The first time Margaery Tyrell meets Robb Stark she is caught in the door trying to escape the sudden thunderstorm that drenched her on the one block dash from the subway station to her apartment building. He is vintage bomber jacket and rain-slicked hair dragged out of his eyes, and he smiles at her like a Norman Rockwell painting as he helps to unhook her trench coat from the door handle.
“Thanks,” she says.
She's breathless and irritable and trying hard not to wipe away the mascara she can practically feel muddying under her eyes.
“I should be thanking you,” he says, holding the door for her once she’s free so she can walk in ahead of him.
She gives him an arch look at him over her shoulder as she slides her fingers in her hair from underneath to try and shake the rain out and the life back into it.
“Why, did I just let a burglar into the building?”
He is so taken aback he actually looks back for this wayward thief until the accusation sinks in.
“Oh,” he says as he turns back to look at her with widened eyes. “Oh, no, no, I’m not— oh, I get it.”
He grins when she raises her eyebrows and gives him an Are you kidding me kind of look.
“Do you,” she asks with a smirk as she walks away from him.
When she pulls it from her purse her little mail key is a merry jingle in the storm-grey dusky light bleeding into the otherwise dark foyer.
“You’re calling me the burglar,” he says, oddly amused, his voice getting louder, richer, deeper as he steps up behind her.
“Ooh, you’re fast."
Margaery full on feels the bitchiness and doesn’t even give a damn, because she can practically smell the country bumpkin off him, because these days the blood in her veins is pumped right from this city into her heart and she doesn’t have time for this shit.
“Well if it makes you feel better I’m not, I’m just the new guy in 5C, and it’s nice to finally meet a neighbor. I mean, I’ve seen a few since I moved in this morning, but you all walk so damned fast.”
“That’s because nobody wants to—”
She stops herself after another glance up at him, a glance that turns into a full on look.
His eyes are blue enough to hurt in that so-bad-it’s-good kind of way, and his dark wet hair drips rain onto his temples, little wet tracks that disappear into the deep cinnamon of his scruff. And then there’s that school boy grin of his. She clears her throat high and prim, tries and fails to stick the key in the little lock, and there’s the slightest of fumbles before she gets it right and opens her mailbox.
“What, talk to the guy from South Dakota? Yeah, I’ve been getting plenty of that since I parked my U-Haul out front.”
Margaery smiles despite herself, tucks in her chin to hide it as she pulls out a few bills and this month’s Ipsy bag out of her box and then locks the door shut.
“No, I just meant nobody here wants to be late,” she says as she turns to face him.
She’d wanted to tell him exactly what he thought, but with that smile of his and the vague country-mouse nerves she can see in his expression, she abandons the harsh for a little white lie.
“Anyways, I’ll see you around, South Dakota.”
She’s waiting for the elevator in the rear of the foyer when he finally works up the courage.
“So what’s your name, neighbor? Just so I can tell my mother I made a friend.”
He sounds like Mr. Rogers if he traded in a cardigan for a battered old leather jacket. Margaery smirks and leaves him hanging until the elevator doors open and she can walk inside, and then she spins on the toes of her red leather heels to face him. He’s standing in the center of the dim foyer, arms folded across his chest, waiting like a man whose entire life has been based on the premise that if you say thank you the other will say you’re welcome.
“None of your business,” she says with a sweet smile as she leans over and hits her floor.
He laughs as the doors slowly slide shut, but before they do she gives him a dazzler of a smile and a cheeky wave.
“Welcome to New York.”
The second time she meets him is a month later on his doorstep after knocking so nonstop loud and hard that her knuckles sting. It’s been a shitty day of sleeping through her alarm, spilling vinaigrette on her cream silk blouse, botching a presentation she’s been working on for nearly two months, and snapping off the stiletto of her second hand Jimmy Choo in a grate on the sidewalk just outside the subway station. She’s the definition of a hot mess, bags under her eyes from a mostly sleepless night and from a rage-cryfest in the bathroom, stained and limping, and on top of it all she has Robb Stark’s Men’s Health and gas bill in her hands.
“Oh,” he says with surprise as he opens the door.
Robb Stark flings a dish towel over his shoulder as he folds his arms over his chest and leans against the doorframe. Margaery is shocked to find out his hair is auburn, that the dark of it before was just the rain.
