It took them a long time to tell their tales. Arya had gone first hoping he would still look at her with an open heart. Arya told him everything, once she started talking it seemed as she couldn't stop. From her first kill - that bully from the stables, his death is a small regret - to three names she had given Jaqen H'ghar - she waits for him to berate her for choosing wrong but he doesn't say anything, just squeezes her to his chest - to the cruel soldiers that dotted her journey.
He hears of her friends; the ones who lived and left her, the one that died. Her throat tightens when she tells him of living part of the Red Wedding when she was still traveling with the Hound. The Hound was a terrible man but one who knew his sins and never sought forgiveness. His name no longer graces her list but she knows not whether he lived or died that day she left him. But the Hound died for her that day. She can't let herself regret that.
She skips over a few things she deemed unimportant. He learns of Braavos, the training she went through with the faceless men - that was when the horror started to bleed through his expression and his hands start to feel like a cage - her eagerness to take avenge her water dancer teacher by killing Meryn Trant, her subsequent punishment and redemption. It was her unwillingness to kill Lady Crane that got her here, Arya isn't sure if she died or if there was a part of her still alive in Essos.
In turn she hears all about the Night's Watch. That it wasn't anything like the grand tales they had grown up on. How his life hadn't change as drastically as hers; he had been treated as lesser for a while, not because of his bastard status but because he had thought himself to be better than they were despite it. He'd only been given better opportunities.
Jon tells her he nearly abandoned his vows not long after he took them, and that he would have done it all for them had it not been for his brothers convincing him not to - he expected a gasp of shock but Arya only squeezed him, silently telling him it was okay.
The wight amazed her nearly as much as the free folk. Jon tried to let her understand that most of them were much like the people they grew up with, there were good people and bad. He told her of his time with Ygritte sounding half fond half frustrated, he doesn't want to speak of the foul things he did to earn and keep the trust of the Free Folk but he refused to hide it after all that Arya told him.
"I broke my vow." He speaks barely above a whisper. "I took her as my prisoner - she liked saying I stole her, and to the Free Folk that is as good as marriage. Sometimes she would do something or say something that would remind me of you," He didn't say exactly what reminded him, his gaze falling to the line of her body, no longer boyishly slim. It was hard to connect the skinny girl from his youth to the young woman in his arms. "She made it bearable...I liked her, mayhaps even loved her. But I couldn't forsake my duty for her. She almost killed me but she died once they invaded Castle Black."
Jon waits to hear some sort of anger for breaking his vows for a woman but not their family, for a moment he forgets that Arya has faced her own harsh reality. Her response is a soft murmur of comfort, more a sad sigh than anything else. He goes on about his near assassination attempt on Mance Ryder, Stannis Baratheon of all people saving him, Stannis' attempts to control the Free Folk by threatening Mance, Mance's execution, being chosen as the 998th Lord Commander. He even tells her about Stannis offering him Lordship of Winterfell if he gave him the wildlings as an army to retake the North, and his subsequent refusal.
"I tried to be a good leader, tried to be a good man like Jeor Mormont. But what they never tell you is good men don't last long in power. I wanted to bring them all on our side of the Wall so there'd be less for us to fight once the Night King came. To keep Mance's promise of keep them safe, even though the man himself was unwilling to bend the knee if it meant their safety.
"I got their trust and tried to evacuate them. It was too late. I fought the dead, I saw those I couldn't save rise with eerie blue eyes. Sometimes I feel that going back to Castle Black was my biggest mistake. I died Arya, for doing what I thought was right, something some of my brothers disagreed."
Both were quiet as they processed what the other had said. They didn't get much chance to though just as Arya was opening her mouth to say nothing's changed, that she still loves him and wants to stay with him, that she sees him.
Jon twists around so his body is shielding Arya. He's almost afraid to look but the man in front of him is undeniably Ned Stark from his bearded face to the rich Northern leathers on his body. Acting as if they were both children, they scrambled off the ground and rushed Ned. His arms were around them, they all went like infants.
Arya had known Father was here, had spied on him when she was not watching Jon. She ached to be near him, wanted to cry and be held in his arms until she was sure he was alive. But she had been wary, her father died before she grew up into who she was. Worry gnawed at her, while she always thought he and Jon would be the ones to always love her unconditionally no matter what she did, a part of her doubted her father would now.
Ned had watch his children from afar before revealing his presence. He was glad to have some of his children back in his arms. But watching them had given strength to what Aphrodite had said to him. As Zeus he had power over other gods, a power he didn't want to abuse like his predecessor but he had asked Apollo to show him what has happened since he was beheaded.
He saw the paths his family walked as well the dark fate of few. Aphrodite had come across him, attracted by the fierce love he felt for Cat. But it was Arya and Jon who caught her attention. She had called their bond beautiful, unbreakable, fated.
"The touches they've shared, the longing in their hearts for the other, separated by death and reunited by gods. Theirs is bond born of solidarity of being outcasts within their own family, the years they've spent together will be a base for their love." Aphrodite sighed sweetly, almost wistfully. Most couples she paired felt lust first, never love. It was refreshing to see something like this. She was unbothered by the incest - whether they were simply half siblings or the cousins they truly were - it did not matter to her.
