Arya was a tiny baby.
Jon had been three when Sansa was born and to a child of five, the two years between then and now were enough to vanish images of her as an infant like puffs of smoke on the wind; he tried to recall her, what she'd looked like then, if he'd heard her crying in the night, but he couldn't. When he thought of Sansa, he thought of the waddling two year old with the eyes that sometimes seemed as big as fists. He imagined she must have been a pretty baby – if he knew nothing else about Sansa (and there wasn't much to know yet, for she was only two and very dull), he knew she was pretty, for people could scarcely seem to stop exclaiming over her in the streets. How red her hair was, like rose petals; how delicate her features, even now, like she'd been whittled from ivory. No-one ever seemed to grow bored of admiring her, which seemed odd to Jon because he spent more time with Sansa than anyone but Robb, Father and Lady Stark, and her prettiness was not enough to keep him from near losing his mind with boredom when he was shut in with her. She never laughed when he made faces, or seemed particularly interested in anything other than sucking her own toes. She never even screamed, which might not have been exactly fun but would have livened things up a bit (and if he and Robb sometimes took turns poking her to try and make her do it, no one needed to know). He'd have gladly traded an ugly sister for one that would act like a person, even a brand new person who couldn't talk, instead of a doll.
He never wanted to forget what Arya was like as a baby, because she was magnificent, and so he was standing over her one morning trying to commit her to memory. Robb was ill, and Ser Rodrik hadn't been able to find another boy of his size and skill to match him against for a training session, so he had a whole morning with which to do as he liked, though he'd promised Robb he'd try and bring him some lemon cakes from the kitchens.
He thought maybe one day Arya would ask him what she'd been like as a baby, and he wanted to be able to tell her truthfully that she was very small, with skin as white as milk and a thatch of black hair that felt like feathers and kept swooping down over her forehead no matter how many times it got brushed back. She had the blue eyes of a baby – of a sky that Winterfell never saw even in the depths of summer – but even now there was something of steel in them; something he recognized when he looked into his father's eyes, and his own in the mirror, and which squeezed his heart a little when he saw it in Arya. He liked that there was something of him in her, because they'd never have the same name – maybe people would look at them and think they were family anyway. Maybe her hair would get curlier as she grew up, and then people really would see that they were related. He'd like that. He and Robb looked nothing alike and most of the time people who didn't know him assumed he was a guest, some son of a nobleman the Stark boy had befriended. He didn't like the way the friendliness seemed to disappear from their eyes when they discovered the truth.
He heard servants whisper that Sansa had been a quieter baby, more peaceful – as though that somehow made her better. He'd heard Lady Stark talking about Robb and how he'd had the lungs of a wolf but only ever used them during the day, a gentleman even in infancy. He didn't know if he'd screamed as an infant – Father must know, but he was busy helping repair a tower that had been burned by lightening during a storm and he certainly couldn't ask Lady Stark. But he liked hearing Arya's shrieks in the night. It was always so quiet in the dark; she made it easier to remember the sun would return.
And she was so much more lively than Sansa. All he needed to do was cross his eyes at her and she didn't giggle, didn't laugh – she cackled like a witch, eyes screwed up in unbelievable mirth, like it was the best jape she'd ever seen and ever would see. How he loved that wicked little laugh.
He had brought something new to entertain her with today; a raven's feather. He was tickling her nose, and she was gaping at him like she just could not understand how he could take the liberty, a proud little Stark. Gaping one second, and cackling the next. Jon found himself laughing along with her.
'I knew you'd be here.'
Robb appeared at his shoulder, peering down at Arya in her cot; he poked his tongue out and the fickle little thing did the funniest-jape laugh for him, the traitor. He was still dressed in his nightclothes, but he had boots on, and a jacket; clearly he hadn't wanted any of the servants to know he was supposed to be in bed, though Jon thought they'd probably all been told. Besides, Robb's eyes were glassy and his cheeks were flushed.
'You look horrible,' he said matter-of-factly. A brother's duty, to let a brother know when he's looking less than his best.
Robb stuck his chin in the air. 'I'm five years old. I'm heir to Winterfell. I can get up when I want to – I don't care if I'm sick. Besides,' he seemed to remember something, and a look of annoyance crossed his face, 'I might have stayed there, if you'd brought me lemon cakes like you promised.'
