By the time they cleared away their plates and pizza boxes and cracked open a second case of beer, Sansa had put all her nerves about hosting the astronauts behind her. The wine certainly helped; the friendly teasing and camaraderie among the ASCANS took care of any lingering fears about strangers sleeping in her house. At Dacey’s suggestion, they helped move benches and chairs from the deck down into the yard around the fire pit, and Margaery retrieved supplies for s’mores from their jeep.
Sam left Sansa’s side to search out likely sticks for toasting marshmallows, and Tormund took the empty seat. He tilted his head in Myranda’s direction.
“If you were a betting woman, what would you say— does she go for Jon or Grenn?”
Her friend was sitting between the two men, halfway through a story, but Sansa didn’t have to look at her body language to answer.
“Depends who’s funnier, I think.” At Tormund’s look, she explained, “Myranda likes to be near the life of the party.”
“Better mark her down for Pyp, then.” Tormund tapped his lips with a finger. “Not a word to Ygritte about this, okay?”
Sansa laughed. “Do you have a pool going? Because Myranda will have your hide if she doesn’t get a share of the winnings.”
“Not a word to her either, then!” He winked at her as Jon approached, frowning. “Have my seat, Snow! I need another beer.”
Jon’s mouth twitched into a fleeting smile as Sansa patted the bench next to her, but his expression turned dark again as he watched the redhead make his way toward the cooler. “Tormund’s up to something.”
“He’s got a bet going with Ygritte on somebody’s love life,” Sansa murmured, stretching out her feet toward the fire.
Jon snorted. “Then that’s what he wants you to think. Makes you feel like you’re in on it. What did he ask you?”
She turned to face him, taking in the furrows right between his brows. “Why are you so suspicious? He’s like your astronaut teammate, right?”
“Tormund hid Pyp in the trunk of our van at a rest stop in the middle of Arkansas, pretended to realize we’d left him behind thirty minutes later, and didn’t give up the con until I was on the phone with command trying to trace him by his NASA-issued cell phone.” Jon said. “Don’t think you’re safe just because he got you involved.”
Sansa could hardly believe it. “Nobody noticed? What were you all doing?"
“Sleeping,” admitted Jon. “And thanks to him, we’re all too paranoid to nap in his presence ever again.”
“Maybe that’s a good lesson,” Sansa pointed out.“I hope you made him drive the rest of the way.”
Jon shook his head. “We made him take the last shift, though. Southern Illinois is brutal.”
“Worse than Arkansas?”
“Absolutely. Vultures literally flew into our path in the middle of the interstate. I think one dented the windshield.” The story made Sansa smile, and it took Jon’s attention off Tormund long enough for the bigger man to find a new perch on the other side of the circle.
When Sam returned, triumphantly carrying an armful of slender branches, Jon helped him strip off the twigs and leaves. Then he passed them out around the circle, Margaery trailing behind with the bag of marshmallows, while Sam carefully laid out graham crackers on the lip of the fire ring. Sansa caught onto his idea and began snapping apart bars of chocolate. She covered each cracker with a dark square until Dacey saw her and protested.
“You leave my chocolate alone, Sansa Stark!”
“But it’s so much better melted,” she said.
Dacey rolled her eyes. “If you toasted your marshmallow properly, it would do all the melting needed on its own.”
“You mean if I set it on fire.”
The coach brushed off the accusation with a shrug.“Gives it some texture. Nothing like the crunch of burnt sugar.”
“Mmmm, and a little bit of smokiness too,” Ygritte agreed.
Margaery and Jon completed their circuit. Jon offered Sansa the last stick, but she waved him off.
“You go first. I’m going to wait for my chocolate to melt.”
She settled in beside Margaery instead. The two of them gaped in disbelief as Dacey immediately stuck her marshmallow straight into the flames.
“Patience, babe!” Margaery cried. “It’s going to be raw in the middle, look.” She scraped it onto an empty graham cracker, shaking her head. “I’m with Sansa on this one. Marshmallows should be gooey and melted, not crispy.”
“More for me.” Dacey opened her mouth so that Margaery could feed her the rejected treat. “I’ll be more patient on the next one,” she promised.
