Here be BOOK/SHOW SPOILERS
Plot Summary: After an altercation with Lady Stark, something happens to Jon that forces Ned to face up to his painful history. How will the revelations affect Lady Stark and what does it mean for Jon's future? This is just a flight of fancy that wouldn't leave me alone. I hope people enjoy the story, anyway. Thank you.
Spoilers. R+L=J. Multiple PoV. Set about two years before the show/books, when Jon and Robb are roughly 12/13. Rickon hasn't yet been born. Apologies if there are errors with the timeline.
Chapter One: What the Eye Doesn't See.
They awoke before dawn, when the night still shrouded the castle in a stifling darkness. Darkness and silence, in which even the softest of sounds seemed to carry for miles. A mouse scurrying along the skirting boards, or an owl hooting from the branches that scraped against the windows of their bedchamber. But if Catelyn pressed her ear to Ned's chest, the sound of heartbeat was all she could hear. A steady, rhythmic beat that she could feel when she pressed the flat of her hand against his chest. Whenever she blinked, he could feel her eyelashes brushing against his bare skin. A small, familiar sensation that brought a rare smile to his lips when he remembered that he was not alone in this world. She was there, all the time; his Cat.
Not far from where they slowly came too, embers glowed red in the hearth to cast some relief to the night, but the heat was long gone. They both shivered simultaneously as the cold air rushed under the disturbed bedding as they shuffled closer to each other on the feather mattress. Catelyn winced, but Ned remained stoic – he was a Northman to the very sinew and seemingly impervious. Somewhere over her head, Ned stifled a yawn.
"Good morning," she whispered, her voice low and still heavy with sleep.
Still beyond coherent words, Ned responded by placing one hand on her head and running his fingers through her hair. She didn't mind the occasional snagging knot as she stretched her head upwards to kiss his jawline. Lips brushing against rough stubble which she hoped might have some magical effect and restore some life to him. But even in the semi-darkness, she could see his eyelids drooping closed again.
"Ned," she said. "You can't go back to sleep-"
"I am the Lord of Winterfell," he cut her off with a lilt of amusement in his voice.
"Exactly," she agreed. "Duty must call."
She would that they could stay like that forever. But the heavy sigh that left his lips signalled that he too remembered what day it was. Or rather, that he had to be taken away from the Castle to attend matters farther north. Some business with the small folk that would occupy him until long past nightfall. Although she knew it was futile, she launched an attempt to dissuade him all the same.
"Must it be you who goes? Can't someone else do it?"
"I can't delegate being Warden of the North, Cat."
It was lonely at the top, Catelyn realised that. But it didn't stop her from breathing a small sigh of resignation. It would have been the same had she married Brandon Stark; duty would have come first and she would be the one manning the ship of Winterfell in her husband's absence. By the Old Gods and the New, she had sworn her love to Eddard, and love him she did. Perhaps not at first, but the bond between them had grown steadfast. Love followed, not long after.
"Are you taking the boys with you?" she asked, thinking of one in particular.
"If by 'boys' you mean Jon; no I'm not. He's staying here with Rodrik and you probably won't even notice him."
Catelyn was grateful for the poor light for it hid her blushes, if not the fact that Ned's hackles had been raised.
"I certainly didn't mean it in that way," she protested, feebly. "A chance for you to spend some time together without me getting in the way."
Or rather, where she would not have to see them together. What the eye doesn't see the heart cannot grieve.
Ned startled her by suddenly rolling out of bed and covering himself with a fur lined cloak. She could tell by his hurried, jerky movements that his annoyance was growing. Every single conversation they had that began with Jon Snow ended with a picture like this. Her ashamed and angry in equal measure, and Ned silent and stormy in equal measure with both of them several feet apart. Neither of them ever gained any ground; victory for one side or the other remained as distant as ever. It was nothing more than an open wound that seemed to suppurate at will.
Ned turned sharply on his heels, looking at her through the pale dawn light that now filtered through the shutters. She could see the exasperation clear in his dark grey eyes.
"Even if you do cross paths with the boy, can't you just show him a little kindness? No one's asking you to make him Robb's equal. No one's asking you to curtsey to him. Just show a little kindness."
