The police commissioner’s office was in City Hall, near the offices of Mayor Mace Tyrell and District Attorney Jon Arryn. Sandor wanted to feel resentment as he waited for hours for Jaime Lannister to become available, but City Hall was distractingly beautiful. It was hard to stay angry as he walked over a floor of blue mosaic tiles that represented the Blackwater, and under skylights that opened up to a new law library, which featured a marble statue of the same dragon on his police badge. On the job, putting the law into practice involved compromise after compromise. Here, it was all so neat and clean, lofty ideals represented by empty libraries and statuary of extinct animals. It seemed as if a person could take a stand on principle here and be taken seriously. He liked that idea. Not that anyone had asked him, but he’d prefer a world that was less gray and more black and white.
Then Jaime Lannister finally showed up, proving that the ideals of law and justice didn’t mean shit in Kings Landing. He sauntered into the building around 11 am with a coffee cup in his one hand. Everyone in that family believed mornings were reserved for the working classes, except that scary bastard Tywin.
“Hope I didn’t keep you waiting, Hound.” The shit-eating grin was a dead giveaway that he meant the opposite. “Justice never rests, right?”
“Nah, it just sleeps in,” he said.
The Commissioner got a uniform. Sandor was surprised Lannister wore it on a daily basis, but the guy was ex-military, and he knew from personal experience how hard it was to get used to picking out your own outfits after wearing a uniform for a few years. Still, it was fucking weird that Lannister hadn’t jumped on the chance to show up for work in bespoke clothing. The Commissioner’s uniform must’ve given him the same sense of superiority, with its fucking gilded braid and hardware. Lannister didn’t bother with the hat, of course. He’d always been vain about his hair.
He followed Lannister into his office, which was swimming with diet soda cans, unmoored cables, and indecipherable post-it notes. For ex-military, Lannister was a slob. He felt sorry for the guy as he watched him struggle to open his laptop with his left hand and log in, but when he went to help, Lannister snapped, “Stay on your side of the desk.”
That was Jaime Lannister all over. If you started to feel sympathy, he had to order you back in your lane.
He sat down in one of the too-small chairs Lannister kept for company, the only one not covered in piles of crap. “So, I’ve been here since first thing in the morning, like you requested.” As if there was a point to harping on it, as if he was going to get an apology.
“I didn’t disturb your beauty sleep, did I?” The sarcasm would’ve been more intimidating if Lannister wasn’t squinting at the laptop’s screen.
“People your age usually use reading glasses,” he said, because he apparently had to make sure he was still his own worst enemy, for fuck’s sake.
Lannister scowled at him. “Cute, Hound, cute. Anyway, this Baelish thing. He’s filed a complaint against you on behalf of Sansa Stark. It’s not a criminal complaint or anything—"
“How in seven hells could it be a criminal complaint?”
“I just said it wasn’t.”
“Yeah, but how was that something you had to say?”
Lannister leaned back in his fancy office chair and crossed his arms. “Can you not be a pain in the ass about this? For once? For me?”
Sandor inhaled deeply. “You’re right. Not your fault Baelish filled out a fucking piece of paper.”
“An internal affairs complaint,” Lannister clarified. “And those go to me, fortunately for you, because this isn’t the first complaint against you. Actually, it’s not even the first complaint against you from Baelish.”
“There’s only two complaints, and they’re both from Baelish. He’s a complainer.” That was good, he didn’t curse Baelish that time, the twatwaffle.
“True, but this one’s a little different than his usual brand of butthurt. He says you violated Ms. Stark’s constitutional rights by not recusing yourself from her case.” And here the shit-eating grin returned. “Since you’re dating her.”
“I’m not dating her.”
“See, I watched you dating her, on an actual date.” The grin intensified. “In fact, I warned you on that date, that very datey date, this could be a problem.”
“No, you told me she was using me.” Damn, he hated the way Lannister glossed over the truth. “Anyway, I’m not in a relationship with her, and I’m no longer assigned to her case, which is all bullshit from your sister anyway, and are we done here?”
