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The Girl From Across the Street

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The Girl from across the Street moodboard

“I heard a witch lives there.”

Robb laughed. “That’s stupid.”

With an outraged gasp, Margaery leaned across the merry-go-round and punched his arm. “Don’t call me stupid, Robb Stark!”

“I didn’t!” He grinned. “I called what you said stupid.” She huffed and stuck her nose up into the air, folding her arms over her chest.

Theon spoke then. “I heard the father is crazy. Like a mad scientist or something.”

Margaery pointed a finger at Theon, leveling Robb with a deadpan look. “Now thats stupid.”

“You’re all stupid,” Jon interjected quietly. “It’s just a normal house.”

From the playground, they all looked back to the old house across the street, a white, towering Victorian. The curtains were drawn shut, as they always were. Black shutters were pulled closed on some of the second-story windows, and dramatically slated roofs rose into the sky in creepy gothic spires.

“Oh, yeah?” Robb challenged his cousin, raising his eyebrows. “Why don’t you go knock on the door then?”

Jon scowled at him. “No way.”

Theon snorted and lay back on the merry-go-round. Sansa sat between him and Robb, her t-shirt pulled down over her knees. “The girl who lives there is in our grade, isn’t she?”

Robb flicked his sister’s ponytail. “She’s in our grade,” he corrected. “You’re still in grade six.” Sansa slapped his hand away, flushing red.

“I’ve seen her at school. She looks weird,” Sansa huffed petulantly. “White hair, pale skin. She’s like a ghost or something.”

“Probably because she’s hardly allowed outside,” Margaery said, wrinkling her nose. “They moved here, what, three months ago? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her parents outside the house.”

“Because her dad is crazy, I’m telling you,” Theon stressed, sitting back up. His expression turned sinister. “I heard he killed his wife.”

“That’s messed up, Theon,” Jon said harshly. “You shouldn’t spread nasty rumors like that.”

Theon flipped him off. “What, you mean like the rumor that your mom was knocked up by a demon and that’s why you’re such a fucking weirdo?”

Jon went stiff, and his face flushed hot. Everyone else fell silent as they eyed Jon warily, just waiting for him to snap. Like always. The mystery about his father was a touchy subject, one his mother refused to talk about. The scandal of his birth, to a single mother out of wedlock, had always hung over him like a dark cloud in a small town like Winterfell. His cousins tolerated him, of course, but it had always been a wedge that kept him just separate from them. And of course bullies like Theon loved to needle him about it.

“Fuck you,” he said through clenched teeth.

Theon laughed, and Robb shoved his friend to defuse the situation. “Shut up, man.” He kicked off the ground, turning the merry-go-round lazily. “Anyway, that girl is really quiet. Her name’s Dany, I think. Doesn’t talk in class ever.” He shrugged. “Wouldn’t be surprised if her family is crazy.”

“I bet I could get her to talk,” Theon said with a wag of his eyebrows. Jon didn’t like the insinuation in his tone.

“Just leave her alone,” he warned him, and Theon rolled his eyes.

“Why are getting so worked up? You don’t even know her.”

Jon didn’t have an answer, but thankfully Sansa ended the topic, giving a full-body shudder. “Can we stop talking about it? The whole thing creeps me out. Eugh!”

“Everything creeps you out, you big baby,” Robb retorted, making Theon laugh. Sansa shrieked indignantly and shoved her brother, which only made the others laugh harder.

As they slowly spun around, Jon watched the house disappear from his sight then re-enter his periphery once the merry-go-round made a full orbit. Something in an upstairs window caught his eye, and he craned his neck to get a better look: a flash of pale silver, then it was gone, the curtain swaying slightly in its place.

Jon sat on a swing, waiting for the others to show up. He hated being at home, just him and his mother. The house felt too empty, even when she was there, but most of the time she had to work. Growing up, Jon had often gone to his cousins’ house to hang out with them, but his aunt always seemed annoyed when she answered the door to him, like he came around too much for her liking. For some reason, he’d always gotten the feeling that she didn’t much like him or his mother, her husband’s sister. So, most days after school, Jon instead posted up at the neighborhood playground to wait for his cousins. Margaery and Theon also lived close and would join them. Truthfully, Jon hated Theon and wished he’d find someone his own age to hang out with. He was a year older, and should have been a year ahead of them in school, but he’d been made to repeat year five and then had become fast friends with Robb.

Swaying back and forth, Jon dug the toe of his shoe into the dirt and hollowed out a shallow hole beneath the swing. Hearing a sound, he craned his head around and was surprised to see the girl from the old house across the street. She stood at the edge of the playground, watching him. Jon didn’t have any classes with her like Robb did, so he rarely saw her around, maybe in passing between periods. She was rather pale, her hair so light it almost looked white underneath the overcast sky. She wore a red raincoat and boots, like she expected it to rain.

Tentatively, he raised a hand in greeting. After a moment, she lifted her hand, too. She looked like she was about to walk toward him, but then the distant voices reached his ears. Jon looked in the opposite direction and saw his cousins walking with Theon and Margaery toward the playground, laughing and shoving each other. Their voices got louder the closer they got, and when they spotted him at the swings, Sansa waved.

Jon glanced back at the girl, but she had turned away, quickly crossing the street to her house. He watched her with a distracted frown but was startled when someone grabbed the chains of his swing and shook them violently. Jon jerked his head around and glowered at Theon, who laughed and released the chains.

“You make a new friend?” he taunted, squinting in the girl’s direction. “You two freaks would probably have a lot in common, actually.”

“Shut up,” Jon said. “You scared her off. She probably saw your ugly face and took off running.”

Theon snorted. “Good one, bastard.” Thankfully, the others reached the swings then. Sansa sat down in the swing on Jon’s right, and Theon grabbed the one on his left. Margaery and Robb seemed to be in their own little world, hanging off of each other, whispering and snickering. Theon pulled out his vape to smoke, then he leaned forward to pass it to Robb. He hit it and offered it to Margaery next, who pinched her lips together and shook her head.

Sansa looked at her brother disapprovingly. “That stuff is gross.”

Robb handed the vape pen to Jon. “Maybe when you’re older and cooler, like us, you’ll get it.”

Sansa glared at him. “I’m going to tell mom and dad you’re smoking.”

Suddenly, he was angry. “It’s not smoking; it’s just weed. Stop being a brat, or I won’t let you hang out with us anymore.”

“You don’t get to decide that!” she cried.

Margaery looped her arm with Robb’s. “She’s my friend, too,” she told him primly. Sansa looked at him, smug.

“Then tell your friend to not be a snitch.”

“I’m not a snitch!” Sansa whined.

“Good, so you won’t tell mom and dad about this.”

Sticking her tongue out at him, Sansa flipped upside down on the swing, her toes pointed to the sky as her hair dragged across the ground with her back-and-forth motion.

Inhaling from the vape, Jon glanced once more at the old house across the street and saw the girl watching them from the downstairs window. This time, she didn’t immediately disappear when he looked at her, lingering a moment longer before eventually moving out of sight.

A raindrop hit his forehead. Confused, Jon looked up at the sky, the clouds having darkened dramatically in the past few minutes. Another drop landed on his cheek, then another, and another, and soon a light rain was falling on them.

The sky spun in a slow circle above him, revolving like a kaleidoscope of whites and blues. Flat on his back, Jon hung his feet over the edge of the merry-go-round and pushed off the ground with his heel to keep it turning.

As he completed another revolution, a face suddenly appeared in the sky above him. Jon blinked, planting his heel down to brake the merry-go-round. The face smiled, and he quickly sat up. The girl from across the street stepped back to give him space.

“Oh.” Dumbfounded, he wasn’t sure what to say as he looked at her. Her smile returned, a bit shy.

“Hi,” she said. She was very soft-spoken. He’d never heard her voice before.

“Hi.” He stared at her, uncertain. Her hair, which seemed to be silver, not white, was plaited in one long braid down her back, and she wore jeans and a white sweatshirt with a screen-printed picture of three dragons on the front. “Nice sweater,” he said after a moment.

Her cheeks turned pink. “Thanks. I like dragons.”

“They’re cool,” he agreed readily.

She stuck her hand out. “I’m Dany. Daenerys, but everyone calls me Dany.”

Jon shook her hand, then rested his hand on the bar of the merry-go-round. The metal was cool, burning away the soft feeling of her skin on his. “Jon.”

“I know.” Her blush darkened. “I see you out here with your friends a lot.”

“This is our meetup spot.” Realizing how defensive he sounded, he tried again, more lightly, “They should be here soon, if you want to meet them.”

Dany looked nervous, tugging down on the ends of her sleeves until they nearly covered her hands. “I know them. Kinda. I mean, I have some classes with Robb. Is he your brother?”

He shook his head. “Cousin. Sansa, too.” He realized she might not know her. “The redhead. Margaery and Theon are just friends. Well, Theon’s not really my friend. He’s an asshole, actually.”

She smiled but still appeared apprehensive. “Do you think they’ll mind? If I hang out with you guys?”

“No, it’s cool—” Just then, Jon heard their approach and peered past Dany. Behind her, Theon and Robb were walking together, Sansa and Margaery behind them.

“Whoa!” Theon’s hands shot out to stop the others, and he gaped, wide-eyed, at Jon and Dany. “Wow, is it Halloween already? Because I think I see a ghost!”

Sansa and Margaery hid their giggles behind their hands, and Robb punched his friend’s shoulder. Jon felt his face flush as he worriedly glanced at Dany, who just looked confused.

“Shut up, dude.” Smiling, Robb came closer, and the others followed.

“This is Dany,” Jon offered. With all the others around, however, she seemed to draw in on herself. Unnecessarily, he added, “She lives in the house across the street.”

Robb jerked his chin in greeting as he climbed onto the merry-go-round. “Sup.”

“Hi,” she said faintly. Sansa and Margaery had hooked their arms together as if to present a united front. Giving Dany a blatant once-over, Sansa scrunched up her nose.

“Dragons?” she said, the disdain evident in her voice. Margaery bit down on her lip to stifle another laugh.

“I like them,” Dany said defensively. Sansa just shrugged and turned away, effectively dismissing her. She unwound her arm from Margaery’s and jumped onto the merry-go-round, squealing when Robb grabbed a bar to shake the ride underneath her feet.

“I think it’s cute. My baby brother likes dragons, too,” Margaery said to Dany. Jon cringed at the patronizing tone in her voice, but he wasn’t sure Dany picked up on it. Margaery’s specialty was in the backhanded compliment; she could make any insult sound sweet and superficial.

“Thanks,” she murmured, self-consciously crossing her arms over the dragons on her chest.

Theon got closer to Dany and looked her up and down. “So, are you like an albino or something?” he asked curiously. Her eyes went wide, blood filling her pale cheeks. Jon was mortified.

“Don’t be a dick,” he snapped at him, but Theon just shrugged.

“Relax. I was just wondering why she looks so different. Her eyes are, like, purple. That’s not normal.”

“It would be OK if you are albino,” Margaery offered diplomatically, her voice saccharine-sweet. Dany shrank even further under their critical gazes.

“My mom had purple eyes,” was all she said.

“You don’t have to explain yourself,” Jon told her, but Dany looked defeated.

“I should get back home,” she said quietly then gave him an awkward wave. “Bye.”

Helpless, Jon watched her turn and walk away. Theon and Margaery climbed onto the merry-go-round with them, Dany already forgotten as they began to moan and complain about their day at school.

Jon had hoped he’d see Dany at the playground again, but she seemed to avoid it entirely after that one disastrous interaction with their group. He debated going to her house to ask for her directly, but Theon’s dumb stories must have gotten to him because he found he was too nervous to knock on her front door.

So he looked for her at school. Tracking her down was harder than he thought it would be; she really did seem to be invisible. Eventually, he found her at the lockers in the hallway between periods, outside of the Westerosi literature class she shared with Robb and Margaery. She was intently focused on the combination lock on her locker when he approached her.

Wiping his damp palms on his jeans, he stopped beside her. “Hey.”

Surprised, she looked at him. Her hand hovered on the lock. “Hi.”

He quirked a nervous smile at her. “I’m sorry about the other day. About my friends.” He huffed out a laugh. “I told you Theon’s an asshole. He’s always had a chip on his shoulder. Probably because he had to repeat year five.”

Dany didn’t laugh. She looked uncomfortable as she forced a thin-lipped smile. “It’s OK.” She finished unlocking her locker and opened the door.

As she switched out a book, Jon licked his lips and blurted out, “Do you want to eat lunch with us?”

She went still, then peeked around her locker door. “Really? I mean, that would be cool with them?”

He shrugged, even though he hadn’t really considered it. “Yeah. It’s fine. I mean, it will be.”

