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like the stillness in the wind before the hurricane begins

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One

“Why are they so… queer around you?”

Sam can barely hear Alleras’s voice over the sound of the ravens, but he’d guess what it was about even if he couldn’t hear it at all. It’s been a week since the ravens have started behaving strangely whenever he came to give them food. Just with him – not with anyone else. They shriek, their wings flap wildly in their cages, and they refuse food.

“I don’t know. It’s never happened before,” Sam sighs. Tending to the ravens is one of the few things everyone agrees he’s good at. He doesn’t need it to change now.

“This isn’t good. They never were this unsettled.”

“I haven’t changed overnight either. They used to like me.” Sam is perfectly aware of how pathetic he sounds. He wishes he was back at the Wall – at least, someone did like him over there. He shakes his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He promised Jon he’d do this, he will finish it.

One of the ravens squeaks louder than the others. Sam thinks it’s saying Snow.

He empties the bucket of meat in the cage anyway before leaving the room. What am I even doing here, he thinks again as he walks back to his own room after getting rid of the bucket. In the afternoon he’ll have to cut a body open – he wants to throw up just thinking about it.

He sits on the bed, takes his face between his hands and tries to focus. Whenever he feels like this, he tries to imagine what will happen after he does get that chain. He imagines going back to the Wall, he imagines people that would have barely glanced at him before getting there looking at him with at least respect. He imagines Jon waiting for him at Castle Black, maybe smiling, and maybe saying I’m happy you’re back now. Maybe he’d say that when they were alone, but it doesn’t count. And then – then if they survive what’s coming, wouldn’t it be sweet if they grew old like that? They could be like the old Bear and Maester Aemon, Sam thinks at times. They’re still young after all – wouldn’t it be nice, to grow old together at the place where both of them belong?

It’s a silly fantasy, Sam knows that, but it makes him feel slightly better. All the training he’s had to go through and that he’s still going through would be worth it, if he could have it. It’s not even such an impossible prospect.

He stands up, his resolution renewed, and heads for the common bathroom so that he can wash his hands. Cutting up a body can’t be so bad; and the faster he does this, the faster he can be back home. At the Wall.

It’s not until Alleras stops him as soon as he’s out of the room that he realizes that something is very wrong.

“Sam? This arrived just now. I think you should read it before the others do.”

Sam opens the small message. His fingers tremble – it can’t be anything good.

Then he reads it and the only word his mind can form is no.

--

“Sam?”

He stares at the piece of paper, as if it could change the words written on it just because he wants them to.

“It’s my fault.”

He doesn’t know that he’s thinking it until he says it, but –

It is. It was all his plot. It was his idea. He never asked Jon for his opinion, he just acted, and he had never thought that it could backfire. That the others would disprove of Jon’s decisions.

That they could –

That they could –

He stares at the signature – Bowen March, 999th commander of the Night’s Watch – and thinks, if he was in front of me right now I would strangle him. Such a thought has never occurred to him before, but – if Jon is dead, then what is he here for? It’s all for naught, and who knows what would happen if he tried to go back? He can’t serve in a place where they stabbed Jon in the back. He can’t. It’s not – gods, it’s all his stupid fault. There isn’t written anywhere that Jon is in fact dead, which is suspicious, but that’s not the point at all.

“Sam?”

He looks up at Alleras and his vision is blurry. He brings his hand up to his eyes, wipes them and sees that he’s crying.

“This can’t – I think I know why the ravens are behaving like that,” Sam replies quietly. He tries to keep his voice steady. He doesn’t manage it. “I told you what we saw on the other side of the Wall.”

“You did. What do you –”

“If Jon’s plan was using the wildlings to have more men fighting them, it could have worked. But now he’s not there anymore and the ones who haven’t been out there don’t realize it. Not even at the Wall. They can’t see – the Wall won’t last.”

“You mean that –”

“We couldn’t hold it when I left and surely they won’t be able to hold it now, if the wildlings are gone. They will pass.” His voice is trembling by this point. “And I need to go back.”

“You just said that the Wall won’t hold – why would you even do it?”

Sam wishes he could explain him. He wishes he could, really, but he isn’t sure that he has the words.

“I only was here because Jon asked me. If that message is true, I have to go. I need to see it for myself. And if I have to die… the place to do it isn’t here.”

Alleras gives him a nod, even if it’s obvious that he disapproves. Or at least, he doesn’t approve of Sam going alone, but it’s not as if he has much choice. Gods, it’d be madness – he’d be obviously disobeying the new Commander, and he isn’t really sure that leaving the Citadel when his chain isn’t completed is an option.

That doesn’t change the result. If Jon is alive he has to go, and if he’s dead he still has to go.

The problem is, the only way he can leave Oldtown and get to the Wall quickly is the same way he arrived.

“I need enough gold to board a ship,” he whispers, “and I need it fast. And I doubt I’ll find it here.”

“That you won’t,” Alleras agrees.

“Then I have only one choice, haven’t I.” Not one he’d take if he could help it. Oh, not one he’d take indeed.

“What do you mean?”

“My father.” His voice is slightly quivering, though not as much as it would have before he stabbed an Other. “Or my brother.”

There’s a minute of silence, and then Alleras moves closer to him and lowers his voice. It sounds strange – more feminine, maybe, but that’s probably Sam’s mind playing tricks on him.

“I can find you a horse tonight. If you ride hard enough, you can get there shortly, I reckon. But then you’ll be on your own.”

“Thank you,” Sam whispers back, feeling as if he could cry from gratitude. “But – how – why would you –”

“I know what it means when your entire family is against you but you need them nonetheless,” he whispers back, and then he’s gone with the raven’s message and Sam is left there, hoping that it’s his brother that he’ll have to talk to. They never were close, the two of them, and that was also literally; Sam can barely remember being in the same physical place of his brother at all.

Not as if they’re brothers anymore now. Jon was (is, not was, not until he knows) more of a brother to him than his real one, and if it means that Sam has to go back to a home he had hoped to forget as soon as possible, so be it.

--

He spends the rest of the day trying to behave as usual; no one tells him the news and he’s grateful for Alleras – now he understands how Jon had felt when Sam had been the one telling him that his father was dead.

Then, when he retires, he packs his meager belongings neatly. He leaves most of the clothes he had to wear in the Citadel and only keeps the regular breeches and shirt that he’s going to wear now – he can’t dress in black. Not here and not now. He puts his dragonglass dagger on his belt, dons the heaviest cloak he can find. He manages to sneak out without anyone seeing him – then again most apprentices are at the Quill and Tankard at this time of the night, and the maesters retire early. He goes straight for the stables and he’s relieved when seeing that Alleras is there, along with a horse that seems robust enough to carry his weight.

“Do you want me to say that you’re indisposed and that you asked not to be disturbed? That might buy you a couple of days.”

“Oh – yes, thank you,” Sam answers. “You don’t have to – I mean –”

“I know what you mean.” Alleras smiles, and Sam thinks again that it looks a bit like a woman’s smile. “Go, I know you have no time to spare.”

Sam mounts on the horse, not without a couple of moments where he thinks he’ll fall and break his neck, and then starts on the road for Horn Hill. Gods, he thinks, Gilly is there, too. He hopes that they had bought that story about the child being his bastard – it’d be just his luck if they haven’t. And gods help him again, if his father isn’t there he’ll have to deal with some bannerman, and won’t that be a problem.

No matter – he’s going to go back, at any cost. He went beyond the Wall, he killed an Other, he made a Lord Commander, even if ended badly; he can face his family, after this.

--

He gets to Horn Hill four days later. He can’t ride as fast as he wishes, and he has to take pauses to let the horse rest. He spends one night in a tavern along the way to get some necessary sleep, but that’s all the comfort he allows himself; when he arrives, he’s covered in dirt (he feels it inside his boots), he can barely hold himself upright and his stomach screams for food. He stops in another inn to get some, and he isn’t surprised when no one recognizes him; as he eats, he tries to listen to the small chatter. He learns that his father has been made Justicar in King’s Landing, and Sam isn’t really surprised. For a moment he hopes to hear that he’s still in King’s Landing with Dickon – if neither of them was here, he could talk to his mother, she still could give him enough gold to pay for that passage. He’s sure that she would – his mother was never made of his father’s steel. But then he hears that his father has just come back in order to bring Dickon to King’s Landing, and Sam’s hopes are crushed in the span of ten seconds. They may leave soon, but he can’t afford to wait.

He finishes his food, gets his horse again and heads for the castle. He sincerely hopes that whoever is guarding the gates will let him in, or best, that he knows them, but he’s not so lucky.

He walks up to the first guard, takes a breath.

“Is Lord Tarly here?” he asks.

“He is, and what would you want to do with him?”

“I want an audience.”

“He’ll hear the peasants this afternoon – you have no business here until then.”

“No. I want a private audience. Tell him that it’s his son.”

“His son? Are you mad? His son has been here for –”

“His first son.”

The guard’s stance changes – from distant to surprised; thankfully, he doesn’t add anything and tells Sam to stay there and wait.

Sam waits for what seems like days but is probably half an hour before the guard comes back.

“Come in and use the kitchens’ door. Someone will be waiting for you.”

Sam walks inside, slowly, trying to keep his breathing even and his hands from sweating. He can do this, he thinks. He can do this.

Or so he tells himself.

--

The servant who had been waiting for him tells him that if he wants to wash before meeting with his lord father he only has to ask. Sam pretends to accept, but instead of calling someone to fetch water when he’s given a room, he changes into his Night’s Watch clothes only. He keeps the dirt and the sweat on himself – he hasn’t come here to please his lord father.

The servant is obviously not happy about his choice when Sam finds him at the end of the hallway and says that he’s ready, but he doesn’t comment on it and brings Sam to a room where his father used to receive private visits.

Sam takes another long, deep breath and opens the door.

--

His father looks… the same as he had that day they saw each other last. Maybe a bit older, but that’s it. His brother has grown up, instead – Sam should probably feel offended that he’s looking at him as if he doesn’t care whether he’s here or not, but it’s not as if they ever shared anything. Being upset would be ridiculous.

“Why are you here and what do you want?” Randyll Tarly asks, and he sounds so annoyed that for a moment Sam is tempted to run from the room. “As far as I heard, you were supposed to be North. Not here.”

“I came here because of – of my Lord Commander’s orders,” Sam replies. He tries to keep his voice steady. He doesn’t exactly manage it, but he isn’t sounding like a quivering maid either.

“Of course, and since a Lord Commander would give a mission to you, you also saw fit to send us a girl claiming she had a son from you? Don’t look so worried now, she obviously wasn’t lying.”

When she said she had slept with me, probably, Sam thinks. Then again, it means that wherever Gilly is, she’s safe – good.

“I assume you – you received news from the Wall, lately.”

“I heard something about a mutiny, yes. Was that the Lord Commander who sent you here?”

