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Valar Botis (All Men Must Endure)

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“But you, Lord Snow, you’ll be fighting their battles forever.”
Ser Alliser Thorne

 

 

“Jon!”

Hands tugged at him, lifting his head and shoulders from the biting cold of the sludge beneath him. The cold seeping through his veins, radiating from the throbbing pain in his chest, only increased.

“No. No. Don’t—Jon.” His name was bitten out in an almost sob, such deep emotion spurring him to force his eyes open.

After a moment, he could focus on the bright violet eyes of his brother. A strand of silver hair glittered in the dim light between them having fallen out of the cord Aegon used to keep it back when riding Viserion.

“Aeg—” Jon managed to cough out. The pain once biting was dulling to a dull ache.

“You promised to show me Winterfell, brother. We were supposed to go there together.” Aegon’s fingers clenched on his shoulders before he reached one hand down to grasp Jon’s right hand.

It was a promise Jon loathed to break. He had so hoped to have a happy ending here, with as much family as he could find. Bran was at Winterfell at least. The Starks would live on through him and Meera, Jon was sure. Arya and Rickon were still missing, but they had heard things and had ideas on where to look for them.

“Are—is—” Jon gasped a bit, struggling to focus as his vision was blurring gray at the edges.

Something wet fell against his cheek. “Yes, brother, Spring will come. You did it.”

“We.” Jon did his best to tighten his fingers against Aegon’s.

“We,” Aegon acknowledged. “All of us. Together.”

There was a beat of silence between them and to Jon, the sounds of battle around them, of Viserion’s mournful hisses and cries in the distance, grew quieter. The pain was almost gone now.

“Ar—Ar— ”

“I’ll find her. Her and Rickon.” Aegon’s fingers clenched his tightly. “I promise.”

The hazy image of his brother faded, disappearing into the black fog of death.

“Ghost.”

 

 

Jon gasped deep, curling upward as a phantom memory of pain merged with dull ache of sudden hurt as something landed on his chest. He spluttered and gasped, eyes flying open as a familiar laugh reached his ears.

He clenched his hands on the shoulders of the small form on his chest, small fingers poked and prodded at his shoulders. Swallowing his first reactions—physical and vocal—Jon focused on the form hovering over him.

“Arya?”

“Come on! Get up!” She bounced back on the bed, pouting at him. “Nellwyn is having her pups!”

“Nellwyn?” Jon’s eyebrows furrowed as he looked over to his brother. They were still in the room they’d shared near the nursery before Lady Stark had forced them to move to more ‘adult’ rooms when Rickon neared his first name day.

“The direwolf Father brought back on the hunt last week,” Robb raised an eyebrow as he pulled on his boots. “Arya’s been trying to convince Father to name it that.”

“It’s having pups! We’re going to have direwolves like the Starks of old!” She smiled at him brightly showing off several missing teeth. She’d lost one around her sixth name day or so, falling from a tree.

“That’s just Old Nan’s stories, Arya,” Robb ruffled her hair as he came up behind her. Her braids had mostly come undone already.

She glared at him for a moment before shifting on her feet, heels bouncing impatiently. “Hurry up,” she turned to Jon again, “or we’ll miss the birth!”

“All right,” Jon smiled at her as he moved to stand, pulling on a shirt that lay on the floor near his bed. If Robb was just going with the basics so would he. “All right. Did you wake up Sansa?”

Arya wrinkled her nose before grinning. “Not yet.” The ‘do I have to?’ evident in her tone and expression.

He caught one of his boots, thrown to him by Robb, and shoved his foot inside. Jon already knew they had missed at least one of the births—he wouldn’t be here otherwise.

“Go wake up Sansa, Arya,” Robb said and she rolled her eyes before running from the room.

“I hope father does not try to lay the blame on us. I don’t want to be held responsible for Arya being awake at this hour,” Jon mumbled around a yawn as he followed his brother—cousin in truth, but to him, Robb would always be his brother—to the door. The words slipped out before he could stop them. I don’t want Lady Stark to blame me. In nearly every iteration she held the same view of him.

Robb glanced at him knowingly. “We won’t get in trouble.”

He sighed and following at Robb’s heels as Sansa screeched at Arya down the hall.