Ned kept quiet, he did not feel like it was his place to argue with a goddess who could see and control love. But he wanted to, he wanted to yell that it was natural for siblings to have that sort of devotion. That he had loved his sister enough to sully his own reputation to protect her son, what brother wouldn't?
But then he remembers the first time Jon held Arya. Arya had wailed, refusing to take the breast or sleep. She squirmed too much for Maester Luwin to give her a sleeping draught, Catelyn at her last wits had left Arya in her crib so her dark emotions would not lash out. It was then that Ned took the chance to show Jon the newest addition to the family.
Arya still yowled, her tiny fists waving in the air as Ned held her. Jon had been scared to hold her, she was puce colored in her anger. But the second he held her, she quieted blinking up at Jon who looked at her with such awe, it almost scared Ned.
From then on they had always been so intertwined. Many of Arya's first were given to Jon; her first giggle, her first word, her first steps. Everything that ever matter to Arya, she always ran to show Jon first. And he was always drying her tears and fixing her hair; he encouraging her, lifting her her spirits as she did the same for him. Ned can't imagine them not having each other.
"And yet he holds her at arms length because he won't be allowed to keep her. Had you lived and never revealed the truth to Jon Snow, it would have caused them so much heartache. Their souls have been so intertwined, they should've never parted. But that's what happened when you accepted being Hand yet refusing would not have changed the heartache they'd have felt because you would've continue to keep the truth from them. He - the supposed bastard - feeling something other than brotherly love for his high born half sister, he would have pulled away. It would have hurt him though."
"What would you have me do?" Ned asked but he knew what he must do.
"You already made you choice. Now find them."
His feet had led him here to the Godswoods, finding them curled on each and it strengthened his resolve. Now he sat with his children - for Jon would always be his son even if he hadn't sired him - and prepared to reveal Jon's hidden history.
"I have kept a secret that has haunted me for years." He began, staring at the pool rather than at Jon. Despite the chill of the land, he could still feel the burning sun and the dry heat of Dorne, and the scent of blood hung in the air. To Jon and Arya, it seemed as if their father had lost himself within himself. "Jon, I am not your father."
The world freezes for a moment, Jon's heart stops then stutters back into beating. Of all the things he expected, his father claiming that was never a possibility.
"Uncle Benjen is Jon's father then?" Arya questioned feeling slightly relieved by the revelation, but quickly answered her question herself. "No, he said he was barely left boyhood when the Robert's Rebellion began. Is Jon Uncle Brandon's son?"
"No, no Stark sired Jon...but he is still the blood of my blood." Ned spoke in that cryptic sort of way he once hated. A sharp gasp left Jon as he realized there was only one choice left. Jon was almost scared to voice it.
"Aunt Lyanna wasn't my aunt was she? She was my mother." Jon whispered as another revelation hit him. "And she is the same Lyanna who was kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar Targaryen. She died in Dorne - not because of a simple fever as you always told us, no! It was birthing fever! She died because of him, because of me!"
Jon was shouting by the end of it, he had pulled away from both Arya and his father - no, his uncle. He started pacing, his hands tugging at his hair, he paused when he heard footsteps approaching him.
"It's not that simple and you know it! You can't tell me after everything you've lived through that things are so one sided." Ned yelled, trying to plant himself in Jon's way. His grey eyes looked more like steel as he stared at Jon, so sure in what he believed. "I can't say the blame lies solely with Rhaegar! Lyanna wanted to leave, she wanted him but after the deaths of our kin she wanted to leave Rhaegar. But she never thought ahead, she never thought of the consequences of her actions until it was too late. She was married to him beneath a heart tree by a septon and his Kingsguard as witness, she was in Dorne, she was with child. What could she do but wait?
"I did all that I could to save her. After failing to save Elia Martell and her children, I was desperate to at least save my sister from that wretched war. I fought dishonorably but I was too late. She was dying and there was nothing I could do to save her. Lyanna knew she wouldn't survive, but she wanted to save you. She held you tight, murmured your name then begged me to save you, made me promise to protect you. And I did and I would do it again."
That didn't make it any better, of anything it agitated Jon even further. He felt nauseous as he remembered the fate of the Princess Consort and her children - his true half brother and sister. He almost wished he wasn't born, that his parents hadn't been so foolish. Mayhaps those who died wouldn't have.
Jon had to face many harsh truths in his life as a bastard but this was one he would rather forget. He would rather go back to being Jon Snow than to know the truth. He nearly flinched when he felt a thin hand circle his bicep.
"Jon." Arya said, her eyes searching his face. She didn't look at him differently. She looked at him like he was the same boy she grew up with and loved. But she was wrong, he wasn't that boy. Was he ever that boy? As if she read his mind, she assured him, "You're still you. Father raised you. You live. It doesn't matter what your name is or who your parents were. You're Jon, and I will always love you."
She looked to her father for support, Ned ruffled Jon's hair in a familiar gesture. Jon was taken back to his childhood, running to his father and pressing his face to Ned's thigh before grinning as Ned combed his hair.
"Nothing will change my love for you. I promise."