The graveyard shift was where the department put rude assholes, such as himself, so when Sandor tracked down the officers who had responded to the 1:30 am call at Storm’s End, he didn’t expect much from them. For once in his life – alright, twice, if he counted Sansa Stark coming on to him – he was pleasantly surprised. Although, damn, the academy was graduating them young these days. The two uniforms he spoke to were on duty and happy to take a break from handling domestic calls to tell him about “the crazy ginger” they’d apprehended. He didn’t think either of the boys would make it to detective if they thought Sansa was a ginger. That demonstrated piss poor observational skills.
But they were clear on the facts of the case. Sansa had been caught snooping in Storm’s End’s kitchen when she’d triggered the refrigerator alarm. What kind of douche rigs up a refrigerator to keep people away from food? Ah, right, the Cersei flavor of douche. He resolved to push off his visit to the scene of the crime until it couldn’t be procrastinated any longer. No good could come of an interview with Cersei Lannister-Baratheon, and he wasn’t rushing into letting another Lannister snap her fingers at him, down, dog; sit, dog; heel, dog.
Anyway. The case. The uniforms said Sansa didn’t have a bag with her and no opportunity to get to an accomplice before Sandor had booked her. She’d been at the station with two friends, but the uniforms said the “really hot” friends hadn’t come on the scene until after Sansa had been walked out to the cruiser. He was slightly concerned about the department hiring officers who were so shit at observation they’d describe other people as “really hot” in comparison with Sansa, but it wasn’t like KLPD paid enough to get the cream of the crop. He believed them when they said there wasn’t any way Sansa could’ve handed off the tapestry to someone else.
His shift ended at 6 am. Right before he left the station, he looked up the number for the head of the art department at KLU and left a message regarding the direwolf tapestry. Then he entered the address for the office building where Sansa worked into his phone. Maybe he could catch her on her way in, no big deal. Just “accidentally” run into her, ask her a few questions.
He hit the gym and the showers and changed into what he would forever think of as street clothes, even though he wore plain clothes to work these days. He picked out a clingy t-shirt since he’d be wearing his leather jacket so he could take his bike, and the sun was out for once, and … what the fuck was the point of lying to himself? The stupid lizard part of his brain that should’ve burned away in the fire wanted Sansa to notice him in a t-shirt. He remembered the way her gaze had rested on his arms. He’d seen girls in the gym stare at his arms until they caught sight of his face. He never thought he’d have to wrestle with vanity, for fuck’s sake, but there it was.
It would be good to see her and get this insanity out of his system. He was tired of thinking about her. Most likely, when she saw him while she was sober, she’d be disgusted, and the world would right itself and go back to normal. She probably wasn’t as pretty as he remembered. Nobody was, not in real life. A healthy dose of reality would finally shut up the part of his brain that kept trying to break out in song lyrics.
The lobby of her office building was pseudo-posh, with a wide atrium leading to a bank of elevators, a pretentious fountain, and a café crowded with people in suits going through caffeine withdrawal. He stationed himself at a table near the glass wall between the café and the lobby and did what policemen did best – he waited. He wondered if he’d realize it when she came in or if she’d slip right past him.
Suddenly, she was there, in the lobby, and any idea that he wouldn’t have noticed her seemed laughable. Her presence jumped like electricity on his nerve endings. She stood head and shoulders above the other office drones, her auburn waves glowing among the monochrome surroundings. She was dressed like a model in a gray pleated skirt, snug white sweater, and a tan peacoat. She was wearing flat shoes, though, and he inwardly cursed Baratheon to the seventh hell for robbing him of the sight of Sansa’s calves in high heels. She headed toward the café and got in line, and he managed to insert himself in line behind her without body checking anyone into a nearby wall.
“Miss Stark?” he said in a low voice.
“Oh!” She whirled around and her eyes grew wide. “Detective Clegane! You’re … you’re wearing a shirt.”
“Uh-huh.” He could feel unfamiliar muscles on his face stretch into a smile. Damn if that hadn’t been the most gratifying thing ever.
A pretty pink blush spread across her cheekbones. “I just wanted to apologize. Sincerely,” she said. “I assure you, I had absolutely no idea what Loras was doing, and I’m so sorry if it caused you any trouble.”
She tossed her hair over a shoulder, releasing the scent of her shampoo, sweet and delicately perfumed. Her eyes kept darting to his arms and back up to meet his gaze. She touched her tongue to her lips, and he shook himself, realizing he’d fallen into an awkwardly long silence.
“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.
“You didn’t want to talk about the video?” Her voice was silk. Her hair would feel like silk if he dared to touch it. She smelled like roses and new soap. She smelled like heaven. The stupid part of his brain was composing entire musical scores in her honor. Wait, what the hell was she talking about?
“I just wanted to ask you a few questions,” he said. “Is that alright with you?”
