Sansa shifted the heavy box in her arms, sighing in quiet irritation as she followed her new Head of Department down the hall towards her office. She probably should have paid attention to whatever it was he was saying, but her concentration focused on not making an ass of herself by spilling the box in the hallway.
“And what with the summer construction unfortunately delayed past the first of term,” he said blandly, “I trust you’ll understand the necessity of sharing an office until renovations are completed.”
“What?” Sansa’s steps faltered. She nearly dropped her box at this bit of information but managed to continue following him down the seemingly endless expanse. She shifted the box again, trying in vain to find a more comfortable position in which to hold it. “Professor Sumners—”
She sighed through her nose. “Charles—”
“Ah, here we are.”
She nearly collided with him as he abruptly stopped near an office door, rapping twice smartly before unlocking it and gesturing Sansa inside.
She hurried in, setting the box down with a relieved humph, dusting her hands as she straightened. The look of the office surprised her. Sparse, save for a few bookshelves to the left of the door and a small, interesting collection of what seemed to be medieval weapons adorning each side of the long, twin windows that faced the school’s lush green lawn. Brown, university-standard carpeting covered the floor. A huge desk, almost too big for the small room, grabbed her attention as she ran her eyes over the decor.
The desk was deep mahogany with a vibrancy to the stain that set it apart from any run-of-the-mill, university-issue. A whimsical pattern of whorls interspersed with more geometric shapes was etched into the wood, climbing from clawed feet up to each corner. A massive chair sat behind it, black leather and swivel, and the entire effect was intimidating. She flicked her eyes to the other side of the room where a much smaller, entirely less impressive desk sat waiting. Hers, apparently.
She swallowed, wondering who on earth she was sharing this office with. And if they knew about the arrangement.
“So then!” Professor Sumners’ chirp startled her out of her reverie. “I’ll leave you to your unpacking, shall I?” He thrust out a hand and Sansa took it dumbly. “Lovely to have you with us, Professor Stark. Here’s your key. Enjoy sharing. I promise it will only be for a few more weeks at most!”
With that, he swanned out, shutting the door behind him and leaving a dumbstruck Sansa behind clutching a key and wondering why the hell she hadn’t pressed the office issue. It was a direct violation of her employment contract and she refused to stand for it.
She charged to the door, intending to barrel after the irksome Professor Sumners and give him a very firm piece of her mind, but stopped short the moment she opened the door. A very broad chest met her at eye level and she gasped, taking a startled step backward. Her gaze traveled upward to rest on the scowling, scarred visage of an absurdly tall man. Long hair hung half in his face, over the scarred side, the mangled flesh pulled and painful looking. A short beard crossed both sides of his face, yet was thinner among the scars. His grey eyes narrowed down at her.
“Oh,” she managed, gulping and taking a few more steps back. Her eyes never left his face.
The tall man’s scowl deepened, his short beard twitching around the downward turn of his lips. He ducked slightly to enter the room, coming to his full height once he was inside. He flicked his gaze over Sansa’s form dismissively, giving an unimpressed grunt before moving towards the big desk and sitting.
Sansa stood mute in the center of the room, staring at the massive man as he folded himself into his chair with a disturbing amount of grace for one so large. He pulled a laptop from a bag she didn’t notice he held, opening it and tapping on the keys.
“What do you want, girl?”
The voice out of him was gruff, cold, irritated. Sansa blinked, realizing how hard she was staring. She shook her head.
“Oh, I-I’m sorry. How rude of me.” She moved forward, extending a hand. “I’m Sansa.”
He looked at her outstretched hand and raised his unscarred eyebrow.
“Office hours will be on the syllabus.” He smirked nastily. “Or did you think to get a head start on your grade by charm alone?”
Sansa’s face heated. He thought she was a student? And worse, a student come to-to what, flirt for a potentially better grade? How offensive.
“Excuse me, sir, but I’m not a student. I'm Sansa Stark.” He stared at her, his expression disinterested. “The new history professor? Did no one tell you about me?”
