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The Truth in the Lie

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Jon felt happy. The good kind of happy. The best kind of happy. The sort of happy that made him smile and laugh more times in a handful of hours than he had all the rest of the year prior. Or, so it felt.

He also felt drunk, and his sober mind knew that the happiness was not to last. His drunk mind took this as encouragement to enjoy said happiness to the fullest.

He watched Sansa Stark slip off to the bathroom on her own, midnight blue dress tight around her hips and quite fantastic ass, his eyes drifting up her back (predominantly exposed by a sheer sort of fabric that reached over her shoulders to cover most of her cleavage, meaning only a small amount of it was actually covered by the opaque fabric hugging her form) to the spattering of freckles over her shoulders. Gorgeous deep red hair piled atop her head, her slim, undoubtedly elegant neck exposed to all the world. He’d never thought anyone’s neck elegant before.

The bar was a tad crowded, but with her strap-laden silver heels, Sansa was taller than over ninety per cent of the women and close to seventy-five per cent the men. She was most certainly taller than him.

Jon’s eyes tracked her, and he was not the only one. Robb cleared his throat slightly, taking a long pull of his beer. “Four minutes and we’ll ask a server to check the bathroom. That’s . . .” He checked his phone hastily. “Twelve past one.”

“Wish Margaery had made it,” Jon said, eyeing his own half-finished ale. He couldn’t remember how many it was, or how many rounds of shots there had been. Only that Sansa was keeping up, a fact both troubling and immensely worrying.

Her last break up had been worse than her first, a feat no one had thought possible until they met the second man. Jon had broken his nose, nearly his jaw too. Theon had grabbed Sansa’s hand and helped her into his car and left. Jon took her car and followed. According to Theon, she didn’t cry until they reached the flat Jon shared with Theon and Robb, until she saw the fear in Robb’s eyes and the blood on Jon’s knuckles.

No one spoke of it, not even with five months distance. Sansa was better these days, according to Arya and Margaery, but she had her dark moments. Jon could relate.

Going out with her and the boys, like old times, was supposed to help. Jon wished she was half as happy as he was. Even if it was just the booze.

He and Robb kept on alert, watching the crowds for that pop of red and cream and blue. At 1:11:16, she appeared.

Jon loved the way she walked. Straight back, shoulders wide, face of stone with vibrant blue eyes darkened into a death glare to rival her mother’s. Not even Arya’s compared. It made the hair on his arms stand up every time.

Jon was a little scared of Sansa Stark sometimes, and he’d have it no other way.

He’d been Robb’s best friend since before anyone could remember. He was always at their old but large manor growing up. Sansa had always been a blip on the radar, an extra and exceedingly easy target for teasing, mimicking her mother’s exasperated frowns at the dirt and bruises covering him and Robb. Theon joined when they were all nine, and the trio had been an unstoppable force of nature since.

Sansa hadn’t registered fully as a human being, a woman, until the latest break up. She’d been in the South for the first, though Robb had tried to go down and drag her out sooner. She got out on her own. She came North, but Jon had been so preoccupied with his ex-girlfriend dying of fucking cancer to spend much time with anyone else.

He still couldn’t believe that snooty little Sansa Stark had been the one thing that could draw him out of his grief ridden depression. Or that he would stay out of it for . . . Well, ever since, for the most part.

He must’ve been drunker than he thought if he was reminiscing so much. He’d made a conscious effort to remain in the present and near future of late. His therapist thought it was a good idea, and Jon didn’t disagree.

“This place is a little loud, isn’t it?” Sam half-shouted.

“Aye, but none of us can fucking drive some’ere else, can we?” Theon laughed. “I’m good to fuck or fight, preferably fuck, but driving isn’t happening.”

Theon was not just drunk, but cross-faded, and Jon agreed with his assessment.

The crowd shifted in a rare moment of surreptitious bad luck for a stranger. Sansa was nearly back to them, in fact she was already starting to pull her purse off her shoulder to replace it over the back of her chair. Jon stood because he definitely needed to take a piss before he finished his beer. Sansa touched his shoulder so he wouldn’t bump into her accidentally, and he turned to look at her, a little surprised at his too-wobbly legs.

