After she left her breakfast date with Sandor – no, not a date, she shouldn’t be thinking of it as a date when it clearly wasn’t one – she texted Loras in the elevator: “Take down that video immediately, it’s evidence that can be used against me!”
Fortunately, he texted right back: “So sorry I’m so stupid I didn’t even think. Doing it right now. Forgive me. XXOO”
She believed him. Loras never meant any harm, he was just a romantic drama addict, as soppy as Sansa herself but with a taste for adventure she didn’t share. He was rich and beautiful, and he could conquer Kings Landing every Saturday night and bend everyone he encountered to his narratives.
Taking the tapestry out of Storm’s End had been her one big adventure. Now she knew for sure that the police were looking for the tapestry. She was going to end up on probation, or worse. She’d Googled the punishments for petty theft, and she could be looking at up to a year in prison! If the theft was ruled a felony, it could be even longer. It was completely unfair. Where was the justice in that? The tapestry was based on the Stark coat of arms! It was hardly theft when the tapestry had been loaned to the Baratheons on her recommendation in the first place. The courts just had to agree with her.
Needless to say, her parents had not been thrilled that the police had hauled her out of Storm’s End, and even less thrilled when she tearfully confessed to stealing the tapestry. Still, they’d found her a lawyer. He was an old friend from her mother’s hometown who was now a criminal defense attorney in Kings Landing. That had been a stroke of good luck, especially when her mother had called last night to tell her Petyr Baelish could meet with her today.
She should’ve told Sandor she couldn’t talk to him until after she met her lawyer. That would’ve been the smart move. She tried to remember everything she’d told the detective and if any of it had been incriminating, but she was having a hard time recalling what she’d said exactly. She’d come across as a scatterbrained idiot, of that she was sure, but he was so sweet. She didn’t think he’d try to trick her into confessing anything that would land her in hot water.
Obviously, though, Sandor was very good at his job because she would’ve answered just about anything he’d asked. His voice was deep and rumbly, thick with unspoken emotions. And honestly, that shirt he was wearing? Should he be allowed to question suspects like that? It seemed like an unfair interrogation tactic. She’d spent the entire conversation darting glances at his chest and then quickly looking up at his face before he realized it.
The burn scars were bad, hard to look at for more than a few moments. It looked like they’d tightened the muscles on that side of his face, giving his rare smiles a lopsided appearance. She had to steel herself not to give away any sympathy or pity in her expression. How could she have ignored him when she’d thought he’d seen Loras’s video and the awful, hateful comments?
She was absolutely useless at work after her breakfast. Her coworkers kept shooting her jealous looks for missing the Monday morning dressing down. She couldn’t tell her boss she was hoping not to be arrested for theft, so she’d invented an imaginary doctor’s appointment to get out of work early. Her cover was almost blown when Arya showed up out of the blue as Sansa was flying out the door.
“What are you doing here?” she said, dragging Arya onto the elevator. “Don’t you have class this afternoon?”
“No, I have Monday afternoons free,” Arya said, her eyes too wide and her tone falsely chipper.
“I thought you have Thursdays free, and on Mondays, you have lab.”
Arya began a very long explanation about lab work and library time slots and her professor’s office hours, no doubt to get Sansa to back off and agree that Arya knew her schedule best.
“Ugh, never mind, why are you here?” Sansa asked as the elevator spit them out. Mr. Baelish’s office was only four blocks away, and it was sunny enough for a walk. Her ankle was doing much better after she’d spent an hour in the bubble bath last night. With all the excitement of talking to Sandor this morning, she’d forgotten about the pain.
Arya stuck to her like Velcro on a sweater. “I wanted to make sure you didn’t screw this up and go confessing to the police before we get this lawyer locked down.”
“That’s … that’s totally insulting. I’m not that naïve,” she said.
“Yeah? You seemed awfully cozy with that ginormous detective.”
She startled and felt heat flood her cheeks. “Please don’t tell me you skipped class this morning, too.”
“What are you talking about?”
Oh, shoot. She bit down on her bottom lip. Arya hadn’t been stalking her all day, and she didn’t know about breakfast. She’d been talking about Loras’s video, and now she was never going to let this go. When Arya sensed blood, she never skipped the kill.