“Hey there, None Of Your Business, what’s up?”
It’s adorable and laid back and borderline charming, but her calves burn and her eyes still sting and her ego is bruised like an apple, and so she simply tosses her hair and holds up his mail.
“The stupid mailman left your mail in my box by mistake,” she says, slapping it all against his chest. “Did you not put your name inside the box or something?”
Robb Stark uncrosses his arms and take the mail from her, his fingers a warm brush against hers as he frowns down at it like it’s written in Greek. She risks a quick glance over his broad shoulder, can see a battered old rug and a faded armchair, a row of guitars lined up along the far wall under the windows.
Wannabe rock star, huh? Just another white guy with a guitar, she thinks even though it makes her feel kind of like a jerk. She’s never been to South Dakota but suddenly she has the image of him sitting on a hay bale somewhere with big city dreams he never knows will end up crushing him. She winces inwardly, scolds herself a bit, but hey. Her feet are killing her, here.
“Sorry about that,” he says, rolling the magazine around the bill and tucking it under his arm. “I’ll make sure it’s written clearly tomorrow.”
“Yeah, you do that,” she says with a huff, wincing as her ankle rolls to the side thanks to her broken shoe. “I’m not an errand girl, okay, I don’t-” she says, starting off strong, trying to put bite in her voice but then she cuts herself off as her boss Tywin’s voice rings in her ears.
If you wanted to be a Gofer instead of an agent, Ms. Tyrell, then you should have just given me this presentation instead of your resume. I would have known just where to put you after a disaster like this. Margaery feels the prickle of more tears and she sniffs, hard, rubs her nose with her sleeve as she blinks and looks away from him.
“Hey, hey, look, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to- uh, you know, I didn’t know sloppy writing would turn into someone’s big hassle. You uh, you want to come in and take a load off for a bit? I’ve just finished up cooking dinner and there’s plenty. Or at least come in for a glass of wine and let make it up to you? I promise you the wine isn’t from South Dakota.”
Despite herself, Margaery lets loose a laugh, and she closes her eyes and turns her head from him so she’s not laughing in his face. It feels like last Halloween when Alyce finally helped her out of her costume’s corset, all lung-stretching relief, a tangible sense of comfort, here with this bumpkin and his baseball t-shirt and his smile and his wine. She covers up that moment of vulnerability with the roll of her eyes.
“Thank you, really, but no thanks, not tonight. I just need to go home and forget this day ever happened.”
“All right, I understand,” he says with a nod and a kind if not wistful smile. “Next time maybe.”
“Write your name better and there won’t have to be a next time,” she reminds him.
But there is. Two weeks later it happens again, and when she knocks on the door this time she has to be loud, not because she’s in a shitty mood but because there’s music streaming out of his apartment and into the hall, rich and warm and sweet like the scent of baking, sort of sad and mournful and homesick at the same time.
“You again!” he says when they’re standing on opposite sides of the threshold.
Robb Stark frowns, grasps the open door with one hand as he holds the neck of an acoustic guitar in the other.
“Now, I thought you said you didn’t want to come back here,” he chides with a smile.
She holds up his mail by way of answer.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says with a shake of his head. “I promise you, I wrote my name in big block letters, clear as day. Scout’s Honor,” he adds with a self-deprecating salute that makes them both chuckle.
“Of course you’re a Boy Scout,” she says with the shake of her head as she tips the small stack of mail his way, just over the threshold.
“Well I was,” he says, dropping the salute to take the mail. “It’d be pretty weird if I still were.”
“Oh, I don’t know, I can sort of see it.”
She smiles with a vague circular gesture to the whole Robb Stark package standing there. Looks pointedly to the guitar.
“Den leader, or whatever they’re called, strumming Kumbaya by a campfire, handing out patches for helping little old ladies across the street.”
He throws his head back and laughs. “You think you’ve got me all figured out, huh?”
“South Dakota farm boy, helping women stuck in doors, an old bomber jacket that’s probably your grandpa’s or something else classically cheesy, Men’s Health magazine you probably read to keep your heart healthy instead of your muscles all ripped, acoustic guitar alone on a Saturday night in the city that never sleeps? Yeah, I think I do.”
