grenn is swiping his t-shirt over his belly to wipe up his mess when his computer dings at him, and he looks up to see a private chat box has opened with a link in it.

He looks closer, his eyes not entirely allowing him to believe what he’s seeing. It’s from Bronn, and it’s the invitation he never expected. He taps on the link, and a new chat screen opens up.

Bronn is closer to his camera now, and he smiles when he sees Grenn join the chat.

“Hey there, sweetheart, glad you could make it.”

Grenn’s hands shake as he types his response.

Thanks for the invite, I wasn’t expecting it.

Bronn’s face is close enough to the camera that Grenn can see his eyes read across the chat screen.

“Well, I thought I’d give you a little treat to make up for missing last week.” He drawls. “This here’s your show, baby, what do you want to see? You want to go on screen for me? Let me see your pretty face?”

Grenn is aware of his own presence, knows what he looks like. He’s not unattractive, but he’s not pretty, not the sort of twink Bronn probably has at his beck and call anytime he wants.

When he doesn’t say anything, Bronn shrugs.

“It’s your time, sweetheart, you can stay hidden if you want. Will you at least tell me your name? Give me something to moan while I touch myself?”

Grenn. My name’s Grenn. It’s not that I want to stay hidden, I just don’t want to disappoint you.

Bronn’s eyes soften.

“Aw hell, you won’t disappoint me. I see you in here every week, so quiet. I bet you’re a sweet little thing.”

Grenn shifts in his seat, bites his lip. He taps the camera icon before he has a chance to second guess himself. He runs a hand quickly through his hair, down his face, thankful he’d shaved that morning.

Bronn blinks as Grenn’s face fills his screen, and smiles again, all teeth and dangerous promises.

“Oh baby, I am definitely not disappointed.” He leans back so Grenn can see all the way down his body, down to the very prominent proof that Bronn is indeed not disappointed in what he sees.

Grenn feels hot all over, feels like he’s dreaming but if he is, he never wants to wake up, because he, gawky nobody from nowheresville, is in a private chat with Bronn fucking Blackwater, famous internet cam performer, and he’s the reason Bronn has a fucking boner.

“Can you –“ he stops, not sure how to ask for what he wants.

“Can I what, baby?” Bronn asks, one hand lightly scratching down his stomach to stroke himself.

Grenn bites his lip again. Bronn does this every week, he probably gets all kinds of interesting sexy requests, but that’s not what Grenn wants.

“Can you show me what you like?”

Bronn arches an eyebrow, slows his hand down.

“You watch my show, you know I like everything honey.”

Grenn shakes his head, brings his thumb up to nervously swipe at his lip.

“I want to know what you like when you’re not doing a show. When it’s just you, no edging or thinking about camera angles.”

Bronn’s grip visibly tightens, his eyes glinting as he focuses on Grenn’s mouth, where his thumb is still resting.

“I don’t think anyone’s ever asked about what I like,” He muses. “I certainly like what I’m looking at.”

Grenn looks at himself in the smaller camera box at the bottom of his screen, sees what Bronn sees. Messy hair, a light sweat sheen across his chest, nipples taut and peaked. His mouth is bitten red, cheeks flushed, and despite the two earlier orgasms, he is hard again, already leaking against his stomach. He can see as the blush from his cheeks spreads down to cover his torso.

“I also like the way you blush so easy, baby.” Bronn’s voice has dropped low, and even through his shitty laptop speakers, the voice slides over Grenn like butter on a griddle.

“I like the way you call me baby” Grenn confesses.

“Yeah? You like thinking about being my baby boy?” Bronn’s hand is working up and down his shaft, hips pushing up as he fucks his fist, his other hand thrown back behind his head.

Grenn nods, reaching down to touch himself, hissing at the feel of his calloused fingertips on his over-sensitive skin. He raises his hand to his mouth, licking at his palm to wet it before lowering it again, and Bronn lets out a low growl.

“You look so good baby, licking your hand like that. I bet you like a little friction, hm?”

Bronn has a pump bottle of lube on his bedside table, which he regularly reaches for, but Grenn’s small bottle of lube is somewhere under the couch now, and besides, it’s true that he likes the slight burn when the spit dries up as his hand moves on his cock.

He’s already close, it won’t take much for him to come at this point, and he’s biting hard on his lip because if he doesn’t he might start babbling, and he is afraid of what might spill out.

