A/N Aw, season's almost over.
Jon sat in the dim of the dragon pit beneath Meereen's great pyramid. Cross-legged, he could only see three to four feet in either direction, the light from his torch insignificant compared to the great dark of Rhaegal and Viserion's home.
Of the two dragons, Jon currently knew Rhaegal's location. Upon his arrival, Viserion would often climb the walls and hang like a bat from the ceiling. The white dragon was ever so slightly smaller than his brother, and had an inquisitive nature. Jon would have liked to see him but Rhaegal would snap and roar and raise the sharp edges of his spiked mane if Viserion dare approach.
Jon was confused by Rhaegal. Confused and intrigued.
The green and bronze dragon cried loudly whenever the large stone door slid open, and silenced only when Jon sat at the base of a large column nearest the beast's chains. After it ceased crying, the creature did what it always did. Rhaegal the dragon pressed its immense muzzle against Jon's ribs and heart, inhaled once, and then trapped him betwixt two massive wings.
Now, the dragon's large head lay in front of him. If Jon were to extend a hand, his palm would come into contact with Rhaegal's smooth scales. An unfortunate name, Jon could not help but think for the umpteenth time.
The air was filled with a sinister silence, punctuated only by Rhaegal's great breaths.
Dragons have been known to listen to the conversations of men. Maester Marwyn had written, a long time ago. A young Lord Tyrion had scribbled in the margins of the page, Must try.
"I would have named you for the forest," Jon told the dragon. "For the bronze hills or the earth. Vermithor was called the Bronze Fury, did your mother tell you that? He had bronze scales and was nearly as large as Balerion the Black Dread. Hmm," Jon tapped his knee in thought. "What of Foresthor? Or Bronzewood?"
The dragon did not respond but the clawed hand closest to Jon twitched.
Next came the tricky part.
If the dragon was sleeping soundly, Jon could slip away. If the dragon feigned a false slumber—as Jon discovered dragons could do—then the animal would startle awake, pull its great hands together, and crush him against its horned head, effectively blocking Jon's path forward with its large, canvassed wings. The last time, Jon had nearly been impaled. A barbaric embrace of the most violent nature.
That was the danger of these visits. The dragon wanted Jon to be as imprisoned as it was. Rhaegal resented his freedom. The first time Jon attempted to leave the animal had grown so enraged it nipped at his shoulder—tearing into flesh—and bathed him with a fiery breath. The beast roared to the heavens, a roar so horrific it shook the earth beneath Jon's feet.
The wound was superficial and the fire did not burn, but Jon could not bring himself to face the pit for several days. When he finally returned, he brought Ser Barristan to stand at the door. The white knight agree to send for Daenerys if Jon called, but wisely chose not to descend into the gloom. Instead, the Queensguard stood just outside the door. Thoros would have been Jon's preferred choice but Daenerys was not fond of the red priest and would not tolerate him as a messenger. The Queen felt he was impudent.
Fortunately for Jon, he had discovered the beast's great weakness. Or rather, Maester Marwyn and Tyrion Lannister had discovered its weakness.
Jon thumbed the salt stained leather strip stuck between the leaves of A Complete Summary of Dragon Behaviors and Legends. Opening to the last bookmarked page, Jon began to read.
"Although it is true that the dragons of Old Valyria once roamed the wide world, none but a dragon rider could describe the bond shared between the Valyrians and their dragons. This book shall make a poor attempt. I defer to the dragonlord Aurion who once described the bond as such: 'A dragon is an expression of the soul,' he said, before his failed reconquest of Valyria. 'I command the dragon in so far as I command myself. Who here is the master of their heart?'"
"Can I loan you then?" Jon paused to ask the dragon. "The freefolk believe the animals of the wilderness contain the spirits of the gods. I suppose you are not property."
The dragon opened its eye a mite. Rhaegal's golden iris fixed upon him. A deep rumble filled the air and a shiver traveled down Jon's spine. But then the sound stopped and the dragon drifted off once more.
"Aurion, as we know, failed to bring the Doom to heel and was lost to the black smoke that covers the ruins of Valyria to this day. We also know from the life of Balerion the Black Dread that a dragon is not limited to a single rider. Although dragons are borne of blood, magic and fire, we cannot conclude without more evidence that these creatures are bonded by more than basic affection. And the evidence is lacking. For dragons are fickle in nature, even to their Valyrian kin."