She’s ticking them off on her fingers but when she looks up at him he’s smiling in a way that suddenly makes her wonder how rude she’s being. She’s been here for almost ten years, and with Robb Stark her mirror, for the first time in that decade she wonders if it’s the city talking instead of the real Margaery.
“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” she says, shaking her head like she’s just woken up from a dream, and she takes a step back, lets go of the mail they’re both still holding on to as she retreats into the hall so far she bumps into the wall opposite his door. “That was- I’m sorry, that was extremely rude of me.”
“Welcome to New York, huh,” he murmurs, still smiling although he winces at the same time. “My sisters told me you city girls would be tough as nails, but I had no idea.”
“I’m not a city girl,” she says quickly, near desperate now to remedy that assumption, and she’s wondering how many half-assed assumptions she herself just made.
“If it walks like a duck,” he says, flexing his arm as he hefts the guitar up to rest it upside down on his shoulder like it’s a baseball bat.
Margaery shakes her head.
“I’m from Atlanta. Well, Macon, actually, but close enough,” she admits at last with a wave of her hand.
Like the shimmer of a mirage she can see fireflies and feel mud pies squishing between her fingers, hear the hum of cicadas and distant summer thunder. Inexplicably she shares it all with him, watches him smile as she reminisces.
“So I’m not really a big city girl at all, I just- I’m really good at playing one,” she sighs.
“I’ll say you are.”
“Anyways, I’m um, I’m sorry about what I said,” she says, hugging herself as she pushes off the wall and turns to head back to her floor.
“You could always make it up to me, you know,” he calls out before she turns the corner.
Margaery spins around, guard instantly up. She hasn’t walked by countless construction sites without learning what usually follows a cat-call line like that, and it takes her a moment to remember he’s probably not that kind of guy. She lowers her hunched up shoulders, unfolds her arms and tilts her head. Margaery sighs and drops away the façade and stands there true.
Robb Stark smiles.
“Tell me your name, maybe. Still haven’t made a friend, yet.”
Margaery bites her lip and looks down at her feet, tucks a lock of hair behind her ear before she inhales sharply and looks back at him. She smiles right back.
“Margaery,” she says.
Her smile broadens and sweetens when he lifts his eyebrows and hums with approval, making her feel like her name is a song he’s never heard before.
The seventh time she meets Robb Stark is the one she ends up telling her friends about after work, $20 cocktails in hand as they wait in a restaurant bar for a table to open up. She smiles to think of it, blushes to remember it, and that only makes her friends cackle and hoot all the louder, beg and plead for more details until finally she tosses her hair back, sets down her gimlet and sighs.
“Okay, fine, but only if you two shut up before we get kicked out,” she says, shifting on her postage stamp sized barstool.
“We promise,” Alyce breathes with booze-on-an-empty-stomach enthusiasm.
“Honest,” Meredyth says.
There’s something about her eagerness that makes Margaery think of Scout’s Honor, and then she’s grinning again, and then the laughing and elbowing and bouncing up and down starts all over again until she glares at them, grinning, for silence.
“Okay, so that stupid mailman delivered his mail to me again,” she starts off, lifting her drink for another sip and to let the memory rise up again like smoke. “It was like the billionth time this had happened at this point,” she exaggerates merrily, “and so he had told me if it happened again to just push it under his door, and that he’d speak to the mailman personally, even if he had to wait around all day for him. So I did, and then, the funniest thing happened."
Margaery smiles, ducks her head to remember it all.
She’s still dressed for her Bikram Yoga class, sweaty and noodle-limbed, and she almost groans when she squats down to shove the letter from his mother, the new gym membership card, and a renewal offer for Food and Wine under his door. Her head swims a second and she braces herself with two hands to his doorframe as she steadies herself, gazing down at the floor until the fog clears.
“Later, I sort of wondered if that wasn’t a blessing, being so stupid-dizzy I had to hang out a second. I mean, you guys know me, usually I’m quick like a bunny,” she says, snap-snap-snapping her fingers. “In and out, here and there, blah, blah, blah.”
“Boy to boy,” Alyce offers.
Margaery silences her with a firm look.
“Anyways,” she says.
Just as she digs her fingers into the wood jamb and braces herself to stand, a piece of yellow legal paper comes sliding out from under his door. Margaery frowns, and then smiles, and when she reads the note, she giggles like a school girl.