Bronn is grunting, close to his own climax now that he isn’t trying to focus on putting on a show. He’s staring intently at the screen, at Grenn’s image, and he starts talking in a murmur, low but clear enough for Grenn to hear.

“That’s it baby boy, can’t wait to watch you come all over yourself. Wanna see you lick it up, wanna mark up your pretty face, show everyone who your daddy is.”

That’s it, those words tipping Grenn over the edge, and he cries out as he comes, his body pumping out a few weak spurts. He brings his hand up to his mouth, tongue darting out to lick at it like Bronn wants.

Bronn lets out a long groan, and despite three orgasms in the space of an hour, Grenn’s cock twitches as he watches Bronn come, his mouth watering again at the thought of all that spunk dripping onto his face.

Bronn reaches off-screen and comes back with a towel, swiping at the sweat that is beading on his brow.

“I should probably hop in the shower, but I hope you enjoyed your private show, baby.”

“I did,” Grenn is breathless. “I really did, thank you.”

Bronn winks at the screen before it goes black, and Grenn’s head thumps back on the couch, still in shock at what’s just happened. He still has the website up and his head shoots up when the messenger dings at him again. There’s a 10 digit number and a message from Bronn.

Hey baby boy, give me a ring if you ever fancy another one-on-one. I think daddy still owes you a facial. ;).

Grenn’s neck is burning hot as he reads the message, and quickly enters the number into his phone. It doesn’t escape his notice that they have the same area code, which sends a thrill through him. He huffs a laugh; his friends have been after him to get out and meet someone, after all.

Chapter Text

~~

 

[The opening credits of The Dating Game come up, and the theme music plays.]

Announcer: It’s the Dating Game: Westeros Edition! Now, here’s your host, Varys Lord!

[Varys comes out looking delighted; the audience applauds feverishly.]

Varys: Thank you, thank you everybody. Well, tonight’s show is certainly filled with excitement. Soon we are going to meet our bachelorette, the lovely Sansa Stark. And now all ready and raring to go, are the sincere single citizens waiting to play tonight’s game. So let’s meet them…and heeeere they are!

[The music swells, and Varys directs the audience’s attention to the moving stage wherea curved wall slides from around a group of three men perched on bar-stool style chairs. Only their shapes can be discerned as the spotlights are muted temporarily.]

Varys: Good luck, gentlemen, good luck!

[The audience applauds.]

Varys: Bachelor Number One has been a sailor in the Iron Islands Merchant Marines, he loves to sail and to reeve, but not to sow. Please welcome Theon Greyjoy.

[The lights come up on Theon and the audience applauds. Theon smiles smugly.]

Varys: A security guard for Lannister Industries, Bachelor Number Two likes to ride, body build, and to walk his dog. From the Westerlands, please welcome Sandor Clegane.

[The audience applauds as the light begins to shine on Sandor, until his scarred face is revealed. Then some gasp, interrupting the applause, and only polite applause follows. Sandor looks somber.]

Varys: And Bachelor Number Three is a med student at the Citadel. He likes to read, study, decrypt ancient texts, and tell stories. Here is Samwell Tarley.

[The audience applauds as the light rises on Sam’s face. He smiles nervously and gives a weak little wave.]

Varys: Now to prevent our lovely young lady from hearing the introductions, we’ve been keeping her off stage in an isolated, sound-proof room. We’ll meet her right now.

[The music swells again, and Sansa comes out in a sparkly little mini dress, her long, thick red hair flowing around her. She pulls a veil of her hair back from her face in an alluring way, and the crowd applauds in approval.]

Varys: She’s studying Fashion and Design at King’s Landing Institute of Design and Merchandising, where she’s won numerous awards for her innovative designs with synthetic fur. She’s an animal lover, especially dogs, and runs a charity that supplies food to local homeless shelters in the city. I’d like you to join me in a warm Dating Game welcome to Sansa Stark!

[The crowd applauds, the music surges, and Sansa smiles and touches Varys’ arm graciously.]

Varys: Sansa, as you know, there are three bachelors over there, and they’ll do their best to impress you – obviously they’ll try to be funny, serious, romantic, whatever. You listen carefully and at the end of the game, you get your choice.

[Sansa has been smiling blithely, nodding along as Varys explains. She is beautiful and glowing, clearly someone that any of these men would be delighted to date.]

