Lady Stark does not know what to feel when she is told that the royal party is making for Winterfell. It seems like an eternity since she has seen Cersei, at least lifetimes ago, and she does not know how the reunion will go. Most of her wants to see Cersei, fiercely, desperately, but another part, the more sensible part, thinks of Ned, and wonders how she and Cersei can ever plausibly recover the years that they’ve lost.
Cersei enters Winterfell, clad in a dress dyed the light green color of early spring. Catelyn is surprised; she’d expected the woman to be in Lannister scarlet and gold. She looks no less radiant in it, and the color is soft against the gold of her hair, but it seems odd to Catelyn that she did not take the opportunity to remind them all that she is a Lannister, through and through. She is only half insulted that Cersei does not rush forward to greet her publicly, because she is not sure that they would be able to keep their reunion proper for public consumption. Catelyn feels as though the emotions dancing around within her are going to make her burst, and she hasn’t even spoken to her yet.
Robb stands just as tall as the king, and looks every bit the young lord. Sansa, her sweet Sansa, looks to the black-haired prince as if he’s hung the moon and stars. Bran smiles at the excitement of it all. Rickon is angry that he had to put on his finery, and Arya stumbles in late, still clutching her sword. Catelyn, surprisingly, finds herself smiling at this. Her younger daughter has always reminded her so much of Cersei. The slight arrogance, the complete disregard for proper etiquette, the burning desire to learn to swordfight: sometimes Catelyn feels as if her daughter is just the same woman, younger, and Northern. It's why she suggested Ned let her learn.
Cersei, unsurprisingly, cracks a smile at Arya's entrance.
Robert Baratheon looks more like a particularly fat bear than a king, wrapped tightly in his furs, but he greets her and the children like family (the family they might have been). Then, the king leaves with Ned for the crypts to mourn a woman he never truly had when he has been married to Cersei, the most wonderful woman in the Seven Kingdoms, for fifteen years. It is far from for propriety’s sake when Cat turns to Cersei with a true smile, the one reserved for her children (and occasionally Ned) to offer to escort her to her chambers.
As they walk the halls of Winterfell, Catelyn feels as though she’ll pop from the shallow small talk they must make before they are alone. Neither has seen the other for fifteen years, and they are reduced to speaking of the Northern weather. She wants to scream.
The door slams behind them, and Cersei’s arms immediately wrap around her hips.
“I’ve missed you,” she murmurs in her ear, so softly Cat wouldn’t have heard it if she’d not been listening.
“Cersei,” she says, with an almost breathless quality to her words. There’s a part of her that’s almost ready to melt into her embrace, and taste the sweetness of her lips. Cersei, instead, breaks their embrace and smiles at her, drinking in her look.
“Catelyn Tully,” Cersei says, a humored quality to her voice, “letting her daughter learn to swordfight?”
“She reminded me of someone,” Cat says, a tiny little smile curling on her lips. Cersei’s eyes are wet with tears.
Gods, she thinks, fifteen years, where do we even start? And there is a part of her, a dutiful part of her that tells her they shouldn’t, that they can’t. That part whispers that even holding these feelings is a betrayal to Ned, a sin against the gods.
“Fifteen years is a long time,” Catelyn says, for lack of words. Cersei makes a sound, half laugh, half sob in response as she stares into Cat’s eyes. Then, she takes Catelyn’s hands in her own.
“I kept my promise,” Cersei tells her, holding Cat’s hands in her own. Tears stream down her face as Catelyn feels her own eyes grow wet as well.
I promise I won’t come to love him, Cat.
The long forgotten words echo in Catelyn’s ears, and she can see the truth of it. There is no affection between Cersei and her husband, and, Catelyn suspects, no love between Cersei and her children. Cersei has kept her promise. Catelyn, however, is not sure that she can say the same. She still loves Cersei, the Seven know that she shouldn’t, but she does. She loves her children to death, and there’s a part of her that loves Ned as well. It is a quiet sort of love, born of a mutual loneliness and love of their children, but it’s love nonetheless. Cersei has not changed, but in some ways, Cat has.
