Author's Note: My apologies for how long it's taken me to update! Truth is, I have so many ideas for this and ended up getting some of them out of order, which took some reorganizing and led to some serious writer's block. This is why I should use outlines. :P Huge thanks to my friend Jen for helping me sort out the sequence. I promise the next update will be quicker and less filler-y! It's one I've had written for a while and I have a holiday break ahead. :)
She absolutely loathes traveling this way: pent up in a wagon, no wind rushing through her hair or breeze blustering across her cheeks. Instead, she's bundled up inside like some stuffy queen who's barely left court all her life when in fact she'd been the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, an accomplished rider, and a leader who had taken her people throughout the Free Cities as well as across the sea. But currently she sits all day while others ride, able to take in the view and be free from the confines of tents or wagons most of their day while she remains here.
Daenerys slides open a wooden partition, letting in the cold for a small view of the land: frost-covered, with bits of dark green and brown still peeking through below a grey sky. She can see the Dothraki ahead, making their way along a curve, and her eyes drift ahead where she knows Jon rides before them. But she can't see anything past a sea of braids, furs, and pelts.
She gives up at Tyrion's "knock, knock" outside her door.
"Come in," she practically sighs out, watching as he pulls himself up into the carriage.
"Thought I'd give my legs a break from the ride." He takes a seat across from her and stretches his legs out, grimacing slightly at a sore spot.
"I'll trade you," she quips, although the thought of his empty horse just outside is actually rather tempting to her at the moment.
"Your travel accommodations seem quite sufficient," he remarks, taking in the furs and pillows meant to make her feel more comfortable and less trapped for her own safety. "And certainly much warmer," he adds, shaking his hands out as they tingle with warmth. "Everyone's cloaked in furs. You can hardly tell a Dothraki from an Unsullied."
She finally smiles slightly at that. Although it's an innocent comment, it fills her with pride: the union of powerful troops from different parts of the world under her command, the bringing of foreign armies from Essos all the way to the northern lands of Westeros. No one had done it before. Then again, everyone else just cared about killing anything different from them rather than bringing people together.
"So," Tyrion begins, his obvious hesitation putting her on edge. "Seeing as we're all potentially marching toward impending doom, I think it's necessary we broach a certain topic we've been avoiding."
She questions him with her eyes, brows knitting together.
"The succession, your grace."
Her expression hardens, her eyes shutting him out without a word. Her gaze drifts toward the small window again, where outside much bigger, more immediate concerns await.
"I told you we'd talk about it once I sit on the throne."
"Yes." He remembers well. "But–"
"I don't want to talk about it now."
"Well, you seem be discussing it quite freely with Jon Snow."
Her eyes target his, suddenly large and full of fire, raging with the temper that seems to always simmer just beneath her collected demeanor.
"That's none of your concern," she insists.
"I'm your Hand," he reminds her, holding her gaze. "Everything you do is my concern."
Daenerys shakes her head, dismissing his comments even as they take root in her conscience. They play this game, the two of them, where she's the devil's advocate for his strategic concerns, and he tempers her instincts and pride when she follows them too blindly. She'd never keep him beside her if she didn't value his counsel, and yet they're always at odds.
"Well, you don't have to concern yourself with Jon Snow anymore," she says sharply – sadly, too, and she regretfully watches the realization wash over Tyrion. She cares for Jon. She might even love him. "Apparently we're putting everyone at risk. Apparently I may have to marry for an alliance."
Tyrion swallows hard. He knew he liked Jon Snow, and he should be relieved. He'd been infuriated when Jon hadn't emerged from their queen's quarters that first night on the boat. After voicing all his concerns about succession, she'd welcomed a bastard into her bed. He may have been King in the North, but the South still saw him as Ned Stark's bastard, and what would they do with that?
And yet the knowledge of two more people torn apart by this world hits him harder than he cares to admit. Still, he admits, "He's not wrong."
"He's not right either," she tells him, her voice trembling with emotion more than she would like. "I'll never trade myself for an alliance. I can't think of a single good thing that has ever come from a marriage meant to ally opposing forces. And if the south doesn't trust us after we save them from the Army of the Dead, a marriage certainly isn't going to solve our problems."
"No," he agrees, choosing his next words carefully. "But sometimes it's a start. A peace offering, a truce."
"A peace offering," she scoffs. "Do you think the mothers and fathers of Westeros want to see their daughters traded as peace offerings? Raped by husbands who see them as political tools to produce heirs?" Her eyes grow determined yet distant, and for once Tyrion doesn't seem to have a rebuke – not after what he assumes she's been through, not when she's so determined to build a better world than the one that has chewed him up and spit him out. "I told you I wanted to break the wheel and I meant it. How I can I promise people I'm building a better world for them if I don't start with myself?"
