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.
Tormund shifted uncomfortably in his seat, drumming one hand along to the music. Orell’s truck was cramped and old, not exactly a pleasant ride. And it smelled like absolute shit.
He wished they could have just taken his own car. But they needed the truck for this, it made them look more realistic. As Ygritte had frequently pointed out, a bumper sticker that read “Fuck the Cops” did not exactly seem professional.
Didn’t mean Tormund had to like it. Especially if Orell kept driving like a fucking idiot.
They hit a pothole at full speed. The entire truck rattled. The engine whined like a dying dog.
“Could you pay fucking attention maybe? No wonder this shitheap is falling apart.”
Orell glared at him. “I know how to drive my own car.”
“Well fucking act like it then.”
The smaller man huffed. “I’m the driver, yeah? I was chosen to do this? Not you?”
Tormund rolled his eyes at Orell’s sarcasm. He wished Ygritte was with them for this part of the trip; she could always be counted on to shut Orell up for a bit.
He fished around in his pockets for his pack of cigarettes, took one out. Grabbed a handle and manually rolled the window down.
“If you’re going to smoke, pass me one.”
“You smoked through half a pack of mine last week.”
“Well I’m the driver, so if you want one, I get one too.”
Tormund couldn’t really argue against that logic. He took out a plastic lighter, struck it a few times to get the flame going. He’d need to pick up a new one soon.
He got the tip of his cigarette lit, puffed a few times, used the lit end to light another. Passed it over. Orell gave him a quiet nod of thanks.
Tormund looked out the window, leaned into the cool night air. Breathed smoke into the stars.
He tried to quiet his lingering nerves. This should be easy. They’d planned for everything. But if something went wrong...he couldn’t exactly afford another arrest right now. He was still paying off fines from the last one.
Orell was chattering on about something. Tormund just wanted to listen to this next drum riff, calm himself down a bit, but Orell just kept going on and on and on.
“And then commented and told me that I don’t have care about international problems, which is absolute bullshit because I’m not just like some random idiot, he doesn’t have any idea who I-
“Orell,” Tormund snapped. “Have you ever met this person before?”
“No, but T. Nudho is a big-”
“Because if you’ve never met him before, could you fucking stop bothering me about some argument you had online with a random fucking person and focus on the fucking task at hand?”
Orell huffed a quiet “fuck off,” but stopped talking. Tormund focused on the music, tried to get himself ready, repeated the plan in his head.
Look credible. Be quick. Don’t get caught.
Soon they passed a temporary lit road sign. Government Construction Site Ahead: Have ID Ready
Tormund shut off the music and took a long breath. He pulled on the construction vest he’d bought last week and opened the glove box. The credentials they’d faked were inside.
“You ready?” he asked Orell, holding one of the papers out.
Orell nodded, pulled one hand off the wheel to take it. “Let’s just be fast, yeah?”
“Yeah.” They could do this. They’d done stuff like this before. They had it all planned. In and out, easy.
But what if…
“Do you think any Crows will be there?” Orell said suddenly, giving voice to Tormund’s anxieties.
“No.” His voice sounded surer than he felt. “They only patrol at night and whenever some important military fuck comes to tour the property. Construction crews left less than an hour ago. They won’t be there yet.”
“They won’t be there,” Tormund said firmly. “They won’t.”
If he believed it, it would be true.
The checkpoint came into sight. Tormund breathed a sigh of relief when he saw a certain redhead arguing with the guard at the checkpoint, just as they’d planned.
“But I always go this way to get home!”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but you’ll have to take your bicycle somewhere else.”
“But that’ll be an extra hour! This is absolute shit. This path was open last month!”
Tormund and Orell flashed their identification, and the distracted guard nodded and opened the gate, letting them through.
“This is fucking bullshit, you’ll let them through but not me?!”
“Ma’am, they work on this site.”
“Why the hell can’t I-”
The sound of arguing faded into the background as they drove up the path. Soon enough, they came to the massive foundation they were looking for. A “wet cement” sign stood next to it. They’d been lucky to get the tip that this had been poured this afternoon. They wouldn’t get another shot at this.
Orell cut the engine. They both pulled on hats, made sure the brims hid their eyes. For half a second, they sat in silence.
“Remember,” Tormund said. “Keep your head down as much as possible. Don’t let the cameras get a good shot of your face.”
Orell nodded. Tormund breathed out low.
They opened the doors to the truck, quickly made their way to the back. They took a massive bag from the truck bed, opened it. Poured it quickly into the wet foundation.
