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Shiver, Shiver

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AUGUST 12th, 2015

“How do you feel about fucking Ned Stark’s daughter?”

Petyr nearly choked on his coffee. He placed the cup on the table between his chair and Tywin Lannister’s, eyeing him for signs of a trick. “Pardon?”

“Sansa Stark,” said Tywin. “Surely you know of her?”

“Only from news articles.” That was half a lie; Petyr had seen the Stark girl on Cat’s Facebook, too, but he wouldn’t admit to checking on his childhood crush every so often. He leaned back in his chair. “I wasn’t aware you were in the business of wooing teenagers.”

“I'm not.” Tywin stared at Petyr in his infamous, calculating way. “I was certain you would take this offer, Mr. Baelish. I’ve offered it to no one else. Have I pegged you for someone you’re not?”

Petyr rubbed his chin. Fucking Sansa Stark was certainly an idea. A realistic one, apparently, and not at all unappealing. “Go on.”

Tywin waved his hand in summons. Cersei, blonde and beautiful and graceful as ever, crossed the room and handed a stapled packet to Petyr. “The Democratic Committee has planned on naming Ned Stark their frontrunner in the state election,” she said. Petyr flipped through the packet, a series of emails back and forth between committee members. “No one else has a chance.”

“Ned Stark doesn’t seem the type to siege a nomination,” said Petyr. “He’s just a lawyer.”

“Yes, but he’s going to run. And people want him to run.” Cersei sighed, folding her arms and walking to the window of her father’s office. “It’s rare that there’s a politician who’s liked by both sides of the aisle. Stark hasn’t tried to clinch the nomination, but he’ll get it regardless. They like him. He’s their strongest bet.” She turned away from the window, contrite. “We need to weaken him.”

Petyr didn’t need to ask why. Ned Stark had been causing all sorts of problems for Lannister Industries, the oil mega-corporation that Tywin had raised from the ground up. If Ned was given a position in government, he could push legislation that would prevent Tywin from doing business the way he liked: illegally.

“Why go after the girl?” Petyr asked. “Not that I’m refusing, but a teenager seems an odd choice. Why not Ned Stark himself? His wife?”

“We considered going through the eldest, Robb,” said Tywin. “But according to you, he is as loyal to his parents as one could be.”

Petyr nodded. “He’s been taking my classes for the past two years. I know him well enough to know he wouldn’t let campaign information loose. That doesn’t answer my question, though.”

Tywin rested his arm on the back of the couch. “Sansa Stark is weak. I feel confident she would release information when prompted by someone she’s infatuated with.”

“Infatuated?” questioned Petyr. “That’s a strong word.”

“You managed to get the Tyrell heiress on our side, using your tactics. A teenaged girl will be far easier.”

Cersei wore a cruel frown. “Sansa humiliated my son at prom. Dumped her drink all over him after they won king and queen. He was bullied relentlessly until graduation. He still hasn’t recovered.”

Perhaps Joffrey should grow a pair. Petyr knew better than to say that aloud, and ran his fingers through his hair, thinking. “And you chose me because…?”

“Your days as a lobbyist for my company were some of the best in its history,” said Tywin. “I understand that you enjoy being a professor at Columbia, and it just so happens that Miss Stark will be attending in the fall. You’ve never hidden your… talent for persuasion,” Tywin complimented. “A naive girl would be the perfect project for you.”

Petyr grinned. His business with the Lannisters had left him rich, able to live in luxury for the rest of his days, and he’d rewarded them equally with his skills in politics. It seemed they were still eager to repay him for all that he’d done. And while there was danger in accepting this scandal, his curiosity had been piqued. Fucking Sansa Stark was too tempting a prize. Let Tywin think he has his loyalty. For now.

“Would you like to see a picture of her?”

“No need,” said Petyr, standing from the sofa. “She is Cat’s daughter. I’m sure she’s beautiful.”

“We’ll need as much information as you can provide before Ned Stark officially receives the nomination in the summer,” said Tywin. He rose to his feet. “Is that enough time?”

“Oh, plenty.”

The two businessmen shook hands. Petyr could already imagine the deplorable act of bringing young Sansa Stark to her knees. He had a wide range of strategies he’d learned over the years, but no one to use them on, no one who excited him. Until now. He’d never met her before, but Petyr knew that valiant Ned's precious daughter would be the greatest chase he’d ever have.

“You may want to begin sooner than later,” called Tywin as Petyr made for the office door. “She’s a religious virgin. She’ll take more time than most.”

“Don’t worry,” said Petyr, one hand on the doorknob and a smug grin on his lips. “I know just where to start.”

Chapter Text


SEPTEMBER 5th, 2015

A pile of heavy books fell from Sansa’s arms to the counter with a thud. Shae yelped and jumped from her seat, hand over her heart. “Christ, Sansa. You startled me.”

Sansa frantically gathered the sideways books, pushing red hair from her face. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Lannister. There’s just so many back there.” She wiped sweat from her forehead, embarrassed. “I think I tried to take too many at once.”

Shae, forgiving as always, helped Sansa restack what had fallen. Dark eyes were soft with understanding. “There’s more than usual because of the new Baratheon novel,” she said. “Don’t worry about it. Tyrion’s always throwing books around. I will help you.”

“Oh, you really don’t have to.” The last thing Sansa wanted to do was leave the impression that she needed help, especially from her boss’s wife. “I can do it. Promise.”

“You need to relax.” Shae placed a comforting hand on Sansa's shoulder. “It’s too much for you to do on your own. You just started working here. No one expects you to be the best yet. I can leave late today, Tyrion won’t mind.” She rubbed Sansa’s arm and walked to the back room. “Let’s put the boxes on the cart while there aren’t customers here.”

Sansa nodded, quick to follow.

Working at The Imp’s Delight, the new bookstore on Broadway, was a blessing Sansa couldn’t afford to lose. Tyrion Lannister, her high school English teacher, had been so impressed with Sansa’s drive and passion for academia that he’d secured her a job at his small business near the school she was to attend. New York City had plenty of bookstores, but Mr. Lannister’s was already among the most respected. Cozy with a warm atmosphere, fair pay and scheduling, Sansa knew she’d found the college student’s dream in secure employment with a friendly boss. And I just dropped brand new books on the counter. Sansa chewed her cheek, hoping Shae wouldn’t think less of her.

Shae helped Sansa open the boxes on a rolling cart, catalogue the new arrivals and place everything on their respective shelves. Sansa picked up one of the new releases, Shireen Baratheon’s The Dance of Dragons. The cover was black and brown, with two warring beasts breathing fire at one another. Bran would love this. “I didn’t know she was releasing a new book,” Sansa commented. “Didn’t she just write one last year?”

Shae picked a few books from the cart and walked to the other end of the store. “She is working very hard,” she said from the romance section. Sansa worked on refilling crime drama. “I think it will be her last book before her father does his campaign.”

Runs, Sansa thought, but she never corrected Shae’s English. She spoke it very well, and Sansa didn’t want to come off as snobbish. “Oh,” was all Sansa said. She’d heard enough about Stannis Baratheon’s presidential bid from her father’s rants at home. She’d left Albany to get away from her family and find her independence, not to have it chase her to college.

“I know. No politics,” said Shae.

Sansa put the final book away before meeting Shae in the aisle. She wrung her hands. “No, it’s okay. I can’t tell you what you can and can’t talk about. It’s not a big deal.”

“You worry too much.” Shae motioned to the cart. “All the boxes are almost done. You just have to finish the last two from the back, okay? I should get home.”

“Okay. I’ll have it all done before closing, I promise.”

“Thank you, Sansa. You’re very helpful.”

Shae smiled and turned away. Sansa watched her grab her purse and keys, waved goodbye, and Shae left the store as the sun began to dip.

Sansa set to work. The bookstore was a decent size, wrought iron stairs leading up to a second level where the classic literature was held. The air smelled of old pages and cracked spines, alcohol from the winery Tyrion owned next-door and sweetcakes from the bakery across the street. A glass chandelier and antique wallpaper gave The Imp’s Delight a charm that attracted Sansa from the moment she’d stepped through the doors. She only hoped she could keep up the place’s growing reputation, for as long as she held the job.

Cleaning was easy. Sansa was an expert. Helping her mother around a house of six children taught her to tolerate the process. She assisted the few customers that came in and prepped the store for whoever opened the next morning, and the hours of her shift ticked by. Sansa looked up from where she was sweeping. The clock read five-to-eight and the sky was darkening, meaning Sansa could soon return to her dorm and finish unpacking. She, Myrcella, Arianne and Jeyne had barely gotten settled. She pulled her phone from her pocket and sent her roommates a text in their group message.

third shift: almost done. we should get pizza to celebrate our last full night of freedom.

Arianne was the first to respond: yaaaaa, i am so down.

Sansa sat down at the front desk, finishing the last of the cataloguing. Myrcella, Jeyne and Arianne sent their orders for Sansa to pick up dinner on her way back to the dorm. The flow of customers died down after eight. When the clock chimed nine, Sansa turned off the neon “OPEN” sign in the window and returned to the desk to write up the final numbers.

The bell above the shop door chimed. She’d forgotten to lock it. A customer. Sansa quickly capped her pen and stood. “I’m sorry, but we’re actually closed,” she called, walking around the shelves to the front of the store. “If you’re looking for Mr. Lannister, he’s only here on Fridays…”

Sansa stopped. The stranger in the doorway wasn’t the usual type; most nighttime shoppers were college students or nurses on their way home from the hospital, but he was neither. He wasn’t very tall, only her height, with charcoal gray hair and streaks of silver at his temples. His mouth quirked into a smile when he saw her. Dimples were prominent among the wrinkles in his cheeks and salt-and-pepper facial hair.

“Don’t worry,” said the stranger. “I’m not here for Mr. Lannister. I was hoping to pick up Shireen Baratheon’s new novel. I would have stopped by earlier, but I was held up.”

His voice was deeper than Sansa expected. Rougher, with a touch of an Irish accent. “We just got a new shipment,” she told him, pointing to the counter with her thumb. “I can ring you up if you want. I haven’t closed the register yet.”

“You’re sure it's not a hassle?”

“It’s fine, really.” Sansa was suddenly aware of her tanktop, her exposed shoulders. She rubbed her arms. “Is that all you’re looking for?”

He didn't break eye contact. His stare was intense, too strong to look away from. Sansa felt naked. She hugged herself close. “I was actually hoping to pick up a copy of The Prince as well,” he said. “As a gift. The more elegant the cover, the better.”

Sansa nodded. “Yeah, we have some of those. Some used ones with cracked spines, if you’re going for something more antique?” She motioned for him to follow her. He did, quite eagerly.

Sansa lead the stranger to the philosophy section. She felt his eyes on her back, smelled the cigarettes when he brushed past her. “Up there,” said Sansa. She pointed to the top shelf. Of course. “I’m gonna have to get a ladder. We don’t let customers use them for risk of injury. Do you mind waiting?”

“Not at all.” He leaned against the shelf and smirked, folding his arms over his chest. “I’ve got all night.”

Okay? Sansa offered a polite, if confused, nod of acknowledgement. The guy was a creep, but at least the store had cameras. She found the ladder where it’d been left in crime drama and hauled it back over to philosophy. She climbed it and reached for Machiavelli. “Do you have a preference? Color, age, publisher?”

“Not particularly. Something aesthetic, though, she enjoys pretty things.”

His wife, probably. Sansa picked a dark green copy of The Prince, etched with gold lettering and filligree along the spine. Used, over sixty years old, the spine cracked with age. A piece of art for those who would see it as such. “How’s this?”

The stranger looked up. His eyes hadn’t been on the book in her hands, but they'd certainly been on her. Sansa hid her frustration. I work here, she thought, I’m not up for sale. “This one is perfect,” he said, taking the book when she climbed down and handed it over. His hands ran along the cover, long fingers trailing the spine. He made it look erotic somehow. “You have a good eye.”

“Thanks.” Sansa grabbed one of the copies of Shireen Baratheon’s novel and waved for the man to follow her. “Is there anything else?”

“Not unless you have any book recommendations.” He approached the counter and set The Prince on top of The Dance of Dragons. “I suspect you enjoy romance more than anything.”

Sansa glared at him. “What makes you think I like romance?”

“Well, I—”

“You what?” Sansa folded her arms. “You think I like romance because I’m a girl?”

Holding his grin, he reached behind the counter and picked up the book she’d been reading. “Pride and Prejudice.”

“It’s not mine,” she lied.

To her surprise, the stranger laughed. The sound was sudden and strange, as though even he was shocked by it. “Your bookmark is a schedule from Columbia. You’re obviously a student there. Freshman?” He pulled the paper from the book before she could protest. He read her schedule. Something devilish sparked in his eyes. “A full class load. You’re rather ambitious.”

Sansa bit back a smile. She appreciated that his reasoning had nothing to do with a stereotype; she’d had enough of those. “Okay,” she admitted, scanning the bar codes on his purchases. “It’s mine. I just… I hate being thrown into a box, you know? People look at me and see some weak girl. They see what they expect to see. It drains me, maybe more than it should.” Sansa stared off for a moment. She knew she was blessed with a loving family and a stable home, but the surface of Sansa Stark was rarely how she felt within.

The stranger eyed her curiously. “I know exactly how that feels.” He handed Pride and Prejudice back to her, along with her schedule. “I’m afraid I’ve lost your place.”

“That’s okay. I’ve read it more than once.” Sansa took his payment for the books and bagged them, shoulders relaxing. “I’m just starting at Columbia. Monday’s my first day.”

“I’m sure you’ll do brilliantly. Anyone with a taste for classic literature has some level of intelligence, no matter how they stereotype you.”

Sansa smiled. So did he. Sansa liked his grey-green eyes, but they didn’t smile when he did.

“Could I have my receipt?” he asked. He held out his hand.

“Mm? Oh.” Sansa pulled his receipt from the machine and handed it to him. “Sorry, here you go. Enjoy.”

“Thank you.” He took the paper from her. Their fingers touched, no doubt by his intention.

The stare was mutual, now. He studied her, eyes lowering to her neck and shoulders, her chest in the tank top. Heat flushed Sansa's face. When she opened her mouth to tell him off, she couldn’t speak.

“I’ll bet you are a person to ask for book recommendations,” said the stranger, “romantic or no. Do you like coffee?”

Sansa blinked. “What?”

“I know a place down the street from Columbia. It’s called The Vale. Small place, quite cozy. Do you know it?”

“I — yeah,” said Sansa, curling her hair shyly behind her ear. “I’ve seen it before. Is it any good?”

“Very. I get coffee there every morning before work. I wouldn’t mind stopping by after your classes, if you were to meet me.” He grinned. “To discuss books.”

Sansa knew what he was asking. He seemed kind enough, if a bit lecherous, but he was acting on his attraction to her intellect as much as anything else, which was more than others could say. Meeting in public was a good idea, too. It was just coffee. “Um… yeah,” she said, against her better judgment. “I mean. I could do that. I start school next week, so taking a coffee break to de-stress might be a good idea.”

“I think so too.”

Sansa pulled an extra piece of receipt paper from the machine and wrote down her number. She could hear her sister’s voice in her head, yelling at her to stop being stupid as she handed it to him. “I’m actually about to clean up and close down, so… I don’t think Mr. Lannister would want me keeping customers.”

“Of course not.” He took the paper and motioned to the store around them. “Would you be so kind as to walk me to the door? One could easily get lost in all these shelves.”

Sansa chuckled. “I don’t think you’d have a hard time of it,” she said, “but it would be bad customer service to say no.”

“Indeed.” He grinned when she stood beside him. “I would hate to tell Mr. Lannister that you’ve been a bad girl.”

She didn’t have a chance to comment. He turned away, and Sansa followed, still tripping over what he’d said and how he’d said it.

“By the way,” he mentioned when they reached the door. “If I were to hypothetically report you to Mr. Lannister, what name would I use? It doesn’t seem appropriate to address you as ‘the stunning redhead behind the counter.’”

“I’m sure you could think of something,” Sansa teased. But she offered her hand anyway, too polite to be rude, even if her attraction brought mixed feelings. “My name is Sansa.”

“Sansa,” he repeated. He said her name with such appeal that she felt her stomach flutter. The stranger took her hand. Instead of shaking it, he brought her knuckles to his lips and kissed them, eyes fixed on her. “Call me Petyr.”

“Petyr.” Sansa tried to suppress the way his hand felt, how his voice made a blush creep on her cheeks. “I hope you enjoy your books.”

“I’m certain I will. Have a good night, Sansa, and good luck on your first day of school.” He rubbed her hand with his thumb. Petyr left, letting a rush of evening air inside before the door closed behind him.

Sansa watched him cross the street to the parking lot. The silver hair at his temples shone in the moonlight. She picked her nails, keeping an eye on him until he disappeared into the sea of cars, and the shock of a first encounter began to settle.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

SEPTEMBER 7th, 2015

Sansa's morning alarm blared, waking her from a deep sleep. She groaned and grabbed her phone to shut it off. Jeyne rolled over in bed on the other side of the room, and when the chime was silenced, the friends stared groggily at each other.

“What time is it?” asked Jeyne.

“Eight,” said Sansa. “My first class is at nine.”

“Same.” Jeyne sighed. A few minutes passed, neither girl wanting to get up. “I bet my dad’s gonna call me, like, ten minutes before class starts. Just to wish me luck.”

“Aww. You’ll like that.” Sansa unlocked her phone. She’d been so excited for college to start, but now that the first day was here, she just wanted to sleep. Scrolling through Pinterest, she found a few pictures she liked and chatted with Jeyne about the upcoming day. The beginning of a four-year adventure. That’s what Abba said, anyway.

Sansa paused when a text came through from an unknown number.

Shireen Baratheon’s novel was enjoyable. I recommend it.

“Sansa?” Jeyne asked. “Hey. You listening?”

“That guy just texted me,” she said in disbelief. “The guy from the bookstore.”