Varys: First we’ll start with a good evening. Gentlemen?

Theon: Good evening, Sansa, my darling.

Sandor: ‘Evenin’ Sansa.

Samwell: A warm hello, Sansa.

Sansa smiles.

Varys: All right, they’re all ready. (to Sansa) Please, have a seat, make yourself comfortable, and when you’re ready you may begin (he hands her some cards, upon which are written the questions she will ask)

[On screen: QUESTIONS USED BY CONTESTANTS ARE PREPARED AND SELECTED WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF THE PRODUCER]

Varys: Gentlemen, good luck to all of you, and here we go.

Sansa: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go? Bachelor Number One?

Theon: Anywhere, with you.

[The audience gives a giant “Awwww!” and Sansa blushes].

Sansa: Thank you, Number One. Bachelor Number Two, same question.

Sandor: Essos. Somewhere warm. Maybe a beach?

Sansa: That sounds nice. I like beaches. Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: To the Citadel – to spend time in the library. You’ve never seen so many books!

Sansa: Umm, thanks. That sounds…fun. Next question. Bachelor Number Two, what are you looking for in a woman?

Sandor: A pretty little bird.

Sansa (confused, but sort of flattered): Umm, thanks? Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: Someone intelligent who likes to share ideas.

Sansa: Well, I could certainly do that. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: Someone to keep me warm at night.

[The crowd roars, and Sansa blushes.]

Sansa: One of my designer synthetic fur blankets could do that.

[The crowd laughs and Theon looks back at them sourly. Sandor chuckles.]

Sansa: Compare me to your three favorite things. Bachelor Number Three?

Sam: A good book, a fine meal, and a roaring fire.

Sansa: I’m on fire, am I?

Sam (flustered): Um, no, uh, just metaphorically.

Sansa (laughing lightly): I understand. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: A beautiful sky, a warm sea, and a soft sand.

Sansa: So I’m all wet, am I?

Theon (his eyes lighting up and with a devious grin): You would be with me!

[The crowd groans and Sansa looks embarrassed.]

Varys: Ahem!

Sansa: Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: A flagon of Dornish Sour, a well-built courser, and a loyal hound.

Sansa (unsure): Umm, I’m like sour wine, a big horse, and a…dog?

[Sandor looks uncomfortable and Theon laughs at him.]

Sandor: Well, they are my favorite things. You’d be my new favorite.

Sansa: Ah, well, then, that’s OK. Bachelor Number One, how do you have fun?

Theon: I like to go to clubs and dance the night away. Or surf under the sun out on the sea.

Sansa: That sounds fun. Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: Reading books! There is so much to learn!

Sansa: I love books too. Especially ones with beautiful paintings and drawings in them. Bachelor number Two?

Sandor: Horseback riding. Body building. Walking my dog.

Sansa: Oh, I like to walk my dog too. Bachelor Number Three, what is your favorite book?

Samwell: I could never choose just one. I think it’s a tie between Grey’s Anatomy and…A Song of Ice and Fire – it was great! I especially loved this character who was studying to become a maester – that’s a medieval teacher and doctor…

Theon: We get it, you are becoming a doctor.

Sansa: Very interesting. Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: The Hound of the Castervilles – I enjoy anything with a hound in it.

Sansa: Ah, OK. Uh, Bachelor Number One?

Theon (leering): 50 Shades of Grey Joy. It was great – gave me a lot of ideas…maybe you’d like to try some?

Sansa: Um, we’ll see. Bachelor Number Two, are you an early bird or a night owl?

Sandor: I’m no bird, I’m a Hound.

Theon: Heh, I am too, (leers, and Sandor glares at him) I can go all night.

[Sansa and some of the audience groans, but others cheer and laugh.]

Varys: Gentlemen, let’s be gentlemen, please.

Sandor (muttering): That’s not what I meant.

Sansa: Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: I’m a night owl – if I get started on a good book, I may read all night.

Sansa: I know what you mean. Bachelor Number One: if you attended uni, where did you attend and what did you major in?

Theon: No uni, I went straight into the Merchant Marines and learned on the job.

Sansa: Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: I have no use for fancy diplomas or degrees – they don’t prove a man’s worth. I went to the school of hard knocks.