Catelyn forces herself to push her away. The look on Cersei’s face (hurt, confused, betrayed) almost makes her regret it.
“Cat?” Cersei asks, her voice like shattered glass. And Catelyn realizes how truly alone the other woman has been, and the weight of the realization settles on her heart.
Fifteen years truly is a long time. No matter how much she wishes to curl into Cersei’s arms, to kiss her until she can no longer think of the world around her, Catelyn Stark must restrain herself. She has a family, a duty, and honor to maintain. Cat knows that she should no longer stray from her path.
Cersei looks to her with the pain of fifteen years alone, the fear of more in her eyes, and Catelyn’s resolve crumbles.
“Tomorrow morning, when the men are out,” she amends softly, trying to smooth over the pain that she has unintentionally caused. . She cannot afford to do this, but she’s not strong enough to go her entire life without Cersei. She doesn’t have the resolve.
“Not now,” Catelyn says, though she wants to say yes and she knows she should say never. A look passes between them, a silent conversation, and it’s decided that they need to get ready for the feast, no matter how little both want to. It’s a lot like Riverrun in the way that they are so close but cannot always have what they want. Catelyn supposes that she will have to accept it, though. She has no other options.
The feast is loud and boring. It’s much like Robert himself that way. Cersei finds that Winterfell’s great hall is significantly less grand than all the great halls she has been in other than Darry’s.
Catelyn is in a light grey gown that does nothing to show off her beauty. The Starks’ colors are much like their homeland: bleak, and barren. Catelyn deserves better than this. Though Cersei looks like sunshine, all golden curls and emerald green eyes, Catelyn is the one who lights up a room. With her smile, with her bright auburn hair, and with her bright personality that can make Cersei smile even as she wants to weep. Catelyn’s sunshine seems all but extinguished in this frigid wasteland they call the North.
She’s Queen Regent of the Seven Kingdoms, but she feels no more powerful than the little girl whose father told her that she couldn’t swordfight. The game is the only thing that changed. The rules have stayed the same. But at least, for this brief period, she can have Catelyn again. She just needs a taste, just a taste of happiness again, and then maybe she won’t feel quite so alone.
Her own children (she uses this term loosely) are sitting at a table with Cat’s. All of them, save Arya (the one Cat let learn to swordfight) look like their mother. Catelyn’s older daughter, Sansa, looks almost exactly the same as Cat did at her age. It is strange, Cersei thinks, that they almost all got Catelyn’s gorgeous Tully looks, when all her own children were cursed with their father’s. She wonders if she might have cared for them more if they’d looked like Lannisters.
They don’t talk to each other for the entire feast. What is there to say, that can be said in front of their husbands? Theirs is a private relationship, filled with private moments and thoughts. They take no benefit from a feast.
The feast ends and she and her husband go to their separate chambers. Cersei nestles into the soft furs Catelyn had them set out for her, and for the first time in what seems like forever, looks forward to the morning.
The morning is crisp and chilly, even under all of her furs and her warmest wool gown. Cersei does not envy Cat her Northern winters.
They meet in a small tower alcove. The grey stones seem even bleaker in a part of the castle that is seldom used, but Cersei supposes that is a good sign. If people do not frequent this part of the castle, then they are less likely to be caught. Cat is already here, leaning against the stones by the window. She hears her footsteps, and turns towards Cersei. The morning’s light shines in her hair, giving it a heavenly red glow.
I loved a maid as fair as summer, Cersei thinks, with sunlight in her hair. Cersei snaps out of her trance, and closes the gap between them.
“Gods, Cat,” she says, “It’s been a lonely fifteen years without you.” Cersei hasn’t been this open with anyone since she left Riverrun, and the truth almost feels strange on her lips. But it’s liberating as well, to look Cat in the eyes and know that she can speak frankly with her, know that she will love her no matter what.
“I’m sorry,” Cat says softly. Cersei just raises her eyebrows in question.