“What? Oh my god.” Jeyne flew out of bed and ran over to Sansa. She showed her the message, and Jeyne squealed. “Holy shit! You have to reply, you have to.”

Sansa bit back a girlish grin. “This is the first text I’ve got from him. I thought he’d forgotten.”

“Maybe he was just reading that book.” Jeyne poked Sansa’s shoulder. “He’s into you. I told yoooou.”

“I know, I know.” Sansa took a deep breath and started typing excitedly.

oh really? that’s awesome :) i’m glad you liked it.

“Is a smiley face too much?” asked Sansa.

“No, no. He’ll think it’s cute.” Jeyne winked. She stood and went over to her dresser to find something to wear. Sansa sat with her phone, drumming her fingers and waiting anxiously for Petyr’s response, but after a while her common sense returned from wherever it had gone. What are you doing, Sansa? Don’t be like this over some guy.

With a sigh, Sansa crawled out of bed and went to her desk, picking up the floral dress she’d chosen the night before. She put on her makeup side-by-side with her best friend, trying to keep from obsessively checking her phone. It was hard to stay away. Men never paid attention to Sansa unless they wanted something, and they never valued her intelligence, never tried to. They never kissed my hand, either. She collected her things for school and walked out into the small kitchen, struggling to realign her priorities.

Myrcella and Arianne were eating cereal at the table together. Both of them waved at Sansa. “Hey,” said Arianne. “Did that guy text you back yet?”

As if on cue, Sansa’s phone vibrated. She checked it.

We could discuss the book at The Vale today, at 3.

Sansa beamed. “Maybe,” she told her roommates, sending Petyr a reply.

that sounds good. my last class gets out at 1. don’t spoil me though, i haven’t read the book yet.

“Oh my gosh,” said Myrcella. “What did he say?”

“He wants to meet me for coffee after class.”

“A coffee date with a mysterious older man,” said Arianne wistfully, leaning back in her chair. Arianne was a curvy Palestinian girl with a feisty, go-get-it attitude. Sansa had no doubt she'd encourage this "date," if that's truly what it was. “I can’t believe you’ve already found someone to flirt with. We haven’t even been here for a full day of school. Where are all my boys at?”

“Sansa’s dad would panic if he found out,” said Myrcella. "He's really protective." Myrcella was Sansa’s friend as well as Robb’s girlfriend, and she knew how their father preferred to find good matches for his children. She knew firsthand.

“Who cares?” said Jeyne, grabbing a granola bar from the cupboard. “Sansa’s an adult. She can make her own choices about who to date.”

Sansa huffed, anxious. She tapped her screen when Petyr texted her again.

I will only spoil you with coffee. Anything you want, on me.

“Geez,” muttered Sansa. “He wants to buy my coffee.”

Arianne gasped. “Sugar daddy! Sansa, get him.

“Stop,” Sansa laughed, “he’s just being nice.”

you don’t have to do that. i’d really appreciate it though :) thank you.

“He’s being nice because he wants you.”

“Ahh,” Sansa groaned. “I can’t even think about that right now. Can’t I just get through class?” Her leg bounced anxiously as she put her phone in her pocket. It buzzed again, but she forced herself not to check it. She didn’t want to start college with the wrong mindset. She was here for her education, not dates. Petyr would need to understand that if he wanted to keep talking to her.

Sansa checked her class list as she walked across campus. Poli-Sci 101 was first. She’d memorized her schedule the moment she received it, but checking it made her feel more assured of what she was doing. She found the right classroom in the lecture hall and opened the door. A half-circle room with desks, chairs and a massive whiteboard could seat a hundred, at least. Half of the students were already present. Sansa took a few steps down to the middle of the room to find somewhere to sit, until she heard a voice. A familiar one. Dark and rough, with a pinch of Irish.

She looked up. Professor Baelish — Petyr Baelish — stood next to the projector. His grey-green eyes were bright with devious intent.

“Good morning, Sansa,” he said with a stupidly smug grin. “Welcome to my class.”

Chapter Text


SEPTEMBER 7th, 2015

“Are you fucking kidding me, Pete?”

Petyr leaned back in his chair with a wicked grin. Mayana, his coworker in the business department and friend of nearly twenty years, sat shocked with her mouth half-open. He swirled his water in its bottle before taking a sip. Silence was his answer.

“I can’t believe this. You’re really gonna do it, too. Aren’t you?” Mayana scoffed when he kept his grin. “Isn’t she a sophomore?”

“Freshman.”

“Ugh.”

Petyr took a baby carrot from Mayana’s lunch, dipped it in ranch and popped it in his mouth. He looked up to the two others in his social circle — Ros, a human sexuality professor, and Olyvar from psychology — as they approached the table from the teacher’s lounge. Both carried their lunches. Their collective schedules allowed them to eat outside together, as they had for years. And as always, his coworkers knew mischief in Petyr’s eyes when they saw it.

“Oh God,” said Ros. “What is he up to now?”

“He’s gonna fuck one of his students.” Mayana took a bite of a large burrito. “The Stark girl.”

Olyvar choked on his drink.

“Are you — Petyr?” Ros glared at him. “You can’t be serious.”

“I met her at Tyrion’s bookstore. She’s a nice girl.” Petyr scratched his chin. “I’m meeting her today for coffee.”

Olyvar whistled. Ros looked to him for comment, but he shook his head wildly. “Don’t drag me into this one.”

Petyr’s cheeks began to hurt from smirking. He couldn’t help himself. He felt a sick satisfaction from making people despise him when they couldn’t avoid him. “She’s a teenager,” Ros argued. “That’s really low, even for you.”

“Where’s your adventurous side?” Petyr asked. “She’s an adult. It’s perfectly legal.”

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”

“He’s got a point though,” said Mayana. “At least she’s not jailbait. It’s the student part that throws me off. Like, couldn’t you wait until she’s not in your class anymore?”

Petyr considered that. “No,” he decided, “it’s more entertaining this way.”

“Dick,” scoffed Olyvar.

“You’re at least going to look out for her emotions, right?” Ros scowled at Petyr across the table. “It’s not good to mess with a girl like that. You could ruin her future if you’re not careful. And you know Ned Stark will come after you if he finds out.”

“Relax,” urged Petyr. “What Ned Stark doesn’t know won’t kill him. He’ll be distracted with preparing a campaign anyway, and I have no intention of ruining Sansa’s education. I’ll just be… making it fun.”

“What about the other Stark kid?” asked Mayana. “Don’t you have the older one? Robert?”

“Robb,” Petyr corrected. “Yes, I do. He’s a wonderful student.”

“And you think he’s just gonna be okay with his kid sister bangin’ his professor?”

“Let them get through coffee first,” Ros interjected. “If the girl has any sense, she’ll run and drop out of Petyr’s class the first chance she gets.”

Petyr scratched his beard, looking over his three colleagues with a familiar glint in devilish eyes. “Why don’t we make a bet?”

“Here we go,” muttered Olyvar.

“I bet I’ll have her in my bed before Christmas.”

Mayana laughed, pulling her many braids over her shoulder. “Alright. I’ll bite. I say summer.”

“Are you serious?” scoffed Ros. “I can’t believe this is an actual conversation we’re having.” She folded her arms across her chest. “I bet that she won’t ever sleep with him.”

Olyvar raised his hand. “Valentine’s Day.”

Ros rounded on him.

“What? It’s not unrealistic. From a psychological standpoint, a young, sheltered woman with the new privileges of adulthood is more likely to make risks and test her freedoms. She’s a little lady from what I’ve heard, probably a romantic, which makes the holiday ideal. And Petyr can be very persuasive.”

“This is predatory,” argued Ros. “Even if she’s legal. You’re targeting her.”

“Indeed,” said Petyr. “So. How about that bet?”

Ros and Petyr battled silently, one with disgust, the other with sick glee. Ros eventually folded. “Whoever wins gets to decide the others’ lectures for the day. No switching, no changing.”

“Done.” Petyr smirked, again. “I look forward to making you teach about the sexual inclinations of rodentia, Ros. It’ll be your best lecture to date.”

“All I’d have to do is talk about you.” She flipped him off. Ros picked up her lunch and left the table.

“She’s got a point, you know.” Mayana leaned back in her chair. “I know you don’t really have morals, but like… a teenager?”

“Young adult,” he said.

“A teenaged adult. She’s still super young. You could lose your job.”

Petyr shrugged. “I enjoy teaching, but I don’t need the money. There will be other opportunities. Given how beautiful she looked in class today, I have no doubt that unemployment will be better with the taste of her on my tongue.”

Olyvar rolled his eyes. “I’m leaving.” He took his lunch and followed where Ros had gone.

Mayana only laughed. “Jesus, Pete. You are such an asshole.”

Petyr knew. And he was proud.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

Petyr arrived at The Vale a half hour early in case Sansa was feeling punctual. He picked a spot at a table outside, so he could catch her when she came. He pulled out his phone and scrolled through numerous emails. He didn’t read them, though. His mind was fixed on what Ros had said, and how it’d left him feeling through his work day.

When had any of his colleagues pinned him for a virtuous man? Petyr was a sleaze, a deviant, nowhere near pure enough to stop at the thought of Sansa Stark’s age or her precious innocence. He wanted to take that innocence. She’d stood there in his classroom, pretty little mouth hanging open at the sight of him writing on the whiteboard. It only occurred to him after Ros’s scolding that Sansa might be too frightened to meet him for coffee. Too moral. She was Ned Stark’s daughter after all, valuing what was right over what felt good. Petyr wondered if he could change that. He wondered if he’d already squandered his chance.

Petyr was caught with his guard down when Sansa came around the corner, so surprised that he nearly dropped his phone. She’d come early, too. “Miss Stark,” he said, rising to his feet. Words. Speak. “I’m glad you’ve come.”

Sansa was wringing her hands, a nervous tick. She didn’t smile. “I’d feel bad for just ditching you,” she said. “But I don’t plan on staying out very long. I just, um…” She sighed, at a loss.

“Don’t worry. I told you I would buy you coffee, and I intend to.” He placed a hand gently on the side of her arm. She was warm to the touch. “Take a look at the menu, at least?”

Sansa slowly nodded. He could see her warring with her moral compass, but for now she was under his hands.

She walked with him into The Vale. It was a simple café, dark walls with rustic tables and drapes, an old chandelier. Sansa’s body language still read of anxiety, but Petyr was forgiving, and motioned to the display of pastries and small foods. “Are you hungry?”

“Not really,” said Sansa. “Coffee is fine. I’d hate to make you pay for something you didn’t plan on…”

Her words slowed. Sansa’s eyes fixated on a sign that read, “Special: Lemon Cake, $2.99.”

“You like lemon cake?”

Sansa blinked. “What?”

Petyr pointed to the sign. “I know that look in a girl’s eye.”

Sansa smiled. There was the girl he’d met. When Petyr approached the counter, he motioned to a slice of lemon cake and pulled out his wallet. “For the lady,” he said to the cashier. He turned to Sansa. “And what will she be having to drink?”

“Hmm.” Sansa tapped her chin and read the menu. Petyr wondered what her finger would taste like in his mouth. “She’ll have a caramel frappe.”

“And I’ll take a mint mocha.” Petyr pulled his credit card from his wallet and swiped it on the machine.

“Mint mocha?” Sansa questioned. She stood beside him, hands resting on the counter. “I took you for a black coffee guy.”

“What makes you say that?”

Sansa shrugged. “I don’t know. Mysterious, intense, single older man with a professional attitude?” She leaned back on the counter. “That, and you smoke.”

“Aren’t you an observant one?” said Petyr. “I enjoy black coffee, but it isn’t my preferred choice. I’m weak for anything with mint.”

“Really?”

Petyr nodded, staring up at the menu. “When I was a child, maybe four or five, my mother once found me eating toothpaste. She panicked and brought me to the hospital.”

Sansa laughed. The sound was warm, infectious. “That’s disgusting. I’m sure she doesn’t let you live that down.”

“I’m sure she wouldn’t, were she still alive.”

Sansa’s smile fell. Petyr didn’t like how her laughter was silenced, especially at his expense. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

“It’s alright. It was a long time ago.”

Odd. He’d never told anyone about the toothpaste before.

When their coffee was made, Petyr took the drinks and Sansa’s cake to a table by the window with a clear view of the city. He pulled out a chair for her. Chivalry would go far. “Thank you,” said Sansa, a little smile on her lips. “You didn’t have to do this for me, really.”

“I wanted to.” Petyr sat down across from her and leaned back in his chair, one leg over the other. “I’ve been looking for a girl like you for a long time.”

Sansa sipped her frappe. “Mm?”

“To discuss books with, I mean.”

“Oh.” She set her cup down, narrowing her eyes at him. “You didn’t ask me here to talk about books, though. Not just books, anyway.” She mimicked his motion of leaning back in her chair, crossing her legs. “You must have seen your name on my class schedule when you read it. Why didn’t you say something?”

“Why would I?” Petyr countered. “We were having a perfectly pleasant conversation. There was no need to ruin it.”

“Would being honest really have ruined it?”

“Would you have agreed to coffee if you’d known I was your professor?”

Sansa frowned in disappointment. “So you played me.”

“Only just.” Petyr chose his words carefully. “I promise you, I had no intention of asking you out before I entered the store. I thought that perhaps if you knew I was your instructor, it would upset the chemistry between us. And there was chemistry,” he added, raising his brow. “You wouldn’t have given me your number if there wasn’t.”

“I know,” said Sansa, toying with her hair. “I’m not naive.”

Petyr begged to differ, but he grinned and said nothing.

Sansa shifted in her seat. “I’m flattered, really, but—”

“You don’t want to be on a date with your teacher.” Petyr shrugged. “You value integrity and don’t want to feel like you’re getting a better grade because of a potential relationship.”

To his surprise, Sansa scoffed. “Who said anything about a date? It’s just coffee.”

“I thought you said you weren’t naive.”

She faltered.

“Listen, Sansa.” Petyr set his coffee on the table and folded his hands. Time for another play. “I’m not interested in meeting you as a student. I asked you here because I believed you to be an intelligent, beautiful young woman that I intend to know better. If it’s alright with you, could we put aside the teacher-student aspect and talk plainly, like two adults in a coffee shop?”

Petyr knew he had her when she smiled, anxiety slipping. “Okay,” she decided. “I don’t think a cup of coffee will do any harm.”

“Neither do I.”

One cup of coffee turned into four. Two in the afternoon became seven in the evening, and Petyr and Sansa lost track of the hours. They discussed favorite foods and movies and, of course, books. But there were other topics as well. Political alignments and philosophy, hobbies, art, music and childhood pets. He learned that Sansa had a Husky at home named Lady, whom she deeply missed. He learned that she was passionate about feminism and gender equality, that she loved indie music and celebrating holidays with her family. She liked romance novels and pastel colors and was quite popular on Instagram. And above all, she was sweet. Her laughter was charming. She was too innocent for the likes of him, but he couldn’t say he regretted his pursuit of her. The truth was quite the opposite.

By the time Sansa gasped and said it was time for her to leave, rush hour had come and gone. The sun was beginning to set. It made her hair glow.

“Thank you for this,” said Sansa politely. “Really. It was nice.”

“You are most welcome.” Petyr looked to the parking lot across the street. “May I walk you to your car?”

More chivalry. Sansa fell for it. Petyr walked Sansa back to an old Honda, clearly a hand-me-down from her brother. He opened the door for her. Sansa thanked him and sat down behind the wheel.

“What are you doing next Saturday?” Petyr asked, one hand propped on the roof of her car. “There’s a Thai place that just opened up. I’ve been considering it.”

“Mr. Baelish, I don’t think that—”

“Petyr.”

“Petyr.” She paused. “I’m… I’m not doing anything. Just working, probably. I close.”

“Could you find time for lunch?”

Sansa curled her hair behind her ears. “I… I want to. You’re fun to talk to and I enjoy being around you. But I take my grades really seriously. If I’m seen with you, people could get the wrong idea or — I don’t know.” She sighed. “I don’t want to start off my college life like this. I want to earn my grades. There’s no way you’d be able to grade me without bias if we’re… you know.”

Petyr respected that, whether he liked it or not. “That’s alright,” he said. “I have no desire to compromise your education. After the semester, perhaps.”

“After the semester,” she agreed. “I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t be. Your dedication to your studies is admirable, Sansa. I wish half of my students were as devoted as you.”

She smiled. “I bet you didn’t plan on waiting, though.”

“I don’t mind.” Petyr stood upright with his hands at his sides. “I am a patient man. If you want me to wait until after the semester, I’ll wait.”

“Thank you, Petyr. I really appreciate it.”

They said said their goodbyes. Petyr closed the door, watching Sansa drive away with his expectations in tow.

Petyr lit a cigarette and huffed smoke into the air.

He would have to be smarter.

Chapter Text


SEPTEMBER 10th, 2015

To say that Catelyn Stark was grateful for her husband’s alarm was a dire understatement. She was thrilled. Elated. She leaned over Ned and slammed her hand on his old-fashioned clock, silencing the 6 AM chime.

At long last. The first day of school.

“Every year you get up like that,” said Ned with a deep, tired laugh. He looked up at her in amusement. “It hasn’t been so bad this summer.”

“Only because Sansa left for college. I don’t think I could handle more of her and Arya going at each other’s throats. You remember the hair dye incident?”

Ned groaned. As a prank, Arya had put temporary hair dye in Sansa’s shampoo. Her hair turned green for a week. While it was comical to look back on, there had been hell to pay at the time, and Catelyn would never forget the way Sansa had screamed.

Every summer with the girls was much the same, until now. Their first daughter was out of the nest, and the children at home grew older.

Ned touched Cat’s arm to offer comfort. “What are you going to do with your free time this year?”