Sansa: Ah…I see. Umm, Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell (looking nervously at Sandor, who is glaring at him): Yes, well, I am going to the Citadel and majoring in medicine. I’ll be a doctor soon.

Sansa: I’m sure you’ll be an excellent doctor. Bachelor Number Two, what are your best qualities?

Sandor: I’m strong, I’m loyal, and I’m honest. A dog won’t lie to you.

Sansa: I suppose that’s true. Bachelor Number One?

Theon (raising his eyebrows): My smile, my personality, and my body. You’ll love them all.

Sansa: What about patience?

Theon: Patience… is not something I’m known for. I’ll be impatient to satisfy you.

Sansa: Hmm, we’ll see. Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: I’m smart – I can read a book and remember it very quickly. I can recite poetry and tell you all about the history of Westeros. What would you like to know?

Sansa: Umm, I’ll think about it and get back to you. Bachelor Number Two, what languages do you speak?

Sandor: Honestly, just the Common Tongue, and not all that well.

Sansa: I appreciate your honesty. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: The language of love! I can do all sorts of things with my tongue.

[The audience reacts, some laughing, and some groaning. Sandor looks disgusted, and Samwell looks embarrassed.]

Sansa (taken aback): I’m sure you can! Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: High Valyrian, a little Dothraki, some Braavosi, oh and right now I’m learning ancient–

Varys: Ahem, we only have so much time, Bachelor Number Three.

Samwell: Sorry. I get carried away sometimes.

Sansa: That’s all right. I know a little High Valyrian myself. It’s a lovely language. Bachelor Number Three, what is your idea of the perfect marriage proposal?

Samwell: Perhaps like they did in The Age of Heroes – that would be a classic way to do it (he looks like he might start to explain, but glances at Varys nervously and stops).

Sansa: That sounds lovely. Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: I’d ride off with you on my horse and propose somewhere along the coast.

Sansa: Oh, that would be dramatic. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: Down on one knee, with a rose, and reciting a poem to your beauty. And while I’m down on one knee… (he leers suggestively and the audience gasps appreciatively).

Sansa (coughing): Next question. Bachelor Number Two, how do you impress a date’s parents or friends?

Sandor: I bench press 500 pounds.

Sansa: Well, I guess that is impressive. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: With my glittering personality. No one can resist me.

Sandor (muttering under his breath): I can.

Sansa (rolling her eyes and laughing lightly): Oh, indeed! Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: Well, I am going to be a doctor. That generally impresses people pretty well.

[Theon and Sandor both groan. The audience groans and laughs.]

Sansa: Yes, that would likely impress my parents. Bachelor Number Two, do you believe in love at first sight?

Sandor: Yes. And at first sound (he looks love-struck despite his fierceness; the audience awwws).

Sansa: That’s sweet. Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: Maybe, but I think love can grow if you get to know someone.

Sansa: I’m sure it can! Bachelor Number One?

Theon: Of course! I can’t wait to see you. And for you to see me.

Sansa (politely): I can’t either. New question, Bachelor Number One, do you have any children?

Theon: Not that I know of…but you never know! (He gives a devious look and the audience laughs).

Sansa (turning red): Um, Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: [shifts uncomfortably] Doubtful.

Sansa: Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: [embarrassed] No…I’m a maid.

[The audience laughs.]

Sansa (sternly, to the audience): That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Bachelor Number Two, what have you always wanted to do but haven’t yet?

Sandor: (determinedly): Kill my brother.

Sansa: (startled): Oh! Umm…metaphorically speaking, you mean?

Sandor: Sure.

Sansa (unsure): Okaaaay. Um, Bachelor Number One, what have you always wanted to do?

Theon: Get a castle.

Sansa: A castle?

Theon: Yep. I’d conquer it and make it my own.

Sansa: Metaphorically speaking?

Theon: Sure.

Sansa: Right, then. Bachelor Number Three, same question.

Samwell: To become a doctor. Not metaphorically speaking.

Sansa (relieved): Of course. Bachelor Number Two, if you could change a mistake from your past, what would it be?

Sandor: I wouldn’t have taken my brother’s toy.

Sansa: His toy?

Sandor: It’s a long story.

Sansa: I see. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: I wouldn’t have messed up my friend’s house.

Sansa: Oh, dear, he must have been mad. Was it a wild party?

Theon: Um, yeah, you could say that.

Sansa: I see. Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: I would have gotten along better with my dad.