A stray hand splayed between her legs from behind, and Sansa locked up with a strangled gasp. Her shoulders raised almost to her ears as she folded in on herself. She didn’t even move away.

Jon barely heard the coarse laugh. Chairs scraped and Sansa said his name. Robb’s too.

His fists clenched, his blood boiled.

Sam grabbed one of Robb’s arms and Theon the other, dragging him back before he could do anything.

Jon saw red. He took Sansa’s wrist, her hand still on his shoulder, and pulled her into his space, pushing her toward his vacated chair and stepping forward.

He still had a slight grip on her when he decked the asshole. He released her fully, taking another step forward, grabbing the man’s shirt and delivering another brutal blow. He held the far shorter, middle-aged man up on his toes. His eyes were hazy and unfocused.

“Apologize,” Jon snarled. “Or I’ll break your fingers one by fucking one.”

“S’m- Uhm sorry’m,” he slurred.

Sansa’s nails dug into Jon’s shoulder. It was very possible they’d been doing so for quite some time. Jon barely registered it. Her voice came very close to his ear. “I’m all right, Jon. Let him go. Jon. Jon, let him go.”

He did, shoving the man back slightly.

“Let’s go,” Sansa said softly. Jon nodded dully, pulling out his wallet and dropping several notes on the table. Sam let go of Robb to do the same. Then Theon.

Robb held out a hand to Sansa. She took it and they marched out together. Jon frowned, putting and extra couple of tenners down and following them, grabbing Theon and Sam as he did.

He flexed his knuckles as they hit the pavement outside. Humid summer air threatened to choke him as he tried to reboot his mind. He just kept seeing Sansa’s shoulders raise, hearing that little squeak of fear.

He knew his hands were trembling even as they all broke into a run, Sansa heels in Robb’s hands, dashing across the street and around the corner. A narrowly avoided misdemeanor had taught them not to stick around after something like that. They paid in cash so there’d be no card with their names, only likely standard definition security footage from a bad angle or two. They didn’t go around picking fights, but when your best mate’s little sister was objectively very fucking hot, shit happened.

He’d never straight punched a man for her before the latest break up. That made two. And he craved a good one on the first bastard as well. Usually, it was Robb doing the punching. Theon could hold him back in his sleep, though he knew when not to, and Sam (while a newer addition to their troop) knew exactly what to say to get through to him. Jon was normally the one standing between the asshole and his friends. He knew from experience that he could take a hit or two. He de-escalated things; he was de-escalator. Not a mad man with fists of fury.

They stopped near their parking lot, Sam doubling over with a wheeze. Sansa searched her purse and procured his inhaler hastily. Jon folded his hands behind his head and wandered out of the streetlight’s glow, trying to force the thick air through his lungs. He felt unsteady, trembling from the adrenaline. He spit at the asphalt, trying to get the bitter taste from his mouth.

“Broken glass,” Theon muttered. “Watch your step.”

Sansa touched his shoulder before Jon could turn and ask what he was on about. She was barefooted, now that Robb had her heels. Sam took a greedy puff from his inhaler.

“Are you all right?” Sansa asked lowly.

“Should be asking you that,” Jon grumbled. She nodded, grabbing his wrist out from behind his head and turning his hand over so his knuckles showed.

“Not so bad,” she pushed at the knuckle of his middle finger, which was bleeding. She released him and dug into her purse again, procuring a small water bottle and a band-aid. He took the water and downed half it before screwing the lid back on and tossing it toward Theon, who caught it deftly. Sansa unwrapped the band-aid.

“‘Nother bar?” Theon passed the water to Robb. He procured what had affectionately been dubbed The Weeder (for it’s ability to weed out the weak from the strong), a vape pen that went through cartridges faster than a Tully through water. Theon’s lung capacity was a marvel; Robb coughed through his second hit trying to match him.

