For Noemi (xv12 on tumblr, and you may have also seen her in the comments here as xvega)
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Noemi! You're amazing, so much fun and so smart and I love talking with you! I hope you've been having a fabulous day, and I wish an amazing day, week and year!
As a birthday present, I give you this fic, which turned out much longer than I imagined…But I do really hope you enjoy it!
This idea came to me after watching the Outlander season 2 finale "Dragonfly in Amber" – which seems fitting, since I message you about Outlander all the time :D While it is inspired by Outlander, it's quite different, instead of Scotland in the 18th century, we have Westeros in canon time (with a few differences) – and I'm placing Westeros somewhere in Europe (Essos – I'm not sure… but not positioned as it is in canon, either South or West of Westeros – maybe it will become a colony in the 15th or 16th century); and then instead of post-war England, we have present time Westeros. I really hope there is not too much present time for you – I got carried away…
I apologize for any mistakes or typos, since English is not my native language…
Again HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Noemi! Have fun and enjoy this fic :D
Descrpition (inspired by IMDB's description of the show Outlander):
Follows the story of Ned Stark, a married man, who is mysteriously swept back into the present, where he is immediatelly thrown into a changed world. When he discovers everything that has happened in his seven year absence, Ned's heart is divided between two vastly different times in two irreconcilable lives.
Follows the story of Catelyn Tully, a young woman victim of the Rebellion, who is forced to leave her home and thrown into a different world, where her life is threatened. When she is forced to marry Ned Stark, a mysterious and nice man from the future, a loving relationship grows between the two, stone by stone.
Ned didn't know what was happening. It wasn't him, anymore. He was not in his bed – she wasn't here…
"Catelyn! Catelyn!" he called out. Ned got up, and he remembered the place – the same one he had found himself years ago, he thought Catelyn had called it the Isle of Faces. Ned didn't know why he was here again, he had fallen asleep with Catelyn, he was sure. Ned bumbled out of the island, and he soon found something that he didn't last time – the first time he ended up here he was surprised by the lack of roads and cars, but today he found that he was inside a national park.
"Catelyn…" he whispered again, even after those recent realizations. "Catelyn…" He kept walking and calling for her for he didn't know how long, he didn't even notice the people around him, but they noticed him and rushed to him when he passed out at the park's entrance.
Ned was sure that he dreamed of Catelyn when he was out, but not only her, but also his family – he wished for Robb following him around and trying to emulate everything he did, for Sansa's sweet kisses, and the smiles and sounds of Arya that were new everyday.
He wasn't sure for how long he dreamed, for how long he was asleep, but when he woke up he was in a hospital – there were cement walls, white walls, there were machines – machines. Ned knew that it hadn't been a dream, maybe this was the dream – he sometimes missed the comfort and easiness of the modern world; it wouldn't be the first time he dreamed of the present – future, he better say – but this time it seemed to real.
"Sir, do you know where you are?"
"The Riverlands," he answered, and when she asked him if he lived around here, he wasn't sure what to answer. "I do or I did… Yesterday, I lived… but now…" he whispered and desired to cry, but he controlled himself.
"And do you know your name?"
"Okay, Mr Stark. You seem healthy enough, but a doctor will come to talk to you." The nurse left him alone, but a doctor came to see him soon after – his vitals were normal (words he hadn't heard in years), and he seemed healthy, but the doctor seemed worried about Ned's leg – he said the treatment seemed very rudimentary (how could he tell him that it look that way, because it had been done in the thirteen century); but nothing could be done now and he would be discharged.
But while Ned was told he could be discharged, they didn't let him leave, they told him he should stay, that they were worried and wanted for him to have a psych evaluation – everything he wanted was to go search for Catelyn right now. The psychologist didn't come anytime soon, but someone else appeared, a familiar face entered the room, a face he had seen last the night before he had gone back in time.
"Ned, I can't believe you're alive," she yelled, running to him and hugging him tightly. "Where have you been? You've been gone for six, almost seven years – we knew nothing about you. Why did you do that?"
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you…" he whispered, as Ashara continued with her arms around him.
"I've never doubt you," she said sitting on his bed. She was nothing like Catelyn, but there was still some familiarity about being around her; when he left he thought himself in loved with her, but now he knew Catelyn was the love of his life, and that he need to get back; Ashara hadn't been real love, but she had been a friend.
"I fell in love," he admitted when Ashara took his hand.
"The night you left? You've never been one to fall in love at first sight – if that was the case, maybe you were right about not believing you."
"No, I fell in love with a woman, in the thirteen century," he admitted. "I sound crazy," he whispered. "Which year is it?"
"March of 2016." 2016 – Ashara had been right, it had been almost seven years.
"I need to tell you something… I don't know if I should tell you now… probably not… you don't seem that… but God, I was never one to follow the rules. And I need to tell you, I've wanted to tell you for years…"
"I was pregnant, Ned…" she told him. "I only found out after you left, and I can't believe you're here again."
"A kid…" Ned whispered. He was a father already – three beautiful children – but now he found out that maybe he was already a father before.
"He's outside… I couldn't… you're his father…" Ned nodded at Ashara, and she went outside for just a few seconds, and she came back with a child hidden behind her.
The child was nothing like he imagined. The child was just a bit taller than Robb, and just like Arya, he had his looks.
"This is Jon, Ned," Ashara said. "Jon, you remember how I told you about Ned, right?"
"Yes," he nodded. "Are you really my dad?" he whispered, coming closer. Ned didn't know what to answer. He knew this kid was his – Ashara had no reason to lie and Jon looked so much like Ned – but this gave him a reason to stay.
"I think so, kid. Come here." Ned moved on the bed and made space for him. "I'm Ned."
"Where were you?" Ned didn't know what to answer – he was a just a kid, could he tell him? He looked at Ashara hoping for help, and noticed that Elia Martell was here too.
"Elia, I hadn't seen you. How are you? How are the kids and Rhaegar?"
"The kids are okay, but…" she answered nervously, eyeing Ashara.
"They are divorced," Ashara said, taking Elia's hand. "We're together," she said with a confidence known only to Ashara. "Jon really likes Aegon and Rhaenys."
"I'm glad," he said. "I'm married too," he told them. "Her name is Catelyn," and then he turned to Jon. "And you have one brother and two sisters, and their names are Robb, Sansa and Arya." After that Ned started his story, he didn't know if any of them believed him, but he wanted to make it real – he just wanted someone to tell him it wasn't a dream.
Westeros had been consumed by war. And Catelyn had lost everything she had known all her life… her father had supported the revolution, and Catelyn had been married not to her betrothed of years, but a prominent lord from the Vale, close to the Lord Jon Arryn, the man who married her sister, and both their marriages had been consummated before they left.
But at the end of the war, her husband had been executed, along with her father, her uncle, and her sister's husband – her brother at least wasn't dead, but taken to the capital; while Riverrun was still being fought over by the Houses that had supported the Targaryens – the last time she heard the House Darry had the upper hand.
Catelyn and her sister's punishment had been different – they were left alone… Lysa took the opportunity to run away with Petyr, while Catelyn looked for refuge with her mother's family – the Whents of Harrenhal.
The Whents let her stay, they gave her a bedchamber, but she was free mostly – Catelyn knew that she was now a soiled woman, not just because she was no longer a maiden, but also because she had been a daughter and wife of traitors. Catelyn liked to walk through Harrenhal, it was a beautiful and old castle – not as beautiful as Riverrun, of course; and it saddened her that all this war had had its roots right here in this castle.
Catelyn wasn't that far from the castle when she noticed a strange figure walking on her way, it seemed like a man, who couldn't walk straight (probably drunk), but as he came closer, something else called to her attention – the man clothes… they were strange like nothing she had ever seen.
"Please can you help me," he asked when he came closer, and Catelyn was still appalled by his clothes.
"If I can, my lord… sir…" she wasn't sure how to address him, and he looked funny at her.
"Where am I?"
"Harrenhal in the Riverlands? How did I end up here?" he questioned. "Do you have a phone? I need to call my girlfriend." Catelyn didn't understand what he wanted.
"I'm sorry I can't understand."
"Ohhh… sorry, is this some middle ages fair? I'm supposing by your clothes. Do you know anyone with a phone? Maybe the information stand?"
"I'm sorry, I don't know… I can take you to the fair." She led him to the market, supposing that maybe that was the fair he talked about, but the man looked very confused as they walked, while they tried to make conversation, as he asked her for a name.
"I'm Lady Catelyn Tully – not Tully, anymore I suppose…" she didn't know if she should wear her former husband's name, since he was now dead and his family forgotten.
"Stark?" The family had been one of the main ones in the Rebellion, and her former betrothed had been a Stark, but he never mentioned a Ned. "My lord," she said bowing to him, "I'm sorry about your family."
"How do you know about my family?" he asked getting offended.
"Everyone knows," she answered, since it was the most obvious thing.
"No, they don't," he answered. "What's going on? Everything is wrong."
"I know that the war hasn't been easy, but things will get better with time," she said optimistically.
"War? What war?"
"How can you not know about the war? Where have you been? The Rebellion lasted for almost two years – your family died on it."
"Which year is it?"
She wondered what type of question was that, but she told him, "283."
"A.C.?" she nodded to that strange question. "That means it's 1293… it's supposedly 999, that's been everywhere…" he whispered. "Are you sure?"
"I don't know what you mean by 1293, but sure it's 283."
"Right, that calendar was only… sorry, right," the man said still completely confused with everything that was happening. "I need to get somewhere safe."
"You need to rest. I can bring you to my family's castle, maybe Lord Whent will let you stay."
"Harrenhal," she told him, and he mumbled something she couldn't understand or properly hear, but he let Catelyn lead him to the castle.
Catelyn was able to convince Lord Whent to let him stay with them, as long as he stayed in the lower quarters. Catelyn still couldn't find out who he was, there was no record of a Ned Stark in this generation, and he had no notion of the war – like he hadn't lived through it.
Catelyn visited him daily but was no closer to finding out who he was, but she did find out more about him. Ned was smart, even if confused, he was curious as well, he did not only ask her about the world he found himself in, but he also asked her about herself.
"I like the water," she told him, when he asked her why they always came to the fountain. "I lived near a river when I was little, I loved to swim in it."
"Where… when I lived almost all rivers are improper for swimming…"
"Why? How do you bathe?"
"You just turn on a thing, and water comes out – hot water."
"So there are no rivers?"
"There are a lot, but most are not proper for humans. There's too much trash in them."
"Bad things, dirty things…" he told her, she wasn't sure what these things were, but she didn't like the idea of not having a river to swim in – she dreamed of that for her children.
"So what did you play as a child?"
"I had these toys – they were warriors, or some mix of animals and monsters. And there was the television."
"It's… it's… it's like a book of sorts, or music," he told her, but she knew he wasn't telling everything, but she didn't pressure him. "I also like reading and music."
"I used to love songs a lot, but now… I don't want to hear about war or love…"
"Not all songs are about that love and war – if I had a better voice…" he whispered.
"I like reading. There are great history books in the library. I can show them to you."
"I would like that. Maybe someday I can tell you about the books I've read." Catelyn liked that thought – she wanted to know Ned better. "But maybe we could go to the market right now and get something to eat. I can buy you a drink or something sweet, my lady." Ned was starting to gain the habit of using "my lady", he almost never forgot it in the castle, but when it was just them, he sometimes didn't use it.
Catelyn agreed to Ned's proposal, and they walked together to the market. They kept talking as Catelyn told him a bit more about the war, and they walked until they stopped by a cart that sold a few cakes and breads, and he offered to buy her a lemon cake, since he already knew she liked him, and she accepted, as he bought a loaf of bread with jam for himself. As he ate, he compared it to the jam in his world, and unlike most things he tried, he found the jam quite similar.
He smiled at that, since he rarely found anything similar, anything recognizable, and Catelyn smiled back, glad that her friend was finding some comfort in this new place.
He had been gone for almost seven years, and this time everything seemed different here. Nothing was the same as it was in 2009. All the phones were different, and the computers, and the televisions, but most important he wasn't the same person, and he had Jon here as well.
Jon was the light of his days. He was getting to know his son for the first time. Jon was a quiet boy and polite like Sansa, but really curious like Robb, most days he came from school and told them everything that he had learned. And he liked hearing about his siblings, Ned told him stories as they played ball, and in return Jon told him about himself and his other siblings – in preparation for their return home, since they had been staying at their father's for a bit longer.
Ned learned that his son loved Rhaenys and Aegon like his own siblings, and Ned was glad that even if he could not meet his brother and sisters, he could have siblings. And Ned also learned to adjust to a life on Ashara and Elia's couch, he thought about finding an apartment for himself, but he couldn't think of leaving Jon just yet, and Ashara and Elia said they didn't mind. And it wasn't like he had family here anymore, Lyanna, Brandon and his father had been gone before, they were one of the reasons that Ashara had suggested a few days away in Dorne that had led to his disappearance, and now Ashara had told him that Benjen had enlisted after Ned disappeared, thinking that he had no family left, and that he had went missing in action a few years ago.
