Sansa floated back to her apartment, completely unaware of her surroundings. He had proposed, Sandor had asked her to run away with him and he’d proposed. It was absolutely ludicrous. They barely knew each other! They’d met less than a month ago! They’d never gotten to the stage where they texted each other to ask about their days. Certainly, she deserved that, didn’t she? A boyfriend who texted her to ask how her day was? That should probably come before the wedding. Why had he proposed to her?
In her high school diary, she had a few preferred scenarios scripted out for a romantic marriage proposal: hot-air ballooning, ice skating, drinking champagne on a lakeside picnic. There was nothing romantic about getting Arya out of a tree! Although those old scenarios seemed very cliché now that she’d actually been proposed to, except for ice skating, which was still legit. She’d always pictured being blissfully happy when her soulmate asked her to spend the rest of her life with him. Not in a million years would she have guessed she’d be so annoyed.
She didn’t expect to find Arya apologetic when she got home, because Arya. In fact, Arya was on the living room couch eating directly from a tin of sardines, making the whole apartment smell like cat food. Sansa had a million things she needed to say, but Sandor had asked her to marry him, so all she could manage to articulate was, “Why?”
“Okay, don’t be mad,” Arya said, pretty much guaranteeing she’d be mad. “Remember that guy from Maiden’s Hell who followed you into the parking garage?”
Sandor had asked her to marry him. She had no idea what Arya was talking about. “No.”
“What, seriously? The stalker guy! He texted you like twenty-seven dick pics. You don’t remember this?”
He wanted them to run away together. He offered to take her up North, and she knew he hated the cold. She really needed to get him some warm, cozy sweaters. No, no, he wasn’t her boyfriend, and he certainly wasn’t her fiancé. He wasn’t her anything.
“San, are you listening to me at all?”
“You said don’t be mad.” That reminded her – she was mad. “Why were you and Sandor climbing a tree without me?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. We were scaring away your stalker.”
“And how did Sandor know about my stalker?”
Arya didn’t seem to notice that Sansa’s voice had turned to chipped ice.
“Does it matter? It’s not like you’re planning to see him ever again.”
“Yes, Arya! Yes, it matters!” She collapsed in the armchair. Sandor had proposed to her. Was he trying to save her? Why did he want to marry her all of a sudden? “Why are you sneaking around with him without telling me?”
Arya pinched a sardine out of the tin. “You seemed busy.”
Sansa decided to count to ten. One … two … “You went to Sandor with my problems behind my back! You didn’t even ask me if it would hurt my feelings. You didn’t care! And you’re eating sardines indoors, which you said you wouldn’t do!”
Of course, Arya yelled back. “Hey, we were helping you! Doesn’t that count for anything?”
Sansa’s blood was boiling, which she’d always thought was just a figure of speech, but it was real and she could feel her blood literally boil. “You don’t get to do this. You can’t live my life for me like you’d do it better. You can’t kick me out of your house and then ask me to run away with you!”
“I … well, alright on the last count, I won’t do that, but … seven hells, did that idiot ask you to run away with him?” Arya shook her head. “I mean, you’ve done worse, but that was terrible timing on the Hound’s part.”
“Don’t call him that. And never mention him to me again.” Arya always thought she was in the right, no matter how wrong she was. How could she not see how wrong she was? “You sneak around behind my back with the man who broke my heart, and now I’m supposed to thank you for doing me a favor?”
“Oh, right, like you’d thank me for anything. I mean, forget it, Sansa, how dare I help you?” Arya snort laughed. “You obviously have your life totally under control.”
“Maybe I would if you weren’t making everything worse!” She was pulling on her hair, and it hurt, and Sandor had asked her to marry him, and she was never going to see him again. “You’re the worst sister in the world. I want you to … I want you to move out.”
Yes, that was good, that was exactly what she wanted. Living with Arya had been a stupid experiment, and she had no idea why she’d once thought living with family was important enough to tolerate Arya’s constant condescension.
Arya did that scary thing with her eyebrows. “I can’t move out. This is a student apartment, and I’m the student. If you hate me that much, you move out.”
“I’m going to!” Maybe she’d go home, to Winterfell. She could trap animals for a living.
