A/N: In response to the prompt Jon goes to war with Robb in AGOT and Catelyn is surprised when she discovers that she and the boy share most of the same opinions. Slowly, they bond. Set in an AU where Jon finds out about the Others before taking his oath, because plot reasons and because Longclaw is cool.
The OP meant it to be a sort of fix-it!fic, I guess, in which Cat and Jon team up to avoid some of Robb stupidiest mistake, and this gets close enough. I really, really hope I didn't mess up the characterization. Catelyn is proving really hard to write.
Chapter one of four - next up is Jon's POV. Here we go!
Catelyn Stark, for her part, didn't expect to see Jon Snow ever again after he went to the Wall, until that day at Moat Calin when he reappears in her life, standing shoulder to shoulder with her eldest son.
She hadn't noticed him at first, though she now realizes she must have – she simply forgot to pay attention, focused how she was on Robb. And what was Jon Snow, but another nameless stranger? Catelyn had dismissed the other men in her mind even before they left the tent, and so it is only a hour into their reunion, after they talk of war and family and Sansa's letters, that she finally puts the pieces together.
"There is no mention of Arya," Robb points out, his sister's missive in his hand. "Jon thinks they must have lost her, somehow."
Catelyn looks at her son, frowning. "Jon?" He might be referring to Jon Umber, or his heir, but there's too much easiness in his voice for that to be the case.
Robb nods. "And I agree. They would care to let us know, if they had her."
He doesn't seem to have grasped the question, and Catelyn turns to look him in the eyes. "Robb," she asks. "Robb, what is Jon doing here?"
It takes Catelyn the time of a heartbeat to go from surprise to discomfort, and when she looks upon her eldest son's content face, all she sees is a severed head, rolling in the snow.
"Please tell me he didn't desert," she tells him, and the words are halfway through her mouth when Catelyn thinks how she's never cared much for Jon Snow either ways, but she knows that Robb does, and Ned, and she can imagine all too easily what is like for a Stark to be torn between affection and honour.
He had better not have, she thinks in flash, Robb doesn't deserve another tragedy. And then she realizes she's willing Jon Snow to live.
It is a moment before Robb speaks up, but it feels like a lifetime. "Of course he didn't," he says, sounding so much like Ned in one of his fits of righteous anger. "Mother, he didn't. He received the message before he was to take the oath, and the Lord Commander let him go."
And Catelyn takes her son's word for good, and she spends another hour with Robb going over his maps and plans and wondering why he's had to grow up so fast, and it's dark outside when she finally sees Jon Snow face to face, when he comes into the tent bringing supper.
To Robb, he smiles. "Robb," he says, firmly. "You must remember to eat."
And to Catelyn he bows his head and, if his eyes narrow a bit, she can ignore it and so does he. "Lady Stark," and his voice is mild and perfectly even, because there's no point to waste time in mutual dislike. "He always forgets. I swear, if Old Nan were here, I am sure he wouldn't."
And then. "I brought some for you, too."
Their supper is onion broth and heavy bread, and both Robb and Snow apologize, saying they only eat meat every other day, during the days. They jape and chat with the same easiness they did in Winterfell, and Catelyn takes some time for herself, to observe.
Where Robb has grown taller and sturdier and older, Jon Snow simply looks tired. She gives him a quick glance up and down, taking notice of his bandaged right hand. Snow is clean shaven next to Robb's growing stubble, and it makes him seem even paler. He looks more of a warrior than Robb does, more of a Northman, but there's a wary air about him that no Stark has ever had. He doesn't look like Ned never had, and for this she's glad.
Snow catches her look and moves closer, making sure that Robb doesn't notice. "Lady Catelyn –" he begins, then pauses. "Lady Catelyn. I just –" He widens his arms and shakes his head, taking a breath.
"He is my father, too."
That, she concedes grimly, he is. And they both want him back – this, Catelyn can respect.
The Northmen march all the way to the Twins, to the Lord of the Crossing, and Catelyn is the one to be escorted all the way inside the castle to meet with Lord Walder.