Despite her uncertainty, she smiled at him. “OK. Yeah. I would like that.”

During lunch period, Jon was the last to join his friends at their usual table in the cafeteria. Robb, Theon and Margaery were already seated, alongside a few other of their year-seven friends: Edd, Joffrey and Jeyne.

Sliding in next to Robb, Jon set down his tray and surveyed the cafeteria. When Margaery asked him something, he absently responded with a noncommittal answer though he had no idea what her question was. She huffed in annoyance at his disinterest, but he ignored her. Finally, he spotted Dany exiting the lunch line, hesitating as she looked around, tray in hand. Jon lifted a hand to get her attention, waving wildly when she noticed him.

“Who are you waving to?” Robb asked, craning his neck over the tops of everyone’s heads to see. When he saw Dany, he pulled a face. “Really?” Amused, he looked at Jon and snorted. “Do you have a crush on her or something?”

Jon flushed. “No. I just wanted to be nice. Maybe she could use a friend.”

Theon, who sat on the opposite side of the table, laughed. “You should totally go for it. You two freaks might be perfect together.”

Jon glared at him. “Fuck you, why are you such a dick?” Theon shrugged and popped a fry into his mouth. “Just give her a chance. She seems nice enough.”

As Dany approached, Jon smiled and scooted closer to Robb to make room for her on his bench. Theon glanced over his shoulder then whispered something to Margaery, who sat on his right at the very end of the table. Scandalized, she widened her eyes at him, but when Dany passed by her, she quickly stuck her foot out. Dany tripped over it, dropping her tray with a loud clatter as she fell to her hands and knees. Her food went flying across the floor, and everyone in the immediate vicinity gasped. Half the cafeteria fell silent as they turned to look at her. Jon sat paralyzed, watching in muted horror.

Margaery slapped her hands over her mouth. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry, Dany!” she squealed, though Jon could tell she was trying hard not to laugh. Everyone else at their table didn’t bother with the same courtesy, erupting in laughter.

Red-faced, Dany grabbed her tray and scrambled to her feet. Shaken from his stupor, Jon slid out of his bench to the floor to help pick up her food. “Here—let me help—” he stammered, acutely aware of the dozens of eyes trained on them.

Dany shook her head frantically. “Don’t—don’t worry about it—I’ll just get more—” With that, she took off, running for the exit instead of the lunch line.

Turning to his friends, Jon stared at Margaery, speechless. She held up her hands innocently. “It was an accident, I swear!” Theon coughed into his hand, a word that sounded like bullshit. Snickering, Robb threw a fry at him.

Without another word, Jon turned and marched to a nearby trash can, dumping the food on his way out.

Arya ran ahead of them, stopping at the mailbox to turn around. “Come on!” she demanded impatiently, exasperated by the group’s collective slowness.

Robb rolled his eyes, still taking his time as they all trudged away from the Starks’ house. Mr. and Mrs. Stark waved them off from the porch. “Be home by eight!” Mrs. Stark yelled after them.

Arya looked at her, horrified. “Eight? That’s not enough time!” Determined, she tightened the headband of her karate costume and gestured for them again. “Come on!” Only Bran, dressed as a weird-looking blue guy from some TV show he watched, ran to catch up with her. Together, they hurried to the neighbors’ house, pillowcases open and ready to receive candy.

It was Halloween night, and the eldest Stark siblings, Robb and Sansa, had been delegated the task of taking their younger siblings trick-or-treating around the neighborhood. Jon, Theon and Margaery had joined them, all in costume. Robb was a knight, swinging a plastic sword as he held hands with Margaery, who had dressed up as his princess, of course. Theon was a pirate and Sansa a cat, though she’d only put on cat ears and drawn on whiskers with black eyeliner. Jon chose to go as a werewolf, though he kind of regretted it now. The mask was hot and itchy, and it was hard to see through the eye holes. Plus, the furry rubber gloves made grabbing anything difficult.

Theon had complained they were too old to trick-or-treat, but he’d tagged along anyway, on the promise that they would hang out “and do something cool” once they safely returned the younger kids to the Starks’ house at curfew.

“Did you see Arianne today?” Sansa asked Margaery as they all hung back on the sidewalk and waited for Arya and Bran. Other neighborhood children ran past them on the street, dressed as vampires and zombies and superheroes.

Margaery wrinkled her nose. “Yes. I thought her costume was kinda inappropriate for school.”

Sansa scoffed. “If by inappropriate, you mean slutty.”

“I liked it,” Theon interjected, grinning when Sansa made a face at him.

“You would.”

“What’s inappropriate about Tinkerbell?” Robb asked. Margaery rolled her eyes at his cluelessness.

“Nothing, except her dress was way too short. I swear I could see her underwear. I can’t believe the teachers didn’t make her change or send her home.”

Arya and Bran came running back, and they continued on to the next house. Ten houses later, they were nearing the playground. At the corner of the street, outside Dany’s house, Jon saw her standing on the sidewalk, looking around. She was dressed as a dragon, he realized, squinting through the eye holes of his mask. Glued-on green sequins on her shirt and pants for scales, and green towels for wings, tied onto her arms by ribbons. She had a headband with cardboard horns on her head to complete the look, and in one hand she clutched a Halloween bag.

The others noticed her a moment later. “Oh my god,” Theon exclaimed as he started to laugh. “Look who it is!”

Margaery shushed him. “Stop! She’ll hear you, and then we’ll have to talk to her.”

Jon ignored them and headed in her direction.

“Dany!” he yelled. She jumped, and her eyes went wide as she looked toward him. Realizing she wouldn’t know who he was, he tugged his mask up to reveal his face, the night air cooling his flushed cheeks. “Hey! It’s just me.”

She visibly relaxed. “Oh. Hi, Jon. Werewolf?” she asked, and he held up his furry gloves with the long rubber claws.

“Yeah. I like your costume.” The others caught up to him then. At their approach, Dany looked apprehensive, and he tried to put her at ease by engaging her in friendly conversation. “Did you make it yourself?”

“Yes. With some stuff I had around the house. My dad didn’t want to take me shopping for a costume.”

He grinned at her and indicated his own costume. “Well, that’s cool. Obviously, I didn’t make mine.”

Unimpressed, Sansa regarded Dany queerly. “You really like dragons, don’t you?” she said. The others laughed, and Dany blushed.

“I do. I think they’re really interesting.”

“Are you trick-or-treating?” Jon asked to change the subject.

She looked embarrassed. “I just started. I don’t have any candy yet.”

“You can join us,” he offered hastily. “We’re taking Robb and Sansa’s younger brother and sister around the neighborhood.”

“We gotta babysit her now, too?” Theon sneered, and Jon glared at him.

“I don’t want to bother you guys,” Dany said nervously.

“You’re not. Come on,” Jon urged.

As de facto leader of their group, Robb shrugged, giving his blessing. “It’s cool with me.” Margaery shot him a displeased look, and Sansa rolled her eyes.

Annoyed, Theon held up his hand. “Fine, but lose the bag, lizard.”

“I’m a dragon,” Dany said softly.

“Whatever it is, you’re too old to be begging for candy.” Suddenly, he smiled at her. “We don’t ask for treats anymore, but you can join us for the trick later.”

“What trick?” she asked warily, looking between them.

“You’ll see,” he said ominously.

“Ignore him. I’m sure we’ll just go to the playground after my cousins are done trick-or-treating, that’s all,” Jon explained. That’s what they’d done last year, anyway.

Dany eyed him then eventually nodded. “OK.”

Arya and Bran came running up to them. “Hey, cool costume!” Arya exclaimed, touching the sequins on her shirt. Dany smiled shyly.

“Thank you. I like yours, too.”

Arya looked proud. “It’s real, you know. I’ve got a red belt in karate. I’ll be a black belt soon!”

With his sword, Robb poked his younger sister in the back. “Let’s go, Karate Kid.”

Bran pointed to Dany’s house. “Can we go here?”

They all looked to Dany, whose eyes went large. Quickly, she shook her head. “Oh, I wouldn’t,” she said, clutching the empty bag to her chest. “My dad...he doesn’t like visitors. Especially at night. He’ll be mad.”

“Weird fucking family,” Theon muttered to Robb, who chuckled. If Dany heard him, she didn’t let on. Jon really didn’t understand why Robb liked the older boy so much.

They continued on their trek to their next destination. Jon left his mask up as Dany walked beside him; the air felt nice on his face. The two of them hung toward the back of the group as they followed Arya and Bran. He moved closer to her and kept his voice low so the others wouldn’t overhear them. “I’m sorry about what happened at the cafeteria. I really wanted you to hang out with us, but they’re just weird about outsiders, I guess,” he said sheepishly.

“It’s OK. The kids were like that at my other school, too.” She spoke softly, glancing at him from the corner of her eye. “You don’t have to keep apologizing for them, you know. I know you’re not like that.”

“Yeah?” he asked, dubious.

She shrugged. The two younger kids ran up to another house, and the rest of them hung back to wait. Jon and Dany stood off away from the others. Her cheeks reddened as she said, “It’s why I wanted to talk to you on the playground when I saw you alone.”

He felt pleased yet confused. “Why me?”

She smiled at him, shrugging again. “I don’t know. I just have a feeling when I look at you, I guess.”

Her words made him feel warm, and he knew he was blushing. He didn’t know what to say for a moment, so he watched Robb as he used his sword to lift up Margaery’s dress. She squealed and slapped his sword away then pushed him playfully, laughing at his antics.

“Well,” Jon finally said to Dany. “Maybe you and I can...hang out without them sometime. If you want.”

Her smile was shy and sweet. “Yeah. I’d like that.”

As promised, they dropped Arya and Bran off at home by eight, their bags stock-full of candy. Once Robb and Sansa got approval from their parents to hang out a little bit longer, they left their house behind. Annoyingly, Theon was still being cryptic about his plans for them.

“You’ll see,” he said vaguely when asked. Following Theon, they left the safety of their neighborhood, past Dany’s house, past the playground, and deep into the bordering woods. They walked along a well-maintained trail, so Jon wasn’t too freaked out about where Theon was taking them, though the girls huddled close together.

Sansa clung to Margaery’s arm, who in turn held onto Robb as they followed close on Theon’s heels. He lit the way ahead of them with a small flashlight, though it did little to illuminate the dark woods that surrounded them on all sides. Luckily, it was almost a full moon that night, providing some more light overhead through the tree leaves.

“This is so creepy,” Sansa complained.

“Don’t be a baby,” Robb told her.

“She’s not wrong!” Margaery hissed, and he poked her side with his sword.

“Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” The two girls giggled nervously then shrieked suddenly when a branch grazed their faces. An owl hooted in response.

Jon looked at Dany, whose face was pale in the faint moonlight. Instinctively, he reached out for her hand. Surprised by the gesture, Dany glanced at him and clasped her fingers around his gloves, gratefully squeezing his fingers through the rubber. Too late, he wished he’d removed his gloves first. Still, he smiled at her.

After what seemed like a neverending hike, Theon came to a dead stop and crowed in triumph. “Ah ha! Here we are!” He directed his flashlight off to the side to show everyone what he was talking about. An old, abandoned house stood off a ways from the trail, dark and empty, the glass of the windows long broken. Dead leaves littered the porch and roof, where it sagged in some parts.

Eyes wide, Sansa pulled back. “No way, I’m not going in there.”

Theon laughed at her, turning to shine the light on them. “Relax. I’ve been here before, it’s cool. Lots of the older kids come here to hang out and drink, whatever.”

Stubbornly, she folded her arms over her chest. “I’m not going in there,” she said.

He just shrugged and turned back to the house. “Suit yourself then. You can stay out here by yourself. Everyone else coming?” Without looking back, he walked toward the house, taking the only source of light with him. Robb and Margaery looked at each other then quickly followed suit.

Jon turned to Dany, who hesitated, staring at the house. “Come on, I’m sure it’s fine,” he reassured her. As much as he hated Theon, he didn’t want the older boy to think he was a coward or something.

Slowly, Dany nodded, and she followed him off the trail toward the house. As they passed Sansa, she squealed and ran ahead of them. “Fine! I’m not staying out here by myself!”

The rotting wood of the front porch creaked beneath their feet but held, thankfully. Theon opened the front door, and everyone fell quiet as they edged inside, a weird hush enveloping them the moment he shut the door behind them. It was as if they were afraid to breathe, lest they disturb something.

They stood in a large entryway, the living room opening up before them to a staircase that led to a second floor. To the left there was a doorway to another room, a kitchen maybe, and beyond the staircase a hallway that led to a back room. As Theon had claimed, there was evidence of other people having been there scattered about: overturned furniture and empty, discarded beer bottles. Indecipherable graffiti had been spray-painted all over the walls.