The younger brother was listening, of that Jon was certain. He could hear the clink, clank of Viserion's chains as the dragon stretched its wings.
"Overall, we know that dragons have affection for their friends, and fury for their enemies. To say anything more would be conjecture."
"I hope you consider me a friend, Great Dragon of Meereen."
Rhaegal said nothing. Though, I suppose he cannot speak, Jon thought. Ghost could not speak.
The spirit of the wolf weighed heavily on his heart. And no matter how he wished it, Rhaegal was not Ghost.
Jon glanced at the sleeping head of the green dragon and silently closed the book, careful to mark the page. Standing, he crept towards the large steps that would lead to the open air.
Night was falling on Meereen.
Jon had heard Maester Luwin talk of how time changed across the world. How some cities were ahead, and others behind, due to the cyclical nature of the sun and moon. He wondered what time of day or night it was in Westeros. Was it dusk? Or dawn? Or midday? Did it snow in Winterfell?
Regardless of the time half a world away, the city of Meereen was awash in the dark beauty of dusk. Her sky painted in shades of violets and blues. The lanterns and braziers lit along Meereen's causeways, streets and pyramids outlined the majesty of her architecture and the vastness of the ancient city.
Ser Barristan stood proudly at the entrance of the pit. Jon greeted him with a curt nod. The white knight met his eye and tilted his head towards the steps.
There, in solemn black, Daenerys stood waiting.
Jon swallowed dryly. How many days had it been since they last spoke? Twelve? Fifteen? The damnable silence between them had grown to the size of a hairy mammoth, lumbering over their heads and hammering on their skulls whenever they were in each other's company.
"Your Grace," he said and bowed his head.
The Queen beckoned Jon to follow and the pair walked in silence, until they reached the section of Meereen's gardens that overlooked the Temple of the Graces.
The gardens of Queen Daenerys' pyramid were Jon's favorite place to think. One could walk for hours without repeat. Olive branches flanked sandstone walkways and the arched stone bridges were strung with lanterns made of blue, green and yellow paper. In this fashion, the gardens were interconnected, the balconies spiraling upwards against the pyramid walls.
Before bed, Jon often found himself pacing the garden's many paths and reviewing the star map the sailors of Braavos once taught to him. Sometimes, he hummed the many songs and sagas he learned during his worldly travels. But only in Thoros' presence.
Unfortunately, the gardens were also one of Daenerys' favorite retreats. Although the terraces were large, the two would inevitably cross paths and exchange a terse greeting.
And that was that.
Today, however, it seemed the silver lady had other plans. Daenerys approached the edge of the terrace and extended her arms to rest on the carved balustrade. From this vantage point, Jon could see the westernmost gate of the city, still closed, and the black sea beyond. In the distance, the dark shadows of slaver's ships bobbed in the bay.
Sensing the words would never come, Jon sat without permission. On a stone bench he stretched his long legs forward and rubbed his aching right thigh. Sitting patiently still for long hours, reading to a persnickety dragon, took a toll on his joints. Often, his right leg would go numb and he would limp out of the pits, to Ser Barristan's amusement. The same leg used to give him trouble when he sat at the Lord Commander's desk.
The Queen plucked a leaf from a nearby branch and twirled it in her hands. Jon was content to wait. It was Daenerys who called him here, therefore Daenerys must speak first.
"Now that you've spent more time with them. What do you think?"
There was no need to ask who them was. It was obvious to whom the Queen referred. Jon's mind went to Rhaegal's rapacious nature and Viserion's mercurial attitude.
"They are… well fed."
The Queen exhaled sharply. A short laugh? Jon wondered. He was not certain what her laughter would sound like, if he should ever hear it. Light and bubbly? Cruel and vindictive?
"I know it's cruel to keep them in a pit, I don't need you to remind me," Daenerys said softly, a subtle note of vulnerability in her expressive eyes. "After all, what mother locks her children in the dark?"
Jon wisely choose not to respond. The question did not need an answer. He had heard the Queen refer to the dragons as her 'children' before.
"So now you've seen them. You've gotten to know them. They like you," Daenerys clasped her hands and turned to face him directly. "Of course they do. You talk to them. See them as more than beasts. And who am I to them? The detestable woman who brings them misery with cage and chain and whip!"
The Queen violet eyes glowered. It was possible she was angry at him. Angry that he spent time with her children. Angry that they slept at his feet while the dragons snapped and roared and rejected their mother's presence. Or perhaps she is angry at herself?
