AN: Okay so, that took longer than expected... Anyways, this I believe is my longest chapter to date, but only because I had to fit so many scenes in it. I hope you guys all like it. As always, thank you to everyone who favorited and commented, I appreciate them so much! Enjoy!
"That was uncalled for," Ned growled at his wife, nearly slamming the door behind him as he followed her into their chambers. He hadn't said anything in the hall when she'd attacked his nephew, but now he had plenty to say. And as much as he loved his wife, it was hard to keep his temper in check at the moment.
"What would you have had me do instead," she countered. "Welcome him back with open arms? I have never loved him. I've only tolerated him for your sake, my love." Her voice was strained with the barest hint of withheld venom, face contorted in a deep scowl. She was trying to refrain from blowing up at him, but she was barely holding it together.
"Decency would have been appreciated," Ned shot back.
Catelyn merely scoffed in response.
Heat rose in Ned's chest, anger making him clench his fists. How could his wife still be so heartless about Jon? He had never expected her to love him like her own. But this was outrages. Yes perhaps she had the excuse of being strained as of late, but still. It was an unfounded excuse to treat his nephew like she just had.
"He's the reason I'm even standing here now," he explained, voice straining to remain level. "Why Arya and Sansa are here and not back in King's Landing under the Lannister's control! Without him, I could very well be dead."
A pregnant pause filled their chambers after his proclamation. The only sound between them was he crackling of the fire in the hearth. Across from him, Catelyn's scowl had deepened, hands fisted around her shawl so tight her knuckles had turned white. She looked pensive, and at the same time frustrated. Like she was conflicted with what she knew and what she felt. For all he knew she very well could be.
"Is that so?" She finally asked, voice tight.
"Aye," he confirmed. "It is."
Catelyn shifted where she stood before finally sitting down on the bed. She was still clutching her shawl fiercely, mouth a thin line across her face. Ned could see the lines of stress that had formed on her face that hadn't been there when he'd left. Or perhaps he just didn't remember them. She seemed more frail than before, as well. Stretched thin from the events of the past few weeks.
"How?" She finally asked, voice dull.
"When Cersei ordered my arrest, he and Ser Barristan got the girls and escaped to Dragonstone before coming back for me. He and a few men broke into the black cells and we managed to get away."
Catelyn hummed absently, eye's distant as she muled her husband's words over. It was silent for a long time while she processed it, in which Ned offered nothing further, except to sit at her side.
"Did you know Cersei never even sent a raven explaining why you were arrested," she finally said. She wasn't looking at him, but Ned saw her eyes were staring past the wall ahead of her. Distant and unfocused. "Or perhaps she did and Robb never told me. But whatever it was, I knew you were innocent. I couldn't fathom anything you would do that would warrant you betraying the crown."
She looked down at her lap, eyes glistening with unshed tears. Ned knew he should say something. Comfort her, give her an explanation, anything. But his mouth remained abstonetly shut, no words offering themselves to him.
"Tomorrow, my love," was all he managed. "We all need rest."
And that was that.
The next day brought about a chill in the air. Summer was truly over, and in its stead came biting winds and the promise of snow. A frost had settled over the grounds during the night, and bit at any fool who bothered to step outside without the proper attire to combat such weather.
But while it was cold outside, the inside of the keep remained nice and warm. Since it was built over a natural hot spring, Winterfell was never truly a cold place. Jon was reminded of that bit of information as he prepared for the day in his chambers, deciding to forgo his cloak as he was only headed to the kitchens to break his fast.
As he made his way through the keep, he was surprised to find it rather empty. Perhaps he was just used to getting up earlier in the capital. The sun rose earlier down there and stayed in the sky longer. He was sure if he had asked a maester they would have a scientific explanation, but as it was, he hadn't.
The halls remained empty as he made his way down to the kitchens. Lucky for him, it seemed they were already bustling with early morning cooking. Well, perhaps bustling wasn't the right word, but they were filled with kitchen staff going about their business, baking bread for the day and tenderizing meat on the counters.
One of the girls looked up from kneading dough and spotted him, her face splitting into a warm smile.
"Jon," she said. "I'd heard you come back, I didn't expect to see you so soon."
The girl, Myra, was around his age and had started working in the kitchens a few years ago after her mother had passed away. She had been the previous kitchen maid, and so Myra had taken up the role in her stead. She was quite good at it too, often giving Jon extra helpings of a meal, or sneaking him a role from time to time. She hadn't cared in the least about his status as a bastard, as others might have. It was for these reasons Jon liked her, and why he as well broke out into a grin at the sight of her.