“I think that I love him,” Catelyn tells her, and Cersei realizes what she means. She’s broken her promise. Catelyn Tully is not designed the same way that Cersei is. Catelyn was built for duty (she loves him out of duty, Cersei reminds herself), and Cersei was built for lofty ambitions and bitterness. Cersei almost laughs. It hurts, by the Seven, does it hurt to think of Catelyn loving someone else, but she can’t truly blame her. She just needs to know that Cat loves her better.
“I forgive you,” Cersei says with a sad smile, even though it’s not completely true. She cups Catelyn’s cheek in her hand and leans in for a kiss. Catelyn, her back still against the wall, breaks it.
“Should we be doing this?” Cat asks, and Cersei’s taken aback for a moment.
“Cersei,” she asks softly, “do we need to stop this?”
“No,” Cersei says, nuzzling against Cat’s neck, “we need to start.” She suckles and nips and teases until Catelyn starts to moan. Cersei needs to know for certain that Catelyn still loves her, still loves her better than her Stark lord. And she needs to know now.
“By the Seven,” Catelyn manages, but her words have turned breathy from lust.
“Please,” Cersei whispers, right into Cat’s ear. It’s broken and pitiful, but Cersei’s not sure she cares. Not even her pride can keep this from her; she needs Catelyn the way that she needs air, and she has held her breath for too long. She kisses her fiercely, and this time, Catelyn kisses back. After so much time away from her, sensations suddenly burst into life like wildfire. Her hands snake into Catelyn’s braided hair, as Cat’s own kneed against her hips. Cersei presses against her, kisses her harder, reminding herself that Cat’s still here, and for a moment everything will be alright. Then, Cersei hears a distressed cry and Catelyn breaks the kiss.
“Bran?” Cat asks, terror seeping into her voice, and Cersei abruptly turns her head. In the window, not two feet away from them is Bran Stark, looking to the two of them in horror.
“Mum?” he asks, and his look is something between confusion and horror. Cersei’s has never hated anyone more. The boy’s Tully blue eyes are as wide as moons, but Cersei doesn’t care. The boy has just ruined everything.
“Bran,” she says softly, “it’s going to be alright.” He looks between the two of them, realization dawning on his face, and something within Cersei snaps. She doesn’t even think as she pushes the boy out the window.
Cersei turns back to Cat, and for a moment, her face is unchanged. Then, it turns to a look of absolute rage and terror. The boy’s screams fill the air until he hits the ground. Then, there is silence. The silence, however, is short-lived.
Lady Stark shouts her son’s name and storms out of them room, glaring at Cersei with a hatred that the woman didn’t know she could manage. Cersei is left completely alone in the alcove as the sounds of footsteps fade to silence.
There’s a part of Cersei that wants to run after her, to try to apologize and smooth it over, but, the truth is that she can’t apologize, because she isn’t sorry. Cersei would do it again, and she would do it to any of her (Robert’s) children. She is alone in the room, and the isolation creeps in on her.
This is a loneliness that is inherently worse than before she came to Winterfell. At least before, she could remember Cat and could dream of meeting her again. Now, Cersei is almost certain that she has lost her for good. It is a terrible feeling, filled with dread and regret and loss. For what is far from the first time, Cersei allows herself to crumble.
Cersei does not try to speak to her again. There is part of her that is glad, terribly glad that she does not have to speak to her again. She still remembers the look on Cersei’s face as she Catelyn at her, as if she couldn’t comprehend what she had possibly done wrong. But there is another part that wants to demand an explanation, wants to curse her and yell and burn down everything they ever had, and another, smaller part, that wants to curl into her embrace and pretend that no time has passed since that first night at Riverrun, with whispered sweet nothings and fumbled touches, two girls with no idea of the fate the world had in store for them. Their words and promises ended up being as empty as the wind.
Though her mind wanders from Bran’s bedside, her body does not. Catelyn does not seek Cersei out, though part of her desperately wants to. The part of her who remembers who she is now, and what Cersei’s done to Bran keeps her here, praying to the old gods and the new for her son’s recovery.
No matter how much she tries to stifle it, there is a terrible, insidious part of her that fears he will never awaken and she will have lost two of the most important people in her life.