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Fault in Absence

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Jon’s family was complicated. He’d always known that, even from a young age.

~*~*~

The last time he’d seen his mother, his biological mother, had been after his graduation from secondary school. His mother and father had been ecstatic for both he and Robb but especially for Jon because it had been a hard road to that moment. They weren’t even entirely sure he’d be able to graduate but through a lot of hard work and mercy on their school’s part, he could walk across the stage even though he’d still be taking summer classes. After that, the whole family went out for dinner. When they were halfway through their meal, he saw her. She was talking to a man by a table looking as gorgeous as ever, her grey eyes shining under the lights of the restaurant.

He knew she was beautiful, everyone always told him so. His Uncle Robert would say she was a delicate beauty, but everyone else said she was more wild than delicate. They said she had wolf's blood in her like the Starks of old. They said she was half-a-horse, a wild stallion unable to be tamed. It was why she ran so much, why she fought so much, why she was so brash and confident and could never settle. She wanted more, there was always more for her other than her sheltered childhood. Nothing could hold her once she made her bid for freedom, not even a child.

He hadn’t missed her the whole day, he didn’t give it a thought. He had the mother and father who raised him crying and smiling at him respectively. He had Sansa taking as many pictures as humanly possible. He had Arya, Bran and Rickon cheering obnoxiously loud for him. He had Robb right beside him the whole time. He’d even gotten video calls and texts from Aegon and Rhaenys who couldn’t attend the ceremony because they were visiting their uncles in Dorne. What did he have to miss?

And then he saw her.

He stiffened in his seat, alerting Arya to something being amiss. She followed his gaze and stiffened as well before looking at him with worry. No one else seemed to notice the twos' countenance. They both held their breath as Lyanna turned away from the person she was talking to but she didn’t notice them. She didn’t notice her family sitting feet away from her. She didn’t notice her son being in the same room as her. Jon wasn’t surprised by it as he watched her walk away, his shoulders slumping in relief.

No, he wasn’t surprised. He wondered though if it would ever not hurt him to always watch her walk away.

Now she stood before him again, six years later. She looked resplendent in her grey dress with a blue winter rose stuck in her windswept black hair. Jon didn’t think she would come. He looked around at the many people in the banquet hall for Elia’s engagement party. The hall where the party was held was large, a ballroom more than anything. Even still the Martells took up almost half the space, such were their numbers. Most were bastards, Jon knew, like him. Born out of wedlock and partly products of their family’s looser look on the concepts of love and commitment, even by modern standards. They overtook their Reacher counterparts, the Hightowers, in number even without counting their numerous cousins, but then he supposed that helped to explain his existence and why Elia ever agreed to share her marriage bed with Lyanna and Rhaegar both.

The rest of the space was filled by Starks, Tullys, Arryns, Redwynes, Greyjoys, Lannisters, Mormonts, Tyrells, Tarlys, Florents, Baratheons and other smaller families of note. He was most surprised to see Targaryens there since they had never particularly liked Elia. Well, that wasn’t fair. His Aunt Daenerys and her husband Drogo were nice enough in their foreign eccentricity, having come from the Great Grass Sea on the sub-continent of Essos which differed from anywhere else in Europe, even Dorne. His Aunt Shaena and Uncle Daeron never bore Elia any ill-will either and were even kind.

The same could not be said for his Uncle Viserys or his grandfather Aerys, who both seemed to hate he and Elia equally for reasons he didn’t care to unpack.

Lyanna turned then and saw him. This time she saw him. Her eyes widened a little before settling. She gave him a wane smile and waved limply. Jon didn’t say hello in response, he just stared. He could see his father approaching Lyanna from behind and he gave Jon a pointed look that clearly meant he wanted Jon to behave before he engaged Lyanna in conversation, forcing her eyes away from him. He looked away from the siblings as his own sister walked over to him, her face plastered with a fake smile. She pulled Jon away from staring at the woman who looked so much like him and the smile dropped from her the second they were alone.

“Holy shit, she actually came.” Rhaenys immediately groused, running a hand over her dusky face, smudging her make-up.

“Didn’t your mother invite her?” Jon asked.

“Yes, and she RSVP’d but I didn’t expect her to actually come. I thought she’d chicken out last minute so I didn’t tell my mother but if she's at the party she's going to go to the wedding, right? This is horrible. No, this is a disaster! I have one job here and that is to make sure my mother’s big day goes off without a hitch and I can’t do that if one of the biggest reminders of her previous fucked-up situation is sitting right in front of her. She’ll call the whole thing off. She’ll think it’s a sign or something and she’ll call it off and it’ll be all my fault. Because I didn’t—”

“Rhae!” Jon interrupted, snapping his sister out of her rant.

“Take a deep breath.” Rhae took a shaky breath, still looking completely frazzled.

“When’s the last time you slept?” He asked her. She groaned in response.

“It feels like years.”

“Calm down. Things will be fine.”

“But—”

“No buts. Elia loves Baelor, she’s not running away just because Lyanna’s here. She’s better off now, she knows that.” Rhae nodded after a moment, her black hair bouncing with the movement.

“What would I do without you, little brother?” She said affectionately after a moment. Jon smiled in response.

“Go mad, probably.” Rhae nodded with a laugh before she pulled out a compact mirror from somewhere on her orange dress, fixed her make-up as much as she could and turned to re-enter to the hall.

“Okay, I better get inside and work the room. And also make sure that bone-headed brother of ours isn’t drowning in alcohol somewhere.”

“He and his girlfriend break up again?”

“I’d have to pin down which girlfriend it is first and get back to you on that one.” Jon rolled his eyes. Aegon apparently was allergic to commitment nowadays.

“Rhae.” He called just as she was about to open the doors.

“Is he coming?” He asked, not needing to clarify who he meant. Rhae gave him a sad smile.

“He didn’t RSVP.” She said simply before heading inside.

Jon nodded to himself. That was for the best really. His presence would just cause problems. Having Rhaegar and Lyanna in his life had led to little else in his experience (not that having them in his life was any common occurrence).

~*~*~

Stories conflicted when it came to Jon’s biological parents. There were tons of rumors to sift through. Too many things that sounded insane but were true. Too little things that sounded right but weren’t. What he knew for sure was that Rhaegar was a musician against the wishes of his wealthy English family, who just so happened to be related to the queen. He married Elia Martell of Dorne at 21 years old and they had two children together, Aegon and Rhaenys.

It was said that Rhaegar was a sweet, kind and generous man, if a bit too loose and ingratiated in the rock star lifestyle and so his eyes strayed often.

It was said that Elia was the one whose eyes strayed, she being Dornish and so was automatically perceived a certain way, and they said she talked Rhaegar into arrangements he would never agree to but for her.

It was said Lyanna was the one who somehow tricked the two into it, convincing them to allow her into their bed through some false means.

Others said they simply succumbed to dark passions that were not always understandable to everyone. But whatever had happened between the three of them happened and then Jon happened.

He didn’t remember this but apparently he lived with Elia, Rhaegar and Lyanna for the first eight months of his life until Lyanna abruptly left and Rhaegar chased after her, neither returning. Elia kept him for a year after that, hoping either would come back, until she gave up that hope and figured she'd raise him alongside her own children.

Ned Stark would soon knock on her door declaring that Lyanna had signed over parental rights of Jon to he and his wife, and so Jon went to live with them. And there he would remain.

~*~*~

He would prefer not to talk to Rhaegar's family because it always quickly became awkward and devolved into name-calling and barbed comments, but they were still in the mingling portion of the party, the happy couple having not made their entrance yet, and his mother had been quick to approach him about it.

“You look handsome.” Catelyn said by way of greeting, approaching him from behind as he sipped from a wine glass half-concealed behind a fountain in the lavish room. Jon looked down at his grey and black suit ensemble. Val figured it would set him apart from the other posh pricks.

“Thanks. Val picked it out. She said that would be the extent of her presence for the events.” Jon replied, smiling at the tall woman. She wore a long blue dress with her red hair in a complicated series of twists and braids before falling down her back. Jon didn’t even attempt to figure out where it began and ended.

“She’s as anti-social as ever, I see.” Catelyn replied, adjusting Jon’s tie slightly.

“Mother—”

“I didn’t say I blame the girl. With this many elites in the room, especially the Lannisters, were I her I’d sit this out too.” Jon blinked at his mother. That was probably the nicest thing she’d ever said about Val.

She never liked any of his partners in the way that mothers sometimes detested their son’s girlfriends. She thought Jeyne was an airheaded fool. She thought Alys was flighty and dependent. She thought Arianne was using him for her own ends (and to be fair she had been, but Jon had known that and hadn’t cared, he didn’t expect that relationship to last). She thought Val was brash and undignified. Jon even knew she held animosity towards Ygritte. She’d never say it out loud because she knew how much pain the memories of Ygritte inspired for him, but she hated that his love for her had kept him from home for months and she hated that her loss caused Jon so much hurt. He couldn’t blame her for that. He’d been a foolish child thinking he knew the world when he ran off with Ygritte and then he truly learned the world and it wasn’t kind.