“Good!” Arya yelled.
“Good!” Sansa yelled back. “Because you suck.”
“You suck worse.” Arya picked up a sardine and wiggled it in front of Sansa’s face. “And this is my apartment and I’ll eat whatever the hell I want.”
“And stay away from Sandor,” Sansa warned. “That was a crappy thing to do.”
“Well, what do you expect from the worst sister in the world?” Arya sprawled out on the couch, making herself look as comfortable as possible. “Maybe I’ll ask him out on a date.”
“Grraahhh, I hate you!” Sansa stomped into her room and slammed the door so hard that it bounced back.
“I’m calling him right now!” Arya yelled as Sansa closed the door properly.
Good. Good! Because Sansa wasn’t ever getting married, not for the rest of her life. In just a few short days, her father would be here to take her to court for her hearing, and then she’d pack her bags and run away to Winterfell. Alone. Or maybe she’d get lucky and be sent to prison, where nobody would be allowed to eat bad-smelling food or climb trees behind her back or propose marriage right after kicking her to the curb. It would be paradise on Earth.
She prostrated herself on her bed and buried her head under her pillow to block out the sound of Arya’s chewing, which she could hear through the door because Arya was disgusting. She’d been so stupid to think her back-stabbing sister cared about her. What did she and Sandor talk about without her anyway? They probably laughed at how foolish she was. They laughed and laughed up in that tree of theirs, and maybe Sandor’s proposal was just one big joke to him.
No, it wasn’t. She’d seen how hands shook, how stunned he’d looked when she’d turned him down. Well, what had he expected? He’d told her he wasn’t her soulmate.
She had to face the facts. There was no such thing as soulmates, and she was just a childish and sentimental sap. If only the sentimental part of her would grow up so she could learn to think like everybody else did.
Sansa’s father arrived three days later to accompany her to court. She’d taken the day off work, but she was out driving when her father got to the apartment. She’d taken to driving around in circles to kill time, not looking for anything in particular, or at least not anything she’d admit to herself.
When she got home – no, when she got to Arya’s apartment – her father had obviously had a heart to heart with Arya. After Sansa gave her dad an unenthusiastic hug, he told her, “Your sister wants to apologize.”
“That’s not necessary,” Sansa said. “I don’t need a phony apology.”
“It’s not phony,” Arya said. “I thought about it, and, looking at it from your point of view, I can see why you had a reason to be angry with me. Under the circumstances.” She kicked the floor. “I really am sorry, San.”
“My, how generous of you.” Sansa brushed past her sister to get to her room and change into what she’d decided was her most depressing outfit for court. Not that any decisions she made ever seemed to make the slightest difference to her life.
Sansa and her father had to meet Petyr Baelish in the lobby of the courthouse for a pre-hearing conference. Arya came with them, and Sansa didn’t have the energy to object. The lobby was crowded near the double doors to the courtroom, but less busy near the displays of historical photos of Kings Landing, where benches and chairs were situated. Sansa found a chair next to a window where a sunbeam came in and curled up like a cat. She could hear Dad and Arya whispering about her and ignored them, even after they sat down next to her, even after her father gave her arm a reassuring squeeze.
Petyr was all happy smiles when showed up in his finely tailored suit and silk tie, greeting her father by asking after her mother. Then he turned to Sansa.
“Well, my dear,” he said, making her cringe, “what are you hoping to get out of today?”
“I’m hoping to be sent to prison so I don’t have to live with Arya,” she said.
“You’re not bothering me,” Arya said. “I know you’re only angry because of what this ambulance chasing shyster did to the Hound.”
“Why should that make me angry? I’m used to people going behind my back because they think they know how to live my life better than I do.”
“Girls, cut it out,” Dad said, mostly out of habit. There was an awkward pause before he asked, “What’s the Hound?”
“Ah, that’s our strategy.” Petyr couldn’t have sounded more satisfied with himself. “With the case I’ve made for police misbehavior, the district attorney’s office will have no choice but to drop Sansa’s charges completely. Her record won’t have a smudge.”
