Fandom(s): A Song of Ice and Fire
Word Count: 5,133
Summary: A chance meeting on Christmas Eve between former lovers leads to new hurts and old memories.
Author’s Notes: Written for Day 13 of gameofshipschallenges on Tumblr. Inspired by the Dan Fogelberg song by the same name, though with a more optimistic ending.
Same Auld Lang Syne
“Perfect, just fucking perfect,” mutters Elia Martell as she stares longingly at the very top shelf of the freezer. Every single carton of Ben & Jerry’s within reach is gone, the one lone pint left being one she can’t grab. It’s salted caramel, too—her favorite.
A movement down the aisle catches her eye, and she glances over to see some guy at the other end pondering the frozen pizzas. I bet he could reach the ice cream, is the first thing she thinks, appraising his generous height. Goddamn it, he’s gorgeous, too, is the second. Not that she’s looking, but that tousled dark hair, that jawline shadowed in stubble, the way his shirt stretches over his shoulders, the jeans that might as well have been made for him…he’s just about every one of her fantasies wrapped up into one delectable package.
She sighs wistfully and the fluorescents overhead that glimmer off her wedding ring rudely remind her of why she’s searching for comfort food in the first place. She reluctantly quits her ogling and returns to her mission, contemplating the success rate of jumping to get her quarry. She’d look like an idiot, for sure, but at least she’d have her carton of goodness.
Right as she decides to make the leap, someone taps her on the shoulder. She whirls around, ready to tell whoever it is to fuck off; instead, she comes face-to-face with the frozen pizza guy. “Need help with that?” he asks, easily plucking her prize from the shelf. He smiles, all bright white teeth and laugh lines, and for some reason there’s something alarmingly familiar about it.
“Thanks, I—” Then suddenly it clicks. “Arthur?”
“Thought that was you.” His eyes are as captivating as she remembers, a blue so dark it’s almost purple. “You’re the only person I know who would be willing to climb to get salted caramel ice cream.”
“Ha-ha.” It coaxes a grin from her, though, and she pulls him into a hug. She’s successful for only a moment—and god, what a moment; he smells divine—before she feels her purse slip and then the unmistakeable clatter of its entire contents spilling onto the floor. “Damn it. For real?”
Grimacing at the ache in her back, she bends over to start picking it all up, but Arthur puts a hand on her arm. “Let me.”
She wants to tell him that no, she’s perfectly capable and in no need of his stupid chivalry, but her back does burn something fierce, and he’s already got most of it put back in her purse anyway. Besides, she reminds herself, he’s seen me a lot worse off than this. At least I’m upright this time.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t snatch her wallet quick enough to stop him from noticing the portrait she’d had done of her, Rhaenys, and Aegon. Rhae is her in miniature and Egg has her dimples, if not anything else, so there’s no mistaking them as anything but what they are. Arthur studies the photo half a beat too long, then hands it carefully back to her.
Instead of parting ways, she finds herself walking alongside him towards the checkout counter, sneaking glances all the while. The years had been a friend to him, that much is for certain. It’d been fifteen years since they’d last seen each other—Christ, was college really that long ago?—and they’re both on the wrong end of their thirties, but save for the faint crinkles by his eyes when he’d smiled, he doesn’t look a day over twenty-five. She most certainly does not check his left hand, and she most certainly does not notice that there is no ring on his finger.
Their cashier is a girl barely out of her teens snapping a piece of gum. She greets Elia with disinterest, then spots Arthur and visibly brightens. Fortunately they have just the one item, so there’s no room for much smalltalk—or flirting, in the girl’s case—and they’re out in the blustering snow in no time at all. He accompanies her to her car and she leans in to set her pint in the center console.
“What say you to a beer or two?” Arthur asks abruptly, leaning against the door. “I doubt any bars are open tonight, but there’s that liquor store down the road.”
“Greenblood’s? That rattrap is still running?”
“Only one way to find out,” he beams. “You can drive.”
He’d been right about the bars, all of them closed for the holiday. Every house they pass looks incredibly inviting, windows glowing with Christmas or Hanukkah lights, giddy families inside baking cookies or sipping eggnog while How the Grinch Stole Christmas or some cheesy Hallmark movie plays in the background. Fortunately, Greenblood’s is open, a flickering sign boasting just that and a bored cashier within fiddling with his phone.