Jon narrowed his eyes though. If his mother paid Val a compliment, even just a soft one, it meant she wanted something of him. His mother caught his look and sent him a sympathetic one in response before speaking.

“Have you talked to any of your family yet?” Jon knew what she meant but played ignorant anyway.

“I’m talking to you right now.” She gave him an unamused look.

“You need to keep up appearances. Go and greet either Rhaegar's family or Lyanna so as to stave off any gossip or further rumors."

"I don't care what rumors are spread about me." He said, pouting more than brooding.

"I care. Varys' birds are no doubt crawling the venue and I won't have you in his tabloid. Besides, greeting them is the proper thing to do and I know I raised you properly." Jon looked away so his mother wouldn't see his barely restrained eyeroll. Propriety always had been high on her list of ideals along with family, duty and honor. His mother lightly grabbed his chin and made him look at her.

"I've spoken harshly of Lyanna and Rhaegar in the past, and I meant every word I said. They are the ones who truly missed out because they didn't get to raise a son as wonderful as you. However, I think shutting yourself off from them or their relatives could be a mistake. Rhaegar may be blowing in the wind but Shaena's always loved you and you and Daenerys have gotten along well. If you wish to avoid Lyanna, I can't stop you but you can grow a relationship with her if you wanted. It would make me no less your mother. I'd never let anyone take you from me, not again. Ultimately, it's your decision. Do what's best for you." Jon nodded, giving Catelyn a grateful smile. He didn't want to know what his life would be like without knowing her love, a very cold existence indeed. She pulled his face in to kiss his cheek.

"Now go do what I told you to do." She ordered, patting his cheek affectionately. Jon chuckled and gave her a mock salute.

"Yes, ma'am." She gave him a playful look before walking off towards where Rickon looked like he was ready to cause some trouble with Lyanna Mormont and Loreza Martell.

Jon glanced around the room. He could see that Lyanna was locked in an intense conversation with Howland Reed, not that Jon was eager to speak with her anyway. He reluctantly made his way to where the Targaryens had congregated. They stayed close together but were at separate tables. Thankfully, the members he got along with were not at the table with those he despised so he approached the table where they sat.

Daenerys was there with her husband Drogo, her older sister Shaena and her husband Jorah Mormont, Daeron and his boyfriend Willas Tyrell and Great-Uncle Aemon. It was obvious why they sat apart from the rest of the family: they were the black sheep of the Targaryen family.

The Targaryens followed many customs most criticized them for but their bids to "keep their line pure" was among the most sneered at. Never mind all their families did the same at one point or another and his Grandpa Rickard and Grandma Lyarra were distant cousins, but everyone agreed the Targaryens took it a step too far. One time, Jon's grandmother Rhaella had told him that had he grown up in their family he'd probably be paired off with Daenerys. He recoiled at that information. They could follow whatever customs they wanted as long as he was left out of it. He didn't understand the need for it, they were only fifth or sixth cousins to the royal family and thus their claim to the throne was tenuous at best, abysmal at worst. Even the Blackfyres were closer in the line of succession than them but the Targaryens were a proud family, he learned that early and they pushed anyone not deemed worthy to the fringes.

Rhaegar had been the first pushed away after marrying Elia Martell and bearing children with both her and Lyanna.

‘Mingling with dark and less prestigious blood’ Aerys said.

They accepted Aegon more than Jon or Rhaenys for he inherited the Targaryen look with white blond hair and purple eyes and milky skin, if sun-kissed. Rhaenys and Jon looked the spitting images of their mothers. Rhaenys with her dark, thick hair like her mother and dark olive skin like her mother that had only gotten darker as she grew older so now she looked like a full-blooded Dornish woman. The only Targaryen feature she had was the purple eyes, leading some in the family to speculate if Rhaenys wasn’t the child of Elia and Rhaegar's mutual friend, Arthur Dayne. Jon had his mother's dark hair and long face, her grey eyes and her cheekbones and ears. The only Targaryen features he bore were the shape of his eyes, his pointed chin and the curly nature of his hair. Small things but enough to prove his Targaryen-roots (along with a DNA test that side had demanded of both he and Rhaenys when they were old enough to receive an inheritance, one they didn't care about.)

Daenerys had gained her family's ire when, instead of marrying Viserys or Daeron as she was supposed to, she convinced her younger brother to run away with her to Essos as teenagers when she found out he was gay. Eventually she met and married Drogo and had a son with him.

'The foreign savage and his mongrel' Viserys would say of Drogo and Rhaego, never to Drogo’s face.

Daeron travelled back to Westeros when he turned 18, only to enter a much-publicized relationship with Willas Tyrell. Their family was considered "cursed" by the Targaryens despite their previous dealings with the Tyrells because three out of the four Tyrell children were queer, Loras Tyrell being married to Renly Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell was now secretly dating Jon's sister, Sansa, (though if it was truly meant to be a secret, they weren't hiding it particularly well). Besides which, there was an 11-year age gap between Daeron and Willas which also sent tongues wagging. Then Shaena married out of the family as well into the Mormonts and she was ousted too. Aemon chose to become a maester at a young age, immediately setting him apart. Aerys never forgave him for that apparently. He thought it was weak of him not to pursue the family business instead. Jon liked that there was this band of misfits that he could fit into, even though he wanted little to do with Rhaegar and his family. It made him feel not so alone when he had to mingle with them.

Shaena smiled at him as he approached the table.

"There you are, nephew. I was wondering when you would deign to greet your favorite aunt." Jon smiled at the tall blonde woman as she stood to greet him, kissing each of his cheeks.

"I take offense to that." Dany said, also standing to greet Jon, who didn't deny Shaena's claim.

Of his aunts, he favored Shaena most. Daenerys was a year younger than him and it was strange to have an aunt be authoritative when they were of age with one another. Lysa was... strange to say the least. Barbrey was polite, if distant. There was always something going on between she and Uncle Brandon, some drama that permeated her relationship with the rest of the Stark family and led to the distance, but whether she was unhappy being in a relationship with Uncle Brandon or not, she stayed for whatever reason. Uncle Benjen never married and neither did Uncle Edmure, though not for lack of trying on the Tully family's part. And Lyanna was… well, Lyanna. He had never referred to her as his aunt. Despite his feelings for her, he could never make himself do that, so she was simply Lyanna.

Shaena was a proper aunt to him. She took him under her wing the few times he was left to the Targaryens and watched out for him. She would always send him well-wishes and random presents that were probably too extravagant. She'd even bought him a car during his third year of university after he mentioned offhand that he had finally got his license. She spoke to him about Rhaegar, the few times he would listen to anything about his biological father. He didn't get mad with her for her efforts. She loved her younger brother and only wanted his son to love him too, but that wasn't down to her.

"Sorry I took so long but Rhaenys has been running around like mad, practically driving herself up a wall." Jon explained, nodding his greeting to Drogo, Jorah, Willas and Daeron.

"She's always been a worrier that one. She’s going to sprout grays before her time." Shaena replied, shaking her head.

“Jon, come. Let me get a look at you.” Uncle Aemon called from the table. Jon stepped around his aunts and sat next to his mostly blind great-uncle, reaching out to hold his hand.

“Hey, Uncle Aemon.” He said with a smile. He honestly favored the old man, much more than Aerys anyway.

“Oh, it’s good to see you. It’s been too long.”

“I know. I’ve been so busy lately, hardly any time to get away from university to visit my family at Winterfell Manor let alone get to London to stop by Dragonstone.” He said apologetically. Dany and Shaena gave him a knowing look as they sat but didn’t comment.

“Yes, yes. You were always a busy-body but it is good to get it all out of your system now, rather than later. I know whatever you choose to be you will bring greatness to.” Jon smiled in response at his great-uncle’s kind words and made to thank him when an unwelcome voice cut through the warm exchange.

“I don’t know if greatness is the word I’d use. Has a bastard truly ever brought greatness to anything he did so much as he’s brought shame and dishonor?” Jon frowned and turned to see his Uncle Viserys approaching, a look of disdain on his face as he looked down his nose at Jon.

“You must feel at home here, bastard, surrounded by so many of your illegitimate kin.” Viserys continued, looking around the room with the same disgust and disdain he showed Jon.

“Viserys, I’m surprised to see you here. How goes the divorce proceedings? I hear Petyr Baelish is a particularly vicious lawyer, usually takes people for everything they're worth. Then again, I suppose that’s why Doreah hired him.” Jon commented innocently. Viserys frowned at him in response. Everyone knew why Viserys married Doreah. With no Targaryen women available, their Velaryon cousins being largely men, the women too young or old or taken and their Blackfyre cousins swearing to never mingle blood with them again due to past grievances, Doreah was deemed an acceptable compromise by Aerys due to her Valyrian features care of her Lysene background. Her hair was the same white-gold of Targaryens, her chin slightly pointed just the same and her cheekbones were high enough that her blue eyes were overlooked. Last Jon saw Doreah, her hair was dyed black and so was her daughter, Viserra's. Viserys opened his mouth to speak again but Jon cut him off, not wanting to hear what he had to say.

