|As History Changes
Author: MiHnn PM
Jon agrees to accompany Stannis south to the Vale and he meets a person he did not expect to meet. (Jon X Sansa)Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Angst - Jon S. & Sansa S. - Words: 9,681 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 23 - Follows: 3 - Published: 12-04-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8764642
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Written for got_exchange 2012 for midnightblack07. Thank you to snowbryneich for being a lovely beta.
Spoilers : AU from A Storm of Swords with spoilers up to A Dance with Dragons.
As History Changes
The Lord Commander of the Night's Watch was given such a title so that he need not kneel or play a part in the war of kings, yet Jon Snow found himself taking a knee before a self-made king who would like nothing more than to take the title Jon held, away from him. Jon was summoned, as he always was, to meet with Stannis in the chambers given to him when he first marched onto Castle Black. Each summons was met with apprehension and dread from Jon, yet he would not dare refuse such a man who called himself the Protector of the Realm.
"I've had a raven." The king paused as Jon rose to stand beside him. "It was from the Eyrie," Stannis said as he circled the old table with the new maps. "It appears that your aunt Lysa has fallen and the control of the castle has been given to her husband until her son comes of age."
The news of Lysa Arryn's death did not affect Jon the way Stannis thought it would. "She was not my aunt," Jon stated calmly. "I have never met her, Your Grace." The bastard of Eddard Stark was never allowed near the Tullys. He was a reminder of lost honour and shame. When he was asked, Jon had gladly stayed away the few instances when Jon Arryn and Lysa, Catelyn Stark's sister, had called on Winterfell.
"Were you not close to your family, Lord Snow?" the red lady asked softly from her seat near the fire, her eyes studying the flames. "I was told that Starks prided themselves with treating their kind as kin."
"She was not my kind, my lady. She was a Tully and the sister of my father's wife. We were not bound in any way."
Her eyes rose to meet his. "Only by your father."
Before Jon could reply, Stannis stepped closer to the maps, his eyes studying it methodically. "The Eyrie had not chosen a side since the beginning of this war. I've sent several ravens, all that were unanswered, until today." His eyes met Jon's. "They are willing to join the rightful king, as it should be. We leave for the Vale within a fortnight to discuss the terms of our arrangement."
They are leaving, Jon thought, relieved. The Wall will finally belong solely to the Night's Watch. We will no longer be forced to meet a king's fancy. "I wish you a safe journey, Sire."
"You don't understand me, Lord Snow," Stannis Baratheon stated plainly. Jon hoped the sudden smile on Melisandre's lips as she watched the fire was not related to him. "You will be coming with me."
Jon paused, unsure if he had heard what he had. "Your Grace, my post is here—"
"Aye," Stannis stated quickly. "Looking after murderers and rapers and making sure they have warm fur to sleep in."
Jon's jaw twitched with suppressed annoyance. "As members of the Night's Watch we protect the realm from what is north of the wall."
The corners of Stannis' mouth tightened. "Tell me, Lord Snow, who was it that came to your need when the wildlings took up arms against you?"
"You did, You Grace," Jon stated unhappily. It was a fact Stannis did not let him forget.
"Who gave you prisoners to man the Wall as well as armoured, seasoned knights?"
Knights, yes, but those sick and crippled, Jon thought bitterly. "You did, Your Grace."
"Who was it who promised enough men to fill the other castles of the Wall?"
Jon paused, knowing his answer would be what the king truly wanted to hear. "You did, Your Grace."
"Then, I am afraid, Lord Snow, that you should have no qualms in accompanying me south of the wall to ensure my support. The Baratheons and the Starks have always been allies with the Arryns; Jon Arryn saw to that. What I require is your blood. You are the last known Stark—"
"Sansa and Arya—"
"Cannot be found. Your sisters are as good as dead and it would serve us no purpose to hope that they would claim their birth right if they are not. Do you remember that I asked you to take up Winterfell? You denied me, Lord Snow. If you wish Winterfell to stay in the north, then you will accept my order. If not, I will be forced to take the ownership south."
Jon felt his mouth become inexplicably dry. "You mean to give Winterfell to Robert Arryn?"
"I mean to have Winterfell be held bythe Arryns until such a time that a Stark decides to take his rightful seat." He looked at Jon, his meaning clear.
Jon knew that Stannis wanted him to accept what was offered and take the name of Stark as well as Winterfell. It was a choice Jon chose not to accept and he had hoped that Stannis would respect the decision made. The would-be king was as rigid with those who didn't serve him as he was with those who did.
"It is what's fair," the king continued. "Winterfell belongs to the north. I have enough respect for your lord father to give him what was right by him. Winterfell will be Robert Arryn's ward, nothing more. As the last surviving son of Eddard Stark, it is your signature I require. Unfortunately," continued the king bitterly, "I cannot promise you such a thing unless you are there as a Stark. You need not accept his title, but as the last surviving heir, the Lord of the Eyrie should see that you exist. It's the only way to give Winterfell back to the Starks when the time comes." Stannis paused, his tone hardening, "If that is not enough to entice you to the south, Lord Snow, I will promise to give you every prisoner I take as I march onto King's Landing. They will be sent to the Wall for you to do what you wish with them. I will give you the Night's Watch as it was in the time of Aegon the Conqueror, an army large enough to man all the castles of the Wall. All I require in return is your presence."
Melisandre looked up from the fires slowly. "The king wishes to know one thing: are you prepared to stay at the wall as he marches south with all his men, or would you go south yourself to ensure enough men to protect the realm?" Her smile was soft, her eyes red from the light of the flames. "The night is dark and full of terrors. Are you prepared for the coming cold, Lord Snow?"