Catelyn sat up in bed and drew her knees up to her chest, one hand kneading a knot of tension at the bridge of her nose. They all made it sound so simple, as though her emotions were a faucet that she could switch on and off at will. But they were not the ones who had to look in that child's eyes and see their own fears and the ghost of a betrayal looking back at them. They were not the ones who had spent the best part of a year kneeling in the Sept until their knees were raw and their backs ached, praying for their husband's safe return from war; only to find that he had spent that time humping some unknown, doe-eyed little whore who didn't even have the decency to live beyond the moment she had whelped his bastard child. To compound matters, when she wanted nothing to do with the child, it was as though she were the one who had broken her vows. All without so much as a word of explanation as to the identity of the child's mother. With that in mind, she responded with how she truly felt.
"I have never been anything but 'kind' to … the boy."
She wanted to leave him out in the woods for the wolves to finish off. Compared to that, she really had been kind to him.
Ned's shoulders slumped as he sat back down on the edge of the bed. Never one to part ways with his wife on a sour note, he closed off the conversation by planting a kiss on her forehead.
"That's all I ask," he concluded.
By the time the sun had fully risen, the children were lined up outside the Keep of Winterfell. Robb at the head of them, with Maester Luwin taking charge of Bran. Septa Mordane just about had Arya under control, while Sansa stood pretty and demure at her other side. Already, Catelyn believed her eldest daughter was shaping up to be the natural beauty of the family; while Arya and Bran all inherited the Stark's northern appearance. Robb was Tully, too. But offset with his father's quiet manners and sense of duty. He was her firstborn; her pride and joy.
Catelyn watched them all proudly as each exchanged a quiet word and a kiss with their father as they waved him off. Finally, Ned reached her. His hands came to rest on her hips as their foreheads gently bumped together, leaning in close enough to kiss. The smell of his damp furs already filled her nostrils, a heady scent of horse and hay from his Destrier beside which they were now stood. When he raised his head again, he looked her in the eye, grey locking into green as one hand brushed a loose strand of auburn hair from her face. Already, the younger children were being ushered inside before they caught their deaths from the cold, leaving them as good as alone.
"Take care," said Ned, one gloved hand resting against her jaw.
Catelyn managed to smile. "You too, husband. We will all be here to greet you when you get back."
After one final kiss, he mounted his horse and prodded his spurs into the beast's flanks. Their Captain of the Guard, Jory Cassel, led the way, with squires and retainers following to form a sizeable procession heading towards the rising portcullis. Slowly, they departed and she watched them all as they went. As the last horse ambled past, her view of the opposite side of the forecourt was cleared, revealing Jon Snow himself. A lean boy, but not tall; pale with hair so dark it was almost ebony and a mess of curls unlike anything she had seen on anyone. Just like his mother? Possibly. His dark eyes trained on hers; they regarded each other from that distance. His expression unreadable, but she could almost sense the silent pleading there. A forlorn appeal, always directed at her. It was something she could not bear to look at, and that morning was no exception. Even with Ned's words echoing in her head, she had to turn her back and walk away.
Loose tendrils of damp hair had fallen into Jon's eyes, blown there by the cold Northern winds. By the time he had pushed them back with one hand, Lady Stark was already on her way inside. For a moment, he watched her back reclining from view. As loath as he was to admit it, her mere presence was still enough to send a cold thrill of sickening dread down his spine. Often, it wasn't what she said, but what she left unsaid. That cold look in her eyes; the grim set of her jaw as she looked down at him. The aura of utter contempt she exuded when his base-born presence accidentally shifted into her orbit. She was the great leveller in his life for when he got too happy at the bosom of the family, or too secure in himself. He knew he could rely on her to set him back in his place with one withering glance. Worst of all, was watching her with her own children. The way she cared, the way she embraced them when they fell and caressed their tears away. She was a loving mother, with a heart fit to burst. But that was them, and he had no choice other than to be himself. A blight on her family that stained the honour of House Stark.
He listened to the sound of his father's horse's hoof falls fading into the distance, feeling like his last layer of safety had been peeled away.
Wrapping his furs a little tighter around his shoulders, he turned his own back and directed himself into the bitter wind. From the corner of his eye, he could see Theon Greyjoy catching up with Robb as they made their way towards the yard where Rodrik Cassel was waiting to begin the day's training. When they drew level with each other, Robb put out one hand to stop Theon and nodded in his direction. Jon finally raised a smile as their gaze met across the yard.
"Jon!" Robb called over, one hand cupped round his mouth. "Hurry up! We'll be late!"
