“We won’t be back until late.”
Ned Stark examined himself in the hall mirror again and made another unsuccessful attempt at straightening his tie. Luckily his wife Catelyn happened to walk by and she stopped to provide him with some help. Ned smiled and kissed her cheek in thanks, before Catelyn went back to putting on her earrings and searching for where she’d left her high heels.
Tonight they had to drive to Moat Cailin for a charity gala at the children’s hospital there. Ned checked his phone, hoping to find a text from Robert letting him know if they were on their way, but there was none. Ned could only hope his friend would be on his best behavior tonight. Robert Baratheon was Ned’s best friend since university, but he could be a handful, and as his public relations manager it was Ned’s job to keep him in check. With the election coming up, Robert was hoping to be voted Leader of the Party and hopefully become the next Prime Minister – though Ned wasn’t sure if that was Robert’s desire, or his wife Cersei and his father-in-law Tywin’s ambition for him. Either way, Ned just hoped that Robert could get some good press, make a sizable donation, and then get home without embarrassing himself publicly. Robert always did stupid things when he drank.
So that meant Ned and Catelyn were leaving their children home alone. Luckily their son Robb was home from university for the weekend and Ned’s nephew Jon had worked a day shift at the station today. Ned trusted them, but leaving a bunch of kids in their teens and early twenties alone on a muggy Saturday night in the summer could potentially be a recipe for disaster.
He looked up at the sound of footsteps and saw his daughter Arya walk down the stairs. Her brown hair was pulled up with a few loose tendrils falling around her face, and she was wearing a pair of chunky combat boots, a flannel she’d bought in the men’s section, and a baggy T-shirt with the name of some obscure alternative rock band she liked, which she’d belted into a dress. “You’re not wearing that.”
Arya’s red lips formed a frown. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing? Gendry and I are going to a concert. Compared to everyone else there, I’ll look like a septa.”
“I still think that’s a lot of leg…”
His daughter rolled her eyes and walked over to kiss him, careful not to get any lipstick on his cheek. “Well if any creep gives me a hard time, Gendry will punch them in the face – that is, if I don’t get to them first.”
Ned hesitated. Well, she was going with Gendry, and he seemed like a dependable lad. Gendry Waters was Robert’s son – not with Cersei Lannister, but with an old flame from school he’d impregnated twenty-two years ago. That had been a public relations nightmare for Ned when it came out that Robert had a secret love child he hadn’t known about for the first eighteen years of his life. Ned was the one who arranged that father-son reunion, and now Robert took Gendry out for dinner once in a while and sent him a check on his birthday, though Gendry was too proud to accept handouts. He and Arya were thick as thieves, and Robert was obsessed with the idea of them getting married someday, so he and Ned could share grandchildren. Ned didn’t know how he felt about that idea. Gendry was a good kid, but Arya was still only seventeen, so he’d rather they were just friends, at least for now. He liked having one daughter whose boy trouble he did not need to worry about.
“Fine.” He relented, and Arya smiled up at him. “But be home by twelve thirty.” Ned didn’t have a favorite child, but he couldn’t refuse Arya anything for long. Out of all of his children, she was the one who reminded him the most of his beloved sister, Jon’s mother Lyanna, who died when Jon was a baby. Arya was his little girl, and she never got into trouble – well, no serious trouble anyway. “Do you know what time Sansa will be home?”
“She’s been hanging out with Ramsay all day.” Arya spoke the name of her sister’s boyfriend with poorly concealed vitriol. “She probably won’t be back until late.”
Ned knew he didn’t have to worry about Arya much – but as for her sister Sansa, he lay awake at night sometimes thinking about her. It wasn’t that Sansa wasn’t capable of taking care of herself. She was a smart and friendly nineteen-year-old, getting great grades at uni and maintaining a healthy social life on the side, but her choice of boyfriends always made Ned nervous. Her first boyfriend in secondary school had been Joffrey Baratheon, Robert’s elder son with Cersei who did not share any of his half-brother’s virtues. Ned could never disavow Joffrey publicly because he was Robert’s son, but while Gendry was down-to-earth and humble, Joffrey was spoiled and entitled. He drove fancy cars and crashed them, threw money around like it was no object, and never seemed to think about anyone but himself. He’d been grateful when Sansa’s infatuation with him fizzled, but then she had simply moved onto Harry Hardyng, a handsome older boy who was constantly cheating on her and not very discreet about it either. After that had been her brief dalliance with that boy Aegon, the one with the funky silver hair. Ned wished that Sansa would just focus on her studies – because she really was a smart girl, top marks in every class except for maths, which she still had a pretty respectable grade in thanks to her tutor, and she was president of several clubs at school – but at university she’d met Ramsay Bolton, and he was Ned’s least favorite of Sansa’s boyfriends to date. There was something off about that boy, but every time Ned tried to bring it up, Sansa only laughed and said he didn’t know Ramsay like she did.
Catelyn walked back, now in her heels, Robb trailing along behind her, and she paused when she saw Arya. “You’re not wearing that.”
Arya narrowed her eyes. “Yes I am. Dad said it was okay.”
Catelyn looked at Ned and opened her mouth, then closed it. She shook her head, evidently deciding that it wasn’t worth arguing about. “Fine. Don’t be out late. Is Jon asleep upstairs?”
“Yeah,” Robb said. “He was working since last night, he’ll probably be out for a few more hours.”
“All right. There’s a casserole in the fridge for you to heat up – can you manage that?”
