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Goodbye, Brother

Chapter Text

When Ned had finally gathered the courage to tell his wife who Jon Snow's mother was, they didn't speak for an entire week.

As honorable and as accomplished Ned was at leading the North in both peace and war times, he became a craven at the very thought of facing Cat with the truth about Jon's mother. Not until forced to do so.

The events that lead to this and what soon came after were sung by bards long after their time.

Bran had taken it upon himself to prove that his dreams were not at all dreams but visions.

The second son of the Stark lineage had always found it strange that he dreamt of being in an animal's skin and mind only to wake to find those animals were, in fact, real and had been right where he'd been before he woke. Bran, being a boy of only seven, had both been ecstatic and absolutely terrified of this. He asked Old Nan of what it may be and he'd been told of men who could change skins and see through many beasts' eyes.

A Warg. That had been the word.

Bran had gone to tell his father about his abilities but merely saw them as the product of the fantastical mind of a child. Hence, why he'd been determined to find that giant wolf he'd dreamt of—a direwolf— lurking in the Wolfswood. He never intended to get lost wandering around the woods until nightfall, trapped in a horrible snow storm.

Catelyn had then been sick with worry for her little boy, begging her husband to go and find him, whatever the cost. But the storm prevented the men to venture out deep into the woods. Ned had wanted to charge out by himself but his men had told him otherwise. There was no way to see in that blizzard, they told him. Bran is a smart boy, he'll survive this. But it was later they discovered that another boy—older and not a Stark though had shared their blood—is missing from the party that came back to the castle after the storm had turned for the worst.

Jon Snow never returned with them, they had later found. He had snuck away from the party and continued the search despite the storm.

Ned had been nearly frantic with both boys out but he knew that he'd be no use charging into this storm and could only hope both boys were true sons of the North and that they will survive it. He had said the same thing to his son, Robb, when he'd caught the boy sneaking about, attempting to do the same.

"HOW CAN YOU LEAVE THEM OUT THERE?!" Robb had angrily bellowed when Ned had stopped him.

"Because we'd be no help to them if we die out there ourselves!" Ned roared back. Robb's eyes brimmed with tears, awfully afraid of losing two of his brothers. Ned could only look at him in empathy. He knew what that felt like, losing the people you loved. But this was different. They weren't in the south where Northmen have a habit of dying out. They were here in the North where winters howl and still, they survive. His boys will, too. "Your brothers are smart and they would've found shelter, Robb."

"And what if they haven't?" Robb countered, looking like the boy of four and ten he was.

"They will. They have. They are children of the North. They will survive. I have to believe that."

Ned walked away, finding himself in the crypts below, praying and wondering and fretting.

The next day, the snows nearly buried the castle gates in its thickness. When midday came, the guards saw a little boy running towards the gate and sent for Lord Stark immediately. Bran was met by his mother and father, wrapping him in arms so warm he thought he'd been scalded. He was freezing, they could tell. He wore two coats and one of them was fairly larger than him. Ned instantly knew it was Jon's. Bran's lips were blue, parts of his face, fingers and hair had icicles and frost clinging to him but he was relatively fine. It was Robb who noticed that he had still one brother short and that Bran was squirming around in his mother arms, trying to say something.

"Bran, what is it?" Robb asked.

"J-Jon!" Bran stuttered. "H-He's h-hur-rt b-b-bad-ly!"

"Where is he, Bran?" Ned asked solemnly. Promise me, Ned.

"F-Follow t-that b-bird!" Bran's eyes turned completely white and Catelyn cried out in horror.

A crow squawked above them and it looked too determined for a mere bird. In that moment, Ned believed him. It fluttered around Ned until he nodded and the crow began to fly in the direction of the woods with Ned and Robb and the rest of their men not far behind.

The snow was so thick their horses barely made it through but when they found Jon, a wolf larger than any of their horses guarded him like Jon is her pup.

Not just any wolf. A direwolf, he thought.

She lay down next to the boy as if to keep him warm and had a bulging stomach which, in hindsight, Ned thought the direwolf to be pregnant. But that didn't matter. Not now. Not when Jon was lying down on the ground, unmoving and deathly pale. He looked to be dead already if not for the fact that Robb had gotten off his horse and checked if he was still breathing. The direwolf made no attempt to stop him and Robb didn't seem to notice it, just getting to Jon's side as quickly as he could.

"He's still alive!" He announced with relief.

"Quick, get him to the castle." Ned swooped down from his horse and he and Robb started to carry Jon back to his horse but was stopped when Jon stirred in pain, the unnatural angle of his legs were finally noticed by both Starks. The way he was breathing also hinted some form of pain on his ribs. It would be difficult to bring Jon home now with these injuries and he needed to be brought home. Ned saw signs of hypothermia setting in and he cannot stay in the cold any longer than he already had. The direwolf growled to get their attention, its eyes turning blue like Bran's for a moment, and nuzzled Jon's arm. Ned had an idea.

"Shields! I need your shields and rope!" He ordered.

Minutes later, they had a makeshift sled securely tied to the direwolf. They carefully placed Jon onto the sled and the direwolf sped with all haste back to the castle with Ned and Robb and their men not far behind.

Maester Luwin spent the next few days between nursing Jon and Bran back to health. But it seems that Jon, unlike his brother who's completely on the mend, was taking a turn for the worst.

"It's all my fault. His horse was frightened by the direwolf and he fell off. He broke his legs and his sides, but he gave his coat to me anyway and we took shelter in the trees and he kept me warm through the night. I just wanted to prove that I could actually do it. That I'm a warg. I never meant to get lost." Bran sobbed into his mother's shoulder. Robb looked thunderous but also completely sympathetic and Ned could only consul his son that it wasn't his fault and that Jon would be better. He'll see. But inside, Ned worried.

When his duties permit, he would sit by the boy's side. He was in a precarious state, the maester told them. With his temperature rising as it was, he could die any moment should his fever not break. Ned wanted to see those Stark eyes again that lit so much like his mother's. Sometimes, his children joined him, the most frequent being Arya and Robb. They took turns watching their brother, Ned was sure. Arya went as far as sleeping next to Jon one night. Bran remained confined in his room to rest as well with his mother tending to him. Sansa came only once, to wish her "half-brother" well. Ned had internally sighed on the one-way exchange. Jon slept on, muttering fitfully in his sleep as he dreamt.

On the third night of Ned's vigil, Catelyn sought him out.

"My lord, I bid you to rest." She insisted.

"I will when he wakes." Ned answered. He couldn't sleep knowing that any moment Jon could die. Not until his fever breaks.

"He'll still be here in the morning, Ned."

"I know but I can't leave him."

That seemed to anger her. "He's more important to you than I, your wife?"

"Cat, please—"

"I shan't hear of this! That boy means to you more than your son! Do you even remember Bran, your trueborn son? Who, like him, was lost! And you sit here, by his side!"

"He's my blood."

"Aye. He's your son." She turns to leave and he could no longer take it. Tapping into that well of unknown courage inside of him, he tells his wife the truth.

"He's not my son."

That froze Cat as she reached for the knob. She sharply turns to him and snaps, "What?"

"He's not my son, Cat." Ned whispered but it was clear enough that he knew Cat heard him.

"Ned—"

"I lied to you."

"I don't understand."

"He's not my son, Cat, he's my nephew."

Cat's eyes widened and the blue shone so bright even by just candlelight. She looked away and Ned knew she was trying to piece it all together.

"Is he Brandon's?" She asked almost fearfully.

"No," Ned answered. "He's my sister's."

It took her a moment before what he said sunk in. "He's Rhaegar's so—"

"He's a wolf and he's a Stark." Ned told her firmly. "He's my blood."

Cat swallowed a lump in her throat before her anger bubbled just as he knew it would. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It wasn't safe to tell anyone. Even now."

"Then why did you?"

"I don't know."

When she stormed out of the room, he didn't stop her. They didn't speak a word to each other after that.

The week passed by slowly. Jon's fever broke but he was still confined to his bed due to his two broken legs and a few cracked ribs. Ned visited only occasionally as he knew his children were more than happy to keep their brother entertained.

But he isn't their brother, a voice that vaguely sounded like Robert told him in his mind.

He's as good as. He's a Stark and he's part of the pack. The lone wolf dies but the pack survives, a voice that sounded like Lyanna countered.

On the seventh day of their silence, Cat broke it with the most peculiar request that ever came from his wife.

"Make him a Stark."

The statement surprised Ned so much that he could only stare at his wife with his mouth agape. That was not something he had expected her to say. "What?"

"Make him a Stark, Ned. Put him in the last line of succession to our children."

"Cat, you don't have to—"

"But yes, I do." His wife insisted, guilt-ridden and pained. "Family, Duty, Honor. Those were our words. Those were my words and I am shamed to admit I failed in all three."

Ned didn't say anything, sensing his wife had more to say. She sat on a chair, looking out the window of his solar. It was a murky day as it was in Winterfell yet from that window they heard their children's laughter ringing in the air.

"Many years ago, when you brought that baby home, I couldn't bear to look at him. I prayed to the gods to take him away, make him die. He got the pox." Cat told him quietly, her gaze far away into the memory and he could only gape at her in shock. How could she have wished that? The woman he loved was loving, caring, and good. How could she wish that upon an innocent child? And yet he had betrayed her. Not with an act, true. But with lies. "And I knew I was the worst woman who'd ever lived. A murderer. I condemned this poor, innocent child to a horrible death all because I was jealous of his mother, a woman he didn't even know." Ned's eyes brimmed with tears while Cat's own dripped from her cheeks. "So, I prayed to all the Seven gods, let the boy live. Let him live and I'll love him. I'll be a mother to him. I'll beg you to give him a true name, to call him Stark and be done with it. To make him one of us. But I couldn't keep my promise then."

She inhaled shakily and looked him in the eyes. "But I can keep that promise now. Make him a Stark, Ned. Make him one of us. It's all he'd ever wanted, I know that now."

Ned cannot bring himself to speak. He only nodded once, his eyes conveying the thousand gratitude and love he has for her and they knew then, between them, all was forgiven.

Chapter Text

It was Catelyn's idea to tell Jon the truth.

Ned held her hand as they strode solemnly into the boy's room. Jon was smiling as Arya and Bran, who had fully recovered days ago, bickered good-naturedly on either side of his bed while Jon, failing to hide his amusement, was still confined to his bed with both his legs and ribs mending.

When the children saw their mother, they fell immediately into silence. Their father, who often visited Jon, had not been a surprise but their mother was a completely different story. She had avoided Jon's room like the plague. She had always avoided him like a plague. But when her eyes fell on Jon, it was like she had seen him for the first time. Jon could only gulp and had politely asked Arya and Bran to carry on with their lessons and duties. They complied with reluctance.

"How do you fair?" Was the awkward question thrown to Jon from his father's Lady Wife.

"I'm well, Lady Stark." Jon answered timidly yet at the same time bravely.

"That's good."

Silence ticked between them and many moments passed before Cat cleared her throat.

"Jon," She began and Jon's eyes widened at the fact that she just called him by his name. It had always been boy or bastard but never his name. "Jon, I owe you an apology and a thank you."

"There's no need to thank me, Lady Stark." Jon told her. "Bran is my brother and I would do anything to keep him safe."

Catelyn smiled shakily, the declaration catching her off guard. "All the same, I wish to thank you for saving my son."

"You're welcome."

"And I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to forgive, Lady Stark."

"Oh, but there is, Jon. There's so much to forgive."

And then she told him. Of what she's done, what she'd thought, and all the things she'd said and done to him that she regrets now. At the end of it all, Jon's eyes only widened and Ned saw a hint of tears in his eyes though the boy kept his head down all the while he responded.

"I-I appreciate your honesty, Lady Stark. Thank you." He raised his head and looked at Cat in the eye. "And I forgive you."

For the first time in Jon's life, Catelyn Tully Stark looked at him with a hint of almost affection. Even this little piece of warmth was enough to upturn many a feelings in his heart, as deprived of maternal love that he was.

"I've asked your father to make you a Stark."

Jon felt like he'd stopped breathing. "I—what—"

"You've always been a Stark." Cat told him and smiled. She was actually smiling at Jon. At him. "I see it in the way you love my children and my husband. Your eyes and even your countenance mirrors the Northern ways."

And she jested. With him.

"I can tell that this had all been too much and I think that I've disturbed your healing enough." She stood to leave and shared a meaningful look with her husband to which he smiled sadly.

Before she left, she turned around to face him again. "Family, Duty, Honor. Those were my house's words. It's not so different here in the North. The lone wolf dies but the pack survives. As we must for Winter is Coming."

With those words, she left and Jon's father told him about his mother.

Chapter Text

They were to travel south to King's Landing for Jon to be legitimized, King Robert commanded.

It had been almost a year since he'd known the truth. Who he was, where he'd come from, who his mother was…

And who his father was.

The day after he'd been told, he had refused to see anyone and barely ate anything. The bread and meat they sent him always remained barely touched. His siblings— cousins— didn't know what to do. They had tried everything they could to break down his walls that grew as thick and cold as the Wall. Even Sansa came to try and help but to no avail. Such was the devastating effects of being told the truth and undoing the lie, Ned knew. He had even expected it. He had hoped to tell Jon when he was older. He doesn't mean to keep the secret to the grave, just until Jon understood the world of men a little better. But in hindsight, Ned thought it was ill-timed to have told the boy when he's healing. But Cat had told him it was better that he tell Jon when he's still confined within the walls of the castle where it was safe than when he could use his legs to run away and they would have a repeat of how he was injured in the first place.

Robb had then proceeded to demand what Ned and Catelyn have done to Jon that caused him to be in such a state with Arya and Bran not far behind him, their little direwolf pups growling behind them, mirroring their masters' moods. Ned told them that what had been said between the three of them was for Jon to tell now, not his. Not anymore. He felt so relieved to be rid of the secret that burdened him but consequently felt guilty that he had placed that secret upon Jon's shoulders. Eventually, Cat had put an end to their children's demands and had told them all to be patient and see if Jon would grace them the honor of sharing his secret.

Again, it was Cat who took charge and talked some sense into the boy. She'd had enough of his moping and brooding, wasting away as if he had nothing to live for. Whatever she said to him, for Ned knew not, had worked and slowly, Jon began to show signs of life— as much as he had, considering the lad's proficient at brooding— again albeit still under Cat's watchful eye. She had taken to him like a mother would to a motherless child, as it should have been from the beginning if only Ned had the sense to tell her the truth. But that was all in the past now. They were atoning for whatever and however they needed to atone.

Most of all, it was for Jon.

The son of his beloved little sister.

The son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen.

The rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms.

Ned had shuddered at the thought of Jon being crowned king and left to fend the vipers that lurked every corner of King's Landing.

When Jon had realized this, he had looked deathly pale and had balked at the idea of being king. He had stuttered about not being qualified enough for it and that it wasn't what he wanted because all he'd ever need was right here in the North, where he belongs. Ned could not be more proud of his nephew— no, son— for he was Ned's son, no matter who sired him. He would always be Ned's son. When he'd told Jon as much, Ned was surprised that Jon's grey eyes began to brim with tears.

"And you'll always be my father." He had promised in return.

Ned shook his head and steeled himself as he saw the high towers of the Red Keep spiral up into the sky and braced himself, as he knew that he'll be enduring a glorious amount of politicking.

Jon looks like he feels the same way. Or maybe it was the smell that invaded their nostrils that had him looking sour. His wolf, Ghost, who'd grown larger in the last year since the pups had been born in the kennels, was absolutely quiet and disinterested. It was an apt name for the creature. He made no noise, not unless Ghost wanted to be heard.

"This is where he grew up." Jon whispered to Ghost, unbeknownst to him that Ned was within earshot. Ned didn't need to ask to know who he was. After the initial shock and feelings of betrayal had passed, Jon began to be curious enough of his birth parents to ask about them. He even went as far as the Wall to speak with one of his last living relatives with Robb at his side under the guise of checking fortifications, the men, and the wildling reports and sightings. Robb did the actual work whilst his brother was given the opportunity to speak with the maester.

Accidentally, that was also when they'd discover the wights, another thing for Ned to worry about. They attacked during the night and Jon had saved the Lord Commander's life by chugging fire at the wight, destroying it and burning himself in the process. In thanks, Commander Mormont gave him his family's ancestral sword as a gift with a white wolf for a pommel. Jon had tried to refuse, saying that it belonged to his heir but with the Commander's eldest son shamed and banished, he would be more than happy to see that the person who'll wield it would be as honorable as the Liege Lord of the North. Jon accepted and thanked him, letting the beautiful Valyrian steel sword named Longclaw shine in the light for all to see.

Later, back in Winterfell, Jon confided to Ned and Robb how he was secretly pleased about the pain where the flames licked his skin. He wasn't too much like the dragons after all. Robb laughed really hard at that.

When Jon told his cousins of his real identity, Ned had been unsurprised and proud of his children when they declared that it matters not who Jon's father or mother was. They were a pack and a pack that stays together could survive any winter. Even Sansa had declared the same albeit as awkward as her mother had and like before, Jon had forgiven and accepted his sister's tentative approach.

He shook his head of the memories and climbed down the ramp with Jon at his heels.

Two Kingsguard and Lannister guards waited for them at the harbor which had Ned confused. True, he was the king's friend and he is the Liege Lord of the North but it didn't merit a full guard as an escort. Ned couldn't help but feel a bad feeling about this.

When they were brought before the Iron Throne, only the king, the queen, the crown prince, and the Small Council were present. They were only here to greet the king and his family after all. The legitimization was not until tomorrow. He noticed that the queen's smile was a tad bit malicious but Ned expected nothing less. She was a Lannister through and through with a pride as loud as a lion's roar.

Ned brought himself onto one knee and Jon did the same behind him. Ned thought he heard Robert suck in a breath.

"Rise, Lord Stark." The voice was cold and Ned internally frowned at the tone. When he saw his old friend, he barely recognized him. Fat and red as if he'd been drinking before he sat on his throne, Robert glared mightily at them. It was how Robert had looked long ago when they went to war albeit he was younger and slimmer then.

"Rise, Jon Snow." The king growled and this time, Ned outwardly frowned. Jon rose and stood with his hands twitching on his sides, his face unreadable. Ned knew that look. It was the look of someone preparing for a fight.

Ned cleared his throat. "Your Grace, I—"

"Shut up, Ned!" Robert snapped. Ned was so taken aback that he only gaped at the king in return. "So, this is him. The bastard."

Ned could hear Jon's leather gloves creak as he balled his fingers into fists. Even Ghost bared his teeth silently. Meanwhile, Ned was utterly affronted. "Your Grace, that is uncalled for!"

"Is it, Ned? Is it really?" Robert roared. "Is it uncalled for when all this time you've been lying to me! Your king! You defied me the day you let this dragonspawn live!"

Ned's heart stuttered in his chest and grew absolutely pale. How could he know? How did he find out? Then his eyes shifted to Varys. The Spider. He should've known. How could he be so stupid? So careless? The Spider's web was vast and wide, even a whisper is not without his hearing. This was the reason he lied to Cat. Why he lied to all of them. Now, his family will pay for his weakness. They were all in danger.

"Robert, listen to me—"

"I've had it with your lies! Throw these traitors in a cell!"

Ned had tried to struggle as Lannister guards and Kingsguards alike took hold of him and Jon.

"Father!" Jon screamed and Ned couldn't see what they were doing. All he knew was the darkness creeping in and pain sprouting from the back of his head.

He tumbled to the floor.

Chapter Text

When Ned woke up, he was alone in a cell, chained to the wall.

It was dark and damp, rats skirting about around him. He pulled at his chains as hard as he could to no avail. He tried calling out to the guards but no one came. Hours became days and days became weeks. It wasn't until the third week that Robert deemed it worthy to visit the Lord of Winterfell. He came like an angry storm and Ned was reminded why the Baratheon's ancestral seat of power was named Storm's End.

"Where's Jon? What have you done to him, Robert? I want to see him!"

Robert said nothing. He raised his hand and two Kingsguards came in with Jon towed between them. His breath hitched at the sight of him. His head was bowed but Ned could plainly see all the blood that nearly covered Jon's face along with bruises and cuts from blows that came from the king himself, Ned knew for certain. The way the boy bent his body told of more injuries that the thin rags they've dressed him in covered and the unnatural angle of some of his fingers froze Ned's northern blood.

"Jon," Ned breathed. He tried to reach for Jon but was stopped immensely short by his chains. Jon raised his head and looked at Ned pleadingly with tantamount of pain in his eyes. They tortured him. They tortured Lyanna's—his—son. The rage that boiled within him had almost threatened to overwhelm him. He turned his wrath-filled eyes at Robert. "He's her son, Robert! Her boy! HOW COULD YOU DO THIS?"

There wasn't any shred of doubt as to whom he meant and judging from the way Robert's eyes darkened in fury, he knew as well.

"His father abducted and raped her! He took her away from us! From me! Or have you forgotten that?" Robert spat. He grabbed Jon by the scruff of his shirt and strode in front of the bars of Ned's cell and threw Jon at his feet. "When you coddled this dragonspawn up there in the North, have you forgotten why she isn't here with us—with me?! Why we went to fucking war?! Why we murdered every last one of those damned incestuous cunts! DO YOU REMEMBER THAT, NED?!"

There was silence save for the sound of heavy and ragged breathing. It was Robert who broke it this time.

"I should have you killed for treason." He said quietly. Ned said nothing and could only look at Robert as if he could no longer recognize him.

"No," Jon pleaded. He slowly and painfully tried to prop himself up against the bars as if he was trying to shield his father away from the king. "Not my father. Please."

Robert raised his fist and with a single blow, he sent Jon sprawled back on his feet, coughing blood.

"HE'S NOT YOUR FATHER, YOU FUCKING DRAGON SHIT!" He roared with a kick on Jon's side. The boy gave a pained groan and rolled protectively on his side.

"DON'T TOUCH HIM, ROBERT!" Ned growled, pulling at his chains.

"Robert, that's ENOUGH!" Jon Arryn stormed through the Kingsguard, with Barristan Selmy right behind him. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"

"Your Grace," Barristan whispered in horror as he saw what's been done to Jon Snow.

"Stay out of this, Jon." Robert growled dangerously low. "This does not concern you."

"That's where you're wrong, Robert." Jon nearly hissed. "This concerns all of us! You have declared war—"

"They have declared war! That fucking upstart son of Ned's!" Robert retorted. At Ned's surprised shock, Robert turned to him with unchecked hostility. "He raised his banners and demanded of his king to have you and that dragonspawn returned to the North! That little shit! Truly, Ned, that boy is your son! Traitors and backstabbers, the lot of you!"

"You took his father and brother, Robert! What's the boy to do?"Jon tried to reason with him. "You say that Ned has forgotten what caused the last war but so have you, Robert. Lord Stark and his son marched into King's Landing only to be apprehended by the king and kept prisoner without any reason! We have been here before, Robert. I beg you. Remember what happened to the last king who dared to harm the Starks."

"Aye, I do remember." Robert said. He turned back to Jon Snow, lying helplessly on the floor, returning his gaze with an intensity of his own. "And I crushed them. Every fucking last one of them."

Jon Arryn face paled in horror but it was Ned who spoke. "You're going to plunge this entire country to war for the sake of revenge?"

"I'll kill them all." Robert grimly promised, fury almost pulsing through the dark chamber and Ned truly believed then that he had lost his dear friend. They were dead. They were all dead and Ned was all that was left to see what remained of the ashes.

"There doesn't have to be a war." A ragged voice said. All eyes turned to Jon who had propped himself up enough to speak with as much dignity as he had left. The look in his piercing Stark grey eyes was burning with a conviction and resignation that could only bode one thing and Ned never thought to see the day he'd be terribly proud and disappointed in his son. Whatever Jon would say now, Ned knew, would not end well for the boy but a sacrifice he'd be willing to give to keep all of those he loved safe.

"What are you going on about, you fucking bastard?!" Robert spat.

Jon flinched slightly at the insult but he answered with an unnervingly calm raspy voice all the same. "You imprisoned the Liege Lord of the North and his bastard son without just cause. It is more than enough reason to rally all the lords who support and are sworn to House Stark and declare war. It's more than enough to enrage many other lords for what is stopping you from imprisoning them as well the moment they step in King's Landing. They will no longer feel safe with you as their king." At this, Jon inhaled a ragged breath. "But you have not harmed Lord Stark. You've merely kept him imprisoned for reasons that most of Westeros will probably know by now. That is something the North may forgive. That is something all the other lords may understand. But if you kill him, Robb will not rest until fath—Lord Stark is avenged. The Seven Kingdoms will fall into chaos, many will die, and many will suffer. That is not worth one bastard's life. Spare him his life, Your Grace. Let him live. Keep me here instead."

Ned's eyes widened in horror, seeing what the boy intended to do. It was worse than he had imagined. "No, I'll not leave you here—"

"A Snow is worth nothing." Jon insisted, glancing as much as he could at Ned, pleading with him to keep silence. Lyanna's words drifted up from the grave and echoed around his skull. Promise me, Ned. He did and he's failing. "No lord, no matter how loyal to House Stark, will go to war for a bastard. But Lord Stark is my family and so is the future ruler of Winterfell. Robb sees me as a brother and he will stay his hand if it keeps me alive. Keep me here as your hostage and the North will fall back in line. Do what you want with me but please spare my family."

His voice wavered in the end but Jon did not lose the determination that lit his grey eyes that shone even in the dim light, almost challenging and defying the king. They brimmed with tears and almost shut closed but he forced himself to stay absolutely still, waiting with baited breath. Jon Arryn looked at Jon as if he cannot believe what the boy had just said and Barristan Selmy held nothing but respect in his eyes, looking as if he's just seen a ghost. Robert merely looked on with disdain.

"You'll not have him, Robert." Ned growled but it came out as a plea because Jon was right and there's nothing he could do about it. "He's all I have left of Lya. He's my sister's son. He's my son. I raised him since he was a babe. I watched him grow along with my children. I fed him, clothed him, sheltered him, and I loved him. I am Jon's father, no matter who sired him. He is my blood and you will not have him."

"The boy…" Jon Arryn began and swallowed thickly and casted a very apologetic look in Ned's direction. "He speaks sense, Robert."

Ned's heart sank at the words and he heard Jon sigh in relief.

"We need not go to war, Your Grace." Jon Arryn implored. "Robb Stark will not march for King's Landing if we return his father to him and keep his brother here—"

Robert turned and stormed out of the Black Cells and with one last apologetic look sent to Ned, Jon Arryn trailed after his King. Barristan Selmy casted Jon Snow a sad look then followed them as well. The remaining Kingsguard took Jon and locked him in the cell next to Ned's.

When they left, Jon curled into a ball on the far side of the wall, facing away from Ned.

"What have you done?" Ned whispered in horror.

A moment passed before he was answered. "There's nothing we can do to change it now, Lord Stark."

Ned flinched. "You are my son. I won't let them take you!"

Jon struggled to move and face him. He sat with his back to the wall, hands kept protectively close to his chest. Tears were now freely flowing from his eyes and they looked so sad that it felt like they were breaking something inside of Ned.

"You have to."

Ned wanted to yell at him that he didn't have to, that he can save and protect him as a father should, as he had promised he would, but a lump in his throat prevented him to do so.

"I want to be brave."

The words were so familiar that it took his breath away.

So, he answered as he had once before. "You are."

"Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran, Rickon, and Lady Catelyn. You have to protect them."

