Sansa exploded in rage.
“Why in seven hells have you been hiding and sneaking around?” she yelled. “A normal person would have passed through the front gate and had herself announced”.
Arya recoiled and curled her upper lip.
“Well…a normal person does not fuck her brother”, she spat back. “So I wasn’t certain I wanted to reconnect with family members who behave like Lannisters”.
Arya’s response took Sansa aback and cooled her anger. Her face softened as contrition took over but her arms remained tightly folded across her chest.
“Arya, you know he’s not your brother…he’s your cousin”, she replied, her voice lowered.
“But he was raised as our brother, Sansa”, said Arya, her tone insistent. “Is that why you kept him at arms’ length when we were children? To make it easier to lure him into your bed later on?”
Sansa’s lips tightened and she whirled away to pace before the fireplace. She simmered with guilt and anger as her long lost sister, whose return she had been wishing and praying for, stood there before her…and now her most fervent wish was that Arya should go away and leave her alone.
“It wasn’t like that and you know it”, growled Sansa.
Arya huffed and tossed her hair before flopping down on to a nearby chair.
“No, I don’t know so why don’t you enlighten me”, she asked evenly.
Sansa stopped pacing and took a seat in front of her.
“I want you to reserve judgment until you have heard the full story”, said Sansa.
Arya threw up her hands in a gesture of silent acquiescence.
Sansa sat twisting her fingers in her lap, wondering where to begin.
“It all started when the Wall fell and Sam brought Jon home”, she said. Then she leaned forward.
“He was dying, Arya, and it was a long, hard struggle to bring him back. I knew that it was shameful but it was during that time that I realized that I had fallen in love with him”, she continued.
Arya raised one corner of her mouth in amusement.
“And when did he reciprocate?” she asked as she leaned back in her chair.
Sansa shook her head, her eyes downcast.
“Not until after he learned the truth…that he was really a Targaryen. I confessed my feelings to him only when he threatened to leave me…leave Winterfell forever”, she replied, glancing up. “But it still took him some time to admit that he had feelings for me. We both had to wrap our heads around the notion that although we had been raised as siblings, we had now fallen deeply, desperately in love”.
Sansa knew that her face now registered defiance. She was always prepared to defend her love for Jon.
She was expecting Arya to show some expression of disgust but was surprised to see concern on her sister’s face.
“I expect the two of you had to endure a lot of flannel for choosing each other”, she said, shaking her head in sympathy.
“Aye”, Sansa replied, sounding relieved. “We certainly defied all their expectations. And I don’t doubt that there are some that still regard our union as unnatural and say so behind our backs. But I don’t care about them because they are never going to change their minds. All I know is that I have no regrets about my choice…Jon and I belong together and that is all that matters to me”.
Arya smiled and opened her arms wide.
“And now look at the pair of you…rulers of the north”, she said with a laugh. “I never would have dreamed it possible all those years ago”.
“So, do we meet with your approval?” asked Sansa.
Arya screwed up her face and glanced at the ceiling before returning her gaze to Sansa.
“Like Jon, I’m going to need a little more time, Sansa” she replied. “I love you both but…it’s difficult to think of both of you together. The concept is still a little bit repellant, quite frankly, but I have had to adjust to far worse situations in life”.
Sansa reached out and took one of her sister’s hands.
“Tell me”, she said, her eyes fixed on Arya’s face. “Tell me what you’ve doing all these years…where have you been…whom have you been with?”
Arya uttered a short, brittle laugh.
“Where haven’t I been would be more accurate”, she replied with a slight cough. “I did what I had to do to survive at first…and then I developed a particular set of skills for which I am renowned in certain circles”.
Sansa tilted her head to one side as she regarded her sister closely.
“You’re being deliberately vague, Arya”, she said.
“I am…but I promise you I’m being disingenuous for your own protection”, Arya replied.
Fear crept into Sansa’s eyes as she saw Arya’s eyes grow colder. Her heart sank as thoughts of what her sister had endured after escaping Kings Landing bubbled to the surface.
“Arya, you need to tell me everything”, she whispered. “We’re family…sisters. I promise you that I would never betray you. The fact that you’re here now must mean something. I need to believe that you’re prepared to trust us”.