'I was going to,' Jon snapped. 'I told you I would. But Arya needed me.'
'Needed you to tickle her nose?'
'You're saying you need me more? Who's the baby?' he grinned, smug. The tips of Robb's ears went red, which was exactly what they did when he was angry, and his bottom lip stuck out, which meant he was really angry because he hated his bottom lip sticking out – he thought, and rightly so, that it made him look like a girl. His bottom lip only stuck out when he really couldn't help it.
'You're the baby, playing with feathers,' he muttered. It was a weak retort and he knew it. Jon decided not to keep lording his wit over him. He was sick after all; it wouldn't be right. He did like beating Robb though, because he was older – just by a few months, but still, he never let Jon forget it.
Arya squawked, demanding their attention, and they both looked down at her again.
'Do you think she'll be prettier than Sansa?' asked Robb after a while.
The truth was, she probably wouldn't. Jon thought she was gorgeous, and he knew Robb did too, and Father and Lady Stark and all the people who loved her – but he knew she didn't have colouring as pretty as Sansa's, or as fine a nose, or eyelashes as long. Truthfully, when he made himself really look, her eyes were a bit squinty and her ears stuck out a bit. Her furry little eyebrows gave her a very intense expression even when she was sleeping, and ladies – the pretty ones – were gentle, soft, mild.
He wished, for her sake, that she could be the pretty one. He loved Sansa, but he liked Arya better and if he could have chosen one of them to be pretty, one of them to have an easier time… it was a horrible thing to think, it was…
'She'll be… better,' he said after a while, and Robb nodded, thought for a moment, and said, 'I'll teach her to shoot.'
Jon scoffed. 'You? She'd be better off learning from Hodor; you can't even string a bow properly!'
'I will be able to by the time Arya can learn,' Robb reasoned.
That was true, but Jon had beaten Robb mere seconds ago at cleverness and he wasn't willing to surrender the feeling of superiority just yet.
'I don't know about that,' he said, though Robb was getting better every day and Father himself had said he'd be hunting stags in no time at all; and it wasn't like Jon was really getting the hang of it that much faster.
But Robb heard the challenge, not the lie, and turned away from Arya to look Jon in the face, a spark of determination lighting his face.
'I wager I could hit a target before you,' he declared.
Jon had never done a wager before, but he supposed if he was going to start, it may as well be with Robb, who wouldn't ask him to do anything too embarrassing or give up anything too good. He had a fair chance of winning besides; and anyway, he could hardly refuse. Robb would never forget, never – and he might tell Father, and that idea made Jon's stomach squirm uncomfortably.
'Alright,' he said. 'If I win, I get…' he thought hard for something, and he considered having Robb polish his boots for a week, or fetching him things upon command. But if he won, this would be the first wager he ever won and he wanted something to keep. Something he could show Arya when she was old enough, hopefully while Robb was there and had to listen to him tell the story.
'I get your fish pin,' he decided.
For a second, Robb seemed to falter.
A month ago, Lady Stark's brother Edmure Tully had come to Winterfell. Edmure Tully was Robb's and Sansa's and Arya's uncle, so they called him Uncle Edmure, or at least Robb did – Sansa called him 'Edd-uh' and Arya didn't call him anything, because of being a baby. Jon called him my lord, because he wasn't Jon's uncle and that's what Lady Stark told him to do. But unlike Lady Stark, Edmure Tully hadn't seemed to care much that Jon wasn't his nephew. They'd been having dinner together one night, Father and Lady Stark and Edmure Tully and Robb and Jon, and Edmure Tully asked Robb how his riding was coming along. Robb had said 'fine, thank you, Uncle' (usually he would have boasted, but he was trying to eat as much herb crusted capon as he could before it was cleared away). Jon had thought that would be the end of it, but then Edmure Tully asked Jon how his riding was coming along. His, Jon's – who wasn't his nephew and whose riding he had no cause to care about. Jon had seen his father smile and Lady Stark's lips go all thin and knew he had to answer, but he wasn't sure what to say even though it seemed very important he think of something immediately, so before he even knew it, he'd said 'fine, thank you, Uncle.'
