A/N: Written for the asoiafkinkmeme over at LJ.
A Targaryen's Son
The babe enters this world with a howling cry, its body ripping away from his mother's womb leaving nothing but blood in its wake.
This is how Ned Stark finds her. This is what makes the man of the north cry.
"Promise me, Ned," she says with her dying breath, as her chest slows and the last of her breath leaves her.
Promise me, Ned.
It is the words that he hears that haunt him, the look in her eyes as her life is made forfeit for a child of a man who is not her betrothed. But the babe is hers and so Ned loves him. He vows to raise the child, protect him from his doomed fate.
And when the babe's eyes open and they are not of the colour of the north, Ned decides that such a child cannot be raised at Winterfell.
He will not know his mother, but he shall know a father. He shall be given the name of a bastard child of the north, for there is winter in his blood and Stark in his look.
He shall be the child of Lord Eddard Stark; a bastard, but a child of Winterfell nonetheless.
The lady with red hair watches him carefully. She tries to smile, but fails. Jon snuggles further into the skirts of the woman who cares for him. He long ago called her mother, but was soon corrected sternly but kindly.
The man he once called father bows low to the lady with red hair, his eyes staring down with respect. "I did not expect you, m'lady."
The lady looks from the man to Jon and then back to the man again. "No, I was not meant to come. My husband was called away on an urgent matter. He asked me to handle his dealings here."
The woman Jon clings to bows low, her skirts hiding Jon further. "It is an honour, m'lady."
The lady bows her head briefly. "The honour is mine. My husband told me of your sacrifice."
The man looks up quickly. "It is of no sacrifice. The boy is pleasing and kind. He is as a son to us."
The woman runs her fingers through Jon's hair lightly, a smile lighting her lips. Jon smiles at her, but feels his smile drop when his eyes land on the lady with red hair.
"The boy is wanted," the lady says. "I expect my husband has told you of what may happen if he is discovered here?" She briefly looks at him and Jon looks away.
The man and the woman become pale. "We have been told," the man says as the woman clutches at Jon tightly. "We promise to protect him."
The lady nods before she hands a purse over to the man. The man takes it and keeps it to the side. Jon wonders if it is filled with something he can later play with.
The lady turns to leave before pausing suddenly. When her eyes fall on him, there is affection there, hidden behind worry and agitation. "He is young."
The woman nods. "He is not but three, m'lady."
It is the first time the lady smiles. "Mine own son is of the same age."
Her eyes fall on Jon briefly before they meet the man's gaze, her eyes full of determination.
"Protect him," she says. "He is an innocent."
"Aye, m'lady," both the man and woman say before the door closes and they open purse she had given them.
Jon leaves to go outside and play by himself. His father hadn't come today, but maybe he will come tomorrow.
Jon is taught by Maester Luwin and Sir Rodrik Cassel. Maester Luwin's classes are long and perilous. Jon does not pay much attention and his knuckles get rapped constantly by a wooden cane. He learns that even though Maester Luwin is a kind-hearted Maester, he is also stern. He finds reading letters and maps a bore with each passing day. He will dare not say such a thing to the Maester for fear that Maester Luwin might tell his father. Father laughs when Jon complains about his lessons before telling him that he must learn. It is the way of a Stark, he says. Such knowledge must be studied.
Yet, Sir Rodrik's lesson's are enjoyable. Jon learns that he is proficient with a sword. He is quick and comfortable with a blade. When Jon turns one-and-four, he is gifted a blade by his father, as Eddard Stark says proudly that Jon has learnt to fight like a Stark.
Jon asks him, and not for the first time, to speak to him of his mother. He wishes to know her name and where she lives. His father refuses once again, promising to tell him one day when it is the right time.
Jon practices from dawn until dusk with the new sword, feeling its weight and its length. He imagines his mother, dark hair and eyes like his, smiling proudly from the side with words of encouragement leaving her lips.
He imagines the words she might say and practices until his limbs ache.
It is a few moons pass. Once Sir Rodrick leaves, his hand clasping Jon's neck with an affectionate squeeze before saying farewell, Jon is then asked to tend to the horses.
His body is covered with sweat and he longs for a dip in the nearby hot pools, but he goes to the barn housing the farm horses to brush them down for the day, as it is asked of him and he must do what he has been asked to do.
After a few moments, a noise above startles him.
A small cry makes him turn, the sound startling the horses, making them stamp their feet and bray in fear. He calms them down, one after the other, before he advances on a pile hidden in hay.