Sansa (apprehensively): Is he gone now?

Samwell: Yes. I don’t like to talk about it.

Sansa: Oh, I’m sorry. Umm, next question. Bachelor Number One, how do you comfort someone in a traumatic situation?

Theon: I tell them that it could be worse. Much worse.

Sansa: I see. Sounds like you have some personal experience there.

Theon: Yeah. I don’t like to talk about it.

Sansa: Of course. Umm, Bachelor Number Two, how do you comfort someone in a traumatic situation?

Sandor: I tell them about what my brother did to me.

Sansa: Oh dear, that sounds ominous.

Sandor: I don’t like to talk about it.

Sansa: But you just said…

Sandor: I don’t like to talk about it!

Sansa: OK. Bachelor Number Three (she asks hopefully)?

Samwell: I read them a story. Something comforting from long ago.

Sansa (relieved): That sounds nice. Bachelor Number Three again, if we were out on a date and someone tried to mug us, what would you do?

Samwell: I would yell “run!” and we would run away.

Sansa (unimpressed): Oh, OK. Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor (fiercely): I could keep you safe. If anyone tried to hurt you, I’d kill them.

Sansa (fanning herself): Oh my! (then, uncertainly) Metaphorically speaking, of course.

Sandor: (looking just as fierce): Sure.

Sansa: (looking thoughtful before addressing Theon): Bachelor Number One? What would you do if someone tried to mug us? Would you be scared?

Theon: Scared, me? Nope, I’d just take your hand and we’d jump overboard together.

Sansa: Overboard? Wouldn’t we drown?

Theon: What is dead will never die.

Sansa (confused): Umm, why would we be jumping overboard anyway?

Theon: We’d be on my private yacht sailing the seas.

Sansa: Then how could we get mugged?

Theon: Umm, well, I have this uncle…

Sansa: OK, next question. What is your favorite food? Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: Steak, charred on the outside, blood red on the inside.

Sansa: Oh my. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: Anything sweet, but not sweeter than you.

Sansa: [Rolls her eyes]: Really?

Theon: Well, I do like seafood – especially squid. There is a certain taste to it. If you pick me, I’ll take you out to have a great seafood dinner.

Sansa: Ah, thank you, I’ll keep that in mind. Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: Do I really have to choose? I like everything.

Sansa: Ah, eclectic taste. Bachelor Number One, what is your favorite sport either to play or watch?

Theon: Swimming. I can hold my breath for 23 of minutes! Well, I do sometimes swallow some water, but I always rise again! The Drowned God looks after me. And I look fab in my swim trunks (his voice is cocky).

Sandor (raising his eyebrows): That’s not what I heard…

Theon: That’s just an ugly rumor! And you should talk, with your face!

Varys: Gentlemen! Please! Sansa, please go on.

Sansa (looking a bit piqued): Bachelor Number Two, same question, your favorite sport?

Sandor: Contact Polo. I’ve never been unhorsed. Can’t say that for my opponents. Or their horses.

Sansa: Oh my! (She pauses, considering for a moment before going on.) Umm, Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: I don’t play sports, although I did try fencing once and actually got a hit. Well, to be honest it was pure chance, but all my mates called me “Slayer” after that! It was rather gratifying.

Theon: They were probably mocking you.

Sandor laughs.

Varys: Gentlemen!

Sansa (ignoring them all): Where would you take me on your dream date? Bachelor Number One?

Theon: To sail on my yacht. We’d have a romantic dinner aboard ship, then sit and watch the sunset on deck. I might just kiss you.

Sansa: Oh, umm, OK. Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: Somewhere warm on a nice beach – maybe in Naath?

Sansa: That sounds lovely. Bachelor Number Three?

Sam: To the Citadel library – there’s every book under the sun there! We could read for hours and hours.

Theon: (joking sarcastically) That sounds like a bloody exciting date.

Varys: Bachelor Number One!

Samwell (to Sansa): It will be fun, trust me.

Sansa (kindly): I’m sure it will. Bachelor Number Two, are you a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full sort of person?

Sandor: Glass-half-empty – nothing sadder than running low on Dornish Sour.

Sansa: Oh, I prefer Arbor Gold myself. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: Glass-half-full – you can do a lot with half a glass of good Arbor Gold. And I’d happily share it with you.

Sandor scoffs.