For the last week and a half, he mostly spent his days catching up on what he had lost, even if was often distracted by thoughts of Catelyn and the children, and what he missed now. He had quite a list of shows to watch that Ashara left him – Ned liked the Simpsons, at least that hadn't changed; but what he liked he most from television and movies was the new Star Wars movie, he had watched it with Jon on Saturday night and he was happy that Ashara had shown him the other movies, even if she had never been a fan, Jon had told him that she had said that Ned had loved these movies – he had been watching since he was really young, starting with the cartoons.
"Ned," Ashara greeted him, opening the door. "How has your day been?"
"Good. Yours?" he asked, and after she nodded, continued and questioned, "Where's Jon?"
"Elia is getting Aegon and Rhaenys from Rhaegar today, Jon was too excited and couldn't wait."
"I'm really glad they get on well," he told her.
"Are you thinking about your other kids?"
"I really miss them… I can imagine how painful it would have been if I always had known about Jon – he's a wonderful kid. You've raised him so well." He had told her before, but he couldn't help but repeat.
"He's a good boy. Much better behaved than I was, I guess he gets that from you."
"He reminds me of Sansa – my oldest girl – in that way. She's so polite and a proper lady."
"I always hated being a proper lady, but I guess that's expected back then."
"If Arya pulling on her clothes and desire to roll around on the floor is any indication, she won't follow her sister's footsteps to be a perfect lady."
"Don't force her into that, Ned. You know the problems with my parents because I wanted to do my own thing."
"I'll try not too. But it's a different time, Ash. Things may still not be equal for men and women, but it's so different from back then, when I told Catelyn about you – she could barely believe there could exist someone like you."
"Do you think she would like me?"
"Maybe…" he said, he wasn't sure. Catelyn could be a bit jealous, and besides that Ashara could be a bit intense sometimes, that was why they had never worked as well as Ned and Catelyn. "I think she would like Elia."
"Who doesn't?!" Ashara said with a smile, she just looked so happy and comfortable with Elia. "I've been talking to Elia and we were wondering if maybe you wanted to investigate about how you went back… We know about legends in Dorne, but it actually happened…"
"I would like to know…"
"Are you planning to go back?"
"I don't know… I can't leave Jon, but the idea of leaving Catelyn alone with our three kids…"
"You can still research. Elia is great at it. She can get us all type of sources." Elia was a journalist, and she was quite good, she had covered quite a few important issues for the last half a dozen years – he had caught up himself with those, since Ashara kept cut outs of every article; Ned had noticed that she focused on social issues and problems. It was so strange that Elia had such a adult career and new perfectly who she was and what she wanted to be, while Ashara was sure of very little things – she had always been like that – and that she normally changed jobs every few months, trying many different things – right now she was in a modelling agency (she said that that was one of her favorites).
"Yeah, I want to know. I need to know that she wasn't hurt since I left. I married to protect her, I can't think of her being hurt because of some stupid magic."
"Protect her?! How?!"
Catelyn couldn't believe what was happening. She couldn't believe this nightmare. What could she do? It wasn't like Lord Whent had the power to deny the King – he didn't, Catelyn would have to be sent there…
"Lady Catelyn," she heard a voice call. "My lady," the voice was heard again. "Catelyn," that called to her attention, only one person called her by her given name.
"What's happening?" he asked. "You're crying," he realized as he came closer. She noticed how his hands started to raise to her face, before he dropped them.
"We can't talk here," she told him. Ned followed her outside, and as always they found themselves by the water, in one of the most secluded fountains, and they sat side by side.
"You can tell me."
"I will…" she whispered. "We received a letter from the King."
"He wants me in the capital. The letter says that as a companion to the Queen or Princess would be a proper position for a widow and daughter of a traitor," she told him.
"It's not good… the King is not stable, and I'm officially worthless – so I could be… he could want to…" She noticed how his eyes bugged when he realized his meaning.
"You can't go… You can't… You will be burned… I don't know about the other things, but you'll be burned…"
"What do you mean?" He seemed so sure, and he was so scared, that she was even more scared now.
"I just know, Catelyn. You can't go."
"How do you know? Do you work for the King or something like that?"
"No… I just know… I can't tell you how…"
"It's too much…" She didn't accept his answer, but decided not to pressure him any more right now.
"I need to go. I can't deny the King – he will send people for me."
"Marry me, then."
"What?!" she asked, surprised. She couldn't understand.
"He's sending for you because you're a widow, with the excuse of getting you a husband or at least a proper life for a lady. I can offer you that."
"I'm a widow… I'm not a maiden, Ned," she whispered blushing.
"Neither am I. And that's not a factor, Catelyn. It may be the only solution, and as long as you agree, of course."
"Lord Whent has to agree as my guardian-"
"Do you?" he interrupted her. "If you don't want to marry me, I'll still help you escape, Catelyn."
"If we are getting married, you should call me Cat," she told him, with a smile, and taking his hand in hers.
"Cat…" he whispered, and she liked how it sounded in his voice.
"We need to talk with Lord Whent, so he approves, and we can get married the quicker as possible."
Lord Whent had no reason to deny Ned Catelyn's hand, sure he didn't seem to be someone of importance (even with Stark as a last name), but he wasn't from the smallfolk, everyone seemed to think he was from Essos – even if he didn't have the looks. And after that the wedding was arranged quickly and without much confusion – second weddings were never big affairs. Ned seemed to be uncertain about the reason behind such a hidden and discreet wedding.
"But doesn't the King need to know?" he wondered.
"The King will know, we sent a letter. It would not be proper for me to have a big wedding when I'm already tainted – there's nothing I can do about that, but you can still back out."
"I will marry you," he said, taking her hands – he was finally more comfortable doing that. "And there's nothing wrong with you – not for any reason, but especially not for having slept with someone," he told her. "Where I come from women are free to sleep with whoever they want, before marriage."
"Really?!" That didn't seem natural or appropriate for a woman to do. "And no one will judge." Women were beaten for that here.
"Okay, some people will… In theory women are free to be with anyone, as long as there's consent – both parties agree with what's happening. Some stupid people, with retarded thoughts still think that a woman has an obligation to be pure, and they hurt and judge women who don't follow those 'rules'."
"Do you think I'm stupid?" Catelyn thought a woman should be pure in her wedding night; she was widow so that was an exception, a lot of women like her don't marry again.
"No, of course not," he told her, looking at her apologetic. "It's a society thing, you've been taught that, alike everyone here. Those people home, they are following ancient principles that don't fit the times we live anymore," he finished. "You're not stupid, I promise. It's just this place is not the best for women."
"Where do you come from? Dorne? I know women in Dorne are freer, but you don't look like a dornish, or from Essos either – Lord Whent believes you're some prince or lord from one of the Free Cities."
"I was in Dorne before I come here. But I was not in some different place, Catelyn, but a different time."
"Time?!" She couldn't understand what he meant.
"I guess I should tell you… we're getting married after all," he whispered. "This will sound crazy, I'll sound crazy. But I… this is so strange, and you deserve to know."
"Are you married?" she asked scared, she couldn't believe Ned would lie to her like that.
"No, it's nothing like that. I had a girlfriend, but considering the situation I don't think it's really a thing anymore."
"A girlfriend? Betrothed?"
"It's not something as serious. Maybe courting would be the closest…" he told her. "But that's not what I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you that I didn't come from here, I came from the future…"
Catelyn couldn't process what was happening. This made no sense…
"What do you mean?"
"I lived in 2009 – I mean 999 A.C. in your calendar – and then something happened and I woke up here – in the Isle of Faces. I wasn't even in the Riverlands, I was in Dorne – Starfall and we had gone up to the Tower of Joy."
"How can that happen?"
"I don't know. But it did happen… I thought you should know."
"Shouldn't you go home?"
"I don't know why or how it happened," he told her. "And I like being here."
"Is this really true?" she whispered. She was so confused, and she had gotten up and started pacing. "I've heard legends, songs about beautiful and pure ladies… which is not the case," she said with a laugh. "But they talk about the Isle of Faces and how they appear there out of nowhere."
"It seems to fit the thing, with the exception of the beautiful lady."
"We can ask around. It's a popular song, sang in festivals and markets, maybe someone knows something…"
"We should focus on getting married first… if you still want that is."
"I do. If you do, if you're sure you can stay…"
"I am," he said.
"Ohh… I forgot to ask before – do you follow the Seven? There's only a septon here, no other religions."
"The Maiden, the Mother, the Father, the Crone, the Warrior, the Smith, and the Stranger," she answered, finding it strange that he didn't know.
"Ohhh… the Seven are not followed anymore – I guess they are a pagan religion now, or better in the future."
"Pagan?" How could the Faith of the Seven be pagan? "What religion do you follow then?"
"I don't really follow one actively. But I was baptized, and I guess I was raised Christian."
"Christian? Like in the continent, like in France."
"Similar. They are Catholics in the continent right now. A few centuries from now, new types of Christianity will 'appear' – I follow one of those," he told her.
"Ohh… what do you mean by you don't follow?"
"Religion is not really like it is today. I didn't really go to church – it's like the sept – weekly, I still went on Christmas, Easter and some other occasions. I prayed sometimes at home, but not regularly," he explained, but she was still a bit confused. "I do believe in God."
"God?! One God?"
"Ohhh… yes. But I won't intervene with your religion, and we can raise our kids- Sorry, I just, I don't to pressure you, but I just… If we eventually have children we should raise them under the Seven, there will be centuries before Christianity takes a hold in Westeros."
"Ohhh… okay. And about children, I think I'm fertile, at least the fact that my husband and I had no kids is probably not related to infertility, we were together as husband and wife very few times, since he had to leave for war."
"I wasn't thinking about that… please don't worry about that," he told her. But children were a worrying issue, it was important for a man to have an heir.
"I will give you an heir."
"Catelyn…" he started to argue.
"We should go back to the castle. We may be married soon, but it's still not proper to spend much time alone."
They were married really soon, in less than a fortnight. It was even smaller than her first wedding – which had been small already since it had been an agreement for a war – which was proper for a woman's second wedding, but what she missed the most was her family, she had no way to contact Lysa and the King had not let Edmure come (he had not been happy with the wedding). But still the sept looked beautiful, she didn't – her dress was ugly, a non-maiden dress, not what one would normally wear to a wedding.
"You look beautiful," Ned had still told her when they met in front of the Father and the Mother, as the septon told them to quiet down.
He repeated the words right after her, like they had rehearsed, and Ned didn't miss any of the words this time, and at the end they shared a quick kiss. While the ceremony had been similar to her first, the party and feast was much smaller – due to both her statues as a widow and a traitor.
Catelyn and Ned got to eat mostly in peace, very few people interrupted them, and since her family wasn't present, they couldn't speak that much. Dances were still led, and Catelyn was able to convince Ned to dance with her, he was not a good dancer – he said he had never been, even with dances from his time (but he did promise to show them to her). And luckily there was no need for the bedding ceremony this time – that had been awful, with all those men touching her – this time they just waited to be time for Ned and Catelyn to leave the feast, as people yelled, clapped and knocked on their cups; and they were still followed to the chamber they were sharing tonight (that was neither hers or his), and a few maidens stayed outside their door singing.
Inside the room, the atmosphere changed. Ned was nervous, while this time Catelyn felt better, since she knew what she was doing and knew her husband better than last time. She got out of her dress easily quickly, the laces weren't hard to untie, and she found herself in only her shift, while Ned was still fully dressed.
"Ned, aren't you going to get ready for bed?" she asked him.
"I thought I could sleep in the floor…"
"We have a bed, Ned," she said, coming closer to him. "And the marriage needs to be consummated."
"I won't force myself in you."
"We need to consummate the marriage for this to be valid."
"You aren't a maiden, we can tell the marriage was consummated," he argued. Catelyn couldn't help but ask herself if he didn't want to lie together, because she had been with another man.
"You said it didn't matter that I'm not a maiden. I should have known that you were lying," she whispered.
"I was not," he said turning to her immediately. "I just think this should be your choice, and not just because a marriage should be consummated. You have a choice, Catelyn, I want to give you that choice. I never want to force you to anything."
"I want to consummate this marriage. Part of me wants it because it's my duty, because it's what I need to do. But another part wants it because it's you and I can trust you. You are my choice, Ned." And she kissed him. And this kiss felt different than any other kiss she had ever shared.
"Are you sure this is okay?" Ned asked her as he and Elia rested against the van, while they filled it up the van, and Ashara went inside the convenient store for more food – the kids were sleeping right now, but the moment they woke up they would want more food.
"Of course, Ned. Jon would be heartbroken if you had to stay in a hotel." They had decided to travel to Dorne and investigate what had happen years ago, and for that they were staying in the Martell manor, with Elia's family. "Okay, my younger brother may threaten you, but ignore Oberyn."
"I am," she told him with a smile. "I think that's enough gas." Ned pulled out the hose, and paid for the gas.
"Do you want me to take the car now?"
"I should do it, or Ash, we're almost home." Ned could tell she really missed her family, by the look in her eyes. "Ohh… I don't know if Ashara talked to you or not, but in case you're wondering – my family doesn't care that Jon isn't mine, they know I love him like he's mine, and they don't treat him differently."