"I don't like this."
Jon looked up at the castle that was called the Eyrie. It wasn't as large as Winterfell or as gloomy as Castle Black. It seemed unsteadily perched, as if the strongest wind could cause it to stumble and fall. For the first time, Jon understood why the Eyrie had declared for no one and had survived the war thus far. It really was impenetrable by an army.
Sam shifted uneasily on his horse. "I don't think I can climb it."
"You don't have to climb all the way, Sam," Jon said softly as he studied the frightening beauty that was the place where his lord father had spent his childhood. "There are three waycastles we must pass: Stone, Snow and Sky. The last bit is the most treacherous. Father said that they travelled its length with mules."
"Mules?" Sam yelped. "I can't ride a mule. I'm not... Well... I'm not light enough."
Jon chuckled as he urged his steed to slow down while they followed Stannis' host. "We'll find you a way, Sam. If the sickly can travel, so can you."
Sam rode beside Jon sheepishly. "Can't I ride Ghost? He could carry me. He gets bigger and bigger each day. He's practically the size of a horse."
"Ghost can carry you, if he lets you." Jon glanced at the surrounding forest. "I haven't seen him yet. I think it's best to leave him to his own. The sky is no place for a direwolf."
They continued on at a leisurely pace in silence, two black cloaks among a sea of red, until Sam spoke again.
"Do you think they are all right? Those at the Wall, I mean."
Jon frowned. "I hope so. Stannis left enough knights to help guard the Wall and Cotter Pyke can be trusted to settle disputes."
"And if that fails," Sam said with good humour, "Lady Melisandre could always burn the White Walkers." Jon frowned and Sam's expression fell before he hastily decided to speak of something else. "I never thought that I would miss the Wall," Sam said softly. "I don't know when it happened, but it is home now. I can't wait to go back."
Jon's grip tightened on his reigns. "You're not going back, Sam."
Sam looked at him incredulously. "What?" He looked around to ensure that no one was listening before leaning sideways to whisper, "We can't desert the Night's Watch. We took our vows."
"I'm not deserting the Night's Watch and neither are you," Jon said pointedly.
With confusion, Sam moved back. "What do you mean, then?"
"After this is over, I'll be going to Castle Black and you will go to Oldtown. A war is coming, Sam. We need maesters just as much as we need fighters. You can read, write and I know you have healing hands. I need you to train, earn your links and come back to the Wall."
Sam's eyes widened in panic. "I can't be a maester. I… I don't know how. You know I can't see the sight of blood. I… I could continue being a steward. I confess, it was hard at first but I think I have gotten really good at it. Why not send someone else? There are any number of brothers who would be willing."
Jon sighed. "We need a maester, Sam. Most of our brothers can't read or write."
Sam's face crumbled as he said thoughtfully, "We have Maester Aemon."
"We do," said Jon, softly. "But for how long?"
Sam was silent for a moment, his face forlorn. "Did you know you were going to do this before we left the Wall?"
Jon hesitated. "Yes."
They rode in silence, each step bringing them closer to the Eyrie. It was Sam who broke the silence as he shifted uncomfortably on his saddle. "When did the south of the Wall become so hot?"
Jon laughed, his heart feeling heavier and lighter. Sam hadn't been lying. They had been north of the wall, faced White Walkers, fought giants and had survived. They were true black brothers with winter in their bones. The south was too warm for them.
Journeying to the top of the Eyrie seemed longer than the journey to the castle itself. They went as far as their horses could before a girl introduced them to the only way to reach the peak. Each gate they passed seemed to lead them to a more treacherous road and each step seemed unsteady compared to the last. While the entire host stayed near the Bloody Gate and prepared camp, Jon, Sam, Stannis and the Queen's Man, Justin Massey, continued the journey on the goat trail. Jon spent most of the climb trying to distract Sam from the steep drop by questioning him on what he had read. Most often than not, it did not work.
By the time they reached the top, Sam was red-faced and shivering. "I can't go back down," he whispered. "I can't, Jon. I thought I would die every time I looked down."
"I told you not to look down, Sam."
Sam wiped the sweat from his brow. "I couldn't help it, could I? I had to make sure the mule wasn't going to step on a crumbling piece of rock."
Stannis, however, was not as amused by the black brother Jon chose to accompany him. His tone was curt as he requested them to follow him before he passed through the double doors that was the entrance to the Eyrie. Jon followed Stannis and his soldier slowly, using a comforting hand to drag a shaking Sam with him while his eyes studied the interior of the castle. It was unlike anything he had seen before. The ceiling was high, the air thinner and reminiscent of the air top of the Wall. The Crescent Chamber was warm because of the roaring fire and for the first time after half a day's climb, Jon felt himself relax by the feel of steady ground beneath his feet. As he studied the interior, Jon remembered lessons of the castle that was taught to him by Maester Luwin, lessons he had long since forgotten.
"Does the Lord of the Eyrie lack manners by choosing not to welcome his king?" Stannis muttered to himself, his tone betraying displeasure.
"I apologise, Your Grace," a man with a comely smile said as he entered the hall. He was a short man, slender, with dark hair. The man bowed low with a wide smile. "Lord Robert will be with us shortly. He was feeling rather ill in the morning."
Stannis nodded. "Petyr Baelish, Master of Coin and now Protector of the Vale. Or should I say, Lord Baelish, as Harrenhall was recently given to you by the Lannisters." There was bitterness in Stannis' tone, something that Lord Baelish could sense as well as Jon.
