Everything changes when Sansa is born.
The identity of Jon Snow’s mother becomes known out of necessity then – Ned wishes he could avoid it, wishes he had a different, perhaps better, explanation for what they’ve witnessed. However, he cannot, and there is not, so he mustn’t hold his tongue. Must reveal his most guarded secret—his biggest sacrifice.
His honor, after all, means very little when the lives of those he loves are in peril.
Catelyn spends much of the first moons at Winterfell both hating herself and hating her lord husband. But never the babe.
Never Jon Snow.
A babe, she thinks, as she informs the nursemaid that she would take care of feeding her lord husband’s bastard. An innocent babe, she insists, as she watches him play with her trueborn son – watches him grow besides her Robb.
Younger by a handful of moons, she’d been told; she clings to that thought, tucks it safely within her mind. Takes it out to remember it when uncertainty fills her—her one reassurance amidst the despair that sometimes threatens to overwhelm her.
Catelyn spends those first moons hating—herself for this perceived failure on her part, and her lord husband for the betrayal—or trying. Trying because, in the end, she cannot accomplish that.
Because every time she stares into the looking glass, every time she sees a pair of equally blue eyes staring back—remembers the moment she looked into the mismatched eyes of her soon-to-be husband and felt the rush of warm as she recognized her own. Every time, she’s reminded that Eddard Stark is her soulmate, that it will be physically impossible to bear him ill will.
Every time she looks at Jon Snow, she’s reminded that her soulmate sought another’s bed after their marriage – she is witness to the very proof there is that the Maesters of the Citadel are wrong. That what they preach is a lie.
Soulmates wedded and bedded cannot betray their vows to one another because they will never desire nor love another.
Lies. Lies, lies, lies.
My husband did, she wants to scream, every time she’s told how lucky she is to have wedded her soulmate, the honorable Eddard Stark betrayed his vows.
So she tries and tries and tries to hate him, but fails and the pain left in her ire’s wake is all-encompassing.
And one night, after she’s lulled both babes to sleep, as she looks upon their innocent and peaceful faces – one night, after a year’s passed and she’s decided to be the best mother and wife she can be, her lord husband asks:
“You will not hate the boy?”
Because, all around Westeros, the Ladies who have to live with their Lords’ shame resolve to hate the little bastards. As it is their right, as it is their desire. Hate and, if rumors prove to be true, get rid of them as it is the case of Cersei Lannister.
(And sometimes, Catelyn wants to—really wants to hate Jon Snow so much, but she will not. She cannot.)
Her lord husband asks and she answers – after threading her fingers through brown locks, after repeating the motion over red locks. After dropping a kiss to each tiny forehead, she straightens up, turns, and says:
“No, my Lord, I will not hate him – I will not condemn him for the sins of his father.”
It is the boldest thing she’s ever said to him; certainly the harshest. But it rankles that he would think her capable of hating an innocent babe. Family. Duty. Honor. Her House’s words. Family always comes first – even if Jon Snow had not come from her womb, he is still family.
“I will love him, my Lord,” she says, still bold, fierce, “I will love him as if he were my own.”
I will raise him alongside our trueborn son. He will want for nothing, this motherless child, Catelyn thinks fervently, she vows. I will love him, and if the Gods are merciful—if the Gods are good he will be our son’s biggest ally. Our son’s greatest protector, his most loyal.
Her lord husband blinks, then nods slowly; he takes a deep breath, as if to talk—and he’s been doing that plenty as of late—his grey eyes fall on the babes, then sighs. He says nothing for a long time, then simply asks if she might allow him to escort her to her chambers, and softer still, asks if he might call upon her that night.
Later, she thinks—as she lies on her bed, eyes wide in a sort of wonder she believes might never leave, catching her breath as she stares at this man that never ceases to surprise her. She thinks, perhaps, she ought to ask him to give the boy a true name. Make Jon a Stark. She thinks she ought to; Catelyn knows living as a Snow will be hard on him, once he’s old enough to understand what it means.
Spare him the pain, she wants to say, as she looks upon her lord husband’s profile, spare him the shame. Catelyn thinks she should ask – decides she will.
And then Sansa—her sweet and beautiful daughter—comes along.