"I would guess. Ashara wouldn't put Jon in that position, you wouldn't either. And I'm glad Jon has you as his mother, and Rhaenys and Aegon as his siblings – they've grown so much…"
"Jon would love his siblings. He does. He likes learning about them – I wish there was a way for us all to be together. I would like to meet Catelyn."
"I think she would like you."
"Ashara told me. She told me you said Catelyn would like me more than her."
"Ashara can be a bit too much sometimes," Ned answered.
"Yes, she can," Elia agreed with a smile. A smile that not only he noticed, but also Ashara, as she came from the store with a bounce on her feet.
"What are you smiling about?"
"You," Elia said, pulling Ashara for a kiss, and after that first kiss pushed the bags in Ned's direction, before throwing herself back into Elia's arms. Ned packed their bags in the back, as Elia and Ashara continued kissing against the car – Ashara never seemed to really mind the looks they got, Elia was normally a bit more discreet with their PDA.
Ned got into the car, in the back seat with Rhaenys as she slept, with Jon and Aegon sleeping on the seat in front of them – they had spent most of the journey playing with some toys, while Rhaenys calmly read and listened to music. And with this trip he finally understood why they had needed a mini-van, the kids would go crazy in a normal five-passenger car for such a long time.
After a few more seconds of making out, they got inside the car, without turning to him, and Elia, behind the wheel, continued the trip to Sunspear. Rhaenys was the first of the kids to wake up, and after she stretched a bit, she turned to Ned.
"Ned, do you want to play Go Fish?" Rhaenys asked him, pulling out a deck of cards. He was getting on well with the kids, they were really fun, and neither seemed to mind that Ned was there all the time.
"Of course," he said and she started shuffling the deck. "Do you miss Dorne?"
"Yes! Especially my cousins – I really miss them… We're planning to have sleepovers every night."
"You need to sleep, sweetie," Elia said.
"I'll sleep when I get home," she said, before they started the game. With every other play, Rhaenys talked about her cousins, and Ned got curious about meeting these awesome and mysterious Martells.
"We're here," Ashara said, as she turned back, and started shaking Jon and Aegon's legs. "Babies, wake up."
"Not a baby, mama," Aegon complained, with quite a younger voice than normal. Jon started to open his eyes, and then worked on waking up his brother. And they were all awake when Elia parked the car, and everyone in her family waited for them to get out.
Ned looked on as Elia's younger brother, Oberyn, picked her up for a hug and swirled her around, before pulling Ashara for a hug too; Ned was happy to see that Jon was also being pulled in to a heated conversation with Aegon, and one of Doran's boys he supposed, since Oberyn seemed to only have girls; while Rhaenys was in the middle of being hugged by a million girls. While they greeted everybody, Ned took the opportunity to take the bags out of the car, and there were a lot.
"Ned, come here," Ashara called him over. "I want to introduce you to Oberyn and Doran Martell, Elia's brothers. You remember Ned, right, Jon's father," she said, looking at the other men.
"Yes, the deadbeat man who left you after you got pregnant," Oberyn threatened.
"It was out of his control, Oby," Elia argued. "You should know. You weren't there when Obara was born."
"If you say so. But I hope you don't have any intention of hurting Elia and Ashara-"
"He doesn't. Stop this nonsense," Elia told her youngest brother. "Doran, I think you'll like Ned – he's got an interesting mind."
"Maybe we can play cyvasse one of these nights." Ned had never been too good at the game but he agreed to the proposal. "I should introduce you to my children. My wife stayed in the house with our youngest, Trystane, but come meet Quentyn and Arianne."
Ned followed the older man, as the other brother brooded behind them, until they reach the boys first.
"Quentyn, Quentyn, this is my dad!" Jon exclaimed, pulling on his father's pants.
"Quentyn, this is Ned Stark," Doran Martell said. "Ned, this is Quentyn."
"Only he and Jon can keep Aegon quiet," Elia told him. "Quentyn and Jon are quite alike."
"And that's my daughter, Arianne," Doran continued. "She's probably overwhelming her cousin with questions right now. You'll meet them all at dinner."
So with part of the introductions done, Ned, Oberyn, Ashara and Elia got the bags, and only then did Ned notice that Doran had a small limp. Elia led them to their rooms – it seemed Ashara and Elia always stayed in her childhood room, and the kids already knew their rooms – and Ned was sent to a guest room, rather close to Ned's.
Ned rested the rest of the day until dinner time. It was strange not having anything to do, and not being needed – Jon needed him, or if not he was helping around the house, and with Catelyn, he worked – he had actually found a job in the middle ages – and took care of the kids. He missed her… he missed her everyday… with every single moment he feared that he would forget her face and the Robb and Sansa's faces, and he was sure Arya's face had have changed so much by now. Now – what was now? Now they were dead… Probably somewhere in the Riverlands he could find their graves – don't think about it, don't… he told himself.
"Catelyn…" he whispered, facing the sea from the window. The sea was timeless, maybe she could hear him, maybe she was near their river. "I wish I could see you."
Ned had no idea what he would do. They were going to the Tower of Joy in a few days, since that seemed to be the last place they had been together, before he disappeared in the middle of the night (unless they counted Starfall). But what if he found out how to go back, could he leave Jon?
But could he leave Catelyn, Robb, Sansa and Arya?
Ned's mind was a mess.
Catelyn liked that they were making their own life together, but it was hard to find their own place. They had decided to leave Harrenhal and found a home for them closer to Riverrun, so they walked west. But they discovered that finding a home that was right for them wasn't as easy as they thought.
Catelyn was a lady, and Ned didn't forget it, and he didn't want to find her a small house, he wanted to find her something that was good enough for her. But Catelyn understood that she couldn't expect the same type of life she had grown up with, she was a commoner now.
"I found a place, Catelyn," he exclaimed, entering their room at the Inn they were staying at. "It's beautiful, and it's big, like a penthouse."
"Penthouse," she laughed at his funny words.
"Not really, but I like seeing you laugh. It's a good house, big – there are two rooms beside a bedroom for us."
"I will work for the owner – any job for the next year, besides almost all of our savings."
"It will be a good house for us," Ned murmured, coming closer, kneeling on the floor, resting his hand on her growing belly. "I want to find a home before he comes. I want him to have home."
"He or she has one with us," she promised him. "But if you think it's a good house, we can go see it. We still have time before nightfall."
With that Catelyn followed Ned out of the inn, Ned was careful walking next to her, wanting to be sure that nothing bad happened; she had told him that nothing would happen, that she could perfectly walk and be pregnant at the same time.
Catelyn knew Ned was scared. He was scared that she wouldn't have any access to the help he had in his own world, with medicine, doctors and special instruments. She told him that women have been having children for years, that they would find good midwifes, but she did not told him how her mother had died in the birthing bed, and that she feared death as well, and she feared that she would not know her children.
"Are you okay?" Ned asked her.
"I am, Ned. Just show me our home."
Like Ned had told her, the house was beautiful, bigger than most houses they had seen before – she guessed it hadn't always been a home. Ned opened the door for her, telling her that he had agreed with the owner, and the house was good – it had a place to eat with a small table (everything was small compared to what she had had), a kitchen where she could cook, after she learned – Ned told her he knew how to cook the basics, but that was before they realized half the food he knew didn't yet existed in Westeros – but there were also chambers, one of which was furnished.
"This could be ours," he told her. "And we'll find the money to fix up the rest."
"How will we find the money?"
"We will work. Or I if you don't want to…"
"I want to help. Smallfolk women work, and you said women can work the same jobs as men where you come from."
"They do." She liked to hear Ned talked about the women in his time. Catelyn had grown up with power – she had been a lady of a Great House – but she had known that her role was to marry well, be a lady to a House and have heirs; it was interesting to imagine a world where people could expect more from her.
His sister was planning to join the military just like Ned and his older brother had joined, and Ned's not-betrothed just wanted to be free, she talked about never settling down and how she wanted to try everything at least one – she didn't have a duty.
"We should take this house," she told him, and he kissed her happily.
"Okay, stay here. I'll handle everything," he told her, before murmuring. "At least, I don't have to handle a realtor too." Sometimes she wished she could understand these comments of his.
Catelyn walked around the house while Ned was gone, and she really liked the place. Most of the house was actual stone, and it seemed rather secure and safe; the stone also seemed well finished, unlike most houses. But like they had noticed, most chambers were empty: there was a bed in the bedchamber, but she wasn't sure she trusted that the bed was clean; there was a table and benches in the first room, and the kitchen had a fire pit and a few pans, plates, cutlery and cups. While that meant that they would have to spend money in the house – maybe she could sent some letters to the Whents and Riverrun, maybe they would send her some of her things; but there were good things, like the amount light in the room.
"It's ours," Ned came in later in the day, when it was already sundown, and he had some people with him that helped him carry their things from the inn.
They had a home, she thought and smiled; and Catelyn sat next to him on the benches.
"There's a lot to be done."
"I'll send a raven to Riverrun to see if I can get anything from my old stuff. I may have to visit."
"Not while you're pregnant. It can be dangerous."
"Okay. And I was thinking about jobs, I can sew, and everyone needs clothes. I was thinking I could get material and make a few things – I could sell them for a good price."
"That seems like a good idea. Any ideas for me? What can I do here?"
"You could hunt. You use to do it with your father."
"With guns. The fire and metal things," he said to her confused face, he had spoken of the guns before. "I'm good with body to body fighting, I had to train in the military."
"Use that. And cooking, maybe some of your techniques will work now. Good food could change things, Ned."
"This is Jamie Oliver all over again," he said with a smile. "He's a famous chef that has programs on the screen – the moving images – and books, and he's been introducing healthy food."
"You said there was more food."
"There is, but it's not always cooked the best way. Or people don't eat different things. Like I told you, it's not good to always eat the same thing." She found the notion strange, she couldn't understand why people didn't eat well if they could. Ned's world seemed so strange sometimes.
"Talking about food, what are we going to eat tonight?"
"Pies," he said, pulling them in front of them.
So pies were the dinner for that night, but also for most of the nights to come. Ned tried to get different pies, but without much money was hard. Ned went around town looking for jobs, but he couldn't find anything, besides the one he was doing to still pay for the house.
Catelyn kept knitting and sewing as her belly grew, and she liked the feeling of accomplishment she got every time she finished a piece and someone gave her money for it. She knew Ned was sometimes jealous that she bought the money home, she understood that was the man's duty, that the man should provide for the family. Ned told her that was a stupid notion and that he was immature and stupid for feeling like that, that he should only be proud of Catelyn and grateful that they can eat and live.
And she was sewing a new piece, not to sell, one for their child, when the first pain started – Ned called them contractions. He ran off to call the midwife that lived a few houses over. The pain wasn't too bad yet, but she knew it would come, so she kept breathing…
The breathing didn't really help after awhile. It was too painful. Ned held her hand and whispered for her to breath, but she couldn't help but still cry, and she knew she was making Ned more scared and terrified for every scream.
"Sit… behind me…" she whispered between a few pains. And she felt better with Ned behind her, she calmed herself with his heartbeat, and he calmed himself with holding her closer. After that the birth seemed to be quicker, and not long after she was holding her child.
"Is she okay?" Ned asked.
"It's a boy," said the midwife.
"I meant Catelyn. The baby is crying, I know that's good."
"I'm okay, Ned," she answered and it was approved by the older woman, before she helped Catelyn a bit more, before leaving the room.
"He's so small," Ned whispered, playing with his nose.
"He's perfect… I can't believe we made this…"
"We did…" he whispered. "Will he be okay?"
"You just said he was healthy, that the crying was good."
"It is. But the infant mortality is so high right now, and there are no shots to give them."
"Medicine, potions… to prevent deceases." That sounded good, helpful – another thing of the future that seemed to be better.
"We'll keep him safe," she tried to reassure him. "It's going to be okay. I'm here. I lived, so did my siblings." Two of them, not all…
"He's so perfect, I don't want to ever loose him," he whispered, just before the baby started crying, and she took him to her breast. "I don't want to loose you, Catelyn."
"Me neither, Ned. I think I love you," she told him. "I know you married me because the King…"
"I did… but now, I've fallen in love with you," he said, kissing the top of her head, and pulling her for a tighter hug, with one of his hands on the baby's head. "What should his name be?"
"I was thinking Robb," she said. "But if you don't like it…"
"I do," he answered. "It reminds me of my best friend."
"Your best friend?"
"He's called Robert Baratheon."
"Robert Baratheon? The Rebellion?" She was pretty sure that was the name of the man in charge of this failed rebellion, she had met him even. She hadn't thought of that connection between Robb and Robert – maybe it wasn't smart for a known traitor daughter and wife to call her child Robb.
"Yes," he said with a laugh. "He was quite proud of that. He did say if it was him, he would have won. He used to pull stunts all the time when we were kids, yelling that he was a rebel."
"You miss him," she knew that. She knew that Ned missed home sometimes, maybe he should go home. "Maybe-"
"My place is here, Cat, with you and little Robb."
"Yes, your place is here," she said taking his hand.