Robb scoffed. “Mum, I’m twenty-two years old. I’m an adult, soon to be a university graduate, I can turn on the oven.”
Catelyn raised an eyebrow at him. “Do I need to remind you of the time you tried to make grilled cheese?”
That shut Robb up. The eldest Stark sibling had many talents – he was smart, outgoing, sociable, athletic, popular with girls – but homemaking was not one of them.
Ned peeked into the living room. Rickon was sitting on the couch fully engrossed in an episode of SpongeBob, while Bran was reading a book peacefully. “Your mum and I are headed out, okay?”
“Okay,” Bran responded, while Rickon only mumbled “uh-huh”, not tearing his eyes away from the TV. Ned suspected his youngest hadn't heard a single word he said.
“Bran, you’ll hold the fort down while we’re gone, right?”
“I’ll make sure the place doesn’t burn down. Do you want me to give Gendry a talking to about the way Arya deserves to be treated too?”
“That’s not necessary” Ned said, at the same time Arya sighed and let out an indignant: “Bran, for the millionth time, he’s not my boyfriend – ”
Bran was probably the most responsible of all his children. He hadn’t been grounded since he was eight, and he spent most of his weekends reading a book at home instead of going out and getting into trouble. The running joke in the family was that even though Bran was only sixteen, he had the personality of an old man – sometimes Bran would even add on that he had the handicapped parking permit to prove it. Bran had been wheelchair bound for six years, ever since a car accident took the use of his legs. Ned was glad that he had finally reached the point where he could joke about it, because he knew some people still gave Bran the look when they met him for the first time. It was that awkward beat where they would look at Bran, then at the chair, as if silently wondering “should I say something or act like it doesn’t exist?” It made Ned more defensive over Bran than he was with Robb, because he never wanted anyone to treat Bran differently.
After a few more goodbyes to their children and a few more reminders from Cat, earning her eye rolls from Robb and Arya, they left the house and started walking down the driveway towards Ned’s car. Ned checked his phone again and there were still no texts from Robert. He better not be late. “So,” Catelyn said to him. “What backhanded compliment do you think Cersei Lannister will give me tonight?”
“What do you mean?”
Catelyn scoffed. “Last time I saw her, she told me that I looked lovely for someone who had had five children. I smiled on the outside, but on the inside I wanted to throw my drink on her stilettos.”
Ned chuckled and stopped in the middle of the driveway, turning to admire his wife. He’d been married to her for twenty-three years, and he still thought she was the most beautiful woman in any room she walked into. Tonight his wife was wearing a chic champagne-colored cocktail dress, her auburn hair pulled back into loose bun, delicate pearls dangling from her ears. Even though Ned knew she would probably chastise him for ruining her lipstick, he could not help but grab her by the waist and pull her in for a kiss. “Cersei Lannister is just a bored socialite with nothing to do but start things, who is jealous about how absolutely stunning you are.” He whispered, and Cat laughed quietly. “Trust me, it’s going to be a good night.”
Except when Ned Stark would look back on this night later – as he did many times in the weeks afterwards – he did not exactly think of it as a “good night”.
Jon woke with a start at half past seven at night to the sound of someone repeatedly ringing the doorbell.
Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he pulled himself out of bed still wearing the jeans and T-shirt he’d changed into after his shift at the police station. His curly hair was a mess and he was missing one of his socks, and his dog Ghost perked up at the feeling of his master leaving the bed. “Down, boy.” Ghost didn’t need to be told twice, resting his head on his paws and going back to sleep. Jon dragged himself from his bedroom anyway, feeling refreshed after his nap, his stomach growling for food.
“It’s probably Gendry, I’ll get it!” Arya was yelling, but Jon reached the bottom of the steps first and opened the door. It wasn’t Gendry, but Theon Greyjoy, holding a six pack of beer in one hand and leaning up against the doorframe. He pat Jon on the chest and swept inside like he owned the place.
“Oh honey,” Theon yelled cheekily. “I’m home!”
Theon was Robb’s best friend and even though he wasn’t an official member of the Stark family, he was at their house more than his own, even when he hadn’t been invited. Sometimes the Starks would come home to find Theon sitting on their couch eating their food and watching their TV, even though none of them had let him in. Robb was convinced he was climbing through their first story bathroom window, while Arya thought he was picking the lock, and Jon was wondering if Theon could’ve possibly had a key made without any of them knowing. It had gotten to the point where Ned and Catelyn were considering putting in a security system so Theon would have no choice but to give them a call before he showed up.
He followed Theon into the living room, Theon plopping down onto the couch between Arya and Rickon, and wrenching the remote from Rickon’s grasp. Robb came in from the kitchen, looking exasperated. “Is there any dinner?” Jon asked him. He was starving.
Robb shoved a box of cereal into his hands. “Here – I burnt the casserole. Don’t tell my mum.”
Jon looked at it. “Do we have milk?”
“Nope, ran out yesterday. Theon drank it.”
Jon gave Theon a look and reached into the box, filling his hand with dry cornflakes and popping them into his mouth. “Do I need to remind you Theon that you don’t actually live here?”
“What happened to mi casa es tu casa?” Theon asked, putting his feet up on the coffee table even though he had sneakers on, something Catelyn absolutely hated. It was a really expensive glass coffee table she'd found in some magazine and had imported, from Volantis or Lys or some other place where they had fancy coffee tables like that. “When you guys come over to my house, I give you free range of my kitchen.”
“But we never go over to your house,” Robb said. “And last time I checked you and Yara aren’t great at grocery shopping. I think the last time I was there you guys had one beer, canned fish, and a moldy lemon in your fridge.”