The substance slowly sank into the new cement. They opened the second bag, the third, the fourth, poured all of it in.
They finished fast, jumped back into the truck. Started the engine.
“Drive slowly. Don’t draw attention to us.”
“I know,” Orell said, breathless. Carefully, he pulled back onto the dirt path leading out of the site.
Soon enough they came to the gate. The guard was still arguing with the redhead on the bike.
Again, he opened the gate. As they drove by, Tormund kept his head ducked.
They drove in silence, too nervous to speak, until they came to an alley nearby. Their pre-agreed meeting spot. They stopped.
“It worked. I can’t believe-”
“Don’t celebrate yet,” Tormund cautioned. “Not until she gets here. In the meantime-”
He pulled the extra license plate out from under his seat. Rummaged around for the screwdriver he’d brought. Got out, prepared to switch plates. Checked again that there were no security cameras in this spot they’d picked. There weren’t.
He changed the license plate while Orell hovered nearby in nervous silence. Orell kept checking the time on his phone.
“She’s late. Do you think-”
“I think give her a few minutes. We’re in a car, she’s on a bike.”
Orell nodded, looked nervously from side to side. “It’s just what if they caught her? She’s not prepared-”
“Who’s not fucking prepared?” A loud call came from the other end of the alley.
They looked up, anxiously.
Ygritte was riding towards them on her bicycle, grinning from ear to ear.
Tormund stood quickly, ran to her. Hugged her tight the second she stopped.
She laughed. “What, were you boys worried about me? I’ve done this shit before you know.”
“I know,” Tormund said quietly. He pulled away.
It was odd how a few small changes made her look entirely unlike herself. A fake pair of glasses, fancy exercise clothes, her hair done up in two buns. She looked like some rich Westerosi tourist, not like someone who had lived in the territories all her life.
Still - “I thought you were going to play the scared lost little girl?”
“Scared girls don’t usually swear at Crow guards and tell them they’re full of bullshit.”
She scoffed. “Well he pissed me off. And he was distracted, so what’s the difference?”
He smiled down at her. “Well, it worked, so I can’t complain. Nicely done.”
Ygritte’s grin grew wider. “You boys held up your end?”
Orell nodded. “Poured a couple hundred pounds of sugar in. That’ll keep the cement from hardening properly. They’ll have to clean it all out, redo it. Set construction back weeks.”
“Which will buy us a little bit more time,” Tormund finished.
Ygritte looked estatic.
“Good. Fuck the Crows, fuck Fort Black, and fuck any solider that tries to fuck with us.”
“Not so loudly,” Tormund hushed.
She laughed. “Sorry,” she said more quietly. “We ready?”
“Let’s go home then.”
She threw her bike into the truck bed. They covered it quickly with the empty sugar bags, Tormund checked to make sure the new plates were screwed on tight. They piled into the car.
“We’re not listening to this shit, are we?” Ygritte complained as Tormund turned the music back on.
“They’re good!” Orell protested.
“They are absolute trash, and you know it.”
“Just because you have no taste-”
Tormund let the sound of their arguing wash over him as they pulled back onto the street. They’d done it. And they’d keep doing it, whatever it took.
The Crows thought this place belonged to them, but it didn’t. They couldn’t just keep abusing people, couldn’t keep building more and more bases, couldn’t keep forcing people under their thumb.
They were free people. And they’d do whatever it took to prove it.
The "sugar in the cement" thing is supposedly a tactic French anarchists used in the 80's to slow the building of prisons (though the reality of this is somewhat disputed!)
A bright light snapped on, and Jon was thrown violently from a comforting dream.
“On your feet!”
He scrambled out of bed, knowing he had less than 10 seconds to make it to attention before he’d be singled out for laziness.
The tile floor was freezing under his bare feet. He stood still as possible, tried not to think for the millionth time I made a mistake by coming here.
It would be worth it. Eventually.
His head was freezing. He missed his curls.
Thorne was stalking up the clean line of recruits, scowling at them. Jon was still trying to blink the sleep from his eyes, trying to process the harsh words dripping from Thorne’s mouth. Was hoping he wouldn’t be singled out.
“What’s the matter, Princess Piggy? Can’t be bothered to join the rest of us?”
Ah, Thorne was singling out Sam. That...wasn’t good.
Sam had just barely stumbled to his feet, was trying to look straight ahead as Thorne stalked over.