You have to protect him, Ned.

"Promise me, father."

Promise me, Ned.

With a quiet sob that befit the Quiet Wolf, he nodded. "I promise."

Chapter Text

Jon was alone.

He thought he knew loneliness before but he was wrong.

Being the Bastard of Winterfell meant that he was the butt of everyone's jokes and the receiving end of every scorn. He would sit in the back of the feasting hall watching from afar as his family smiled and laughed with each other. He thought he knew what it meant to be an outcast, to be hated and sneered at. But he was wrong. Winterfell's scorn was a warm breeze in the winter compared to this.

He thought he could get used to it. He thought he could bear it. He thought he could be brave. But now he knew he wouldn't last long in here. The unrelenting pain that came with the beatings, the hate, and the cruelty that he received made him wish he was dead every second he had to live.

But he can't die. He had to survive. He had to live. To prevent war and to save his family.

Jon did not regret his decisions. He does not regret his father for telling him about his mother. He was thankful even now, suffering in this hell, that he knew of her and that he'd been able to see her even if it was merely standing at the foot of her crypt. When the truth came to light and accepted, he'd lived the happiest year of his life. Suddenly, the scorn and taunts meant nothing to him and the love and acceptance he'd received was all that mattered. He was finally part of the pack. He had a family.

Until Theon Greyjoy took it all away.

When the king had taunted him about Theon's betrayal, telling him that it was the Kraken's heir who sold him out, he had never hated anyone as he did Theon Greyjoy. He discovered Jon's secret and sent it to Balon Greyjoy. In turn, Balon Greyjoy sent an envoy in secret to the king. Now, Balon's heir was restored to him and Pyke was rewarded handsomely for their loyalty. Now, those looks of intense jealousy and hatred came back to Jon's mind. How Theon had been casted aside, forgotten, when Jon was taken into the fold of his family's arms. He had burned with envy and sought to take Jon with him in his misery.

Now, he has and Jon will stay in this darkness for the rest of his life, alone and in pain.

The door to his cell grated against the floor and he tried not to flinch, his body curling instinctively as he waited for the pain to start anew. But gentle yet rough hands pried him away from the wall and laid him down on a board. They carried him away from the cell in silence. Jon did not mind. He had stopped speaking for days now. He just screamed.

When they took him out of the Black Cells, the sun's light mercilessly blinded him. He had not seen the sky in weeks? Months? He was not so sure. Time blended together in his cell. He only knew it was moving when they fed him what little they did and when they came to torture him. It could have been years, for all he knew. It sure felt like an eternity to him.

They finally stopped in a room that smelled of clean sheets and candles with walls lined with scrolls and books. When hands reached for him, he recoiled in panic.

"There, there, now." A voice said, trying to reassure him. "You'll be well, my lord. Here, drink this."

Jon had no choice but to comply. After he swallowed, his vision started to blur and darkness mercifully took him away again.

Chapter Text

When he woke up, he was clean.

Which was an odd thing considering that the last thing he remembered was that he'd been covered in his own piss and shit. His body also felt oddly well. There had been parts of him that had not healed well from the beatings, he remembered. Broken bones that had not been set right or cuts that started to grow puss from infection. He had been running a fever, he remembered, but for the first time in a long time, he felt fine. He tentatively touched his cheek and sure enough, the beard he had grown was gone. His face was smooth and only hurt a little from what seems to be healing bruises. His hair was also cut, cropped neatly on his head.

He was lying on a soft bed in a beautiful room that overlooked most of King's Landing. The air was fresh and smelled of the salty sea. He slowly sat himself up. He didn't understand. None of this made sense. Why is he here? Is this a dream? Is he finally dead? Is this a trick?

There was a knock on the door. "May we come in?" A muffled voice asked.

Jon wanted to yell at them to go away but he couldn't so he said nothing and hope that whoever they were, they'd eventually leave. But the door opened tentatively and a dwarf peered in. When he saw Jon awake, he smiled politely. He came in with a dangerous looking man and a young man in tow. Jon tensed at seeing these unfamiliar faces.

"Jon Snow," the dwarf began as he slowly, tentatively approached and stopped a few feet away. Jon was grateful he they didn't come any closer. "My name is Tyrion Lannister. This is my squire, Podrick Payne, and Ser Bronn of the Blackwater."

The others nodded at him when their names were introduced but Jon didn't recognize any of them except for the dwarf. He was a Tywin Lannister's son, after all. Everyone knew of the lion and his pride. They were awkwardly plunged into silence. The dwarf, Tyrion, seemed to be waiting for something and Jon realized it was his response. His mouth felt like it was filled with sand but he licked his dry lips and cleared his throat. He spoke for the first time in days.

"W-well met, my lords." He rasped.

Tyrion nodded, a little smile adorning his face. "Excellent. I hope you find your accommodations fairly well, as well. It has the most stunning—"

"How long was I—I-I mean… Forgive me, my lord." Jon blurted out, sounding choked and looked away, expecting he'd be punished for that.

"Imprisoned, you mean?" Ser Bronn supplied and Tyrion shot him a look. "What? It's true. Just look at what the king fucking did to him. Did you reckon he was having a grand time down there in his cell?"

Tyrion sighed and when his eyes returned to Jon, they looked sympathetic. "It's been half a year if I'm correct." He answered almost quietly. Jon hid his stunned expression as best he could and nodded once. Tyrion shared a look with Bronn but Jon didn't care. Let them have their looks.

"And how are you feeling?" Tyrion gently asked which surprised Jon. Evidently, the shock was plain to see on his face for Tyrion gave him a reassuring smile. "You've been asleep for quite a long while. Almost four days, if I remember the maester's words correctly. He did say that your… injuries were quite extensive and you've been running a very high fever when they took you out of that cell. Not to mention the bones he needed to reset… In any case, I hope that you are feeling well."

He'd been asleep for four days, recuperating. It didn't make sense. They drugged him and healed him and he couldn't understand why. What was happening? What sort of trickery were they up to now? What cruelty lay in wait for him after this? Did they tire of only beating him? Were they going to raise his hopes only to crush it again like a plaything?

For the first time in a long while, Jon felt something other than despair: anger.

He will not play their games. He will not give them that satisfaction.

Refusing to say another word, he nodded and looked away in a clear dismissal.

Tyrion's smile was almost sad. "I'll leave Podrick here to help you dress." He paused before continuing. "The king has requested that you join him for breakfast."

Jon's head snapped up and a feeling of dread welled up his chest but he pushed it down.

He can torture me all he wants with his sick games and tricks. He will not break me. I will be brave,Jon thought.

He nodded in understanding and Tyrion clasped his hands, an encouraging smile on his face as if he had just read Jon's mind.

"I'll leave you to it then, Pod. As Hand, I have much to do." Tyrion said then he turned to Jon again. "Pod will escort you to his His Grace as soon as you finish."

With a final nod, Tyrion left with Bronn behind him.

Pod began to rummage around the room and brought him fine clothes dyed in Stark colors. "Lord Tyrion left these for you, my lord."

Jon took a deep breath and exhaled. He forced himself to rise despite the pain and braced himself. He was still stuck in this hell. It was just that they plan to torment him in other ways now. Let it come then, he will fight them all until the very end. He was his mother's son. He was Ned Stark's son.

He will survive. He will live.

He is a Stark of Winterfell and their words are Winter is Coming.

And one day, he knew, Winter will remember him and it will come for them all.


"I pity the poor boy." Bronn casually remarked as they entered the Hand's solar. Tyrion walked directly to his wine and poured two cups. He gave one to Bronn as he passed.

"I agree but don't count him out just yet. Jon Snow is a dragon and a wolf. He doesn't seem the type to surrender." Tyrion warned, sounding impressed.

"Aye, just like his family. The North is still gathering their allies then?"

Tyrion nodded and sipped his wine. "Whispers of Lord Stark treating with Highgarden and Dorne. I'll tell you, stubborn as they are, Northerners lack subtlety."

"Hard to be subtle when everyone's eyes are fucking glued on them. This is the biggest scandal the people's had in fucking years, not since that boy's mother ran away with the Dragon Prince."

"She was kidnapped." Tyrion halfheartedly corrected.

Bronn scoffed. "Do you really fucking believe that even now? When we've seen the boy and the way Stark is scrambling to get the boy back?"

"No, I don't." Tyrion said. There will be songs sung in Jon Snow's honor for thousands of years to come, he was sure. A war that tore the entire country apart begun because of Lady Lyanna Stark and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and now, another begins because of their son. Blood will flow in rivers of red and fire will burn across the land. Winter will starve out the rest and wolves will come to prey at the corpses. Still, Tyrion cannot deny that there is greatness lying in wait for that boy. A greatness that will come with pain and suffering.

A bastard prince who holds the promise of a great destiny paid with a heavy price. Tyrion mused. But he expected nothing less. Ice and fire ran through that boy's veins, his blood came from the line of kings. Jon Snow may yet save or doom them all.

"One thing's for certain," Tyrion said, taking another sip from his cup. "This won't end well."

Chapter Text

When Jon arrived at the king's chambers, Robert was standing with his back to him, looking over King's Landing, seemingly deep in thought. When he heard the doors close, the king turned to him with unfathomable eyes.

Jon gathered his courage. "Your Grace." He nearly whispered and kneeled.

"Stand, boy." The king growled but not harshly. Jon did as he was told and avoided meeting the king's eye by staring at something above the king's shoulder.

"Come closer, boy." Robert commanded and Jon forced his feet to move. The king sat on the table and began to place food on his plate while Jon stood rigidly near the other side, befuddled and anxiously waiting. Before the king could take a bite of his bacon, he frowned when he noticed Jon standing awkwardly in front of him. "Well, don't just stand there. Sit down, boy!"

Jon was startled by the outburst but forced himself to calm down and sat with as much grace as he could muster. The king followed him with fury-infused eyes very carefully and Jon looked down the empty plate in front of him, wondering what they'll do to him now.

"Well, don't just look at it, boy! Eat!" Robert bellowed.

Jon was so stunned he stuttered, "Y-Your Grace?"

The king looked angrily frustrated now. "The Imp told you that you were to join me at breakfast, did he not?!"

"Y-Yes, Your Grace."

"Then eat, boy!"

Jon placed bacon and bread on his plate but did not touch it. The king grabbed the pitcher of water on the side and poured him a cup full. Jon's eyes widened and he was caught completely off guard. What in Seven Hells was happening?

"I-I don't—"

"Did I give you permission to fucking speak, boy?!" The king roared. Jon shut his mouth. "Now, eat your breakfast!"

Jon reluctantly tore a piece of bread and ate. He chewed slowly, taking as little as he could without appearing so. The king ate heartily as if he was angry with his food and Jon decided that if the king wanted to see him poisoned to death, he will have to wait for Jon to finish his breakfast. He focused on his meal, determined to not look at the king but instead set his eyes on the view the balcony offered. King's Landing truly is beautiful with its fancy houses and buzzing streets but something about it felt awfully sick. Something didn't feel right. But that didn't matter really. It was still a pretty sight. For months now, Jon had seen and been in nothing but darkness. He missed the blue skies and the warmth and glow of the sun. The noises of the market that drifted up to them were like music to his ears.

"You're nothing like her." The king observed and Jon's eyes snapped back to the man in front of him, staring at him with an intensity that Jon doesn't understand. Robert looked like he was looking for something but Jon doesn't know what he wants.

He swallowed and answered as honestly as he could. "I've always been told I took after Lord Stark, Your Grace."

The king scoffed sardonically. "That man was never much of a talker even when we were boys. It was Brandon who couldn't shut up, the gods rest his soul, and your mother, she—"

Jon stiffened. The king became quiet and thoughtful, a pained frown marring his face. Whenever the king visited him in his cell, any mention of his mother would soon follow a severe beating and shouting, blaming Jon for everything that happened to her. This time will not be different, he knew. Jon stayed absolutely still and waited with baited breath.

"She was spirited, your mother." The king said quietly, lost in the memory. Jon was completely taken aback. He can hardly believe what he was hearing. "Beautiful and kind, compassionate but wild. She was perfect in every way. If it happened as it should have, you would've been our firstborn son."

Jon sucked in a breath and the king looked at him with a passion burning in his eyes. "I've been dreaming about her for weeks now, haunting me from the grave. In my dreams, we're in Winterfell, deep beneath the crypts and she's crying out for you. She blames me for killing you. But you're not dead, I keep telling her. But she doesn't listen. She only cries and she's always sad. He promised me, she keeps whispering. He promised."

Jon could only listen, numbness spreading quickly from his chest to the rest of his limbs.

"Every night it's the same." The king continued, louder and stronger, his eyes pinning Jon with its storm. "Ever since that lion bitch, her fucking brother, and their bastards fled, it's been the same. Every night she comes to me and cries. My beloved Lya…"

Jon flinched away from those eyes. The eyes that roamed his face for any traces of the woman the king had once loved and he knew he saw plenty of her there. He knew because he'd seen that look before. His father wore it every time he looked at Jon. He saw his sister, the king saw his beloved. What would Jon give to see it himself?

So, Jon turned away from the king and something caught his eye.

He missed it on his way in, but he saw it now. There, on the far side of the king's bed, was Ghost. His head was mounted on the wall with teeth bared, snarling silently as he always had.

Jon felt odd. His lungs protested and begged for air. Had the king struck him without his knowing? Why couldn't he breathe? He needed to breathe…

"Boy?" Robert asked and he looked to where the boy was gawking. Guilt and shame welled up in his chest at the sight of the boy's white direwolf.

He was a fool. He was a drunken, shameful, dishonorable fool.

Jon suddenly jerked back to life and had a wild look in his eyes. "Forgive me, Your Grace, but I beg to return to… wherever I may rest."

Robert only nodded, not meeting the boy's eyes.

Jon stood and walked as brisk as he could. The doors opened and Pod escorted him back to his chambers. But he didn't notice any of it. He hardly noticed he was moving. He told Pod he'll be resting and the young man seemed to understand that he needed to be alone now.

When the squire left, Jon slid to the floor as the onslaught of sobs wracked his body violently. He put a hand over his mouth to keep from crying out louder than he's already making.

But it doesn't matter. He knew many heard him anyway.

And once again, Jon is reminded that he is utterly alone.

Chapter Text

Jon was never thrown back in his cell.

He stayed in the rooms he woke up in and every morning, Pod would help him dress. After that, he broke fast with the king. It was a somber affair and they never ate in the king's chambers again. The king would sometimes talk about nonsensical things and Jon only responded when prompted. They would part stiffly and Jon would ask Pod if he can show him back to his rooms. A maester named Yayne came to him every afternoon to check his healing injuries and Tyrion would sometimes visit him and invite him to dine with him. Jon liked Tyrion. He was an excellent conversationalist and Ser Bronn would always have a crude joke or two to exasperate the imp. Pod would be there too, running between serving them and joining them.

But most importantly, Jon liked Tyrion because he was informative.

"When the late Hand died too peacefully in his sleep, the king became terribly suspicious. He wrote to your father—uncle—about it but Lord Stark responded with conditions that if he let you go, he would become Hand in return. Of course, the king refused. Quite colorfully, I heard." Tyrion said as he sipped his wine. Their supper had long since been eaten and only Bronn was left to pick at the crumbs. "So, it was merely a coincidence that my father bid me to visit my lovely sister and beloved brother. He sent me to be the Hand in his stead because, unlike the king, my father is a cautious man. He's gathered his bannermen and prepared for worst with the North uneasy as it is. So, I ruled beside the king and my sister, until a little whisper caught the king's ear. Jon Arryn discovered a secret before he died and his wife and son fled the capital after his death. So, the king investigated and discovered the horrible truth. My sister maintained a sordid affair with my own brother. Incest was not the crime, mind you. Targaryens have practiced this for centuries."

At this, Tyrion gave him a pointed look which he ignored and only quietly sipped his wine. Tyrion continued as if nothing was amiss. "So, Cersei and Jamie are accused of adultery, murder, and treason, the children stripped of their names and titles. Mercifully, they fled the city before Robert could catch them. The gods know what Robert may have done to them if he did."

Jon inwardly cringed. He is intimately aware of what the king can do to traitors. He still had the mending bones to prove it. It has nearly been a fortnight since his release and although Tyrion is very careful with what he tells Jon, they both knew that they could trust each other in waddling these uncertain waters by both being members of the Houses that betrayed the Crown.

"How did Lord Arryn die? Did they ever find out?" Jon asked after careful consideration of these events.

"He was poisoned, Maester Yayne proclaimed. He's our new grandmaester now. Pycelle was a damnable fool and one of my sister's spy. He lost his head after the truth came to light."

"Did your sister not realize that killing the Hand may have raised unwanted attention? Surely, the queen, if she's kept it for as long as she had, would've known about a thing or two about keeping a secret, my lord."

Tyrion grinned at him, amused. "Yes, she did. But then again, so did your uncle."

That shut Jon up and he took a huge chug of his wine.

"Secrets have a way of resurfacing. The bigger they are, the harder it is to drown them away." Tyrion told him in a scholarly manner. Jon thought that the imp enjoyed to lecture others like they were simpletons. Though, if one was as smart and as cunning as Tyrion Lannister, it is not overly insulting to be schooled by a man who could play the game of thrones. Jon had taken it upon himself to learn as best he could. True he vowed he will not play their games but it didn't mean he wouldn't learn. "No, my sister would've killed Robert then Jon Arryn and place Joffrey on the throne if she had her way. It wasn't her."

"If you know who, my lord, then shouldn't you tell the king?"

"I have." Tyrion shrugged. "He still wants her head on spike though."

Jon nodded slowly. "If it wasn't the queen, then who killed Lord Arryn?"

"Petyr Baelish." Tyrion dragged out the name like it was the most distasteful thing to roll off his tongue.

"The Master of Coin?" Jon was surprised.

Tyrion nodded. "Varys heard many whispers about Lady Arryn and Littlefinger. They conspired together and Littlefinger convinced her to kill her husband. But why they did it, that's a question only they can answer."

Jon swallowed thickly. Lady Arryn was Lady Catelyn's sister. Does she know about the charges laid upon her sister? Tyrion seems to have seen the question in his eyes.

"All of the Seven Kingdoms know what they've done. Basically, everything regarding the brewing war between the North and the Crown are swept underneath the scandalous affair of my sister's infidelity and the Lady of the Vale's nefarious plots with her greedy lover."

Jon's eyes snapped up to look at him. "War?"

"You didn't think your uncle just would leave you here to suffer the king's wrath, did you?" Tyrion said with his lips quirking into a small smirk at Jon's incredulous face. "Rumors have it that he's forging allies with Highgarden and Dorne. I believe that your sister is now promised to Willas Tyrell of Highgarden and your younger sister is now promised to Tristane Martell of Dorne. The North has been quite active lately with the heir of Winterfell personally visiting each of his future bannermen, renewing alliances and forging stronger bonds. If I heard correctly, your younger brother Bran is now also promised to Lyanna Mormont of Bear Island. Although seemingly innocent enough, one would wonder why all these betrothals have suddenly been forged so quickly and to two houses who are known Targaryen supporters no less." Tyrion gave Jon another look and Jon wished he would just stop doing that every time his birth father's family name was mentioned. It wasn't his to claim nor is it the name he wants to claim in the first place. "Stannis Baratheon has already implored his kingly brother to raise his own bannermen and confront the Starks for their treason."

Jon's eyes widened at this. This was the reason he stayed in this gods forsaken hell in the first place and all of it had been for naught. He still failed to protect his family. But Tyrion smiled reassuringly. "Rest assured that the king told his brother to stay his sword against the North, although, he did not say the same about the West. By now, Jamie and Cersei would have reached the Rock. They are preparing for war. My father has gathered his bannermen after all. Besides, the North will not openly declare war while you're here. That's the reason why the king kept you in the first place."

Jon wanted to scoff at that. It was the first time he's ever heard anyone say it out loud since his release. Despite these luxurious accommodations, he was still a hostage and what he went through has not been forgotten, just as his family remembers him.

The North remembers. He hears his father's voice echo in his mind and for a moment, he feels the cold winds of the North on his skin and the feather-light touches of the summer snows.

And the North will never forget, he thought with conviction. It renewed his hope, rejuvenating his purpose. This is far from over. Across him, Tyrion mused, chuckling to himself.

"Only a year ago, I was lording over Casterly Rock's sewer pipes, made sure all the piss and shit flowed smoothly into the sea. Now, I'm the king's Hand because my siblings left me behind and no one else wanted the job except Stannis whom the king doesn't like, about to witness one of the greatest wars that'll ever come in our lifetime." Tyrion raised his cup, toasting the misfortunes. "It's a wonderful time to be alive."

Jon didn't share the sentiment but nonetheless accepted that the peace of the land had all been shattered following his capture. Lords became restless, allies are forged and dissolved and enemies sprouted all around them, seemingly harmless until you've bared your back. Jon cannot help but think that he started all of this. It began when he'd been told the truth of his parentage and snowballed to the discord that's creeping into the Seven Kingdoms. War will ravage them all and the blame is placed squarely on his shoulders.

He never wanted this. All he'd ever wanted to be was a Stark.

Now, he's not even a Snow. What would he give to just stay a Snow?

"This is all my fault." Jon blurted out.

"Don't be too hard on yourself, lad." Bronn said, lounging on his seat, giving him a bored expression as if the older man was just humoring him. "All these fucked up lords' scheming ain't your doing. They've had it coming."

"But it is my fault." Jon insisted. "My father is starting this war because of me."

"True, but if you were there as him and he was here as you, wouldn't you do the same?" Bronn reasoned.

He would in less than a heartbeat. Jon shook his head. It wasn't the same. "I'm just a bastard."

"I hope you don't truly believe that, Jon." Tyrion advised him. "It would be terribly naïve of you to do so."

Jon sighed and stood, his body screaming in protest. "Excuse me, my lord, but it's late."

"Of course, of course. You are still healing after all." Tyrion said in forced cheer, nodding encouragingly. "I bid you a good night."

"And I you, Lord Tyrion." Jon strode to the door with Pod at his heels.

"Oh, and one more thing, Jon." Jon turned to see Tyrion smiling sympathetically at him. It warmed Jon's heart to see it even if he told himself not to rely too much on his friend. Loneliness will not be the cause of his failure. "Despite the situation, you aren't a prisoner in the Black Cells anymore. The king has given you permission to explore the Red Keep with an escort, of course, and I do miss Podrick attending to my whims. Ser Barristan Selmy will accompany you wherever you wish to go henceforth tomorrow."

He nodded his thanks and turned to leave.

Jon didn't say that the only place he wished to go was home.

Between them, it didn't need to be said.

Chapter Text

The start of Jon's morning came with the sound of jiggling metal and a polite knock on the door.

He had been sitting in front of the large windows for hours, already dressed in fine silk clothes, watching the sun rising above King's Landing. He called the person behind the door to enter and Ser Barristan the Bold, Commander of the Kingsguard, stepped inside with his golden armor almost glistening from the morning sun.

"I've come to escort you to His Grace." Ser Barristan announced plainly and Jon nodded. He rose slowly with a slight wince and marched quietly to the king's preferred balcony where they broke their fast with Ser Barristan trailing just as silent.

When they arrived, Ser Barristan bowed and took his place by a pillar, facing away from them.

Jon bowed as well and recited his morning lines. "Good morning, Your Grace."

"Come eat, boy." Was the king's invitation. It varied each day but never has the king called him by name. Jon didn't mind. He didn't fancy hearing it from him anyway. He took his seat across the king and they descended into an awkward silence as they are wont to do. Jon ate his food slowly, almost eating nothing at all, while the king stuffed his face. When the king has devoured all of his bacon and drank himself half-way through a pitcher of wine, he spoke to Jon.

"Has the imp told you about your new privileges?" Robert demanded more than asked.

"Yes, Your Grace." Jon answered obediently as is expected of him.

Robert scowled at him and Jon stiffened at seeing it. "Do not test me, boy. One toe out of line and you'll be back where you started."

Jon nodded, unable to speak and lost all of his appetite. He stayed for a few more minutes, picking at his plate before he deemed it polite enough to excuse himself. The king gave one more distrustful glare before nodding his ascent.

When Jon left, Ser Barristan followed.

He stayed in his chambers, sitting in the same place as he had that morning, deep in thought. He had permission to leave his rooms. He had no interest in parading himself to the king's perfumed Southern court but he was also sick and tired of looking out his window, wondering and waiting for the day to end so another may begin. There was little to do in his rooms and his mind, if not his healing body, begged for something to distract him. Tyrion had given him scrolls and books about dragons and dragonlords and ice giants and Northern Kings and Jon sighed every time he saw it. He's read the books about the North twice and there was nothing in there that he didn't already know. But he never read the ones about dragons and dragonlords. He never opened them nor even touched them. He felt no kinship with the silver-haired, purple-eyed dragons.

I am ice and winter's child. There is no place for fire in my blood and there never will be, he thought bitterly, ferociously seething beneath his calm composure. The dragons were the reason he's where he was, after all. His curiosity had been burned and beaten away by Robert Baratheon's fists and his goons' sadistic amusement, replaced by resentment, apprehension and pain. He remembered how they spat the word dragonspawn in his bloodied face, the horrible stories of the Mad King's fetish for burning people alive, flesh and bone melting away, screams tearing the castle and kingdom apart. He'd been reminded over and over and over again of how his grandfather, Lord Rickard Stark, was burned by his other grandfather while his Uncle Brandon was made to watch and choked himself as he was reaching for his father. The king himself would come to tell him about how his mother was raped by his fucking father and Jon had never felt more disgusted of the blood running in his veins and down his face than he was in those moments. All this torture was an atonement of his blood's sins, they told him. Every bone snapping, every skin tearing, and every bruise was a cleansing of the taint they left in this world.

Someone had to pay for their sins, they mocked him as he screamed. Someone had to burn as others had burned

He took a sharp breath in and held it until the memories stopped spinning behind his closed eyes, only exhaling when he felt lightheaded from the lack of air and the spots dancing in his vision chased away the horrible memories.

His lunch came only minutes before noon carried by a serving girl in a wide tray who skittered fretfully away after he thanked her. He didn't let himself think too much about how frightened they were of him and instead, he gobbled everything down. He was always more famished in the afternoon considering he could barely keep the food in his stomach down when he ate with the king's presence. After he ate, Maester Yayne came to tend to him in the exact time he's always had.

"You are healing well, my lord." The maester told him, poking and prodding, changing bandages and applying ointments. "A few more weeks and you'll be as good as new."

He gave a nod of thanks and when the maester left, he got up to get dressed in the simpler clothes Lord Tyrion had given him. Another minute trapped in the silence and emptiness of his rooms would drive him insane by this point. The thought of laying his name in the long historical line of insane dragonspawns spurred him to action even faster. He carefully donned a grey tunic, brown breeches and a black leather doublet, the Northern colors, ignoring the burst of pain as he dressed and strode out the door.

He cleared his throat. "Ser Barristan?" He began and the knight looked at him with a wary curiosity. "Would you mind accompanying me around the Red Keep? I'm afraid I do not know my way around."

The knight took a moment to look at him and Jon forced himself to refrain from fidgeting. When Ser Barristan nodded and began to show him the way, for the first time in a long while, Jon felt a tinge of excitement at the prospect of exploring the castle.

They walked for an hour in a very slow pace around and about the Red Keep while Ser Barristan would point out the names of the towers and gardens they strolled. He even had a tale or two about them but Jon noticed how carefully he avoided telling Jon of the past monarchs who built and ruled before the stag took the crown.

