She screams in her sleep. Jon hears it echoing off the walls of his room, vibrating through the oak door with a muffled ring. The first night he only lies on the cot in his solar and waits for her to stop, counting the seconds until they turn into minutes. The second night he stands at the door to his room, his hand laid on the wood, as if he could comfort her through it.
The third night he opens the door and stands just over the threshold, looking at her form huddled in what would normally be his own bed. She’s left the torches burning – Jon understands how darkness wouldn’t be Lady Stark’s friend right now – and he sees the sheen of sweat on her skin, the disarray of her hair where it’s rubbed against the pillow. Her hands are fisted in the furs, clenched and grasping, and no matter what this woman has been or hasn’t been to him, Jon’s heart isn’t so hard that it doesn’t go out to her, doesn’t ache for her loss even as it aches for his own. A world without Robb in it is unfathomable. Knowing he’s dead turns the rock beneath Jon’s feet to quicksand, turns the air in his lungs to lead. Were there any other reality, Jon would not be here, watching the pained hitch of Lady Stark’s breathing, seeing the twist of her face, anguished even in sleep. Were there any other reality, he wouldn’t be taking the last few steps to the bed, or stretching out beside her atop the furs. He wouldn’t be taking her in his arms.
But there is no other reality. This is all that’s left.
She says nothing the next morning as they break their fast. Jon doesn’t know if it’s because she doesn’t wish to acknowledge it, or if she doesn’t remember. It would be best if she doesn’t remember. Jon has become an expert at forgetting.
He hesitates at her door that night, listening for her cries, her anguished moans. None come, and the absence of them is even more alarming than their presence had been. Cautiously, he pushes open the door. She’s sitting up in his bed, her hair unbound about her shoulders, a dull crimson ripple that makes him understand how his father could have loved her so. She watches him with dark eyes that glitter in the torchlight, and he watches her in return, unsure of this new world they both inhabit. Then she turns back the furs at her side, she opens her arms to him, and he’s practically running across the room, suddenly desperate to be held, desperate for something or someone to keep the world at bay.
They speak little during the days, giving each other only mild courtesies, asking little and answering less. She moves like a phantom through Castle Black, Ghost always going to her immediately when she draws near, never shaking away the hand she twines in his ruff though Jon thinks she holds tightly enough for it to hurt.
“Never let him leave your side,” she tells Jon, one of the rare times they speak. “You must always trust his instincts.” Something in the way she says the words tells Jon that the knowledge was hard-earned. He doesn’t ask. He’d rather not know.
She strokes his hair at night, combs her fingers through the curls to tame and untangle them. He lies at her side, only growing bold enough to lay his head over her breast the way he always wanted to as a boy after they’ve lain together for several nights, enough nights for Jon to lose count. When he does it, he’s tense and stiff, waiting for her to reject him – he always waits for her to reject him – but she only tucks his head close and lays a cheek on his hair, the evenness of her breathing lulling him to sleep.
Sometimes she whispers of Robb, of how she always feared he would be killed when he rode off to battle. How being killed in battle would have been a better death. One night, when Jon is almost asleep, she tells him Robb legitimized him, made him heir of Winterfell, and Jon feels his heart stop and restart at a heavier pace. He expects her to lament the decision, to say Robb shouldn’t have done such a thing. But she says nothing and her hand doesn’t still as she drags it over his cheek to push the hair from his face.
Jon doesn’t know when it changes. Most likely it would have been unnoticeable, like the march of stars across the sky, slow but inexorable. He doesn’t know when he begins to think of holding her rather than being held, of kissing her and tasting her tongue. He doesn’t know when he notices the graceful stretch of her neck or the full curve of her waist under his fingers. He doesn’t know when he begins to dream of her.
It would be an entirely different kind of rejection, but somehow it seems easier, less damaging. So one night he does kiss her, with a bravery he never could have summoned so quickly if she hadn’t already accepted him into her arms chastely, and he’s almost not surprised when she kisses him back, pushing her tongue between his teeth to stroke over his own as if she’d been thinking of it as well.
She is not at all like Ygritte. Her movements are sure, graceful, slow. With Ygritte, everything had been an exploration, a discovery, a sort of play. With Lady Stark – with Catelyn – it is a revelation, a balm, it’s the queerest form of salvation. Her expert fingers find him, they go unerringly to all the places that have him panting and pushing against her. He groans into her mouth, finds her with his own fingers, dips them inside and paints them over her until she pants and pushes as well. He can see the surprise on her face – she hadn’t expected him to know a woman’s body – and he feels a curious sort of satisfaction in it, an embarrassed pride that he could still surprise her in anything. Then her eyes widen as he pushes inside her, her mouth drops open and he counts her teeth, nips at the swell of her lower lip until she gasps.
“Lady Stark,” he rasps, drunk on the feel of her hot and wet and sweet around him. “Catelyn. Cat.” He feels a momentary pang of guilt, his face burning at unthinkingly using his father’s name for her, but she clenches around him, digs her fingers into his back and lets her nails break skin. For a terrible moment, Jon thinks she’ll call out the name of another, but she answers with his own and he bucks into her with no skill, no finesse, needing only to find release inside her.
“Jon,” she says, wrapping her legs around his waist and setting her heels to the backs of his thighs hard enough to bruise. “Jon.”
Jon collapses against her, breathes his pleasure into her neck. Her heart beats heavy and sure and he lays a hand over it, curls his fingers as if he could hold the life of her in his hand. His last thought before he slips into sleep is that for the first time, she called him by his name.