Lannister squinted at the screen again. “I’m reading your case notes from your investigation. It doesn’t look like bullshit to me. Your notes are pretty clear that the Stark girl stole the tapestry, and that it doesn’t belong to her.”
Shit. “I have new information. Renly Baratheon is holding the tapestry for the university.”
“Goodie for him. Back to the Stark girl. Was she using you?” When he growled in response, Lannister added, “What? I’m curious to see if I was right.”
“When are you ever fucking right?” That was too much and he knew it. He cracked his knuckles one by one as a self-soothing technique. “The tapestry is back where it belongs. Don’t you think we should let this go?”
“No. I have a responsibility to the citizens of Kings Landing to find out if you’ve violated anyone’s constitutional rights.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” He was trying to hold onto his temper, but dammit, why wouldn’t Lannister meet him halfway? Why did he have to keep poking at his soft spots?
“Look, if she asked her lawyer to file a complaint against you—”
“She wouldn’t do that.”
“Oh, come on, you don’t know that.” Lannister wheeled his chair closer in. “You’re not in a relationship with her. You said it yourself. Maybe when her plan to get out of trouble by flirting with you didn’t work, she moved onto Plan B.”
“What the fuck?” Acid bubbled in his guts. He could not take the bait here, he had to get through this conversation without throttling Lannister. “There’s no fucking Plan B. There’s no fucking theft. Go talk to your brother-in-law at the university. He has the tapestry.”
“I don’t care about the tapestry. I don’t even know what it is.” Lannister’s forehead crinkled. “What is it, anyway, some kind of blanket?”
“Fucking idiot,” he muttered under his breath.
“I heard that perfectly well, despite my advanced age,” Lannister said. “You know, I’m trying to help you, asking you about your relationship problems and everything.”
“What is this, a slumber party? I don’t have any fucking problems, for fuck’s sake. This is Baelish being a twatwaffle again.” Shit, he’d just congratulated himself for not saying twatwaffle out loud.
“Alright, so tell me how you know for sure that she didn’t ask Baelish to file the complaint.”
He couldn’t do that. He couldn’t share his poem with Lannister, and he couldn’t explain that Sansa thought he was someone better than he actually was. He’d failed her. He was supposed to be her knight in shining armor, but here he was, taking his marching orders from Lannister again.
“This is all bullshit from beginning to end,” he said, being careful to moderate his volume. “The tapestry’s Sansa’s work in the first place—”
“Ah, now you’re on a first name basis.”
Gods, Lannister was so fucking smug and annoying. “Yeah, you saw us on a date.”
“Aha! I knew it was a date.”
Smug and annoying and a fucking idiot. He closed his eyes for the space of a breath. Inhale, exhale. He’d be home enjoying peace and quiet in just a few minutes.
“What you want to do,” he said calmly, “is drop the case completely before Baelish starts telling everyone that you arrested Sansa for stealing her own work.”
Lannister shrugged. “I didn’t arrest her. You arrested her. That’s why you’re here, remember? Violating her constitutional rights.” He lifted a perfect, golden eyebrow. “Hey, you’d let me know if you violated anything of hers, wouldn’t you?”
He stood up. “Yeah, we’re fucking done here.”
“You don’t honestly think she’s innocent?” Lannister seemed on the verge of laughter, which was just fucking insulting. “She broke into Cersei’s home, stole something valuable that doesn’t belong to her, and then leveraged the way her ass looks in a dress to get you to back off. Very nice ass, but—”
“You have no fucking idea what you’re talking about. No fucking clue.”
Lannister was on his feet. “Stay on your side of my desk.”
Shit, when had he moved? Whatever, wasn’t important. “I’m doing you a favor by telling you to drop the charges against her before Cersei’s shit backfires on you.”
“Your own case notes say something different. Your notes make it clear that this is at least a misdemeanor theft, if not a felony.”
Only a few minutes ago, Sandor had been thinking that City Hall was a place to take a stand on principle. He knew he could swallow his pride, apologize, and let Lannister’s inane conversation wash over him. He was capable of it. But he had principles, dammit, didn’t he?