Sansa: Thank you. Bachelor Number Three?

Sam: Hmm… I used to be a glass-half-empty sort, but now I am more of a glass-half-full sort. It’s quite a philosophical question, you know. There was a maester during the reign of Aegon the Conqueror who wrote extensively about this–”

Theon: Enough! I heard enough.

Varys (to Theon): Please! (to Sansa) Next question, please, Sansa.

Sansa: What would be your dream job? Bachelor Number Two?

Sandor: I don’t know, I guess I’d run a kennel – like my grandfather. Raise hounds.

Sansa: Oh, that sounds fun. I love dogs. Bachelor Number One?

Theon: I’d be the captain of a cruise ship – it would be like The Love Boat (he starts to hum the The Love Boat theme song).

Varys: Ahem!

Sansa: Bachelor Number Three?

Samwell: I’m already working on my dream job – doctor!

Sansa (smiling patiently): Yes, lovely.

Varys: Well, we’ve reached the end of the questions. Now Sansa must decide which of our eligible bachelors she will choose for her date. But first a word from our sponsor: My Cheeky Date!

[The scene cuts away with Sansa pondering her great choice, and the three men looking anxious as to who she will choose.]

~~

Commercial Break

[Photos of people looking lonely, wandering around in the rain.]

Voice-over: Having a hard time finding someone nice? Maybe you think there is no one for you.

[Flashes of photos of unhappy looking people, ending with Catelyn looking startled (and a bit overexposed) sitting at a table.]

Voice-over: Well, why not try My Cheeky Date? We have special algorithms that can find just the right person for you. Come to our speed-dating events and we guarantee you’ll meet someone special.

[Flashes of happy couples. Stannis, looking fascinated at a stunning woman in a very low-cut red dress.]

Stunning Woman: It was written in the flames that we would be together.

Stannis: I don’t see anything…but you.

[Flash to a very handsome man and a very alluring woman and another striking man. They are all flirting with each other and making eyes until the second man whips out a camera and shoots a photo of them. In the background, Catelyn is sneaking away towards some elevators.]

[Flash of Walder Frey with Barbrey Dustin.]

Barbrey: My Cheeky Date really knows how to match people up. We both have a grudge against the same Northern family! What are the chances of that?

Walder: (leering at Barbrey): I like my chances with you!

[Flash of Roose Bolton and Fat Walda Frey.]

Fat Walda: Ooh, My Cheeky Date found me this lovely fleshy man!

Roose: (laughing a sinister laugh): My Cheeky Date is worth Walda’s weight in silver.

Voice over: Let My Cheeky Date find you your perfect mate!

[Finishes with a photo of Cat and Davos through the back of their cab window]

 

~~

[Cuts back to The Dating Game logo, a cheering audience, panning the three bachelors and the bachelorette.]

Varys: Welcome back! Well, we’ve come to the part of the show that everyone has been waiting for.
Sansa, it’s time to pick your date. Who will it be?

[The camera pans to Theon, who looks very confident that he will be picked.]

Varys: Will it be Bachelor Number One?

Sansa: Well, Bachelor Number One certainly sounds charming, and I think he could show a lady a very good time. It might be fun to see a sunset from his yacht.

Sandor groans. Theon looks smug.

Varys: Or maybe Bachelor Number Two?

[Camera pans to Sandor, who is looking pretty forlorn.]

Sansa: Bachelor Number Two seems very manly – I might enjoy seeing him ride his horse in Contact Polo.

[Sandor looks suddenly hopeful. Theon fumes.]

Varys: Or will it be Bachelor Number Three?

[Camera pans to Sam, who looks very uncertain, like he’d like to run off stage].

Sansa: Bachelor Number Three sounds very intelligent, and I’m sure he would tell some very entertaining stories. I might enjoy reading some books with him. Oh, it’s so hard to make a choice! They all seem so nice!

Varys: Well, you can only choose one. Which one will it be?

[A drum roll sounds, and the camera pans past the three men once again. The crowd is cheering and shouting out their favorites. Finally the drum roll stops and the camera settles on Sansa’s face.]

Sansa: I think…Bachelor Number Two!

[The crowd cheers, some jeer and say, “aww!,” the music plays, and zooms in on each of the three bachelors again. Sandor looks surprised, Theon looks disgusted, and Sam looks relieved. The camera returns to Sansa.]