He chuckled, moving his gaze back to his laptop.
“Oh, are you important enough to warrant a warning I should listen to, then?” He tapped a few more times on the keys, frowning at something he saw. Sansa folded her arms across her chest, her long red hair sliding over one shoulder as she tilted her head at him.
“I would think important enough to let you know that for the next several weeks, we’re to share this office while mine is finished.” His gaze shot back to hers, burning with disbelief and annoyance, and she smiled wryly. “I see no one bothered to tell you either.”
“You’re fucking with me, girl.” He pushed his chair back and stood, placing his hands flat on his desk and pinning her with a hard stare. “This space is mine and I don’t share. Sumners knows that, and very well, too.”
She refused to let him intimidate her with his size, the great bully. She took a few steps forward, her movements guided by anger, and leaned in a breath away from his face.
“Sorry to hear that, professor , but for the foreseeable future, you do share and it’s with me.”
His eyes roamed her face, his nostrils flaring. An odd charge filled the scant amount of air between them and a corner of his mouth curled ever so slightly upwards.
“You’re a brave little bird, aren’t you, girl?”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Call me girl one more time,” she hissed, “and you’ll see exactly how brave I can be.”
He tsked, pursing his lips slightly and giving her a smug look. He shut his laptop with a snap before pulling back and moving out from behind his desk.
“I’m having a word with Sumners,” he said, moving to the door and opening it. “Don’t get comfortable. You won’t be staying long.”
He slammed the door behind him, leaving Sansa to fume in the silence.
Sansa ignored the hell out of his ridiculous dictate as she unpacked. She still hadn’t gotten his name, but no matter. She supposed she could always check the nameplate outside his— their — door but she couldn’t be bothered. It was his duty to introduce himself as she had done, so, in short, fuck him.
She was struggling on a rickety stepladder she’d found tucked into the office’s minute closet, trying to get a rather heavy tome on one of the middle shelves above her desk when she heard a key in the lock. The door swung open slowly and the ridiculous man slunk in, his expression darker than before. She stayed silent as he grumbled his way inside. To see such a large man pouting like a child struck her as absurdly funny and she giggled quietly.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” she said quickly, turning back to her struggle. She heard heavy footfalls stop behind her.
“What are you doing?” His low murmur was at her shoulder. An involuntary shiver chased down her spine and she closed her eyes.
“I-I’m putting my books away,” she said, irritated at herself. “What does it look like?”
He snorted. “It looks like you’re fighting them. And losing.”
Annoyance got the better of her and she whipped around, intending to dress him down, but overbalanced. She gasped and felt herself falling as the stepladder gave way underneath her. Her eyes slammed shut as she braced for impact with the ground.
She collided with something solid, altogether warmer and just a bit more pliable than the floor. Bands of steel scooped her up, cradling her against a broad, hard expanse and she clutched at it with a shriek, hiding her face.
A few moments passed, the fog of fear clearing and realization taking its place. Sansa pulled back a bit, his arms still holding her securely, and met his startled grey gaze.
“Thank you,” she whispered. He shook his head, his eyes darting to her mouth. She swallowed, ducking her head.
“You, um, you can put me down now.”
“Oh.” He blinked, as if coming back to himself. “Right.”
He set her down gently, backing away from her. She busied herself with adjusting her shirt and jeans, trying to ignore the sudden, awkward awareness between them.
“I could, uh, help you with those.”
She looked up at him, raising her eyebrows to see him pointing at the shelves.
“What happened to ‘not getting comfortable’?” She turned, picking up the stepladder and sighing. Cracked and useless now. Damn .
“Ah, well.” He cleared his throat. “That miserable cunt Sumners didn’t—”
He cut off when she looked at him, shocked at his use of the word. He scowled, the bridge of his unscarred cheek pinkening. Sansa elected to ignore the crude term, fishing a smaller book out of the box.