Excitement bubbled within him as his mind crossed over to fully awake. He hadn’t seen Ghost in nearly five moons and his companion’s absence had been a physical ache within him. It always was when the wolf died before he did. It had only taken him five lives to realize that it didn’t matter when his companion died, but he always arrived when Ghost was born.

 

 

Jon was right. Four pups were already born by the time they reached the kennel. It was shocking to see the size of the mother wolf, let alone see her alive and in relatively good shape. She had a healing injury to her shoulder that he assumed could be attributed to the boar Robb mentioned.

Lord Stark was there with her, kneeling in the straw near her head, one hand stroking gently in the rough fur behind her ears. They were greeted with a tired smile and a raised eyebrow.

Arya nearly ran into the stall, but Jon grabbed her arm and held her near the door, standing behind her as Robb slid past them. Sansa had grumbled the entire way but she had come along after forcing them to wait even longer, to Arya’s annoyance, as she made herself ‘presentable’.

“It’s so messy!” Sansa squeaked next to him, shuffling her feet as she eyed the mess in the straw.

Their father laughed, looking impossibly young. Jon had to force his eyes away towards the small forms next to the large wolf. She was in the middle of birthing another, he could tell, four forms already mostly cleaned and laying near her chest, squirming and squeaking. The moment his eyes landed on Ghost’s pale form the world shifted and clicked into place. He was smaller than the rest, nestled against the largest—a small form Jon was certain was Grey Wind.

“Aye, birthing is messy business no matter what creature is doing it.”

“I never want to do it,” Arya announced after a moment of silence, voice sure.

Jon couldn’t help but grin slightly. Ironically in most of the lives he’d lived Arya had been the only Stark to have a child. It was quite true that she had never been happy about the process, though, cursing her paramour loudly and with vulgarity that shocked Jon no matter how much he’d seen the few times he’d been present when his nephews or nieces were born.

The mother wolf finished cleaning the fifth pup—Summer—Jon realized and gently maneuvered it next to the other four, nosing each gently. She paused over Ghost and Jon clenched is fists. Her eyes lifted and met his for a long moment and Jon’s breath caught.

Lord Stark frowned and then smiled slightly as the mother wolf acknowledged the little, white as snow pup with a light nudge and gentle lick before checking on the others. A few minutes later the next and last pup was being forced into the world.

“Six pups,” Robb said and grinned over at Jon after Shaggydog was born. Searching his new memories Jon realized Rickon had been born barely moons ago. “One for each of the Stark children.”

Sansa made a soft noise, almost protesting, but was caught up in Lord Stark motioning her over to greet the pups, following Robb.

She was immediately drawn to Lady’s small form, stroking a gentle finger over her small head. “Can we keep them, Father?”

“You’ll train them yourselves,” he said after a moment fingers burrowed in the mother wolf’s scruff. “Do not come here by yourselves until they are weaned and don’t argue. This one is wild, no matter how tame she’s been acting with me. I don’t want to have to fight your mother over this.”

“Even with the kennel door closed?” Sansa asked, she was staring at the wriggling pile of pups with a focus Jon didn’t remember her having at this age.

Lord Stark paused for a moment before speaking. “If the door is shut and locked. You are to stay back from the gate if she comes near.” As if to argue with his caution, the mother wolf nudged his empty hand with her nose, tongue coming out to kiss it gently. “Do you agree to these terms?”

“Yes!” They all agreed quickly, Arya’s voice the loudest.

They had been bundled off to bed not long after their father accepted vows from each of them separately on the matter, each also having paced forward to gently touch one of the pups. Jon had been the last; Robb hovered at the door as he stepped forward at Lord Stark’s urging.

The words came unbidden to Jon’s lips. “I’m not a Stark.”

“You have my blood,” Lord Stark corrected him. “You may not have my name but you are a Stark.” A gentle smile graced his lips as he nodded toward the pile of pups. “You’ve had your eye on one of these since you arrived. Come and greet him.”

Jon tried not to lose his footing as he moved forward quickly, pausing just in front of the small pack eyes meeting the mother wolf's eyes, asking permission, before he knelt. Ghost was so small, smaller than Jon had ever seen him. When he touched the pale silky fur, it was still damp to the touch.

“Hello, Ghost,” Jon murmured. Hello again, old friend, I’ve missed you.