–Eddard! – He turned around to see an auburn haired girl walking towards him, she was beautiful and she would look even more so with a less strained smile – I hate to bother you brother but have you seen Brandon? Lord Rickard said he would have no duties today, I was hoping we could spend the day together but I can’t seem to find him.
He hated lying to her, she was such a nice girl, but Benjen had intercepted him on the gates –He got a letter, I don’t know what it was about but he just stood up and left, I don’t know where, and I’ve looked, I swear but I can’t find him– he wasn’t going to tell on his brother – I’m sorry my Lady I was out ridding with Robert and Elbert since early in the morning, I have no idea where he could possibly be- her face crumbled for a second but only a second, before he could even blink the smile returned to her face, a fake one.
–Of course, silly me, thank you anyway brother- as she turned around and left Ned couldn't help but wonder, how would it feel like? loving someone who doesn’t love you back? He felt bad for her, he really did, but what could he do? Tell Brandon to be nicer? He was always nice to her he just didn’t love her, he wished he would, not so much for Catelyn’s sake but for Bran’s.
He let out a sigh and made his way on the opposite direction. As he walked through the castle grounds memories of his life before the Eyrie struck him, back then "home" wasn't even a concept, it just was, but then he left and everything changed, home became something to hold on to, something that was simply part of him, the stone walls were his bones and skin, the water running thru them his blood, the whole thing was alive and he carried it with him. He made a turn and arrived at the entrance of the crypts, his friends found the place incredibly creepy, he lighted a torch and walked in.
It was a dark, cold place, but it also felt like home, for both him and Bran. He didn’t even have to go too deep, Brandon was right in front of their mother’s grave. it was almost unsettling how after all these years he still knew his brother so well.
–Remember the day you left for the Eyrie? – Brandon asked suddenly, if he was surprised at all by his presence he hid it rather well
–Of course I do, I came to hide in here, so they couldn’t take me away, but you found me almost immediately, told me I needed to do my duty, for the North, for our family and for you as well, making allies in the south was too important – and it was, they all knew it, but he was 8 and scared, he didn’t want to leave his home, what if he didn’t like the Eyre? What if he didn’t like the Baratheon boy or Lord Arryn’s nephew? What if his family forgot about him while he was gone?
–I didn’t actually want you to go, I wanted you by my side, always, but I wanted to be a good son, make things easy for our parents so I said those things I didn’t really care about, and I let you go – There was something wrong with his voice, rough and airless, Ned wondered if he had he been screaming?
–Well, you did make me promise not to like any of my new friends more than you – he commented lightheartedly
–Did you keep your promise? – asked Brandon, easy and careless but Ned wasn’t fooled
–No one could ever replace you brother – all he got for answer was a chuckle, but some of the tension left Brandon’s shoulders.
–I heard you got a letter – just a small probe, nothing too demanding, Bran could answer or he could not he wasn't going to push it. He was rewarded with a crumpled piece of parchment and he finally understood. His heart broke for his brother.
–Willam will marry her at the end of the year – he recited cheerfully, his smile so forced it hurt Ned’s face – his father arranged it
–It’s a good match, for both of them –He just went on, as if he hadn’t been interrupted.
–and they have a lot in common, they’ll get along, they might even grow to love each other...
–BRANDON! – That finally shut him up, but as soon as that sad attempt at a smile was gone Ned almost wished it back. His brother looked exhausted but mostly he just looked miserable.
Ned hadn’t even heard of Babrey until the day of the wedding, moved forward several years by father’s request. He had definitely heard about her and worried, and Brandon, despite his temper and wild personality, was a good, dutiful son.
–I just want them to be happy – he said, almost desperately, as if begging him to believe him – I do
– I believe you
He couldn’t make Brandon love her, but he wished he could, not so much for Catelyn’s sake but for Bran’s.
–Maybe you could be happy with Catelyn, in time
–She’s really southern – He mumbled with a grimace and Ned couldn’t help but think that he sounded like a child.
–That doesn’t really have to be a bad thing – in response to that he got a scoff that was half laugh
–I guess you would know, with all your southern friends and what not – He was definitely acting like a child, but at least he was smiling, for real this time
–Give it time Bran, It’d get better – There was silence for a moment and then a sigh
– Well, you were always the smart one so I’ll take your word for it – It wasn’t all fixed, you couldn’t fix people’s lives with just one conversation, but he had nothing else to give but words and the hope that one day they might become reality.
–You do that
They stood there for a while, looking at their mother's grave, sometimes Brandon needed a distraction from his troubles but this wasn’t one of those times so they stayed silent, like the dead surrounding them.
–You know, Father used Catelyn’s dowry to finish rebuilding the Frost ruins, it’s all done now, so I guess we can’t call them that anymore eh?
–Yes, Father told me when I arrived, he said we could go see it in a week or so, are you coming?
–Of course, I could use some days away from Winterfell – the “away from her” went unsaid – And you haven't been there in a really long time, all the small villages in the valley became one big town, it expanded almost all the way into the harbour so Father decide to turn it into a proper port, you even have a few ships now, how about that?
–I better learn to sail then – they shared a wolfish smile at that. A whole new adventure they could embark on, like before he had to leave home to be fostered, not with his Brother at Barrowtown but somewhere else entirely. It was naught but a distraction from a girl he didn’t have and another he didn’t want but Ned didn’t know what else to offer, he was only five and ten and had never been in love, or infatuated, or in heat, or whatever it was his brother was in, Brandon tended to be rather fickle with his feeling for anyone he wasn’t related to, but he wasn’t going to question him or judge, Brandon could feel whatever he was feeling, they would weather the storm together.
–Come on then, you haven't really talked with Robert or Elbert, you'd like them I think, you can all get drunk and talk about me – as the laughter came the air felt lighter
–I love doing both of those things