“Hence why I always bring the pleasure of my company over here. And also you have all the good TV channels.” Theon surfed for a minute, then paused. “Can you guys rent porn on this TV?”
Arya only looked up from her phone to glare at him. “Theon, Rickon’s here.”
Theon turned to Rickon. “How old are you again, kid?”
Rickon frowned up at him. “I’m twelve, and don’t call me kid!” Rickon was at that stubborn stage where he was still a boy, but he thought that he was a man, and he resented anyone reminding him that he wasn't a grown-up.
“Oh, he’s plenty old enough! I watched my first when I was his age. It’ll be easier than giving him the talk about the birds and the bees…”
Robb took the remote back from Theon and turned the television off. “What are you doing here?”
Theon’s eyes lit up with glee as he remembered the purpose of his visit, and he sat up straighter. “I got us dates tonight with the Westerling sisters. Go change your shirt, we’re meeting them at the Wall in twenty minutes. And pack condoms.”
“I can’t go out tonight, Mum and Dad told me to watch Bran and Rickon.”
“Rickon just wants to watch cartoons,” Bran deadpanned. “And I just want to be able to read the rest of this chapter in peace…”
The doorbell rang again, and Arya sighed. “Seven hells, that better be Gendry.”
Jon was the only one standing up, so he moved to get the door. “It’s not even eight, the show’s not for another two hours…”
Arya gave him a “duh” look. “The Brotherhood Without Banners are opening up for the Faceless Men at the House of Black and White tonight! It’s a sold out show. If that bull-headed idiot doesn’t get here early like I told him, we’ll be stuck in the nosebleeds.”
Jon answered the door, expecting to see Gendry, but instead there was only a redhead teenage girl with her head down, her arms wrapped around her bare arms. “Sansa?”
His adoptive sister didn’t look up, and Jon swore he heard her sniffle. “Sorry, I…I forgot my key…” She moved to brush past him and head upstairs, but Jon reached out and grabbed her arm.
“Sans,” He said softly. “What’s wrong?” He’d been expecting Sansa to be out most of the night with her boyfriend, maybe to even stay over at Ramsay’s since her parents would be out practically all night. She'd pulled the "stuff-the-bed-with-pillows" trick a few times when she was sneaking around with Joffrey. He noticed that the pale blue sundress she’d spent hours picking out this morning was now falling off her shoulder, and there was a rip in the skirt which hadn’t been there before.
Sansa did not say anything for a long moment. “Please don’t be mad at me, Jon.”
“Sansa, why would I be mad – ” He started to say, but then Sansa looked up, her red hair falling out of her face, and Jon involuntarily gasped.
Sansa’s face, which had been rosy and unblemished when she left the house earlier that day, now included a busted lip, and a large purple bruise was forming around her right eye. Jon tentatively reached out and gently ran his thumb across her face. “Oh Sansa...”
Before he could say anything, Robb, Theon and Arya all came out of the living room, and immediately froze in their tracks. “What in the seven hells happened?” Robb demanded, rushing over to his little sister’s side.
Sansa opened her mouth to answer, but all that came out was a hiccup, then a sob.
When Jon looked at Arya, her anger was written all over her face. “Did Ramsay do this to you?” Sansa only continued to cry, and that was all the answer they needed. Jon wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close, while Robb cursed under his breath before going off to the kitchen to get some ice.
Jon and Theon led Sansa to the living room and placed her down on the couch. Rickon’s eyes went wide and Bran finally looked up from his book. “What happened to your face?” Rickon blurted out, with all of a child’s bluntness.
Sansa’s crying was under control when Robb returned with a pack of frozen peas for her to put over her eye and lip. Arya sat on the arm of the couch, holding her sister’s hand, while Jon sat down on the coffee table in front of her. Catelyn would probably scold him for sitting on the glass, but given the circumstances, he didn’t care. “Ramsay, he…” Sansa’s breath hitched. “I found out he’s been sleeping with Myranda.”
“Myranda?” Robb said. “I thought you and Myranda were friends.”
“I thought so too, but…” Sansa shook her head. “When I confronted him about it, he got so angry. I’d never seen him look like that before. He called me a stupid bitch. Then he…he punched me in my face, and my stomach, I begged him to stop but…”
Jon placed a hand on her knee. He didn’t need to hear any more. “It’s okay, Sansa. You’re safe now.”
The doorbell rang and when Robb went to answer it, it was Gendry this time. His timing could not possibly have been worse. When he followed Robb back into the living room, he paused in the doorway seeing all of the siblings gathered around a crying Sansa. “What’s going on?”
Jon looked up, noticing the bouquet of sunflowers – Arya’s favorites – in Gendry’s hand. Sansa surprised them all when she let out a watery laugh. “Oh gods,” She gasped, looking at Arya. “You two are dating! I knew it – ”
Arya sighed and got up to greet Gendry with a peck on the cheek, taking the sunflowers from him. “Just don’t say anything to Mum and Dad – or Robert. We’re not ready to tell them all yet. Mum will be all weird, and Dad will get overprotective like he always does, and Robert will probably start planning the wedding and naming the children we don’t have. We only just started seeing each other like that.”
The fact that Arya “I’m a strong independent woman who doesn’t need a man” Stark had finally committed to a relationship would ordinarily be a novel piece of news, but not tonight. “Sansa’s boyfriend hit her.” Jon informed Gendry.
“Shit. I’m…I’m so sorry Sansa. Should we call the police?”