Jon Snow’s eyes remain blissfully mismatched for two whole years.
His right eye colored the very same grey of Ned’s – a dichotomy of warmth and cold; his left eye, however – a deep blue so very reminiscent of her own. Of her Robb.
She remembers clutching at her son, cradling him against her breast the day she arrived at Winterfell; amidst the heartbreak and her righteous rage, she remembers feeling dread at the very possibility of the bastard being—
Ned had taken one look at her, at their son, then at the babe in his arms – realization dawning rapidly.
—her son’s soulmate.
The Gods would be this cruel, she’d thought, to punish an innocent babe for the sins of his father?
Back then, the babe in question had been Robb. And for a solid second, Catelyn is sure, she managed to hate Eddard Stark completely when he’d suggested she let Robb meet Jon Snow. One solid second.
Until she’d remembered—her son’s left eye is not grey.
The boys, so close in age—but her son is the oldest, he is, he is the first born—had been so curious about each other, squirming in the arms that held them in their attempts to reach the other. Babbling as their tiny hands had tried to grab.
“They will be fine brothers, closer than most.”
At the time those words had been uttered, Catelyn had said nothing—could not muster the energy to do anything. Now, it brings a shameful sort of relief, still. Close, the boys are close and they will grow closer still – thick as thieves. She rejoices in the knowledge.
Tries to push the petty little voice reminding her she does what she does for her son, to protect her son, and not out of real affection for Jon Snow.
A lie, she retorts, rebels against this notion, a lie.
A lie that used to be a truth. A lie that that still shines through her actions sometimes; shined through often in the beginning.
I love him now, I do.
That is the truth, absolutely; she knows this much now, in the aftermath of delivering her second child. A beautiful girl. She knows this for certain, as Ned enters her chambers after she’s been cleaned and dressed and her baby girl is settled peacefully in her arms, escorting the boys and telling them that they should speak softly lest they startle their sister.
Knows it in her very bones as she watches the boys bound into the room, struggling to keep quiet, but brimming with excitement and endless energy. Robb, her first born, whose belly laughs and exuberant countenance and unadulterated happiness never fails to bring smiles to Winterfell’s residents. And Jon, the motherless boy she’s come to love dearly in the spam of nearly two years, whose shy smiles and quiet demeanor and steadfast devotion to his family never ceases to amaze.
They both stop by her bedside and start bouncing on the spot as they wait for their Father to catch up with them. Ned sits next to her, at the edge of her bed, leans over to look at their daughter and suddenly Catelyn feels as if her life is perfect.
Everything she holds dear is within these walls and nothing could make her happier.
“Can we meet her now, Papa?” Robb seems to have reached the end of his patience; he leans over the edge of the bed as much as he can, tries to catch a glimpse of the babe’s face.
Jon looks at her – eyes beseeching her. “Does she look like me or Robb, Mother?”
Robb braces his hands on the bed and jumps as high as he can, his little face beaming at her as he catches a glimpse of her sister. “She looks like me!”
His contagious grin manages to turn Jon’s frown upside-down in no time, and then Catelyn shifts her daughter in her arms, with great care, so the boys can look without the risk of startling their sister. The little one has yet to open her eyes properly – she is impatient to know whether her daughter will take after her appearance fully.
“She’s prettier than you,” says Jon, sticking out his tongue at his brother, and turns his mismatched eyes once more on her. “Does she have a name?”
Catelyn shakes her head, turns to look at Ned—she has to push away the urge to say he should name their daughter as she named their son while he was away fighting in Robert’s Rebellion. The mention would bring unnecessary attention from their ever-curious boys, who have developed surprisingly good observation skills to be only three; the use of singular would be noticed immediately.
Jon more so than Robb. The question will come, regardless, and she does not wish to explain now—they’re much too young to understand.
“What shall we name her, my Lord?”
Ned smiles, stroking their daughter’s chubby cheek; the little one flutters her eyes but doesn’t really open them and the boys move closer, trying to catch the colors of her eyes.
“Sansa,” says Ned, “Sansa Stark, a good northern name.”