“It’s good to see you Uncle Aemon, and everyone else here. I’d better go make sure Rhae hasn’t spontaneously combusted by now.” He said, standing up to leave after another wave to the table’s occupants. His mother would just have to accept the two minutes of interaction.

“Running away? That seems awfully familiar.” Viserys sneered.

“I’m sure it does.” Jon threw back, not turning to him.

“You don’t deserve the honor of our blood in your veins, Jaehaerys.” Jon stopped then, his jaw ticking with his restrained anger before he walked back over to Viserys, ignoring his aunts’ warning gazes.

“My name is Jon and you’d do well to remember that.” He said in a low dangerous voice. A flash of fear crossed Viserys’ face before he settled to a sneer again and Jon walked away, this time not looking back.

~*~*~

When he was young, up until the age of 7, they called him Jae, short for Jaehaerys.

Jaehaerys Targaryen.

He hated it. It sounded so wrong to him when his parents would introduce he and his siblings to strangers,

'This is Robb, Sansa and Jaehaerys.’

And when they heard his name strangers would get this look on their face, like he was other. It was easier with Elia. With those siblings they were Rhaenys, Aegon and Jaehaerys. It did not sound so out of place but even then he would get looks because he looked so different from Rhae and Egg. He looked closer to Robb and Sansa even though they looked more like Mother than Father. Even still, they shared some features that made them readily seen as a family, as equally a part of the Starks. And then they would hear his name, Jaehaerys, and they would know.

For a long time, Jon wasn’t sure what it was exactly they knew but that made it worse because they knew something about him that he did not know. He especially hated it at school when they would call his name for attendance and they’d say his whole name. The kids would look at him funny, some whispering and snickering at him. He hated his name.

He asked his father about it once. Well, Robb asked because Jon had been too afraid to so Robb did it for him. His father stiffened slightly at that before sighing with resignation and then explaining to Jon that that was the name given to him by his father. He was confused, the only father he’d ever known was Ned Stark. But then his father explained that his real father was a man named Rhaegar Targaryen and his mother was not Catelyn Tully Stark or Elia Martell, but a woman named Lyanna Stark. He heard the names before. His mother whispered about them to his father, always with anger. Elia spoke about them with sadness. He had never ascribed them to himself. He’d never met them before and if he did he didn’t remember it.

He felt a little stupid after that. He had never thought to question certain obvious things like how it could be that his mother and father were Catelyn and Ned Stark and yet his brother and sister were Aegon and Rhaenys Targaryen, both of no relation to Jon’s parents. Or how it could be that Jon called Catelyn 'Mommy' and Elia 'Mama Ellie' and looked nothing like either, not even in passing. How his last name was Targaryen and none of his parents' names were.

Jon was upset for a long while after that. His parents weren’t his parents, Robb and Sansa weren’t his brother and sister but his cousins and his real parents were strangers who apparently left and didn’t find him very important, though his father… uncle denied this when Jon said so. Jon stayed angry and withdrawn until Rhaenys talked sense to him, told him it was better to have parents who loved you that weren’t your real parents than parents who left and didn’t see you at all. Jon agreed after a while and got bored with the distance he put between himself and his family, he was a child after all.

However, he came to the decision then that he did not want to be Jaehaerys Targaryen anymore. He would be called Jon, like father’s friend Jon Arryn. He liked the man. He brought Jon all kinds of knick-knacks and interesting things when he visited. He'd be Jon like Jon Connington, Mama El... Elia's friend. The man was funny. He always smelled funny and walked funny and he shouted a lot but he would bring them gifts, some which he said was from their father. Jon had previously thought he meant Ned but he now knew he meant Rhaegar. As an adult, he still didn't know if Connington's claims were true but as a child he appreciated the man's efforts. So, he left Jae behind and became Jon.

Robb and Aegon found it a little strange but obliged him. Rhaenys was more saddened that his name would no longer sound like hers, she liked them being Rhae, Jae and Egg, she liked the symmetry of it. But she still did as he requested. Jon took it upon himself to teach two-year-old Sansa to call him Jon instead of Jae. As for his parents, they made their decisions as well. He would not be Jon Targaryen, he would be Jon Stark for he was their son no matter who sired him.

~*~*~

He made his way back over to where his family’s table was after his unpleasant encounter with Viserys. Everyone was seated there now. His father was fixing Rickon’s suit which was rumpled from whatever adventures the 11-year-old was getting up to. Similarly, Mother was fixing Arya’s hair which had come out of its bun during her own misadventures. Bran quietly observed the room around him, his eyes lingering on the Reed siblings before continuing their glance. Jon would have to make sure Bran didn’t do anything later on, like hack into all of the attendees’ phones or computers. He was getting adept at that lately. Jon was sure it would land him in hot water one day, probably on the radar of MI6, but for now it was innocent and didn’t veer into cyber terrorism. Robb sat with Theon, the two's heads pressed together as they talked about whatever. Jon looked away from the intimate scene. Sansa had her phone firmly in hand, ready to snap pictures as she was wont to do. Jon was sure she had already taken a million selfies that night. The redhead looked up and grinned at him before waving him over.

“Come take a selfie with me.” Jon rolled his eyes but obliged his sister her request. One selfie turned into ten until Jon had to cut her off. Sansa sighed forlornly before absentmindedly kissing his cheek and taking a seat to sift through the pictures and choose which ones she wanted to post. Both of his parents gave him looks as he sat down between Arya and Sansa.

“What?” He asked after a moment.

“Did you talk to Lyanna?” His father asked.

“Mother gave me a choice, I chose the Targaryens. It was fine until Viserys showed up.”

“He’s a cunt.” Arya mumbled beside him much to their Mother’s ire and Theon and Robb’s amusement.

“Arya, I won’t hear that language from you, young lady. Especially in front of Rickon.”

“He’s heard worst.” Bran said absentmindedly, ripping off a piece of bread from the baguettes in the middle of the table.

"That's true." Rickon intoned with a happy grin.

“You’ve gotta admit, Mrs. Stark, he is a cunt.” Theon said teasingly. Catelyn glared at him in response.

“I’ll admit he’s an… acquired taste.” Ned allowed, giving Jon a sympathetic smile. Arya knocked her elbow into Jon’s side lightly.

“Did you punch him?” She asked excitedly.

“He better not have.” Catelyn cut in.

“At least not in the face, it’s a pretty okay face. A solid 7.” Sansa put in, still scrolling through her phone.

“No, I didn’t punch him, but it was near thing.” Arya grumbled despondently at that and Jon had to smile. She seemed to take any slight against him as a slight against herself, even if he wasn’t offended. It was nice to have her as a cheerleader in his corner but did have its downsides as she had run off multiple prospects and saw to the end of his relationship with both Jeyne and Alys who she didn’t like. She liked Val though, a surprise to no one more than Jon.

“Do you want me to accidentally run over his toes?” Bran asked curiously.

“Brandon!” Catelyn protested but Robb leaned over the table to whisper conspiratorially to him.

“How convincingly can you “accidentally” run someone over?”

“I’ve already done it to Walder Frey and Roose Bolton. They want to say something and then they see the chair and they shut up.” Catelyn shot Bran a look of conflict, unsure if she wanted to scold him any more, as Ned stifled a laugh behind his hand.

“Can you do it to Ramsay Bolton as well?” Sansa piped up.

“And Joffrey Baratheon.” Arya added.

“And Smalljon Umber.” Rickon threw in.

“Alliser Thorne definitely. He's an ass.” Jon said.

“Not as big as my Uncle Euron.”

“Debatable.” Jon allowed.

“Neither of them are as repugnant as Cersei Lannister. You can give her an extra ram.” Catelyn groused.

“Mother, that’s not very ladylike.” Robb said in a mock scandalized look.

“Don’t let her fool you, she’s got a vicious streak, this one.” Ned said with a proud smile, sharing a loving look with Catelyn.

“I’m going to start charging all of you.” Bran said after surveying the table. The table kicked up in protests then and Jon smiled softly. This was his family, these were the people he belonged with, the ones who made him feel whole.

His smile slowly waned as he felt eyes on him, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. He turned around and his eye caught on Rhaenys and Aegon first. They were discussing something heatedly but Jon's eyes continued to wander until he locked on to the source and felt the air get knocked out of him as both Lyanna and Rhaegar stood near the entrance staring at him.

~*~*~

From seven on, he realized how important names were.