“No. It was the previous one. Which is why I’m here. I need – I need to go back to the Wall and I have no means to.”

Silence falls after that, and Sam doesn’t like the look in his father’s eyes. It makes him feel as if he was six all over again and spitting pig’s blood and trying not to retch.

“So you are contradicting a direct order, aren’t you? Why should I help you instead of hanging you like Wall deserters usually deserve?”

“I am not deserting. If the Commander who ordered me to come here is d… not in service anymore, I can – I can hardly be punished for wanting to go back.”

“And what did the previous Commander order you here for?”

Here it comes. He hoped he could avoid that question. “The old Maester we had at the Wall died. He sent me to Oldtown to – to forge a chain and – t-take his place.” He hates his own voice for stuttering so much – he thought he was past that. He obviously was wrong.

He wasn’t wrong about his father’s reaction, though. Sam can feel venom coloring his voice as soon as he speaks. “Did I just hear that you went to the Citadel to swear yourself to a life of service? I had thought you couldn’t disappoint me more than you already had, but this – and you have the face to come here and ask me for gold? Why do you even think that I should waste any more time with a worthless craven such as you are?”

Two years ago, Sam would have tried to run (without much success).

For a second, he’s tempted to.

But then – then he remembers that first couple of days on the Wall.

He remembers the first time he and Jon had met.

(Sam’s first impression of Jon Snow is the only good one he had of the Wall in the first place. It’s all said and done in maybe a second or two – not more than that, because it was when the laughs started.

Jon hadn’t laughed, though.

It’s in the two seconds during which Sam looks at Jon as he stands in the yard, sword in hand. He notices him because his hair is longer than the others’, and after the hair Sam noticed a lean, strong body all covered in black. Pale skin, grey eyes, hands grabbing the hilt of his sword steadily. Sam has never managed to hold a sword so comfortably – his fingers always start to shake.

He had known that the Wall had a lot of good fighters, but if this is the average, then maybe he should have just died before setting foot in here and be done with it. He’ll never stand up to this standard. Not as if he wanted to be here.

And then instead of watching him get (shamefully) beaten, Jon stops the other person and Sam, for a long, painful second, thinks that maybe he had been wrong when thinking that being here would be entirely miserable.

As long as this isn’t a one time thing.

When the master at arms tells Jon to defend his lady love if he so wishes, Sam thinks that if only he wasn’t hurting all over, he’d be flushing.)

He remembers the time when he had told Jon about why a self-proclaimed craven would come to a place such as the Wall.

(Sam finds himself telling Jon why exactly he’s here, and his heart skips a beat or two when he sees Jon’s eyes widen as he recalls his last meeting with his father. He looks sincerely sorry, which is more than Sam could have hoped from anyone, and it’s enough to make Sam hope that he doesn’t start laughing after he’s done. He figures a lot of people would. He’s adjusted to that by now. He still isn’t adjusted to the sight of blood, and he can’t fight, and as Jon said before, he really should not be here, but it’s not as if he has a choice, is it?

“I tend to forget that not anyone comes here by choice,” Jon says at some point after Sam is done. Sam doesn’t know how to answer it; it’s not as if he can say that not everyone is a madman. Not when Jon did choose it himself. But it had felt so nice, seeing that someone could understand where he came from even if they’re here for completely different reasons.)

He remembers Jon telling him we’re not friends, we’re brothers, and the warmth he had felt at knowing that someone did not think him worthless for once, and instead of running out of the door, he raises his head, walks forward, puts his dirty hands on his father’s desk.

“You have no right being disappointed in me,” Sam whispers, because he can’t keep his voice high and steady at the same time. “Because the second I swore those vows that you wanted me to swear, you stopped being my father. I am asking you for help because I have no other choice and I have to go home now.”

“And why should I give that to you, if you’re not my son anymore? Not that I mind, let that be clear.”

For a second, Sam feels as if he could faint right here and right now – it had taken enough to say that, but then his eyes meet his brother’s for a second (and his brother looks slightly impressed – as if Sam talking to his father’s face like this had been something he hadn’t expected at all) and suddenly he knows. He knows what he has to say, and he also knows that he has all the rights to say it. Does he have the guts to say it, though?

Then he remembers his second day at the Wall, when he had been sure that he’d be killed during training, or close to it.

(That second day, Sam doesn’t add new bruises to the ones he got the one before, since everyone he fights against merely stays on the defensive.

Now, Sam might be craven and he might be a lot of things his father never liked, but he’s not the kind of person who doesn’t notice the obvious. He’s starting to think that it’s some kind of jape, but from Thorne’s reaction, it obviously isn’t. And yet, even when he urges the others to fight him for real, no one does.

Then he notices Rast glancing towards Jon more than once in a while, and then he also notices a lot of the other recruits glancing at Jon, and then Thorne starts doing the same except that he’s seething rather than glancing.

Sam doesn’t say anything that day because for some reason he can’t even find it in himself to say thanks – it just makes him feel even more pathetic than he does any given time – but he already knows that his gratefulness has reached new depths.)

Maybe he could have never said it for himself, as he could have never gone to the Citadel for himself, but – but for Jon, he has done a lot of things the he could never have done for himself.

“Because you owe it to me, and my brother does, too.”

“We owe you?” Randyll almost throws away the chair and stands up, and Sam is glad that his father never was very tall. “How do we owe you?”

“Does he even know how I came to take the black?” Sam hisses, making sure that his brother can hear it. He glances at his right – it’s obvious. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that it wasn’t a decision Sam took for himself at least. “Does anyone know how that happened? I chose a life that everyone sees fit only for assassins and turncloaks because you told me it was either that or you hunting me down. Do I remember wrong?”

Sam’s hands are sweating so much – they’ll leave stains on the wood, but seeing his father flinch ever so slightly makes Sam feel bold.

He knows it won’t last, so he takes advantage of it. “I went north thinking that I’d die there. I went beyond the Wall and I came back and the gods know that I didn’t think I’d survive it. I obeyed that order because that Lord Commander was my friend, and he was my brother more than anyone whose blood I share will ever be.” He breathes in again, knowing that he’s flushing – he feels blood rushing all over. “I don’t know if he’s dead, but if he is, I want to be there to bury him because I owe him that much. When I went to the Wall, I left you with your worthy heir and I spared you that place in the seven hells reserved for kinslayers. Yes, father, I think you owe me some silver to go north.”

The only sound that can be heard after that is Sam’s heavy, slow breathing. Gods, what did I just say? Sam thinks as he stares in his father’s wide, surprised eyes.

You became a man, Jon’s voice answers in his head.

Sam wonders whether Jon would have said that for real, if he had been there.

“I think he’s right.”

Both Sam and Randyll turn to Dickon, who hasn’t said a word until now.

“You think he’s –”

“Everything he said was true. He’s asking for nothing – we’re not wanting for silver or gold. Just give it to him and let him go on his way.”

Sam feels suddenly so thankful that he could go and hug his brother for all he cared, but he doesn’t dare. He’s barely managing to keep himself upright – he’s sure that not even the last conversation he had with Jon had left him so drained.

“Fine,” Randyll snaps. He opens the first drawer on the heavy desk in front of him, takes out a small bag and pushes it towards Sam. Sam takes it – it’s heavy.

“That’s enough to buy yourself three passages to bloody Eastwatch. If this is all, you can go.”

It isn’t all. It isn’t all by a long shot, but Sam doesn’t have the time or the force of will to deal with this. It’s not as if his father will ever put himself in Sam’s shoes, and Sam has more urgent matters to care about. It’s not as if it’s even worth it.

“Very well. I will – I will go. Just – one last thing.” He’d rather leave, and he doubts that his father will be reasonable, but the well-being of the realm is more important than Sam’s feelings. At least he can’t say that he hasn’t tried.

What?”

“I heard – I heard you’re going to King’s Landing. We – we sent an envoy, a while ago, to ask for help, but the king refused –”

“Are you going to waste my time with that story about White Walkers again? When everyone knows that they don’t even exist?”

“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” Sam whispers, taking a couple of steps towards the door. “And I can assure you both that – that they do exist. Having killed one myself, I think I’m entitled to say that they are very real."

He lingers for a second, taking in his father’s shocked face and his brother’s maybe a-little-bit-impressed one, and then he turns his back on them and goes out of the door. He hears someone calling for him, but he speeds up instead of listening.

He has nothing else here. He wishes he could try to find Gilly, but doing it would be unadvisable, and he has to go back.

Sam goes to the stables, finds his horse again and rides out without saying a word to anyone trying to stop him. Then he takes the road back to Oldtown.

It takes him another four days; he sleeps when the horse has to rest, and only for the necessary time. He divides the coin into smaller bags so that they’re less noticeable, and when he arrives he’s downright filthy. He’d go search for a passage right then, but he knows it’s not a good idea, not the way he looks; he pays for a room at the first good inn he finds, asks for a bath, makes himself presentable, wears his plain clothes again. He isn’t sure that it’s safe to wear his black ones, especially if the news about what happened to the last Lord Commander has spread by now. (He hopes not.)

He sells the horse before heading for the port; he gains half of the money he has spent for the room.

It takes him ten tries before finding someone willing to bring him to Eastwatch and not to any nearby harbor, and it’ll take him most of his money, but that’s fine. He doesn’t expect to need it, not when he finally gets there.

As he boards the ship, his heart feels heavy. Gods, what is he doing? If he goes directly to the Wall, everyone will know why he came back (and he can’t hope that no one except Pyp and Grenn knows that he was behind Jon’s election; by now others will know), and if they could stab Jon in the back then who knows what they’d do with him? He could go to Mole’s Town first, see if there’s a chance that someone is still there and that they might have information for him.

Gods, he just hopes that he gets to see Jon one last time, dead or not. Of course he hopes that he’s somehow still alive for some miracle. There are so many things Sam wishes he could tell him (thanks for being my friend, thanks for being my family, you’re the best person I’ve ever known), but even if it turns out that he can’t… he still can’t bear the idea of arriving there and finding out that they might not even have bothered to dig him a grave (turncloaks never have that luxury).

He thinks about the way he was told Robb Stark died and when he throws up over the rail, he doesn’t even mind the way the ship’s captain looks at him as if he’s a fool that has no business being seasick even before the ship sails.

I swore my vows near the heart tree, he thinks, because I thought my gods had forsaken me. Old gods, please don’t forsake me as well. He can’t be dead.

There’s no answer of any kind, but it’s not as if gods answer men directly most times, do they?

Sam asks the captain where his quarters are, lies on a cot that was made for a man half his size and waits quietly until the ship sails.

He tries not to think about what might wait for him when he gets to Eastwatch.

 

Two

 

It hurts, Jon thinks as he comes to. He can’t bring himself to open his eyes – it’s a task beyond him right now. Every muscle in his body feels stiff and there’s pain all over his chest; he tries to move his fingers, but he barely manages to curl them into a half-fist.

