dedication: to Chloe, for her twenty-first birthday.
title: don't forget to lock the doors
summary: Sansa and Arya crown kings and kill boys, but it's still not quite enough. The games never really end, but House Stark will be there when they do. — Arya, Sansa, House Frey.
Jon will make a decent king.
Sansa lowers the crown of the Iron Throne onto her bastard brother's head—cousin's, it still hasn't quite settled in, yet, that he's not her brother—and listens without a word as the crowd cheers. It's an ugly sound, too loud in this room where the floor has run with the blood of kings and children, but it is a sound she savours.
It is a sound that tells her that she's winning.
House Stark is in tatters—a dead father, an undead mother, a dead brother, and a missing sister—and Sansa is too young and too old to even begin to put a whole country back together. She looks at Jon on his throne out of the corner of her eye, and she watches him watch the crowd. He is uncomfortable.
Sansa is not surprised at all.
Her brother will be a good ruler, but he does not know how to play the games that seethe around the Iron Throne.
He will need a queen.
She has no designs on such a seat, because it will always make her think of Cersei, but for now, she will fill the spot. Jon cannot be alone in this nest of snakes. He is without Robb and without Theon and without even the Tarley boy that followed him from the Wall.
He is all alone in a court that will try to eat him alive.
And Sansa cares about him far too much, for that.
There is movement up in the rafters, very slight and near-silent. But Sansa's slept with one eye open for more years of her life than she likes to admit, and she knows the sound to an assassin better than anything else in the world. Her eyes jump towards the movement, skid across the dark-wood beams, and catch on the slim figure hanging there. It is dark, and the point of a sword hangs from his waist. Her eyes move up, and she's about to open her mouth to scream.
The lips come into light, and the scream near turns into a disaster.
Sansa recognizes her younger sister, and closes her throat.
The two girls stare at each other for what seems like a long time but is really only seconds, and then Arya vaults out a high window without a sound. Sansa makes no move to catch her.
Her sister has survived this long.
She'll rest easier tonight than she has in a long time, and she settles back next to Jon to watch the court.
"What are you smiling about?" he asks.
"Oh! Am I?" Sansa can't remember the last time she smiled without knowing it. She touches her fingers to her lips, soft and searching. The muscles underneath her cheeks have pulled up without her particular consent. "I am… happy, Your Majesty."
"Don't call me that," Jon says, serious-faced. "You're my sister, Sansa. You shouldn't be formal with me."
"I suppose I am," she replies. She lights up with the teasing, because though Arya was always Jon's favourite, he is what she has now and vice versa. "Then you must not be so serious all the time, Jon. It'll give you wrinkles!"
He grins at her, a little careless, and this is what she wants for him. She very determinedly does not look at the rafters again for the rest of the night. She will not give Arya away; now now, when they are this close to avenging their father entirely. Not now, when they are this close to winning.
Sansa has seen barely sixteen summers, but she holds the power in this game.
She plays chess, sometimes, with the Hound and with Bran when he manages to sit still for five minutes. She knows strategy, Sansa. She understands.
She tips her head back as she laughs, and thinks:
Your turn, little sister.
No one sees Arya of House Stark unless she wants to be seen. She is nameless and faceless and perfectly off any record of existence. No one knows she lives but herself, and now her elder sister.
This is what she wanted, she tells herself over and over.
Sansa will tell no one.
This, Arya knows.
The Iron Throne and all of its far-reaching evils have changed them both, and though Arya no longer necessarily knows her sister, she knows that her sister will do what she must to keep their brother alive. If that means keeping secrets from the Northern King, than that is what it means.
Her beloved brother is not cut out for this life.
Arya would go so far as to call it cruel, and her hand bites hard and cold around Needle's wrist guard. She doesn't pray, anymore; she's too damaged, for that, and though the old gods would listen in the godwood, she's come to realize that gods are for those who can't help themselves. And Arya—well. Arya has Needle, and Needle is long and Needle is sharp and Needle will help her kill her brother's enemies while they sleep.
Fear cuts deeper than swords.
She remembers this always.
Her List is much shorter than it used to be. Many are dead, and though she might not have slit their throats with her own two hands and felt their blood gush from their necks, someone did, and that is what Arya cares about. Cersei is long dead. Littlefinger is just as dead, though gone not as long. And Joffrey, with his grubby hands and his cruel mouth, he's dead, too.
She savours the names like a sweet dark chocolatl topped with thick cream, and thinks of their dead eyes with a kind of fond exasperation. It really is a pity they didn't live long enough for her to have her own revenge. She would have been relentless. She is relentless.
Arya of House Stark steals a horse from a stable, the sharp scent of fresh hay and horse sweat in her nose and rides. She is not bad. She is not good.
Her List is not finished, yet.
House Frey still stands.
Sansa will keep Jon alive.
Arya will kill his enemies.
House Stark will have its vengeance, yet.
Sansa swears every day she will not be Cersei.
She orders the castle around and life moves on, and there is no word from Arya. Jon makes decisions, but he always consults her first, and she's not sure who is ruling anymore. His eyes are hard, these days, and she wants to knock it out of him.
She wants her brother back, not this King in his finery and a body that might have once been Jon's.