She parks in the empty lot and they enter, soft music filtering through the liquor store. The bell above the door jingles with their arrival, and the cashier startles at the sound; likely they’ve been the only customers for hours, if not all day. He doesn’t bother greeting them, simply goes back to his phone as they wander down the aisles contemplating the options.
“How about PBR?”
“Pisswater, you mean,” she says haughtily. “Don’t even joke about buying that, Arthur Dayne.”
He chuckles and they move along until they both settle on an inoffensive brand to share. Arthur picks up a bottle of nice wine to give to his mother, and they make their way to the checkout counter. The cashier is a man in his early fifties or thereabouts, with the appearance of someone you’d expect to work at a liquor store. And the personality to match, if the lascivious way he regards her is anything to go by. She thinks it rather bold of him, with Arthur standing right there, but clearly he doesn’t much care.
“How you doin’ tonight, sweetheart?” he asks, spending an inordinate amount of time determining whether their IDs are fake. “You know, it’s mighty cold outside. If you need someplace to—”
“I don’t. Thank you.”
“Maybe you wanna think about it,” he perseveres. “You seem like a nice lady, I’d like to get to know you.”
He winks, and Elia shudders. So smoothly she barely notices it, Arthur slips his arm around her, drawing her into him. Following his lead, she settles her hand on his stomach to fully display her ring, trying not to focus on how right it all feels. Intellectually, she knows it’s surely only because she’s wounded from what Rhaegar did, but it’s hard to be rational when he’s so warm and she fits so perfectly against his side. When it brings her back to lazy days spent on campus, sprawled out on the grass with a textbook in front of her and Arthur’s hand in hers.
Breaking herself out of her reverie, she asks the cashier sweetly, “How much will that be?”
The man looks at her, then Arthur, then her diamond, and deflates. “Eight-fifty, ma’am.”
“I got it, babe,” says Arthur, pulling out his own wallet.
She freezes. The endearment was part of whatever ill-conceived charade she’d started, no doubt, but even still, she wonders whether he’d said it on reflex or on purpose; his face gives away nothing. “Oh, um, all right.” They scurry out of the skeevy liquor store and she drives them back to the supermarket, parking alongside his car. She cranks on the heat, watching snow collect on the windshield. “Thanks for that.”
“Always happy to lend a hand to a maiden in need.”
“Maiden?” she snickers. “Would that make you my white knight?”
His smile begins to fade, a familiar sadness coming over him. “Once upon a time.”
Anxious to not get caught in his riptide, she averts her gaze and settles upon the cheerful container of ice cream. She removes the lid and digs up a plastic spoon from some long-ago fast food trip; the dessert is just the right softness, and she shuts her eyes in happiness, salt and caramel melting in her mouth.
“Do I get any of that?” Arthur asks. She opens her eyes and sees that his melancholy has fled. “I paid for the beer, you know.”
“You offered to pay for the beer.” Grumbling, she nevertheless sticks her spoon in the ice cream and puts the carton in between them to share. She removes two of the beers, tossing one in his lap and twisting the cap off her own. “To…I don’t know, back when we were young and innocent.”
Arthur stares at her a moment then bursts into laughter. She’d forgotten how much she liked that sound—even if it is at her expense. “To innocence? I see you’re still terrible at toasts.”
“Excuse me, when have I made a bad toast?” She groans, realizing. “Please tell me you did not just bring up—”
“—Doran’s wedding? Absolutely I did. You were a lush.”
“I was not.” She was. She very much was. And then we fucked in the coatroom, twice. “Fine, you come up with something better.”
“Can’t change it now. To innocence.” He clinks his bottle with hers and drinks deep, fighting a grin the whole way.
She downs her bottle quicker than she normally would, wanting to block out any nervousness about speaking with him after all this while, and more importantly, wanting to focus more on the good aspects of their relationship—not the months upon months after it ended that she spent in a daze. She’s vindicated somewhat when she notices he finishes his beer even faster than she had, and she doles out another for them both.
“So, what have you been up to? Wife, kids?” She hopes it comes across casual enough. He doesn’t wear a ring, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
“Neither. Never got around to it, I guess.”