“That tapestry never belonged to your sister or your nephew,” he said. “They can’t just decide what they own and then make us run around fetching it for them like …” He wasn’t going to say dogs. “That isn’t real police work. We could be spending this time going after actual criminals.”
Lannister looked just like his father with his cold, disdainful sneer. “Well, that’s rich, coming from you. Pretending you have the moral high ground after trying to fuck the suspect.”
He curled his hands into fists while blackness threatened to overtake his vision. “Fuck this. I fucking tried. You want to let your sister drag your reputation through shit, that’s your business. Leave me the fuck out of it.”
“That’s exactly what I plan to do.” Lannister was cold as marble. Sandor tended to forget that the flighty playboy act was just that, an act. “Give me your badge.”
“You heard me.” Lannister thumped the desk with his stump. “I’m suspending you based on the number of citizen complaints against you. Badge. Now.”
He couldn’t be serious. He couldn’t be losing his job over this. “You doing this on account of Baelish?”
“I could give a flying fuck about Baelish.”
“On account of Cersei?”
Lannister blinked, and it was just enough to prove the remark hit home. “I asked you to make a case against Sansa Stark, and you won’t do it. I’m letting you know what the consequences are. Unless this changes your mind and you will do it?”
So much for principle. Why had he thought the truth would stand a chance here? He shouldn’t be surprised. He’d always known there were consequences for not playing along with the Lannisters. That was why he’d always played along.
He pulled his badge off his belt, the metal edges scraping his palm. It wasn’t like the badge represented anything. Maybe it had long ago, when dragons were real, but maybe not. Kings Landing had always been a corrupt hive of scum and villainy.
He threw the badge on Lannister’s desk and left without looking back.
That felt good in the moment, but even before he exited the building, he realized he couldn’t take a stand and keep his fucking job. He wouldn’t be able to get a job anywhere else, either, not after being suspended due to citizen complaints. Eventually, he’d have to go crawling back and apologize. And sure as the sun rose in the east, Lannister would make him fucking grovel.
The creep from Maiden’s Hell hadn’t given up. She’d blocked him on all of her social media accounts, but he started sending anonymous messages, a whole grab bag of nice guy clichés, everything from “I’ve always treated you like a lady” to “I guess you think you’re better than me.” A few days after her disastrous meeting with Joffrey, she saw an unfamiliar car cruising her apartment’s parking lot and got so scared, she hid in the bathroom. As she sat on the fuzzy bath mat, afraid to stand even though the bathroom window was smaller than her sketchbook, she realized she couldn’t face this alone. It was sobering that the only person she trusted was her little sister.
“We need to go to the police,” Arya said as she sat on the edge of the bathtub. “This could be a reason to talk to your Hound again.”
Sansa shook her head. If her poem hadn’t changed his mind, she didn’t think anything would. She’d hoped so much that her heartfelt words would make him need to find her. It was just another one of her childish daydreams.
“I did meet one of his friends who might help,” Sansa said. “Her name’s Brienne, and—"
“Brienne Tarth?” Arya’s eyes lit up. “She’s perfect!”
“How do you know Brienne?” Sansa reconsidered. “Do I want to know the answer to that?”
Arya grinned. “Nope. Let’s go.”
Sansa almost pointed out that Arya didn’t need to go, but honestly, she didn’t feel like going anywhere by herself. She drove downtown and circled the municipal parking garage, searching for Sandor’s truck and failing to find it. With any luck, she wouldn’t run into him in the police station. Although if she did meet him accidentally … no. She had to get her head out of the clouds. If her writing had any effect on him, he’d have let her know by now.
Sandor wasn’t in the police station, but Brienne was there, attacking her keyboard with hard, staccato bursts of typing. She looked up in obvious surprise when Sansa and Arya approached her desk, which they made more confusing when they talked over each other, Sansa trying to introduce Brienne to her sister properly and Arya asking after Brienne’s arm injury.
Brienne glanced between them, shifted as if she wanted to say something, swallowed, and started again. “Maybe you’d better tell me why you’re here.”