"A generous gift, Your Grace. Surely, a man such as yourself wouldn't turn away from such a gift."
"Gifts aren't given from the goodness of one's heart, Lord Baelish."
"No," Baelish stated with humour. "Which is why I found it prudent to meet under these circumstances before the Eyrie could give its gift."
Jon watched as Stannis gritted his teeth in an effort to hold back what he really thought. But the older Baratheon could not hold back for long. "It isn't a gift if it is expected. And it is expected to give any support one can give to the true king of the Seven Kingdoms. Anyone who doesn't is a traitor in the eyes of the law."
Their host's smile became recognisably strained. "So it seems." Lord Baelish's gaze fell on Jon and Sam. "You come with guests, Your Grace. I confess, it is the first time I've seen a king who chooses to be protected by members of the Night's Watch."
"We are not the King's Guard," Jon replied dryly.
"No?" Lord Baelish questioned in good humour. "Then I can only assume you have come for other reasons."
Stannis gestured flippantly towards Jon. "He is the last surviving son of Eddard Stark. If you want Winterfell, you will have to agree to his terms."
The smile in Baelish's eyes dimmed slightly. "The bastard son? Pardon me, Lord Commander, but as I recall, those who take the vows of the Night's Watch are not permitted to hold any lands."
Jon's eyes narrowed. There was something about this man. "I don't wish the lands for myself," Jon said cautiously. "I wish to keep it safe for my sister."
Blue-grey eyes studied him. "How noble," he said softly. "You are indeed a Stark."
The sound of a door being opened drew their attention before any other words were spoken. A boy entered, small and sickly, with his hand held by a young girl with dark hair. "I don't want to do this," the boy whined to the girl, uncaring that his words could be heard. "I want to play." Jon couldn't help but remember how polite Bran was at that age.
The girl hushed him. "Not now, Sweetrobin. After we meet your guests, we will play."
That voice! Jon stiffened beside Sam, earning a curious look from his friend. Jon watched her carefully, his breath paused, as she led the boy closer. The hair was wrong, but she moved elegantly, just like the half-sister he had known briefly. Jon was convinced that he had to see her eyes to see the truth in them. She was so familiar; so very familiar.
Maddeningly, she kept her head low as she introduced Robert Arryn to Stannis. Pleasantries were exchanged and courtesies were met, but Jon heard not a word. He studied her; her movements, her courtesies, the way her lips formed the words… and he waited until she turned towards him.
When she addressed him, he knew he hadn't gone mad. Her blue eyes - Tully blue eyes- were filled with recognition and fear as she bowed low. "It is an honour to host the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, my lord. I hope your stay here would be to your liking."
Jon simply stared at her, unable to find the words. It was Sam who spoke when Jon stayed silent, his words a jumble. "Thank you," Sam blurted, earning a small, grateful smile from the girl. "I'm sure we will."
Sansa would have never smiled, Jon thought. She would have thought him a blubbering idiot.
"Your bastard daughter knows her courtesies," Stannis approved, dryly.
"Yes, she does." Baelish looked at her with affection. "Now that we have all been successfully introduced, I would suggest that Your Grace retires for the time being. It was a tiring journey, I'm sure, and my men would gladly show you to your chambers. And tonight, we will have a feast to celebrate our new alliance."
"Very well," said Stannis. "I suppose we should rest before the true purpose of our visit is met."
Jon watched as she curtsied and with soft words, led the boy out of the hall just barely before he began to demand to play with her. He continued to watch her retreating form as they were dismissed by Lord Baelish.
Sam nudged Jon. "What is it?"
"I need to speak with her, Sam."
Sam followed Jon's gaze to where she had stood a moment before, a wistful smile on his face. "She is very pretty."
Jon shook his head, his voice lowering to a whisper. "That's not why."
When his gaze met Lord Baelish's, Jon understood that the Protector of the Vale had known what Jon had recently learned.
The feast was a modest comparison to those that were held at Winterfell. The guests were not many and the food, although prepared well, would not have fed a long table of Winterfell's guests. But the wine flowed freely and unlike the other guests, Jon, Stannis and Sam did not drink as much as they would have for their own personal reasons. Jon suspected that Stannis trusted Baelish as much as he did and Sam was never one to drink more than one cup of wine at any meal.
Lord Robert did not make the feast, excusing himself through Alayne Stone as she joined her father at his right hand. Jon spent the meal staring at her subtly, waiting for her eyes to meet his and distractedly answering questions that were posed to him. He couldn't have been happier for Sam, who took the attention off Jon as best he could. Alayne Stone was polite, delicate and always said the right thing. Her attention was drawn to the other men and women who had joined them, her eyes never once resting on Jon. Jon found himself counting the moments until the meal was over and he could speak to her. He could not understand how she had come to be in the place that she was, but he could understand that she wanted him to keep her secret. All through supper, Jon could see the small smiles Petyr Baelish sent her and it caused his stomach to turn. What was more unsettling was how the Protector of the Vale looked at Jon every time he spoke, a silent challenge in his eyes while the words he spoke had a hidden meaning.
Alayne excused herself just as the meal ended, requesting to check on Lord Robert, and Jon waited a moment longer before excusing himself with a muttered apology. Sam and Baelish watched him curiously while Stannis was more interested in pressing matters as they discussed the war.
Jon followed her, hastening his steps as she turned down one hall after another. When she looked to enter a large chamber with double doors, a knight on either side, he finally called to her.
She stiffened, her eyes going to the knights before she turned to face him. "Lord Commander," she said politely, curtseying while keeping her head down low. "I did not expect to see you in this part of the castle, my lord."