WHAT IF THE WINE IS FROM SOUTH DAKOTA?
WOULD YOU JOIN ME THEN?
“He slid out a note?”
“No he didn’t,” Meredyth says, hand on her heart and jaw dropped open like she’s trying to catch flies.
They finally buckled and ordered appetizers for dinner, and the three of them are annihilating fried calamari and other plates of assorted amuse-bouches that will end up costing them half a week’s worth of salary.
“Yes, he did,” Margaery grins.
All three girls squeal.
She picks up the paper and smiles down at it, a riot of butterflies set free in her belly that has nothing to do with a 90 minute yoga class in 104 degree heat. Margaery flips the sheet over, sees musical notation along the margins and a few random doodles that include, amongst other things, little envelopes and mailboxes.
“This guy can’t be for real,” she murmurs, and then another piece of paper comes sliding through, this time along with a yellow No.2 pencil.
PLEASE CHECK YES :) □
OR NO :( □
Margaery laughs, sets the second page down and picks up the pencil, and once she’s checked her answer and pushed it back, Robb Stark opens his door with a grin on his face and the note in hand.
“Well hello, there,” he says.
“Hi,” she says breathlessly.
She gazes up at him, wishing she were showered and all gussied up, but then again she supposes she could stick some hay in her hair and tie a bandana around her neck and be just as alluring to him.
“I was really hoping you’d say yes,” he says, extending his empty hand to help her up.
“Yeah?” she asks.
He nods as he pulls her up onto her feet, and she’s the slightest dizzy sway that prompts a frown out of him, and when she reaches out to steady herself on his doorframe he captures that hand as well, lets go of the other to rest his palm lightly in the dip of her still sweating waist, bare-skin-bare since she’s only wearing a sports bra and yoga pants. It’s all eighth grade dance and yet insanely sexy here, though his kind gesture does nothing to help her lightheadedness. If she’s honest with herself, it only makes it worse.
Butterflies riot. Lights dance before her eyes.
“Yeah,” he answers her distractedly as he looks her over with that adorable rumpled-puppy frown of his. “Listen, are you all right?”
“I just did an hour and a half of Bikram,” she says, waving it off nonchalantly when he’s released her and gestured her inside, and she does her best saunter in flip flops as she walks into Robb Stark’s apartment.
“You did what now?” he asks.
“Bikram,” she says, turning around in time to catch his puzzled expression. Margaery laughs. “Hot yoga.”
“Oh, I see,” he says with a sage nod.
She laughs again when he smiles and then shakes his head.
“ Actually no, I don’t see at all. But I can tell you probably need water instead of wine, huh.”
She follows him to his itty-bitty kitchen, and she sits down at one of two high stools drawn up to his counter, as big a dining room as $2000 in Manhattan will offer. He pours her water and has a glass himself, and they smile at each other as he asks her what she does – PR Agency, hired five years ago, promoted six months ago, nearly fired eight weeks ago – and as he trades her his personal information fair and square.
“You’re a musician for real then?” she asks with incredulous wonder.
Robb Stark laughs.
“Well, if a record deal and contract mean real, then yes. That’s why I’m here, actually.”
“So all the guitars aren’t just some pretentious display, huh?” she says, sliding off her stool to walk along the wall where they’re all lined up on little stands like they’re works of art, but then again she supposes they are, to him.
“Now I’m pretentious, huh? I thought I was a Midwest Boy Scout,” he says.
“Yeah, well I was right about that part, wasn’t I?” she says, drifting her fingers along the headstocks and tuning pegs as she walks down the row of guitars.
“Most of it. Grandfather’s bomber jacket, check, helping pretty girls, check,” he says, and it does not escape her, that he called her pretty.
She hides a smile.
“So you’re basically Mr. Perfect, hmm?”
“Do city girls find that perfect?”
“Oh, come on, I’m not really a city girl. I’m a southern girl from Macon, Georgia, for goodness’ sake,” she drawls.
It makes him laugh, and when she turns around to walk back down the row of guitars he’s right there, hands in his pockets as he regards her, all polite eyes-up-here even though she’s bare from just below her breasts to her hip bones.
