Jon shifted uncomfortably in his seat, looking out the window at the trees speeding past. The drive to the airport was too long for his liking. He felt strangely awkward in this fancy car. Jon glanced towards the chauffeur. He was nowhere near as used to riding in the back of this slick black limousine as Robb or Bran, but his father had insisted on seeing Jon off personally.
He supposed it was only fair. After all, Jon would be at Fort Black a long time, and father was moving south to take some mysterious government position in parliament. Who knew how long it would be before they saw each other again?
He already missed home. Yes, he’d be relieved to get away from certain judgemental people. But Jon had spent his whole life in Winterfell township. He’d miss his father, his siblings, Ghost. Robb had promised to look after the puppy, and Jon trusted his brother completely. But Robb was always so busy. Jon would have to call him to make sure Ghost was eating regularly,
He wished Ghost was here now. Wished he could play with the puppy, calm himself a bit.
Jon scratched at his forearms absently, glancing at his father from the corner of his eye. Ned Stark was dressed, as he often was, in an impeccable grey suit, capped off with traditional Stark sigil cufflinks. It was hard not to feel small next to him. He pulled on the sleeves of his old black hoodie, a castoff of Robb’s, trying to straighten out the wrinkles. It occured to Jon suddenly that he couldn’t remember the last time he and his father had been alone together.
He should say something, start some conversation. Jon didn’t want to spend their last moments together for a long while in silence. But his mind seemed to be a perfect blank.
Jon told himself this was simply nerves. He was far more anxious than he’d thought he’d be, heading up to the military academy at Fort Black. Yes, he’d been planning this for years, telling everyone who would listen that he couldn’t wait to join his uncle in the army, couldn’t join the officer training corps, couldn’t wait to get his commision. And silently to himself, he would say he couldn’t wait to be respectable, to be acknowledged, to finally be a full honorable member of his family. Instead of just a -
“You have everything you need?” His father’s voice cut into Jon’s thoughts. He started a bit, tried to smile lightly before answering. “Yes,” he nodded.
“You sure? You remembered to bring your passport, all your travel documents?”
“Yes,” Jon repeated, tugging at a loose thread on his sleeve. “I still don’t know why I need them. It’s not like I’m going to another country.”
Ned Stark laughed, though there was little humor in it. “The territories aren’t quite the same as Westeros proper. Suspect you’ll learn that soon enough.”
Jon tried not to roll his eyes. Everyone always went on about how dangerous the Northern territories were, but Robb had secretly spent Theon’s 20th birthday partying in Hardhome and didn’t have any trouble at all. Jon wasn’t a child anymore. He knew how to take care of himself.
Still, he didn’t say any of this to his father. “I’ll be safe. I promise.”
His father smiled warmly. “I know you will. Between you and I, you’re one of the more level headed children in the Stark household. I know you’ll do us proud up at Fort Black.”
Jon truly smiled at this, basking in his father’s praise. He missed this, missed the days when he and father would spend time alone together, talking about everything and watching old horror movies and sharing traditional old stories father had learned in childhood. These last few years as father had gotten more involved in national politics, and as he spent more time teaching Robb to take his ceremonial place, Jon had rarely seen him. His father seemed so far away.
He still didn’t know what his father was going to be doing down south in the capital. When Arya had asked, father had simply said it was something in parliament and not to worry themselves.
But King Baratheon himself had made a brief appearance in Winterfell last month. Pictures of father with the figurehead had been splashed across newspapers and tv screens all over the country. Ned Stark had been caught in constant meetings during the visit, was barely available for Jon’s final weeks at home. More than that, he’d seemed sad and subdued ever since the delegation had flown back south.
Jon didn’t know what could have upset him so much about those meetings. After all, the King mainly opened hospitals and appeared at parades. It wasn’t like he had any actual power.
None of his siblings knew anything. Not even Robb who knew almost everything about father’s business or Arya who spent an abnormal amount of time snooping around father’s office.
At the thought of his siblings, Jon’s lingering smile faltered. He turned to look out the window, out at the Northern hills speeding quickly past.
He’d miss them so much. Robb, Arya, Bran, Rickon. Even Sansa, who didn’t speak to Jon much these days. Fort Black didn’t allow long periods of leave. He didn’t know how often he’d be able to come home.
Jon almost felt his courage fail, almost wanted to ask his father to turn the car around, drive back home. Yes, he likely wouldn’t be able to get into any of the prestigious schools that Robb and Theon were destined for. But he could go to the technical college, could get a degree in computer science or criminal justice, could make a perfectly respectable living -
But if he did that, he’d always be less in the eyes of father’s associates, in the eyes of Robb’s fancier friends. Less in the ever judging eyes of Mrs. Stark. He’d always be looked at as an expected disappointment, as a shame, as well what do you expect of someone like that?