"What am I to do?" she suddenly implored him, shaking her head mournfully. "A girl is dead. An innocent young girl whose life was extinguished without cause. She didn't fight in any wars, she didn't own any slaves. So I can't let them free, and I can't keep them chained!"
The Queen's speech ended in a small shout. She straightened, realizing her voice had risen and echoed across the courtyard. Jon searched his mind for something, anything to say.
"In King's Landing, the dragon pit atop Rhaenys' hill is a terrible sight to behold," Jon began.
Daenerys inclined her head, as if to say, Go on.
"Terrible but awe inspiring. And beneath the city, the old Targaryen dragons dug a labyrinth of tunnels. Some as large as castles, the smallest the width of a wagon," Jon said softly. "Once, I imagine, Balerion, Vhagar and Meraxes roamed these halls freely. But then, the Targaryens chained their necks and feet. They barred and buried their tunnels and over time, the dragons became less and less. The last was small and feeble. It died as an infant."
The Queen listened, still as a statue once more. The story of the Targaryen dragons was well known in Westeros, but perhaps Daenerys was not familiar with this tale. Daenerys, who grew up on foreign shores.
The sun had set fully now and the crickets began to chirp.
"I don't know," he finished sympathetically, after a long pause. "I don't know what it's like to have children or be a parent. I was a bastard. I vowed never to have children. I would not curse them with my name and so, I cannot imagine the heavy heart you must carry."
"You're not a—" Daenerys began and then stopped herself.
Jon waited. The Queen wrung her hands, searching for the right words.
"I must apologize," she finally said, dropping all pretense. "For treating you cruelly. I did not mean to insult you at our first meeting, and I regret my decision to test your blood by fire. I should have believed you."
Jon's head rose to look at her. Daenerys had turned to play with a low, hanging branch. With nimble fingers she plucked and pruned and picked at ripe olives, pulling at the falling leaves. The tree would be mangled soon.
"Why?" Jon asked. "It's an unbelievable tale."
Daenerys' lips twitched, a somewhat smile.
"You must understand. My brother, Viserys," here, the Queen faltered. Her brother's name a mere whisper. "Viserys—well, he… he was—he was not well. He was mad. Mad like our father. It grew worse, over time," her eyes grew distant and sad. "Much worse. Until he didn't know who I was or how to treat a sister. There was no kindness, no love in his heart. I was no longer his family."
Jon leaned forward, the Queen's voice so quiet it could not be heard above the crickets.
"He beat me. More than once," Daenerys' thumbed a rotten olive and ripped it from the branch. Her words turned bitter and angry. "Said he'd let a dothraki horde and all their horses fuck me if it meant ascending to the Iron Throne. I hated him for that. He broke my heart before I even knew what it was. And I let him."
The Queen halted in her attack, as if suddenly realizing she'd been mutilating a plant for the last several seconds.
"So," Daenerys said, fully awakened from her trance. "That was the blood of the dragon, when it goes sour and spoils. Forgive me, I hastened to judge you. I have been fooled before."
Jon could tell it was painful for the Queen to apologize. As soon as the deed was done, the young woman looked away and to the sky, the light from the torches setting her eyes ablaze. Jon's eyes turned to the sky also, to look at the insignificant stars set against the the waning moon.
The conflict between them had grown familiar. Comforting even. It is easy to be angry, Jon thought. Even easier to give in to pride. It is difficult to understand. The options set before him, Jon realized he was eager to make peace, if only to gain an ounce of the Daenerys' trust. Otherwise, it would be a long and lonely road back to Westeros.
Jon bit back a sigh. The mistakes of his past haunted him. Too often, he thought of what might have been. If I had been wiser, if I had more patience, if I had drawn my friends closer to my confidence.
"You ask for forgiveness, and it is granted." Jon replied after a pensive silence. "We cannot hold onto grudges. Not now. Not with the wars to come."
The Queen's relief was visible.
"But I too, must apologize," Jon said. "I have been quick to test your patience and question your motives. The reputation of your father is well known, and I must warn you, the Mad King's legacy will follow you to Westeros." The Queen stiffened and pursed her lips. Jon hurriedly continued. "Regardless, I should have spoken with more caution. I have seen too much of war and foreign lands, and too few friends. I am eager to return home."