She wrapped an arm around Margaery’s waist to pull her close as the younger woman rummaged for another marshmallow. Cold without a body beside her, Sansa moved nearer to the fire, where Jon was almost finished.
"What do you think?” He asked. Unlike Dacey’s, his marshmallow was golden all the way around, with only a few dark bubbles of sugar near the very end. Sansa beamed.
“It’s perfect! Quick, before it falls—” Together they positioned the marshmallow in the middle of a pair of graham crackers, melted chocolate already sliding out the sides. Instead of accepting it, Jon shook his head and grinned wide.
“It’s for you. I did my best not to let it get burned.”
Left holding the s’more, Sansa could only gaze up at his transformed expression and murmur her thanks. There were creases at the corners of his dark eyes, no longer smoldering with concern but shining in the dancing firelight. He had dimples, too, underneath his evening stubble. Sansa had the unthinkable urge to kiss him there, right on the corner of his mouth.
The moment was shattered by the click of a shutter. “Now look this way, Sansa!”
Myranda and Pyp stood side by side, cameras covering their faces. She lowered hers as Sansa turned, frowning. “No, keep smiling, Jon. That was really good! If you could just tilt towards the fire a little more so we have better lighting…”
Sansa plastered on what Myranda called her Saluki smile. Jon brought a tentative arm around her shoulders as they pivoted closer to the fire pit. Three more snaps and she could feel chocolate begin to drip down her wrist.
“Done,” said Pyp. “Now, let’s talk hashtags.”
“Sorry about that,” Sansa said, bending to catch the melted chocolate with her tongue as Jon stared. “Randa has an Instagram for advertising SIU and answering admissions questions. Somehow I end up posing for half her pictures.”
“Pyp’s the same way.” He finally tore his eyes away and loaded another marshmallow onto his stick. “He’s really into the idea of astronauts as scientific ambassadors. Came up with our name and everything.”
“The Night’s Watch,” Sansa repeated, remembering Pyp’s introduction. “It’s a good name.”
“It’s an even better name for Pyp’s high school garage band, but you didn’t hear it from me.” Ygritte had made her way around the circle to join them, resting one arm on each of their taller shoulders. “What do you say, commander?”
Jon sensed another layer to her question. He gave a careful look around the fire before answering. “Sam looks beat. One more beer and then we should say our goodbyes. If that’s okay.” He glanced up at Sansa, deferring to her.
“Works for me. Maege is letting us work from home tomorrow to avoid the crowds on campus,” Sansa replied.
“LAST CALL!” Ygritte announced to the rest of the circle. “ASCANS need to make up for lost sleep on the drive up.” She glared at Tormund, who simply waggled his eyebrows. He didn’t look repentant at all.
Back at Sansa’s house, the astronauts in training prepared for bed with characteristic efficiency. Ygritte and Tormund had a sleeping platform set up next to the telescopes in less time than it took Sansa to make up the pull-out couch. They all said their goodnights, Sansa pausing in the kitchen for a glass of water before she headed upstairs to try and forget about the handsome stranger sleeping only steps away.
Except he was hovering in the hallway again outside their rooms. Shirtless.
“What is it?” Sansa asked, keeping her distance to avoid yet another tension-filled staring contest.
“Your dog is on my bed. It doesn’t seem like she wants to move.”
“Lady!” Sansa strode past him, resisting the temptation to glance down at the trail of dark hair across his stomach until the last possible moment. “I’m so sorry. That’s normally where she sleeps.”
He followed her as she entered his— Lady’s—room. “She gets an entire bed to herself?”
“And it’s nothing less than she deserves. Right, Lady?” Sansa couldn’t help but adopt the sing-song voice unique to besotted dog owners. “Up! Come sleep with me tonight.”
Jon had his hands on his hips now, full lips curling. “Lucky dog.”
She flashed him a quick smile, unsure if he meant to be suggestive. “Sleep tight, Jon.”
Lady’s paws clicked against the floor as she padded to the other bedroom, but Sansa lingered for a just a moment in the doorway. A tattoo had caught her eye as she passed the half-naked man, a figure lunging across his shoulder toward the muscled groove of his spine. At first, she’d thought it was a grey and white dog, not dissimilar to Lady, but a second look showed a snarling mouth that gleamed red with blood.
It was a wolf.