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This Time, We'll Do Better

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Sansa

Three Months Later

 

Sansa pressed the button of the photocopier and waited until the documents rolled out, one after another, before picking them up and pushing them inside the folder she was carrying. They were the last ones she needed, and after securing her hold of the folder, she started walking towards the Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Unit.

She had taken a casual job at the White Harbor General Hospital only two months ago but already knew her way around that huge building quite well. That she was moving between departments as a casual administrative assistant surely helped; she had already spent a stint at the Maternity Ward and was now working at the Paediatrics Department.

Her job might not be the most exciting part of healthcare, but after returning from her trip of revelations and recovery, Sansa had acknowledged that she still wanted to pursue a career in medicine. The start of the semester still being months away, she had figured that any job in that area would be a better choice than seeking a casual job in hospitality, in some cafe or a bar. Consequently, she had marched into the hospital Human Resources and asked if they had anything for someone like her.

They had, as a matter of fact, plenty of opportunities - and after first considering casual nursing support jobs, Sansa had decided on the administrative job instead, the hours being better. There was also a chronic shortage of administrative assistants willing to do boring desk jobs, so there were plenty of choices to move around between departments and get a well-rounded picture of all the areas of medicine the hospital operated in. Besides, a steady day-job allowed her better chances to get back into the routines of normal life; a life she now embraced fully.

As another indication of her new outlook on life, Sansa had moved away from home a month ago to establish her independence and start standing on her own two feet. Not far, to be honest—only to the other side of the city—and she still visited her parents and Bran regularly. She wasn’t exactly alone either, having answered one of the ‘Housemate Wanted’ ads and ending up sharing an apartment with Myranda, a vivacious young woman and the new arbitrator of Sansa’s social life.

She still sometimes thought about the past: Sandor, their life together, her family and other people she had loved – but now those thoughts were tinged with acceptance and appreciation of their unique beauty rather than regret and despair. She couldn’t go back – but she would always carry those memories in her heart and draw strength from them.

Sansa glanced at her watch as she walked along yet another long corridor. They were supposed to go for dinner and movies straight from work – Myranda worked in a clothes shop not far from the hospital – and Sansa counted the tasks still on her agenda before leaving. Delivering these documents, sending a couple of emails, finalising the next day’s patient list… Deep in those thoughts, she rounded the last corner before entering the waiting room of the Surgery Unit – and stopped as if punched in the gut.

The folder in her hand fell down and thudded heavily on the floor, papers spilling out of it and spreading around her feet.

It can’t be!

Shocked, Sansa just stood there, frozen on the spot. All eyes in the room had turned towards her at her unusual entrance, but she saw only one person.

Sandor?

He looked up as well and followed the direction of gazes, saw her – and then turned his eyes away, focussing back on the magazine he had been reading before the interruption.

With weakened knees, Sansa leaned against the wall to prevent herself collapsing then and there. Una, her colleague behind the counter, rushed to her.

“Oops, Sansa, that was a bit clumsy of you! But don’t worry, I’ll help you to collect these.” Una dropped down and started to gather the loose sheets, chuckling good-naturedly at Sansa’s mishap.

With trembling legs and hands Sansa knelt down as well, gathering the runaway papers, mumbling apologies while a deep heat suffused her cheeks.

Her audience ignored her soon enough, seeing the situation under control. Once all the sheets were safe, Sansa carried the now disordered folder to the desk at the end of the waiting room. While Una chatted, she reorganised the papers in order, all the time throwing looks towards the man whose presence had so profoundly shocked her.

He looked so much like Sandor: the same grey eyes, hooked nose and long dark hair tied back in a simple knot at the nape of his neck. His build was similarly impressive, with broad shoulders, massive arms, and legs like tree trunks, clad in blue jeans straining at the thighs. He wore a simple black t-shirt, a waist-length black leather jacket and black ankle boots.

And the other side of his face bore scars of an old injury.