The Queen moved to sit at his side. Jon did not think they had ever been so close. Her silver-gold braid brushed his arm and he could smell perfume in the air.
"I want to go home, too."
Daenerys' voice was laced with an unnamed emotion. Jon might have called it wistful, if not for the sad and defeated expression on her face.
"I believe you, you know," Daenerys said, after a pause. "I've thought about it, a lot. Why you're here. But I can't leave Meereen. Not yet. You've seen the barricade, the armies gathered on our doorstep."
Our doorstep. Jon's throat tightened. Our doorstep.
"I agree that you must remain in Meereen," Jon said, every word sent a silent pain through his heart. You failed, you failed, you failed, echoed in his mind. "I do not want it, but you are needed here, I see that now. The city and these people need you, for they have no other saviour."
The Queen smiled faintly in the torchlight, but Jon did not think she was happy.
"Perhaps... one day."
And suddenly Jon saw a part of himself reflected in those violet eyes. The unrelenting longing to return home, the pain and suffering of ruling and the harsh deliverance of fate that crippled Daenerys. All of it was within him. And it was terrible, because he wanted to hate. No, worse than that. Jon wanted nothing from this woman and yet, he felt something he did not wish to feel.
But Jon was not willing to bend. Not yet. He hardened his heart.
"You know the answer," Jon said harshly. "Allow me to defend Westeros. Allow me to defend my people—our people, in your stead."
Jon had not intended to say that last part. It slipped out. A small whispered compromise between them. It lingered there, unaddressed, but Jon saw it nonetheless and it displeased him.
The Night's Watch takes no part in the wars of the realm, Jon recalled. Commander Mormont had reminded him often, when news of Robb and his armies reached the Wall, when Jon wanted to ride south with shield and sword. Although he was no longer bound by oath, a crow sat perched on his heart, crooning words of duty and obligation. And the crow would not die. No matter the circumstance, no matter the monarch.
The Queen looked down at her hands. They were clean hands, Jon noted. Most likely soft. He doubted Daenerys had experienced hard labor in her lifetime. Only a different kind of labor, the unbidden thought came to Jon. How many men at the Wall called you a soft, green bastard? And complained when you did not train in the yard? Not knowing how many hours you stood pacing, and planning, and torturing yourself with their fates.
"Give me time," Daenerys said in a small voice.
"We don't have any more time."
Daenerys laughed harshly. The sound startled Jon with its severity.
"No one has time to give, but I must give the world all of my time. How is that fair, Jon Snow?"
Jon scowled, knowing she was right, but also knowing that harsh lessons sow more seeds than kind ones.
"Time is hateful," he said darkly in return, standing to face the glowing moon. "It runs leagues whilst we stumble to walk. And only once we have gained the experience, the knowledge and the strength to run with it, time strikes us down."
Unbidden, his right hand rose to lightly trace the wounds on his heart and stomach.
"You have a very dark perspective," Daenerys said slowly. "I suspect you have seen very dark things."
The image of Ygritte, lying prone in the snow, blood pooling around her cold body, rose to the forefront of his mind. Jon shook it away forcibly.
"I have seen the darkness," he admitted painfully. "The North is bathed in it. Today is gone. Tomorrow will be gone. But if you act now, you will save thousands of lives. You have a heart, Your Grace. Use it. Be the light they seek, and perhaps they will love you not for your name, but for who you are."
"As they loved you?" Daenerys replied, her violet eyes piercing.
A wave of shame overwhelmed him, Jon looked away. It was a lie, and she knew it.
"I will think on it," the Queen said with finality.
Jon bowed and sped away. Down the path and up the stairs, racing towards the privacy of his rooms. The conversation replayed in his mind.
"He broke my heart before I even knew what it was." The door slammed behind him, echoing loudly in the night. "As they loved you?"
"Poor Jon," Jon overheard Sansa say, three years ago. "He gets jealous because he's a bastard." With shaking hands, Jon ripped off his scabbard and threw his sword in the corner. It clattered to the ground. "It should have been you!" Lady Stark stood over him. Aegon the Conqueror's ruby sword glinted in the moonlight. Jon ripped the green curtains from the windows and threw it over the damned blade. "Your children were meant to have these pups, my lord," Jon counted, not including himself.
Jon ran a frustrated hand through his short, cropped hair and squeezed his eyes shut.
"Did you mean to leave this behind?" Lord Stark said, holding out the red cloak.