Sansa’s fingers shook too much to fully free the little bandage. Jon took it from her, willing his hands steady as they brushed against hers. He tore open the package and handed her the garbage, knowing the lecture he’d get if he crumpled it into a ball and threw it as far as he could. She helped him apply the band-aid since the injury was to his dominant hand.

“Thanks.”

“My hero,” she smiled slightly, then turned to pick her way back over to her brother. Jon grabbed her hand hastily.

“Your- uh, your dress,” Jon cleared his throat. He tried to say it as quietly as humanly possible. “Pull it down a little.”

It must have ridden up while she was running, and her ass was starting to hang out. Not that that was a bad thing, but he didn’t think her aware of it. Sure enough, her ears went pink as she gripped the hem and tugged it down a good few inches.

“Thanks, Jon,” she said.

“I’d keep going,” Robb said, looking to Sansa. He was not one to end on a low note.

“Bouncers round here all know each other,” Jon shook his head. “I’m out, and there’s only so many fight-starting redheads.”

“I didn’t start anything!”

“He meant fight-starting-worthy,” Theon said.

Jon sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “That doesn’t make sense, Theon.”

“Well,” Sam shrugged a shoulder. “It sort of does, really.”

“Sam.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere else anyway,” Sansa cut in before they could start bickering. She’d referred to Jon and Sam as ‘The Husbands’ since Robb had started inviting her to hangout. This despite Sam’s very pregnant fiancee. “You guys go on, I’m . . . I’m done.”

Robb and Jon had a conversation in the way only they could. Jon met his eyes, Robb took a hit from The Weeder. Jon nodded. Robb shrugged, exhaling smoke with a light cough. Sansa rolled her eyes, flipping them both off.

They turned to her with a frown. “It’s rude to interrupt.”

“Give me the keys, Robb. I’ll wait in the car, I don’t need a damned bodyguard,” Sansa held out her hand, marching forward.

The next look the men shared was tinged with panic. “How in seven hells-“

“Please, I’ve known you two since I was born,” Sansa huffed. “And while it’s considerate that you’d think sitting in a locked car unsafe for me, I think I’ll be just fine.”

Robb threw her the keys. She turned and headed across the parking lot without waiting. Jon grumbled, taking her shoes from Robb and jogging after her. “Sansa!”

“Jon, I really don’t- Ow!” She stopped abruptly, holding dead still. Jon saw why very quickly: as Theon had warned, there was broken glass littering the parking lot. She’d walked straight into a little minefield of it.

“Don’t move,” Jon murmured, coming around in front of her. “Hold these.” He gave her the shoes, then put his back to her. She jumped up without much hesitation but another pained whimper.

“I think it’s stuck in there,” she said.

“I’ll take it out when we get to the car,” Jon vowed. There was first aid kit under the front seat, which would be better than whatever she had stashed away in that massive purse of hers anyhow. She wrapped her legs around his waist, and he noted even in the dim light how much she was bleeding. “Aegon incarnate, Sansa, you should’ve been paying attention-“

“I know, Jon,” she snapped. She clung slightly tighter to him. “Tonight turned sour very quickly.”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered.

“If my dress was two inches longer, it wouldn’t have happened,” she said bitterly. “Margaery thought I should wear it.”

“It’s a nice dress,” Jon said, trying for neutrality. He cleared his throat as they started weaving through cars. Robb had to park on the exact opposite side of the lot. “Doesn’t give anyone permission to touch you, though.”

“Yes, well,” Sansa let out a sharp breath that tickled the back of his neck. His dark, curly hair was trapped at the top of his head in an efficient knot. Sansa might’ve drowned in it otherwise. “If only your species grasped that concept fully.”

Jon shook his head, “Treating us as incapable of doing so only makes things worse. Everyone’s accountable for their own actions. Or, they should be.”

Sansa was quiet as they wandered, trying to catch sight of Robb’s little silver hatchback. It was like a clown car when the five of them went out; people just kept tumbling out of the back seat. “You graduated with honors, right?”