“I suppose that means he told you the same thing he told me, then? ‘Just a few weeks’?” She slid the book onto the lowest shelf, resolving to reorganize the lot later, and reached down to hoist up the tome that had nearly caused her demise. He reached it first, plucking it up from the floor and sliding it neatly into the waiting space on the middle shelf.
“Next time, ask, girl. No need to risk a bloody concussion over a book.”
“My name is Sansa, sir,” she said with great patience, sliding another book on the shelf with more force than necessary. “Please use it and stop calling me girl.”
He grunted again, shelving another heavy book.
She turned to look at him, her brow furrowed in question and he lifted one shoulder in a shrug.
“My name. It’s Sandor. Sandor Clegane. No need for this ‘sir’ shite.”
“Oh.” The minor victory of getting his name made her smile, warm and genuine, and she stuck out her hand. “It’s lovely to meet you, Sandor.”
He slid his large hand gently around her smaller one, pressing briefly and shaking once. His skin was warm, calloused, but the rasp of it against her soft palm was pleasant. Almost comforting.
“Likewise, little bird.” He smiled softly.
She lowered her eyes, suddenly shy.
“Bit soon for a nickname, isn’t it?” She teased, releasing his hand and turning back to unpacking. She lifted a small statue out of the box, giving it pride of place on the raggedy desk under the shelves.
He grunted but made no comment, instead pointing to the statue on her desk.
“Follower of the Old Gods, then?” He moved around to the other side, still pointing. “May I?”
Sansa nodded, watching him pick up the small Weirwood tree with care. He ran his thumb reverently across the small, tear-streaked face.
“I’m not so much a follower as an…admirer,” she mused aloud. She held out a hand and he placed the statue in her palm. “My parents raised my siblings and I to follow whatever path worked best, religion or otherwise, and when I came across this belief system in my studies, I was fascinated.” She put the statue back on her desk, looking up at him with a private smile. “Weirwood trees remind me of my family, so I like to have one near me wherever I land.”
He cleared his throat suddenly, taking a rather large step away from her and scanning the books behind her.
“So, uh,” he stammered, “what…what do you teach?” He moved back to his desk quickly, sitting and opening his laptop once more.
She was surprised at his odd retreat but elected to ignore it.
“Well,” she began, placing a few more items on her desk along with her own laptop, “my doctoral thesis was on medieval knighthood and the inherent cultural fallacies associated with the overall group.” She set a pencil holder shaped like a Direwolf next to a small writing pad to the right of her Macbook, smiling at the whimsical figurine. A silly gift from her second-eldest brother, Jon. “And I was hired to teach that, along with a first-year intro course on medieval Europe.”
He smirked, and not kindly.
“Fan of knights, then, are you? Chivalry and romanticism and all that?”
She scoffed. “When I was a little girl, maybe. Learning about them tends to dispel one’s romantic notions surrounding them. I find them fascinating as an academic study but have zero desire for them in actuality, I can assure you.” She rolled her eyes. “Chivalry, as we’ve come to view it, is inherently misogynistic and was never actually formalized as a code, anyway.”
She slid into her desk chair, wriggling a bit at the discomfort of it before settling and poking through the drawers of her desk.
“What about you,” she asked, raising an eyebrow upon finding what seemed to be an ancient stapler and hole punch in one drawer, “what do you teach?”
“The history of war,” he replied succinctly, pointing to the small collection of weapons that dotted the wall near the windows.
“The entire history?”
“Wow. Is it like a broad overview, or do you have a series of classes?”
“A series that makes up part of a minor,” he shrugged, “and keeps me busy enough.”
They lapsed into a rather comfortable silence after that, Sandor tapping away on his laptop while Sansa busied herself running to and fro with boxes and unpacking.
After the fourth box, her back started to ache and she regretted packing them so full. She stretched, trying to relieve some of the tension in her lower back, and let out a small moan of pain when her vertebrae cracked.
A beleaguered sigh from across the room met her ears.
“Are you going to make me watch you break your back or will you ask for help?”