“No!” Sansa yelped immediately, bolting upright in her seat and sending the frozen peas flying across the room. “We can’t. And Jon…” She looked to him. “I know you’re a cop, but you have to keep this to yourself. I don’t want anyone to know, especially not Mum and Dad. They never liked Ramsay, they’ll judge me.”
Surprisingly it was Bran who responded. “We won’t say anything.” Reluctantly, the rest of them nodded in agreement. As much as Jon wanted to march across town and arrest Ramsay, it was Sansa’s decision. “But no one is judging you Sansa. It’s not your fault.”
Sansa nodded and wiped her tears. “Thanks guys.” Little Rickon wrapped his arms around her waist, burrowing his face into her side, and Sansa hugged him back and kissed his head.
Theon had been silent for a while, but he suddenly stood up straighter, his arms crossed over his chest. “We should go kick his ass.”
They all stared at him for a long moment, and then everyone burst out laughing.
“I’m serious!” Theon insisted. “Robb and I were nationally ranked in rugby. Jon, you’re a fucking cop. And Gendry, you’re…” He trailed off. “Well, to be honest we haven’t talked all that much so I don’t know much about you, but you’re built like a fucking house. Let’s go kick this guy’s ass.”
Jon glanced at Robb and Gendry, who both seemed to be considering what Theon had said. “I’m game if you are.” Gendry finally said.
Robb nodded. “I’ll go get my car keys.”
“Wait,” Jon stood up. “Let’s take the police car. We can turn the sirens on and really freak him out.”
Theon grinned wickedly. “Fucking perfect.”
But Sansa was still not convinced. “You can’t!” She said. “I’m not going to let you guys get in trouble because of me. Ramsay’s not the kind of guy you want to mess with.”
“There’s four of us and one of him, Sans.” Jon told her. “What’s the worst he could do?”
Arya bit her lip, thinking. “Five – I’m coming.”
Jon grabbed his keys off the hook in the hallway. “Arya, you weigh a hundred pounds soaking wet. You’re not coming with us to beat up Ramsay Bolton.”
But his kid sister only cocked her head, her hands on her hips. “Jon, Mum and Dad did not pay for my martial arts lessons since I was seven just for shits and giggles. I can take care of myself.”
“And I’m your big brother, so I’m supposed to take care of you.” Arya only narrowed her eyes and stared back at him. Jon tried to hold her gaze, but Arya was unflinching, and eventually he had to look away, cursing to himself. “Fine – you can come. But you’re staying in the car.”
Arya smirked, and handed her bouquet off to Sansa. “Put these in some water. We’ll be back later.”
Still, Sansa was not convinced. “Theon, I think this may be the worst idea you've ever had.”
Theon placed a hand over his heart overdramatically, pretending to be offended. “Oh Sansa, you underestimate me. This is - most assuredly - not the worst idea I’ve ever had.”
“By far.” Robb agreed. “There was the time in college when he got drunk and put beer in the Slip n’ Slide – ”
“Or when he got so drunk at the family Christmas party that he started hitting on his sister – ” Jon added.
“ – or when he got drunk and decided that he could totally fix the air conditioning unit by himself, and ended up locking himself out of the house in only his underwear.”
Gendry frowned. “You hit on your sister?” He asked Theon, who only shrugged.
“That was 1 year B.G.” Arya told her boyfriend. “Before Gendry.”
Rickon made a face. “Why do all of your stories involve drinking?”
“Because kid,” Theon said knowingly. “A wise man once told me that no good story starts off with someone eating a salad.”
Bran sighed, and rubbed his temples. “I’m convinced,” He said. “That I’m the only sane person in this family.”
The Dreadfort Bar was one of Ramsay Bolton’s favorite haunts. Located on the northeast side of town, across the street from the railroad tracks, the sign outside the front door was half-burnt out and advertised the beers on draft, the dates for bike nights, and half-priced cocktails on Tuesdays. Jon turned the lights on as they pulled into the parking lot, and he could see people start to scatter as they approached with the police siren blazing. The Dreadfort was known to serve the underage, and the Winterfell police busted people for drugs here at least twice a week.
Jon parked the police car in the back of the lot and turned around in his seat. “Okay. We’re going to find Ramsay Bolton, and we’re going to tell him to stay away from Sansa.”
“You brought us here to talk to him?” Theon said. “I thought he was going to have his ass handed to him.”
“I want to punch that bastard in the face as much as you do, but Sansa doesn’t want us to hit him. If he doesn’t agree to leave her alone, then we’ll have to talk to him in a language he understands better. Okay?” The others all nodded and reached to unbuckle their seatbelts, but Jon gave Arya a look. “I told you, you’re staying in the car.”
Arya frowned. “Jon, I have a black belt in karate and I do kickboxing at the gym three times a week. I know what I’m doing.”
“But I’m you’re big brother, and I’m not letting another one of my sisters get punched by that douchebag tonight. You’re staying in the car.”
Arya sighed and slammed back into the headrest. “I could be in a mosh pit drunk off my ass right now,” She said. “And instead I’m here being patronized by a bunch of men who share one braincell between the four of them.”
“You know, I’m not a complete and total idiot – ” Robb exclaimed, at the same time that Theon said “Arya Stark, I will not tolerate this slander – ” and Gendry asked dejectedly “Hey wait, you don't really think – ?”
Arya only laughed and pat Gendry on the knee. “Sorry, babe. I was wrong – you have one braincell all to yourself.”