(She misses Robb in a jagged throbbing way that reminds her of a broken bone healed over wrong. Robb would have been a terrible King, just as her father made a terrible King's Hand. Her family is far too honest for the Iron Throne, and the pain is an ache that never goes away. It will never dull with time, but it will always remind her to keep moving.)
But there are moments when she thinks he's there.
Like this, when they sit in the firelight of his chambers hours after the sun's set below the horizon and the sky's gone pitch-black, Sansa thinks she has him back. She holds the ebony pieces up, and watches as the firelight reflects off the ebony's dusky shine.
"Who am I, Jon?" she asks. Her voice is very far away. "You're the King, so who am I?"
"The Queen's the most powerful piece. Sounds like you, Sansa," he says. He plucks the piece from her fingers. His hands are scarred over and callused, and she thinks that he has worked his entire life to be someone worth recognition.
"Not the Queen, surely. I am no Cersei," she laughs softly. The firelight slicks off her hair and pools around them, red and orange in turn. "I can only move so far."
"You underestimate yourself."
"I do not," Sansa says. "But it is late. I should sleep, and so should you. You have a kingdom to run in the morning."
He is confused, she thinks, as she gathers her skirts and stands. Let him be confused, Sansa thinks viciously. He does not understand court games when he must, he must. She moves slow and regal as her mother ever did.
Jon catches her and presses his mouth to the inside of her wrist.
"Goodnight, little sister," he says.
Sansa smiles with all her teeth and just shakes her head. Sister. What does he know of sisters? Her sister is gone, and she holds the world in her cradled hands. If only he knew.
Jon is inspiring.
The people will follow him because he is a man.
They do not need to know that Sansa is the one who holds the strings. She will wait on Arya for a year and day, and then she will ravage the world. If she is the Queen, then she will do as she must. For now, Arya will be the knight and Sansa will be the bishop, and it will be what it needs to be Sansa.
She slips into her bedroom, and latches the door behind her.
Only then does she breathe out in relief.
Sansa swears every day she will not be Cersei.
Every day, she gets a little closer.
Arya takes House Frey as she has always taken the things she wanted: quietly, when no one was looking, subtly enough that no one even noticed she'd been there until she was gone.
She's been a servant, before. Arya is not afraid of work, and a castle can always use an extra maid or two. She goes by Cate, and thinks of her mother when she smiles nervously at the kitchen matron as the woman eyes her cynically.
Needle is hidden well. No one will find her sword for the hours she needs to secure a place at House Frey. No one will stop her from sneaking out and tucking it into her bedroll, and then she will burn this House to the ground and she will walk from the ashes back to her sister and her brothers, and she will be happy.
Arya dances with the Faceless God on a bad day.
She doesn't fear anything, anymore.
But she cannot hide that she is a girl. She is thirteen; she's started the moon cycle, and her chest hurts too much to bind properly. Her mother told her about this, and she'd been horrified then. Arya is just about as horrified that it's happening now, so she wears a loose shift and a scratchy skirt, and she doesn't complain.
The matron is kinder than Weese ever was. Arya is thankful for small mercies.
It starts slow.
They keep her to the washing at first, until they realize that she knows how to hold her head up straight and hold a plate of food without dropping it. The smoke from the kitchen is thick and grey, and Arya hates them all with a fiercely flaming passion that eats up all her waking moments.
She imagines them dead.
She will not be satisfied until she's standing in the middle of court Frey, dripping with their blood and their innards and the castle's gone up in flames around her. Arya does not fear fire, does not fear the night, does not fear anything at all.
She stabs viciously at the gruel they are all allotted to eat, and she hates the Freys with everything she has.
Nymeria howls far in the distance, pacing back and forth. Her beautiful girl laughs at the irony of it all, Arya knows.
They killed your kin, too, she thinks.
To kill a direwolf is the worst sin, Arya and Nymeria agree. To kill a brother and a mother and to stain the guest right is a close second.
And so Arya begins.
She hates poison. It is a cheap manner of killing; there is no responsibility to poison, and certainly not to belladonna, of all things.
She feeds it into all the food pots but her own, anyway.
Arya settles back, and she waits.
Arya knows all about waiting.
The Red Wedding sings at the back of her mind. So does Nymeria, wolfsbane in the night, and so do the songs she knew her mother sang to her as a child. Arya has not been a child in a very long time.
The poison won't kill them.
But it will freeze them in their beds, and they will burn alive.
Arya's hands curl into fists, and her nails dig into her palms so hard she bleeds. It is cruel, and she is not afraid. You never should have killed my brother, she thinks, and she serves the tables with a smile.
The Freys at court are in a panic.
Sansa yawns wide at them when they tell her that the Twins are alight.
She doesn't need to be told to know.
House Stark's mark is left on the Freys in blood. Sansa will be surprised if any of the Freys are left alive by year's end. The Brotherhood hunted them, and now Arya's burned them within an inch of their pathetic lives.
They never should have killed her family.
Jon looks at her out of the corner of his eyes, but doesn't say anything. He is wary, and that is good. The court will not tolerate another complacent king, and he still needs a Queen, but that is a worry for another time.
Sansa folds her hands in her lap, smiles pretty and empty-headed, and waits for her sister to come home.