“I asked you a question. Do you think you deserve more sleep than the others, Piggy?”
Thorne was crowding closer and closer to Sam. Jon could see his shoulders shaking.
“Well, since you’re so eager to be awake, you won’t mind giving me twenty right now, would you?”
Jon tried not to grimace. Sam had only been here a week, and was struggling with the harsh exercise regimen. He wouldn’t get through this easily.
“Of - of course not, sir.”
“Do it then!”
Sam dropped to the floor and slowly started his push ups.
“One - two - three - four - five -”
“Watch your form, Piggy. You’re not here to lie on the ground and rest. Start the count again.”
“One - two - three -”
“Not good enough. Are you stupid as well as lazy? Start again!”
Jon could see Rast and Karl across from him, barely holding in their laughter.
“One - two -”
Thorne spat onto the floor in front of him.
“Start again! Before I make you strip down and run laps in front of the entire camp!”
Sam was starting to cry, was trying to hide it by ducking his head, hiding his face. This wasn’t right.
Something must have shown in Jon’s face, because Pyp, standing across from him, gave him an almost imperceptible head shake.
Don’t. It’s not worth it.
Thorne kicked Sam in the shoulder, forcing him back to the ground.
Jon stepped forward. “Sir -”
Thorne’s eyes snapped to Jon. “What, Snow? You have something to say?”
Jon met Thorne’s eyes evenly. “Just that we’ll miss morning formation, sir. You impressed upon us the importance of promptness, sir.”
Thorne’s attention was fully off Sam now. He was stalking towards Jon, fury written across every line of his face.
“You want to lecture me, boy?”
“Do you want me to take away your leave? Maybe lock you up for insubordination?”
Thorne’s eyes bored into Jon. He returned the gaze evenly.
After a moment, Thorne scoffed. “Well if you’re so eager to get to work, I’ll set you to it right away. Snow, Tarly, you’re on cleaning duty until midnight. No meals all day.”
“Yes sir,” Jon replied. He hoped his anger didn’t show in his voice.
Thorne sent him one final glare before stomping out of the room. “And I better see the rest of you in formation in five minutes!”
The door slammed shut.
Jon rushed over to Sam, helped him up.
“Thank you.” Sam was breathing hard, tears still pricking at the corners of his eyes.
“You still coming to piggy’s rescue?” Harsh laughs erupted from the other side of the room.
“Fuck off Rast,” Jon yelled back, guiding Sam to sit on the bed.
Grenn and Pyp walked over. Pyp looked almost angry.
“Why did you do that? You know after you clean he’ll have you running laps until morning. He could have taken away your first nightly leave.”
Jon sighed. “I know, Pyp, but it’s better than him going at Sam in front of everyone.”
“I’ll sneak you some apples or something,” Grenn whispered. “Make sure you both don’t pass out.”
“I can handle myself,” Sam piped up, still winded. “It’s all right, you don’t have to-”
“We’re all brand new here,” Jon cut in. “And we’re going to look after each other.”
“Fair enough,” Sam replied. “I promise, when I can help you back, I will.”
“You don’t have to-”
“I will,” Sam said, firm.
Pyp sighed. “I guess you’re right, Jon. Might as well make the best of this as we can. After all, it’s not like any of us chose to be here.”
Jon grimaced and said nothing.
It had been startling, realizing that the academy at Fort Black was not exactly a choice for most people. Sam had been forced in by his father. Pyp and Grenn had both been given a choice by a judge, the academy or prison. Most people had been forced there by family, the law, or pure financial desperation.
Jon wished there was someone he could talk to about it, but Uncle Benjen had left on a deployment before Jon even arrived. And father’s line had been constantly busy, he didn’t seem to have a moment to spare.
At least Jon had been able to talk to Arya for a while. Though that conversation had mostly been about how all the girls in the capital were boring.
He missed her. So much.
He wondered again if he had made the wrong choice by coming here. Maybe he should have tried to get into a school down south, live with Sansa and Arya and father.
No. This will be worth it. It will.
Sometimes time moved quickly. Other times it crawled. Unfortunately right now, it seemed trapped in place.
Jon and Sam cleaned and scrubbed until their knuckles were raw from chemical burn. They ran laps around camp until blisters grew and burst. They got through the next day, the next, the next, going through the same endless, exhausting routines. Trying their best to help each other through it.
Until finally finally it was Friday night. The first night of leave they’d had in the month since Jon arrived.