“Sansa’s being stalked, and it’s gone from cyberstalking to IRL stalking,” Arya said.
Sansa tugged her hair. Brienne’s demeanor was making her feel overexamined and nervous. “I can show you some texts, but I know there’s not a lot you can do about that.”
“I can. If this guy is haunting our apartment, I’m going to scare the crap out of him,” Arya said.
Brienne side-eyed them before she looked over her shoulder, as if she was expecting eavesdroppers. “Arya mentioned this to me before. I want to help you. It’s not your fault that this isn’t the best time.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, should I come back later?” Sansa asked.
“That … won’t help.” Brienne sighed. “The complaint your lawyer filed against Detective Clegane is making people here—”
“The what?” Sansa’s heart beat inside her eardrums. “My lawyer did what?”
“Holy shit,” Arya said. “That explains a lot.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Sansa said, her voice sneaking up to a high-pitched squeal. “It doesn’t explain anything. How could that, that …”
“Bastard,” Arya suggested.
“Yes, that bastard file a complaint without telling me?”
Brienne frowned. “You’re not going to like what I tell you next.”
It got worse? Sansa took the chair next to Brienne’s desk. If she stayed on her feet, she might faint in the middle of the police station without Sandor there, which would be a total waste of a faint.
Brienne looked at the ceiling as if it could rescue her. When it didn’t, she said, “Because of his handling of your case, Detective Clegane has been suspended.”
“Holy shit,” Arya said.
Sansa buried her face in her hands. Ohhh, this was a disaster of epic proportions. The next time she saw Petyr Baelish … well, she didn’t know what she was going to do, but it would be incredibly drastic. No wonder Sandor hated her. She’d never be talented enough to write a poem that would outweigh him losing his job over her. If only she could explain—
She could explain! She could go to his house and tell him she had nothing to do with her lawyer’s complaint. She didn’t expect him to believe her, not after she’d withheld the truth about the tapestry and got him into this mess, but she owed him the truth. She owed herself a chance to tell the truth. It would be up to him whether he trusted her. The alternative was to do nothing, and she couldn’t do nothing. Every bone in her body ached for action. She couldn’t sit here another second.
“Where are you going?” Arya called after her.
Oh, right, Arya.
“You’re going to his house, aren’t you?” Arya said.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Brienne said, her voice level but her eyes filled with real concern. Sansa was glad they’d met. It could be the silver lining in this catastrophe. No, it was an uncatastrophe because Sansa was going to fix it.
“She’s a Stark,” Arya said. “She can’t sit here when she could be doing something reckless instead.”
I’m not the reckless one, she thought. I’m the Stark who can sit still, who can do what she’s expected to do, but screw it. Her heart was pumping blood through her so fast that sitting wasn’t an option. Some things were worth being reckless for.
“You can wait in the car,” Sansa said.
“As if. I’ll stay here and catch up with Brienne,” Arya said. “You can call me after your frontal assault.”
Brienne could deal with Arya. Sansa had a mission. She was going to fix everything between her and Sandor, and then they could get back to the romantic part where he was courting her and lavishing her with his full attention. And kissing, they definitely had to get back to the kissing part. Maybe she should skip the talking and go straight to the kissing. But first, she had to apologize for her lawyer.
She was all jittery, driving too fast, and the impatient, squirmy feeling was worse when she got to Sandor’s house. The last glimmers of the sunset created patches of pinkish orange light on the lawn, illuminating a burst of blooming daffodils. Stranger started barking as soon as she got out of her car, but not loud enough to cover the songs of crickets. It was all so domestic. Not that it stopped her anxiety from making her legs weigh a thousand pounds as she made her way to the yellow front door.
Sandor stepping outside took her breath away. She froze, studying his face for any clue of his feelings toward her, any hint of what she should do next. His gaze swallowed her whole, left her no room for coherent thought.
“Why are you here?” His gravelly voice echoed in the empty space inside her.
I love you and I want to stay here forever seemed too strong for an opening line. While her brain rebooted, her body drifted to him of its own volition.