A beautiful name, she thinks, and then finally relents and tells the boys they can come closer. Which, they do so right away, scrambling to get onto the bed. Both are positively vibrating with suppressed energy – still mindful of their sister.
Robb—louder and buoyant in his affections—moves as close to Sansa as he possibly can without falling on top of his baby sister. With a delighted grin on his face, inching closer and closer until their noses are touching, he calls her name softly.
Jon is quieter—always quieter and more reserved in his affections—he doesn’t crowd Sansa, but neither does he keep his distance. He lets Robb call her name, and strokes her cheek gently, and then her hair in wonder – Catelyn smiles because the boy is always in wonder of her own hair, even Robb’s at first.
(And that first had been both terrifying and amusing; Jon had grabbed a handful of it and pulled and Robb had cried and retaliated in the same way. Both had cried and cried and refused to let go of each other’s hair until they simply did and sprawled onto the rugs in front of the fire, grabbing a handful of the other’s clothes and falling asleep.)
When Jon takes her little hand, Robb gasps excitedly and lets out a short laugh, drawing their attention, he exclaims happily that Sansa is opening her eyes, but it is hard to tell with his head still obscuring the baby’s face. Jon inches closer, anxious to see; Ned wraps an arm around her shoulder, presses a kiss to her brow and Catelyn is sure she will burst into tears—she’s so happy.
“Ooh! Her eyes are like Jon’s!”
—it all shatters.
Catelyn feels a foreboding chill settle in her bones, tries to keep her expression from cracking; feels her husband freeze next to her, for a moment not even breathing.
Robb moves back, grinning widely; they cannot smile back.
Jon moves closer, smiling brightly; they cannot stop him.
Jon moves closer, he stares, he gasps, he jerks back; Sansa gasps, squirms in her Mother’s arms, and coos at them all.
And their eyes, their left eyes—
She remembers gazing into Ned’s eyes that first day, the day they were to be wed. Remembers, past the warmth that had enveloped her, past the rush, past the happiness. Catelyn remembers seeing the color in his left eye swirl and slowly blend until it matched his right eye.
Remembers feeling the tingling in her own left eye.
—the colors swirl and blend until they finally reflect their match.
It takes some time to convince the boys to leave so their Mother can rest, so Sansa can rest as well. It takes time and some promises on his part, but he calls for Maester Luwin and they go willingly. Not without questions, on Robb’s part at least—why did their eyes change, Papa?—not without eliciting the surprise of the old man as he takes the boys by the hand, surprise at seeing Jon’s matched eyes.
Ned thanks Maester Luwin siltently for not asking what happened, thanks the Gods that the boys are too young to understand. Then asks them why they would deliver their punishment like this – why this? Why?
He drops a kiss on his Catelyn’s cheek, and excuses himself – he needs to think. He needs to try to find an answer. This changes everything. He knows he cannot simply hide it—it would be impossible, to contain something like this, no matter how much he wishes it so.
Ned sequesters himself in his solar – thinking and planning and going over every single possibility available to him at the moment. The ghosts of his past bellowing out at him, rattling his conscience; the ghosts of his failures draining him of hope, of energy.
Promise me, Ned. Promise me.
Jon’s matching eyes can be easily explained; the boy met his soulmate but it is not a viable match. The reasons can be worked out later, Ned decides, once he has a clear path to follow.
I must protect him; I must protect Sansa. No matter the cost.
But Sansa, his newly born daughter. How can he even begin to explain this? Not even a day old, and already with matching eyes.
Separating them is the only option, the only thing he can think to do now, and something he has heard of before—it must be possible. Everything else can come later; everything else will come later. They can keep Sansa in Winterfell until it is time to find her a husband; it is not uncommon, after all, for people to marry someone other than their soulmate. Most of the arrangements across the realm are of mismatched couples. Even when finding their soulmates later, duty binds them to their spouse – those who value their duty choose to honor the vows they made to said spouse.
Wedded and bedded, only then the compelling need to love and be loved by one’s soulmate would be unstoppable. He ought to know.
Truly, he and Catelyn are a very rare occurrence – and only possible after tragedy struck his family and the realm. Remembers Brandon, his Father—Lyanna. No; who’s to say if it’s not another tragedy what will make Jon’s and Sansa’s match possible? He cannot allow another bloodshed.
