Sansa gripped the pleather armrests tightly. Her neighbor, a business woman in a camel suit, didn’t even look up from her laptop, but Sansa jumped every time rough air jostled the plane, and the final half hour into Denver always agitated her nerves. Normally she popped an Ambien twenty minutes before boarding her flight home and arrived vaguely dreamy and relaxed.
Nothing about this flight was normal, though. Thanksgiving was in a week, which made it easier to answer people’s polite questions about where and why she was traveling, but the terminal had been empty of other students. Margaery was her only housemate who knew that Sansa hadn’t just decided to skip her last few days of class and make her final Thanksgiving break a week long, and that was only because she had been sitting across the table in the library when Sansa had gotten the phone call.
Robb’s been in an accident. You need to come home right away.
Sansa couldn’t remember what else her mother had said. She couldn’t remember what she’d said, either. Maybe she said nothing at all, because at some point, Margaery had gently taken the phone from her fingers, had put an arm around her shoulders as they walked home, had gone on the computer and checked her in to her flight while Sansa sat on her bed and stared at her closet. Margaery had basically packed her bags, too, until Sansa had noticed her folding a black sweater.
“Not that one. I don’t need that one,” she said, pulling it away to put in back in her bottom drawer.
“Of course you won’t. Your brother is going to be fine. But it’s a lot colder in Colorado than it is here, and it’s one of the only warm sweaters you have,” Margaery had soothed, but she left the sweater in the drawer all the same.
Margaery was right about the weather, of course. Even the warm clothes she kept at school were better suited for a chilly morning on the way to class then the frosty winds of the mile-high city in late November. She’d tucked her jeans into tall brown boots and wrapped a scarf over her blouse and hoped that her mom would bring a real jacket when she picked Sansa up at the airport.
Sansa had always dreamed of going to college in the South, like her mother, where sorority girls wore pearls and pastel prints and fraternity men wore polos and Sperrys. She had taken pride in being the preppiest girl in her high school, and carefully teased the crown of her hair into a ponytail tied with curling ribbon each morning. She had imagined college to be more like a catalog photo shoot then a real place, and she’d quickly adjusted her expectations after arriving at school. Fraternity parties were filled with flat beer and boys more interested in her dad’s position as the owner of the Denver Direwolves then in actually talking to her. The brutality of sorority recruitment only confirmed that warm weather and drawling accents didn’t make the South any kinder than any other place. If it weren’t for Margaery, Sansa’s freshman roommate, whose father owned half of Savannah, she doubted she’d ever have found a place for herself amid the mobs of blonde girls who went to prep schools people in North Carolina had actually heard of.
Still, Sansa had made the best of her decision. She was majoring in art history, and she volunteered at the local SPCA twice a week. When people asked her what she wanted to do after college, Sansa could mumble something believable about getting a job at the event planning company she interned with her junior year. Her younger sister Arya scoffed whenever Sansa talked about planning weddings and playing with puppies and her classes on Italian portraiture. Only you would find a way to spend all of college looking at pretty things instead of actually studying anything. Luckily, Sansa had long ago perfected the art of rolling her eyes at her sister’s scorn.
The pilot called for the flight attendants to prepare for landing, and Sansa closed her eyes as the plane made its final descent into the airport. Images flashed before her eyes: Robb stealing second base and flashing a cocky grin at the shortstop, Robb celebrating atop the shoulders of his teammates after making it to the College World Series, Robb chosen as a starting pitcher during the NLCS playoffs just a few weeks ago. Of all the reasons to regret going to school where she did, she had never before considered the distance from home, the minutes ticking away while her family sat at in the hospital with her brother.
As soon as the plane touched down on the runway and slowed to a taxi, Sansa texted her mom. She got off the plane with her carry on over her shoulder and her phone in her left hand, but even after stopping in the bathroom and brushing knots from her hair, there was still no response. Normally Catelyn Stark monitored her daughter’s flights so closely that Sansa would get a call before she even got off the plane, so her continued silence was strange. Sansa was so focused on the screen of her phone as she walked toward baggage claim that she almost missed the low voice calling her name. She looked up.
Jon Snow was striding towards her across the arrivals terminal, one hand raised in a half wave, the other shoved somewhat awkwardly in the pocket of his dark jeans. His army green jacket was open over a red plaid flannel shirt and his long dark curls hung loose over his collar, but the tears that suddenly threatened to fill Sansa’s eyes had little to do with his lack of fashion. Seeing her brother’s oldest and best friend, tall and strong and healthy while Robb lay in a hospital bed somewhere brought back all the emotions that she’d pushed aside since the phone call last night. By the time Jon reached her, Sansa’s knees were trembling so hard that she worried they might buckle underneath her, and she threw her arms around his neck while stifling the sob that rose up in her throat.
For a beat, Jon only stiffened. After a moment, though, his arms wrapped around her back and gently held her. Sansa was hardly short, but Jon was tall enough that her chin barely reached his collarbone as she hid her face in his neck and tried to steady her breathing. She found herself focusing on his smell- pine smoke and grease and sweat- until he cleared his throat and spoke her name like a question, and Sansa jumped back, embarrassed.
“Sorry, Jon,” she said as heat rushed to her cheeks. “I didn’t mean to jump on you like that. Where’s mom? What’s going on with Robb?”