The lords, ladies, servants, knights and squires who passed him by gawked and gossiped as they strolled. He tried to ignore them as much as he could even as they gave him a wide berth. He kept his face blank and only nodded at the right moments while Ser Barristan spoke, his head held high, his Stark eyes flashing like lightning for everyone to see.

I am of the North. I am a child of Winter, he thought fiercely even as every fiber of his being was frayed with a burning indignation that he had trouble quenching. I will not be intimidated by these Southerners.

When Jon finally had enough of bright colorful flowers and high imposing towers and the eyes that trailed him and the voices that drifted whispers of intrigue and disdain, he sought for anything remotely familiar about this snake pit.

"Ser Barristan," Jon suddenly spoke. They had been quietly admiring the garden with the old knight only a step behind him but he turned to Jon now with the same wary curiosity as he had before. "Can you take me to the Godswood?"

"Of course." Ser Barristan said, nodding. "It's this way."

They strolled through the Godswood silently. It had no weirwood tree with a face weeping red and was nowhere near as sacred as the one in Winterfell but if he closed his eyes and tried hard enough, he can almost feel the cold winds that blew winter closer every day and hear the soft crunch of snow and leaves beneath his boots. There would be a pond that was always warm with Northern Kings buried beneath the black surface and stones to kneel on and pray—

"Peaceful, is it not?" A sophisticated voice interrupted his musings.

Jon shot his eyes open, not realizing that he'd closed them. He saw a bald man with brown piercing eyes that made Jon uncomfortable. His robes were long and they covered his hands and his feet were clad in slippers so quiet Jon did not hear him drift closer.

"Ser Barristan." The stranger greeted, dipping his head a fraction.

The Commander of the Kingsguard nodded in return. "Lord Varys."

"May I have a word, Lord Snow?" Jon stiffened at what the Master of Whispers had called him.

Lord Snow, Jon thought with dark amusement. I'm not even a Snow anymore. Even that, they've taken from me.

But Jon nodded anyway. Tyrion had mentioned the Master of Whispers quite often, hinting of his little birds and his vast network of spies.

A spider spinning his web, Tyrion had mused one late evening, deep in his cups.

Jon had paid very close attention to whomever Tyrion's favor weighed, knowing well the little man's incredibly honed instincts for court and its intricate workings. Jon had once scoffed and felt disgusted at such a corrupt society. Winterfell and its sworn lords had none such perplexities. The Northerners were loyal to their own and knew that no amount of ambition and greed could ever compare to the harsh snow storms and the deadly chill winter brought. Theirs' was a pack made thousands of years ago and will hold long after Jon's bones were dust in the wind. These Southerners truly knew nothing but he kept his thoughts to himself and set himself to work.

He wasn't in the North. Far, far was he kept away from his home and he needed to survive this wretched place. Just long enough until winter came for him once and for all as Tyrion had never failed to hint at him. He wasn't entirely naïve at what the little man's true intentions in helping him but he knew that Tyrion's schemes, at least, were made for the goodness and the survival of the realm. Ever since Jon had realized that he's an unwilling pawn of a great game played by larger shadows and men, he'd never felt so vulnerable and frustrated. He needed to know better so he can survive better and so that he can keep his family safe for as long as it took.

The little he'd seen of how Tyrion played, he'll reluctantly admit that he was curious of the eunuch and his little birds.

Lord Varys motioned for him to walk by his side and Jon took a few tentative steps, glancing uncertainly to Ser Barristan behind him yet the Kingsguard did nothing to stop him. The old knight trailed with a discreet enough distance, respectful enough to allow them their conversation yet still within hearing range.

To deliver all that was said between them to the king, no doubt, Jon thought warily.

When he stepped closer to the Master of Whispers, Varys' perfume immediately curled Jon's insides, the fragrance so potent it enflamed his nostrils. The Spider seemed to notice his discomfort and only smiled sweetly apologetic. Instinctively, Jon distrusted the man.

"How are you today, my lord?" The eunuch inquired as they began to stroll.

"Well enough, Lord Varys." Jon answered stiffly. "And I am not a lord."

"So am I, my lord, and yet you call me 'lord' anyway."

"You are the Master of Whispers. You are part of the king's Small Council, therefore, you hold a considerable weight of power, enough so as to call you 'lord'." Jon shot back as politely as he could. The barbed reply only seemed to make the eunuch happy.

"I've once told our dear mutual friend, our Hand of the King, that power resides where men believe it resides. It's all a trick, a shadow casted on the wall. One must only be what men could truly believe in to have true power."

Jon frowned, tired and aching already. "I fail to see why you're telling me this, Lord Varys."

Varys chuckled. "Your Northern roots show immensely, my lord. I've always appreciated how refreshingly blunt and wholly honest wolves could be."

"Thank you." Jon murmured, surprised by the compliment. There was a loud crash behind them and they all turned to see a young serving girl chasing her young, loud charge through the trees, yelling for him to stop running.

"But then again," Varys whispered so low beside Jon that he could barely make it out. "Wolves are not the only beasts in the woods that bluntly show their sharp teeth. I can think of one that has wings."

Ice grew in Jon's chests at the words and Varys smiled as if nothing was amiss. He dipped his head and it lasted a fraction of a second too long for it to mean nothing.

"The time flies fast and now I must leave to tend to other matters." Varys cooed. Ser Barristan turned back to the Master of Whispers. "It was very nice meeting you, Lord Snow."

"And I you, Lord Varys," came the proper response that Jon didn't truly feel.

"Ser Barristan." Varys greeted in farewell and when the old knight nodded his silent reply, the Spider strode away without looking back.

Jon was about to move when he hears the Commander of the Kingsguard speak, "A word of advice, Jon Snow." Jon turned to Ser Barristan and saw the cautious look in that old, weathered face. "King's Landing has never been a good place for Northerners. You'd do well to keep your head down."

Jon swallowed thickly and nodded, the words ringing in his ears like a foreboding.

Chapter Text

A week later, for the first time since he'd been released, he didn't break his fast with the king.

He woke up and got dressed only to be told by Ser Barristan that the king was no longer in the castle. He ate alone in his rooms; relishing the fact that it was the first time he'd been able to enjoy the morning meal in months. He'd been cooped up in his rooms, reading the books and scrolls about the North again. He had refrained from exploring the rest of the keep, dreading that he may meet the Master of Whispers again.

A page told him that the Hand had invited him to lunch which he readily accepted. Ser Barristan hadn't been as forthcoming about where the king had gone but maybe Tyrion would indulge him when he's had a few cups. But it seems, he didn't even need to ask.

"The king has ridden off to meet my father in the field of battle. I expect they are fully engaged in the fighting right about now." Tyrion told him without prompting, sensing his anticipation to ask where the king had gone as they ate their lunch with Ser Bronn while Pod attended them. Ser Barristan still trailed him like a warden instead of an escort but he was standing outside the Hand's solar so they were freely conversing without fear of being overheard. Jon felt himself sigh in relief knowing that the king, at least at the moment, was leagues away from him.

But something about what Tyrion had just said sparked an interest in Jon. "Your father wages war to get you back?" Like me, went without saying. Tyrion gave him a knowing, empathic look and a cynical, sad smile. It was moments like this that endeared Tyrion to Jon most of all. He didn't need to say the words aloud in order to be understood. They were in the same precarious situation after all.

"It would be terribly remiss of my father to abandon one of his trueborn sons, no matter how unwanted. My father cares more for the reputation and legacy of our House than he does his own children." Tyrion scoffed, sipping his wine. "Besides, I'm willing to bet it's more of Jamie's idea to wage a war to get me back than my father or sister. Gods know, he's the only one of my family who actually truly cared."

Bronn snorted and rolled his eyes while Tyrion gave him a toast. The Knight of the Blackwater was a peculiar man, Jon concluded. He was once a sellsword who roamed the Vale and had somehow traveled his way to the Westerlands only to save Tyrion from a group of bandits. He was rewarded his post in Tyrion's retinue of guards coming to King's Landing and they had been as thick as thieves ever since. But the day Jamie and Cersei Lannister fled the city with their bastard children, he had tried to stop the twins from escaping on one of the ships and a clash of blades broke between Jamie and Bronn. Naturally, Jamie Lannister overpowered him and strangely spared the former sellsword's life, leaving him with only a few scrapes and a jagged cut on his arm. Then, the lions and their cubs escaped through the sewer tunnels when they realized that they were cut off from a ship and the sea. For this bravery, the king knighted him and appointed him as a guard to Tyrion. Although, it was plain to see that this wasn't a problem at all for the little Lannister. Tyrion had been left behind in the fray. Being at the wrong place at the wrong time, he came into a hall with too many guards and too little friends to help him. He was arrested but shown mercy strangely because of Varys and Ser Barristan whom had convinced the king that the little Lannister was more useful to him alive than dead. Hence, the beginning of Tyrion's appointed place as Hand under Bronn's watchful eye and their budding friendship built from hard, blunt truth and almost endearing insults.

But Jon secretly suspected that Bronn had meant to meet the Lannisters in Blackwater Bay to warn them of Stannis Baratheon's fleet sailing for King's Landing. It was said that Stannis had laid in wait for them at sea, waiting for the opportune moment to board their ship and capture them. They were saved from either drowning at sea or being dragged back in chains to face the king's fury. Jon thought that drowning was the more merciful of the two.

But he was merely speculating, he knew. Either way, Ser Bronn of the Blackwater guarded the Hand both from escaping and from harm. Jon couldn't help but think it ironic that the king Tyrion serves may also be the king who'll make him a head shorter at any given time if it was within the king's best interest. He wondered if it came down to choosing between the king's gold and Bronn's friendship with Tyrion, which will weigh more to the former sellsword. Would he save the little Lannister or will he kill him in cold blood?

Jon shook his head to stir himself away from those thoughts. The man's loyalty belonging to either the Lannister or the king didn't necessarily matter to Jon anyway.

"My father is pillaging the Crown Lands and the Stormlands with small parties of men, burning villages, killing innocents and has prevented supplies to come into King's Landing. Fortunately, my uncle's navy is not as grand as the Royal Fleet. Otherwise, we would be facing complete chaos and other horrific events that usually happen when people are desperate and subjected to famine." Tyrion continued after he's had his third cup. He was deep in thought, swishing the contents in his cup absentmindedly. "But that may not be enough if this war will last longer than our stores. Already, many are going hungry and dying inside this city. It won't be long before they are at our gates. His Grace's forces from Storm's End, Dragonstone, and some of the City Watch dispatched more than thirty thousand men, leaving us with at least two thousand men. His Grace and my father's forces are equally matched if my calculations are correct and Varys' little birds are to be believed."

There was little doubt about the accuracy of Varys' little birds, Jon knew.

"The king and his men had done some raiding and looting of their own in the Westerlands. The small folk are scattered, scared and driven to the one place they can have even a small measure of safety, thus, swarming here in King's Landing. We cannot hope to feed these people indefinitely. This war is already taking its turn for the worst. Unsurprisingly, the North, the Reach, the Vale, Dorne and the Riverlands have all remained out of the war for their own reasons. The king called them to arms but they've made their own excuses to not partake. The Reach wants no part of the war between the Baratheons and the Lannisters, insisting that they are all simply peaceful lords and ladies sitting atop fertile land." Tyrion almost snorted in derision from the falsity of the words. "Dorne dislikes both parties. The Vale doesn't have a liege lord and most likely tearing each other apart to fill the power vacuum Lysa Arryn and Littlefinger left behind. As with the Riverlands and the North, well…"

Tyrion gave him a look as if that explained everything. Jon concealed a shiver at being reminded that his own father will wage war for him, too. "Is there any news of my family?" He asked, whispered almost. Bronn and Tyrion exchanged glances.

"Your cousin, Robb, and his lady mother have gone to the Riverlands to visit her family, "Tyrion answered. He gave a heavy sigh. "And Lord Stark was called to the Wall after his brother, Benjen Stark, reportedly went missing Beyond the Wall."

Jon's eyes widened at the news. "He's gone?"

"He's presumed dead." Tyrion told him softly. "But Lord Stark has not given up hope. He's sent men beyond the Wall to look for him and to investigate the problems stirring with this King Beyond the Wall named Mance Rayder. Varys has informed me that Lord Stark went to search for Benjen Stark himself."

Jon nodded numbly, a dreadful weight settled in his gut, wishing with all his heart that he was there helping them look for his uncle instead of being locked away here in this wretched dragon pit. His eyes became as cold as ice, darkening in barely controlled anger and his fists clenched tight on the armrests of his seat to stop himself from doing and saying something reckless. Resentment once again bubbled in Jon's throat, leaving a bitter taste in his mouth.

Tyrion forced a smile on his face and clapped his hands cheerfully. "Why don't you continue exploring the Red Keep? I'm sure Ser Barristan has not shown you all there was to see last time you explored."

Jon gritted his teeth and nodded, biting his tongue so he doesn't say anything scathing to the only friend he has in King's Landing for being so patronizing. He stood stiffly, his seat screeching sharply on the floor.

"Thank you for this meal, my lord. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll take your advice and see all there is to see in the Red Keep." So, I can possibly plot my escape.

"Good, good." Tyrion nodded awkwardly. "Fresh air will be good for you."

Jon nodded to both Tyrion and Bronn, leaving without a backward glance.

Before the door was completely shut, Jon heard Bronn say, "Well, that went completely to shit."


Ser Barristan once again became his escort more than his warden.

They passed through the White Sword Tower where the Kingsguard lived, the throne room with the ugly Iron Throne (in Jon's opinion), Maidenvault and the Traitor's Walk. Jon noted how unnervingly but also pleasantly quiet the castle was without its regular courtiers. They've barricaded themselves behind their fancy houses like the craven they were, he heard. With the food scarce and the king gone to ride into battle, the rest of the nobility had to fend for themselves, saving their own arse while the capital tore itself apart.

It was late when Jon realized that they were still walking along the Traitor's Walk. Ser Barristan had long given up his spiel, realizing that they fell on deaf, uninterested ears. They've strolled for so long, Jon barely noticed that the sun had sunk away and torches and lamps replaced its glow, buried deep in his thoughts. He came back to life when they heard loud, angry shouting, steel being drawn and then a crash.

Jon, with Ser Barristan behind him, sped towards the commotion and saw that the gates were flooded by an angry mob, striking at the guards and damaging the wagons that were pulled by a horse that came in from the gates. They were looting the wagons, the horse pulling them cried out in distress as it was butchered by the mob. More of the City Watch was dispatched and they formed a defensive position against the mob, shields and spears up to push them back. But the men cannot hold the line indefinitely, Jon knew. Between the well-armed City Watch and the stone, knife and cane wielding peasants, Jon knew blood will soon flow in earnest.

"We've got to get you inside." Ser Barristan said, pulling him away. Jon was about to follow when the mob broke through the ranks of the City Watch. Men with knives ran straight for Jon but before he can think of defending himself, Ser Barristan was there, cutting them down with only a swing of his sword. But one lone old knight cannot hope to defeat the onslaught of so many peasants. They've overwhelmed the men of the City Watch and the wagons were nearly empty of supplies. Before Jon could think, he was assaulted by another man, and this time his attacker wielded a blunt blade as long as his forearm. He ducked and rolled away, relying on his speed to avoid the clumsily swung blows. He could see from the corner of his eye that Ser Barristan is too preoccupied to help him, no matter how the old knight desperately tried to cut down the men who came between him and Jon. He was on his own. So, he ducked and avoided as best he could, waiting for the right moment to strike, trying to control the pain that sprouted from his healing injuries as he moved. In the end, despite the exhaustion that began to weigh his movements down, Jon's sword training overpowered the man. He took his opportunity to step closer to his attacker as Jon avoided his thrust and twisted his wrist until the sword fell from his grip. Jon elbowed him in the face and he fell flat on the ground, groaning. Jon grabbed the blunt sword and proceeded to help Ser Barristan from his multiple attackers. Together, they fended them off until one of them got the better of the old knight. Ser Barristan howled in pain and he fell, his sword cluttering to the ground. Blood easily flowed from the old knight's leg between where the metal of his armor met.

Jon kicked the old knight's attacker in the stomach and threw the blunt sword for Ser Barristan's sharper one. He cut down the men that came his way, only pausing to help the old knight on his feet and dragged him safely away, swinging the sword almost wildly against those who came close enough to hurt them. Three soldiers from the City Watch quickly came to their aid and Jon supported the old knight as best as he could, setting him down in an alcove, hidden away from the fight. Jon was about to return to the fray to help when a hand firmly stopped him.

"Don't!" Ser Barristan gritted out, but his eyes were almost pleading and panicked. "The king won't be pleased if you die in this fight. He won't be pleased that fought as it is."

The old knight was right, of course. Jon knew that the king won't be entirely happy about this at all, accidental or not. The king had warned him against stepping out of line from his new privileges and this, fighting in this battle, killing commoners and getting one of the Kingsguard—the Lord Commander, no less—injured, was surely a leap instead of a step and the king won't care if Jon had just happen to pass by when this insurrection broke out. But something more powerful called to Jon. So loud and so strong, it pulled him to act even against his better judgment. The fear that the king had driven into him was nothing but a faint whisper at the back of his mind while the dying cries and the rage-fueled screams were all that pervaded his senses. Something primal in him pulled him toward the fray, not away, even as the stench of blood and sweat, the sight of lifelessness beginning to surround him, gave him more reason to run instead of stay. The sword in his hand felt more of an extension of his being than it was a weapon. It was not the familiar weight of his Valyrian steel, Longclaw, but it was enough to make him harshly aware of a duty to protect. His duty called him to arms, to aid, to end the chaos before him. He can't stand by while others died. He can't run and he can't hide away. His honor demanded him to stay as did his overwhelming sense of responsibility told him that he could find a way to stop this madness.

"I have to try." He whispered but his voice was steady, strong and sure. "I can end this."

Ser Barristan paled like he'd seen a ghost and a sad, pained smile crossed his lips. Seeing it took Jon back to a painful memory. The day he begged for Ned Stark's life, Ser Barristan had paled then, too, as if he had seen a ghost instead of a tortured boy, a gleam of respect in his eye. He doesn't understand its meaning but he held the old knight's eyes anyway, no matter how terribly sad it looked.

A moment later, he felt the old knight's hand beginning to slack until Jon was free. Ser Barristan turned wholly serious and resolute as he nodded, accepting Jon's decision.

Jon wasted no time to get up and rejoin the fight, Ser Barristan's sword still in his hand. The mob had now infiltrated the castle. The wagons and whatever remained of the City Watch hindered their entrance. If Jon didn't think of a way to stop this soon, the castle would be sacked by its own people. A full scale civil war would wreak havoc in this already devastated city. With multiple wars in various directions brewing like storms in the horizon, King's Landing cannot afford to be any more divided than it already is. The city will not survive.

He met blades with those who ran toward him, cutting them down as fast as he could or only carefully incapacitating them. His injuries hampered his movements and it exhausted him so fast that he knew he will not last long.

He had to think. He had to find a way to stop them from fighting.

He pulled himself behind a column and looked around wildly, hoping for any way to get their attention. He was bordering desperation when someone pulled him away and into a corridor. He tried to struggle but the person held him firm, his sword swinging uselessly in front of him. They dumped him on the floor and he hissed in pain, feeling all the old and newly acquired injuries springing into being.

"Jon fucking Snow." Ser Bronn of the Blackwater stood above him and Jon froze.

"Jon!" Tyrion hissed almost in panic somewhere to his left while Jon, sighing in relief, was too busy trying to sit up and stand. "What are you doing out there?! Where is Ser Barristan?!"

He saw Pod standing guard by the entrance with an axe in his hand and Varys a few feet away with a worried look on his face. Tyrion held a crossbow, angling it away from Jon. He recovered whatever dignity he had left and stood as well, his face grim.

"Ser Barristan is injured. I helped him hide in an alcove. We have to find a way to stop the fighting." He said to Tyrion. "Help me find—"

"There's nothing we could do about it now." Tyrion interrupted him in a rush. "We have to find a way to get out of the city before it's too late."

"But the city is falling apart! We have to—"

"Jon, we can finally escape King's Landing!" Tyrion insisted, almost pleading with him. "The city is in disarray and the war is getting worse every day. This is our only chance. We have to leave!"

Jon looked at Tyrion in surprise and it dawned on him. He can finally go home, he realized. He can go home to the North, to Winterfell, to his family. He can leave this wretched place forever and never come back. He'll see his family again, be with them, and stop them from ever having to march south, to war. There was nothing here but pain and misery. His family will have no need to come here if he left. The South was no place for a Northerner. They do not need to fight if he escaped.

But the cries and the screams rang in his ears again.

Duty and longing pulled him this way and that until he felt it's torn him apart. It wasn't right to leave them all to die. It wasn't right to run away and hide from the wretchedness of King's Landing. Jon was first and foremost Ned Stark's son. Duty, honor, desire and longing weren't always easy to choose from, he was taught. He had a duty to save the people who had nothing to do with a war they had started. Why should they suffer for one man's pride? Why should they die for another man's glory? He could find a way to save them and he was honor-bound to stay to carry it out despite the hate and bitterness that grew around his heart. His father carried the sentence and swung the sword every time. So would he. He was a Stark of Winterfell above all else and their way is the old way.

He chose to stay for Ned Stark, now he will choose to stay to save these people.

"Send my regards to my family, Lord Tyrion. But I cannot leave just yet. I have a duty to do." Jon finally answers, gripping the sword in his hand tighter. "Tell them you are my friends and they will protect you in the North."

"You're fucking staying?!" Bronn asked him incredulously. All of them looked at him as if he'd gone insane. Maybe he has as his grandsire had.

"I am honor-bound to help—"

"Fuck your honor. You can go home!"

Jon's eyes dimmed but he cannot be persuaded. "I know."

"Why? You owe these people nothing. They aren't your duty. They aren't your people, either. The Northerners are your people and they are waiting for you. Your family is waiting for you."

"I know—"

"Then, we must leave now!"

"I can't leave and condemn innocent lives to a war they didn't choose, Tyrion!" Jon snapped. His posture sagged, the sword heavier in his hand. He shut his eyes tight and sighed. "I just can't. I'll be right behind you. I just need to find a way to stop the fighting."

"You can't." Tyrion shook his head to his madness. "There's just no way to do it."

"There is."

They all turned to Varys who procured a vial from his long, voluminous robes. It was small and glowing green.

"Is that—" Tyrion whispered in disbelief.

"Wildfyre." Varys confirmed, looking at the little Lannister. "I was saving it for our departure. But that isn't the case now, is it?"

Tyrion looked to be grinding his teeth together and Jon felt relieved when he saw his friend nod stiffly in response.

"Fucking hells." Bronn muttered, followed by many more crude insults. Varys handed the vial to Jon and he took it with care.

"The plan is simple: throw it under one of the wagons. Make sure it breaks and leaks. Then, after you're in a safe distance, knock a flaming arrow and blow it apart." Varys told Jon. "Be warned, my lord, even with only this small vial, it will be extremely flammable. The explosion could drive the common people away and cease them from entering. We lock the gates as soon as we can. What remains of the City Watch will apprehend the commoners inside the castle and wait for the king to come back with the bulk of his forces."

Tyrion pointed his index finger at him as if to disagree but he only looks defeated. "That is actually not a bad plan."

Varys shrugged. "I live to please, my lord."

"It's not a good plan, either, Varys." Tyrion grimaced as he handed Jon his crossbow and the setter on his belt.

"I never said I was perfect."

"We can do this." Jon told them all as he ripped a part of his tunic to wrap it around the bolt. "We can stop this bloodshed then we can escape."

"I liked you better when you're brooding, Jon." Tyrion sighed but smiled encouragingly as he always have. Jon stood to leave, a cross bow on this arm and a sword tucked without a sheath on his belt.

"You were right about one thing," Bronn mock whispered to Tyrion as he unsheathe his sword. "It wasn't long before they're at the fucking gates."

Tyrion snorted.


Jon, Pod and Bronn braved the maddened battle.

Bodies lay everywhere and stained the earth with blood, swords were clashing and arrows flew in every direction. The battle had only gotten worse. The east and south side of the castle were now on fire. He can hear shrieks of women somewhere distant inside the castle and he only wanted to move quicker for it. He pulled the squire by his leathers as they fought their way to the wagons when they were near enough.

"Pod, in an alcove on the left side," Jon screamed over the fighting. "Take Ser Barristan Selmy to Tyrion and Varys!"

"Yes, my lord!" Pod yelled back determinedly and ran his way to the pointed alcove.

"Ser Bronn, watch my back!"

"Aye, you fucker!" Jon turned to see Bronn had just gutted a man and could see that the insult was more for the person he'd just killed rather than directed at Jon himself but with Bronn he wasn't entirely sure so he focused on his task. His sword was on one hand while the other gripped the crossbow and bolt. He knocked his opponent to the ground and rolled to the nearest wagon he can find. He threw the vial under it and it broke into pieces, wildfyre slithering on the ground like a glowing green snake. He saw that Bronn had already begun to retreat and Jon was about to follow when he saw that the wagon was not empty as he had assumed. It had two barrels filled with dark liquid, oozing all over from the chaos of the looting. No one took it because it was heavy, Jon realized. It was oil.

Jon mentally cursed.

"GET BACK! EVERYONE, GET BACK!" He warned but no one paid him any attention unless they were trying to kill him. He cursed again ran for a torch. He placed the bolt on the crossbow and lit it. When it burned, he took aim. No one heeded his call. They were too close to the wagon. He has to warn—

Someone rammed into him and he fired the bolt by reflex. Cursing, he swung his sword across the man's throat and he fell agonizingly slow, gripping at his open throat, eyes wide in pain. Jon stood stock still as he watched the man die, unable to scream, unable to stop himself from dying. Jon looked on at the stranger even after the breath left his body and suddenly, he felt as if he was plunged underwater. He killed that man. He took away his life. He murdered—

"JON!" Tyrion's voice called out. "JON, DO IT!"

Another wave of common folk was trying to force their way in and he knew that the City Watch will be no match to the next slaughter.

He had no time to think. He grabbed the torch, ran back to the wagon, pass the blades that tried to kill him and the arrows that flew pass him, and threw the torch under the wagon where it quickly caught and exploded.

Jon was blown backward from the sheer force of it and he heard more cries and screams. A bright light filled his vision and it blinded him, heat washing over him like a wave. He remembered how he burned his hands when he was at the Wall. He remembered the pain. He knew he would die from that same pain here, only tenfold. Fire was everywhere. Fire and blood. It surrounded him now, engulfing him, burning him away and he shut his eyes, thought of the cold winter winds and the winter roses that grew around Winterfell.

Maybe he would see his mother now. Maybe he would be safe now. Maybe he would be—

He was plunged back to the cries and screams. Always the cries and screams.

He opened his eyes and saw men burning, wounded and dead alike. He smelled blood, burning flesh and sweat mingled in the frigid night air. He keeps hearing them weep and howl and cry and scream until something in him snapped.

He stood carefully, his rage burning like an inferno within him instead of feeling the flames that clung to his skin. His vision turned red and all he saw was Fire and Blood.

Fire and Blood.

Fire and Blood.

And then he screamed back at them.


TYRION

"ENOUGH!" Jon Snow stood among the flames, scorched and burning with righteous fury. It escaped him that the flames were licking his skin, marring his clothes with embers, seething in anger too much to feel it burn.