It felt odd, almost, to pull on his real clothes after a month in uniform. Black jeans, black t-shirt, black jacket. Jon looked in the mirror and grimaced a bit. He rubbed a hand over his cropped down hair. He looked a bit ridiculous shaved down like this.
There was a black beanie somewhere in his duffel. He pulled the bag out, started to search for it. Sighed in relief when he found it, and pulled it on.
There was light laughter from Pyp to his right. “Didn’t realize you were a goth, Jon.”
“I’m not a goth.”
“What’s with all the black then?”
“I look good in black, shut up.”
“Our uniforms are black, you wear black all the time anyway.”
“Oh who cares, “ Sam cut in. “Where are we going to go?”
“A pub,” Grenn insisted.
Sam looked disappointed. “I thought maybe we could go on a tour of the old castle, see the ruins of the Wall.”
“I’ve had enough talk of the so-called grand military tradition of Fort Black to last me ten lifetimes,” Grenn continued. “We’re going to a pub.”
“But it’s historically significant!”
“Go by yourself then!”
Sam huffed and sat heavily on his bed. Jon moved to sit beside him
“We’ll have plenty opportunity to see the old Wall, Sam. I hear they bring recruits out to it for lessons in month three. Might be nice to just have a night off from everything, yeah?”
Sam huffed again. “I suppose. But only if one of you buys the first round.”
Jon clapped him on the back. “You’ve got a deal. We ready to go?”
They stood, started to head towards the door.
“Be careful, children.”
The group turned around. Karl was grinning meanly from the other end of the barracks, Rast hovering next to him as always.
Karl had been through the academy program before and was being forced to repeat it. Jon thought the fact that he had failed out the first time should give him some humility. But instead, he acted like he knew everything about everything.
“We’re fine,” Jon said, annoyed, and turned to leave again.
“I’m just saying, you should choose the pub you go to carefully. Or the locals will eat you alive.”
Sam and Grenn seemed a bit unsettled by this, but Jon rolled his eyes. It was obvious Karl just wanted to mess with Sam.
“We’ll be fine,” Pyp cut in. “Do us a favor and don’t follow us. I’d hate to have your fucking ugly face with us tonight.”
Karl’s smile tightened. “Wouldn’t dream of it. While I’d love to watch the locals beat you to death, I’ve got better plans for my evening.”
“Good,” Jon said, voice clipped. “See you later then.”
And they headed out into the night, into Whitetree for the first time.
They spent a good half hour wandering the streets, arguing about where to go. Eventually they drifted into a dive named “The Hideout.” The tables were a bit sticky and they didn’t exactly have a wide selection of beer, but there was pool and darts and it seemed like a decent place to pass a few hours.
“There’s tv over the bar,” Sam said, practically vibrating with excitement. “Oh, this is great. I’ve felt so detached from the world. I haven’t been able to watch the news in a month!”
“Sam, I don’t think they’ll turn it to the ne-”
But Sam was already gone, off to argue with the bartender about changing the channel.
Pyp had made a beeline for the bathroom, Grenn had made a fast friend by the pool table and was setting up a game. Jon sighed and went over to the bar, checking his reflection in the bar mirror, making sure his hat was still in place.
“What’re you drinking?”
Jon looked up. A beautiful woman had sauntered up to him, curly red hair tumbling over her shoulders. He blushed and ducked his head.
“I uh - I actually promised my friend a round.”
The woman nodded slowly. “And where is your friend?”
“He’s uh, over there.”
Sam was still arguing with the bartender, making a grab for the bar remote.
The woman turned back to look at Jon, a sly grin on her face. “Looks like he’s a bit preoccupied, yeah? You could join me for one, if you wanted. I’m here with friends too, but they’re more than willing to leave me alone for a bit. Let me meet some new people.”
She gestured to the other side of the room, where her friends presumably sat. There were two, sitting at a table. A slight blond man, and the most broad-shouldered man Jon had ever seen. His bright red hair was shaved up the sides, and he wore a long well-kept beard. There were tattoos visible on his collarbone, and he wore a leather jacket and combat boots. Something in Jon’s stomach dropped out.
The woman laughed a little. “Oh I see, it’s like that. Well, my loss I guess, but I could introduce you if you like.”
Jon was so caught up in looking at the other man that he missed the woman’s words. “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?”
She grinned. “Tor!” she yelled. “Get over here! Someone wants to meet you!”
The redhead stood up, drew himself up to his full height. That thing in Jon’s stomach twisted.