They didn’t look as bad as Sandor’s had, the wound having likely been treated better at the time of the original accident, but the tell-tale signs of red scar tissue and stretched skin suggested it had been horrible indeed – likely a third-degree burn.

Yes, he was so much like Sandor – but he couldn’t be. He had looked straight at her and no sign of recognition had flashed in his eyes, and after Sansa had collected herself, he hadn’t as much as glimpsed in her direction.

But how was it possible?

“Do you happen to know who that man is?” Sansa asked Una with an unsteady voice, cocking her head towards him.

Una glanced at the man and frowned. “I don’t – but I have seen him here before. He’s rather hard to forget, if you know what I mean.” She laughed. Sansa knew her from staff social gatherings, and she was easy enough to get along with.

“I just… I have a feeling I might have met him somewhere but just can’t remember where. You know that feeling?” Sansa hoped her pretended casualness was convincing enough.

The man was sitting alone, eyes downcast and focussing on his magazine. He looked up once when one of the doctors called out a name of another patient, and Sansa caught sight of a strong jawline and a tattoo at the side of his neck, disappearing under his collar. While Sansa and Una watched, he put the magazine on the empty seat beside him and unzipped his jacket – it must have been too hot to wear in that crowded room.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” muttered Una. “Hard to forget. Quite a specimen, despite his face.”

The man pulled down his jacket, revealing strong arms covered with tattoos: abstract angular designs reminiscent of tribal art from faraway lands across the Narrow Sea. He was massive, the man sitting next to him dwarfed in comparison.

That’s what Sandor had been – towering over everyone. Soreness of an old wound, healed but the presence of which could still be felt under a scar, forced Sansa to look away.

“Yeah, I know that feeling. Annoying as hell when it happens,” Una said, turning her attention back to Sansa. “Well, you know I can’t tell you his name because of patient confidentiality and all that, but as it happens, his details are right here. I just had to check them before Dr Elder sees him.”

Una pressed a few buttons and the hospital’s patient management database opened up on the screen, then another screen with one patient’s details only. She slid past Sansa to get a glass of water from the other end of the counter, leaving Sansa plenty of time to study the screen.

Clegane, Sandy

Sansa skimmed the rows of text quickly. Name, age, address in the inner city, not far from where she and Myranda lived, name of the doctor…

He has practically the same name too. Could that be just a coincidence?

Una came back and Sansa moved away from the computer. Now that she had his name, she could access his records on her own to see what else they said.

Muttering her thanks to Una, Sansa proclaimed that she must have made a mistake because the name didn’t mean anything to her. As she turned to go, an elderly man stepped out from one of the consultation rooms and after clearing his throat, announced “Clegane!” in a loud voice.

The man stood up readily and walked towards the doctor, and just as he passed the reception desk, he looked straight at Sansa. He cocked his head and something unsure passed in his eyes before he focussed back on Dr Elder, and soon the two of them disappeared into the room. Sansa stood there, staring at the closed door.

She knew of Dr Elder, a respected long-serving surgeon at the hospital, who was well-liked by his peers and staff. What did he have to do with this Sandy Clegane?

Having no excuse to stay any longer and being aware of the work still waiting for her at her own station, Sansa had no choice but to leave.

Her heart thrummed like a war drum in her chest all the way back to her desk.


The patient records did provide some more material – but not much. Sansa tried to glean more information from the internet and in an ironic twist of fate, this time many references to her Sandor dominated the search pages and she had difficulties finding information on his modern namesake. Not that there was much – the man was clearly not much in the public domain.

He was older than her – the age difference between him and her being the same as it had been between her and Sandor in the past. The only public records of him she found were about his service in the WESSOS Peacekeeping Force in Yi Ti at the time of its civil war, but he had been back in Westeros for many years already. His current occupation was not listed, but his address was in the area of the city known for its multiculturalism and international flare.

The picture in his records showed him reserved and tight-lipped, staring into the camera as if it had offered him some kind of personal affront. Sansa stared at it for a long time, trying to decipher how it was possible that a person with so much likeness to Sandor—even a similar kind of injury as the man who had lived hundreds of years ago—existed.

