Home a moon's turn earlier than he anticipated, Jon's feet stutter to a stop in the midst of the keep, when he glances up at the torch lit façade of the partially rebuilt Winterfell to see if his wife is abed. She is not. Sansa stands silhouetted against the window with another beside her. Backs turned, they do not see the men dismounting down below, although surely a servant will carry word of their arrival to his lady soon enough. Not soon enough to spare him this sight, however.
Sam, whose face is buried in an account book that he dragged out to greet Jon with—Jon's least favorite sort of business to attend to and one which surely could wait until daylight hours—stumbles into Jon's side with an oof at his lord's unexpected pause.
"Would you tell me," Jon begins, and then stops, scrubbing his long beard with his hand, as his gaze drops from the curved outlines of his wife's bodice to the guard flanked entrance before him.
Would you tell me if Sansa made a cuckold of me?
As the maester of Winterfell, it is unlikely such things would go unnoticed by Sam, and he is still Jon's friend. A fact daily proved by his sometimes highhanded way of dealing with Jon's shortcomings as lord or prince or husband. Of course, Sam is never highhanded with Sansa. They are friends too, but of a different sort. Fumbling gave way there to an ease Jon can do nothing but envy.
"Lady Targaryen has difficulty sleeping," Sam says, as if guessing at Jon's unfinished question.
It provides a sensible explanation for his wife's late hours, but not the presence of the Kingslayer in his wife's chambers.
"There are draughts for that. Are there not?" Jon asks, striding forward once more, but Sam's answer is lost on the new winter's wind, whipping away the sound as he trots to catch up.
Out of deference for her fine sensibilities, Jon never comes to his wife's bed reeking of horses or sweat or ale, but as they rode closer to Winterfell, a mad part of him considered forgoing a long bath so as to come directly to her upon his arrival. Indeed, he hardly ever troubles his wife, freshly bathed or not.
At first he kept away out of awkwardness. Theirs was not a love match and how could it be given their past? Instead, they were wed at his aunt's insistence. While the queen holds little love for Sansa, the sole remaining member of a traitorous house, the marriage of two cousins would accomplish Daenerys' political goals. She would secure the North, where they had no use for her rule but some lingering respect for the man once known as Ned Stark's bastard. Jon balked, but anything Daenerys proposed could not be taken as a mere suggestion with a dragon pit backing her desires. He did not expect Sansa to take kindly to the thinly veiled command, but when Jon brought the proposal to Sansa with his stomach in knots tied tighter than he thought possible after years of battle, she acquiesced immediately. Sweetly in fact.
Everything about their reunion was sweet. She was pleased to see him, when he arrived in the Vale. More pleased at the sight of him than he could ever remember her acting when they were children. Though he was no longer her brother—half brother—she made a favorite of him. Petted him and tended to his needs in a way no one had ever bothered to do.
He didn't love her, but he could hardly ask for less from a wife. Perhaps she felt similarly inclined to accept the benefits of the arrangement, knowing how much worse her situation could be. After all, she was quite obviously relieved, when he put Daenerys' plans for them both to her.
I'm glad it is you. We shall both go home.
The wedding night was awkward, and perhaps that was his fault, for she was a maid and he had never acted so coldly with Ygritte, but it was one thing to be his former sister's favorite and another thing to put his cock in her. So he kept away. A name day has passed since he draped a Targaryen cloak over her fine boned shoulders, but Jon only needs the fingers on his burnt sword hand to count the number of times he has bedded his lady wife. Not enough times to put a babe in her and give Daenerys the heir she requires.
Duty brought him to her bed, but something other than duty made him think to visit her tonight, despite the late hour. He missed her, while he was out ranging with the men. It was an unexpected feeling, missing her, for he's grown wary of his wife. What once was sweet grew sour all too quickly after they were wed, and Jon was as eager to ride from Winterfell's gates as he was to catch sight of them not eight moons earlier.
Still, in the cold of his bedroll, his thoughts drifted to her and self incrimination crept in until he reached an unavoidable conclusion. Sansa is not the problem; he is. Never having thought to be a lord husband, never letting himself dwell on the possibility, he is ill equipped to play the role. He is stiff, where she is gentle. He is formal, where she is sweet. He is reminded of what he was here—a bastard boy—where she is most at home. He dreaded being over eager and she withdrew her shy invitations to visit her.
Perhaps he could set things right if he took a different tack with her. Perhaps he need only surprise her upon his return. Kiss her more sweetly. Tell her how lovely she is. Give her a babe.
After weeks of sleeping under stars that made him think of her—of the hairnet Sansa wore to supper set with tiny blinking jewels, which she removed so carefully from her hair, while he waited on the bed for her—Jon was ready to believe the fault ought to be laid at his dirty, scuffed boots. It was disquieting to know he drove her to throw up walls between them, but if it was his fault, he could work to undo the damage.
