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Down from the Mountain

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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.

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.

Chapter Text

The smell of coffee woke Sansa—real coffee, not the soapy instant version she’d tried last night from the hospital vending machine down the hall. Jon sat next to her with a tray of Starbucks, a cup already cradled between his hands.

“Morning,” he said as she stirred, trying to stretch out her neck. The chairs in the hospital had to be one of the least comfortable places she’d ever slept.

“What time is it?” she mumbled, then stared across his lap at the white and green cups. He took the hint and handed her one.

“6:30. I came here straight from the station. Your mom’s outside calling your dad to make plans for the day.” he answered. As Sansa took her first sip, she saw his eyebrows come together in worry. “I drink mine black, but you seem more like a milk and sugar person. I hope…”

“It’s perfect,” she reassured him. And it was. Maybe it was due to the strange situation—she hadn’t really slept the past two nights now, and everything about the hospital felt surreal—but the taste of the coffee reminded her of Jon’s voice, rich and dark, yet with a sweetness too. It was certainly sweet of him to stop at the coffee shop around the corner on his way up to visit Robb.

A few more sips and Sansa could feel herself start to wake up. She stole glances at Jon, drinking his own coffee and staring off into the middle distance towards a display on antibiotic resistance. His curls gleamed under the fluorescent hospital lights, and the collar of his shirt was dark where they brushed the back of his neck. He must have showered at the station. Dark circles spread like bruises under his eyes, and she knew they were probably mirrored on her own face.

On all of their faces, actually. Sansa only had to close her eyes again to see her parents as they’d looked the day before, when she and Jon had arrived outside Robb’s surgery ward. They had been sitting side by side under a bulletin board loudly proclaiming the hospital fire exit strategy. She’d noticed their posture first: her mom was slumped over against her dad’s shoulder, both her hands gripping one of his, while his other arm lay heavily around her shoulders. Their heads were tilted together, and her mom’s eyes were closed while her dad murmured quiet words against her temple. The Starks weren’t shy about showing each other affection, even around their children (although Rickon and Arya had a tendency to scowl at even the most innocent good-bye kiss), but Sansa thought it might have been the most intimate moment she had ever witnessed between her parents.

It had been fleeting, of course. Soon Catelyn was hugging her tightly and running her hands up and down Sansa’s back, while Ned gripped Jon’s shoulder in greeting and spoke to him in a voice so low Sansa couldn’t make out the words. Then they’d settled back into their chairs, Sansa now nested between her mom and Jon, and heard the latest update on Robb.

The news wasn’t good—two broken ribs in addition to the damage to his right hip and leg—but Sansa was relieved to know that it was a sedative keeping him asleep, not damage from the accident.

“He’s got bleeding around his brain, but his skull isn’t fractured, so the doctors are keeping him on medication to control the pressure in his brain cavity. If it gets worse, they might have to operate, but so far the MRIs have come back looking promising,” her father had explained. Then they’d sat in silence for the most part, waiting for the surgery to end.

The rest of the day had passed in a blur for Sansa, the low buzz of the lights and the constant whir of gurneys up and down the hall causing the minutes to slide together even as they stretched out endlessly. At some point her little brothers had returned to the hospital—they’d been sent home in the morning to get some sleep after spending all night in the ICU waiting room—and Sansa had thought to ask her mother when Arya’s flight would arrive. Catelyn’s jaw had tightened.

“The Burlington airport’s shut down. The mountains are getting their first big snow of the winter, and they’re saying it could be two more days before any flights get out.”

Only the week before, Sansa had been set up in the library with headphones watching Arya’s soccer team lose in the final round of the NESCAC tournament. She and Robb had texted throughout the interviews after the game, when Arya looked like she might bite the microphone out of the interviewer’s hand. Her impatience could be frightful when her emotions got the best of her, and Sansa had felt pity for the poor airline employees who had to deal with her little sister.

Jon’s voice brought her back to the present. “Did you get to see Robb again last night?”

Sansa shook her head. “The doctors were really happy that he was sleeping on his own after the surgery, so we had to leave him alone. I think they’re going to let us sit with him this morning though, when he wakes up.”

Jon nodded and took another sip of coffee, leaving unspoken the possibility that Robb wouldn’t wake up later that morning. The doctors had all been perfectly encouraging last night when they wheeled Robb out of surgery, but their words couldn’t erase the sight of her brother, pale and motionless on the gurney. She and Bran had stood on either side of their mother and wrapped their arms around her waist, while Rickon had stopped fidgeting for the first time since he arrived at the hospital. Jon had been the first to step forward and lay a hand on Robb’s shoulder.

Sansa forced herself to make more conversation to keep any more disturbing thoughts out of her mind. “Did you have a busy shift?”

“Just two minor calls. The guys let me go to bed around 2, so it wasn’t that bad. I told you I’d probably get more sleep than you would napping on these chairs.” Sansa had been alarmed when Jon had gotten up to leave the waiting room after dinner to work, but he’d insisted that “the guys” wouldn’t let him work a full shift.

“Tell me more about being a firefighter.” Sansa tried to keep the tone of her voice light, but it still came out sounding like a plea.

“I love it. I get to do a job that helps people, I mean really directly helps people, every time I go on a call. Plus everyone at the station has to work together and look out for one another, kind of like a big family. It’s like…I don’t know, you’re brothers-in-arms, going into battle against the fire.”

“You sound like Robb and Dad, talking about the sacred bonds of teamwork.” Sansa tried to smile.

“Or you and the sacred bonds of sisterhood, except without all the braiding each other’s hair and painting each other’s nails, or whatever sorority girls do,” Jon teased.

“You do seem to go for the matching t-shirts, though,” Sansa replied, with a lingering look at the fire services logo on the grey fabric that stretched across his chest. For the first time since he’d picked her up at the airport, Jon laughed. The corners of his eyes crinkled as he tilted his head back, teeth flashing white against his three day beard.

Sansa pulled her eyes from his throat and focused on her coffee instead. She wasn’t sure whether it was his laugh or a buzz from the caffeine, but she felt hot and restless. Although she’d insisted on staying with her mom the previous evening once Catelyn made it clear that she wouldn’t be going home when her son had just gotten out of surgery, she hadn’t really done anything useful except try to distract her mom with the celebrity gossip magazines that lay strewn around the waiting room. Waking up next to Jon, her anxiety felt more like giddiness, but the longer she waited outside Robb’s room with no news, the more worried she became. After she finished her coffee, Sansa glanced around for something else to take her mind off the tension in her body. In her lap, she twisted and frayed the fringe on her scarf.

Jon reached across and stilled her hands. His warm fingers interlocked with hers and squeezed gently. “Hey.” He paused until she looked up at him. “Robb’s doctors will get here soon, and at least they’ll be able to tell us something more.”

Just as he finished speaking, a nurse entered the waiting room. “Are Mr. and Mrs. Stark here?”

Jon and Sansa stood up at the same time. “I’m Sansa Stark. How is Robb?”

“We took him off the sedative an hour ago and he’s just waking up. Would you like to see him?”

“Please,” Jon said, then, realizing he still held Sansa’s hand, he stepped away awkwardly and tucked his hands in his pockets to follow the nurse down the hallway.

“My mom’s outside calling my dad,” Sansa said, trying to ignore his embarrassment. “Will someone get her when she comes back?”

“Of course,” the nurse replied as she opened the door to Robb’s room with a clang.            

Sansa’s knees shook again as she took in the sight of her brother. No longer still as death, but just as pale, he lay under a tan blanket with one leg propped up in a sling. He turned his head as far as the pillow around his neck would allow when they walked in the room.

“Well, if it isn’t Princess Sansa, returned home from the sunny South to care for her wounded knight,” he said with a grin.

Sansa couldn’t believe he would joke about something so serious. A sob caught in her throat, but she swallowed it down stubbornly. “Oh, Robb, you look awful.”

“Your kind words are as a balm for my troubles, fair lady.” Using the arm not hooked up to the IV, he pretended to clutch his chest, then winced in actual pain at his broken ribs.

Jon stepped around to stand next to her, and Robb’s eyes turned to his best friend.

“Tell your boys at the station I thought they were going to drown me with that hose before they got me out of the car. How much water does it take to put out a smoking engine, anyway?”

“You fucker,” Jon said gruffly. “Next time, I’ll tell them to let it burn so your feet don’t get cold while you wait for the EMTs.” But then they were both laughing, and Jon was gripping Robb tightly on his good shoulder. It was strange to see her brother lying immobilized while Jon stood over him, gesturing and joking; Robb had always been the louder and more active of the pair, while Jon had tagged along, his quiet shadow. Sansa remembered running into them at parties during high school. Jon would be standing against the wall and talking to a scruffy hipster in skinny jeans, or hanging out with one of the wannabe bands that had showed up with three acoustic guitars in tow. Her friends usually wanted to find Robb and the gaggle of athletes that followed him, always the life of the party. Yet Jon was here, visiting Robb in the hospital even though they’d graduated five years ago. Sansa doubted she could expect the same from any of her high school friends.

A few minutes later, Catelyn rushed through the door, a doctor following close behind. Jon and Sansa both made space for her to stand on the edge of the bed and get a good look at her son. After she fussed with his blankets and smoothed the hair on his forehead, which made Robb complain affectionately, she turned to the doctor to hear his update.

“The swelling and bleeding in your brain has gone down substantially, which is why we were able to take you off the sedative. You’re still going to have to be on IV fluids and pain medication, as well as a drug to make sure the bleeding stops completely. You can start eating solid food as soon as you have an appetite, but many patients find that this particular medication can cause nausea.”

“At least you won’t get fat while you sit on your ass and let that leg heal,” Jon quipped once Catelyn left the room with the doctor.

 

By the time her dad and the boys arrived, Robb’s mood had deteriorated significantly. No longer was he cracking jokes at his own expense and complaining good-naturedly; he faded out of the conversation into silence. They spent the day crowded around him, telling stories and asking after his every need between visits from the nurses and doctors. Catelyn and Ned took the two chairs in the room, and Sansa and Jon sat next to each other at the end of his bed, careful not to disturb his leg, leaving Bran and Rickon to sit on the floor, gangly limbs sprawled. In the afternoon, while Robb napped, a man Sansa recognized at the Direwolves team doctor arrived. He and her parents spent a long time engaged in discussion just outside the door of Robb’s room. Meanwhile, Jon entertained the boys with stories of fires he’d fought.

He didn’t thrive on being the center of attention, but Jon was good at telling stories. At fourteen and sixteen, Rickon and Bran were in their prime years of teenage disinterest, but they still sat riveted by Jon’s recollections of collapsing buildings and racing down mountains with flames behind him. Most of his stories singled out the heroics of his captain, Jeor Mormont, or Sam Tarly, the company engineer who had joined just three months after Jon himself.  As he talked, he used his hands to map out buildings and escape routes in the air in front of him, so that his t-shirt pulled tight across his shoulders as his arms flexed. Sansa’s eyes were idly tracing the lines of his veins down his forearms to his wrists when something poked her side. She jumped.

Robb was adjusting his blanket when she turned to glare at him. “How long have you been awake?”

“Long enough to get thirsty. Can you pour me some water?” He waited until she finished filling a paper cup from the water cooler in the corner to continue. “You seemed so interested in listening to Jon that I didn’t want to interrupt.”

Sansa tried to ignore the innuendo that crept into Robb’s voice, but she could feel herself blush. Jon abruptly broke off his story and asked Robb, “Are you hungry at all? They said you’re allowed to eat solid food if you feel like it.”

Robb grinned. “I say we convince mom and dad to order pizzas. I’m starving.”

In the end, Robb had to settle for eating hospital-approved soup for dinner, but her parents caved under the combined pressure of Bran and Rickon and had pizza delivered for the rest of them. Sansa carefully cut her two slices with a fork and knife so she didn’t drip grease all over her blouse and shook her head at her younger brothers, who polished off a meat lover’s deluxe each. When Catelyn took the empty cardboard boxes down the hall to the trash, Jon slipped the last piece of pepperoni from his plate onto Robb’s tray, earning an appreciative growl as he scoffed it down.

Then the Direwolves trainer returned. At first he made general comments about the accident and Robb’s injuries, filled with sympathetic platitudes. Then he said the word on everyone’s minds. “Regarding baseball…”

Her mom stood up and narrowed her eyes at the doctor, who paused. Robb gave him a glare that could have cut through the reinforced Plexiglas of the hospital window and said tightly, “Get out.” Then he turned his head and closed his eyes. Sansa could see his hands clenching the sheets under his blanket. Catelyn spoke next.

“It’s probably almost time that we leave. Sansa, will you take the boys to the nurse’s station to give them our thanks?”