Sansa saw that he had visited Dr Elder once before – and that he had a new appointment in two weeks’ time. That time, not just an appointment, but he was to be taken in for a surgical operation involving facial skin grafts.

It gave Sansa something else to think about. Why was he doing it? From what she had observed, his burns had been noticeable enough but not as grotesque as they could have been. His attire had given vibes of a casual, devil-may-care attitude; more like a heavy-metal rocker or a member of a motorcycle club indifferent to his appearance than a man wanting to impress other people with the way he looked. No family either – there was no name listed as his next of kin.

Two weeks.

Sansa couldn’t decide whether she wanted to see him again. He was NOT her Sandor, no matter how much he looked like him. To see him, maybe have a chat, maybe even getting to know him and realise that he was not what she might unconsciously expect – it could be too much for her to go through.

Sansa hadn’t entered the dating game yet despite Myranda’s repeated encouragements. Myranda was an outgoing woman who had no shortage of boyfriends and lovers, but since she was so unabashedly open about it, everyone accepted her as she was and loved her for it. Myranda had dragged her on a few double-dates, and although the men she had hooked Sansa with had been quite okay, Sansa had had no desires to go any further.

So why would she even consider a man with whom she had nothing in common, and who was bound to disappoint her even without trying - purely because he couldn’t be who she hoped he would be?

The following week, when it was again time for Sansa’s rotation in the hospital, instead of requesting an assignment at the Cancer Unit as she had initially planned, Sansa found herself requesting placement at the Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Unit.


Sansa’s anticipation and nervousness increased as time ticked by, although she knew it was completely irrational. This man had no knowledge of her and her issues, and unless she actually accosted him, he would mind his own business, show up for his treatment and leave, being none the wiser.

Shortly before the due time, Sansa resolved that she wasn’t going to decide beforehand whether she would approach him or not, but rather see how things played out. She could, after all, just satisfy her curiosity about seeing more of this living embodiment of her past love without interfering – and then continue her life as it had been, and leave him to his. Yet on the day, she found it hard to concentrate and she had to write the same patient entry three times in a row due to stupid spelling mistakes. Sighing, Sansa resigned to sorting the patient charts back to their folders instead – she could hardly stuff that up.

He came in ten minutes before the assigned consultation time, after which he was supposed to sign in as an inpatient.

He was dressed as he had been before, except that this time his t-shirt was white, unadorned as before. No band symbols, no advertising slogans suggesting they were freebies, no brand-name logos – just simple and plain. He walked up to the counter to give his name and while Sansa pretended to look up Dr Elder’s appointment calendar, she sensed him observing her from behind the desk.

“Have I seen you before?” he suddenly asked, his voice gruff, as if he hadn’t used it for a while.

Sansa startled.

“I… I don’t think so,” she stammered, caught off-guard. She hadn’t imagined him talking to her.

“I remember now. You’re the girl who dropped the folder the last time I was here, two weeks ago.”

Sansa blushed. “Yes, that was me. I was particularly clumsy that day.” She raised her eyes from the screen and met his, with which he was studying her intently.

“And yet I have a feeling I have seen you before that too. Have you worked here for long?”

“Not that long. A few months, in different departments. Unless you have had business in Maternity Ward or Paediatrics Department, you wouldn’t have seen me,” Sansa quipped.

He laughed, a low chuckle, that didn’t last long but reminded Sansa of…

No. Let it go, Tully.

“Unlikely, I have to say. Not my thing.” He pulled back away from the counter. “Maybe some other time then. Or not. I have a feeling I would remember meeting someone like you.”

He stopped there, where some other men might have continued, flattering her about her looks and trying to flirt with her. Not him. He only nodded at Sansa and went to sit down, grabbing one of the dog-eared car magazines from the table and leafing through it.

Sansa took a deep breath. Then another patient approached her asking about an appointment and Sansa had to focus back on her work.