“But I do read Men’s Health for the muscles,” he says with a frown. “Guess I’ll have to work harder at it, if it wasn’t obvious.”
And suddenly his smile isn’t so Boy Scout anymore.
“Oh,” she says.
Margaery tilts her head back to look up at him, at the way his gaze does roam south a bit as he watches her mouth, and suddenly she is so dizzy the periphery of her vision blots out with black spots.
“No, no, it’s- it’s obvious, believe me, I just,” she gusts out, little shallow breaths until 90 minutes of sweat and pain and about 10 of flirting with Robb Stark all come together and make her knees buckle beneath her.
“Whoa, whoa,” he says when she sinks to the floor, or almost does because he’s stooped and caught her just in time. “Hey, you all right?”
“No, I’m fine, I just, oh,” she murmurs as her vision swims away completely, and all she’s got now is the circle of his arms around her, one round the shoulders and the other round the waist. “Are we dancing right now?”
The deep purr of a man’s chuckle from within his chest makes her cheek vibrate, and she realizes she’s slumped against him.
“No, Margaery, we’re not.”
“Oh, okay,” she says, and then before she realizes it she’s hefted and hauled and scooped up in his arms. “I’m so sorry, I think I- I didn’t eat lunch today, I’m not normally some fainting um, you know, the chick in distress,” she mumbles with her head lolled against his shoulder.
“Damsel,” he offers with another chuckle, and the floor creaks from his footsteps. “No, you’re definitely not, Margaery, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to help you out. One country kid to another. Let me take you home, all right?”
“Shut, the front, DOOR,” shrieks Meredyth, a slop of gin dribbling down her fingers as she slaps her glass down.
“No fucking WAY,” Alyce says with a shake of her head. “No fucking way did he carry you to your apartment.”
Disbelief and wonder, the same Margaery’s been falling asleep with since it happened.
“Yes,” Margaery grins, shaking her head with a hand pressed to her forehead and the bridge of her nose. “Yes, he did, up two flights in the elevator, and he held me up the entire time.”
“What did- did he kiss you? Like, in the freakin’ elevator?”
“Love in an elevatorrr,” Meredyth sings, holding up her toothpick and olive like it’s a microphone.
“No, he didn’t, thank you very much,” Margaery says with a sniff as she drains her drink. “We talked.”
“Everything,” Margaery sighs. “The kind of music he plays – he listens to a lot of The Lighthouse and The Whaler, Magic Man, that sort of stuff– and the pets I had down in Macon, what I majored in in college, favorite foods, that sort of thing. And then he- and then he helped me into my apartment, and he laid me on the couch and got me water and crackers, and then he, you know, he left.”
“HE LEFT?!” they both shriek in disbelieving unison. “You let him leave?”
“I basically passed out in his apartment! Of course he left, what- I mean, what was I going to do? Swoon on him and smear my nasty sweat all over him?” Her embarrassment over fainting and the overall lack of Badass Cool Chick aura is why it's been a week since she's seen him.
“Yes!” they both say.
“Well, I- I mean, come on.”
“It’s called you sit up, eat your goddamned cracker, drink your water, tell him ‘Hey, Boy Scout, I’m going to freshen up in the shower, and then I’m going to get dressed and we’re going to drink that nasty South Dakota wine and then you’re going to kiss my makeup off.'”
“Or it’s called you sit up, eat your goddamned cracker, drink your water, and tell him ‘Hey, Boy Scout, I need to take a shower but I might need help. You know, in case I fall down again,’” Meredyth says with a baby-girl pout to her voice, eyes wide as she gives a Marilyn Monroe pucker and blink.
“You two are idiots.”
“The only idiot I see,” Alyce says, reaching over to pluck the olive off Meredyth’s toothpick, “is the pretty little fool sitting across from me,” she says, eyebrows up and verdict delivered as she pops the green olive in her mouth.
“I second that emotion,” Meredyth says with the subtlest of hiccups as she roots around the calamari.
Deep down, or maybe not that far from the surface anymore, Margaery thirds it.
“Well then what exactly do you two want me to do, huh?”