It took a second to register that this man was walking over to meet him .
“Well well,” the man began. His voice was as big as he was. “Your new friend wants to meet me, Ygritte?”
“I think he does,” she said, a smile in her voice. “This is Tormund. And my friend here is…”
Jon realized he should probably introduce himself. “Jon,” he blurted out quickly. “I’m Jon Snow.”
The man - Tormund - smiled. “Well, Jon Snow, nice to meet you. What are you drinking?”
“I uhh...I hadn’t actually decided yet.”
“Well, let’s get you something. Something local. You like dark beers?”
Jon found himself nodding.
“Oragg? Can we get some Skagas here?”
Tormund called to the bartender, who stopped arguing with Sam a moment to pour them something. He left them on the bar, and Tormund gestured for him to take it.
The glass perspired cold against his too warm skin. The drink was so dark it looked almost black.
As he took his first drink, he couldn’t help but notice how Tormund seemed to absolutely tower over him.
The woman, Ygritte he guessed, stood there with a mile wide grin.
When he didn’t speak, she stepped in.
“So Jon,” she began. “Why don’t you tell Tormund about yourself. That accent says you aren’t from around here. You one of those southern northerners? Here on a holiday?”
Jon found himself staring into Tormund’s eyes. They were clear, blue, steady.
“She asked you a question,” the big man said with a small smile.
“Right,” Jon said, trying to snap himself out of it. What was wrong with him?
He cleared his throat.
“I’m uh, I’m from the Wintertown area, originally. Came up here about a month ago. I’m at the military academy, Fort Black.”
It was like someone had flipped a switch. The smile dropped off Tormund’s face, a steely glare replacing it. Ygritte looked vaguely horrified.
“Well then,” Tormund said, voice cold. “Good to meet you, but I think we’re done here.”
The man finished his beer in three gulps, slammed the glass on the bar, and gestured to the bartender.
“Oragg? Can I settle my tab? And can you switch tabs for the beer I just bought this man? Put it on his tab instead of mine?”
The bartender nodded, and Tormund threw some cash on the bar. He stalked off, Ygritte following him, whispering to him in hushed conversation.
“I didn’t know he was a baby Crow, he looks normal!”
“Let’s just get out of here. Don't want to miss curfew.”
They grabbed their coats, retrieved their friend, and went out the door, sending one last glare Jon’s way.
Jon was left standing a bit confused. What...what had just happened?
It took a second to register that Sam was tugging at his arm.
“Jon, look at the screen! The prime minister’s dead!”
He looked up.
It seemed Sam had somehow convinced the bartender to switch the channel.
His father’s face stared solemnly down at him.
The chron flashed below.
Prime Minister Arryn dead. Eddard Stark named interim Prime Minister.
Tormund flexed his wrists in the too tight handcuffs. Blood was drying on his upper lip, some still dripping sluggishly from his nose.
He couldn’t believe he'd been taken in. This was absolute bullshit.
They’d been out of the pub not five minutes before some cheap cop flashed his lights at them, claiming they’d violated curfew. Which was a fucking lie; they’d had another full hour before locals were supposed to be indoors. But when they’d pointed that out, the cop just smiled meanly and told them their watches were wrong.
Then he’d gotten in Tormund’s face, so Tormund got in his face back, and now he was sitting in a police station with a bloodied nose and a pending “resisting arrest” charge tacked to him.
He sighed. He couldn’t get trapped under a bunch of charges, not now. There was too much he had to do. Things were coming together. It looked like the big strike might finally go ahead. And he knew it would go on without him, but he’d never forgive himself if he missed it. If he missed one of the best chances they’d had in years to push the Crows back a bit.
He thought, suddenly, of the little Crow in the bar. He almost felt guilty; he had been a bit harsh. He’d just been a baby Crow, apparently barely arrived to the academy. His dark eyes were soft, had looked hurt when Tormund suddenly left.
Tormund shook himself. A Crow was a Crow. Soon enough, those soft eyes would harden into cruelty. And he’d be just another figure hiding behind a facemask and a gun, looking to make life hell for people.
Another pair of hard eyes came to him then, and for a moment he was seven years old again, hiding under a bed watching his father get taken away-
Tormund was thrown from his thoughts by a clipped voice. He looked up. A cop was walking over. He grabbed Tormund’s shoulders, forced him to his feet, started leading him somewhere.
He tensed. “Where are we going?”