“What is this place?” Margaery asked, slightly awed as they crept farther into the house.

“It was abandoned a long time ago,” Theon said with a shrug. He kicked a bottle aside, and they all jumped as it clattered across the wood floor, sending some unseen animal scurrying for cover. Sansa whimpered, holding on to Margaery.

“Ugh, I swear, if I see a rat, I will lose it.”

Theon circled close to Sansa. “Oh? You mean like...this rat right here?” He grabbed her from behind, and she screamed, making Theon and Robb laugh uproariously. Even Margaery giggled at her friend. Jon just looked at Dany and rolled his eyes. She managed a quiet laugh, like they were sharing some private secret.

“This place is pretty freaky,” Robb mused as they walked down the hallway that led to the back room. “I wonder if it’s haunted.”

“Don’t say that!” Margaery chastised him.

Once they were in the back room, Theon cast his light around. It was empty save for some trash piled up in the corners. It looked like it had been a bedroom at some point. “People say it is. I bet someone was murdered here and that’s why it was abandoned,” Theon said.

“That’s your story for everything,” Jon muttered. Theon shone the light in his face, and Jon squinted, holding up his hand to block it. “Knock it off.”

“I’m not making shit up,” Theon insisted. “Lots of people who hang out here say it’s haunted and shit.”

Shut up, Theon,” Sansa said. He grinned at her.

“Why? Does that spook you?”

She huffed, her arms wrapped around her. “No. I’m just tired of listening to you talk.”

Ignoring her, Theon turned to Jon and Dany. “What about you, new girl? Are you scared?”

She was caught off guard by his question. “What? No.”

He tilted his head, stepping closer. “No? You sure about that?”

“Theon,” Jon said in warning. Smiling, Theon kept his focus on Dany.

“Prove it then,” he taunted her. He shined his light at the closet door. “I dare you to stand in that closet, alone, for two minutes.”

“Leave off, Theon,” Jon threatened, stepping between them.

Theon shrugged. “Hey, if she wants to hang out with us, she’s got to pass the test.”

“What test?” Jon demanded, annoyed, but Theon only smiled as he looked to Dany again. Jon turned to face her. “Don’t listen to him, you don’t have to do anything—”

“I’ll do it,” she said quietly, though her voice was thin and thready. Jon was surprised.


“She said she’ll do it,” Theon interrupted, reaching around Jon to grab Dany’s arm. As he pulled her toward the closet, she resisted, slightly.

“Wait,” she hedged, suddenly nervous. “Only two minutes, right? Because I’m, I’m kind of scared of small spaces—”

“Yeah, I’ll count,” Theon said, opening the door. It was shallow and empty aside from a bundle of dingy blankets on the floor. Hesitating, Dany peered inside, and Theon gave her a shove. “Timer starts now.”

She stumbled inside, turning around just as Theon slammed the door in her face. Dany let out a startled cry, and Sansa and Margaery giggled nervously. With a smirk, Theon pressed his hand against the door.

“Are you—are you guys counting?” Dany called through the door. Jon could hear the current of panic in her voice. Anxious, he crossed his arms over his chest to hold himself back.

“Yep!” Theon yelled, and he looked at Robb, who shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s only been a few seconds.”

“This is fucking stupid,” Jon said suddenly. “What’s the point?”

“It’s funny, that’s the point,” Theon replied with a snort.

“Guys?” Dany said after a moment. “I think—I think there’s something in here—”

“Probably just a rat,” Robb yelled, and Sansa shrieked before erupting into laughter with Margaery.

“I don’t know—oh god.” Her voice jumped. “Something, something touched me—how much longer?”

Jon moved closer to the door, glaring at Theon. “Just let her out, man.”

Curling his lip, Theon shook his head. “It hasn’t been two minutes yet.”

“Guys,” Dany pleaded. “Please, I can’t—I’m, I’m claustrophobic, I don’t think I can do this—”

“You said you could,” Theon yelled through the door.

“She said she wanted out,” Jon snapped at him, but when he moved for the door, Theon shoved him back.

“She’s fine.”

The doorknob twisted, but Theon leaned his weight on the door so she couldn’t open it. “Please, let me out!” she begged.

“Let her out!” Jon shouted. He started forward again but was stopped. Realizing Robb had grabbed him, he looked at Robb. “What the hell?”

“It’s just a prank, dude, don’t make it worse. She’ll be fine,” Robb said. Jon tried to shake him off, but Robb held tight.

“Let me go.”

“You guys, please!” Dany yelled. “Something’s in here! Please! Please let me out!”

“Did you say something?” Theon called.

“Oh my god, Theon, you’re such an asshole,” Margaery said, but she was laughing along. Sansa, too.

“She sounds so freaked out,” she snickered.

Hysterical, Dany began pounding on the door. “Somebody, please! Let me out! Let me out!”

She sounded terrified out of her mind. “What the fuck is wrong with you guys?” Jon yelled, turning to shove Robb off of him. He let go, holding his hands up. Angrily, Jon whirled on Theon, who wrapped his arms around him when he reached for the door. “Let her out, you fucking asshole!”

“Chill out!” Theon struggled with him even as he pushed back on the closet door, keeping it jammed shut. Dany banged on it even harder, and the doorknob rattled violently, her sobs muffled.

Please, you guys, please! Let me out!

“Get off me, asshole!” Jon yelled, trying to shoulder his way out of Theon’s hold, but he held tighter.

Dany was screaming now. “LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT! LET ME OUT!

Abruptly, she let out a loud, wordless shriek. The flashlight in Theon’s hand flickered and popped, pitching them into complete darkness as it went out. Sansa and Margaery screamed, and Theon cursed out loud. “What the fuck?”

It went eerily quiet. His grip on Jon eased, and Jon gave him one hard shove away from the door. Theon stumbled aside, tripping over himself as he fell to the floor. Jon lunged for the door and struggled with the door knob, then yanked his useless gloves off to give the knob a hard twist and fling the door open. “Dany!”

The screaming had stopped, but he couldn’t see anything without the light. Frantically, Jon dropped to the ground and felt for the flashlight Theon had dropped. When he found it, he clambered to his feet and flipped the switch on and off until the light finally shuttered back to life. He shined it into the closet, his shoulders sagging in relief when he saw Dany crouched on the floor, huddled over her knees.

“Dany?” he said again, gentler this time, reaching for her. She looked up then, her head snapping toward him with unnatural haste, and he nearly dropped the flashlight again.

Her eyes were completely black, her face mottled with streaks of black like her veins were pulsing with it. Her hair snaked outward in fiery tendrils. Her mouth opened wide; the sound she let out was inhuman, a piercing screech that made his blood run cold.

“What the fuck—” he gasped and wheeled backward, falling on his ass. His mask slipped backward off his head to the floor, but he managed to hold onto the flashlight. Quickly, he cast the light back on her; she looked completely normal now, her face red and wet with tears. “Dany—”

She scrambled to her feet and ran past him, out of the room, out of the house. He sat frozen on the floor, the image of what he’d seen burned into his brain.

In the silence that followed, Theon forced out a strained laugh. “Holy shit. That was fucking wild.”

“What the fuck just happened?” Robb asked, bewildered.

Sansa and Margaery were still clinging to each other. “Oh my god. She’s possessed,” Sansa cried. “You were right, this place is haunted, there was a ghost in the closet—”

“Don’t be stupid,” Theon snapped. “I made that up. Nobody was murdered here. There’s no fucking ghost.”

“You made it up?” she asked tremulously.

He scoffed. “No shit. She just...freaked out and lost her shit.”

That seemed to ease Sansa’s and Margaery’s fears. “God, talk about an overreaction,” Margaery said with a thready laugh.

“You’re one to talk,” Robb pointed out, and she let go of Sansa to shove him.

“You and Theon are a couple of assholes, you know that?”

Robb shrugged. “It was just a joke. Guess she couldn’t hang.”

Theon snickered, and Jon finally shook himself of his stupor, shakily climbing to his feet.

“Did you guys not see that?” he demanded, shining the light on them one at a time.

“See what?” Sansa asked stupidly.

Shaking his head, Jon took off after Dany without another word. The others yelled after him, as he’d taken the only light with him. “Wait up, dickhead!” Theon shouted.

“Dany!” Jon yelled as he hurried through the house, swinging the flashlight left and right through the empty rooms. The front door was wide open, and he bounded out onto the porch, but she was nowhere to be found. “Dany!” he yelled again, desperate, shining the light in the direction of the trail. There wasn’t a trace of her. How had she gotten so far in the dark?

“Dude, don’t worry about her,” Robb said as they finally joined him outside.

Margaery agreed, hugging his side. “She probably just went home.”

“Without any light?” Jon asked, upset. He started toward the trail, but Theon grabbed him by the shoulder, jerking him back.

“You’re not taking my fucking flashlight.” He pried it out of Jon’s hand.

“She could be lost,” Jon said angrily.

Theon rolled his eyes. “If she’s not an idiot, then she followed the trail back the way we came. We’ll probably come across her on our way out. Come on.”

Without a better alternative, Jon followed Theon to the trail out of the woods. Near the entrance, they found one of Dany’s towel wings on the trail. Jon picked it up. “See? She found her way back on her own,” Theon said, suddenly unconcerned.

Jon was relieved, at least. If she’d made it this far, then she probably made it home. As they passed by the playground then her house, he saw a light on inside. He stopped and debated going to check on her but remembered what she’d said about her dad. Tomorrow, he’d go to her house and apologize, he decided. Early. Maybe by then he could make sense of what he’d seen. If he’d seen it at all.

The next morning, with her dragon wing in hand, Jon walked to her house, mentally rehearsing the apology he’d spent all night working on. Except, when he knocked, nobody answered. He knocked again, and again, then rang the doorbell a few times. Still, no one answered. Confused, Jon jumped down from the front stoop and walked up to one of the windows facing the front yard. The curtains were gone, he realized belatedly with a start. Cupping his hands around his eyes, he pressed his face against the window to peer inside.

Nothing. The house was completely empty. No furniture, not a single sign that anyone was there or had ever been there.

She was just gone.

Chapter Text

The Girl from across the Street moodboard


Jon was halfway to dozing off in homeroom when someone unexpectedly smacked his elbow, startling him awake. He jerked his head up before his chin could hit the desk and shot a glare at the culprit. Of course, it would be Theon.

“What the fuck?”

But Theon wasn’t looking at him, his keen eyes directed to the front of the classroom. “Check this out,” he muttered, inclining his head.

Annoyed, Jon turned his attention forward. Suddenly, he was wide awake, blinking to make sure he wasn’t actually dreaming.

A silver-haired girl stood at the whiteboard beside their environmental geography teacher, Mr. Seaworth. She handed him a note, and after putting on his reading glasses, he skimmed it quickly. “Right. We’ve got a new student joining us today. Day...Dee…?” He stopped and looked to her expectantly.

“Daenerys,” she corrected him.

With a nod, he pointed to an empty desk. “Glad to have you, Daenerys. Take a seat.”

Jon watched her stride down the row of desks to the indicated seat. She looked exactly like he remembered—no, of course that wasn’t true, though he still would have recognized her anywhere.

The last image he had of her, the memory that had haunted his dreams for five years now, was of a 12-year-old girl, with two pigtail braids and a homemade dragon costume.

But now, gone were the braids and the wings. She’d left her hair down in loose, silver waves and had replaced her cutesy sweatshirts with a white crop top and an oversized flannel shirt over ripped jeans.

She dropped her backpack beside the desk before sliding into her seat. She didn’t once look at him, but he was seated near the back of the room, two rows over. Oblivious to his gaze, she took out a notebook and pen as Mr. Seaworth continued with his lesson on the natural resources of Astapor.

Theon leaned across the aisle. “Dibs,” he whispered loudly. When Jon looked at him, Theon directed a pointed leer in her direction.

Suddenly, Jon was pissed. “You don’t know who that is?” he demanded, his voice louder than he intended.

Cluelessly, Theon sat back in his chair. “What?”

“Gentlemen, if you don’t mind,” Mr. Seaworth said sternly. Jon and Theon snapped their mouths closed as their classmates all turned in their seats to stare at them. Jon glanced at Daenerys and felt all the blood in his face drain when he realized she was looking at him.

He waited for something—a flicker of recognition, awareness, anything—but it didn’t come. Her purple eyes lingered on him even after the others had lost interest, but her expression remained blank. After a beat, she finally turned back to the front.

Stunned, Jon let out the breath he’d been holding. She didn’t remember him.

Jon was lost in his thoughts when someone elbowed him in the ribs. He looked to his right to find Ygritte staring at him, eyes wide. It took him a moment to realize she’d asked him a question.


She turned exasperated. “Were you not listening to me? What the hell is up with you?”