“Bugger it, he moved,” someone says, and Jon knows that voice but he isn’t really sure he can place it.

“Some,” another familiar one agrees.

Jon would like to see who they are, but right now he can’t even think, and he passes out again.

--

The second time Jon comes to, he does manage to open his eyes. It hurts as much as his body does, at the beginning, but then he forces himself to keep them open and focus.

He’s in a room – what looks like a modest inn’s room. He’s on a bed, which is comfortable enough but most definitely not his. He’s covered with blankets up until his chin, and he stinks as someone who hasn’t washed in a week.

He still hurts all over.

He tries to speak and he only croaks something unintelligible, but then he hears a noise on his right.

“Fuck me, crow, you’re tougher than anyone would’ve thought.”

Jon turns his head, slowly, and his eyes widen as he sees Tormund on the side of his bed. He shakes his head, wanting to ask what he means, but the words won’t come.

“Shut your mouth, you ain’t in no condition to talk. They stabbed you some forty times, I don’t even know how you are still breathing. You can thank your wolf, he tore through that damned crowd of turncloaks before someone could put a dagger in your heart.”

That makes no sense – he remembers the stabbing, but he had locked up Ghost, hadn’t he?

“Oh, now you want to know how that happened? Two of your friends who hadn’t wanted to get through with it had this great idea t’open that door. Lucky for you, right? If it pleases you t’know, we’re in Mole’s Town. In the brothel. It’s me, the red woman, your couple friends, your squire, that other crow who never has anythin’ good to say and all of us wildlings that weren’t going to follow that piece of shit who stabbed you in the back. If I were you, I’d go back to sleep. I’ll go tell ev’ryone else that you’re still among us.”

When he’s gone, Jon closes his eyes again. Gods, how he hurts. He wonders how much time it will be before he can stand up, and then he’s asleep again.

--

The third time he comes to, his body is throbbing with pain, but at least he manages to stay lucid for ten entire minutes without passing out.

He notices that Ghost is asleep by the side of his bed, and Jon reaches down, carding a hand through the direwolf’s fur; he has to stop after ten seconds because it feels too painful. As soon as his senses come back in full force, he realizes that he’s reeking; for a moment he thinks he’ll throw up. He smells like dirt, sweat and rotten blood; he has never wished so bad for a bath, except that he won’t get anywhere near one the way he is.

He looks out of the window, but he only sees snow.

He wonders if he should try to call for someone, but he isn’t even sure he has enough voice to scream, and then he’s saved the trouble because Tormund gets inside his room again.

“Huh, you look better than you did last time. Even if let me tell you, you smell a lot worse.”

“How – how long?” Jon manages. Tormund shrugs, obviously counting.

“Since we spoke last, two weeks. You ran a fever – ev’ryone was sure you’d be dead. Infected wounds and all the likes – I’m not sure y’re out of trouble yet, but you look a lot more coherent. Since those other crows turnin’ on you, about three weeks. Surely you slept a whole fucking lot, this last month.”

Three weeks. Three weeks, and he’s been conscious for maybe fifteen minutes total.

“How are things –”

“Haven’t seen any White Walkers ‘round for now, but considering that thanks to your new commander most of us are comin’ here, it won’t be long before they are. If you get what I mean.”

Jon thinks he wants to cry.

“Y’know what, I’ll just call in someone and get them to clean you up an’ change your sheets. If only I had known I’d end up sitting at a crow’s bedside a couple years ago,” Tormund mutters before leaving the room.

Jon isn’t surprised when ten minutes later Melisandre comes inside along with a basin full of water and a clean cloth.

“I hadn’t thought this was your job,” he croaks. She gives him a small, sad smile and comes closer to the bedside.

“It merely happened to be my turn,” she replies, her voice not betraying a thing. “Well, Lord Snow, I suppose it’s time.”

She yanks down the covers and he almost does throw up; his chest is covered in stab wounds. Some are lighter, some are deeper, a couple are red and angry and there’s one on his hip that has definitely been infected and it’s probably not healed yet. It’s also half the reason why he stinks this much, if he isn’t wrong. And they all hurt.

“Did you – did you give me something?”

“No milk of the poppy around here, Jon Snow.” She runs the wet rag over the shallow cuts first and the deeper ones later, and he has to bite his tongue from screaming in pain when she arrives at the half-infected wound. “You were lucky. I don’t know how can someone be stabbed forty times and none of them in a vital place, or at least not vital enough to kill you.”

Jon closes his eyes when she starts treating the wound on his hip and he sees a disgusting mix of pus and blood come out of it; it’s so ridiculous that he turns his head, and he has seen a lot worse, but he’s also feeling light-headed and he isn’t sure that he can look at himself much more. Also, it’s painful; before he was hurting all over, but now a new, fresh wave of pain shoots up through his side and he thinks he’s going to pass out.

He doesn’t, and when Melisandre starts passing the cloth over his legs and groin and neck he doesn’t even try to move – he’s too tired, too thirsty and too weak to even attempt it.

At some point, someone else comes inside and lifts him up while she drags the soiled sheet he’s on from under him; by then he’s barely conscious, and when he opens his eyes again Melisandre is gone, his sheets are clean and his hip is still hurting, but not as much. His throat is dry – he thinks he could use some water – but he can’t call for anyone, so he lays his head on the pillow again and tries to get back to sleep.

He doesn’t have any of the queer dreams he’s been dealing with lately; this time it’s only regular ones, but it’s not the good kind.

He dreams that he’s walking through the ruins of a burned Winterfell; when he raises his eyes, he sees Stannis’s head mounted on a pike.

It can’t be, he thinks, and then he hears a laugh that comes from nowhere and everywhere at the same time, and – he has heard that voice only once or twice, but he can recognize Ramsay Bolton. He laughs and laughs, and maybe he also says something in between but he can’t make out the words.

The snow under his feet is covered in blood, and there are corpses everywhere; he stumbles as he trips into one, and it feels – it feels familiar, it feels –

He turns it on its back and there’s Arya’s face looking up at him, open dead eyes asking why didn’t you come for me, why didn’t you? , and there’s blood all over her white and gray gown (gods, Jon has never seen her in a gown once, never). His hand that he had put on her cheek comes away wet and red, and Jon thinks he’s about to scream when a shadow covers him. He brings himself up and turns, just to find himself in front of a wight that looks every inch like Sam; Jon takes a step backwards, stumbles into his sister’s corpse, tries to stand up again but it hurts. He looks down at his chest and there are wounds on it and blood everywhere staining the snow, and then he screams himself raw.

He opens his eyes, waking up in that bed, sweat pooling all over his face, his throat hurting like it never has. Someone’s shaking him by the shoulder – Grenn, of course, who could have been his two friends that Tormund mentioned if not him and Pyp – someone else is forcing him to drink water, Melisandre is saying that his fever isn’t gone yet. Jon thinks he might be crying, and it’s so cold; that dream has made sure that he felt it inside his bones.

He’s also sure that he’s talking nonsense – he hears himself mentioning at least Arya, Sam and Robb, but he can’t even hear himself because his hip is flaring with pain.

Gods, he thinks, let it be just a dream.

Then he doesn’t think anymore.

--

“You know,” Pyp tells him the next time he comes to, “you scared us out of our own fucking mind. What in the seven hells were you dreaming about?” Grenn is sitting next to him, nodding in agreement. He pales when Pyp mentions the dream – Jon almost feels guilty for having scared them so.

“I’m sorry,” he replies quietly. “I don’t – it was bad. And I haven’t thanked you yet. You were the ones who freed Ghost, weren’t you?”

“Well, to be entirely fair, you should thank him,” Pyp says nodding to Grenn.

“They hadn’t told us about the plan,” Grenn interrupts. “I guess ‘cause we were friends and all.”

“More because we never thought he was doing a bad thing letting the wildlings in. Anyway, when we realized what was about to happen I told him we should have done something, except that stopping all those men wasn’t exactly doable. Then he started cursing.”

“I did not. I just said that if the fucking wolf’d been around we wouldn’t have to worry.”

“You said, of course. You were screaming your lungs out. Anyway, I hadn’t thought about it, which I reckon means that he can have a good idea once in a while, and so we got to the room where he was. Then we didn’t have the key, but he just kicked down the door and that was some good thinking. Guess he has used it all up for now.”

“I haven’t used up anything. You’re just jealous that I broke that door in one try.”

Jon can’t help it – he laughs. It feels strange, and it still hurts his throat, but he just can’t help thinking that he has missed hearing them bicker. Gods, all that talk about killing the boy and letting the man take control has really just made things worse – he hasn’t heard his friends laugh in such a long time, and he isn’t sure that it was worth it. He can’t help thinking I wish Sam was here to laugh with them, and he feels a pang of regret. What was he thinking when he sent him away? At the moment it had seemed a perfectly good idea, and now the only thing he can think is that there’s a hole in the room and that he should have never put his supposed duties before his friends.

He thinks he likes being Jon Snow better than Lord Snow, and he’d pay anything to hear Sam calling him by his name again. If he doesn’t die first. But Sam is in the south – Jon can’t really hope that they’ll see each other in this life.

“Thank you. The both of you,” he says, interrupting whatever they were now discussing. “I’m – I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have – I should have kept on dining with you and doing the usual. I’m –”

“Jon, shut up,” Pyp replies. “You were the Lord Commander, we weren’t expecting you to have time for dining with us. And you weren’t doing a bad job out of it. If Marsh thinks that he can do better than you, then I guess we’ll have White Walkers among us before a month.”

Jon isn’t sure that he even wants to think about it.

“Wasn’t Ghost here?” he asks, suddenly realizing that there’s no direwolf at his bedside or in the room.

“Left a day ago,” Grenn replies. “While you were having that blasted nightmare. We figured we’d let him go – wouldn’t be a bad thing if he brought some food for us, too.”

Jon nods and doesn’t think much of it. He wishes that Ghost was here, now that at least he seems well enough to carry a conversation and stay conscious (even if his chest still hurts, but by now he thinks he’s becoming numb to it), but there will be time.

He hopes.

--

That night he has one of those other queer dreams. He dreams that he’s at Eastwatch, and that no one else is around. He’s running – he feels the taste of warm blood in his mouth; he has just eaten, maybe, no, Ghost has just eaten. The dock is empty, all ruined ships and no one in sight; this until a small, lone ship approaching. He runs back towards a piece of rock and sees someone getting down from the ship, which departs seconds later. The captain must have been in a hurry to leave – shows that he isn’t a fool.

Jon gasps – it can’t be, it can’t be, but he knows the person who has just set foot on the ground. It could only be Sam, it can’t be anyone else, could it –

Jon wakes up again, no screaming, just breathing heavily; it’s dark, well into the night. He can see a fire out of the window – Melisandre is looking into it, no doubt.