Varys: Well, Sansa, you made your choice. Congratulations. What made you choose Bachelor Number Two?

Sansa: He sounds strong, and I like strong men. And he may seem tough, but he loves dogs, so he must have soft spot in his heart. Maybe we can walk our dogs together. And I like his voice.

Varys: Excellent! And in just a moment you’ll meet your choice. But first, you’ll meet the other men, who played well. Bachelor Number One is a former sailor in the Iron Islands Merchant Marines, he loves to sail and reeve, but not to sow. Theon Greyjoy!

Theon stands, wipes his disappointment off his face, and puts on a broad smile for the camera as he comes around the partition. He sees Sansa and the disappointment is back for just a flash, then he’s all smiles again, flirting. He raises his eyebrows at her, and leans in for a handshake and European kiss-kiss of cheeks.

Theon (in a stage whisper): We could have a chance. You can still go out with me afterwards. Here’s my Number.

[Theon puts a slip of paper in Sansa’s hand. Sansa looks at it in surprise and seems flustered. As he walks away, the paper slips out of her hand and flutters to the floor.]

Varys (shakes Theon’s hand): Thanks, Theon, good try.

Theon turns and gives the audience a cheeky look before swaggering off stage. The audience claps wildly.

Varys: And here is the other wonderful gentleman you passed up, Bachelor Number Three. As you know by now, he’s a med student at the Citadel. He likes to read, study, decrypt ancient texts, and tell stories. Here is Samwell Tarley. Sam, say hi to Sansa.

Samwell starts to stand, stumbles a bit as he hefts himself off his stool, and comes around the partition. He shakes Sansa’s hand, but is too shy to kiss her on the cheek. She smiles at him kindly.

Varys: Thanks very much, Sam, good job.

[Varys shakes Sam’s hand, Sam waves to the audience, who cheers, and he exits.]

Varys: And now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…it’s time to meet your date. A security guard for Lannister Industries, Bachelor Number Two likes to ride, body build, and to walk his dog. From the Westerlands, please welcome Sandor Clegane!

[Sandor stands and hesitates for a moment, clearly unsure how she’ll react to his scars. Sansa waits, a bemused look on her face.]

Varys: Bachelor Number Two? Where are you?

[Sandor glances at the audience, mutters something under his breath, and strides around the partition. He stops, stunned at how beautiful Sansa is.]

[Sansa looks a little startled by his facial scars at first, but takes in his humble appreciation of her, and she smiles graciously as she shakes his hand and they exchange pecks on the cheek].

Sandor (whispering in her ear): It’s all right if you change your mind – we’ll just play along for now.

[As is scripted, he puts his arm around her waist, and they turn to the audience, smiling and waving. The audience goes wild.]

Sansa (whispering back to Sandor, giving him a quick, meaningful glance): I’m with you, you know that.

[Sandor looks genuinely surprised and happy.]

Varys: Sansa and Sandor, let’s see where you’ll be going on your date.

[A screen comes up and photos of city scenes prompt the crowd to ooh and aah.]

Varys: You will be flown to the grand old free city of Braavos!

[The crowd roars.]

Varys: There you’ll spend the day touring by traditional Braavosi canal boat, serenaded along the way while seeing the sights of the quaint and historic Drowned Town, the shrine of the Weeping Lady of Lys, the Gardens of Gelene, and the House of Black of White. Later, you’ll be entertained by a mummer’s show at the famous Blue Lantern theater. And in the evening, you’ll share a romantic candlelit dinner at Chez Titan at the top of the historic Titan of Braavos!

[The audience raves.]

Varys: There you’ll have a view of the entire city. And you and your Dating Game chaperone will be staying at sublime Sealord’s Palace, where you’ll be treated to first class accommodations and a display of the Water Dance on the Moon Pool.

[The audience continues to clap and cheer.]

Varys: And to get there, you’ll fly first class with Dragon Air – When you want to arrive in a blaze of style, fly Dragon Air.

[The crowd applauds and cheers madly; Sansa looks enchanted by the images on the screen; Sandor looks enchanted by Sansa. They hug, as scripted, and the crowd goes wild.]

Varys: And to add to the fun, here are your very own Braavosi Water Dancing Swords.

[Varys hands them each a shining silver sword, gift-wrapped with a big red bow on them. Sandor looks at the blade skeptically, but Sansa smiles graciously).