Arya sat back and folded her arms. Sansa could see the conflict of emotions on her face.
“And what of Jon?” Arya snapped. “What of his precious honour…he might feel compelled to turn me in”.
“Jon has had to compromise his honour out of loyalty to his family tenfold”, hissed Sansa. “He tried to desert to go south when Robb went to war. He betrayed his Night’s Watch brothers and nearly died for it when he believed that you had been married off to that despicable Bolton bastard. There is nothing…nothing that Jon wouldn’t do out of love for his family. He’s not like Father…he was rigid whereas Jon is flexible. Jon loves you, you have to know that…to him you will always be his little sister”.
Arya’s face took on a look of caution. Then she leaned forward.
“All right…but I insist that you keep this information within the confines of your marriage”, she said conspiratorially. “I kill people for a living”.
Sansa blinked rapidly, trying to process the enormity of her sister’s words.
“Dear gods…” she whispered as the words sank in. “But surely you don’t…enjoy it?”
Arya gave her a cold smile.
“I take a great deal of pride in my work”, she replied stiffly. “I honour each and every contract to the best of my ability”.
“Arya…these are people we’re talking about, not legal arrangements. You’ve just admitted to me that you are a hired thug”, exclaimed Sansa. “Have you never had any compassion for the people you’ve killed?”
“Of course”, replied Arya scornfully. “I’m not a monster, Sansa. I do have feelings. But I’ve had to compartmentalize my feelings in order to do my job”.
“I could never do such a thing”, said Sansa with a shake of her head. She felt her hands trembling at the thought.
“I know”, said Arya. “But did you never fantasize about sticking a knife in Petry Baelish’s heart and twisting it just so… and then watching the astonishment and confusion on his face as his life slowly drained away?”
Sansa flushed and nodded slightly.
“Meting out vengeance gives you a rush, Sansa”, said Arya, her eyes glittering. “It’s almost as good as sex…sometimes even better”.
Sansa gaped at her. And then she understood.
“Cersei…” she croaked.
Arya nodded as she relaxed into the chair, placing her hands behind her head.
“That was such an easy kill”, she said with relish. “She had been on my list since the beginning but she was always too heavily protected. Until you and Jon destroyed her and she was forced to take refuge with the Silent Sisters. Smart move, by the way…very commendable. But you two lack the necessary killer instinct so it was up to me to finish her off. It was so simple. I merely had to disguise myself as an innocent young acolyte. I befriended her by sneaking wine into her cell, letting her take me under her wing and listening to her rants. On her last night, she railed again about the two of you, vowing revenge. I grew tired of listening to her so I slipped the poison into her drink and it was done”.
“And…Ser Meryn?” asked Sansa.
Arya tilted her head to one side with a small smile.
“Ah, well…that one was a little trickier. I thought it would be so easy. I wormed my way into the Eyrie by posing as a serving wench. My plan was to seduce the fool, kill him and push him out the Moon Door to hide the crime. But I had to make a slight adjustment to my process. You see, I learned after failing initially that I was the wrong sex. It turns out that Ser Meryn preferred the company of young boys. So after making that necessary change, it was relatively easy to lure him to his death”.
“But how…?” she stammered.
Arya laid a finger against the side of her nose and tapped it gently.
“That, sweetling is a trade secret…one that I shall never reveal. It keeps me...elusive. And it kept Jon from recognizing me at the Eyrie, although that damn wolf’s blood of his made it difficult for me to keep an eye on him. He always seemed to sense my presence when I tried to melt into the background”, she replied.
Sanas leaned forward.
“And what do you intend to do now?” she asked softly.
Arya remained silent for a few seconds before responding.
“I would like to stay for a while. I need to rediscover the family I lost all those years ago. I could help with Rickon…” she replied before her voice drifted away.
She paused and Sansa could see the tears forming at the corners of her sister’s eyes. I give thanks to the gods, thought Sansa, that she is not completely lost. A spark of humanity still remains.
Arya brushed away her tears impatiently, her hands fisted like a child’s.
“And I want those beautiful children of yours to get to know their aunt”, she continued as her voice began to break.
Sansa lunged forward to gather her sister in her arms.
“You will stay as long as you need to”, she whispered fiercely as she felt Arya tremble before her walls came tumbling down.
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