If only it was true, Jon thinks, but he has never made sense of those dreams, and there’s just no way that it’s real.

Maybe he’s just trying to convince himself that he will see his friend again, but he can’t keep on deluding himself. He sighs, curling down under the blankets again. He had found himself missing Sam back then, when the Watch was his, sometimes, but he had too much to think about, too many problems to deal with.

Now he can’t help thinking that maybe if Sam had been there to advise him it wouldn’t have happened. Sam might not have had a lot of fighting skills going for him, but he always could think a lot better than he let others believe, and Jon can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t have helped. But that’s not it. If Sam was here, he’d probably cry, and be concerned, and hover around, and maybe he’d feel the urge to faint at seeing the wounds on his chest, but – Jon thinks he’d like it. He’d do all that, but he also would be around at any time, and he’d find some tale to distract him, and he’d make Jon laugh. (Sam always managed to make him laugh, and it’s something not many people can do – Arya could, and Robb could, and Bran could, but that’s about it.) He’d – he’d be his friend.

It might be pathetic that it’s all he wants now. He has commanded the Watch, maybe not as well as he could have, but he has; he has killed wights, he has beheaded a man, he has taken decisions that most people much older than he is will never have to take, has gained a king’s respect, but it doesn’t make him feel any better.

It takes a certain sort of courage to admit to yourself that instead of the man you thought you became maybe you’re still a lad of seven and ten who really, really wants the best friend he’s ever had by his side right now.

But if Sam could say out loud that he was craven, then Jon can admit to himself that all his accomplishments aren’t doing anything to make him feel any better.

--

The next morning, he forces himself to eat some tasteless soup that Satin brings him saying that they have nothing better for someone who’s still sick, and he sleeps through the late morning and early afternoon – his body still can’t take staying awake for long, even if his fever has broken by now.

When he wakes up again it’s because Pyp and Grenn shake him awake so hard that he couldn’t have possibly kept on sleeping.

And they look – excited? Why?

“What’s –”

“Oh, you have no idea,” Grenn replies, sounding… happy?

“If you hope for Marsh coming from the Wall on his knees to ask your forgiveness, that’s not it, but I think you’d like this better.”

“I’d like – Pyp, what the fuck is going on?”

“Well, your wolf came back from his hunts.”

“Without game,” Grenn adds, obviously displeased. Pyp elbows him.

“He brought something better,” he adds, winking. “Come on, get in!”

When Sam walks into the room, carefully, as if he isn’t sure whether he’s disturbing or not, Ghost next to him, Jon can’t believe his eyes.

He has dark circle under his eyes that weren’t there when he left, and his face is covered in dirt, and Jon can smell sea water from where he is, but it’s Sam, and he wishes he could stand up and run, but he can’t. He apparently can’t find any words, until he manages a how in a voice he barely recognizes as his.

Sam moves closer, sits at the foot of the bed. “We received word of… your demise in Oldtown. I might – I might have escaped and found a ship.”

“Yeah, because it was that simple when you told me first,” Pyp objects.

“No, but… I’m not – it’s not really the time for it,” Sam adds, and Jon only wants to say please talk forever, I missed your voice. “I’m – gods, I was sure that you were dead,” and he sounds as if someone just tore his heart out.

Pyp raises an eyebrow, looks at the two of them and then drags Grenn out of the room.

Jon takes a breath, forces himself to sit up, motions for Sam to move closer.

“Well, if it consoles you I’m not sure of how I’m alive, either. But – Pyp was right – how did you even –”

“I might have – I might have asked my father for enough money to buy myself a passage. And I was lucky I found someone who’d bring me straight here,” Sam adds, moving from the foot to Jon’s side. Ghost sits at the foot of the bed, while Sam glances at Jon’s bare chest – the sheet fell down when Jon had scooted back to make space for him.

Sam becomes as white as the sheet itself when he sees the mess on Jon’s frame (and good thing that neither of them has seen the back – apparently it’s not a nice sight either); but he doesn’t flinch as Jon had expected.

“Gods, Jon, what did they do to you?”

“Stabbed me. Some forty times, apparently.” Jon knows that his voice is wavering, and he wishes it wasn’t, but saying it out loud somehow makes it more real and he isn’t sure that he can keep a straight face much longer.

Not around Sam, anyway.

“Congratulations,” he adds. “I can’t look at them for more than five seconds.”

Sam actually flushes. “I had to cut open a body more than once before I left Oldtown. I think that I can stand looking at some scars now.”

“Sam, about that – fuck, I was wrong. I shouldn’t have – I’m not sure what I was –”

A hand suddenly touches his wrist, hesitant; Jon doesn’t move it away and looks up at Sam instead. “Jon, I get why you did it. If anything – I put you there, it should – it should be me saying sorry.”

“For what?”

“Well, I was the one secretly planning so that you’d get elected, wasn’t I?”

Jon snorts, shakes his head. “Sam, shut up. I was the one that should have paid more attention to what was going on behind my back.”

Sam doesn’t answer, not promptly; he looks down at his hand on Jon’s wrist, then looks up again and the raises his free one, wiping away a couple of tears. “I’m just – I’m – does that hurt a lot?”

“Wait, you mean the wounds? They used to hurt more, but – some. Why?”

“Can you – bring that sheet up? To cover them?”

“Sure.”

Jon does, not exactly getting why Sam is suddenly concerned; but as soon as it happens hands are on his shoulders and he’s hauled forward, cautiously, until his frame is resting against Sam’s, who is obviously going out of his way not to put too much pressure on his wounds.

Jon decides that the Others can take them and grips Sam’s shoulders with as much strength as he can gather (turns out that it’s less than he had thought); his effort isn’t as good as he’d have liked, but Sam gets it and a second later they’re pressed so close that Jon can’t breathe for a moment. But then he can, and he smells ocean and dry earth on Sam’s clothes and on his skin, and he forgets momentarily that he’s still not fine at all and that this will likely make his wounds worse and that the Wall might fall at any point.

He thinks he has earned the right not to think about the responsible thing for a bit.

 

Three

 

The first time Jon gets out of the brothel, he can barely stand upright. It’s a week after Sam gets to Mole’s Town, and Sam had told him that maybe it was too soon, but Jon had insisted. There’s not really much to see – after all Mole’s Town only peculiarity, other than having a brothel, is that most of it is buried underground. It isn’t exactly ideal if Jon’s point had been that he needed fresh air – and there’s almost no one else on the road outside. Most people stay underground lately, and it’s probably the smart course of action. As things are, as they go out of the brothel, Jon leaning heavily on Sam’s arm and taking a slow, painful step at a time, there are only a couple of wildlings walking along that road and no one else.

Snow covers everything and it’s colder than it was on the Wall the first day Sam got there, but Jon seems all right with it – he’s taking in deep breaths, keeping a painful grip on Sam’s arm. His cheeks go from pale to slightly flushed because of the cold, and it makes him look healthier.

But not recovered, Sam thinks bitterly. He knows that if Bowen March appeared in front of him right now the urge to strangle him wouldn’t be less strong than it had been when he read that letter.

“How are you feeling?” he asks after a minute or so.

“Cold, but better than going stir-crazy inside that room. To think that I always refused to go to the brothel when I was asked,” Jon mutters.

“Why, have I ever accepted when I was asked?”

Jon chuckles, his cheeks flushing further, and Sam figures that if he can still make Jon laugh things can’t be so wretched.

“No, you haven’t.”

“Not that we kept our vows anyway,” Sam says before he can stop himself, and he’s thankful when Jon looks merely curious rather than angry.

“What do you mean?”

“Well. On the ship to Oldtown. It was – uh, well, with Gilly. She was distressed and we both – well, it happened. She started it. And – it was – I – couldn’t really –”

“Sam, stop trying to justify yourself. It only stands to reason that we both fraternized with the enemy.” There’s something bittersweet about the way he’s speaking, but he’s right. Probably the only two black brothers who ever broke their vows with wildling girls, and not just for the sake of it.

There’s an irony in there, somewhere, but it’s not time to find it now. Not that he thinks he’ll ever ask Jon about it, not when his eyes have turned deeply sad the moment he mentioned the enemy.

“Do you – do you want to go someplace else?”

Jon breathes in again, looks at the road. Those two wildlings have disappeared – now they’re alone.

“Let’s go back down. Wasn’t there a tavern in the tunnels? Maybe it’s more lively.”

Sam doesn’t question it and helps Jon back into the brothel and then down the stairs that lead to the back entrance. The tunnels underground are a lot livelier than the outside – a lot of people are walking or chatting or sparring when there’s the space for it. Sam isn’t sure that he remembers where the tavern is – he has only passed through Mole’s Town once, when he was going to the Wall – but in the end it turns out that he has a enough good memory. He turns left after leaving the brothel behind him, then patiently takes a step at a time until he can turn right and there it is. Jon was right - it is livelier. Mostly, it's crawling with wildlings helping themselves to any strong drink left in the storage rooms, and apparently someone has managed to catch some game because Sam can hear noise from the kitchens.

"Good to see you up, Lord Snow," comes from their right, and Sam hadn't expected to find himself face to face with the wildling princess. Val. The one whose nephew is being passed as his own bastard, right now.

"I hadn't known that you were here."

"They hadn't let me go at first. Your queen's men couldn't be persuaded that I wasn't a real princess," she answers, shaking her head. "And they would have married me off sooner than later."

"What did you do?"

"I stole one of their precious horses as soon as the guard was down. And if I were you, I'd hope to recover a lot faster than you are."

Jon doesn't answer and Sam figures that someone has to ask the question.

"How - has the situation worsened?"

She shakes her head, her eyes turning sad. "Your new Lord Commander has no fucking clue about what he's dealing with. Not that it surprises me much. He's more worried about keeping us under control, as he puts it, than about the White Walkers. Another stupid crow."

She walks past them through the tunnel and disappears in the crowd seconds later. Jon's grip on his arm is downright painful by now.

"Do you want to go back?" he whispers. Jon thinks about it for a second, then gives him a curt nod.

It takes them almost twenty minutes to walk back to the brothel and to Jon's room. When Jon drops sitting on the bed, he's breathing quick and shallow, his cheeks still flushed, and he doesn't manage to stay upright. The moment he crawls under the covers after shedding most of his clothes, he collapses on the mattress.

"This isn't good," he breathes out, his voice barely audible. "I'll be fodder for wights the moment they get here."

Sam wishes he had something more uplifting to say, but Jon has a point. Someone in his condition couldn't defend himself even if trying.

"I still have your dagger," he blurts, taking a seat on the side of the bed.

Jon's lips curl up just slightly as he turns his head towards him. "I forgot that you were a slayer."

"I'm not - I'm not that. But after all I still owe you."

"You owe me?"

"For - well. Those first couple of days. You were the one with the sword then."