But the men who saw had noticed.

They bore witness to a young man among smoke and flame, scorched and burnt but he did not seem to care. His fury was magnificent and petrifying to behold, Stark grey eyes resembling a cold winter storm. The men stood rigid in fear, weapons falling to their sides with mouths agape.

"LISTEN TO ME!" He commanded and Tyrion noticed how every man's rapt attention was focused on Jon Snow, including his own. "MY NAME IS JON SNOW OF WINTERFELL! I COMMAND YOU TO LAY DOWN YOUR ARMS AND CEASE THIS FIGHTING!"

Jon Snow, the Dragon Prince, Tyrion hears many of them whisper and his heart nearly stopped when he heard it. It was true that Jon Snow's true parentage was never kept secret after the king found out. They had even taken great cares to spread it as far and wide as they possibly could. Jon Snow, the last dragonspawn of Rhaegar Targaryen. Jon Snow, the product of rape and a spawn of evil in this world that the king has now, finally, captured.

But only the idiots believed it, Tyrion knew.

The Bard Prince was known far and wide as a gentle, handsome prince, marred only by the reputation of his father's madness and his family's dwindling support because of his father's cruelty. Tyrion had heard how he loved music and was always blue, how he stood proud and strong that day in the Tourney of Harrenhall when he took down rider after rider with his lance until he won a crown of winter roses and laid it upon a promised maiden's lap.

Seeing the fascination and—dare he say it—hope in the common people's eyes, Tyrion knew then that Robert may have killed Prince Rhaegar Targaryen but he is not forgotten.

The North remembers, they say in the North and maybe so does the common people of the wretched King's Landing. They remember and they are reminded through his last living son who stands before them in flames, back straight and Northern face grim, a prince of ice and fire.

Jon Snow the Dragon Prince, they aptly whisper.

When Jon noticed that they listened to him, his eyes softened sadly but they remained strong and piercing, the baritone of his voice ringing across the listening silence. "This war has taken many from us! This war has left us to suffer! But this is not our war! We did not choose to offend which lord it is they fight! This is their war!" There was a murmur of almost reverent agreement and Jon was panting hard, intoxicating heat and smoke blurring his vision, fatigue nearly overcoming him but he fought against it. "We are all victims of this war! But we shouldn't declare war upon ourselves! The lone wolf dies but the pack survives, we say in my House! Killing each other won't help us survive! Only together!"

He took a deep breath, eyes meeting each pair he can see. "Fight together, not each other! Fight with us, not against us! Stand with us! Stand with me!"

Tyrion saw many of the men's faces, common folk, City Watch soldiers, and knights alike, looked fiercely moved and for a moment, the little Lannister had thought they won.

But silly little man, forgetting life was not a song.

There was a click of a crossbow firing—a quick sound of swoosh—and then a sickening sound of something imbedding into flesh. Tyrion saw Jon's face molding into shock and then stumbling forward with an arrow on his back. The Red Keep came to life, shouts and screams alike broke the stunned silence that overcame them.

The little Lannister had only time to gasp before Jon Snow fell to the ground. When Tyrion ran to his friend, he didn't expect that much blood to pour so fast. He cradled his dark head in his lap, murmuring reassurances he knew he had no right to make, and the last thing Tyrion saw before Jon closed his eyes were the fresh flecks of purple that were now as stark as its grey, intertwined like the twin powerful bloodlines that ran in his blood that now soaked the ground red.

Chapter Text

Robb wanted to fling a table at his uncle's head.

They sat together for evening meal; him, his mother, his grandfather, his mother's uncle and his own aggravating, smug Uncle Edmure. Hoster Tully, his prodigal brother, and his heir had welcomed his and his mother's party of a hundred men five days ago, traveling almost continually from one lord's house to the other, gathering and reaffirming their support. If anyone were to ask, he had been simply visiting their bannermen to get to know them and they know him in return. As the future Lord of Winterfell and Liege Lord of the North, he had every right to meet his future bannermen and their heirs. At least, that is what they tell the lord's court. In the privacy of their solar, they plot to rescue Jon.

The Northern lords weren't all that surprised when he came to them with a retinue of a hundred men and his lady mother by his side but had expected his lord father, the solemn, honorable Quiet Wolf, to call them to arms once more instead of him. His father would have done just that had the Watch not sent him news of his little brother going missing Beyond the Wall and the threat of a wildling invasion. His father had gone Beyond the Wall to look for their uncle Benjen and see to the King Beyond Wall. If Robb hadn't already been stretched as thin as he was, that had nearly torn him to shreds. One by one, the people he loved are plucked away from him and he can't be in two places at once, not when they've vanished on opposite corners of the world.

So, here he was, dining with his mother's family, trying to secure the loyalty of his kin in the Riverlands for when they march down to retake his brother. Riverrun was his mother's ancestral home and her father the Liege Lord of the Riverlands but what was supposed to be more formality and a family visit for his mother, became a more difficult attempt than with his father's own sworn lords at convincing them to support their cause. He desperately wanted to run a hand down his face but doing so would be severely offensive, not to mention petty, and Robb is determined not to give his uncle even a small measure of the satisfaction of seeing him so incensed.

But apparently, his mother was not having any of it at all.

"They took an innocent boy hostage, brother!" Catelyn snapped, her words a barbed whip that resonated in the empty hall. "Bastard son of Rhaegar Targaryen he may be, but he is family! Remember our words, Edmure!"

"I remember them well enough, Cat, and that is exactly my point." Edmure infuriatingly insisted, scoffing cockily. He puffed his chest as if he's already the Lord of Riverrun instead of his father and it took all of Robb's willpower not to club that arrogant glint right off his eye. His grandfather and great uncle remained motionless and silent, listening almost distastefully at the way Edmure pompously brush off the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, if Robb had anything to say about it.

Good. Let them knock some sense into this fool. The Northerners will never forget and when we save Jon and place him on the Iron Throne, the North will remember this slight, too, Robb thought spitefully.

"He's a bastard!" Edmure scoffed. "He's no kin of ours. I would wage war if it was your lord husband or my dear nephew here, Robb, in a heartbeat because they are family but who is Jon Snow to me, to us? Why should we go to war for him? I'm perfectly agreeable to staying away from all this conflict in respect for the Starks but why should we spill Tully blood and risk our lives for a Blackfyre?"

There was a moment of tense silence and Robb thought his uncle was immensely fortunate they were dining alone as a family. His mother had gone completely livid judging from the way her hands shook that, if Robb had to guess, wanted nothing more than to wring her little brother's neck.

Robb was no better himself.

A low, dangerous growl was heard from behind Grey Wind's exposed teeth and his hackles rose, the only indicator of his master's darkening mood. Robb sat unmoving and rigid, face never betraying the inner rage that burned within him except for his eyes. His blue Tully eyes resembled a brewing winter storm that reminded them all that despite his coloring, he was a Stark of Winterfell and a Wolf of the North. His anger seeped coolly, smoldering the way only ice could burn. Edmure shifted restlessly under his cold gaze during the painfully long silence.

"Robert Baratheon captured a dragonspawn, did you not hear, Uncle?" Robb began with his deep baritone despite his age. Grey Wind began to stalk around the table, pacing agonizingly slow behind Edmure. "The last son of Rhaegar Targaryen, imprisoned and punished as he should be. He is the product of rape and madness, of fire and blood. Jon Snow, the seed of evil. Jon Snow, the villain. Surely, all those beatings were rightly deserved. Surely, torture could cleanse the dragon's bastard of his family's crimes."

Edmure swallowed uncomfortably, his eyes widening at the words. His grandfather and his great uncle were looking at Robb cautiously as if he were Grey Wind, himself, about to pounce. His mother gave him a worried glance, shocked by his words, but stayed silent knowing the truth of his claims. They heard the drunken stag's lies and excuses to keep Jon locked away and the reasons why he suffered. They heard what they did to him. It was never kept secret in the first place, boasted across the Seven Kingdoms as if the North will take it lying down.

"Did you hear what they did to him, Uncle Edmure?" He asked unnervingly calm. "They say his screams echo through the walls of the Red Keep. They say the king himself travels down to the Black Cells to beat him with his own fists. They say his direwolf's head hangs above the king's bed to remind himself of his triumph over a boy no older than five and ten. They say that when the king finally saw fit to have him treated by a maester, he was barely alive. My father was there with him in the Black Cells when they imprisoned him. He saw what they did when they laid Jon at the king's feet."

Robb's eyes met Edmure's, his blues eyes that had once shown with laughter was now almost rabid with cold rage.

"Robb," his mother pleads but Robb could not look away from his uncle, his fury climbing higher and higher, pulsing around them, humming with a power that Grey Wind emulates as his own, his growls and snarls growing louder and wilder.

"Jon Snow is being held captive by a cruel man with a crown on his head, Uncle Edmure." Robb nearly hissed. His teeth grinding together as he seethed. "The same man who looked upon the mangled bodies of Elia Targaryen and her children and condoned their rape and slaughter because they were Rhaegar's wife and Rhaegar's children. The same man who prefers torturing mybrother to ruling the Seven Kingdoms because he is Rhaegar's son."

Edmure casted his eyes away but Robb wasn't finished. "He's not your blood, aye, we all know that. He's only the bastard son of a dead Dragon Prince." Robb growled. Behind Edmure, Grey Wind was ready to pounce. "But remember this, Uncle. When we march for King's Landing, when we defeat and unseat the usurper from the Iron Throne, when we take my brother back, who will rule the Seven Kingdoms? Who has the most legitimate claim to the Iron Throne? Who did the Reach, Dorne and the North fight a war to save?"

Grey Wind barked menacingly behind him and Edmure jumped at the sound, his eyes dawning at the realization. Robb felt immensely satisfied with the way the heir of Riverrun resembled a trout gaping at a wolf.

"I hope for your sake that you remember, Uncle." Robb counseled gravely, standing regally. "For the North has a long memory and I suspect dragons do so, too."

Edmure gulped and Robb strode to leave with Grey Wind shadowing his every step but his great uncle's words stopped him.

"Edmure may act and talk as if he's the damn lord of Riverrun, but he is not. Not yet." Bryden Tully groused, glaring at Edmure. Robb turned back and saw his mother give him an encouraging nod to come back. "My brother is very much alive, boy, and he still haven't had his say. I suggest you hear him out before you declare war on us, too."

Robb came closer but he did not sit back down. His grandfather carefully studied him with a stoic expression that reminded Robb of his father. After a moment, he spoke.

"Where our loyalty resides in this war was never in question, lad." Hoster Tully assured, his eyes burdened by age. Edmure's cheeks burned with shame, refusing to meet anyone's eye and gathered whatever remained of his dignity. "We fought with the wolves to defeat the dragons before and we will fight with them again to put the dragons back where they rightfully belong. Our words, remember our words. The Starks became family the moment Eddard Stark married my little Cat and gave her beautiful, honorable children."

Hoster gave Robb a pointed look and Robb's lips twitched in a relieved and grateful smile. Hoster gestured gently for him to be dismissed.

"Go now. You, too, my little Cat. Rest, the two of you, for I feel it will be a long journey ahead." Hoster said gravely. "Your work is not finished yet."

Robb gave him another grateful smile and he extended his arm for his mother to take. She rose with grace, looking at her son with a loving support only his mother could ever give him. He smiled softly at her.

As they left with Grey Wind trailing unfailingly behind them, he could hear his grandfather and his great uncle rebuking his Uncle Edmure in soft voices and then raised voices after they've turned a corridor.

Perhaps the table thrown at his head would have been a mercy.


"We've won Riverrun to our side." Robb said with a gleam of victory and relief. His mother nodded absentmindedly, staring into the flames of his temporary solar. He stood above a map of Westeros, planning their next move. Robb knew that his grandfather's support will not mean that the Riverlords will fight willingly for them as well. Just getting across the Twins had been a trying thing to accomplish with Walder Frey nearly refusing to let them pass. Robb thought it was almost worth it to just turn around and go the long way to his grandfather's castle but time was of the essence. In the end, Walder Frey gave him three young sons and grandsons to foster and a two daughters to serve as his sisters' companions. Arya, in particular, will not be pleased. But it had to be done. At least it wasn't a betrothal.

His mother had been strangely silent, sitting by the fire as if it held the answers they sought.

"It was never really in doubt." She admitted with a sigh. "My father would have ridden with us despite my brother's protest. Edmure could be… eccentric at times but he's a good man."

"He spoke ill of Jon." Robb nearly spat, the embers of his anger brought back to the surface. "He didn't deserve to be seen in such a way."

"I believe that's my fault." She confessed to him, eyes filled with regret. "I wrote home countless times about Jon in the first few years I was in Winterfell. None of the things I said were pleasant. How I hated that he looked more like Ned each passing nameday. How I feared that he seemed to have endeared himself to my children. I was resentful of the living embodiment of your father's shame and dishonor that lived under my household."

It was Robb's turn to sigh, coming closer to his mother. He sat opposite of her, taking her hand in his to let her know he understood. They've gone over this a hundred times and yet it never seems to abate its dark clutches over his mother's heart. Robb knew very well how his mother had taken to Jon in that year they'd known the truth. When she'd finally let go of the jealousy and hate that she harbored for Jon's mother, she saw Jon for himself. The brother Robb grew up with who was honorable and loving, who scarcely refused the whims of his siblings and protected them from all harm. The boy who carried a dry wit and a warm smile that made him look younger than he was underneath his brooding demeanor and grim face.

The boy who easily and readily forgave years of resentment and isolation and possessed a kindness and heart that was warmer than the braziers of Winterfell. The boy who went South with his father and never came back. The boy who'd been his brother for as long as Robb had been alive but taken from them by a drunken, whore mongering, vindictive king who only saw Jon's father instead of Jon himself as his mother had once done.

The boy whose suffering and torment never seems to end and Robb can't help but feel helpless to stop it.

"I was a horrible woman. I hated an innocent boy who didn't deserve it. Now, I see what you see in him, why you love him like you would your trueborn brother." His mother said, eyes closing briefly as if she were gathering more of her boundless strength to hold herself together. She held on to him like a lifeline. "He saved your father. He brought him home. He kept the rest of us safe. All his life, I hated him and he—"

"You're here now, trying to save him in return and that's what matters." Robb assured her firmly but not unkind. "We'll save him, mother. I promise."

"Don't make promises you cannot keep, Robb." She told him sadly. "Robert Baratheon may be lacking in allies now but he's a warrior, a veteran in the battlefield. He did not win the Iron Throne by luck."

"We have the Highgarden, Riverrun, Sunspear and the entire North on our side. We'll make them pay for hurting our family." Robb vowed vehemently. "Then, we go home and we'll be as we once were."

"War is not without its losses, my son." His mother warned, taking his face in her palm. "Remember what your father lost when he marched with Robert against Aerys Targaryen."

"It won't be like that. I won't let it." Robb insisted.

His mother did not look convinced but she nodded nonetheless and sighed. She rose and kissed him goodnight, leaving for her chambers to retire for the night. Robb drifted back to his maps, pouring over their plans. If Jon was here, he wouldn't give up. He won't let anything come between him and his family. He braved a snow storm to save Bran and he sacrificed himself to save their father. Robb would do the same for him in a heartbeat. He would tear down every obstacle in his way to get him back.

He brought out a parchment hidden underneath his maps.

Little birds whisper to me that a lion will destroy a stag and all that is his. All that is his resides within a Red Keep. Make haste, little wolf, for I, who serve a beast with wings, fear it will be soon. Our letters must be kept confidential. All walls have ears.

Robb gritted his teeth together and threw the parchment into the flames. He watched it turn to ash, keeping this secret as he was advised. He didn't know who this servant of a beast with wings is or what their intentions are but he knew enough about recent events to believe it was right.

The Lannisters are winning the war and it will not be long before they march for King's Landing to claim the throne.

Jon's throne, Robb thought. He sighed and plopped himself on a chair. And Jon himself.

A Targaryen, alone in the world, is a terrible fate, Maester Aemon had told him.

When he and Jon made that fateful journey up the Wall to meet the last Targaryen in Westeros, the maester had not been what Robb had envisioned a Targaryen would look like. Old, wrinkled, and blind, Aemon Targaryen was scarcely the Dragon Prince he must've once been. But he was ever sharp and saner than most men. He loved Jon the moment he knew the truth and held the other boy's face in his hands, eyes unseeing but almost weeping in joy. He told Jon about his father's family. The rich history of dragons and warrior kings and sister-queens told from the lips of one who'd lived it himself. The maester had not known Jon's father as well as he would have liked. He'd already been bound to the Wall by the time Rhaegar Targaryen was born. But he'd heard of him. How the prince had loved to sing, carrying with him a beautiful harp engraved with dragons wherever he went, and how graceful he fought in a fine black armor lined with rubies, a warrior worthy of songs. How he had two children, little Egg and Rhaenys, and Robb remembered how sad the maester's face had turned and Jon's eyes rimmed red, looking at Robb with almost fear and grief, as they remembered what became of Rhaegar's eldest children.

Robb wondered what would have happened if Aemon Targaryen had not refused the throne. He wondered if Jon would do the same as his brother never aspired to be anything more than a Stark.

And nothing good ever came to a Stark in King's Landing, Robb thought grimly, clenching his fists.

When Jon and his father journeyed South, Robb cannot be happier for his brother. None of them saw Jon differently despite the truth. In spite of it, his family had grown closer than it'd ever been. His father's shoulders did not seem like it labored under the weight of the world for once and his mother smiled more openly, her blue eyes brighter than they'd ever been.

As for Jon, his brother had unsurprisingly sulked and brooded in his room but after relentlessly trying to get it into his thick head that nothing would change in the way his cousins—no, siblings, for he was still their brother—saw him and with the gradual acceptance from his mother, Jon came out lighter and happier for it.

He no longer looked so solemn, with sad seeking grey eyes that looked more haunted than they were alive. The Bastard of Winterfell was also its ghost, Robb knew, no matter how hard he tried to change it. Robb had always tried his hardest to show Jon that he was as much his brother as Bran and Rickon, as loved and adored as Arya and Sansa.

When Jon told him the truth, Robb would admit that it took him time to adjust to the idea of Jon as a Targaryen. He didn't look like a dragon, with his grey eyes and somber face, but his blood was fire as well as ice. In the end, he decided that it mattered not for Jon is a Stark. They were a pack and this pack would survive.

Robb's pack will not follow the tragedy of their predecessors. He would protect them with every breath in his body. He would cut down each and every one that threatened his family and he knows where he can start.

Theon Greyjoy, the turncloak.

The betrayal had hurt. Theon had been like a brother to him and he'd foolishly thought the other boy saw them as his family as well. Now, he knew what those cold, hard eyes from the corner of the hall as they welcomed Jon into their midst and had him sat beside him meant. The sneers directed at Jon that grew more hostile made more sense. The violent turn of their spars in the yard had foretold.

Robb had seen it but he had been too naïve to believe what lay in front of him.

Now, his brother paid the price.

There's no forgiveness for betrayal, no ounce of mercy for treachery. Robb would see that bastard's head on a spike up the ramparts of Winterfell. His precious Pyke will burn and the fury of the North will come for every Greyjoy in the Iron Islands. He'll make sure Theon would taste the wrath of the direwolves.

Robb touched the marker on the maps symbolizing their armies amassing in White Harbor, disguised as merchants and farmers, weapons concealed in tents deep in the woods, waiting patiently for Ned Stark's return to sail for Pyke.

They'd been too lenient, too merciful, to the Ironborns.

It is time they paid their own iron price.

Chapter Text

Ned stood atop the Fist of the First Men, grimly looking down at the Northmen battalion that he had gathered for this excursion, brooding and impatiently waiting as the sun rose of another day.

A group of riders carrying the Stark sigil and a message carrying terms of parley bravely rode for Mince Rayder's camp nearly three days ago and there were still no news if they'd even managed to survive delivering the message. Ned couldn't help but feel angry and restless, a hot wave of grief and frustration swirling inside of him of the dire circumstances that the gods have given him. He had no time to waste yet here he was, standing numbly, cold and useless, as another day wasted away and another began. He had better things to do than to stand on top of a rock. He needed to plan, strategize, he needed to meet with his bannermen to solidify their attack. Instead he was here, doing nothing while Robb and his wife travelled across the Riverlands, gathering their allies.

Not for the first time in his life did he wonder why all of this tragedy had to happen. His son had been taken hostage, tortured and gods' know what else had been done to him by a king Ned had helped come into power. His little brother missing and presumed dead by his Night Brothers, presumed murdered by mystical monsters that, a year ago, only believed to lurk in the tales of Old Nan first told thousands of years ago. But they were no longer mere tales to scare children in their beds. Now, they were real and winter was coming for them all.

Every night he prays the gods tell him what he'd ever done to deserve so much pain in his life. His father, Lyanna, Brandon, and now Jon and Benjen. For the second time in his life, his family was shattered across the Seven fucking Kingdoms and a war he never wanted brews in the horizon. How cruel were the gods that they would punish innocents for the most pointless reasons? His brother ranging, protecting, sacrificing, disappeared without a trace. His son, innocent, loving, shouldering more than a boy of five and ten should ever have to carry, taken from his family for bloodlines he never had a choice in having. His children and his wife would see a war coming from every direction, against different armies, in a winter that will come to conquer them all to death. The feeling of helplessness once again overtook and overwhelmed him as it had when he'd been but a boy who lost half of his family...

A growl menacingly directed at an unsuspecting page brought him away from his ill thoughts.

"My lord?" The page called.

He opened his eyes only to be momentarily blinded by the sun and he took a deep breath to steady himself, his trembling grip of his great sword's hilt easing somewhat. His other hand flew to the She-Wolf by his side, reassuring and calm as the growls subsided into a fierce glower from the beast.

"What is it?" He asked quietly, his back to the page who came hesitantly closer to deliver his news.

"The riders have returned." A soldier of no older than ten and nine told him. "They say that Mance Rayder has agreed to your parley, Lord Stark."

Ned nodded and went to prepare meeting the King Beyond the Wall.


The two parties met in a tundra surrounded by tall mountains dusted with snow. The frozen field was wide and could easily hold a herd of mammoths, the sharp cold rocks crunching under their feet. Ned sat on his horse with Great Jon Umber and Lady Mormont sitting on their horses either side of him. The She-Wolf, a permanent fixture by his side, was momentarily nowhere to be seen. They were surrounded by the Umber, Mormont, and, most of all, Stark banners, sigils flying in the frigid air. It wasn't long until the Wildlings came.

The Wildlings had no horses or bannermen, but they at least twice as many of Ned's battalion came with Mance Rayder. As they drew closer, he saw an eagle circling above them and the way the eagle flew reminded Ned of his Bran. It was reminiscent of the time Bran took a bird as his eyes and his wings to get them to Jon. The intelligence and the gaze of the animal nearly unnaturally aware…

He knew then that the King Beyond the Wall did not only bring twice as many warriors as the Northern Lord's battalion. The king came with his entire army.

Ned felt his determination soar higher than any sky and hotter than any sun. He has to win or all is lost.

"Lord Stark," Mance greeted with an inclination if his head, a salute from one ruler to another. A number of men came forward with the king but Ned took most interest in a sneering, barbaric looking man with a ginger beard and a young girl no older than ten and four with a bow slung across her chest and a quiver of arrows swinging on her hips, her flaming hair only enhancing her harsh beauty. They stood protectively close to the king with an open look of distrust.

"Your Grace," Ned returned. Mance chuckled.

"We say no honorific here in the real North, my lord. I may have been chosen to lead but I am not truly a king. Not like those who wear a fancy crown of gold, sitting on a ridiculous chair of fallen swords." Mance said with only the barest hint of mockery in his voice. "I am merely Mance Rayder."

Ned gave him a bitter smile and, after a moment of consideration, got off his horse. All hands flew to weapons from both parties. Only Ned and Mance remained unconcerned. When Ned was firmly on his feet he turned to Maege Mormont and to Great Jon, looking at him questioningly.

"It hardly seems fair that we sit on a horse and they're on their feet." He told them, loud enough to be heard by both parties. "We are all Northerners here."

Maege and Great Jon followed their Liege Lord and, signaling orders to their men to stay their weapons, strode closer to the Wildlings. Three bannermen followed them and they stopped a few stones' throw away from Mance.

"You truly are an honorable man, Lord Stark." Mance said. Ned did not acknowledge this and instead gave the king a look of grim authority that embodies the Lord Paramount of the North.

"Mance Rayder, leader of the Free Folk, the King Beyond the Wall, I, Eddard of the House Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, call to you for peace between our people, provided that certain conditions are met."

Maege and Great Jon did no more than grind their teeth and hold their tongue as they waited with baited breath upon the king's reply. The lords of the North have spoken and argued of this offer endlessly. Some lords' ire were too deeply wound against the Wildlings and therefore had caused a great rift between them all. It wasn't until Great Jon threatened to revolt and the She-Wolf leapt in the air, tearing his fingers from his hands. After that, Great Jon laughed, three fingers less, and declared his support of the Lord of Winterfell. The rest of the lords fell in line and they moved on to the battle plans for White Harbor.

"Peace?!" A man clad in bones spat. "What use have we for peace with you Southerners?!"

"Easy, lord of bones. We came here to speak, not to fight." Mance warned.

"Why speak when we can kill these fuckers right here and now?!" Another Wildling from the back of the group hollered.

"Because if these fuckers doesn't go back in one piece, the entire Seven fucking Kingdoms will be upon us and we'd all be dead so shut your fucking mouth so that we can speak." Mance retorted and his people are subdued. He turned to Ned. "What conditions?"

"We know about the wights." Ned said and a dark, fearful look passed on all of the Wildling's faces. "My sons encountered them not long ago when they came to the Wall. Dead men rose and tried to kill the Lord Commander. My son was able to save him by setting the wight on fire. My brother, a ranger named Benjen Stark, disappeared beyond the Wall. His horse returned half frozen to the Wall and his Night Brothers have all believed he is killed by the wights as well. I know your people are in danger and I can offer you passage to the other side of the Wall. The Lord Commander has offered The Gift for you settle in, the land is fertile for plantation. Your people can be safe."

"If you think we will come through your Wall and bend our knees, Lord Stark, you will be disappointed. We cannot forget the sacrifices our people made for our freedom. We cannot forget about our dead." Mance growled, glowering at Ned.

"I'm not asking you to forget about your dead. We will never forget ours. The Free Folk are not the only ones who lost brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons. But I'm asking you to think about your children now." Ned said, voice heavy with deep emotion. He thought about his own children. He takes a deep breath. He has to win. "They'll never have children of their own if we do not band together. Winter is coming and the dead come with it. No lord can stop them, no king can stop them! Only together, all of us. Even then, it may not even be enough but at least we have a chance. I'm not asking you to forfeit your freedom. I'm asking you to make peace to save your people."

"It can't be that simple." Mance scoffed, disbelieving but with eyes brimming with unrestrained hope. That look is mirrored in all the Wildlings. A low growl was heard and suddenly the She-Wolf prowled her way to Ned's side, teeth gleaming in a fierce snarl. Ned laid a hand on the top of her head in reassurance.

"That's a direwolf." The girl whispered.

"Aye, she is." Ned whispered just as quietly.

"You still have not cleared your terms, Lord Stark." Mance demanded.

"Keep your freedom. Abide by our laws against harming and killing others." Ned said almost impatiently. Then, his somber eyes met the king's. "And when the Long Night comes, help me fight it."