Vaguely, he wonders if this will break Catelyn’s affection for Jon; hopes it doesn’t, at the same time, he shamefully hopes it does.
To make his decision easier.
With a sigh Ned reaches for a piece of parchment, a quill, and begins to draft what he hopes is a convincing letter. Whether he sends it or not, he’s yet to decide.
Ned chooses a course of action; he waits to set things in motion.
Maester Luwin must be informed of what happened, if only because he requires his help in unearthing any and all information about soulmates. Winterfell’s library is vast, but Ned knows not if there’s much about the subject in its books.
In the meantime, he goes about his duties as usual – perhaps he feels more tired by nightfall than he’s accustomed, but the stress gets to him. He watches his sons play and train and go to their lessons; watches his daughter grow every day a little more, become every day a little Lady. He watches his wife.
Nothing is amiss—at first sight.
Because he knows that come nightfall, he’ll go by the nursery and find his Catelyn rocking their daughter gently as the babe sleeps, tears staining her cheeks. He knows that come nightfall, he’ll be exhausted enough to consider telling her—everything. Unburden them both from this sorrow that has latched onto their lives.
He watches her from the threshold, remembers the soft wonder in Jon’s eyes as he gazes upon Sansa and the undivided attention his daughter bestows upon him as well, every time they’re in the same chamber, lets his mind wander—what if, what if, what if—and is so very tempted.
“The Gods punish me for my transgressions,” he says, softly but the silence ensures he is heard.
“They do not punish you,” her voice is sharp, she’s only ever spoken to him like that once. “The Gods are cruel, merciless – so they punish our children.”
Just the once.
“No, my Lord, I will not hate him – I will not condemn him for the sins of his father.”
He cannot tell if she speaks for all of three children or just the two she’s given him. “Aye, they punish our children.”
He debates on telling her about the choice he’s made, the path he’s found – to either soothe her fears or increase her sorrows. His decision was not made lightly; the outcome will hurt no matter Catelyn’s true feelings. He knows it is the right thing to do, tell her.
He doesn’t. Ned doesn’t speak and walks away from the nursery and tells himself he’s sparing her further suffering.
He is honest enough to admit he fears her reaction.
Days later, Maester Luwin comes to him with the information he both wanted and not wanted to have confirmed.
“Are you absolutely certain?”
“Yes, my Lord,” says the man. “Separation is possible, there are records of it – but painful, my Lord, extremely painful for soulmates who bond so early in their lives.”
“Enough for there to be written commands to not try it, my Lord.”
Ned nods, pinched the bridge of his nose; begins to wonder if he could—could he put his children through such ordeal? Knows he couldn’t, wouldn’t. “You say the bond will grow to be strong, stronger than most, due to their initial age?”
“Yes, my Lord. Lady Sansa is newly born, her… attachment to Lord Jon will be absolute; Jon’s only marginally less so, and that’s mainly because he spent some time as an individual without his soulmate, ” Maester Luwin pauses, seemingly unsure if he should proceed, but pushes through nonetheless. “If left on their own, if you try not to separate them, once they reach their maturity…”
Ned needs no more; he knows, what would happen then. Not even wedding them to someone else, or sending them away from each other will sever the bond, as it is possible to those who meet their soulmate much later in life. Separating them then – it would be a tragedy.
“What would you suggest I do?”
“I would not know, Lord Stark. This… there’s no precedent for this. The Gods seldom send soulmates among siblings, even those who only share half the blood. Forgive me, I do not know how to proceed, I cannot help you.”
Ned remembers the songs his sister used to enjoy the most. Of true love and knights in shining armor and beautiful princesses and gallant princes. Of soulmates who grow up together and live happily ever after. Then there were the sadder, heartbreaking stories she also favored.
“Did you know, Ned? Some sing about Prince Aemon, The Dragonknight, and Queen Naerys, his sister and soulmate. They say the Gods were punishing them when they made them soulmates, that their love was doomed to never bloom.”
“The Gods are cruel sometimes, aye, but not so to make soulmates out of brother and sister, Lyanna.”
“Thank you, Maester Luwin, you have been most helpful.”
