The next few days were the busiest of Sansa’s life. She was running on adrenaline, caffeine, and plenty of sugar, only sleeping five hours a night as she worked on the tapestry repairs. The fishbone leaf stitches were killing her; they always did, and she had to keep redoing them. She was afraid to use her vacation time to skip work because she needed it for her court dates. The first had been scheduled only a week and a half after her arrest. Petyr Baelish assured her he’d simply have himself noted as her attorney of record and postpone her actual hearing; all she had to do was make an appearance.
That was some relief, as was her former academic advisor’s reassurances that he had her back. Professor Baratheon helped her find thread colors that matched the tapestry and promised he’d dodge the police until she returned the tapestry to the university. She felt terrible asking him to play hide and seek with Sandor, who Professor Baratheon complained was as persistent as a bloodhound and kept lurking on campus looking for him. Sandor hadn’t been as persistent with her, but Petyr – she was trying to accommodate his preference to be called by his first name – insisted that Sandor should go through him if he wanted to question her. Sandor was being very professional, she was sure. She could stop looking for him in the lobby of her office building every morning and resign herself to drinking her coffee alone.
Despite knowing that nothing was going to happen at her first court date, a whole army of butterflies took up residence in her stomach on the appointed morning. She dressed with much forethought, choosing a conservative pair of gray, straight cut, high-waisted slacks, a tailored blazer without lapels, a rose-colored blouse that didn’t clash with her hair, and black suede boots. She spent almost an hour on her makeup, aiming for the natural look but not too natural. She couldn’t find a tutorial to tell her if eyeliner wings were appropriate for court; she’d have to ask Margaery about that if she ever spoke to her again. Dating Joffrey just to manage his career! Worse, Sansa had found out about it through Instagram, not from her friend. So much for Margaery’s alleged courage.
Petyr had promised she’d be in front of the judge for all of a minute while he arranged the postponement. But Arya insisted on coming with her, and she was glad of the company, although Arya squirmed when she admitted it. The Kings Landing Hall of Justice shared a parking lot with Sandor’s police station. She tried very hard not to look for him. Silly, she was being silly. Fortunately, Arya was glancing around, too, and didn’t notice. Being highly distractible was one of the few traits they shared. Without one of their parents or brothers as a go-between, their weekly supermarket runs usually turned into three-hour long nightmares. It was a small miracle they’d made it to court on time, especially when Sansa began to second-guess wearing the short boots.
Petyr waited for them in the hall outside the courtroom, but she wasn’t his only client that day, and he stayed in the hallway to make sure all of his defendants arrived. On his instruction, she entered the dim, windowless courtroom and signed her name to a ledger with the clerk. She and Arya waited in hard, uncomfortable chairs for her name to be called.
Her gaze was focused on the hall, searching for Petyr, when Sandor paused in the doorway. There was no mistaking him with the light streaming from behind him, outlining his broad shoulders, and his head just about clearing the top of the door frame. He wore a black leather jacket and jeans that clung to his thighs. Her pulse ratcheted up to a faster speed, and the room suddenly seemed too warm. He was here for his job, she told herself, it had nothing to do with her. Although if she’d known he’d be in court, she would’ve selected a different outfit, like her cute navy skirt with the polka dots, and definitely different shoes.
He dropped heavily into the chair directly behind her. His legs were so long that his knees touched the back of her chair and his biker boots reached under her seat. He smelled like leather and gasoline, an intoxicating combination. Was he a biker? She’d always wanted a ride on a motorcycle. Somehow, him sitting behind her instead of next to her felt more intimate, especially when she twisted around to speak to him.
“Hi!” she said, and it came out much too chirpy and high pitched. She felt Arya’s piercing stare and refused to acknowledge it.
“Hello.” His deep voice rumbled, prickled her skin.
He didn’t say anything else. Why did she let her imagination run wild? He wasn’t here for her.
Petyr walked straight to the front of the room and conferred with the judge. To her surprise, her name was called first. She took a deep breath and looked to Arya for reassurance, realized quickly that Arya was much more interested in their surroundings, and found herself locking eyes with Sandor. He gave her one of his rare, small smiles, practically invisible, that crinkled his eyes and softened his sharp features. She nodded and joined Petyr and the judge, lacing her fingers together to stop from playing with her hair.