He offers no more than that, so she does what he hated when they were together: she prods. “Okay, what have you gotten around to? After school, I mean. I kept up for a while through the papers, but then you just disappeared.”
She’s temporarily sidetracked him. “You did?”
“You got your dream, Arthur. Just because we broke up doesn’t mean I stopped being proud of you.”
He’d been the bright spot on their university’s hockey team ever since he was plucked from obscurity at open tryouts, racking up all sorts of records and championships during his four years on the squad. They’d met during her pre-med internship, and somewhere along the line she went from helping rehab his torn ACL to being unable to remember a time when she wasn’t madly in love with him.
Things were so much simpler then, she thinks. We were who we were and that was enough.
It is only with great effort that she’s able to shove aside the familiar scent of rinks and sweat and the feel of his jersey over her bare skin. “What happened?” she pushes. “I thought things were going great. Could you not handle the NHL’s travel schedule or something?”
“I blew out my knee again,” he answers dully, and oh. He’d been devastated the first time that happened, she can’t imagine how he’d have felt with it happening while in the pros. “Doctors fixed the tear, but I was never at half the level I used to be, and so eventually I began bouncing around the minors, which was too much failure for me to handle long-term.”
With someone else, she might point out that most athletes would be thrilled to play professionally in any capacity, but Arthur’s always held himself to unreasonably high standards, had always had the all-or-nothing mentality. It’s a good thing his father passed away years ago, or else she’d be inclined to give him hell for fucking up his son’s sense of self-worth.
“What’d you do after you retired then?”
A muscle in his jaw twitches. “Turns out the military has less stringent criteria for snapped ligament recovery.”
“The—you joined the military?”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do at first. But I was too restless and frustrated to do some nine-to-five, and then one day Allem suggested the Marines. He’s always spoken highly of the NROTC he’d done in college before the concussion forced him out of it, so I decided to look into enlisting.”
The shock ebbs as she ponders more on it, for in an awful way, it makes sense. Rules, regulations, commands, those he can do. Work his body to the bone, that he can do. If he couldn’t live his life doing something he loved, then it tracks that he would choose a route where he could protect something, protect his country. He’d gotten his degree in education, but she can only imagine how terrible a teacher of any kind he’d have made with the headspace he must have been in back then. Still…
“So the Marines?”
“Semper fi.” Bitterness twists every letter, and this isn’t her job anymore, for his hurts to become hers, but she wants nothing more than to rip the throat out of whoever made him feel this way. “I earned my captaincy a few years in and then they moved me to covert ops.”
“Covert ops? Wait, not like…”
Arthur’s face is perfectly blank. “I was very good at my job.”
It terrifies her, the thought of what those words could mean, and it terrifies her that she’s not surprised he’d excel at it. Whatever “it” was. It’s a stark reminder that for however whimsical their meeting in the grocery store had been, he’s not the same sweet, unassuming boy she’d once known. At least, not entirely. There’s prickly bits hiding the softness and a whole platoon of issues beyond that.
“Oh. Are you…out now?”
“After a fashion,” he says, draining the rest of his beer. “Honorable discharge and the Navy Cross. For valor.” He pauses. “Plus the threat of a court-martial to make me shut up.”
She stares into the depths of her drink and really wishes they’d gone for tequila instead. “Can I ask what you’re supposed to shut up about?”
“You can,” he grants, “but if you ask me, then I’ll tell you.”
Yeah, definitely tequila.
“Well, screw them all,” she spits. “If they think they can just get away with—”
“Elia, I told you because you wanted to know, not because I thought there’s anything to be done about it now,” he interrupts calmly. “I’m one cog in a giant machine, and anyway, if it means they’ll leave me alone, I can deal with a few nightmares.”
“I forgot you did that,” she says, trying her best to brush aside her anger, given that he clearly doesn’t want to get into the matter. “You never let me be irritated for you. You used to downplay the situation so I wouldn’t go right all the wrongs never mind the how.”
“What do you mean?”
