Osha always makes sure to tell him that she is not his mother, that he had a mother and father when he lived in Winterfell. She calls them Lord and Lady Stark, and Rickon wonders if those were their names, Lord and Lady, like his name is Rickon. He asks Osha once, and she says no, that his father's name was Lord Ned but she doesn't remember what his mother was called. Rickon doesn't quite remember his father, only dark hair and grey eyes, strong hands which could pick him up with ease; he remembers his real mother better, remembers a long, red braid and a song she used to sing him as he fell asleep.
But Osha tells him they died in the South, so he thinks Osha is the closest thing he has to a mother.
The man with short fingers brings them back to Westeros, to the fat lord who calls him "little king" and tries to put Shaggydog in a cage. Rickon doesn't like it there, and he doesn't like the way the men speak to Osha. He kicks one of them in the leg, bites another one, and, when a man tries to contain him, Shaggy latches onto his arm and doesn't let go until Rickon tells him to stop. They run and hide in a cave, the ocean around them, and it's only later that Osha finds him, picks him up even though he's too big for it now, and whispers to him in the Old Tongue. Sometimes Rickon forgets the Common Tongue; sometimes he tells Osha he wishes he was a wildling like her.
"Don't want to be a king," he murmurs against her throat, inhaling the familiar scent of her, squeezing his eyes shut tight so she cannot see the tears there.
Robb was the king once, but Osha told him he's dead too. Rickon remembers Robb, remembers curly hair and a big smile and Grey Wind too; the picture isn't as clear as his picture of Bran and Summer, but it's there.
Osha tells him he had sisters too, but Rickon doesn't remember them, doesn't even know their names.
He doesn't like it at White Harbor, but the fat lord says there is a war. Rickon thinks there has always been a war, but he knows that's not true. If he tries real hard, he remembers a king almost as fat as the lord, and he remembers Robb and Theon and another boy too; Rickon doesn't remember his name but he remembers his wolf, a white one called Ghost. Rickon thinks he might have been another brother, but Osha says he only had two brothers and Theon wasn't a brother at all.
But Rickon knows there was another. Only Starks have direwolves, even the dumb, fat lord says that, and the boy had a wolf.
The snow is starting to melt when the girl comes. She has a long braid which reaches all the way down her back, and her hair is as red as his own; an old man brings her with some men with falcons on their clothing, and she starts to cry when she sees him. Rickon isn't sure who she is, but Osha nudges him forward, and, when the girl wraps her arms around him, Rickon smells apples and pine, the smell which follows him into his dreams. She cups his face in her hands, and Rickon remembers her eyes, remembers when he got scared as a baby and he'd climb into her bed; she'd card her fingers through his hair and whisper that everything was alright before telling him tales of her home in the Riverlands.
"Do you remember me?" the girl asks, and Rickon nods because he knows in his bones that Osha was wrong, that this is his mother come to take him home.
"I missed you," Rickon says because it feels true, because he aches for something he doesn't remember at all.
He sleeps beside her until they leave for Winterfell, and every night she sings to him, sings every song she knows, and Rickon thinks he remembers when she'd sing for all of them in a grand bed in her chambers.
Sometimes he wakes up before her and looks at her face, traces the features and pets her hair. Everyone always goes away, everyone but Osha, and Rickon isn't sure when his mother will leave again.
He remembers when Winterfell burned, remembers Bran and Hodor and Maester Luwin; Rickon doesn't remember much but he will never forget that. When they arrive, the castle is still in bad shape, but the repairs are already starting. There are wildlings everywhere and a real, true giant, and the strangers call out to Osha, greet her in the Old Tongue.
Rickon sees the wolf before he sees the man. The white direwolf comes loping out of the godswood at full speed, and Shaggy rushes towards him, tumbling about like puppies. When the man comes to greet them, Rickon watches as his mother embraces the tall man, the one with black curls and grey eyes, a heavy beard on his face; there is a sword strapped across his back, and Rickon thinks its name is Ice, that his father let him put his hand around the pommel once and told him it was as old as House Stark.
When the man lifts Rickon straight off the ground, clutching him tightly against his chest, Rickon knows this is his father, this is the Lord of Winterfell. For a moment, Rickon is confused because he remembers finding out his father died, but everyone thought he was dead and it had all just been a trick; perhaps that is what happened with his father.
"Welcome home," his father sighs, and the word sounds strange after so many years wandering with Osha, but Rickon likes the sound of it.
He doesn't like to talk. His words never come out the way he wants them to come, and frustration sits on his chest. Maester Sam tries to do lessons with him, but Rickon doesn't like the fat maester because he's nothing like Maester Luwin. He kicks him one afternoon and runs into the godswood; he waits for Osha to come for him, but his mother comes instead, sinking gracefully down beside him. Rickon is six, nearly seven, and he knows he is too big for his mother's lap, but he clamors into it anyway, tucks his face against her throat and begins to finger the end of her braid, worrying it like a touchstone.
"What if I do your lessons with you?" Mother suggests, and Rickon nods, a lump rising in his throat.
"When's Bran coming home?" he murmurs, and Mother sniffles, her chest fluttering erratically. Rickon looks up and sees tears rolling down Mother's face.
"I don't know, sweetling. He might not - " Her voice breaks, and she swallows, but Rickon knows what she's going to say. He wipes at her face with dirty fingers, leaving a smudge beneath her eye, and he kisses the tip of her chin. He hadn't meant to make Mother cry.
Rickon doesn't ask about Bran again.