Cat’s answer was immediate. “Paint. It’s been so long since I’ve made anything I’m really proud of. I like doing portraits and abstract art, and the gallery pays well, but I don’t enjoy it like I used to.” She sighed, laying down on her back beside Ned. “And then there’s that Dustin woman. She’s already planning an event to fund the people running against your campaign. I can’t stand the way she glares at me.”

“Don’t get started on her,” Ned warned. “You’ll never stop. Try not to worry about Barbrey. She’s not the kind of woman I’d want funding me, anyway.” He leaned over and kissed her cheek. “You’ll find your niche again, Cat. You always do.”

Catelyn smiled. Never in twenty-five years did Ned fail to give the encouragement she needed. Husband and wife shared a kiss, and together, they climbed out of bed. Ned walked into the master bathroom for a shower. Cat slipped on her bathrobe and a pair of slippers, and started knocking on her children's doors.

First stop was the oldest. “Arya?” she called through her daughter’s door. “Are you awake?”

“Ugh,” the teenager groaned. “Ten more minutes.”

“I’m making pancakes for breakfast.”

Cat heard a ruffle of blankets. “Blueberry ones?”

“The very same.”

A long pause. “Fine, I’ll get up.”

Cat took her success and didn’t prod any further.

Next, she came to Rickon’s room. To no surprise, the ten-year-old was already up and alert, too excited about starting fifth grade to stay asleep. His hair was disheveled and his shirt was on backwards. “Hi Mom,” he said when she opened the door. “I’m getting my shoes on.”

“Good boy,” said Cat. “You may want to fix your shirt, though.”

Rickon looked down at himself and giggled. “Whoops. Are you making blueberry pancakes today?”

“Of course. That’s tradition, isn’t it?”

Rickon beamed, then hesitated. “Maaaaybe I’ll wait ‘till tomorrow on the whole running thing.”

Cat chuckled. The elementary school was just down the road, and Rickon had been talking for weeks about running to school to get ready for track. Cat didn’t have a problem with it; theirs was a safe neighborhood, and Arya had been training Rickon in Jujitsu ever since she’d earned her first dan. But blueberry pancakes, it seemed, took top priority. “Arya can drop you off at school,” said Cat. “I’m about to start cooking. Come downstairs when you’re ready.”

“Okay.” Rickon waved as she closed the door.

Finally, Cat went to check on her second son. Bran heaved himself upright with the rope attached to the ceiling when his mother entered the room. “Hi,” he said. “I’m up.”

“Good morning, Bran.” Cat entered the room and opened his curtains, looking out at the rising sun. “Are you excited for your first day of high school?”

“I guess.” Bran shrugged.

Cat could tell he was nervous. She went to his dresser and pulled out some clothes, just to lend a helping hand. “What would you like to wear? Something cool? It’s still a bit warm out—”

“I can do it myself.”

Cat frowned. Bran preferred to do and learn things on his own to the point where he hated help of any kind. Maybe she was overprotective of him, but she wanted to help in whatever way she could. For now, though, it wasn't worth an argument. “Okay,” said Catelyn as she left the room, closing the door behind her.

Catelyn made her way downstairs and plugged in the griddle. Blueberry pancakes on the first day of school was a Stark family tradition. Starting with Robb and her nephew, Jon, all the children had caught on as they grew, but Catelyn didn’t mind in the slightest. The world was tough. Being a mother, for her, was all about what she could do to help her children chin up.

Rickon rushed into the kitchen while Cat stirred the batter, Shaggydog close at his heels. Poor Lady was behind them. The husky didn’t know what to do with herself now that Sansa was gone.

“Would you feed the dogs and let them out?” asked Catelyn. “The pancakes should be done by then. You can have the first taste.”

“Sure.” Rickon whistled loudly. The thuds of four massive dogs running towards the back door thundered through the house. Rickon opened the slider to let them free. Shaggydog, Summer, Nymeria and Lady. All different breeds, all loyal to each Stark child. That was the only thing Cat didn’t mind about her children leaving home: they took their dogs with them. Jon had brought Ghost along to the police force, and when Robb rented a house with his roommates, he took Grey Wind. Only Lady was without her best friend.

When the dogs were fed and running around the yard, Catelyn scooped two blueberry pancakes on a plate and handed them to Rickon. “Here you are, dear.”

Rickon looked so excited that she thought he’d eat them plain. “Thanks Mom. Wow, they look awesome. Is there butter and syrup?”

“Over there,” said Cat, motioning to the opposite counter. “Where they always are.”

Thump. Thump. Bran was coming down the stairs. He had a machine-operated chair that could carry him, but he never used it. “Do you need help?” Arya asked from behind him, to which Bran barked, “No.”

Cat frowned, but didn't comment.

Arya walked into the kitchen while Bran hoisted himself up into his wheelchair. Her blue hair was wild and damp from a shower, and she picked up a plate of pancakes with a scowl. She hated mornings almost as much as she hated high school. “Cheer up, sweetheart,” offered Cat, wrapping her arm around her daughter’s shoulders. “You’re going to have a wonderful day. Try to smile.”

Arya spread peanut butter over her pancakes and dumped syrup on top. “I hate that I still have two more years. It feels like forever.”

“It'll end, I promise. And when it does, you’ll be wishing you hadn’t grown up so fast.” Cat kissed the top of her daughter’s head. “Go eat. You’re not skipping breakfast this year. I’m going to make sure of it.”

“Fine,” said Arya. But her hidden smile was enough to ease Cat’s worries.

Bran wheeled himself into the kitchen. He took a plate of pancakes with a muttered “thanks” and navigated to the table. Looking at the three of them together, Cat felt oddly bittersweet. It was only yesterday that she was feeding them in high chairs and changing diapers, teaching Bran how to identify colors or swatting Rickon’s hand for playing with electrical outlets. And now, here they are, getting older by the day.

Ned came downstairs as Cat finished the final batch of pancakes. He handed her a tie, which she took and pulled him close. Ned smiled down at her. She always tied his ties for him. He claimed that whenever he tied them, they never turned out as good, but Cat knew better. Ned just liked the opportunity to be close to his wife. Little things.

“Morning Abba,” said Arya. Bran waved at his father. Rickon was too busy stuffing his face to say anything. “You look nice.”

“Thank you,” said Ned. He kissed Cat on the forehead when she finished his tie and went over to the table, mussing Rickon’s hair and laughing when he did. “How are the three of you, hm? Excited for school?”

“I am,” said Bran. “I have Mr. Luwin this year. And I have classes with Jojen.”

“Oooh,” mocked Arya. “Bran and Jojen, sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S—”

Bran reached over and smacked Arya’s arm. She laughed and chugged her milk.

“Well, that’s exciting,” Ned continued. “I’m sure you’ll be just as good a student as your brothers and sisters were. Mr. Luwin remembers them all, I expect.” Ned took the liberty to adjust Bran’s kippah, making sure it was straight. “You know if you need anything, you can—”

Yes, Abba.” Bran stabbed his pancakes with a fork. “I’ll be fine.” Ned and Cat weren’t convinced, but pushing an offer of help did more harm than good. The matter was dropped entirely.

Having breakfast as a family was rare, so Catelyn prized every moment. Ned had to eat quickly to make it to work — he was nearing his last day at the firm before he officially pitched his Senate bid — but he took time to catch up with each of his children individually. He gave Bran advice on what to do if someone teased him and encouraged Arya to avoid fights. Told Rickon to stay focused on what his teachers said. And when it came time for Ned to leave, the Starks each kissed him goodbye.

Cat checked the time. 7:32. “Shouldn’t you be getting to school?” she asked Arya. “If you’re late on the first—”

“Relax, Mom. I got it.” Arya finished cleaning her dishes and took the keys from the counter. She and Cat had come to a compromise; Arya could drive Sansa’s hand-me-down Chevy to school, but only if she took Bran as well. “I’m taking Rickon too, right? Since he didn’t run like I knew he wouldn’t?”

“Hey!” called Rickon. “I didn’t run because I didn’t wanna miss Mom’s pancakes. You don’t have to be mean.”

“Dork.”

“Loser.”

“Stop it, both of you.” Cat rubbed her temples. Freedom was so close. “Go on, get in the car. If you’re late even once, it’ll be the last time you drive to school all year.”

“Okay,” groaned Arya. “C’mon, Raisin Bran. Hurry up or I’m leaving.” She grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl and took a large bite. It was strange for Cat, looking at her youngest daughter ready to drive her siblings to school. Wasn’t Robb only sixteen yesterday?

“Bye Mom,” said the three of them. Cat hugged Bran — she couldn’t seem to catch the other two — and with an open and close of the door, they were gone.

The house fell quiet. Catelyn stood in the entryway alone, hugging herself. Her family was growing up. Soon there wouldn’t be any children left to see off to school, to take to doctor appointments or band concerts or Jujitsu lessons. Soon it would be grandkids on the weekends and holidays and phone calls once a week. And retirement, she thought with a smile. Being a self-employed artist had its perks, but Ned finally putting away the briefcase would mark the beginning of their golden age.

I’m getting ahead of myself. With a sigh, Cat kicked aside dog toys and returned upstairs for a bath, but not before brewing a pot of Irish tea. A little bit of home.

A long soak and a good book passed an hour by. Catelyn had picked up Shireen Baratheon's new novel, the second in a building fantasy series about dragons and politics and medieval drama. Cat remembered little Shireen from the Baratheon family barbecues, before Robert’s divorce and Stannis and Renly’s decision to run against each other for president. Catelyn was proud of Shireen, though, despite her disagreements with Stannis on his politics. By the tone of the novel, Shireen wasn’t impressed with her father’s opinions, either.

Catelyn’s feet were pruned by the time she got out of the bath. She dressed in grubby painter’s garb, something she could get messy during a long session at the easel. She’d hoped to come up with an idea before she came face-to-face with the canvas, but by the time she let the dogs in and wandered to her office at the back of the house, her mind was completely blank. Uninspired. She stood before the white canvas and felt just as stumped as she had the day before. And the day before that, and the day before that. Painting Irish landscapes from her childhood wasn't enough anymore.

Lady came into the room and curled up on the couch. Cat sighed and sat beside her with a new cup of tea, scratching her behind the ear. Where was all the inspiration? It’d been so long since Catelyn had painted something meaningful, and she missed it terribly, but for some reason her creativity was clogged. It had been for months. She wouldn’t have time to paint when Ned campaigned, so it had to be now. And yet, she felt empty.

Maybe I’ve dried up, Cat thought in horror. There was no worse thought in the world than that.

Her phone began to ring. Catelyn checked to see who was calling. “Sansa?" she questioned aloud. With FaceTime? Pleasantly surprised, Cat answered, letting her worries fall away in favor of her daughter’s.

“Sansa!” said Cat, beaming as her daughter’s face came into view on the screen. A pang of pain struck her chest; oh, how she missed her. “Are you in your dorm? Don’t you have a class?”

“Not right now,” said Sansa. “It’s only ten. My next class is at eleven.”

“I see.” Cat adjusted on the sofa, curling her legs underneath her and propping up her arm to see Sansa more clearly. Lady lifted her head when she heard Sansa’s voice, but she knew Sansa wasn’t in the room and lay down again. “I didn’t think you’d call twice in the same week, but I’m glad you did.”

Sansa smiled brightly and twirled her hair. Catelyn’s maternal instincts were flagged. Sansa was happy, too happy for a young girl with anxiety during her first few days at school. She raised her brow. “You didn’t just call to check on your mum, did you?”

“Of course I did! I mean, yes? I mean…” Sansa sighed. She moved to her bed and climbed up on the mattress. Softly, she whispered. “I think I have a date.”

Cat blinked in surprise. Sansa had her teenage crushes throughout high school, but she’d never dated before, never even kissed as far as Cat knew. And Cat knew most things about her children. “A date?”

“Yeah. He’s really… bold. We went to coffee on Monday and it was nice, but he asked me out to lunch next Saturday. I told him no, but I’m thinking I might change my mind. We’ve been texting all week and he keeps running into me in the halls. I know it’s on purpose, too.” She bit her lip. “Lunch on the weekend is an official date, right? Like, more official than coffee?”

“I’d say so.” Cat toyed with her necklace, thinking. It was hard not to interrogate Sansa. She was an adult now, and Catelyn’s role was to be supportive rather than controlling. “Do you want to go to lunch with him?”

“I think so.”

She’s calling to ask for my advice, Cat thought. She wants me to tell her it’s alright. “Isn’t it a bit early to be going on dates?”

“Yeah,” said Sansa, almost in disappointment. “That’s what I was thinking too. I want to start college off on the right foot. I’ve been waiting so long to be here, you know? But I just — ah. He’s different than anyone else I've met.”

The last thing Cat wanted to do was tamper with her daughter’s college experience. She remembered being young, only a year older than Sansa when Ned had the courage to ask her out. “Well,” said Cat, “if it doesn’t interfere with your studies or your job, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Do you like him?”

“I really do. He’s clever and charismatic. And he’s sweet. He bought me coffee and lemon cake when we went out, and he keeps opening doors for me.”

“Oh, a gentleman.” Cat smiled. It was nice to see her daughter treated right. “What’s the lucky man’s name?”

“Peter.”

“Peter,” Cat repeated. Not an uncommon name. She thought briefly of her best friend from childhood, an orphan named Petyr who liked mint and math.

“It’s a little weird because he’s older than me, but I don’t really care about that.”

Cat raised her brow. “Did he take a few years off before starting college?”

“Uh, yeah. I think.” Sansa paused. “I mean, yeah, he did. He’s just a couple years older than me, so it’s not that big a deal. It’s just weird for me I guess.”

Hm. Catelyn narrowed her eyes, just slightly. “He’s employed? He lives nearby? What’s his major? He hasn’t tried to take you anywhere private, has he?”

“No, Mom,” said Sansa with a little laugh. “He lives in an apartment downtown. And he has a job, yeah. He’s majoring in… education.”

“Mm, a teacher.” Cat nodded in approval. “Your father wanted to be a teacher originally, did you know that?”

“Yeah, he’s talked about it before.” Sansa rubbed her arm. She was still nervous about something. “Well, what do you think? Jeyne is practically begging me to go. Robb thinks I should too, but he hasn’t, um. He hasn’t met him yet. But Myrcella and Arianne are supportive.”

“Why are you waiting for my approval?” chuckled Cat. “You’re clearly excited about this young man.”

Sansa bit her lip again. “I’m not really waiting for approval. I just want your advice. Should I focus on school more, or should I give it a shot? I don’t know what to do. This is kind of a lot to handle in my first week, you have no idea.”

“Calm down,” said Catelyn softly. “You’re overthinking things. How’s this? Go out to lunch with him, but make it clear that you don’t want a serious relationship until you’re more settled in. You just want to spend more time with him for now. Am I understanding that right?”

“Yeah.” Sansa’s cheeks turned pink. “I — yeah.”

“Why not try that for a bit? Your father and I were friends before we dated. I think relationships should always start out that way. With friendship.”

“You think so?”

“I know so.”

Sansa sighed, taking a moment to think. “Okay. I’ll tell him.” Her smile grew so wide that Cat thought it must hurt, until suddenly Sansa gasped. “Wait, you can’t tell Abba. Please, Mom, please don’t. He’ll want to come over and meet Peter and put him through an entire interrogation, if he doesn’t throw him in prison first.”

“Why would your father put a college boy in prison?” laughed Cat. “I think that’s a bit of an overreaction.”

Sansa nervously agreed.

“There’s not much to tell him, anyway. As far as I’m concerned, you’ve met a new friend and that’s all there is to it.”

“Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate it.” Sansa checked the time. “I should probably get some homework done before I go to class. Love you.”

“I love you too, Sansa.” Catelyn blew a kiss. Sansa waved and hung up the phone.

Cat sighed, leaning back on the couch and petting Lady’s head. She still wasn’t any closer to figuring out what to paint, but she felt more at ease after hearing good news from Sansa.

Whoever this Peter was, he was lucky to have met her daughter.

Chapter Text


SEPTEMBER 13th, 2015

tell me a secret.

Sansa swung her legs off the edge of the couch, phone in-hand. Robb and Arianne were beside her, leaning forward to watch the Giants game on the living room TV, and Myrcella and Jeyne were doing homework on the floor by the coffee table.

Sansa had homework, too. But against her better judgment, she was texting Petyr instead. The two of them had been asking pointless questions for hours. Just to get to know each other.

What kind of secret? read his response. Sansa hummed and answered.

i don’t know. a secret one?

A minute passed before he replied.

I used to be a pimp.

Sansa laughed at the obvious lie. She felt stupid. Stupidly addicted to talking to Petyr, so much that her phone counts hundreds of messages a day. They could go from deep discussions about the nature of the world to candle scents and bad TV in the span of an afternoon. Sansa was always impressed by Petyr’s intelligence and cleverness and expertise in different subjects. But most of all, she enjoyed the way he made her feel. Appreciated. Adored.

The more she spoke to Petyr, the less relevant her mother’s advice became.

The Giants game went to commercial. Robb leaned over his sister’s shoulder to read her screen. “Who are you texting?”

Sansa shoved her brother’s face away. “Stop!”

Robb pressed on, reaching for Sansa’s phone while she held it away from him. Brother and sister broke into laughter when the couch began to tip. Arianne shrieked and threw her weight on the other side to balance it out, setting the siblings back in their rightful places. “Are you sending inappropriate messages to the elusive Peter?” Robb asked.

Sansa’s roommates stared at her. They knew that “Peter” was Petyr Baelish, her professor and potential date. Sansa still hadn’t told Petyr that she’ll take him up on the offer for Thai. Jeyne had been hounding her for days, but she couldn’t work up the nerve, keeping their relationship at a flirt-until-we-can’t-take-it-anymore level.

Robb had no idea.

“Maybe I am,” Sansa replied. She played it cool as Robb settled back in his spot and stole a Dorito from Arianne’s bowl. “Why does it matter? We’re just texting.”

“You’ve been texting since I got here,” Robb countered. “Two hours ago.”

