The chickens needed to be fed, the eggs collected, and the piglets let outside for a run. There were lots of other chores, too, but Sandor didn’t want to even think about them. Instead, he pulled the quilt higher over his shoulder and wrapped his arms tighter around Sansa. He suspected that she was awake, too, but neither of them made a move to get up.
Sandor couldn’t get enough of Sansa. Her small warm body was tucked into his. Sandor traced his fingers down her thigh and she wiggled closer. It would be difficult for him to let go of her, even for a moment.
The first time they made love, Sansa had been stiff and uncertain, but she encouraged every touch, every stroke, every kiss. Slowly, she had relaxed and allowed herself to feel Sandor’s affection in the gentle and tender way that his skin touched hers. Any reservations she had ebbed away. Her reluctance turned to passion and she opened herself up to him utterly and completely.
As Sandor swept his large, rough hands over Sansa’s soft smooth curves, he wondered where the future would take them. Sansa had told him that she wasn’t sure she was meant to be a surgeon. If she quit now, she would be forfeiting the three years of hard work, endless nights and exhausting shifts that she’d completed for her residency, not to mention her investment in medical school. Sandor didn’t want her to make a rash decision based on him, but he didn’t want to lose her. Not now, not after they had finally been able to allow themselves to love each other.
The same thoughts had flitted through Sansa’s head. She would never ask Sandor to leave his mountain. He had been here for 25 years and built everything from the ground up with his own hands. Sandor had lived in Leeston his entire life. Granted, Leeston wasn’t exactly Sandor’s ideal paradise, but it was all he knew. Leaving here was one thing, but going to the city … Sansa would never ask him to consider that.
Sansa closed her eyes and told herself that it would all work out. The solution would present itself, she was sure. When one road is closed for maintenance, there is always an alternate route.
The month of May passed by in a whirlwind laden with affection and togetherness. Sandor and Sansa were nearly inseparable. Sansa’s knee was almost back to 100%. Doc had removed her sutures leaving behind a barely noticeable scar. A week earlier, Sansa had set up a conference call with her supervisor and the Chief of Surgery and arranged for a postponement of her residency. Postponements were very rarely granted, but Sansa had done exceptionally well – she had high marks on all her medical exams and she was an extremely talented surgeon. The fact that she was the favorite of many of her superiors helped slide her postponement under the radar. Sansa had nine months to make a decision and figure out her future.
Mine and Sandor’s future, she reminded herself. No matter what she decided, it would affect him, too.
Yesterday, Sandor had agreed to take her hunting with him. Not only did he want her to know how to use and handle a gun safely, he wanted her to become familiar with the terrain and the wilderness around her.
As they stalked through the woods over the last two days, Sandor taught her a lot about the different wildlife in the area, the trees, the plants, the lay of the land in general. He taught Sansa to use his rifle, showing her how to clean it, load it, and use the sight to line up her target.
Sansa’s first few shots went astray as she adjusted to the sound of the gun, the impact of the recoil, and learning how to line up the sight. Sandor had been pleasantly surprised when her next five shots had hit the target dead on.
“Probably for the same reason I’m a good doctor,” Sansa told him. “I have good eyesight and a steady hand.” She smiled up at Sandor with a smug grin. “I think I just might make a pretty good hunter,” she boasted.
Sandor rolled his eyes. “No you won’t.”
Sandor snatched the rifle out of her hands and checked the safety. “Because the way you tromp through the woods with your feet dragging and your tongue wagging, you’ll scare off all the game for a hundred miles.”
“But I – ”
“Shhh!” Sandor quietly pushed Sansa back against a tree and motioned her to be still. A young buck had wandered into a clearing ahead of them. Sandor aimed and fired, taking the deer down in one shot.
After gutting the deer, Sandor packed up the rifle and handed the case to Sansa. Taking the deer by its legs, he swung the buck across his back and over his shoulders and started back. Sansa was amazed at how strong Sandor was. She had known he was strong, but for any other man his size, it still would have been a two-man job to carry that kind of dead weight.
As they trudged back into the clearing around Sandor’s cabin. They looked up to see Sam’s car parked in the dooryard. Sam came out of the cabin, not expecting to see Sandor and Sansa. He bolted across the expanse of yard toward them.