He reaches for the closest thing he can use for a weapon before letting his arm go slack. It's a little boy, he thinks at first, before he realises that he is mistaken. It is a little girl looking up at him, her clothes muddy and torn, she wears breaches like a man rather than a skirt. He looks up. She must have fallen.
"Who are you?" Jon asks in confusion.
She leaps onto her feat quickly, grabbing a piece of wood and holding it against him as if she is holding a sword.
"Don't come any closer," she says. "My father knows that I am here and he will kill you if anything happens to me."
A laugh leaves Jon's lips without thought. He was taught that women are ladylike. He had never before thought of a young girl who speaks and looks like a boy.
"Don't laugh," she says sternly, poking the wood against his chest. "I am not jesting."
She is smaller than him, maybe half his side. Jon schools his features to stop his laughter, although his eyes betray him. With a gentle hand he moves aside her wooden weapon.
"I won't laugh," he promises, "if you tell me your name."
The girl shifts from one foot to the other before she raises her chin and her grey eyes stare him down. "I am Arya Stark of Winterfell and I demand to know who you are."
It is her name that makes his smile fall, her title that makes the laughter leave his eyes. Jon looks away from her before he turns his back to her and proceeds with his work. The girl, Arya, follows him.
"Father visits you often," she says cautiously, her eyes studying him as he picks up a brush to tend to the horses. "He says that he has dealings at town but he comes here." She is silent for a while, her eyes studying his actions. "Why is he lying?"
"You should ask your father," Jon says.
"I saw Sir Rodrik teach you with a sword. I wish he would teach me," she says bitterly.
Jon looks up, his hand pausing on the horse's mane. "Why doesn't he teach you?"
The girl rolls her eyes as she says mockingly, "Because ladies don't play with swords, they must curtsy and sew and marry lords so that they can have many many children who will refuse to listen to them."
Her description makes him laugh, and Arya gives him a grateful smile in return.
His eyes fall on the piece of wood she still holds in her hand. "I can teach you how to use a sword, if you'd like."
Her eyes light up. She steps closer to him. "Will you?" There is excitement in her voice, a barely concealed hopefulness.
Jon nods. "I have plenty of practice swords. We can start with them."
A thought makes her step back from him cautiously. "I still don't know your name."
"Jon," he says, his smile feeling forced. "Jon Snow."
Her appearance turns sad. "I cannot pay you."
Jon thinks of offering to teach her without demanding payment but thinks better of it. "The day you come for your lesson, help me tend to the horses. I shall consider it payment enough."
She blinks at him for a moment before she throws herself at him, her arms tightening around him so hard that Jon can barely release a laugh. It is easy to make this little one happy, he realises.
That night, when his father visits, Jon speaks of his lesson with Sir Rodrik, but not a word of the appearance of his sister.
Arya is an excitable student. She does what he asks and so much more. She learns faster than Jon ever did. She comes as often as she can, scowling at what Septa Mordane has told her and leaving with the unpleasant incident forgotten.
As they rest after a gruelling hour, she asks him one day, "You're my brother, aren't you?"
Jon considers lying, but abruptly stops himself. "Aye," he says, his eyes studying her grey ones for hatred. He is her father's bastard child. He has been taught that there is no love for those who are born with the name Snow, especially from those who share their blood.
But her smile grows wider as she bites into the fruit he had brought. "Thought so," she says, her mouth full and her smile messy.
Jon laughs as he tosses a fruit at her that she catches easily. "You didn't."
"I did," she says proudly before swallowing her mouthful. "You look like me." She looks down, her demeanour shy and her tone sad. "I always wanted a brother who looked like me."
He eyes her with confusion. "They don't look like you?"
"No," she says. "None."
The next day, she brings Bran along for their lesson.
Jon learns all that is to know about Winterfell. He learns that he has five half siblings: Robb, Sansa and Rickon besides Arya and Bran. He learns that his father has a ward from the Iron Islands and that Robb and Theon are like brothers. Jon wonders what life might have been had he been taken to Winterfell rather than a farm away from the castle. He wonders what life might have been had he had siblings rather than only Sir Rodrik and Maester Luwin for companionship.
Bran greets Jon with a sense of suspicion that is soon forgotten once the lessons begin. Arya is better with a sword, but she is older. Jon learns that Bran has a kind heart and that he intends to be a knight. Arya promises to become a knight first.
The meetings with his siblings pass in secret until one day, a boy about the same age as Jon, with red hair and blue eyes enter the grounds of the farm with an intention to fight. Jon sees it in the way he walks towards him and the way the boy holds onto the sword on his hip.