Mother starts to get fat, and Father tells him there's a baby inside her. Rickon doesn't know how the baby got in there, but he sees Mother and Father kissing when they think no one is watching, so he thinks that might be how. Father says Mother needs her rest, and Rickon likes it; Father doesn't get after him about his lessons the way Mother does, and Rickon likes when Father takes him around to show him how Winterfell is run. He even starts to show Rickon how to fight with swords, and Rickon blurts out how he wishes Bran was here. The moment the words leave his mouth, Rickon freezes, afraid Father will be upset, but he isn't.
Father smiles sadly and says, "Aye, I do as well. Before he lost his legs, Bran wanted to be a knight. But perhaps if Arya returns, she will fight with you."
Father's face clouds over as he bends beside him. "Arya is your sister. You don't remember her?" Rickon just shakes his head, and Father nods solemnly. "Well, you were so little when they went south."
Rickon tries with all his might to remember Arya so he can tell his Father, but nothing comes.
Mother is sitting by the fire with her feet up when she calls him over to her. Rickon comes, and she takes his hand, presses it to her swollen stomach. He waits and then he feels it, movement beneath his palm. It startles him, instinctively pulling his hand back, and both Mother and Father laugh.
"Is it a boy or a girl?" Rickon asks as Mother returns to making a blanket for the baby while Father looks over the ledgers.
"We will not know until it is born. Why? Do you have a preference?"
Rickon thinks for a moment before declaring, "I'd rather have a brother than a sister, so I could have someone to play with."
Both Mother and Father freeze, and Rickon instantly knows he has said something wrong. Before Mother can say anything, he rushes to clarify, "But I'll be nice to a sister, I promise. I can protect her and let her play with Shaggy - "
"Rickon," Mother interrupts, her face pained, "do you...The baby will not be your brother or sister. It will be your niece or nephew."
"What's a niece or nephew?"
Father moves from the desk, bends down beside him. "Because you are Sansa's brother, the baby will call you uncle."
Rickon looks between them, confusion swirling in his head. "But...But Robb and Bran, they were my brothers and not my nephews. Why can't this baby be my brother?"
Mother's eyes are shining bright. "Oh, my love." She reaches for him, pushes his wild hair off his forehead. "Robb and Bran were your brothers because they were your mother's children. But I am your sister, so my children will be nephews."
Instantly he shakes his head. "You're not my sister. You're my mother. I remember you." As Mother and Father both begin to shake their heads, Rickon gets to his feet, suddenly furious. "No, I remember! I remember my mother and my father, and you're my mother! I remember! I remember!" he screeches, more animal than man, and Father scoops him up, contains him with strong arms as Rickon shouts and rages, while Mother cries into her hands and Maester Sam comes with a dram.
The last thing he sees before falling asleep is are his parents' faces.
Rickon wakes up and Father is his beside his bed with Shaggy and Ghost. His head feels heavy, his tongue thick, and Father tips some honey milk to lips so to take away the dryness. After a moment, Rickon asks, "If you aren't my father, who are you?"
"I'm Jon Snow. I grew up here with you as your bastard brother. I went to the Wall when Father and the girls went south." He rubs his hands over his face. "Everyone says I look a great deal like Lord Stark."
"He's dead," Rickon states, and Jon nods.
"For a long time now. We can go to the crypts if you - "
Rickon shakes his head. His stomach twisting uneasily, he rasps, "Does Moth-Sansa hate me?"
"Oh, no, she could never hate you," Jon swears. "She thought you knew who we were, and she is sad you don't remember your true mother and father, but that is not your fault. You were just a little boy."
He can feel his chin quivering, wishes he could control it better. "Is my mother in the crypts too?"
"No, but she perished with Robb."
"And Bran? Is he dead too?"
Tears well in Jon's eyes. "I don't know, Rickon. I don't know if he's alive or dead, I don't know if Arya is either; all I know is, Sansa and I, we will never let anything ever happen to you. Do you believe that?"
They sit in silence for a long while before Rickon asks, "What was my mother's name?"
"Catelyn, Catelyn Tully."
"Was she nice like Sansa?"
Jon smiles weakly. "Lady Catelyn was a very good mother, and she loved you more than you'll ever know."
Rickon scratches Shaggy's head as the wolf climbs onto the bed. Softly, he confesses, "I want Sansa to be my mother."
He watches as Jon brushes away a stray tear. "I don't remember my mother either, but I would've wanted a mother like Sansa too."
They don't speak for the rest of the morning, but Rickon likes being quiet with Jon.
The baby is born in the middle of the night, but Rickon is wide awake. Sansa's shouts ring out through the castle, and, when the baby starts to cry, Jon lets him come into Sansa's chamber with him. She does not look like herself; her skin is pale and sweaty, her hair unraveled from a braid, but her smile is bright as she urges them closer. The baby has dark hair and a loud cry, but it quiets when Sansa whispers to it.
"What is it?" he asks, studying the bundle in his sister's arms, the bundle Jon is gazing at as if it is the most precious thing in the world.
"It is a boy. He will need a name." Sansa smiles. "Jon and I thought you might have an idea."
"Bran," Rickon decides almost instantly. "You should call him Bran."
Sansa's eyes shine with emotion as she nods. "I think that is a wonderful name. And I think you will be the most wonderful uncle in the world."
Jon leaves to announce Bran's birth to Winterfell, and Maester Sam comes to check on Bran and examine him again. When the maester takes the babe, Sansa urges Rickon into the bed beside her, holding his head to her breast and kissing the top of his head. Rickon melts against her, grateful she is safe, that she didn't go away.
"You are my best boy," Sansa whispers. "I want you to always remember that."
Rickon knows that this he will never forget.