As they walked back down the hallway, Sansa told Jon, “Last night, the TV by the elevator on our floor was on, and the sports update was all about Robb’s crash. The minute Mom saw Jaime Lannister’s face, she made them turn it off.”

Jon looked disgusted. “I saw it while I was eating dinner. Lannister just smirked the whole time, talking all about what a tragedy it was for the sport to lose such a promising talent so early in his career. As if his throwing arm is all anyone should care about.”

“He’s not going to be able to avoid it though. Baseball, I mean,” Sansa answered Jon’s questioning look. “Just being around Dad, or his old teammates, or being in Denver where there’s Direwolves stuff everywhere.”

“Maybe he’ll decide he doesn’t want to avoid it. He could coach, or scout, or work for your dad.”

“Maybe.” Robb’s face when the doctor mentioned the sport flashed through her mind, pained and angry. 

Eventually, they were summoned back to say their goodbyes to Robb. Sansa thought he still looked tense, even defiant, but he was arguing with Catelyn in a whiny voice that proved he’d calmed significantly since his outburst. “You can’t spend another night in the hospital looking after me. How am I supposed to make a move on the cute night nurse with my mom sleeping outside my room?”

“If it’s the same nurse as last night, you’re out of luck anyway,” Jon said. “He’s a man.” 

When they reached the hospital parking garage, Ned announced that he was heading to the office to bring work home for the next day. Sansa started to follow her mom to their other car, then stopped to say goodbye to Jon.

“I still have your suitcase in my trunk,” he reminded her, “but I’m parked on the roof.”

Before Sansa could ask to her mom to wait, Jon continued. “Do you want a ride home with me instead?

“Sure,” Sansa said. “Mom, can I ride home with Jon? He has my stuff in his car from picking me up at the airport.” To her surprise, Catelyn looked relieved.

“Of course. Thank you, Jon.”

While they waited for the elevator to the top of the parking garage, Jon must have noticed her confusion.

“Your parents are a little freaked out about having the whole family together in one car after the accident. I’m pretty sure that’s why your dad is stopping by the office, not because he has work to do.”

Sansa thought about her mother and the way she had constantly touched Robb as she sat beside him, stroking his hair or holding his hand. “Well, thanks for offering. I hope it’s not too far out of your way.”

As if on cue, Jon raised a hand to scratch at the back of his neck. “I don’t mind.”

           

They drove home in silence, their conversation exhausted by an entire day making small talk in Robb’s hospital room, but it was a good silence. Sansa liked that she could be quiet around Jon, without any pressure to pretend to be cheerful, since her lack of sleep and the surreal circumstances of her trip home had begun to wear on her. He seemed less comfortable with the silence, though; Sansa watched his fingers drum choppy rhythms on the steering wheel, and she could feel his eyes every time he glanced over to the passenger side of the car, checking on her, maybe.

As soon as he parked in the driveway of her house, Jon jumped out of the car in a flurry of motion, unsticking her door and hauling her suitcase out of his trunk. Sansa thought about offering to carry it herself, but Jon looked so at ease despite its weight that she didn’t protest when he nodded for her to lead the way. Lights appeared in the windows of the second floor, where she and the boys had their bedrooms; the rest of her family had arrived just ahead of them. Jon nodded again as she opened the front door, but he didn’t hesitate as he passed her and started up the stairs. Sansa followed a few steps behind, willing her eyes to limit their staring to his back and shoulders.  He turned right at the top of the stairs and Sansa panicked for a moment, thinking about the mess that overtook her room every August when she packed for school. She needn’t have worried, though, because Jon stopped and set down her suitcase without moving to open her door. Sansa wondered where an only child like Jon had learned to respect her space better than her own brothers. 

“Will you be at the hospital again tomorrow?”

“I have to work in the morning, but I’ll come by as soon as I’m off duty,” he promised. Her spirits sank a little at the thought of another long day spent sitting next to Robb without Jon there to mutter jokes and bring a smile to her brother’s face. When he started to leave, Sansa reached out and grabbed his elbow.

“Drive home safe.”

He leaned towards her a little and looked directly into her eyes. “I will.” His arm slid through her grasp, but he held her hand for just a moment before he turned to go. The warmth from his touch lingered long after Sansa heard the front door latch behind him.

 

Chapter Text

Breakfast on Monday morning was a subdued affair. Sansa entered the kitchen to find Bran and Rickon glaring into their cereal bowls while Catelyn packed their lunches. She smiled to herself as she went to the fridge to get eggs for an omelette, knowing that the boys would probably buy pizza from the cafeteria anyway, just like Robb used to do, and save the brown bag carefully prepared by their mother for an after-school snack.

“Sansa doesn’t have to go to school today. Why are you making us go back? We only have two days before Thanksgiving break, anyway,” Rickon complained.

“One more word from either of you about missing school and you’ll be put in charge of washing the dishes on Thursday night.” Catelyn replied evenly. “Sansa and I will drop you off on our way to see Robb.”

“Actually, Mom, I was thinking I could wait and pick up Arya at the airport. She texted me her flight info last night. That way you and Dad can spend some time with Robb without a big crowd there.”

The previous evening, her father had caved to the mounting media pressure to make a statement about Robb’s injuries. One of her brother’s pitching coaches had flown in to see him and the two men had held a miniature press conference in the lobby of the hospital. Robb had spent most of the day arguing with their mother about writing his own statement to be released to the team’s fans. Sansa didn’t think she’d ever heard her brother so angry in her life. It would have been better if Jon had been there to help settle the tension. He was good at that kind of thing, whereas Sansa had felt hopelessly ineffectual as she sat in the corner and listened to their voices climb over one another. After Robb finally authorized a few short sentences to be released, he refused to say anything more for over an hour, until Sansa had tempted him into conversation by telling him that Arya would be home in the morning.

Catelyn smiled. “That would be a big help. Do you still have your keys?”

“Mm-hmm. Lucille is going to be so happy to see me.” Sansa winked at Bran as she collected the boys’ empty dishes and rinsed them in the sink.

He rolled his eyes. “It’s going to by my car as soon as I get my license, and its name is not Lucille.”

As it happened, Sansa didn’t have a tearful reunion with her high school wheels after all. Shortly after her mom left with the boys, the phone rang. She answered it.

“Hi. Sansa? I thought it would be your mom,” said Jon.

“Mom’s taking the boys to school, and I’m about to pick Arya up at the airport,” she explained. Jon gave a muffled snort of laughter.

“Arya texted me last night to say that if you picked her up from the airport, she wouldn’t get to the hospital before dinner time. I offered to go get her instead.”

Sansa didn’t particularly like how easily Jon laughed at her driving skills. It was a running joke in the Stark family that Sansa drove more slowly than most senior citizens. She preferred to say she drove carefully. An indignant reply was on the tip of her tongue when Jon continued.

“I was calling to see if you wanted to ride with me. You could fill me in on how the press conference really went, behind the scenes.”

           

Half an hour later, Sansa sprang up from the bench in the foyer when she heard Jon’s car pull in the driveway. She reached for the doorknob, but before going outside she turned to check her reflection once more in the mirror that hung on the back of the coat closet. My hair looks too fussy. Hurriedly, she ripped the elastic from the end of the long fishtail braid draped over her shoulder and ran her fingers through the pieces to separate them. Feeling ridiculous, Sansa bent over and quickly stood again, flipping her hair back to give it a boost of volume, before she squared her shoulders and slipped out the door.

Her heart beat wildly as she scooted into Jon’s car, thinking how foolish she had probably looked getting ready to go to the airport, of all places. She tried to convince herself that she hadn’t worn her navy peacoat and searched frantically for her mom’s favorite green scarf just to impress him- they were practical for the weather too- but the way his jaw slackened slightly when he looked at her, the way he had to swallow before he could say hello, the way her name sounded in his deep voice all convinced her he had noticed how well her outfit complemented her red hair and blue eyes. Something like pride bloomed in her chest and across her cheeks, and Sansa couldn’t resist returning his greeting with a dazzling smile.

On the way to the airport, Jon asked how Robb was feeling about baseball.

“He hasn’t said anything to me either way, but I think it’s pretty clear he still wants to play. And his coach came all the way here to tell him he’s still on the roster and he can start rehab with the team once his doctors give the okay for him to start physical therapy, which seems like a good sign.”

Jon took a more pessimistic view. “It’ll take months before he can really practice pitching again, and then he’ll probably spend some time in the minor leagues. That’s a lot to face for someone who’s been a prodigy since high school.”

“I guess we’ll just have to see. Maybe having Arya around will help, since she’s the other big athlete of the family.”

Jon grinned. “Or she’ll just enable him to be an even more unbearable patient. Remember when she strained her ACL at the beginning of high school? She was only on crutches for a couple of weeks and it was like the world was ending.”

When Jon talked about Arya, his whole face relaxed into an affectionate expression. Sansa remembered years ago when her younger sister had begged her mom to let her begin running in the mornings to work on her fitness. Catelyn had put her foot down, saying there was no way she was letting her 13 year old daughter go running around the neighborhood alone in the dark morning hours. Then Jon had offered to go with her as her running buddy, claiming he needed to be in shape to be a volunteer on the fire squad. Jon and Arya had developed a special relationship through their sunrise runs, and he’d been at every soccer match he could attend during high school to watch her.

Their reunion was easy. Arya came down the escalator from arrivals dressed in her team sweats, her bangs held back by a pre-wrap headband, carrying a duffel bag slung over her shoulder. Jon wrapped her in a bear hug and tugged hard on her ponytail, drawing a joyful growl and a punch on the arm from her sister.

Sansa gave Arya a smile and said hello, but made no move to embrace her. They weren’t demonstrative like that, and never had been; Robb liked to embarrass Sansa with pet names and exaggerated kisses on the cheek, and she’d always felt comfortable mothering Bran and Rickon, but she and Arya were more reserved, even hostile. They often needled one another, and their fights were certainly the loudest in the Stark family. Still, Sansa couldn’t count the number of nights she’d been woken up by Arya climbing into her bed to talk over a problem, or just to gossip.

This private bond she felt with Arya didn’t wipe away the jealously that struck her when her sister launched into a lively conversation aimed exclusively at Jon, or when they reached the car and Arya slid into the shotgun seat like she belonged there. Sansa thought she might have seen Jon flash her an apologetic glance in the rearview mirror, but she brushed the feeling away and decided to use the ride to the hospital to check her phone.

Due to the chaos of the weekend and the hospital policy that frowned at the use of cell phones, Sansa had a long list of unread texts. She scrolled through a request for class notes, a reminder to turn off the heat in their apartment over break, and various messages from Friday and Saturday nights about meeting up at bars to celebrate an early beginning to Thanksgiving break. With a pang, she reached a series of texts from Margaery, all unanswered.

Hope your flight went well! Text me when you are home safe xoxo

We’re all out at Mickey’s and Peter is desperate to know where you are. idk how you put up with him. Text me when you have a chance!

How are you darling? Any updates on Robb?

Lots of people thought Margaery was shallow, but having lived with the girl for four years Sansa knew her instead to be a discerning judge of other people- and how she might benefit through associations with them, of course. Sometimes, in the midst of watching all her schemes, Sansa forgot what a true friend she could be to those she really cared about.

Typing out a reply to reassure her roommate, Sansa couldn’t help but smile to herself, imagining the spirited brunette dismissing Petyr’s eager questions about her. The MBA student never texted her to make plans, but he reliably haunted the same undergraduate bars frequented by Sansa and her friends, and he’d made his interest in her father’s position clear, though he went about it differently than most. He liked to make backhanded comments about athletics, how the real “players” were the executives who negotiated television deals and the owners who built flashy new stadiums, while the athletes themselves were manipulated to appeal to the adoring public. Sansa wondered how much Petyr knew about her father, who claimed his time as a pitcher informed every decision he made as the Direwolves owner. Would he call Dad a player or just an athlete?

Margaery couldn’t stand the man, calling him a creep and a Yankee, as if she couldn’t decide which was worse. Sansa giggled just thinking about the haughty drawl her friend used to deliver the insult. She herself couldn’t tell what the difference was between people from Colorado and people from the Finger Lakes of New York, like Petyr, but to a gently raised Georgia peach like Margaery, the distinction was apparently obvious.

Arya suddenly twisted in the front seat and tossed a scathing comment at Sansa. “It’s a good thing Robb’s accident hasn’t kept little miss social from keeping in touch with all her friends. Do you get all dressed up to go to the hospital every day, or just when there might be photographers waiting outside?”