Jon reaches for the closest thing he can use for a weapon, a wooden sword he has been using to teach Arya how to fight.
As the boy comes towards him, Jon raises the wooden sword. He is prepared for a strike. But as their eyes meet, the boy stops suddenly, his eyes widening in surprise.
"It's not true," he says, more to himself, but also to Jon. "They were mistaken."
Jon drops the wooden sword quickly, his demeanour one of confusion. "Who was mistaken?"
"Arya and Bran," the boy says.
He sees the way Jon's grip tightens around the wooden sword and he loosens the grip on his own. The boy stands taller, his face rising to say the words, "I am Robb Stark of Winterfell." As Jon's eyes darken with recognition, the boy smiles cockily. "No doubt you have heard of me."
Jon stares for a moment at the one who is to be his brother. He cannot see Ned Stark in him; he doesn't see himself in the boy's colouring.
"You said they were mistaken. What were they mistaken about?"
Robb laughs to himself. "They told me that our father has a bastard son. You aren't his son. You cannot be."
Jon stills at the words, he feels his jaw tighten in anger. "I am the son of Eddard Stark. He has told me this. I will not believe the words of some would-be lord over the words of my own father."
The laughter leaves Robb's eyes swiftly. "My father is honourable. He would never have a bastard child while married to my mother. He would not lower himself to fucking a whore and raising her child—"
Jon doesn't see Robb's face, only red. His blood pumps madly in his veins as his fist connects to the young lord's jaw. Robb hits him back and before long they are on the ground, mud on their clothes and blood on their faces. Jon feels the blood pool in his eye as he hears the sound of breaking bone when his fist connects with Robb Stark's nose.
Jon is strong, but Robb has been trained better. The young lord pins him easily before pushing himself away from Jon. He spits the blood to the side and stares down as Jon wipes the blood from the corner of his eye.
"Your eyes," Robb hisses, his breathing an effort from the fight. "Tell me, how can you be the son of a northern lord when you have the eyes of a Targaryen?"
Robb leaves without another word while Jon sits in the mud, the lessons of Maester Luwin calling to mind. All Targaryens were killed save for two who escaped across the narrow sea. The Targaryen girl is too young to have been a mother when Jon was born.
Wincing, he stands, swaying slightly from his bruised limbs. He is presented with two truths. One must be a lie. No one has ever told him the colours of the eyes of those with Targaryen blood.
Arya finds him later as he washes the blood off his face. She is grim faced as she watches him, and Jon knows that she believes what her brother has told her.
She doesn't say a word for a while, choosing to observe his actions as he tries to heal himself with ointments that his caregivers have with them. Just as the first day they met, she hugs him hastily, her arms going tightly around him and causing his bruises to burn.
"You will always be my brother," she says, her words muffled against his shoulder. "No matter what Robb says."
It's the closest Jon has felt to feeling tears burn behind his eyes in a long while. He hugs her tighter, ignoring the pain coursing through his body at her touch.
"You will always be my little sister," he says fiercely, deciding to care for her and protect her for as long as he has breath in his body. "No matter what anyone says."
His father comes that night with a solemn face. Most days he greets Jon with a smile and asks after his lessons, this day, he simply looks at Jon, at the cut above his eye, and he walks out of the house. Jon follows him silently, knowing that his father wishes a private word.
Jon stands still, waiting, as Ned Stark paces before him. The man is agitated and with each passing moment, Jon feels his anger rise.
"Are you my father?" he asks finally, his voice soft and deadly.
Ned Stark pauses to look at him. A long while passes before he speaks. "Yes," he says, but his eyes lack conviction.
Jon feels the betrayal as deeply as a dagger that is plunged inside his flesh. He turns to leave.
"Our discussion has not ended."
"Forgive me, my lord," Jon says bitterly. "But it has."
"I have not been honest with you," Ned Stark says. "I understand the error I have made. I wish to rectify it. Ask me anything, I shall answer you truly."
Jon thinks on his words as he turns to face him; the father he had always looked up to.
"Does my mother share my eyes?"
Ned's shoulders droop; there is a sense of exhaustion that falls on him. "No," he says finally.
Jon nods, steeling himself for the next question. "Does my father share my eyes?"
It is the question he has been dreading, Jon can see it in Ned Stark's gaze. "Yes," he says softly.
Jon had thought it was possible. But he had also hoped…
Jon's voice trembles as he asks, "Is my mother Lyanna Stark?"