Sansa would have looked down at him in disdain and called him a bastard. Her words would have been polite but cold.
Jon's glance fell on the knights that guarded the chamber. He knew they were listening to every word and would be feeding it to Baelish before nights end. However, that seemed like an unimportant reason not to speak with her. "A word," he said, hoping to convey the urgency he felt. When it looked like she would be refusing him, he said the next word softly. "Please."
He could see the panic in her eyes when her gaze met his. "Yes, my lord. As you wish." She turned towards the knights. "If he asks for me, tell him that I will be with him shortly." She waited for their nods before she walked passed Jon. He followed her apprehensively, knowing that by the time he and his sister had spoken, Baelish would know.
She led him to a bedchamber that seemed ill-used but hidden away from most of the castle. "In here," she whispered as she told him to enter and closed the door after her.
Jon stood awkwardly away from her. Had it been Robb, Arya, Bran or Rickon, he would have hugged them. There would be tears and smiles and he would want to know everything that had happened. Sansa was different. She was the sister who insisted on reminding him that he was her half-brother, she was the sister who called him 'Bastard' as a name from the moment she learned of his mother, and she was the sister Jon never looked to find.
She glanced at him briefly before looking away, her hands nervously pulling at the sleeves of her plain dress. She was older, harder and more beautiful than he thought she would be. He remembered her hair, red and kissed by fire. Was she as lucky with darker strands?
Jon spoke first, his words sounding as if it was spoken by someone else. "I thought you were dead."
She looked down at the floor, her expression pained. "Sansa Stark is dead, just like all of her family."
Jon winced, the thought too painful to bear. It hurt him more than he would admit that she didn't consider him as part of her family; the half-brother who was alive at the Wall. "What of Baelish?"
"He saved me," she said softly. "The night Joffrey was poisoned he took me away from King's Landing. He called me his daughter, coloured my hair and brought me here. He..." Her smile was grateful. "He protects me."
Jon's head snapped towards her, the tone in her voice alerting him to a hidden truth. "Did they hurt you?" he asked, dreading the answer. He knew that captives were ill-treated, whether they were daughters of lords or daughters of bastards.
Her smile was pained. "Alayne was never struck," she whispered as she circled her arms around her body. "Sansa was not so lucky."
She was never his favourite sister, but Jon had never wished her ill. Jaw tightening and fingers flexing, Jon looked away from her, unable to see the girl that he knew had been hurt. But she was safe now; she had said so.
He felt tired, his knees weak from all she had told him, from all he had discovered. With a low sigh, he sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes in an effort to sooth the pressure he felt. He should feel happy. He never thought that he would meet any of his siblings ever again. He hoped to see Arya, but seeing Sansa was better than thinking they were all dead.
The bed dipped beside him. "You look like him."
Jon looked up at her, surprised by the smile in her eyes.
"Like father." Her smile widened in amusement. "You even sounded like him, with all the courtesies."
Jon laughed, a painful sound. "When one is in the presence of lords and kings..."
He watched as she plucked a loose thread from her gown. "It's not too bad, being a bastard. I thought it would be. I thought that bastards were not protected."
"Lords and Ladies are protected."
Her eyes met his, pain in their blue depths. "Not always."
Jon felt his heart ache from her admission. "Are you happy here?" he asked softly. If she asked, he would take her away. He wasn't sure where he could keep her, but he would make sure that she was safe from all harm.
Sansa looked away from him, her face hardened and her voice determined. "Alayne Stone is safe. That's enough for now."
It took a moment, but when the thought struck, he asked her curiously, "Where's Lady?" He wondered if the Eyrie was any place for a direwolf, even one that was so well-behaved.
When her gaze rose to meet his, her eyes were filled with unshed tears. Slowly, and painfully, she told him of what had happened on the Kingsroad, and for the first time Jon realised how truly alone she had been.
The few days that passed were passed in discussion. Each request Stannis made was met with a friendly amendment by Baelish and Jon watched as the self-made king lost more than what he had prepared to lose in securing the Knights of the Vale. While Jon spent his days sitting in silence as the two men discussed every detail, his evenings were spent with Sam and Sansa after Lord Robert had been put to bed. Sansa had taken it upon herself to entertain Sam, and Sam, who had been reluctant to accompany Jon in this journey, seemed to enjoy it much more than he thought he would. He spent the day telling stories to little Robert and discussing history with Sansa while regaling Jon happily with tales of all the mischief they had successfully got away with. Jon had never been so jealous.
It surprised him how easily Sansa conversed with him and Sam, how maternal she seemed around little Robert and how easily she smiled. The Sansa he knew would never have cleaned up Arya if she had made a mess nor would she have smiled unless it was a lord or a lady who had addressed her. The Sansa he knew had wanted nothing more than to be the wife of a knight and have songs sung of her beauty. The Sansa with him now, the one who called herself Alayne, was content with small pleasures. It made Jon long for Winterfell and his other siblings while regret filled his heart every time she smiled at him. Perhaps, had he tried harder, they could have been friends.
The nights seemed shorter than the days and Jon was taken by surprise when Baelish requested to speak with him when they were about to break discussion for supper on the fourth night following their journey to the Vale. Stannis was not happy as he threw a distrustful look towards Baelish before retiring.
Baelish dismissed the two knights who had been standing guard and poured himself a flagon of wine before doing the same for Jon. Jon took a cursory sip before patiently waiting for the former Master of Coin to say exactly why he wanted to speak to a man of the Night's Watch in confidence.