She waits for her words to sink in, watching the way Tyrion presses his fingers and palms together in thought.
When he speaks again, he's quieter. Gentler. "What will you do, then? What of your succession?" He hesitantly meets her eyes again. "What of Jon Snow?"
"I don't know," she admits, taking a deep breath and closing herself off again at the mention of him. "We have a war to win first. Who knows what the world will be like after… And what does Jon Snow have to do with my succession?" She looks out the window again, discreetly searching for him in vain amid the thousands of riders before her. "I told you, I don't think I can have children."
Tyrion doesn't miss the extra syllables and doubt – hope? – that have made their way into that statement. "You don't think you can or you can't?"
"I can't," she says, although she misses a beat and lets her eyes drift toward the horizon. Damn him for making her question everything she knows, for giving her hope when there's none to be had in this cold, barren place. "I'm not meant to bear a living child."
Tyrion presses his lips together, rolling them inward impatiently. "Okay. That's helpful." All this talk of succession and heirs and not being able to have children, and her quantifying proof seems based in some…prophecy? His strategic mind goes to the most logical but worrisome place: a bastard of a bastard, the risk of a child but not an heir. "In that case, if Jon Snow…becomes a concern again, might I make a suggestion?"
No, she thinks, but raises a curious brow instead.
Jon can feel it coming, can smell it in the icy air. He's surprised it hasn't happened yet. They're well into the northern lands now. The skies have been grey for days, the previous snow dirt-ridden and hard beneath their feet. It's only a matter of time before the clouds let loose, covering their tents and clothes in a fresh layer of snow for the first time since they've made landfall.
Urging his horse forward with a light touch of his heels, he surveys the abandoned tower and crumbling walls of the empty grounds. When his father had been Warden of the North, this had been a modest stronghold, home to one of the Karstarks' cousins. They'd abandoned it when they'd abandoned his family, and despite the crumbling walls, the grounds and the field beyond are a perfect stopping point for their troops. There are stables for the horses, walls for protection, and a large field for camp, all surrounded by small mountain ridges for coverage and adequate escape routes.
He watches the camp come to life before him – Dothraki scouts on the ridges, Unsullied surrounding the grounds, tents popping up in the fields, and dragons soaring overhead. The rest of their party still makes its way through the deep ravine that leads down to where he stands. The thundering of a horse's hooves on the frozen ground steals his attention and he turns, a cloaked rider leaning forward on a black mare, gracefully and seamlessly moving with the rhythm of the horse's rocking gait.
He knows who it is before she pulls up next to him, before a white-blonde curl escapes her dark furs, before she's smirking as she slows her horse into a trot around him.
"You're not a very good listener, are you?" he chides her, though his eyes are alight with amusement.
"No," she says simply as she pulls up next to him, "but I wouldn't be here if I were." She turns to survey the stream of their party behind her, the rest of the Dothraki watching her respectfully as they make their way into the camp. "It's important that the Dothraki see me, anyhow. They won't follow a leader who doesn't ride and fight alongside them."
"It's important that you're alive," he reminds her.
"It is," she agrees, "but if you've done your job well, that shouldn't be a problem, should it?" She lets her gaze drift toward the ridges around them, where scouts and guards stand watch, before they stray back to him. She pointedly sizes him up on his horse, drawing her eyes from his legs to his torso, where she knows that perfectly sculpted muscles rise and fall with every breath that fills his lungs. "I trust you."
Their eyes lock and he swallows hard at the intensity of their gaze.
He's been avoiding her. This is why. Every glance, every word spoken between them has the power to unravel either one of them at any given time. And right now it's him, watching her on horseback beside him, wild and free as the creatures flying overhead, white-blonde hair tumbling from her cloak and light eyes daring his.
And then it finally begins: a few small flakes slowly landing on her shoulders, a few disappearing into her hair, a large, a delicate flake falling onto the bridge of her nose.
She looks up, smiling at her first real snowfall, and he realizes he never thought about how much she'd fit in here. With her light skin, white-blonde hair, and icy eyes, she'd blend in with the landscape of his home if not for the bit of rose in her cheeks, her reddish pink lips, the fire that burns beneath her skin.
She catches him staring then, the hints of a rare smile tugging at the corners of his lips.
"Welcome to the north," he says as he watches the snow fall around her, flakes clinging to the lashes that line her striking eyes. "It suits you."