Because he has been thinking on this, wondering why a lord from the north would accept a babe of Targaryen blood as his own, after rebelling against the family that once ruled. What is there to gain? Jon lives his life as a recluse, forbidden to step away from the farm as he is told the world is unkind to bastards like him. The Starks of Winterfell are known for their fairness and compassion, they are also known for protecting those of their blood above all else. The year he was born, Lyanna Stark was stolen from Robert Baratheon by a Targaryen who later lost his life to the very man he stole her from.
"Is my mother your sister?" Jon asks again, his voice strong and angry when Ned Stark stays silent.
The Lord of Winterfell looks away and Jon receives his answer.
The need to leave is swift and he does so for fear that he might break everything in his path.
Ned Stark, the man he once called father, does not follow him.
It is a moons' cycle passed when Ned Stark visits him again. Jon does not wish to see him but the Lord of Winterfell is not to be ignored. He comes with Robb, heir to Winterfell and the true son of Lord Eddard Stark. Jon feels a twist of jealousy when he sees them standing side by side, one a wolf, the other a trout.
"There has been a raven," Ned Stark says. "King Robert rides for Winterfell. He will arrive within a fortnight."
Jon stares between the father and son standing before him, his brows knitting together in thought. Robb does not look as displeased with the meeting as Jon feels.
"You wish me to leave."
Ned moves forward, his smile affectionate, but it drops swiftly as Jon stiffens and steps away from him.
He composes himself quickly. "The King cannot know of your existence. You're not safe."
As Jon contemplates this, Ned turns to his son. "Robb will help you." A look passes between them before Robb enters Jon's home, his expression one of passive interest as he passes Jon.
A moment passes before Ned speaks again. "I lied to you," he says humbly. "I accept that. But I did not lie about my affections. You are my son. You might not have my name, but you have my blood."
He steps forward cautiously and Jon does not move. As Ned Stark's arms come around him, his hand falling on the back of Jon's head in a known gesture. Jon stays stiff for a while before he allows himself to collapse against the man he once called father. He hates the man as much as he loves him. He idolises him as much as he wishes he did not.
"You are a Stark, you are my son," Ned says quietly, his grip tightening around Jon. "Do not let anyone convince you otherwise."
It is Robb's voice that makes Ned step away.
"It is time, father."
Robb stands beside two saddled horses; behind him stand the two who have cared for Jon since he was a babe.
"How long will I be gone?" Jon asks softly.
"Not long," Ned promises. "The journey is long from King's Landing. The King would not want to stay longer than two moons."
Jon makes his way towards his caregivers, first embracing the man he secretly calls father and then the woman he secretly calls mother. She holds onto him longer than necessary, tears staining her eyes before she pulls back quickly to provide him with his things. She gives him clothes and his sword, as well as a few books to take with him. Jon realises that they had all known of his journey before him as he hangs it all on his steed.
Ned Stark embraces him once again before he leaves, and Jon allows him without restraint. Then there is only the young lord looking at him expectantly. Jon let's out a low breath in frustration.
"I can travel by myself. Tell me where I have to go and you need not come."
Robb's smile betrays mischief as he climbs atop his horse. "We have a days' ride. If you would like me to tell Arya that I am the better rider, please stay for as long as you wish."
The teasing turn the young lord speaks with confuses Jon, but he climbs atop his own horse without preamble. Robb does not wait for Jon to settle before he leaves with a gallop. With a final wave to his caregivers Jon races after Robb, only slowing down to a canter when Robb does.
The silence is not as uncomfortable as Jon thought it would be. And Robb breaks it easily enough.
"I wish to apologise for what I said. I never should have spoken of such things about your mother."
"You didn't know," Jon says simply.
"Aye," says Robb quietly. "But that is of no excuse."
"Did he tell you… about me?"
Robb's jaw twitches with what Jon recognises as hidden anger. "No."
They continue to ride in silence until Robb speaks again.
"He lied to all of us. He did it to protect you and because of a vow he took. I cannot fault him for that."
"Does he speak of my mother often?" Jon asks curiously.
"Sometimes. Not often. Uncle Benjen has told us more." Robb turns to look at him. "Has he not said anything to you?"
Jon shakes his head.
Robb smiles kindly as his grin widens. "It is a good thing we are spending a day together, then."
The ride to the safe house is more interesting than Jon cares to admit. Robb Stark is a jester. He laughs loud and tells truly horrendous jokes, but through his kindness, Jon sees Ned in him. He starts thinking of what life was to be had Robb been his half-brother.