They argue and waggle and raise their stakes until they are both too exhausted to talk anymore, and Catelyn returns back to Robb sure in the knowledge that she couldn't have gotten better terms, and prepared to defend her choices.
Her son accepts his new squire easily enough, perhaps wondering how can he have Olyvar Frey knighted when he is not a knight himself, and agrees to the betrothals without even protesting, and Catelyn's thoughts go back to Ned, and how proud he would be.
Jon Snow seeks her out the moment they have safely crossed the river, and Catelyn tries to remember if he has ever initiated a conversation with her before. She doesn't think so.
"Lady Catelyn," he starts, looking even tenser than usual. "What have you done?"
He's never talked to her like that – she cannot remember the last time anyone has, and it is a while before she notices the indignation in his words. Whatever happened, Catelyn quickly realizes, he thinks to be in the right.
"What do you mean, Snow?"
And if that, Snow, comes out too harsh, she is not the one who started.
"What did you promise Lord Frey?"
Catelyn represses the impulse to raise her eyebrows, trying to understand. Surely Snow didn't resent her… "I offered him a marriage pact," she begins, slowly. "Between my son, your liege," she deliberately leaves out, your brother, "in exchange for safe passage, and his support."
"It is a battle, that we are going to fight. We are at war. Robb is a Stark, and he has a duty to his people. This is something lords do, Jon Snow."
And she could add so much to that – how Robb will at least have his pick, and there's plenty in Walder Frey's brood to find someone he might come to care for, even love; how she herself has been, at one time, nothing more than a price Eddard Stark paid for her father's men; how the choice was between accepting Lord Frey's price or die on the banks of the Green Fork.
But she doesn't add anything, because Jon Snow interrupts her before she can say a word.
"And what," he asks, his voice as calm and firm as Catelyn's own. "What about the other marriage pact? What about Arya?"
And suddenly, she understands.
Catelyn has always been aware of the bond between Ned's bastard son and her own children, conscious of exactly how much time Snow spent sparring with Robb, playing with Bran, or making up stories and games to entertain Rickon. Of how close he was to Arya, her little Arya, her wild wolf girl who never wanted to be a proper lady and, frankly, will probably never be.
"So that is what is about," she starts, trying to come up with the right words. "Arya is a Stark as well. She must do her duty."
Snow grimaces. "Of course she must. She is also nine years old, Lady Stark, do you think she will like to have her life already planned out, without her consent?" His breath is slower now, and his words as well – he looks as though he is trying to keep his emotion in check, trying to show her some obvious fallacy she has somehow missed.
"Robb wasn't enough." Catelyn isn't sure why she is explaining herself, her actions, to Jon Snow, but she goes on talking anyway. "And Bran is even younger. She was the only choice."
Snow makes some sort of strangled noise, as if he has chocked on his own words, and it is a while before he speaks. "But you do have an older daughter, my lady. What about Sansa?"
Cately pauses, at loss for words. Sansa. Somehow, Sansa hasn't entered her thoughts at all today.
"Sansa is already betrothed."
Snow laughs. "Why, milady, will you let her marry Joffrey Baratheon still, after everything? Will Lord Stark let it happen?"
Of course he will not. Cately hasn't yet dared to imagine what could happen after, when this is all over and they are all safe and sound. Even her dreams stop once the war ends, but now for the first time she finds herself thinking of the future and realizes that yes, Snow is right. She has no wish to see Sansa married to King Joffrey, and Ned will never stand for it.
"The Freys aren't important enough, isn't that right? Not for Sansa."
Snow stops at that, perhaps realizing that he has gone too far, but the implications of his words hang in the air between them. A Frey girl to take on the Stark name, that might be accepted, but for Sansa to become one of the, spend her life in the twin castles by the river? Not a life Catelyn would ever wish on her daughter, and yet this is what she just did.
She hasn't ever thought in quite these terms, but now what is done is done, and there is no going back. They both know this, Catelyn realizing that she could have gotten better terms, and missed on the opportunity, and Jon, who has just overstepped himself, more than he's ever dreamt of doing.
"Robb has accepted," she tells him, with all the composure she can muster. "Robb has accepted, and we have crossed the river. It is done."