“Sorry,” he muttered. “Just tired.” They were outside in the courtyard on their lunch period, sitting at a picnic table with Robb, Margaery, Theon and Sansa, plus a couple other students who were on the fringes of their friend group. Ygritte really only hung around them because of Jon; they’d met in year ten, and while he didn’t know if he’d really call her a friend, he wouldn’t call her a girlfriend either. They had a casual thing, mostly because Ygritte didn’t want to be “tied down,” but also because, more often than not, she’d sooner yell at him than makeout with him.

She rolled her eyes at him now, which was a typical response to a lot of things he said. “I asked if you’d seen the new girl yet.”

Suddenly, she had his full attention. “New girl?” he repeated cautiously. Of course, she could only be referring to Daenerys, but he was wary about where she was going with this.

Overhearing Ygritte’s question, Theon butted in. “Oh, we’ve seen her alright,” he said with a grin. “She’s in our geography class.”

“She’s in our stats class,” Margaery interjected, gesturing to her and Robb.

“Who?” Sansa asked, lost. She was only in year eleven, but because she took an advanced literature class with the older students, she’d lucked into having the same lunch period as them.

Daenerys. Sounds kinda exotic,” Theon answered. Ygritte wrinkled her nose at him.

“Sounds like a regular enough name to me.”

Jon stared at them all in disbelief. “You guys seriously don’t remember her?”

They returned his look with empty stares. “What do you mean?” Robb asked.

“That’s Dany,” he snapped. “From year seven? She lived in your neighborhood. Remember? You locked her in a fucking closet on Halloween.”

The memory was slow-dawning as it came back to them. “Oh, shit,” Theon laughed. “I’d completely forgotten. That’s her?”

“Wait, what happened?” Ygritte demanded, growing irritated at not being included in the story.

Margaery shook her head. “She used to live in their neighborhood,” she pointed to Robb and Sansa. “She was this weird kid who was always trying to hang out with us. So, one Halloween Theon played a little prank on her—”

“That wasn’t a little prank,” Jon interrupted. “You locked her in a closet and wouldn’t let her out even when she was screaming.”

Theon thought it was still funny; he guffawed loudly. “God, that’s right. She completely lost her shit.”

“She was so weird,” Sansa said, leaning closer to Ygritte across the table as if imparting some secret. “Like, she was obsessed with dragons.”

“That’s weird?” Ygritte asked, and Sansa rolled her eyes.

“No, she was just, like...well, you’ve seen her, right? She doesn’t look normal.”

“No, she looks fucking hot now,” Theon said. “I can’t believe that’s the same girl.”

“What is she doing back here, anyway?” Robb asked while popping a chip in his mouth. Margaery made a face of disgust. “Didn’t her family just up and vanish? How long ago was that? Like, five years?”

“Yeah, after you guys traumatized her with that fucked-up prank,” Jon reminded him.

Affronted, Robb held up his hands. “Hey, it wasn’t me!”

Theon scoffed. “Don’t mind him,” he told Ygritte, shooting Jon a knowing smirk. “He just had a massive hard-on for her back then.”

Jon’s face went hot, and Ygritte looked at him, her eyebrows near her hairline. “Oh, is that so?”

He shrugged uncomfortably, not quite meeting her eyes. “No, it wasn’t like that. I was just her friend. Probably her only friend because these guys were a bunch of assholes to her.”

At his accusation, Sansa and Margaery made similar sounds of outrage, but Theon just snickered. “Whatever, man. I’ll be her friend now.” He wagged his eyebrows suggestively.

Jon sneered at him. “Like she’ll want anything to do with you after what you did.”

Theon just gave him a smarmy grin, raising Jon’s hackles. “Guess we’ll see about that.”

“Do you want to go straight to my house and work on this class project together?” Sam asked Jon after their comparative governments and politics class let out. He’d followed Jon out of the building to the parking lot where many year twelve, and some “lucky” (keyword: rich) year eleven students parked their expensive SUVs and impractical sportscars. Even Sam had a car, gifted to him on his sixteenth birthday despite the fact that his loathsome father absolutely hated him. Jon and his mother didn’t have the money for an extra car for him, so usually Sam gave Jon a ride home after school, since they lived nearby each other. Robb and Sansa often had afterschool activities like rugby practice or debate team that kept them late.

“I can’t today. I’ve gotta get to work,” Jon told him, hiking the strap of his backpack up on his shoulder. He came to a dead stop when he saw Daenerys near the bike rack. She was bent over a red, vintage-looking bicycle, opening the bike combination lock that secured it to the rack. He hadn’t seen her since homeroom that morning, not even in the hallways. She was as elusive as ever, though Jon didn’t think it was a matter of being invisible anymore. Lots of people were looking at her now—guys especially, their heads whipping around for a second glance as they walked past her.

But she paid them no mind, pulling her bike free of the rack and putting the lock away in her backpack.

Sam said something to him then, but Jon didn’t hear it. He made a split-second decision and headed in Daenerys’ direction before he could talk himself out of it. His heart was already racing, his stomach in knots. He had to know if she remembered him, had to know what had happened to her, where she’d gone—he had to tell her how sorry he was—

He jerked to a stop in front of her, only distantly aware that Sam was on his heels. “Dany,” he blurted out. She looked up at him and blinked.

“Hi.” She was as soft-spoken as he remembered, but...the timbre of her voice was different. It was lower-pitched, more self-possessed. This was definitely not the shy, nervous girl of his memories.

Suddenly, his mouth was dry, and he licked his lips. “Hey. It’ you remember me? Jon.” He didn’t know what else to say. “From the playground.”

She tilted her head. “Jon. From the playground.” She smiled slowly. “Of course, I remember you.”

More relieved than he could admit, he let out a breath. “God. It’s long.”

“Five years,” she agreed. He stared at her helplessly. Her eyes were as mesmerizing as he remembered. At least, that was one thing that hadn’t changed.

“Yeah.” Where have you been? Where did you go? The questions were poised on the tip of his tongue, but now he wasn’t so sure he wanted to dredge up the past, especially not that last, awful night.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, Sam piped up. “Um, hello. Hi. Dany, is it?”

She took his proffered hand and shook it. “Daenerys. But Dany works, too.”

Sam blushed deep-red, probably because he wasn’t used to touching girls. Or speaking to them. “It, it’s nice to meet you, Daenerys.”

“What are you up to now?” Jon asked abruptly, wishing Sam was somewhere else. “Are you free?”

“I thought you said you had to work—” Sam started to protest, but they both jumped when someone slapped them on their backs. Suddenly, Theon was between them, draping his arms around their shoulders as he smirked at her.

“Daenerys, sup?”

Jon watcher her, scrutinizing her reaction to him, but she revealed nothing beyond polite indifference. “Hello,” she said and unhooked her helmet from the handlebars of her bike.

“I’m Theon. We have homeroom together.”

“Yes, I think I remember the teacher scolding you this morning,” she said, pulling her helmet on and snapping it beneath her chin to secure it.

“Ah, Mr. Seaworth loves me,” Theon said dismissively. “Anyway, if you ever need help with your geography homework, let me know. I’d be more than happy to come over and help you.”

“Or I could ask Jon,” she suggested instead, looking to him.

“I wouldn’t, unless you want to fail,” Theon said. “Jon is shit at geography.”

Jon shrugged Theon’s arm off his shoulders and scowled at him. “Right, what was your score on the last exam? A 68, was it?”

Theon shot him a look of contempt, but he smiled at Daenerys. “It’s true I’ve been rather...bored by the subject matter so far, but suddenly my interest has been piqued. A pretty face tends to do that.”

Jon couldn’t believe how douchey he sounded, even for Theon. She only smiled, swinging her leg over her bike to perch on the seat. “Thank you for the offer, but I find I study better alone.”

Immediately, Theon’s expression sobered. “Hey, about what happened before. In that house on Halloween? It was a stupid prank gone wrong, that’s all. No hard feelings, I hope.”

She fixed him with a deadpan look. “Do you mean, have I been stewing in resentment and anger ever since that night, just waiting for my chance to get revenge?” she asked. Theon’s blanched slightly until she finally smiled. “No, no hard feelings. It was a long time ago.”

Relaxing, Theon chuckled. “Exactly. Dumb kid shit, right?”

Instead of responding to him, she looked to Jon. “See you later.”

He watched her ride away, her hair fluttering behind her like a trail of silver. Once she was gone, Theon stepped away from Jon and Sam and turned to face them, shoving a finger in their faces. “Remember, I called dibs first,” he warned Jon then pivoted away, stalking toward his parking space.

Jon glared at his back as he walked away, only remembering Sam was there when he spoke. “Um, so.” Blinking, Jon looked at him. “Do you have to work after school or not?”

Swinging slightly, Jon took a drag from his cigarette and exhaled slowly, the smoke a thick cloud of gray in the chilly night air. After work, he’d come to the playground with the old merry-go-round he used to frequent with his friends.

He didn’t know what compelled him to do so; since everyone else had gotten their driver licenses and cars, they didn’t hang out at the playground anymore. Sometimes, though, Jon liked to go visit it alone and look at the old house across the street.

He was doing it now, seated backward in the swing. The lights were on inside, for the first time in years. She was there; he knew it. He didn’t know how he knew it, other than it just made sense. Where else would she be? This was her house.

Not long after she and her father had left the first time, the real estate agent had tried to sell it. In the beginning, it sold quickly, to a young couple with a newborn. They didn’t stay long. Neither did the family after that, or the family after that. The house was cursed, the neighbors whispered to each other. Eventually, the house went back on the market, and that was where it had stayed. Until now.

Jon took another drag of his cigarette, debating if he should go and knock. He wanted to. He had so many questions for her, but the lingering guilt made him hesitate. She hadn’t seemed exactly pleased to see him at school earlier, yet…

See you later. That had felt oddly pointed, meant only for him. But maybe it was just wishful thinking.

God, he’d missed her. He hadn’t realized just how much till now, but it had been a longing ache over the years, a dull awareness that something had been missing all this time.

Making up his mind, Jon put out his cigarette by grinding it beneath his heel, but a blast of someone’s car horn startled him. “Hey!”

He looked to his right, having missed the car that had pulled up on the street next to the park. Ygritte leaned out the rolled-down driver-side window, her irritation apparent on her face. “What the hell, Jon? You haven’t been responding to my texts!”

With good reason, he thought to himself, annoyed at her intrusion. Still, he got up from the swing and walked up to her car. “What’s wrong?” he asked, stuffing his hands into his coat pockets.

She rolled her eyes. “Why’s anything gotta be wrong?” She smiled now, her disappointment with him suddenly forgotten. “I was just seeing if you wanted to hang out.”

Jon hesitated. “I’ve still got homework to do.” Which was technically true, since his shift at Hot Pie’s Diner had lasted until nine and he’d come straight to the park after getting off work.

“Then what are you doing here?” she asked skeptically.

Without a good answer, he shrugged. “Fine,” he said on a sigh.

“Oh, don’t act so put out.” She flashed him a wolfish grin. “I’ll make it worth your while.”

And he knew she would, though suddenly he wasn’t so sure how up for it he was. Circling her car, Jon glanced at the old house across the street one last time. He paused when he spotted a figure in an upstairs window, the curtain pulled aside. Daenerys. She was watching him.

“What are you waiting for?” Ygritte yelled, and Jon finally looked away, shaking his head before he got in on the passenger side. Once he was inside her car, he looked back to the window, but Daenerys was gone, the curtain pulled back into its place.

“I don’t get it,” Sansa said, dismayed. “Everyone’s acting like we don’t get new students all the time. What’s the big deal?”

They were all looking across the courtyard to where Daenerys sat, underneath a tree, all but surrounded by a herd of male students. Earbuds in, she had a book in her lap, her lunch resting on top of her backpack at her side. As the guys took turns trying to get her attention, she smiled politely, but one by one, she would dismiss them and turn her gaze back to her book.

“Not new students who look like that,” Theon pointed out. Sansa shot him a dirty look.

“So she’s got silver hair and purple eyes. What’s so hot about that?”

He just laughed, Robb too. Margaery smacked her boyfriend’s arm. “Sorry,” he apologized immediately. “But you gotta admit she’s pretty, in an exotic kind of way. It’s like getting an exchange student or something.”

Margaery rolled her eyes. “Whatever, pig.”

“Not as pretty as you, of course,” Robb quickly amended, and Theon snorted, earning a retaliatory punch in the arm from his friend.

“You certainly didn’t used to think she was that hot,” Sansa reminded Theon.

“Because she didn’t have those tits in year seven,” he shot back .

“Hey,” Jon warned him, irritated by all their talk. “Don’t fucking talk about her like that.”

Eyebrows raised, Theon looked to Ygritte, who was eating her lunch next to Jon. “You gonna let your boyfriend white-knight for another chick like that?”