“There was no police misbehavior,” Sansa said. “And believe me, I tried.” She was never making that much of an effort for a man again as long as she lived. As it was, the last few weeks had totally ruined her internal dialogue. She hadn’t realized how often she’d come to think about Sandor until now, when she was supposed to stop. What did she used to think about?
“Petyr, I don’t think we need a complicated strategy,” Dad said. “I’m sure if Sansa makes a heartfelt apology for her actions, it will make a good impression.”
“Ha!” Arya said it at the same time Sansa did, but Sansa refused to acknowledge that.
“Listen to your daughters, Ned,” Petyr said. “The judge today is Emmon Frey, who used to be married to Cersei Baratheon’s aunt. Rumor has it that he’s suffering from terrible seasonal allergies, so he’s more impatient than usual. We need every advantage we can get. And Cersei’s twin Jaime Lannister is here today as well, in his role as police commissioner.”
“Holy crap, the Hound was right about outrageous municipal corruption,” Arya said.
“Would you stop talking about him?” Sansa would’ve thrown one of her sensibly heeled shoes at her sister if she could bring herself to expend the energy.
Dad set his jaw and pinned Sansa with one of his sternest expressions. “I think someone had better tell me what’s going on.”
Petyr stood. “Unfortunately, the bailiff is waving us inside. I’m sure it will all become clear when it’s Sansa’s turn in front of the judge. Trust me, Ned. I understand how Kings Landing works.”
Petyr paused to put his hand on Sansa’s shoulder, and she managed not to throw him off by biting down on her lower lip. Then he hurried into the courtroom, brown-nosing the bailiff with compliments as he went.
Dad sighed. “Come on, Princess. We’d better take our seats. I’m sure this will all look better after you’ve spoken to the judge.”
“Okay, but I’m still hoping for prison.”
She let her father lead her inside to the uncomfortable plastic seats, weighed down with the knowledge that Sandor wouldn’t be coming to her rescue this time. Or any other time, ever again. They were just about the last people to enter the courtroom, and the bailiff shut the double doors, blocking the sunlight and throwing their corner of purgatory into shadows.
Commissioner Lannister was in full uniform up front, at a table to the left of the judge’s dark cherrywood bench, conferring with his brother Tyrion, the assistant district attorney. Petyr was already at the table to the right of the bench, talking with his first client of the day’s session. The judge was a thin, sour-faced man with an irritated nose. He stared down that nose from his raised bench as if the collected assembly of defendants and loved ones were spreading contagion.
The first defendant was up on shoplifting charges, but Tyrion Lannister made an impassioned speech about the man’s gang affiliation with a mysterious criminal organization known as the Brotherhood. Petyr countered with a tale of bureaucratic bungling forcing the defendant’s family restaurant to close, depriving him of a living. The defendant’s family rallied around him, but Judge Frey was not impressed. Only a few minutes after his hearing started, the defendant was being marched away in handcuffs.
Arya was looking things up on her phone in explicit defiance of the signs forbidding cell phones in the courtroom. “This says Emmon Frey is known as the Sloth.”
“I’m sure it’s because he deliberates slowly and carefully,” Dad said.
Arya consulted her phone. “No, it’s because he’s a hanging judge.”
Sansa’s father patted her hand. She felt all the blood drain from her face.
“Next up,” the bailiff intoned, “the State versus Sansa Stark.”
With her heart blocking her windpipe, Sansa slipped past her father and Arya to stand in the aisle. She swallowed and walked slowly to the bench. She had never felt so alone in her life. Petyr coming to stand next to her did nothing to dispel her sense of isolation.
Tyrion Lannister stood in front of the bench, which was easily as tall as he was. “Your Honor, the defendant is charged with breaking and entering and with theft of a valuable work of art.”
Petyr parried right away. “Actually, the defendant is the artist, and her artwork was simply returned to its legal owner.”
“But the defendant is not the legal owner,” Tyrion said, his voice carrying over Petyr’s. “She took the artwork without permission.”
Sansa thought Petyr would interject to say that she had the University’s permission, but instead he said, “You don’t know whether she had permission because the investigating officer bungled the case.”
“That’s not what happened,” Sansa said.
