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The Pack Survives

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Jon Snow was a foster kid. He had been ever since his mother left him on the steps of a hospital in the middle of the night. A nurse came out to take her smoke break even in the frigid, winter cold, and found Jon instead. He was a small child at not even three months old and if he had been left out any longer he probably would have frozen in the snow instead of lived to be named after it. The nurses gave him “Jon” from a forgotten baby name book in the breakroom and they gave him “Snow” after the thing he survived, the thing he had already overcome. They hoped the name would protect him as they passed him off to social services, like a good luck charm. It was a good sentiment, if not one that actually worked.

Jon thought about his name as he stood in front of a nicer house than he had even been in before. For the last fifteen years, he has just been Jon Snow. Synonymous with worthless, with unwanted, with poor. It was a name that meant abused, meant get the fuck back up, meant don’t you dare give up. And here he was, being told his name was Jon Stark . Being told he had a mother, a father, a family. Jon didn’t know how to believe it, even if his social worker, Mr. Mormont, had never lied to him. The man was brutally honest, even when Jon wished he hadn’t been.

Mr. Mormont stood by the car now, letting Jon collect himself for a moment. He wished he had Ghost with him, but Jon hadn’t wanted to risk the wolfhound on this new supposed family. She had stayed with Tormund and Ygritte and Jon tried to ignore the ache. He tried not to think of the last time Mormont left him somewhere, tried to remind himself he had a place when this inevitably all went wrong, tried to breathe. All Jon had wanted when he was younger was a family, and now one was being offered to him. An aunt and uncle with five children of their own. In a different life they would have been his siblings, but now they’re just strangers. In a different life... well, this wasn’t a different life.

“Come on, son,” Mormont said, once he’d had enough of the teenager’s brooding. Jon had more of a right to brood than most kids his age, but Jeor did have a job to do and this was starting to waste time. “They won’t hurt you.”

Jon laughed a hollow, bitter thing. Jon was as likely to believe that as Ghost was likely to become a vegetarian. Jon didn’t care how well Mormont thought he knew the Starks, people always hurt Jon. Best to get it over with then, the sooner they showed their true colors, the sooner Jon could leave. If he got in a bad situation again… if the Starks ended up like Thorne, or even worse… like Craster… Jon would leave.

We’re still your family, Ygritte had promised and Jon held onto that promise like he held onto the memory of her smile and Tormund’s laugh. With a final deep breath, he started walking up the stone pathway. He grasped the strap of his duffle bag tightly, trying to stay calm. Luckily, when they reached the door Mormont was the one to ring the bell. Jon wasn’t entirely sure he’d been able to make himself move, even if he had had to. A few moments passed before Jon heard the barking of dogs and the skitter of shoes against the hardwood floor.

Muffled yelling made Jon cringe back, taking no comfort in the hand Mormont rested on his shoulder.

“Back Nymeria,” someone said before opening the door. The man was bent over, using one hand to hold onto the collar of a purebred husky and the other to keep the door propped open. Jon couldn’t help but smile down at the dog even if he was wary of the man. As the dog, Nymeria, settled, he straightened up. He reached almost six feet tall and wore a button down and some dress slacks that probably cost more than Jon’s entire wardrobe. His dark-blonde hair was pulled back in a neat bun. Jon didn’t dare look up and try and look him in the eyes, instead, he kept his gaze on his boots and breathed.

“You must be Jon,” the man said. His voice was breathless, almost like he was waiting on something. “I’m… I’m Ned. Ned Stark.” Ned Stark. His uncle. His mother’s brother. His family. There was a beat of silence where Jon was sure the man was waiting on a reaction from his nephew, anything probably, but Jon stayed silent. If he had been looking up, he would have seen the quiet look of understanding that passed between Mormont and Ned. He would have seen the determination and pain in those gray eyes that looked so much like Jon’s own. But Jon did not look up.

“Come on in,” Ned said. Jon forced himself to straighten slightly and move inside without Mormont’s prompting. “Come to the kitchen, my wife has put out some drinks.” Nymeria followed after him and Jon let himself follow the dog. Mormont trailed confidently behind, wanting to get Jon settled before leaving for his next appointment. He owed it to the kid that was the complete and utter shitshow his last two placements had been. Jon let himself examine the hallways they walked through. The house was much larger than anywhere else Jon had lived and was more homey, too. Pictures were hung up on the walls and toys were strewn throughout the house. Jon obviously wasn’t going to be expected to keep up the same military precision that he was in Thorne’s house, but then again that would assume Jon being put on the same level as his uncle’s biological children. Jon shouldn’t make assumptions, they always ended up being mistakes. He should expect nothing. If he expected nothing, then nothing could disappoint him.

The kitchen itself was large and sunlit and all Jon wanted to do was shrink back. This was too open, too nice, too clean. Something was bound to go horribly wrong. However, when Ned Stark sat so did Mr. Mormont, so it was only logical that Jon followed. He ignored them as the two exchanged pleasantries and poured drinks. Instead, Jon allowed himself to become enraptured with Nymeria. She rested her head on Jon’s knees as he leaned down to scratch her back.

“I see you like dogs,” Ned said and Jon did his best to hold back a flinch at the unexpected sound. Forcing himself to look up, Jon nodded.

“Yes, sir.” Jon wouldn’t meet Ned’s eyes as he answered, looking past his face instead and focusing on the cabinet behind him. The cabinets were dark wood and like everything else in this house, it seemed to subtly promote wealth. Jon tried not to squirm at the thought. Money just meant they could hide their true intentions better. Ned, seeming to sense Jon’s hesitancy, just continued on with his speech which sounded painfully rehearsed.