"Myra," he smiled, strolling up to her. "It's good to see you."
"And you too, Snow," she said. Then her smile slipped, a shadow passing over her face. "I honestly wasn't sure if I'd ever see you again," she admitted. "The rumors of what had happened down in the capital were pretty scary. Most of us thought you all were dead, or worse."
Jon sighed. He didn't know what kinds of rumors kitchen staff and maids were spreading, but he could be sure they weren't good.
"Well, we're back now," he said, forcing a smile onto his face. "So you don't have to worry."
Her expression softened. Not quite smiling again, but not as dower as before. "Well that's good," she sighed. Then, brightening somewhat, added, "Besides, I wouldn't know what to do with all these extra roles if you weren't!"
"How about give them all to me so I can finally break my fast," he joked. Myra rolled her eyes but did so anyway.
"I swear, you'll get me in trouble some day, Snow," she chuckled, handing him his plate, now loaded with cheese, bread, and fruit.
He just smiled and took it, shooting her one last grin before disappearing back into the lonely halls.
Only once he back in the safety of his room did he let his mind wander to the fight last night. Perhaps he hadn't acted very mature, but neither had Lady Stark. She had no right to say those things. Especially after everything he had done for this family.
But she doesn't know about it yet, he thought grudgingly. Because we haven't yet told her.
But still, what was he to tell? That Bran from the future was sending him visions? That he was Lyanna and Rhaegar's son? That he helped save all the Starks in King's Landing? There were too many aspects to consider, and it was all giving him a headache.
He'd already settled on telling everyone of his rescue of Lord Stark. That was just a given, but the other things… If it came to light, it would change how everyone saw him. And he didn't know if he wanted that. Arya wouldn't be his little sister anymore. She'd be his cousin. The same with Robb, Sansa, Bran, and Rickon. Perhaps that was already the case in his mind, but speaking it aloud seemed to make it real, and some part of him still wanted to deny it.
But they deserve to know, he thought to himself, resigned. There should be no more secrets between family. That's what got us into this mess in the first place.
Stealing himself, he threw himself off his bed and headed to the door. His breakfast had long since been finished and the plate rested on his desk. Ignoring it, he threw the door open and headed out, aiming for his uncles solar, Ghost trotting at his heels. He knew what he had to do.
"Are you sure about this?" Lord Stark asked once again, grey eyes looking searchingly into his own. Jon nodded. He'd already made his decision.
"Alright, I'll bring them in." And with that, his uncle got up to get the rest of the Starks, leaving Jon alone in the Solar. A fire crackled faintly in the hearth, offering some comforting white noise while Jon mulled over his decision. He was going to tell them the truth. All of it.
He didn't necessarily like it; but it had to happen, he understood that. But still…
"Am I doing the right thing, Ghost?" He asked aloud, looking over to his direwolf. As always, the beast remained silent, instead fixing him with unsettlingly intelligent wine-red eyes. Glancing down, Jon noted the bandage on his paw would need replacing soon, the fabric having turned brown in the few days it hadn't been replaced. Jon still felt awful about the paw, but it had been a necessary sacrifice. A bad one, but necessary.
A clattering in the hallway brought his attention back to the matter at hand, and he was soon faced with the sight of Robb, Lady Stark, Sansa, Arya, and his uncle entering the room. Suddenly the air felt a lot thicker.
"Jon," Robb said, taking a seat in of the empty chairs. "What's this all about? Father said you had something to tell us?"
Jon waited until everyone had settled in some form or another before even daring to speak. And even then, he found the words were hard to muster.
"First of all, I think we can all agree last night we were all rather…" He searched for the right word. "Uncivilized," he finally settled on. When no one berated him for his choice of words, he continued. "And I also feel that you deserve an explanation for… everything." Just what "everything" was, well, he was getting to that.
Before he could continue, Lady Stark cut him off. "Before you say anything," she said in her usual, clipped tone. "I believe you are owed my gratitude." She didn't meet his eye when she said it, still too prideful to do such a thing. "You saved my family," she continued. "Therefor, I thank you. So, you have my gratitude, Snow." Always Snow. Never Jon. But that would be changing soon.
"Thank you, My Lady," he sighed, surprised by how much he meant it. But now, back to what he had to say.