Dr Elder called Clegane in and when he walked towards the doctor, he once again looked intently at Sansa but didn’t say anything. From the friendly greetings the two exchanged, Sansa got an impression that they knew each other rather well, even outside the hospital. Dr Elder spoke more than Clegane, thumping him on the back, and soon they retired to the consultancy room.

In less than 15 minutes he was out again, accompanied by his doctor.

“Dear Sansa, Sandy here needs to sign in as a patient. Can you take care of that and call the day nurse to take him into the ward?”

Dr Elder had taken kindly towards Sansa straightaway, and although he was nothing like the Elder Brother, being short and slender and looking like a gust of wind could blow him away, he reminded Sansa of that wise man. His surname might have had something to do with it, but in earnestness, it was more his demeanour and the calm he usually portrayed that did it.

“Of course,” Sansa smiled at him and reached for the inpatient form.

After Clegane had signed the last form with a flourishing twirl at the end, he was ready to leave. It was only a matter of Sansa calling the nurse to come and take him away. She reached for the telephone – and drew her hand back.

“Are you in a hurry to get in - or would you perhaps want to have a cup of coffee first? It would be the last cup of decent coffee until you get out again, you know. The stuff they serve in the ward is just coloured water, nothing else.”

Clegane looked up, raising his eyebrow. “Coffee?”

“There is quite a nice cafeteria not far away from here. Real coffee. Some pastry as well, juices. If you like those kinds of things. I’m about to head to my break and I would kill for a cup of coffee, so I just thought…” Sansa didn’t finish her sentence. She knew she was babbling but she couldn’t help it. She hadn’t been sure if she even wanted to talk to him, besides what the work dictated – and here she was, asking him for a coffee with her!

A frown on his forehead didn’t exactly convey anger, but rather confusion. He hesitated for a moment, and Sansa started to regret her spontaneity.

“Are you sure? I mean, yeah, I could use a cup of coffee too. There is no urgency for me to get in.” He pursed his lips together. “Sure. When can you leave?”

“Right now. I just get my things.”  Sansa jumped up, got her bag from a drawer and put up the sign that the desk was temporarily unattended and that people should contact the service desk of the next department. She walked out from behind the desk and headed for the cafeteria, and Clegane fell into step with her.


It’s just a cup of coffee, Sansa reminded herself as they made their way through the corridors towards the small cafeteria tucked at the back of the eastern wing of the hospital. It was farthest away from the main entrance and was usually quieter than the other cafés, which is why Sansa liked it the best. As well as for its coffee.

After they had settled down with their drinks (caffe latte for Sansa, double-shot espresso for him), neither of them spoke for a while. Sansa focussed on her drink - she hadn’t lied about feeling ready to kill for a coffee – and Clegane (should I call him Sandy? Could I? Would it feel all wrong?) sipped his with the same intensity.

Yet the silence didn’t feel suffocating.

Eventually, Sansa set her mug down. “What’s with the t-shirts?”

Clegane - Sandy – glanced down at the said article of clothing and knit his brows together. “T-shirts?” He was wearing his leather jacket open and Sansa couldn’t help noticing how the shirt stretched tightly across his chest. It was rather distracting and she had to force herself to look away.

“No pictures, no text, no logos. It’s not very common.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t know. I just like things clean and simple. No embellishments.”

Sansa nodded. “I like that too – not that I execute it perfectly. I have just moved to live on my own and I have firm plans about what I allow to enter my rooms and whatnot. Only what I need, clean lines, no stuff everywhere.”

“Where did you move to?”

Sansa gave out the name of the suburb and for a while, they engaged in a discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of that and the suburb where Sandy lived. Restaurants, parks, bikeways, public transportation, that sort of thing. In the course of the chat it turned out that he indeed did have a motorcycle – but the lack of logos or insignia suggested he was not, as a matter of fact, a member of a motorcycle club.