“They text all the time,” chimed Jeyne from the floor. “You get used to it.”

“Not all the time,” Sansa defended.

“Literally all the time,” said Arianne.

Robb raised his brow in exaggerated surprise. “Oh really? Does Mom know?”

“She knows that I’ve been talking to someone,” said Sansa, annoyed. “Why are you so interested? She doesn’t even know that you’re dating one of my best friends and the daughter of Abba’s mortal enemy — no offense, Myrcella. So get off my case.”

“Hey.” Robb shrugged. “It’s not my fault Myrcella’s the perfect girlfriend.”

Myrcella giggled. “Robb, stop. I’m trying to do homework.”

“And I’m trying not to barf.” Sansa got up from the couch, throwing a pillow in her brother’s face. She’d have told him to get out if she could, but the only time Robb and Myrcella could be together was in the privacy of a dorm room. Between Cersei Lannister and their own protective father, it wasn’t safe for Robb and Myrcella to be seen as a couple. How their relationship thrived, Sansa didn’t know, but she encouraged them all the same.

Once in the kitchen, Sansa turned her attention back to her own relationship. Soon-to-be. Or not at all?

sorry, she texted, my brother was trying to read my messages. Sansa chewed her cheek. She’d been waiting for the right opportunity to accept the “date” with Petyr, but Jeyne was right; if she didn’t make a move soon, she could miss it. Sansa took a breath. i don’t know about you being a pimp but… i have a secret to tell you in return.

Petyr’s response was immediate: Do tell.

Sansa paced through the kitchen. The good girl in her wanted to keep her grades a priority, but Petyr had a way of prying apart her armor of perfectionism and burrowing under her skin, making her consider things she otherwise wouldn’t. She wanted to be rebellious just this once, just enough to be friendly and maybe a little flirtatious. Petyr had promised Sansa that he wouldn’t treat her differently in class, but she was beginning to want him to. He had an allure she couldn’t resist. I should have told Mom the truth about him, she thought. Maybe she would’ve talked me out of this.

Sansa stopped pacing and sighed. Just get it over with. With shaking thumbs, she typed out her message.

i think i’d like to try thai food.

Sansa bounced worriedly on her heels. Robb and Arianne cheered when the Giants made a touchdown, startling her. She frightened easily when she was anxious. Even the toaster could scare her.

Sansa’s heart thundered when she received Petyr’s reply.

Saturday at noon?

“Oh man,” she whispered. I shouldn’t be doing this.

that sounds perfect. :) as long as we can keep our promise about class.

Of course. I look forward to it.

Sansa beamed. She leaned back against the fridge and held her phone to her chest, grateful that Robb didn’t look her way.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

SEPTEMBER 19th, 2015

True to his promise, Petyr didn’t act any differently toward Sansa during the school week. There was nothing unusual about his teaching behavior. Sometimes he would stare at her in class, other times he would brush past her too closely, making her catch the mint on his breath and whatever else made him smell so good.

Today would be different. Sansa was too excited to sleep, and she woke hours before she needed to.

“Today’s the day!” squealed Jeyne, barging into the bathroom while Sansa was getting ready. “You have to show me what you’re wearing. I need to live through you.”

Sansa jumped at the intrusion, but didn’t smear her eyeliner, which was all she cared about. She motioned to her jean jacket, white tank top and skirt. Jeyne waggled her brow. “A skirt,” she cooed. “So nawty.

“Stop, Jeyne, you’re freaking me out.” Sansa tried to laugh. “I can’t even think about what you’re thinking about. It’s just lunch.”

“Uh-huh. Even your mom said this was more than lunch.” Jeyne folded her arms and leaned against the wall. “I can’t believe you lied to her. Sweet Princess Sansa Stark, a liar to dear ol’ mum.”

Sansa hated that word. She didn’t feel like a liar; she didn’t feel guilty. Perhaps that was part of the problem. But how long had Sansa sacrificed her own happiness for other people’s visions of who she should be? Was it so selfish to want to do something out-of-the-ordinary, just for her? Just once?

Sansa leaned closer to the mirror to apply mascara. “It’s not that different from Robb and Myrcella. If Cersei Lannister found out her daughter was dating my brother, she’d bomb something.”

“Your parents wouldn’t be happy either,” said Jeyne. “You and Robb are real rebels.”

Sansa pulled out a tube of lipstick, a soft pink shade to match her skirt. “Are we? I mean, my grandparents didn’t like my dad at first. You know my mom comes from an Irish Catholic family. Granddad was furious when she wanted to convert and marry a Jew. He didn’t invite her to Christmas dinner for three years.”

Jeyne rolled her eyes. “So what you’re saying is, the whole rebellion thing runs in the family.”

“Yeah. I guess.” Sansa capped her lipstick and gave her curls a few run-throughs with her fingers. “I don’t like lying, but I don’t want my parents to be angry with me and there’s no point in getting them all riled up over just a few dates.” Sansa turned around and leaned against the counter, frowning. “I’ve always been the golden child. I love my parents, but I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want them to think I’m a failure.”

“Okay,” said Jeyne, moving in front of Sansa to hold her arms. “Now you’re doing that worry thing. Just go with the flow. If it was meant to be, you’ll know, and it’ll all work out.”

Sansa sighed. “Is anything ever meant to be?”

Jeyne leaned in and smiled. “We were.”

The girls laughed. Sansa, feeling better, hugged her best friend and thanked her. “I’m gonna start walking. I’ll text you when I’m on my way back.”

Jeyne clapped excitedly. “Yay! Sansa’s first date! Yes! ” She fled from the bathroom to tell their roommates. Sansa said goodbye to all of them — Myrcella wished her well and Arianne said something about hickies — and left her dorm to meet Petyr Baelish.

Petyr was going to meet her a block from the university, where they would walk together to a nearby park called Morningside. She’d never been there. The Thai place was around the corner, according to Petyr, and she figured walking would be a good way to get in her exercise and avoid driving downtown. Shoes instead of heels was definitely a good choice. But what about the skirt? Sansa wondered. She’d have to leave for work shortly after the date, but she didn’t mind working in a skirt if she could see Petyr’s reaction to it. The thought alone made her nauseous.

When she rounded the street corner, Sansa noticed Petyr leaning against a concrete wall, scrolling through his phone. He was wearing a green sweater over a dress shirt and tie, with brown leather shoes and jeans. His hair was combed and his sleeves were rolled up, bringing focus to his aged hands. He looked so handsome that she almost turned and fled. This is too much, Sansa thought in panic. What was she doing here? Wasn’t she smarter than this?

Petyr noticed her before she could run. Part of her didn’t like how his eyes moved all over her. Part of her didn’t want him to stop.

“Hi,” said Sansa, approaching him.

“Good afternoon.” Petyr smirked at her bare legs, and she grinned back. There was lust in his eyes. Success. They stared at each other in unspoken awe, the sounds of city noise doing nothing to ease their heated silence. “You look beautiful.”

She blushed. “Thanks.” Sansa looked away, curling her hair behind her ear and moving back on her heels. Don’t be so shy. She offered him a smile. “You look really nice, too. I like the rolled up sleeves.”

“Do you?”

“Mhm. It’s a good look.”

“I’ll have to keep that in mind.” Petyr offered his arm to her. “Here. So you don’t get lost in the crowd.”

Sansa didn’t hesitate. It made sense to take his arm, right? Petyr was just thinking of her safety. She slipped her arm in his and walked by his side.

The afternoon air was pleasantly warm and a soft breeze rolled through. One could almost forget that winter was near. The sounds of traffic and chatting passersby brought a comforting white noise, and coupled with the company, Sansa felt fairly at ease. Petyr never let go of her. She crossed the street and moved closer to him when the crowd grew thick.

“Have you ever had Thai before?” he asked.

“No, actually. My brother and sister love it though.”

“Ah.” Petyr pulled a cigarette and a silver lighter from his pocket. “Mind if I smoke?”

“No, go ahead.” Sansa liked the smell of cigarettes. For a long time, she’d convinced herself that it was the most rebellious thing she’d ever enjoy. Petyr lit the end of the stick and blew smoke from his lips. Sansa closed her eyes and inhaled.

“You like the smell?” he asked, amused.

“Oddly enough, I do. I’m not sure why.”

Petyr offered the cigarette to her. “Do you want to try it?”

Sansa was instantly appalled. “What? No, my parents would never…” My parents aren’t here, she thought. I’m not a child. I can take it if I want.

Sansa slowed her pace. The people behind her muttered in irritation, but Petyr was patient, holding out the cigarette to her. In a rush of rebellion, she took it. She had the brief thought that it was almost like a kiss, putting her mouth where his had been, but the idea was shaken when she inhaled nicotine and went into a coughing fit. Petyr began to laugh. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It’s not for everyone. I’m impressed you even tried.”

Sansa giggled mid-cough and handed the cigarette back to him. “Thanks? It’s definitely not what I was expecting.”

“You’ll find that a common occurrence around me.” He cradled the stick between two fingers and took a drag. “You mentioned your brother and sister? I know Robb.”

“Not Robb,” Sansa replied, clearing her throat from the last of the smoke. “I have five siblings, actually. Jon, who’s really my cousin but he was raised with us when his parents died, and Robb, who you know… then me, then Arya, then Bran and Rickon. Arya and Jon are the ones who like Thai.”

“I see. You have quite a large family.”

“My parents both wanted kids. It worked out.”

“So it did.” He gave her a sidelong smile. “Having siblings must be entertaining.”

“You don’t have any?”

Petyr shook his head. “My mother had quite a complicated pregnancy. She was told that she could never have another child after I was born. Too much of a health risk.”

Sansa frowned. She wondered what it would be like to want children, only to find out your body couldn’t deliver. “That must have been awful for her. I bet she held you close, growing up.”

Petyr nodded stiffly. Oops. Sansa sensed his discomfort and squeezed his arm to apologize. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring it up.”

“It’s alright, my dear.” He drew from his cigarette again. “You’ll find it takes a great deal to upset me.”

The Thai restaurant was small, exactly the sort of hole-in-the-wall place that would serve the best food in town. Petyr ordered some type of fried rice with seafood, and Sansa stuck with pad thai, confident in Jeyne’s suggestion. After they received their lunch, Petyr led Sansa deep into Morningside park and found a bench for them. Sansa sat beside him with her box of new food, and after finding her chopsticks, she took a tentative bite. Spice and chicken flavoring made her hum in surprise. This is what Jon and Arya fuss about? she thought. I’ve been missing out all this time.

“So,” said Sansa, stirring the noodles with her chopsticks. “Why did you move all the way to New York? Do you miss Ireland?”

“Is my lost accent so easy to point out?”

“A bit,” chuckled Sansa. “When you use long I sounds, it comes out. My mom was raised in Ireland and we visit at least once a year, so I know the accent when I hear it, even if it’s mostly gone.” She perked up with an idea. “I wonder if you knew her. Her maiden name is Tully? Catelyn Tully?”

Petyr shifted where he sat. His expression was unreadable. “Not sure. It sounds familiar, but I can’t put a face to the name.” Before Sansa could speak again, he touched her hair, rubbing a piece gently between his fingers. “I suspected Irish heritage from you. Pale, red hair and striking blue eyes. Not to mention your ring.” He motioned to the Claddagh ring on her right hand, rose gold with a little diamond, the tip of the heart pointing outward. “Not common for those who don’t know the significance.”

“Oh. Yeah.” Sansa tried not to focus on him touching her hair, how it made her stomach flip. “My mom gave this to me for my eighteenth birthday. Maybe you could meet her sometime. She’s always talking about how much she misses Ireland, so it'd be nice for her to meet someone who understands how she feels.”

“Yes, perhaps.” Petyr shrugged and changed topics. “As for my choice to settle in New York, why not? It’s a lively city full of business and entertainment and political opportunity. I came here about six years ago after retiring from my career as a lobbyist, and haven’t moved since.”

Six years ago I was only twelve. Sansa didn’t let that bother her. “Did you used to live in DC, then?”

“I did, for twenty years or so. I met a great many people there. Politicians, businessmen, celebrities — not terribly unlike New York. I became very wealthy during my time in DC, but I lost interest in the work. Politics these days, they’re pettier and less calculative than they used to be. And the public is more aware of the issues. They can find out who you are and what you’ve done with a few minutes and Google, thanks to the rise of the internet and the sheer speed at which information travels. Back then—”

Sansa burst into laughter. She almost choked on her food, covering her mouth with her free hand to stay polite.

“Is something funny?” Petyr asked, watching her.

“It’s just funny to hear you talk like that. Like a teacher, baby boomer and politician all wrapped up in one.”

“I draw the line at baby boomer,” said Petyr. “That generation came before me. And even if I were a part of it, I’d rather not be associated.”

“Why not?” Sansa took a bite of noodles and moved closer to him.

“I have a long list of reasons. Mostly, I disdain their fear. They’re afraid of everything. Technology, societal progression, innovation and expansion, millennials.” He motioned to Sansa. “And they’re far too patriotic. I can’t imagine being so far up the ass of an idea of a country that they fail to pay attention to the real country’s condition.”

Sansa laughed again. It was admirable, the way Petyr talked about politics and subjects that interested him. Admirable, she thought, and really attractive. “My uncle Brandon would fight you,” she said. “He once got in an argument with my brother about how my generation’s politicians are going to destroy America. He was all, ‘millennials are ruining everything!’ and stuff. Tried to tell Robb to change his major. I can’t stand him.”

“Sounds like an interesting man.” Petyr placed his empty box of rice beside him and leaned back. His arm shamelessly outstretched along the back of the bench, behind her. “I don’t think we’d get along.”

“No, you really wouldn’t.”

Sansa took the last few bites of her pad thai. The food was delicious and the fresh air made her feel worry-free. The feeling of tranquility was different, but welcome. So welcome.

“Can I ask you something?” said Petyr.

Her stomach fluttered. Sansa was aware of how close they were, her thigh brushing his and his arm draped behind her. She swallowed. “Of course.”

“Why haven’t you chosen a major yet?”

Oh. That. Sansa toyed with the end of her skirt, trying to find an answer. “I don’t know. Robb’s following my father into politics, which I really can’t see myself enjoying. For a while I wanted to paint like my mom, but I don’t feel a passion for it. I don’t know what my passion is.” She frowned. “Sometimes I wonder if I even have any.”

“I disagree,” said Petyr. “It comes out in your eyes when you talk about things that excite you. Books, music, art, your friends and family. You are a very passionate girl.”

Sansa couldn’t hide how flattered she was. She looked away from him, unable to stay still if she kept locked with those intense green eyes. “Thanks,” she said, “but I can’t major in friends and family. I could major in art, but what would I do with that? I’m nowhere near as good a painter as my mom. I just don’t know.”

“Give it time. You’ll find where your endless passion is most effective, my dear, I assure you.”

He touched her cheek with tenderness. Sansa managed to look at him again. Petyr’s stare was vigorous as always, but there was a kindness behind it, a genuine interest in her success. Warmth spread through her. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “I really appreciate it.”

“You are most welcome.”

Petyr stood from the bench. He took the empty boxes of Thai and threw them in the trash, and offered his arm to Sansa. “Shall we walk?”

She nodded eagerly. Sansa slipped her arm in his, and together they walked from Morningside Park to upper Manhattan. They stopped in little stores for a bit of window browsing and kept up conversations from one topic to the next. The sun was high and the company was endearing. On a day like this, Sansa didn’t think anything could go wrong.

Until it did.

A tall blonde head poked out from the crowd ahead of them. Coming closer, laughing, walking with her husband.

Brienne Tarth. Her mother’s best friend.

They made eye contact. Sansa immediately turned around. “Oh my God.”

Petyr froze. “Sansa?”

“We need to hide. Like, now.” Frantically, Sansa grabbed Petyr by the wrist and pulled him to the construction site behind them, to a place Brienne couldn’t see. She threw open the nearest door and dragged Petyr inside.

Sansa closed the door of the cramped space and latched it, chest heaving from the rush of fear. Something foul poisoned the air with a horrid stench and the space was so small, her chest nearly touched his.

After a pause, she realized where they were.

An outhouse.

Sansa had dragged her date into an outhouse.

Horror struck her. She stared at Petyr as if he were a speeding car ready to strike her head-on. He was tense all over, shoulders tight and expression forcibly neutral. “Sansa,” he growled quietly, trying not to breathe through his nose. “If you wanted to be alone, all you had to do was ask. But I value hygiene. This is not… ideal.”

Sansa whimpered and covered her face, humiliated. “I’m sorry,” she began, “I’m so sorry. I’m. I just.” Deep breaths. She tried, but the air was revolting. “My mom’s best friend is walking down the street and I think she saw me. I kinda told my mom you were in my class as a student not the teacher, and if Brienne sees me with you she’ll know I’m not actually sort of dating someone my age and she’ll tell my mom and my mom will be upset that I lied, which I don’t normally do, and then my dad will find out and he’ll be so upset that he’ll find some way to make me stop seeing you and end your career and—”

“Sansa.” Petyr took her wrists tenderly, pulling them from her face. She could almost forget about the smell, the embarrassment when she looked in his eyes. “You worry far too much. It’s alright. I understand.” He lifted his hand to touch her chin, brushing her jaw with his thumb, and it calmed her. Sansa knew that if she were to melt into a puddle, an outhouse would be the best place to do so. “What does this woman look like? I can tell you when she’s gone.”

“She — um.” Petyr’s eyes were heated. He was so close to her. “She’s really tall with short blonde hair. She’s an athletic trainer, so she’s pretty muscular. Her husband is blondish too, but she’s more recognizable.”

“Alright. I’ll look for them and tell you when it’s safe to come out.”

Petyr traced his thumb over her lower lip. Sansa knew that if her first kiss was in a port-a-potty, she would never forgive herself, and by some miracle he had the same thought. Petyr pulled away and unlocked the door. He chuckled under his breath, at her, before leaving her alone.