"It must be tiring, guarding the realm from what plagues us from beyond the wall."
Jon could hear the mockery in his tone, but thought that White Walkers would be a dull subject to his host. "It is," said Jon. "And cold."
"Oh, yes. I've heard," Baelish said with a smile. "I've heard it said that a Stark has always manned the wall. I suppose a bastard born Stark is better than none."
Jon's smile was humourless. "Is there a reason you wanted to speak with me, my lord?"
Baelish looked on him with amusement. "You're like your father. Has anyone ever told you that?"
"Too many," Jon said honestly.
"Then, it must be true." Baelish took a sip of wine and leaned back in his chair. "But, then, what do we know of the truth? Stannis knows the truth of my daughter just as surely as you do."
Jon's grip tightened on his cup. "My lord—"
"Likewise," continued Baelish, "some truths are known by those who keep it secret while what we think are truths, are not truths at all."
"I'm afraid I don't understand your meaning, my lord."
Baelish smiled. "Yes," he muttered under his breath, "just like your father." Before Jon could reply, he spoke once again. "I recently made an acquaintance that has shed light on some truths. If you remember, there was a young woman who served us the day of the feast for His Grace. Her name is Rayla, a pretty thing from Dorne who serves the Lady Royce."
"I remember," Jon said stiffly, still unsure as to what Petyr Baelish was speaking of.
"She tells the most wonderful stories of Dorne. The pools, the plums, the sand steeds. She has seen much in her young life."
"It sounds fascinating."
"It is," Baelish said with humour. "But there was one particular story that drew me in. She spoke of an average day, when the heat was bearable and how she and her brother played beside an old tower. She said her brother had just hidden when she heard the sound of approaching horses. Knowing that she was not allowed to play near such a tower, she hid herself and waited, two young eyes watching a host of seven knights dismount and proceed to break down the door with their swords and an axe."
"Who were these men?" Jon asked, knowing the story well. Even though his father never spoke of the incident, Uncle Benjen had when he was in his cups.
Baelish's eyes sparkled mischievously. "She doesn't know. She was too young to remember such things. Although, when pressed, she did remember the two who survived. One was a crannogman…" His grin widened. "And the other, a wolf."
Jon smirked, his suspicions met. "It's a good story."
"It's a well-known story," Baelish corrected. "But it's not the end of her story."
With his interest piqued, Jon asked him, "What is the end to her story?"
"Seven entered and only two survived."
Baelish's smile widened. "Yes, but the two who survived left the castle with two others. A woman, dark haired and lifeless, as well as a new-born babe in the arms of the crannogman. Both were stained with blood."
Jon felt his insides turn. Lyanna had a child? Why didn't his father ever tell him?
Baelish seemed amused by Jon's confusion, for his smile widened further. "I then remembered another part of history as she told me this. It was shortly after that the noble Ned Stark rode north with a bastard child, was it not?"
Understanding his meaning, Jon gritted his teeth and hissed venomously, "You're lying."
Baelish looked affronted. "I assure you, I'm not. You can ask Rayla yourself."
It was as if Jon had no control over his actions. Within moments he was standing over Petyr Baelish with his hand around the man's throat. "Why would you tell me this?" Jon snapped, his anger causing him ignore the attempt Baelish made to free himself as the man clutched the hand around his throat. As Baelish struggled, choking sounds emitting from his throat, Jon came to his senses and let go, if not somewhat reluctantly. Jon watched as Baelish took deep breaths and touched his throat gingerly, even as Jon's own breath seemed to quicken with the need to strangle the man once again.
When Baelish looked up at him, his eyes were steely with no humour in their depths. "Winterfell is not yours." He took in a shuddering breath. "The throne is."
Jon's eyes widened. "What?"
"Stannis wishes to legitimise you. If he succeeds, he will be giving you the wrong name."
"What is my real name, if not Stark?"
"Targaryen," said Baelish, even as Jon shook his head to deny that fact.
"I am a wolf, a son of the north."
"Oh yes, no one can deny that," Baelish said, gesturing to Jon flippantly while his fingers still pressed upon his neck. "But that is not all that is in your blood."
Jon fidgeted, the fingers on his burned hand flexing without his knowledge. "I don't believe you."
"Do you honestly find it easier to believe that your father dishonoured his wife by sleeping with another, rather than dishonouring himself so to protect his most beloved sister's honour?"
Jon faltered, doubt creeping into his mind. "If it is true, and I'm not saying it is, why wouldn't he tell me?"
"If Rhegar had a bastard who lived, what do you think Robert Baratheon would have done?" Baelish paused, his gaze narrowed. "What do you think Tywin Lannister would have done? I doubt your lord father would have allowed such a thing to happen to his sister's son."
"No." Jon shook his head. "I don't believe you. Even if it is true, it doesn't concern me. I took the black and swore my loyalty to the Night's Watch. My name is Snow and it will always be Snow. I will hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I don't want to play any game you see fit to put me in. This is the end of this discussion, Lord Baelish. If you knew my father like you claim you did, and you say I am like him, then you know I am not lying when I say this: I am a Stark by blood even if I am not by name. My father was Eddard Stark of Winterfell and nothing you say will change that fact." With his strength spent on defending his blood, Jon turned, preparing to leave, but Baelish wouldn't let him go so easily.
"A note of warning, Lord Snow. You might think that you are not a player in this game, but your blood ensures that you are. Don't make the same mistake your father did."
His hands forming fists, Jon turned to face the most untrustworthy man he had come to know. "My father was an honourable man. Until my last breath, I will try to be the man he was."