His observations were astute and although sometimes critical, in a self-deprecating way that didn’t make it sound as if he was whining or complaining. He also listened to what Sansa said instead of talking over her, as many men did. It always infuriated Sansa and she had no patience for repeat offenders.

All the time they talked Sansa was acutely aware of his closeness, the tiny table they were sitting at being so small that their elbows were practically rubbing together.

Sandy offered and Sansa accepted the second cup of coffee. She knew she really should be getting back to her station, but she also knew that there were no more appointments for a while, all the doctors having gone to a staff meeting, so she wasn’t too worried.

“So, when are you going to ask?” Sandy asked, out of the blue.

“Ask what?” Sansa went pale. Did he sense that something was off?

“The usual. What do I do for a living, where do I come from, what’s my background. Where did I get these.” He gestured at his face. “In this situation especially, what I am going under a knife for? What people usually ask.”

Sansa studied him. He didn’t seem particularly offended; if anything, slightly amused, and somewhat challenging.

“Do you want to tell me all that? Or do you want to ask those things of me? Well, not the surgery, obviously.”

He laughed out loud. “Not particularly. I guess it’s just not that common. Not to be curious.”

Sansa’s mouth twitched. Maybe because she felt she knew so much already… or was afraid to hear more things that would only serve to confuse her. Maybe she felt there was no need to know more.

She realised she felt very comfortable with him. It was rather odd, really.

“Well, I find the notion of taking people as they are rather than what they say rather refreshing. Don’t you? And I guess I missed my chance anyway, as I really have to go back to work. I have stretched my break quite thin as it is already.”

She got up, as did he. They walked back in silence, but again, it was contented silence. Sandy looked thoughtful the few times Sansa glanced at him.

When Sansa finished her call with a nurse, who promised to come straight away, he coughed.

“I should get out in a few days. I’m going to be covered in bandages and will undoubtedly be quite a sight – but if you feel like coffee again…” This time it was he who didn’t finish his sentence.

“I drink coffee pretty much every day,” Sansa announced, tilting her head. “About this time should work.”

And that was it. The nurse came and took him away, and Sansa’s day continued with a new flurry of patients crowding the waiting room, ready for their appointments.


Sansa had difficulties processing her thoughts about the situation and Sandy Clegane. On one hand, it seemed too much to be just a coincidence, on the other, she couldn’t run blindly after something based on nothing more than assumptions and conjectures. Heaven’s sake, she still knew almost nothing about this man!

But there was somebody who did.

When a patient cancelled his consultation with Dr Elder two days later and only minutes before it was due to start, instead of letting him know by the phone, Sansa knocked on his door.

After being called in and explaining the situation, Sansa lingered in the room.

“What it is, Sansa?” Dr Elder asked, looking up from the notes he had picked up.

“The man who was here the other day, Sandy Clegane – do you know him well?”

Dr Elder corrected the glasses perched on his nose. “I guess I do – as well as anyone, or better. Why do you ask?”

Sansa blushed. She knew it was not really appropriate to talk about the patients for reasons other than their healthcare, but she also knew that the rule was not universally adhered to.

“No reason, really. Or, I just had coffee with him before he went into the ward and he seemed a kind of unusual person.”

“Coffee? You?” Dr Elder’s jaw dropped.

“Yes, me.” Sansa started to feel uncomfortable. “Is it so odd?”

Dr Elder smiled apologetically. “No, not at all. I was just surprised that he took the initiative to ask you.”

Sansa’s blush deepened. “Actually, it was I who asked him.”

“You?” Dr Elder’s eyebrows rose before he hastened to continue. “I mean, that’s great. He’s not the most sociable of people. As a matter of fact, he asked about you, so hence I assumed…”

“He did? What?” Sansa’s pulse sped up.

“What’s your name and have you worked here for long.” Dr Elder looked at her and winked. “I’m not surprised about that, you catch the attention of many men, I’m sure. I was a bit surprised to hear him asking, though.”

“Why?”