Mance took a few moments before stepping closer and closer, ignoring the warning look of the lord's men. He extended his arm and Ned grasped it firmly.

"Seems only fair." Mance groused with a grin on his face.

And Ned felt the victory roaring through his veins.

Chapter Text

...

"Did you hear? The prince escaped the Red Keep. He's on his way to the North now!" A boy no older than ten and three excitedly told a gruff man downing his drink in one go.

"No, he didn't, you fuckin' idiot. He died! He was shot to the chest with a fucking arrow! No one can live through that." The man bellowed.

"You're both wrong, you fucking cunts. He eloped with the Imp!" Someone hollered from the back of the tavern. Boisterous laughter filled the tavern and drinks were toasted in jest to the pair.

"But he's a Targaryen, isn't he?" The boy whispered, wide-eyed. "He's a dragon!"

"Shut your fucking mouth, boy." The man hissed and the boy recoiled. "Those words will get you killed. There aren't any dragons left. They'd all been killed by the Stag."

"But this one survived." The boy whispered stubbornly.

The man glowered and for a moment the boy thought the man wouldn't give him an answer. He turned to leave but the man grabbed his arm, pulled him close and hissed, "Aye, this one did."

The boy grinned conspiringly and the man shoved him away, nearly sending him on the floor by the force of it. But the boy didn't mind. He'd gotten his answer.

"This one's a wolf, too." The man continued to hiss behind his drink. He snorted. "I pity your fucking prince."

Suddenly, a man burst into the tavern and shouted that the king's forces were moving up the road with the king himself! The boy could not contain his new excitement over meeting a king. He's never seen one before. He turned to his companion when the man merely continued drinking his pint.

"Didn't you hear? The king's passing through!"

The man turned to him, scared face shadowed and angry, he spat, "Fuck the king."


ROBERT

Robert Baratheon had ridden his horse hard before. He was a zealous boy and even more when he'd become a man. He'd fucked whores, swung his ax to crush skulls, and drunk wine until he couldn't remember fucking his treacherous, brother-fucking wife. But there was nothing that can compare to a hard, galloping ride on his horse. He'd ridden to battle with this exhilaration, fighting for the most honorable reasons as he'd been taught by a man named Arryn. Maybe it'd been a little bit about a man who wanted revenge against another who had dared to steal the woman he loved or maybe about the glory that came with winning that made him faster, stronger, more zealous, too, but no one really gave a puck about that. It wasn't like the fucking cunts weren't thinking the same. They rode the honorable reason same as Robert for a chance at war.

But he had good reason, honorable and noble reasons, then. But he hardly has any of it now.

He rides for Kings Landing, leaving the front line, for a riot subdued inside the Red Keep. A war for a fucking riot. His advisors had all begged him not to leave. The Lannisters were already gaining the upper hand in this war, he couldn't afford to abandon it now. Every battle counted, every support needed to be cemented. But he rode anyway, and rode hard, harder than he'd ever ridden before.

For Jon fucking Snow.

The boy was injured, the ravens brought. An arrow pierced him through the chest. He might not live through this wound, it said. It was too close to his heart. What remained of Lyanna, of Ned, might die, all because of a fucking arrow.

So, Robert rode hard for reasons he does not quite understand. The son of Lyanna, the boy may be, but the boy's father was―… it was Rhaegar fucking Targaryen.

Robert's fists clenched tighter around his reins, his face twisted into something more vicious and vengeful.

Robert no longer kills him in his dreams every night. Instead, he dreams of Lyanna weeping in a crypt with blue roses in her hair, waiting, watching. Her grey eyes, so full of life when she'd been alive, were grim and fearful. She quivers as if she's cold but Robert knew the real Lyanna never trembled from the cold. She was a true Northerner. She loved the cold. Robert knew she trembled because of fear. This dream is always the same every night. No matter how Robert screams and shouts, she never turns to him. She never hears him, never sees him. Only waiting, watching, a three-eyed raven perched on a statue beside her, omniscient and still.

No, Robert never dreamt of the Dragon Prince again. Even that title, as he'd come to discover, no longer belonged to Rhaegar Targaryen, either.

Somehow, the Seven Kingdoms have come to know Jon Snow as the Dragon Prince. He didn't know that something so ridiculous could be so painful to bear.

There was an old ache in his chest each moment he spent with Jon Snow, each look he took, each sound he made. He looked so much like Lyanna and acted so much like Ned that Robert often wanted to reach out across the morning meal and touch the boy to make sure he was real. But every move he made resulted in a wince or a flinch and Robert can find no one else to blame but himself. The direwolf's mount was taken down, it's head and pelt kept in a chest, waiting to be laid to rest. Each bruise and torn skin was tended and all bones broken were set and the finest of the Seven Kingdoms brought to the boy for his use but a horse to leave the Red Keep.

Every day that he'd been with the boy had been like having Ned again. Quiet and resolute with somber grey eyes that seemed knowing and hooded. Every day Robert wished the boy would say something other than a no, your grace or yes, your grace. But the boy never does, picking at his plate, counting the seconds until he could politely tell the king his excuse to leave with his tail between his legs. No, he can't fault the boy his fear, he can't resent the boy's anger and pain.

He can only resent himself.

So, he rode as fast he could, as far as he can push his horse, with his army behind him, racing to a dying boy he hated with every inch of his being for reasons he doesn't understand himself. Robert's reasons were far simpler back then.

Days later with barely any rest, Robert arrived in King's Landing, the moon and flashes of candle light the only thing illuminating his path to the citadel.

The last raven they have received from King's Landing had been about the growing unrest of the people. The shortage of food and the riots that nearly had the city tearing itself apart were all Tyrion Lannister could write in his ravens. But when Robert came closer to the Red Keep with his Kingsguard around him, what he saw was nothing short of extraordinary.

The people of King's Landing held a vigil.

The people held candles in their cupped hands, their faces solemn and melancholy. Each of their heads were raised to the towers as if they were waiting for a sign that would uplift them from the darkness. As Robert and his entourage passed, the people parted silently, letting him through without a word but their eyes were looking through him, through flesh and bones until it reaches a part of him he had tried so hard to bury under wine and whores. He goes through the gates and even the guardsmen were somber, their eyes downcast but resolute. Robert was not surprise to see only Varys, Tyrion, and the bandit Ser Bronn greeted him by the steps. They stepped forward as Robert swung himself down from his exhausted horse.

"Your Grace," Tyrion greeted. His weary face couldn't even muster a small smile for his king. The trio bowed in unison but Robert strode pass them without a word in return. They seemed to know better and followed quietly behind the stormy king.

"Where is he?" Robert all but bellowed, eyes beginning to resemble a hurricane. He didn't need to say his name.

"His chambers, Your Grace." Tyrion answered quietly beside him a step behind. "He suffered a wound close to his heart and his condition continues to dwindle. Maester Yayne had been staying with him through the days and nights but he is… not optimistic."

Robert stopped and looked down to his Hand. Tyrion's pained expression gave him all he needed to know. He all but ran to the boy's chambers and threw the doors wide open. The maester looked up in surprise but he was quick to give the king a bow and quiet greeting as was a squire that Robert had seen with Tyrion. But Robert paid them no mind. His eyes, his focus, were only of the boy lying in bed, breathing ragged breaths and a chest wrapped with gauze blotted with red. His ebony curls (like his mother's, a part of him whispers)were chopped away, leaving him with a cropped cut and a small fringe that stuck to his forehead slick with sweat. There were other little blisters on the boy's skin but nothing else as alarming as the hole in his chest.

"Your Grace," Another voice greeted him with a weary sigh but this one Robert didn't ignore. His fury ignited like wildfyre in his chest, burning and wild.

"YOU!" Robert spat and rounded on the Commander of the Kingsguard. He marched to the knight and wrapped his hands around Ser Barristan's throat. "YOU WERE SUPPOSE TO PROTECT HIM!"

Ser Barristan didn't resist but the panicked cries of Tyrion and the others fell on deaf ears as the king punched the old knight in the face and the knight, with his injured leg, tumbled to the ground with a bleeding lip.

"WHERE WERE YOU, YOU COWARD OLD CUNT? WHERE THE FUCK WERE YOU?" Robert raged down at the fallen man whose eyes were downcast with shame and failure.

"Your Grace, please," Tyrion begged, looking between the two warriors and then to his dying friend. "Jon needs to rest. He must rest so he may survive the night."

Robert was breathing heavily, fighting the urge to beat the old man bloody. But Robert knew deep down that Barristan would have done everything in his power to keep that boy safe. He knew―Robert knew why…

"Father," A weak voice whimpered. They all turned to the boy, turning restlessly in his sleep, brows furrowed with distraught. "Please, father…"

The maester quickly placated the boy, telling him he was safe in a soft murmur while inspecting his breathing, his wound, and his pulse. The others waited with baited breath until the boy quieted but his furrowed brows remained and Maester Yayne gave them a small nod in reassurance.

"Out." Robert hissed. "The maester stays but all of you, get the fuck out."

The squire reluctantly but quickly moved away, eyes lingering on the boy. Tyrion, Varys, and Bonn followed a moment later. The maester settled himself out of the king's path but not too far away, watching his charge with tired eyes. Robert came closer and sat down at the edge of the boy's bed, careful not to jostle him. The boy is still restless, he can see, trapped in the throes of a nightmare.

It was a few moments later when that same voice that enraged Robert spoke again, "He could have escaped."

"You're lucky I didn't fucking kill you." Robert answered in a hollow voice without looking away from the boy.

"Robert," Barristan nearly whispered, voice heavy with emotion. "He could have walked away. But he stayed. He stayed."

Robert closed his eyes. He can already hear Lyanna's sobs, see her weeping form. Never seeing him, never hearing him. He wants to scream until his voice fails him, until his throat burns sore.

"He chose to stay to save them." Barristan whispered to himself but Robert heard him. The old knight retreated and the maester was already drooping in his seat. Robert was alone with Lyanna's boy―with Ned's boy.

"Father…" The boy whimpered again, restless and aching.

Robert's trembling hand was reaching for the boy of its own volition, his thoughts, for once, silent. He took the boy's palm into his own, holding it like his father had once done a long, long time ago when he'd been afraid, before his parents met their fate against the waves and the rocks. Robert remembered what his father told him then…

"It's all right, Jon," Robert whispered gently, squeezing in reassurance. "You're safe. I'm here."

Chapter Text

PART 4

ROBB

Robb's fingers shook as he passed the scroll on to his mother.

She let out a fragile sob, breaking just another piece of Robb's stoic face. Catelyn Stark looked at her son helplessly, rereading the scroll over and over until Robb took it from her. She took him in her arms and the first wave of tears fell into his mother's dress until his body was wracked with sobs for his brother.

Jon is dying. My brother is dying, were the thoughts swirling in Robb's head over and over again. I may never see him again. Gods, please, no… not my brother.

"I'll kill them." He hissed, the promise echoing in the dimly lit tent, battle maps littered all around them for Pyke. "I'll kill them all."

"We get your brother back first. He'll live through this. Jon is strong. He'll survive." His mother told him, voice thick with tears and vindication. "Then, we will kill them all."


MAESTER LUWIN

"Let me see." She demanded quietly. He would never admit it but it frightened Maester Luwin how eerily quiet the youngest daughter of Ned Stark could become. She is usually so wild and free-spirited; very much like the late Lyanna Stark. It often worried Luwin how close little Arya often retraced her aunt's footsteps. What was it they often whispered about Lyanna Stark?

Beautiful, and willful, and dead before her time.

But this girl standing before him now was nothing like Lyanna Stark. Where Lyanna was passionate, loud, and assertive, Arya can be quietly menacing, commanding, and, dare he think it, dangerous. Lyanna Stark had been a warrior in her own right, Luwin knew. But Arya Stark…

Arya Stark can be something else entirely.

So, with a handful of hesitation and a short leave of his senses, he handed her the dark tidings of a black raven's wings.

She read it once. Twice. Thrice…

She gave it back with not a single word and turned to leave.

When later that day, Luwin heard the master-at-arms loudly proclaim he seemed to be missing a practice sword and at night, he can hear a distinct swish of a small sword and mute thuds of metal puncturing straw targets, he said nothing.

The next day, when he sees Sansa's bloodshot eyes dim in rage and her interests grew outside of dolls and dresses but into genealogy of powerful families and politics of powerful ladies, he said nothing. When he observed Bran's control of his powers improve to controlling not only his wolf but to a flock of ravens at once, he said nothing. When he heard how Rickon seems to grow much more unruly and violent each day, he said nothing.

For he knew they weren't just children grieving a dying brother kingdoms apart. They were wolves sharpening their claws and their fangs, readying themselves to tear their enemies to shreds and woe to those who will one day taste the power of the Starks.

That's not to mention the blood thirsty direwolves growing into monstrous beasts by their sides.


NED

Blood dripped down his fists, skin torn from the aftermath of his rage.

His tent was littered with overthrown tables, chairs, and parchment. It was sheer luck that the candles did not burn the rugs. A luck so rare but meaningless to him.

His son was dying. He was too late. Too late to save Jon like he'd been too late to save Lyanna.

He was sitting in a corner and had too much wine to drink when Jory felt brave enough to enter into his lord's tent. "My lord?" He asked tentatively.

"Leave me." Ned hissed.

"It's Lady Mormont, my lord. She wants to speak—"

"LEAVE ME!" He roared, throwing his empty bottle of ale at Jory who quickly went.

He heaved a dry sob after the man left, gulping down a new bottle of ale to wash down the grief.

Whatever whore pit you're cowering in, Robert, I will find you, he vowed to himself, a wave of bloodlust swallowing him alive. And I will take what you hold dear just as you have taken mine.


OLENNA

"This is a disaster." Olenna Tyrell sneered, rolling her eyes, delicious cakes ignored.

"Grandmother, please," Margaery placated, sounding convincingly concerned, fiddling with the remnants of her deserts. "My betrothed is severely injured. His survival is more important to consider, don't you think?"

"Oh, dear granddaughter, I certainly do." The Queen of Thorns agreed fervently. "But if he dies, then he'll no longer be your betrothed! What will happen then? Marry you to Robb Stark and have you live in that wretched castle up in the far north? Or, the gods forbid, to that oaf, Edmure Tully? This will not do."

"I hear Robb Stark is a very handsome and honorable man, grandmother." The young lady replied without much care about handsome men or honor, gracefully popping a ripe grape into her mouth.

"Handsome, yes, and honorable but lacking in imagination." Olenna said for both her and her granddaughter.

The young lady hummed. "Surely I can… persuade him to imagination." Margaery smirked gleefully.

Olenna smiled proudly of her protégé. "Oh, you certainly can, my darling. But there's nothing for you in the North. Your talent will waste away in that snowy barren land. You'll be bored out of your mind, with nothing to do but raise your children and doing that accursed needle work."

"You know me too well, grandmother." Margaery purred adoringly.

"Yes, I do," Olenna concurred. "Which is why we must do something about this situation. And quickly. Time is not on our side."

The Queen of Thorns grew quiet for a long time that even Margaery thought odd of her headstrong grandmother. "What is it, grandmother?"

"We must fetch a raven at once," Olenna declared, rising from her seat.

Margaery followed suit. "Why? Do you have a plan?"

"It seems we might have to win the war for the North." Olenna said. Margaery's delicate brow lifted. "Gods know if we wait this out, we may never see you on the throne. Those Northern fools never had an ambitious thought in their lives."

"So, we raise an army?" Margaery asked.

"No, my darling," Olenna chuckled, tucking a strand of beautiful auburn hair away. "There's no need. We have you."

When Olenna regaled her with her plans, Margaery is once again reminded why she loved her grandmother best of all.

Chapter Text

 

TYRION

The return of the king brought some semblance of assurance to both peasants and nobles alike. His armies guarding the city and the food that came back with them alleviated the hungry and any protest from the people are put indefinitely on hold. The city was under their control once more but Tyrion knew this control is weak and fragile. They have not won the war nor the battle for King's Landing just yet. He still thinks they should've escaped and left this kingdom to cannibalize itself but there wasn't anything he can do about it now, not when Jon's health is still so… brittle.

So, he went about his day running the finer points of the kingdom, trying to keep everyone from tearing each other apart. Though Tyrion will admit that the difference he found between running the kingdom before the incident and running the kingdom after is nothing short of profound. With the king's presence in the Red Keep, the noblemen and women have resurfaced from their barricaded homes and began reopening their businesses, maintaining their reputation and currying favor. They publicly thanked, of course, the heroes of the battle against the angry mob. Tyrion has been showered with praise all week and he graciously accepted them, of course. He, too, had a reputation maintain.

With the noblemen's return, the markets once again came to life and order. Food was still scarce but Tyrion thought that the distribution was managed good enough (for now) and the patrols increased for those who thought to take advantage of this weakness. The people themselves became more… alive. Tyrion can't put it into words but since the incident, the people seems to be—dare he say it—unified.

They policed themselves, taking it upon themselves to root out the criminals among them, and throwing them directly at the foot of the city guard. It was peculiar to say the least to receive help or even a semblance of sanity from the people that had tried to kill them weeks ago. It was odd but nothing that Tyrion didn't welcome.

What was most surprising of all is that the king himself has taken an interest in ruling.

When Robert barged into the council room and sat on his seat, demanding reports that have absolutely nothing to do with the war efforts or whispers of their enemies, Tyrion thought he was dreaming or drunk. He was sure he came into the room sober but the sudden appearance of Robert seems to have confused him throughout the entire ordeal to the aggravation of all council members.

When they were finished, he immediately went straight to his chambers and poured himself a glass of wine.

"That bad, was it?" Bronn asked, picking his nails with a small dagger. Tyrion stared. "What?"

"I had just the most bizarre day, is all."

"Now, that sounds interesting." Bronn tossed the dagger on the table and gave his full yet lethargic attention to Tyrion.

"Something is changing but I cannot put my finger on it." Tyrion muttered after a gulp of wine.

Bronn frowned. "Like what?"

"I'll tell you when I've put my finger on it." Tyrion said and Bronn scoffed. "How does Jon fair?"

"The same as this morning, I wager. Pod's with him now, helping the Maester." Bronn said and then he added, "That lad wants to live."

"Yes," Tyrion murmured into his empty cup. "Northmen are hard to kill."

"Aye, they are. They were made for the winter." Bronn shot Tyrion a look. "Targayens can't fucking burn either."

Tyrion gave him a sharp look. "I told you not to bring that up."

Bronn rolled his eyes. "Just so you know, your fat thumb's sitting on it."

Tyrion looked offended at his thumb being called fat. "On what?"

"The change you're goin' about. It's him."

Tyrion sighed. "I don't want him to be. He's already been through too much for his young age."

"The gods don't give a fuck on who's young or old enough to be given the shit they don't deserve. You of all folks should know that."

Tyrion toasted to that with a refilled cup of wine. "To the future of Westeros."

"Ashes more like."

"You know how the saying goes," Tyrion chirped. "If the world didn't end in fire, it will end in ice."

"No one says that." Bronn told him sardonically.

"I did. Just now." He emptied his cup. "Let's go see Jon."


JON

Jon never realized how much snow can fall in the South. He stood by his chamber's window, watching winter slowly cover King's Landing, eerily calm and with a deafening silence. The snow fondly reminded Jon of Ghost's pelt, white and soft. He smiled, his hand reaching absentmindedly for the wolf that should've stood beside him only to catch nothing but air. He looked down and Ghost was gone. Jon was confused, an echo of an ache inside his chest resurfaced deep within him and he gripped his heart as if holding it could prevent the wave of grief that shot through him.

He doesn't understand. Ghost must only be playing in the snow.

But he's not. Because he's dead.

The pain intensified a hundredfold. He stumbled away from the window and ran out of the stifling chambers. He kept running and running, crashing against the wall as he did so. He was running from the pain, from King's Landing, from everything. His breath came in puffs of cold air, his chest constricting and burning like flames.

The fire licked his skin, and he was blistered but unburnt—

Jon yanked the door to freedom only to see nothing but the Iron Throne in the middle of the throne room. It was old and broken, the once proud seat now fell apart, snow and ice clinging to every inch of the whatever was left after the destruction. Jon had always loved the soft snows and the icicles clinging around Winterfell, making beautiful colors with the light. He loved the cold feeling along with the warmth of a good ale, a bright hearth, surrounded by his family. This was nothing like that. This cold prickled painfully on his skin, leaving it harsh and raw. He felt alone in the devastation all around him.

This was Winter.

"No," he whispered. He stumbled back, running once again, this time from the ruin Winter has done. The desolation Winter will do.

Something dark as night chased him as he ran. Wherever he went, it followed like a shadow. A shadow that will swallow him alive. He bolted past the dying smiles of the smallfolk of Wintertown, past the gates of Winterfell, below through the crypts of Stark kings, down to see a woman weeping by a statue with a raven perched on her grave only then did he stop. The shadow molded with the darkness clinging to the walls, slowly making its way to swallow him.

"We have to leave," he tried to tell her. He doesn't know her, has never seen her, but he knows she's important. She's someone he's loved all his life yet he can't even place her name. But he is certain he must protect her. Even it meant dying, he has to save her.

"I cannot." She whispered, voice hoarse from disused.

"They're coming for us! I must save you!" Jon frantically told her, seeing the shadows drawing closer.

She turned to him and the first thought that came to him is if Arya would look the same when she grew older. Her eyes, grey like a snow storm as his were, wrinkled as she smiled.

"Oh, my brave boy," she whispered and Jon almost cried as she tried to reach for him. "Ghosts do not need saving."

A light emitted from her. It was so bright, it blinded Jon. He shielded his eyes from the light and he let it bathe him in its glow. It was warm like a hearth fire. Somehow, he knew it he was home. A moment passed and, suddenly, there was a soft palm caressing his cheek. It was warm and familiar, almost like it's been there all his life yet this touch was never something he'd felt before. His eyes remained shut, savoring this moment.

"Jon," the hoarse voice whispered but it was gentler now.

"Who…" Jon began but the comfort overshadowed the need to finish what he wanted to say. He breathed a sigh of relief. For a first time in a very long time, he felt safe.

"It's going to be all right, Jon." The touch is fading from his cheek and Jon immediately feels cold.

"No, don't go." Jon begged, his voice weak, trying to hold on to the warmth. "Stay with me. Don't leave."

But the touch is gone and Jon can only weep. "Please, I don't want to be alone!"

"Jon," a new voice called. But it was a voice Jon feared. He recoiled from this voice and his touch. It weighed heavy on his shoulders, keeping him in place, keeping him imprisoned where he lay. He wanted to move, to run; to escape from the pain that's slowly catching up to him.

"NO!" He screamed.

He can feel more of them holding onto him and so many voices speaking to him at once but he couldn't understand a single thing. They forced something down his throat and Jon coughed violently, his chest tearing torturously. There were people calling his name. People he knew, people he couldn't trust. He tried to fight. He tried pushing at the weight holding him but they wouldn't relent. They were too strong. Jon wondered dazedly where Robb was, where his father was, why weren't they coming save him. Jon can feel himself fading, falling back into the darkness he just woke from.

"Jon, you're hurting yourself." Another voice said.

"Jon! I need you to calm yourself," one of the voices told him. "Can you do that?"

No, he couldn't. He won't give these people anything! "Help me! Father, help me." Father, come save me, he pleaded to a man he knew wasn't there, his voice coming out like gravel. He felt his strength leaving him and with every last bit he had, he opened his eyes.

He saw the face of King Robert Baratheon.

The king gently stroked his head and Jon felt his panic rise as his consciousness failed. He felt tears leak through his eyes and tried to turn away from the invasive touch.

"Father, please," Jon can do nothing but whisper. Father, where are you? Robb, brother, please…

"It's all right, Jon," the King said soothingly. "You're safe. I'll protect you."

Jon wanted to scream but he couldn't so he wept. He was alone.

When Jon succumbed to oblivion, the last thing he thought was that his family is never coming to save him.


TYRION

"Your Grace," Tyrion spoke after Jon fell back to sleep. It was soft but grave, making the king turn to consider the imp. Tyrion glanced ever so slightly to his left where Bronn stood moments before and was nowhere to be found. Tyrion suspected that the man went to make himself scarce, knowing that the wrath of the king will once again resurface as it has in all matters regarding Jon these days. Tyrion will make sure he knows just how grateful he was that Bronn left him to deal with it alone later.

"How goes the search for the bastards who did this," Robert snarled, still stroking Jon's hair away from the boy's face. The sight made Tyrion uneasy.

"It seems, amidst the chaos, no one saw a thing, Your Grace." Tyrion answered. The king rounded on him, looking far less composed.

"Interrogate every fucking peasant that was there," Robert commanded. "Hang them by their toes, chop off their heads, mount the heads on a spike, I don't fucking care! Do what needs doing until one of them speaks!"

"With all due respect, Your Grace, but I do not think terrorizing the people as we already have will be in our favor when they're starving and have nothing to lose in dying."

'Then, what do you suggest?" The king hissed and Tyrion knew his next words will be critical to keeping his head on his shoulders. He took a deep breath.

"Whispers reached Varys that a jealous lioness decided that a war is not enough and opted to rid a stag of his prized wolf. The war, it seems, is not only fought with swords on the battlefield, Your Grace, but also with assassination attempts and traitors from my dear sister."

Robert's eyes dimmed murderously but a glance at his Hand told him that Tyrion had something else to say. "But you do not think it's her." He concluded.

If Tyrion didn't feel every ounce of self-preservation he had in his body rise to scream at him to flee, he might've congratulated himself in predicting that the king wouldn't last long reigning in his hurricane of a temper. Instead, he settled for placating the burly man with logic and wit as he always does. "With all due respect, Your Grace, but I do not think terrorizing the people as we already have will be in our favor when they're starving and have nothing to lose in dying."

"Then, what do you suggest?" The king hissed and Tyrion knew his next words will be critical to keeping his head on his shoulders. He took a deep breath.

"Whispers reached Varys that a jealous lioness decided that a war is not enough and opted to rid a stag of his prized wolf. The war, it seems, is not only fought with swords on the battlefield, Your Grace, but also with assassination attempts and traitors from my dear sister."

Robert's eyes dimmed murderously but a glance at his Hand told him that Tyrion had something else to say. "But you do not think it's her." He concluded.

Tyrion shot him a meaningful look. "Truthfully, Your Grace, this may be something Cersei would do but I do not think this was her doing. This is the work of something else entirely."

"Speak plainly, Imp." Robert snapped.

Tyrion sighed. "I'm saying there might be someone new playing the game."

Robert stepped away from Jon. Tyrion saw that the moment the king stepped away from the boy, Jon sagged in relief. Even in his sleep, Robert's presence plagued him. The king did not seem to notice. He ordered the maester to stay with Jon and motioned for Tyrion to follow him. He thundered his way to the Small Council's chambers, demanding to a Kingsguard to call for the Small Council at once and settled themselves in their respective seats. They waited in the chambers for the Councilmen to arrive.

"Do you really think someone else is at play?" The king asked.

Tyrion poured himself a cup of wine. "Someone else is always at play. It could be anyone."

"I want that boy protected." Robert growled. "Have Selmy and another Kingsguard watch over him day and night. We can't let anything like this happen again." The king paused. "I sent Ned and his family word of what happened to him. I'd imagine they want to see my head on a fucking spike far greater now than ever."

Tyrion almost spat his wine. "Your Grace, if I may say, that was very unwise."