“He’s not my boyfriend,” she answered automatically, but Jon could hear the displeasure in her voice. “But he’s right. Talking about a girl’s tits is creepy.”

“Aw, don’t be jealous. Maybe more guys would talk about yours if you had any,” Theon said, and Ygritte threw a carrot at him.

“Fuck off, you prick!”

He laughed. “Where’s Jon to defend your honor?”

“She doesn’t need me to. She can kick your ass on her own,” Jon said.

“You’re right,” Theon said suddenly. Jon didn’t like the mischievous look on his face. “Let me go personally apologize to Daenerys myself.” With that, he stood up from their picnic table and hiked across the courtyard in Daenerys' direction. She was alone now, the others having been all dismissed. On alert, Jon watched as Daenerys looked up at Theon’s approach, closing her book. He stopped before her, gesturing as he talked, and she took out her earbuds. Taking his cue from her, Theon crouched down to continue talking.

“Well, looks like he’s having more luck than the others,” Robb remarked with a laugh, and Jon found his appetite was gone.

Ygritte snorted. “Then she must not be very smart.” Sansa and Margaery giggled, and Jon shot her an admonishing look. Her lips twisted in a sneer. “What? Sorry, did I insult your precious friend?”

He grimaced. “Don’t be like that,” he muttered, looking back to Daenerys and Theon. Their conversation was already over, Theon walking back to their table. His expression was stormy, and Jon sat up straighter.

“What did she say?” Robb asked as Theon dropped onto the bench beside him. Theon smiled tightly.

“Not much. Got her phone number, though.” He held up his hand, and Robb high-fived it as the girls all scoffed.

Jon’s stomach sank, and he looked over Theon’s shoulder at Daenerys, finding her eyes were fixed on him. After a moment, she put her earbuds back in, lifted her book and returned to reading.

That night, Jon made the hike to the playground again. As soon as he spotted Daenerys on the swings, he knew he must have been expecting her to be there. She swayed back and forth, watching him as he approached.

“You wanted to talk?” she asked him when he stopped in front of her. Surprised, he pulled back.

“What makes you say that?” he asked, playing dumb.

Coming to a stop on the swing, she lifted her shoulders in a shrug. “You just look at me like you’ve got something to say.”

He blew out a breath and sat down in the swing beside her, stalling. There was a lot he wanted to say, but he didn’t know where to start. “Theon?” he finally said, his lip curled in disgust.

She looked at him, eyes wide, then smiled. “What did he say?”

“That you gave him your number.”

She made a mild expression, lifting her eyebrows. “And you believed him?” she asked.

Jon stared at her, uncertain. Finally, he shook his head, letting out a relieved huff. “No. I guess not.”

Daenerys began to swing again, rocking back and forth with her heels still planted on the ground. “I admit that I’m amused by his efforts, though.”

“He won’t stop, you know,” Jon warned her, stuffing his hands in his pockets. His expression soured. “He’s determined like that.”

“I’m counting on it,” she said. “I like to watch him squirm.”

“You should just put him out of his misery.”

“Eventually,” she agreed with a mysterious smile.

They fell silent, and he grew agitated. He kept his eyes on the ground when he finally asked, “Where did you go?” He felt her gaze on him, but still he didn’t look up. “You were just gone. After that night, I came to your house, to check on you, to apologize—”

“I told you, you don’t need to keep apologizing for your friends,” she said, but he spoke over her, raising his voice.

“—but you were gone, Dany. It was like you were never there.”

Daenerys was quiet for a moment, his words ringing in the air. “That night.” She sighed, and when he finally looked at her, her face was soft. “I’m sorry.”

You’re sorry?” he repeated, bemused.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. My father and I left the next day because we already had plans to move,” she explained evenly. “He got a job elsewhere, and we had to leave in a hurry. I’d only just learned myself. That night, on Halloween, I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t want to spoil the fun. And then...well, I just never got the chance to.”

He stared at her, digesting her words. “I don’t understand how anyone can just pick up and leave that quickly.”

She gave him a droll smile. “It’s what I’m used to. My family has always been transient. And my father…” Her eyes grew distant until she shrugged, looking away. “Well, it doesn’t matter now. I’m back.”

“For how long?” he asked, a little too sharply, but she laughed.

“Don’t worry, Jon,” she said. “We’ve got all the time in the world now.”

He wanted to ask her what she meant, but she stood up from the swing. “I’ll see you at school,” she called over her shoulder as she headed in the direction of her house. “And answer your phone.”

Confused, he watched her walk away until he felt a vibration in his pocket. Pulling his phone out, he saw that it was Ygritte calling him.

At lunch the next day, Jon didn’t join the others at their usual spot like he always did. When he approached Daenerys, who was sitting on a low containing wall in the courtyard, she didn’t seem surprised. He could feel the eyes of his friends boring into his back as he sat down beside her.

“What about your girlfriend?” Daenerys asked him, her eyebrow raised in question.

At the mention of Ygritte, Jon glanced over at their picnic table. She was watching him, her mouth agape. He looked away and lifted his shoulder in a shrug. “She’s not my girlfriend,” he said, setting his tray down between them.

Daenerys looked amused. “Does she know that?”

“It was her decision.” She studied him, and he found himself explaining despite himself. “I met her in year ten. I guess I wanted to be her boyfriend back then, but she wasn’t into ‘conventional heteronormative relationships,’ or whatever she called it. So we have an agreement.” He shrugged, uncomfortable. “I like her, but...I’m kinda glad we never got serious. We want different things, so we butt heads a lot. I think we just stick together out of habit now.”

He didn’t know why he’d just divulged all of that to her, but she didn’t seem bothered. She was still surveying him intently. “You’ve been looking for something more, haven’t you?” she asked.

He looked at her, slightly perturbed by her insight. “Yeah,” he said slowly. “I guess so.”

“Me too. All this time,” she admitted, then she smiled faintly at him. “Yet I always knew I’d already found it when I was 12 years old.”

Goosebumps broke out along the back of his neck, and he swallowed thickly, holding her gaze. In his periphery, he saw Ygritte get up suddenly and stalk away from the table and out of the courtyard. He knew he’d get an earful from her later, but at the moment he didn’t care. He didn’t owe her anything. He never said anything when she hung out with Orell or Jarl from her drama class.

Before Jon could reply, he was interrupted by Theon, who’d apparently been watching them as well. “Did you ditch us already?” he asked Jon with a certain edge to his voice. He smiled at Daenerys, though there was a dangerous glint in his eyes.

“Didn’t know I had to check in with you, dad,” Jon retorted. Theon’s mouth pulled into a nasty smirk.

“Come on, Jon. We all know you don’t have a dad.”

Jon felt the rush of blood to his face. He curled his fist on the stone wall, but the feeling of cool fingertips on his hand quelled the sudden urge to violently lash out. Surprised, he looked to Daenerys, and she gave a nearly imperceptible shake of her head.

Looking at their joined hands, Theon made a face and turned his scrutinizing gaze on Daenerys. “You know, if you want to hang out with us, you don’t have to fuck this loser for an in,” he said, jerking his thumb at Jon, then he smirked. “You can just ask me.”

Jon’s anger returned swift and immediate. Daenerys smiled and, after one more squeeze, released Jon’s hand. The desire to punch Theon returned, but Jon managed to refrain on his own. “I’m quite enjoying my lunch right here, but thanks for the offer.”

Theon’s face fell, his expression clouding over. Trying to save face, he forced a too-wide smile. “It’s a standing offer, so feel free to take it up anytime. Maybe you and I can hang out later.” He flicked his eyes over Jon. “Alone.”

“Sure,” she said easily. “You’ve got my number, right?”

Realizing she was calling his bluff, Theon glanced between them. Jon smiled at him, unbothered by the daggers Theon shot him. “Right,” Theon muttered, then he walked back to the table, where the others quickly looked away, pretending like they hadn’t been watching the whole exchange.

When Ygritte texted him after school to hang out, Jon fully expected her to rail on him about ditching her at lunch. Reluctantly, he agreed, wanting to get it over with.

She picked him up at his house later that night, and they drove around aimlessly, making idle small talk, mostly about his shift at the diner and some production her drama class was working on. Jon kept waiting for her to bring up the lunch incident, but she didn’t. Eventually, they parked in a secluded area to smoke with the windows rolled down. When she was done with her cigarette, she flicked it out the window then leaned across the center console to kiss him. He let her, his hand dangling out the window, cigarette still burning. When she reached for his pants next, he stopped her.

She sat back, her face rigid. Resigned. “Are you already hooking up with Daenerys, then?”

He shook his head. “No. It’s not about her.” Except, in a way, it was, but he didn’t want to hurt Ygritte. He still cared about her. “I just...I don’t think this has been working for a while.”

Stone-faced, she stared out the windshield. “How is it not working? It’s easy. There are no rules.” Not sure how to answer, Jon took a drag of his cigarette. She looked at him again. “Why does it feel like we’re breaking up?”

“There’s nothing to break up,” was all he could say. “We can still be friends, Ygritte.”

She just nodded, but he knew that wasn’t true. Ygritte wasn’t the type to do committed relationships, but she also wasn’t as easygoing and unbothered as she pretended to be, either.

After that, she dropped him back off at his house, meeting his goodbye with petulant silence. The next day at school, she avoided him entirely, choosing to sit with her friends from drama class at lunch. At least, Orell and Jarl were already consoling her.

Jon joined Daenerys at lunch again, but she surprised him with a request. “Let’s go sit with your friends.”

“Really?” he asked dubiously. She was already walking toward the picnic table, so he followed. They sat down unceremoniously, interrupting the conversation.

“Look who finally decided to join us,” Theon sneered.

Sansa and Margaery looked less than pleased by their appearance, but Robb smiled at Daenerys. “The more the merrier.”

“Thank you, Robb. I even managed to hold onto my tray this time,” Daenerys said innocently.

Margaery’s face went pink, but she let out a high-pitched laugh. “Oh, my god. I completely forgot about that. That must have been so embarrassing for you,” she said with a simpering smile.

“The least you could do is apologize to her,” Jon said sharply, though he didn’t know why he bothered.

She made a guileless face. “Why would I? It was an accident.”

Theon snickered. “Come on, Margy. You totally tripped her on purpose.”

She looked at him with betrayal, her face darkening. “Because you told me to!”

“Since when do you listen to what Theon tells you to do?” Robb asked with a laugh.

Theon smirked at her. “I think you’re misremembering.”

She glared at him and Robb. “What I remember is all of you thinking it was hilarious, so why am I the bad guy here?”

“Hey, don’t blame me! I wasn’t even there!” Sansa protested.

Daenerys looked to Jon, who rolled his eyes. She smiled and turned back to the others. “It was a long time ago. I’m sure you would never treat someone like that now.”

“Of course not.” Theon smiled with one-side of his mouth. “Unless they’re losers, then they kind of deserve it.”

“Careful, Theon,” Margaery said snidely, turning her nose up. “Guys who can’t pass a grade the first time around could be considered losers, too.”

In an instant, his expression transformed into one of pure fury. “Fuck off, bitch.”

She choked on a gasp, and Robb pulled her against his chest, cutting Theon a withering look. “Hey, man, watch it.”

“You tell your girl to watch it,” he retorted, his face almost purple.

“You’re such an asshole,” Margaery snapped at him, eyes watering, and she turned in Robb’s embrace.

“That was so uncalled for,” Sansa scolded Theon, who just glowered at her before turning his scowl away. Everyone fell into wounded silence, the air thick with resentment.

Jon was fed up with all of them. He leaned toward Daenerys. “We don’t have to eat with them if they bother you,” he told her under his breath.

She just shrugged. “They don’t bother me at all.” As if to prove her point, she took a bite of her sandwich.

Theon wouldn’t shut the fuck up about Margaery. Jon tried to tune him out as he focused on the video game he was playing with Robb, but Theon had been bitching ever since he’d arrived at the Starks’ house nearly an hour ago.

“I know she’s your girlfriend and everything, dude, but she can be such a fucking bitch,” Theon moaned. He wasn’t one to let a slight go, and he was still pissed about her dig at lunch.

Robb shrugged, eyes glued to the TV in the rec room. “I think it’s kinda hot.”

Theon snorted and hit his vape. “You just like being bossed around, you fucking cuck,” he said as he exhaled.

“I think that’s just called not treating women like shit,” Jon muttered. A couch pillow hit him in the side of the head, and he paused the game to chuck it back at Theon, who deflected it. “Fuck off, man.”

Robb reached over to unpause the game on Jon’s controller. “Come on, you two can take it outside later.”

“He called your girlfriend a bitch,” Jon angrily reminded him. “And you just laugh it off, like you always do.”