Sansa covered her mouth. It took everything in her not to cry and crawl out of her skin. She made a disgusted face at her surroundings and pulled out her phone, near tears. Like Robb always says, make your fears a joke. Then they’re easier to deal with.

She sent a text to the group chat with her roommates.

oh my g-d. you’re not going to believe where i am right now. im crying.

what happened?? asked Myrcella.

don’t tell me your at his place already, said Jeyne.

no no. worse. Sansa shook her head in shame. much worse.

She told them the situation. In response, Arianne sent about twenty laughing emojis and Myrcella sent incoherent letters of laughter.

OH MY GOD, texted Jeyne. THIS IS BEING SCREENCAPPED.

Sansa groaned. She locked her phone and toyed with her bottom lip, where Petyr had touched, trying to resist biting her nails. Her hands began to shake. One of the many anxious traits she shared with Robb.

After centuries of waiting, a knock came at the door. Sansa opened it, hoping it wasn’t some stranger or construction worker, but she was pleased to see Petyr’s smirk. “It’s alright,” he said, offering his hand. “You can come out now.”

Sansa, red-faced, took his hand and stepped out into fresh air. She couldn’t think of anything to say. She kept her head down, let go of his hand and rubbed her arms. “I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed, you have no idea. I can’t believe that—”

“Enough,” said Petyr, calmly but sternly. He placed his hands on her arms and warmed her in seconds. His disdain for the outhouse had been replaced with unhidden amusement. “You did nothing wrong, my dear. You worry too much. If something was wrong, I would tell you.” His hands slid down her arms. Sansa tried not to shudder, suddenly grateful for her coat. Petyr took her hands and kissed them. “Do you trust me?”

Sansa didn’t know why, but her answer was confident. “Yes.”

“Good.” Petyr pulled away. “We should get you back to your dorm. I would hate to have an awkward run-in with your family friend.”

“That’s… good idea,” said Sansa with a breathless laugh. She fell in beside him when they started walking. The way he’d spoken to her took all the anxiety away, and she wanted to know why. Was it the depth of his voice? His touch? She wasn’t sure. But in attempt to savor that security, she reached for his hand and held it tight. He squeezed her fingers in approval.

So much for just friends.

Petyr and Sansa came to the intersection where they’d met, where they would part ways. He stood in front of her, holding her hands, a grin on his lips. “See me again.”

Okay, she almost said. Tomorrow. The day after, and the day after that. But Sansa was smart enough to separate excitement from logic. “I don’t know,” she said hesitantly. “I want to, but we were almost caught this time. I can’t imagine what my mom would do if she found out before I could tell her.”

“I understand.” Petyr stepped closer. “Later, then.”

Petyr hooked his thumb under her chin. Sansa nearly stopped breathing. He turned her head to the side and pressed a long kiss near the corner of her mouth. Don’t do that, she thought, her skin catching fire where his hands were. Just kiss me. Please, please kiss me. But Sansa was too nervous, and he pulled away before she could make that mistake. Only when he’d left did Sansa remember to inhale.

A decent man would have insisted that she tell her mother the truth. But Petyr Baelish was not a decent man, and Sansa was starting to realize how much she enjoyed it.

Chapter Text


OCTOBER 20th, 2015

Petyr’s promise of classroom restraint had long since been broken. Subtle changes over the past month were made solely for her, from Petyr rolling up his sleeves every day, to individually assigned seating, moving Sansa to the front row. Longer class discussions meant Petyr could test her knowledge, sometimes to her grief, all while walking far too close to the edge of her desk. But since their almost-run-in with Brienne, Petyr hadn’t asked to see Sansa outside of class. Texting had dwindled to a handful of messages a day. Sansa didn’t have the guts to ask Petyr if he was angry with her, but there was a shift in whatever weird not-friendship they’d developed. It left her starving for his attention.

“I don’t know,” Sansa complained, laying down on Myrcella’s bed while her roommate folded clothes. “Maybe he doesn’t like me anymore.”

“You’re overthinking it,” said Myrcella. “He’s a teacher. He’s probably busy writing up midterms.”

Sansa hadn’t thought about that. “I don’t know.” A pause. “Ugh, it makes class such a problem, too. It’s like he’s taunting me or something.”

“I can’t even imagine.” Myrcella started a new pile for folded shirts. Everything was neatly stacked, almost professional. “You shouldn’t have gone out with him and been all romantic. Didn’t your mom say you should just be friends?”

“Yeah.”

“And?”

Sansa sighed and stared at the ceiling. She remembered how Petyr had touched her with those older hands, softly kissed her cheek, spoke low when it was just the two of them. His near obsessive attention had made her feel special. It would be easier to move on if he wasn’t so attractive. “I don’t want to be just friends, Elle. I’m going crazy.”

“You definitely are.”

Myrcella continued folding. Sansa took a few minutes to check her social media, trying to keep her mind off of Petyr and whatever his withdrawal was doing to her, but before long her mind was on him again. He’d pursued her with coffee and Thai. Sansa wondered if his refusal to ask her out again was his attempt to make her run after him. The thought was frustrating. Maybe that’s the point.

“Theoretically,” said Sansa, “if I wanted to entice a guy, what would I do?”

Myrcella laughed. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I’m serious. You know I’ve never done this before.” Sansa sat upright, her legs swinging off the bed. “What did you do to get my brother to ask you out?”

Myrcella foraged through the hamper of clean clothes. “Two things. First, it’s the 21st century. If you want to go on another date with Petyr, just ask him. And second…” She tossed something black to Sansa. “Wear this.”

Sansa held up the piece of clothing: a crudely, sinfully short black skirt. She burst into nervous laughter. “Are you serious?”

“Listen.” Myrcella leaned forward. “If there’s one thing I know about guys, no matter how old they are, it’s this: he won’t be able to ignore you if you show him what you want.”

Sansa blinked. “Wow, Elle. I didn’t think you were so bold.”

“I’m not. That’s just what Arianne told me. I asked Robb out to Dairy Queen.”

The girls shared a laugh. Sansa draped the skirt across her lap, considering it as if it were permanent, like a tattoo. “I don’t know how I feel about this. I’m gonna get so many gross looks from guys on campus, and I hate being catcalled. It makes me so uncomfortable.”

“Me too.” Myrcella sighed. “Yeah, you’re probably right. But the point still stands. You can go get him if you really want to, Sansa. You have the power.”

There was a thrill in her friend’s suggestion, a touch of the dangerous pull Sansa’d been drawn by since the first day she’d walked into class. Petyr was playing a game of seduction with her. Propriety aside, maybe she could play it, too.

Sansa got up off Myrcella’s bed and made for the hall. “Wait,” said Myrcella. “What are you going to do?”

“Oh, you know.” Sansa winked. “I’m gonna make him chase me.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

OCTOBER 23rd, 2015

I should not be making him chase me.

Sansa stared at herself in the mirror. A cropped sweater and Myrcella’s miniskirt were a fashion statement, but she still felt naked with her legs so exposed. The weather was cooling. Surely she’d freeze.

“Well,” said Jeyne. “You certainly look… aesthetic?”

“You look shexy,” said Arianne, leaning against the doorframe, her toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. “You could do shome shweet Pinteresht modeling right now. Jusht get shome hot picturesh with your daddy and you’ll be famoush in a week.”

Jeyne laughed and playfully shoved Arianne out of the room. Sansa didn’t step in on the joke, too focused on what she saw in the mirror. I do look good, she decided, her long red hair and lashes making an image of innocence. Something about it made her feel invincible. Like she could take any man she wanted and drag him across campus by the hair, and they’d thank her.

Sansa’s roommates wished her good luck. She left for class feeling confident, but the moment she stepped outside, her confidence washed away in a tide of insecurity.

Sansa felt every eye in the classroom on her when she walked in, fussing to keep her skirt down. Petyr wasn’t there yet. Someone whistled at her. Sansa fought to keep her mouth shut and sat in her seat in the front row, cheeks flushing red. This was a huge mistake.

The clock chimed nine. Petyr entered the room from his office, holding a plastic bin which he placed on the center table. “You know the drill,” he told his class, and they did. The bin was for completed essays. Students rose from their seats to turn in their work, but Sansa waited, watching each person pass and return before finding the end of the line. Now would be the perfect opportunity. You can do this, Sansa thought, heart pounding. If you don’t, there’s no point. With a deep breath, she stood from her seat with her finished essay — a comparative work on the effects of capitalism — and approached the front table.

Petyr turned from where he was writing on the chalkboard. His eyes roamed from her head down her body, to bare legs and pale skin. He stared at her. Heatedly. Petyr’s gaze was ice and fire all at once, burning Sansa but making her shiver. “Here you go, Professor,” she said meekly. Sansa dropped her essay in the bin and turned to take her seat.

When she sat down again, her anxiety was gone, replaced with feminine power.

Petyr didn’t seem to know what to do. He chuckled to himself, Sansa heard it, taking the bin of essays and setting them aside. He started the lesson without a hitch, but she noticed a sudden energy in the way he moved.

Sansa didn’t let her control slip away; she’d decided this game was fun. She sat with her legs uncrossed — not parted, though, she wasn’t immodest — just enough to encourage his imagination. She wanted him to think about her. It worked, briefly. Petyr stared at her legs under her desk before turning away. Halfway through the lesson, Sansa locked eyes with him. Took the end of her pencil coyly between her teeth. Petyr missed a beat, smirked and recovered to continue his lecture, and didn’t look at her again. Sansa had to bite her lip to keep from laughing aloud at how ridiculous she felt.

After an hour of lecture, Sansa was certain she was the only student who didn’t remember a thing.

“Miss Stark,” said Petyr once class had ended. “A word.”

Oh, no. Sansa had expected a text from him hours later, not total confrontation. Her chest began to flutter. She waited until the other students had left before standing from her chair, moving toward Petyr’s table with her hands behind her back. She willed herself to stay dominant. “Yes, Professor?”

Petyr’s lip twitched. He leaned back against the table and motioned her forward with his finger. “Come here.”

The words shivered through her. Sansa wanted to come closer — to sit on his lap, of all things — but wearing the skirt wasn’t supposed to give Petyr an easy victory. It was meant to show him what he’d been missing. “I shouldn’t,” she said. “I need to get to my next class pretty soon.”

“May I come to you?”

“I don’t know. You haven’t asked me out in a month, why would you want to come closer now?”

Petyr quirked mouth, unable to stay still. “Is that was this is, then? You wore this… beautiful skirt, for me? To make me want you?”

“Maybe.” Sansa folded her arms over her chest. “Maybe I wore it for someone else.”

“Perhaps.”

Petyr pushed away from the table, stripping her bare with his eyes alone. Sansa swallowed her anxiety when he closed the distance between them. “What are you doing for Halloween?”

“P-Plans,” she blurted. “I have them.” Chase me, you idiot. Sansa moved away from Petyr to pick up her backpack; if she was too close to him, she would lose his game before it really began.

“How would I go about planning more time with you, Miss Stark?”

Sansa looked at him over her shoulder. Petyr’s eyes were dark, heavy, so attentive that her skin prickled. Instead of shying away, she flashed him a grin. “Maybe you should text me about it.”

Sansa left him with his frustration, feeling like the most powerful woman alive.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

OCTOBER 26th, 2015

Petyr didn’t text her all weekend. Sansa went to class the following Monday worrying that she’d done something wrong, that Myrcella’s advice was incorrect and the first person Sansa’d ever felt something for was now out of her reach. She’d waited by her phone for hours that Friday, convinced she’d left Petyr eager enough to schedule a time to meet. He hadn’t said a word. Robb told her to be patient, but she didn’t want to be. She wanted to know if Petyr was wasting her time.

Sansa sat down at her desk in the front row of the room, not wearing anything special. Petyr entered the lecture hall, sleeves rolled up, carrying a stack of papers which he passed out one by one. “I graded your essays over the weekend,” he said, weaving in and out of the rows. “Your grades will be posted online this afternoon. Quite frankly, most of you failed. I don’t offer redo’s. I suggest you pour over the notes I left and learn from your mistakes.”

Sansa looked up at Petyr when he passed her. He placed her essay on her desk, and continued.

She flipped the packet over.

B-.

What? Sansa stared at the cover page, speechless. B-? I’ve never gotten anything less than an A. She watched Petyr walk around the room as if desperation would call him back. He never looked at her. Not once.

Sansa didn’t feel worried about his attention anymore. She felt angry.

After receiving a cold shoulder from Petyr, Sansa left class, determined to come back to confront him. This wasn’t the man who’d bought her Thai and held her hand down the street, nor was it the man who’d flirted for hours over text and kissed her cheek like he wished it was her mouth. She wanted to know why. At four in the afternoon, Sansa returned to Petyr’s office, the Stark temper getting the best of her when the door slammed at her back.

Petyr looked up from the notes on his desk. And damn him, he smiled.

They were alone in the office. Sansa tried not to choke on the tension and palpable silence. She offered her paper to him. “You, um. You gave me a poor grade.” A pause. “Sorry about the door.”

Petyr studied her a moment before summoning her with a flick of his hand. Sansa came forward, handing him the essay when he reached for it. He read the B- at the top. “I was under the impression you wanted me to grade you fairly.”

“I — well, yeah, but this isn’t fair grading.”

He raised a brow. “How so?”

He’s messing with me. Sansa took a deep breath to keep steady. “You — you graded my grammar, not the content of the paper. I have incredible grammar, Mr. Baelish. Even my AP English teacher said so.”

“Is this AP English?”

She faltered. “No.”

“No. This is college -level English. You’re held to higher standards here.” He handed her essay back to her. “You need to learn the difference between ‘as though’ and ‘as if’. The former is used for terms you’re certain of while the latter is mostly theoretical. Not to mention your lack of understanding in the usage of the Oxford comma.” Petyr stood from his swivel chair to move to the bookshelf. “I don’t accept re-do’s, Miss Stark. Good day.”

Sansa stared. Glared. She knew why Petyr was doing this, what he wanted out of her. She’d made him chase her and his response was to flip the table. Again.

“No,” said Sansa, straightening her back. “Fix it now.”

He turned to her. “Pardon?”

Sansa dropped her paper on his desk and folded her arms. “You’re doing this because I told you I had plans for Halloween. You saw me in a skirt and you got all upset because I couldn’t go on a date with you. So now you’re punishing my grade.”

Petyr’s neutral expression broke into the widest of smirks. Sansa tried to keep it from affecting her, but her efforts were in vain. His face was wicked and his eyes moreso. If the devil were real, he’d be the one behind a smile like that.

Petyr moved toward her. Sansa matched each step he made backwards until she felt the bookcase against her back. There was nowhere else to go. Still, he advanced. “Do you think me so foolish, Sansa? I know why you said you had plans, and I know why you wore that little skirt. You want my attention.” Petyr stopped within arm’s reach. “You crave it.”

“You’re wrong,” she muttered. The temperature in her body rose thirty degrees. “I was — I was wearing that skirt for someone else.”

“Who?”

“My boyfriend.”

“You don’t have a boyfriend.”

Petyr stepped closer, so close she could feel his breath. Sansa didn’t know how to fight him. He was taking advantage of her lack of experience and she’d been dumb enough to think she could beat him. What’s worse, she was beginning to like losing.

“Perhaps I’ll change your grade if you admit the truth,” Petyr said, voice low like a growl.

Sansa could hardly speak. “Only if you admit that you gave me a low grade as punishment.”

“If I were punishing you, Sansa, it would look quite different.”

She swallowed hard. “Maybe you should show me.”

They held each other’s gaze. Sansa felt his fingers in her hair, and swiftly, she resigned to fate.

Petyr leaned in and kissed her. A powerful heat bloomed in Sansa’s chest, gentle and undemanding, as though he knew she’d never been kissed before. He tasted of mint. His hand rested on her hip and his mouth moved slow. Sansa tested the waters of new contact, brushing her lips against his and kissing him back. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders before she could come to her senses, and at the confirmation of consent, Petyr continued. The moves of their mouths were foreign but thrilling. Sansa wondered if this was what birds felt like when they flew.

Petyr gripped her hip tight and pulled her against him, his mouth pressing harder to hers. Sansa parted her lips when his tongue begged entry. The set of new sensations was overwhelming, making her pulse in places she didn’t know she had, so strong that she moaned. Sansa’s knees grew weak under the softness of his tongue. Petyr knew what he was doing, kissing her with such fervent expertise that he left her breathless. His hands moved under her shirt and up her bare sides, making her squirm, and when Petyr kissed down her neck she was completely lost. His mustache tickled her skin and made her sigh. She closed her eyes to focus on the feeling, on the power and command his body had over hers.

It wasn’t until he reached for her bra that Sansa’s trance broke. No bra meant no clothes, and no clothes meant going farther than she wanted. With her teacher. “Wait,” she panicked, pushing against him. “Wait, stop. Stop.”

Petyr pulled back without argument. Sansa couldn’t read him, but she didn’t have time, the anxiety of a bad decision making her feel like she would vomit. She rushed out from between him and the bookshelf and snatched her essay from the desk. “I have to go.”

“Sansa—”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Confused and afraid, she fled before he could stop her.

Chapter Text


OCTOBER 31st, 2015

Sansa hadn’t said a word to him since the kiss. Petyr caught her staring in class when she thought he couldn’t see — she wasn’t as subtle as she may have hoped — but it wasn’t enough to clear the tension between them. She looked ashamed. Conflicted, even.

Petyr hadn’t expected to be conflicted, too.

“Fuck it,” Petyr muttered, capping his pen in defeat. He’d been trying to correct quizzes from his political philosophy class since four, but he couldn’t settle into a focused mindset. His thoughts were consumed by Sansa. He resigned to go home for the night, packing his laptop and the papers he’d yet to grade in his suitcase. Maybe he could think easier without the office surrounding him — the same office Sansa had been in only days ago.