It went down just as Petyr had predicted. She admitted to being Sansa Stark, her heart beating a mile a minute, Petyr admitted to being her attorney, and the judge told her to return in three weeks. And that was that – she was free to go. Her breathing evened out as she rejoined Arya, tension draining from her shoulders in relief that it all gone according to plan.
“Everything alright?” Sandor asked her. His voice was soft, almost a whisper. Did that mean he didn’t care very much, was just killing time while he waited around, or did that mean she was so obviously a nervous wreck that he was afraid she’d become hysterical?
“Yes. Yes, everything’s fine and dandy.” Oh, shoot, who said dandy? She sounded like she was eighty years old. “I’m all done here. We’re just headed to lunch, I expect.” That’s right, Sansa, keep rambling, that won’t make it more embarrassing. “May I introduce my sister, Arya? Arya, this is Detective—"
“I know who he is,” Arya said. After Loras’s video, it probably didn’t take a genius to figure it out. Arya was smirking, amused by something. If she said anything to him about his burns, Sansa was going to sew her to her blanket while she slept.
Instead, Arya said, “You going to lunch with us, Detective?”
He stood. “Sure.”
“What, really?” Ugh, she was squeaking again. Just when she’d reclaimed her equilibrium, she was losing it, being ridiculous. It was only lunch. People ate lunch. “I don’t know where we’re going, actually. You work here. What would you recommend?”
“You like burgers?” She couldn’t tell if he was asking her or Arya. “There’s a good place around the corner.”
“Great!” Arya said. “I’m starved.”
Arya pushed past her to get to the center aisle. Sansa needed a moment to catch her breath.
“You sure everything’s alright?” Sandor asked her.
“Right. Yes. Definitely.” She cleared her throat, falling back on her manners. “We’re very pleased you can join us for lunch.”
He raised his good eyebrow, and she was pretty sure she heard Arya laugh at her.
Maybe he had come to see her. She’d ask him, but the answer was most likely no, and it was much more fun to imagine him saying yes. To pretend he’d say, “Yes, Sansa, of course I came to see you.” The “of course” was probably pushing it. It was hard to imagine him saying that. How about just “Yes, Sansa” in that rough, deep voice. Or even better, “Yes, Little Bird.”
Mercy, she needed to get hold of herself. Nobody had warned her court was so stressful.
The Blackwater Brewery was more like a pub than a restaurant, with a long, curving bar, dark wood tables, and dim lighting. She and Arya sat in a booth across from Sandor, who buried his face in a menu. Any fear she had that this would be awkward, though, dissipated when their waiter came to take their order.
“Yara!” Sansa said happily. “I didn’t know you worked here.”
Yara gave her the typical Greyjoy smile, apparently mocking but actually genuine. “Hey, it’s my favorite Stark girls. With my big tipper. Hey, big tipper.”
Sandor narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “You know each other?”
“I’m her barista, remember,” Yara said. “You’ve seen the complicated crap she orders.”
“This isn’t the coffee shop,” Sandor said.
“Sorry, copper, even the way you tip, some of us need a couple jobs to get by.”
While Arya admired Yara’s latest kraken tattoo, Sansa tried to explain. “Yara’s brother Theon is our brother’s best friend. Theon’s sort of an honorary Stark.”
“Right. I’m practically family,” Yara said. “Remember that while you’re calculating the check. I’m assuming the big guy’s paying.”
Sansa went to object, but Arya said, “Yeah, he’s the one bringing home a detective’s pay. I’m just a poor student.”
Sansa’s face burned with embarrassment, but before she could get Arya to take it back, Sandor said, “Sure, your taxes pay my salary, right?”
“I’m not aware that Arya pays any taxes,” Sansa said. She could tell he was amused by the whole thing. His lip twitched on one side, and his unusual gray eyes had a little bit of sparkle.
“So, Sansa,” Yara said to get her attention back, “you know we serve milkshakes? Today’s special is salted caramel double mocha malted. Right up your alley.”
“Ooooh!” She rubbed her hands together in glee. “I’m definitely having that.”
“That sounds so horrible, I almost want to know what it tastes like,” Arya said.
“What about you, Detective?” Sansa asked.
He still had that bemused look on his face. If he were someone else, she thought he might be laughing. “People drink milkshakes in the middle of the day?” he asked.
“There’s a time limit on milkshakes?” she countered.
He handed his menu to Yara. “Cheeseburger, fries, and a strawberry milkshake.”
“You’re going to wish you’d ordered chocolate,” Sansa said, because who wouldn’t prefer something on the chocolate palette? It was ice cream, for the Maiden’s sake.
