'The runt of the litter – that one's yours, Snow,' Theon had said, hoping Robb would laugh. Robb didn't; instead he looked at Jon, holding the squirming white wolfpup in his arms, and felt – relief, maybe, or disappointment. 'I'm not a Stark,' Jon had said moments before, where there seemed to be no direwolf for him. And now there was this pup, snow-white for Snow, an almost-brother, and Robb found lately he kept getting caught on that almost when it came to Jon himself. When he was a boy he'd wished Jon was his full brother – younger than him, of course - because that way his mother would love Jon, and things would be easier. Now sometimes he found himself wishing Jon wasn't his brother at all. Which was a thought that made him uneasy, because he loved Jon. You don't wish away your family, not even if you hate them, that's what being a Stark had taught him. This made no sense, no sense at all.
So when Jon's head jerked up at Theon's insult and he looked at Robb to see what he made of it, Robb just gave him a half-smile that could have meant anything and turned away.
'Said goodbye to Bran? He's not going to die, I know it.' Robb could hardly bear to look at Jon, and he spoke in what even he could recognise as his Stark-of-Winterfell voice, the confident lord-to-be. Not a brother. Not a friend.
'You Starks are hard to kill,' said Jon, and there was another chance for him to say something about how Jon was still his brother even if he wasn't a Stark, that he loved him. But he didn't say it. Instead he said, as brightly as he could:
'Next time I see you, you'll be all in black.'
'It was always my colour,' said Jon. Robb laughed and felt sick, breath thin in his chest.
'And you, Stark.'
The corner of Jon's mouth twitched. It made Robb feel like a hair had caught in his throat, and he pulled Jon against him, breathing through his mouth to stop his eyes tearing up. Don't go, he wanted to say. But they'd always known Jon was going to the Wall, just as they'd always known one day he'd be lord of Winterfell. Don't go was what a child would say, and he didn't want Jon to think of him as a child. So he let go and turned briskly, walked away with his head held high. And if that night he went to sleep in Jon's bed, face pressed open-mouthed into the pillow and his stomach griping with a sudden and shocking loneliness, at least Jon didn't know about it.
'My brother should be sent word,' said Robb. He was surprised at how calm he sounded. 'Send a raven to Winterfell. And to the Wall. Tell them that our father has been murdered by the Lannisters, and that Winter is coming for them.'
He rose and left the tent, blood ringing in his ears. Some time later his mother found him in the woods and held his head against her shoulder as he promised to kill them all, every last Lannister, and when he was done with tears he went back to his lords to talk strategy.
That night they called him the King in the North, and looking down at these men who knelt for him he thought: yes. But in the quiet of his tent, after, his heart pounding in his chest, he scribbled four words on a piece of parchment. I need you, Snow.
By dawn he regretted it, but the raven had already flown.
'So I hear we're to call you Your Grace now.'
The guard had said there was a man of the Night's Watch here to see him. Robb, tired, hadn't asked the man's name or why he wanted to see him at past midnight, but had just told the guard to let him in.
'Snow!' He knocked over a chair as he got up, and his embrace was awkward and heartfelt. He pulled back. 'Did the Lord Commander send you?' Jon shook his head, not quite meeting his eyes, and Robb punched his shoulder hard. 'You bloody idiot! Have you run off without leave? They'll kill you. Or they'll expect meto kill you, which is worse.'
'Just – had to see you. You know.'
'It was my raven, wasn't it?' said Robb. 'I shouldn't have sent it.' It was childish of him, especially now he was a king, to say he needed someone like a girl calling for her septa.
Jon looked confused, and hurt.
'I shouldn't know my father'd been killed? Just because I'm not a Stark – '
'No,' interrupted Robb. 'I meant my other message. I sent it a few hours after.'
'Oh. Well,' said Jon, and he looked strangely awkward. 'I left almost as soon as I got your first note. Because I thought you'd – I thought maybe I could be useful.'
I thought you'd what?Robb wanted to ask, but didn't. 'Course you can be,' he said instead, too heartily, and clapped Jon on the shoulder. 'Can always use a good man, eh?' He thought he was probably imagining that Jon looked disappointed. 'You'd best sleep here tonight, can sort you out something else in the morning… And work out what to tell my mother.'
'I'm sure she'll be as kind as always,' said Jon drily. Robb laughed, and the awkward moment that probably only he was aware of passed. Which meant it was alright. Right? Right.
Jon's voice was a whisper in the dark. Robb, half-dreaming, grunted and turned onto his side. Jon thumped him lightly, and Robb swore at him.
'It's the middle of the bloody night, Snow, what'd you want?'
'Your note. What did it say?'
Robb was suddenly a lot more awake, but he just pulled the blanket around him and yawned.
'You read it.'
'The other one.'
'I don't remember.'
There was silence. Robb could tell Jon was staring at him, even though it was too dark for either of them to see. How could Jon give him the silent treatment in the dark? And more importantly, why did it work? Robb sighed and rolled onto his back.
'I just said – I need you, Snow. Alright?'
He heard Jon breathe in.
'Oh.' Robb held his own breath, waiting. He didn't know what for, but he knew his heart was beating too hard. 'Good.' He heard Jon roll over, pull the blankets back over him.
'Good?' said Robb incredulously. 'You woke me up for that and all you say is good?'
'Sorry,' said Jon. 'I mean - good, Your Grace.'
Jon laughed so loudly when Robb hit him with his pillow that the guard on duty outside came in to find out if everything was alright.
Which, for the first time in a while, it was.