Jon lets out a small, heartfelt laugh at that, even if he looks this close to pass out, and Sam wishes for a second that he could stop time right here and right now, when they're both alive and Jon is smiling and he's half-smiling as well, and the Wall still stands.

"Sam, just never change, won't you?"

Jon closes his eyes and passes out shortly after that, and Sam's hand trembles as he reaches out and smooths a couple of sweaty strands away from Jon's forehead.

That's not the hardest thing Jon has asked of him - he doesn't see why he shouldn't try.

--

 

Three days later, Jon deems that he's fine enough to at least put a plan together. Sam isn't agreeing too much, but their time is running out, and that's how one afternoon what used to be the brothel's waiting room becomes what seems like a meeting room for the least well assorted war council in existence. Jon, with Ghost at his feet, is sitting on a sofa made of old, used-up dark red velvet that makes him look even frailer than he is, bundled up in all the blankets that were in his room; then there are Sam, Pyp, Grenn, Melisandre, Dolorus Edd, Val, the wildling leader - Tormund - along with another five whose name Sam can't remember. Sam can't help feeling sad that there are less black brothers than wildlings in the room.

"We need a plan," Jon starts. "We can't wait for the White Walkers to find us unprepared. And we can't hope that the Wall holds much longer."

"As if we're in condition to put up a resistance," one of Tormund's men says, but he doesn't sound reproachful - only resigned to the worst.

"No, but I reckon we could put torches outside the houses that aren't underground," Sam chimes in. "And see if there's dragonglass somewhere around here. There has to be a smith's shop too, or isn’t one?"

"I think there is. Not bad," Tormund agrees. "I reckon we can find someone that knows how to make daggers. Bein' under the ground doesn't harm either, but that ain't going to be much help in the long run."

"Are you suggesting that we go south?" Melisandre chimes in. Tormund shakes his head.

"Nah. From what I gather the North don't like us better than Snow's other crows. And where we'd go anyway? I don't see any southron lordling believing a discarded Lord Commander along with a handful of wildlings."

No one has much to object.

"Trying to reason with 'em would be useless, wouldn't it?" Grenn asks, but he sounds as if he already knows that the answer is yes. Pyp shakes his head.

"Because you think that they wouldn't kill us the second they saw our faces showing up at the Wall?"

No one has much to object at this, either.

Ghost growls softly when Jon scratches his head and it's plainly obvious that they don't have much else to go on. Melisandre says that she can't figure out what her fires tell her anymore, and she sounds defeated. But from everyone’s faces, Sam can figure out that it isn’t news to them. Jon looks defeated in a way he hadn't seemed even when his father was killed.

"We should try to intercept the ravens, at least," Jon says after a while. "If anything we'd know what is going on in the south. And if we capture some of them alive Sam could use them to communicate, if we can think of someone who’d listen to us.”

Tormund says that he’ll go find a good archer and that’s how it’s over. Sam, Pyp and Grenn, followed by the direwolf, help Jon back up to his room after they all agree on another meeting as soon as they have any kind of news. After, Pyp drags Grenn out again saying something about alcohol and the tavern and needing to get wasted before they all go to one of the seven hells.

Sam doesn’t follow and takes a seat on the only chair by Jon’s bed – by now he’s well acquainted with it.

“You should go with them,” Jon says, looking as if it takes most of his strength just to sit upright. “Who knows, it might be your last chance.”

“It’s full of taverns, in Oldtown,” Sam replies. “If that was what I wanted, I might as well have stayed.”

For a minute, Jon says nothing and stares down at the sheet. Then he looks up at him again. “Do you think you could give me a hand changing the bandages?”

“Of course.” Sam goes to a cupboard in the corner where they stashed the few bandages they have left along with some herbs and poultices. Sam hadn’t suspected that a brothel would be so well furnished in that department, but thinking about it, it only makes sense. He takes off Jon’s bandages for the first time since a week ago – they can’t afford to waste too many. He’s pleased to see that no wounds look infected, and he tries to keep himself detached while he runs a finger covered in some anti-inflammatory poultice over the still tender scars. He has to keep himself detached, because while he has spent enough time at the Citadel and scars won’t be what makes him quiver, imagining people that he once considered his brothers stabbing Jon in the back is enough to make him want to gag.

When he’s done with the front he moves on the other side and applies the same poultice to Jon’s back. He still can’t fathom how Jon managed to survive it – the back is the same patchwork of red cuts as the front, and he only manages to keep his hands still by mere force of will.

He’s almost glad when he has done all that he could and can move on to bandaging Jon’s chest – he isn’t sure he can stomach the sight for much longer. Jon stays still and quiet throughout the entire ordeal, not even hissing when Sam ran his hands over the deepest cuts.

“Done,” Sam says the second he’s finished, as cheerfully as he can (not much, fine, but he does try). “Do you – uh, do you want something to eat? I can see if –”

“No. That’s fine, I’ll just – I’m tired. But if you want to… I mean, you don’t have to stay here. I’ll sleep for a while I think.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. It’s fine, I’ll eat later.”

Sam is half-sure that Jon is lying, but he is hungry himself and Jon does look like he needs some rest, so he says that he’ll be back in a short while and as Jon lowers himself under the furs on the bed, Ghost at the bed’s side, he heads for the tavern. Hopefully there’ll be something left to eat since some of the wildlings go for hunts once every two days or so. Not that they’ve found much lately, and considering that they’re enough people to fill the entire town the rations aren’t generous, but at least there’s always been some food available.

--

When he gets back to the brothel, his stomach is fuller (even if he’s still somewhat hungry, but full meals aren’t an option) and what little wine he had makes him feel warmer than usual. He’s been out more than he had thought – mostly because Pyp (who had a lot more to drink than Sam) wouldn’t stop calling him Slayer and everyone in the tavern had conveniently seemed interested in hearing how exactly they’d call him like that. He heads to Jon’s room figuring that he’ll check whether everything is fine before going to his own.

The last thing he expects is Jon sitting up on the bed, the furs around his shoulders, looking out of the window. But he doesn’t look as if he’s seeing what’s outside – not that there’s much to see, since it’s dark and on the brothel’s side you can’t see any of the fires that are being kept alive over the ground. He’s staring into nothing, and when Sam walks inside the room and his feet make the wood floor creak, Jon jerks towards him as if Sam just gave him a heart attack.

“Shouldn’t you be sleeping?” Sam mutters, trying to pretend that this hasn’t scared him for a moment.

“I tried, but – it’s not a good idea.”

“Why’s that?”

“It’s – I had these dreams when I was still feverish. Where – where I’m in Winterfell and everyone I know is there and turned into a wight. Sometimes I still have them.”

His voice is so very quiet as Sam sits next to him.

“Did you – I mean, now?”

“Yes. It’s – it’s probably not even a dream, after all.”

“Why would you say that?”

Jon’s laugh is strangled. “All my brothers are dead. Arya is married to that Bolton bastard and she might as well be, probably. No one knows where Sansa is, and everyone else that I had known growing up is gone. The part of the dream where they’re all dead isn’t something I made up.”

That’s when Sam decides that he’s going to break a promise. Not that keeping it has any sense by now. “You’re… at least partly wrong.”

“What?”

“Your brothers – they, uh, they aren’t all dead. I – I haven’t told you before because – because I promised him that I wouldn’t. But I think you really need to know.”

“You promised who?”

“Bran. Your brother. I – I met him before – when I was coming back to the Wall with Gilly. He was alive. There was this huge man with him who only ever said one word –”

Hodor?”

“Yes – yes, that was it. And another two children about his age. I think they were named Reed. Anyway, I was – I told you that me and Gilly were saved by that strange wight, didn’t I?”

“Yes, but –”

“He brought us to the Nightfort and told me that there were people he was expecting who’d come. And I had to bring them to him, because they needed to go beyond the Wall and he couldn’t pass through himself. And – it was them. Along with the direwolf. I let them pass and then I went back to Castle Black with Gilly, but they made me swear that I wouldn’t tell anyone because – well, from what I gathered they had all hidden in the crypts and the two dead children were commoners. They left Winterfell after it was burned. They wouldn’t tell me why they had to go behind the Wall, or where your other brother went, but they wanted things to stay as they were. I mean, with everyone else thinking they were dead.”

“So Rickon would be alive, too?” Jon’s voice is barely audible. Sam wishes he had an answer.

“He wasn’t with them. From what I gathered, they had hidden along with another servant or whoever and they split ways – they went north, the other person along with your brother went south. But I wouldn’t know more than that. I’m – I’m really sorry, I had wanted to tell you, but they said I shouldn’t, even to you, and I didn’t – well. If they had wanted to… stay dead, I didn’t want to risk putting them in danger. Just – forgive me if I haven’t –”

And then he stops speaking because Jon is trying to wipe tears from his eyes.

“Jon?”

“Don’t – thank you. And don’t be sorry – it’s not as if I could have gone searching for Bran on my own, right? Sam – thank you. Really, it’s – it’s enough that you said it at all.”

Sam doesn’t even realize it, as he moves. One moment he’s thinking what do I do, what do I say and the next moment his lips are pressed against Jon’s, and he hasn’t even registered the moment in which he actually did it.

He tries to move away then, but before he can do it or before he can start apologizing, Jon is kissing back, not exactly bold but not even too shy, and well – Sam can worry about the obligatory fallout after this is done.

Maybe he knows why he’s done it. He had thought about it at times, especially in the first weeks, when they were all still recruits and they still hadn’t seen undead men and they had no idea of what was going to happen to them. He had also more or less assumed that it would never have happened – he had never had a friend, he surely wasn’t willing to possibly ruin it just to act on desires that he hadn’t even understood himself. (It doesn’t mean that Sam hasn’t thought about Jon enough times while touching himself in the dark of his small room at the Wall, but no one needs to know that.)

And now that Jon isn’t saying no – now that his lips are moving against Sam’s, slightly parted, enough that for Sam it would be this easy to slip his tongue inside, Sam thinks that he couldn’t stop this if he wanted.

He doesn’t dare using his tongue, though, but still, even only Jon’s cracked but now softening lips are enough to make Sam shiver, and he doesn’t dare putting a hand on Jon’s frame because he isn’t sure that it’s a good idea to mess with freshly changed bandages. So he puts it on Jon’s neck, and his skin is hot, maybe a bit too much, but when they part Jon’s eyes don’t look feverish. They might be red because he was crying, and it’s obvious that before his injury he has spent more than one night sleepless, but there’s no doubt that he knows what he’s doing and that he wants to do it.

“I’m –” Sam starts, but Jon’s stare silences him.

“If that was meant to be sorry, don’t say it. I’m not.”

“You’re not?”

Jon shrugs, his lips curling up slightly. “I don’t think you are either.”