Arya growled, doing the scary eyebrow thing she did when she was angry. “Do not tell me you spoke to the detective this morning.”
She considered not answering, but it wouldn’t stop Arya from pestering her. Best to skip straight to her defense. “He was very nice. And I found out that he knows the tapestry is missing.”
“Of course Asshole Joff ratted you out! Seven Hells, San, you are the biggest idiot sometimes. That’s why I’m here watching you instead of in class.”
“So you do have class now!”
“I meant theoretically,” Arya said with no apparent guilt at all. “That fascist goon actually questioned you without a lawyer? Did he read you your rights?”
“Fascist …. “ Sansa was terrified to find out where Arya had picked up that phrase. “He didn’t drag me to the station. Actually, he bought me breakfast.” Her cheeks burned, and she focused her gaze on the cracks in the sidewalk.
“Oh, really?” Arya’s voice dripped sticky sweet. “Awww, did he buy you one of those liquid cakes you call a coffee drink?”
“There was actual cake,” she muttered. Hadn’t they reached Mr. Baelish’s office yet? She stared at the buildings they were passing, willing the next one to morph into their destination.
Arya threw her arms in the air. “That is so you. All that manipulative bastard had to do was buy you a slice of cake!”
“It wasn’t just any cake.” Why had she said that? It definitely made Arya’s scowl more pronounced. “Look, the cake is complicated. My point is that Sandor wasn’t manipulating me.”
“Sandor, is it?” Arya snorted. “No offense, but you dated Joffrey for practically a year. You wouldn’t realize a man was manipulating you until he stepped on your neck.”
“Nooo, no offense intended, I’m sure.” She hugged her coat tighter to her chest.
They reached the correct address, one of the tallest buildings on the Kings Landing’s skyline, a monstrosity of glass and polished green granite. A uniformed doorman ushered them into a whisper quiet lobby. By the elevators, brass plaques listed the names of several law offices. Petyr Baelish had his own practice on the seventh floor.
As they rode upstairs, Sansa said quietly, “You may have a point.”
She didn’t actually think Arya was right, but she couldn’t argue any more. Her stomach was brewing a white hot nugget of anxiety that was working its way up to her ribcage. She resented the way Arya acted like she knew how to live Sansa’s life, but it wasn’t as if Sansa had been doing a very good job of it, either. She really, really needed to figure out what she wanted for herself. In the meantime, it was easier to go along to get along.
“I’m just trying to keep you out of prison,” Arya said. “Who would pay my rent then?”
The elevator let them out on the seventh floor. Sansa gave her name to an extremely willowy receptionist and joined Arya on a flawless white loveseat, where her sister looked totally out of place in her ripped jeans and scruffy Vans. The interior decorating in Mr. Baelish’s office was to die for, so modern and clean. She appreciated the Expressionist painting on the wall over the receptionist’s desk. In school, her tastes had been called old-fashioned by the other art students, but she could still enjoy something refreshingly novel, like this piece in pastels that spoke to her of the shore at sunset.
“Did you at least tell the fascist goon about the death threats you’ve been getting from Joff’s fan club?” Arya said.
“Nooo, I’m sure that won’t happen again. Loras is taking the video down, he promised.” She took out her phone to check. “See, it’s down already.”
Arya glared at the screen. “It better stay down.”
Poor Arya was probably afraid that their address was all over the web, but she’d never admit it. Sansa was nervous about that, too, but she never considered telling Sandor. She’d been too thrilled that he hadn’t seen the video comments before she could get them taken down. She squeezed Arya’s hand in solidarity.
“No touching,” Arya said automatically. “I’m going in with you, okay? I want to make sure this guy keeps the gallant detective off your back.”
Gallant. That was a good word, wasn’t it? No, no, Arya was right to use that sarcastic tone. Men weren’t gallant any more, and she wasn’t living in some medieval tapestry. Plus Arya was definitely more knowledgeable about the criminal life. No more talking to the police. If she spoke to Sandor again – and she could practically sense where his business card was nestled inside her leather tote, as if there was a thread in her brain tugging from that direction – she’d refer him to her lawyer. Cake or no cake.
Petyr Baelish was almost as short as Arya, not that Sansa wasn’t used to feeling like she had to duck down when certain men shook her hand. At least he didn’t make a snippy comment about it. His tailored navy wool suit coupled with the Braavosi wingtips presented an image of prosperity and professionalism. If she could judge him as a lawyer by his outfit – and naturally, she did – he must be very successful.