Dr Elder frowned. “Well, as I said, he is not much of an outgoing personality. I know him well because I saved his life once.” He smiled. “I wasn’t always a resident in this hospital, you know. Many years ago I volunteered in the Peacekeeping corps medical division and served in Yi Ti at the time when the civil war was at its height. There was some heavy fighting where our boys got tangled in the aftermath: a few casualties, many wounded. I patched them up the best I could, and then, a day after the battle was over, we went through the ground to collect anything valuable left behind. It was then that I came across him.”

“A day?” Sansa gasped.

“Yes, a whole day.” Dr Elder nodded. “There were some questions asked, you can be sure, about the sloppy handling of that operation. Anyway, he was half-dead, had a really bad wound in his leg and had lost a lot of blood. For a while, I wasn’t sure if he was going to live.”

“But he did,” Sansa stated the obvious.

“He did – and during his convalescence, we became friends. He found it easy to talk to me and he had many things to go through…” Dr Elder shrugged. “And here we are.”

“Is that where he got the burns on his face?”

“No, that was earlier.” Dr Elder’s face darkened at first, but then he smiled. “However, I recently did some creative paperwork and got his surgery covered under the Peace Corps insurance. He didn’t want it, told me he didn’t care what he looked like - but I thought it might make him fit better. People are not always very understanding when it comes to physical appearances, even if it is beyond one’s own control.”

“Very true,” Sansa said slowly. It all made sense now. She had never found out what exactly Sandor’s fate had been in the first revision of the history before she had interfered and changed its course, but based on his presence at the Quiet Isle and the Elder Brother’s poem, it might have been something like this.

“I have probably said too much already,” Dr Elder sighed. “Are you going to see him again?”

“I am – we are going for a coffee again when he gets out.”

“Well, maybe you can get more out of him then. But I have to warn you: he is a very guarded person. But he’s a good man, better than he thinks he is.”

Sansa heard the bell ring at the front desk, telling her there was someone waiting. She got up.

“Thank you very much for this. He seemed unusual, but not in a bad way - if you know what I mean. And what you have told me helps me when I talk with him again.”

Dr Elder nodded and smiled. “My pleasure. He is worth getting to know better, that’s all I can say.”


He came three days later, exactly at the same time as before. Half of his face was covered with bandages, and although a cruel person might have said it improved his looks, Sansa knew better. With a twinge in her conscience, she remembered her assessment in King’s Landing how Sandor could look better after some reconstructive surgery. In the end, of course, it hadn’t mattered at all.

Over the coffee – and this time, also pastry – they exchanged some neutral comments: the coffee at the ward indeed being just coloured water, the department having been unusually busy over the last week, that sort of thing.

Sandy kept on rubbing the covered area, ever so subtly.

“Does it itch?” Sansa asked.

“Like hell,” Sandy grunted. “And they say it gets worse before it gets better.”

“Does it hurt?”

“I’ve felt worse.” He shrugged. “I didn’t even want this. This whole thing was not my idea, but Kerry put me into it…”

“Kerry?”

“Dr Elder. He thought this would help me get jobs, and he organised the insurance to pay, so…” He shrugged his shoulders again.

“Is this the part where you want to tell me what you do? Because you don’t have to, if you don’t want,” Sansa said, picking up her muffin and taking a bite. She hadn’t told him about her talk with Dr Elder, so she was curious to see how Sandy would respond.

“It’s not like it’s a state secret or anything. I fix cars. I work for a guy now, but someday I would like to get my own shop.” The corner of his mouth twitched. “I have also been a security guard, a bodyguard, a soldier – served in the Peace Corps. For a while, I dug graves. All kinds of jobs, some lousy, some less so.”

“Makes life interesting, I guess,” Sansa said, her curiosity being sated a bit. What he said fit the picture she had already started to form in her head: a self-made man, restless, moving from job to job.

“And you?”

“I haven’t done much, really. This is just a temporary job, but I start studying medicine in a few months. I don’t know yet where that will lead – maybe I’ll become a general practitioner, or maybe I’ll specialise. I have years to decide on that.”