“I’m so, so sorry,” she said when she could talk again. “Can I come in?”
He was piercing her with his scrutiny, and she wanted to turn herself inside out so he could clearly see everything in her mind and her soul. But whatever he was looking for, he must not have seen it. He turned away from her and shrugged, as if it didn’t matter, as if nothing mattered.
She followed him in the house. Stranger was a good distraction for a minute, and she tried to pull herself together while she let the dog sniff her hands and confirm that she belonged.
“I didn’t ask you to come here,” he said, and he moved away to sit on the couch, creating more distance between them.
“I know.” She decided to start at the very beginning. She buried her fingers in the fur on the top of Stranger’s head for comfort. “When I met you … I didn’t think taking the tapestry would hurt anyone other than myself.”
“And your boyfriend Joffrey.” There was a glass of dark liquor and ice on the coffee table in front of him. He stared at the glass but didn’t reach for it.
“It wasn’t about him.”
Stranger trotted over to Sandor, which was proper and the way it should be, but Sansa felt bereft. She tried to pick up the story. “I’m sorry. I should’ve confessed in the police station when I met you. I was just … I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“You were drunk.” He tapped his fingers on his knee. “You did what you had to do. Only a fucking moron would’ve confessed to the police.”
What was she doing wrong? How was she unable to bridge the gap between them? She should jump ahead in the story, gather her courage and be totally honest. “Then you brought me back here on your motorcycle and I thought I was in love with you.”
His head snapped up. Finally, she could see his smoldering gray eyes clearly, and could tell he wasn’t being casual at all but was holding back from showing his strong emotions.
“You … but … “ He ground his teeth together, and a muscle tic jumped on his jaw. “When did you come to your senses?”
“What do you mean?”
“When did you realize that you would’ve been better off if you’d never met me?”
“Never.” He was avoiding her eyes again. She needed him to look at her, she needed him to understand this. She sat down next to him on the couch. “I’m never going to think that.”
“You should. It’s the truth.”
Then he did look at her, and his expression reflected the pain he was holding back from slicing her to ribbons and turning on himself instead. She grabbed his hand and squeezed it as hard as she could.
“I’m here because I want to be with you,” she said. “Because I always want to be with you.”
He threw off her hand. “Well, that’s fucking stupid.”
She was so surprised that she slapped his arm without thinking. “How dare you say that me? That was a heartfelt confession.”
He grunted and hid his face behind his hair, as if he realized he was in the wrong but wasn’t ready to admit it. Stubborn man.
“You think talking about feelings is so easy, you try it,” she said, “instead of leaving me anonymous notes.”
“Don’t start on me with the anonymous notes,” he said. “Your note got me suspended.”
“How does that follow? You didn’t show it to anyone, did you?”
He blew out a breath. “Who would believe me? Look at you. You’re beautiful, talented. You’re young and … and you’re good at talking to people. You have gorgeous legs.” He traced her jawline with one finger. “Beautiful eyes.”
“Oh.” Suddenly it was hard to breathe. She inched closer to him until their legs were touching, and he didn’t push her away. She had to remember to go slow with him and resist the urge to rest her head on his broad shoulder, even though it was an overpowering instinct. She dipped forward so she could inhale his scent better.
“Sansa,” he said, “what are you doing?”
She peered up at him through her eyelashes. He was so close now. She couldn’t be expected to string words together when his body heat was soaking through her jeans.
“Dammit, stop looking at me like that,” he said, but it was so quiet, she knew he didn’t mean it. It wasn’t as if she could stop. She wasn’t jumping in his lap and burying her face in his neck, and that was taking all of her concentration. Going slow was excruciating, it was torture.
“You don’t want this.” His voice was hoarse and cracked.
“You shouldn’t tell me what I want as if I can’t speak for myself,” she said. She trailed her fingers up his thigh, feather light touches she didn’t know if he could feel.
“Fuck,” he said, and he finally, finally, finally kissed her.