Petyr shushed her, and Tyrion gave her an appraising look, like he had never met her before and was trying to figure out why she was here. The judge simply waved at Tyrion to continue.
Tyrion nodded to the judge. “The count of breaking and entering is clear. At 1:35 in the morning in question, the defendant entered the address listed in the charge without permission.”
“Allegedly without permission,” Petyr said.
“I have affidavits from the homeowners,” Tyrion said.
The judge rubbed his nose. “That does seem very clear, Mr. Baelish.”
She could sense that none of this was going well for her. “But the security code is 112233,” she said. “Sandor said that since I was given the security code—"
“Yes, let’s talk about that,” Petyr said. “Let’s talk about Sandor.”
“Hold on,” Jaime Lannister said, staring at his phone. “I’d like to address that. But first I have to text my idiot sister and tell her to change, uh, something.”
“We don’t have time for that, Commissioner, and you aren’t being called as a witness,” the judge said. “I’m not sure why we haven’t moved onto the sentencing phase.”
“Based on the illegal nature of the investigation, I’m requesting that this case be dismissed,” Petyr said, “as you can see from Exhibit A, which I have asked the court to be accepted as evidence.”
The judge moaned as he rustled through paperwork. “Commissioner, which one of your officers screwed the pooch this time?”
“It’s a pattern of unprofessional behavior,” Petyr said. “Commissioner Lannister’s police department is out of control.”
“But that’s not true,” Sansa said. “The Kings Landing police department is very professional, especially Detective Sandor Clegane.”
“So, it’s Clegane,” the judge said.
Sansa couldn’t figure out who looked happier, her lawyer or Tyrion Lannister, who grinned at her. Petyr patted her on the back, touching her again, and she clenched her fists. “Now, just leave it to me, my dear,” he said under his breath. “It will be better for you if you keep quiet.”
“But she’s so interesting,” Tyrion said. Apparently, his hearing was quite sharp. “She’s destroying my case, but look at how much we’ve learned together. 112233!”
“This isn’t kindergarten circle time, Counselor,” the judge said. He looked up from his reading. “That’s it, Baelish? Your whole accusation is that the investigating officer and the defendant attended a charity event?”
Jaime Lannister strode to the bench, his phone out of sight. “Not that I admit any wrongdoing by any member of the police department, Your Honor, but if it would move things along, I could suspend Clegane without pay for a month or two.”
“What?” Blood rushed through her ears. She must’ve heard incorrectly. “No, you can’t do that.”
Judge Frey was definitely cheering up at Jaime Lannister’s suggestion, and he looked much creepier when he was smiling. She told herself she absolutely couldn’t faint. She’d end up being caught by Petyr Baelish while Sandor was suspended from the force, banished to roam the lands like a lone hedge knight. The Lannisters and her lawyer and the judge would all pat each other on the back for a job well done. She’d thought prison would be the worst possible outcome. Oh, how naïve she’d been.
Just when things seemed at their darkest, the double doors flew open with a bang. The breeze lifted her hair and raised goosebumps all over her skin. Of course, it couldn’t be anyone but Sandor, his incredibly muscular chest filling the door frame. He looked like a Germanic gothic sculpture come to life as he marched into the courtroom, the bailiff hurrying out of his way.
“Why does this case keep getting interrupted?” the judge said.
“Because Sansa Stark has done nothing wrong,” Sandor said. “I have an affidavit here from Professor Renly Baratheon that states she had full permission to take the tapestry and repair it.”
“About time!” Arya cried.
Sansa might have said something like “Eeep.” But she couldn’t be sure. She was too overcome.
Sandor levelled the men in front of the courtroom with a look of pure righteousness. “You brought her to court after derailing my investigation. You knew she was innocent. She wouldn’t steal anything that wasn’t hers. She’s too good for that, and too trusting, and, and too smart. And she’s the most beautiful woman in the world. And if it takes me years, I’ll put this case to rest. However long it takes.”
This was not the most romantic thing that had happened to her. This was the most incredible, amazing, romantic thing that had ever happened to anyone throughout the entirety of history.