“Hmph.”

His mannerisms were so much like Sandor’s – and yet different. Sansa was fascinated.

“I’m White Harbor born and bred, as well. So my life isn’t very exciting, as you can see,” Sansa continued. Yes, she hadn’t felt a need to ask questions the last time, but now her curiosity had been fully awakened. Maybe he would feel better about sharing if Sansa did it first. She had time; she had organised a longer break than the last time by asking Una to stand in for her.

“Excitement is overrated. After a while, it wears you down.” Sandy lifted his hands up in an exaggerated gesture of surrender. “I’m from Westerlands, not far from Lannisport. From a crappy place in a crappy area.”

“Clegane is not a very common name, but as it happens, I know of a horse stud and dog breeding kennel in the North called the Hound’s Den, whose original owners were Cleganes. Any relation?”

Sandy frowned. “My mother sometimes talked about another branch of our family being some big names in the North – but that was way, way back when. Some ancient shit.”

“Does your family still live in the Westerlands?”

That.

That question hit a nerve. Although he did a remarkable job of keeping his expression neutral, Sansa saw his jaw clenching and a hardened look returning to his eyes.

“No family. Not anyone that counts, at least.”

Sansa was almost afraid to think what it might mean. If it turned out that he had an older brother who had had something to do with his burns…

Moving quickly to a less sensitive topic, Sansa told him about her own family, and the situation diffused. Then, quite inexplicably, Sansa found herself talking about her last year: the incident in the Red Keep, the coma, the recovery. She didn’t usually bring it up so soon – as a matter of fact, often she preferred not to bring it up at all, and sometimes she had to kick Myranda in the shin under the table to prevent her spilling it as an entertaining story to break the ice with new people.

Sandy listened to her, not interrupting at once, and Sansa had an impression that he paid keen attention to her story. When she finished, he leaned back in his chair and nodded slowly.

“So you have been through it as well.”

“What?”

“That life is not a song. Shitty things happen.” He looked her squarely in the eye. “But you pulled through. That’s good.

“I guess I did.”

“Don’t know if you need any help anymore, but if you want to talk to someone, Kerry – Dr Elder – is a pretty damn good listener. He helped me through some stuff – I don’t think I could have done it on my own.” He looked serious, but something in his demeanour told Sansa that whatever anger he had felt at the mention of his family, it was gone now. He seemed like a man at peace with himself.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Sansa said, then gulped down the last of her coffee. She felt better now that it was out in the open. In fact, he knew now pretty much all there was to know about her. She still didn’t know much about him, though.

She knew it was time for her to go; even Una’s generosity of spirit had its limits. Yet if she did so without arranging to see him again… She wanted to. It might be foolish and she might regret it still, but she couldn’t let this be it.

“Would you like to –“

“What would you say to – “

They both started at the same time, then stopped. Sansa recovered first.

“I was just going to ask if you would like to have dinner someday – maybe after you have had your bandages removed?”

“Damn. I’m not used to this,” Sandy muttered.

“What?”

“Asking anyone out. I was going to ask as well if you would like to have dinner with me. And I’m even less used to being asked out. Especially by a pretty girl like you.” He gestured at Sansa. “Pretty girl in a pretty plumage. You are like one of those exotic birds they keep at the zoo.”

Sansa’s heart seized. This, too? It was true that she was dressed unusually brightly that day, wearing a multi-coloured printed dress with yellows, greens, blues and reds, all light and bright.

“Well, here we are now, anyway. How’s next week’s Friday? You should be rid of those by then,” Sansa forged ahead, deciding to ignore his reference to birds for now.

“Might be better before. I’m going to be a gruesome sight for a while before the skin is fully healed. And likely afterwards, too.” The corner of his mouth twitched.

“It doesn’t matter. I’ve seen worse.”