It is a poisonous feeling to suspect he isn't the one to blame at all. Jon doesn't like the bile that drives him to her chamber. It is far different than the neediness that made him imagine a different sort of homecoming. It's a feeling he knows well enough, but one he hoped driven away forever by his legitimization, his marriage, his return to Winterfell. He has more than he ever dreamt of as a boy, so there is no need for the rot of jealousy.
Unless in his absence from her bed, someone else thought to replace him.
Jon knows he won't find him here, when he raps hard on the thick oak door. Sansa will have been apprised of her husband's return before Jon has time to climb the stone steps to her chamber, and the Kingslayer will be safely away. Nevertheless, Jon indulges thoughts of running Jaime Lannister through with the sword still slung at his side. Not that it would be easy. As one of Sansa's guards, the Kingslayer is always armed, and while he is without his sword hand, he trains daily with Brienne to overcome his impediment.
Wrapped in a fur that is too long for her tall frame, Sansa opens the door with a light in her eyes that dies at the sight of his scowl, her gaze dropping to the floor. Perhaps she was expecting someone else.
"Welcome home, my lord," she says, stepping aside to let him through.
Jon hesitates, regretting that he didn't take the time to wash up. Ire drove him here, but his current state will only confirm for her the differences between Jon Snow, bastard boy no matter Queen Daenerys' proclamations, and Jaime Lannister, knight and eldest son of House Lannister. His armor is always well polished. His courtesies effortless. He dances as easily as he fights.
Jon has never danced with his wife. Not even on the day of their wedding. He left that to men who would not tread on her satin clad toes. That was a day unmarred by the Kingslayer's presence, for he was not welcome. Daenerys wouldn't have allowed it. But he has danced with her since. Gods know what else they have done with Jon's back turned.
The door is heavy, but Sansa closes it so carefully behind him after he steps inside, that it makes naught but a quiet snick, and then she turns round, innocent eyes on him, and he finds himself hating the facility with which she lies, the easy way she has at manipulating men.
It burns in his chest, and he speaks too loudly. "You are too familiar with your guardsmen."
She blinks and backs away from him, withdrawing into the center of the room on silent feet.
Jon has never pressed her for details of what passed while he was at The Wall, but he has ferreted out enough to know that whatever her crimes against him, being harsh with his wife is an unforgiveable sin. There is an ugliness in him. An ugly, growling animal more insistent than the most vivid wolf dream.
"Your mother would never have been so careless."
His wife's mouth sets in a firm line, and suddenly she looks less afraid of his bark and more piqued. Her mother is a topic that does not often come up between them. Jon holds no lasting grudge against Lady Stark, but he couldn't care for her the way Sansa did as children and certainly doesn't now. Knowing what became of her, Jon has always considered it better not to bring her up at all. To lecture Sansa, to compare her unfavorably with her mother is dangerous.
"You have a specific complaint?" she asks, her words overly crisp as if her tongue clips her teeth with a sharp lash.
"I do. There is no reason for Jaime Lannister to be in your rooms at this hour. Particularly with your lord husband away."
Sansa turns to the hearth, where before a roaring fire a round table is laden with half eaten food, two pewter goblets, and a cyvasse set. Things they have shared together, while he stupidly rode towards Winterfell with hope and regret setting his spurs into the sides of his horse.
"I would offer you a seat and some wine, so we might discuss my transgressions in comfort, but the hour is late as you helpfully pointed out, and you are not yourself."
No, he is not himself. He was not raised to behave in this manner. Ned Stark never would have countenanced bursting into a woman's chambers or raising his voice in this manner.
"I don't care for wine." But the Kingslayer does.
"If I knew you were expected, I would have sent for ale."
"That I was not expected is obvious. I'm sorry for catching you unawares," he says, his voice laden with every nasty supposition that has found a home in his tired mind, since seeing their figures paired against the night sky.
"I think you ought to go to bed, Jon," she says, softening slightly, though her hand fists in the dove grey of her skirts.
She rarely says his given name any more. She said it often enough before they were wed and again after he held her beneath the furs long enough for her not to feel like a brood mare, but hardly ever since.
It works on him like a tonic, and he drags his hand through his filthy hair with a heavy sigh.
If she finds comfort in another man warming her bed, is it anyone's fault but his own? The only way she could go home or become Lady of Winterfell was to accept a marriage with her former brother, when by all rights the title was already hers. Since the death of their brothers, Winterfell has been hers and Jon should have fought harder to keep it that way. Maybe he wanted it as much as Daenerys did. His aunt is no fool. She no doubt traded on such secret desires in getting her way with him.
"I am sorry," he says again, head tucked down and without any underlying venom, as his hand finds the cool iron handle of her door.
And he is. He's sorry for whatever part he's played in what is broken between them. That he even thought to come here in anger after avoiding her for so long is evidence enough of his inadequacies. But he shall forever rue the day he granted Sansa's one request: to bring the Kingslayer to Winterfell to serve in her personal guard. Jon might have fixed their soured marriage otherwise, but what hope does he have now?