"True, but they deserved to know." Robert rumbled. Tyrion couldn't help but be frustrated why now of all times did the man decide to be so fucking honorable. The North and half of Westeros will surely march for King's Landing now.

"We'll have to send word that Jon survived and on his way to recovery at once." Tyrion told him, already drafting the letter in his mind. How does one even ask Ned Stark to hold off killing them all after what happened?

"Recovery? You call that recovering? It's been nearly half a moon's turn since the incident and he still can't even wake long enough to piss and shit. The wound reopens every other day and the maester fears bleeding inside." The king's gaze turned inward, as if dark memories were dancing inside his mind. Then, he murmured, "It's like he's back in that damn cell all over again."

For the sake of Tyrion's sanity, he ignored that last bit. He focused on reassuring the man instead. "Jon will recover, Your Grace. I have no doubt of it. He's a survivor."

"Aye, he is. He's a Northerner."

Just then, the doors opened and the Small Council trickled in. Stannis as Master of Ships, Renly as Master of Law, Barristan Selmy as the Commander of the Kingsguard, Varys as the Master of Whispers, and Lomas Estermont as the Master of Coin all took their places, looking exhausted and uneasy. Along with the daily morning council meeting, they have been summoned more than half a dozen times in the last fortnight by the king discussing one thing after the other. They've poured all their work to rebuilding and revitalizing the Capitol itself and it took years off of their lives trying to salvage all they could in such a short amount of time. Tyrion can all sympathize with these men. After all, he labored with them day and night to ensure they lived to see another day with their heads attached to their necks. It may have been easier to wave through the usual muck of ruling whatever parts of the Seven Kingdoms still allied with them but it did not mean that it was easy nor was it comfortable.

"My lords," Tyrion greeted them. They nodded to him. "It is a pleasure to see you all."

The king didn't bother with pleasantries. He turned to give Varys an angry glare. "How goes the war?"

"Not well, Your Grace." Varys answered. "When you returned to the Red Keep with your army, it seems to have emboldened Tywin's forces to march further into the Crownlands through the borders of both the Riverlands and the Reach. The Tyrells and the Tullys have done nothing to stop them from marching."

"What of the alliances?"

"The Crownlands and the Stormlands are, of course, with the Crown." Varys told him unnecessarily, by the looks both Renly and Stannis shot the eunuch. "The Vale is in the brink of civil war. Dorne, the Riverlands, and the Reach will fight for the Starks. There are whispers of Tywin treating with Balon Greyjoy but if the Ironborn will fight with them, still remains to be seen. I have also heard whispers of the Tyrell girl being betrothed to a Northerner, though to whom the Queen of Thorns has deemed worthy of her precious granddaughter's hand, I am not sure."

"She's promised to Robb Stark?" Renly suggested helpfully.

Robert paused, mulling it over. "They promised her to Jon. That ambitious little wench had always wanted to be queen."

If Varys was surprised the king knew of the Tyrell girl's ambitions, he hid it well. Tyrion certainly did not try very hard to conceal his. The room settled in an uncomfortable silence then. It was never said aloud but it still unnerved them all that the king has begun to refer to Jon Snow as Jon rather than "the boy." It was something Tyrion still needed to come to terms with.

Renly decided to break it with the most unhelpful commentary, "We still have the greater numbers against the Lannisters, two to one."

Stannis snorted, looking at his little brother with bland scorn. "It was never a question of whether or not we can defeat Tywin." He turned his scorn to Robert. "Our real enemy lies in that frozen wasteland."

"When the Westerlands and the Stormlands have exhausted each other and the North wins this war with as little bloodshed as they possibly can, they will proclaim Jon king." Tyrion told them, adopting what Jon had once deemed his lecture voice. "To have another Targaryen sitting on the Iron Throne is what they promised Dorne and the Reach. Along with Gregor Clegane's head and a Tyrell girl as queen. We were never going to win the war, only battles."

"Then we make those battles count." Robert announced. Tyrion raised both of his eyebrows at that as if silently asking—or daring, really—the king what insanity will he create next.

"What do you have in mind, Your Grace?" Lemos Estermont spoke for the first time.

Robert glanced at Barristan Selmy until the old knight turned to look him in the eye. Without looking away the king said, "We're going to make a prince out of Jon Snow."

Chapter Text

DAENERYS

THIEVES!” Viserys raged, throwing the decanter against the wall, fine Arbor Gold staining it red. “USERPERS! THAT’S MY THRONE! MINE!”

Daenerys watched her brother’s burning wrath from where she hid behind a pillar, purple eyes wide in the darkness. News of another Targaryen has reached their foreign shores, one with more claim to the Iron Throne, and her brother threw a fit befitting his madness. Viserys cannot be consoled. The merchant had tried his best to reassure him to no avail. They have all decided to let him vent the anger and insanity out instead.

Heavy, pitiful sobs heaved from Viserys. “I should be the one sitting on the Iron Throne! Not that barbaric, usurping Stag! I’m the true Dragon Prince! I AM THE DRAGON!” He turned to Dany with a wild gleam in his eye that sent a shiver down her spine. “That’s my birthright! Yours and mine, Dany! We were both born to rule! Not him! Not some ill-bred bastard. Just you wait, Dany, just you wait. They have woken the dragon! They will all burn!”

Somehow, Daenerys knew in the end, only her brother will burn. When he does, then she will truly know. He’s no dragon. Fire cannot kill a dragon.

She’s heard that the only remaining son of her eldest brother had burned and rose from the flames. He is a true dragon and she will find her way to Jon Snow no matter what obstacle blocks her way. With Fire and Blood, she swears, as she walks away to leave Viserys to his mad ravings, she will have her true Dragon Prince.

 

 

VARYS

It was later that evening that Varys found his way to the prince’s chamber.

After the king regaled them with his surprisingly sensible plan, Varys worked diligently to prepare for the announcement of Jon’s ascension as prince. It was unprecedented and utter madness—nearly impossible—but Varys could work with this brand of insanity. He lives for it.

Their scheme will certainly aggravate the Lannisters and will stall the Starks from marching down south of the Neck. For a short period of time, a stalemate between the Starks and the crown will occur. Their shock will be useful for the war in the West. It will have to do to finish dealing with the lions and their den.

He opened the chamber doors quietly and the maester looked up as he entered in his soft slippers, hands hidden beneath his voluminous robes. The maester was alone with Jon Snow tonight, dragging the herb-soaked rag through the boy’s upper body. The prince was thrashing and mumbling in his sleep as another nightmare enthralled him inside his own mind. Sweat beaded his forehead and his fists clenched the linen he laid on. He looked so fragile as the gaping hole on his chest refused to heal. It bled anew each day as if something ripped him open every night no matter how many paste, bandages, and herbs they provided him.

“He’s not healing, Lord Varys.” Maester Yayne fretted, almost as if he was begging for some divine providence he believes only the Spider can give. “He grows weaker each day. His previous injuries have barely healed and we must take into account of more injuries even before that. His body is simply not strong enough to withstand this. I fear for the worst.”

Varys looked at the boy in sympathy and worry. In the short time Varys has known him, Jon had been through so much and yet rose farther—higher—than anyone he’s ever known.

Varys used every resource in his employ to gather whatever information he could of the prince and what he’s discovered did not disappoint. In fact, they have pleased him greatly.

He’s heard the whispers of the replica of Eddard Stark. Honorable, sullen, brooding, handsome, just, and naïve. Jon Snow was a bastard who kept his head down, lurking the halls of Winterfell, desiring neither wealth nor title even if it was so easily within his reach. A boy who cared deeply about his family, who treated the smallfolk like equals, who rode a horse like he was born for it, and who wielded a sword like it was part of him. He was a warrior in his own right at such a young age. Knowing who sired and who raised the boy, Varys wasn’t exactly surprised.

Varys would freely admit that when he first saw Jon Snow, he was skeptical of the boy’s capabilities. True to the birds’ whispers, he was sullen and brooding, striding through the Godswood of King’s Landing as if the world weighed on his shoulders. But he saw intelligence and a cautious curiosity in those deep grey eyes. Varys had seen steel in Jon’s spine when he’d spoken to him. He heard the deep timber of the prince’s voice that one day, Varys knew, would have great lords admiring and following. And when he rose from the flames unburnt and so, so powerful, Varys knew that the people will worship this boy like a god.

Where else can he find someone as strong and gentle, a monarch who can intimidate the high lords and inspire the people, a ruler loved by millions, with a powerful army and the right family name as worthy as Jon Snow?

And so, the last Dragon Prince is not allowed to die tonight.

The gaping hole on Jon Snow’s chest and other injuries mocked his ambitions. Curse Robert Baratheon for his vindictive rage and cruelty. There must be something Varys can do. Someone he can summon or speak with. Someone that can do something impossible…

Something magical, as loath as he was to admit.

“Fucking magic…” Varys groaned.

“My lord?” Yayne inquired. Varys turned to the man and regarded him with unfathomable eyes. The doors opened and Tyrion invited himself in, bemused by Varys’s presence.

“Maester, would you give us a moment?” Varys commanded.

Yayne turned to Tyrion and then back to Varys and nodded, bowing slightly. “Of course, my lords. I will be right outside.”

He shuffled pass Tyrion and with the final clinking of his chains, he was gone.

“What was that about? And what are you doing here? You never visit Jon this late.” Tyrion mused.

Varys turned back to the prince. “Don’t I? And how would you know?”

“Fair enough.” Tyrion sighed. He walked to the other side of Jon’s bed and stared.

“The maester told me he fears for the worst. Jon is not healing.” Varys informed him.

“He’s suffered more than any of us. Even men older and stronger than him would not have survived this long with this kind of wound. But here he still is, fighting.” Tyrion insisted, grasping Jon’s hand. “There is still hope.”

“Yes, there is.” Varys murmured. “But only if we do something.”

Tyrion frowned. “What can we do that we haven’t done already?”

Varys ignored him and the Master of Whispers’ eyes glazed, as if recounting a memory. “Have I ever told you how I was cut?”

Tyrion grimaced. “Is now really the appropriate time to share this?”

“Pay attention, my lord.” Varys chastised. Tyrion shot him a look of disbelief but relented, nodding for him to continue.

“As a boy, I traveled with a troupe of actors through the Free Cities. One day in Myr, a certain man made my master an offer too tempting to refuse.” Varys began, eyes distant and intent on the candle beside Jon’s bed. “I feared the man might use me as I heard some men used small boys. But what he wanted was far worse. He gave me a potion that made me powerless to move or speak yet did nothing to dull my senses. With a hooked blade, he sliced me root and stem chanting all the while. He burned my parts in the brazier. The flames turned blue and I heard a voice answer his call. I hated magic from then on.”

Tyrion shivered as if a cold wind breezed past his skin. He checked and the windows were sealed shut. He turned back to Varys. The Master of Whispers had now given him his full attention.

“I still dream about that night.” Varys continued. “Not of the sorcerer, not of his blade. I dream of the voice in the flames.”

“A voice? In the flames?” Tyrion asked, eyes shifting to Jon. Varys approved of how quick he seemed to understand.

“He didn’t burn in the flames when the cart exploded.” Varys prodded him.

Tyrion shook his head. “That doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t mean anything.”

Varys gave him a small smile. “Maybe it does.”

“What are you saying, Varys?” Tyrion demanded, tiring of this game.

Varys sighed unsteadily, questioning his own sanity. “I’m saying we have to do something magical to save him, I suppose.”

Tyrion scoffed. “Magic?! Have you lost your brains as well as your bits?!”

“We have to try.” Varys insisted. “For Jon.”

“But this is insane!” Tyrion hissed.

“For Jon.” Varys implored, willing Tyrion to try. The other man gaped in incredulity. Tyrion had never believed in anything other than his father’s wealth. Gold was tangible. It could be counted and held and taken away. But faith and magic and dragons are all figments of a child’s dream. They belong in a tale or book, not inside the bedchamber of a dying prince. Varys beseeched him with a look of desperation. Tyrion understood that feeling completely. They all wanted to save Jon. Yet they knew Jon will not survive another day if they do nothing.

Tyrion exhaled, relenting. “For Jon.”

Varys sighed in relief. He needed Tyrion’s support in the battles to come. If there was one person Varys would entrust with the Dragon Prince’s life, it would be Tyrion Lannister.

“What did you have in mind?” Tyrion asked, letting go of Jon’s hand and took a step back.

Varys eyed the candle on the bedside again. He took the candle in his hand and stared at the gaping hole of Jon’s chest.

“Varys? Is that wise?” Tyrion warned, body coiling in tension.

“I guess we’ll have to see.” Varys whispered before lighting the prince’s chest in flames.

Tyrion gasped, watching in horror as fire licked Jon’s wound. Blood soaked cloth began to burn away as the flames hurriedly engulfed his entire chest. The wound bled anew but as the flames overwhelmed it, the flesh began to burn on the edges, searing slowly closed. Jon’s face slowly relaxed as it did so, his crumpled expression breaking into a peaceful slumber. When the flames died away, the wound did not completely seal yet it no longer bled either. It looked to be healing.

Both Tyrion and Varys slowly approached. They both saw the healing wound and gave each other wide-eyed looks of pure incredulity.

“You’ve lost your mind.” Tyrion murmured.

“I think I have, for a moment.” Varys answered dully.

Tyrion broke into a wide grin. “Thank the gods you hated magic.”

Chapter Text

JON

Jon opened his eyes slowly, giving himself the time to adjust to the pain that once again wracked his body with every breath he took. Whatever they’ve done to him now, it felt worse than all the other pain he’s had, and he’s had the worse of worse. He couldn’t help but feel betrayed by his ow mind by dreaming the strange, desperate nightmare he dreamt. They took him out of the darkness, tended to his wounds, and broke fast with the king himself. What a stupid, hopeful dream it was. Jon hated himself for being desperate enough to dream it.

It wasn’t until his eyes began to adjust themselves to the light that filtered through the windows that he realized where he was.

“How do you feel, Jon?” A deep baritone grumbled softly. Jon turned his head toward the voice.

Robert Baratheon looked at him with something almost akin to worry if not for the scowl on his brows. Jon gasped and immediately regretted it. Suddenly, he cried out in agony as his healing wound was jostled by his sudden breath. The king barked angrily for the maester, moving away from Jon, to his relief.

Suddenly, Pod and the maester’s faces swam up above him, his pain-dazed state registering their almost frantic voices around him. There were hands shooting out to keep him still as he choked on each breath he took, his heart pounding in his chest. He coughed violently and each torturous heave made him feel like dying all over again.

“My lord, you must breathe slowly. You must try to calm yourself or risk hurting yourself further.” Maester Yayne soothed and Jon did his best to gain control of himself, looking away from the king’s glowering face.

“You’re doing well, my lord.” Pod supplied as Yayne moved from Jon’s view. “Deep, slow breaths. In and out. You’re all right.”

“What happened?” The king demanded from the foot of Jon’s bed. Jon closed his eyes, tuning out his voice.

“He was only startled, Your Grace. His sudden movement and breath caused his wounds to flare in pain.” The maester answered in a placating tone. “It was expected. He hasn’t been conscious like this in nearly a fortnight and more now. He must still be confused. We will ensure he rests to continue his healing.”

“I see.” Robert acquiesced brusquely. “Do you have anything to keep him calm? Something that could help him relax?”

“I do, Your Grace, but it is better that we leave him to heal in his own pace with as little concoctions as we could. He mustn’t rely on them too heavily.”

The king growled under his breath. Jon could feel his heart beating faster than before. He opened his eyes to look at Pod.

“Tyrion,” Jon rasped, grasping for someone he could trust. “Where’s Tyrion?”

Pod shifted awkwardly. “Lord Tyrion is currently attending other matters, my—”

“Never mind that, squire! Get the imp in here!” The king roared.

“Yes, Your Grace.” Pod complied and hurriedly ran from the room to look for the wayward Hand.

The king suddenly appeared above Jon and his heart stuttered midbeat in fear. He closed his eyes again, praying he would lose consciousness in the next second before the king began beating him.

“Is there anything else you need, Jon?” the king asked almost gently.

Jon was nearly gasping for air. His entire body ached until he could no longer feel. He didn’t understand what was happening. There were so many images running through his mind they blurred past and slipped away. Tyrion could help him, he knew. He could tell Jon what happened. Tyrion will know what to do.

The chamber doors banged wide open to reveal Pod escorting Tyrion, Varys, and Ser Barristan into the room. They all hurriedly rushed to Jon’s bedside but Varys and Ser Barristan stayed a few feet away. Yayne made way for Tyrion as he approached.

“Jon, it’s good to see you finally awake.” Tyrion breathed out in relief.

“Tyrion,” Jon rasped, tension easing somewhat from his body. “I don’t—… what happened?”

“You were shot with an arrow, Jon, do you remember?” Tyrion asked.

“Yes, I—… where am I?” Jon croaked. “Everything was so fast, I—…”

“It’s all right, Jon. It’s done. You don’t need to worry. You’re safe now.” Tyrion promised. The older man held Jon’s hand in both of his smaller ones and Jon could feel the ache dull in the back of his mind. He felt so tired, exhaustion slowly overtaking him.

“I’m safe…?” Jon breathed, eyes dazedly shifting to the king. Robert shifted as if he meant to approach.

“Yes,” Tyrion affirmed quickly, stealing Jon’s attention away from Robert. “We made sure of it.”

Jon nodded minutely, exhaling slowly. “I’ll trust you, Tyrion.”

“Rest now, Jon.” Tyrion suggested. “We could talk about it later.”

Jon smiled softly, his eyes closing. “Lecture me, you mean.”

Tyrion chuckled. “You still have much to learn, my young friend.”

“If you say so, Tyrion.” Jon mumbled and drifted to sleep.

 

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Slowly, Jon was regaining his strength. With Maester Yayne’s herb-soaked bandages and the soft food the servants fed him, each time he woke were beginning to get longer and longer. Any sudden movement still caused him pain and his healing bones and torn flesh were still so tender that it made Jon constantly wonder how he had lived through his wounds. He registered each one of them. Each scrape and cracked rib to the sealed hole on his chest.

If not for the certain fact he was breathing and aching all over, Jon would be easily convinced he died and had been cursed to haunt the Red Keep for all eternity.

He had a constant flow of visitors apart from Maester Yayne. Varys’ visits were short but well-meaning. He would ask Jon how he was and brought something useful or entertaining such as soft fruits and cheese or a long, thin device Jon could use to scratch itchy places that he can’t reach. Pod would be there nearly always but as much as Jon found the younger boy relaxing and consider him a friend, Pod is a quiet person in nature. He liked to sit and listen like Jon so mostly they sat in companionable silence while Jon stared at empty space until he fell back to sleep and Pod polished whatever he needed to polish.

Jon noticed that whenever Tyrion could spare a moment in his day, sometimes with Bronn in tow. Tyrion would mostly sit by his bedside and read him letters while Bronn would give a hilarious, double-edged comment from the sidelines.

“I see that the Tyrells have sent their most heartfelt hope that you would survive, Jon.” Tyrion would muse. “And they will also send you a marvelous fruit basket, I believe. Along with an equally marvelous messenger.”

Bronn guffawed while he nibbled on the leftovers of whichever cheese Varys had brought him.

“What?” Jon was too confused to care he was slowly drifting off to sleep.

“Never you mind, Jon. Not yet anyway.” Tyrion muttered.

Jon was rarely on his own when he woke and he never minded. It was better than waking up alone. The times he had woken without Pod or Tyrion or Varys or even Maester Yayne were inconvenient at most and lonely at best. Jon always felt unsafe when he was alone or when there was no one else but another scurrying servant to help him get to a chamber pot.

Being alone meant Jon was left to his thoughts with the ache of his entire body trying to put itself back together again. He was forced to relive memories of fire and blood, of dreams of a woman weeping beneath Winterfell, of nightmares of Winter itself, drowning helplessly in memories he wanted to forget. He kept thinking where his family was, why they haven’t come yet, were they safe, was he going to see them again until he felt tears leaking from his eyes.

Alone and surrounded by strangers have become another nightmare for Jon.

But it wasn’t as bad as waking with the king sitting beside him. Those were worse.

The king uncharacteristically didn’t say much. Jon had never seen his so still and quiet. Twice Jon had roused to Robert Baratheon watching over him on the seat left by his bedside. The first time Robert visited, Jon thought he’d been dreaming until Robert wordlessly shifted to reach for the cup of water kept by Jon’s side and gently tilted it to Jon’s parched lips. Jon kept absolutely still, forcing himself to keep swallowing even if his mind screamed poison, he was being murdered in his bed—...

After that, they were locked in tense silence—with grey, purplish eyes against blue ones—until Jon succumbed to blissful oblivion. On the second time it happened, Jon pretended to fall asleep sooner than he actually needed to. He evened his breaths and forced his limbs to slack. Jon just wanted him to leave. He needed the man to leave.

Robert stayed for a few more seconds to whisper, “Sleep well, Jon,” before gently padding out of Jon’s chambers with instructions to the guards or servants in the hall to help Jon when he wakes again. Jon had felt exhaustion overtake him then, ignoring all the gnawing worry pulsing at the back of his head for now.

 

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It was three days after he woke that Ser Barristan came into his chambers and stood rigidly by his bed, face unreadable. He had never visited before and Jon asked Maester Yayne to help him sit up before Yayne vacated the chambers. He forced himself to stay absolutely still, breathing as slowly as he could and waited for the old knight to speak.

“That was very foolish,” Barristan said with a glint in his eye. Jon nodded, looking contrite. He knew exactly what Barristan meant.

“It wasn’t one of my brightest moments.” Jon confessed. He then looked up to meet Barristan in the eye. “I’m sorry for leaving you in that alcove, Ser Barristan. But Pod made sure you were safe.”

“Under your orders, I heard.”

Jon nodded. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

“I’m glad you’re all right, too, Jon Snow.”

“It’s Jon. Just Jon.”

“All right, Jon.” Ser Barristan smiled warmly, almost fond. It made Jon fluster. He cleared his throat and pointed to the sword strapped to the old knight’s hip.

“I see your sword made it back to you safe and sound.”

Ser Barristan gripped his hilt and patted it fondly. “Yes, it did. You were quite skilled with it, too, if I recall.”

Jon ducked his head at the praise. The battle with the people of King’s Landing had also been his first battle. In his mind’s eye, he didn’t do enough for anyone, most especially for himself. He shook his head, turning back to the knight.

“Not good enough, it seems. I almost got myself killed,” he admitted.

“That wasn’t your fault, Jon.”

Jon smiled humorlessly. “If you say so, Ser Barristan.”

Barristan studied him for a moment. “If you truly feel that way then maybe you’ll be interested to join me in the training yard when you’re healed.”

Jon gaped. “Thank you, Ser, but I don’t think I could—”

“I’ll speak to the king.” Barristan assured. “You leave that to me. I’m sure I could persuade the king to have the hero of King’s Landing train under his best knight.”

Jon softly chuckled. He didn’t hold much hope that the king would ever allow a captive to be trained in combat by one of the greatest warriors in the realm, no matter how benevolent or odd he may have been lately. He remembered the conditions of his limited freedom. Nothing would change just because Jon chose to protect the people. He was a hostage and it will stay that way until they killed him. But Jon didn’t want to refute the elder knight, so, he nodded. “I would be honored to join you, Ser Barristan.”

“I wouldn’t take no for an answer in the first place.” Barristan scoffed. He came forward and patted Jon’s shoulder gently. It felt protective and safe. When it was gone, Jon felt cold. “Take this time to rest and heal. When you’re out there with me in the yard, all bets are off.”

Even after the knight had gone, Jon was still trying to crush the hope that he knew would never come true.

 

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When Jon was recovered enough to spend more hours awake than asleep, Maester Yayne has dedicated every second of his time reading tome after tome of history to Jon. It was similar to how Maester Luwin had once sat him down as a child and forced him to learn the evolution and cause of warfare of the Seven Kingdoms, the noble houses of his father’s domain, and the trade routes and treaties of the North across Westeros into Jon’s head as if history, family names, and trade agreements will ever mean anything to a bastard.

He never saw the point of learning it then and he definitely didn’t see the point of learning it now. But there was no courtyard or wooden swords to escape to this time and his choice in the matter fell on deaf ears as it always has.

Jon both dreaded and resented his time with Yayne, fearing another second spent in the maester’s presence will threaten the thin thread that held his sanity intact. Confined to his bed as he was, it was the most nightmarish thing to look forward to as he healed.

He didn’t know why the maester felt the need to improve his education. He’s learned all he needed to learn years ago. Yet no matter how much he explained and expressed that there was no need to dedicate so much time on a bastard, the man wouldn’t relent.

Yayne asked how well Jon wrote, how much he knew of geography and genealogy, how great his knowledge of the laws of man were and the religions that each noble house followed, how informed he was of the relations between minor and major houses all over the continent, who was pledged to whom, which were enemies with whom, and how fine his courtesies were.

Jon had been so irritated that he snapped at the maester that his courtesies were nothing short of fucking exemplary because he survived King’s Landing without blatantly insulting and brutally murdering someone thus far. In Jon’s opinion, that alone should have been highly commendable.

After that, Tyrion took Yayne’s place in teaching him.

Tyrion’s presence was much more tolerable than Yayne’s, even if it was equally baffling. Jon is so used to Tyrion’s lecturing voice and his constant need to learn from the elder man that it mattered little that the Hand had traded his political insight with a list of port trade treaties.

But Jon still didn’t understand why they were doing this, aggravating him to the point of madness.

When Tyrion had droned on and on about the Dornish’s defiance against the dragons, Jon asked, “Why are you doing this, Tyrion? I don’t understand what’s happening.”

For something was happening, Jon was sure. He can feel it in his bones; like a shift in the air or a distant echo in a once silent hall. His role as a captive—what was once clear to Jon—now became more complicated than it’s ever been.

Tyrion took his time closing the tome he had been reading from, feeling resigned. “One day, Jon—and one day soon—you will be told of these plans and designs we’ve decided for you without your consent. It will be cruel and terrible why we have to do this but you will understand. You’re a clever lad. You’ve taken to politics like you were born for it.”

Jon wants to scream that he still didn’t understand and that it frightened him more than the Black Cells. He may understand the game but he will never condone it. He will never enjoy playing it. He will never covet the power that comes with it. It took Jon away from everything he ever cared about and it endangered everyone he loved. Jon wasn’t built to withstand anything more than he’s already been through. What more will they ask of him that they hadn’t already taken?

“But most of all, you are a creature of duty. You are a Stark of Winterfell and it is said that Starks endure.” Tyrion’s eyes almost burned with the weight of what he’s saying. “You won’t like it. As a matter of fact, you will hate every moment of it. But know that there was no other way in our power we could’ve done it differently. You’ll understand why.”

Jon shook his head. There was something that was within their power that they could’ve done differently. “Robert should’ve let my mother go.” Jon murmured. He sounded distant to his ears.

Tyrion scoffed lightly but his eyes remained just as ardent, nodding all the while. “Yes, Robert should’ve let your mother go.”

Jon felt tears burn his eyes. He felt like he was falling, down back into that hole he’d dug inside his mind when he’d been imprisoned in the Black Cells. Rage burned within him and a thirst for vengeance that scared him parched him. But most of all, he was tired. Let them put him back in his dark cell, beat him, kill him, he didn’t care. He’d take no more of this. He just wanted to go home.

When Tyrion met Jon’s eyes, he must’ve seen the storm that swirled within him and the shorter man’s eyes turned sharp enough to cut steel, empathy was replaced by determination. Jon almost expected the little lion to roar.