He didn't see a lot of his birth mother, but he remembered the first time he saw her, really saw her. It was late and Jon had been feeling under the weather so he was awake despite the late hour. His mother was not in the room with him as she had been previous nights. Baby Bran was fussy at night which made Arya, who was only a year and some months older, fussy too so there were two crying babies in the house now. Jon didn’t mind as much as Robb and Sansa, mostly because his room was furthest from the nursery. However, it was closest to the front door which meant he heard the faint, almost timid knock when it came. He heard shuffling downstairs and then low voices. There was a moment where the voices raised a little and Jon could make out his mother’s voice as well as his father’s and one he didn’t recognize. He contemplated this before he snuck out of his bed and crept over to the staircase. There was a single candle lit in the living room, showing the three occupants. His mother sat on one couch, her face as red as her hair. His father stood next to the armchair, his hands on his hips as he looked at a younger woman disapprovingly.

The woman sitting uncomfortably in the armchair could not be described as anything but beautiful. There was a wild beauty about her, wild being the operative word. Even at just seven years old, he could tell there was a part of this woman that ran free and refused to be tamed. She had long, dark hair like Jon’s himself, though hers was straight. And he could see dark grey eyes from his vantage point, just like Grandfather, Father, Uncle Brandon and Uncle Benjen. And his mother too he supposed, the woman he hadn’t even seen a recent picture of. Grandpa Rickard said it was the Stark look. Jon had inherited their look he would say with pride. He would always emphasize the ‘their’ and Jon knew now he meant it as a slight against his birth father’s family. He noticed that the woman was nervous, her leg jumping slightly.

“Ned, please.” She begged.

“Lya, I don’t think it would be for the best. Maybe if you try Ben, he could set up a room for you at his place.”

“I did but he’s not answering his phone. Please, just for the night. Until I figure out where to go next.” The woman pleaded.

“It’s not like it was before. We have the children now and they come first. Besides, think of what it could do if he saw you.” His father said softly in reply.

“If the boy sees me—”

“The boy? Your son, you mean?” His mother said derisively, cutting the woman off.

“If the boy sees me, he won’t even know who I am.” She continued as if his mother hadn’t spoken. Catelyn scoffed in response.

“Of course he’ll know. Jon is no fool.”

Jon’s eyes scrunched at that. If he saw her he’d know what? He stared at the woman closer, trying to place her. Maybe he’d seen her before. Her eyes were familiar but that was because they were Stark eyes which meant she was a Stark. Her black hair resembled Uncle Benjen’s and Uncle Brandon's hair color more than father's lighter brown hair which took from Grandma Lyarra’s locks. And then it hit him. Father had called her Lya. Uncle Brandon and Uncle Benjen referred to his birth mother as Lya the few times they said her name in his presence. The woman sitting there must be his mother.

He couldn’t keep the gasp inside and it alerted the adults to his presence. They all turned to see him crouching by the staircase railing, staring bewildered at the woman who was his mother and she stared back just as shocked and scared too.

"Jon Stark, you're supposed to be in bed." His mother chastised but he couldn't tear his eyes away from the woman who looked like him.

“Oh god, this was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come here.” The woman, his mother, groused, standing to gather her things. Jon watched her a moment before he dashed down the stairs just as she reached the door.

“Wait!” He called after her. She paused and slowly turned to him.

“Are… are you…?” He trailed off, he couldn’t say it. Couldn’t ask. The woman sighed and approached him, kneeling before him. She rose a hand to his face, caressing his cheek.

“You have none of him in you. It’s all me.” She whispered to herself.

“Well, almost. I’m sorry about that. Won't make things easy with his family, especially not his father. Don’t be too much like me either way, alright?” Jon nodded but he was confused.

Why did she sound like she was saying goodbye? She just got there. She pressed a kiss to his forehead and abruptly turned and walked out the door. Jon was shocked a moment before he ran out after her. She was already jogging to her car, her strides much longer than his and by the time he covered her distance she was driving off. He ran after her car for a short while, his bare feet pounding the pavement before strong arms suddenly wrapped around him and his father held him, stopping him from running into the street.

“No! Come back!” He shouted after the car. He struggled in his father’s arms, trying with all his might to bring her back. She couldn’t leave. He had so many questions and only she could answer them. She couldn’t just leave.

“Jon, stop it. Son, please.” His father demanded.

“I’m not your son!” Jon shouted in response. He felt his father arms go slack and he wriggled out of them. He ran a few steps ahead of him but the car was long gone and there was no way he would catch it.

The asphalt was cold under his feet, almost as cold as the feeling seeping into his heavy chest. The tears were rolling fat down his cheeks. He could feel his legs shaking and his small, sick body shivering in the chilled wind. He felt completely cold. Hands soon returned to his body, softer hands, and lifted him off his feet.

“I told you not to bring her here, Ned. I told you all she would cause is trouble. It’s all she does now. She left, that was her choice. I don’t want that woman near my son.” He heard his mother… aunt say in an angry tone before carrying him inside.

She sat with him all night that night. Jon would try to sleep but he was unable to but each time he shook awake, tears renewing on his cheeks, Catelyn was there rubbing his back soothingly and pressing kisses to his face. She never left his side even when he could faintly hear Bran and Arya crying somewhere in the house. His mother stayed with him. She gave him herbal tea and medicine to make sure his sickness got no worse but most of all she held him in her arms and promised him that she would never leave him, that she would always love him, that he could depend on her. He didn’t even question whether her words were true, he knew they were. They always had been.

In the morning, Jon made no mention of what happened the night before to his parents and when Robb and Sansa inquired about his lethargy, he blamed it on his cold and that was that.

He didn’t see his birth mother for a long while after that, two years to be exact. It was long enough for Arya and Bran to both be walking and talking now. Long enough for the family to have moved to a completely different house in the Northerlands. The old Stark castle, Winterfell, and the land surrounding it was large and spacious enough to more than fit the growing family with five children and allow for them to have horses and other pets. It was even farther away from Elia, Aegon and Rhaenys' place than Jon lived before. Before they had to drive an hour to get to them and now they had to drive two and a half hours but the move also brought the family closer to his Uncle Brandon and Uncle Benjen.

Lyanna came and went. The first few times he was excited. He was nine years old and his birth mother was suddenly in his life again, however inconsistently. Their conversations could be stilted and awkward and oft times she spoke of things he didn’t understand but she was his mother. At first, he called her ‘Mother’ when she was around and called his mother ‘Catelyn’ or nothing at all. It made it easier to differentiate them even though they would both respond to ‘Mother’ anyway. As he got older and her visits became less frequent, he started to call her Lyanna and only Lyanna. It was better that way. His aunt-by-marriage was the one who had been raising him from two-years-old, the one staying up late nights with him, feeding him, clothing him, loving him. She was his mother, not a woman who could barely hold a conversation with her own child and ran like it was a profession.

He distinctly remembered the first time he had made the conscious choice for the switch. Both of his mothers were alone, talking and not shouting. A rare occurrence for them without Father around but Mother had been pregnant with Rickon at the time. It was a tough pregnancy and everyone was trying to make sure she avoided undue stress. Jon put his decision down to that at the time. Calling her 'Catelyn' had always hurt her feelings even if she said otherwise. He swiftly made his way down the stairs and into the kitchen,

"Mother."

"Yes?" Both women said, turning to look at him inquiringly before they shared a look of discomfort. Jon looked between the two for a split moment, some indecision filling him before he steeled himself and turned fully to Catelyn.

"Mum, I was talking to you." Catelyn looked a little surprised, her gaze darting to Lyanna before fixing onto Jon.

"What is it, dear?"

"I need Grandpa Hoster's phone number."

"What for?"

"There's this genealogy thing for school. I already have Dad's side down but I need my mother's side too and Grandpa Hoster helped Sansa with hers last year."

"Um... sure, I could give you his number. He changes it so often, I'm not surprised none of you kids have it." She replied throwing another look Lyanna's way.

"You don't want to use your biological parents though? Your Aunt Shaena would help you with Rhaegar's side and Lyanna's history is no different than your father's." Lyanna said nothing, her eyes on Jon the whole time. Jon glanced at her before shaking his head slowly.

"No."

"Okay. I'll just get Dad's number." Catelyn glanced over at Lyanna once more. She had a bitter smile on her face. Jon watched his mother waddle out of the room, her stomach protruding in front of her.

"Jon." He looked over at Lyanna who stared at him silently with a questioning look.

"I have to present it with a parent."

"What?"

"The genealogy tree. I have to present it with one of my parents, it's a requirement by the teacher. Rhaegar won't be there obviously, Dad will be working that day, Mum can come with me."

"I could be there to help you present it."

"Could you? It's due in two weeks. Will you even still be here by then?" Lyanna stared at him, her mouth open but no sound coming out.

"Here it is, love. Grandpa should be home now." His mother said, re-entering the room.

"Thanks, Mum." He turned to walk out before pausing.

"Will you at least stay for dinner, Lyanna?" Both women looked at him sharply. He hadn't called her that before. Lyanna nodded after a moment.

"Yes, yes I will. I— yeah."

"Good." He said simply before walking out of the room, trying with all his might to hold back tears.

He remembered he cried as soon as he reached his room. Sansa had found him and had been the one to comfort him and reassure him of his decision.

'There's a girl in my class with two mothers and neither gave birth to her. They're still her mommies.'