The cop didn’t answer, but seemed to be leading him back to the front of the station. They went through a door, and Tormund relaxed a bit when he saw who was behind it.
He stood there in a rumpled grey suit. It was cheap, would probably get him laughed out of fancy cocktail parties down south. But he wore it with dignity.
“All pending charges are dropped,” the cop was saying. He sounded pissed, but was unlocking Tormund’s handcuffs nonetheless.
“Good,” Mance said evenly. “I trust I won’t hear of any more cases in which people are arrested for curfew violations before curfew begins?”
“Of course not, councilor,” the cop replied. Tormund tried not to snort. It’d be a cold day in the seven hells before they held to that.
Mance just smiled. It was clear he didn’t believe him either. “Good. Glad to hear it.”
Finally Tormund’s wrists were freed. He rubbed at them, trying to soothe the skin.
Mance stepped forward, examining Tormund’s nose.
“Is it broken?”
“I don’t think so,” Tormund said quietly. He felt a desperate sort of relief suddenly, and drew Mance into a hug.
“Good to see you too.” Mance was clapping him on the back, and Tormund felt at home.
Soon enough, they had collected Tormund’s things, and Mance was driving Tormund home in his old scratched sedan.
Mance was one of the few people from the territories that the Westerosis seemed to respect. This was largely because he’d gone to one of their fancy law schools and had clawed his way up through local politics. Despite the fact that over 80% of Whitetree’s citizens were born and bred in the territories, he was the only territory native on the city council. Well, except for Craster. But Craster...didn't count.
He had gotten this position, in part, because he had played by Westerosi rules. He’d even gone to the Crow academy for a time, before he saw that such a place could never be changed from the inside. But Mance had never forgotten where he came from. He worked night and day to help the people here, the people he’d grown up with, as best he could.
Tormund often disagreed with Mance’s tactics, but he was forever grateful to him. His old friend helped them survive here, gave them at least a marginal voice in government. Even though he was usually overruled.
“Thank you,” he said quietly, trying to stem the bleeding in his nose with a napkin. “If I’d been in there any longer, more charges might have piled up.”
“Of course,” Mance replied. “But I have to admit, I have a bit of an ulterior motive for driving you home myself.”
Tormund looked at him, head tilted back, trying not to drip blood on the seat. “And what motive is that?”
"I wanted to talk to you. Get your thoughts on something."
Mance hummed a bit, and pulled the car over into a nearby parking lot. Oh, so this was a serious conversation then.
He was quiet for a second, seemingly gathering his thoughts. Tormund waited, trying not to let his patience run out.
“So are we going to talk, or are we just going to sit in the lot until-”
“Prime Minister Arryn is dead.”
Tormund paused. That was a bit surprising, he supposed. He hadn’t been seen in public for weeks, and there had been rumors he was sick. But still-
“What’s some dead southern politician have to do with anything?”
“Well,” Mance began slowly. “His term just started, so while there’s an interim prime minister, that means there’ll be an election soon.”
Tormund snorted. “Great. Think we’ll get a Lannister this time, a Martell? Or maybe a Stark will take it.”
“Eddard Stark’s been appointed interim prime minister, so he might run. Probably Tywin Lannister too.”
“Who cares? It’s always the same people, the same fucking assholes who have ruled everything since forever, giving us another sham election-”
“What if there was another choice this time?” Mance’s voice was quiet, intense.
And suddenly Tormund got his meaning. He sat up sharply.
“No. Mance, no.”
“Are territory citizens even allowed to run? We can’t hold a seat in Parliament.”
“There’s nothing in the law that says a territory citizen can’t run.”
“Where the fuck would you get the money?”
“I don’t need much. You can do a lot with a passionate base of support, and the people here know me-”
“People here are ignored by those southern Westerosi fucks, and have been for hundreds of years. Mance, you wouldn’t be able to win. They'll eat you alive, try to ruin your reputation. What have I always said? You can’t tear down their house using the tools they gave you. Those tools will always work against you.”
Mance was shaking his head. Tormund pressed on.
“Talks between the construction workers and the city are falling apart, they’ll probably strike before the end of the month. The teachers, the garbage workers, park employees all agreed to follow them out. This strike is the wedge we’ve been wanting for a long time, it might make it harder for the Crows to push in. We should focus on that, build our own strength-”
“If I ran, if a candidate for prime minister was talking about that strike on every tv screen in the country, it would give us attention. It would help us win our demands. And it could change things not just here, but everywhere else in this country.”
Fire was blazing behind Mance’s eyes.