The old man nods respectfully and leaves; once alone, Ned allows himself to slump on his desk – head in his hands.
Somehow, the days turn into a fortnight, then two – a moon’s turn has passed, and then another, and sooner than expected—where did the time go—Robb’s and Jon’s fourth nameday passes as well.
Sansa’s first nameday is set to be within two moons.
Ned has yet to speak with Catelyn, has yet to speak with anyone other than Maester Luwin.
His household had been told to keep Sansa’s and Jon’s situation silent; they’d asked no questions, and he’d offered no further lies nor explanations. Yet still, he’d made the request for their silence, which they were all too happy to provide.
However, with his bannermen set to arrive a fortnight before Sansa’s nameday… His hands are firmly tied. They will ask questions – even if he manages to avoid those, their drunken stories are likely to spread faster than wildfire across the North, faster still once the travel bellow the Neck.
There’s little else that he can do, no longer a clear path to follow – he goes in search of his wife, knows where he’ll find her. There’s no more reason to postpone spilling his secrets. With measured steps, Ned arrives at the nursery, but only finds the children playing among themselves and a nursemaid watching them.
They’re all sitting by the fire. Well, Jon is sitting, cross-legged, while Robb kneels a few spaces away as he makes use of his wooden toys to enact what Ned thinks is a very animated battle. Sansa stands on wobbly legs next to Jon, a small hand clutching his shoulder tightly while she sucks the thumb of the other; she giggles constantly, even with her little thumb in her mouth, her joy is unrestrained.
Jon splits his attention evenly, laughing enthusiastically at his brother’s exaggerated reenactment of the story unfolding and smiling gently at Sansa whenever she lets out a delighted giggle. His hands have a steady grip on her, taking care to help her keep her balance whenever she stamps her little feet on the ground in her joy. Which happens often.
Ned leans on doorframe to drink in the sight of it.
Catelyn had worried that Robb would feel left out; what with the undivided attention Sansa began bestowing on Jon almost instantly. Worried that their son would feel betrayed, considering Jon returned such attention just as much. But it hadn’t been so, it isn’t so. Robb seems to understand what is happening without the advantage of knowledge; their son does not fight for attention, because it is clear that both Jon and Sansa love him very much and never neglect him when they’re all together.
Jon still trains with him, they attend lessons together, play together when Sansa sleeps or whenever they play outside. And Sansa doesn’t shun him, still seeks his arms and presses kisses to his cheek and gives him bright smiles.
He’d worried too, until Robb himself put him at ease, but only a short instant:
“It’s alright, Papa, I know Jon and Sansa love me very much, just not like they love each other.”
Robb is only a boy, he denies still, he doesn’t understands.
When his attention returns to the present and his children, Ned feels his lips quirk – they’re done with their game, obviously, and now try to make Sansa walk without much assistance.
She must learn to walk on her own; Maester Luwin had been insistent on that, reminding them of the boys and how they’d been walking everywhere before their first nameday. Catelyn had frowned but nodded still, Ned himself had had to refrain from talking, knowing Maester Luwin had the right of it.
But Sansa is his baby daughter; sweet and loving and gentle. He is tempted to say there is no rush for her to learn, not like the boys, he can carry her around for as long as it takes—but Catelyn is already enthusiastically teaching her and their daughter very much happy to learn, albeit slowly.
So now Robb moves a few more steps away from his previous position, a little further from the fire, and reaches out his hands, calling for his sister to go to him. Sansa giggles but doesn’t move, she pulls her thumb from her mouth and with a laugh turns to hug Jon, pushing her face into his neck. Robb is undeterred; he laughs and urges her to his side again.
Sansa turns to look at him, pointing a tiny finger, and calls back, “‘Obb!”
Jon burst out laughing, as does Robb again, though the later shakes his head and corrects gently, “It’s Robb!”
Jon shakes trying to suppress his mirth, shifts onto his knees, and gently pries Sansa’s fingers from his tunic; he guides her to stand in front of him, and just as gently commands her attention. “Sansa,” he says, “go to Robb.”
The little one pats his cheek. “Jon!”
