Word Count: 1644
Prompt: Ned/Cat: An awkward reunion with Jon & Lysa leads Ned and Cat to realize how lucky they are to have each other.
Catelyn is already sleeping when Ned quietly enters the chambers they had been allocated for their stay at court. She had retired hours ago, leaving him to sit with Robert and Jon Arryn, giving the three the rare opportunity to sit alone. Robert had set aside his crown, and Jon his chain, and for a moment it had seemed as though the years spent apart had vanished, as though they were again three rebels plotting the siege of a kingdom, musing over alliances, sharing battle strategies. It had been at the one of those late night meetings that he and Jon had first sworn fealty to the new king, whispered words of treason with naught but the glow of candlelight to serve as witness. Life had been uncertain then, the world off-balance, and yet despite the sorrows of those days, when the same memories had come to Robert he had referred to them as the ‘good old days.’
Ned remembers little about them that could be called good, but Robert had always relished battle and war far more than Ned ever had. Despite all they had been fighting for, despite the tragedies they had suffered (blue rose petals in white fingers, a deathbed promise), Ned knows a part of Robert will always remember it as a game, will thirst for the bloodshed and the glory of victory.
Jon had frowned at Robert’s remembrances, at his recalling of the battle slurred from drinking cup after cup of wine, and Ned thought Jon had never looked as old as he did at that moment. We are all of us, so much older than we once were.
King’s Landing is hot and humid in the midst of summer, and throwing open the narrow glass windows does nothing to relieve the stickiness in the air. Even Catelyn, with her southron blood and preference for the warmth of her chambers in Winterfell that always seem stifling to Ned, seems uncomfortable; the fine quilts are kicked to the end of the bed, and she lies atop them in a nightgown that she must have borrowed from her sister. It is lighter and airier than anything she would wear at home, if a bit too intricate for a mere bed garment and a bit too big so that it gapes open at the neckline from her position, curled up on her side.
His tunic and breeches stick damply to him when he strips them off, and his body is covered in a sheen of sweat. He wonders how Robert and Jon stand it, when he dips a cloth in a bowl of water and dabs at the back of his neck, seeking some sort of relief, and he longs for the brisk winds of home. And yet, he thinks, neither Robert nor Jon seem particularly at home at King’s Landing; at times, they seem as out of place as Ned feels, in the capital of the kingdom that none of them had particularly wanted.
But even knowing that none of them had asked for the hand they had been dealt, Ned had expected the visit to be a happier one. Bran had finally been old enough to remain home with his siblings, Old Nan, and Maester Luwin, and he and Cat had traveled to the capitol to finally meet their nephew, little Robert Arryn, the child so long awaited for by Jon and Lysa both. He had hoped to see the man who had been like a father to him finally happy, now that he had a son in truth; he had thought perhaps a child would even warm Lysa and Jon’s hearts to one another.
But Jon’s face had been lined with weariness and worry when they had ridden through the gates of the capital, and Ned had understood why when he finally laid eyes on the babe. He had been tiny and sickly, more grey than pink, his near-constant cry as weak as that of a baby bird’s. Lysa had possessively held the child close, letting none approach, and Ned had sadly thought that this child would not last the first frost of winter. The sorrow in Jon’s eyes as he watched – but did not hold – his son told Ned that his thoughts were much the same.
As Ned slips into the bed, feeling his damp skin stick to the glossy sheets, he thinks again of home and of the healthy pink-cheeked children there, and wonders why the gods would so bless him and yet withhold their favor from Jon, a man who deserves to be a father a dozen times over. He sighs heavily, dragging his palm over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I can practically hear you thinking over there,” Catelyn’s voice comes as a sleepy murmur, the words running together like music in the darkness, and he sighs again as she rolls towards him. Her breath is warm against his shoulder, and her eyes seem black when she raises her gaze to regard him, without the throw of the candlelight to bring out their soft blue. “What troubles you, my love?”
He reaches out, skating his hand along the white skin of her shoulder, exposed at the wide neckline, feeling the clamminess there, the way the moisture clings to the tips of his fingers. “The babe,” he admits quietly, reluctantly, as though his words could summon an ill omen. “He did not look strong, did he?”
Silence hangs in the air for a long moment, and Catelyn’s hand comes up to grasp his own, her long fingers interlocking with his, thumb rubbing a soothing pattern into the back of his hand. “No,” she admits, and her voice is laced with sorrow, for the sister that she must surely wonder and worry over as often as Ned thinks of Jon Arryn. She does not elaborate, and he does not reply – the simple truth hangs in the air between them, and there is nothing left to be said.
He loops an arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer, bare skin slipping easily over bare skin with the light sheen of sweat between them. In the dark, Catelyn’s fingers find his cheek, sliding down to lightly caress his jaw, and her hair tickles when it drags against his neck as she leans down to kiss him. A different kind of sorrow prickles at his chest then, that Jon should be denied not only a healthy son and heir, but nor should he have the comfort of companionship in his wife. Sometimes he can scarcely believe that they wed sisters, that Ned stood before the sept in Riverrun and could barely tell the two girls apart when they had approached in their matching cloaks of red and blue. Jon and Lysa should have one another to lean on, he thinks.
It is the pinnacle of selfishness, he thinks, that he does not wish he could trade places with Jon. If King Aerys had not demanded his head and Robert’s both, Jon never would have made the marriage pact – surely, for all his sacrifices for the boys he had taken to ward, Jon deserves happiness more than Ned himself does. And yet he cannot quite bring himself to wish away his marriage to Cat or their children – he is merely a fallible, greedy human, and perhaps his greed makes him a lesser man than Jon, but that does not change the truth etched upon his heart.
He tightens his arm around Catelyn’s shoulder, rolling her lazily to her back, leaning down to kiss her again. Her fingers tangle through his hair as she catches his bottom lip between her teeth, nipping lightly, spreading her legs so that he can settle between her thighs. The cotton nightgown rides up around her waist, and it feels stiff from the many embellishments in his fingers when he reaches down to gather it in his hands. Catelyn lifts her shoulders from the bed, pushing up from the feather mattress, her tongue slipping between his teeth to brush his own. They part briefly as he drags the fabric over her head, and then he kisses her once more, cupping her jaw in his hands, eagerness overpowering his earlier languidness.
Catelyn’s skin is warm against his own, and he feels moisture bead upon his back when she wraps first her arms around him and then her legs, pressing up against him, moaning against his mouth when he dips his fingers between her legs. Everything about their movements is as familiar to him as the halls of Winterfell, as easy as a well-rehearsed dance; there is something unbelievably comforting in how well they have grown to know one another, the movements and touches that will please, so that no words are needed as he sinks inside her, bracing his arms on either side of her head, his face dropping into the crook of her neck.
Her moans are sweet in his ear when he begins to move, and he raises up so that he can watch her face, her lips parted in desire, her eyes fluttering shut, strands of her hair sticking damply to her forehead. She is achingly beautiful, lost in the haze of pleasure, and her arms and body are the sweetest salve for his troubled mind.
Again, he thinks if he were a better man, if he were as grateful to Jon as he should be, then he would gladly give up the joy he has found in his marriage, in the family they have built together; a better man would wish that he instead had wed Lysa Tully and Jon had wed Catelyn that day so many years ago.
Ned has always striven to be a better man, but he thinks he shall never reach that pinnacle of selflessness – that he will never be able to truly wish such a thing.