Petyr locked the door and set out across campus. His mind returned to Sansa immediately. She was a virgin, that much was clear. She’d never been kissed, yet Petyr had shown no shame in slipping her the tongue. Her lips were so sweet, just as sweet as the rest of her mouth, her hips, her skin when he touched her. The smell of Sansa’s hair was intoxicating like wine and her little moan played on repeat in his head, that soft oh between breaths. Her Tully eyes haunted him something fierce. Fitting, for Halloween night.

“Littlefinger,” called a sultry voice. Petyr turned. Cersei Lannister stood with her hands clasped in front of her, dressed elegantly with a smile on her face. “I hoped I would run into you.”

“Ms. Lannister,” Petyr said in surprise. “A pleasure, as always.” He looked around. “I didn’t think to see you on campus.”

“I decided to take my daughter out to lunch. The less time she spends among her roommates, the better.”

Petyr knew not to ask about that. Myrcella had been a pain for Cersei ever since she’d gone behind her back and signed up to be roommates with Sansa. “I’m glad you and your daughter have found a way to reconnect,” said Petyr. He didn’t mean it, but kind words got him far where the Lannisters were concerned. “Can I ask why you hoped to see me? Meeting without an appointment must mean the subject matter is important.”

Cersei waved her hand. “Walk with me.”

Petyr would not refuse. He kept pace with Cersei, on their way to the parking lot at the front of the school. “I thought I might ask you about your progress with Sansa Stark.”

Of course she did. Cersei was always shoving her nose in Petyr’s business, but it irritated him that she’d dropped her shit on his doorstep. “I’m not too far from success,” said Petyr. “Considering you don’t need any information for several months, I’m confident I’ll have all you need before the stakes start to rise.”

“Ned Stark will announce his campaign tomorrow. She hasn’t talked about it?”

“No. I’ve been more focused on wooing her than asking about politics.”

Cersei gave him a measuring look. “My father is not against using other, more direct methods to gain the Stark secrets, you know. Your role is expendable. We don't pay failures.”

Petyr stopped in front of his Bentley, pulling his keys from the pocket of his slacks. His irritation was thinly veiled. “You should know by now that I am always successful.”

“There’s a first time for everything. But I’ll sleep easier at night, knowing your ego is just as spirited as ever.” Cersei sneered. “Keep me informed.”

Cersei left him standing in the parking lot. Petyr twirled his keys, thinking. Whatever the Lannister plans were for the Starks, they had already been laid, and Cersei’s hovering told him it wouldn’t end well.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

As expected, coming home didn’t chase away Petyr’s distraction. The view of the sparkling city from the windows of his penthouse was relaxing to a menial degree, but it wasn’t enough. Petyr craved Sansa. Her lips, her sounds, her touch. Perhaps it’d been too long since he’d been with someone. Yes, that’s all it was. Everything would be better when he finally fucked her. All he had to do was wait.

Petyr decided to send Sansa a text, just to see what ground he’d lost, if any. He retrieved his phone. Still have those plans? he asked.

Something furry moved between his ankles. Petyr looked down to the small gray cat, her dark eyes staring up at him expectantly. “Your fur is getting on my slacks,” he reprimanded. “Is it time for dinner?”

The cat meowed at him. Petyr leaned down, picked her up under his arm and carried her to the kitchen counter. He fed her well. Only the finest. Olyvar had bought Petyr the feline after he lost a bet on whether or not Renly Baratheon would come out this year. He’d thought about selling her, but the cat, still unnamed, had grown on him. Petyr opened a fresh can of food and fed her before she started clawing things.

His phone dinged. Petyr checked it. Sansa had sent him a picture of her and her friend, both smiling, dressed as Disney princesses. The brunette was Belle and Sansa was Ariel. Her message read: yep, here’s proof. going to a party. jealous? :)

Not in the slightest, he replied, glad to know he wasn’t dead to her. Have fun. Don’t forget your homework.

A knock came at the door. Petyr checked his watch: 9:27. He was angry at first — who the hell sent trick-or-treaters to his penthouse? — but the anger was gone in an instant. He knew who’d come. Petyr opened the door to see Mayana waiting with pizza and beer on the other side.

“Happy Halloween!” she greeted, pushing past him to set her things on the counter. Mayana made a point to come over every Halloween night. Petyr never invited her; she just came on her own.

“You’re a bit later than usual,” said Petyr, closing the door behind her. “Not that I said you could come.”

“Yeah, sorry. I was at a party but I ended up covered in caramel, so I had to take a shower.”

Petyr didn’t ask for an explanation. He returned to his place on the couch and grabbed the pile of ungraded quizzes, bringing them in his lap.

“We should watch something funny,” said Mayana from the kitchen. “We watched scary shit last year.” She brought the box of pizza into the living room. “Want a piece?”

“I’m grading papers.”

“You don’t want to be grading papers, though.”

Petyr sighed. Perhaps the way to take his mind off of Sansa would be distracting himself with company instead of work. He put the quizzes aside and pulled a piece of pizza from the box. Mayana handed him a napkin; she knew he couldn’t stand the grease.

“So,” said Mayana, sitting down and kicking her feet up on the coffee table. “Tell me about Sansa.”

First Cersei, now her. “What is there to talk about? I’ve told you everything.”

“Yeah, but you weren’t as…” She made a vague, suggestive gesture. “You know.”

He raised his brow.

“You weren’t as gross about it.”

“I wasn’t as descriptive, you mean.”

Mayana scoffed. “Sure, if that’s what you call it.”

Petyr took a bite of pizza. Despite the subject of Sansa, he always felt more at ease when he was around Mayana. He never had to impress her. “Do you want me to go into detail?” he asked wickedly. “I would be happy to tell you what her lips tasted like, the feel of her skin under my hands, the way she—”

“Jesus Christ, stop.”

“Why should I?” Petyr smirked. “She moaned for me, right into my mouth. Her breasts were perfectly pressed against my chest. She was warm, Mayana, her lips were wet and—”

“Shut up!” Mayana snatched a pillow and threw it in his face. “Petyr fucking Baelish, you are the most disgusting human being. Don’t give yourself a hard-on.”

After a few minutes of scrolling through channels, Mayana chose to watch Young Frankenstein. Classic. She grabbed a beer as the introductory credits rolled.

“So.”

“So?”

“What are you gonna do if you wind up liking her?”

Petyr turned to her. “Mayana.”

“What? You never know.”

“Yes you do. I don’t like people and I don’t trust them. You know me better than to think I’ll fall in love.”

Mayana chuckled. “I didn’t say anything about love.”

“Why are you so intent on talking about her?” Petyr inquired. “Is it because my sex life is suddenly more interesting than yours?”

“My sex life is just fine”

“I don’t see how one night stands with gay couples from Tinder is any less scandalous than wooing a student.”

“It’s totally different,” defended Mayana. “I’m having fun. I’m not abusing any power I have over another human being. You’re taking advantage of your position over a teenage girl.”

Petyr shrugged, leaning back on the couch. “Who said I’m not having fun?”

Mayana made a rude noise.

“I knew you were on Ros’s side in all this.”

“Yeah, well. I’d still like to see you fall for someone. Put you in line a little bit.”

Petyr shook his head and turned up the TV volume. “Keep wishing.”

The movie went on without much conversation. Mel Brooks was a comedy genius according to Mayana, and while Petyr was mostly indifferent, he enjoyed the film all the same. It came to the part where Frankenstein’s monster had kidnapped Madeline Kahn, impressed her with the size of his cock and crawled on top of her, and before long she was singing; “oh, sweet mystery of life, I’ve finally found you!”

Petyr’s cell phone rang. He checked the number. “Sansa?”

“Now you’re talkin’.”

“No, she’s calling me.” He blinked. “She’s at a party with her friends, why would she be calling?”

“Who the hell cares?” said Mayana. “Answer it.”

Petyr shot her a look before standing from the couch. He walked into the other room and answered the phone. “Sansa?”

“Petyr,” Sansa groaned. “Peeeetyyyyrrrr.”

Something was wrong, he could hear it in the tremble of her voice. “Sansa? Are you alright?”

“Please, please help me, please…” Someone in the background was banging on the door, shouting.

“Sansa?” Petyr demanded. “Where are you? What’s going on?”

“Ramsay gave me a d-drink,” she whimpered, “but it wasn’t right. I’m in… in the bathroom. Locked inside. I didn’t want him to hurt me…”

Petyr was already grabbing his coat. “Don’t let him in, no matter what he says. Bar the door.”

“I can barely move,” she complained. “I can’t… I can’t…”

Petyr’s heart pounded in his chest. He felt like vomiting. “I’m bringing the police. I’ll be there as soon as I can, sweetling.”

“What’s going on?” Mayana asked from the living room. “Petyr?”

“Sansa needs me,” he replied, grabbing his keys from the counter and dialing 911 with shaking thumbs.

Uncharacteristically afraid, Petyr left.

Chapter Text


OCTOBER 31st, 2015

The bathroom of the girls’ dorm room was shoved full with the four of them. All doing their makeup, blasting classic Disney tunes and fussing over each other’s costumes. Halloween was one of the best holidays, Sansa had known that since childhood. But she’d only come to appreciate it as an adult. No dad to control what she could and couldn’t wear, no mom patrolling the neighborhoods with her to trick-or-treat, or worse: making Sansa patrol with her siblings, sucking out all the fun. Tonight was just about music and booze, the latter of which Sansa didn’t much enjoy, but she felt it would be exciting nonetheless.

“I’m so glad Jeyne talked you into this,” said Arianne as she finished applying scarlet lipstick. She’d gotten sick of everyone telling her she should go as Jasmine because she had the right “background,” so she’d decided to go as Snow White to piss people off. “You’re going to have a blast. Frat parties are always a riot.”

“How do you know?” asked Myrcella, a beautiful and dainty Cinderella. “Have you been to a frat party before?”

Arianne just smirked.

“I’m nervous,” Sansa admitted. “I’ve never been to any party before, not even in high school. I’m not like Robb and Theon. I don’t even like alcohol.”

“You don’t have to like alcohol to have a good time,” said Jeyne. She was curling her lashes, finishing the final touches on her Belle costume. “We can meet some new people and dance and just let loose. Live a little, Sansa. You’re too stressed out.”

Jeyne was right about that, at least. Sansa had been so upset after Petyr’s kiss, that kiss, the one that gave her sleepless nights and a throbbing core, haunting every waking thought. She couldn’t stop thinking about his perfect hands, how wonderful he smelled, how his lips moved and tasted and felt, the sound of his sighs…

“Sansa!” Jeyne snapped her fingers in front of her face.

“What?” barked Sansa.

“I asked if you wanted to tell someone else where we’re going, just in case.”

Sansa pondered for a moment. She didn’t want to come across as a wet blanket on the party. Jeyne had been so excited to get out of the dorm and experience a bit of college life; the invitation from Ramsay Bolton had her bouncing off the walls for a week. “Um… I’m sure it’ll be fine,” Sansa decided. “If anything happens I can just call Theon to walk me back to the dorm. He’s in the frat neighborhood too.”

“That’s true.” Jeyne beamed and rubbed Sansa’s arms. “It’s all gonna be peachy keen, okay? Don’t worry tonight. Let it all go. Petyr, grades, money, everything.”

“Don’t call him by his first name,” groaned Arianne. “I’ll vomit.”

“Calling him Creepy Pete is more appropriate.” Myrcella winked at Sansa. “I’m just kidding.”

“Kidding?” said Arianne. “The only thing I’m gonna call him is Creepy Pete from now on. Watch me.”

The girls cackled together. Maybe they’re right, Sansa thought, smiling at her blue Ariel dress and big matching bow. She gave herself the benefit of a girlish twirl. I deserve a night to relax.

Someone knocked on the front door. “It’s Robb,” cooed Myrcella, rushing from the bathroom. Sansa heard them greet each other as “Princess” and “Your Highness,” followed by kissing sounds. The remaining roommates all shared looks of disgust.

“Robb!” Sansa scolded, coming out into the living room. She found her flats and slipped them on. “Stop being gross in my house.”

Robb’s genuine smile was both irritating and welcomed. He was dressed like a handsome prince right out of a storybook, and Myrcella matched him so perfectly that Sansa knew they’d win best costume at whatever party they attended. “Maybe you should find a prince charming of your own,” Robb quipped. “Have your mysterious Peter dress up as Eric.”

“No,” said Sansa, “he’s more the Hades type.”

Robb raised his brow. Sansa, refusing to elaborate, grabbed her coat and Jeyne’s hand. “We’re leaving now. Have fun, nerds.”

Robb, Myrcella and Arianne wished them a quick goodbye. Jeyne and Sansa scurried out of the building and into the night, on their way to the fraternity neighborhood and Ramsay Bolton’s party.

Sansa was barely halfway to their destination before her feet began to drag. Her thoughts became heavy as they’d been before, heavy with want and confusion and doubt all surrounding him. He hadn’t texted her since the kiss — what if he’d gotten frustrated and moved on? She let out a sad sigh.

“Oh my God,” groaned Jeyne. “We are not back on this.” Jeyne turned and walked backwards so she could face Sansa. “Listen. This whole thing with your professor is super sketch. I know I was supportive at first, but giving you a low grade just to make out with you and try to fuck you is skeevy as hell. He’s using you.”

“I just don’t know,” Sansa replied. She rubbed her arms in frustration. “You aren’t there when we talk. He’s kind to me. He’s intelligent and engaging and I really do like him. He’s just… I don’t know. Unsure, maybe?”

“I guess.” Jeyne shrugged and turned around again. “Doesn’t change the fact that he scared you.”

“He didn’t scare me. I scared myself. You know how my anxiety gets.”

“That’s fair,” said Jeyne. “Just be on your guard. You don’t need some jerk to screw up your college career before it even begins.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Jeyne huffed. Strange silent moments passed. “You know, if a teacher made out with me in his office, I’d probably just fuck him.”

Sansa gasped and smacked her friend on the shoulder. “Jeyne!”

“What? Maybe I’m a little jealous.” Jeyne chuckled and wrapped her arm around Sansa. “I don’t want you to get hurt. My best friend’s first romance is no joke, you know? I love you and I want you to be happy.”

“Thanks. I love you too. Sorry for being such a grump.”

“You’re not being a grump,” Jeyne assured. “But even when you are, you’re my grump.” Jeyne rested her head on Sansa’s. The girls warmly embraced until Sansa’s phone vibrated. She pulled it from her pocket.

From: Him
Still have those plans?

“Ohhh,” cooed Jeyne. “Tell him it’s too late. You can’t back out of this party.”

“I know, I know.” Still, Sansa was beaming. Petyr had chased her after all. She stopped walking to think over her response. “What should I say?”

“I don’t know! Be cheeky. Tease him?”

“Maybe.” Sansa bounced on her toes as an idea came to her. “Let’s take a picture.”

“No! I don’t want that perv to have me on his phone.”

“Please, Jeyne? You can stand behind me.” Sansa stuck out her bottom lip in a fake pout. “This would be a good way to tease him.”

Jeyne groaned in slow defeat. “Okay, fine.” She pulled up the front of her dress to hide her cleavage. “But the pic is mostly you.”

Sansa positioned herself in front of Jeyne, smiled, and snapped a picture. She sent it off to Petyr with a flirty message and a giggle. Her Halloween night was going much better all of a sudden.

“You got it bad,” commented Jeyne as they kept walking. “You’re gonna fall all over his dumb ass in a matter of days.”

“Shut up. Besides, I’m not the one who was all ‘oooo’ about Mr. Bolton’s Monster Mash.”

Jeyne rolled her eyes in reply. She looped her arm with Sansa’s, and the two friends continued on.

The fraternity house of Phi Kappa Psi was decorated beyond anything Sansa had ever seen. Spider webs and creepy lawn decorations and blacklights, fake skeletons and hanging bodies and blood and fog machines. Booming music was heard from outside, accompanied by raucous laughter. A few drunkards loitered on the porch. Sansa clutched Jeyne’s hand on instinct.

“Relax,” whispered Jeyne as she led Sansa to the house. “We’re gonna have fun.” But Sansa was beginning to doubt. She didn’t recognize anyone she saw, a mishmash of college kids in a wide range of costumes. The lights were too dim for her to make out anyone’s faces and the macabre décor was too much for her. Still, Sansa tried to stay positive for Jeyne. She could deal with this place for a few hours, couldn’t she? She’d suffered Arya and home life well enough.

“Jeyne!” shouted a dark-haired man across the room, dressed like a serial killer in a hockey mask. He pulled it up over his head to show his face. His smile was handsome. “I’m glad you’re here. I was starting to think you wouldn’t come.”

“No worries,” said a bubbly Jeyne. “We were just a little late. Oh! Ramsay, this is Sansa. Sansa, Ramsay.”

Sansa offered her hand. Ramsay stared at her, unblinking, a twist of a smile on his lips. She almost pulled her hand away until he clasped it in his own, shaking it in a way that made her uneasy. “Nice to meet you,” she muttered.

“You’re Ariel? That’s a good choice.” He touched her hair. “Very fitting. The hair isn’t the right color, though.”

“No one has bright red hair like hers.” Sansa fidgeted with her hands. “There’s no reason to wear a wig when I have it naturally.”

Ramsay’s grin curled with amusement. “That’s a fair point.” He let go of her hair. “There’s food and drinks in the kitchen and more on the table. But I think you should dance with me first, to warm you up.” He eyed both girls intently.

“Um.” Sansa shifted. “Maybe in a bit.”

Ramsay pursed his lips. “I’ll come back later to check on you.” He touched Jeyne’s arm, smiled, and left without a goodbye.

“He’s… interesting,” said Sansa.

“Yeah. He’s kinda quiet in class, but he’s crazy hot. I think he likes you.” Jeyne tugged on her sleeve. “Dance with me, at least?”

“Noooo,” moaned Sansa. “You know I don’t like dancing in front of people.”

“This isn’t one of your ballet recitals from eighth grade. Come on!”