In the end they want her to leave the restaurant immediately, pick up a bottle of wine on her way home, and march right up to Robb Stark’s door and ask if she can cash in her rain check, and that’s the mission she’s on her way to completing half an hour later. She’s pretending the sidewalk is her catwalk, using her fingers to fluff and toss her hair as she drags it over one shoulder and then the other before tossing it back over both where it started. She’s nervous, is what she is, because though they’ve met and talked a handful of times and have gotten to know each other, he’s still better than 90% of the Wall Street, Hipster, Bloodthirsty Lawyer types she’s tried dating over the past nine years. To put it in Alyce’s parting words before she left the restaurant, Margaery doesn’t want to 'fuck it up.'
She’s so consumed with nerves and those riotous butterflies of hers that she almost doesn’t comprehend the scene when she opens the building’s front door and sees Robb Stark by the mailboxes, muttering under his breath as he tries shoving a Food and Wine magazine into her slot. He is so busy with his task, so determined and focused that he doesn’t recognize her when he glances up at her, and she stands there, mouth open in a disbelieving grin of What In The Hell until he freezes, rooted to the spot as he keeps his eyes trained at the folded, battered magazine.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” he says after a moment, very fast and very, very beet red.
“Well then what is it?” she asks.
She moves the plastic bag with the wine in it from one wrist to the other as she walks slowly towards him.
“Mail fraud? Maybe you are a burglar.”
“No, I’m not- I just- okay,” he says, finally letting go of the magazine that is now so wedged into her mailbox that she wonders if it will even come out.
Finally Robb looks up to her, another one of those puppy dog looks of his though this one is all chagrin. He’s in his grandfather’s bomber jacket again, devastatingly handsome, country boy rugged with callouses on his fingers from guitar instead of his palms from a hoe, or a rake, or whatever it is farm boys use. Margaery is suddenly very glad she’s dressed to the nines this time instead of in sweaty workout clothes.
“Spill it,” she smiles, and even though he’s still beet red he’s smiling too.
“I was dying to get to know you better, but you were little Miss ‘Mind Your Own Business,’ and I couldn’t figure out how to find you. No name, and I couldn’t even remember what mailbox was yours to try and find your apartment and knock on your door.”
“Mmhmm,” she says, watching him as she steps closer, one little heel prick to the floor at a time. Tap, tap, tap.
“And then, you know, the mailman delivered my mail to you by mistake, and there you were on my doorstep,” he says.
Now he grins, sheepish and shy, that self-deprecating good nature she finds so much more charming in men than the empty-headed swagger Manhattan is so full of.
“Like they say if you ask the universe real hard for something, or someone, it will deliver.”
“Sounds like something they teach you in Boy Scouts,” she murmurs.
She feels like warm honey and wine in her belly, sweet milk chocolate and chamomile tea, because this is beyond the most adorable thing she’s ever seen, ever heard, ever witnessed, and it’s all because he wanted to get to know her.
“Maybe they do,” he says, eyes a flit from her eyes to her mouth and back as she gets nearer and nearer. “I did fix my name on the mailbox, you know."
Without question he takes the plastic bag from her when she hands it to him.
He grins as she grasps him by the unzipped front of his leather jacket.
“But it had worked so well, so I just, you know, I figured I’d try it again. And it worked. All six times it worked, and I was certain that last time we’d- that you’d, you know, want to maybe stick around and we could see where it went, but then you fainted. That was a week ago, so I figured, maybe just one more ti—”
Margaery pulls on his coat and lifts up on her toes, the needle-thin heels of her stilettos lifting off the ground as she kisses him, and she lets go of his jacket to run her hands up to his shoulders and around where they meet at the nape of his neck. He’s warm, scruff soft from being two days away from a full beard, and he hums as his arms slide around her waist like they did before, but this time while she might be dizzy and lightheaded, it’s not from hot yoga.
It’s from hot Robb Stark.
“So it did work,” he murmurs once the kiss breaks.
Robb readjusts the wrap of his arms around her, plastic bag rustling in his hands, rests his forehead against hers as he noses against her face to tip her head back for another kiss.
Longer and sweeter this time, blessed now with the opening of their mouths and the tentative slide of their tongues that turns into a lingering lick and sigh, two smiles that make the kiss break all over again.
“Absolutely it did,” Margaery says.
And then she grins as she slides her arms around his neck, almost shivers as he sends the fingertips of one hand drifting up her spine to where they tangle in her hair.