“Oh, of course, how sweet of you to ask.” She smiled, and he forgot how to blink. “So I guess I’m supposed to be figuring out what I want.”
He tilted his head down. “What do you want?”
Her blush deepened. He wondered what the unexposed skin of her neck looked like with that blush spreading down her chest.
“Maybe you should go first,” she said.
“Maybe,” he repeated, utilizing the silver-tongued charm he was known for. Damn, he sucked at this flirting thing.
“Can you order? You’re holding up the line,” someone said. The barista. Right, the conversation made more sense in that context. Fuck, this was embarrassing.
“Coffee,” he barked.
The barista had a hoop in her nose and tattoos of tentacled squid arms reaching out of her shirt sleeves. “I need your name,” she said with a shit-eating, completely humiliating, ‘I know what you’re trying to do’ grin.
“Why the hell do you need my name to get me a cup of coffee?” he asked.
Sansa gently tapped the counter in front of him. “His name’s Sandor. We’re together.”
It was as if everything she said was designed to make his heart stop beating. While he recovered, the barista asked for Sansa’s drink order.
“I’ll have a vanilla coconut milk latte with caramel and mocha. And whipped cream,” she said. His expression must’ve registered surprise because she somehow managed to blush again. “I have a bit of a sweet tooth.”
“You might as well order cake then,” he said. Would she get this flustered if she were aroused? Oh, hell, no, he couldn’t afford to get sidetracked that way, he’d never make it back to the present.
She studied the cake display. “Ohhh, yes. I’ll have the strawberry cheesecake. The slice with the most strawberries on it, please.” When she smiled, her nose crinkled. “After all, this is breakfast.”
“Almost lunch at this rate,” the barista complained, which at least saved him from having to come up with a response that didn’t involve kneeling at Sansa’s feet.
She struggled with her leather tote bag, and he realized she was trying to pay for her order. “No, I got this,” he said quickly.
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly. You only ordered a plain coffee.”
“Yeah, but … but this is business,” he said. “I’m taking up your time.”
She rocked up on her tiptoes and clapped her hands. “Yes! It is! That means I have a reason to go into work late.” She turned to the barista, speaking to her as if she was a personal friend. “Isn’t that wonderful? Would you mind making our drinks in cups for here instead of to go?”
The barista rolled her eyes. “Sure, Sansa, I love talking to you two all morning. Any other orders I should remake?”
Sansa nodded enthusiastically. “Would you please bring us two forks with that cake?”
“Double forking, got it.” The barista wiggled her eyebrows at him, telling him wordlessly that she knew perfectly damn well he’d have to overtip no matter what since Sansa was watching.
“I really didn’t want to go into work this morning,” Sansa confessed to him. “My boss can hardly complain if I tell her I’m helping the police with their inquiries.”
The barista handed him the plate and forks. “My, what a generous tip. If you’re looking for a private corner to talk, I recommend taking a right out the door. There are some quiet tables for two beyond the fountain.”
“Thank you so much,” Sansa said. She walked next to Sandor to the lobby. “She’s really nice, isn’t she? I’ve known her for ages.”
He grunted in reply. Honestly, he was glad the barista was obnoxious because it made him realize Sansa was like this with everyone. It wasn’t just him. He’d been acting like a fucking teenager because he’d thought he and Sansa had some sort of connection, but in reality, she gushed over everyone like an effervescent puppy. At least he’d figured it out before he made a complete ass of himself.
Why had he thought she’d be interested in him? Fucking delusional, that’s what it was.
The table was secluded, with the noise of the fountain giving them a curtain of privacy. She took a sip of her latte and licked the whipped cream off her upper lip. For fuck’s sake. He needed to start treating her like a suspect.
“What do you know about a direwolf tapestry?” he asked.
She didn’t meet his eyes, but people rarely did. “Gosh,” she said, like they were in some Victorian children’s story, “you didn’t come to ask me about the video?”
She’d mentioned that earlier. “What video?”
She squirmed, studying the contents of her mug. “My friend took a video at the police station. It got a lot of shares.”
“You’re not allowed to film in the station,” he said.
“It was just the lobby,” she said quietly. “It was when you were letting me lean on you. You know. Because of my ankle.”
As if he could forget. “And you thought I wanted to ask you about this video?”
She finally met his gaze. “People made very unkind comments online. It’s embarrassing.”
Like he didn’t know everything there was to know about people’s “unkind” comments. And of course she was fucking embarrassed. He could just imagine the shit she’d gotten for letting him touch her. It probably started at “disgusting freak fetish” and moved down from there.
She put a forkful of strawberry cheesecake in her mouth and moaned very quietly. “Ohh, this is so good, Sandor. You have to try it.”
His brain battled it out, rushing endorphins from watching Sansa eat versus overwhelming adrenaline from his anger about the crap she’d read online. The synapses accustomed to anger were stronger and won the war. They always won.
“Why the fuck did your so-called friend post a video of us online to embarrass you?” he snapped.
