a/n - Written for the Day 7 prompt of the Game of Ships "Golden Ships" challenge on tumblr, which invited authors to change one element of canon and run with it. I decided to have Jon not betray the wildlings and, instead, kill the man they ordered him to kill before he ran away in the series.
This is essentially what I thought was going to happen as I was reading A Storm of Swords. (Spoiler alert: My guess was way off base.) I have a part 2 to this story planned and hope to have it posted here eventually.
Six months north of the Wall and Jon Snow still isn't used to the darkness.
He used to think he knew darkness. As a boy at Winterfell, after sundown there'd be nothing to see in any direction but the tiny pinpricks of light created by the Seven's distant constellations. He and his brother Robb would stare up at that night sky for hours – just sweet summer children then, both of them – whispering together and marveling at that darkness. At the sheer vastness of the universe.
But as Jon Snow has come to learn, he'd known nothing.
Because here, up North, among the wildlings where he has come to stay for a time, the night and the cold and the frozen breaths of his new companions conspire to blot out the stars altogether. They dare not start fires at night or else risk attracting wild animals; or worse, attracting the Others and their mindless wights.
As he and Ygritte settle down together every evening, in the darkness, they have to rely on touch and feel and smell, rather than sight, to know how to position their bodies. To know where the other is.
It's something he's still getting used to.
Jon Snow hunts with the wildlings and shares overnight watches with them. He sleeps among them, breaks bread with them.
More often than he'd like, he even burns blue-eyed corpses with them.
Despite all of this, Jon knows there are still some among the freefolk who don't trust him.
It's better now than it was at first. The day he'd killed that old man by the barn, he knew he'd convinced most who still doubted that he'd become one of them. In truth, killing that man had been one of the easiest decisions of his life. The man was a danger to himself and to everyone within three miles of them, with his carrying on and his howling, and it was imperative that someone make an end.
And so when Ygritte and Mance Rayder ordered Jon to kill him, it had been nothing at all for him to draw his dagger across the man's throat in one swift motion.
As the man lay dying in the snow, a great pool of red puddling around him, Jon told himself that in killing him, he was protecting his Brothers back on the Wall just as much as those among whom he presently lived. But the people with him that day were not privy to his thoughts, and most interpreted his actions as a clear sign that he'd renounced his Brothers and joined them in earnest.
Jon knows the warg still suspects his motives. After dinner most nights, Jon catches the man staring at him across the fire, his look murderous. In his first weeks here Jon tried his level best to appeal to him. But he realizes, now, that the warg will never see him as anything but a crow. Continuing to try to win him over would be a pointless waste of time.
Ygritte probably knows the truth about his conflicted mind as well. But with his body and his soul laid bare before her night after night, he knows he will never be able to hide anything from her.
Either way, whenever she fixes him with her fierce eyes, blue as an ice-cold winter's sky, it's clear to him that she doesn't care what he is. And when he looks back into them he often forgets what he is himself.
Every night, as she rests her head on his chest and wraps her long freckled arms around his neck, he lies awake, thinking. The vows he and Sam made before that old heart tree by the Wall are becoming a more distant memory every day. But not forgotten. They still prick at his conscience like a splinter, even as he loves her, even as he kills for her and betrays his Brothers.
Jon has known from the beginning of this that he will eventually be forced to make a choice. The longer he stays here with her, the longer he works with and lives among her people, the less certain he is of what that choice will be.
But tonight he puts this unsettling thought aside. Tonight he will not think of Sam or the others back on the Wall, or of the vows they all spoke together.
He closes his eyes and contents himself with simply lying in her arms, letting the darkness take them both.
Ygritte is much better at hiding than he is.
To Jon's great frustration, the silent sure-footedness that came so naturally to his uncle Benjen, and to most of the other Rangers of the Night's Watch, eludes him. He always held his own among his Black Brothers during drills but here it's different. Here, north of the Wall, Jon's footing might as well be as clumsy as Hodor's for all the staring he gets from the wildlings.