And then he realized what he'd said and it felt like a hole had opened up in his chest and his heart was falling through it; he was too scared to even look at Lady Stark, who had gone still in the midst of raising a piece of bread to her mouth, but he could feel her anger, hear her silence. He couldn't look at Robb, he was so embarrassed for the mistake he'd made, because the sound of Robb's chewing had stopped and surely he was just thinking of the best joke to make. He couldn't look at Father, who always looked so, so sad whenever people mentioned the fact that Jon wasn't his trueborn son, not a Stark, not really, because it made him feel sick. So he looked at Edmure Tully, because even though he wished it was Lady Stark's opinion he cared for the least (he'd give anything not to care what Lady Stark thought), it wasn't, it was Edmure Tully's, who had been much nicer to him but nonetheless meant much less.
And Edmure Tully had laughed heartily, ruffled his hair and said, 'good lad.'
Lady Stark had lifted the bread to her mouth, Robb started chewing again and the threat of Father's sadness seemed to melt away as he laughed with Edmure Tully about some hunting trip they'd once been on.
Jon couldn't say exactly why, but he'd looked up to Edmure Tully after that. He had a vague idea that it was because Edmure Tully seemed able to do something that Lady Stark had always found impossible.
When he'd left, he'd come first to where the children were being minded and given Arya a beautiful rattle, Sansa a little wooden unicorn, and Robb a silver cloak pin in the shape of the Tully trout. He stood in front of Jon and smiled. Jon could tell he wasn't sorry he didn't have a present for him – he could be perfectly nice, but that didn't mean he had to think Jon was the same as the others.
'Good lad,' he'd said.
Jon wanted the fish pin, because he liked being liked by a Tully.
He thought Robb might say no – he hadn't seemed to care much about the fish pin, but you never knew with Robb. But then he said, 'Alright. But if I win, you have to give me your lemon cakes for the next week.'
They'd tried to get some bows from the armoury, but that meant crossing the yard and they'd certainly be spotted by someone who knew Robb was meant to be in bed and neither of them were meant to have bows unsupervised. For a moment it seemed the wager might be over before it began, but then Robb had remembered the longbows adorning the wall in Arya's nursery – two, crossed over each other above the mantle, meant to ward evil away.
'We'll have to be quick,' Robb said, 'or else someone will come to check on Arya and we'll be caught.'
'We'll never get all the way to a field and back again before someone comes to check on her!'
They'd pulled the bows down, both of them almost dropping them in the process. Jon wasn't embarrassed; they were five, it was to be expected. And though heavy, because they were ornaments, the bows were small – almost the same as the bows they were being taught on. There were a few arrows in a room down the hall that was being used by a squire, and Jon fetched them – he was stringing one to his bow (and with a great stroke of luck, it actually worked) just for practice when Robb said, 'I've got it!'
Jon looked up and saw Robb picking up a small square of cloth had a candle standing on it atop a dresser, which he stood on, slinging the piece of fabric over an unlit torch high up on the wall.
'We'll shoot in here,' he explained, getting down again. 'The arrows won't hurt the walls, they're stone. One shot each, whoever gets closest to the clothwins.'
That wasn't exactly the original wager, which had called for hitting a target, but reality had set in a bit; if they tried for that, they could well be shooting for days.
'I don't know,' Jon said doubtfully. If someone came in, as they were wont to do very soon, and saw them shooting indoors… if Lady Stark came in, or Father…
'Two shots, Jon. No one will know.' He grinned. 'Unless you're craven.'
'I'll go first,' Jon proclaimed, and he backed up until he was standing almost at the opposite wall, an arrow strung clumsily on his bow. He raised it, anchored it, released it – and hoped.
The arrow sprung from his bow and whistled through the air – he'd never been able to make an arrow whistle before! He couldn't help but laugh as it pierced the lowermost corner of the white cloth, bouncing off the wall with a light thud but leaving a small crease in the blanket to mark where he'd hit. Technically, he hadn't just got close – he'd hit the target!
He beamed, and turned to look at Robb, who looked impressed and thoroughly annoyed with himself about it.
'Your turn,' Jon said happily.
Robb tried to look self-assured as he prepared to shoot, but it took him three tries to string his bow properly and by the time he'd got it done, his bow arm was shaking, confidence gone. Jon felt sorry for him – just not sorry enough to not be glad he'd done so well. Ser Rodrik said that Robb's biggest problem was not believing he could do it – he had the Stark arm, he just had to use it.