"Was he?" asked Baelish with amusement. "Which father are you talking of, Lord Snow?"
Jon's jaw twitched with suppressed anger. "The father who raised me. He is my true father." Leaving those as parting words, he stormed out of the hall, wanting nothing more than to see Petyr Baelish never again. If he did, Jon feared he might kill him.
It took the voice of another to stop Jon mid-step as he left the Hall.
"What did the Master of Coin request of you, Lord Snow? I can't imagine a subject so important that his knights be dismissed."
The last thing the Lord Commander wanted was to answer the questions of a man believed himself to be a treated as a king by those who were not his subjects. It didn't surprise him that Stannis waited until Jon left Baelish to speak with him, it surprised him even less that the king's tone held distrust.
"It didn't concern you, Your Grace."
Stannis' lips tightened in anger. "I am forced to remind you that I brought you here as my escort. Surely, the loyalty of a man of the Night's Watch shouldn't be so easily bought."
Feeling his impatience rise, Jon asked coldly, "Why did you bring me here, Your Grace?"
Stannis paused, but only for a moment. "I needed a Stark."
"No," Jon stated, his anger creeping into his voice. "There are other Starks, some here in the Vale. I remember my lessons, the history of my family that was taught to me. You brought me here because you wanted me here." The look Stannis gave him caused Jon to narrow his gaze in suspicion. "You didn't want me here," he said softly, understanding the look in the man's eye. "But then, why—?" He stopped again, understanding that this was not Stannis' doing. "Lady Melisandre?" Jon asked incredulously. Stannis never did anything that he didn't want to do, save the occasional favour his Red Lady asked of him. If Stannis didn't want him here there was only one other person who could have persuaded him.
Stannis' gaze hardened. "What I do and why I do it, is of no concern of yours."
"I'm sorry, Your Grace," Jon stated coldly. "I believe it is. Why would she want me here?"
Jon watched as Stannis' jaw twitched, a frown marring his features in thought. "She saw you in her fires. She warned me that you would be in grave danger had you stayed at the Wall."
Jon stared at him in disbelief, his anger increasing with every passing moment. "What did she see in her fires?"
Stannis glared at him, clearly displeased with what he was asked to convey. "She saw skulls surrounding you. She saw your death."
Had he been in a better mood, Jon would have laughed. Instead, he bowed his head and said curtly. "I request your leave, Your Grace."
Stannis waited until Jon had turned before he spoke again. "I know what you're thinking, Lord Snow. Her fires never lie. It would do you service to trust in what she sees."
Jon turned to face him. "All men die, Your Grace. I do not fear it."
"A man who dies for his cause never does," Stannis said gravely. "I would not have brought you here had she not told me something else. She said that there would be something here that would change your mind, something that would cause you to swear fealty to me and claim the name of Stark." His gaze narrowed. "Tell me, was she wrong?"
Jon stiffened. "There is nothing that could change my mind, Your Grace." With a quick bow, he said once again, "I request your leave, Sire." Stannis nodded and Jon left intending to leave the Vale at first light.
Jon found Sam just as he was leaving his bedchamber, a book under each arm and a happy smile on his face. The moment Jon finished telling Sam to collect his things, his smile had fallen.
Sam protested, and with confusion marring his feature followed Jon to his own bedchamber. Sam watched as Jon proceeded to collect his own things and after further pressing the issue, Jon told him what Baelish had said, but not a word as to what Stannis had admitted.
"I already made arrangements. Mya will be up here by first light and we can begin are descent. We will travel together as far as we can before we go in different directions: you to Oldtown and me to Castle Black." At Sam's expression, he paused. "What is it?"
His friend looked at him hopefully. "I… I thought you were joking."
Sam shifted from one foot to the other nervously. "About Oldtown. I can't become a maester, Jon. I can't. I get scared when I see blood and bones. My… My father always said that I was useless…"
Jon's expression softened. "I would not ask you to do something if I didn't think you could do it, Sam."
"But I can't do it."
"Yes, you can."
"What about Pyp? Pyp could be a great healer…"
"Or Grenn," Sam continued. "I know he doesn't seem like he would, but he doesn't shy away from blood."
Jon sighed. "Sam…"
"Or there is Cotter Pyke, Toad, even Edd would be a better choice. Any one of them would gladly become a maester."
Before Jon could say anything more a tentative knock on the door drew their attention. The door was pulled open and Sansa glanced at the two of them. "I was wondering why you were late and…" Her gaze fell on the pile of furs on the bed behind Jon and her brow furrowed. Glancing around her, she stepped inside the room and shut the door behind her.
Sam protested. "My lady, you shouldn't come into a room with two men. Your lord father—"
Her smile was affectionate. "It's fine, Sam. No one cares what a bastard girl does with her time." When her gaze met Jon's, her smile fell. "You're leaving?"
Jon faltered. In his rage, he hadn't thought of her as he should have. While he tried to find his voice, Sam spoke for him. "At first light."
"Oh." Her tone held sadness and caused Jon's chest to tighten. "I suppose your business has been completed, then."
"It's not completed, not yet." Jon tried to smile, but failed. "Stannis will stay. Sam and I have to leave."
Sansa glanced at them both, her expression confused. "Why?" she asked softly.
As Jon sought to say the right words, Sam spoke again. "Lord Baelish told him that—"
"Sam," Jon snapped in warning. He didn't want her to know. As far as he thought, it was none of her concern.
Sansa continued to look on them in confusion. "What did he say?"
As her eyes met his, Jon found that he couldn't look away, nor could he bring himself to say the words. Unluckily for him, Sam could easily find the words when Sansa's gaze met his.