“Well – fine, I’m – I didn’t mean it like that. I meant –”

“I think you meant this,” Jon replies before his hands go to Sam’s face and he brings him forward, and gods, Jon is licking his bottom lip and Sam can’t even think about refusing – he parts his lips and when Jon’s tongue meets his he gasps into the kiss. His hand reaches up, his clumsy, shaking fingers tangling in Jon’s hair; it’s dirty, but it’s not like Sam’s is that much better off, and when Jon moans into the kiss Sam feels his cock stir while a rush of heat goes through his entire back, and when they part Jon’s grip on the sides of his face has become almost painful.

“… I meant that, yes,” Sam confesses, feeling short of breath already, and while Jon’s grip doesn’t lessen, something in his features soften. “I, uh, Jon, are you sure that –”

“Gods, I missed you,” Jon blurts, and when Sam reaches up with a hand and covers one that Jon is still keeping on his cheek he feels Jon shiver.

Sam has no idea of why Jon didn’t even let him ask his question, or why he gave him a completely inconsequential answer, but he’s having trouble forming words right now. Not when Jon is so close and so warm and when he hasn’t said no or refused what Sam had been offering. He still can’t believe that this is happening, but after all they might die tomorrow or the day after – no point in letting himself wallow in all the objections that he’s already providing himself (what are you thinking, he’s probably upset, no one in their sane mind would ever kiss the likes of you let alone more – not that Gilly was in her right mind, wasn’t she, you’re ridiculous).

“So – so this is –” Sam starts, feeling a green boy all over again. He should be better than this, he should be able to say it, especially when Jon has made clear that whatever Sam thinks he’s doing is welcomed. But apparently he can’t say such a simple thing.

Good thing that Jon apparently knows already.

“Yes,” he breathes out, and then Sam ignores that voice in his head that sounds too much like his father’s for his tastes, and he kisses Jon again. Jon’s hold on him loosens a bit then, and this time they’re both ready for it; Sam’s heartbeat speeds up with each second as his lips move against Jon’s (which aren’t cracked and cold anymore by now). When it’s over, Jon’s lips look dark and kiss-swollen in the faint red light coming from the brothel’s lantern and the few fires lit in the road. He doesn’t look as frail as he does in the daylight, Sam thinks. But it lasts a second – it’s obvious that he’s almost exhausted.

“Would you mind – if I didn’t go to my room?” Sam asks then, wondering why he can’t find it in himself to say it straight.

“I’d mind if you did,” Jon replies before slowly moving away and crawling under the covers.

Sam stands up, takes off most of his clothes and his boots and moves on the other side, his heart still pounding so loud that they could hear it at the Wall, probably. He crawls under the covers, too, and he’s somewhat relieved when a moment later he hears Ghost coming in through the door.

He doesn’t know what he should do – stay here, move closer – but then he inches closer, just slightly, and when he puts a hand on Jon’s hip he isn’t pushed away. Jon doesn’t move to press back against his chest, and considering the state of his back it’s probably not a good idea; but he sighs in relief the moment Sam’s shaking, sweaty fingers cover the bandages, applying just the barest pressure. So Sam doesn’t take his hand away and stays still until he falls asleep listening to Jon’s steady breathing and the faint noises coming from the upper floor.

 

Four

 

The first thing Jon sees when he wakes up is pale morning light coming in from the window. The road is empty. No news, and he’d be surprised to see a crowd in the streets that aren’t underground.

The first thing he’s aware of is Sam’s hand on his side. He can’t help smiling a bit at that, even if the previous night almost feels like a dream. In the sense that while he remembers what happened, there’s a strangeness to it, something that makes him feel as if nothing of that has happened to him.

It’s probably a side effect of being out and then staying up for too long.

He painfully turns on his other side, cursing the state of his back, and by the time he’s done he has shifted the weight on the bed enough times to wake Sam up.

Or maybe, considering that he looks quite alert, he had been awake for a while.

“Are you all right?” Sam asks, sounding slightly worried. “You look –”

“I’m fine,” Jon says, even if it isn’t entirely correct. He feels tired even if he has slept long enough, his chest still hurts everywhere and he carefully avoids thinking about all the rest, because he isn’t sure that he can deal with it right now. “I mean, as fine as it gets.”

“Do you want me to get you something?” Sam asks, his cheeks flushed, and Jon feels his body tense. As if he’s getting ready to bolt out of the bed.

“No. No, you should stay right where you are.” Jon should hate that it sounded just a bit needy, but he isn’t sure that he cares about it anymore. Not when he remembers enough of the previous night that his body almost aches to have Sam’s hands on him again.

It hadn’t been the same as with Ygritte, and Jon wants to cry just thinking about her, so he tries not to. But right now he thinks he’d really want to do it again. It’s not just that he had thought about it, back when they had just arrived here and they were just two green boys who didn’t belong anywhere in a place made for people that can’t have a home. It’s that Sam is probably the one person in the seven realms that will make him feel good at any given time, it’s that he did miss him in ways he had thought he’d miss only Arya or Robb or Bran, it’s that he’s always liked the way Sam smiles at him.

“I should?” Sam asks, his eyes widening, and then he breathes in and moves that hand up to Jon’s shoulder before receiving an answer. Jon weights the pros and cons of moving harshly, because closeness sounds like a good idea right now, but moving from his side will end up being hurtful whatever he does. Thankfully he doesn’t have to make that choice; Sam huffs for a second, crawls closer and moves so that he’s inches from him.

When they kiss this time it’s heated; Jon almost forgets about the dull pain in his chest the moment it collides with Sam’s, and there’s nothing refined in the way their tongues meet. Jon moans shamelessly into Sam’s mouth the moment Sam’s hand grips his shoulder before moving to his neck, and before Sam can have the idea to pull away because he wasn’t expecting it, Jon drags him back in.

The moment they part, Jon feels blood rushing down towards his groin – and he’s frankly surprised that his body apparently feels up for it, but then he feels Sam’s cock rubbing against his leg at the same moment.

Well, it’s two of them then. When he raises his eyes to meet Sam’s, Sam flushes slightly and Jon can’t help it – he has to laugh a bit.

“Sam, you slay an Other and you blush like a girl because of me?”

Sam scoffs, but it’s almost fond. “Well, I didn’t do much better when I was with a girl anyway. And the Other was an accident.”

“Whatever you say,” Jon agrees, but then Sam’s lips are on his again and before he can process it, Sam’s hands go to his arms and after some fumbling he ends up on top of Sam, Sam’s hands still grabbing his elbows.

“What –”

“Uh, I thought – since you can’t exactly lie anywhere and we’re both, well –” he trails after glancing at both of their crotches. “I thought it’d be more comfortable.”

Jon isn’t sure that he can come up with an answer that won’t sound ridiculous, and so he leans down, sighing when Sam’s cock brushes against his through their breeches. He moans when Sam reaches down with a hand, his shaking fingers working the laces of Jon’s breeches before pushing them down and trying not to jostle the covers too much – it’s still too cold to attempt to get out from under them. When Sam’s hand touches Jon’s half-hard cock Jon moans into Sam’s neck, and even if this isn’t ideal (other than Sam having to fumble without seeing what he’s doing the position isn’t great and he has to put a lot of effort into holding himself up) it’s good enough for his cock to harden faster than he’d have thought. He knows that he’s sweating everywhere, and Sam is too, but he can’t bring himself to care, not when Sam has such an earnest look on his face even if his pupils are slightly blown.

“Wait,” Jon says when he realizes that Sam isn’t providing any release for himself. “Just – push your breeches down.”

Sam doesn’t object and does, or at least enough that Jon can move and rub his own cock against Sam’s, who lets out a strangled moan against Jon’s shoulder as well. Jon closes his eyes, concentrating only on how good it feels. When Sam’s hand reaches between them so that it’s touching both of their cocks at once he groans so loudly that he wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in the house heard him. By now he’s fully hard, or as much as he can, and he knows he’s leaking over Sam’s hand, and Sam is the same as him; neither of them will last long, but he wishes that it wasn’t the case. He isn’t really feeling much pain anywhere right now, and Sam is looking at him with the eyes of someone who couldn’t be happier even if saying that the circumstances are bad would be an understatement.

When he comes, he lets out another moan that is just barely muffled by Sam’s large shoulder; he feels Sam jerk and come a moment later, his hand still loosely wrapped around the both of them. He says Jon all over again and Jon starts shivering all over again as his arms give out. He falls down on top of Sam, and he barely register that Sam’s free arm has wrapped around his waist so that he doesn’t fall off; he’s still shaking because his muscles are throbbing in pleasure, his limbs feel warm and loose, and when he closes his eyes and lets himself drift with his head still on Sam’s shoulder for the moment nothing hurts.

--

It sort of does hurt when he comes to, Sam’s arm still around his waist, but for some reason it doesn’t make his frame flare in pain.

He blinks twice, runs his mouth over Sam’s shoulder when he turns his head, realizing that the sign of his teeth won’t go away soon. He’s strangely pleased.

“Jon, uh, do you want to –”

“Not for now.” He chuckles then, wondering if teasing a bit won’t hurt. “You’re quite comfortable, you know.”

“Well, Jon Snow, I’m glad that finally my size was useful for something,” Sam says back, but he doesn’t sound resentful. And he doesn’t push Jon away, but still –

“Sam, you know that I don’t –”

“Even if you meant that, after talking my father into paying for the boat I had to take, I think that it hardly matters.”

Jon doesn’t ask further – Sam told him some details before but only them, and Jon hasn’t inquired any further. Some things you have to keep for yourself, and he knows about that well enough.

“Are you sure that it doesn’t bother you?” Jon would really avoid moving right now. Especially as the warm feeling slowly but surely leaves him.

“Jon, you used to weigh a lot more when you fell over me while we pretended to spar. No, it doesn’t,” Sam adds quietly, and there’s mirth in his voice; Jon doesn’t move for a long time.

--

One week later, they managed to find enough obsidian for twenty daggers or so, which means not nearly enough for everyone. Between the wildlings coming in every day after fleeing the Wall and their old group, they’re already more than the town can easily house. Twenty daggers is nothing.

They also intercepted a number of ravens, but the messages are all variations on the same theme – Marsh is asking for soldiers or help from any southron realm that he can reach and he’s denied every time. Jon would almost feel pity if the situation was different, but he had a solution for the lack of men and he almost died for it; he’s mostly worried because this means that the Wall won’t hold up much longer, but it’s not as if he had done nothing to prevent it.

He throws the messages into the fire and if his eyes burn as he does it, no one needs to know.

--

When he takes off the bandages for good, he can’t help hating the way the cloth feels on his bare skin. According to Sam his wounds scarred enough and taking away the bandages won’t hurt, and why shouldn’t Jon trust the only person among them with some sort of medical knowledge? And that was all his doing, too.

It’s not that it’s painful or strange, but having something touch his wounds makes it hard not to think about them being there.