Jon cut her off, his voice sharp. “Don’t talk to Sansa like that. She’s spent more time with Robb than anyone except your mom, and she’s been looking after Bran and Rickon too. Looking after your whole family.”

A heavy silence filled the car. Arya shoved her hands in her pockets and looked out the passenger side window, hiding her face. It’s been frustrating for her, being stuck so far away. She’s just lashing out, Sansa told herself, but she had to force each breath out of her tightening chest as she tucked her phone back in her pocket. Her head felt hot and dizzy, but whether it was caused by the sting of Arya’s words or Jon’s passionate defense, she couldn’t say.

 

When they reached the hospital, Sansa thought the tense mood might go away naturally. Jon headed straight for the men’s room in a transparent, but effective, ploy to give the sisters a minute alone. As they approached Robb’s room, Arya grabbed her arm before she could open the door.

“I’m sorry for being nasty earlier.” She shuffled her feet. “I shouldn’t have blasted you like that just for texting, and you’re always all dressed up, so…”

As far as Arya was concerned, this constituted a groveling apology. “Don’t worry about it,” Sansa replied. When her sister’s frown didn’t fade, she added, “I think we’re all on edge a little bit.”

It was clear as soon as they entered Robb’s room that she couldn’t have spoken truer words. Ned’s icy eyes were fixed on her brother, whose ruddy cheeks and angry scowl contrasted their father’s stony stare. Catelyn clenched her hands forcefully in her lap, a sure sign that a family argument was occurring. Sansa’s intentions that morning had been good, but it was clear that Robb had not needed more time alone with his parents.

Arya’s arrival lightened the mood for a while, but Robb’s smile looked more like a sneer, and his eyes glinted with defiance rather than mirth. He wouldn’t make eye contact with either of his parents, and Sansa shot frequent worried looks at them as the day wore on. Jon’s jokes drew smiles from Arya and grateful glances from Robb, but they made Catelyn press her lips together in a thin line. Sansa felt her own hands grip each other tightly.

Not long after Robb’s early dinner was delivered from the cafeteria, the simmering tension in the room boiled over. After watching her son struggle to eat his chicken breast one-handed, Catelyn leaned over to cut his food.

Mom! I don’t need your help. This is exactly what I’ve been talking about.” Catelyn moved away from his side, but Robb kept yelling. “When they let me out of here, I’m going to my apartment where I can fucking take care of myself, and no one can treat me like I’m fucking pathetic!”

With a final growl, Robb thrashed on the narrow hospital bed, knocking his dinner to the ground. The clatter of the tray on the floor, the bitterness in her brother’s voice, the look on her mother’s face- it was all too much for Sansa. Ned began to reply angrily, “You will never speak to your mother that way again, Robb Stark!” but she was already stumbling out of the room, sobbing.

Sansa’s legs churned mechanically as she sought distance from her family and their arguments. The tears flowing freely from her eyes scalded her face, but chills racked the rest of her body. Gasping, she crossed her arms close in front of her, as if to ward off the cold. Though she could feel the stare of nurses and other families, she kept moving before anyone could offer her help.

A particularly violent tremor forced her to stop. Blinking away her tears, she realized she had made her way to the hospital courtyard, whose floor-to-ceiling windows showcased a garden of potted plants drenched in a steady drizzle. She shivered again just looking at the cold scene.

“Sansa.”

It was Jon. She almost didn’t turn around, thinking for a moment how pitiful she must look, tear-stained and shaking. She began to apologize as soon as she faced him. “I’m sorry. I just…it was all too much. It was only a couple of days ago that we thought he might die, and now everyone is so angry with one other, and…”

“It’s okay. Come here, Sansa.” Something about Jon’s voice told her he wasn’t there to censure her for running away. It was warm and steady, solid, like him. She took a step in his direction and he closed the rest of the distance between them, taking her into his arms.

This embrace was miles away from the stiff hug he’d given her at the airport. He wrapped one arm firmly across the middle of her back and pressed her tightly against him. With his other hand, he gently stroked the back of her head and neck, smoothing her long hair. Sansa let herself relax against his chest. A deep, shuddering breath caught the smell of smoke still clinging to his shirt- flannel again, today. Jon tilted his head so he could murmur softly in her ear.

“Everything’s going to be alright. Are you feeling better?”

His breath on her hair made her skin prickle. Not trusting her voice, Sansa nodded. The warmth of Jon’s strong arms and chest made her feel drowsy, or lightheaded, like maybe she should lie down. Gradually, heat traveled down the front of her body, and she realized just how closely they were standing. The button on the front of his jeans was digging into her stomach, and his hard thighs pressed along the outside of her own legs. Suddenly aware of her heartbeat pounding rapidly against his chest, Sansa shifted her weight backwards. Jon let her slip out of his arms, twisting slightly to reach into his back pocket. He pulled out a faded navy handkerchief and offered it to her. When she’d finished wiping dried tears from her face, he took it back.

“Let’s head back to the room to say goodbye to Robb. Then why don’t we go somewhere else for dinner. The food here is enough to make anyone cry.”

It was a weak joke, but Sansa gave him a small smile anyway. They walked back to the room in silence. As they turned onto the hallway where Robb’s room was located, Jon rested a hand on her back, where her hair covered her shoulder blades, though he let it fall when they reached the door.

Robb looked tired, but also guilty. He tried to sit up further as Sansa entered the room.

“Come here, princess.” Sansa went to sit next to him, and he grasped her hands in one of his. “I’m so sorry for making you upset. You know I hate sitting still, and my leg and my ribs are driving me crazy. I shouldn’t have shouted at mom, or at anyone.”

Looking into his wide blue eyes, so much like her own, Sansa couldn’t help but forgive him. “I understand. I kind of overreacted.” Robb smiled at her, showing his dimples, a smile he saved just for Sansa. She still had a question she needed to ask, though. “Are you really going to live in your apartment when you get out of the hospital?”

“No. I was stupid to talk like that. I’m going to come home, and you and mom are going to fuss over me all the time and take care of my every- oww!”

Sansa poked him lightly in the side again. “We’ll see about that.” She looked up to grin at her mother and noticed that Arya and her father had left. Catelyn sensed her confusion.

“Arya and your father went to pick up the boys at school. I’m waiting for Robb’s second dinner to arrive, which he will eat by himself, and then I’m going home to make dinner for the rest of us.”

“Jon’s taking me to dinner,” Sansa blurted before she could think. Her mom raised her eyebrows, but Robb was the first to react.

“Is he?” he drawled. “Good for him.”

Sansa blushed and glanced over at Jon. He was looking at Robb with narrowed eyes, but he didn’t seem embarrassed by her outburst. “I thought we could grab something on the way home.” He turned to look at her mother. “I have to work tonight, so we wouldn’t be out late.”

Catelyn’s eyes lingered on her daughter, but she gave Jon a nod of approval. Sansa gathered up her coat and scarf (which earned her a more pointed look from her mother) and bent to give Robb a kiss on the cheek. He put his hand on her shoulder, holding her close so he could speak in a low voice too quiet for the rest of the room to hear.

“I know it’s been hard, having me in the hospital, especially for you. You’re more sensitive about everyone’s emotions than Arya or the boys. Let Jon take care of you a little. He’s a good friend to have.”

Sansa couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw Robb send Jon a wink out of the corner of her eye when she stood to leave.

 

As they slid into a booth in the corner of Fischer’s, a diner a few blocks from their old high school, Sansa wondered if she should apologize to Jon. Had he really meant to take her to dinner, or had it just been a polite offer made to his friend’s little sister to get her to stop crying? Had she made it sound like a date? Did he want it to be a date?

Her mind whirled with questions, but Jon seemed calm. “I don’t think I’ve ever been here during normal dinner hours. Usually I eat here with Sam and the guys after working a night shift.” He smiled at her over his menu. “They know we come straight from the station, and their morning staff gives us double orders of bacon for free.”

Sansa laughed.  “I haven’t been here since high school. We used to come here for late night milkshakes, and sometimes I would run into Robb, eating pancakes so he could sober up before coming home.”

“Their shakes are pretty fantastic,” Jon mused.

“And big enough to be an entire meal! I can’t believe I ever finished one one my own.”

Jon scoffed. “Oh please. You girls would order fries, too, and dip them in each other’s shakes. We always thought you were teasing us in the worst way.”

Finally Jon was the one to blush, as if he’d said too much. Sansa realized he had probably been there too, sitting next to Robb, soaking up Saturday night’s alcohol with carbs off the griddle. And watching her and her friends, apparently.

Lost in thought, Sansa didn’t see their waitress approach until she set two waters and straws on the table. “Are you ready to order?”

Jon gave Sansa a long look. Then, he grinned. “We’ll take a large chocolate milkshake, an order of fries and, uh…” Sansa hissed his name, but his smile only widened. “And a plate of wings,” he finished.

The waitress, an older woman with a blue apron and a hairnet over her greying curls, chuckled at Sansa’s reaction. “Mild, hot, or extra spicy?”

Sansa shook her head, eyes wide. Jon gave an exaggerated sigh. “Mild.”

“And honey mustard for the wings, please,” Sansa chimed in. The waitress rolled her eyes with a smile, but wrote down the addition before walking away.

“I can’t believe you ordered that!” Sansa exclaimed once she’d left. “Fries and a milkshake for dinner?”

“It’s Thanksgiving week. Think of it as training for Thursday, “ Jon joked.

Sansa smiled, but thinking of the holiday made her quiet. Normally, the Starks packed up and had Thanksgiving dinner at their lodge in the mountains, near Aspen. With Robb hurt, there would be no snowmen dressed in her father’s ties from work, no snowball fights or s’mores around the giant fireplace at Winterfell. He’d be out of the hospital on Wednesday, though, in time to spend Thanksgiving at home. That, at least, she could be thankful for.

“What are your Thanksgiving plans, Jon? Are you having dinner with your mom?”

“No, she doesn’t really celebrate it anymore. It reminds her too much of my dad.” His voice sounded artificially casual, as if he were well practiced at delivering this explanation. “I always take the Thanksgiving shift at the station, so the guys with families can spend the day with them.” Her face must have betrayed her concern, because he continued, “It’s not so bad though. Really. We watch football, put out a few kitchen fires for people who overdo it with the turkey, order Chinese.”

Soon their food arrived, and Sansa was distracted from any thoughts of Thanksgiving by more pressing matters. Like Jon’s face as he watched her take the first sip from the tall glass, sucking earnestly to bring the thick milkshake up her straw. The moment she started feeling self-conscious, he burst into laughter.

“Stop it,” she insisted, blushing. “Stop it right now, or I’ll finish the whole thing myself.”

“Are you sure that would be a punishment?” Jon teased, but his eyes were soft, lacking the lascivious glint she’d seen so often in Joffrey’s expression on their dates.

They continued to eat and share light-hearted conversation, but they didn’t linger over their meal. Jon slipped a twenty into the waitress’s hand when she brought them their bill before Sansa could offer to pay her share.

“I have to run home and change before I go to work,” he said as they walked back to his car. “I hope you didn’t feel rushed.”

“Not at all. I should be getting home anyway. Mom will need help getting ready to bring Robb home- she’ll probably put him in the master bedroom since he can’t climb the stairs, so there’s going to be lots of moving to do.”

He gave her an admiring look while he started the car. “You’re always thinking ahead. You and your mom.”

           

She thought of his comment later that night, when she was helping Catelyn pack her brother’s clothes in boxes to bring downstairs.

“Mom?” she started in her sweetest voice, “I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving this year, and I had this idea. I was talking to Jon…”

Chapter Text

It wasn’t until Robb was released from the hospital that Sansa finally felt like she was home for a family holiday and not a family emergency. Her father wheeled him out of the back of their SUV on a collapsible ramp, and then up the curving walk to their front door. Next, it took Bran’s help to lift him up the three steps of their front stoop so that he could make it into the house. Once there, Catelyn positioned him in the family room, having shifted the rest of the furniture to make room for his wheelchair as if she were adding another upholstered couch to her décor.

Robb’s arm rested in a sling strapped over his worn sweater (“They didn’t trust me to stay still enough to let my ribs heal,” he grumbled, and the whole family laughed), and his injured leg was covered in a beige cast from the ankle to his hip and held in front of him on an extension from the chair. Eventually, the doctors assured him, he would be able to wheel the chair himself, and the cast would be replaced by a less restrictive bandage. For now, he looked massively uncomfortable propped up by so many wraps and supports. If it weren’t for the watchful eyes of their mother, Sansa thought, he would be fidgeting as much as he could, no matter what his doctors had ordered.