There was nothing there, they had travelled through most of the day, and the Tower of Joy was just the broken tower.
"Ned, let's have a look," Ashara said, as she walked up front with Elia.
"Yes, the fair is probably only during September," Elia told them. "We can go to the village near by and ask a few questions. But first let's look around."
Ned follower their lead, but the place was empty. Ned couldn't really remember the last time he had been here, but Ashara told him that they had spent the day before he disappeared here.
"What happened while you were here?" Elia asked when they sat on the Tower's steps.
"We looked around," Ashara said, resting against Elia's legs. "Played a few games, ate a bit-"
"And we visited a fortune-teller," Ned remembered.
"Yes," Ashara agreed. "I didn't realize then, but I think she knew I was pregnant – 'there will be a little joy that will brighten your life during the hard times to follow'. If she could tell, she could be real."
"There's no thing as real fortune-teller," Ned argued.
"Says the guy who travelled through time," Ashara said, as she rolled her eyes, as she shared a look with Elia.
"Okay, right. She said something like there was more for me, like I didn't belong here."
"She was right," Elia said. "Anything else?"
"She said more but I can't remember anything. She gave me something to drink."
"Something to drink! That must be it!" Elia exclaimed.
"Yes! I tried to drink from it," Ashara said, "but she pretty much yelled at me when I tried."
"Do you remember your last day there?" Elia asked.
"We went to a fair too. Sansa was really excited and happy – I remember running everywhere. She had been talking about it for days, since she heard they were coming to town."
"Did you visit a fortune-teller?"
"Yes, Sansa really wanted to. She only read Sansa, I think. And she talked to Catelyn for a bit," Ned said. "Ohhh… she did tell me that I didn't belong there – I hadn't even considered that."
"Did you drink anything?"
"No, she didn't give me anything," Ned answered confused.
"Ohh… but it must be the drink," Elia said. "We'll figure it out," she said. "We should go to town, maybe we can find the fortune-teller, and talk to her."
"Can we stay for a bit longer?" Ashara asked, and Elia agreed.
Ashara rested her head on Elia's lap, and they started talking about their plans for the night, they were planning to staying in their room and watch a movie, and they were trying to decide on one (they had spent the entire trip talking about it). Ned had decided to walk around a bit more, he still couldn't recognize the place, but he wanted to figure out this; and he was going over his mind to see if he had drank anything from a strange origin.
Ashara came to find him awhile later, with her hand on his shoulder, she called to his attention.
"We should go right now."
The drive to the town was really quick, but then founding any news about the fair – yes, it only happened in September, and yes, a lot of the people that worked on the fair lived in town. Which person led them to another, but in the end the result had not been good. The fortune-teller had left town, she had been travelling through the world for almost a year now, since she won the lottery – everyone seemed to believe she was real fortune-teller.
And while she had left no number behind, she had not left her apartment, she was still paying for it, she was still renting it. They were hoping this meant she would come back someday, even if not tomorrow, she would someday. They left their number with the landlord, who promised to tell the fortune-teller that someone had came to look for her, and as long as she let him, he would call them.
Ned felt like today had been a failure, he had such high plans and now he hadn't really found out anything.
"Ned," Ashara called as they travelled back, and Ned was looking out of the window worried. "I know what you're thinking, and it was not a failure."
"We have a contact," said Ashara.
"And we know it was a drink," said Elia.
"We're not sure…" he whispered.
"We are. And we'll keep researching, Ned. We will find her," Elia promised. "You will see her again."
"I'm not sure… I'm scared, you know," Ned said. "I want to see her and my kids, but Jon is here… I can't leave him…"
"I know…" Ashara whispered. "Maybe it's good that we didn't find anything else today. You'll have time to figure out everything, and to be with Jon."
"I know… thank you to you both," he told them. He really wanted Catelyn right now, she would know what they should do.
Robb was a sweet kid. He had just started crawling, and he went everywhere, trying to play with everything. Ned was great with him, he told him a lot of stories – some that came from the books and the moving-pictures of his time. Catelyn had never knew that men could be fathers like this; her father had loved her and she had always known that, but they had never spent much time together playing – she wasn't sure if this was a Ned thing, or a 10th century thing (Ned called it the 21st century, it seemed nobody used their calendar anymore), but she liked it.
"I knitted you some warmer clothes for the next time you travel." Ned took quite a few jobs travelling the river – it paid well, and he liked it, but she couldn't help but miss him, especially when he was away for longer than a fortnight.
"Thank you. I can see if anyone else wants to buy them?" he asked.
"Please do. Money is always good." She had gotten an answer from Riverrun, and they had let her get a few things – mainly from her bedchamber, she had a beautiful vanity table, a closet, and a better bed now. But they had also bought some stuff with the money they had made, mostly things for the kitchen, and a rug for the hall.
"I'm getting a new job for the next month – moon," he told her. "Farming. I guess I used to that as a kid."
"Yes," he said. "And I was thinking maybe we could have a date night."
"A night – just us two going out. I'm thinking the inn, for a drink, and there are singers most nights. Do you think you can get someone to watch over our little boy?" he asked, as he continued to play with Robb's feet.
"We should be saving money."
"It's just one night."
"I will agree if you promise to dance with me."
"I promise," he said with a smile. "But I think Robb would like a dance now."
"I can't deny my little boy," she said, as she stood up and took him in her arms, and started singing. She loved how Robb giggled when she sang, and how happy Ned looked when he saw them like this.
While this night she danced with her son, the next one Ned took her out, and as promised he danced with her. He had not worked during that day, and stayed taking care of Robb as Catelyn took the time to finish a few clothes that had been asked of her; and when the sunset he went to drop off Robb at their neighbour's house, bringing with him another one of his famous pies.
"Are you ready, Catelyn?" he asked when he came back to the house. Catelyn put on one of her best dresses, one she had brought from Riverrun to Harrenhal and then to their new home, sure she had taken a few of the riches, since she wasn't highborn anymore, but it still looked good. "Cat… you look beautiful…" She blushed at his compliment.
"Thank you, Ned. You look really good too."
"I'm glad you think so," he said, offering her arm, and leading them out of the house. The walk to the inn was a short one, but Catelyn talked mostly about the work she still had to do for the rest of this week, until he interrupted her, "No work tonight, my love. Just us."
"Can we at least talk about Robb?"
"I think that will be fair. But we should talk about ourselves."
"Okay. Do you still miss home?" she asked, as they got a place to sit at the inn.
"I miss my family, Ned. I really do. Why did my father have to get into this war? I ask myself that question a lot, but less since I'm with you. I wondered what would have happened if I had been married when I found you."
"Maybe you wouldn't have found me. Certainly we wouldn't be here."
"Maybe you would be home…" she whispered, before they were interrupted and ordered their food.
"This is my home, Catelyn, with you and the kids – I never want to leave. But I do miss a few things – technology, really, I would love to show Robb videogames and movies-" Ned had told her about those before. "Easy access to books too, I miss reading, and having food on the table for sure."
"You can tell them the stories – the one with the Jedi," she had heard that one before – she liked it, and it was easy to understand, knights, princesses and outlaws were universal. She liked the romantic ones too – there was the one with the two chefs and the little girl. "You can tell the one with the lighting wizard."
"Yes, those are good. I miss plumbing, and toilet paper," he told her with a laugh. "But not just that… if it was just that, it was easy… but Benjen – I miss him," Catelyn knew that the rest of his family was dead – he only had his little brother. "I do wonder about Robert and Ashara sometimes."
"I'm sure they are okay, or they will be okay."
"Thanks, I hope so. Do you think they threw a funeral for me?" he wondered, as a lady put down their food and drinks on the table.
"Probably. But if you won't let me talk about work, we should talk about happier things." And they moved on to happier issues, like Robb, or how their little home was building up to be. Ned wondered how would education work for Robb, and they talked a bit about that – they wanted to teach him to read, and some basic sums, which they both could do, and Catelyn would be in charge of geography and history. They couldn't give him the education she had gotten in Riverrun, but they would try that he would know more than the basics.
"So do you want to dance?" Ned asked, as they finished that conversation, and she smiled as she agreed.
Ned's dancing was very simple, he pretty much just held her as they swayed to the sound of the music, he already had to concentrate not to step on her toes, it would be impossible to ask him for something more. But he had taught her some of the modern dances – most seemed hilarious and she couldn't believe people behaved like that in public.
But dancing with Ned was mostly calm, she could rest her head on his chest, and she liked to listed to her heartbeat, while Ned always did the same, he played with her hair – twirling strands of hair on his fingers. The songs were probably not good for this type of slow dances, but it didn't matter that they looked strange and out of rhythm.
"So you like the dance," Ned wondered.
"I like you holding me, Ned," she said, kissing his cheek. "Now, let's just listen to the song." As Catelyn asked, they stayed quiet, happy in the silent and just being together.
They didn't actually dance for much longer. Ned took a sit at their table, as a few of their neighbours asked her to dance – most of them were better dancers than Ned, and she knew he didn't particularly liked that, even if she had told him a million times, that she preferred being held by him than properly dancing with other men. And Ned did intervene when some of their less favorite neighbours approached her.
By the end of the night, they had both drank a bit too much. Catelyn had never really hold her drink that well, and Ned had never held as well as most men right now – she told him that he had never drank much, and that drinking didn't work like this in his time, he couldn't believe when she suggested to give some alcohol to Robb to calm his teething, even with Robb's crying Ned hadn't given in.
The walk home was much slower, and they mostly didn't talk. It was weird to come home to an empty house, without cries or with someone needing her. Ned needed her, and she needed him, so she kissed him.
Ned kissed her back, with all their inhibitions gone, he led her to her bed, as he tried to get the laces off – he told her about a thing called zipper, quite useful in this situations. Catelyn did the same with his trousers and tunic, at first she had been afraid of doing, fearing to look to wanton, now she didn't fear it and she knew Ned liked when she was like this.
"You look so beautiful tonight…" he whispered. "You're amazing," he said, as her close fell onto the floor. The light of the moon coming from the window reflected on her skin, as she stood naked near the bed.
"Come here, my love," she said, sitting down and giving him her hand.
"I love you, Catelyn."
"I love you too, Ned," she said, pulling him for a kiss, and rejoicing the idea that they could be as loud as they want tonight.
"Dad, there's another pokestop nearby!" Jon exclaimed from the top of Ned's shoulders. Ned had just gotten the phone last month, but he had made sure it worked for Pokemon Go.
"So you think I should take this apartment?"
"Yes, there's no pokestop near where we live, Dad," he said. "There's a gym near too."
"Okay, kid. But I still think we should check the house first. It's the last one, before lunch."
"Do we really need to see your friend?"
"He's my best friend, I should have checked on him before," Ned told him. "Now time for you to get down," he said pulling him for his shoulders. "And for us to go up."
They immediately ran into the realtor who greeted him as Mr Stark, and was quite nice to Jon, asking him his name.
"I didn't know you had children, Mr Stark. This is quite a good neighbourhood to raise children – great schools."
"My son already goes to school near where his mother lives. But yes, I noticed the parks."
"And you should advertise that it's near quite a few pokestops and gyms," Jon told the realtor.
"I'll tell my boss," he said with a laugh. "Stairs or elevator? It's in the second floor."
"The stairs are okay." They walked up the stairs, and in the second floor, the realtor opened the door to an apartment on their left.
"Some consider it a bit small, but it has a spacious living room." The man was right, the living room was big, the rest of the house not so much – a small kitchen, but it was enough for Ned, a small main bedroom, but it was enough for Ned, and another small bedroom, but since Jon wouldn't be living here, maybe it was enough.
"I like this room, Dad. Look at the window – I can see everything!" While the room was small, one of the walls was almost entirely glass – a great window that looked over the park next door. Jon loved windows – his room at home didn't have a big window, so he spent a lot of time in his mothers' suite, which had a big window and even a balcony.
"The window has a safety lock and the double glass," the realtor told Ned. "I'll leave you two alone. I'll be downstairs if you need me."
"How do you like the house?"
"I like it, Dad. But are you sure you can't continue to live with us?"
"I would love to. But it's been months, I need to start trying to build a life again."
"Do you think you can't go back, Dad?"
"I don't know, son," he told him, before asking him. "But do you like the place?"
"I do. It's not that far from mom's. And there's a park and the pok-"
"Pokemon Go stuff, right. But the apartment itself?"
"It's small. Isn't it too small for you?"
"No, and as long as you think it's okay for you. I want you to feel welcome here."
"I really like the window, Dad. I could draw from here."
"I'm glad you like it."
"Are you buying it?"
"Maybe. I will see a few more, but I really like this one," he told his son. It was his best choice right now. It was close to Ashara and Elia's house, a good neighbourhood, and close to all the job interviews he had done (it had been hard to explain his six year disappearance) – he was still waiting for call backs "Let's just see the kitchen one more time," he told him.
Like he had noticed before, the kitchen was small, but he could move something around and make space to add a dishwasher and a washing machine – so that was a plus – and there were a lot of cupboards for sure, and it came with an oven, microwave and refrigerator.