Jeyne took Sansa by the hand and led her to the living room, a crowded space filled with music and people and flashing white lights. Per Jeyne’s advice, Sansa tried to enjoy herself. She danced for a few songs here and there through the hour that passed. A tipsy Jeyne eventually went off to mingle. Sansa would’ve joined her under different circumstances, but she had to work up the nerve first. It wasn’t that Sansa wasn’t social; quite the opposite, really, but these people didn’t look friendly to her. She saw football players and drunk cheerleaders making out on the couch, games of strip poker and beer pong in the dining room. She tried to talk with a few students she didn’t know about their classes and campus life, but before long she lost Jeyne to the crowd and was completely on her own. It occurred to Sansa over time why she didn’t know anyone — they were all seniors.

“You look uncomfortable!” shouted a voice over the booming music. Sansa turned. Ramsay stood behind her.

“It’s really loud in here!” she called back. “Just not my scene!”

He motioned to the kitchen with his hand outstretched. “Let me get you a drink! I’ve got gizmos and gadgets a-plenty!”

Sansa had to laugh. So he’d seen The Little Mermaid, good for him. She thought about Jeyne’s earlier encouragement and took Ramsay’s hand, letting him lead her from the club-like living room and into the kitchen. There were empty bottles and plates everywhere.

“Fucking Christ, it’s loud in there.” Ramsay pointed to the table behind Sansa. “You should eat something before I get us some shots.”

“I don’t really drink,” said Sansa, but she wandered to the table all the same.

“You want thing-a-ma-bobs?” joked Ramsay. “I got twenty.”

Sansa chuckled. “Disney fan, are you?”

“Only if the girls look like you. Take your pick, princess.” He gestured to the table and moved beside her. Jell-o shots, spiked juice that looked like blood, rum chocolates and more. Sansa settled for a few potato chips in a plastic bowl. “Have you tried the punch?” Ramsay asked. “I made it myself. It’s very delicious.”

“I haven’t yet, no.”

“It has Malibu mixed in.” He leaned down to examine the punch bowl. “Mm, no, wait. I’ll make you a fresh cup with less alcohol. Be right back.” Ramsay placed his hand on her back, winked, and left.

Sansa didn’t know what to do to pass the time. She stood there by herself, eating her chips and wondering how soon she could leave before Jeyne would consider her a party pooper. Through the open archway, Sansa noticed her friend playing pool with a few cheerleaders in the other room. They waved at each other.

As promised, Ramsay came back and offered Sansa a cup of blood-red punch. Combined with his costume, he looked slightly sadistic. “Made especially for you,” he told her. “Just a touch of rum. Try it. You’ll like it.”

“Oh, that’s really kind of you. Thank you.” Not wanting to be rude, Sansa accepted, bringing the cup to her lips for a sip. To her surprise, the liquid didn’t taste much like alcohol at all and was just as sweet as Ramsay had promised. She smiled when he did. “Okay, you win. It’s really good.”

“I’m happy you think so.” He leaned on the wall near where she stood, taking a drink of his own. “What’s your favorite Disney movie?”

Maybe he does like me. Sansa shrugged. “I don’t know. I love The Little Mermaid of course, but Princess and the Frog was really good too. I think if I had to pick a favorite, it’d be Sleeping Beauty.

“A classic,” Ramsay praised. “It’s my favorite, too. I just watched it for the first time a few weeks ago.”

“Really?”

“Yep. I don’t have siblings. None that matter, anyway, and I didn’t watch princess stuff when I was a kid.” Ramsay popped a chocolate in his mouth as Sansa clutched her little cup. “So why’d you pick Ariel?”

Sansa took another sip. “Red hair, mostly. All my roommates went as Disney princesses this year.”

“Oh.” Ramsay didn’t seem too interested in her roommates, and changed topics quickly. “I’ve heard a lot about you, you know. About your dad.”

Sansa sighed. Of course the conversation would go there. She finished her drink with one final swig, collecting her thoughts. “Everyone likes to put me in with him. I support my dad’s politics and all, but I’d rather just be known for me, you know? I don’t want to be pegged as ‘Ned Stark’s daughter.’”

“I know exactly what you mean. My father runs a big corporation. Sometimes I worry that I’ll wind up cruel like him, but college helps.” Ramsay motioned to her. “Meeting nice people helps.”

Sansa smiled. The two of them shared a lingering look before a fight broke out in the living room, drawing their attention. “‘Scuse me,” said Ramsay, dismissing himself to take care of it. Sansa let him go and waited for him to return. While Petyr still held her romantic interest, she found herself enjoying Ramsay’s company. Maybe guys my age aren’t so bad after all.

After ten minutes of light snacking, Sansa yawned. She’d grown incredibly tired, so tired that not even the music could jolt her. She set her drink down on the table. The plastic slid off the surface and clattered to the ground, spilling alcohol all over the floor. Sansa leaned down to pick it up. The room began to wobble and quake, and she couldn’t bend very far without clinging to the table to stay steady.

“Hey,” cooed Ramsay. She felt his hand on her arm. “Did you spill?”

“I think so,” she said quietly. She could barely hear herself. Sansa placed her hand over her stomach, feeling it flip a thousand times.

“Why don’t we go upstairs?” Ramsay touched her hair. “Get away from the music and the people.”

No, Sansa thought. I don’t want that. But she couldn’t find the energy to protest. Ramsay slipped his arm around her waist and helped her walk. She wanted to thank him until she saw the stairs, moving upwards one at a time, all blurred together. He held her so close that she could feel his body press against her. “Just a few steps more,” he said. “Then you can rest all you want.”

“I wanna go home,” she mumbled.

When they reached the top of the stairs, Sansa turned to try to descend again, to escape. Ramsay snatched her by the waist. “ No, not that way. This way.” She had no choice but to lean on him. He led her tired body down the hall, around the corner. The door to his bedroom was ajar. Sobering fear clawed up her spine.

“I have t’pee,” said Sansa, softly at first and then louder again. “I have to pee! Ramsay please, let me pee, I’m gonna go all over you if I don’t get to the bathroom.” To convince him, Sansa embraced Ramsay as much as she could with her useless limbs. “Let me just pee real fast n’ then we can lay down t’gether. I don’t wanna pee all over my dress. It’s such a pretty dress and I think I’m drunk, please, can’t I just—”

“Fine,” Ramsay spat. “Make it quick.” He pushed Sansa forward into the bathroom. Before he could follow her, Sansa threw all her weight against the door and slammed it in his face, clicking the lock.

“Sansa!” Ramsay shouted. “Oh, you little bitch. Open this door. Now!

She began to shake. Sansa stumbled backwards and fell on her ass, whimpering and crying, huddled up in the corner. The floor moved like waves. A quick lift of the toilet lid and Sansa was retching into the porcelain bowl, sickness coming all the way from her toes. She wiped her mouth on a towel and slumped back against the wall, hyperventilating. Ramsay banged his fist on the door. In a desperate plea, Sansa pulled her phone from the pocket of her dress and dialed the first number in her recent contacts: Petyr.

“Sansa?” said Petyr when he answered.

“Petyr,” she cried.

“Sansa? Are you alright?”

“Please, please help me, please…”

“Sansa!” bellowed Ramsay from behind the door. He slammed his fists against the wood. “If you don’t open this door, I’m going to break it down.”

“Where are you?” Petyr demanded.

“R-Ramsay gave me a drink,” she whimpered. “I’m in… in the bathroom. Locked inside. I didn’t want him to hurt me…”

Petyr told her he was coming. Her phone had become so heavy. She dropped it and leaned her head on the side of the toilet. Unable to stay awake, she closed her eyes.

She didn’t know how long she was asleep, but Sansa was alert again at the sound of fighting outside. The vibrations in the floor had stopped — the music? — and flashing lights peeked underneath the door. Her breathing was slow. Sansa opened her mouth to call out, but her voice wouldn’t come.

The door opened. Sansa flinched, but it wasn’t Ramsay who came through.

It was Petyr.

“Sansa,” Petyr soothed, rushing forward to grab her arms. “Sansa, look at me. Look at me.”

She managed to meet his eyes. They were familiar and grey-green, but wide with terror. “Petyr,” she whimpered. “How did you find me…?”

“Don’t worry about how.” He cupped her face and brushed her cheeks with his thumbs. The contact made her weak with a peace she frantically sought. Sansa tried to smile. All she got for her effort were tears, and she leaned forward into his arms. Petyr held her close and rubbed her back. “Shh,” he whispered, “it’s alright, sweetling. You’re not alone anymore.”

Sansa wept into the front of his shirt. She clung to him, smelling bile and booze on her breath, her hair crusted with vomit, and she knew she was the most disgusting person to ever live. Petyr said something to her that she couldn’t hear. After brief movement, he lifted her up in his arms and carried her down the stairs. When Sansa felt the fresh night air on her face, her nausea began to ebb away. She nuzzled into Petyr’s neck. If it weren’t for the lights and busy chatter, she would’ve fallen asleep again.

Petyr set her gently down on a cold, hard surface. The back of an ambulance, she realized. She swung her legs off the edge and blinked at the intrusive flashing red and blue lights. “It’s so bright,” she mumbled, covering her face. “Where are all the people? There’s a party going on.”

“There was a party,” said Petyr. “I brought the police when you called me. We’re going to take you to the hospital.” He crouched in front of her and directed her chin toward him. “Sansa.”

She fought to keep her eyes open, fixed on him.

“Be honest. Did he hurt you?”

Sansa swallowed the lump in her throat. “I don’t think so.”

“Will you let a nurse examine you anyway?”

Sansa paused. Petyr looked like a scared little boy. His eyes were… glistening? She wanted to hold him.

Before she could answer, Jeyne’s voice cried out over the chaos. “Sansa!” She blinked and Jeyne was there, hugging her, gushing apologies. “This is all my fault,” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry, I’m so so sorry, I didn’t know, I promise I didn’t.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Sansa slurred. “It’s not your fault.” She was slipping in and out of consciousness, leaning fully on Petyr for support. “I just want a comfy bed.”

“What do you want me to do?” Jeyne asked tearfully. “I’ll do whatever you need me to, Sansa, just tell me. Tell me what I should do.”

“My parents,” Sansa mumbled. “Call my parents, please? And come with me t’the hospital. With Petyr.”

“Okay. Okay.”

The rest fell into a blur. Sansa felt Petyr carry her somewhere, heard the slam of a door and the hum of an engine. Smells like antiseptic, she thought, but didn’t move to ask where she was. Her body was completely numb. She stayed cocooned in the warm embrace, forgetting for a moment that it was Petyr Baelish holding her. Nothing else seemed to matter.

“You smell really good,” Sansa told him in a rush of drugged clarity, rubbing her nose against his neck. Antiseptic was drowned out by cologne and musk and a light hint of sweat. “Really really good.”

“Do I?” asked Petyr. She felt his hand at her waist, steadying her.

“Reeeaaaally good.” Sansa inhaled, a big smile on her weary face. “And you taste good. I r’member. When you kissed me, you tasted like mint n’ cigarettes n’ stuff.” She snuggled closer to him. “I want to keep kissing you.”

Petyr scoffed and shook his head. Sansa looked up at him, and he brushed her hair lightly from her face. “What are you talking about, hm? You’re not yourself.”

“Yes I am,” she insisted. “I didn’t come back to talk t’you in the office ‘cause I really liked it when you kissed me. I liked it so much and I don’t wanna stop. We should date.” She slipped her arms around his neck. “That’s what you want, and I want it too.”

Sansa didn’t recognize the look in his eyes, that mix of mystification and doubt. But after a time, it faded to a grin. He placed his finger over her lips — had she been leaning in to kiss him? “Say that to me when you’re sober, sweetling. Only if you mean it.”

Sansa gave a sloppy chuckle. “You can count on me, mister.” She booped the tip of his nose and cuddled up to him again.

During the ride to the hospital, Sansa was sluggish yet calm in Petyr’s arms, and drifted off to a deep sleep.

Chapter Text


OCTOBER 31st, 2015

“This is The Crossing, how may I direct your call?”

“Hello,” said Cat into the phone, pacing back and forth in her art room. Her apron was covered in acrylics and her voice was half confident. “This is Catelyn Stark. Is Mr. Frey in his office?”

“Let me send you over.” The secretary put Cat on hold. She folded her arms and waited. It was near impossible to get ahold of Walder so late at night, especially at his gallery office, but he’d demanded that she call him the minute she finished her next series. Catelyn was frustrated with her new work and unsatisfied with the turnout, not to mention disturbed, but she was finished. That was all she could say for herself.

“What do you want?” rasped the ancient voice of Walder Frey. Why he still worked as the owner of the gallery instead of retiring, Catelyn didn’t know. “I’m going home.”

“Mr. Frey,” greeted Cat. “I’m sorry for the late hour.” She checked the clock: 10:02. “You wanted me to call you when I finished my next series.”

“Did I? I don’t remember that.”

Cat sighed. “Yes, Mr. Frey. We spoke two days ago.”

“Hmm. Well, tell me what I want to hear then. What’s this series about? Better not be more of that scenery shit.”

“No, it’s not.” Catelyn glanced over to the scrapped work in progress on the easel, to the finished paintings laying around it. “It’s a bit… darker than usual.”

“Did you send me pictures?”

“I did.”

Catelyn waited for Walder to open his email. Her art had brought her no joy this time around, no relief or pride in her work. The paintings were haunted. Black, leafless trees against clouded skies, corpses of nameless men hanging by rope from the branches. A ghoulish moon reflected off distant rivers. And in every painting there was a woman, hooded with terrible eyes, carrying a noose in her gray hands. Paintings of grief and death and sorrow. Paintings that frightened her.

“Well, these are… odd,” said Walder. “Certainly not your usual.”

Catelyn didn’t want to mention the reason for the drastic difference, mostly because she didn’t know it herself. “Do you think I could make a show out of these? It’s the only spark I’ve had in months. Ever since…”

“Since your father died,” Walder blurted. “Yes, I remember.”

Catelyn worked her jaw. “Despite the… grim nature, I think these could amount to something. I used different perspective techniques and—”

“Yes, yes,” Frey interrupted. “It’s fine. Someone will buy it, they always do.” Cat heard him slam his laptop. “I’ll book you in the show on the 16th with Martell and Dustin. It’ll make for an amusing contrast, I’ll say.”

Dustin? Cat opened her mouth to protest, but Walder talked over her again. “I’m going home to my pretty wife. G’night, Stark.”

“Mr. Frey, I—”

The line cut dead. Catelyn groaned under her breath as she hung up.

“Problems?” asked Ned from the doorway. Catelyn turned to see him leaning on the frame, hands cradling a cup of steaming tea. For her. She smiled and took the mug, kissing him in thanks.

“When are there not any problems lately?” said Cat. She huffed and looked back at her dismal artwork. “I don’t know what possessed me to paint these.”

“Grief does strange things to us,” Ned replied. “You’ve worked hard to keep yourself together for the sake of the kids. Maybe this is your way of relieving some of those emotions.”

“Maybe.” Catelyn tapped her fingers on the side of her cup. “I’m not sure. I’ve been obsessed with trying to figure out an opus. I want to make my masterpieces and go into retirement by the time your term ends.”

“If I get elected,” said Ned. “You have time. But for now, we need to get the children to bed.” He touched her cheek with affection. “Tomorrow is a big day for us.”

Cat knew. After a year of planning, her husband would finally take the podium in front of city hall and announce his candidacy for the senate race of 2016. He’d been waiting so long for this moment, to be able to make a difference outside the courtroom on a broader, national scale. Catelyn was as proud of him as she was worried for their future.

Deciding to dwell on better thoughts, Cat left her husband in favor of the living room. Arya and Gendry were snuggled up on the couch watching a gruesome horror film, per their tradition. Cat cringed when a young woman’s throat was slashed open onscreen and her screams pierced the silence in the room. She turned on the lights. “Alright, you two. Time to finish up.”

“But mom, ” Arya insisted rudely, “the movie’s only halfway done!”

“I told you that ten was the deadline. It’s a weekday, Arya. You both have school tomorrow.”

“Sorry Mrs. Stark,” said Gendry. He quickly scooted away from Arya as Ned entered the room. “I’ll go.”

“Ugh,” Arya groaned. “You’re such a killjoy, mom.”

It wasn’t the first time Catelyn had been called a killjoy, and it wouldn’t be the last. Ned spoke sternly to his daughter. “Don’t talk to your mother that way, or Gendry won’t come over again.” He reached for the remote and turned off the TV. “It’s time to say goodnight.”

“Okay!” Arya barked. “Get out, Abba, I can’t say goodbye with parents in the room.”

Catelyn sighed and led her husband from the room. She remembered what it was like to be a teenager. Arya’s tone was inexcusable, but it wasn’t worth the fight, not with her hormones so high and sensitive. Cat wasn't in the right mood to stay level-headed, either.

“Trick or treat!” shouted Rickon, bursting through the front door in his Spiderman costume, scaring his mother half to death. “Look, Mom! I got so much candy!”

“Did you?” Catelyn placed her hand over her pounding heart and glanced inside Rickon’s plastic pumpkin. It was filled to the brim with chocolates and Jolly Ranchers and other Halloween delicacies. “Oh, dear. This is way too much.”

“Sansa’s not here to steal the Heath bars,” said Ned. He dug through his son’s candy basket and picked out his share. His doctor had warned him about developing diabetes — Ned had quite the sweet tooth — but Halloween was his self-proclaimed “night off.”

Gendry waved goodbye and left the house as Bran wheeled himself in. Catelyn made a mental note that all her children were accounted for, and directed them to bed. “You all have school in the morning. Get some sleep. You’d better not be late tomorrow, or—”

“Yeah yeah,” grumbled Arya, trudging up to her room. Rickon stuffed his face with a few Reese’s Pieces and ran after her, and Ned gave chase, reaching for Rickon’s candy basket to take it away from him. Bran just sighed in the entryway.