“I don’t think so,” he said.
“Hmmph,” she said, trying to convey her total disagreement while fighting down a giddy smile.
“I’ll just have a cheeseburger and fries,” Arya said. “Make mine to go, please.”
That wiped the smile off her face. “Oh, we’re leaving?”
“Just me.” Arya stared at her phone. “I’m gonna catch the bus. Places to go, people to see.”
“You need to be on campus?” Sansa asked.
Arya shrugged. “Okay, let’s go with that.”
She tried not to let her disappointment show. This was supposed to be a celebration that she had three more weeks to avoid the legal consequences of her actions. Huh, that did seem like a tacky thing to be celebrating, but she had to take the good where she could find it. They certainly weren’t going to be cheering about Arya’s grades for the semester at this rate. She resisted the temptation to lecture Arya about studying and going to class. It wasn’t going to change Arya’s behavior, and she didn’t want Sandor to think she was a scold. But it was hard, so hard not to shake her sister and tell her not to make the mistakes she’d made, skating through school only paying attention to her art classes and her social life. Arya was smarter than her, as she never tired of saying, and she should know better. When Arya left, she exhaled in relief.
Although that did leave her alone with Sandor. “Having trouble with your sister?” he asked sympathetically.
“She and college aren’t a great fit,” she admitted. “I don’t understand it. She’s so intelligent, and she has so much potential. I don’t know what she’s going to do if she fails out.”
“Kings Landing University?” he asked.
“Yes. I tried to steer her to some of the more interesting courses, but honestly, I wasn’t the best student myself.” Nice, Sansa, just tell the guy you’re a ditzy scatterbrain. “I did well in my major, but art isn’t Arya’s thing. I don’t know what her thing is, but I hope she finds it.”
He didn’t answer right away, lingering over his fries. “It takes a while,” he said. “She, uh, didn’t tell you she stopped by the station last week, did she?”
She resisted the urge to bang her forehead on the table and smacked her forehead instead. “Oh, gods, please tell me you didn’t arrest her, too.”
It was so quiet, she hardly heard it, just like an audible breath. “Why, Sandor Clegane, I think you’re laughing at me.”
“At you? Nah.”
He leaned back, spreading his arm over the top of the booth, showing off his pectoral muscles, damn him. “Ah, maybe a little,” he said.
Fortunately, Yara showed up with their milkshakes. Sansa covered up the blush she felt spreading across her cheeks by taking a huge swallow of her mocha malted. The ice cream cooled her off, which could only be a good thing, and the chocolate, caramel, and coffee together were divine. “Oh. Ohhh, that is scrumptious.”
Sandor stared at her, eyes wide. Could she get through one lunch without humiliating herself?
“What?” she said defensively. “It’s really good. Probably better than yours.”
He scoffed at her, huffing his breath. Then he tried his milkshake. “Holy fuck, that’s good,” he exclaimed in obvious surprise. She laughed, delighted.
“Are you laughing at me?” he asked.
“Maybe a little,” she said. “Ugh, you might as well tell me what Arya did to get in trouble with the police.”
“She didn’t do anything wrong.” When he wanted to be reassuring, he was very good at it. He spoke with a certainty that she was compelled to believe. “She wanted to ask some questions about being harassed online. I think some asshole’s been texting her shit that has her freaked out. She hasn’t said anything to you, has she?”
Her stomach dropped. The number of obscene texts she’d been receiving since Loras posted the video had gone down as Joffrey’s bully boys had grown bored and moved on to something – or someone – else. She still had one persistent creep who texted her a few times a night, but he’d get bored, too, as long as she didn’t respond. But if one of Joff’s hangers on harassed Arya, her sister would never let it go. She’d engage and make things worse.
“I’ll ask her about it. She’s not one for telling me what’s going on in her life.” She stared into the depths of her milkshake, as if it had answers. “I guess you’ve figured that out.”
“She’s lucky to have a sister who cares as much as you do,” he said.
Aw, that was sweet. But that was just how siblings were, just what was expected of her. That made her remember the story Petyr had told her about Sandor’s family. Could any of it possibly be true? Sandor seemed so well adjusted.
“I was at KLU for while,” he said. He was kind of shy about it, fiddling with his straw. It was endearing. “I wasn’t a good student, either. They made it clear I was there for football, and when that didn’t pan out…” He shrugged.