After that kitchen, Ned was almost convinced, but he still didn't give the realtor a definite answer, and only let him know that he would enter in contact with him.
"So now we only need to get into the train station, so we can get downtown." Ned gave his phone to Jon again, and his son was busy catching pokemons, collecting pokeballs and hatching eggs. Inside the train, they could find some other people playing, mostly older than Jon, and a few years younger than Ned.
There was even a nice girl who started talking to Jon about his pokemons, as Ned helped him with the names.
"I guess your father was a big Pokemon fan."
"I was. Nothing better on Saturday and Sunday mornings."
"Power Ranger was pretty cool too," the girl said with a laugh. "What are your favorite shows, Jon?"
"I loved Gravity Falls, but now it has ended… I still really like Adventure Time – my sister really likes it and she's always saying that Princess Bubblegum and Marceline are like our moms."
"Who's your favorite character in Adventure Time?"
"I'm Finn, my brother is Jake. And my sister is LSP."
"Really Lumpy Space Princess? She's the first person I've heard saying they would want to be her, but she's totally right – LSP is awesome!"
"I like Fire Princess better."
"Maybe you'll marry one," she said with a smile. "It's my stop, I need to go. It was good to meet you both," she told them. "And don't forget to catch them all, Jon."
"Bye." Jon continued trying to catch them for the rest of the trip.
"This is our stop," Ned told Jon, and they got up and out of the train. He had arranged to meet with Robert in an old dinner they used to love when they were young. "They have the best milkshakes and burgers," Ned told Jon.
"Did you ever bring Mom here?"
"I think I came here with her, but we weren't dating yet."
"You were friends…"
"Not really… she was friends with my brother – Brandon."
"Benjen used to talk about him. You rarely talk about your siblings."
"It's hard, I guess."
"It's hard to talk about Catelyn and my siblings and you do it."
"I can maybe see them again, but not my siblings…"
"Benjen could come back, he's not dead, just missing." Ned smiled, he knew hope should be last to die.
"I know, I hope so," Ned agreed and took Jon's hand as they walked down the street, and miraculously Robert was already there.
Robert had changed. He was not quite as muscled and a bit larger than before (maybe not fat, but not like he had been when he was young), but the other part of him was still the same, he started waving his arms.
"Ned! Ned, come here! Come here, you son of a bitch!"
"Dad… that's a bad word."
"I know, just don't listen to what Robert says."
"Robert, language," Ned warned coming closer, making Robert laugh, as he eyed him from top to bottom.
"You've got fat," he said with a laugh, and Ned eyed him back and smirked, and soon after they were both laughing and hugging. "Where have you been, Ned?"
"I haven't quite figured it out myself," Ned said. He had decided not to tell Robert, not that he didn't trust him and thought he would think him crazy, but Robert had always been a bit of a big mouth when he was drunk, and if he still had his old habits, it could be bad – this getting out could be dangerous. "But this is my son, Jon. Jon, this is my friend, Robert."
"How old are you boy? I think my kid may be your age, maybe younger…"
"Six," Jon said.
"Almost seven, actually," Ned added. "And your children, Robert?"
"Let's not worry about them," Robert argued. "Let's go in, I got us a table already." Robert had gotten them their usual table from when they were younger. "They have changed the menu, but there are some good things."
"Good. I'm hungry." Ned helped Jon pick something for him before getting the menu for himself, and choosing as well. Robert called over the waiter with a whistle.
"So darling, it will be a burger with everything, chocolate milkshake, a small beer and a side of macaroni – I know you don't make that, but say it's for Bobby in the kitchen and they will know. Ned?"
"Right, it will be a burger with onion and a vanilla milkshake for me, and then a hot dog and another chocolate milkshake for my son, please."
"It will be right out," she said, taking the menus from the table.
"So you're living with Ashara, right?" Robert asked him. "And Elia – I'm happy she left that asshole – what he did to your sister is unforgiving."
"Robert, please, language," he warned him, eyeing Jon. "Yes, I'm living with Ashara and Elia, but I'm looking for an apartment."
"I can hook you up. You can stay in my house. Really, I tell you I need the company. Cersei is always there with her brother – can't take it anymore."
"Sorry, but I need my own home," Ned said. "So I guess your marriage isn't going well."
"Cersei is a bi-Yeah, not good." Thankfully he didn't swear this time. "What about you, any ladies? Since Ashara turned the other way."
"I had someone. I don't anymore."
"As hot as Ashara?"
"What are your kids' names?" Jon interrupted – his kid was good at intervening when needed.
"Joffrey – he's a mamma's boy. And Myrcella – she's still a baby, but she seems better than him."
"How old were you when you met my dad?"
"Properly highshool. But we met before some summer camp when we were what? Twelve? Nine?"
"Eleven, I think."
"That was a fun summer. I wish I could be young again," Robert told them. And the waiter brought the food after that, which was good, since Ned didn't know what to say. It wasn't good to live in the past, Ned needed to learn that too, that was why he had moved on – but a house, get a phone and get a job.
"Enjoy. If you need anything, call for me."
"Sure thing, sweet cheeks."
They ate in silence, only interrupted by moans of how good it was. Jon pretty much devoured his food, and even had a gulp of Ned's drink. Robert was also quick with his food, even if he had so much – he had always eaten that much, but it made a difference that he didn't seem to exercise anymore.
After lunch they hanged out a bit longer, but then Robert got a few calls from the office and then his brother, that he had to take.
"The stick in the butt can't stop calling. I need to take it," he said and went to take it outside.
"Dad, what did Robert meant about Rhaegar and aunt Lyanna?"
"It's complicated, son. Please don't ask Elia about it. I'll tell you when you're older."
"It's hard to explain… but let's say he hurt both Elia and Lyanna. Please do not mention to her or your siblings."
"Can I ask mom?"
"Yes. Maybe we should tell you together. We'll talk to you," Ned promised. Jon still didn't seem very convinced, but he seemed to drop the issue – and he did seem to understand that he shouldn't bring it up around Elia or his brother and sister – and Ned would make sure to talk with Ashara about it.
Robert came back a bit after that, saying that he needed to go; he dropped some money on the table (that could cover almost the entire meal, which Ned pointed out, and his friend ignored) and also promised Ned they would get back in touch, and told him to call if he needed something.
"So what did you think?" Ned asked him.
"The food was really good, but your friend seems a bit…"
"Yeah, sorry," Ned said. "He always been a fan of swearing," he told him. "So what do you think we go to the park and you get to run a bit more and catch a few more pokemons." Jon jumped happily with him, and after Ned paid, they got out of the diner and started walking to the park.
"Say 'Dada'," Ned told Sansa, bouncing her on her lap.
"Ned, stop trying to get my daughter to say your name first."
"Robb said 'Mama' first. It's my turn," he told Catelyn with a laugh. "Say 'Dada' please, sweetie."
Sansa mumbled again, knocking her hands on Ned's chest, pulling on his clothes. Ned gave her then his fingers, and she took one and started pulling on it.
"She's so cute," he whispered, looking up to Catelyn.
"She is. And I still think 'Mama' will be her first word," she said taking a sit next to Ned, and Sansa immediately pulled her arms up so Catelyn would take her. Catelyn started bouncing Sansa on her lap, and she immediately started pulling on her mother's hair.
"Not so strong," Catelyn said, trying to get the hair out of Sansa's hands. "Please, sweetling."
"Darling, please don't pull your mother's hair," Ned said, helping Catelyn get Sansa's hand out of her hair. "Look at papa," Ned said, waving his fingers, and that was enough to distract Sansa and she reached for his fingers, pulling on different ones.
"Can you hold her? I can get her brush – she always loves when I brush her hair." Catelyn gave Ned their little girl, and she went to get Sansa's brush for their bedchamber.
"Say 'Dada'," Ned was repeating.
"Again, Ned," Catelyn commented when she came back into the room. "Now hold her, and don't let her squirm too much as I brush her hair."
"I'll try to." Ned was able to hold Sansa, and Catelyn brushed her hair, Sansa smiled and laughed through it. "Where's Robb?" Ned asked.
"Outside, playing with his friends," Catelyn told him.
"You told him to stay close to the house?" Ned asked her. Catelyn smiled and nodded; she didn't really understand why Ned worried so much, but he told her that it was consequences of growing up when he did. "And you're sure he's staying close to the house?"
"Ned, if he steps out a bit further, he knows how to come back. He's safe, Ned." They had had this conversation multiple times, but Ned always asked the same questions.
"I know," he told her. "Now, sweetie, say 'Dada' for dad."
"'Mama'," Catelyn insisted, as she brushed Sansa's hair. They went back and forth with this as Sansa happily went from one lap to another – it was really good to have time just for them. Ned was only working at night now, since it seemed there was some wild animal problem. Catelyn still had some clothes to do, but she could rest for a bit to send time with her daughter, she knew she would work later tonight, after Ned was out and the children down for the night.
"It's getting late," Ned warned, as they tried to help Sansa walk from one place to the other.
"Are you having your night meal at home?"
"Only if it's quick, I need to be out there when the sun goes down."
"We can start dinner now, it should be done before it's dark." They both agreed and they got Sansa safely into one of the benches and then started making dinner – Catelyn still had some fish saved in salt, so she started arranging that, as Ned tried to make due with the vegetables and berries then had been able to catch or buy at the market.
They were almost done with dinner, when Robb came through the door, sweating and breathing hard, and ran to the back of the house, so he could freshen himself up. When he joined them again, Robb was much nicer and immediately got a kiss from his mother and a pat on the head from his father, but he immediately went to his little sister.
"Hi, little sister," he said kissing her feet, since there was as far as he could reach, and he was rewarded by a few laughs, and then something that surprised them all.
"Brother," she said happily, without actually pronouncing the 'r'.
"Wait, she can call for you?!" Ned asked surprised.
"Yes, she started two days ago," Robb answered.
"I've been teaching her," Robb said with a smile. "At night."
"I guess Robb wins," Catelyn said with a laugh.
"Won what?" he said still tickling Sansa, as she said 'brother' over and over.
"Nothing, sweetling. Are you happy that you were Sansa's first word?"
"Yes, I'm her big brother!" he exclaimed kissing her on the foot again, before asking, "But when will she be able to do anything fun?" And like that he made both of his parents laugh.
Jon's eighth birthday was coming up and Ned couldn't believe his son was growing up so fast. He, Ashara and Elia were trying to plan the best party possible, last year he had already learned that Jon wasn't a fan of big parties, and that he just wanted something small with his siblings and his best friend, Sam, and his friend, Edd.
The party would be small but themed, he wanted to have a Star Wars theme, so he was out with Ashara buying decorations and costumes – they had hats, banners and posters, and bought already some themed candy; Jon already had his Kylo Ren costume from last Halloween, but now they were looking for a Jyn Erso costume for Rhaenys and a Obi-Wan costume for Aegon (and Ned knew how to improvise a Han Solo costume for himself). They got a few other things from other stores, before they left the stores and hided everything in Ned's apartment.
When the day finally arrived, Ned brought everything to their apartment while Jon was at school, since he would be coming later with his friends for the sleepover – the boys were staying for Saturday, since that was Jon's birthday. Elia was the one to pick him up with the other kids, and when they got home, Ned and Ashara were there waiting with food.
The kids were happy, even Edd (who Ned had by now realized never seem very enthusiastic), and they all immediately disappeared to their rooms, so they could change into their costumes. Sam also had one, Jon had told them that his father had wanted to buy him a Jabba the Hutt suit saying he could only be that 'fat slug' and was always telling him that Star Wars was for nerds (Ned had told Sam that being a 'nerd' wasn't a bad thing), luckily Sam's mother had a bit more sense and had gotten him the suit Sam really wanted – Luke Skywalker. Edd didn't have any suit, but they had scrapped a few things to make a Star Wars costume too – he had told Jon that he didn't have any preferences, but Jon said that he really liked Poe Dameron – so they made do with some old clothes and Ashara's creativity and talent.
They all joined them back in the living room, where Ned already had prepared The Phantom Menace – how excited Ned had been when this movie had been announced – and now it was what it was. Ned sat in the armchair as the movie started, and the kids all preferred the floor – Elia had arranged a few pillows and even was able to put up some kind of fort for the kids.
They stopped through many of the movies, so they could eat the snacks they had prepared; there were sodas and the cups were always full, there were sandwiches, pasta, and even so candy, orange cake and other sweets. They stopped again at midnight, so everyone could give Jon's their birthday wishes. But they only fully stopped after the prequel trilogy, they still tried Rogue One much to Rhaenys and Aegon's insistence, but they soon found out that none of them could stay awake through the entire movie, and they ended up pausing after ten minutes, since it would be better to start from the beginning tomorrow.
The kids went to bed without much trouble after that, not Aegon – he was always trouble, and he wanted to stay awake with Jon the entire night, but Jon was able to convince his brother that he was tired and that he actually needed to sleep.
Ned, Ashara and Elia packed the food up, saving it in the fridge or putting them back on the cupboards. And then they helped him destroy the fort as little as possible, so Ned could take the couch and be there when Jon woke up.