“Yes,” he says, gently – Jon is ever gentle with Sansa; uninterrupted, he’ll grow to be ever loving. “Now go to Robb.”
A little nudge and Sansa begins to cross the distance separating her from her brother. Slow, sometimes unsteady, but stubbornly persistent. Behind her, Jon sways on his knees, ready to leap forward at the first sign of a stumble, arms hovering in front of him. Catelyn’s tried to tell him to let Sansa learn how to stand back up if she were to fall, that she needs it—Jon struggles to agree, to comply. He’s always rushing to Sansa’s aid; his sweet daughter, small as she is, seems to understand that, uses it to her advantage.
It’s why he’s not surprised that she has no problems to complete her trek to Robb’s side, yet once it’s time to go back to Jon, she stops midway and reaches for him.
The nursemaid intercedes before he can move, chiding gently. “You must let her come to you. Lady Sansa needs to learn, Lord Jon.”
A slightly different variation of what Catelyn had told him some days ago, under the same circumstances – when Sansa had walked unimpeded into his arms first, then Catelyn’s, and Robb’s. But as soon as Jon stood across her, she stopped halfway to call for him.
And just like last time, Jon caves and rushes to catch her as Sansa lurches forward, giggling all the time until she’s secured within the cradle of Jon’s arms. “Sorry,” he says, but ultimately they all know that’s not entirely true; sorry for disobeying, perhaps, but not for responding to Sansa’s call.
Never for that.
Burning this very image into his mind, Ned retreats and goes back to search for his wife.
“You were prepared to take this one secret to your grave, were you not, my Lord?”
He knows now, knows her well enough to understand – her formality is her attempt at keeping her emotions in check. They sit in her solar; Ned had come to find her in her chambers, caught her just as she’d been about to return to the nursery.
She frowns; he waits for her reaction.
Before sharing the one secret he’s held from her, he’d promised complete honesty. Despite their rocky start, she believed him and let him speak freely, without interruptions. Catelyn listened attentively, gaze unwavering, as he bared his very soul before her.
“The Maesters at the Citadel have it wrong.”
“What is it they have wrong, my Lady?”
“They say fully bonded soulmates, like you and I, are incapable of deceiving each other, of wanting another, loving another and I thought—” the startled laugh escapes her, shocking and pained, and Ned rushes to her side “—when I saw you with Jon, heard you call him son, I thought… they have it all wrong.”
She goes to wipe the few tears that have escaped her, but Ned gets there faster – he knows he’s never been one for grand romantic gestures, painfully awkward when he tries. But he tries and he endeavors to be genuine and thoughtful. So when Ned cups her face and swipes away the falling tears, he’s rewarded with beautiful smile.
“They don’t have it wrong.”
“They do, just not in the way I expected.”
Because he hadn’t lied to her—not really. Jon had been his son from the moment he was placed in his arms, from the moment he made his promise to his sister. He’d loved him as his own then, loves him still now.
Catelyn strokes his cheek lightly. “The love you bore your sister was greater than the love you felt for me then.”
She doesn’t take offense in this knowledge and he doesn’t correct her – it is the truth. Their love, their trust, their belief, their connection , despite everything, is nearly absolute now. He and Cat might have been fated to one another, but such things still need time to grow; nothing comes instantly, no love, no trust – not even for soulmates. They are still growing into their bond, even now, after nearly five years.
“I love you both equally now, only differently.”
And Ned, he could laugh, because his own son—a boy of four—told him something very similar not that long ago.
“This will change everything,” he says after a while; knows it to be a lie – things changed the very moment Sansa came into this world, the knowledge sits heavy on his shoulders.
“Not everything,” and she smiles, gentle and true and, despite the storm that will surely come, something eases in his chest nonetheless.
“Aye, not everything.”
Not everything changes, true—not the most important thing. Not Catelyn’s feelings regarding Jon – the truth eases something in his lady wife but nothing about her and her actions truly change. Not everything, but once his bannermen arrive and he sets to tell them the truth, well.
The Gods can be as merciful as they can be cruel; he knows this. So, on the eve of the Northern Lords’ arrival, he prays for mercy.
In the hour of the Wolf, Eddard Stark kneels before the heart tree and prays for his family.