Robb tells him stories of what his Uncle has shared of Lyanna Stark. The stories of stealing horses and playing mischief reminds him of Arya, her temper reminds Jon of himself. He misses his mother more than he ever had. His birth father, Jon has a low opinion of.
The house they come to is not large. It is hidden inside a forest, not far from a Godswood. Jon feels the cold seep further into his bones and he knows that he is closer to the north than he has ever been.
Jon barely dismounts when a familiar weight is thrown against him. He is as happy to see Arya as she is to see him, but he is confused by her appearance. His confusion increases when Bran comes out to greet him followed by a lady with flowing red hair.
Jon remembers her by a distant memory. She doesn't seem as cold as he once thought she was.
"It is good to see you, Jon," she says, a small smile playing on her lips when she sees the way Arya clings to him. "It's small, but I hope it will do."
Jon stands still and in complete surprise until Robb claps him on his back to draw his attention.
"He is so impressed with the house he is speechless, mother."
Bran runs over to help carry Jon's things. Robb helps him as Arya dislodges herself from Jon, enabling him to bow low and greet Lady Catelyn Stark properly.
"I can see why my husband is fond of you. You look more like him every day."
Jon is not allowed to take his things, as Robb, Bran and Arya carry them inside for him.
"Pardon me, my lady, I fear that I do not understand. What are you doing here?"
She looks at him, studying him carefully. "My husband is a kind man. He does what is right and what is honourable. Your protection means more to him than he will ever say. You needed new quarters and I have found them for you. It is only right that I am here to prepare it, don't you think?"
She smiles kindly before entering the house. Jon's brows furrow together with deep thought before he raises his eyes and it meets blue. Whoever it is hides behind a curtain quickly.
Jon enters the house cautiously; still unsure as to the role the Starks intended to play in his life.
He meets Sansa Stark for the first time over supper. She doesn't look at him once, hiding her features behind long red hair as the others speak. Jon learns that no one can be trusted as to his history. Only those who Ned Stark trusts know of his existence and this is why his family has been sent to ensure that Jon has every thing he needs.
Robb promises to visit him as often as he can, bringing Arya who asks to live with Jon with a pleading tone. Her mother refuses easily and Arya pouts for the rest of the meal, displeasing her mother and amusing everyone around the table. Sansa stays unattached and un-amused.
It is not until later when he is walking around the house, studying it with curious eyes, does he finally see her. For the first time she looks at him. She stares at his eyes.
"It is true, you're a prince."
Jon feels like laughing but doesn't. "You are mistaken, my lady. I am no prince."
"But you are a Targaryen," she says cautiously.
Jon nods, wondering why she finds him so fascinating. She is yet to raise her gaze from his eyes.
"There is dragon blood in you, like the songs."
"Life is not like the songs," he says.
Her smile is pretty, her eyes so blue that it makes his stomach flip whenever she looks at him a certain way.
"It has to be for to have such songs sung," she says before leaving him suddenly.
Jon thinks that he will never see her again, but Robb brings her just as he brings Arya and Bran to visit him. Rickon is too young they say.
It is Robb he teases with, Bran he plays with, Arya he spars with and Sansa, her eyes boring into his, is the only one to make him shiver.
Arya disproves the time they spend together so much that she shoves Sansa in the mud more than once.
"It is dangerous, Ned."
"Aye," Ned says before the familiar feeling of guilt moves inside him. "I have not been fair to the boy. He cannot live like this. It's not a life."
"You have placed him there because it is the only way to give him a life."
His wife speaks sense. His wife always speaks sense.
"I will be leaving for King's Landing soon enough. I want Jon brought here. I don't want him to live alone anymore."
"What of the people around the castle?" Catelyn asks.
"They are loyal. They will keep his secret."
"What if they are unable to?"
He pauses, his head aching from the thought. "They must."
"I cannot condone this, Ned. If he is discovered we will lose everything."
"I know," her husband whispers before placing a light kiss on her brow. "I know."
Ned brings Jon to Winterfell on a cold day in summer. But it is not the workman or the servants that worry him about being discovered, it is his own children.
He sees the way Jon looks at his daughter; it reminds him of how Rhaegar Targaryen once looked at Lyanna.
Each time their glances meet and Sansa blushes before looking away, Ned feels the familiar fear building inside of him as it once did.
It worries him. It strains his mind.
History must not be allowed to repeat itself.
Of that, Ned is determined.