A/N: This is the first part out of three, possibly four, exploring the first couple years of Ned and Catelyn's marriage, and their changing conceptions of each other.
When the stranger who made Catelyn Tully a Stark returns to his castle, she waits dutifully outside, with their son's plump infant body balanced neatly on her hip. Even though it is a year of true spring, and back home in Riverrun Edmure will be presenting pretty girls with ragged bunches of violets, Winterfell is still laden with snow, and she drapes herself in a heavy shawl to keep warm. Robb reaches up to clutch at its fringes, stray threads clinging to his tiny fingernails.
Catelyn is carefully adjusting her son's little woolen cap when Lord Eddard rides into through his gates, riding on a tall bay horse that looks as weary as he does. The assortment of soldiers and bannermen that trail behind him are similarly worn. Catelyn stands with her back straight and her head held high, every inch the graceful lady of the house. She does not yet know how to play the loving wife, and thankfully does not think her lord husband will expect her to.
Eddard Stark swings his legs over the side of the horse, every movement calculated. He must indeed be sore, after the long ride and the longer war that led him here. His booted feet hit crushed snow, streaked with mud. He walks toward them slowly, his eyes on Robb, rather than her. He is smiling. She cannot remember whether she has ever seen him smile. Catelyn pulls Robb higher and closer, holding him so that his small, sturdy chest is pressed to hers, and his legs dangle down against her stomach. When her husband reaches her, he gives a short, sharp bow.
"Lady Catelyn. It is good to be home, to see you and our child."
Catelyn could give him her most brilliant practiced smile; his men might not know it was forced, but he probably would. Instead, she merely nods, as formal as he.
"My lord, it is good to have you home."
His home, not mine, she thinks, remembering the rustling river and spring wind in the trees and children's laughter. Ice and snow muffle all such sounds.
She looks down, to the babe lying warm against her. Robb looks back up, his Tully blue eyes wide and innocent.
"Robb, this is your father," she tells him, her voice quiet; just the three of them may hear. She stretches out her hands, passing him into Lord Eddard's open arms. Open and eager, yet still awkward, she thinks, watching him cautiously lift Robb up, smiling again to see his sweet face.
His firstborn son, and the only one that bears his name, and yet not the first he's held.
The thought is unwelcome, and ever-present. Her husband's bastard boy is barely a month younger than her son, but Eddard had sent him to Winterfell personally, even before he had sent for his wife from Riverrun. Perhaps he had even seen the child birthed, as he had not seen Robb.
Catelyn pushes down those thoughts, and focuses on what's in front of her now. The Lord of Winterfell has seen his heir, and the child has her blood as well as his. And, if the look on his face is anything to go by, his love as well as hers.
That night, he does not try to kiss her lips or push her legs open. She is angry and glad all at once. It would have been so easy to hate him for that.
It is hard to be angry at him this way, lying next to her, his body warming her through a thin layer of sheets, his breathing as deep and slow and calm as the river on a cool spring day.
"I'm sorry about your sister," she tells him.
He does not respond for a long time, and she wonders briefly if he's fallen asleep.
"Thank you," he says, finally, so softly, and with those words the hardened silence between them starts to crack.