Ned woke up earlier than he liked for Saturday, since all the kids were coming in, still in their pyjamas – Jon and Sam in matching Star Wars jammies, Edd in simple black pyjamas, and Aegon is in just boxers, since the weekend he spent with his father he hasn't wanted to sleep anything else but boxers, just like his dad and a 'real man'. The kids sat with him on the couch and they started watching some cartoons until the ladies of the house were up and they could all eat breakfast together.
Instead of the usual cereals they had, they prepared pancakes and some eggs, sausages and bacon; there was also fruit, juice and bread, of course. After eating and getting cleaned and dressed, they got back to the movies, they started Rogue One from the beginning, and then they continued to the original trilogy and the two recent movies – they were all excited and happy.
Of course, they stopped the movies for lunch – pizza, always big with the kids – and then to break in the cake and sing happy birthday. Again, Jon's cake was Star Wars themed – it had a picture of Luke and Rey training from one of his favorite scenes, right up there with Yoda training Luke.
Jon got his presents after that, starting by his friends': Sam got him a new science-fiction book, while Edd got him a Marvel t-shirt with the Guardians of the Galaxy gang. Ashara and Elia got him two new videogames and a board game, while Ned got him Star Wars: Episode VIII, and a fantasy series he had read and loved as a child. Even Rhaenys and Aegon got him something, she draw him a portrait of Jon with Ashara, while Aegon got him the rights over the console for the rest of the week.
They finished the movies after that, just in time for Sam's mother to come pick him up and take Edd as well. Jon said goodbye to his friends, as Ashara told the mother that she could drop her son over any time (and to carry the message to Edd's family). Ned was ready to leave after that, but Jon asked him to stay one more night.
"Please, Dad, it's my birthday," he pleaded. "And you're coming back tomorrow either way to go with us to the zoo."
"That I am," he said, and then looked at Ashara to know if she didn't mind, she nodded. "I can take the couch again, but I don't have any clean underwear."
"You do," Elia said. "We bought it a long time ago, we always supposed you would stay here a few times, so it was better to have something."
"Thanks, then. I'll stay."
"Yeah!" Jon exclaimed, as he sat on the floor with his siblings as they started some cartoons before bed, while Ned was behind them, with Ashara and Elia.
They didn't watch many more cartoons, just a few episodes and they were done, and the kids went to bed, after hugging their parents.
"Thanks for staying, Dad," Jon said with a smile and a hug, and Ned couldn't believe how much he had grown up in just a few years.
It was late at night, Robb and Sansa were asleep in their room, and Catelyn was just resting against Ned, touching his naked chest.
"We need to talk," Catelyn told him, and Ned waved his head, telling her to continue. "I think I'm pregnant again."
"I've missed two moon bloods."
"The test would be good right now," he whispered. Catelyn knew about these sticks where you could pee and find out if you were pregnant or not.
"Or we could have those things you talked about – the sack or the little medicine," she said with a laugh – she couldn't believe that there were things like that.
"Condoms or the pill, right… but this is a good thing, Catelyn."
"I know, and if I was still a lady of something, I would agree with you. But now, Ned, it's hard to make sure we're okay."
"We are okay," he said, kissing the top of her head, getting her hair out of the way. "I'm making good money with the jobs I take, I have some semi-regular jobs; and you're making good money with your clothes, and aren't you waiting for a letter from Riverrun – it could be good news."
"I can't believe you're being the positive one."
"I'm still freaking out, and I really would love a more permanent method than breastfeeding and pulling out; but Sansa and Robb are good kids, this one will be too." He put his hand on her belly, and she rested her hand on top of his.
"Should we tell them?"
"The children? Yes, I think so."
"Tomorrow while we break fast. After all you will be gone for a fortnight after that."
"I'll be home soon enough," he promised. She knew that. Even if the trip was schedule for a fortnight, would probably be shorter, and Ned would be back; that certainly did not mean that she wouldn't miss him.
"Come here, Ned," she said, getting on top of him, so she could better kiss his lips and chest.
"Second round?" he asked with one of his smile that he kept only for her.
"Third round for me," she smiled back, and he captured her lips, and his hands found her hair immediately.
She got lost on Ned's hands, lips and some other parts, and before she knew it they had collapsed on the bed again, and after wishes of goodnight, this time they actually went to sleep.
The next morning they woke up with the sun on the window, and Sansa and Robb making noise outside; Ned got up quickly, but Catelyn wanted to stay in bed, and Ned let her. Even if her eyes close, she could hear Ned just outside, running after the children and gathering them on his arms, and she wished to join them as much as she wished to stay in bed.
Catelyn lay for a bit longer, before putting on one of her dresses and leaving their chamber to join the children. Ned was making them food, bread with jam – Ned insisted this was a better first meal than bread dipped in wine – and he gave them some cow milk.
"Mom!" the children greeted her when she came in. "Dad made us breakfast."
"I can smell it," she said. And she noticed Ned putting a plate down for her, in front of their children and next to him.
"So your mother and I have some news."
"You're not going father?"
"I am, but I'll be back soon. We have good news." Catelyn accepted Ned's hand in hers and squeezed it when she spoke.
"You'll have another brother and sister."
"Brother, please," Robb asked.
"Like I've told you before, we can't control this," Ned told him.
"But Sansa is a girl, we should get a boy," he argued.
"We will see," Catelyn said. "What do you think, sweetie?" she asked her daughter.
"Brother?" she asked pointing to Robb.
"There's another one here," Catelyn said pointing to her belly, but Sansa still looked confused as she tried to touch her belly as well.
"It will be here in a few moons," Ned told them.
"How?" Robb asked.
"Don't you remember?" Ned asked, they had explained it to him before, and that had been awkward enough.
"Mama pooped the baby."
"Yes," Ned said, at the same time as Catelyn said, "No", and then eyed Ned, who shrugged his shoulders.
"Come on it's easier to explain," he murmured.
"Not really, Robb. A bit more complicated than that. But the baby will be okay and born in a few moons."
"A boy!" he said excited.
"Maybe… but we don't know, Robb," Catelyn said.
After that they ate in peace, Ned went to get his things for their chamber, so they could leave the house and take him to the ship; the entire family accompanied Ned, and as he carried Robb, and Catelyn took Sansa, she took his hand, as they whispered their goodbyes.
"I'll miss you, my love," he told her, giving her a light kiss in the lips, since they were in public, and then kissed both the children's heads. "I'll come home soon."
He got into the ship with the other men, and as it sailed away, Ned stayed on the stern, waving to his family, Catelyn smiled and waved back, until the ship was out of their ray of vision.
So many years had passed that Ned could barely believe it when Ashara called him saying she had gotten a call from the landlord of the fortune-teller that had talk to Ned at the Tower of Joy.
"Can I stop by your house?"
"Yes, sure," Ashara told him. Ned was still at work and he knew he couldn't leave, but he couldn't wait to hear what the fortune-teller had to say – he needed to know.
Ned couldn't really concentrate in anything else for the rest of the day, but when he was done, he ran off the office to the garage, and got into his beat-up car. He wanted to speed up but he knew it was dangerous and that even if he got home earlier, Ashara would not be home – she was part of some acting troupe right now, so she had rehearsals most nights.
Ned still had a key to their home, so after he parked the car, he got up their building and to their apartment – he knocked and rang the bell before entering, knowing it was possible that Rhaenys was already home.
"It's Ned. Is anyone home?"
"Hi, Uncle Ned," Rhaenys said coming from her room. "It's still only me."
"I guessed so. Ashara called me with some important news, and I just need to speak with her."
"She will probably be home late. But Mom will be home in a few, she's picking up Jon and Aegon."
"I still have homework, so I need to go back. If you need anything yell."
"Thanks, Rhae." It was weird calling her 'Rhae', since that seemed to always be her Dad's nickname, but she had picked it up last year and she preferred being called that. She was a really good kid, she was grown up but she didn't get into trouble and was always ready to help her mothers – Ned hoped that Catelyn wasn't having too much trouble with Sansa or Arya either.
Ned turned on the TV, and after zapping a bit, he stopped on some sitcom – one he was sure that didn't exist before he left and was cancelled before he came back. He wasn't paying attention, and his mind was playing tricks on him – he saw himself and Catelyn on the screen, and then their kids and Jon (Jon fitted so well in the picture… if the news were true if the fortune-teller was back and she could help him – what would happen to Jon – it had been almost four years and Ned still couldn't figure out what he would do).
"Dad!" exclaimed Jon, when he came into the apartment.
"Hey, kids, Elia," he greeted them.
"What are you doing here, Dad?"
"I need to talk to your mom," Ned answered him, as he kissed Jon and Aegon. "Your other mom," he added.
"Kids, go start on your homework, and then you need to bathe. After that you can play, or come and watch TV," Elia told them, and then turned to Ned when they were gone. "Ash told me about the call. The landlord didn't say much, but he did leave a number."
"I still want to hear it."
"I know," she said with a smile. "Will you help me with dinner? I guess you're staying. The rehearsals last until late at night – she's been missing bedtime… I know the kids are too grown up for bedtime stories, but I know she still misses being here."
"I know the feeling," he said with a smile, getting up to help her. "Are you starting dinner immediately?"
"No, not now. I can join you in front of the TV; Aegon and Jon shouldn't need help right now, they will come if they need it."
Elia took her seat next to Ned, and after she asked him, she put on some show she had recorded and liked watching (and Ashara didn't). It was some criminal show, with mystery and Elia tried to keep guessing who the criminal show, and she exposed her theories.
"Ashara may love to comment on everyone's looks or stupid things people do when we're watching movies, but she hates my theorizing during these shows."
"Really I've never known her to be quiet during movies. Jon is the exactly same way." Jon had always talked, since the first time he watched Star Wars with Ned and wanted to know what he thought about it, and he always did it, with animation, adventure or mystery movies.
"I know. Luckily he and Aegon talk between themselves," she said with a smile. "See I was right," she said when the criminal was revealed, and soon after the episode ended. "Prepare the next one. I need to check if their homework is done and tell them to shower. Ohh… and can you get a few yogurts and cookies from the fridge for them? Ask Rhaenys as well, please?"
Ned did as requested and distributed the food by the kids, and then the boys promised to shower after eating and doing a rock-paper-scissors game to decide who will shower first. Elia and Ned sat back on the show after that and got to watch one more episode, before having to get dinner started.
Dinner would be a simple thing. Elia prepared the beefs, while Ned got the tomato rice ready – simple and quick. They called the kids to set the table, and after a bit of waiting they came and set it.
"Is Mom coming?" Rhaenys asked.
"No, she has rehearsal."
"Okay. And you're staying Uncle Ned, right?"
"Yes." So Rhaenys got five plates from the cabinet and gave it to the boys so they could bring it to the table, and after they set the plates, cutlery and cups, the kids ran back to their rooms, until they called for dinner.
It was good eating as a family that was why he always likes to eat in the Martell-Dayne house. The boys shared things about school, and so did Rhaenys – it seemed she was really excited about her biology project. And even Elia shared about the new article she was working on. When they finished dinner, Elia and Ned stayed back to clear the table, load the dishwasher and have espressos, before Elia retired to her office so she could work on her articles, and Ned was left alone.
Ned then found himself with Aegon and Jon who were playing some videogames on their console, and he joined them. Ned had grown up playing arcade games and he really loved playing them, but he didn't have the train these two had in the console, so he didn't won a single game.
"Kids, we should finish this. It's almost bedtime," he told them when he finally noticed the time, and luckily they didn't put much of a fight – Aegon just a bit, he was always worse to put to bed than Jon. But soon they were in their pyjamas, had watched their teeth and kissed Elia goodnight.
With the boys down, Ned went back to the living room and the TV, and before he knew it, he must have fallen asleep – he dreamed he, Catelyn and the kids were the Heck family from The Middle – and he only woke up when he heard the door.
"Hey, you're still here?" Ashara whispered as she came in. She looked tired and sleepy.
"Yeah… I must have fallen asleep."
"I see. Elia must have covered you before she went to bed."
"What time is it?"
"Late," she said. "I need to eat something, follow me to the kitchen and I will show you the message." Like Elia had said, the message hadn't said much, only that she was back, but it did give a number. "Please don't call her tonight, Ned. The woman must be asleep.
"I won't. Really thank you, Ash."
"I hope it's good news," she said. "And you can continue to sleep on our couch – it's too late for you to go home." Ned took her up on her offer and after sort of washing his teeth, he retired to the couch; but he did wake up earlier than everyone else in the house and left before anyone else was up, leaving only a note wishing everyone a good day.
He wanted to make the call the moment he left the house, but he didn't, he waited until it was his lunch break, and he got through the call – the voice was there, but she told him nothing, telling him that they would have to meet in person. Ned wanted to leave for Dorne right away, but he knew he had responsibilities, so he would wait for the weekend.
It was still Thursday, and he would have to wait a day and a half. Neither Ashara nor Elia could come with him, since they had work, but they told him to take Jon with him. He guessed they didn't want him to be alone, and Jon would keep reality in place for Ned.
Ned brought Jon with him when he left Saturday morning. Jon asked more questions about Catelyn and the kids again, he hadn't in a long time, but he asked now, and Ned shared stories about them, especially how much they had in common.