“This isn’t about winning. I know I won’t be able to win. But if people are presented with something new, someone who doesn’t come from one of the wealthy old families, someone who actually talks about strikes and regular people and the things we all deserve...then maybe we could get somewhere. It’s about helping normal people understand that they have power too.”
It was a good argument. But Tormund wasn’t sure.
“You know I respect your opinion,” Mance continued. “I have ever since you were that opinionated little shit I used to babysit.”
Tormund huffed out a quiet laugh, smiling at the memory.
“I know this won’t be easy. But I think I can do it. I think it could be really good for all of us. And if I can somehow bring this all together, I’d like your support. As a friend."
It was hard not to believe in him. After all, Mance had done many things Tormund once believed impossible. But still, it would be a hard road.
“It might be a huge mistake. But...let me think about it,” Tormund said quietly.
Mance nodded. “Of course.”
He started the engine again. The sedan squealed in protest, but started to move.
“If you do win,” Tormund said. “Promise me you’ll let me set fire to a few ancient castles.”
Mance laughed. “If I somehow win, there’ll never be another king in this country again. So you can set fire to whatever you want.”
Tormund smiled, then launched into an old story about how he once managed to create flaming snowballs as a child by soaking ice in lighter fluid. Mance remembered vividly, and they laughed as they argued about old times.
Finally, Tormund was home. He walked up the stairs to his shitty apartment, dragged himself into the bathroom to clean up his nose.
As he stared in the mirror, for a moment he saw again a soft pair of eyes.
He snorted and shook himself. Things were happening, things were changing. He wouldn’t waste time thinking about some pretty little Crow .
I uhh...might be using this chapter to slightly work out how I feel about some other things. I also have uhhh a lot of thoughts on how Westeros would develop over time.
Jon tried to blink the weariness from his eyes. He wished he could have gotten a few consistent hours in. But it had been impossible to sleep long. Even in the few hours not filled with training, Jon would toss and turn in anxiety.
His father was Prime Minister. Why hadn't he said anything? Didn’t he trust Jon? What the hell was going on?
Father was still too busy to talk with Jon long. He’d finally managed to get him on the phone last week for a bit, but they’d only spoken for five minutes and Ned Stark had been pretty tight lipped. “It’s private Jon.”
It was hard not to feel a little betrayed that such a big secret had been kept from him. It was hard not to feel like, yet again, he was being slightly kept apart from the family. Separated from “Stark Business.”
To make matters worse, he was fully done up in military police equipment for some ridiculous training exercise. The equipment was too hot to march in, and too heavy to move in, and he felt like he wanted to drop into bed and never wake up again.
They were “patrolling” the city in pairs, which essentially meant walking around the same block over and over and over again. It seemed useless, but apparently this was supposed to prepare them for...something.
They weren’t allowed to stop, or break step with their partner, or even talk to them. Thorne swore that if they did, he’d know.
Which was, honestly, ridiculous. And did not stop Sam from talking. Constantly.
“I mean, what is this supposed to achieve? Surely this isn’t for our benefit, we know how to walk in step with each other by now. Marching is like 80% of what they make us do.”
The weather was really beautiful. If he wasn’t underneath all this equipment, he might be able to enjoy it.
“I know they’re having issues with military police recruitment. Maybe they’re trying to use us to fill the gaps and call it ‘training.’”
“How do you know they’re having recruitment issues?” Jon replied, voice hushed.
“I eavesdrop. Have to find some way to keep myself entertained. They won’t even let us have books .”
“We’re trainees. They can’t be using us to fill in the gaps, it’s not like we have the authority to arrest anyone.”
“Well,” Sam continued, gesturing to the people going about their daily lives around them. “None of these people know that, do they?”
A woman with a big white dog crossed the street to avoid them. Jon felt a stab of guilt. Then homesickness.
He missed Ghost. And Robb, and Arya, and everything. He missed his real life.
It will be worth it. It will. Eventually.
Someone was glaring at them. A lot of someones were glaring at them.
It took Jon a second to realize he recognized one of them.
A tall bearded redhead with venom in his eyes was staring at him through a coffee shop window. The same redhead who’d walked out on him in the bar last week.
Jon’s stomach flipped. He couldn’t stop thinking about what had gone wrong, why the man had suddenly run off.
He should talk to him.
That was ridiculous. He couldn't just leave the exercise. He could get into trouble. Enormous trouble.
But Thorne wasn’t here. It’s not like he would actually know.