"He told Jon that your lord father was not his father."
"Sam," Jon reprimanded, unable to believe that his loyal friend had switched his loyalty so easily.
Sam looked at him sheepishly with an apology in his eyes but Jon found Sansa's behaviour drew his attention more. She stood stiffly, her gaze away from his, and most importantly, she didn't look surprised.
Jon kept his eyes on her, suspicion creeping into his mind. "Go collect your things, Sam."
Sam nodded at them both before leaving hurriedly. Once they were alone, Jon asked the question that he had been asking himself.
"Does Baelish lie?"
She didn't look at him. "Always. About everything."
He should have felt better, but the fact that she wouldn't meet his eyes… "Is he lying about this?" he asked softly. Jon had convinced himself that he didn't want to know the answer, but a small part of him couldn't continue without the knowledge. The truth or falsity of what was told to him was something that he dearly wanted and didn't want to know.
She was silent for a while, her lips pursed in thought. "What did he tell you?"
Jon's jaw twitched. Her behaviour was sufficient for him to understand what she wasn't telling him; what she apparently knew. "He told me the story of a serving girl in Dorne."
"Rayla…" she said softly.
It felt like his chest had caved in and he couldn't breathe. "You know, then." When she didn't say a word, when she didn't deny it, his fingers curled into fists. Irrationally, he wanted to throw something against a wall and watch it break. He wanted to punch something until his knuckles bled. Instead, with his fingers flexing, he turned his back on her and continued to calmly put his things in order. A part of him clung to the thought that the story was untrue. A larger part of him dreaded that it was.
She circled around him to the other side of the bed and watched him silently, her fingers wringing nervously. "She was drunk with wine when she told me. I didn't know that he had heard her say it until he asked it of me after."
Jon stopped what he was doing to look up at her. "Is that why you said all of your family was dead?" As her eyes widened in panic, he looked away, a dry chuckle escaping him. "I don't know whether to believe it."
"Then don't," she said urgently. Sansa seated herself on the bed and leant towards him her tone pleading with him. "Don't believe it."
His smile fell as his gaze met hers. "Do you believe it?"
She faltered. "I don't know what to believe. She was so sure when she spoke of it. There would be no reason for her to lie to Alayne Stone."
With his shoulders slumping, he sat down on the part of the bed that wasn't covered in furs so he could face her. "I've always wanted to know who my mother was, what she was like," Jon said wistfully as he thought on memories long since forgotten. "I didn't think to wonder if my father was my father." Laughing bitterly, he rubbed his eyes to hold back the wave of anger he was feeling. "It would make sense. Everything he had ever told me about her, it didn't make sense before. I knew he loved her. I could sense it. Now I know why."
He looked up, almost forgetting that she was there. It was the first time she had said his name in years; at Winterfell his name had been 'Bastard', at the Eyrie it was 'Lord Commander'.
"It makes sense," he said again, his voice cold. "It makes sense to me now why you would talk to me; why you willingly spent your evenings with me and Sam. Had I been your bastard brother…" He couldn't bring himself to say it. All this time, he had thought that he was becoming friends with the half-sister who he had never been close to. What he was truly doing was becoming friends with someone who hadn't thought of him as her natural brother. Jon hated lies. He hated them more when it centred on him.
Sansa looked away from him, ashamed. "I was not good to you, I admit that. But you should not leave because of what he told you."
"You should have told me," he said, his tone accusing.
Sansa's face crumpled. "I didn't think it was important."
He eyed her warily. "Isn't it?"
Her lips parted to say more, but it was Sam's entrance that stopped her.
"You can't go to Castle Black," his friend said breathlessly as he burst through the door. "You can't, Jon."
Stannis. Jon sighed. "Sam…" He was in no mood to deal with such a trivial matter.
"She saw it in her fires. You can't go back there if she had seen it in her fires."
"Did Stannis speak to you?" That man was going to ruin him.
Before Sam could answer, Sansa asked softly, "Fires? I don't understand."
Sam turned towards her. "The red priestess saw Jon's death in the fires. If he goes back to the wall, he will die."
There were several things Jon contemplated at that moment; one was how to punch Sam without hurting him too hard.
"She sees what she wants to see," Jon said calmly, with reason. "It's no cause not to go back."
Sansa ignored him and looked at his friend. "Does it come true, what she sees in the fires?"
Sam nodded anxiously. "Always."
Jon's annoyance increased. "Go collect your things, Sam." His friend meant well, but he seemed to make things worse. When Sam looked to disobey him, Jon repeated his order in a tone that no one save for those under him had ever heard him speak. With a final half-hearted nod, Sam left. Jon knew this wasn't going to be the last he would hear of this. He also knew that Sam would not be going to Oldtown but accompany him back to the Wall with the ill-conceived belief of protecting him. Stannis had surely gone too far.
Once Sam left, he turned to Sansa. "You should leave." Jon stood up and began methodically folding the furs that he would wear at Castle Black once he journeyed north.
Sansa eyed him incredulously. "You're not going back, are you?"
"Everyone dies," Jon said, his voice hard. "What she sees in the fires is certain for all of us. I'm the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. I can't leave my men to die while I stay safely in the south."
"What she saw was certain death."
Jon paused, his eyes rising to hers. "Why do you care?"
Sansa's eyes widened as she stared at him. Jon regretted his words instantly. He hadn't meant it as a barb, but his words held bitterness that he had tried to hide, and feeling embarrassment, he went back to folding the clothing he had brought with him. Arya would have pulled the furs from his hand, tossed it at his head and said, "Of course I care, you stupid."