Arranging the details of Robb’s discharge had taken most of the morning, and Catelyn soon brought out trays of sandwiches and fruit for lunch. Normally, eating meals in the family room was strictly forbidden, but rules didn’t seem to matter after the week they’d had. Sansa added an extra handful of chips to her plate before Rickon grabbed the bag away and settled down on the floor to eat.

Having her whole family together, talking and eating and teasing, loosened the knots in Sansa’s stomach that days and nights in the hospital had pulled tighter and tighter. For a moment she closed her eyes and enjoyed the calm buzz of familiar voices that had replaced her internal monologue of worries and fears for Robb’s safety.

Soon, though, she couldn’t help but focus on the absence of one voice in particular that had made this whole ordeal easier to bear. Everything’s going to be alright. Jon’s words echoed in her head. His beard had scratched her cheek, and the vibrations from his voice murmuring kindnesses had traveled across her skin where it touched his. Even his lips had been close enough to her ear that his warm breath had tickled her neck. She imagined his mouth actually touching her there, then sliding across towards…

Sansa jerked her eyes open and blinked. No one seemed to have noticed her reverie, but instead of starting a conversation with Rickon or asking Arya to pass her the fruit salad bowl, she quietly turned to Robb.

“Do you know if Jon’s coming by at all today?”

As soon as the question was out of her mouth, Sansa regretted it. It would have been better to bide her time, focus on her plans for Thanksgiving instead of giving Robb the chance to announce her interest in front of her whole family. Luckily, her brother seemed content to limit his teasing at the moment.

“And why might you be interested in Jon’s plans? Did you have fun at dinner ?” Sansa blushed and scowled, but Robb just laughed. “Should I call him and ask him how it went? Tell him you have a crush?”

Sansa wondered what joking comment Jon would make if he were here, whether he would rub the back of his neck in embarrassment or swear at her brother in good-natured retaliation.  Was it just a crush, though? Certainly, she thought about Jon more often than she ever had before; she couldn’t get his voice, his half-smile, the crease between his eyes out of her mind.

But there was something else, too. None of Sansa’s previous crushes had held her the way Jon had, or taken her out to dinner and flirted and even paid the check, like it was a real date. Even Joffrey hadn’t done those kinds of things until they’d been “dating” for weeks, and he had always made it clear that he was doing her a favor by spending time with her outside his frat house.

It would be complicated, though, to have more than a crush on Jon. Maybe it would be better to stay his friend’s sister. He would still be there to support her- after all, it wasn’t like they’d actually expressed their interest in each other. He might not even be interested in her.

Get through Thanksgiving, she decided, and then you can worry about what you might be to one another.

 

Naturally, as soon as Sansa resolved to put Jon out of her mind, her mother insisted on bringing him up. They were in the kitchen, cleaning up lunch dishes so that they could get started on their Thanksgiving prep, and Sansa was drying dishes as Catelyn set them on the counter.

“Now, I don’t mind going through the trouble of making extra food, Sansa, especially if you want to help out, but I have to ask whether this is something nice for the firefighters who helped your brother or a way to impress Jon.”

Mom. We already talked about this last night!”

“No, last night you came to me talking all about the poor souls who had to work at the station over Thanksgiving, and all the good they did for Robb, and how nice it would be if they had a real Thanksgiving dinner instead of take-out. But you’ve been spending quite a bit of time with Jon over the past week, and…”

Seriously, Mom, it’s…it’s not like that. He’s just been around a lot since he’s good friends with Robb. Nothing else is going on.” Sansa prayed that her mom would let it go.

Instead, Catelyn fixed her daughter with a stern look. “I’m not a fool, Sansa. You barely spoke a word to one another in high school. Monday night, the two of you went to dinner, alone, and then you spent almost half an hour talking in the front seat of his car when he dropped you off.”

Sansa buried her face in the cabinet where she was putting away their clean plates so that her mom couldn’t see her blush. Did we really talk that long? She remembered the comfortable track of their conversation, the way they discovered shared memories and opinions, even though it was the very relationships they had in common, with Robb and Ned and Arya, that had created barriers before. This reversal should have been strange, an easy understanding growing out of restraint and silence. As it was, Sansa hadn’t even realized that Jon had stopped driving until he’d noticed the clock and apologetically reminded her that he had to get to work.

Catelyn was silent, waiting for her response.

“I just think it would be a nice thing to do for them for the holidays,” Sansa said, as calmly and firmly as she could. Then, before she could stop herself, she continued. “But Jon’s a really, really good guy, Mom. If we did start spending time together, would you be upset?”

Her mother pulled the plug out of the sink and let the soapy water slowly drain. She wiped her hands on a dish towel before turning Sansa.

“Jon may be a good guy, but you’re not a teenager anymore. If you’re going to date someone, I want it to be someone you could see yourself with long-term. And I don’t want you moving home after college to chase after a boy if he doesn’t have anything to offer you.”

Anger flared in Sansa’s chest. Joffrey had his father’s entire business to offer me, and he wasn’t half the man Jon is. But the look on Catelyn’s face was filled with care, not anger, which partially softened the urge to defend Jon from her dismissal.

“I promise you don’t have to worry about that. With Jon or with anyone. If I move home and tell you it’s because I’m trying to get engaged, I give you full permission to be concerned, but not before.”

 

Her mom appeared content enough with her response and let the subject drop, but it wouldn’t leave Sansa alone. The whole afternoon, as she read recipes and polished flatware and sorted out the china they would use the next day, little reminders of Jon kept springing to mind. His eyes, steely irises glinting as he leaned forward to tease her.  The sound of his voice, low and a little rough, unless he cleared his throat in nervousness. The solid warmth of his hands, reassuringly strong even when his touch was gentle.

Once dinner was over, Sansa found herself back in the kitchen, chopping celery while her mom crumbled cornbread for the dressing. When the doorbell rang, she wiped her hands on her gingham apron and went to answer it, her mom remarking that it was probably their neighbor Mrs. Glover returning the nutmeg.

But it was Jon, looking just as she’d been imagining him, complete with smiling eyes and wildly curling hair. His rolled sleeves exposed veined arms, casually tensed from the weight of two six-packs. His appearance was so unexpected that Sansa could only stand still, wondering if she’d conjured him by her thoughts alone.

Robb’s voice shouting from the media room broke the spell. “Is that Jon? We’re in here!”

Jon gave her a lopsided smile. “Robb asked me over for a movie night. Just like old times.”

Practically every Thursday night of high school, Jon and Robb had claimed the TV and the grey sofa set to watch a movie. They always picked the kind of violent action movies that made Bran and Rickon whine with a jealousy particular to younger brothers. Arya used to try and wheedle her way in too, and eventually she’d succeeded after threatening to tell Catelyn about the beers Jon smuggled in his backpack.

“Hopefully I won’t have to make cookies to console my little brothers once the explosions start anymore,” Sansa joked. That had always been her job, since she alone of her siblings hadn’t ached to be included in the older boys’ ritual.

Jon’s smile grew. “You’re probably busy with Thanksgiving stuff,” he said, nodding at her apron, “but you’re welcome to join us if you finish.”

Sansa returned to the kitchen after she closed the door behind him. She chopped more celery, mixed up dough for the rolls, and gathered the ingredients for the pumpkin pie filling while her parents went down to the basement to brine the turkeys. Only after the pie and a chocolate bundt cake were tucked into the oven did she let herself join Robb and Jon in their movie sanctuary. Her mother’s eyes followed her as she carefully folded her apron away and slipped out of the kitchen, but she didn’t say a word.

Sansa opened the door to the media room gingerly; this was the kind of thing her siblings did without her while she helped their mother, and despite Jon’s invitation she felt out of place. There was Robb in his wheelchair next to Bran, who was seated in the armchair as though it were a throne. Rickon lay sprawled on the floor, every part of his body fidgeting in some way except his eyes, which were locked on Batman riding his motorcycle across the TV. Arya and Jon had been sharing the couch, but at Sansa’s entrance, he stood awkwardly, beer dangling from one hand. She would have smiled to herself at this gesture, unexpectedly old-fashioned and polite, except that Arya and Robb were now looking pointedly between Jon and Sansa. Her sister seemed annoyed; something else flashed in Robb’s eyes.

“Going somewhere, Jon?”

He glanced at her brother and then back at her. “Just making room for Sansa,” he replied, sinking slowly back to his seat. Sansa picked her way around Rickon’s limbs and settled, carefully, in the middle of the couch.

In the dark, sitting inches away, Jon filled her head even more thoroughly. She wanted him to hold her hand, she wanted him to look at her during the funny parts and give her a half-smile when she laughed, she wanted him to rest his arm around her shoulders and tuck her against his side. At the same time, she sat stiffly, uncomfortable with the attention they’d already drawn from Robb and Arya. Although she kept her eyes on the screen, the back of her neck tingled, as if Robb’s calculating looks and Arya’s glares were pricking her skin like little darts. Jon felt it too, or felt something, at least- his left leg bounced up and down nervously. Then she sensed him go still, and he ducked down by his feet, emerging with another brown bottle. “Want a beer?” he offered.

Before Sansa could respond, Arya reached across and grabbed it from his hand.  Jon started to argue, but her sister rolled her eyes. “I’m the one who’s going to need it if I’m sitting next to you two.”

“Arya!” Sansa was mortified.

“I’m serious. If Jon tries any slick moves to put his arm around you, I’m leaving.”

Robb mumbled something from across the room that Sansa couldn’t quite catch, but Jon scowled and sat a little straighter.

“Shhhhh!” Rickon hissed, and they all fell blessedly silent.

 

When the movie ended, Arya was the first to get up and leave, frowning at her phone. Jon slid their empties back into the cardboard sleeve as Rickon and Bran followed her, deep in debate about the relative intensity of fight scenes among the Batman movies. Without them, Sansa felt uneasy, as though a buffer she hadn’t known she’d needed has been lifted away. Robb was smirking, his eyes locked on Jon, who busied himself picking up the room without so much as a glance at either of them.

“Mind taking those to the fridge, Sansa?” Robb asked, nodding towards the untouched beers sitting on the endtable next to the couch.

“I can take care of it,” Jon offered.

“Sansa’s got it. I need you to wheel me back to my parent’s room. We can have a chat, catch up.” Robb spoke casually, but his intentions were clear. If he weren’t injured, Sansa thought he would be rubbing his hands together with glee. Lacking an excuse not to leave Robb alone with Jon, Sansa reluctantly grabbed the beers and took them to the cooler in the basement where her mom had transferred the contents of their fridge in preparation for Thanksgiving. Then she made her way to the family room and waited for Jon and Robb to finish their conversation.

The minutes stretched on as Sansa imagined what they might be talking about. Was Robb playing the protective older brother and warning him off? He’d told her to let Jon take care of her, but maybe now he was telling Jon to stay her friend. Or could he be giving him encouragement, or advice? Robb loved teasing both of them, and it could be hard to know whether to take his suggestive comments seriously.

Enough time passed that Sansa nearly convinced herself that they weren’t discussing her at all. Finally, she heard her parent’s door swing open, and Jon came down the hallway, coat in hand. His head was bent, so she couldn’t see his face, but his free hand was vigorously pulling at the curls near his neck. When he saw her sitting there, he stopped.

“Hey.”

Now that he was closer, Sansa could see his cheeks were flushed. With embarrassment? She didn’t know. She’d grown to appreciate that Jon was comfortable with silence, but at this moment she wished he’d give her a clue to what he was thinking. He appeared content to wait for her to say something, though.

“I hope you have a good Thanksgiving tomorrow!” If all went according to plan, she would see him, of course, but it was all she could think to say. Jon looked at her intently, like he was searching for a hidden meaning to her words, so that she worried for an instant that Robb had ruined her surprise. Then he swallowed and one corner of his mouth twisted upwards.

“You too. Goodnight, Sansa.”

As soon as the front door closed behind him, Sansa raced to her parents’ room. Robb would tease her, certainly, but he’d also be unable to keep from dropping hints about his conversation with Jon.

He lay propped up on top of the bedspread, grinning.

“Mom told me about your plans for tomorrow. Showing up at the station, surprising Jon with a big home-made Thanksgiving dinner. Sounds romantic.”

Sansa began to protest. “It’s for everyone, not just Jon, including some of the people who helped you during your accident. I thought it would be a nice holiday gesture.”

Laughing, Robb shook his head. “Don’t even try that explanation with me. And don’t think it worked on mom, either. You and Jon hardly said a thing to each another for years, and now you’re both pretending like going out to dinner together is normal? You’re not friends.” Sansa frowned. “That’s not what I meant. Come over here and sit down.” Robb thumped the bed next to him.

Sansa crawled across the bed and curled up next to him. “You’re enjoying all of this way too much, mister.” Robb winked and continued his explanation.