Jon took a deep breath, knowing that was he was about to say would change things for the better or worse, and that there's be no going back once it was out. Steeling himself, Jon closed his eyes and said, "Lord Stark isn't my father."
The room immediately went silent. Only the crackling of the fire could be heard.
Opening his eyes, Jon found he was met with a myriad of expression from everyone in the room, mostly confusion, but some shock and disbelief as well. It was as he had expected. "He lied," he continued. "To all of us."
"I don't understand," Catelyn spoke up, brows furrowed deeply, creasing her forehead. "Ned never lies about anything, why would he for you?"
Now was the moment of truth, he supposed. "Because he's my uncle."
Silence. Then Catelyn scoffed.
"You lied to me all these years to protect my honour?" She said, turning to her husband, drawing a confused frown from both Jon and Ned. Seemingly ignorant of that, she continued on. "I mean, of course of knew of Brandon's tendencies, but to go this far to protect one of his bastards!" She scoffed again, shaking her head.
Ah, so that was it. She thought Jon was her fiance's bastard, conceived before her wedding to the Stark. Jon could see how she could think that, but it was still wrong.
"I'm not Brandon's," he said, getting her attention. "And I'm not a bastard."
Ever so slowly, Jon watched the realization dawn on her face. At first it was confusion, then understanding, then finally something akin to horror.
"My Gods, Ned," she breathed, turning her wide-eyed stare to her husband. She had figured it out. Lord Stark could only meet her gaze with his own guilty one, telling her all she needed to know.
Out of the corner of his eye, Jon saw the same expression on Robb, except he was staring hard at the floor, eyebrows pinched together in something resembling betrayal. But not quite…
"Robb?" He asked. His cousin flinched slightly, eyes squeezing shut as he reigned himself in.
When he finally did respond, his words were quiet and horse. It was almost harrowing.
"She sent a letter," he said. The words were flat, as if spoken at the funeral of a loved one.
"Who sent a letter?" Lady Stark breathed, voice trembling only the slightest.
"Cersei," he said, blue eyes finally looking up to meet the rest of theirs. "She sent a letter after she took father prisoner explaining his crimes against the crown. I didn't think- I didn't want to believe what she'd said was true. That father would have done something like that. I couldn't accept it."
"Done what, Robb?" She pressed.
"She said he had been harboring a Targaryen bastard with the plan of putting him on the throne. I didn't tell you because I didn't believe it but…" He trailed off, eyes drifting over to Jon. "It's true then?" He asked. "You really are Rhaegar's?" Jon nodded solemnly. It didn't take a genius to figure out who his real father was, after all.
"And aunt Lyanna?" He continued. Another nod. Tears pricking at his eyes, Robb turned to his father with contempt, shaking hands balled into fists at his side.
"How could you lie to us," he demanded. His voice was stained with tears, wether of anger or sadness Jon couldn't be sure, but they resonated with him deeply. "To all of us! He deserved to know, we all deserved to know!"
"Robb-" Ned tried to cut in, but it fell on deaf ears.
"No, you raised me to be honorable. How can I be that when you've never been so yourself?" His words were spoken out of anger, but there was truth to them. It might have been selfish or immature of him, but Jon agreed with his cousin. "You're just a liar!"
"I did it to protect him!" Ned cried back, shocking everyone in the room. This was the man known to all the North as the Quiet Wolf. To hear him raise his voice was… frightening. "To protect all of you. Cersei was never meant to find out," he continued. "No one was."
The room fell into silence after that. Not even the fire in the hearth seemed to make a sound, as if it were holding its breath for whatever came next. Eventually, it was Lady Catelyn who spoke. Her eyes were downcast at the stone floor, hands clasped tightly in front of her.
"Did they love each other?" She asked. She didn't specify who, but it was clear who she spoke of.
Lord Stark only gazed solemnly back as he gave his response. "I can't speak for my sisters heart, but her dying words were for Jon's safety. But yes, they were married."
Catelyn gave a stiff nod, eyes hard as ice.
The next person to speak up was Sansa. "So Jon, is not our brother?" Not half-brother, as she always referred to him. But brother.
"Aye," Jon said in a hoarse voice. "I'm your cousin."
"Oh," was all she said.
Off to the side, Arya was looking up at him with tearful eyes, red rimmed and puffy. Without saying anything, she stood up and tackled him in a hug. He stumbled back from the shock of it, but soon found his arms snacking around her skinny shoulders to hold her as she cried.