They all got out of the car, leaving Arya sulking in the backseat. Some 90s hard rock was booming from the bar, and Jon could smell the distinct stench of marijuana smoke. They found Ramsay Bolton out by the dumpsters, his and his friends’ motorcycles parked at the front of the lot, Myranda draped all over him as she kissed him shamelessly. Ramsay’s crew were known around Winterfell as the Hunting Hounds, and Jon had personally busted some of the guys for drugs on more than one occasion. It wasn’t exactly a crowd he’d liked Sansa hanging out with, but until tonight he hadn’t pegged any of them as violent.
“Well, well, well,” Ramsay smirked, standing up a little straighter at the sight of them. “If it isn’t Winterfell’s finest. I see you brought back up.”
“We need to talk Bolton,” Robb said, stepping forward, puffing out his chest to look as intimidating as possible. “About our sister.”
Ramsay stared at him for a moment, then burst out laughing, and his friends all did the same. “Listen Stark, what happens between me and my woman is none of your concern – ”
When he was in the academy, one of the first things that Jon had been taught was that he needed to keep his cool under pressure. He never thought of himself as someone quick to anger, but as soon as he heard Ramsay Bolton refer to Sansa as “my woman” after what he’d done, it was enough to make his blood boil. Impulsively he grabbed Ramsay by the collar of his shirt, lifting his face up to his. “You are going to leave Sansa the hell alone. You ever touch her again, you ever go near her again – you even think about her again, and the four of us will end you. You understand?”
He dropped Ramsay, causing him to careen backwards against the wall, Myranda reaching out to catch him. But Ramsay only brushed off his shirt, and laughed. “You think a badge and some handcuffs makes you invincible?” He looked at Robb and Theon. “Stark and Greyjoy here are two washed up former athletes who peaked in high school. And you – ” He looked at Gendry. “I don’t even know who you are. Am I supposed to be scared of you sorry lot?”
“You should be.”
Jon turned his head at the sound of a car door slamming, and he saw Arya storming towards them, her boots loudly stomping against the pavement as she walked. Jon cursed inwardly. He’d asked her to stay in the car, but Arya had never been the type of person who did what she was told.
Ramsay only raised an eyebrow as Arya moved to stand before him, hands on her hips, her head held high. “Leave my sister alone or I swear I’ll – ”
She received laughter in response. “Or you’ll what? I’m not scared of you, little girl. So why don’t you march your ass back to your big brother’s car, before I remind you what a woman’s place is, just like I did with your sister – ”
Immediately Jon recognized the look in Arya’s eyes then. She was pissed, and physically trembling with fury as she rolled up her sleeves. He moved to pull her back, just at the same moment Gendry did, but they were both too slow as Arya flew forward, her small clenched fist colliding with Ramsay’s jaw, sending him reeling.
Everything that happened after that passed in a blur.
Two of Ramsay’s buds lunged at Arya, but Gendry wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her back. Arya tried to fight him off, wriggling wildly with cries of “let me at him, let me at him!” One of the Hunting Hounds trying to hit her missed as Arya flailed, and his fist accidentally connected with Gendry’s face, causing him to drop Arya as blood began to pour from his nose. Arya, to her credit, elbowed one of Ramsay’s guys in the face before going to help her boyfriend. Theon charged at Ramsay while Robb tried to come at him from behind. Someone tried to pin Robb but he fought back, using one of his old rugby tackles on him. Theon got a few good punches in, leaving Ramsay disoriented, but then Myranda flew at him and scratched him with her fingernails, giving Ramsay the opportunity to knee Theon in the groin and send him falling back onto the pavement.
That was when Jon went at him, ripping Ramsay off of Theon before he could kick him again. He threw Ramsay onto the ground and climbed on top of him, lifting up his fist and bringing it down on Ramsay’s smug, smirking face again and again. Blood was dripping from Ramsay’s lip now and one of his eyes would probably be blackened tomorrow, and Jon knew he should stop. But he wanted to do to Ramsay everything that he had done to Sansa. “That,” He practically growled, before he even realized he was doing it. “Was for my sister.”
They only broke apart at the sound of sirens.
Sirens that hadn’t come from Jon’s police car.
“So, Ned – how are your children doing?”
Ned took another sip of his scotch. He knew that Tywin Lannister didn’t really care about how his kids were doing, but Tywin was a businessman, the head of one of the largest hedge funds in the country, and he was very good at knowing what he ought to say. “Great. Robb is about to graduate, so he and Jon are going to be moving into an apartment together. Sansa is getting great grades at uni, and Arya is being recruited by Braavos for a fencing scholarship. Bran has all As, and Rickon – ” He paused. “Well, Rickon’s a handful as always, but he’s a good kid really. What about your family?”
“Oh,” Tywin sighed. “Jaime is seeing some strange, very tall woman he met at the gym. Hopefully he’ll grow bored of her like he has all the others. And Tyrion…” He trailed off. “Well, he’s Tyrion. At least I don’t have to worry about Cersei.”
Ned nodded, and suppressed his smile. Tyrion was actually his personal favorite Lannister. “Of course.”
He looked across the room and saw Catelyn, smiling as she talked to Cersei Lannister. Ned knew his wife well, and he recognized her different smiles. There was the genuine smile, where the corners of lips would turn up ever so slightly at first. There was the forced smile for photographs, which involved showing too much teeth. There was the tight-lipped smile she gave the kids when she was exhausted and they were telling her something she didn’t want to hear, which was usually accompanied by the phrase “that’s nice, sweetie”. This was what Ned called the society smile, which was reserved for social situations where she needed to be polite, when in reality the person she was talking to was someone who she actually loathed. Nine times out of ten, Cersei Lannister was on the receiving end.