That didn’t seem fair. If his family wasn’t offering him support, the school should have stepped up. “Well, it obviously didn’t stop you from being successful.”
She took a sip of milkshake, and she liked that he let her be silent without feeling the need to fill up the space with his own opinions. “Having my degree hasn’t helped me much. If I were serious about my career, I’d get my Masters, but the idea of being back in the classroom? Yuck.” It filled her with existential dread.
“Aren’t you an artist?” It sounded a little like a challenge.
“Oh, believe me, I’m practicing my art.” For a crazy moment, she was tempted to confess everything. The late nights embroidering, begging her professor to avoid him, the fact that she’d smuggled the tapestry into the police station under her shirt.
But then he’d know she was a thief and a liar. She couldn’t do it.
Yara brought the check, and Sandor insisted on paying, and she knew he’d overtip again. Yara knew it, too, judging by her smug smile.
“Thank you so much,” Sansa said. “This has been lovely. And a wonderful choice of restaurant. I’ll have to come here again.”
Sandor seemed taken aback, like she’d said something unusual. She realized there was nothing keeping them together anymore and was assaulted by an intense feeling of disappointment. The lunch had been a lot more fun than she’d expected. Sandor was so easy to talk to, such a good listener.
“Ah, shit,” he said suddenly. “I forgot to bring my notes. I made some notes on where you could sign up for community service hours. I left them at home. Fuck.”
Sansa’s skin tingled with prickles of energy that drove her sleep-deprived fatigue from her bones. He had come to the court for her. He really had.
“I could go to your house.” That was not polite at all. Her mother would die if she’d heard her invite herself to someone’s house. “I mean, you’re a police officer, that means you’re a good guy, I’m sure it would be totally safe, ha ha.”
Oh. Gods. This was how it always started, with her making a fool of herself. All the guys she’d ever dated – Joffrey, Harry – initially thought she was charmingly flustered and quickly decided she was stupid. And she wasn’t stupid. She had a good head on her shoulders. She was an independent woman. She just got overwhelmed by other people sometimes, that was all.
Anyway, she wasn’t romantically interested in Sandor. Sure, there was definitely a physical attraction there, but he wasn’t her type. She didn’t know what her type was, but it wasn’t a cynical, scarred, six-foot-six policeman. She’d just tell him maybe next time and—
“I rode my motorcycle here,” he said.
She gasped. “You have a motorcycle! I always wanted to ride on a motorcycle. It was the one dangerous thing my brothers never brought home. You see, my Uncle Benjen crashed his bike and my father was like, that’s it, no more motorcycles.”
Okay, she was babbling again, and she hadn’t said maybe next time. Counterpoint – she was going to ride on a motorcycle! Plus she made Sandor crack a smile again, so point to her. Making the angry detective smile in spite of himself was becoming her favorite game.
“I don’t have an extra helmet,” he said.
“Oh.” She rallied from her disappointment. “Well, thank you very much for the thought.”
He looked off in the distance, trying to sound casually off-hand. “There’s a bike shop a few blocks down. I could get another helmet maybe.”
“Not just for you,” he said harshly. “I need a spare, alright?” He made it to the door before he threw over his shoulder, “You coming?”
“Absolutely,” she said, and he smiled again, although he tried to hide it by looking away. That was definitely another point racked up for Sansa.
The bike shop was hidden in the rear of an office park, and Sansa never would’ve found it on her own. It was like a secret place in Kings Landing, and you had to be in the know to admitted. She didn’t quite understand the signs posted next to each bike on display, but she could admire the bikes with nice designs. Sandor hadn’t said a word to her on the walk over, so she tried to draw him into conversation.
“Look at this one, it has flames,” she said. “Pretty, isn’t it?”
Sandor muttered something under his breath about clichés and people who painted pictures on their bikes.
“I’ll bet I could do that if you ever wanted a custom design,” she said.
She had no idea if she could put graphics on a bike, but she knew she could work up a design. It seemed like the least she could offer in return for his help. He gave her a strange look and walked off to look through the aisles of merchandise. She didn’t know him well enough to interpret his expression.
Once she was standing alone, an employee bustled up and asked if he could help her. That made her a little uncomfortable. She wasn’t the one in leather, and she obviously didn’t know what she was doing, but that was exactly why people offered help, she supposed. She told him that she was with Sandor and he was the one looking for merchandise, but the employee wandered back behind the counter. Sandor was over by the helmets, so, having exhausted the entertainment provided by the custom paint jobs on display, she joined him.