Sansa waited a while before her next words were said softly. "I shouldn't care, should I? If what Rayla said is true, we were never brother and sister."
Jon pursed his lips and continued his actions silently. Her words cut deeper than he would have cared to admit.
Sansa stood up from the bed and began moving towards him, her steps slow, her eyes only on him. "I care, Jon. I care more than I should."
With his heart considerably lighter, Jon stood up straighter, his breath pausing for a moment when he noticed how close she stood near him. He watched her intensely, waiting for her next words, as she raised a hand to delicately touch the scar on his cheek. The moment her fingers brushed his skin, he shivered. "You never told me what happened." Her eyes studied the grooves of the scar as her fingertips did the same. Her touch was feather-light, gentle, and Jon's breath hitched when she stepped so close that her chest brushed his.
"Eagle," Jon said softly, his voice sounding painfully loud in the silence of his bedchamber.
Her eyes met his briefly before she leant forward on her toes so that her lips could touch his scarred skin easily. Jon's eyes closed, his breath coming out hard at feeling such tenderness. He shivered further when her fingertips lightly brushed against the stubble of his cheek and jaw. But it was the feel of her warm breath on his lips that caused his eyes to open slowly and study hers. Tully blue eyes. So different from his own.
She was so close that he had the urge to touch her, to place a palm on her waist and pull her towards him. To bend down, bring his face closer to hers and…
"You asked me," she said softly, "whether I believe what was said." Her eyes met his. "I do." Her fingers lightly studied the contours of his cheek, her expression thoughtful as she moved her fingers along the line of his jaw. "You were never my brother." She seemed so much closer now, her body leaning against the length of his. Her eyes fell down to his mouth and it felt like he had been punched in his gut. The understanding of what she wanted caused him to raise his hand to her waist, whether to pull her or stop her, he still didn't know.
She leant forward, her gaze on his lips, and reflexively, Jon moved back. He didn't know if he wanted this. He didn't know if it was right. But when her eyes widened in panic and she began to pull away, the decision was made without thought. His lips met hers roughly and without preamble, his grip tightening on her and bringing her closer. She kissed him the way he kissed her, her lips parted easily under his while her fingers curled almost painfully in his hair. She tasted sweetly on his tongue, a mix of spiced wine and dates. It had been so long since he had had a woman's body pressed against him, even longer since he had touched naked skin with the length of his own. It was her hand on his breaches that gave him sense. He protested by pulling away and whispering her name, letting his lips graze her dark strands as his hand caught her wrist to stop her.
Before he could say another word, she breathed against his neck. "Take me with you, "she pleaded.
"I can't. Castle Black isn't safe."
He felt the light brush of lips against his neck. "Not to Castle Black, then. Somewhere else, somewhere safe."
He rubbed his scarred hand over her back to hold her close, a soft chuckle escaping him. "And if they find me, my head would be taken from my shoulders."
He felt her stiffen beside him before she pulled back to look in his eyes. "Is there no other way?" He was silent as a lone tear trailed down her cheek. "Please take me with you, Jon. You're all I have left. I've lost so much. Please don't let me lose you too."
He didn't want to give her an answer; not yet, not when he knew what his duty was. Jon touched her hair, dark, but kissed by fire. You know nothing, Jon Snow. He couldn't say the words he wanted to, so he kissed her, gently, passionately, and promised her his heart.
He hadn't taken her maidenhead as Sansa had expected. Instead, he comforted her as he laid her head upon his chest while they spoke of Winterfell and the north, of the Narrow Sea and the Free Cities that lay beyond it.
After his eyes had closed and his breathing slowed in slumber, Sansa watched the slow rise and fall of his chest in thought. She thought on days when her lord father had described Jon as his blood, but never as his son. She remembered doing her needlework with Jon and Robb laughing in the yard as they battled with practice swords. She recalled moments when Jon had looked away from her and passed her silently, ignoring her presence as she had requested, only to be tackled by Bran and Rickon a moment later. Sansa regretted many things in her life: the first was trusting the queen above her father, the second was not accepting the bastard born readily as her brother. He gave her comfort the way she hoped she could give him.
She brushed dark strands away from his face, a face weathered and hardened for his young years, before she touched her lips lightly to his cheek. She stood up slowly, leaving the comfort of his bed, for she was expected to go to another.
Petyr was waiting for her with spiced wine and an expectant expression on his face.
"It's done," Sansa said as she took the seat he offered.
Petyr smiled. "Well done, Sweetling." He handed her a cup of wine, a sip of which made Sansa's stomach turn.
Her expression caused him to pause. "Is that doubt I sense?"
"Not at all," she said with a sweet smile.
"Good." His grin widened. "Riverrun, the Vale, Winterfell…and soon you shall have the Seven Kingdoms."
Sansa looked at him cautiously. "Is it true what they say?"
"Oh yes, there is a Targaryen with three dragons. There is also a Targaryen with sellswords at his disposal. Once you cross the Narrow Sea, you shall be the one to unite them. And once they take the throne, there will only be one person who they would trust to be Hand." Petyr smiled. "You shall rule by me, Sweetling. I believe Seven Kingdoms will be a better gift than Winterfell."
Sansa met his smile with her own before sipping her cup of wine dutifully. She will do as he bid. She will take Jon and go to the Free Cities with gold in her hand, but she will not return. For so long she had wanted to be saved by a knight, and without meaning to, her cousin will be her saviour. He will be her black knight, and together, they will find her sister and piece together the broken fragments of her long lost family.