“Because she can be,” Robb said with a roll of his eyes. “And she knows it. It’s why I like her. Are you going to lecture me about girlfriends when you couldn’t even lock down the girl you’ve been hooking up with for two years now?”

Theon laughed. “She probably dumped his ass because she got sick of having to drive his poor ass everywhere.”

Jon bristled, forgetting about the game. Robb sighed and paused it again. “And who have you been hooking up with lately?” he asked pointedly, knowing if Theon had been getting any he would have been the first to brag about it.

Theon shrugged. “Daenerys, if I can help it.”

That made Jon go rigid. “You don’t have a shot in hell.”

Kicking his feet up on the coffee table, Theon grinned lazily. “Yeah? Why don’t you text her and invite her over then?”

Robb groaned. “Can we just play the fucking game?”

Jon raised his eyebrows. “I don’t have her number. And neither do you.”

Theon’s expression darkened, but he flashed his teeth in a farce of a smile. “She plays hard to get. They always do. I’ll wear her down eventually.”

“Stay away from her,” Jon threatened, standing up to loom over Theon, who was sprawled out on the couch.

He laughed. “Or what? You think you’ve got some kind of claim to her?”

“No, but you’re fucking stupid if you think she’d want anything to do with you after that shit you pulled on her.”

“Fuck, are you still going on about that?” Theon snapped. “It was years ago! Get over it. She has. You’re the only one here who can’t take a fucking joke, getting pissed about every little thing.”

“Yeah, that’s rich coming from you,” Jon retorted, throwing the controller aside. “Fuck this, I’m out.”

“Dude, come on, we’re in the middle of something,” Robb griped, frustrated. Jon grabbed his jacket from the floor and jerked his arms into the sleeves.

“Then make Theon finish it,” he yelled over his shoulder as he stalked out of the rec room.

“It won’t be the last thing I’ll have to finish because you can’t get the job done,” Theon called after him. “Speaking of, tell Daenerys I said hi.”

Ignoring his Aunt Catelyn’s glare as he stormed past her on his way out, Jon slammed the front door behind him and jogged down the front steps and the walkway. He was just going to make the trek home by foot, but he found his feet carrying him in the direction of the old playground instead. He’d made up his mind to go to Daenerys' house and actually knock on her door this time, but as he got closer to the playground, he saw her standing at the edge of the park, almost as if she were waiting for him.

“Hey,” he said once he was close enough that she could hear him. Instantly, he felt better just being in her presence. Strangely at ease. “What are you doing out here?”

She shrugged and smiled at him. “I had a feeling you’d come.”

He stared at her. Her long, silver hair looked burnished in the amber streetlights. She was dressed in what looked like pajamas: a loose pair of pants and a thin, long-sleeved shirt. She didn’t have a bra on, he realized suddenly, forcing his eyes up to hers. “Aren’t you cold?” he asked, his face hot. He started to take his coat off to give to her, but she shook her head.

“No. I’ve always run hotter than most people. See?” He jumped when she took his hand and brought it to her neck, pressing his palm to her collar bone. He was more surprised by the feeling of her bare flesh under his fingers than the warmth of her skin.

“Oh,” was all he could think to say, feeling a tightness in his chest. He wanted to slip his hand under the collar of her shirt but resisted, pulling his hand back and shoving it in his coat pocket.

“I would have thought you to be warm-blooded, too,” she mused.

“Why is that?”

Instead of answering, she asked, “What’s got you so worked up?”

Caught off guard by her question, he let out a ragged breath, tipping his head back. “Just...Theon. And all of them, really. Mostly him, but lately Robb’s been pissing me off, too.”

She led him to the merry-go-round where they sat down. He hadn’t been on it in years. Actually, he wasn’t sure anyone else had, either; the old metal creaked as she began to turn it with his help, and once it had enough momentum to spin on its own, they both lay down, side by side, their heads meeting in the middle.

Daenerys listened as he resumed ranting. Once he’d fallen quiet, she asked, “Why do you still hang out with them if they upset you so much?”

He sighed, staring at the inky night sky overhead. “Habit, I guess. And...they’re family. Robb and Sansa, at least.”

“Does that matter to you?”

He turned his head to her in surprise. “Yeah. Does it not matter to you?”

She returned his look. “It did at one point,” she answered simply, her face open and raw. “Until I realized family can hurt you just as much as anyone else.”

“Dany…” he said uncertainly. After a moment, he lifted his hand and brought it to the exact spot where she’d had him touch her before. Gingerly, he curled his fingers around her neck, his thumb sweeping along her jaw. Heart racing, he scooted closer until his face was near hers. Her eyes drooped closed, and he pressed his mouth to hers. He thought her lips would be cold like his, but they were as hot as the rest of her. He felt a surge of heat through him, down to his groin, when he parted her lips with his own, brushing his tongue against hers. Daenerys mirrored his actions, resting her hand on his face as she kissed him back.

After a while, he no longer felt the cold.

It was a decent hike to his house from the playground, but Daenerys made it without complaint, holding his hand the whole way. Her house would have been more convenient, but he knew his mother wasn’t home as she had an overnight shift at the hospital where she worked, and she expected him to be at Robb’s house most of the night, anyway.

The house was small, and he was almost embarrassed to bring Daenerys inside, but she didn’t seem to mind or notice the cramped accommodations. As he led her to his bedroom, his heart pounded loudly in the reverent silence between them. For some reason, he was more nervous than he’d been his first time with Ygritte. Maybe because he’d never brought her to his house. It seemed too serious for what they’d had.

Neither he nor Daenerys had spoken since their kiss on the merry-go-round. Even now, there were no words as he shut the door and she moved into him to kiss him again. After their brisk walk in the cold, her hot tongue was a welcome shock to his system, his cock surging with an immediate rush of blood. He let her push his jacket off his shoulders then pulled his own sweater off before wrapping his arms around her, pushing her shirt up to touch her bare skin. She really was warm everywhere; he found himself pressing close to revel in her body heat, his own skin quickly warming until he was almost unbearably hot.

He tugged her shirt off, breaking the kiss to look at her. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness by now, and he took in the sight of her bare breasts, the perfectly weighted outline of them, the pink, pebbled nipples. Jon swallowed hard and brought his gaze back to her face. She watched him expectantly, eyes searching his.

He wanted to say something, but words felt inadequate, so he kissed her instead. She touched his face, then his chest, then his waist. He lost his concentration when she unbuttoned and unzipped his jeans, reaching inside to grasp his cock beneath his boxer-briefs. He stopped her, pulling her hand out.

“You shouldn’t,” he said tremulously, already knowing how much he could handle and how long he would last.

She smiled at him in understanding. “Okay. What do you want to do?” she asked. In answer, he removed his pants and crouched to pull down her pants. She didn’t have underwear on, he realized immediately. There was a moment of awkward fumbling as her pants caught on her slippers, and she stepped out of them, leaving them in a tangled pile on the floor. She sat down on his bed, and he moved with her, lying her back against his pillow. It was a small, twin-size bed, and he shifted in the narrow space until he was on top of her. Then he kissed her again, his tongue stroking hers as he touched her breasts, cupping them, petting the stiff tips with the flat of his thumb until she was gasping and writhing on the bed. Her legs were open beneath him, and he reached between her thighs to find her hot and slick to the touch.

Daenerys groaned, kissing him with more urgency as he touched her, rubbing her folds then her clit. She came suddenly with a shuddering cry, and he gently pushed his middle finger inside her, pumping it as her pussy tightened and rippled in pulsing spasms. He was painfully hard, his erection jammed uncomfortably against the waistband of his boxer-briefs, but he made himself prolong the moment, shuffling down the bed until his face was between her legs. She smelled sweetly pungent and musky, and he licked her, coating his tongue in her cum. Gasping, Daenerys fisted his hair in her hands.

She was so wet, and he was determined to make her come again, but after a moment, she stopped him, her thighs quivering uncontrollably around his shoulders. “We can do more later,” she whispered, her voice trembling. Jon quickly got off the bed to take off his boxer-briefs. Even with his cock out, it was strange how unself-conscious he was with her looking at him the way she was.

Or maybe not. Maybe with her it made perfect sense.

He dug out his wallet from his back pants pocket, riffling through it for a condom. Once in hand, he sat down to tear it open and rolled it onto his cock, then he knelt on the bed again to move between her legs. His cock brushed against her slippery folds, and he seized up with momentary doubt.

“Is this going to hurt you?” he asked. They hadn’t talked about past sexual experiences yet. He didn’t know whether she was a virgin, not that it mattered to him. Ygritte hadn’t been either.

“Not with you,” she said, pulling on his hips. As he pushed into her, her body resisted slightly, so he went carefully, until he was seated inside her. He paused to give her a moment to adjust. She was breathing hard. He was, too, actually; she felt better than anything he’d ever felt, tight and hot, the wetness of her arousal evident even through the thin barrier of the condom. Soon he was fucking her with slow, shallow thrusts, groaning when she would. His movements became faster, his cock sliding in and out with growing ease even as she wrapped her legs around his waist to anchor him to her. He couldn’t think beyond her cunt tightly cinched around him, her small grunts and cries only background noise to the blood thumping in his ears, the wet, squelching sounds of his cock moving inside her.

Too soon, he was coming, with an intensity that shocked him. He couldn’t do anything but sag against her, powerless to his orgasm. “Dany,” he gasped against her neck, and he shuddered all over again, clinging to her as she cradled him to her breasts.

Jon woke alone. The room was pitch-black, but he knew Daenerys was not beside him. He was covered in sweat, he realized, the bed sheets soaked with it. His skin was scorching-hot, like he was running a fever.

Confused, he got out of bed and reached for the door, swinging it open. The hallway was even darker. Feeling his way along the wall, Jon came to a stop when he saw a silhouette at the end of the hallway, backlit by the dim ambient light illuminating the living room. He squinted. “Dany?”

No answer. Despite the sweat, Jon felt a sudden chill. Even so, he inched forward. The silhouette didn’t move, but he knew immediately it wasn’t Daenerys. It was too tall, the shoulders too broad. Still, he crept closer down the hallway, hardly daring to breathe. His feet moved of their own accord, his voice trapped in his throat.

There was a sound—a steady thu-thump thu-thump. A heartbeat, growing louder and louder. There, in the silhouette’s chest, was a blue beating heart. He watched it, oddly mesmerized, when the silhouette unexpectedly lurched forward, running for him.

Jarred out of his stupor, Jon darted into the bathroom at his right, slamming the door shut behind him. Breathing hard, he leaned his weight against the door to bar it, but nothing happened. It was eerily quiet again.

Then, thu-thump thu-thump thu-thump. The heartbeat was louder now, like it was in the bathroom with him. Jon felt the slick slide of panic down his back, and he fumbled for the light before diving for the sink. There, in the mirror, the black, faceless silhouette stared back at him, the blue heart pulsing harder in its chest.

Jon jerked awake with a silent gasp, his body and lungs momentarily paralyzed as the fog of sleep dissipated. Finally, his lungs contracted, and he inhaled deeply, a full-body shudder wracking through him. He was back in his bed, turned on his side. It’d only been a nightmare. Behind him, Daenerys was pressed against his back, her arms wrapped around him as she slept.

Gradually, his heart slowed, and his breathing evened out. He touched her hand splayed on his chest. He should wake her up; he hadn’t meant to fall asleep, knowing his mother would be home sometime in the early morning hours.

But with Daenerys' steady breaths, her chest rising and falling in a comforting rhythm at his back, Jon quickly slipped back to sleep.

At dawn, Jon stirred again, all vestiges of his nightmare forgotten. He woke Daenerys, and they quickly got dressed. As they crept out of his room, he held her hand, hoping his mother was already home from her shift and passed out in her bedroom.

But she was just walking through the front door when they entered the living room. Jon and Daenerys stopped as Lyanna shut the door behind her. “Jon—” She yawned, then for the first time seemed to realize someone was with him. “Oh.”

His stomach dropped. “Mom. Hey.”

“Hi.” She didn’t seem to know what to say either, eyeing them both, glancing at their clasped hands. “Is this Ygritte?”

He winced. “No. This is Dany.”

“Hi, Ms. Stark,” she said. For the first time, Lyanna noticed Daenerys' pajamas, her messy hair, and her face hardened.

“She was just going home,” he said lamely, edging Daenerys toward the door.

Thankfully, Lyanna stepped aside. “How did she get here?”

“We walked.”

Lyanna sighed and dug her keys out of her purse. “At least, drive her home then.”

Flushing from embarrassment, Jon nodded as he took the keys from her and opened the front door. Daenerys looked back at his mother. “It was nice meeting you.”

“Likewise,” she said wryly. “I’m sure you’re a nice girl, but please no more sleepovers, Jon.”