“I’m sure we’ll be able to clear this up in short order,” Mr. Baelish said after Sansa and Arya were seated in front of his cocobolo desk. “You’re a good citizen with a good job and a clean record. I’ll make a few calls and have the charges reduced.”
The ball of anxiety in her stomach finally dissolved.
“What, just like that?” Arya asked.
“That would be wonderful, Mr. Baelish!” Sansa exclaimed.
He winked at her. Not too many people could pull that off, but he seemed to have some winking practice. “Please, call me Petyr. And it’s not a problem at all. I have connections in the district attorney’s office, where Jon Arryn owes me a few favors.”
“So Sansa gets away with it.” Arya sounded almost resentful.
“I’m not sure the Baratheons will let go of this so easily,” Sansa said, although she was hoping against hope. But she knew from experience how difficult it was for Joffrey to let go of an imagined slight, let alone a real slight.
Mr. Baelish – she didn’t feel ready to call him Petyr – gave her a fatherly smile. “It sounds like it’s been a big misunderstanding. Undoubtedly, the tapestry will turn up. In the meantime, I think everyone will agree there’s no point in hashing this out through the justice system.”
She nodded. Nobody could call the tapestry stolen if it was returned to the university, its rightful owner. She’d sent a carefully worded email to her former academic advisor yesterday before spending a couple of hours removing the wine-stained threads, and she resolved to stop sleeping and spend all of her time mending the blank spot in the fabric so she could bring it back whole.
“In Kings Landing,” Petyr Baelish said in a conspiratorial tone of voice, “it’s all about who you know. Fortunately, I know the right people to make this go away.” He shuffled through some papers on his desk. “Unfortunately, the first assistant district attorney is Tyrion Lannister.”
Oh, dear. Tyrion Lannister was one of Cersei’s two brothers. The other was the police commissioner. Sansa had met them both briefly when she’d accompanied Joffrey to his family functions, which bore as much resemblance to loud, rambunctious Stark family functions as this sophisticated law office did to a children’s jungle gym.
“If it’s all about who you know, I don’t think anyone knows more influential people than Cersei Baratheon,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady.
“You don’t need to worry about a thing,” he said. “I’ll work fast and get you pled down to community service before this case ever hits the Lannisters’ radar.”
“I hardly know how to begin thanking you,” she said.
He held up a finger. “Aha. Don’t thank me yet.” His gaze ran down her legs and back up. “I should explain how the district attorney’s office works. Perhaps over dinner tonight?”
Sansa stammered, unsure how to turn him down when she owed him so much. Arya’s presence came in handy for once when she said, “I don’t think we should rack up any more billable hours on our parents’ account.”
“Yes,” Sansa agreed quickly, “maybe we should put off dinner until after our business is concluded.”
“Fair enough,” he said. Oh, that had been easy. Maybe she’d misjudged him. Was it really his fault that he kept staring at her legs? Sansa herself hadn’t been any better this morning with Sandor’s biceps.
He shook both Sansa and Arya’s hands again, drawing out the moment he held Sansa’s hand a little too long for comfort. She was probably being silly, though, imagining men falling all over her today. Arya would call it delusional. Mr. Baelish asked her to give her mother his promise that he’d take care of “Catelyn’s little girl,” and she couldn’t imagine her mother sending her to meet privately with a creep.
As they were leaving, he casually asked if she’d heard from the police since her arrest.
“Ha! Ask her about her Breakfast Club sponsor.” Arya’s eyes sparkled with amusement.
“Oh, right.” Sansa didn’t know why she felt so flustered. “Detective Sandor Clegane.”
Mr. Baelish’s cheerful demeanor changed instantly. “The Hound. That might be a problem.”
“He’s called the Hound?” Arya sounded much too interested. “Why?”
“He rescued a large dog, part Newfoundland,” Sansa guessed. “I’m sure dogs that big are hard to find homes for.”
“Really?” Arya was impressed, Sansa could tell.
“Ah, no, that’s not why.” Mr. Baelish leaned closer to her and lowered his voice. Sansa’s stomach did a free fall. “It’s a scandalous story. Do you know how he got those burns?”