“You really didn’t notice?” She leans back in her seat, delving into the past. “Okay, well, like that time Coach benched you for a game because you missed practice one day, which only happened because you pulled an all-nighter to help me study for my o-chem exam. But you were afraid that I might lose my internship or something for reaming him out, so you fabricated some lame excuse about how you would have probably skipped regardless. I knew your explanation was totally untrue, but you also never lied to me unless you really needed me to believe it, so I let it go.”
“You remember that?” he asks quietly.
“Of course I remember.” There’s something about the snow that blankets every window in white and the warmth of the car and the serendipity that caused them to meet up in the same spot in the same supermarket on the same night that has her adding, “I remember everything about us.”
It’s lightning-quick, but even so she doesn’t miss the way his eyes flicker to her lips or the way her skin suddenly seems to prickle with anticipation. He wants to kiss her, he’s going to kiss her, and when he doesn’t she’s not as relieved as she should be. Breaking the moment, he says in an irritatingly self-deprecating tone, “You’re exaggerating. And you hated me the first time you met me.”
“Are you kidding?” she splutters. “I didn’t hate you. I was nineteen and didn’t want to be that girl. I mean, all right, maybe at first I was afraid you were some horny asshole who only cared about scoring goals and getting laid like most of your teammates, but that’s hardly the same thing.”
In a halfhearted attempt at humor, he asks, “Who says I wasn’t like them?”
“You weren’t. Although one of my benchmarks was Leo Tyrell, who leered down my shirt and accused me of being a lesbian because I rejected him, so possibly you just looked good by comparison.”
Arthur scowls. “You never told me Reller did that.”
“Because there was no point. He didn’t grope me or anything. And he assisted on like half your goals, I wasn’t about to mess up that dynamic just because he was a dick. All guys are dicks.”
He raises an eyebrow and nods pointedly at her ring. “Are you including your husband in that?”
“I wasn’t born yesterday, Elia. You wear some gaudy ring, but you were also alone in a grocery store on Christmas Eve looking for your favorite comfort food, the only photo you have in your wallet is of you and your kids, and I haven’t seen a single actual smile from you tonight,” he rattles off. “What’s going on?”
For an instant, she considers lying to him, before she realizes that not only would he see through that in no time at all, but that she’s simply too tired to put on airs. If he were a stranger, maybe, but he’s the furthest thing from that. She answers him in a flippant rush, afraid that if she doesn’t, she’ll break down for the umpteenth time.
“Oh, you know. This was just your typical my-husband-had-an-affair-with-a-teenager-a
“I see. And who is your husband?” She notices Arthur’s habit of over-enunciating when he’s trying to be casual had apparently never ebbed, and right now his syllables are crisper than a freshly printed dollar bill.
She sighs. “Rhaegar Targaryen.”
“That politician’s son?”
“The very same. He’s a musician. A good one, though usually the venues he chooses are dive bars. You know, for the aesthetic. Turns out he didn’t inherit his father’s zeal like I’d feared, he just likes to make off with girls half his age. Go figure.”
“Yeah, well. I probably should have expected it. Neither of us particularly wanted to get married. It was supposed to be just a bit of fun, and then I got pregnant and Senator Aerys wasn’t about to let his grandchild be born out of wedlock, so here we are.”
Arthur toys with the wrapping on his beer bottle, deliberating. “Do you love him?”
It’s a rather unfair question, from him of all people, but she has a feeling he already knows her response. “I wanted to. If nothing else than for the kids. I mean, it wasn’t all bad, we were partners and friends from the very beginning, and Rhaegar was making plans to get out from under his father’s purview. We were making do, we really were.”
“So what changed?”
She leans back against the headrest and shuts her eyes. “I wish I knew. He’d always been super introverted, but after Aegon was born and the doctors told us it’d be too dangerous for me to have any more children, he just…I don’t know. He withdrew even further, like what we had wasn’t enough anymore.” She furiously brushes away a traitorous tear that falls down her cheek. “I’ve never understood him, Arthur, God knows I tried.”
He’s silent for a time, weighing his words. “Who was the girl?”
“Lyanna Stark. She was out here on summer vacation before she started at some college up north. I pity her, honestly. She didn’t know what she was doing, she fancied herself in love. Or lust, or something. You’re eighteen and a hot indie guitarist gives you the time of day? I can’t blame her.”
“Where’d she end up?”