“Listen, I’m trying to look out for both of you here. Jon’s not the total loser around girls he was in high school- which is good, I mean, he couldn’t really get worse- but he’s had a crush on you since forever, and…”

What?

“You didn’t know?” Robb looked genuinely surprised. “I always figured that was why you stayed out of his way. Trying not to encourage him and make it awkward, you know? He could barely talk around you for most of high school. God, I used to be really mean about it too. Partly because I didn’t want him to try anything, but also because he was so fucking funny about it all. “

Sansa’s cheeks burned. It was strange to imagine Jon talking to Robb about her, and stranger still to know it had been going on for years. All her memories of Jon, faded and blurry though they were, took on new importance. Why had he come to so many of her flute concerts? And what about the times he’d done homework at the kitchen table next to her and casually helped her with a chemistry equation or a stats problem? She’d taken all those little, insignificant encounters for granted, just Jon being helpful, the same way he went running with Arya and cheered Bran at little league games, but now she wondered if they’d held special meaning for him.

Robb noticed her distress, and looked a little concerned himself. “Is this freaking you out? He’s never been a creep or anything. Unlike basically everyone else you’ve dated.”

“Harry wasn’t so bad. He played baseball with you.”

“And everyone on the team hated him.” He shook his head. “What I’m trying to say is, if you really aren’t interested in Jon, and you’re doing this whole thing out of disinterested goodwill for firefighters, fine. But since you’re not, you should know that he really likes you. And that I’ve already warned him that all PDA is strictly forbidden in my presence. Seriously.”

Sansa smacked him lightly on the shoulder. “Who knew my older brother was such a matchmaker.”

 

Of course, Robb was right. When Jon had brushed off her questions about his Thanksgiving plans, she’d been appalled. That he so lightly counted himself as one of the guys without families made her sick. He may not be a Stark by name, but he’d surely earned the right to be considered a family member, even before all the helpful things he’d done for Robb since the accident. She’d thought framing it as a way to give back to the fire station would help sell her plan to her mother, but her main concern had always been for Jon.

How would he respond, though? Different scenarios played across her mind as she left Robb and climbed the stairs to her bedroom. Lost in thought, she didn’t notice Arya sitting on her bed until she’d closed the door.

“We need to talk.”

The clashing plaids of her mismatched flannel pajamas aside, Arya looked deadly serious. Sansa gave a sigh. Conversations about Jon, No. 3.

“Look, I know that you’re a lot closer to Jon than I ever was, but I’ve already discussed this at length with mom and with Robb, so if you don’t mind…”

“This isn’t about Jon,” Arya replied solemnly. Then she stuck out her tongue in disgust. “Eww, why would I want to talk with you about Jon?”

“What is it then?” Sansa couldn’t believe her luck at escaping that conversation. She sat down facing her sister and crossed her feet under her legs, mirroring Arya’s posture.

“This grad student who helps as an assistant coach for the men’s team texted me. About Robb’s accident.”

Sansa waited for the reason a simple text necessitated a serious conversation, but Arya just looked at her. “So…?”

“So he’s never texted me before about something personal! We only text about soccer stuff. Workout details. Scheduling extra practices. And he lets me know when the dining hall has good desserts, ‘cause the guys gets out of practice half an hour earlier than us on Tuesdays and they’re always gone unless I tell him to save me one.”

“It sounds like you text a lot. He’s probably just being friendly.” Sansa watched her sister closely.

“Listen to this.” She grabbed her phone and read the text out loud. “Hey Arya, heard your brother was in an accident, hope he’s ok. Have a good thxgiving with your family. See you in the gym after break.” Arya looked up, waiting for Sansa’s reaction, but she was at a loss. It was a perfectly normal text, probably better composed than most texts she’d ever gotten from a guy.

“Do you usually go to the gym together, too?” she ventured.

“We don’t ‘go to the gym together,’ we just lift on the same schedule, so we usually end up spotting for each other. And that’s not the point. What do I say back?”

Arya’s expression was pained, and it all clicked. Sansa almost teased her for being so obvious and oblivious all at once, but then she thought about how embarrassing her conversation with Robb had been. I’m not going to make her say she likes him. So she launched cheerfully into Texting Boys 101, just as Margaery had the first time Joffrey’s name had flashed across her inbox. (She’d gone to her roommate in a panic, wailing “All he said was hey. What does that even mean?” and Margaery’s eyes had lit up in anticipation at guiding Sansa towards her first fraternity boyfriend. Hopefully assistant soccer coaches were a better bunch.)

By the time they finished talking, it was past midnight. Sansa sorted through her dresser for her own pajamas and Arya got up to leave, but she paused at the door.

“Also, I’m coming with you to deliver dinner to the fire station tomorrow.”

“Why? Did mom ask you to?” Sansa stared at her blankly.

“Because you’re going to need someone to talk to the rest of the firemen while you flirt with Jon,” she answered, smirking. “Goodnight.”

Chapter Text

By the time she and Arya parked across the street from the fire station, Sansa began to stress over all the things that could go wrong. Maybe they’d already eaten, maybe someone else had brought them a Thanksgiving meal, maybe Jon would think it was excessive for her to show up, turkey in hand, without a word of invitation. She turned to Arya.

“This was a stupid idea, wasn’t it? What if he thinks it’s weird? Or clingy?”

“Will you shut up?” Arya raised her eyebrows. “You were practically skipping around the car in excitement twenty minutes ago, and now you think it’s a bad idea? What are you going to do, drive home with all this food and tell mom you changed your mind?” With that, she unbuckled her seatbelt and hopped out of the car, heading toward the trunk.

Sansa took a deep breath and followed her. Packing the car, she’d been beaming and giddy, imagining Jon’s face at her arrival with such a spread. She forced herself to focus on the food in front of her: sweet potato casserole, smothered in marshmallows; turkey, cut in thick slices; gravy and cranberry sauce in matching ceramic dishes. Arya was already carrying the glass dish of dressing towards the station door, a bag of rolls balanced on top. Sansa picked up the platter of turkey, glanced both ways, and crossed the street after her.

Arya pushed the door open with her knee and leaned against it so that Sansa could walk past her. They were in an office of some sort, a desk decorated with newspaper clippings sitting in the corner, but around the corner they could glimpse the garage. It was empty.

Sansa stepped slowly into the open cement room where the fire trucks usually parked. A length of yellow hose sat coiled in the corner and two silver poles ran from the floor to openings in the ceiling. Beside them, metal stairs climbed up the wall to a door on the second level.

“Shit. They’re all gone,” Arya commented. Her voice echoed through the unoccupied space and sent a shiver down Sansa’s spine. She tightened her grip on the tray and walked determinedly to the bottom of the stairs.

“Hello?” she called. “Is anyone here?”

Another echo. Another tremble across her shoulders. Then the handle on the door twisted, and a skinny face peeked around the corner. Seeing the two girls, he opened the door and trotted down the stairs.

“Hi, I’m Pyp. How can I help you?”

“I’m Sansa Stark, and this is my sister Arya. Our brother Robb was in an accident last week, and we wanted to do something nice for the firemen who helped rescue him.” Arya snorted quietly, but Sansa kept talking over her. “So we brought Thanksgiving dinner.”

Pyp’s eyes were fixed hungrily on the tray in her arms, and he responded enthusiastically. “Wow! That looks great! Follow me, and I’ll help you get it all set up.”

At the top of the stairs, they turned left down a short hallway that opened into a long room. On one end, chairs and couches circled a television showing a football game on mute. A long conference table surrounded by swiveling chairs occupied the other half of the room She and Arya set their dishes on the end of the table.

“There’s a kitchen right through there,” Pyp said, gesturing toward another door. “Feel free to use anything you need. The guys are going to be so stoked about a real turkey dinner.”

“Perfect. Arya, would you mind grabbing more food from the car while I start setting things up? And don’t forget the bag of linens in the back seat.”

“I’ll help,” Pyp offered. The two of them left, Arya muttering something sarcastic about linens, and Sansa went to work. Searching the drawers of the kitchen, she found aluminum foil, which she wrapped loosely around the rolls before sticking them in the oven to warm up. She located a stack of plates and another drawer of loose silverware and set about sorting forks, spoons, and knifes into three organized piles. By the time Arya and Pyp returned, she’d even found tongs for serving slices of turkey.

Sansa thanked Pyp as she took the mashed potatoes and broccoli casserole out of his hands, already scanning the table and envisioning where she would position the rest of the dishes. “What’s left in the car? The cranberries? Oh, and mom sent tea and lemonade too. Arya, could you grab the rest? Pyp, I put a saucepan on the stove, if you could just pour the gravy in and turn it on low heat, that would be great.” Sansa felt her confidence return as she spread out the gold table runner embroidered with fall leaves in green, orange, and red. She was bringing a feast to a group of hungry men; why had she been so nervous in the first place?

Pyp looked on in awe as she finished arranging the dishes, buffet-style, around the table and began rolling silverware in her mom’s second-best holiday napkins. Arya returned and blinked impassively before setting the cranberry sauce in its place beside the turkey and carrying the drinks into the kitchen to put them in the fridge.

“I don’t think this room has ever been so…decorated before.” Pyp sounded impressed.

“I don’t know,” Arya started doubtfully, “I told her she should bring some candles, too, just to really set the mood.”

“Hush,” Sansa scolded, smiling, “and give the gravy a stir.”

 

The whir of the motorized garage doors alerted them that the crew was back. Pyp had spoken nonchalantly about the call that had taken the engine out to an apartment complex (“People always overestimate their cooking abilities during the holidays. They’ll be back before too long, unless another call comes in.”), but Sansa breathed easier knowing that they’d returned without incident. Her relief was quickly replaced by bubbling anticipation when she heard the shuffle of steps climbing the stairs.

“Hey Pyp! Hope you already called in our dinner orders- I could eat a house,” a voice shouted from the hallway. A man burst in, still dressed in his reflective jacket and pants. Grey smudges framed the outline left by his goggles, and his hair was darkened by sweat.

“We’ve got something better than take-out this year.” Pyp introduced the man called Grenn to Arya and Sansa and started telling him about Robb and their holiday gesture. Grenn gave Sansa a speculative look. A sly smile spread across his face.

“You’re the redhead Snow can’t shut up about, right? The best friend’s sister?” As quickly as he’d entered, he was back out the door, but Sansa could still hear his words as he yelled back down the stairs. “Hurry out of your bunker gear, boys! Jon’s girl brought us dinner.”

Sansa’s face flushed hot and red, while a pleasant giddiness filled her stomach. Jon’s girl. She wasn’t, of course, or she wasn’t yet, but the thought made her buoyant. Her hands twitched as she reflexively smoothed her grey sweater dress over her burgundy tights.

The next face up the stairs belonged to Jon. “Sansa?” he asked, looking back and forth between her and the table. “What are you…you did this? For us?”

Sansa barely heard him. Soot was smeared across his face, and blood tricked from his eyebrow down his cheek into his beard.  She rushed to his side. “You’re hurt! What happened?”

He took half a step back as she reached him. “I’m filthy,” he protested, but she pressed forward. Resting one hand on his chest, she carefully cupped his jaw with the other and turned his head to get a better look at the cut. At her touch he grimaced. “I had to pull their cat out from under a sofa, and I took my gear off before I gave it back. Big mistake.”

Sansa leaned up onto her tiptoes, peering at it, and his hands found her waist to help her balance. “You’re lucky it missed your eye.” He turned to face her.  She could feel his heart pounding fast under her hand where it was nestled in the opening of his jacket. With each beat it seared her fingers, a slow heat traveling up her arms to the back of her neck, and then down, to pool in her stomach just under his thumbs. They stood so close that she tasted the bitterness of smoke and the tang of blood each time she took a breath. Other men had filed into the room, and they milled around the table, their attention caught between the food and the scene she was making over Jon, but she was trapped in place by their shared gaze and his hands, steady against her body.

Arya took charge. Crossing her arms, she stood in front of the table. “Everyone needs to wash up before they touch any food. No exceptions,” she announced. “Sansa and Jon, if you’re going to play doctor and patient, you need to get a room. Also no exceptions.”

The whole crew laughed. Jon tried to glare at Arya, but the movement pulled at his cut, so it ended up more like a wince. Reluctantly, they drew apart.

“Right. Right, I’ll, uh, go get cleaned up.” He stepped back, ducking his head and pulling at his hair in embarrassment.

Sansa willed her voice not to squeak. “You should probably have someone look at that scratch. So it doesn’t get infected.”

The corner of his mouth jerked upward. “I’m certified in first aid. I should be able to handle it.” He winked using his injured eye, winced again, and left.