Cersei Lannister, for her part, was the same. She was a rich socialite who would smile to your face and spread gossip about you behind your back. Tonight she was playing the role of the politician’s wife perfectly, her golden blonde hair tossed elegantly over one shoulder, her slim body clad in a pristine white jumpsuit, and the matching set of emerald and gold earrings, necklace and bracelet she was wearing probably cost more than Ned’s house. Her perfectly manicured hand was holding a glass of red wine – one of the things Ned admired about Cersei was her ability to drink red wine while wearing white, and not spill a single drop – and he saw her glance at Robert out of the corner of her eye when he laughed a little too loudly at something Petyr Baelish had said. Everyone knew Baelish wasn’t really that funny. But Ned had his staffer Jory on Robert duty for the night, keeping an eye on him and making sure he did not exceed his limit of two alcoholic beverages per hour.
Cersei turned her head and grabbed Catelyn by the arm, leading her over to where Ned and Tywin were standing. “Ned,” Cersei said, in her smooth voice. “Lovely to see you again.”
“You as well.” Despite their outward civility, they both knew that they did not like each other. Ned thought Cersei was petty and self-absorbed, and Cersei resented how Robert cared more about Ned’s opinion than her own. Ned knew any love Cersei and Robert had once felt for each other was long dead, but they maintained the façade of their seemingly perfect marriage in public while complaining about each other in private, and Ned suspected they were both seeing other people in secret. Cersei was too proud to divorce Robert though – as much as she loathed her husband, if Robert won this election then there was a good chance he could become the next Prime Minister, and Cersei wanted to be the Prime Minister’s wife more than she wanted to get away from Robert. Then if she could get Ned fired so she could control Robert – and effectively, the country – that would be the icing on the cake for Cersei.
“I was just telling your wife,” Cersei purred, touching Catelyn’s hair. “That I don’t know how she does it. Raising five little hellions, being a wife to one of the busiest men in politics, and managing to look so beautiful, even with those pesky undereye bags. Or should I say six hellions, since you have your illegitimate son, Ned?”
“My nephew,” Ned corrected. “I adopted him after my sister died.” Of course, Cersei knew that already. She was just trying to push buttons as she always did. When Ned had brought Jon home, the neighbors spread wild rumors that Jon was some sort of secret love child, and the stories had been a huge embarrassment to Catelyn as she listened to people speculate about who Ned might have cheated on her with. Even though they weren’t based in truth, they hurt nonetheless, and her relationship with Jon had been impaired for many years because of them. “I believe you’re mistaking me for Robert.”
Cersei’s face faltered, but only for a moment. “Regardless, I was just telling Catelyn I don’t know how she does it. She is probably going to drive herself prematurely grey, gods bless her.” Catelyn frowned and took a healthy swig of her white wine.
Ned forced a smile. “You don’t give yourself enough credit, Cersei. I imagine Joffrey alone counts for at least three other children.” He took a sip of his drink, while Cersei’s face blanched.
Tywin cleared his throat and touched his daughter’s arm. “Darling, is that Tycho Nestoris from the Iron Bank over there? We should go say hello. Always a good idea to keep an eye on the competition, don’t you agree?”
Cersei smiled fakely, her eyes not leaving Ned’s face. “Of course, Father. Nice to see you Ned, Catelyn.” She accepted her father’s arm and stalked off to say hello to more people, draining the rest of her wine in one long gulp.
Once they were alone, Ned let out a laugh he’d been holding in for several minutes, and Catelyn followed suit. “I don’t believe the nerve of that woman.” She said, touching her hair. “So what if I have a few greys? We all know those aren’t her real roots.”
Ned chuckled. “What is Robert doing?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I think he wants his brothers to do a shot with him, and Renly is trying to get him to sit down. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually feel bad for Stannis.”
The mental image of Robert’s dour younger brother ever doing a shot of any type of alcohol made Ned laugh again. “You know what,” He found himself saying. “Why don’t we get out of here? Let someone else deal with Robert and the Lannisters for one evening. These appetizers are awful, the music is quite literally putting people to sleep, and I’d much rather take my wife out for a real dinner. And maybe a movie.” Typically Ned would’ve toughened it out, just another night of painful small talk and forced smiles that came with his job, but Robert was a grown man with four children who needed to learn to take care of himself for once, and he didn’t want to listen to Cersei’s backhanded insults about his wife for one more second. For once in his life, Ned wanted to be selfish.
At his proposal, Catelyn’s eyes lit up. “I’ll go get my shawl.”
As his wife walked off to the coat room, Ned drained the rest of his drink and was about to go say goodbye to Robert, when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He checked the caller ID: BRAN. Frowning, he pressed accept. “Hello?”
There was silence on the other end at first. “Don’t worry,” Bran finally said. “The house didn’t burn down. But…there’s another problem.”
Catelyn came back from the coat room, but Ned held up a single finger, silently telling her to wait a minute. “What kind of problem?”
“It’s a very long story,” Bran began. “But well, I suppose I should just get to it. Promise me you’ll listen to everything I have to say first and not freak out, all right?”
Still, Ned was confused. “Why would I freak out?”
There was a pause, and he heard Bran take a deep breath. “…Robb, Jon, Arya, Theon and Gendry are all in jail.”
Ned nearly dropped his phone. “They’re WHAT?”
“Mormont, I want my one phone call!”
