AN: Holy crap, this was supposed to be out Wednesday. I totally spaced. Anyway, thank you all for favoriting and leaving comments! Enjoy!
Their ship left Dragonstone the next day, all three Starks, a Snow, three direwolves, ex-commander of the Kingsguard, and a Lannister prisoner in tow. Ser Davos had offered to sail them, as he insisted he was the best sailor on the island. Jon didn't have the heart to decline the offer, and found himself glad to keep the mans company as they sailed north.
They had docked some days ago now and were riding towards Winterfell. They hadn't sent raven in fear of one of Cersei's spies intercepting it and sending men after them. They didn't like it, but they agreed it was for the best. And thus the five of them rode across the moors and through the forests of the north, three horses between them and with scarce provisions so as to remain inconspicuous. But despite the precautions, it had been a miserable journey.
The harsh northern winds buffeted the party of five as they rode over the hilly landscape. Jon's cloak was wrapped tight around him, months of staying in Kings Landing having deterred his immunity to the cold. Not so much as Ser Barristan's though, who lips were turning only the faintest hints of blue. Even though he refused to acknowledge it.
They had been riding for almost nine days now since leaving White Harbor. House Manderly had been very generous and welcoming to them and promised they would not send word of Lord Stark's arrival, knowing they would be marked enemies of the crown if they did. Despite that, they still offered to keep Jaime Lannister in their cells until Winterfell could send a transport to fetch him. Because even with Barristan Selmy and the Warden if the North, Jon didn't have faith that they would have managed to keep him long.
As they continued on, Jon wished they could have at least sent a raven or a rider to Winterfell, but the risk was too great. So instead they accepted the horses and gear and rode towards the seat of house Stark themselves. They didn't even have a carriage.
It had been eight days of Jon astride a horse, listening to Sansa's mild complaining and accidently slipping into Ghost's skin. The first time he'd done it he'd fallen off his horse and worried everyone for half an hour before he managed to get back to himself. After that, he made sure to only do it at night or when they were resting the horses. But even then it wasn't a sure thing. Warging wasn't easy to master.
Suddenly, the crested a hill, and the great keep of Winterfell stood solemnly in front of them. It's stone towers rose into the sky like sentinels, banners fluttering in the breeze welcomingly. But that wasn't all Jon saw. There were rows upon rows of tents pitched around the keep and Winter town. Banners from all over the north flew proudly above each house.
Robb must have called the banners.
"We're home," someone said from behind. Jon turned in his saddle to see Arya and Sansa's chestnut trot up to him, Arya beaming in excitement.
"Aye, that we are," he agreed with forced smile. In truth he had been trying not to think of it. Yes he was excited to be home, but being home meant facing his brothers, who were really his cousins, and Lady Catelyn. He had discussed with Lord Stark about what to tell them and had eventually decided on the truth. But it was easier said than done. The prospect of telling Robb that they didn't share a father was harder to face than he thought.
"Who do you think will be more excited to see us," Arya continued. "Bran or Robb?"
"Rickon," he japed, a humorous glint in his eye. "Definitely."
"He's three!" Arya cried incredulously, laughing. "I doubt he even knew we left."
"Well even if he's not excited to see us," Sansa cut in. "I will be thrilled to see him." Beside their horse, Lady let out a high pitched bark in agreement.
All three of them laughed good naturedly at that before Sansa and Arya's horse started off again, leaving Jon behind, his smile fading as he remembered what awaited him down in the keep.
"We don't have to tell them if you don't want," Lord Stark's voice sounded behind him. Jon didn't look back as he responded.
"It's not what I want, it's what honor demands." He didn't have to see him to know Lord Stark winced. It was the honorable thing to do, to tell the truth of where he'd come from. But Lord Stark had neglected him that right his whole life. He couldn't help being a little petty because of it, even though they'd settled things.
"It's still your choice," he reasoned.
"I know," he managed. "But they deserve to know. Even if I wish I didn't."
Jon saw Lord Stark cast him a sorrowful look out of the corner of his eye.
"We should get going," he muttered, looking away. "I know Robb is missing us. The sooner we arrive the better." And with that, he spurred his horse into a gallop down the hillside towards the keep and his waiting family.
Riding through Wintertown in and of itself was a challenge. The streets were crowded with smallfolk and bannermen. People dressed in rich furs and armor intermingled with people carrying woven baskets, trading conversation and exchanging money for goods. If nothing else, war was good for the economy. For now.
It was a miracle they didn't get recognised as they made their way towards the keep. Perhaps it the crowds, or perhaps it was because no one was looking for them. Either way, they made it in relatively good time.
The gates of Winterfell were much more heavily armed than when Jon had left. And for good reason. House Stark had officially declared itself enemies of the crown. The risk of someone trying to get in and kill one of their house was too great. Extra protection made sense.
"Who goes there?" A guard called down from atop the portcullis.
"Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell and his two daughters," Lord Stark called back, much to the surprise of the guard. From down on the ground, Jon saw the man's eyes widen before narrowing in suspicion, searching their party carefully.
"And the other two?" He called back anyway, eyeing Jon and Ser Barristan.
"Jon Snow and Ser Barristan Selmy of the Kingsguard," Lord Stark called back.
"What's a member of the fucking Kingsguard doin' up here?"
Under his breath, Jon muttered, "Minding his own damn business." He received an elbow in the ribs and a glare from the knight in response.
"He is here at my behest," was Lord Stark's response. "Now let us in so I can see my family."
"Wait here and I'll get Lord Robb," the guard responded, still eyeing them warily. "He can confirm you are who you say you are." And with that he disappeared.
As soon as he was out of sight, Arya let out a scoff. "How could he not recognize you?" She asked, turning to her father.