At least he isn’t still struggling to keep himself up for more than two hours – by now he’s fine with walking around the brothel. He gets still gets tired easily, especially if he has to walk in the chilly air outside (even though it isn’t too bad underground – fires are kept going at any given time), but at least he doesn’t need to latch onto Sam’s arm in order to walk.

Not that Sam isn’t conveniently near whenever he goes out, but neither of them mentions it. If sometimes Sam’s hand reaches out and stays still on the small of Jon’s back, no one has anything to say about it.

Three days after the bandages are off, there’s another meeting in the whorehouse’s main hall. This time Jon isn’t huddling under too many blankets as he had before.

“The ravens aren’t bringing any news,” Melisandre says, sounding a lot less optimistic than she used at any given time when she was on the Wall. “The fires haven’t told me anything either.”

“You mean that everyone’s still refusin’ the buggering fool’s requests?” Tormund snorts. “Not that it don’t serve him right.”

“Except that if he doesn’t get any help we’re all going to die anyway,” Pyp chimes in. Tormund doesn’t contradict him.

“How many of us are here?” Jon asks. “It seems like it’s more every day.”

“I reckon around five hundred,” Val answers. “More of us have come since I escaped, though.”

“No surprise ‘bout that,” Tormund says under his breath. “I’ll bet that some crows’ll turn their cloak soon.”

And wouldn’t that be fun, Jon thinks bitterly.

“And I’ll bet that in a short while the new Lord Commander might change idea,” Sam says, more to himself than to anyone else.

“What did you just say?” Pyp presses.

“Well, the more people come here from the Wall, the worst they’re off. And if they aren’t getting help from the South… well, unless they’re really blind, they’ll ask us for help.”

For a second Jon thinks that he’d like it, if only to refuse, but then he silences his traitorous thoughts; he wouldn’t do something that might allow the Others to pass the wall just because of petty revenge feelings.

It would feel good, though.

Dolorus Edd informs them that they do have enough food stocked to survive for a while, even if there’s less game around than it used to be a month ago, and Jon figures that at least some good news are better than nothing.

The meeting ends there. They haven’t solved anything and they still have no real plan beyond hiding underground if the Others really do pass, but Jon doesn’t let himself think about that for too long.

--

That night, when Sam closes the room’s door softly before crawling under the covers, Jon can’t stop himself from asking a question that he has tried to avoid asking for a while.

“Sam, sometimes I wonder why you even came here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean – Oldtown is relatively safe and I’m pretty sure that Marsh didn’t say clearly that I was alive. And a lot of people at the Wall knew or at least suspected that I became Lord Commander because you had a part in it – no one was going to be happy about you being back. Why did you come?”

Sam shrugs under the covers, his cheeks flushing slightly; then he looks up at Jon, obviously forcing himself to keep eye contact.

“If – I thought you might be dead, but I still would have done that even if I had known. I’d have wanted to pay my respects someway. And then I thought that you might not be, and then I thought that if the Wall fell the last time we saw each other would’ve been… well, when I left. And it wasn’t – it wasn’t how I wanted to remember you,” Sam finishes quietly, and Jon envies him for a moment. It takes a certain sort of courage to admit to yourself that you’re a craven and it takes another to leave relative safety to cross half of the world because there’s one chance on a thousand that a person you want to see isn’t dead.

And knowing that if it’s the case, you’ll most probably die with them.

“You know,” Jon says, trying to keep his words straight – he wishes he wasn’t so tired, but at least it was from standing for ten hours –, “the girl that I – Ygritte, she always used to tell me that I knew nothing.”

“And?”

“I was just thinking that if I ever met your father I’d tell him the same thing.”

Sam’s cheek flush in the dark, but he’s smiling, and when his fingers close around Jon’s elbow the moment before he passes out, Jon thinks selfishly that he wouldn’t have this any other way.

--

Then the next day, finally, something goes right.

One of the spearwives manages to catch a raven without killing it, and it brings a message from Winterfell; when they bring it to Jon’s room, he’s sure that it’ll be signed with Ramsay Bolton’s name.

Instead, it says Stannis Baratheon.

Jon tries not to think too much about the fact that he risked death because he fell for an obviously fake letter. He reads the one in front of him instead. It says that while they have some men they can spare, differently from before (Jon doesn’t know why, but if Stannis has Winterfell then there’s been a battle and he might have needed men to secure the castle), they won’t send any until the Lord Commander explains exactly why there was a mutiny.

While Sam goes to take care of the raven’s damaged wing (thankfully the arrow had hit it marginally) Jon pens the answer. It pains him to use paper from a book that the brothel’s owner used to list payments, but there isn’t any other way. He writes that he’s still alive, tries to explain his failed plan in as few words as possible, adds that there are five hundred of them and that he waits for orders. After all, he isn’t the Lord Commander anymore – he can follow whoever he wants and right now he doesn’t think that he has it in himself to lead anyone.

The raven is able to fly six hours later; Jon gives Sam the letter and as the bird flies towards Winterfell, Jon tries not to get his hopes too high.

He doesn’t ask anyone whether they noticed that days are getting too short, even for the winter. He isn’t sure that he wants anyone to tell him that it isn’t his impression only.

--

Two days later, an answer comes.

Stay where you are and wait.

Nothing more and nothing less, but it makes Jon feel relieved. If they send some properly armed soldiers it will be more than enough, and if they come with an order to go back to Winterfell to protect it, he’ll be glad to accept it. If they intend to make Marsh reason, Jon won’t say no either – even if his days in charge are over. He doesn’t care much for being in charge anymore and he doubts he’ll ever be.

That evening he goes to eat in the tavern – after all, if he can stay awake for a normal time, he’s as healed as he’ll ever be and while before too much noise made him feel dizzy, he misses the dinner hall. He misses laughing with the people he shared a table with, he misses hearing laughter and screaming and singing, he misses people around him. And he thinks that it’s been enough time.

“I’m coming with you,” he tells Sam just before Sam heads for the tavern.

“We missed you,” Sam replies before waiting for him just out of the door. Jon grabs an extra fur and follows him out.

The tavern is packed with mostly wildings and a few men dressed in black; Pyp and Grenn clap him on the back when he comes inside it, and he’s almost touched when both of them don’t do it as strongly as they would have a long time ago. They’re given equal portions of a stew that doesn’t taste half bad and Jon eats it with pleasure. He doesn’t talk much but he listens to Sam as he tells them some story about his trip to Oldtown and about this strange girl he met in Braavos, he doesn’t express his opinion when Pyp starts teasing Grenn over five different things during the course of the entire dinner. For that hour he spends in the tavern, he can almost trick himself into thinking that the last couple of years haven’t happened.

--

He makes the mistake of drinking a glass of wine before leaving. A mistake because by now the fairly good kind has been drunk and cheap is the best thing you could say about the wine (or any kind of drink) that’s left at the moment. He hasn’t had anything to drink in a long while, and his body is still weak, and it only takes him that glass for his head to start spinning. Thankfully it clears enough while he leans on Sam as they walk back to the brothel, but he can’t help shaking away the thought that two years ago this would have never happened. Two years ago it’d have taken him a lot more than a glass for his eyes to lose focus for a while, or for him to feel dizzy after a couple of sips.

When he drops on the bed, his head is somehow clear but his tongue is loose, too loose.

“I’m sorry, you know,” he blurts, and when Sam sits down next to him, looking worried out of his mind, Jon thinks that his heart swells just a bit.

“Jon, what –”

“I am. About a lot of things, but – mostly about you.”

“About me?”

Jon laughs, looking down at his hands. They’re slightly shaking. “Sure. First I send you away just when it’s plain that you like it where you are, and to do something you hate, and then you come back regardless? Here? If the Wall falls tomorrow and we all die here it’ll be my fault.”

“Jon, I don’t – I don’t think you’re thinking clearly,” Sam tries, but Jon shakes his head. He’s thinking clearly enough.

“Oh, I am. And I also know that maybe if I hadn’t sent you away you might have stopped me from doing things without consulting anyone else, and maybe I wouldn’t be like this and I wouldn’t have put the safety of the entire kingdom at risk. I haven’t taken one right decision since they elected me,” he keeps on, unable to stop himself. “And your father thinks that being handsome and a skilled warrior is everything. He knows nothing. I know nothing.” And he’d keep on, he knows he would, but a moment later he feels the back of Sam’s hand connect with his cheek and the sharp bout of pain makes him stop.

It takes him a second to realize that Sam just slapped him in the face, and then he looks at Sam again and he looks even more worried.

“Sorry,” Sam mutters, “but I didn’t know how to stop you. You’re talking nonsense.”

“You know I’m not.”

“Yes you are. Your plans were good – it’s not your fault if the others couldn’t see it. I didn’t want to go, fine. I won’t lie. But I saw why you did it. And if I hadn’t met you, I’d have stayed a recruit for the rest of my days, and you know it.”

“You’re not half as craven as you think you are,” Jon replies.

“Maybe, but I’d have never known that if I hadn’t met you either. And if the Wall falls is Marsh’s fault, not yours.”

“It isn’t that easy.” Sam makes it seem so, but it isn’t.

“Do you want to know something? When I was – when I was in Oldtown, sometimes I thought that I’d never manage to forge that chain. Mostly when it was my turn to, uh, dissect corpses. I thought I’d throw up the first time I saw one. But I didn’t. Because – I always thought – that if I could forge that chain then I’d go back here and we could have – well. You know. You’d have been like the Old Bear, and I’d have been like Maester Aemon, and we’d get to grow old at the Wall, and – I know it’s stupid. But it was nice to imagine it.”

Jon can’t even begin to wrap his head around it – mostly because he had thought that Sam had been angry with him for sending him away. Surely not that he’d force himself to go through that stupid training just so that they could grow old together at the place he had come to think of as home.

“I’m sorry,” Jon whispers then. Someone else might have joked about it, because Sam is right – it’d take little to think of it as a stupid fantasy. But Jon knows it isn’t. “Apparently that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”

“You’re still alive, aren’t you?” Sam replies softly, and Jon doesn’t think anymore – when he kisses Sam it’s all heat and urgency and need, and when Sam gasps before kissing him back, Jon thinks that he won’t be happy with only Sam’s hands or with his own. Stannis or whoever he sent will be here soon, and they could be dead a week from now.

From the way Sam is reciprocating the kiss, Jon thinks that he isn’t the only one who wants more.

He doesn’t resist it when Sam slowly pushes him down on the bed, and he doesn’t protest when Sam throws away both furs covering them and opens his shirt; it’s cold, damn cold, but Jon thinks he can endure that.

He gasps when Sam runs his fingers over a gash in his shoulder. Jon shudders then, unable to keep his eyes open and look at the mess of scars on his once smooth chest, and then he doesn’t think anymore because Sam has leaned down and kissed that scar he had been touching before.

“Sam, what –”

“I think you’ve talked enough for this evening,” Sam replies before kissing the one below it.