He knew blood was not the be-all, end-all most people thought but it still bothered him that he had ever used names as a weapon against his mother and he hastened to correct himself after that. Eventually, he didn’t care. He noticed that whenever he called her ‘Lyanna’, hurt would bloom in her eyes. Sometimes it bothered him, sometimes it didn’t. Let her feel even a half of what he felt every time she left him, every time she ran from him, every time he was reminded of his true parentage, every time someone teased him with his former name. He was not Jaehaerys Targaryen, he was Jon Stark but not because of Lyanna. She was his kin but not his mother. That declaration carried him through years of disappointments and missed meetings and skipped visits. That declaration kept him warm at night, kept the anguish at bay.

She was not his mother. He had a mother and she was a better woman than he really could articulate. Catelyn Tully Stark took to him like he was her own son and she treated him thus, treated him no different than Robb. He even had two mothers if he counted Elia. Even when he grew older and stopped calling her 'Mama Ellie', she was still a mother figure to him and she always treated him like one of her brood when he visited with Rhae and Egg.

He did not need Lyanna Stark.

~*~*~

Rhaegar was another story. Jon could say, though she didn't stick around, at least Lyanna showed up every now and again. As for his birth father? Well, he never visited at all. Jon had seen him, but not through any effort of his own and he could count encounters on six fingers. Once had been when he was seven, right after his first encounter with Lyanna. His Uncle Brandon was bringing him to Elia's for a weekend with his siblings (and so he could flirt with his nephew's stepmother despite being in a long-term relationship with Barbrey Dustin).

Elia opened the door when they arrived, a troubled look on her dusky face.

"Elia! Looking as ravishing as ever. New hairstyle, have you? It looks go..." Uncle Brandon trailed off there. Jon noticed a man appear behind Elia. He was a tall man with long, curly hair that was a color that reminded Jon distinctly of Aegon's. His eyes were deep purple like Rhaenys' and they widened in fear as they took in Uncle Brandon (and Jon). Elia's eyes too had some fear in them as she levelled a look at Uncle Brandon. Jon glanced back at his uncle. He had a thunderous look of rage on his face and he was practically shaking. It scared Jon.

"Mama Ellie?" Jon had said, even though he hadn't called her 'Mama Ellie' for months, ever since he found out some truth about his birth parents and everything got so confusing. She turned her attention to Jon and away from the two men.

"It's okay, darling." She reassured him, pulling him towards her. He willingly went, hugging her legs.

"These two are going to act like civilized men and not do anything untoward since they wouldn't want to scare you. Because if they did, they'd have to deal with my ire as well as Catelyn's." She said, the sentence uttered more towards Uncle Brandon than anyone else. Jon's attention was taken by the stranger who was staring at him. It made Jon feel uncomfortable.

"Who's he, Ma— Elia?" Jon asked. Elia smiled down sadly at him.

"He's, um... well, he's—"

"Jon!" Aegon called happily from the top of the stairs, rushing down to pull Jon into a hug, seemingly unaware of the tension in the room.

"Jon, did you see our father?" Jon stared at him with confusion before glancing at the man stood behind them. Seeing both the man and Aegon in the room, the similarities were impossible to deny, even to a seven-year-old. It was just the same with Elia and Rhaenys and his mother and Sansa and Jon and Lyanna too. Aegon looked entirely like their father.

Jon felt a strange lurch in his chest staring at the man. He remembered too keenly meeting his birth mother and the hurt he felt when she ran away. But Rhaegar didn't run, not then at least. Elia introduced them right then and there. Though Uncle Brandon was reluctant to leave Jon, Elia promised to call Jon's parents to make sure they knew Rhaegar would be there with them. Rhaegar stayed that weekend. It was not awkward to talk to him. He liked music and Jon liked the music he played for him. Rhaenys and Aegon were always there too and there was Elia as well. It felt... right. It felt normal, as normal as it was with his family in the Northerlands. They were like any other family together.

They did get some looks when they went out. They all looked so different from one another but Rhaenys was clearly Elia's, Aegon was clearly Rhaegar's, Jon wasn't clearly either of theirs and he stuck closer to Elia which drew even more looks for their obvious contrasts. But still, Jon didn't complain. He liked his father. Not as much as his father back home, but he made Jon laugh and smile and he told him cool stories about travelling and so Jon didn't get too upset when Rhaegar called him Jaehaerys instead of Jon. Rhaegar even made Elia laugh sometimes so Jon didn't think him all bad, even though he only showed up now.

Things took a turn when they drove down from Elia’s home to the Targaryens’ castle, Dragonstone, to visit Rhaegar's family. Rhaegar's father didn't want to let them into the manor. Or rather, he would let Rhaegar and Aegon in but not Jon, Rhaenys or Elia.

"I'm not letting that filth into my home." He had hissed at them.

Jon was shocked at that. This was supposed to be his grandfather, wasn't he? Grandpa Rickard always complimented Jon on his quick thinking and his athletic prowess. Grandpa Hoster always said his singing was exceptional and reminded him of Aunt Lysa. He could picture neither ever calling him 'filth'. Rhaenys hadn't looked surprised but she had looked sad, a tear forming in her eye. That's when Jon had gotten angry. No one talked about his sister in such a way. He looked to his father to say or do something but he didn't, all he did was look at Elia apologetically.

If Aunt Shaena hadn't have been there to defy her father, the three wouldn't have been allowed entry. Jon had gotten to meet Shaena who hugged him upon meeting him and seemed very nice. He met his Aunt Daenerys and Uncle Daeron, who were younger than him and so calling them aunt or uncle was strange. Shaena said he didn't have to. He met his Grandma Rhaella, who smiled despite the bruise on her cheek. She said she was clumsy when he asked about it. His Uncle Viserys wasn't nice or even cordial. He called Jon a bastard and said he was beneath him. Jon would've kicked him if he didn't care about embarrassing Elia or if he thought his mother wouldn't reprimand him if she found out.

Aerys had been all too happy to continue Viserys' sentiments, spitting all kinds of abuse at Rhaegar for ‘breeding with those beneath them’ and producing a Northern savage and a Dornish whore. He went on a tirade about Elia, calling her names that made Jon’s ears turn red. He spewed such venom that Jon knew his parents would be irate that he ever was subjected to listen to him. All the while Rhaegar stood by, looking down with a melancholy face but saying nothing to defend Jon or Rhaenys or Elia. Father would never let anyone talk about Jon or his mother and siblings in such a way silently.

Aunt Shaena had been the one to argue with her father. She had been the one to spirit Elia and them away, along with Daeron and Daenerys to a restaurant so they could talk and get to know one another. Jon was happy to know Shaena, happy to play with Daeron and Daenerys but he certainly wasn’t looking at Rhaegar as a hero any longer.

That night he had disappeared. Jon had been awake when he left, sitting on the stairs listening to Elia plead for him to at least stay the night and see them off in the morning.

“I can’t, Elia. I… I’ve stayed longer than I expected to anyway.”

“Longer than you expected to? What’s so good out there? Your children are here, your family is here. Lyanna has gone about her business. She doesn't want to be here with us and she doesn't want to be out there with you. She wants to be alone. You don't have to chase her anymore. You said you were leaving to bring her home. She doesn't want to be home. So, why do you still leave?”

“I signed the papers. You’re free now, legally. I thought that’s what you wanted, was for me to leave.”

“You left me long ago. Our relationship has nothing to do with the children. They need their father.”

“To do what? You saw me today. I’m useless. I can’t defend them. I can’t protect them.”

“You are that way because you choose to be.” Elia shot back accusingly.

“You’re right. I'm not the man they deserve, nor am I the father I should be. I don't know what I'm doing with myself most days, how can I know how to raise children? I'll mess them up. I'll break them, I know it. I won't do that to them. I won't be their Aerys. I can’t stay, I’m sorry.” Jon heard before the door opened and closed. He listened to Elia sigh before she came into view. She paused upon seeing him.

“Jon?”

“He’s gone?” He asked for confirmation. Elia nodded silently, her face crumpling a little as she made her way to sit beside him on the stairs. She pulled him into an embrace that was probably meant to comfort him. Jon felt so many conflicting emotions. A part of him was hurt, perhaps even more so than when Lyanna left. His meeting with her had been so quick. He had two days to get to know Rhaegar, to like him and then end up completely disappointed in him. He was partly glad he left but also mad and sad too. He hugged Elia back and tried not to dwell on it as he felt her shaking a little. He decided to focus on making her feel better and not waste time thinking about Rhaegar.

Any time he saw Rhaegar after that had been an unexpected run in. Once more he popped up at Elia’s when Jon went to stay with her. Twice Jon had seen him when he showed up to Aunt Shaena’s house and Jon had been visiting her. Once, Jon was on vacation with his family in Spain and Rhaegar was staying near the villa his family settled in. The last time had been when Jon was in the hospital. He couldn’t even be sure that he had really seen him as hopped up on pain medication as he was.

But he didn’t like to think about that time.

~*~*~

Jon has run away twice in his life. He supposed it was the genes and it was bound to happen at one point or other.