 

With Jon out of the room, the other firemen stared at her with undisguised curiosity. A man Sansa recognized as Sam from Jon’s stories approached her first. Not as tall as Jon, but weighing half again as much, he set Sansa at ease, nervously stumbling over his words as he introduced her to the other crew members in turn. All of them were unfailingly polite, and all of them teased her about Jon. When they drifted away to fill their plates, Sansa took the opportunity to grill Sam while Jon was out of the room.

“What has Jon told you about me?” He hesitated, so she urged him on. “Please? Everyone seems to have heard something, and I’m kind of in the dark.”

“It started last weekend. Just that you were Robb’s sister, and how he picked you up at the airport, little things like that. But he kept bringing you up in conversation, and we all started asking him about you, because Jon hasn’t even mentioned a girl’s name since, well, since Ygritte.”

Sansa gave him a questioning look.

“But it wasn’t even like they really dated!” he hurried on. “I mean, I don’t think…well, sort of. She was a wildland firefighter. A smokejumper. Jon thought about joining a wildland team, back when we were finishing up our training, but then he decided to stick with the municipal side of things. She died on a job out in California a couple of months later.”

“Oh. That’s…really sad.”

Sansa must have looked stricken, because Sam’s next words sounded distressed. “I’m so sorry, I’m doing this all wrong. Jon mentioned you, and we thought something was up, so we kept giving him a hard time about it, and then he showed up Monday night grinning from ear to ear- or, well, smiling, I mean it’s Jon we’re talking about here- and he told us about your date.”

“Our date,” Sansa repeated, dazed.

At that moment Jon returned. Upon spotting Sansa in conversation with Sam, he hurried over. “Are you two talking about me?” he joked.

“Only good things.” Sansa beamed up at him.

“Good.” She’d seen a few of his half-smiles, crooked smiles, even sad smiles over the past few days.  He was a serious man, and she considered each one a rare victory, especially when she could take pride in causing it. Now, for the first time, she felt herself the focus of a full grin that brought creases to his cheeks and eyes and smoothed the worry lines on his forehead. He looked younger, and radiantly happy. Sansa thought her heart might float out of her chest.

“Let’s get you both some food.” As he shuffled behind Sam, filling his plate, she studied him. He’d cleaned up the cut as he’d promised; three thin red lines stretched across his temple, gleaming in the light from a layer of antiseptic cream. He’d also changed into a clean t-shirt, she could tell, and put on some kind of cologne. Sansa sidled a bit closer, so that their elbows bumped. Something woodsy, she decided. Pine and cedar and a little bit of citrus. When they reached the end of her makeshift buffet, she poured their drinks. Then she took a cup of lemonade for herself and followed Jon to one of the couches near the edge of the room.

For a while, only the dull clink and scrape of knives and forks on the stations’s cheap melamine plates sounded through the room. Sansa sipped her drink slowly, marveling at the single-mindedness with which the fire men attacked their food. Arya matched their enthusiasm as she started on her third helping, once you counted their own Thanksgiving dinner. Gradually, men put down their plates and started  conversations. Sam left the couch to get seconds. His departure broke Jon out of his rapture.

He looked guiltily between her and his nearly clean plate. “Are you sure you don’t want anything? There’s plenty left.”

“I’m fine,” Sansa replied lightly. “I’m just glad everyone seems to like their food.” A chorus of praise drifted up from the other men in the room.

Jon leaned forward to set his plate on a nearby coffee table and wiped his hands and mouth on his napkin. “I think that was the best Thanksgiving dinner I’ve ever eaten.”

Grenn rolled his eyes in mockery. “Don’t fall for his flattery, love. Snow here hasn’t had a woman since I joined the station. Pretty girl like you deserves a man who knows how to handle himself, if you know what I mean.”

In the midst of the men’s laughter, another voice added, “Snow handles himself just fine, he’s got years of practice!”

Sansa stared at her feet, caught between amusement and humiliation for Jon’s sake. She waited for him to scoot away in embarrassment, or change the subject, but he did neither. With deliberate slowness, Jon lifted his arm over her shoulders and pulled her against his side in a possessive gesture.  “You’re just jealous, Grenn. How many of your girlfriends have cooked a you a better meal, hmm?”

Now they laughed with Jon, not at him, and Sansa relaxed. This wasn’t Robb, teasing with an edge to his voice in warning; they were just ribbing each other to pass the time. 

“She cooked it for the whole station. To thank us for helping her brother,” Pyp pointd out, repeating her words to him.

Bolstered by Jon’s arm around her, Sansa flashed him a grin. “That’s what I told my brother, at least!”

Raucous shouts followed her joke. Abruptly, Jon stood, lifting her with him. His hand slid down her shoulder to her ribs.

“I’m gonna take Sansa around the station, give her the tour.”

“Sounds good.” Her own hand crept up his back to rest just under his shoulder blades. They walked together towards the door, edging around an armchair whose occupant, a short man with a buzz cut, gave them a grin and a rude gesture.  Jon cuffed him on the ear as they passed by.

 

Once they were in the hallway, Jon hustled her in the opposite direction from the stairs down to the garage. After a few steps, she dug in her heels. As he swung around in front of her, she crossed her arms.

“I don’t think much of your tour-giving skills, sir,” she commented wryly. Jon blinked at her, flushing brightly. He began to sputter apologies, until her giggles gave her away.

“You’re a minx,” he complained with gleaming eyes. She stumbled forward into his arms, and he practically dragged her around the corner and into a room that looked a little like the dorm she’d lived in her freshman year.

He closed the door behind them and pressed her up against it, standing close enough that their foreheads nearly touched. He dropped a hand, his left, from her waist, and grabbed her right one. Twining their fingers, he brought them up to rest against the door by her head.

“You did all this,” he started. His voice was husky, and he cleared his throat. “You did all this for me. You brought me Thanksgiving dinner after I told you I wouldn’t have one. You… God, Sansa, why?”

“You told Sam after we had dinner on Monday that it was a date.” Sansa tried to keep her voice low, steady. The voice of a woman, not a childish girl.

Jon’s face turned even more serious. His thumb stroked the side of her hand, up and down. “I did. I wanted it to be a date. I mean if…if you wanted it to be one.”

Sansa couldn’t quite name the emotion that filled her, having heard the words from his own mouth after so many assurances from Robb and Arya and Sam that she hadn’t quite believed. Joy. Relief. A strange sort of power, knowing that his happiness depended on her, but one she would only use for good. “I wanted it to be a date, too. Very much.”

He moved even closer, his right hand moving up her side over her ribs, just under the curve of her breast.

“Sansa, do you have any idea how long I’ve…” His voice broke.

Yes, she wanted to say, Yes, Robb told me everything. But this was about Jon, not Robb, and she didn’t want to drag her brother into it. “Please, Jon.” His hand inched higher, but slowly, too slowly. She arched her back slightly against the door, pushing her body closer to his.

He stepped away like she’d burned him, and only her grip on his hand kept her from losing contact with him completely. “Fuck, Sansa, you don’t know what you fucking do to me.” He shifted his weight uncomfortably and moved his free hand toward his waistband, then jerked it upwards to scrub across his mouth.

“I can guess,” she replied tartly. She pulled their hands higher up the door, above her head. Suddenly Jon returned, closer than before. The heat of him pressed against her made it difficult to breathe. Then his lips were at her ear.

“I want to take you out.” Sansa couldn’t figure out why they were still talking, but she nodded anyway. “Tonight. After I get off duty. Can I pick you up? Around 10?” His breathing was ragged, too.

“Yes. Yes, okay. Please.” Sansa wrapped her left hand around his neck to guide him, and then he was kissing her. His lips were warm and gentle, a little tentative. She curled her fingers into his shirt and leaned into his mouth, an urgent sound rising up in her throat. A tug from his hand wound through her hair pulled her head back, and his lips moved down along her neck.

Footsteps passed the door, and Jon stepped back again. “We should go back out there. It’s been an hour since we got a call, but it probably won’t be much longer before another one comes in.”

“But I’ll see you tonight?”

“You can count on it.”

 

Sansa and Arya carried the empty dishes back to the car after saying goodbye to the station crew. The men had hooted and hollered when Sansa kissed Jon on the cheek, and he’d responded by gathering her in his arms for a real kiss. Her legs had trembled so badly that she feared she wouldn’t make it back down the stairs.

As Arya drove them home, Sansa stared out the window, one hand pressed to her lips.

“So it’s true what they say? The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?”

Sansa just smiled. “I know you’re trying to tease me, but it won’t work. I’m too happy to care.”

“I knew I shouldn’t have encouraged you,” Arya groaned.

“Will it bother you, me dating someone you and Robb are friends with? Be serious for a second.”

“Ugh, and you two are already talking about dating, that’s nauseating.” Then Arya sobered. “It’s not going to bother me. But I don’t want to hear any details, from either of you. And I’m not going to be the middleman if you get mad at each other.”

“Deal,” Sansa agreed. “But first, could you do me a favor? What’s his cell number?”

“You don’t even have his number?” Arya crowed “I thought for sure you guys had been texting, and that’s why you were so defensive about being on your phone all the time.”

“Well, we haven’t. And he’s picking me up after he gets off work tonight, and I want to be able to text him if I’m running late. And then he can text me, too.”

Arya smirked. “He already can. He asked me for your number when I texted him about picking me up at the airport.”

Sansa looked back out the window. Robb’s teasing would be worse than her sister’s, and her mom would take some time to get used to the idea, but even she would come around eventually. They pulled into the driveway and Sansa danced up the front walk, feeling lighter than she had in months.

Chapter Text

Winter Break

 

Sansa was running late. She’d hurried away from the dinner table and set a timer on her shower so she’d have enough time to get ready, but it was five minutes before eight and she was just beginning to work on her eye makeup. First, she’d wavered between multiple hairstyles, curling the ends, then pinning them up in an elegant bun before taking the whole thing apart and letting it hang in loose waves. Next, she’d applied too much blush, attempted to balance it out with bronzer, and produced a mess of color she couldn’t fix unless she started over. She’d wanted to try out some liquid liner, too- Margaery used it sometimes, adding sharp wings to the edges of her eyes- but Jon had texted her that he’d left the station on time, and she didn’t want to keep him waiting longer than necessary.

It was probably for the best that her nerves had forced her to go with a more natural look. He’d said to dress warmly, and not to wear her highest heels. He’d said a lot of things, in texts and messages and phone calls, but their frequency had done nothing to diminish the thrill she felt every time his name flashed across the screen of her phone. She’d never been less focused on studying for her exams, constantly anticipating his next reply, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask him to stop, even for an evening.

Now she listened for the mutter of his car in the driveway instead of the buzz of her cell on the bathroom counter. When he pulled in and cut the engine, though, she was only half-finished, and she hurried through her eye shadow and mascara hoping that Robb, and not her mom, had answered the door to let him in.

After twisting her face from side to side in the mirror one last time, Sansa grabbed her purse and made her way down the stairs as quickly as she could, trying not to stomp loudly. The heels on her black booties were quite sensible, she thought, and she’d made concessions to warmth as well, wearing ribbed tights under her dove-grey shift dress with black beaded lace down the front. At the bottom of the stairs, she was greeted by Robb lounging in his wheelchair, Jon nowhere in sight.

“Guess you took too long getting ready,” he smirked mockingly. “Jon’s in the office with Dad. Talking.”

Sansa frowned. “Talking about…what?”

Robb laughed. It didn’t pain him to tease her nearly as badly, now, since his ribs were healing well after three weeks of immobility. “His intentions, probably. You weren’t going to be able to keep up your Thanksgiving, run-out-the-door-and-text-later strategy forever.”

Sticking out her tongue at her older brother, Sansa flounced over to an armchair to wait for Jon to finish his conversation with her father. She could hear Robb snickering as he wheeled back to his room, and she let out a sigh of relief. If he’d stuck around, he would have noticed the color that flooded her cheeks at the thought of her Thanksgiving date. Margaery had already teased her mercilessly about the stupid smile that found its way onto her face whenever Jon slipped into her thoughts, until Sansa had confessed everything about their time together. Robb, on the other hand, definitely wouldn’t appreciate knowing all the details.

 

They’d been in Margaery’s room watching Clueless as part of a 90’s movie marathon, celebrating their last Monday of classes, when suddenly Margaery had leaned forward and paused her laptop. It had taken Sansa a minute to notice; Jon had texted her a picture of a pan of brownies, burned black by someone at the station. Grenn almost set off our own fire alarms. I think your cooking inspired him to try it for himself. Halfway through typing a reply, Sansa felt her phone ripped from her hands.