“You wonderful man, of course I’ll marry you!” She ran down the aisle and threw herself against his chest. She had to leap up to get her arms around him, but she held on as hard as she could.
“You …. What?” He was absolutely adorable when he blinked at her all confused like that.
“Personally, I always thought this case was a dog,” Tyrion said. “I feel confident saying that the district attorney’s office is willing to drop the charges.”
“Huh?” Sandor said. He was holding her up, though, and that was where his concentration belonged.
“What the hell is going on here?” came from the audience.
Sandor took his eyes off her to find the speaker. “Oh, that’s my father, don’t worry about that,” Sansa said.
“That’s who?” Now he looked confused and worried, which was somehow even more adorable.
“Can we at least suspend him without pay?” Jaime asked Tyrion.
Sansa whirled on the brothers Lannister. “Oh, no, absolutely not. You have no idea how lucky you are to have an honest, hard-working police detective who isn’t afraid to do the right thing. Also, he’s getting married, so without pay is completely off the table.”
“I don’t see how you can argue with that, Jaime,” Tyrion said. He looked very happy for her. True love was bound to make anyone happy.
Jaime sighed. “Fine. I suppose I overreacted. But in my defense, the Hound was rude.” He pouted. “He told me men my age need reading glasses.”
“Another shining example of speaking truth to power,” Petyr said. “The detective has a valid case against the city for violating his rights. Fortunately, I’m available on contingency.”
“Huh?” Sandor said, still a little dazed from all this romance.
“We’re good, thanks,” Sansa said. She rested her head on Sandor’s chest. They weren’t good, they were perfect. Everything was going to be perfect from now on.
“So,” Arya said, “I think this is the best time to mention that I dropped out of school.”
Bang! Bang! Judge Frey hammered his gavel until everyone quieted down.
“Detective Clegane, do you have a marriage license with you right now?” the judge asked.
“Um, no?” Sandor said.
“Then get out of my court! Case dismissed.”
Sansa wasn’t too mature to squeal out loud. How could she possibly have ever doubted her knight in shining armor? “Let’s go home,” she told him.
He scooped her up into a bridal carry, and she squealed again. Then he cradled the back of her head in his hand and entangled her hair in his fingers. She caught the intense glow of his eyes before he tipped her into a long, lingering kiss. He tasted like he smelled, warm and earthy and intoxicating. She snuggled her face into the sensitive skin of his neck, inhaled him deeply, and gave him a playful nip that made him growl.
“So, Detective Clegane, it seems like we have a lot to talk about.” Ah, shoot, she’d forgotten about her father. He was really leaning into that northern accent, too, which was never a good sign. Sandor put her back down on the floor very carefully.
“Don’t worry, Dad, we like this one,” Arya said.
What a great sister she had, the best sister in the world. “Oh, I’m sorry, did you say something about school?” she asked Arya.
“I’ve been here one day and …. Your mother is going to kill me,” Dad said. He turned his glare on Sandor. “But first, I want to hear every single detail about Sandor Clegane’s life.”
“Riight,” Sandor said uncertainly. He’d been braver facing down the entire justice system of Kings Landing for her.
But Sansa wasn’t worried. She’d head them to the brewery so she could introduce her father to Sandor properly and tell Yara the good news. If push came to shove, Arya could always create a diversion.
She wrapped her arm in Sandor’s arm as they left the courtroom. She loved leaning against him, he was so solid and strong. She planned to do it all the time. He pushed her hair back to speak into her ear with that sexy, whiskey voice. “You said you’d marry me. In a courtroom in front of witnesses.”
“Mmmm, sounds very binding,” she said, lacing her fingers through his. “I don’t think we can get out of it. Legally speaking.”
From behind her, Dad said, “This had better be the longest engagement ever put on record.”
“Don’t worry, he’s prone to hyperbole,” she told Sandor. "Fortunately, it's not a family trait."
But a long engagement would probably be for the best. They still hadn’t texted each other adorable photos of their dogs, or snuggled up on the couch to watch a soppy movie, or lost track of time in a museum, or lazed around in bed while she braided his hair. This was going to be the best, most perfect long engagement, and she was going to love every second of it. Getting arrested was the greatest thing that had ever happened to her.