Sandy cocked his head and studied Sansa, his grey eyes boring through her, searching. Whatever he found, it seemed to satisfy him. He pushed his cup away and shrugged his shoulders.

“I can’t imagine where, but I take your word for it.”

They exchanged phone numbers and agreed to touch base when the bandages had been removed, and then it was time for Sansa to get back to work. Just as she started to stand up, though, a sudden thought entered her head and refused to leave.

She sat down again.

Sansa really wanted to see him again, but with what she had gone through, and with how much he resembled Sandor of the past…

“Sandy, do you like history?” Sansa inquired, attempting to sound casual.

He raised his eyebrow. “History?” Then he frowned and Sansa was struck with an impression he really thought about the question before answering.

“Can’t say I do, particularly. You mean like really old shit?”

“Well, yes. For example, the Targaryen conquests, the first or the second? Or the times when your ancestors were ‘big names in the north’, as your mother said?”

“I have had enough on my plate at these times to worry about stuff that happened hundreds of years ago.” He grinned and once again Sansa was drawn to observe the details of his face: so familiar and still so new.

“Do you own anything old? Like a ring or some old coins or such?”

Sandy glanced at his right wrist that was adorned by a black studded leather wristband. “Is ten years old?”

Sansa smiled. “No, not really. I am talking about hundred years or more. Not necessarily museum quality stuff such as valuables or important artefacts, but ordinary things. Nails, broken pieces of pottery, old horseshoe. Anything.”

“Why do you ask?” He leaned back on his chair, balancing it on its back legs.

“I…I just wanted to warn you that carrying old things around is not good. It brings bad karma.” Sansa started to sweat. She knew she sounded ridiculous – but she didn’t want to risk it. Not with him, not now that she had such a good feeling about this.

“Bad karma? Not so sure if I believe in it. Maybe I should.” The chair thudded back on the floor as he leaned forward again. “Do you say that to everyone you meet? Warn against bad karma?”

Sansa had to think quickly. If she said yes, he was sure to think her some crazy new-age devotee – but if she said no, it would reveal that she has special concerns about his well-being – besides being a crazy new-age devotee.

“No, I don’t,” she muttered. “I just thought – well, it seems you have your share of bad luck – and it really is bad karma! I never wear anything older than a few decades, at most.”

“Well, me neither, so I guess I am protected on that front. But thanks for the advice.” Yes, he smirked at her, not even bothering to hide it. Sansa’s cheeks flushed but she refused to feel too embarrassed. At least now she could be sure that he wouldn’t disappear into the past before they met again.

Not now, not yet. Maybe not ever.


For the rest of that day - for the rest of the week, actually - Sansa couldn’t stop smiling. She felt as if she was standing at the edge of a precipice looming ahead of her, dark and scary and yet inviting.

This man was not her Sandor, this man hadn’t gone through what he had. Sansa wasn’t going to fool herself thinking that the love of her life could be replaced by somebody else, no matter how much alike – like a piece that could simply be slot into a gaping hole that had been left empty.

No, he was his own man – and yet… He had gone through hell and come out on the other side, whole and at peace. He was reserved and aloof and not like other men, and yet Sansa felt at ease when talking to him. He was an enigma that Sansa was curious to unravel, and in the process reveal herself to him. He wouldn’t let her down, she believed. Maybe it was irrational, but she did trust him.

And she would have never reached out to him if it hadn’t been her time in the past. No, she wouldn’t have given him a second look at that reception room – or if she had, it would have never occurred to Sansa that she and him could ever have anything common. He had looked different, he had acted different; not at all like the men – boys – she had gone out with before. He had radiated danger and intimidation, and Sansa wouldn’t have had the courage to face him as an equal.

But now…

Sansa curled a pillow against her chest in her bed and pressed her grinning face against it. The quality of her life had already improved over the last few months when the anguish over what she had lost had slowly receded, and this could be a start of something even more.

This is it.

From now on, things will be even better.

THE END

 

... OR RATHER, THE NEW BEGINNING...

 

Man in a black leather jacket