“That’s the third time today you’ve had hearts coming out of your eyes after getting a text. Spill.” Margaery crossed her legs and sat up straight, grinning at her with speculative eyes.

When her best friend wanted answers-particularly answers that could prove good gossip- she was hard to refuse. Sansa reluctantly began to tell her about Jon and all the ways he’d helped her out when Robb was in the hospital. Margaery interrupted.

“Yes, I know, Jon’s your brother’s best friend, he’s such a great guy, whatever. I figured out that you liked him from your texts ages ago. I want details. What does he look like?”

Naturally, she wasn’t content with Sansa’s description, which prompted a highly unsuccessful search of her brother’s Facebook profile for pictures.

“I can’t believe he isn’t on Facebook.” Margaery frowned, flipping doubtfully between a smoky photo of Robb and Jon grilling burgers at a Fourth of July party and a shot of Robb and his friends celebrating after a playoff win, both from high school. “Does he ever smile?”

“Of course he smiles. Sometimes. Definitely more than when he was younger.” Sansa snapped the computer shut. “Those are old pictures, anyway. He’s a lot more grown-up now.” And filled out.

Margaery’s thoughts followed the same pattern. “He should be. And I bet firefighting keeps him in good shape. So, you’re texting each other? Are you going to go after him when you’re home for winter break?”

“I’m not ‘going after’ anyone! We’re just trying to get to know each other better,” Sansa sputtered. “I wish you could meet him, Marg, he’s so much nicer to me than anyone else I’ve ever dated.”

Margaery pounced. “You’ve already gone on a date? I knew you were holding out on me! Details, darling!”

Sansa began to tell her about their evening at the diner- his accidental confession that he used to watch her and her friends, his casual attitude about paying, how long they’d talked when he dropped her off at home. During her story, Margaery’s eyebrows bobbed up and down, drawing closer and closer together. Though she reacted with polite enthusiasm at all the right places, it was clear that she had plenty to say. Still, Sansa continued to describe their interactions, dwelling for a long time on the Thanksgiving dinner she’d prepared. Finally, Margaery couldn’t hold back her thoughts.

“You know that I’m thrilled to see you so happy- I only want you to be happy, Sansa, honestly- but don’t you think this is all a bit, I don’t know, hasty? I know you don’t have many fond memories of Joffrey, but at least he took you somewhere nice for your first date, not a greasy diner you went to when you were fifteen.”

Sansa took a deep breath. “It was comfortable, though, and kind of nostalgic, in a good way. It was really nice to go on a date where I wasn’t worried about crossing my ankles and choosing the right wine pairing. Jon’s not into all that pretentious stuff like Joffrey was.”

“Well, like I said, I want you to be happy.” Margaery looked doubtful. “And good job with cooking dinner for his station, by the way. So many girls don’t think about how to introduce themselves to a guy’s friends in a positive way. That was a smart move.”

Sansa smiled to herself even as she shook her head slightly. That was quintessential Margaery, always ‘playing the game’ as she flitted from boyfriend to boyfriend. She never treated anyone badly, but she’d never dated a man she didn’t have wrapped around her finger twice. She shared raunchy stories, of course, elaborating on the skills of her ex’s during heart-to-hearts over bottles of wine, and Sansa envied her confidence and her resilience, yet she’d never really seemed in love with any of them. She’d also never quite understand how Sansa could be attracted to safety and security and comfort, unglamorous as they seemed.

“So you were making out in his bunk room, and then…” Margaery prompted her.

Sansa gave up trying not to blush. “It was really sweet. He was so nervous, Marg, it was adorable, and we had to stop because all the guys were waiting for us to come back, and he was still on duty. Oh! But he asked me if he could take me out before he kissed me, so he came and picked me up…”

Margaery looked aghast. “You saw him twice on the same day?”

“I wanted to see him! I was only home for a few days, Marg, it wasn’t like I was going to make him wait three days to call me or whatever. Anyway, he picked me up and we drove to the movie theater at the mall, and he went right up to the desk and asked the guy what he thought the least crowded movie would be and bought two tickets. I was mortified.”

“Because you were on a date at the mall, or because kissing in the back of a movie theater is even more high school than your first date?”

Despite her critical words, Sansa could tell by the quirk of her mouth that Margaery was mostly teasing. Jon definitely wasn’t her friend’s type. “Because he made it so obvious. But I got over it, and there were maybe four other people in the theater. And then they turned the lights off. And then we kissed.”

“Sansa Stark, you have to do better than that. Is he a good kisser? Did he do anything else?”

Sansa used to think it was hard for her to share details about the things she did with Joffrey because she didn’t enjoy them. He had a knack for making her feel disposable in all areas of their relationship, sex included. Their only movie date had gone rather differently than her night with Jon; she’d been thrilled when he’d offered to take her to an adaptation of one of her favorite novels, until he’d spent the trailers grabbing her wrist and holding her hand to his lap, urging her to make it worth his time. She’d crossed her arms for the rest of the movie in anger and self-protection.

But it wasn’t any easier to talk about Jon, although her feelings about their date were radically different. He’d taken his time kissing her, slowly opening her up and learning her mouth touch by touch. He made her want to explore him, too, and find out what made him hum and groan. It felt like they’d spent hours just kissing, one of his hands tangled in her hair and both of hers clinging to his shoulders, before he’d leaned close and asked her…she forced his words out of her mind before she started panting like a fool.

Hugging one of Margaery’s pillows, she remembered the heat of his hand as it crept up her thigh and under her skirt while her legs trembled. Her back had arched sharply, almost painfully, when he’d gently touched her through her tights. Blood had poured into her cheeks and pounded past her ears, the noise so loud that even the action movie sound effects had faded away. Jon’s teeth had scraped and pinched sharp on her neck as he sucked in each breath, following the rhythm of the hand he worked against her. Even though they were alone, she had to lean forward and whisper it into Margaery’s ear.

Margaery shrieked. “Forget everything I’ve said. If this boy can get you of all people to relax enough to get off in a public theater, more power to him. You deserve someone generous, Sansa.” Then, she rolled her eyes. “But please, give him my number if he takes you on any more high school dates. I’ll give him some better ideas.”

 

Sansa whispered a quiet thank goodness when Jon left Ned’s office unaccompanied by her father. They hadn’t been able to spend any time alone the rest of Thanksgiving break, except for stolen moments as she walked him out to his car. So often, Jon looked out of place in their house when he wasn’t with Robb, as though he wasn’t quite sure he belonged, but now he walked toward her with sure steps. He was wearing scuffed Chucks under dark jeans that hugged his legs and a plain black windproof coat, left open over a light grey button-front shirt. Sansa was so absorbed in noting the details of his outfit that she yelped in surprise when he scooped her up in his arms.

“Hey.” She stopped kissing him to mumble against his mouth. “What were you and my dad talking about?”

Jon ran a hand through his hair. “Grab your coat, and I’ll tell you in the car.”

After he helped her into the front seat and cranked the heat, he answered her question. “I wanted to tell him about us. Dating. And make sure he was okay with it.”

That’s what she’d feared. “I’m not my father’s property. You don’t have to ask his permission before we can date.” Joffrey had sent a lovely letter to her parents before he’d taken her to his Christmas formal her second year. She still cringed sometimes at how charming she’d thought it.

“No, Sansa, it wasn’t like that. It’s more…your dad’s been like a father to me, in a lot of ways. I owed it to him to be frank about my intentions, man to man, if I was going to do something that would change the dynamic I have with your family.”

His words mollified her, somewhat. She’d worried so much about what Robb would think that she hadn’t really considered Jon’s relationship with her dad. He’d offered to pay for college, she remembered, if Jon had gone in-state, but he’d turned it down after getting the position with the fire department training program. It’s another decision her mom had criticized.

“I get that you have a unique relationship with him. But just to be clear, my decisions are my own, okay?” Jon nodded. “Now, where are you taking me? I’m dying to know.”

“We’re going downtown for a surprise, and then I thought we could grab a drink somewhere before we head back.”

Sansa tried once more to get him to tell her their destination. “I don’t think it’s fair for you to tell me how to dress without some kind of hint.”

“I said not to wear heels and to be prepared for the cold.” He paused and gave her a skeptical look.

“And I listened. Cold weather is what wool coats are for! And I promise you won’t hear a word of complaint from me about these shoes. Just don’t let me fall on any ice.”

Jon chuckled at her innocent grin. Their banter had taken them most of the way downtown, and Sansa enjoyed the view of streetlights decorated with garlands and bows. It felt good to be back in the city she called home. They drove past a block of restaurants, and she turned back to Jon.

“Thanks for understanding about dinner tonight. Mom always makes a big deal about having a family meal on the first night each of us spends back at home.”

“I get it. And I promise, one of these days, I’ll take you on an actual dinner date, at a restaurant with a wine list instead of a milkshake menu.” Jon’s tone was joking, but he looked serious. His words reminded her of Margaery, teasing her about reliving high school with him, and she tried to quell any insecurity he might feel.

“I’ve really liked all our dates so far. Even without a wine list. I think my last boyfriend may have spoiled fancy restaurants for me as an ideal romantic setting.”

Jon chewed on his lip for a while before responding. “I know we haven’t talked about it at all yet, but I remember how angry Robb was after he heard about the break-up. He called me to see if I’d met the prick when he visited Winterfell over spring break, but I hadn’t.”

Unexpectedly, the memory of Robb yelling threats on the phone as she sobbed to him made Sansa smile. “It was good to have someone around who felt plain angry about the whole thing. I was so hurt, and kind of numb, but Robb was nothing but a ball of righteous fury.”

Joffrey had been acting less and less respectful for weeks, but she hadn’t said anything. We’re just getting out of our honeymoon period, she’d told herself, so we’re finding things about each other that are annoying. Except that all of his complaints were about her appearance, her suggestions that they spend time together outside his fraternity house, her reluctance to walk over alone in the middle of the night for sex. On their final date, they’d been out to dinner when he’d told her to go to the ladies’ room and fix her makeup. She’d stared at the black and white tile of the bathroom wall and cried, dried her tears with a hand towel, and gathered the strength to force an apology out of him. Then she’d returned to their table to find him wrapped around another girl who’d slid into their booth, leering at her cleavage. She’d walked straight out the door and home into Margaery’s arms, sobbing all the way.

Jon was good at gently bringing her back into conversation after she got lost in her thoughts. “You know, it was Robb who convinced your dad to let you go to Florence afterward, for that summer art program. He said a change of scenery would do you good.”

“I didn’t know that,” Sansa said. “You and Robb have kept in pretty close touch for guys who haven’t lived in the same city in years.”

“He’s my best friend,” Jon stated simply. “He can’t get rid of me that easily.”

 

They drove down a curving road lined by young pine trees until Jon pulled into a parking lot. He cut the engine, but he didn’t remove his keys from the ignition. Instead he peered over the wheel and rubbed at his neck. Sansa hadn’t seen him look so nervous all night.

“Where are we?” she asked, trying to sound excited, not doubtful.

“We’re at the botanic gardens. They do some kind of winter light show, so you can walk through the gardens when they’re decorated for the holidays.” He looked up at her anxiously. “It didn’t sound so lame until I described it out loud.”

“It doesn’t sound lame. It sounds lovely.”

Once they entered the ticket lobby, Sansa remembered the building from an elementary school field trip. “Ooh! They have a koi pond here, don’t they? And an entire greenhouse full of tulips.”

The lady behind the front desk smiled. “You’ve visited the gardens before in the spring, then. Unfortunately the koi only live here in the warmer months. Our winter greenhouses have a fantastic display of amaryllis and snowdrops.” She looked encouragingly between them both. “Are you here for the lights? Would you like to rent 3D glasses as well?”

Jon noticed the giggle Sansa tried to suppress. “We’ll take tickets to tour the gardens, but I think we’ll skip the glasses this time around.”

Tickets purchased, they left the warmth of the information center for the paved paths of the gardens. Jon offered her his elbow and tucked her arm against his side, keeping it warm. They strolled slowly down an avenue of bushes covered in cheery red and white stripes, talking only to point out a detail of the decorations. Sansa felt like a heroine out of an Austen novel, taking a turn in the garden with a suitor to give him an opportunity to ask her hand in marriage, but without a gaggle of sisters peeking out the window at them.

Denver schools weren’t out for the holidays yet, so the paths were almost empty. Most people they passed were couples, but a few families drifted along too.

“It’s so quiet here. I barely feel like I’m in the city at all,” Sansa commented as Jon stooped under a branch decked in glowing icicles.

“Do you like it? I know the zoo does a light show too, but it sounded pretty hectic.”