'Don't overthink it, Robb,' Jon said, remembering what Rodrik had told him. Robb turned to catch Jon's eye – for reassurance, in thanks, Jon didn't know, but his bow – taut with arrow and trembling – turned with him, and loosed. Jon threw himself to the ground, and for the second time in five minutes he heard an arrow whistle. Robb's aim was off, but his strength was, for the first time, true; and as Jon rolled over he heard an ominous clunk and looked just in time to see the arrow hit a candle pillar, which jolted hard and then, slowly, fell on top of Arya's bassinet with an enormous bang.
Robb screamed; Jon was too stunned to scream.
Arya's scream was like a rip in the air, like something precious smashing to the ground which could not be unsmashed or even put back together. It was the first time Jon wanted her to be quiet since she'd been born, because this was a scream like no other, a scream that would never fail to send people running because it was the sound of a small innocent thing's terror. He'd never wanted Arya to be that afraid in her life and now she was, at only a few months old. He and Robb ran and lifted the candle pillar off her crib, an act like mopping up blood. He'd never been so ashamed as when he looked down at his sister and saw those blue Stark eyes swimming in tears, so tragically torn from that locked up baby world of not knowing there are things out there that can hurt you. She'd always know that now. He had never felt such dread as when a thunder of footsteps signalled the approach of someone, he just knows who, exploding up the hall and the door flew open –
'What on earth is going on?'
Lady Stark's voice, brittle and furious. Jon felt like bursting into tears as her angry eyes rested on him even as she rushed to her daughter's side, lifting Arya from the cot and pressing her against her chest. Another scream, and Lady Stark's eyes narrowed on Jon, accusingly.
He felt Robb's hand on his wrist and for once was not humiliated that his brother knew he feared his mother, just desperate not to be left alone with her.
'Well?' she demanded, and her eyes flitted between Jon and her son. 'I want an answer!'
'Please, Mother,' Robb said bravely. 'We're sorry. We didn't mean to frighten her.'
'I heard a crash,' she said frigidly. 'You didn't just frighten her. Answer me, Robb, now. What. Happened.'
She was now pointedly not looking at Jon. Somehow that was worse.
'We were shooting –'
'Indoors? In the room where your infant sister lies sleeping?'
'We're sorry –' Jon tried to say, but his words died in his throat when she looked at him, gaze afire.
'Both of you, get out of my sight this instant. I'll deal with you later.'
Hours pass like days when Lady Stark awaits, and yet you wish all along that you had more time. Jon and Robb had meekly gone off to their own rooms, both of them looking at each other one last time in commiseration and dread before parting. Jon's room was full of things to do; there were some of Father's old books, and a set of drawing tools Robb had grown tired of, and a window that looked out into the courtyard where he could see the blacksmiths working, or watch the horses, and plan how he would defend Winterfell if they were ever attacked and he were left in charge. But none of his usual pastimes hooked him; he couldn't remove the sight of Arya's frightened eyes from his mind, or Lady Stark's grim fury. He flung himself out mentally in search of something to concentrate on, but couldn't think of anything but that he would surely be summoned very soon, taken to see her, and he didn't know what was going to happen but he knew it would be awful.
He wondered if Father would be told.
He must have waited hours. The sky had already started to dim by the time he heard footsteps outside his door, and his stomach clenched; he sat bolt upright from where he'd been lying on his bed, throwing a stone towards the ceiling and catching it again. The door creaked slowly open and Maester Luwin sidled into view.
'The Lady Stark wants to speak with you, Jon,' he said gently.
Jon rose as steadily as he could, and walked towards the door with his chin high because that made him feel braver, like a soldier going off to war. As he passed Maester Luwin a hand pressed hard against his shoulder, encouraging, and he faltered a bit, because he hadn't wanted Maester Luwin to realize he was afraid.
'You'll be fine, my boy,' he whispered. 'Run along. It'll be over before you know it.'
AN: Thank you so much for reading! This is my first Game of Thrones story and I hope you enjoy it. I'm a big fan of the Robb/Jon brother relationship, of which so little is seen in the show and so much is inferred. This is the first chapter of a two-shot; next up, the talk between Catelyn and Jon.