“Yep,” he said, avoiding eye contact. He wanted to get out of the house quickly, but Daenerys seemed in no hurry.

“Your son is wonderful,” she told Lyanna sincerely. “I’m sure you and his father must be proud.”

Jon went stiff, and his head snapped back to see his mother staring at Daenerys strangely, her face pale. Angrily, he pulled Daenerys out the door and dragged her to the car. He didn’t say anything as they got in or as he backed out of the driveway. Finally, after he’d been driving for a few minutes, he snapped.

“Why would you say that to my mom?” he demanded. “You know I don’t have a dad.”

“Of course, you do,” Daenerys said. He gripped the steering wheel tighter, glaring out the windshield as he sped down the street.

“You know what I mean. I don’t know him, and he doesn’t know me. What would he be proud about?”

She sighed. “I only meant that he would be—”

“Don’t, okay? You don’t know that, and you have no right to talk about him.”

They fell into a tense silence, neither speaking until he pulled up in front of her house. She opened her door but stopped to look at him. “I’m sorry. I thought you were ready, but I was wrong.”

His brow furrowed, but he didn’t say anything as she got out of the car, not looking back as she walked into her house.

“Did you see her outfit today?”

“So trashy. Knee highs and a plaid skirt? Like, was she filming a porno after school or something?”

Margaery and Sansa giggled over their shared plate of nachos, and Jon paused in his task of wiping down the booth next to theirs so he could listen to their conversation. They sometimes came to Hot Pie’s during his shifts, hoping to swindle free food out of him while they gossiped about other students at school. He normally ignored them, uninterested in their petty chatter, but he knew for a fact Daenerys had been wearing a plaid skirt with knee-high socks at school earlier, even if she was still ignoring him after their fight that morning.

“When she was talking to Mr. Mormont before class, he practically had a boner. I swear he was looking down her shirt the whole time.”


“I bet she sucked his dick. She probably fucks all the male teachers, it’s why they’re always calling on her in class. Mr. Lannister definitely plays favorites with her.”

“And Ms. Greyjoy. I bet she’s licked her snatch, too.”

Oh my god!” They both shrieked with laughter then frantically shushed each other, snorting behind their hands.

Gnashing his teeth together, Jon straightened and crossed to their booth. “You know, you could really fuck up Dany’s life spreading nasty rumors like that.”

They looked at him with feigned, wide-eyed shock. “What? Who said we were talking about her?” Margaery asked, a little too innocently.

“Don’t play dumb with me. You might have Robb fooled, but that shit doesn’t work on me,” he shot back.

Margaery scowled at him, and Sansa rolled her eyes. “Oh, get over yourself, Jon. I know you like her and everything, but you’re just blinded by your feelings for her.”

“What the fuck does that mean?” he growled.

She looked at him like he was stupid. “It means, if you weren’t thinking with your dick, you’d see her for what she is, too.”

His temper flared, but he folded his arms over his chest, glaring down at his cousin. “And you think you’re a better judge of character? When you hate girls just for being prettier than you?”

Her face went red. “I do not. And anyway, she’s not prettier than me—”

He interrupted, already sick of hearing her talk. “I’ve listened to you two talk shit about every girl at our school who gets even the slightest bit of attention from the guys. You’ve hated Dany since you met her, god knows why. She never did a goddamn thing to you.”

“Because she’s fake,” Margaery snapped. “She was this weird, awkward loser back then, and now she thinks she’s hot shit. She’s an imposter.”

Jon let out a sharp bark of laughter. “She’s fake? That’s fucking hilarious, coming from the two fakest girls at our school.”

She jerked back as if he’d slapped her. Sansa gasped, appalled. “Oh my god, you’re such an asshole! My mom is right about you.”

“Yeah, she probably is,” he said with a careless shrug.

She huffed. “If we’re so fake, then why do you hang out with us? That would make you just as fake as us.”

It was a good question, one he’d asked himself for years now. “You’re right. It does. But I guess I thought family counted for something. I felt obligated to accept whatever scraps you guys gave me. And you expected me to be grateful, even when you treated me and people like me like shit.”

He tossed his dirty rag down on their nachos. “What the hell!” Sansa and Margaery both screeched in outrage.

“Find someone else to kiss your ass.” He stormed to the kitchen and out the back door, suddenly in need of a fucking cigarette.

The next day at school, Robb confronted Jon in the hallway, slamming his locker shut just as he was opening it. Luckily, Jon jerked his hand away before his fingers could get crushed. “What the fuck is your problem, man?” Robb snarled.

Bewildered, Jon glared at him. “What the fuck?”

“Sansa told me what you said, to her and Margaery.” Robb got in his face. “What’s your fucking deal?”

Jon sneered. “And I’m sure they conveniently didn’t tell you what they were saying about Dany.”

Robb turned incredulous. “So what? Who the fuck cares about that chick?”

I care,” Jon snapped, his face hot. He knew they had the attention of the other students milling around between classes, stopping to watch the drama unfold.

“You’ve known her all of five minutes!” Robb ranted. “You’ve known Sansa her whole life. Show some loyalty to your fucking family, man.”

“Why the fuck should I?” Jon raised his voice. “Sansa has always treated me like shit, just like her mother, just like Theon and the rest of this whole fucking town. You’ve always looked down on me, too. If I wasn’t your cousin, you know you never would’ve given me a second glance.”

Robb rolled his eyes. “Oh, come off it. You always do this. God, I’m so fucking sick of your victim complex just because your mom was a slut.”

Jon reacted before he could think, slamming his cousin against the bay of lockers so hard Robb’s head bounced. “Fuck you!” he yelled, and then they were wrestling, struggling to pin the other against the lockers and get the upper hand. In their bloodlust, the crowd had closed in around them to cheer, but within seconds, Mr. Seaworth appeared to disperse them.

“Hey, hey, hey!” He grabbed the back of Jon’s shirt and yanked him off Robb, putting himself between them. When Robb tried to lunge forward, he stopped him with a hand to his chest. “What’s the matter with you two?” he asked, red-faced from the effort to restrain them, but both went conveniently mute, glaring at each other instead. Mr. Seaworth pushed Jon aside. “Walk it off, will you? Unless you’d prefer detention. Both of you,” he said, shoving Robb in the other direction.

Without another word, Jon turned and stalked off.

He skipped his next class, smoking under the bleachers on the football field to calm down. When it was time for lunch, he intercepted Daenerys in the hallway. They hadn’t spoken since that morning his mother had discovered them, but she went willingly and without question when he asked to talk. Taking her to the football field, he told her everything. She was quiet while he spilled his guts, listening patiently as he paced the bleachers back and forth in his agitation.

“I could have killed him,” he confessed, plopping down beside her. “I really could have. God, I wanted to hurt him. I’ve never hated him as much as I did in that moment.”

She nodded sympathetically. “It’s understandable to want to hurt someone for hurting you.”

He shook his head. “I wasn’t mad because he hurt me. I wanted to hurt him for what he said about my mom. What he said about you.”

She was quiet for another moment as she mulled over his words. “I’m sorry, Jon. I never wanted to come between you and your family.”

“No,” he insisted, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes. “No, it’s not you. It’s them. It’s always been them. This is who they are, this is how they treat people. It’s not okay. I’m fucking sick of it. I was too—too stupid or afraid to do anything about it before. When it was you. I should have done something then.”

She looked away. “I don’t need you to protect me, Jon.”

“It’s not about need,” he said angrily. “It’s about not letting them get away with this shit just because nobody’s ever told them no before.”

“And that’s what you want?” she asked.

“Yes.” He took a deep breath. “They should have to pay, at least for what they did to you.”

She studied him. “You mean that?”

Yes,” he swore vehemently.

She turned her gaze back across the football field. After a moment, she looked back to him and said, “Thank you. I’ve never had anyone in my life who would put me first.”

That made him frown. “Not even your parents? Your dad?” he asked.

She shook her head, her smile bitter. “Especially not him.” She fell into a brief, contemplative silence before she asked, “Do you ever wonder about your dad? What he would be like?”

Out of reflex, he tensed at the question, but the anger from their previous disagreement was no longer there. “Of course,” he said eventually.

She regarded him solemnly. “Sometimes, the wondering is better than actually knowing. You might not like what you find out.”

Jon burrowed into the collar of his coat. “Maybe,” he conceded grudgingly, and she moved closer to him. She hadn’t put on a jacket when he took her outside, but once again, she was unperturbed by the cold. “Maybe that’s why my mom refuses to talk about him.”

Daenerys threaded her hands through his arm and rested her chin on his shoulder. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head against hers. Her breath was warm on his cheek when she spoke. “Sometimes, I think found family is better than the ones we’re born into.”

“A Halloween party?” Jon repeated dubiously, frowning. A day after his fight with Robb, he and Daenerys were sitting on the merry-go-round at the old playground after school. She was between his knees, her back tucked against his chest. “Why would you still want to hang out with them?”

She turned her head to look back at him and asked, “Do you trust me?”

“Yes,” he answered automatically. His lack of hesitation surprised him, but the second he said it, he knew he meant it. He shook his head clear. “But I don’t think they would come. Not after that fight.”

“Theon would,” she said easily. “If we get him to agree, that’s all we need.”

It turned out that she was right. Once Theon found out Daenerys was having a Halloween party at her house, he was more than eager to go. The others were more reluctant, but Robb quickly folded, Margaery, too. Sansa had demanded an apology from Jon before she said she would agree to go, but when he simply refused, she had no leverage, and she wasn’t about to miss out on something her friends were doing.

The night of Halloween, Jon walked with them to Daenerys' house from the Starks’ house. He wore black pants and a black hoodie, his face painted in skull makeup. Robb was dressed in his school rugby uniform while Margaery and Sansa were dressed in matching sexy angel costumes. Theon was Theon, wearing a Female Body Inspector shirt under a leather jacket.

At her front door, Jon hung back as Theon banged on the door. The thumping bass of the music coming from inside was strangely hypnotic. He’d never been inside her house before and had no idea what to expect. After a moment, Daenerys answered the door, dressed in a black hooded gown with long bell sleeves that all but swallowed her small hands.

Theon leered at her as he walked by her. “Hot.”

“That’s unfortunate,” she said, deadpan. “I was going for scary.”

He smirked. “You, scary? Hardly.” He spun in a slow circle, surveying her house as he let out a low whistle. “Nice. So, where’s the booze? Please tell me this isn’t a dry party.”

She pointed to the kitchen, and Theon immediately headed that way, the others trailing behind him without so much as a hello to Daenerys. Other people were already there, scattered around the house, but because of their costumes, Jon didn’t immediately recognize anyone. He shut the front door behind him and moved closer to Daenerys, taking in the unsettling Halloween decor. All the furniture was draped in white sheets, and in lieu of overhead lighting, candles had been placed around the house: along the floorboards, on empty bookshelves, and inside fireplaces.

“Where’s your dad?” he asked over the music.

“Not here,” she said with a shrug and smiled at him. “I like the makeup. Did you do it yourself?”

“With the help of YouTube.” He returned her smile. “I like the witchy look.”

She laughed lightly. “Figured I might as well be what everyone already thinks I am.” She took his hand, threading her fingers through his. “Come on.”

She led him to the kitchen, where Theon was already dispensing drinks from the large punch bowl to the other three. Robb took a sip from his cup and immediately coughed. “Holy shit, that’s strong. What is it?” he asked Daenerys, who smiled cryptically.

“Witch’s brew.”

Margaery and Sansa both gagged on their drinks, but Theon gulped his down heartily. “As long as it gets me drunk,” he said, wiping the back of his hand over his mouth. He made to hand a cup to Jon, but Jon refused it.

“I’d rather not.”

Theon scoffed into his cup. “Pussy.”

Clenching his jaw, Jon looked to Daenerys, who just winked at him.

Margaery eyeballed Daenerys' costume. “That dress looks very vintage,” she said, in a way Jon could tell wasn’t meant as a compliment.

“It is.” Daenerys smoothed her hand down the velvet skirt. “A very old witch named Melisandre gave it to me. She also taught me a few of her tricks.”

They all stared at her, even Jon. “Bet she bought it off Etsy,” Sansa muttered to Margaery, loud enough for Daenerys to hear. Margaery laughed into her drink, and Sansa turned smug. “Whatever happened to that little DIY dragon costume you made? I think I liked that better.”

Robb and Theon snickered. Jon narrowed his eyes at them, but Daenerys squeezed his hand, tugging him close to her side. She stared at Sansa, unsmiling. “Thank you. I was quite proud of that costume. I love dragons.”

“We know,” Sansa said, rolling her eyes, and Margaery snorted with laughter again.