Sansa elbowed Arya in the arm. “Not now.”
Mr. Baelish ignored Arya completely, catching Sansa’s gaze. “His father and brother were running a lab for manufacturing methamphetamine in the woods north of town. The Hound was just a puppy then, but they used to leave him to watch for intruders. With the dogs. He was alone there when the meth lab exploded.”
She could feel her jaw drop. “That’s … that’s terrible. What happened after that?”
He shrugged. “The foster system is perpetually overloaded. Not much of a chance for a boy in need of extensive medical attention.”
She’d felt sickeningly hollow looking at the news articles people had left as comments to the video, but this was so much worse than she could’ve imagined. She was speechless, left chewing the insides of her cheeks. Even Arya didn’t say anything.
“The Lannisters got him into the police academy after he failed out of school,” Mr. Baelish said, “and Jaime Lannister found him a place on the police force. If he’s assigned to the case, there won’t be much chance of getting this past the Lannister brothers.” He patted Sansa’s hand. “As you can see, I know how everyone in Kings Landing is beholden to everyone else. If the Hound bothers you again, send him directly to me. You shouldn’t worry about him.”
She didn’t know how to respond. There was something wrong with what Mr. Baelish had said, but she couldn’t put her finger on it yet.
For the second time, she was grateful that Arya had ditched school to come along. “If he’s the Lannisters’ dog, it’s already too late,” Arya said. “If Sansa will get a plea bargain as a first-time offender, how does the Lannisters knowing about it change anything?”
“As long as the tapestry is where it belongs, everything will be fine,” Mr. Baelish said, all smiles again.
“That won’t be a problem,” Sansa said with as much certainty as she could muster.
The anxiety bullet was lodged in her gut again when she and Arya reached the sidewalk, even though she should’ve been feeling free and easy knowing she was only facing community service. She reviewed Petyr Baelish’s parting words and realized what had bugged her.
“Why did he tell me I shouldn’t worry about Sandor?” she said out loud. “Who could hear a story like that and not worry about someone?”
Arya grunted. “I don’t think that’s how he meant it, but you’re right, it was weird. Who shares dirt like that about someone in a business meeting? He probably made it up. I think your lawyer’s a little cuckoo bananas. And a pervert, too.”
“He’s friends with Mom.” Although Sansa thought Arya might be onto something. As a rule, she didn’t trust Arya’s instincts, but everything about today seemed like an exception to the rules.
“After that ridiculous sob story, I can’t picture you telling the Hound to go chase Baelish,” Arya said.
“You shouldn’t call him the Hound,” Sansa said, “and neither of us should listen to idle gossip, however well meaning.”
“Well meaning?” Arya laughed. “I hope community service toughens you up.”
“I’m sure it will be fine. I’ve always wanted to be of service to the community.”
Arya’s laugh grew feral, but it had the benefit of stopping her from talking. Sansa’s phone beeped. She fished it out from her tote bag, purposely not looking at Sandor’s business card. Someone had texted her from an unfamiliar number. For a moment, she wondered if it was him.
It wasn’t. It wasn’t anyone she knew.
“Yo bitch you wanna break into my house or should I break into yours?”
The attached picture was … obscene. She deleted it right away. Something must have shown on her face, though, because Arya said sharply, “Who’s that?”
“Nobody. Nothing. Spam.” She’d worried Arya enough.
Arya scrutinized her silently. It felt judgey.
“I’m just out of sorts,” she said. “I won’t feel right until I get that tapestry repaired and bring it back to the art department.”
“That’s the first logical thing you’ve said all day.”
“Thank you,” Sansa said. “For coming with me. You were very helpful. Do you want me to email your professor about the missed lab?”
“I told you, I have Monday afternoons free,” Arya grumbled, refusing to meet Sansa’s gaze. “Anyway, someone has to watch out for you.”
“I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.” When Arya’s cough sounded remarkably like the word bullshit, Sansa said, “I am. I’ve been in Kings Landing a lot longer than you have.”
Not that she had anything to show for it. But she shouldn’t complain. Most people had it much worse. She should be thankful for all of her blessings, even mixed blessings like her sister. It had been a good day, with a very productive, positive meeting with her lawyer.
So why did she feel like going back to bed and crying?