Ygritte is nothing like him. Even among a people who pride themselves on catching prey – human and otherwise – unawares, Ygritte is a marvel of stealth and cunning. She can hold the same posture, still as a statue, for hours at a time if she has to, to take down a deer that will feed them. He's seen her do it countless times over the past six months – her bow at the ready, arms steady and legs taut, face frozen in a feral expression as if daring the animal to notice her.
But they never notice her. Not until she's already upon them and it's too late.
She's one of their best, their girl kissed by fire. They remind him of it often.
Like he could ever forget.
There's a part of Ygritte that she hides from him as well.
Jon wonders if hiding is so engrained in her, such a part of who she is, that she can't help but ferret part of herself away where no one else can see it.
Either way, even after all this time together – even though Jon, in spite of himself, has come to regard her as his woman – she remains somewhat enigmatic. A riddle, like one Maester Luwin might have put before him in his youth, that he can't quite solve.
He looks up at her now, squatting not ten feet away from him in front of the fire and skinning tonight's dinner. Her jaw is set and determined, her face lit up as if from within by the fire blazing before her. Most of her hair is tied back in the leather tie she always uses for this purpose, but small wisps of it have escaped and frame her round face.
As he watches her skillfully dress the game, Jon feels a stirring that still takes him by surprise every single time. He closes his eyes and sighs, resigned to it now. He's no longer willing or even able to fight it.
He walks over to the fire and sits down heavily beside her. He glances up at her as she works.
His body is mere inches from hers but she pays him no mind. Normally she's freer with her love and her kisses than any woman he's ever known. But she's working right now, and Jon's never been able to distract her when she's working.
He decides to try anyway, just in case. He pushes her long mane of red hair away from her neck and kisses her hungrily, with lips, teeth, and tongue, where her neck joins her shoulder. He wonders what effect he's having, if any, and pulls back to look at her again. But her face is unreadable.
"Mmmm," she murmurs contentedly, her busy hands never stopping to rest. He takes the sound as encouragement. Ignoring the snickers he's getting from the nearby wildlings, Jon continues to kiss down her neck as she slides the rabbit's skin off its bones.
Despite Ygritte's uncanny ability to hide, eventually Jon notices something is different.
They're in their sleeping furs, and he's just begun moving inside her, when the realization hits him. Her breasts, always so small and so perfect, spill out of his splayed hands. He stares at them for a long time through his fingers. And he stares at her nipples, strangely dark in color and jutting out from her sharply.
He bends to take one into his mouth. When he bites down gently, the way she likes, she cries out in pain rather than pleasure.
That surprises him. He stills his movements and looks into her eyes.
She places her hands on his chest and looks up at him. She pulls her lower lip between her teeth. When she continues to hold his gaze without saying anything, Jon can tell she wants him to stop.
He's more than a little taken aback. She's usually the aggressor at night. This is actually a first.
"What is it?" he asks as he pulls out of her, trying, and mostly failing, to keep the edge of panic out of his voice.
"It's nothing," she tells him abruptly. Her snappish tone makes him wince a little. She pushes him off her, forcefully – another first – and rolls over quickly so that her back is to him. "Aye… I'm just tired, Jon Snow. A long day today."
Jon wants to say more. He wants to talk about… about this. Whatever this is.
But despite the relatively early hour Ygritte is asleep a moment later.
Jon lies awake for hours after that, staring up at the blank black sky and listening to her deep even breathing beside him. He runs his hands over his face and leaves them over his eyes. He takes a deep breath.
The frigid air burns his lungs but the pain doesn't really register.
When Jon wakes at dawn the furs next to him are empty and cold. He opens his eyes blearily and sees that Ygritte is already gone.
He dresses quickly and makes his way over to the cooking fire in the center of camp.
Val and Dalla are responsible for the morning meal this week. After, their status among the wildlings doesn't exempt them from the tasks everyone else shares. The sisters are already in front of the large iron pot he's come to know well when he arrives.
Both are dressed in their thick woolens, alternately warming their hands over the flames and stirring the morning porridge as it simmers.