The first time, he was ten years old and he was at a park with Robb, Sansa, Rhae, Egg, Arya and Bran. His mother and Elia sat on a bench watching the children run and play. Jon snuck away from his siblings and approached the two women, intent on scaring them to get a good laugh like he and Robb had done to Sansa, Arya and Bran in the dark basement of their grandfather’s home, but he stopped when he heard his name mentioned.

He didn’t eavesdrop usually but he was interested in what they spoke about and how it pertained to him.

“Jon’s a good boy, so sweet.” Elia commented. Catelyn nodded in response.

“I know. It makes it all the less understandable for me, how they could just leave.” His mother said, anger in her voice.

“I know. It claws at me every time Rhaegar isn't there for the children. But their situations are… delicate.” Elia said in response, her voice understanding.

“I understand Post-Partum Depression well. I faced it after Sansa and Lysa still hasn’t quite recovered fully from it but we both did what needed doing, we got help. We didn’t run from our children and our families. We didn’t drop our entire lives and leave others to pick up the pieces.”

“You are stronger than her in that regard I suppose. It’s hard to admit that one needs help sometimes.”

“And him? What’s his excuse?” Catelyn asked.

“Fear, I suppose.” Elia answered after a long moment.

“Fear?” Catelyn asked with disbelief.

“He’s never been very good at sticking around for hard things, making hard decisions, taking a stand. He never did well under pressure, he’s just run.” Elia shook her head with a sigh then.

“It’s my fault really, this whole mess.”

“Don’t say that.”

“It is. He always thought that I loved Lyanna more than I loved him. It wasn’t true, not really, I know that now. I loved them both. To have to choose would have been terrible for me. But back then I didn’t understand that. We didn’t understand each other. He thought I favored Lyanna, I thought Lyanna favored him and Lyanna thought we favored each other and she was just getting in the way. We never spoke about it, never tried to untangle all our conflicting emotions and work together to find some peace.” Elia smiled sadly then.

“And then she had Jon and it seemed to bring us all together for a time until I noticed how distant she was becoming, how quiet she got. It was like she was shutting herself away somewhere, somewhere we could not reach her, somewhere no one could reach her and then she was gone. I was devastated. Rhaegar left soon after and I thought I was foolish for thinking I knew what heartbreak was when she left. Sometimes…” Elia trailed off, looking away. Catelyn reached out a hand, and squeezed Elia’s shoulder comfortingly. The Dornish woman sighed deeply before continuing.

“Sometimes I would play this game with myself, a cruel game, begging God to send one of them back to me. ‘I won’t even be selfish and ask for both, just one’ I would beg. I would choose Lyanna and then later I’d think ‘you fool, how could your heart beat for anyone but Rhaegar?' Other times I’d choose Rhaegar and then later I’d be beside myself about it because the thought of never having Lyanna again was almost unfathomable. Other times I’d ask for neither, they both made me so mad. I’m ashamed to say I've wished ill on them from time to time and then I’d take it back with just as much fervor as I used when I wished for it. I’d cry myself to sleep over them, their son sleeping in a crib by my bed. It hurt to look at him for a while after they were gone. He’s so much like Lyanna it still takes my breath away sometimes. Perhaps that’s why I clung to him so much in his first couple years of life.”

“You have a good heart, Elia. Some women would never stand to have Jon in their home for as long as you did. I know seeing Jon that first time hurt even Ned for how much Lyanna is in that boy.”

“Rhaegar can hardly look at him. Those two times Jon was at my home when Rhaegar visited Rhae and Egg, I could see him do his best to avoid Jon’s face. I suppose there’s more than one reason for it: his own shame at his failures, shame at Lyanna’s. Rhaegar was always a sore loser, too used to winning.”

Jon stumbled back a little, his mind racing. He loved Rhaenys and Aegon’s mother. Elia always treated him kindly and like a son when he was around, always showed him maternal love and affection but it seemed that, even though Jon couldn’t control it, he was hurting her. He had hurt his father, both of his fathers, just by his sheer presence alone. And if he hurt them, maybe he was hurting his birth mother too. Maybe that was why she had left and did not come back, why she didn’t seem to want to be with him. He had hurt her. Jon could feel his eyes burning at that revelation before he steeled himself. If he was hurting his family, he would simply take himself out of the equation.

He snuck away from the two women and away from the park completely, finding himself walking down streets aimlessly. He wasn’t sure where he was going or where he would go but he didn’t want to hurt his family so he left. He walked for what seemed like hours but what turned out to just be 15 minutes until he stumbled upon his friend Sam's house. Sam let Jon stay in the large doghouse in his backyard but after some hours he started to miss his family and Sam's dog Bane just made Jon miss Ghost, his Siberian husky. Also, Sam kept coming outside to beg Jon to go home since his parents were worried sick about him and had officers looking for him. Sam hated lying about knowing where Jon was. He was sure Jon's father saw right through his lies anyway. Eventually, Sam came out to Jon so often that his mother followed and discovered him. Mrs. Tarly immediately contacted the Starks and police about their wayward son.

His parents grilled him about why he ran away, scaring his whole family half to death that he'd been kidnapped right under their noses. When he wouldn't offer any explanation, they punished him: grounded for a month, no amenities and he had to clean the horses' stables every day. His parents still asked why he ran for a long time after that but he never told anyone, not even his siblings.

The second time he ran off he was much older, and wilder. He was 17 years old and should've been in school. Several things happened back to back. His grandmother Rhaella died. He did not like or know his father very well but he had liked his grandmother, what little he got to see of her. It was strange to him that his grandparents were brother and sister and he would never be like that with his sisters but Rhaella was always doting and kind where Aerys was cold and hostile. Jon heard whispers around the funeral that Rhaella had died happy, happy because she was away from Aerys who had brought her nothing but suffering and pain her whole life. That hit Jon hard and he wondered at every time he was with them what he missed, what warning signs he overlooked, whether he could've helped or saved his grandmother any more pain. It was fruitless though, she was dead.

Rhaegar didn't come to the funeral.

Sansa got into an abusive relationship right around that time too, listening to no one when they told her Joffrey was bad news. They all tried to stop her before things got too far but she didn't tell them much about her relationship and they couldn't do anything that they hadn't already done to try to stop them. Jon felt completely helpless. He couldn’t change Sansa’s mind, couldn’t change her self-esteem or fanciful dreams any more than he could change Joffrey’s vicious nature, so it became a no-win situation for everyone involved.

Daenerys and Daeron ran away. They weren't as close to him as he and Shaena or he and his siblings, but he did feel like he'd lost something when they just left with no word at all, especially so soon after Rhaella had died. No one seemed to know exactly where they went, not even Shaena, just that they were somewhere overseas. A sixteen and fourteen year old alone in the world wasn't a safe thing everyone kept saying. Not Shaena though. She had just smiled and said they were free. It was like she had expected it. Maybe she had, there was only so long they would stay in a house alone with Aerys and Viserys before they did something drastic.

Bran got into an accident around that time as well after he fell out the window of an abandoned building he and his friends were playing at, rendering him paralyzed. It hurt to see the little boy who was so full of life and energy confined to a chair for the rest of life. The accident seemed to zap the will to live right out of him.

Both his Grandpa Rickard and Grandma Lyarra died not too far after Sansa and Joffrey got together. The house where they lived caught fire after a space heater exploded and they couldn’t make it out in time. The deaths hit the family hard. Jon couldn’t quite believe it when he was told. A haze of sadness and grief had fallen over the Stark household after it. It was a feeling Jon couldn’t escape anywhere he went.

Lyanna came back for the funeral. She whirled in with trouble at her back and a light in her eyes that edged on what Jon at the time thought was pure freedom made manifest, similar to what Rhaella must've felt before she died and what Daenerys and Daeron felt running to Essos, but later Jon likened Lyanna's look to madness. Madness and grief. His father didn't ask where she'd been or what she'd been doing, he never did, but he allowed her to stay for a time and due to the circumstances his mother didn't protest.

Jon was at an extremely low point. Besides his family drama and loss, he was generally confused about what he even wanted to do with himself. What did he want to be? What were his options? Did he want to go to university and get a degree? But in what? Did he want to join the military like his Uncle Benjen? It didn't sound so bad when Uncle Benjen talked about it but people like his Uncle Brandon made it sound like he might as well sign up to die. His parents had a very strict view of it. Jon was to complete secondary school and then go to university, no exceptions. But they didn't know Jon was struggling. Not in terms of having the capability to finish his classes so much as the motivation. It was hard to get the motivation to get out of bed sometimes much less focus on his classes. And even if he pushed himself to go, sometimes his mind wandered so far that he felt like he was jumping out of his skin with the effort of staying still, of just sitting down and listening. His parents didn't know that though, mostly because he didn't tell them. Living in a house with six kids meant one could get lost in the shuffle every now and again. Jon was thought to be fine and so they focused on Arya and Rickon who were handfuls and Bran with his new disability and Sansa's issues with Joffrey. Robb and Jon were mostly left to themselves. And then his grandparents died and Lyanna came back. Lyanna never ignored him during her visits, she attached herself to him as much as he allowed and during that time he allowed her a lot. It was easier for her then to break past his walls with false promises and lures of a mother who looked like him and reflected him in ways Catelyn could not. Then, like Lyanna always did, she left.