“Magna cum laude,” he confirmed.

“And law school when?”

“When I pay off the debt I’ve already got,” Jon scoffed. “Probably ‘round my mid-forties.” He tried not to dwell on that. “The firm I’m working with might offer to pay for it, though. If not . . . I don’t know that they’ll keep me on when they find out I can’t afford it.”

“That’s stupid,” Sansa hummed. “It’s over there.” She pointed over his shoulder, and he followed that to the sight of Robb’s dinged up but clean car. Sansa fumbled with her shoes and the keys for a moment, then she unlocked the car, making the lights flash twice as it chirped.

Using the flashlight on his phone and a pair of tweezers, Jon carefully pulled out the small piece of brown glass embedded in the sole of Sansa’s foot. She found another of those little water bottles and screwed off the top. Jon used it to clean off her foot, then some anti-bacterial spray from the first aid kit. A bit of gauze and some medical tape and she was as good as new.

If only it were that simple, Jon thought.

They sat in the car in silence for some time. Jon turned it on only to crack his window before turning it off and locking it. Sansa stayed in the back seat, lying down and letting her hair out of it’s tie.

He got a text from Robb about half an hour later. Piishng in bush. On wst bacj. She kkag?

Jon sighed, trying to translate the drunken idiot into normal talk. Sansa’s fine. No need to hurry.

“Robb is worried about you,” Jon finally spoke, though he wasn’t entirely sure she was even awake. There was no blue glow to indicate she was on her phone. Sansa sighed softly.

“I know.”

“Coming out was supposed to be fun.”

“I know.” Her voice was weak, broken. Jon frowned, turning in his seat to look back at her. She held one hand to the light, picking at her nails.

“Sansa.”

She looked at him, her pretty blue eyes dark.

“Tell him no next time,” he said slowly. “He loves you but he doesn’t know what to do. You have to set boundaries.”

“I want to be fine,” Sansa whispered. “If I just do everything like before . . . It’ll be fine.”

“That’s not how it works,” Jon said, trying to keep his exasperation out of his voice.

“Yeah, and you’re doing so well.”

When Sansa was younger, she was a brat. Her mother’s first girl, one who wanted to be a lady through and through. The only thing her mother had ever scolded her for, in front of him, Robb, or Theon, was her scathing wit.

“How do you think I know it doesn’t work?” Jon snapped back, glaring at her. “You think when she died that I just moved back home for shits and giggles?!”

“I hate that phrase,” Sansa wrinkled her nose, turning her head toward the seat to avoid his gaze.

“You can’t just run and hide.”

“Actually, that’s worked out all right when I can manage it,” Sansa mumbled. Jon clenched his fists.

“You have to do better-“

“Why?! Because you and Robb demand it?!” Sansa sat straight up, her finger very quickly in his face. “I’m done with that.”

She got out of the car and limped away a few paces, her arms stubbornly crossed. Jon grumbled but didn’t go after her. He took a deep breath and watched her. She kept her back straight, paced a step or two this way, a step or two that way. It was clear that it pained her.

He opened his door. “Come sit down.”

She ignored him. He didn’t know what he expected. He rubbed at his jaw a moment and climbed out, leaning against the car door. “They’re on their way back. Sit in the car.”

She kept limping and pacing. He marked every wince with every other step.

“Sansa.”

He sighed, venturing toward her. Red leaked through the white bandage he’d made. “You feel like losing a foot to a stupid infection?”

She glared at him over her shoulder. “I need to stop hanging out with men.”

“There’s a couple of ladies at work I can introduce you to,” Jon offered. “Lawyers and the like.” Sansa pursed her lips for a moment. “If you want.”

“I’m going to sit in the car,” Sansa said imperially. She lifted her chin stubbornly, and Jon waited for her to break. Starks were a different breed of overly willful. He’d seen Robb admit to failure about twice. The little ones were worse. Arya had a way of twisting things to her favor no matter the outcome. Bran was as infallible as any fifteen year old boy thought he could be. Rickon was wild and unapologetic.