“I’m not sure. Once I got her brother to stop shouting, he said she went back home—Minnesota, I think? North Dakota? I don’t know, somewhere cold—but he was more interested in serving up Rhaegar’s head on a platter to make much smalltalk. I gave him my word I knew nothing about it, that the matter would be dealt with, and that trying to get revenge would do him no favors, then he left.”
Concern lances through Arthur’s ire. “He didn’t hurt you, did he?”
“Brandon? No. I mean, he punched a hole in the wall, but I know my way around hotheaded brothers. Oberyn would have done the same thing if it were me. Still might, once I get around to telling him.”
“Not yet. You’re the only person who knows, actually. Fortunately, the tabloids haven’t gotten wind of it, or else I’d be looking for something a little stronger than dessert.”
“What exactly was Rhaegar’s explanation for this?” Arthur bursts out. “What justification could he possibly have?”
“He hasn’t given me one,” she mumbles. “He’s been holed up at Summerhall for the past week recording, so he probably isn’t even aware that I know. I’ve been trying to figure out what to say. The kids and I are staying with Doran for now since I couldn’t be in our house any longer without wanting to break something.”
“Well, I’m glad you’re somewhere safe at least. How is Doran, anyway? Mother told me about the separation.”
“Yeah, apparently Oberyn’s the last one standing. Who’d have thought?” she replies. “I think it’s been hardest on Arianne, but she’s a tough girl, she’ll get through it.” They lapse into silence, and after she catches him looking at her for the third time, she asks, “What?”
“Nothing, I’m sorry. It’s just…you’re even more beautiful than I remember.” Flustered by his honesty, he hurries on, “Which I know is inappropriate to say, especially after all you’ve just told me, but I—”
“Arthur, you’re rambling,” she says gently. “Thank you.”
Whatever his compliment, she pulls the sleeves of her sweater down past her bony wrists, hating how thin she is. The moms at the one and to date only PTA meeting she’d gone to had been jealous, of all things, asking what her secret was to staying so skinny. She’d told them—a whacked immune system and an army of physicians on speed dial, give it a try, ladies—and hadn’t gone back since. What she wouldn’t give to break a hundred and ten pounds.
Courteously not commenting on her compulsive reaction, he reaches over and runs his fingers through her hair. “I’m not a huge fan of this, though.”
“Yeah,” she sighs, thinking of the days when it had fallen in thick ringlets to the small of her back. The memories are fond ones, all the countless hours Arthur had spent learning how she wanted it brushed and which oils to use on it, how proud of himself he’d been when he finally mastered a French braid. “I soldiered through with Rhaenys, but had to cut it after Aegon. You’d be surprised what can get stuck in your hair when you have two kids back-to-back.”
“I wouldn’t know.” Abruptly he clears his throat and adopts a tone less fraught with meaning. “Speaking of which…listen, I’m all for individuality, but what are those names? I thought you were against anything weird.”
“Don’t even get me started,” she groans. “Rhaegar chose them. They’re family names, apparently. He did let me give them their middle names, though, and those are from my side.”
“He ‘let’ you?”
Arthur’s righteous indignation on her behalf has her backpedaling. “It’s not like it sounds, he…” Trying to explain Rhaegar’s mess of a family is a Herculean task. Trying to escape Arthur’s judgment is downright impossible. “It’s not all on Rhaegar. I lost my backbone somewhere along the way, I suppose. I argued a hundred times as much with you as I ever have with him.”
“Maybe you just don’t—”
“Care?” she scoffs. “More like it’s difficult to argue when your husband doesn’t engage. For all your faults, at least you did that.”
“All my faults?”
“Would you like the list alphabetized or by degree of irritation?”
He pretends to be offended and steals the spoonful of ice cream she’d intended to eat. “So what are you going to do?”
Therein lies her conundrum. “I haven’t decided,” she admits, picking at a nail. “I mean, I know divorce is the only option, really, I couldn’t live with myself if I became the person who forgives infidelity. But it’ll be such a hassle, and God only knows if Senator Aerys will try to stop it or what I’m supposed to say to the kids or what I’d do after. I’m so set in our routines. Can you be my magic eight ball and tell me what to do?”