But this time Jon went after her. Her presence had been a reprieve from the grief over his grandfather and grandmothers. It took his mind off worries for Daenerys and Daeron and Bran and Sansa and himself. It was the only time he hadn’t felt hopelessly sad, the only thing he could use to escape. Lyanna didn’t show her sadness, she was too stubborn to do so. Her sadness became anger and energy and she put that energy into a lust for life (and mischief). It made Jon curious, her way of life. She ran. Rhaegar ran. Daenerys ran. Daeron ran. Uncle Brandon ran in his own ways too. Uncle Benjen as well, at least according to Uncle Brandon, was running when he joined the military. Why shouldn't Jon run too? So he chased after her to see if she would take him with her.

At least, that's how it started.

He was honestly trying to find Lyanna when he left school and his life behind at a dime-drop. He trailed her for a short while but lost her rather quickly further north in The Northerlands. But he did find her.

They shouldn't have understood each other, he and Ygritte. She was so hard and sharp-edged. She barely let her defenses down for a thing, let alone love. What was more, she had a wildness in her that Jon had seen perfectly reflected in Lyanna. It gave him pause. He should’ve fear it. Wildness like that had only served to leave him alone and abandoned, but it only drew him nearer to Ygritte. Hadn’t that been why he ran? So he could get a touch of that wildness, give in to his restlessness, and leave his sadness behind? Ygritte didn’t have time to be sad, she said. Her brashness, her abrasiveness, the way she was prickly and unyielding became endearing rather than annoying quickly. He wanted to give in to the notions of spontaneity and reckless freedom that he could feel taking root in him, thanks to influence from both sides of his gene pool.

Jon ran with Ygritte, running where they pleased, living how they pleased. Living dangerously and constantly on the edge during one of the coldest winters on record. They squatted in homes and camped in woods, ate what they caught in traps or stole. They spoke very little about themselves or their pasts, only the bare necessities or what may slip out every once in a while, but they were already of one mind. Ygritte understood him but she also thought he was an idiot, running away from the family who loved him to a woman who couldn't stay still for long. She said it was dangerous chasing after women like Lyanna, women like Ygritte. She warned Jon it would get him killed or worse one day but Ygritte would never tell him to leave her. She would've knocked him on his ass if he said so, but Ygritte was lonely. Lonelier than Jon. Ygritte was running. She was running from her family, her mother who was drunk more times than not, her father who was non-existent, her mother's revolving door of suitors who most always abused the 19-year-old girl.

Jon did feel ungrateful in the face of that and maybe he wouldn't feel so compelled towards Lyanna if he knew more about her. He knew tons about Rhaegar even though he saw him half as many times as Lyanna. His father and Elia never liked talking about Lyanna. If his mother talked about her, it wasn't in a positive way. Uncle Brandon and Uncle Benjen talked about her a little more, sharing childhood memories, but would always mention that Ned wanted them to keep quiet. Grandpa Rickard hadn't like talking about Lyanna and talking about her daughter had seemed to have just caused Grandma Lyarra pain so Jon didn’t ask her. Thus, information on the elusive woman was scarce and far between.

Rhaegar's family always talked about him to Jon. When he went to Elia's house she always had a story to tell. They were usually cautionary tales meant to deter him from exhibiting Rhaegar's less desirable attributes, but Jon supposed he failed in that. He was doing the same thing his parents were best at: he was running. But it was different for him. He wasn't aimlessly wandering like Rhaegar, he wasn't hopelessly searching for some unidentifiable, unattainable thing like Lyanna, at least not anymore. He was running now because he had Ygritte and since she was running and he didn't want to leave her, he was in a catch-22. He could see Lyanna in her and that perhaps drew him to her but he saw too much Lyanna in her. He couldn't save Lyanna, not that he would try at this point because it would be futile, but Ygritte...

It was a moot point because they failed. Ygritte stole a car for the thrill of it because she did things like that sometimes even when Jon warned her off it. She dragged Jon along, speeding down the icy road at breakneck speeds, the car swerving on the icy asphalt. Jon begged her to stop, his heart pounding in his chest as the world moved by them so fast it was all a blur. He was sure he was going to die in that car. Ygritte was going to kill them both and for a few mad seconds a part of him was okay with that, but most of him was focused on trying to quell the wild girl beside him and make sure they both survived this. Eventually, Ygritte heeded his words and stopped the car but then she began doing donuts in the middle of the frozen road, laughing all the while at Jon’s protests. They had no chance to avoid the car barreling towards them on the driver's side.

He sat stuck in the upside-down car staring at Ygritte’s lifeless, impaled body for a half an hour as the other driver went to get help.

What happened after that was fuzzy half-memories of reaching the hospital, of bright white lights and loud beeps and voices he didn't recognize. He thought he remembered Lyanna and Rhaegar sitting by his bed at one point looking down at him with concern but maybe that was just a dream. When he actually woke up, his mother and father were there beside themselves with worry. They held his bruised, broken body while he cried over Ygritte. Sitting in that hospital bed, he finally realized what a mistake the last few months were. He should've never left Winterfell, he should've never ran away.

Running didn't accomplish anything.

~*~*~

Jon had to resist the urge to get up and run as soon as he saw Rhaegar and Lyanna approaching the table where he sat. He could feel his body stiffening against his will the closer they got to him. Arya and Sansa, seated on either side of him, seemed to feel it and looked at him before looking at what had distracted him and then stiffening as well. Jon wondered if he could leave now, they were still a ways away. He could get up and just go and not deal with whatever it was that was about to happen.

Before he could move a muscle, the double doors opened once more and Elia and Baelor finally made their entrance, greeted by applause from the guests. Lyanna and Rhaegar stopped approaching him then and quickly sat in two empty seats. Jon let out a sigh of relief at having avoided them for the moment.

Elia and Baelor made a handsome couple, their smiles wide and their attire resplendent. Elia wore a beautiful red and orange gown that made her look like a princess while Baelor wore a black suit with a silver shirt and white tie, his silvery-blonde hair slicked back. Jon could see the exact moment Elia noticed Rhaegar and Lyanna because her smiled faltered ever so slightly and her body visibly tensed but after a few quick seconds and a glance towards Baelor, she relaxed and continued their walk to the high table. Elia picked up a mic as they reached the seats designated theirs.

"Hello everyone, so sorry to keep you waiting. We had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction."

"I'll bet." Ashara Dayne called out teasingly causing some laughter around the room. Elia rolled her eyes at her friend but continued speaking.

"I just want to say that I am so grateful for you all being here with us on these special days. It means so much to the both of us. I didn't think I'd be here again. I didn't want to ever open myself up to that possibility to be honest but... but things change and people change. And Baelor is very stubborn when he wants to be, don't let that innocent face fool you." Another round of polite laughter carried around the room.

"The point of this little speech is to say sometimes second chances do exist. And entertaining a second chance doesn't need to be about another person. Sometimes it doesn't need to be about anyone but yourself. I couldn't imagine not being here today to have this second chance at something real and true. So, at the risk of sounding like a holiday card, just... give yourselves second chances. You never know, you might be surprised." Elia's eyes swept the room, sticking on Aegon and Rhaenys before finding Jon. He held her gaze, not sure what his face conveyed but she shot him a smile before waving a hand at the servers.

"Please, don't keep starving these people on my account." She said as she sat. The music picked back up as servers with cart of food began to filter into the room and place orders on the various tables. His eyes lingered on Rhaegar and Lyanna not too far from him and he shook his head to himself, deciding to focus on eating.

~*~*~

Val said he was a difficult nut to crack when she first met him. She worked at a family owned ski lodge near his university. They had mutual friends and Jon had found her attractive but he also tried to steer clear of her. She wasn't the kind of girl he was used to, in the way that she seemed serious and not the type to enter a relationship lightly. It would be serious if he were to get with her, no pussyfooting around or playing games or casual encounters like with Arianne and Jeyne and Alys and that scared him so he didn't pursue her. That didn't stop her from pursuing him and eventually he stopped fighting her.

He was shamed to say that he was probably more than a little of the source of any problems their relationship had. It was his trust issues, his past that sometimes prompted him to want to put a wedge between the two of them but Val was steadfast in not allowing him to do so.

"I'm not going to leave you, you know?" She said one day. They were sprawled out of the couch together, Val cuddled into his chest as they watched 'Black Mirror'. Jon glanced down at her before refocusing on the screen.

"I know." He replied breezily. Val snatched his face and made him look down at her.

"I'm serious." Jon scoffed lightly.

"Where's this coming from?" He asked.