Jon would like to object, but then Sam moves to the next one and Jon loses capacity for coherent speech. He shivers while Sam’s lips or fingers go through all the scars covering his chest, both deep and shallow, and when he runs his tongue almost shyly over the one on his hip that had almost killed him Jon can barely recognize his strangled voice as he speaks Sam’s name all over. When Sam is done, Jon barely feels the chill – there’s sweat breaking all over his face, and his hands are stuck on Sam’s shoulders, gripping maybe too hard, but he can’t bring himself to care. When Sam’s hands reach up and brush his neck they’re sweaty, too, and the brushing becomes touching only when Jon slams his lips against Sam’s. His back, which is pressed against the wall, hurts because of the pressure, but Jon doesn’t really mind, not when everything else feels so good. From the way Sam’s hands touch him to the way Sam’s tongue feels against his own, everything is making him shiver in pleasure rather than pain, and when one Sam’s hands moves down and Sam runs his fingers again over that red, angry scar on his hip Jon feels his blood boil.

They’re both panting when they part and Jon doesn’t lose time – his hands go towards Sam’s breeches, unlacing them with trembling fingers (even if they don’t shake as Sam’s had the first time they did this). When he palms Sam’s crotch through his smallclothes he’s pleased to find him half-hard, and he feels his own cock stir, too.

Hands won’t be enough this time, definitely not.

“Jon, we don’t have anything –” Sam starts when Jon pushes down his own breeches and gets rid of them. He’s feeling slightly colder now, but that’s no issue. He knows he won’t be cold for long.

“Sam, get to the point.”

“I should – we don’t have oil or –”

Jon shrugs, not as if they could have stolen it from the tavern. “Then we’ll have to make do,” he replies before nodding towards Sam’s mouth.

Sam’s cheeks are beyond flushed as he spits on his finger before leaning down – though not enough to crush him – and Jon hisses when it Sam pushes it slowly inside him. He might have been too optimistic – it’s going to take a lot of it and Sam won’t hear that after forty people stab you at once your idea of pain tolerance changes, so he stays still while Sam’s fingers work on him. It’s painstakingly slow, and it takes what seems like hours before Sam puts a second finger in (and it’s obvious that he’s somehow read about how this is done – he’s doing this too carefully to be second-guessing his actions). At the beginning it’s mostly painful, and when Sam pushes in past his knuckle he’s glad that Sam is taking his time after all, but then he starts to get adjusted, and while it’s not exactly pleasurable until Sam manages to push two full fingers inside it becomes bearable. Then, before Sam tries to put three fingers in, Sam’s other hand closes around Jon’s half-hard dick and Jon moans out loud, and he’s distracted enough that while he feels some pain, it isn’t enough to pull him out of the moment. And then Sam’s fingers bend just a little and Jon thinks that if his chest wasn’t still hurting he might have arched off the bed.

“Gods,” Sam is keeping on saying all over again, as if he can’t believe that this is really happening. “I’m – I’m not sure it’s enough – I don’t want to –”

“Sam, you out of everything in the world won’t – won’t be my death,” Jon manages to say before sitting up a bit, his frame against Sam’s. He wishes he could unlace Sam’s shirt, too, but he’ll need one hand for other things and he can’t keep himself propped up without one arm. Then Jon spits against his hand once, twice, and wraps it around Sam’s cock. Sam groans out loud, and considering that there are some people patrolling on the outside Jon won’t be surprised if the time of the lady love jokes comes back.

Not that Alliser Thorne would have imagined that Jon would have been the lady love, technically, but apparently he knew nothing either.

He gives Sam’s cock a couple of strokes until it leaks against his palm, and then he takes his hand away before he can get carried away.

“I think – you can try,” Jon manages, and Sam gives him a jerky nod before pulling away his fingers and replacing them with the tip of his cock.

It hurts. It could be worse – it’s not completely dry and since Sam is keeping on spitting in his hand and touching himself every time before he pushes in, and he’s going slow, it’s definitely not the unbearable kind of pain. Still, Jon has to remind himself to breathe and relax, breathe and relax, as Sam moves painfully, inch by inch, and Jon thinks that singers should write odes to Sam’s self control. He hasn’t let himself fall down once, which means that he isn’t crushing Jon to the bed. Considering that his eyes are more black than soft brown, Jon can easily figure that he’s holding back; a lesser man would have just thrown him down onto the bed and had his way.

This until Sam curses under his breath and pulls out without a warning.

“What –”

“’m an idiot,” Sam mutters before grabbing the one oil lamp they have inside the room from the nightstand. It wasn’t even lit, and maybe it’s why they didn’t even think about it. Sam takes the cover off. A moment later, two fingers coated in oil are pushing their way inside Jon again, sliding in a lot more easily, and then Sam takes them away and plungers them inside the lamp again.

And then Sam’s cock is sliding inside him again, and it’s nowhere as painful as it was before.

“You’re definitely not an idiot,” Jon manages before Sam buries himself inside him and the rest dies on Jon’s tongue. When Sam pulls back and pushes in again, touching that spot that his fingers had reached first, Jon wraps a leg around Sam’s back, his nails digging into Sam’s shoulders. Sam is muttering his name all over, his lips against Jon’s neck while Jon’s hips thrust forward. Sam starts slow but then he obviously can’t hold himself back anymore and Jon is fine with it; when Sam starts going faster, his cock hitting that spot all over again while Jon’s erection is trapped between the two of them, Jon thinks that he won’t last much longer. The friction is just perfect and he doesn’t think that he’ll need to touch himself, not when he thinks that he wouldn’t even remember how to move his hands if he tried. His mouth finds Sam’s again in a messy, open-mouthed kiss just before Sam’s entire body spasms and Jon feels Sam coming inside him with a last, deep thrust. That’s what sends him over the edge, too – he shudders in Sam’s grasp before spilling all over Sam’s stomach, his forehead plastered to Sam’s, his body shivering all over from pleasure. His grip on Sam’s shoulders has to be painful but he’s beyond caring; he can’t, not when his blood is singing and boiling and then he’s gone. He’s feeling too much and when he realizes that he’s not shaking because he reached the peak anymore, his grip on Sam’s shoulders goes a bit more lax.

He really isn’t surprised when it ends with Sam half on top of him a few moments later. He knows that it won’t help his back if they stay like this, not when he has half of Sam’s weight on top of him, but if not for that he wouldn’t have cared and he isn’t even sure that he wants to.

His back can hurt as much as it wants tomorrow, he thinks before closing his eyes again. They should clean up – they’re filthy, the both of them – but he can’t bring himself to care about that either.

If he sighs out in almost contentment when Sam manages to roll them over and their frames are pressed against each other, it’s not as if someone else but Sam knows.

--

The morning after, Jon is grateful that whoever brought him the pitcher full of water that he usually finds at the bottom of the bed left it outside the door. They manage to clean up fairly decently, but the sheets aren’t salvageable.

“I’ll bring them down,” Jon says.

“I can do that,” Sam offers, but his cheeks are flushed, again.

“I don’t mind,” Jon cuts him short.

He brings the sheet down to a makeshift laundry room – people take turns there. Today it’s a spearwife’s who obviously isn’t too happy with it, but when she sees the sheets she laughs and asks Jon whether there’s been some stealing going on in his room.

Jon doesn’t answer. He runs into Pyp on the stairs, and while Pyp flushes the second he sees him, he doesn’t comment or start with the lady love jokes, and Jon is grateful for small favors. Not that knowing for sure that the entire house heard them is something he couldn’t wait for, but then again they all might become wights in days. He doubts anyone would care.

Sam has changed the sheets when he’s back inside the room.

“I had thought about that, you know,” Sam says, looking down at the bed rather than at him.

Jon wraps his fur closer around himself and goes to stand next to Sam. “Who says that you were the only one?” he answers.

Jon had thought that he had been selfish, while being glad about Sam being here rather than in Oldtown, even if it meant more risks. But from the way Sam is looking at him right now, Jon thinks that maybe it was the two of them.

He doesn’t find the thought as scary as it should be.

--

Hours later, Jon is in the main hall, Ghost at his feet (the direwolf had been out hunting and for once Grenn had been glad that he had brought some game along), looking at one of the few maps that they managed to scrounge up when Val strides inside the room.

“Lord Snow?” she asks, and her tone is mocking enough that Jon doesn’t bother telling her that he doesn’t really liked being called like that anymore.

“Yes?”

“Some people who were hunting came back saying that your precious king is on the way. He’ll be here in maybe one hour – I reckon he’ll be expecting you outside.”

“Did he bring anyone with him?”

“Some fifty men, or so they say.”

She leaves after that, and Jon is half-sure that they won’t see her around for a while. Not that he blames her, considering that she had to live with the man’s wife berating her traditions and trying to force some husband on her.

Sam, who had been writing something on the back of a page torn away from the brothel’s accounts book, moves in front of him.

“So he’s come in person?”

“It means important business,” Jon sighs. “I doubt I’ll like it, but she’s right. I have to meet him – I might as well go out and try to clear a couple of tables at the tavern.”

Which will be hard, since it’s full at any given time.

“Do you want to come with me?” Jon asks then.

“What – to talk to the king?”

“Why not? He knows good advice when he hears it.”

Sam folds the paper in four and it disappears into one of his pockets. “The last time I talked to him, I was scared out of my mind,” Sam remembers, moving closer to Jon’s side.

“You don’t have to –”

Jon stops talking when Sam shakes his head. “I’ve met worst people than him since,” Sam says. “And he’s nothing in comparison to my father.”

He sounds remarkably calm as he says it. Once upon a time he couldn’t even say that word without flinching, Jon remembers.

“You never told me how it went exactly,” Jon says then, feeling a bit guilty for not having inquired more.

“There was no need to. And – well. It was terrible, while I was doing it, but the moment I left – I was glad I could see him again. If only because I realized that I really don’t care what he thinks of me.”

“You shouldn’t care.”

“Well, I’m half-sure that I couldn’t have gone back there for any other reason.”

Jon swallows, and now he’s the one sure that he doesn’t have an answer worthy enough.

But maybe he doesn’t need to have it at all.

And even if nothing looks good right now (Stannis could bring bad news, his sister is still married to Ramsay Bolton or missing, as far as he knows, the Others are closer than ever, he’s still hurting all over and he isn’t looking forward to more fighting, more scheming and more suffering), he figures that it’s not too much to hope that they somehow all survive this.

(He’s also tempted to hope that someday that fantasy of Sam’s about the two of them growing old in a place that they both love might come true, and that it might happen in a world where somehow both his presumed dead brothers were found, however it happens, but he still doesn’t go there. It would be too much luck.)

“Jon?” Sam asks, and he realizes that he had been staring without saying anything. “Are we going then?”

“We are,” Jon replies softly, and when they step out into the pale, weak morning sun he doesn’t feel as cold as he should.

End.