Finally, Jon caved. “Do you need help?” Sansa dipped her chin only once, then cast her gaze to their feet. Jon picked her up easily, an arm around her shoulders and the other under her knees. She wrapped hers around his neck but still didn’t look at him.

The smallest little thank you was all he got. He closed the back door behind her and went and sat on the hood. Her warmth didn’t linger long enough.

He’d often been mistaken for either Sansa’s brother or her boyfriend. Never anything in between. Part of it was that Jon never really thought much about Sansa. They’d grown up together, and then she’d been gone, and then she was back. He beat the living shit out of her second ex because he was a vile monster. He liked to think he’d do the same for any woman who called him and his friends up in the middle of the night. He wasn’t sure it was true.

The problem was, if he looked too close, he might find something he could fuck up. He’d fucked up a lot of things in his life, but he absolutely refused to fuck up things with Sansa, because that would fuck up things with Robb. He was good at fucking things up, really good. Most were little fuck-ups, prone occurring at exactly the wrong moment. They built up too quickly for his liking. He’d most definitely fucked things up with Ygritte, even before the universe expounded on that fuck up and gave her brain cancer. Honestly, Jon Snow had been born because of one big fuck up, and he’d lived up to that mistake quite well.

A knock on the window behind him made him start. Sansa waved at him. Jon sighed and came round, opening her door. “What?”

“Your brooding thing,” Sansa said. Jon scowled at her. “That’s what it is, don’t deny it. I just . . . How do you stop? How d’you get out of your own head?”

Her face was guarded, eyes narrowed, mouth downturned, brows cinched together. Yet innocence still churned amongst the blue of her eyes. They’d always teased Sansa for liking fairytales, then when she was older for reading romances. Jon was glad she hadn’t lost that belief in . . . in good things, perhaps. In honor and hope.

“Jon?”

He realized abruptly that he had no idea how long he had been staring. He smiled awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Obviously I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

She smiled a little. “What does a dolt like you have to think about?”

“All the different ways a person could be intelligent,” Jon smirked. “My Dean’s List awards, the recommendations written by my professors, the people at work who find my additions helpful, the statutes and precedents I have memorized-“

“You know, I held a four point through-“

“Your English degree, I know,” Jon said, unable to stop the condescending note to his voice.

“I took Calc II. You could barely pass Pre-Calc in secondary, Jon Snow.”

“Well, Sansa, I suppose you’re going to find a practical application for your knowledge of . . . Erm, whatever it is one learns in Calc II.”

“I’m going to edit for one of the largest publications in Westeros,” Sansa said.

“But you don’t, do you?”

“Oh, like you’re working for Targaryen and Sons in King’s Landing?”

Jon stiffened, and Sansa covered her mouth with her hands. He’d found out who his father was when he turned eighteen, but he’d already moved for university by then. He hadn’t told a soul for months. Sam was the first to know, given that he got Jon drunker than a sailor. Well, Jon got himself drunker than a sailor. A few weeks later, Robb knew. Jon had told Robb’s father at Christmas, and he assumed the others had been filled in discreetly after. Apparently, that was a correct assumption.

“Jon, I’m-“

“Jon!”

He groaned, recognizing the level of sobriety his best friend had reached by that one word alone.

Sure enough, Robb had an arm around Theon’s neck, and they dragged each other across the parking lot, Sam trailing behind, beet red and giggling to himself.

“Just get in the front seat,” muttered Jon. Sansa moved with surprising speed, scrambling over the center console into the passenger seat. She started opening a water as Jon finagled Robb and Theon into the back. They fought the seatbelts, but Jon won. Sam smacked his head on the door, spurring on a cacophony of laughter and concern. He fit into the back and managed to wrangle his own seatbelt until Jon heard the telltale click.

Jon was used to Robb’s car, given he didn’t yet have one of his own. The drive over to their flat went smoothly, even though Sansa had to turn the radio off. Robb and Theon could not sing, and sober they knew that. Drunk was a different story.