"I don't care if you're our cousin," she sobbed into his tunic. "You're my brother, and nothing will take that away." Her arms were tight around his waist, as if fearful he was going to be taken away. Maybe some part of her really thought that. She was only a child after all. A child who had just been told her closest friend and confidant wasn't even her blood brother.
"I know, little sister," he managed to say. Because that's what she was. His little sister. "I know."
The two held onto each other for a good few moments longer before someone broke the scene.
"Ned," Catelyn finally said, voice softer than it had been before. "Would you mind taking the girls out of here. I wish to speak to Jon alone." Ned didn't miss the implication of Robb staying behind, but figured it was for the purpose of a medium between the two. Even after the revelation, there would still be friction between his wife and Jon. Nodding, Ned ushered the children out of the solar, heading them off to their rooms.
Only once they were gone did Catelyn speak up again. The room was empty except for the three of them, weak autumn light filtering in through the windows, casting everything in a pale glow. Jon and Robb exchanged unsure glances before Lady Stark spoke, uncertain as to what she would say, and as such, apprehensive.
"When you were a babe and had just been brought to live with us," Catelyn started, her voice hollow and yet full of grief. Jon shrunk in on himself slightly as he readied himself for whatever onslaught of prejudice Lady Stark was about to throw at him. "I couldn't stand the sight of you. There you were, a bastard of my Lord husband, already living in the nursery meant for my children, looking more northern than the trueborn son in my arms.
"I hated you. I prayed for the gods to take you away. To take away the remainder of my honorable husband's betrayal. The only proof that he held some base born woman's love above that of his lady wives. For no matter what I said, he would not get rid of you."
Jon felt the sting of her words but brushed them aside, refusing to show how much they hurt in front of his siblings.
"I was a horrible woman," she said, her voice choking up with tears. She would not meet his eye, which wasn't a first, but she had at the beginning of her speech. "I prayed to the gods for you to die. What woman does that to a child? An innocent, motherless child who had done nothing wrong?" A beat. "And then you got the pox."
She paused to rein herself in, and in that time, Jon could tell Robb's eyes were wide with horror as he stared at his mother. Jon meanwhile was just trying to keep his mask of indifference on, for he knew that if that slipped, he would either become blinded with rage or break into sobs, like the child he was. He did not like either option very much, so he fought to keep his emotions back.
"Maester Luwin had said that if you survived the night, you would make it. So that night, I sat at your bedside, listening to every cough and wheeze, hoping that it wouldn't be your last. I prayed to all seven gods, 'let him live. Let him live and I will be a mother to him. I will have him be given the Stark name. But let him live'."
"And I did," Jon said.
Catelyn nodded, eyes still downcast. "And you did. But I could not keep my promise. And because of that, the gods have decided to punish this family, all because I could not love a motherless child." She broke into sobs after that, face contorted into despair and grief. Robb got up from his seat and knelt next to her, putting an arm over hers in comfort. But he said nothing, instead giving Jon a look of apology and shock. Jon returned the look with one of acceptance. He didn't hold a grudge against the woman for what she'd done. And he wanted his brother to know that. In a different time, he would have. But not now. Not anymore.
"I forgive you, my Lady," he finally said once her sobs quieted down, the words sticking in his throat. "And I have a feeling the gods had nothing to do with what has happened to your family." Not if anything the older Bran had told him was true. All of this would have happened regardless. Only things wouldn't have turned out as well as they did.
"Our family," Rob spoke up. Jon shot him a confused look. "You're part of this family Jon, don't think you're not," the young lord told him, his voice full of conviction.
"Robb-" Jon tried.
"No! You're a Stark," he pressed, blue eyes blazing with a cold steel. "It doesn't matter if your name is Snow, or Targaryen, or what have you. It doesn't matter that you're not even my brother. You're family. And damn every man who says any different."
Emotion bubbled up and formed a tight knot in Jon's throat that he found he couldn't speak past. Jon had been afraid his siblings-cousins wouldn't accept him because of his new found status, but it appeared that that wasn't the case at all. Not with Robb anyhow.
"You're a Stark," he said again, his tone firm and sincere. "You have been since the day father brought you to Winterfell."
If there were tears glistening in his eyes, Jon made no motion to get rid of them. "Thank you, Robb," he said quietly. And he meant it.