“Listen to me, Jon Snow. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor. That way, it can ever be used against you.” Tyrion told him, placing a hand on Jon’s wrist, pleading with him. His grip anchored Jon, tethering him back to some battle he never knew he waged within himself. “You don’t have to choose between one or the other. You are a wolf and you are a dragon. It is time you reconcile them. We do what we must to survive. Remember this.”

Tyrion was right. Of course, Tyrion was always right. Jon took a shaky breath and nodded, whispering brokenly, “We must survive.”

Chapter Text

ROBERT

Robert read through scroll after scroll that Yayne gave him. Each more distressing than the other.

His bannermen’s reports from the frontlines against Tywin have been a stream of losses, their armies forced to take defensive measures while losing ground inch by inch. Tywin has employed his tactics that earned him the Rains of Castamere, reminding Robert who won the throne for him. Robert could only grit his teeth whilst writing orders after orders of how to prevent him from advancing even further. He had sent both Renly and Stannis out to the frontlines, hoping to bolster any sort of hope in his men with both Baratheon brothers in their midst. Robert had given them more men to lead, more lands to cover, more castles to take as strongholds, but there wasn’t much he could do from the safety of the capital. He needed to be there to give these orders to his men himself. He needed to be there to fight with his own hands.

But he couldn’t leave. Not yet. Not when the city had just attempted to tear itself apart. Not when he isn’t sure Jon would be safe. Since he took the throne in earnest, Robert could barely spare a time to visit Jon. He worked fucking hard, day to night and barely slept, if at all. Robert counseled and convened with useless noblemen and other fools, reassure them and promised pointless words to keep them safe.

White lies, Robert thought. Lies all the same.

But Tywin Lannister’s war is the least of their worries. Yayne had informed whatever remained of the council that the North had mobilized in earnest. They are no longer waiting and watching Robert’s war with the Lannisters, they are coming for blood themselves. Tales of an armada nearly twice as massive as the crown’s is sailing for Pyke. The Ironborn will be slaughtered as cut-off as they were from their allies. Robert is disgusted with himself that he even considered them as such.

Thinking about his past decisions, Robert is disgusted with himself for a lot of reasons.

But Varys has promised Robert a stalemate with the Starks. Their scheme seemed to have been taken in bad form by Ned’s son. The response of one of the boy’s bannermen in Riverrun wrote them an excessively crude letter that Robert would’ve found it hilarious if it wasn’t so aggravating. Robert had employed the Spider’s full attention on this matter. Stalling Ned’s advance is in everyone’s best interest. Most especially Jon’s. Varys will see to it that they understand that the game has changed. But Robert didn’t think there was any way to stop them from coming for the Iron Islands. Their way is the old way, and justice is served with the stroke of their own swords. The Starks were betrayed. Ned and his son will come for Theon Greyjoy. Even the Spider cannot save them. So, they won’t try.

Pyke’s fate is sealed.

The Northern armies marching and sailing for Pyke has given Tywin limited paths for his. It slowed him from amassing his armies to head straight for the capitol. It’s a small advantage but an advantage all the same. It bought them the time they desperately needed. Tyrion has assured him that the preparations are nearly complete. Soon, Robert will gain back his allies and this war can go to seven hells. The board will reset and the game will be replayed once more. Robert intends to come out of this alive with all those he gained with him.

“Your Grace, Lady Margaery Tyrell will reach the capitol in six days. Her caravan is delayed by her constant curiosity of the people she met on her journey I believe.” Yayne commented, setting aside the scroll he just read. He didn’t even try to hand the scroll over to the king, knowing full well it didn’t warrant any sort of importance other than a passing thought. “Curious girl, if I may say so.”

Robert scoffed. If only it was that simple. The Tyrells have always wanted to tie themselves closer to the crown. They had their eyes set on Cersei’s sadistic bastard before Robert made it clear he wanted a Stark girl for a future queen. They simmered back to wherever shit hole they came from, bidding their time. But now, they’ve grown impatient and the Queen of Thorns has grown bolder. The Rose of Highgarden is rumored to be a beauty incomparable to any other maid in Westeros. Robert would not doubt it. Highborn powerful, young women are usually a great beauty to any fool who hasn’t seen their way through a woman’s ass.

“Prepare her chambers.” Robert commanded tiredly, chucking the scroll he had in his hand. “Make it as far away from Jon as possible.”

Yayne looked bemused but complied. “Yes, Your Grace.”

“Is there anything else?” Robert asked impatiently, itching to leave. He wanted to visit Jon before he retired to bed. He hasn’t spoken to him in days.

“I was wondering, if Your Grace wouldn’t take offense, what you were planning to tell the Starks about these new… developments?” Yayne timidly broached.

Robert paused. He hasn’t considered what he could possibly say for Ned to believe him when even Robb Stark had called it all horseshit. He saw the way his own council reacted to his plans, the way their eyes followed him as if he had lost all his fucking wits. Except for Varys. Varys salivated over the idea of making Jon Snow a prince. But maybe Robert had lost all of his wits. Maybe this is madness. Maybe this is what it feels like to slowly lose all reason. Robert wouldn’t be the first king to lose his mind. He had gone to war against one. But it didn’t feel wrong either.

Then again, killing Rhaegar Targaryen’s other two children didn’t feel wrong either. Maybe that was the true madness.

Robert shivered, extracting himself from his thoughts. “Have Tyrion draft me a letter. We will discuss it in the Small Council tomorrow.”

Yayne finally bowed. “As you wish, Your Grace. I shall take my leave.”

“Very well.” Robert rumbled absentmindedly, shuffling papers for the maester to take with him as he got up to leave. He waited for a few more seconds before rising himself, his Kingsguard following in tow. He made his way through the eerie stillness of the night, thoughts running in his mind. The only thought that had been preoccupying him in all his spare moments lately since coming back to King’s Landing.

They have lost track of Jon’s attempted assassination. It ran cold the night it happened but Robert had believed that he could gain answers from the witnesses. They saw nothing and heard nothing save for the sound of a bolt firing and Jon falling to the ground. But the peasants whispered among themselves, their eyes wandering as they exchanged those hidden truths or lies, and Robert had angrily demanded all them be questioned until they heaved, until truth bled out of them. But he had nothing. Not even Varys had anything. It was as if whoever had done it had been a ghost. A Faceless man.

Robert vehemently assumed it was Cercei. The Lannister had the gold and they had the connections. Littlefinger left the crown with a hefty sum of debt to the Iron Bank that the Lannisters had been steadily paying for until they didn’t. Until even their own coffers were bled dry of gold. It wouldn’t be impossible to convince the Braavosi bankers to eliminate Jon. But why Jon? Why not Robert himself? It wouldn’t have been hard considering he was neck-deep in the warfront. Accidents happen when you’re fighting in a goddamn war. Why not kill him instead and reinstate the Lannisters’ power on the Iron Throne?

Tyrion was right. It wasn’t his family. Tywin would not waste such an opportunity over Jon Snow. It’s not in their best interest to make enemies with the North either. This was something else. But who? Who else is playing the game? The shadows may hide them for now but he would find them. And when he does, Robert would cleave their fucking heads off.

He reached Jon’s doors and gave a nod of acknowledgement to Barristan who stationed himself to guard for the night. He ordered the Kingsguard behind him to open them and to stay with his Commander.

Robert entered alone. He padded quietly into the chambers, expecting Jon to be asleep. But to his surprise, he saw the boy was still awake. Jon was in bed, reading a book in the dim candlelight. Well, he didn’t look to be reading but staring blankly on its page.

“Jon?” Robert called softly. The young man jumped, his eyes scanning for danger until he saw Robert. He could see Jon force himself to relax, his jaw flexing as it clenched.

“Your Grace.” Jon greeted with a small bow. His eyes strayed to Robert’s chest.

“I see you are taking your lessons to heart, reading at this hour.” Robert commented. The first full sentence he had said to Jon in a long while. “Yayne is singing your praises.”

“I am flattered the maester thinks so.” Jon answered formally. Robert wanted to sigh but he made himself be a little more patient. Jon was still healing.

“I wish to speak with you about something important.” Robert said as he took a seat next to the bed.

“What about, Your Grace?” Jon asked blankly. He shut his book quietly and Robert saw that it was a book about the Starks. Robert pitied him but said about it nothing for now.

“I will send your family a missive tomorrow morning regarding your health.” Robert began. Jon’s eyes snapped to look at his. “I’m sure Tyrion has told you that they are marching for the Iron Islands and will begin fighting their own war soon.”

Jon inhaled sharply. “No, he didn’t. Tyrion hasn’t visited me today. Ser Bronn told me he was busy with matters to the crown. Your Grace.”

Robert nodded, grimacing. “Of course. I assumed that he visited you. Apologies. Robb Stark marches through the Riverland and will sail for the Iron Islands in a few days’ time. He is accompanied by scores of the North and Riverrun’s bannermen along with their allies from Dorne. Ned will follow when he arrives from the Wall. I don’t know when that will be.”

Jon looked distraught for a moment until he forcibly controlled his emotions leaving only an unfathomable look. He took a steady breath before looking back to Robert fully meeting his eyes.

Good lad, Robert thought, jaw clenching. You’re learning.

“Thank you for telling me about my family, Your Grace.” Jon said, hiding back behind courtesy. A well-crafted armor. “I pray the fighting ends soon.”

Robert sighed. “As do I. Is there anything you wish to let them know? I will have my Hand include it in the missive.”

Jon gaped at him as if he had two heads. Robert had honestly only thought about it on the whim but now that he offered, it felt like this is something he could do for Jon. If the boy misses his family, then Robert will be damned if he didn’t find a way to have just a little piece of them to give back to him. Lyanna would have wanted that for Jon. She trusted Ned with her son for a reason.

“Is this a trick?” Jon whispered horribly.

“No, Jon, listen—”

Jon shook his head angrily. “I don’t want to play this game. You don’t get to use me against my family—”

“I’m not trying to use you!” Robert shouted and Jon inched away. Robert sighed. “I want to give you a chance to speak with them.”

“Speak with them?” Jon asked, voice colored in disbelief.

“Don’t repeat me, boy.” Robert grounded out. He pointed at the book. “You miss them, it’s plain to see. I can’t send you home but I can give you something from home.”

“In exchange for what?” Jon asked suspiciously, regaining his composure.

“Nothing. This is not a trick.” Robert said firmly but calmly. “What would like to say to them?”

Jon considered him while Robert stayed absolutely still. The boy is right to be wary and Robert would commend him if it didn’t chafe so much. Jon didn’t trust him but Robert will ensure that will change.

Jon took a few deep breathes before saying, “Just tell them I miss them.”

Robert nodded. “I will. I’ll have Tyrion tell you what they say in return.”

This time, it was Jon who nodded. “Thank you, Your Grace.”

Robert got up to leave. “Sleep well, Jon.”

He didn’t wait for a reply before he strode out of the chambers, feeling as if he accomplished something. This was only the beginning. Robert will prove it.

Chapter Text

HUSTER TULLY

 

“This will be young Robb’s first battle, then.” The Lord of Riverrun said as he slowly approached his daughter, his bones aching as he settled himself beside her. Cat’s eyes were red and fatigued, the sign of a mother’s worry for her son’s life. She was standing by the window overlooking the great river that ran along their home, her gaze far away and disturbed.

“Yes, it will be.” She rasped. “I fear for him. He was so angry when he left.”

Huster sighed and moved closer, a weathered hand on her shoulder. “It is natural to worry for him for you are his mother. Yet Robb Stark is a good fighter and he has his wolf by his side. He will come home, little Cat. You’ll see. He will make a fine soldier, and an even better Lord one day.”

“He is still my son. I don’t know what I’ll do if I lost him.” Cat sobbed. Huster wrapped his arm around her then as she buried her head in her hands.

“When you and Lysa left home, I thought it would bring you both happiness to finally be a woman of your own right.” Huster began. “I thought it was for your own good.”

She looked up and said, “It was. I was the happiest I can be.”

“Not for Lysa.” Huster whispered. “Sometimes, what we want for our children isn’t always what’s good for them. Let Robb make his own way.”

Cat frowned. “Lysa made her choice,” she snide, voice suddenly scathing. Lysa had been a fool. Wherever she was hiding now, Cat sincerely wished she would rot there. “She killed Lord Arryn and plunged the kingdoms into even more chaos.”

“Aye, she made her choice. But she is still my daughter. Nothing will ever make a father forsake a child he loves.” Huster had a melancholic smile. “It seems we both worry for our own.”

“Family, Duty, Honor.” Cat smiled just as sad in return.

“That’s right.” Huster said, hugging her closer. He feels his body turning frail and fatigued but he held onto her and took heart. His dear Cat. In her long period of vigil, she would need his strength more than him. “Whatever the case may be, they are still our own to protect and love. Family.”

 

ROBB

 

They stroke with the full force of their and their allies’ naval power upon the Iron Islands.

The journey to siege the castle lasted for days. Twenty thousand soldiers marched on the Ironborn hellbent on revenge and misplaced glory as ruthless blades rained down on them all. They didn’t stand a chance. With surprise and numbers on their side, Pyke’s strong gates were thrown open and the fighting commenced. Even with the fleet under the Ironborn’s command were severely outmatched. Dorne, the Riverlands, and the entire North sailed and laid waste to their ships.

The battle on their shores that followed had been pure chaos.

Every inch of the castle had been filled with men beaten down and hacked apart, cries of rage and agony resonating like a wicked song of the damned. Robb was in the thick of it all, leading his men deeper into the Greyjoy’s stronghold, unleashing his wrath onto every Ironborn in his path. His sword swung with lethal grace, a show of brute strength and skill the North boasted the heir of the North possessed. The invasion was something grand and complex, he knew. He planned it along with some of the greatest warriors in the seven kingdoms. Robb didn’t give a fuck about it now, running across the battlefield, drowned in death.

Greywind fought beside him. The wolf was an extension of his body, his eyes behind his head, and the jaws and claws of his mercilessness. The intoxicating crunch of bones breaking and the piercing sound of skin tearing empowered him so much he could almost taste the blood dripping down his wolf’s chin. They held nothing back. Robb laid waste to everything with the Kraken’s sigil, sparing no man to get to Theon’s traitorous throat. Vengeance thrummed mightily underneath his skin.

And when he finally came upon the fool who betrayed him, the man who grew to be his friend—the boy he had treated like a brother—Robb froze.

Theon turned his head from where he laid by the Salt Throne, blood oozing from his lips, a dagger plunged into his chest by his own father. Lord Greyjoy laid dead only a few steps away, an ax embedded on his back. His sister, Asha Greyjoy, had tears streaming down her face and was kneeling beside her brother, pressing his wound close as if it can still save him, her eyes fiercely defiant.

“Robb,” Theon rasped, stretching his hand.

Suddenly, everything faded away. Everything was still and quiet save for the dying gasps Theon made on the back of his throat. Jon was far from his mind when he rushed to his friend’s side and cradled his hand. He pressed harder on top of Asha’s blood-soaked palm and looked wildly behind him. His men were baffled by his actions, as was Asha.

“Robb.” Theon rasped again, his eyes leaking with tears. “I—I’m sorry.”

All of Robb’s rage and vengeance ebbed away. Why couldn’t it have stayed the same? They were happy. They were whole. They were just boys playing with wooden swords once. But only Robb is standing whole now. Jon was on the verge of death a thousand miles away, and so was Theon.

“You fucking fool,” Robb gritted out, desperately clutching the wound close atop Asha’s hand. “Don’t fucking talk. We can fix this!”

“I—I didn’t mean for it—t-to happen.” Theon sobbed. His wound was too deep to save. “I—I only w-wanted to be a-a p-part of it.”

Everything that Robb had once loved is slowly crumbling. He had been so angry, so full of rage. But now that has disappeared. Now, he was just empty. Maybe he would follow Theon and Jon. Maybe, after all this, he wouldn’t be as whole, too.

“You were always a part of it.” Robb whispered brokenly. “You were one of us. Why did you betray us?”

“I—I had to ch-choose.” Theon whimpered. “I-I-I’m s-sorry.”

“You didn’t have to choose!” Robb cried, shaking Theon’s chest. “You were our family and you were theirs, too. You were a Stark and a Greyjoy! We never needed you to choose!”

Theon sobbed and laughed at the same time, as if he never realized that. He probably never did. Regret filled Theon’s eyes. “I’m s-sorry, Robb. I-I’m sorry. I’m s—Robb—”

Robb witnessed Theon’s eyes glaze and he was gone.

Even after the king took Jon, Robb didn’t know loss could hurt this bad.

 

ROBERT

 

“The wolves have gone hunting.” Tyrion said as a way of greeting, approaching the king fearlessly and reaching for the wine.

Robert sighed as he watched the little Lannister made himself comfortable on the seat next to him. Barristan, who sat on the adjacent seat to Tyrion, gave him an exasperated look. They were alone in the Small Council’s chamber midafternoon after receiving the Spider’s reports on the Northern invasion of the Iron Islands. The scrolls laid unrolled in front of Robert, mocking him without reserve. A week of sieging, assassinations and naval warfare, and the Ironborn were neutralized. It was cunning and ruthless. Robert’s namesake is truly a rising strategist that could one day rival even Tywin Lannister himself.

Robert’s problems had just multiplied itself to thousands.

“Forgive me, Your Grace, I’m not a warrior.” Tyrion began again after drinking half of his cup. He tentatively reached for the scrolls. He read similar reports from the Spider, Robert knew. “But if I’m not mistaken, Robb Stark employed the pincer maneuver on a largescale fleet invasion, did he not?”

“Yes,” Robert answered, his mind going over the battle once again. “Robb Stark defeated the fucking Ironborn with decoy ships sailing for Pyke. Pirates from the Free Cities who jumped ships and swam away the moment the Ironborn were upon them.”

“They filled the deck with armored straw dummies and set them all ablaze once the ships were in range.” Barristan supplied. “Barrels of oil laid in the bowels of the ships and they exploded just as the Ironborn arrived on deck. The real battleships sailed from the sides in a surprise attack and Stark’s forces won. Even the Ironborn’s naval prowess could not stand against the numbers they brought. Twenty thousand strong to a meagre seven thousand. It was a massacre.”

“Stealth during a battle. That sounds like something the Dornish would do.” Tyrion muttered, looking into his now empty cup. Robert watched him and snorted. It was most likely the Dornish, yes.

“The North and Riverlands’ fleets arrived first. Even with the distraction, the fleets were both equally matched.” Barristan continued, speaking as if he was a general in battle. “Until their reinforcements arrived with Dorne’s own fleet. The Northmen and the Riverlands may not have possessed stellar fleets but they outnumbered the Ironborn then, who weren’t sufficiently trained in close combats. Robb Stark’s fleet needed only to board the ships and he had the upper hand. He won the battle after hours of fighting and continued to Pyke.”

“Oberyn, along with his bastard Sand Snakes, assassinated the damn high lords and ladies of the Iron Islands. They took the children fucking hostage. The men and women who fought them were all killed.” Robert took over, gulping his wine down. His fingers fiddling with the scattered scrolls. “Robb Stark charged straight for Pyke all the fucking while. The battle lasted for a day and a half and they laid siege to the castle. When the gates broke, Robb Stark and his damn wolf slaughtered every soldier in his way, hunting for Theon Greyjoy. Only to discover he had nothing to truly gain from the bloodshed. Theon Greyjoy was fucking killed by his own father and old Greyjoy was killed by his own daughter. For refusing to surrender as their people were slaughtered.”

“What a fucking nightmare,” Tyrion muttered. He paused for a moment. “What’s to say they left it at that? That the Starks would have stopped with Theon Greyjoy? We sent them the messages proclaiming Jon your heir, they would have no choice but to halt all hostilities with us and talk.”

Robert scoffed. “I know the North. You think they march just for House Stark’s honor? No. The Northmen has wanted their independence since Torrhen Stark bent the knee to Aegon Targaryen. If the Starks win the game of thrones, Ned’s bannermen would demand their independence while still hail Jon as king. An independent kingdom but with a Northerner sitting on the Iron Throne.”

“The same outcome.” Barristan observed. “But a whole other war.”

“It’s in our best interest to have them see it would benefit them not to fight.” Tyrion insisted. He did not need to. Those before him are much more determined to deter a war. “There has to be a way to make them see. I quite like my head where it is.”

Robert considered him. “If they win the war, you have not much to worry. Jon has taken a liking to you. He would save your pretty little head, Imp.” Robert told him plainly, without bite. He sighed, flicking the scrolls. “A war has been brewing for years. All it ever needed was a reason. I gave them a good fucking reason.”

Tyrion and Barristan exchanged a look.

“Is there any news from the Starks?” Robert demanded, draining his cup and refilling it. “Did they respond? What have they to say?”

“There’s no word yet, Your Grace.” Tyrion answered. “Varys has taken to tasking his little birds in assessing how well they received it. It would take some time, still—"

He waved Tyrion to be silent and the imp’s words trailed. Barristan gave Tyrion another look. Robert had enough of them both.

“Go,” he ordered. “Leave me for now. I want to gather my thoughts.”

Both Hand and Commander bowed and left.

Robert knew wolves were dangerous, he just never realized it until now. Now, when he was on the receiving end of their teeth and claws. The North Robert prayed to the gods, Old and New, that Ned would listen. Even for only a moment.

By the Seven, Ned, I need you to fucking listen, Robert thought desperately.

All throughout the Seven Kingdoms, it has been decreed. A small scroll brought by black wings. Arguing if it was madness or a trap, Robert had now the full, undivided attention of the whole continent once more. Flicking through a spare parchment, he read once again:

“I, Robert Baratheon, first of his name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm, hereby decree Jon Snow be legitimized as Jon Stark, Ward of House Baratheon, and made Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms, heir to the Iron Throne.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Robert observed Jon as they broke their fast together for the first time since the boy was injured.

His movements were slow and mechanical; his silverware cutting his cheese, his bread, and his venison were all shoved into his mouth like a well-worn routine, like a soldier. He looked pale and exhausted, his eyes seemed to have dimmed, but he was slowly regaining the weight he’d lost. Jon was strong enough now for what Robert had planned, the maester assured him.

Now that he wasn’t blinded by rage and vengeance or haunted with nightmares of Lynna’s ghost, he saw Jon with bright clear eyes and each time Robert looked, Jon did not disappoint. Yayne had sung his praises from The Wall to bloody Dorne. Despite Jon’s strong reluctance and resistance to learn from the maester, he was a smart lad. He was decent in most of his lessons, good in numbers and hopeless in the arts. But he excelled best in battle tactics and warfare. Robert remembered his youthful days in the Vale, where all he could ever stand to learn were great battles across the Seven Kingdoms, swinging a wooden ax with Ned by his side. Simpler times. His happiest days.

He took in Jon’s soft black curls and dull grey eyes. A piece of Lyanna, a fragment of Ned. Robert would hold on to that any way he could. He’d just have to show Jon. He’d just have to prove himself.

Jon’s grey eyes are Lyanna’s. Something of Stark’s. His black curls could be Robert’s. A Baratheon’s.

“Jon,” Robert began. Jon stopped eating and looked up at the king, a polite mask of interest on his face. Robert nearly frowned at the sight of it but refrained from doing so. Frightening Jon would only work against him.

Jon could not fathom what the king wanted from him. With each passing day, the things he saw were becoming stranger and stranger, he almost screamed in frustration at Tyrion or Sir Barristan. But he stayed his tongue and kept his own grievances to himself. It would achieve nothing to be so visibly vexed with his situation. He kept the appearances of sulking when they became too personal with their probes—too close or familiar with him—and convinced everyone his aches bothered him more than it actually did for as long as he can stretch it.

He knew he was a terrible liar, and much as he needs to, he doesn’t want King’s Landing to change who he is. Not at his core. Not the person his father raised. So, he wants to learn how to lead people away from the truth yet not tell an outright lie. It was terribly exhausting work, his mind stretching as political as it can go. Jon is sure only Tyrion and the Spider were not even remotely convinced by his facade. But they said nothing, so, Jon carried on honing his skills of misdirection. Jon thinks Tyrion wants him to give it a good run for as long as he can.

His newest and trickiest challenge laid before him now.

When the king wanted Jon to join him for breakfast, he paled slightly, but caught himself quickly enough that Pod never noticed the slight hesitation that made him pause. If Tyrion were in the room, he would’ve said something. But Tyrion was busy with matters of state that Jon was not privy to. He wasn’t privy to a lot, he noticed. He has to change that. Knowledge is power, Tyrion always preached. Power was something Jon sorely needed. He needed to have information.

The easiest way to do that would be to have the king undermine him.

Robert Baratheon had claimed that nightmares of his mother’s ghost had led him to release Jon from the dungeons. He also claimed that if everything had been as it should’ve been, Jon would’ve been the king’s firstborn son. The king had also offered Jon a way to communicate with his family even if it was nothing but a mention in passing that Jon missed them.

Jon thought there must be something there he might be able to use. Something he could turn to his advantage. He just has to figure out what and how.

“I would like to thank you, Jon, for saving King’s Landing.” says Robert, eyes shining with pride, a smirk on his lips. “It was a brave thing you did.”

Jon bowed stiffly, low enough to be considered subservient. “It was nothing, Your Grace.”

“Come now,” Robert chuckled. He approved of how Jon did not seek glory or fame. Ned had fully given this boy a part of him that not many in the Seven Kingdoms possess. “There’s no need for humility. The city has sung nothing but your heroics. The whole of King’s Landing is impressed by your deeds.”

“I’m glad the city has recovered.” Jon responded diplomatically.

Robert sighed. “It has. Yet the war continues. It is only a fragile truce. The people are in no hurry to break the peace that you’ve given them.”

Jon nodded and chose not to say a word. He lost his appetite but maintained a neutral expression, waiting on the king to continue speaking.

Robert grimaced, looking more serious. Jon reflexively stiffened.

“I know you’re confused about what’s happening to you.” The king began, heaving a sigh. “I want you to know that it’s true I want to save my own skin, but this is more than that. Doing this would prevent more bloodshed. I don’t want to go against Ned more than I already have. I don’t want to fight him and his son on the field of battle. We will make peace with the North.”

“Your Grace?” Jon whispered, his eyes widening. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I don’t—”

Jon swallowed. He didn’t realize that it would be this soon. Whatever Tyrion alluded to days ago in his chambers, he didn’t realize that the king himself would be the one to tell him. He cursed himself. He should’ve realized this.

Robert nodded and steeled himself. He faced Jon with stormy eyes. “I have declared you to be legitimized as Jon Stark, Ward of House Baratheon. You will be my heir. I have made you Jon Stark, Crown Prince of the Seven Kingdoms.”

Any façade he had carefully cultivated over the past few days melted away to reveal genuine shock and horror at the prospect of being this man’s heir. This man who had threatened him and his family. This man who tore him away from his father. This man who had taken perverse satisfaction in torturing him until he grew a conscience. This man who laid a hand on him without mercy even after he had begged and groveled for the pain to stop.

He would never forget that. He will never forgive that.

Jon had never known to hate someone until Robert Baratheon. He shook with rage, felt its flames run up and down his spine like insects crawling under his skin. He wanted to scream. He wanted to lash out and unleash his wrath. He wanted to kill

But that’s not who Jon was. That’s not who Jon wants to be.

And damn this wretched, gods forsaken place, he will hold onto that.