Jon was sitting with his head between his knees, his head throbbing, as Theon rattled on the bars of the holding cell for the fifth time in half an hour.
Outside, Chief Mormont was sitting at his desk, flipping through a magazine and looking annoyed. “For the last time Greyjoy, you don’t get one phone call, because you’re not under arrest. Just sit there and be quiet until someone can come and pick you up.” Theon frowned at him and crossed his arms, but planted his ass down on the crude metal bench.
When the police had arrived at the Dreadfort, Ramsay had been quick to say he wanted to press charges, but Mormont quickly discerned that Ramsay was no innocent victim and had gotten quite a few hits in himself. They were all ushered off to the Winterfell County Police Station, Ramsay and his crew placed in a holding cell at one side of the building while Jon, Robb, Arya, Gendry and Theon were shoved into another at the opposite end. They weren’t under arrest, except for a few of Ramsay’s Hounds who had been caught with illegal substances on them, but Mormont wasn’t going to let them go until someone could come to take them all home. As for Jon, he was going to be on desk duty at the station for the foreseeable future.
“You’re lucky I’m not firing you,” Mormont had whispered to him, as he locked them into the holding cell. “But I like you, kid, and I have a sister too. If someone did to her what that punk did to yours, I probably would’ve killed him. Just make sure you've learned your lesson, all right?” Jon promised him he had.
Now they were all waiting, sore and full of shame, for Sansa to come get them. Ned and Catelyn had taken the minivan and Robb and Gendry’s keys were in their pockets, so Jon hoped that she would show up in an Uber and not call their father. Even though he was a grown man with a job, he felt like a boy again when he had to look into Ned Stark’s eyes after doing something wrong.
Jon cradled his hand, bruised and bloodied from punching Ramsay, while Arya was pressing tissues against Gendry’s nose, which finally seemed like it had stopped bleeding. “Yeah, that’s really broken.” She sighed. “Babe, I can’t believe you got your nose broken defending my sister’s honor. That’s…that’s kinda hot.”
Gendry chuckled. “And who knew my girlfriend had such a mean right hook? At the risk of sounding totally lame, I’m proud of you.”
Arya grinned and then dropped the tissues so she could kiss Gendry unabashedly, and when Jon saw her tongue slip into his mouth, he groaned and looked away.
“Seven hells Arya! Get a room, why don’t you?”
His sister glared at him. “We do have a room – it’s called a fucking holding cell, thanks to Theon over there and his genius idea.”
“Why are you bitching?” Theon said. “I’m the one who got kicked in the balls. And Myranda’s nails are probably going to leave a mark on my face.”
“Yeah well, if anyone comments on it, just tell them you’re into some kinky shit. I doubt anyone will have a hard time believing you.”
Robb, meanwhile, had his back to them, staring at the crappy looking metal toilet in the corner of the cell. “I have to pee, but I don’t want to use that.”
Arya snorted. “What, do you want us all to cover our eyes?”
“Just go, man.” Theon said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve seen your dick before.”
Robb turned around, looking perturbed, while Arya burst out laughing. “What?” The former said.
“We were roommates for four years – you honestly thought I hadn’t seen it once or twice?”
“You know,” Arya said. “I think someday Robb and Theon might get too drunk one night and end up accidentally marrying each other.”
“Who says it will be an accident?” Theon joked, and off Robb’s confused look, he shrugged. “What? If you’re not a little bit gay for your best friend, you’re doing friendship wrong.”
“No way – ” Robb and Gendry started to say at the same time Arya said “yeah, pretty much”, and Jon only shrugged.
“Hey Theon?” He said. “Since we’re all stuck here together, there’s something we’ve been wanting to ask you…how do you keep getting into our house?”
Jon and Robb both looked at him, and Theon glanced from one of them to the other, then at Arya. “Easy. Your dad keeps a spare key in the planter.”
Robb cursed. “Seriously, man? I thought you were climbing in through the window!”
“Why would I do that? And don’t say anything to your dad – he really thinks that he’s come up with some genius hiding place. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
Mormont got up from his desk and walked out for a minute, and when he returned, they could hear the clicking of shoes against the linoleum. Sansa appeared and paused in front of the holding cell. Her red hair was pulled back into a ponytail and she’d changed into a pair of shorts and one of Robb’s college sweatshirts. Jon saw that she now had makeup covering her black eye, though bits of purple were peeking through the foundation, and her lip was swollen. “I told you,” She said. “Oh my gods, I so told you.”
Even now, Sansa just had to be a bit of a know-it-all, but Jon was secretly glad she was back to her usual, annoying self. “Yeah, yeah.” He said. “You can gloat in the car. Now can you get us out of here?”
Sansa looked from one of them to the other. “You know, you’re right. I don’t need to give you a lecture. Someone else already has that covered.”
Robb covered his face with his hands and Arya jumped up from her seat, detangling herself from Gendry. Ned Stark came to pause in front of the cell, his arms crossed over his chest, his tie now undone about his neck. Ned had never been the type of father who raised his voice at his children – Jon could count on one hand the number of times he’d ever seen Ned really, truly yell – but there was no doubt in Jon’s mind that his dad was pissed.
Mormont cleared his throat and touched Sansa gently on the arm. “If you’ll follow me Miss Stark, I have the necessary paperwork for you to fill out.” Sansa nodded, shot her siblings one last apologetic look, and then followed Mormont into his office.
Ned stood there and stared at them for a minute, making eye contact with each one of them, which only made Jon feel worse than he already did. Even Theon looked apologetic now, and Gendry looked like he wanted to melt into the floor and die. “Dad,” Robb began tentatively. “Can you let us out of here now?”