"Where's Ygritte? Your woman," Val clarifies, unnecessarily. She says it with a wink, placing special emphasis on the last word.
Jon flushes with embarrassment, which makes Val laugh. Val seems to take special pleasure in his embarrassment over matters concerning Ygritte. "I don't know where she is," he admits. "She was gone when I woke up."
"Most likely puking her guts out in a bush," a nearby passerby mutters loudly, clearly intending for the small group to hear him. Jon has no idea what his comments were supposed to mean but Val seems to understand well enough. She laughs even harder.
"I think she might have gone to see the woods witch, boy," Dalla says. She's smirking at Jon but her eyes are kind. "Try there."
The woods witch's hut is about thirty minutes away from the main wildling camp. As the crow flies, anyway. But more than a foot of wet, heavy snow fell overnight and it takes Jon nearly an hour to get there.
By the time he arrives, Ygritte is gone.
The woods witch is plainly at home, though. He can hear her rattling around in her hut, doing… whatever it is she does out here. Jon realizes he doesn't exactly understand her trade, and he flushes scarlet at the realization, given what he's about to ask her.
Jon's nerves, frayed ever since Ygritte shoved him off of her so abruptly last night, got markedly worse during his long trudge through the snow to find this place. He walks inside the small hut without knocking.
He makes a lot of noise as he enters, stomping his feet on her doorstep to order to shake off the snow that clings to his boots. But the old woman doesn't acknowledge him. Her back is to him as she shakes and then stirs a small flagon that looks like nothing so much as a bottle of piss to Jon.
After a long moment, the witch speaks to him without turning around.
"Yes, your woman was just here," she says to the flagon she's holding. "But she's gone now."
When Jon presses the old woman for more information, she refuses to tell him why Ygritte was there or what they discussed.
The woods witch turns to face him, then, and looks him right in the eye. But there's a look in her eye that belies her tough exterior, and he knows the woman wants to tell him what's happening.
She doesn't tell him, though. And then the moment is gone. She turns her back to Jon once more and resumes whatever it was she'd been doing when he interrupted her, letting Jon know that this meeting is over.
It doesn't really matter, though. In a flash, Jon Snow figures it out all on his own.
His stomach full of lead and his head in knots, Jon slowly makes his way back to the wildling camp, feeling as though he's trapped in some sort of waking nightmare.
He doesn't know what to say to Ygritte when he sees her back at the camp. Even though he thought of little else but what he might say to her on his way back here.
She turns from the fire to face him, smiling, as if nothing between them has changed. But his new realization must be etched plainly on his face, because her face falls immediately at the sight of him.
He closes his eyes and shakes his head, hoping the motion might clear it.
By the gods, he thinks to himself. I was so stupid. I've been so terribly stupid.
They should have foreseen this.
But when he opens his eyes all indecision is gone. He's at her side a moment later, crossing the camp to reach her in four big strides. He takes her into his arms. But she stands there stiffly, not moving to embrace him.
"It will be all right, Jon Snow," she says, her voice as strong and confident as ever. "The babe will have a mother who loves him."
The words are a like vise on his heart. They confirm that she'd known all along that he'd always planned to leave her. Eventually.
Visions of himself as a young child – not unhappy exactly, but with the ever-present knowledge that he was less than – swim unbidden in front of his eyes. At age four, not allowed to sit with the real Starks when the King came to visit. A lifetime of Lady Catelyn's barely concealed loathing. Feeling, at age fifteen, when the King again came to visit and he was resigned to a seat of no import at the back of Winterfell's Great Hall, that he had no choice left to him but to take the black.
Jon grits his teeth, and decides on the spot that he will not repeat his father's mistake. He'll be damned if he'll father a bastard. The vows he made with Sam and the others before that heart tree seem like a meaningless nothing in front of this great truth.
He tightens his arms around Ygritte, even as she just stands there, immobile.
He knows what he has to do.
But Ygritte fights him on the idea of marriage for weeks.