Jon's smile widened into a grin as he broke into a sudden run to catch his brother up. When they met, Robb threw a protective arm around Jon's shoulders, before steering him off towards the yard. Along the way, they chatted excitedly about the lesson ahead. Rodrik was the Uncle of their Captain of the Guard, and had been at Winterfell far longer than any of them had been alive. He had trained their deceased Uncle Brandon, their father and other Uncle, Benjen. According to rumour, even their late Aunt, Lyanna, had taken lessons from Rodrik, in the strictest of secrecy, of course. Now, it was their turn to receive the benefits of Rodrik's wisdom as they made the transition from boys to men grown.
"When I'm done here, I'm joining the Night's Watch," Jon stated, as they rounded the North Tower towards the spot where Rodrik was waiting.
Robb almost choked on his own protest. "You can't!"
"Great," opined Theon, smirking that smirk he always wore. "You're off to join the hail of human mincemeat beyond the wall. Good luck, Snow."
Robb responded by digging his elbow into Theon's ribs. "Leave off him, you." However, he turned back to Jon with that look on his face. The one he wore when he may have disagreed with the method of Theon's imparting of wisdom, but concurred with the general gist of it. "He's right, though. You'll be killed up there. Stay here with us. We're your family, whatever mother says."
How dearly Jon wished that were true. But the thought of spending the rest of his life treading on eggshells around Catelyn Tully was enough for his will to live to slowly seep through the pores of his skin. Progression in the conversation was mercifully circumvented by Rodrik chivvying them along impatiently. Already, he had their wooden swords propped against the perimeter fence, waiting for them.
It was cold and getting colder, the moment they picked up their practise swords they launched straight into the session just to keep warm. Theon who, at seventeen was four years their senior, had already progressed onto a steel sword and parried with Rodrik, demonstrating to Jon and his brother how it should be done. They kept going until the cold conspired with their exertions and made every muscle ache with the effort. When they did stop, they retreated swiftly beneath the nearest shelter to escape the beginnings of snow shower, just beginning to drift down from above. Theon and Robb instantly fell into idle chatter about technique and method. It wasn't that they consciously froze Jon out, he intentionally drifted to the side lines, where he could think more clearly and gather his own thoughts.
It wasn't long until his thirteenth name day, and the sense that time was running out weighed heavily on him. He couldn't imagine Lady Stark tolerating his presence in Winterfell a moment longer than necessary. As soon as he hit adulthood, he knew he would be out on his ear and where else could he go, but the wall? He breathed a deep sigh and looked out over the yard and forecourt of Winterfell, feeling once more like the uninvited guest who had stayed until the end of the party.
"While you're looking so comfortable there, Snow, why don't you take this over to Mikken's?"
Rodrik's voice, soon joined by Theon and Robb's hastily stifled laughter, jolted Jon out of his reverie. He turned round and was met instantly with a large, heavy pail of water and a newly refined hammer, which he frowned at incredulously.
"Mikken?" he asked. "It's only water-"
"For the forge! Their pipe burst, so he needs to come here for water until its mended," Rodrik retorted. "Get a move on and save the man a journey."
Resigned to his onerous chore, Jon secured his grip on the pail while Rodrik slipped the hammer into the pocket of his cloak. It felt as heavy as a lead weight and pulled the material clear of his left shoulder so that one hem trailed the ground as he trudged across the yard. The bucket felt as like it was slowly teasing his arms out of their own shoulder sockets and he had to walk leaning backwards to avoid losing balance and stumbling forwards. But despite his best efforts, he lost balance anyway.
Just as he rounded the corner to head for the forge, he collided with something solid. He put out one foot to try and stop his fall, but only succeeded in tripping over the hem of his cloak and falling flat on someone else's face, hurling the water all over them as he went down. When his head stopped spinning, he looked into the face of the person he had collided with, and the breath hitched in his throat.
All round them people had begun to notice his accident. Some stopped what they were doing and were now openly gawping over at them. But it wasn't until someone snorted laughter that Catelyn suddenly got hold of her wits. Her face contorted with fury, turning beet red as, moments later, a blow caught Jon across the right cheek. The slap ringing out and the sharp stinging causing him to recoil so fast that as he tried to stand, he only succeeding in falling again. But he managed to twist his body so that he fell away from Lady Stark.
"You stupid, stupid child!" she spat him, furiously.