“Reply hazy, try again.” She glares at him, not that it does any good. “Look, I don’t know your life. If you want to stay with him, then that’s your choice. All I’ll say is that the Elia Martell I knew wasn’t one who ever took things lying down. You remember what you told me after we found out Ash’s boyfriend was two-timing her?”
That drags a small smile from her lips. “I said if you ever did something like that to me, I’d have you castrated with your own skate blade.”
“One of your more creative threats.”
“I peaked too soon, apparently,” she mutters. “I used up all my best moments in college.”
“Nah.” Arthur tilts her chin up, even his light touch enough to send her heart to thrumming. “Your best are yet to come. Here,” he says, divvying up the last two beers. “To time, and what we make of it.”
Talking to him is easy, and it’s only when her voice begins to go hoarse that she realizes exactly how long they’d been sitting here. The ice cream had long since been consumed, their beers empty, the clock informing her that hours have elapsed without her noticing.
He seems to realize this at the same time as she, for he comments, “It’s getting late. The roads might start to ice over soon.”
Generally, she loathes driving when it’s icy out, but right now, she finds she’d sacrifice her comfort if it meant she could continue their conversation. She knows as soon as they step outside, the bubble they’ve been in will burst and reality will come rushing through. But she has no choice.
“Yeah,” she says reluctantly. “I should go.”
The air nips at her exposed skin as she opens the door, and she walks with him over to his car. He doesn’t move to get in, though, and she’s paralyzed where she stands, gazing up at him; his eyes are black in the dim light of the streetlamp.
She shouldn’t, she really really shouldn’t, but she’s awfully cold and there’s snowflakes catching on his eyelashes and he’s staring at her lips, and before she can stop herself, she grasps the lapels of his jacket and kisses him. It’s like fitting into a sweater she thought she’d lost, kissing him is, startlingly familiar despite how long it’s been. Muscle memory, or something else. He’s surprised at first, and then decidedly isn’t, settling his hands perilously low on her back and surrendering himself to her. She’d meant for it to be a quick peck, a goodbye between former lovers; this devouring was unintended.
It’s he that pulls away in the end, slightly breathless and looking at her like he used to, like she’s a wonder he could never quite comprehend. “You’re right, we should stop,” she says, her ring throbbing on her finger like a living brand. “I’m still…”
“It wasn’t that,” he says, a little sheepishly. “I mean, it was, but…” Red tinges his cheeks, and she would have thought that at going on forty blushing would be beneath him, but evidently not. “If I kissed you any longer, I wouldn’t have been able to stop.”
I wouldn’t have asked you to. She straightens his jacket and brushes the snow from his hair. Their first kiss had been like this, she recalls, that winter all those years ago so bitter it had frozen her dorm’s keycard reader and so locked them both outside the building. She’d had her phone out ready to text her roommate for help when he’d pulled her against him and kissed the chill right out of her.
“Well, either way.” All of a sudden, the scant distance between them feels like a gaping canyon. “So I guess…I guess we should probably…”
She can’t bring herself to say it. She’d dreamed this sort of night more times than she cares to admit, and now she’s gotten to live it. If Cinderella’s evening couldn’t last forever, certainly hers can’t. As if to punctuate her thought, the weather dampens, fluffy snowflakes melting into sullen raindrops.
Arthur nods, stuffs his hands into his pockets, and takes a step back. “Right.” She drinks in the sight of him one last time, already yearning for his warmth. She gets hardly a stride away, however, before he grabs her arm. “If you…after, I mean…” His shrug is nonchalant, his shyness anything but. “My number hasn’t changed.”
She bites her lip. “I’m not the same person I was, Arthur. We’re not the same people,” she warns, because she’s not and she needs him to know it. Tonight, perhaps she had been, struck by the allure of happier times, but the past fifteen years haven’t all been generous. She thinks of Rhae, her little carbon copy, and Egg, barely into third grade. “And I come with baggage. I have more than just me to consider.”
He huffs a laugh at her trepidation. “I’m not proposing marriage here, Elia. Just…I don’t know, coffee or something.”
“Coffee, then,” she agrees. Her heart thunders with the implications, with the sheer possibility. “Someday.”
He leans down to kiss her cheek, and lets her go.