His hand covered her shoulder, pulling her closer. His lips opened against hers, his tongue urgent and needy, and there was nothing slow about this kiss at all. She flung an arm around him, scrambled to her knees to reach him better. He moaned into her mouth, and hot lust snaked from there to her belly. She pushed into him, greedy, desperately trying to get him to make that noise again. His arm came around her waist, lifting her onto his lap as if she was weightless, only the rough sensation of his lips against hers keeping her tethered to reality.
When he backed away from her and put her back on the couch, she whined at the loss of contact.
“You don’t want to do this.” His deep voice was wrecking her. “Look at me.”
She widened her eyes so he knew she was looking. Then she ran her fingers over his scarred cheek. “I know what you look like. Maybe you should be looking at me.”
She could imagine how she looked right now, hair mussed, eyes dark with desire, and lips swollen from kissing.
He squinted at her suspiciously. “Stop trying to look adorable.”
“I’m not.” Well, she was a bit, but the situation definitely called for feminine wiles.
“This is fucking unfair, you know, expecting me to stop this.” It was as if he was forcing himself to be angry at her, as if he needed anger like a security blanket.
She wound her fingers through his and rubbed the back of his hand with her thumb. “I don’t want to stop this.”
“You should. I have nothing to offer you. I look fucking terrifying, my family is shit, I didn’t have faith in you when you needed me, and when I tried to make a stand for you …”
“What did you do?” It was something amazingly gallant, she was sure. She should’ve realized that losing his job over her had been the ultimate romantic gesture.
Very gently, he put her hand back in her own lap. “Nope. Not doing this. I can’t do this to you. You have to leave now.”
“I can’t leave now. You can’t just, just …” Why weren’t there words to make him see sense? “You can’t give me all those wonderful compliments and kiss me like that and then make me leave you.”
He stood, his expression turning to granite. “You need to go.”
She leaped in front of him and grabbed his arms, trying to make him meet her eyes. “But I can’t go. I think … I think maybe you’re my soulmate.”
He gasped, and she had done that, she made him gasp. His gaze bore into her, making her dizzy. She dug her fingers into his arms. “Don’t you need to know? If you’re my soulmate?”
His lip curled into a sneer. “I’m not your soulmate. There’s no such thing. You think life’s some sort of love song? Get a grip.”
It hurt hard, like a sledgehammer to the chest. She had to close her eyes. She couldn’t look at him with this much pain echoing between them.
“I’m a bad person and I’ve done bad things,” he said. She hadn’t realized she’d started crying until he gently wiped her cheek. His switch to tenderness made her hurt worse. “Are you listening, little bird?”
“I hear you saying that you think you’re a bad person, and you feel guilty about things you did.” Her voice sounded so wobbly. “A bad person wouldn’t feel guilty. A bad person would lie to me. We’ve both known bad people, and we both know you’re not one.”
He sighed. “Yeah, well, there’s worse to come.” He dropped his hand. “I can’t help you anymore, okay? Not that I ever fucking helped at all.”
“I don’t care. I’m not trying to get you to rescue me. I just want to be with you.” Stupid tears, stupid childish, immature Sansa. Of course he didn’t want to be with her.
The tic was back in his jaw. “Stop it. You need to stop. Just go.”
He didn’t give her another chance to make her case. He walked away from her, Stranger following, leaving her alone in the living room. She heard a door slam further in the house. He was dismissing her. She couldn’t see well enough to drive, but she couldn’t stay here a second longer. He didn’t want her here, and she was just going to keep crying and saying things that made them both feel worse.
The sound of him saying ‘I’m not your soulmate’ was seared into her. It played on repeat as she staggered to her car, as she waited behind the steering wheel to calm down. As if she could wear down the sharpness of it with repetition. She hoped he’d come outside to stop her from crying. Even as she told herself it was a forlorn hope, she kept hoping it. He didn’t.
What could she do next? Become a septa. Fire her lawyer. There had to something.
She wiped away the last of her tears. She knew what she had to do. She had to go home, and be an adult, and stop thinking she was worthy of some grand romance. That was all fairy tale stuff. Sandor wouldn’t accept her love or her affection, and she was powerless to change that.