Jon screws his eyes shut and breathes, slow and steady, as calm as winter itself. The leather around his wrists is enough to hold him in place. There’s no fighting.
If he opens his eyes, he knows that he will find Robb standing in front of him. Robb will be wearing the over-serious expression of the King of the North; he looks so different now than he did when he was simply Jon’s half-brother. They are both so different now.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” Robb asks.
Jon listens to the thump of his footsteps, but still won’t open his eyes. He doesn’t want to see; he hasn’t wanted to look at the world since he left the Wall. Everything is painted white like ice.
“Jon, can you speak?”
Jon runs his tongue along the back of his teeth, but keeps his words to himself. He can’t speak of the things that he has seen. The news is important, but it won’t be believed.
Monsters, they’re real.
They’re real and they’re inside his mind, crawling at the inside of his skull. He can feel them under his skin. If he opens his mouth, if he opens his eyes, it might all crawl out.
“Jon, please,” Robb murmurs, kneeling with him. Jon flinches when he feels his brother’s hands on his arms. “You have to speak. I want to help you.”
If he doesn’t explain, he will be branded a deserter. He will have to feel cool steel on the back of his neck; the King will be the one to wield the blade, just as their shared father always was.
He can’t speak. He won’t risk it.
He bites down on the ice magic that tries to fight its way between his lips, and he doesn’t respond when Robb brushes stray curls of hair from his forehead.
He wonders if the ice will spill when his head leaves his body; he wonders if it will flood into the world through his blood and turn everything that it touches white.
He won’t be around to find out.
A craven, cowardly part of him is relieved.
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Jon has been in the cells for days now, but Robb doesn’t think he’s seen him move his lips or open his eyes. He hasn’t eaten. He hasn’t drank. His skin is paler than snow itself and he stays on his knees, rocking back and forth.
He’s a deserter. Robb’s sword should have cleaved his head from his neck. The Wall has its rules; Jon knew the risks when he took the black.
Watching him from the other side of the iron bars, Robb thinks that there’s a lot more to this than they can see. Jon has encountered a threat they could never have imagined. Nothing else would have made him run.
“Snow,” Robb says. The only indication that Jon hears him is the further bowing of his head. “You need to talk to me. Please, brother. There’s nothing you can say that can make things worse than they already are.”
The wan, bitter twitch of a smile on Jon’s lips is one of the most disturbing things that Robb has seen since his battle for the North. He knows his half-brother so well that he can recognise his every expression. He’s never seen him look like this before.
“What are you afraid of? What can be worse than death?”
Robb has seen many horrors in his time, and he has heard of even more beyond the wall - monsters and tortures that human minds could never have dreamed of. Jon has seen all that and worse; he has survived trials that haunt the nightmares of others. Robb’s hand tightens on the bars of Jon’s cell. If something has managed to scare Jon, that means that Robb should be terrified of it.
“I’ll have to execute you myself,” Robb says. He rests his forehead against the bars and feels an ache in his chest. “Don’t make me do this.”
Inside Jon’s cell, he hears the shift of movement and doesn’t allow himself to hope. Maybe he’s finally getting through to him. If he could penetrate the haze of silence and stillness surrounding Jon, perhaps they can get some answers.
Robb opens his eyes. On the other side of the bars, Jon is a bare inch away from him.
Robb flinches away, but Jon’s hand reaches through to grab for his wrist - his grasp is vice-like. His eyes are as translucent as ice.
“Our host is gone, my king,” a dozen voices speak at once. “We’re free.”
There is no time to reach for his sword.
Jon breathes into him, and all the rest is white.