“I was just leaving you a note,” he explained breathlessly. “Shawn’s crashed his car.” Sam gasped to get his breath. “His girlfriend … doubled over in pain.” Sam’s word’s blurred together in a panic. “Agony … high fever …” he sputtered between gasps of air.
“Why are you here, Sam? Why didn’t you get Doc Tormund?” Sansa asked.
“Because Doc’s rotation has him in Fielding this week,” Sandor told her.
“His rotation? I don’t understand.”
“Never mind,” Sandor told her. “You go with Sam. I have to take care of this,” he shrugged indicating the deer carcass. “I’ll catch up.”
Sansa got in the car with Sam, and they sped into Leeston.
When they arrived back in town, Sam pulled up at Doc’s office. Inside, Gilly was waiting with Shawn. His girlfriend, Theresa, was writhing in pain and curled into the fetal position. She was pale, feverish and uttering a sound that was somewhere between a moan and a wail. Gilly was trying to keep her calm and wiping her forehead.
Sansa was instantly angry. “Was she wearing her seatbelt?” Sansa asked him abruptly as she began to examine Theresa. Her pulse was thready and her skin was hot.
Shawn shook his head.
“She never should have been in that car with you,” Sansa berated him. “The way you drive, you have no business carrying passengers.”
“I was being really careful,” Shawn whined. The boy was pale and frightened.
“If you were being so careful, then why wasn’t she wearing a fucking seatbelt!” Sansa shouted. It was always carelessness like that that ended up in tragedy.
“She said it hurt her belly too much to have it on,” Shawn told her.
Sansa paused in her examination, her anger suddenly gone. “Are you telling me she was like this before you crashed?”
Shawn nodded with exaggeration. “She had a stomach ache but it was really bad, so she asked me to take her to the hospital in Klamath. I started driving faster because she was in so much pain."
“Oh, God.” Sansa turned back to Theresa. “Hold her down flat,” she instructed Sam and Shawn.
Sandor rushed into the office. “What’s going on?” he asked. Sansa gave Sandor a worried look, then lifted Theresa’s blouse. Sam held down the girl’s legs while Shawn held her shoulders. Gilly kept wiping her face and tried to keep her calm. Theresa shuddered and moaned loudly.
Sansa pressed her fingers down either side of Theresa’s abdomen. It was rigid and swollen. At a certain spot, Theresa wailed in pain when Sansa put pressure on her. Sansa looked up at everyone trying to control the expression on her face.
“She has a ruptured appendix. I need to operate on her, but I can’t do it here in Doc’s office, she’ll never make to the hospital, and I don’t have a sterile room.”
“Yes, you do,” Sandor informed her. “Leeston Cold Storage.”
“The butcher shop?” Shawn exclaimed.
Sansa nodded. “It has a stainless steel table and it's completely sanitized,” Sansa agreed. “It’s all we’ve got.”
Sandor carefully lifted the girl onto a stretcher. Shawn helped him put it in the back of Sandor’s truck where Sam and Shawn rode beside her to keep Theresa as immobile as possible. Gilly helped Sansa gather the instruments and supplies she would need from Doc’s office.
At the Cold Storage, the butcher told them he would help in any way he could. Sansa immediately got to work setting up her makeshift operating room. She asked the butcher for a telephone with a speaker phone and to set it up in the room. Sansa wanted access to call someone at Grey-Sloane Memorial “just in case.”
“I’ve done this operation dozens of times already, but if something goes wrong, I don’t want to waste time looking for a phone.”
But Sansa didn’t need to make a phone call, because the operation went without a hitch. Gilly, Sandor, and the butcher (who had at least some knowledge and skill with anatomy) assisted Sansa in whatever way they could, while Sam kept Shawn company in the cold storage office. While they were waiting, Sam had a heart-to-heart with Shawn. Sam told him the long and sordid truth about his uncle, and about what had really happened up on the mountain.
Sandor watched Sansa work, impressed with her focus and professionalism as she performed flawlessly. Nothing got in the way of her concentration, even when infected tissue erupted from Theresa’s abdomen, causing a rather loud squawk from Gilly, and a stream of profanity from Sandor.