"You. You walk around here on eggshells all the time, like you're waiting for some shoe to drop. But it doesn't exist. I feel like you're putting me on a clock, just counting down minutes until I go but I don't have any plans to go anywhere. Do you?"

"Of course not."

"So stop acting like you are. And stop acting like I am. Your birth parents were flighty assholes and what happened with your first girlfriend... it sucks. But that doesn't mean everyone is going to leave or that you need to leave before they can. You have a family, you have a life of your own. You're making your own path and your own way. You're not them and you don't have to be. So just trust in me, please. Trust in us." Jon nodded after a moment. Val's icy blue eyes stuck on him for a moment before she nodded, seemingly satisfied and they wordlessly went back to their show.

~*~*~

Jon would not say he was hiding as the engagement dinner winded down but he certainly wasn’t drawing much attention to himself. He sat outside on the steps of the banquet hall, a bottle of wine at his feet and his phone in hand, ready to shoot a text off at Val but he wasn’t quite sure what to say. He didn’t want to bother her but if he told her that she’d probably say he was being stupid and prideful. He also didn’t want to go back inside so instead he sat on the steps staring off into space, not thinking of anything in particular and drinking more than he probably should. He wasn’t going to be able to drive himself home, that much was certain. He was either going to have to call Val to pick him up or ask Robb or Rhaenys to give him a ride and come back for his car tomorrow.

“You look good.” Jon closed his eyes and sucked in a deep breath at the sound of it before exhaling sharply.

Might as well get it over with. He quickly counseled himself.

“Thanks.” He replied shortly, not turning around. It was silent for a long moment, neither Jon nor Lyanna speaking. Jon hated it.

“What are you doing here? Rhaenys said she wasn’t expecting you.”

“We were invited.” Jon closed his eyes again at Rhaegar’s voice. Of course, he was there too.

“Well, I’m sure Elia’s very happy to have you both here.” He replied, a sarcastic edge to his voice.

“As happy as you are I suppose.” Lyanna replied knowingly. Jon paused to take a swig of wine before standing up and turning to face them. They stood next to each other on the step above him, both watching him cautiously.

“So, are you two a thing again because last time that happened…” Jon asked bluntly, trailing off there. Yes, perhaps too much wine.

“No, we’re not a thing again. But we are in agreement on some things so I guess you could say more of a united front.” Rhaegar replied. Jon rose an eyebrow.

“A lot of time has passed, Jaehaerys—”

“Jon, my name is Jon.”

“Jon. A lot has happened in that time. We know that we’ll all never truly be a family.”

“You’re only realizing that just now?” Rhaegar opened his mouth to continue but Lyanna took over then.

“We shouldn’t be leading up with some grand speech because what we want to say is simple: we’re sorry. We’re so sorry, Jon.” Jon's other eyebrow rose at that but he remained quiet. He didn’t remember them ever apologizing directly to him before.

“We were… well, you’re grown enough to hear it, we were fuck-ups. We weren’t parents to you, we know that. We didn’t raise you like we should’ve. I had my problems and I wouldn’t get help for it and there is only so much of my behavior I can blame on my sickness.”

“Me? I was just a coward and a fool. I spent so long wishing to run from everything and chose the least opportune time to do it. I used Lyanna leaving as an excuse for me to leave. I wasn’t any kind of father to you, not a good or a bad one, but none at all. I suppose that’s worse in some ways than what Aerys is. And I’m sorry for doing to you even a fraction of what he did to me. I should’ve known better.” Rhaegar said, sounding genuine.

“Catelyn shouldn’t have been your mother, Elia shouldn’t have been there by herself, I should’ve been there. We should’ve been there and we weren’t. And I am so sorry for that.”

Jon looked between his parents with confusion. He wasn’t sure if this was happening or if it was a dream or what was going on.

“Why are you telling me this?” Lyanna’s lip tilted into a nervous line.

“Ben always keeps me updated on you. I hear you’re doing well in your classes and you have a beautiful girlfriend, a life you made for yourself. You have Ned and Cat and your siblings. Your life seems quite full as is, and yet we wondering if there was possibly any room at all for us.”

“We would like to be a part of your life, Jon. If you’d have us.” Rhaegar added. Jon stared between them, the words practically flying over his head. A part of him wanted to just walk away and ignore that this interaction ever happened but another part was just plain confused.

“Why now?”

“Because we don’t want to put it off anymore. Because we don’t want to keep telling ourselves that it’s not the right time. Because soon enough you’ll be graduating from college and getting married one day or having children and we don’t want to miss it. There isn’t a right time, we’ve accepted that, so we figured we might as well say it.” Rhaegar explained.

“And what if I say no? What if I decide I don’t have any room in my life for you and you two just bring complications that I don’t want to deal with?” Jon retorted. He watched Rhaegar and Lyanna’s faces contort into looks of displeasure. They exchanged a look between themselves before they nodded to one another.

“Then we’ll have to accept that that’s your choice. It’s certainly within your rights to decide so. We understand we haven’t given much of a reason to want anything to do with us.” Lyanna answered. Jon sighed, looking down. He was hoping for a different answer, an answer that would make it easier to spurn them.

“The last time I saw you Lyanna was six years ago on my secondary school graduation night, not that you saw me. And the last time I saw you Rhaegar was at Aunt Shaena’s house for about five minutes before you were leaving again four years ago. I’ve long accepted that you two were never going to be the parents I wanted you to be or the ones I deserved, because I did deserve it. I deserved better than what you gave me. Rhaenys and Aegon and Elia, they deserved better too.”

“We know—” Rhaegar started.

“I’m not finished. I don’t really need you. I had great parents who raised me. I had a father who was there every day, cheering on every game and teaching me how to be a man. I had two mothers soothing every hurt, helping me with homework and knocking me upside the head when I was being an idiot. I had seven siblings along with aunts and uncles and grandparents. I’ve never known anything but love and family and it wasn’t thanks to either of you. The only time I didn’t have that was when you were there.” Rhaegar and Lyanna looked away from him, shame in their eyes. Jon took a deep breath before continuing.

“So if you’re going to be a part of my life, you need to understand where you’ll stand in it.” Both of the elder adults looked back at him instantly.

“You mean…” Lyanna said, trailing off.

“Like I said, I already have parents. Elia, Mum and Dad were there and I’m not going to push them aside for you.”

“That’s— we understand completely. We’re not asking you to. We just want to be a part of your life in any way you allow.” Rhaegar clarified. Jon nodded.

“I can call you and we can meet, but I’ll be the one to call. You can’t just show up to my university or apartment or anything crazy like that. We’ll see how it goes but you understand that I’m not going into this blindly, right? I’m not… I don’t trust you, either of you.”

“We understand. We can’t say we would in your position either, but we hope we can earn your trust, even if only a fraction of it.” Lyanna said. Jon nodded again and turned as his name was called. He saw Robb and Theon walking down the steps, Robb almost propping Theon up.

“Help me with this jackass, please.” Robb called out.

“I have to go. I’ll get your numbers from Uncle Benjen and Aunt Shaena I guess or you can leave it with Dad and he’ll give it to me.” Jon said.

“Yes, we’ll be sure to leave it.” Jon nodded once more before grabbing his wine bottle and walking off to Robb, grabbing Theon’s other side. It was something of an adventure getting Theon down the stairs since he kept trying to stop to kiss Robb but they managed to stuff him in the back seat of Robb's car.

“Can you give me a ride home?” Jon asked simply. Robb nodded to the car and Jon hopped in the passenger seat. It was a mostly quiet ride until Robb broke the silence.

“Is everything okay? With Lyanna and Rhaegar, I mean?” Jon shrugged lightly.

“When is it ever? They were together civilly so that was something. They asked if they could be in my life again.” Robb glanced at him questioningly.

“I gave a tentative yes. Probably a mistake.”

“Well, maybe they’ve changed. People can change.” Robb said, glancing at the rearview mirror where Theon was slumped over with an affectionate gaze.

“He’s about three minutes from spewing in your backseat, so maybe he isn’t the best example. How’d he get so shitfaced in a short amount of time?”

“Summerwine. It sneaks up on you. Same as you I guess.” Jon shrugged noncommittally, still clutching the wine bottle.

“You really think it’s a mistake?” Robb asked after another short pause.

“I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. Maybe not. They seemed different. Lyanna’s eyes weren’t doing that… thing. And Rhaegar didn’t run away from a confrontation. When has that happened in recent memory? Never. I don’t know, Robb. I’ll just have to see. I already told them they can’t replace our parents or Elia, I already made sure they knew I wouldn’t change our family’s dynamics for them. Whether or not they can fit into it, time will have to tell.” Robb nodded silently, accepting that answer.

Jon didn’t know if he had just made the biggest mistake of his life, letting them back in, they hardly proved they deserved it. Really, they didn't but maybe it wasn't about whether they deserved the second chance or not. It was like Elia said, sometimes second chances were about no one other than yourself and that was okay but if things went horribly wrong than at least he could say he tried and if they didn’t, if he actually got his birth parents back in some capacity or other…

Well, like he said. Time would tell.