Varys: Have a great time on your date!

[Varys shakes their hands, and Sansa and Sandor smile and wield their swords at the camera playfully. The theme music is played, the credits roll, and Varys, Sansa, and Sandor all blow a kiss to the camera.]

 

~~

 

 

~~

Chapter Text

“Let me see if I have this right. You’ve double-booked yourself for meeting some birds from a dating app and you want me to step in for one of them?”

Yara says this through muffled hands, her facepalming the safer alternative to what she wants to do, which is thunk her head against the table.

“Yes, exactly!” Theon grins.

“You want me, your sister, to show up to meet a girl. Who is going to be expecting a boy. Which I am not.”

Theon shrugs.

“She seems pretty chill, she might not mind.”

Yara raises her head, glares at her brother.

“You don’t know if she’s even remotely interested in women.”

He huffs.

“I’ll let you take my bike.”

Yara perks up at that. Theon doesn’t let anyone drive his baby, a fire-engine red 1984 Triumph Bonneville.

“Fine, where and when?”

Theon’s supposed to meet this chick, Dany, at an art gallery, which isn’t exactly Yara’s scene, but at least there will be wine and cheese.

She gets there a few minutes late, running a hand through her hair to fluff out the helmet effect. She’s looking for a petite blonde, and she spots Dany pretty quickly, standing by the bar watching the door. Of course, Dany is not looking for a woman, so her eyes glide over Yara without really seeing her.

It gives Yara a chance to look at her, and she likes what she sees. Dany’s exactly her type, actually, which is a bit strange, given Theon’s type is typically curvier and taller.

She approaches the bar and smiles at Dany, who smiles back, a bit quizzical.

“Hey, Dany?”

She sticks a hand out, and Dany shakes it slowly, nodding.

“I’m Yara, Theon’s sister. He sends his apologies, but he couldn’t make it tonight. He didn’t want to let you down, so he asked if I could step in, make sure you still have a good time.”

Dany raises her eyebrows.

“He sent his…sister? To meet a woman?”

Yara shrugs.

“I’m gay, not exactly a hardship.”

Dany scans Yara up and down, gives her a calculating look.

“And you’re here to make sure I have a good time - despite being stood up by the man I was looking forward to meeting?”

Yara taps the bar, gestures to the bartender for two glasses of wine, and turns back to Dany.

“Look, I gotta be honest with you, I’m not sure Theon ever meant to meet you. You’re not really his type, like, at all, actually? I think this is his hamfisted way of setting me up on a date, but you’re clearly straight and that’s cool, we can just hang out and drink wine and eat cheese, and then go our separate ways. It’s your call.”

“Am I your type?” Dany asks, curious.

“I don’t date straight chicks.” Yara’s been down that road, and has no interest in revisiting it.

Dany accepts her glass of wine, clinks it delicately against Yara’s.

“Well, it’s a good thing I’m not straight, then.”

It’s Yara’s turn to sweep a calculating gaze over Dany, who gazes back at her steadily. Her lips curve up into a sly smile, and she crooks an elbow towards the smaller woman.

Dany slips her hand around Yara’s arm, and they walk slowly around the gallery. None of the art means anything to Yara, but she’s enjoying the warmth of Dany’s hand and the enthusiasm in her voice as she talks about the techniques and mediums of the paintings on the walls.

The evening does not end when the vernissage does. There is an extra helmet in the motorcycle trunk, which Yara offers to Dany, and the drive back to Dany’s apartment is a blur as Yara’s attention is split between the road and the body pressing tight against her back.

The next morning, Yara watches as Dany deletes the dating app from her phone. She receives a text from her brother a few minutes later.

From Theon: Bike’s not back in the garage and bird’s no longer showing up in my matches. Good time, then?

She taps out a reply, rolling her eyes.

To Theon: I fucking knew it was a set up. You could have said, mate. Yeah, it was a good time. Thx.

The reply back is immediate, just a row of side eye and peach emojis. She snorts, tossing the phone back down on the nightstand and turns her attention back to the woman curled up in the sheets next to her.

Her brother’s an idiot, but he’s also been a player since puberty. She should have known he’d never actually double book himself. She’s not sure why he felt the need for all the dramatics, but she’s not all that fussed, given how it worked out in the end. She’s definitely not returning the bike, though.