Sansa was amazing. Sandor had to convince her to continue with her surgical residency. It was ridiculous for Sansa to give up on her career just to be with him. It would be a waste of her skills and talent. Sandor didn’t want to be away from Sansa, and he knew he would be miserable in any city let alone being that far away from his mountain home, but they would just have find a way and work it out.
Sandor forced himself to face the truth. He would have to give her up. Sansa belonged in a hospital, and he belonged here where he’d always been.
“I’m going to sit with Theresa for a while until she comes out of anesthesia,” Sansa told Sandor. “If you want to head home, Gilly told me she’d help clean up here. Sam will give me a ride back later.”
Sandor tried to hide the sadness that threatened to overwhelm him. Their time together had been too short. Sandor was about to lose the most wonderful woman that had ever come into his life. Sandor Clegane had fallen helplessly, hopelessly in love, but he couldn’t be selfish and try to hold onto her.
Sandor would have told her he’d stay and help, but he would have made himself useless for thinking about what he needed to tell her when they got home. He kissed her and told her he’d see her later.
As Sandor was about to climb in his truck, Shawn and Sam came running toward him.
“Umm, Mr. Clegane?” Shawn said awkwardly. Shawn turned to look at Sam who was standing slightly behind him.
Sam nodded toward his uncle. “Go on, then,” Sam told Shawn giving his shoulder a nudge.
Shawn was nervous and reluctant. “I just wanted to apologize for being such a dickhead,” he told Sandor. Shawn gestured to Sam. “Sam told me all about you. I didn’t know,” he said shaking his head. “That don’t matter, I guess, I was just an asshole.” He looked Sandor in face. “I’m sorry and I want to say thanks for helping out with Theresa. Y’all saved her life I expect.”
Sandor pointed a finger in Shawn’s face. “If you or any of your friends ever call me a freak again, I’ll hammer your ass into the ground. Got me?”
Shawn gulped and nodded, then shook the hand that Sandor offered him.
Sandor heard Sam’s car pull into the dooryard. By the time he got downstairs, Sam had left again. Sansa came rushing into the cabin like a Tasmanian Devil.
“That was amazing!” she squealed running into Sandor’s arms. He swung her around and hugged her tightly.
“I thought you said you’ve done that operation before,” Sandor said, confused.
“Hundred times,” Sansa said tearing off her jacket and twirling excitedly. “But that’s not the exciting part." Sansa sat down at the table and dragged Sandor with her. As soon as he sat, Sansa was up again and pacing the room.
“So when Sam and I were driving into town, he explained the situation with Doc Tormund. So then I called Doc Tormund and talked to him – he’s in Fielding this week – and he thinks it’s a great idea. But, oh, wait … First, I called Seattle and talked to Dr. Webber and explained the situation and he’s going to talk to the board and Doc Tormund agreed to be my attending and then I can come back!”
Sansa waited for Sandor’s reaction. He didn’t have one because he hadn’t understood one frigging thing that had come out of Sansa’s mouth. Clearly she was ecstatic, but he couldn’t quite grasp why.
“Don’t you think that’s amazing?” Sansa asked.
“I’m not even sure what you just told me,” Sandor said blankly.
Sansa shook her fists in Sandor’s face and growled with frustration. “I’m going to be Leeston’s town doctor!”
Sam had explained to Sansa that it was really difficult for small isolated towns like Leeston to find dedicated physicians. As a result, some of the towns accepted a physician on a rotation basis. Doc Tormund rotated his services spending one week in Leeston, one in Fielding and two alternating weeks in Crestwood which was the largest of the three towns.
After a long talk with both Doc Tormund and Richard Webber, the Chief told her it might be possible to get Sansa a four-year fast track as long as she could find a way to continue her surgical training at a nearby hospital over an extended period of time.
“Dr. Webber told me it’s not a guarantee, but he would try. I’d have to go into Klamath Falls at least a couple times a month to perform surgery. But it means I could stay here, Sandor.” Sansa got on her knees in front of Sandor and put her head in his lap. Sandor stroked her hair.
“Leeston would have its own doctor, I wouldn’t have to give up the time I’ve put in so far …” Sansa looked up into Sandor’s adoring face. “And I get to stay here with you.”
Sandor smiled with a combination of pride, relief, and love. He was about to tell her he loved her, but Sansa wrinkled her nose as she chewed on her lip.
“There is one small catch,” she told him.