"A wedding?" she asks, dismayed. She wrinkles her nose in disgust. "Such a thing is not done here, Jon Snow."
She mocks him, mercilessly, and what feels like endlessly, for what she calls his quaint, southron ideas and the importance he places on "meaningless vows, Jon Snow."
But he doesn't relent. "I will not father a bastard, Ygritte," he tells her, repeatedly, every night as they lie down together in their furs. "Not ever."
They go around in circles. "But there's no such thing as a bastard here," she counters, every night. "Babes belong to their mums. Babes without fathers face no shame."
It's only when Jon breaks down in tears one night and literally begs him to let him marry her that she agrees.
"All right," she tells him, very quickly. He can tell from the tone of his voice that his breakdown has alarmed her. In the moment he can't bother to care. She kisses the top of his head. She leans over and whispers in his ear. "If it means so very much to you. But it changes nothing, Jon Snow." She shakes her head emphatically. "It changes nothing between you and me. Nor between you and the babe."
He rolls over inside their furs and clutches her body to him. She smells musky tonight, so very like Ygritte, a combination of fire and sweat and earth.
"For me, it changes everything," he murmurs. Because it does. From this there is no going back. He chokes on another sob, and tightens his grip on her. "Absolutely everything."
She sighs, resigned. "All right," she says again, kissing his forehead.
They lie together like that for another long moment, bodies entwined in the all-consuming darkness.
"Wife," she says quietly, after a very long moment. She sounds out the word carefully, as if it's not only an unusual concept to her but actually a completely foreign one.
"Wife," he confirms, nodding against her breast.
He reaches down and places his hand on her still-flat stomach. She elbows him in the ribs, rolling her eyes. But she's smiling.
It's easy enough for them to find a heart tree to say their vows by. But nobody – not even Jon – knows the proper words to say at a wedding ceremony, and nobody but Mance Rayder will agree to officiate what they all see as utter foolishness.
Even the old man is reluctant to do it, loathe as he is to abide by any tradition held dear to those south of the Wall. But agree to it he eventually does. Jon suspects he's doing it only because he knows this proves, without a shadow of a doubt, that Jon is no longer a crow, but as long as he's there to say the words with them, it doesn't matter.
Before the ceremony begins, Jon hands Mance a scrap of paper upon which he scrawled his half-formed ideas for their vows late last night. Mance looks the notes over studiously, then gives Jon a curious look, eyebrows raised.
Finally, the man nods, one side of his mouth quirked up in a half-smile.
Jon takes Ygritte's hands in his as they take it in turns to repeat the words Mance says to them. He looks at her, the girl kissed by fire. His girl kissed by fire. She's wearing a plain dress, with a bouquet of leaves in one hand and a garland of them woven into a makeshift crown upon her head.
As unwilling as she'd been to go through with this at first, Jon's quite certain he's never seen Ygritte look more radiant.
One set of vows bind; another betray, Jon thinks to himself, grimly, even as he's reciting back to Ygritte the words he wrote last night.
But whatever fate may befall the wildlings when they advance on Castle Black in one fortnight – whatever fate may befall his unborn child – will now be his fate as well. There is no alternative. He will not repeat his father's mistake.
After the words are said and finished, and Ygritte is giving him a wry smile that seems to light her up from within, the small group of freefolk who agreed to attend the ceremony begin catcalling and applauding. Jon's fairly certain they're actually mocking the entire event, but he can't be bothered to care.
He takes Ygritte, his bride, into his arms. She looks at him archly, one eyebrow raised and her full lips pursed, the way she always looks at him when she's about to make some cutting remark.
She opens her mouth to speak, but anticipating what she's about to say, Jon cuts her off with a kiss.
"I know that I love you," he says against her lips. "Lady Snow," he adds, grinning.
She grimaces and sticks out her tongue. "Never call me that again, Jon Snow. I am still me own woman, aye?" She kicks his shin as a reminder, but she's smiling again, and the kick is playful, not serious.
Jon leans his forehead against her and sighs.