"Dad, are you sure this lady will know more?"
"I hope so, son, we've been waiting for her." They had a full notebook, with information they had gathered somewhere else – all over Westeros, mostly from ancient songs; and the notebook also had some information about the time Catelyn and his children lived in, so he could protect them if the time can.
Ned got them into their inn, before they left for the coffee shop they agreed on. Ned and Jon got there first, and Ned got them some ice creams as they waited for the fortune-teller.
"I'm the Madame from the Tower of Joy. I heard you were looking for me."
"Yes, I'm Ned Stark – we met years ago, and this is my son, Jon."
"You told my mother she was pregnant with me. You were right."
"And you didn't tell me much… but you said there were other plans for me and gave me something to drink. I travelled back in time."
"Was it planned? How did it happen?"
"Yes, I haven't quite figured out how. But I saw a fortune-teller the day before as well in the Riverlands."
"My ancestor, probably. My family comes from a long line of fortune-tellers, and we started in the Riverlands. This potion was passed from parents to children."
"Why did you give it to me?"
"I probably felt you should have it."
"And why was I sent there?"
"I can't control that. The Isle of Gods seems to always be the chosen place, you can probably travel by just going there – there are stories. But those trips are more painful and can end badly; the potion is painless," she told him. "The time period is chosen by the Gods, they know where you fit."
"Yes, the Old Gods, or the Seven Gods, or the Drowned God, or the Red God – the Gods you believe in know your place."
"So you found your place and want to go back."
"I'm not sure," he said, looking at Jon.
"I can give you the potion, you drink it, you fall asleep and you're no longer here," she said. "Tomorrow morning stop by my apartment," she told him, before standing up and leaving the coffee house. And Ned had hope, tomorrow he would have his chance to see Catelyn again.
"Mama, when can we go?!" Sansa exclaimed excited. She had been like this the entire morning.
"I just need to get Arya ready," Catelyn told her. "Go to your father and brother."
Sansa was really excited about the fair, but Catelyn was nervous; this fair was supposed to be recruiting for the war in the Iron Islands – it had been going on for more than a year now, and they were now recruiting the last of the men that were still on land, and Ned was one of them. She was afraid they would take Ned, and that he would die – Ned hadn't mastered fighting, at least when she was talking about swords, maces or bows; Ned was good at man-to-man fighting, but that type of fighting with the iron islanders would be sure death – they were killers, feral killers.
"Love, are you ready?" Ned asked, carrying Sansa in his arms.
"Yes, Arya is cleaned and fed." So with everyone ready, they left the house; Robb ran in front to meet his friends, and Sansa asked to be put down.
"Don't run off, sweetie. Be where I can see you," Ned warned her.
They entered the fair site quickly enough, and Ned was immediately approached by some soldier to ask him why he wasn't in the front lines. Ned didn't have a clear answer, it was mostly luck – his jobs were important ones to the city, so they have used it as an excuse.
"You'll have to join now. No man is to be left on land, especially one as young and healthy as you. I don't care about sob stories about your kids or your wife – pregnant or sick."
"Of course, I will join. It's my duty."
No, it isn't… Catelyn wanted to argue – this wasn't his time, he didn't have to fight this war, he had fought his wars in his time.
"I'm glad. We will board in four days; if you're not there, we'll come to your house," the soldier warned, and Ned promised, freezing Catelyn's heart.
"Why did you say that, Ned? Why did you promise?" Catelyn asked him the moment they were out of the earshot.
"Ned, they need me to fight. And I know we won this war."
"Winning doesn't mean you won't die. If you know, why do you have to meddle?!"
"I'm part of this world. It's my duty to protect it."
"No, it isn't. You fought and protected in your time. You shouldn't have to do it now."
"I need to protect you, Cat. I need to protect you and the children."
"You can do it here, Ned. You don't need to go."
"I will come back, Cat. I promise," he said, taking her faces in his hands, and lightly kissed her. Catelyn wasn't completely sure of what he said, still she still feared it, but she was glad that he promised to always come back.
"I love you, Ned. I just need you to know that."
"I know, and I love you too."
They continued walking, and she tried to put her own thoughts behind her and enjoy their day. They gave some coins to Robb so he could play a few games, and he even scored a small soldier, that he gave to Arya, and he also bought quite a few sweets that he was nice enough to share with everyone. Sansa instead looked over the shops, she tried to touch the clothes, but most shoppers stopped her.
"Mom! Mom! I found your dress," Sansa called her over, and there it was, one of Catelyn's dresses – she had sold them to a few shoppers to sell at the fair (she had made it quite a bit of money with that sell). "It looks pretty…"
"It really does, Cat," Ned said from behind her.
"Mom, can we buy one?"
"Sweetie, I can make you one, there's no need to buy one."
"Ohhh… okay…" Sansa whispered.
"Come on, darling. We can buy you a necklace," Ned suggested, and they both took their daughters to look at the necklaces. Sansa took awhile choosing one, but Arya reached for something immediately – and that wasn't a necklace or a dress, but a wooden sword (Catelyn had already noticed that Arya had a habit to reach for swords or other type of weapons – she was worse than Robb).
"This one!" Sansa said, pointing to a shell necklace – it must be an old one. These necklaces were normally from the Iron Islands, and they weren't producing anything for the outside right now. Ned pulled out a few coins and paid for that necklace, as Sansa pulled at bumbled to where her friend Jeyne was.
"How about I buy you a lemon cake?" Ned asked Catelyn and she smiled, accepting his offer. Ned bought her the lemon cake and then took them to see a small play – Arya smiled at the colours and all the people, and they were soon joined by Robb and Sansa, who sat at their feet.
"I want a lemon cake too," Sansa asked, as Robb asked for something sweeter, and Ned went to get them for them.
The play was certainly funny. Some old story about fairies and dragons, and it was enough to keep the children laughing and to make the adults forget their worries for a bit. But the play wasn't enough to tire the kids out, and while Robb ran off with his friends again, Sansa asked them to go to the fortune-teller.
They entered the tent together when it was their turn, even if Sansa was the only being read, and when they did, the woman spoke immediately with her eyes focused on Ned.
"You're not from here. You're not from this time." Neither Catelyn nor Ned could believe that she knew, that someone could tell that wasn't from here; Catelyn guessed Ned didn't particularly like the idea of someone knowing, so he left the tent to wait outside.
The reading of Sansa was quick and simple. They talked of princes and love, and family and friends; she warned about some dangers – but she kept it light, after all Sansa was not even three.
Catelyn sent Sansa to her father when the session was over, but Catelyn stayed inside, and the fortune-teller turned to her.
"Do you want a reading?"
"No. How do you know about my husband?"
"I knew. I can feel the power."
"You know how he got here."
"I'm not sure. But I have an idea if it was like I do it."
"Could you tell me?"
"It will cost you."
"I can pay." Her business was good and Ned almost always had work – they had money.
"The money, please," she said, putting forward the price of Sansa's reading and this. "Give him this," she said giving her a flask. "And he will be gone in his sleep."
"Does it hurt?"
"Thank you," said Catelyn, taking the flask and putting it with her things, but before she could leave the woman spoke again,
"There will be a little joy that will brighten your life during the hard times to follow," the woman announced, and she took it as a confirmation for what she suspected – Catelyn had suspected that she was pregnant, after all she had missed a moon blood, and she was fairly regular, but she hadn't yet mentioned it to Ned, hoping to miss another so she could confirm it, but maybe this was the confirmation she needed – but could she tell him now?
Catelyn left the tent after that and joined them outside, and as they walked, she felt the flask burn a hole in her clothes and she felt awful for not telling Ned about it. No one noticed the flask, and she told no one for the next two days, but then she knew it was time – the army would come soon and take Ned.
Catelyn served it with his dinner, mixed in his ale. She was scared, but she knew this was the right thing, she wouldn't let Ned die in the war, she would protect him.
That night, they made love. Ned kept whispering they still had tomorrow, when she cried in his arms, and all she wanted to tell him was that they didn't, that he would leave tonight.
"I really love you, Ned."
"I love you too, Catelyn," he said, before hugging her closer, and preparing to fall asleep. Catelyn waited to watch him fall asleep, before repeating those words again.
"I love you so much, Ned. Please don't hate me, and please, Ned, come back to us. I'm sorry," she whispered, between cries, and then snuggled closer to him, knowing that if everything worked out, he wouldn't be there in the morning.
"Hey, Jon," Ned greeted when he opened his apartment's door.
"Hi, Dad. Mom said you could drop me off after dinner."
"I know, I talked to her."
Jon certainly had his room on Ned's apartment, but he rarely stayed over, actually he rarely came over either – they most hang out outside or Ned went over to Jon's mothers' house. Jon had been the one to ask if he could come here today, and Ned agreed the moment Ashara called him.
"So what do you want to do, kid? You know I don't have much around the house," he told him. "I do have food, I promise you that."
"I just want to talk, Dad, it's important."
Jon moved to the small couch where he put his schoolbag, before walking to the shelves where the TV was, and reaching for the flask.
"That's the magic drink that sends you back, right?"
"Right." They hadn't figure out what the magic drink was, Elia had even sent a sample to Oberyn to test, but he couldn't figure out all the ingredients – he said some things weren't in the data base, and then he had a ton of questions about everything to do with it – Elia seemed to have handled that.
"It's still working. It doesn't have an expiration date or anything."
"You were there when the lady gave it to us, she didn't mention anything about expiration date." Ned hoped it didn't have one. Ned looked at the flask everyday that was probably the reason he kept in shelf near the TV, his eyes almost always wondered there when he was in the living room, and then they wondered again to the photos near it – one of just him and Jon, and another with him, Jon, Rhaenys, Aegon and Elia and Ashara.
"I'm glad. So Dad, I want to show you something. Can you sit?" Ned sat on the couch, as Jon looked for something on his bag, and pulled a folder. "I don't know why I didn't tell you before, I really don't… and I don't know why I'm telling you now. I was probably just being selfish."
"You're not selfish, Jon. You're one of the most caring kids I know."
"You don't know that many kids, Dad," Jon answered with a laugh. "I wanted to tell you I have these dreams, at first I thought it was just my imagination, but maybe they are real – they fell very much real."
"What are these dreams, Jon?"
"I dream of your other family, Dad. My siblings and my stepmother – they are happy and it's a strange world, everything seems to belong in the movies or museums."
"Jon…" Ned whispered – he couldn't form any more words.
"They really miss you, Dad. Catelyn tries to share a lot of stories, so they can remember you. Robb does, and Sansa sometimes, but Arya and Bran can't remember."
"You never mentioned him when you spoke about them. He's really young, I guess he was born after you left."
"Catelyn was pregnant…"
"Yes, just like Mom…"
"Come here, Jon," Ned said pulling him to his arms. Jon reached to clean his father's tears, and only then did he realize that he was crying.
"I can tell you about them if you want," Jon suggested, and Ned nodded. "Catelyn is really pretty, and so is Sansa – she looks a lot like her mother. I know you always said that, but now they really look alike – like Elia and Rhaenys – and she's always following her mother around, but when she's quiet she's a lot like you, Dad. Robb is around my size it seems, and he's learning how to fight with some other boys – he asks his mom a lot about you and how you fought. She tells him about body-to-body fighting, and she tries to explain guns."
"I wasn't that good with a sword, or bow, or mace, or hammer, or really any of the weapons that existed back then," he told him. "I never learned to fight with that here."
"Robb would be a good lightsaber sparring partner," Jon said. "Talking about Star Wars – they tell the story a lot, it's Bran and Arya's favorite. Arya looks a lot like us, I know you had said it before, Dad, but she really does, Dad, and sometimes I feel like she can see me – her hands reach to where I am."
"She was always trying to grab things."
"She runs a lot and follows Robb a lot, trying to learn how to fight. She always seems to have bruises or cuts – nothing bad or serious," Jon immediately added, probably feeling Ned's nervousness. "And her hair is always a mess, and she seems to fight a lot with Sansa." Ohhh… Ned wasn't happy to hear that, a family should stick together.
"What can you tell me about Bran? Who does he look like?"
"He seems to have a bit of a Stark face, but Catelyn's hair and eyes. I think he's like me, from what Mom tells me, he's a really curious kid – he loves touching everything; and he really loves climbing, which really worries Catelyn."
"Has he gotten hurt?"
"I don't think so… At least, I never saw it…"
"I'm really sorry I didn't tell you before, Dad. You had a right to know."
"I'm glad you told me now."
"I was selfish… I just wanted you for a bit longer. And I promised that in the beginning I didn't really understand what the dreams were."
"I have something else for you," Jon said, giving him the folder.
Ned opened the folder and inside he found a ton of Jon's drawings. Jon was a great artist – his drawings reminded Ned of Lyanna's drawings, their traces seemed to be very similar (Jon cherished the Lyanna's drawings Ned had given him) – but these were quite different. These were drawings of Catelyn and their kids, and they seemed really realistic – things Jon couldn't have known by Ned's description – they were mostly candid drawings, regular things – Catelyn and Sansa sewing, Arya and Bran sleeping, Robb sparing, all the kids huddled for a story… Ned had noticed that the kids were the age they would be today – or better said, four years after he left – all but one, in that one they looked older, Ned was also on it.