Jon gave her a half-smile, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “It’s fine. Everyone’s pretty emotional still,” he replied, running a hand through his hair and tucking it back in his pocket. “Your parents are both at the hospital. Robb’s in surgery right now, and I’m supposed to take you straight there.” He glanced doubtfully at the tote bag now resting next to her feet. “Let’s pick up your luggage and you can call your mom when we’re on our way over.”
As he turned to walk towards the baggage conveyor, Sansa noticed the station number stamped across the back of his jacket. That explains the smell. Jon had started training at the local fire station when he was still in high school, and after graduation he’d begun to work full time as a fire fighter. It explained the heavy work boots he wore, too, and the heavy muscles she couldn’t help but notice in his arms and chest when she hugged him.
Sansa quickened her pace before Jon could catch her staring at his back. “Why is Robb in surgery? Will he be okay?”
Jon gave her a long look before he answered, as if trying to figure out how she would handle his news. “What did you mom tell you about his accident?”
“To be honest, I don’t really remember. I just know she told me he was hurt and I had to come home right away.” Sansa felt heat flicker across her face again as she remembered how weak she had been, how completely her mom’s phone call had incapacitated her. Jon’s reply came in a neutral tone, though, as if he didn’t notice how pathetic she sounded.
“He was having dinner with a college teammate who was in town and a drunk driver hit his taxi on the way home. In a pick-up.” Jon paused again and gave her another evaluating look. “He hasn’t woken up yet. One of his legs is pretty roughed up, and they’re doing surgery now to set the bones and put in pins.”
“Oh,” Sansa said. She watched the baggage carousel turn in silence. If Robb still hadn’t woken up nearly twenty-four hours after the accident…
Jon’s hand settled gently on her shoulder. “Robb’s a fighter. He’ll pull through.”
It was an empty promise, but Jon’s words and the weight of his hand were reassuring all the same. Sansa turned to give him a smile and saw her bag rounding the bend of the carousel. Jon followed her gaze and gave a twisted grin at the bright pink bow that decorated the top handle of her black luggage. Sansa almost protested that the bow was actually quite practical (he hadn’t had any trouble picking out her bag, had he?), but then he plucked her bag from the conveyor belt and hoisted it past the crowd of waiting travelers with such ease that she decided to let it go.
They walked toward the parking lot in silence. Jon had insisted on carrying her suitcase after assuring her with a straight face it was no heavier than the punching bags they used for training at the station. When they reached the doors of the airport, he insisted on giving her his jacket to wear too, casting a doubtful look at her silk blouse. The lining was still warm from the heat of his back as Sansa shrugged it on, and she fought the urge to bury her nose in the cuffs to see if the smell of smoke lingered there too.
She was surprised when Jon stopped in front of an old grey Volvo station wagon. Robb had driven this car all through high school, but she’d thought he’d sold it after graduation. Once they loaded her bags in the car, Jon cranked up the heat and turned on the radio. It was tuned to some grunge rock station, music Sansa never listened to, and there was no promise of more conversation to distract her from her thoughts.
An uncomfortable number of those thoughts were about Jon himself. She had known him most of her life, had considered him something like a brother on the rare occasions she thought of him, but she had certainly never daydreamed about him. His dad had worked for her dad, in the front office of the Direwolves, but he’d died tragically somehow when Jon was young and his mother had never really recovered from losing her husband. Jon and Robb had been thick as thieves since they could walk, and by the time he was in high school Jon was spending more nights at the Stark house than at his own. He didn’t flirt with her or tease her like some of Robb’s friends; he was too serious for that, and often she thought the only times he smiled were when he horsed around with her brother. Since when were moody, shaggy-haired firefighters dressed in flannel my type?
On the other hand, fraternity boys in polos hadn’t exactly worked out for her they way she’d hoped. The less said about Joffrey Baratheon, prince of the Delta Kappas and her boyfriend for most of sophomore year, the better. But Jon was like family, and even though that made her feel safe around him, her brother’s best friend probably wasn’t the best person to chase after. As if I’ve ever chased a boy in my life. As if he would even be interested in some prissy sorority girl anyway.
When they finally arrived at the hospital, Sansa suddenly remembered that she had yet to call her mother. She dug through her bag to find her phone and dialed. Jon flicked the radio off. Her mom picked up her phone on the first ring, and Sansa felt a surge of emotion overwhelm her at the sound of a familiar voice. After assuring her mom that her flight was fine and getting directions to the wing where Robb was in surgery, Sansa hung up before her mom could make a comment on her shaking voice.
Sansa raised her hand to unlock the door, but Jon was already springing from the driver’s seat and opening it for her.
“The lock tends to get stuck from the inside,” he said, explaining away his act of chivalry. As she swung her legs out the door, he scratched the back of his neck and gave her a grimace that might have been his attempt at a sheepish smile.
“Picking up damsels stranded at the airport, lending out your jacket, opening car doors- you’ve grown up to be a regular Prince Charming,” Sansa joked. Jon’s hand jumped up to rub his neck again, and she felt bad for teasing him when he really had been so nice to her. “But really, thanks for everything, Jon.”
“It’s not a big deal. Robb’s always been like a brother to me. I want to do anything I can to help.”
Like a brother. Sansa gave herself a mental shake, forced aside all her distracting thoughts of Jon Snow, and followed him towards the hospital entrance.