“That’s good, we have five altogether. My brother, Benjen, breeds huskies and he never could say no to my kids. That one’s Nymeria, she belongs to my youngest daughter. The rest are out at the dog park running their energy out. We… we didn’t want to overwhelm you.” At his words Nymeria seemed to nod, pawing at Jon so he would start petting her again. “They’ll be back later, for dinner, but I thought it might be nice to give you a chance to get settled first.”

Ned let himself slow down and give Jon a moment to process and respond, watching the boy with hopeful eyes. This was Lyanna’s boy. His nephew . Her son . Watching him sit there, trying to fold in on himself, broke Ned’s heart. Jeor had warned him that Jon had been through a lot. He wouldn’t tell Ned what, exactly, the boy had been through, but the man could imagine. Jon actually looked much better than Ned had anticipated. He’d been told that the boy had spent the last two years lost from the system, completely on his own. Ned couldn’t imagine being alone at thirteen, let alone being homeless for two whole years. That it had happened to Lyanna’s boy… well, no more. Ned would take care of him now.

“I could show you your room, if you’d like, Jon. You look tired.” Jon recoiled at the statement, despite Ned’s soft words. He made himself take a calming breath (that didn’t work as well as he had hoped) as Nymeria whined, nuzzling against his thigh in worry. Smart dog, Jon thought. Too smart.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Mormont agreed, nodding before standing up. “I’ll be taking my leave then.”

Ned smiled his disturbingly genuine smile and nodded. “Thank you so much, Jeor.”

“My pleasure, Ned. Please, just let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” After addressing Ned, Mormont turned towards Jon with a sterner air.  Jon didn’t shrink back, but it was a near thing. “You’re a good kid, Jon,” Mormont said, “I hope for my sake and yours that we don’t see each other again, alright?”

Jon nodded tightly, trying to keep his emotions in check. Jon knew he was well and truly on his own now. Mormont might have been able to get him away from Slynt, but the man had proven how powerless the system could be after Craster. Now that Jon was with biological family, Child Protective Services couldn’t afford to worry about him anymore. Mormont might not have been much of an ally, but he had been someone . Being left without that last tie made Jon’s stomach churn. He watched Mormont walk out of the kitchen and right out of Jon’s life and knew he hadn’t managed to disguise his fear when Ned smiled at him, bristlingly gentle.

Ned watched the boy who seemed nearly on the edge of a panic attack with worry in his eyes. Jon looked like he was being abandoned, not left with family. Ned wondered how long it would take for Jon to trust him, if he ever would.

“Do you want to go upstairs and see your room?” he asked, trying to prompt Jon out of his emotional revery. Jon didn’t feel confident enough to move, but knew it might be worse if he didn’t answer, so he gave a small nod.

The upstairs was much like what Jon had seen of the downstairs: larger than anything Jon had found himself in before, well-furnished, and obviously lived in. He tried not to be intimidated, but this entire situation was intimidating. Jon missed the apartment he had lived out of with Ygritte and Tormund. He missed the closeness, the hominess, the fact that he wasn’t scared all the time . He missed Ghost. They passed multiple doorways before reaching the end of the hall.

“I’m afraid it’s not much, but we wanted to take you out to get new things,” Ned said, opening the door as he continued talking, “once you get settled.”

“Settled, yeah,” Jon agreed, his tone almost bewildered. The room was huge . Jon had never been given this much space before, let alone being allowed to have it all to himself. “This is mine?” he found himself asking without really thinking.

“Yeah,” Ned said. “Jeor told us that you probably didn’t have much so we put some of our older son Robb’s old clothes in the closet until we can take you shopping. Let us know if we didn’t give you enough blankets, it can get cold around here. Oh, and the bathroom is right down the hall. There’s a new toothbrush, shampoo, deodorant, and things on the dresser. We tried to think of everything…”

Jon let Ned’s voice fade out and reminded himself to breathe . That surreal feeling from before felt like it was closing in on him, like this was all a dream instead of his new reality. Because it had to be. It had to just be a dream. No one was this generous, no one was this kind. Not without a price and by the gods, Jon didn’t want to know the price for this. His fingers tightened around the straps of his bag as he tried to articulate his thoughts. Jon, however, had not been much for words. His mouth had gone dry and each word felt like a beat of silence once he realized Ned had gone silent, waiting for a response.

He swallowed hard, finally opening his mouth. “It’s fine, I… I have things. Already. You don’t-- thank you, but--” Everything has a price , Jon thought. He thought about the pain of breathing through broken ribs, thought of Craster’s friends, of Sam and Gilly and Jon shouting “run.” He thought about keeping quiet, about keeping out of the house, he thought about how it had never been enough. A price. Always a price.

Breathe, Jon reminded himself, and the word came out in Ygritte’s voice. Breathe. He could do this. They were family. They would be…. different.

Ned watched Jon carefully, almost as if waiting for something to break. Jon had gone still, his mouth moving as if trying to speak but no words came out. The idea that the boy didn’t need clothes or a toothbrush, that he was fine with just the clothes on his back and the contents of a single duffle bag, settled in Ned’s chest and ached. This was Lyanna’s son .

“I’ll come and get you for dinner later, if that’s alright?” Ned asked. Jon just nodded, still rooted to the spot. It wasn’t until the heavy door closed behind him that Jon seemed to come back to himself. He wanted this to be different. He wanted it so badly, but some part of Jon wasn’t sure how to hope for that anymore. Instead, he just eyed the bed and thought about getting some sleep. Better to be well rested when it all went to hell than not.