"I had very few dreams with you on it. And the ones I had – they weren't like this, just my imagination. I was there too, and Mom, both of them, and Rhaenys and Aegon. I liked those the best," he told Ned. "But then I had this one, that was different, and you were there, Dad, and you were happy," he whispered.
"I'm happy here, Jon. I love you so much, and I'm so happy I got to meet you."
"I know, Dad. I know you're happy with me. But that's it, Dad. You have Catelyn and my siblings in there, a lot of people you love, not just one," said Jon, and Ned had no idea how to answer this. "There's this smile Mom makes when she looks at Elia. You don't get to make that smile here, you did it with Catelyn."
"Dad, I think you should go back. And I want you to take the drawings with you – all but this one," he said reaching for one with everyone in it. "I want you to take some more I have at home for my siblings. And photos. I want you to remember me and tell them about me."
"I wouldn't ever forget you."
"I got you for a long time, Dad, and they need you back. I have two moms here to look after me and my siblings, and Catelyn is all alone with four kids. And maybe I'll keep dreaming."
"I'm sure, Dad. I really thought about this. I want you to be the happiest you can be."
"You know this is not like Aegon and Rhaenys' father, where they can see him every other weekend and in the holidays, I would be gone…"
"I know, Dad," Jon said hugging him closer.
"I will always miss you," Ned told him, hugging him back. "This next week will be all ours, okay? I'm going to see you everyday."
"You won't go tonight?"
"Of course not. We'll spend some time together, and we'll say a proper goodbye, and I need to say goodbye to your mothers and siblings as well."
"Thank you, Dad." Ned stayed like that, holding Jon really close to him. He couldn't believe what Jon had just told him, he really hoped his son was serious, he really didn't want to hurt him. He held Jon until their bellies started grumbling, and they felt like it was time to make dinner.
Dinner was great. And like Ned promised he spent the next few days with Jon; Ned quitted his job and put his apartment for sale; and with that he picked Jon from school everyday, and started staying a few nights on their couch. Jon still told him that he was sure that Ned should go, and he got more anxious, going over the notes they had taken over the years, until the day came, and he knew it was time.
They spent the day as a family and went to a water park not far from their home, and Jon stayed most the day close to Ned, even rejecting some of Aegon's invites to play. And they finished the night with a homemade dinner, and a movie night, and then it was really time to say goodbye – everyone was ready for bed, it was late and everyone was in their pyjamas (but Ned, they had found some clothes that would pass by something from the middle ages – Ashara had gotten them from some acting troupe she knew) and the kids were skipping school tomorrow.
"So I guess this is goodbye," Elia announced, and Ned turned to Aegon and Rhaenys first.
"Are you really leaving, Uncle Ned?"
"It seems so…"
"We're really going to miss you," Rhaenys said. "But it must be amazing to see the past… look at the notes carefully."
"I will," he said hugging her, and kissing the top of her head, and then he let her go and hugged Aegon.
"Please tell Jon's siblings that we will look after him."
"I will. And I'm really glad Jon has both of you, and look after your mothers."
"Now go on to bed," Ned told them, and they did after kissing their mothers, hugging Jon, and hugging Ned one more time.
Ned said goodbye to Elia next, he kissed and hugged her, and thanked her for always being there for Ashara and Jon when he hadn't and wouldn't be.
"Be careful, Ned. And remember the crisis of the fourteenth century. The war will be coming and the Riverlands is the center of the fight, and you know the greyscale plague will extend to there… I would tell you to move North, to your home, but the Last Night war – that I could barely find anything about what will come, but there will be hunger…"
"I know, Elia. I'll be careful." Elia was making him more worried; everyone in Westeros knew they had been the first to suffer the three grand crisis of the fourteenth century.
"I just worry. I'm sorry. I just want you to be safe."
"I will. I will look after them."
"And I will make sure Jon is safe."
"I know," he said, before hugging Elia again.
He just thanked Ashara over and over again for everything she had done for him, how she had let him into their lives without a second thought.
"Look after him."
"Of course, I will, Ned. You get to be happy and enjoy your marriage and kids, okay. Jon will always be safe."
"Thank you for everything."
"Stop thanking me, Ned," she said, moving in to hug him, and he whispered one last thing in his ear. "Okay, I will. Be safe," she said, with a soft and quick kiss on his lips. "For the trip."
After their goodbye, they hugged Jon goodbye, and told him that if he wanted to come to their bedroom in the morning he could, that he was not too grown up for it.
Now Ned was left alone with Jon, and they went to his room, since they had agreed that he would be with Jon tonight.
"Do you have everything, Dad?" They had concluded that everything he would fall asleep with would still be with him.
"Photos and drawings are stuck in my pants' belt. The bag with the fresh and clean underwear is under my jacket." Both Elia and Ashara had insisted for him to take some fresh underwear. "I have the few toys you gave me in here," he said pointing to the other side of the jacket.
"And the notes?"
"I copied them. I will leave the notebook here." It would be dangerous to take it, in case it fell in someone else's hand, and maybe, just maybe, it could be useful here.
"Here's the flask, Dad," said Jon, taking his hand. "You can drink it."
"You're sure?" Jon nodded, and Ned opened it and drank it. "It's done."
Ned hugged Jon close to him, just before they retired to bed, and Jon snuggled closer to his father.
"You're sure you have everything, Dad?"
"I am. It's going to be okay, kid."
"I know. I really love you, Dad, and I will really miss you."
"I'll miss you too, and I love you," he said, kissing the top of his head, as he pulled him closer.
"Please say hi to Catelyn and my siblings."
"I will, and I will tell them all about you."
"I'm really gonna miss you," Jon said, hugging his father with all his strength, and closing his eyes as his head rested on top of Ned's chest.
"Me too… me too…" Ned whispered, hugging him back. He knew he would never see his small Jon again…
"Sansa, don't fight with your sister," Catelyn yelled, as she tried to prepare some food for dinner. "And Robb look over your sisters."
"But you said I could go spare with-"
"You can after dinner. Now I need your help."
Catelyn was tired. It was tiring raising four kids on her own. She wondered everyday if she had made the right choice – she was still pretty certain that Ned would have died in the war, and this way Ned was alive. But it was hard to be without him, she missed him, and the kids missed him.
"Robb, just please do as I say." Robb came to help her after that, and he got Sansa to set the table and Bran and Arya finally stopped and quieted down, playing under the table.
"What's for dinner, Mom?" Sansa asked her.
"Dad's recipe?" Robb asked hopeful. It was their favorite dish, they liked anything to do with Dad. Catelyn told them about Ned a lot, everything she knew, and she really tried to explain where he went, and most important how he really loved them.
"Yes, of course. There are no pies like your father's."
She finished the two pies and brought them to the table, and the kids sat around her. Catelyn tried to settle Bran on her lap, so she could feed him, but he continued moving a lot, and once again she wished for one of those children chairs Ned had told her about so she could stick it to the table. She served each of the kids, and made sure each of them ate before she ate her own food – she always got the part they liked the less.
After dinner, she let Robb leave the house to go and train with his friends, and she finally settled Arya and Bran down on the play ring Ned had built years ago when Robb had been only a baby, as she sewed a few more dresses that were ordered, and Sansa worked on a few things that Catelyn had taught her.
They worked well together and at a good rhythm, but Catelyn soon thought she had fallen asleep and was dreaming – what happened, only happened while she slept. There was a knock on the door, and then the door was pushed open, and while she was scared (Robb never knocked), her nerves quickly relaxed.
"Catelyn…" he whispered. That familiar voice that had populated her dreams for years. "You're here…"
"Ned…" She cried as she stepped into his arms. "You're here. You're really here…"
"I came back. I promised to always come back. I'm sorry I took too long…" And then she kissed him and Ned pulled her closer to him, and he even picked her up. His hand immediately went to her hair and she held onto him, until they pulled away, she couldn't move her eyes from him, his face… she could see how if had aged – there were new lines, but he was still the same man she loved.
"Mom… who is it?" Sansa asked, pulling on Catelyn's clothes.
"Don't you remember me?" Ned asked. "I'm your father, Sansa. I'm really sorry I left for so long. I'm back now, sweetie."
"Really?!" she asked, looking at her mother.
"Yes, darling, he's your father." After that she threw herself into Ned's arms and he picked her immediately, twirling her in his arms. "I missed you so much." He held Sansa, as Catelyn went to get their youngest children, and picked up Bran and took Arya's hand.
"This is your father, sweetlings," she said. "Ned, Arya, and then this little boy, you never met, but-"
"Yes, Brandon. How do you know?"
"So much has happened," he said, as he picked up Arya and Bran, after putting Sansa down, and kissed both their faces, and luckily none of the kids were scared by him. "Where's Robb?"
"Still outside with his friends. He'll be home soon," she told him. "Or you could go get him."
"Do you know where he is?"
"He's probably with Anguy. You don't know him, he and his grandmother only moved here from Dorne two years ago. It's three houses down after the market, but they are normally playing outside – you'll find him immediately."
"Thank you," he said, kissing Catelyn's lips again and each of the kids' forehead. "Let me just leave this here." He dropped his sack on the table and left the house, and Catelyn didn't even consider telling him how Robb looked now – had it really been enough time that he wouldn't remember his son?
Catelyn looked at the things he had left on the table. There was a bag with what seemed like some clean smallclothes – for some reason they were colourful (which wasn't that common out of a brothel) – but also some papers. She had never seen so much paper before – Ned had told her that paper was a common thing where he came from, but it was still a weird notion. Between those papers, she found some drawings – simple ones, and she noticed that some were of her and the kids (she hadn't known that Ned could draw) – and then she found some pictures: those of a boy that looked a lot like Ned, sometimes it wasn't just the boy or Ned, but also with two other women and two other kids (the girl looked a lot like one of the women, he guessed it was a mother and daughter), and then some pictures that seemed to actually be Ned when he was younger (it wasn't the same as the boy in the other pictures), with three other children that looked a lot like him – maybe his siblings.
She focused on Ned's face in the pictures, and she was happy to notice that he seemed happy in them, even in the recent ones, that she could tell were from their time apart; and while it made her glad that he had been happy, she was also jealous – what if he had found someone else, maybe one of these women? But then she realized if he had found someone, he wouldn't have come back.
And he came back once again, Ned entered the house again, this time with Robb in his arms – Robb rarely left himself be held anymore – and their son yelled, to everyone to hear, that his father was back.
"Yes, he is." Catelyn couldn't help but smile again as she said this. "And he's not going anywhere." Catelyn hoped, and shared a look with Ned.
"I'm not," he said, putting Robb down and asking them for all of them to sit together.
"What happened, Ned?" she asked.
"I didn't know how I went back," he said and she couldn't tell him that she knew that. "I'll tell you everything, but do you have anything to eat? I haven't eaten since I got here, I just wanted to get here." Catelyn nodded and Ned followed her to the kitchen, and as they were alone, he spoke. "I have a kid, Catelyn. Ashara was pregnant when I left."
"He's the boy in the pictures," she realized.
"His name is Jon. He's just a bit older than Robb. And somehow he dreamed of you and the kids – he told me about Bran. Jon is a fantastic kid."
"You're going to miss him," she said, coming to hug him. "Did you and Ashara…?" she couldn't help but wonder again.
"No, no, Catelyn, I love you. And actually Ashara has Elia, they are- I'll explain later."
"I love you too. And I promise I've been faithful," she said, and he kissed her, and after she pulled away, she told him, "Go join the children, they must want you. I'll bring you a pie – your recipe, I try to make it for them often enough, but it's not yours."
"I promise I'll make them tomorrow. I also need to look for a job, and I need to go to the cave in the town exit." She wondered why he needed to go to the cave, but she didn't ask him – she would ask him later, when it was just the two of them, right now the kids needed him as much as she did.
"Okay," she said, as he turned to leave, she called him back. "Can I go with you? I don't want to…"
"You can, and we can bring the kids – I would always want to take them to the cave eventually. I really missed you," he said before kissing her again. "I love you." Ned had never said it much, but after so much time, it felt good to hear him pronounce those words.
"See you in a moment," she said, kissing his lips sweetly again – she couldn't stop herself either. Catelyn had really missed him and she never wanted to let go again.
Catelyn got his food and brought it to where Ned and the children were. The children had all pilled up on top of Ned, and she came to sit behind him, as she heard Sansa and Robb retell everything that had happened, and even Arya tried to pitch in with her own form of speech, and Ned just listened as he took bites of his food.
Catelyn smiled at this picture. Ned had come back home, he had fulfilled his promise and he was here – safe and sound. Sure they had changed, the children had grown up and Bran had been born, while Ned had found something he hadn't known about his past (or future), and Catelyn had changed as well – she had taken on her role as raising her children, but also in the town, she had regained some of her impact as a Tully. But she knew something – she and Ned had built their love before, after all they hadn't married for love, and now she knew they could rebuild it, stone by stone.