“I used to go to the holiday lights at the zoo every year. My little brothers loved it. But I’m glad you picked someplace different.” Sansa squeezed his arm and leaned against his shoulder. “It’s special to go somewhere new, with just the two of us.”

Jon’s eyes glowed as he smiled at her, reflecting the twinkling lights of the trees. The next section of the path led them past ice sculptures lit by colored spotlights and covered in iridescent glitter. By the time they’d admired all the dancing reindeer and twirling figure skaters, Jon had abandoned his formal posture and laid his arm loosely over her shoulders. Sansa responded in kind, hugging him around the waist.

Soon they came to a wall of white lights, programmed to cascade like a slow waterfall. Nearby, blue and purple snowflakes flashed in time with the melody as “Silver Bells” filled the air, piped in through speakers in the trees. Sansa sang the words under her breath, and Jon hummed along, until she shot him a surprised look and he cleared his throat.

In Sansa’s opinion, the best part of the gardens was a gazebo draped in garlands built to overlook a still pond. Along the water, weeping willows dripped gossamer strands of lights that reflected in the surface like stars. The effect was amplified by soft blue lights, twinkling steadily among the trees. She and Jon sat down to admire the sight, and she gave a quiet sigh.

“It looks magical, like an enchanted lake from a fairy tale. I can imagine the snowflakes from the Nutcracker dancing under the willows, and then right out onto the water, smooth as glass, or ice.”

Jon wasn’t even looking at the lights. He studied her face with the same intensity with which she’d taken in the trees and the pond. Unable to meet his eyes for long, she ducked her head. “Sorry. I sound like a child, getting carried away by pretty lights. Maybe you should have taken me to the zoo instead.”

“Sansa.” In his tender voice, her name sounded almost like a prayer. Then he was kissing her. Behind her eyelids, lights swirled as if a soft breeze had ruffled the stillness of the pond, and fairies danced to the beat of the blood singing through her veins.

 

Once they finished walking the garden path, Jon took her to a restaurant nearby. They edged their way past a large party waiting to be seated and headed toward the bar.

“I’m going to run to the ladies’ room,” Sansa murmured close to his ear.

“Do you mind if I go ahead and order you something?” Jon asked. Sansa hesitated. She was picky about her alcohol, but Jon had proven himself a good judge of her taste so far, so she nodded.

Several women were waiting in line, gossiping about the predicted snow storm that hadn’t come last week. By the time she made it back to Jon, he was standing over two drinks on the polished wooden bar. He helped her onto a stool with a low back that made her inches taller than him and carefully handed her a pale green concoction decorated with mint leaves.

“Cheers,” he offered, picking up his own amber glass of whiskey. They clinked rims, and Sansa took a sip. Gin, with plenty of lime and just a hint of mint. She beamed at Jon.

“This is really good. Have you been here before?”

He shook his head. “I asked around the station for recommendations. I can’t say I usually drink at places with white tablecloths, but I wanted to try something a little nicer.”

“How much did they tease you?” Sansa asked knowingly.

“Plenty.” She laughed. “But it was worth it for our first date that I actually had time to plan.”

“Everything’s been lovely, Jon. Really,” she reassured him. He kissed her gently high on her cheekbone, near her ear, and smiled.

For more than an hour, they sipped their drinks and talked. Jon ordered Sansa a second gimlet as soon as she finished her first, but he stopped at one drink for himself. Draping an arm loosely over the back of her seat, he explained the fire department hierarchy in full, and where each of the men she’d met ranked within the station. She told him about Margaery, their tremendous differences, and the friendship they’d built despite them.

At one point, she caught a trio of women giving Jon interested looks from further down the bar. Instead of insecurity, she felt a stab of pride that they appreciated the figure he cut with his sleeves rolled up almost to his elbows. Feeling a bit daring from her second drink, she reached over and undid the button over his collarbone.

He looked down. “Is that how I’m supposed to wear it?”

“When I’m around.” Grinning, he leaned in to kiss her. It was brief- she could tell he didn’t want to embarrass her with an excessive display- but it left her feeling overheated nonetheless. She moved the hand still playing with his open collar to the back of his neck to hold him close. “I wish you didn’t have to take me home tonight. I wish we could…go somewhere else.” Somewhere we could be alone with each other, she willed him to understand.

He looked at her in silence for a long time before he spoke. “Sam’s hosting a poker night at our place for the crew that’s off tomorrow. But,” he raised his eyebrows and tilted his head slightly, “If you’re up for it, Robb has an empty condo downtown, and I have his spare key.”

“You’re kidding me.” The idea of having a whole space to themselves, even for a few minutes, thrilled her. The thought of Robb finding out terrified her in equal measure.

Jon pulled out his keys and sorted through them until he found a small silver key marked with a red sticker. “It’s up to you.”

 

There was little evidence in Robb’s condo that anyone had ever lived in it. No crumbs dusted the back of the kitchen counter, no mail piled up on the coffee table. He bought it so he would have his own space when he spent parts of the off-season at home, but he’d barely finished furnishing it in the weeks he’d spent there since October. Out of curiosity, Sansa opened his fridge and found expired orange juice, a box of rice left over from Chinese take-out, and a case of beer.

Jon emerged from the bathroom, fiddling with his unbuttoned collar uncertainly. Though he’d come up with the idea of using the condo, he’d been visibly uncomfortable from the moment they parked in the covered lot. In contrast, the sense that they were sneaking around made Sansa giddy with excitement. She pranced over to him and reached for his shoulders. He tensed beneath her hands.

“Sansa, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

“Really? I’ve been thinking this was an excellent idea.”

He touched his forehead to hers. “Robb is going to find out, and then he’s going to kill me and feed my body to the wolves.”

Sansa slithered away from him, swinging her hips dramatically. “Then we should make sure you earn your punishment.”

Robb’s master suite was on the second floor- he’d sent her a floor plan when he’d bought the condo, so that she could give him decorating tips. Jon stared, hands on his hips, as she darted up the stairs. Once she reached the landing, she shimmied out of her black tights, leaving them behind for Jon to see. Quickly, she jammed her feet back into her boots and scampered the rest of the way to Robb’s room.

Seductress wasn’t a role she’d played before. Sansa sat on the edge of Robb’s bed, fiddling with her hands. She didn’t feel bold enough to let Jon find her already naked, so she spent precious moments debating how to position her arms, and whether to part her knees or cross them demurely. A floorboard creaked just outside the door. Startled, she flinched, and Jon found her propped halfway on her elbows, legs tucked to the side so that her spine twisted.

In one hand he clenched her tights. His throat bobbed up and down as he looked her over, eyes black as the shadow of his beard across his face. Sansa watched his chest rise and fall faster and faster.

“Take off your shirt.”

In her head, it had been a wish, but the words came out sounding like a command. Without taking his eyes off her, Jon yanked open the rest of his buttons and tossed his shirt onto the ground, next to her tights. Encouraged, Sansa tried again, rolling to her side.

“Unzip me.”

Jon ignored the silver ladder down her back. He crawled above her on the bed, planting his hands firmly on either side of her. “Later,” he promised, and then his kisses had her flat on her back, exploring the shoulders and chest that were every inch as well-muscled as she’d imagined.

Suddenly his weight disappeared, and she felt his hands moving up her legs and pulling at the waistband of her underwear. She arched her back to help him, realizing too late how exposed the position left her. Jon knelt at the foot of the bed, catching her knees gently before she could slam them all the way closed.

“Fuck, I bet you taste sweet, Sansa.”

“Jon, no, you don’t have to…” Sansa stopped awkwardly.

“Neither of us has to do anything we don’t want to do,” he replied seriously. His thumbs were rubbing circles into her skin, and his fingers tickled the backs of her calves, sending shivers all the way up to her core. It made it difficult to think.

“I don’t think guys really like that. Doing…that.”

“Do you like it?” Sansa could only gasp incoherently, gripping the bedcover tightly. “Let’s find out.”

He started by using his hands, like he had in the movie theater, only this was better. She could make noise, for one thing, and spread her legs wider when it felt good, and pull him closer with a heel in his back when it wasn’t quite enough. Then he put his mouth on her.

She was hot, and slippery, and weightless. It was so intimate, to let him lick into her, but slowly the vulnerability she felt melted away into an erotic haze. She twisted the fabric clutched between her fingers, bracing herself as she rocked her hips against his mouth. Eventually, the prickle of his beard and the faint press of his fingernails where they held her thighs apart were the only things real enough to tether her to the bed. The rest of her body was a fevered dream, clenching and tightening until she shattered into pieces.

Slowly, Sansa regained control of her senses. Jon lay beside her, smoothing strands of hair away from her face. “What did you think?”

She huffed. “As if you couldn’t tell.” His smile bordered on smug.

Sansa traced a finger around his belly button, then down the line of black hair that led to where the elastic of his boxers was visible above the empty belt loops of his jeans. A shudder rippled across his stomach.

“Wait, Sansa.” His voice was hoarse.

“I want this,” she said firmly. “I’m ready for this. Us. Together.” She ran her palm down his fly.

He took her hand and kissed each knuckle, nipping at the last one. “Then so am I.”

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue 

 

On the Saturday before Christmas, the Stark family gathered to trim the tree. Ned had put the lights on the week before, but according to tradition, they saved the ornaments and tinsel until everyone was home for the holidays. Arya had flown in the night before, so Rickon and Bran had taken turns carrying rattling boxes down from the attic all morning.

Unfortunately, tradition also dictated that the whole family wear outrageous Christmas sweaters, and Robb’s, a knitted version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” complete with sleigh and reindeer, was nowhere to be found. Bran had grown out of his old one, which featured Santa grilling from a hammock on a desert island, and claimed their father’s extra, leaving Robb without options. He and Sansa were combing the closets, unwilling to believe his sweater had been permanently lost.

“Can you think about what you might have packed it with?” Sansa asked from the floor where she was sorting old hats and mittens, searching for a glimpse of yellow and blue yarn.

Robb thought for a moment. “I think I brought it on my skiing trip last winter, as a joke. It might be with the rest of my gear.”

“So, it’s at Winterfell,” Sansa said flatly, unimpressed by his utter lack of organization.

“Shit. Yeah. No, wait, I brought my skis and stuff to the condo, since it has all this extra closet space. Maybe it’s there!” He smiled charmingly. “Since I can’t drive, would you mind running over there to see if you can find it?”

“I’m not missing precious time decorating the tree just so you can wear your Christmas sweater.”

“Please?”

Sansa checked her phone. “No, but I told Jon to come over in an hour. You can call him and see if he’ll look for it on his way over, since he has your spare key.”

“Perfect!” Robb picked up his phone and put it back down. “How did you know Jon had a spare key?”

She completely froze. “What? Oh, um, he mentioned it…in a story. About how close you two were.”

“First of all, you’re a terrible liar. Second, you’re blushing like a fool. Why would he…?” Robb trailed off. In a low voice, he started again. “He took you to my condo, didn’t he?”

Sansa abandoned her attempts to make up a story. “We needed someplace to go! I couldn’t take him back here after a date, and he lives with all these firefighters with crazy schedules. Someone’s always awake, and there’s no privacy.”

“I give him my fucking blessing to date you, and then he goes and takes you over to my place to fuck you? My sister?”

Robb!” She should have been mad at him for his language, but Sansa could barely contain her laughter at her brother’s outraged face. She’d been genuinely scared of getting caught, the fear adding to the thrill of spending time with Jon, but Robb’s reaction was more melodramatic than threatening. His eyes bulged wildly, and his mouth hung open in a comic expression of disbelief.

“Tell me you had the decency to use the guest room.”

The tiniest shred of guilt took the edge off Sansa’s amusement. “Well, we didn’t use any of your condoms, at least.” He looked pained. “I mean, we brought our own. Safety first, obviously.”

“Stop. Do you think this is funny?”

“Actually, yes.” He made a pathetic attempt to lunge at her. “Oh, come on, Robb. You’re not that scary when you’re strapped into a wheelchair. You want me to date someone who respects me, and Jon treats me better than anyone I’ve ever met. We both know you’re going to grumble and roll your eyes and make a big deal about buying new sheets, but he’s still your best friend. And it is pretty funny.”

Robb caught himself rolling his eyes. “I’m still making him give the key back after he looks for my sweater.”

Sansa flashed him her sweetest smile. “Since you’re not using it right now…do you think you might let him keep it a little longer? Just while I’m home on break?”

Robb narrowed his eyes. “One more night. That’s it. And it counts as my present to both of you.”

She threw her arms around his neck. “I knew you’d get over it. Thanks, Robb.”

“Bah! Humbug,” he replied, and returned her hug with enthusiasm.