Her fork froze halfway to her mouth. Her usually cheery expression clouded over. “I … He … it wasn’t a video of us. That was just one part. It was mostly me getting in the back of the police car.”
“I’m going to need the name of this friend. It sounds like he’s posting evidence.”
She slammed her fork on the table. “I’m not tattling on my friends.”
“They were with you when you got picked up at the Baratheon’s. Maybe they’re accomplices.”
“Accomplices to what?” So, she had a backbone. “I told you, I didn’t break in.”
“Right, you flew in the window like a little bird.”
She sat up straight in her chair. “I had the security code memorized.”
“You just happened to have the security code memorized?”
“Uh, yes. It’s 112233.”
Crap, didn’t that just figure. “That’s the fucking dumbest security code I’ve ever heard,” he muttered.
“I know!” She leaned over the table. “And they don’t ever change it. Thank the gods it’s only six digits. If it were seven, Joffrey would have to live on the streets.”
That startled a snort out of him. “The sack pimple probably texts himself the code every night so he doesn’t forget it.”
“Did you just call him—” Her hands flew over her mouth, but not in time to hide her glee. “You really have to meet my sister. She’ll love that one.”
Somehow, they’d moved from interrogation to talking about meeting her family. How he could stay angry at her? Whatever shit people had said about him, it wasn’t her fault. Their little – what could he call it, a spat? – only made her more interesting. Sansa wasn’t just a fluttery pixie. She had spirit. She could stand up for herself. And he hadn’t completely terrified her. Yet.
It was kind of a personal best for him to recover from a fit of temper this quickly. Too bad he didn’t know anyone who’d be impressed.
She touched his forearm. “You should really try the cheesecake. I got it to share.”
He picked up a fork and she pushed the plate across the table. Naturally, it was the most delicious fucking cheesecake he’d ever tasted.
She lifted an eyebrow and gave him a devilish smile. “Good, right?”
The wave of lust that slammed through him made him bite down on the fork. He was lucky it didn’t impale his tongue completely, but he could taste blood. He wasn’t sure if he managed to nod, but Sansa’s expression indicated satisfaction with whatever he’d done.
“So, Detective,” she said, “what did you find out about the direwolf tapestry?”
He swallowed and cleared his throat. “I left a message with the Kings Landing University art department.”
“Oh, good,” she said. “That’s where I graduated. Did you find out what the direwolves stand for?”
He nodded. “Stark family heraldry.”
“I’m impressed.” She took a sip of what she considered to be coffee. “I’m sure with your excellent investigative skills, you’ll be proving my innocence in no time.”
“I hope so, Little Bird,” he said, surprised by her faith in him.
She gasped. “What did you just call me?”
Oh, shit. “Nothing,” he said. “I had cake in my mouth. I wasn’t speaking clearly.”
“Hmmph.” She didn’t seem angry or disgusted, but he couldn’t make any sense of her mood change. Thoughtful, maybe. He was usually good at reading suspects, but this was too far out of his wheelhouse. He’d never questioned anyone while he considered whether grabbing her hand and sucking on one of her fingers would be a good interrogation technique. Maybe the problem was that she could spot when he wasn’t being truthful.
Maybe he could spot it when she was lying. It was one of his real skills as an investigator, although it was normally easy as breathing: just assume everyone was lying and you were golden.
“What made you decide to visit Joffrey in the middle of the night?” he asked.
“I knew he wouldn’t be home,” she said, and he liked the sound of that a little too much. “So, um, do people ever tell you they did very idiotic things because they seemed like good ideas after a few drinks?”
“Pfft, every night.” She was pretty damn naïve. Then again, she wouldn’t be talking to him if she was any kind of criminal mastermind. “You got a lawyer, right? You should do that before you talk to anyone else.”
“Yes. I’m meeting him this afternoon.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him guilelessly. “Thank you for asking, Detective. I appreciate you watching out for me.”
“What happened to Sandor?”
“I appreciate you watching out for me, Sandor. Maybe I should give you my phone number in case you have any other questions.”
“Uh, yeah, right,” he said. That Clegane cosmopolitan charm at work again. “Let me give you my card.”
He pushed his phone across the table so she could do whatever millennial thing she wanted, as long as he ended up with her number when she was through. He took his business card out of his wallet and handed her that, too.
“Oh, what an attractive card,” she said. “Very classy.”
He almost laughed at her. “Do you like anything that people put in front of you?”
“That … that is something I’ve been trying to work on.” It sounded like a serious confession, like she was telling him something important that she hadn’t told anyone else. Another secret between them.
He watched her walk to the elevators. Hell, half the people in the lobby watched her walk to the elevators. It was the best view they’d get all day. Then he checked his phone. She’d put her number in his contacts under the name Little Bird. His chest felt hot and burny, and he had to dig his fingernails into his palms to stop himself from texting her that he was going to clear her name, no matter what it took.