Unfazed, Daenerys continued, “When I was a little girl, I used to be scared all the time. Growing up, I was always so small and afraid, and to me, dragons were these larger-than-life creatures. Nothing could hurt a dragon, and I used to wish for a dragon to protect me. Until, one day, I realized...I don’t need a dragon.” She held Sansa’s gaze. “I am the dragon.”

They all shared the same look then immediately burst out laughing. “Okay, freak,” Margaery said, grabbing Sansa’s arm, and they left the kitchen together, whispering to each other.

“Come on, dude,” Robb said to Theon, who filled up his drink again before leaving the kitchen with his friend.

Agitated, Jon turned to Daenerys. “Maybe this was a bad idea.”

Smiling, she released his hand and grabbed his face. “Trust me,” she said, and she kissed him, her lips and tongue warm on his. When she pulled back, her mouth was tinted white from his makeup. “Just enjoy yourself. The real fun should start soon.”

Jon walked into the kitchen, dodging someone in a full jester costume. Of course, Theon was by the punch bowl again, talking to someone in a plague doctor mask, so Jon squeezed by them to grab a beer from the fridge. The plague doctor left, and with a snort Theon turned to Jon.

“I don’t even know who that was,” he said, making a face. “Who the fuck are these people, anyway?”

“As weird as it might sound, Theon, people have friends outside of you,” Jon replied.

“Whatever, asshole.” Theon flipped him off and sipped his drink with a wince, then he gave Jon a once-over that put him on edge. “So, have you fucked her yet? Is she as good as she looks?”

“None of your fucking business, man,” he said tightly.

Theon smirked pityingly. “Wouldn’t put out for you, huh? Weird. I would’ve figured her to be pretty easy.”

For a moment, Jon saw red. “Say another word about her, and I’ll fucking kill you,” he seethed.

Theon was undaunted by the threat. “Just admit she didn’t want to fuck you,” he taunted. 

Jon spoke through gritted teeth. “Not everybody feels the need to brag about getting laid the way you do.”

Theon cackled. “Maybe when they’re having sex with you. If she was fucking me, she wouldn’t be able to shut up about it.”

Jon took a deep breath to douse his temper, curling his hand at his side to refrain from punching Theon square in the mouth. “She’s never gonna fuck you, man. Let it go.”

Theon flashed him an ominous grin. “We’ll see.” He poured a second drink then sauntered out of the kitchen. Fist flexed, Jon slammed it into the fridge, but the relief and satisfaction of finally striking something was fleeting. Still pissed, he stepped out onto the back porch and pulled his cigarettes out of his hoodie, hoping a smoke would do the trick instead.

When he finally ventured inside sometime later, he found Robb standing with Margaery and Sansa in the kitchen, but they immediately stopped talking. Ignoring them, Jon started to walk around them, but Robb grabbed his arm to stop him.

“Hey, man.” Jon looked at him, and Robb smiled. “About the other day at school—we’re cool, right?”

“Are we?” Jon asked.

Robb shrugged. “I think we both got a little heated and lost our heads. But we’re family. We should have each other’s back, yeah?”

Jon stared at him warily, then glanced at Sansa and Margaery. Sansa was whispering something to Margaery, but when she saw Jon watching her, she clamped her mouth shut and feigned an innocent look. He scowled.

“I’m not going to defend someone who doesn’t deserve it, even if they are family,” he told Robb, who rolled his eyes.

“Look, I get it. Sansa can get on my nerves, too.” She squawked in protest, and Robb went on, “But if anyone were to say or do anything to her, I’d have her back in a heartbeat.”

“And that’s what I’m doing for Dany,” Jon said.

“She’s not your family,” Robb stressed, growing frustrated. “In a couple years, she’s not even going to matter. She doesn’t belong here.”

Jon shook Robb’s hand off him. “Then maybe I don’t either.” He went to brush past Robb, but Robb grabbed his arm again, stepping in front of him this time. Jon skewered him with a look. “What the hell are you doing?”

Robb’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Let’s just talk, okay?”

Jon stared at him. Again, he looked at Sansa and Margaery, who both shifted nervously in their heels. Then he looked at Robb’s hand on his arm. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Something wasn’t right. “Where’s Dany?” he asked in a low voice.

Robb gave an unconvincing shrug. “I don’t know, man. It’s her house.”

“Where’s Theon?” Jon asked more pointedly, but Robb forced out a laugh.

“Just forget about him. Why don’t you have another drink and relax?”

Jon thought about the second drink Theon had poured earlier, and his foreboding words, We’ll see. Jon’s stomach dropped, and he shoved Robb, hard, catching him by surprise. His back hit the kitchen counter, and he let out a cry of pain. Margaery shrieked. “Robb!” She ran to him, shooting a glare at Jon. “What the hell is your problem?” she yelled after him, but he was already out of the kitchen and running through the living room, looking for Daenerys' silver hair among the crowd.

She wasn’t there. Nobody was. The house was empty. Desperate, he ran to the next room, and the next, and the next. Finally, he found her in the study, next to the fireplace, talking to Theon. She lifted her hand; in it, she was holding the cup of punch Theon had poured.

“Don’t drink that!” Jon yelled, then he charged Theon, slamming him against he fireplace.

She glanced at Jon in surprise. “What? Why not?”

“He fucking drugged it,” he snarled, breathing hard from his frantic sprint.

Eyes wide, Daenerys looked back to Theon. “No. He wouldn’t do that. Would you, Theon?”

Jon shoved Theon again, but when he took a closer look, he frowned. Theon slumped against the fireplace mantle, unsteady on his feet, head lolling on his shoulders. Perplexed, Jon stepped back.

Daenerys tilted her head to the side and repeated her question. “Would you, Theon?”

With a groan, he sagged against the fireplace, his own drink slipping from his hand and splattering across the floor. As he fell to his knees, Daenerys casually sipped her drink.

Jon took another step back. Behind them, Robb, Margaery and Sansa ran into the room. When he saw Theon crumpled on the ground, Robb cursed and darted to him. “What the fuck did you do to him?” he demanded, shaking Theon’s shoulders, but he just groaned. Margaery scampered over to kneel at his other side.

Jon’s face twisted in disgust at his cousin’s accusation. “What the fuck do you mean, what did I do? He tried to drug her.”

Exasperated, Robb looked at him. “Fuck, Jon, it was just something to loosen her up.”

Finally, it all clicked together. “You knew.” He looked from Robb to Margaery to Sansa. “You knew what he was doing.”

Guiltily, Sansa folded her arms over her chest and stuck out her bottom lip in petulant denial. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re just being dramatic, like you always are.”

Moving quickly, Jon grabbed Robb and slammed him against the fireplace. “He could have raped her, Robb!”

Teeth bared, Robb pried at his hands until Jon released him. “Get off me!” He straightened and ran his hand through his hair. “Fucking hell. It wasn’t—it wasn’t like that. Come on. He said it was just something that would make her feel good.” He shot Daenerys an accusing look. “She’s the one who did something to him. Look at him. He can’t even fucking hold his head up!”

“You’re right. You should probably get him to a hospital,” Daenerys agreed. “He doesn’t look good.”

Robb gaped at her, his face flushing red. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

"Nothing. Everything." Calmly, Daenerys set her cup on the mantle. “You know, I should thank you all, really. That Halloween night, I’d never been more scared in my life. I really thought I was going to die in that house—

“Oh my god, it was just a stupid prank!” Sansa yelled at her.

“—but it’s amazing what you learn about yourself when you’re backed into a corner.” Daenerys quirked a droll smile. “Or, in my case, a closet.” She looked at Theon pityingly and knelt down in front of him. He groaned, trying to push away from her but only succeeded in pitching to his side. “Mine might have been the first girl’s screams you ignored, but they weren’t the last, were they?” she asked him.

“Oh, come on. You make it sound like—like—” Robb stammered, pulling at his hair. Then he scoffed. “Look, we’re not the bad guys here, okay?”

Daenerys stood. “No, you’re right. I am.”

He looked taken aback at her simple admission. The beginnings of fear gleamed in his blue eyes. “What? What does that mean?”

She smiled, faintly amused. “Oh, I think you already know. You’ve heard the rumors, after all.”

They all stared at her, not moving, until Margaery finally blurted out, “Oh my god, she’s a witch. She’s a fucking witch! I fucking told you!”

Uncomprehending, Jon stared at her. “Dany…”

The smile wiped from her face, she turned to face him and spoke in earnest. “I lied to you, Jon. I’m sorry. We didn’t move, my father and I. Not him, in any case. I killed him.” A chorus of horrified gasps greeted her confession.

“What the fuck—”

“Oh my god—”

“You’re fucking crazy—”

Jon remained silent, waiting for her to explain. She ignored the others and spoke directly to him. “I killed him so he couldn’t hurt me anymore. Like he hurt my mother. She couldn’t stop him. She wasn’t strong enough, but I was. So I did.” Her look turned beseeching. “You understand, don’t you?”

His mouth opened and closed soundlessly before he eventually found the words. “You could have told me,” he said quietly. “I would have helped you.”

She looked sad then. “I know. I knew you were different the moment I met you. I sensed it in you. You’re like me.”

At that, he narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “What do you mean, I’m like you?”

“You know,” she said simply. His heart started pounding, and he closed his eyes. “You’ve always known. It’s why the others whisper about you. Why your mother won’t talk about it. The same blood that runs through my veins, runs through yours.”

Sansa squeaked suddenly, disturbing the moment. “Fuck this, I’m out of here,” she declared, wobbling in her heels as she spun around, but the door slammed shut in her face. She cried out and stumbled backward. Eyes snapping open, Jon looked to Daenerys, and his breath caught in his throat. The candles around the room burned bigger, brighter, their dancing flames casting shadows around her; large, dark wings of night seemed to unfurl behind her, stretching out to the ceiling.

“You won’t be going anywhere,” she told them. Her eyes glowed, as if the fire came from within.

“Holy shit,” Margaery whimpered, grabbing onto Robb. “She’s going to kill us! Robb!”

“What the fuck!” Angrily, Robb looked to Jon. “Fucking do something! Stop her!”

Jon didn’t hear him, his eyes fixed on Daenerys. The air around her seemed to crackle with heat, the candles flickering with the same energy. He felt it under his skin, in his veins, blood running hot and fast. His heart pumped with it.

“Jon!” Robb yelled again.

Finally, stirred from his trance, he looked at Robb. “No,” he said. “I don’t think I will.” Robb gaped at him as he moved to stand next to Daenerys. Eyes burning with gratitude, she took his hand in hers.

Sansa lunged for the door, futilely yanking on the door knob. It wouldn’t budge. “Open the fucking door!” she yelled. Robb and Margaery ran to help, pulling and clawing at the door. Soon they were all banging on it, shouting for help.

Jon felt the heat before he saw it. The candles exploded suddenly, belching out large bursts of fire around the room. Neither Jon nor Daenerys flinched as the drapes over the window caught first. Soon, the fire had engulfed the curtains entirely. The flames’ forked tongues licked at the ceiling before quickly spreading outward.

The three at the door had turned to watch in horror, and now they were screaming, pounding and clawing at the door. Robb tried to drive his shoulder into it, ramming it again and again, until he cried out in pain, clutching his arm. Still, he began kicking at the door while the girls screamed and desperately slammed their palms against it.

“Let us out!”

“Somebody help us! Please!”


“Let us out! Let us out! LET US OUT!”

Jon felt the fire at his back—and yet, he didn’t, not truly. Heart raging in his ears, he looked to Daenerys, and she looked to him as the fire crawled across the bookshelves toward the fireplace. Smoke filled the room, thick and heavy, choking the screams from the other three. The fire consumed an unconscious Theon first, then the others, rapidly eating up the perimeter before finally moving to the center of the room where Jon and Daenerys stood. Flames danced behind her, and her shadowed wings folded around them both, as if to cradle them. 

As the fire consumed them last, Jon held her, sealing his unspoken vow to her with a kiss.

The house burned all night. The neighbors crowded the street to watch as the firefighters battled the flames in vain. In the end, the fire won.

It was nearly dawn before the fire finally burned itself out, helped by a steady stream of water and foam. Only then was it deemed safe enough for the firefighters to enter the premises to search for victims. Hours passed before the bodies were finally found.

Three were huddled around a doorway in the back of the house, curled up in the fetal position. The fourth and final body was discovered some feet away from the others, next to the crumbled remnants of a brick fireplace.

It would be days before the victims were identified, but rumors spread quickly among the neighbors, anyway.

“I didn’t know anyone even lived in that house.”

“Nobody lived there, not since the last family moved out two years ago.”

“Then how did the fire start?”

“Maybe some vagrants were squatting in there. Maybe they were just trying to stay warm."

“Oh, the poor things.”

“I know. I always told you that house was cursed.”