He held a helmet out to her. “Try this one.”
She took a few moments to gather her hair back in a hasty braid while he rolled his eyes at her. Really, what had he expected, that she’d let her hair get trapped in front of her eyes under the helmet?
“Don’t you pull your hair back before you go for a ride?” she asked him. He had long hair, and she loved it when men wore their hair long. Really, they should all have long hair, it was a confident style choice.
“No. Because I wear a helmet.” He made it sound like she’d asked him if he normally stuck his hand in wasps’ nests.
“Oh, well, that’s a shame. Your hair looks like it would be fun to braid.”
She was winding him up a bit, but she couldn’t resist. Sure enough, he narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously.
She took the helmet out of his hands. He had huge hands, and it was impossible to avoid brushing them. She ignored the spark his touch ignited in her chest. “Doesn’t this come in pink?” she said.
“It’s trying on a damn helmet,” he said. “How do you find so much to chatter about?”
“Good conversation is a practiced skill.”
It was awfully fun trying to get him to smile. That hadn’t worked, but she could tell his exasperation was faked. She knew what real exasperation with her chattering sounded like. Joffrey would’ve just told her to shut her mouth. She put the helmet on, and he pounded on the top of it, rattling her brain in her skull with a dull, muffled thump.
“Could you not?” she said, loudly because she was wearing a helmet.
He frowned. “I’m not gonna hit it hard. I’m checking the fit. You know, I’m trying to protect your pretty head from being crushed.” He hit the helmet again, but this time, it was considerably gentler and only made the foam near her ears rub against her earlobes.
“Is everyone doing alright back there?” the employee called out from behind the counter in a shaky voice.
Sandor instantly took a large step backward, away from her. Her first impulse was to smooth everything over with the clerk, tell him that he didn’t need to worry, she was fine. But the situation ticked her off. Here she was with a regular customer, a police officer, and the clerk wouldn’t even acknowledge him. She obviously wasn’t in any trouble. If she were any more flirtatious, she’d be simpering. If the clerk actually thought she was being intimidated, he could have the courage to come out from behind the counter and check it out. Chickenshit.
“We’re planning a robbery,” she said to the clerk.
“We are not planning a robbery,” Sandor said loudly. “Fucking hell, girl, are you mad?”
“I’ll have you know that I’ve been questioned by the police for thievery,” she said. “I have street cred.”
He covered his eyes with his hand, but she was almost positive he was trying not to laugh. “Street cred. You just … you … fuck, let’s get out of here before he calls the cops.”
“Wouldn’t that be fun though?”
His only response was an expression of wide-eyed disbelief. She handed him the helmet and followed him to the counter, where she gave the clerk a nasty glare, arms crossed over her chest.
“She’s fine,” Sandor said as he paid for the helmet. “She’s just hard to take out in public.”
“Oh, really?” She punched him in the arm. It was like punching a concrete pylon. “Am I embarrassing you?”
“It’s gonna take more than you chirping to embarrass me, Little Bird.”
The clerk wouldn’t look either of them in the eye while he processed the transaction, which was probably just as well because she suspected her face was turning red in a way that totally clashed with her hair and her blouse.
Soon enough, she was in the police lot next to all of the official police vehicles, stowing her purse in the back of Sandor’s motorcycle. This was so exciting! She couldn’t wait to tell Arya, who was hardly ever impressed by what Sansa did in her free time. First the direwolf tapestry, and now an impromptu motorcycle ride like a biker chick. She straddled the seat behind Sandor.
“You’re going to have to hold on to me,” he said as if every word was being pulled out of him against his will.
“I know. I’ve seen this in movies.” She couldn’t stop grinning at him.
The engine started, and she squeaked in surprise. It was so loud! The vibrations were crazy intense, like the whole parking lot was shaking apart. Sandor hit the gas, the bike banked into a large, graceful curve, and she screamed.
“Scared?” he yelled.
“No, this is awesome!” She snaked her arms around his leather jacket and clung tight. They reached the highway, and he accelerated, the wind whipping by them, the world rushing away. She wanted to scream again, but she didn’t want him to think she was scared. So she bellowed the direwolf call her family used at Robb and Jon’s hockey games – the wolf howl.
Sandor was saying something. She leaned into his shoulder and yelled, “What?”
“Louder!” he said.
She screamed out the wolf howl at the top of her lungs, feeling wilder than she had in a long, long time.