In response, he let out a great sigh. "With all the lords and the men coming in from all across the north, it's not a stretch to say Robb would have had to expand the household guard. We might be seeing many new faces around the keep now."
Jon grunted in agreement.
Minutes later, there were muffled shouts beyond the wall and suddenly the gate was lifted, allowing them entrance. Jon wasted no time before he trot through them, finally home.
The courtyard, which he hadn't seen since the night he'd left, was bustling with activity. True to his uncle's words, there were many new faces milling about. Both in the household guard and as simple workers. He saw a young girl help tote hay to the stables, and watched an elderly man help buff out armor near the blacksmith. Many new faces indeed.
But still, it was good to finally be home.
"Father!" Jon turned to see Robb, standing in the courtyard, gaping at them. It was as if he could hardly believe his eyes. Or as if he were looking at a ghost. Either was an apt description to how Robb looked.
"Robb," Ned breathed in relief, seeing his son. It only took a moment t for them to collect themselves before launching into the other's arms.
"Father, I was so worried," Robb said into his lord father's shoulder as he clinch to him. "I thought you had- that Cersei-"
"It's alright, I'm here now."
The two clung to each other for just a few moments longer before Robb remembered himself and pulled apart.
"Well, we should get you inside," Robb rushed, remembering his manners. "I'll have hot meals prepared, and, and anything else you need."
"I think we would all like that very much," Lord Stark smiled.
The six of them had gathered in the great hall, all congregated around the head table. Arya was stuffing her face with everything she could find, occasionally "dropping" scraps onto the floor Nymeria to eat. Sansa also had forgotten her manners. Well, not nearly as badly as Arya, but the girl was much less proper compared to her usual self. She hadn't even bothered unfolding her table cloth. Meanwhile, Jon, Ser Barristan, and Lord Stark had hardly their meals while they filled Robb in on all that had happened since Cersei called for their arrest.
"You managed to capture Jaime Lannister?" Robb gawked, staring open-mouthed at Jon. Jon could only manage a humbling shrug in return.
"Wait, wait, wait," Robb said, holding his hand up. "You said Jaime Lannister was the one who pushed Bran out of the window, correct?"
Jon had told him about his "hunch" earlier on in the story, so he nodded to show he was correct.
"Then why isn't he dead?" Robb demanded, gritting his teeth. "He tried to kill Bran!"
"And if Jon had killed him he would have surely started a war," Lord Stark cut in calmly, diffusing the tension. "You can hate the man as much as you want, but you're a Lord now, Robb. You must think about these things logically."
Robb seemed to mue it over for a moment before sitting back with a huff. Jon always envied how cool and collected his half-brother was. Especially when it came to matters of state. But apparently even he could still act like the teenager he really was. Like they both were.
"Do you understand, Robb?" Lord Stark pressed.
"Yes," he insisted grudgingly. "I understand."
It was at that moment that the doors to the hall were flung open and Catelyn Stark herself flew in like a summer storm.
"Robb, is it true, is-" she had started to demand, but stopped when her eyes landed on her husband. Her face then crumpled into painful relief, tears springing into her eyes.
"Ned," she gasped. Immediately Lord Stark was on his feet and rushing to greet his wife. The two met in the middle to exchange a passionate kiss. It was tender and heartwarming, but at the same time, incredibly uncomfortable.
"Mother!" Arya gasped, appalled. Hearing her daughters words, Lady Stark broke apart from her husband and saw her children, eyes watering even more at the sight of them safe and sound.
"Oh Arya, Sasna, come here my darlings." Despite seeing their parents sharing a passionate moment just a moment ago, the two girls eagerly jumped up to meet their mother in a large hug. At this point Jon had gotten up from the table, sensing it was time for him to leave the room. Robb had followed suit, sensing the same thing from Jon. Before he could make any moves to leave however, Catelyn caught sight of him.
"And what is he doing back here?" Catelyn spat, glowering at him. At her side, Arya let out a frustrated huff, but was silenced by Sansa. Jon's hands balled up into fists at his side, but aside from that he remained neutral. "You vanished in the night months ago. Only to turn up back here telling us some impossible story about visions and three eyes birds?"
"Catelyn," Ned gasped.
"You have no place here," Catelyn continued, ignoring both her angering husband and unsettled children, all of whom were all arching the exchange with worried looks. "We were happy with you gone!" She spoke as if her words would have an affect on Jon. Like they would make him go running off crying like they used to.
"I am no longer the boy who cowers under your gaze, Lady Stark," he said harshly, meeting her steely blue eyes with his own. "That boy disappeared the night I left Winterfell."
"If only you had stayed away," she hissed in response. Jon felt the anger rise up in him, but he kept his mouth firmly shut. He didn't owe her an explanation or an excuse. She had no right to treat him this way. She never had.
"I think what she means to say, Jon," Robb cut in, trying to defuse the situation. "Is that we're all glad you left to help father and the girls."
"That's not what she meant and you know it."
"Enough!" The sound of Lord Stark's voice echoed through the hall, successfully silencing them all and demanding his attention. "We've all had a rough few weeks," he said, gaze sweeping over all of them. "What we all need is some rest. We can reconvene after that and discuss things then at more length. Alright?" Despite his phrasing, his tone suggested no room for movement, and that he was set on his request.
"Of course father," Robb said quickly. Noticing Jon's lack of response, Ned turned to him with a wary look.
"Aye," he spit out. "I suppose we're all tired."
He didn't look as Lord Stark's shoulders slumped slightly in either defeat or exhaustion as all his brood slowly started making their way out of the hall and towards their designated quarters.
"You should take Ser Barristan," he suggested.
"No need," Jon said. "I know the way."