Ned only shook his head. “I have half a mind to let the five of you sit in there all night and think about what you’ve done.” He said. “But I won’t. My children, the delinquents…”
“Dad,” Arya objected fiercely. “He hit Sansa! We wanted to teach him a lesson!”
“Yes Arya, I am perfectly aware of what it was he did.” Ned’s voice was so sharp in that instance that even Arya flinched, but then his eyes softened, and Jon could see that he was just as upset about what had happened as the rest of them were. “Sansa is with Mormont right now pressing charges. When she’s done I’m taking you all home, and your mother will have a word with you.” Jon gulped. If Ned was this mad, he could only imagine how Catelyn would react when she saw them all.
Once Sansa had finished filing her complaint against Bolton, Mormont fetched the keys to unlock the holding cell and they were all ushered out, heads hung in shame. “I’d say I hope to see you again soon,” Mormont said drily. “But I don’t. You kids stay out of trouble, and Jon – ” His boss turned to him with a knowing look. “ – I’ll see you on Monday. I think the next month you spend filling out paperwork and filing things will be a fitting punishment.”
Wearily, he nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Well,” Theon said. “At least we have a cool story to tell now. The one where we all go to jail. Someday we’ll all laugh about this, right?”
His words provided little consolation.
Ned was silent as he led them all out to the Stark family minivan, the only car in the lot other than the police vehicles. It was after midnight now and the world was quiet, except for the occasional siren in the distance or faraway laughter carried on the summer wind. Ned unlocked the car and they all climbed inside, Ned into the driver’s seat, Sansa riding shotgun. Arya sat herself between Jon and Gendry in the backseat while Robb and Theon climbed into the fold-up third row, and the engine roared to life as Ned put the keys in the ignition. Sansa put her ballet flat clad feet up on the dashboard and reached for the radio, but Ned’s voice made her halt. “No,” He said firmly. “We’ll ride in silence.”
With a frown, Sansa slumped back into her seat, pulling her knees up to her chest. Jon couldn’t see Robb and Theon from where he was sitting, but Arya was staring down at her lap and peeling her black nail polish off, and poor Gendry looked like he wanted to die.
Wordlessly Ned turned around in his seat so that he could look at all of them. “Now,” He sighed. “Before I say anything, is there anything else you kids would like to fess up to?”
There was a long silence, and all of them looked at each other. “…Arya and Gendry are going out.” Theon blurted.
Arya jumped up in her seat. “Theon!”
“What? Maybe now he’ll be mad at you instead of me. Should I make it better by telling him about your killer right hook?”
Arya scowled, and looked at her father. “Theon would go gay for Robb, might have a drinking problem, and he knows about your key in the planter!”
For a moment, Ned didn’t say anything. “…You really found my spare key? I thought that was a good hiding place.”
Theon sighed. “Way to go, Arya. Now you broke your dad’s heart.”
“That’s not important.” Ned said firmly, getting back to the point of this conversation. “I am very disappointed in you - all of you. Robb, Jon, Theon, Gendry – you’re all adult men. You should know better than this. Arya – you could’ve been hurt. I know you are very smart and very capable, but you’re still a seventeen-year-old girl, and I don’t want you running around chasing men twice your size. And Sansa – ” His eyes softened when he looked at his injured elder daughter, and with a slight sigh he placed his hand on top of her own. “I love you very much sweetheart. I hope you know that I am not angry with you for anything that happened with Ramsay, and I think you did the right thing telling Chief Mormont what happened. I only wish you had come to me instead of letting your siblings go start a fight. You know you can tell me absolutely anything and I will always love and support you, right honey?”
Sansa nodded, and her eyes appeared to have filled up with tears. “I’m sorry, Daddy. And I love you too. Thank you.”
Now, Ned turned to look at the rest of them again. “That goes for all of you. I love and care about each of you – yes, even you two, Gendry and Theon – and I just want all of you to be safe. And because I care about all of you, I have to punish you, so this kind of thing doesn’t happen again, understand?”
They all nodded, mumbling “sorry, Dad” or “thank you, sir” or “yes, Mr. Stark.”
“Robb, Jon, Arya, you’re all grounded for the next month. No car, no friends coming over, ten p.m. curfew, and you can’t go out unless you tell me where you’re going first and text me every hour. That last part applies to you as well, Sansa, and Bran and Rickon for allowing this recklessness to occur. And that’s on top of any other punishments your mother sees fit to give you.”
“But Dad,” Robb said. “Jon and I are moving out in two weeks after I graduate.”
“I don’t care,” Ned said. “I’m postponing your move until your punishment is over. And this means that neither of you can come over either, Theon and Gendry, so you better say your goodbyes tonight. Is that understood?”
Ned switched the car into drive and started to pull out, but then he paused and put his foot on the brake, turning to look at them again. “Your mother was worried sick about you, and she is very upset about your behavior tonight. She’s probably sitting at home right now mentally rehearsing the lecture she’s going to give you.”
Jon frowned. “We really are sorry, Dad. We just wanted to stick up for Sansa.”
“I know you kids did, and I’m glad that you all want to look out for each other. It’s nice to know that with all the other things I have to worry about, I can know that you all care for each other.” Ned paused, and was he actually…smiling?
“Buckle up. We’re making a pit stop at the store before I take you kids home. I’m buying you all ice cream to celebrate Arya’s – as Theon so eloquently put it – killer right hook. Just don’t tell Catelyn.”