Snow nods slowly, and Catelyn takes a moment before speaking up again. "I will not ask you to apologize for today, but you must not do this again."
Snow looks at her and nods, and Catelyn knows she is simply stating the obvious. They both have no reason to talk to each other ever again; in fact, that of today is likely to be the longest conversation they have had – and ever will.
He is silent for the longest time, and Catelyn turns her back on him and is just about to go looking for Robb when Snow speaks up again. "She will hate it."
She takes in a long breath, refusing to turn back. Of course Arya will hate it.
"I know she will. We will come to save her from King's Landing, and Arya will think she's just traded a prison for another. And I can't do anything about it."
That he cannot, and neither can she. Because war is war, and sacrifices must be made.
"Lady Stark," he calls out, stopping her once again. "What do you think will happen, if we win?"
She doesn't know, cannot say. What is a win at this point? Getting Ned back? Freeing her daughters? She wonders what will be of the king if they win, and what of the kingdom, remembering the last war and everything that came with it.
"Do you think –" Snow starts saying, then stops, pausing before speaking again. "Do you think that, if we win, Lord Frey might reconsider?"
Catelyn doesn't think so, and she is about to speak out of honour and duty and sacrifice, but Snow keeps going.
"Do you think, if we win, that a victorious bastard might be worth a second daughter?"
Of all the think she expected Jon Snow to say, this surely wasn't one of them.
And she turns on her back to glance at him, pale and cautious and looking about twelve years old, and expecting an answer.
"I cannot tell," she says, and she honestly doesn't. It depends on many, many things, winning the war and winning glory and staying alive as long as possible. Fortunes are made and broken in war, but no one should ever attempt to predict them.
She went away and left him there, standing on the green, by the river.
The Whispering Wood, the men call it, and Catelyn can see why. In the night all is blurred, every colour and shape, and voices and sounds seem to come from every direction, chasing their own twisted echoes, spinning all around her. The screams of dying men blend with victory cries and the clattering of the horses, and she can almost hear her heart beating out in her chest.
It is only when Robb is once again in front of her, unharmed and unhurt, that Catelyn allows herself to breathe freely again – and that only lasts until she lays her eyes on Theon Greyjoy and Jon Umber, Ser Jaime Lannister between them, and feels a surge of anger through her veins.
"Ser Jaime," she calls out, spitting the words out of her mouth with all the distaste she can muster.
He is beaten and bloodied and yet still beautiful, his red-stained head shining under the light of the moon, and Catelyn wishes for a moment she were a man, to take her fury out on him with blows and swords rather than words.
It is only when Robb have carried him away than they can finally talk.
"The Kingslayer took off Torrhen Karstark's hand," he tells her, eyes wide, and Catelyn feels sympathy for him. A quick death in battle is one thing, maiming is another. She shivers.
"It was his sword hand," her son continues. "He was shouting and calling for me, and Torrhen tried to stop him, and Lannister cut off his hand and just shoved him off, and went on Eddard next. If we'd been faster, we could have…"
She puts a hand on Robb's shoulder, gently.
"Stop that," she says. "It was not your fault, you needn't worry. People die in battles, Robb, and you cannot let death stop you."
"But we could have, mother." He stared into her eyes, and he looked so young. "Eddard took on him right after, with Daryn Hornwood, and then Jon, and he had Ghost with him."
Robb is talking in furious whispers now, and she is glad they are alone because he's not a Lord anymore, he is a boy of sixteen and he needs his mother.
"They could have killed him, mother, they really could have." She can almost see it, the fight, the blood. It goes on nicely with the screams in her mind. "It would have been faster than take him prisoner, and we wasted so much time, while Torrhen bleed out to death into the ground. Like he was some sort of – of animal, mother."
Catelyn puts her arms around him and let him sob, like she has done with Ned the first time he's had to claim a life. "He was my friend, and he's dead when and Jaime Lannister is alive, and I hate it."
Robb is shaking, his direwolf whimpering softly at his side, and she holds him and hopes everything will be well again. His cheeks are flushed when he pulls away, and Catelyn pretends she doesn't notice, that she missed the flash of pink among the shadows of the woods.