He stopped. Backtracked a few steps.
“Jon? What’re you doing?”
“I just need to pop into this coffeeshop, use the bathroom.”
“What? You’re just going to leave?”
“Just for a second.”
But Jon was already gone, moving quickly down the sidewalk, pushing the coffeeshop door open.
The redhead looked somewhat alarmed as Jon made his towards him. He spread both hands evenly on the table in front of him.
“I haven’t done anything.”
Jon again flushed with guilt. Of course. He was unrecognizable beneath this helmet.
“Sorry,” he began. “I just…”
He slowly pulled the helmet off, revealing his face.
The large man looked surprised.
“It’s me,” Jon started. “Or well, I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Jon. I met you at a pub the other night, and I just wanted to…”
He trailed off. The man in front of him was staring in complete disbelief.
This had been such a stupid idea.
The redhead managed to recover himself a bit. “Did you come in here for a reason?”
“Well-” Jon suddenly realized he had no idea how to explain himself. “I...I don’t know. I guess I just felt a little bit weird after the other night when you and your friends left really suddenly. And I wanted to know, why?”
“And you thought you’d come ask me, in full uniform, with a gun strapped to you?”
Oh. He’d forgotten about the gun. That probably looked a bit threatening.
“I guess I didn’t think it through.”
The man was just sort of looking at him.
Jon looked up. People were staring at him, anxious.
Oh gods, what was he doing? He was a soldier in a cafe with a gun. His presence here was alarming people.
Jon cleared his throat.
“This was a really bad idea, and I’m sorry for bothering you.”
He looked at the people in the cafe, “I’m sorry,” he called out more loudly. “I promise, everything is fine. Sorry.”
He turned and walked out of the coffeeshop, face burning.
Sam was looking at him aghast when he came back.
“What the hell was that, Jon?”
“I don’t know, and I’d rather not think about it anymore.”
“Let’s just keep walking, yeah?”
“Wait,” came a new voice.
Jon’s breath caught in his throat.
The redhead had followed him out.
“I’m Tormund. In case you needed a reminder. Now what the hell were you doing in there?”
He looked furious. Jon’s cheeks flamed.
“I didn’t mean to disturb anyone.”
“Well you did disturb people. You Crows think you can walk into wherever you want-”
“What’s a Crow?”
Tormund paused. Continued, voice slightly more measured.
“It’s another word for military. Especially the asshole ones that patrol around ruining everyone’s lives.”
His voice grew angrier with every word he spoke.
“Jon we should go,” Sam hissed, pulling at his shoulder.
But Jon stayed where he was.
“Is that why you left the other night? Because I’m at Fort Black?”
Tormund nodded, his eyes hard.
“Oh.” Jon felt oddly deflated. He could feel the eyes of the whole street on him again. What was he doing here?
It’ll be worth it. It has to.
“I’m sorry then,” he repeated. “And, sorry again for everyone in the cafe.”
Tormund scoffed, “If you’ve graduated to military police, you should know what effect your presence will have on people.”
“I’m not actually military police, this is just a training exercise.”
“Jon!” Sam yelped. “We should go!”
The redhead looked intrigued. “Fort Black is having trainees do patrols?”
Oh fuck, he definitely wasn’t supposed to say that. “Um. Technically we’re not supposed to stop and talk to anyone. So we should uh...probably leave.”
The man almost grinned. Almost. “You realize that satellite phone on you probably has tracking capability, right?”
Jon looked at the bulky phone strapped to his chest. Oh. Oh fuck.
“We should go.”
The redhead turned to go, but before he did -
“You looked better in your real clothes, Crow. Handsome even.”
Jon looked back. Tormund was just looking at him, his eyes that clear blue, one eyebrow raised.
This was easily one of the most embarrassing experiences of Jon’s entire life. “Right. I’m going to just...bye.”
Jon turned back to Sam and started walking quickly.
“What the fuck, Jon?!”
“I’m sorry, I promise I’ll take the blame.”
“You better take the blame, it’s your fault! Why are you talking to random strangers?”
It was a good question, and one Jon could not answer.
But he kept seeing Tormund in his mind’s eye, kept seeing his red beard and his leather jacket and his broad shoulders. Kept hearing that booming voice in his ear. Even after they returned to Fort Black, even after Jon was screamed at by Thorne for breaking orders, even as he ran laps in cold night rain as punishment.
There was just something about Tormund that Jon couldn’t shake. He just wished he knew why.