Uneasy in the knowledge that he was about to be flayed alive, Jon staggered back to his feet. Meanwhile, Rodrik had come running from the yard to see what the commotion was all about. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw them both, Lady Stark drenched and Jon nursing a slapped face, the bucket dropped at their feet with Jon's cloak now pulled clean off and lying in a dirty puddle. After taking a moment to register what he was seeing, Rodrik rushed to help Lady Stark up off the ground – something Jon had been too stunned to do. But the Lady was already back on her feet, and fixing Jon in a deathly glare as she swooped down on him.
"Go easy on the boy, My Lady, it was an accident-"
But Rodrik's appeals for clemency fell on deaf ears as she clutched as the scruff of Jon's neck and shoved him back towards the Castle. Jon's heartbeat was hammering painfully against his ribs as the full measure of the trouble he had gotten himself into was slowly revealed to him. But Rodrik was following close behind, still trying to explain the situation and intercede on Jon's behalf.
"I really should have known it would be too heavy for the boy, My Lady … he was only following orders…"
But as soon as they reached the Castle, Jon found himself being frog marched into the Great Hall. All the servants stopped to stare, making him feel even smaller as Lady Stark delivered another sharp nudge between his shoulders, keeping him moving. Once inside, Lady Stark dismissed the servants with a series of angry commands that made even Jon flinch although they were not directed at him. Her wet clothes were freezing her, however. She paced the floor rapidly, scolding him as she went and berating his clumsiness and shivering like a dying leaf in a storm. When she stopped, she glared from Rodrik, to Jon and back again.
"You keep him here," she commanded. "I'll back to deal with him properly, later."
They watched her leave, listened to the sound of her footsteps receding down the corridor outside. Alone together, Jon still made no attempt at conversation. The dread of whatever punishment she had in store for him choked the words before he had a chance to form them. Loath to show such cowardice, Jon sat at one of the lower tables quietly, trying to keep his roiling emotions under control. But his mind was racing ten to the dozen, so much so that he didn't notice Rodrik hauling his cloak off and throwing it round his own shoulders.
"The Servant's door," he said, pulling Jon to his feet.
"Your father will be back soon and I will personally explain what happened and why," explained Rodrik, now steering him towards the door. "Wait in Mikken's forge for your father to come home; leave Lady Stark to me. Go on now."
Relief washed over Jon, causing him to almost fall over again. "But what about-"
"Don't worry about it," Rodrik cut over him. "Your father will understand what happened and why I let you go. He'll make peace again."
Still, Jon dithered. "Thank you-"
"Get on with you, boy!"
Without wasting another second, Jon wrapped himself up properly in Rodrik's cloak before slipping through the servants door with Rodrik promptly closed behind him. Down the stairs and through the small network of passageways that no one except household staff used, Jon didn't stop until he reached the outdoors again. Even then, he didn't stop. Mikken's forge was nearby, but seizing an opportunity to slip beyond the Castle walls opened up to he as a supply wagon ambled through the postern gate in the curtain wall. All he had to do was slip past the guards while they were busy with the tradesmen and take shelter beside the fortifications. Out of sight of everyone else, it was where he could finally indulge in the tears that had been threatening to overwhelm him since the incident happened.
Underneath it all, Catelyn knew she was being unreasonable. She had always said she would never strike her own children in anger; but Ned's bastard was not her child. But her fury was such that her hands shook as she changed her clothes; she relived the humiliating fall over and over and the sickening feeling of having that Bastard sprawled all over her. When her dry clothes were in place and fitted properly, she stopped and tried to calm herself down. It had been an accident. But he had still been a klutz. She could leave it to his father to punish him, but Ned never did. They all felt so sorry for him because he had no mother and she, Catelyn, was always so cold to him. No, his sympathy card had expired.
But by the time she reached the hall, finding Rodrik alone, any ebbing of temper was stilled.
"Where is he?" she demanded.
Rodrik shrugged, leaning against the back of a chair casually. "Look's like he ran off, M'Lady! I tried to catch 'im, but you know how fast they are at that age and I'm not as young as I once was."
Horsehit, was Catelyn's first reaction. But she couldn't come out and call the man a liar. She let herself fall to one of the benches at the lower table, directly across from Rodrik and ran a hand through her hair. Defeated, she hadn't got in her to start falling out with her own household staff. "Let him stew in his own juices," she said, sourly. "He can't hide forever."
Thank you for reading. Apologies if there are errors with timeline etc. Reviews would be great if you have a moment.