She turned her head, surprised at Sandor’s statement, her hair slipping off her shoulder and swinging curtain-like across her back. His eyes were drawn to the motion and she saw him swallow before blinking and scowling at her one more. Funny, though, how she was quickly growing used to that curmudgeonly expression. She nearly smiled at it.
“Actually, yeah. Help would be great. I’ll be sore enough as it is tomorrow and I’ve still got, like, four massive boxes to unload.”
He grunted—as per usual—and stood, his massive form filling the space.
“Lead the way, Professor Stark.”
Sandor managed two boxes at a time with apparent ease, reducing the trip significantly, and Sansa was delighted to have her chore finished so adroitly. She hated moving boxes but loved unpacking and setting up a new space just as she liked it. She flitted around her half of the office, humming contentedly as she moved things about.
She could feel his eyes on her occasionally as she moved but ignored the tingle of awareness his gaze caused. She focused the extra bit of energy on getting her books arranged perfectly, organized for ease of locating and use.
When that was finished, she stepped back, admiring her handiwork with a satisfied sigh.
“All done, hummingbird?”
She turned, a quizzical smile on her face.
He kept his eyes on his screen but smirked wryly. At some point, he had donned a pair of wire-rimmed, rectangular glasses and Sansa was surprised at how attractive they were on him. She swallowed, her cheeks heating.
“You’re zooming about and humming like a maniac. What else should I call you?”
She snorted, rolling her eyes and turning back to her bookshelves.
“How about my name, Sandor?”
“Where’s the fun in that, Sansa?”
Her name said in that rumbling, rasping voice of his with its sudden teasing lilt did odd things to her. She pushed the feeling away. They were colleagues and professionalism was key. Friendship might be natural but she would tolerate no inappropriate behavior from herself. She didn’t want a repeat of her last job.
Shaking the melancholy from her thoughts, she turned, pasting a bright smile on her face.
“Well, I’m starving.”
He grunted, his attention back on the screen. She waited a few moments and sure enough, he raised his eyes to hers over his glasses. She gave him an expectant look.
“The cafes on campus won’t be open for another week yet,” he said, confusion on his face. “And you have a car so-”
“So, let’s have lunch!” Her smile turned genuine.
His mouth dropped open and he stared at her for a moment before snapping his mouth shut.
She pouted. “Come on.”
“Please? I don’t know any of the good places around here.”
“So drive ‘til you find something that looks like it won’t kill you.”
She narrowed her eyes, moving forward and placing her hands on his desk. He ignored her.
“Professor Clegane,” she said slowly, lowering her voice to a near whisper. That got his attention and his eyes flicked back up to hers in surprise. She smirked.
“I am new in town. I don’t know my way around yet. You were very rude to me this morning, so the least you can do is come to lunch with me and keep me company. My treat.”
He leaned back in his chair, stroking a hand over his beard absently for a moment.
“ And you can have first-veto over where we go.”
He let out a quiet breath.
“Fine,” he said, and pointed a large finger at her, “but you’re driving.”
She grinned, triumphant.
“You’ll regret that once you try to get into my car.”
“There is no way I’m fucking fitting in that.”
Sansa snorted, moving to the driver’s side of her silver mini cooper.
“I told you. You’ll be alright, though, just a bit cramped.”
He shook his head.
“Not a chance in the seven hells. Come on,” he gestured curtly, “I changed my mind. If we have to do this, we’re taking my car. At least I’ll be comfortable in that .”
She let out a startled laugh as he stomped off in the direction of a rather large jeep, the black surface shining and pristine. She hurried after him.
“You walk too fast.”
“And you’re too short. Why don’t you just fly, little bird?”
Sansa rolled her eyes as they reached the jeep and he unlocked it with his key fob. She opened the passenger door and hoisted herself up with a grunt. Plopping down on the passenger seat, she quickly buckled in and sent him a smirk when he grunted at her. Again.
“Tiny but mighty,” she said by way of explanation, earning her a genuine laugh from him as he put the car in drive and pulled out of the parking lot.
“Alright, then, Professor Stark. What do you like to eat?”