They do not speak on the way to the tents, and Robb puts on a smile for the men. They are cheering – And why shouldn't they, Catelyn thinks, after they have won such a great victory? – and soon her son joins in, acknowledging the bows and the toasts and the cries, his northmen singing and celebrating all around him.
She barely sees Jon Snow that night, only a quick glimpse over Galbert Glover's shoulder. He has a bandaged shoulder, his white direwolf at his feet, and is looking at Robb, she notices, with a sort of intense gaze she has seen in her mirror more often than not. Their eyes meet for a moment and then he turns back to Robb, and Catelyn knows what he is thinking because she is thinking the same thing. We are still here. He is alive. We kept him safe.
And indeed they did.
The King in the North, they are screaming into the night. The King in the North, every cheer a nail digging into her soul. It is not enough that this war has claimed Ned already, Ned who has been her love and rock and the centre of her life these past fifteen years, now they mean to have her son as well.
She should be rejoicing, Catelyn knows that. Ned's death is still an open wound to all of them, but word has just come that their enemy is divided – they might win this war. They are winning this war, wherever it may lead.
Yet she cannot help it but feeling scared, despite everything. Robb should not have to see her like this any less than he should have a mother's watchful eyes over him tonight, and so left him to go wander about the castle of her childhood, watching memories spin back to life.
Her feet bring her to the Godswood for the second time that day, to her husband's bastard son standing by the tree.
She seems to be meeting him everywhere these days, Catelyn observes with cool detachment, even if they haven't talked since the day they crossed the Green Fork. Or perhaps it is simply the fact that he no longer makes sure to stay out of her way like he used to do in Winterfell. There is a sort of grim hilarity in that, knowing she is no longer as scary as she used to be. Not scarier than a rebellion, anyway.
Snow is sitting under the tree, that wolf of his tailing him as close as Grey Wind does Robb, and she thinks he might be crying. Strange how death changes things, Catelyn thinks. One year ago, maybe even one week, she would have resented Snow that, his sorrow just another reminder of what he is, but she is too tired to resent anything today.
Ned is dead, she reminds suddenly for the third time in one hour. Odd, how she keeps forgetting. Dead, and not coming back. Not tomorrow, not ever.
This is when Snow turns around and sees her standing there. He was indeed crying, red eyes and wet cheeks, and he winces a little before stopping rather abruptly, as if deciding there is no much point in feeling awkwardness anymore. Catelyn sympathizes.
"Lady Catlyn," he calls out, his voice low. "Are you w–" and then he stops, wincing for real this time, knowing that not, she is not well, same as he, and won't be again for a long time.
They both stand in silence after that, and she is glad.
It is he that breaks the silence, in the end.
"I agreed with you," Snow blurts out, almost apologetic. They have never agreed before, never had anything to agree on, and it makes no difference to her; still he wants her to know. "A peace would have been better. A peace, to mourn our deaths and put things together. But –"
He trails off, and Catelyn is surprised. She would have expected Snow to seek revenge – he has never been anything but fiercely loyal to Ned, and he deliberately left a safe place at the Wall to join Robb's host. She realizes she must have told him as much out loud, because he answer her.
"Revenge is selfish. Is for those who have nothing to lose, no life left to live," and Catelyn wonders if he is thinking of what he's left back at the Wall, the fight he told Robb about, and her own thoughts go to Winterfell and Bran and Rickon instead.
"I cannot say I dislike the idea, though," he continues, and doesn't look at her. "He is all I had."
This is one of the oddest conversation Catleyn has ever had, trying to make sense out of Jon Snow's thoughts in the wake of her husband's death. It is still better than grieving, a cold, calculating voice in her mind tells her, and she finds herself talking to Snow – truly talking, for the first time in her life.
"There is still Robb."
And she knows she is not talking about Snow anymore.
He seems to agree some. "I suppose there is. He is still my Lo – my King, now." He looks at her again. "Gods he must be hating it inside."
He must, she thinks, and Snows continues, in an oddly cheerful note. "He will make a good king."
That he will, Catelyn knows. He will, Ned. I know he will.