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the wolfcubs of winterfell

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[Robb]

 

Ned had forgotten how beautiful Catelyn Tully is.

He greets her outside Winterfell's front gate, a small retinue from Riverrun behind her, their red and blue cloaks fluttering softly in the wind. Her auburn hair is braided and coiled, pinned into one of the complicated southron fashions, shimmering brightly in the weak Northern sunlight.

She is still a stranger to him, a reminder of all the things he has stolen, all the things that should have gone to Brandon.

The babe in her arms is pink-faced and squalling, his tiny fists curled tightly; he is already strong, already a fighter.

 

[Sansa]

 

Catelyn nurses Sansa in a large chair by the fire, her head bent and her gown unlaced.

She strokes the delicate slope of Sansa's cheek, murmurs soft words Ned cannot hear. He had offered to bring her a wet-nurse, as is common in southron households, but she had refused, wanting their children to know the warmth of her skin, the beat of her heart.

Sansa has Catelyn's hair, red and bright even in the poor light. She makes a slow, contented sound as Catelyn moves her to the other side, pats her tiny hand on the curve of Catelyn's breast.

 

[Arya]

 

Arya is Lyanna reborn, muddy hands and torn dresses, dark hair and grey eyes and a long, Stark face, wolf's blood beating wildly under her skin.

She shrieks as she runs through the yard, as she chases after her brothers on chubby, unsteady legs. She stumbles over a patch of scrub grass, landing on her bottom with a sharp, startled sound; she doesn't whimper or cry, just lifts her arms, shouts until she is picked up.

Ned watches as Jon swings her up onto his hip; she laughs and kisses his cheek, leaves a smudge of dirt on his jaw.

 

[Bran]

 

Catelyn labors for two full days and most of a third; Ned has never felt so helpless, so useless.

He paces outside the birthing chamber, gritting his teeth when the midwives leave with bloody sheets, clenching his hands into tight fists when Catelyn screams. Her pain echos off Winterfell's walls, high and shrill, twists a sharp ache into the center of Ned's chest.

The sun sags toward the horizon, burning red and gold and white. Ned presses his hand to the door, his heart in his throat as a babe cries on the other side of it, tremulous but alive.

 

[Rickon]

 

Rickon has Tully hair, the same deep, rich red as his mother's, but he has Stark grey eyes, wide and bright as he stares up at Ned and smiles.

He burrows closer to Ned's chest, a warm weight in the crook of Ned's arm. His tiny fingers curl in the laces of Ned's doublet; Ned traces his thumb down the short line of his nose, over the soft curve of his chin.

Rickon cries as Ned hands him to Old Nan, sharp and furious, a third son Ned never expected to have, a fifth child that should have been Brandon's.

 

[Jon]

 

Winterfell is strange after southron courts and wars, ghosts hidden in every shadow and corner, memories under every stone.

Ned sends a raven Riverrun, asking the wife he barely knows to take her place as the Lady of Winterfell.

A brisk wind pushes through the godswood, stirring the sentinel needles under Ned's feet. He kneels in the blood-red leaves before the heart tree, sees Lyanna's face in its rough-hewn features, prays that Catelyn will forgive him, that Jon will grow close to the trueborn son Ned has not yet met, that Jon and Robb will love each other like brothers.