No, becoming a military officer was the only way forward. The only way to get the respect of the people who doubted him. The only way to really be one of them.
They passed a sign on the highway. Viserion Airport Next 3 Exits
Jon tried his best to steel himself.
He turned towards his father again. The older man was looking at him fondly, a soft smile playing at his lips. He put a hand on Jon’s shoulder. “I’ll miss you, son.”
It was harder than he’d thought not to cry. “I’ll miss you too.”
They had come to the airport gate. The car pulled up to the priority entrance, and Jon could see the driver hop out of the front and run around to grab Jon’s bags.
Jon wanted to help him, wanted to make sure the man wasn’t going to too much trouble. But as he started to get out of the car, he looked back at his father. Looked back and was filled with love and affection, but also an odd urgency. He was going away for a long time, and father would be busy in the capital. He knew it wasn’t a good time to talk, this was after all the most taboo subject in his family. But when he would ever have the chance to ask again? The chance to know?
If you don’t ask now, you never will.
“Jon, what is it?”
Jon met his father’s gaze, then broke it. He gathered every bit of courage he had, clenched his right hand into an anxious fist, and finally choked out the words.
“Is my mother alive? Does she know about me? Does she care?”
The color drained from his father’s face.
The limousine door opened suddenly. The driver held the door open for Jon. He hovered, unsure what to do.
After a moment, the driver looked past Jon to address his father.
“Is your boy getting out, sir?”
Ned Stark cleared his throat. “I think we will need a moment. Privately, if you please.”
“Of course, sir.”
The door snapped shut abruptly. A heavy silence fell over the car.
Finally, his father broke it. “What brought this on, Jon?”
Jon shrugged, pulled at his sleeves, avoided his father’s eyes. “I just...with everything...I didn’t know when I’d get another chance to ask. And I just suppose I wondered if going to Fort Black...I wondered if this is what she’d want me to do with my life. That’s all”
Ned sighed. “You know I’m proud of you no matter what you decide to make of your life. You don’t have to go into the military if you don’t want to, Jon.”
But he did. He did have to go. He wanted to go. It was the only way he’d ever stand somewhat equal to his family.
Jon chose not to say this out loud. He loved his father with his whole heart, but he knew Ned Stark, head of one of Westeros’s oldest families and the most important ceremonial figure of the North, would never truly understand how it felt to be insignificant.
So instead he tried to backtrack. “I know. I was just curious. It’s not important.”
He put his hand on the car handle, started to exit the car. His father gently reached over and stopped him.
“Just, settle back for a moment Jon.”
Jon did, waiting nervously, slowly pulling a long black thread from his sleeve.
His father sighed again. “I know the fact that I was so...traditional in aspects of your upbringing must seem cruel to you.”
Jon’s head snapped up. His mouth filled with hurried denials.
“No, I know tradition is important, it’s alright I - “
Ned Stark held up a hand and Jon fell silent. “Let me finish, son. I am sorry, truly. I know it created a lot of difficulty for you. And I know certain members of the family never quite...embraced you as they should have.”
Jon was silent, thinking of the judging eyes of Catelyn Stark. Eyes that always seemed to ask, why is this boy, some other woman’s child, allowed to live in my home?
He looked at his shoes, chewing at his bottom lip.
“But there was a good reason for it. For all of it. I cannot tell you about her now, I’d rather be somewhere a bit more private. But I promise, the next time we see each other, we’ll talk about your mother.”
Jon felt a flash of irritation, but pushed it down. If father said it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right time.
A warm hand settled on his shoulder. Jon looked up. His father was smiling, tears in his eyes.
“I’ll miss you, Jon. And I love you.”
Jon wanted to be strong and stoic, wanted to prove he was too old for childish things. But at those words he pulled his father into a warm hug and let the tears fall from his eyes.
“I’ll miss you too, father. I love you. I love you so much.”
After a long while, they pulled apart. He took a long breath out, ran a hand through his hair. Opened the door.
His duffel was waiting on the pavement, the driver standing nearby. He picked it up, shifted it’s weight to his back.
He turned and looked back.
His father’s smile was sad. “I’m proud of you.”
Jon didn’t know what to say in response, but he smiled. That was all he needed. If his father was proud, he knew he was doing the right thing.
He walked across the pavement, into the airport. Made his way to the check-in desk.
“Name?” the disinterested clerk at the desk asked.
She typed something into the computer, checked his ID, handed him his ticket.
He took it and moved forward, moved forward into his new life.