So, Jon carefully took the pieces of his shattered mask and placed it back where he left it. He inhaled and slowly exhaled. “Your Grace… I don’t know what to say…” Jon said with all of his genuine confusion.

Misdirection is not a lie. But it’s as good as one.

“I meant what I said before,” Robert spoke with gentleness. The gentleness he is trying to give Jon since he woke and healed from his injury. Whatever the reason behind it, Jon didn’t want it. But he knew he has no choice. “If it happened as it should have, you would’ve been our firstborn son.”

Jon can feel something crawling out of his chest, a sort of numbness that consumed him but he managed to croak, “Your Grace, I—”

Father,” Robert said, there was a hint of desperation in his voice. “Call me father.”

He already had a father! Jon wanted to scream. Robert had taken him and everything he had cared about. He tore the entire country apart, and here he was, demanding Jon to desecrate something sacred.

His family. His father—both of them.

“I know I don’t deserve it,” Robert admitted when Jon didn’t say anything. When he couldn’t say anything. “I know I’ve made mistakes, that I’ve hurt you. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to sit beside me each day and not kill me like I deserve. But today’s different. The past few weeks have been different. I used to see who sired you, the man I hated for years. The man who stole the woman I loved.” Robert shook his head. “I should have looked for Lyanna first. I should’ve seen your eyes and saw her. I should’ve heard your words and heard Ned. He was right, you were all Stark. Just Stark. I am truly sorry for everything I’ve done.”

“I don’t understand…” Jon whispered. He wanted to know why. Why was the king doing this?

“I intend to make you my heir. My prince. My son.” Robert said again, leaning towards Jon imploringly. “We will start over. We will be as it should’ve been.”

Jon shook his head. But even as he wanted to deny everything Robert was saying, a voice in his head hissed, you must survive; survive at all cost.

Jon couldn’t breathe but he had to. He must. “Your Grace—” Jon began.

“Father,” Robert insisted, a tender smile of a father on his lips. “Call me Father.”

“Father.” Jon said with a small smile and his mouth was filled with ash as he says it. But that didn’t matter. Afterall, Jon must survive.

Chapter Text

ROBB

 

Robb had only just managed to scrub the blood underneath his fingernails when he was bombarded with a request to be at the war tent as soon as he could.

He was tired. Deep down his bones, he was exhausted. His body is on the brink of collapsing, his head ached from staying awake for days on end. He barely managed to stay upright, jumping from one task to another. The battle might have been over but the war continued on. He had fires to put out, bodies to burn, and lords and ladies to either execute or displace and replace them with someone more loyal, more malleable to bend to their rule. He was weary from the endless problems asking and taking more of him by the hour. But Robb didn’t stop.

He couldn’t stop. Not yet. Not until his father arrived. Not until this is over.

Robb tried not to think about the death toll or the injured. He tried not to think at all by taking on more than he could carry. He carried until he struggled underneath that weight. He carried until it numbed him more than fatigue did. He had sailed away from Pyke, blood on his wake, death clinging to him like claws. His mind was quiet for now. He didn’t think beyond what was in front of him. He couldn’t. So, when he arrived on shore, he did his best to avoid thinking at all. Just quick answers to simple questions. Tangible solutions to solid problems. He helped organize supplies, helped bandage their soldiers, arranged for the occupation of their men on the islands. He did something, took action, and his mind never strayed too far from what needed to be done.

No one questioned him now. No one stopped him or badgered him. They let him take what he needed to take and do what he needed to do. His men parted for him every time he walked by. They bowed to him when they’re dismissed. His vision may be bleary from fatigue and his bones brittle from overuse, but his men looked at him with worship in their eyes, with respect he’d earned.

But now, the lords wanted him in a war tent.

The lords wanted to hear what he wants to do. And Robb wanted to do nothing. Nothing but work until it allowed him to rest. Until he knew he’ll sleep without dreams. Until he knew that his nightmares wouldn’t be worse than what was real.

But Robb knew he wouldn’t get what he wanted. Robb thinks he never will again.

The flap of the tent parted and each and every one of his bannermen and allies’ eyes rested on him. He hasn’t changed out of his armor. Blood still coated some of the metal plates. He didn’t care.

“Lord Robb,” one of them said. Robb was too tired to remember his name. “A raven arrived yesterday morning. The riders were only able to deliver this now.”

Robb took the scroll from the bannerman’s hand and read. Then, he laughed. And laughed and laughed until he thinks one of those hiccups might have been a sob. It would’ve been embarrassing, but suddenly nothing but rage overtook him. His entire being shook with a ferocity he didn’t think he could muster after all the death and destruction he’d caused. But he kept laughing. If he stopped, he thinks he’ll kill someone.

“They can’t be serious,” Robb laughed, waving the scroll. Black wings, dark tidings, chanting in his head pound per pound with his racing heart and aching mind that demanded rest. Not yet, he decided, not now. “They can’t possibly think we’ll fall for this.”

“Your father is traveling down a winding road from the Beyond the Wall,” Prince Oberyn spoke, eyes hard and unrelenting. His name came unbidden in Robb’s mind unlike the other lord. Prince Oberyn always seems to see more than most. He would say what he wanted and watch where it took him. He lived for vengeance for someone he loved wrongfully taken, something he and Robb had in common. It’s why Robb liked him, and why he knew he could never turn his back on the man or any of his Sand Snakes. “No one knows where he is and when he’ll join us again. You are the Stark here. This is your war. It’s not a question of whether or not we’ll fall for it. Only what you will do about this.”

Robb sighed, closing his eyes. He was suddenly lightheaded. “Prince Oberyn—”

Oberyn was unbent. “What will you do, Robb Stark?”

Robb gritted his teeth and said nothing.

Prince Oberyn stood and approached him slowly, as if stalking a prey. “Robert Baratheon is going to use your brother as a bargaining chip to win back his power and most of his kingdoms.” He took the missive from Robb and waved it in his face. “By now, every lord worth their estate has received a fucking raven of this power move. Everyone will suddenly have a reason to fight with us, against us, or not at all. Your war—the war to free your brother and my vengeance against that fucking stag and those fucking lions—will crumble. You will lose your brother forever and all this will be for nothing.”

Prince Oberyn smirked and poured himself a drink, taking his time as he settled back on his seat as if nothing happened. He took a deliberate drink and looked at Robb with a challenging glare. “So, Robb Stark, what will you fucking do?”

The lords watched the two of them with bated breath, listening intently. Looking and waiting for this young wolf to decide what will become of them all; what will become of the future king they’re fighting to avenge and liberate; what will become of their own freedom and lands.

The test of a true Lord Paramount just like his father before him.

There was suddenly a cacophony of voices. The lords threw their suggestions and arguments before him. Greywind wasn’t in the tent. Robb had lost track of him for hours. He has nothing to ground him, nothing to ease the ringing in his ears. Robb’s heart pounded in his chest. His blood leaving his face, his skin paling like the snow that fell around Winterfell’s summer snows. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t—

There was movement just outside the tent. A child running just shy of the opening.

Robb swallowed and licked his lips. He tasted blood.

“I need to send a message, my lords.” Robb said just loud enough to be heard. “If you’ll excuse me.”

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Deep into the night, after changing out of his armor and into bloodless clothes, Robb didn’t need to turn to know that there was now a small child inside his tent. He took his small missive and stared down at the young girl with pale blonde hair. She looked curious and innocent, her little grin disarming and open. She was sucking on her thumb like a babe, grimy fingers small and rough. A street child.

If Robb had not personally witnessed one of these same children place the other missive beneath his maps, he wouldn’t believe it. Now, here was another child, without much prompting, appearing as if she was beckoned. Maybe this is why the Spider’s spies have worked so well across the Seven Kingdoms, how he was so informed. No one looked twice at an orphan, no one paid any mind to small children who could crawl in small spaces. No one would expect a child to have that cunning, that hunger for mischief.

Until you looked them in the eye.

Robb also wondered why the Spider was inclined to share his secrets with the heir of Winterfell. What would it gain him to divulge his own secrets?

A trick? A show of good faith perhaps? Or perhaps—and more appropriately—a warning. A warning that Robb has no idea what they are capable of in the shadows. He has no idea what kind of monsters lurked in the dark, hunting for power. He has no idea how the game is played and he was horribly outmaneuvered at every turn in the war that truly mattered. The war played not with soldiers or high horses but with slight of hand and shades of gray.

His back should never be turned or teeth and steel will sink into his skin.

No, Robb thinks to himself, I will never be willfully blind again. He doesn’t want that for himself.

He took the sweet bread that he had saved on one hand and the missive in the other.

“Will you take this to your master?” he asked genially. The child nodded and smiled. She reached for the bread and nibbled it. Robb presented the missive again once she finished her treat. To his surprise, she opened it. She looked up and she couldn’t be older than Rickon, but she smiled knowingly at Robb.

Is it true? The missive said simply.

“Master made sure I know what the symbols mean,” she chirped quietly, as if she was excited to share her secret. “And he said if I see this, m’lord, I had to tell you that it’s true.”

“Are you sure?” Robb had to ask.

The little girl nodded. “Yes, m’lord.” She pointed to the last word. “This means ‘true’, and you are asking the master if it is true. The master said that if you ask to tell you that it’s true.”

Robb nodded, outmaneuvered once again. The girl seemed to take this as a dismissal since she placed the missive on top of a candle and let it burn. Then, she started skipping out of the tent.

“Wait! What’s your name?” Robb called.

The child turned back, she looked bemused to be asked. No one probably ever did. Others were smarter than Robb not to ask. But he needed to know.

“Layla, m’lord.” The child answered, pursing her lips. “That’s what the master told me to say if you asked.”

Then, she was gone. Robb snorted in disbelief.

Yes, he thinks to himself again. The Spider is definitely teaching me his ways.

He went through his maps once again, now knowing with certainty that Robert Baratheon has gone as mad as the last king who sat on that wretched throne. When this is over, Robb will personally melt the fucking thing. Jon will never sit on it, if he had any say about it. His brother will not be touched by the madness it taints its kings.

Robb can’t sleep, not yet. He doesn’t think he can.

So, he plans. And plans. And plans

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DANY

 

Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen was arranged to be wed to a Khal.

Not just any Khal, but to Khal Drogo. He is the most brutal, the most murderous of them all. Or so they say. Viserys has grown too impatient now, too mad with grief that his throne grew farther and farther away each passing day. So, he sold his baby sister to a savage with an army of savage men that were superstitious enough to vow they’d never cross the sea.

Dany wanted to rage, to scream, to unleash her fury on her moronic, insane older brother. But not yet. Not when her position was so precarious, not when they could easily turn on her. She has no power. What kind of dragon was she when she had no power? But her brother does. Or so he thinks. And that is the only thing that is saving them. But also damning them. Her brother’s insanity, his delusions, are stalling them for time. Marrying a Khal doesn’t seem to be of any use to them, not that Dany could see. How could one convince a Khal to cross an ocean to win back a throne that means nothing to him? Dany cannot understand it. But it gives her time.

Viserys needs only to be prompted that his demands needed to be met and secured before the wedding. The Merchant needed to make a better offer, a better trade. A Dragon cannot settle for anything less than he deserved.

So, it bought her time. She stalled as long as she can.

Until, her patience paid off.

The cheese monger’s estate was heavily secured. His fortress was fortified and hidden, Dany knew that for certain. One with riches as the merchant did not survive by flaunting his wealth. So, it came as a surprise when men came to sack the estate. They were heavily armed and trained, their cloaks gold that for a moment Dany thought they were Lannister men or worse, the Kingsguard. The men who had help murder her family. Her brother, an idiot, had charged toward the men. She didn’t see him again as the battle thickened. She was dragged by her servants behind the safety of a wooden door, her rooms for most of her life.

Then, someone knocked on her door.

It was quiet. Eerily so. The battle was over.

She breathed heavily, a dagger in hand. She inhaled and nodded for the servant to open the door.

If these men wanted to ravage her, then she would die first. They could rape her corpse for all Dany cared.

But a man in armor covered in blood, his blade uncleaned, stepped through. He bowed.

“Princess Daenerys,” he greeted with a deep timber voice. “My company and I have come to liberate you and your brother.”

Dany tentatively stepped forward. “Liberate in what way?”

“Liberate you from your handlers.” The man growled. Handlers could’ve sounded like captors and Dany wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

“I will know who would think to liberate me in such a fashion.” Dany demanded regally as she was taught. She hid her dagger and her trembling fingers behind her. Before the man could answer, there was a commotion coming nearer. She could hear her brother yelling about dragons.

Then, they tossed him at her feet, bloody and furiously mad.

She didn’t help him stand. The strange man’s men did that for her. Viserys is injured on his side, a slice that oozed with blood. Dragon’s blood, he had once called it.

Then, a boy stepped into the room and Dany’s breath left her lungs.

The boy was taller than her with a lithe form. He had pale, silvery hair and violet eyes a shade darker than hers. His features were handsome but Dany didn’t care for that. Only what his presence represents.

“Hello, Aunt,” the boy said, his voice like velvet. “I have been searching for you. For both of you.”

“YOU ARE NO DRAGON!” Viserys raged, fighting to be free. “RHAEGAR’S CHILDREN ARE DEAD! THEY ARE ALL DEAD!”

“I assure you, Uncle,” the boy responded with mirth. “I am most certainly alive. My sister didn’t make it. But I did. So did my brother.”

“And who are you, exactly?” Dany had to ask. She had to.

The boy turned to her, a smile creeping on his face. “My name is Aegon Targaryen, son of Rhaegar Targaryen.”

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Chapter Text

JON

 

So, Jon became more or less a prince.

He trailed the king like a squire; a step behind Robert’s right and a step ahead of the Kingsguard flanking them, stride precise and back straight. He had the privilege of standing a few steps beneath the throne as the king heard petitions and granted audiences, the Hand of the King standing two steps higher than Jon. The king and the Hand were both firm but compromising, their words braided with a hint of threat hidden beneath flattery and formality. It was received with as much enthusiasm and ceremony in return with just the right amount of reverence to mask the duplicity within.

But as much as Jon paid attention to what was being said, it’s what wasn’t being said that mattered most. Jon had learned on the first few times he attended court that what were not said aloud were the loudest and most important matters of all. The courtiers took it in stride the first time Jon had entered their midst as if he’d always belonged among them, going as far as inclining their heads to him in greeting or a small smile blooming from power hungry lips. It goes to prove how vile the game was truly played, that the boy they condemned and condoned to be beaten and tortured was now welcomed amongst them like royalty. Jon wanted to tear them all apart, limb by limb. Great patience and Tyrion’s raving lectures hammered in the back of his skull stayed his hand.

Jon was never encouraged to speak when they held court but Tyrion and the king would never fail to ask for his insights when they were alone in the king’s solar. Or on the rare occasion he was invited to attend the Small Council meetings.

The remaining members of the Small Council, of course, welcomed him with open arms. Jon had first been wary of these men and speaking about his thoughts. He still slipped whenever he addressed the king (Father, Robert would chuckle as a reminder), and he was still learning how to play. But he had grasped it quickly, to his surprise. He had sat with these men and offered valuable contributions. Or at least, that’s what they told him.

Jon wanted to roll his eyes. He knew what he said weren’t new or stellar. But he smiled and gave a nod of appreciation. A compliment for a compliment. Jon had learned everything has to have an exchange.

He spoke when asked, and learned, learned, and learned.

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Days passed since he had been told he’d be a prince.

The days started to blur together that Jon scarcely remembered a time when he wasn’t attending a royal court or when he needed to be a certain way that others would approve of.

(But he did remember, and he’ll never forget…)

He was thrust into every function, every conversation, and every damn tour he had to take around the rich district that had once barricaded their doors when the city tore itself apart. Jon practiced his smiles, his eloquence, and his stances in private with Ser Barristan and Tyrion, sometimes with the Lord of Whispers, but Varys was a man content to watch. Jon preferred him speaking, if he’s in the room. Spiders often crawled into places they’re unwanted, so, he took to asking questions.

Simple things. Mundane things.

Wait, Lady Mary is married to which Lord again? Lord Edwin is related to who?

Why is she called the Queen of Thorns? Why is he called the Hound? And the Mountain?

Which merchant should I greet first? Who shouldn’t I offend?

What does this treaty have to do with the taxes of this trade? Could the city afford this?

How are we going to survive with our grain stores like this? How could we improve it?

Questions that had never occurred to Jon in all his life was suddenly the only thing he could think of. The operation of court politics suddenly his only interest. There was a deep longing to pick up a blade and fight, to feel his Valyrian steel in his hands, or to mount a horse and ride as hard and as fast as he could. But those were worthless here. Just like the wounds still lingering in his body, he needed to get better. He needed to learn, and learn well. There were masters constantly around him and he took every advantage he could.

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He took all of his meals with Father now (he’s learned to say it and not forget). They even have tea when their schedule allowed.

They talked about his lessons, his thoughts of the noblemen and women in court, his opinion on their grain stores and how he would handle the distribution of the ration. Or, as Father favored, stories from his childhood.

Who taught you to ride a horse? Who showed you how to use a blade?

What sort of trouble did you get into as a child with your cousins?

Who taught you to read and write? What is your favorite pie or drink or—

Jon noted that Father was insatiably curious about his life.

But they never spoke about Theon, Jon noticed. Or how Theon was dead. Or how Theon died. Or how Theon’s home was destroyed

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More days have passed.

One afternoon when he was casually taking a stroll around the Red Keep, he wore a tunic that’s refined and made of soft silk, his hair shorn so short his curls didn’t reach his eyes anymore. His dark locks were styled artistically that it made his grey eyes pop. It seemed to have an effect on some of the noblemen and women when he looked at them. Just like then, when he noticed that he had been stopped by at least three young court ladies as he passed, asking one thing or another. They always stared at his hair, at his eyes, or at his lips while they spoke. There would be blushing or breathy words involved.

“Is this odd, Ser Barristan?” Jon asked nonchalantly when the knight chuckled under his breath after Jon had clumsily evaded whatever invitation the girl had pressed. Jon knew there was some code to what the girl was saying, but he had only stared at her blankly, smiled and said he’ll think about her offer. “I didn’t notice them being so polite or welcoming the last time I took one of these walks.”

Jon has been practicing the tone of indifference yet menacing at the same time. He used it at court when he was at the end of his rope, succinct but polite. There were still those who like to dangle a conversation above his head like a knife and Jon wanted to put them all in their place. But he hasn’t quite got it yet. Hackles still rose because Jon hadn’t quite learned how not to bare his teeth. Not yet.

“I’m quite surprised it hasn’t happened as often as I predicted, My Prince,” Ser Barristan answered, walking behind Jon with more vigor than usual. “Usually there’s more flinging of body parts in your general direction. It’s too behaved to be considered seduction.”

Jon stopped and turned to the aging knight. There was a slight panic in his eyes and his shoulders were tense. Jon had not prepared for that just yet. Although, it should’ve been obvious. Tyrion and Bronn aren’t shy about sharing their sexual encounters. In fact, they still badgered Pod about his visit at the brothel.

A humorous grin was spreading like kindle on Barristan’s face. “Or maybe they just know you won’t react well to body parts being thrown at you.”

Jon gritted his teeth. “When that happens, please keep a firm hold of your sword. I might accidently maim someone on purpose.”

Barristan chuckled again, looking at the prince fondly. “And it would only be your right, My Prince.”

Jon gave him that same look he had every time. The one where he realizes that My Prince sounds a little different from the other Your Grace or Your Highness in court. It sounded bolder and deeper, and carried more weight than all of the Red Keep combined. Barristan filed it away and Jon smoothed his expression.

He chose to glower at any approaching body for the rest of his walk. It was only his right, after all.

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Jon tested the parameters of his duties on principle.

Father had given him responsibilities to see to everyday. Simple and important tasks for Father or the Hand that were designed to parade him through the whole of King’s Landing like a dog.

Jon did his best to be seen and to be heard. He smiled and waved and accepted the slight touches. He laughed in a courtly manner and impressed who he needed to be impressed. He was reserved but casual, friendly and sly. Smart and ruthless. He had practiced this the most and it paid. Handsomely if he could say so himself.

He had even managed to convince Father and Tyrion to let him out of the Red Keep and walk the streets of King’s Landing. He told Father that he wanted to see the city, even just a small part of it. As heir, he wanted to know his people. As a prince, he needed to hear their worries and appease them. Father had been proud of his insight, of course, but was hesitant. Jon had quietly nudged him further, and enlisted Tyrion to help him with a few words. Tyrion looked a bit cornered and, finally, resigned. He knew Jon was right. They warily agreed, knowing that it was something they could use in their favor.

(Varys and Barristan had given him a carefully blank stare. Jon knew they would’ve been smirking if he removed their masks.)

Of course, he was surrounded by armed guards and Barristan dogged every step, but the freedom was intoxicating. He did everything he could with that freedom. He gave food to the orphans, spoke with the people and asked about their grievances, and even went as far as playing with some of the common folks’ children on the street, limited only by the wounds that were mending rapidly.

The people of King’s Landing worshipped the ground he walked. They spread their arms wide as if to shower him with their love and laughed as carefree as the wind in his presence. Their favor was rejuvenating, even powerful. This is what it meant to have love and respect, and he treasured it. It was the first time Jon had seen Varys smile with all his teeth on display, as if Jon had personally existed to please him. Jon gritted his teeth, and Varys bowed slightly, chided.

It’s not for you, Jon wanted to say. But Jon knew it didn’t need to be said. He learned how to make his silences speak louder than his words.

There was a design to these schemes. Of course, there was.

Jon still needed to be crowned as the Crown Prince to hold his title.

Jon wanted to cement his position. Whatever he could take to arm him against the fragile uncertainty of being trapped with these indifferent monsters, he knew he would do. Jon knew, even with Tyrion’s now summarized reports of the warfront (he no longer gave him details as before, and Jon resented it), that he became much more vulnerable and valuable to all parties. The North and their allies fight for his release, The Lannisters and theirs think he is a usurper of their royal seats, and Father has it in his best interest to hold onto Jon for a hundred different reasons.

(To be a prince was a despicable plan. A plan Jon had hated with every fiber of his being. He hated Father and Tyrion and Varys—but it made sense. He had no power, and here, with the place they offered him, he could take it. He could hold it. And he will have it.)

Tyrion had once told him to ensure that his coronation would be welcomed and unquestioned, not just by the people, but by all the nobility.

“Influence the court to see you for more than what you seem to be.” Tyrion had said, a drink in his hand. He looked at Jon as if he was proud. “Cast an aggressively large shadow and they’ll love you for it.”

He held the love of the people with an iron fist. Now, he wanted to lead the nobility by the nose. But Jon wasn’t sure how to do this. He was Northman. His face was Northman, his gate was Northman, his words were Northman.

Northmen aren’t impressive to Southerners.

That was until Margaery Tyrell arrived.

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Margaery Tyrell was a beauty unparalleled.

The only woman Jon has ever met to contest her in this area is Sansa. But where Sansa’s red, soft curls and cold, sweet eyes were home to the North, Lady Margaery’s brown, velvety tresses and hazel, sharp eyes were the visage of spring. She had Sansa’s grace and impeccable manners. Her voice sounded like joy and honey, her smile kind and warm.

Jon distrusted her with every fiber of his being. He had, of course, immediately felt drawn to her.

Father had given him a look that made Jon’s skin crawl but he settled for an abashed blush and a charming smile to return hers. When they met, it was before all of court, welcoming the young lady whose father had allied with the North. Everyone knew. Everyone pretended they didn’t.

“My heir, Jon,” Father introduced when their greetings were over. Margaery’s eyes were calculating, cleverly disguised as shy and bashful. But Jon has learned how to spot these looks. He distinctly remembers Sansa’s own genuinely bashful look, when she tried to make up for years of snubbing him. He knew what the real one looked like. Margaery’s variation of it felt cheap.

Jon made sure to softly take her hand in his, and kissed it politely. He looked at her like the greenboy he was. He particularly felt vindicated when his real emotions were the appropriate response. It was the only time he didn’t feel like he’s wearing a mask. He looked at her expression. Margaery’s smile turned slightly predatory.

Ah, there’s the Queen of Thorn’s favorite grandchild, Jon thought to himself, pleased.

“Welcome, Lady Tyrell,” Jon spoke clearly. “I hope your journey wasn’t too trying.”

“Please, Your Highness,” Margaery said, giggling. “Call me Margaery. Lady Tyrell is my mother, even my grandmother.”

“Of course. Forgive me, Lady Margaery.” Jon said, letting his hand fall back to his side.

Margaery demurely placed both of her hands on her front. “Thank you, Your Highness. And my journey has been very exciting. I have not had so many adventures. We were delayed so many times that I nearly spent a month on the road. But I am thankful that I arrived safely in King’s Landing.”

“Yes,” Father interjected, watching them both like a hawk. He stood and the whole of court held a collective breath. “We are quite glad you made it here without trouble. I’m sure you are famished, Lady Margaery. I will have food prepared for you. Why don’t you escort her, Jon? Then, meet me at the solar after you finished. This court is dismissed.”

The lords and ladies bowed as the king passed, leaving Jon and Margaery on the dais. Ser Barristan, Jon’s constant companion, waited for him. Tyrion gave him a look and a smile to Margaery before following the king, Bronn on his heels. Varys didn’t glance but he knew he would know every detail by the end of the damn escort.

Jon extended his hand, an offer to the lady. Margaery gave him a slight bow and took his arm. Her skin was warm against his. It sent jolts up his spine.

They walked in silence for a little. Jon had taken the scenic route, the one through the gardens, a view of the ocean, to reach a terrace on the cliffside designed for the usage of the ladies in high court. Margaery was the highest of them so far, which made that terrace her very own territory.

As they passed the garden, Margaery stopped as they reached the rose bushes with most of the flowers in full bloom, arrayed in different colors. As the daughter of Highgarden’s Lord Paramount, Margaery seems to be at home with them. Her flowing blue dress looked as soft as those blooms, her blush and lips as luscious. She plucked one of the biggest ones and returned to his side, taking his arm without a word.

She smelled the pink rose, it’s odor so potent it reached him. This must be a new game. The one other ladies in court played with him, the one with codes he didn’t recognized just yet. But he will. He’ll make sure of it.

“It suits you,” Jon offered.

“Thank you, Your Highness.” Margaery said silkily. They have reached the terrace and Jon’s escort has now ended.

Jon let her hand drop, smiling slightly. “I hope you are comfortable here, Lady Margaery. Please don’t hesitate to let us know anything you need.”

She smiled warmly. “You’re not what I expected, Prince Jon.” Margaery observed, her eyes softening. “I’m glad.”

Jon tilted his head. “About what, my lady?”

She gave him a considering look, the wind softly blowing through her hair. She finally tiptoed to whisper in his ear. “That you’re a player, too.” She pulled back and Margaery grinned. She curtsied and entered her terrace.

Jon was walking back to head for the solar when Barristan asked, “So, what do you make of her, My Prince?”

Jon glanced at him and back where he came from, frowning curiously. “The Queen of Thorns has found a very capable protégé.”

Ser Barristan grinned. “Well, they’ve never met anyone like you.”

“I don’t know what that means, Ser Barristan.” Jon replied automatically, smiling politely. Feigning emotion behind that was a waste of time. He continued on and went to go meet Father.

Ser Barristan chuckled under his breath. He knew who Jon was and what he’s becoming.

But Jon doesn’t mind. He knew for sure he had already secured the old knight’s loyalty.

The Commander of the Kingsguard was his.