“Did you have dinner at Jojen’s?” Catelyn asked, standing behind Bran’s wheelchair to lean down and kiss his cheek. “I can heat you up some leftovers if you want.”

“No thanks,” said Bran. “We had soup. Are there any Heath bars left?”

Cat chuckled. “Your father took one. You can check for others tomorrow.”

Bran didn’t respond to that. “Tomorrow is Abba’s speech, right?”

The question took her slightly off-guard. “Yes, it is.”

“Can I come? Or will it be during school?”

“During school, I’m afraid. I can record it on the news if you want to see it.”

“I do.”

Cat smiled. Bran, more than any of his siblings, wanted to walk his father’s paths and follow his examples. She patted his shoulder. “I’ll set the TV to record. Go on to bed, Bran. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“G’night, mom.”

“Goodnight.”

She took a moment to watch her son roll toward the stairs before entering the kitchen. She finished cleaning the last few dishes from dinner and chugged her chamomile tea, and climbed upstairs to crawl into bed with her husband.

“It all starts tomorrow,” said Ned into her hair.

He wasn’t wrong. The beginning of the race for the senate would be hard on their family, on their lives, on their minds. But the Starks had faced greater adversity and overcome, and Catelyn knew deep in her heart that this new adventure would be no different.

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

NOVEMBER 1st, 2015

In the middle of the night, her phone rang. Catelyn stirred from a deep sleep. She yawned, rubbed her eyes and rolled over to check the screen. “Jeyne Poole?”

“Mm?” grumbled Ned.

“Jeyne’s calling. Sansa’s friend.”

“Mm.” Ned snored again. Cat paused before pulling her phone from it’s charger to answer it. “Hello?”

“Mrs. Stark?” said a sobbing Jeyne.

“Jeyne? What’s going on?” Catelyn reached over and shook her husband awake.

“I’m so sorry,” wept the teen. “Sansa and I, we — we were at a party and we — Ramsay gave her a drink, I didn’t know, I didn’t know what kind of person he was and — Sansa —”

Catelyn dashed out of bed. She flipped on the lights and threw open her dresser drawer, yanking out a pair of jeans. “Where is she?”

“At the hospital. I don’t know what Ramsay did to her, but when I saw her she was all drugged up. She could barely talk.” Jeyne broke down into incoherent sobs. “I’m so s-sorry, I’m sorry…”

“It’s not your fault, dear. Do you understand? This is not your fault.” Catelyn’s voice shook with the thunder of her heartbeat. She felt Ned’s hand on her back, but she didn’t face him. “We’re coming. Stay with her and tell her we’re on our way, both of us.”

“I will. I will.”

Catelyn hung up the phone. She turned in her husband’s arms, fighting back tears. “What happened?” Ned asked. He cupped her cheek. “Cat, look at me. Cat.”

“It’s Sansa,” she muttered. “She went to a Halloween party and… she was offered a drink from a stranger.”

It didn’t take long for Ned to realize. “No.”

“Jeyne doesn’t know what happened. Only that Sansa was drugged.”

Ned’s lip curled in an uncharacteristic snarl. He quickly dressed and left the room. Catelyn heard him knocking on Arya’s door to wake her, to tell her they’d be gone and she’d have to take her brothers to school. But Catelyn couldn’t think so far into the future. Her daughter was hurt, Sansa needed her, and all that mattered was what she could do right now .

Catelyn rushed downstairs to make coffee for the road. She was mentally and physically numb, too terrified on Sansa’s behalf to think of herself beyond basic needs. Coffee for energy, granola bars for hunger, water for hydration. Her hands were shaking when she filled the coffee pot. She rubbed her tired eyes and tried calling Sansa’s cell, but received no answer.

“Mom?” Catelyn turned. Arya was standing by the stairs, her blue hair a mess from sleep, but her eyes were wide and alert. “Is Sansa okay?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart. We’re driving out to see her.” Catelyn filled two thermoses with hot coffee and grabbed muffins from the bread drawer. “Do you want me to have her call you, if she’s up to it?”

“Yeah.” Arya rubbed her arms. “I want her to be safe.”

I love her, was what that meant. Cat offered her younger daughter a tiny smile. “I know you do. I’ll let you know as soon as we find something out, alright?”

“Okay.”

Catelyn and Arya shared a long hug. Ned came downstairs with the car keys and patted Arya’s back in support.

“What about your speech, Abba?” said Arya. “If you leave now, you won’t get back until like… seven.”

“I won’t get much sleep,” Ned agreed. “But we have to go. Sansa can’t be alone right now. You’ll understand someday, when you have children of your own.”

Arya didn’t talk back. Ned and Cat finished preparing for the long drive, and after saying goodbye, they left.

The ride from Albany to NYC was twice as long as usual, or so it felt. Catelyn tried to get ahold of Robb, but he didn’t answer, and Cat fell asleep by the time they passed Ravena. She woke again once the city was in view. For a moment, she could almost forget why she was here, why they’d made the drive from one end of the state to the other at two in the morning. She could almost feel calm.

Pulling up to the hospital reversed the almosts. Overwhelmed, Catelyn gripped her husband’s hand. She feared she might pass out. “Ned…”

“I know.” He kissed her hand. “You go ahead.”

Cat didn’t think to thank him. She rushed from the car and into the emergency room, stuttering her way through an introduction to the secretary. She’d considered herself a protective mother since the day Robb was born; she would do anything for her children, anything. And she was helpless, now. The worst part of motherhood was knowing that she couldn’t protect her children from the cruelties of the world.

She found her daughter’s room with ease. “Sansa,” said Catelyn when she saw her, sitting up in her hospital bed and talking with Robb and Jeyne. Cat came forward and threw her arms around Sansa, and she hugged her back, tightly. Cat’s nerves eased knowing Sansa was comfortable enough for this. She squeezed Sansa as close as she could before pulling away to look into her eyes. “It’s going to be okay now, sweetheart. We’re here for you.”

“Thanks, mom.” Sansa smiled weakly.

“I thought Abba had his speech tomorrow,” said Robb. He stood up and rubbed his mother’s back. “Is he here, too?”

“Yes, he’s outside.” Cat sniffled. “We both wanted to come. Don’t worry about the speech, either of you. We need to be here.” She took Sansa’s hand with both of hers. “Anything you need us to do, just ask.”

Sansa didn’t get a chance to reply. Around the corner came Ned. Father and daughter had a special connection, it’d been that way since her birth, and Sansa cried when he pulled her into a hug. “Shh,” Ned cooed to her, kissing the top of her head. “Everything’s going to be okay.”

Catelyn couldn’t stay away. She wrapped her arms around her daughter and husband in a long embrace. She stroked Sansa’s hair while Ned told her how brave and strong she was, which only made her cry more. Catelyn felt Robb sit by Sansa’s feet. They surrounded Sansa with the love and care that she deserved, and even that wasn’t enough. Sansa deserved nothing short of the world.

“What happened, dear?” Cat finally asked, petting Sansa’s hairline to comfort her. “Only tell us if you’re comfortable.”

“No, it’s okay.” Sansa forced out a sigh, her head falling back to the pillow. “I’m really tired. Maybe Jeyne could…”

Jeyne scooted forward in her chair. “Ramsay Bolton tried to — you know. He spiked her drink and then took her upstairs, but she was able to lock herself in the bathroom before he did anything.”

“Bolton?” Ned questioned. “As in Roose Bolton’s son?”

Sansa nodded.

“He’s business partners with Tywin Lannister.” Ned scratched his beard. Catelyn caught on to his train of thought: perhaps this event was planned. But neither of them said anything just yet. “Did you call the police after you went to the bathroom?”

“No,” said Sansa. “I couldn’t really think that much. I just dialed the first person in my recent contacts.” She looked to her mother. “It was Peter.”

“Peter?” Ned questioned, looking to Cat. “Who’s this?”

Sansa answered instead. “He’s the guy I’ve been kinda seeing, Abba. I didn’t tell you about him because I didn’t know what we were.” Sansa curled her hair behind her ear. “He’s a good person. He really cares for me.”

“He does,” Jeyne confirmed. “I was with them when he brought her here. He held her hand the whole time she was giving her statement to the police, and kept holding it even while she was sleeping.”

Ned and Cat exchanged looks. Catelyn had almost forgotten about this Peter fellow. Sansa hadn’t mentioned him much in their phone calls lately. “Then we’re grateful to him,” said Ned. He kissed his daughter’s forehead. “You’ll have to tell him how thankful we are when you see him next. But for now you get some rest, hm? Your brother and I will go back to your dorm and make things nice and comfortable for you. I don’t imagine you’ll be here much longer.”

“Okay.” Sansa managed a smile. Her eyes were half-open and drooping, so Cat said her goodbyes before Sansa fell asleep again. The boys left to prepare Sansa’s dorm. Cat and Jeyne stayed distracted with small talk until the discharge paperwork came.

But through all that time, through the conversations and phone calls and moving Sansa back to campus, the idea that this may have been an attack on the Stark family hung over Catelyn’s mind like a thundercloud. With the Dustins and the art show, Sansa and her mysterious Peter, Ned’s upcoming campaign and the trials in its wake…

Change was coming. And with it, uncertainty.

Chapter Text


NOVEMBER 4th, 2015

Petyr stared blankly at the half-eaten sandwich in his hands. His appetite had disappeared somewhere, along with his senses. He placed his lunch in the open Tupperware box atop the table and shuddered at the November cold. Ros, Olyvar and Mayana ignored him in favor of their conversation.

“Are you fucking serious?” Olyvar gasped, leaning close to his friends over the wood table. “I can’t believe you used to do that.”

“How have you not heard that story before?” Ros blew smoke from her cigarette. “Karstark was a terrible bore, but the tape made for some decent blackmail at the time. But it’s all hush hush.”

“You dirty bitch,” cackled Mayana, leaning back in her chair. “Sex tapes to manipulate politicians. You and Petyr must’ve been quite the pair.”

Ros gave a cheeky shrug of her shoulders. “Yes, well. All’s well that ends well. It was a darker time in my life and I’m glad to have put it behind me, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t make for some fun stories now and again.”

“Do you still have contacts in Washington, Baelish?” Olyvar asked. “Enough to know if there are any secretly gay ones looking for a sugar baby?”

The joke was missed on Petyr. He crossed one leg over the other, staring off into the trees.

“Yo, Pete.” Mayana patted his arm. Petyr was startled by the contact. “Easy, just callin’ you back from space.”

“Let it be, Mayana,” said Olyvar. “He’s more prickly than usual.”

Petyr rolled his eyes. “Glad to see you’re taking stock of my emotions. No, Olyvar, I haven’t been in that business for years and I don’t know anyone in the closet. But should I hear any interesting secrets, I’ll let you know.”

Mayana pulled her box braids over her shoulder and stared at Petyr with intent. “What’s the matter with you? Ros just talked about your politician porn gigs and you didn’t even get excited.”

“That’s old news. It’s hardly exciting anymore.”

“That’s never been the case before,” argued Ros. “What’s different?”

Petyr gave a long sigh. His strange feelings were difficult to discuss, especially when he didn’t know how to identify them.

“Was it Ned Stark’s speech?” Olyvar pressed. “It was quite good from what I remember.”

“He has my vote,” said Ros, puffing smoke. “I don’t even know who he’s running against yet. It was supposed to be Roose Bolton, but I’ve heard he withdrew before he ever confirmed his campaign.”

Roose Bolton? Petyr wondered briefly if that had been the reason for Sansa’s attack in the first place. Surely Cersei wouldn’t hide something like that from him, if she’d known about it.

“Oh, wait…” Mayana touched Petyr’s arm, crestfallen. “Bolton. The party. That’s why you’re upset. I didn’t even think about it.”

“What, the Sansa thing?” Olyvar stirred his salad. “I didn’t think that would stop Petyr from being his usual self.”

“You mean sexual and disgusting?”

“At least.”

Petyr scoffed. “Drop it, all of you. I’m fine.” He twisted the cap off a bottle of water and took a few sips. “I’m just not talkative today. You should be grateful, really.”

“Bullshit,” blurted Mayana. “You’ve been super tame lately. Did the whole Halloween thing really kick you that hard?”

Petyr took another drink and didn’t answer. Olyvar finished his salad, folding his hands on the table and giving Petyr a staredown. “Sansa hasn’t been at school in three days. If what Mayana says is true, it seems our dear Petyr is suffering from a case of unexpected affection.”

“Fuck off,” Petyr spat. “Don’t psychoanalyze me.”

“I do every day. It’s the only way I can stand to be around you.”

Petyr ran a hand down his face. “My personal relationship with Sansa is none of your business.”

“Are you joking?” fired Ros. “You made it our business when you forced us to bet on when you’d fuck her. Or have you forgotten that?”

“Bet’s off, then.”

Petyr’s companions froze. Exchanged looks. “What?”

“You heard me. I’m no one’s emotional experiment.” Petyr stood from his chair, taking his unfinished sandwich and water bottle in-hand. “But don’t play high-and-mighty, Ros. You can’t laugh about the old days and criticize me for chasing the consent of a legal adult in the same breath. If those ‘dark days’ of yours are truly over, you should know better than acting like a total hypocrite.”

He turned and left.

Petyr retreated to his office and closed the door, leaning back against it, shoulders slumped. He wanted nothing more than to forget Sansa. He could organize a hack into Ned Stark’s campaign database, frame him or blackmail him or endorse his competition generously. Anything but target her. Petyr was beginning to share Cersei’s impatience, though surely not for the same reason. He was impatient with himself. All I have to do is fuck her, Petyr thought, running his hand down his face. Just a few times to get her to talk, and then drop her at the curb. Sansa would ruin him if things continued the way they were now. She’d done damage already.

Sitting at his desk, Petyr dropped his uneaten food next to his computer and got to work. He was behind on grading mock Congress debates from his senior class. Every time he pulled up a document to read through, his thoughts returned to Sansa’s terrified face and slurred speech, her weight when he carried her. More than one haunted night had been spent obsessing over the memory. Now was no different. He cursed and closed out of his email, dropping his head in his hands. Sansa’s near-rape experience shouldn’t affect Petyr as much as it did, but it did. And he knew why.

Someone knocked on his door. “Office hours are four to seven,” barked Petyr. “Come back later.”

The door opened anyway. Petyr huffed, standing to yell at whatever punkass kid had intruded on his privacy.

Sansa stood in the entryway. When she saw him, she smiled shyly.

“Sansa,” said Petyr, astounded. He straightened his back. He hadn’t expected to see her at this hour, in his office of all places. He couldn’t help but scan her over. Looks healthy, eating well, dressed nice and groomed— “It’s a surprise to see you. Have you come for your missed lessons?” Lessons, lessons. Petyr pulled open the drawer where he’d been keeping transcripts of his assignments and lectures from the days Sansa had missed. With a deep breath he collected himself, or tried to. “I was going to have your brother deliver them to you.”

“Oh. Thanks,” said Sansa. She shuffled her feet. “I’m sorry I skipped. I had some appointments with a counselor and spent time with my family. I just needed a break. And who knows what the people on campus are saying, so…”

“Understandable.” Petyr grabbed her packet of missed work and placed it on the opposite side of the desk, away from him. The air was thick with silence and tension. “Well, there you are. I’ll give you one day’s extension for each day missed, but no more. I expect all of this returned to me by next Friday, as well as your work from the week.”

Sansa came slowly forward. Petyr noticed her attire, her autumn sweater and a skirt with leggings. He found himself remembering what her legs looked like when she shamelessly showed them to him, and it made his throat dry. “Do you want me to email my completed assignments or hand them in?” she asked.

“What?”

“My homework,” she repeated. “Email or handed in?”

“Oh. Just email them, it's easier.”

“Okay.”

Petyr and Sansa stared at each other. She was looking for something in him, searching him. He turned away to deflect her. “If that’s all you’ve come for, I expect you should be getting to work. Have a nice day, Miss Stark.” Petyr opened the window behind his desk, pulling a cigarette and a lighter from his pocket to smoke.

Sansa didn’t leave. Petyr heard her shuffling through the papers, reading through what she’d missed in her time off, but there was no open and close of his office door like he wanted. She hadn’t even walked away. Petyr drew in from his cigarette and blew smoke out the window, shoving down the unwanted flutter in his chest.

“Petyr,” said Sansa quietly. “Can I — can we talk?”

Petyr sighed. Sansa took the liberty of moving around his desk, setting her papers down and standing next to him. He had no choice but to look at her.

Instead of speaking, Sansa gently took his cigarette from between his fingers and snuffed it out in the ashtray. Sansa’s arms slipped under Petyr’s and pulled his chest to hers, her chin resting on his shoulder. “Thank you,” she whispered. “You saved me. Thank you.”

Petyr didn’t move. His breath caught in his throat, stunned and starstruck, but her compassion rippled through him. His arms looped around her. “All I did was call the police,” he said. “It was your bravery to call for help that saved you, Sansa.”

“Maybe. But it wouldn’t have happened if you’d ignored me or didn’t answer your phone.” Sansa replaced her chin with her cheek. “Thank you. I mean it. Thank you so much.”

Petyr swallowed the lump in his throat as soon as it formed. “You’re welcome, Sansa. I would do it again if given the chance.”

“Let’s hope there isn’t another chance.”

He grinned. “I concur.”

Sansa slowly pulled away, but not far. Just enough to look him in the eye. Their bodies were close and she was warm to the touch, he could feel it through her clothes. Petyr couldn’t keep his hands to himself. They slid up her back and cupped her neck tenderly, his skin grateful to touch hers. “Are you alright, sweetling?”

“Yeah.” Sansa smirked, toying with his collar. “There’s that word again.”

“What word?”

“‘Sweetling.’ You called me that before, too. In the back of the ambulance.”

Petyr knew he had, but it was almost embarrassing that she’d remembered. He needed to keep his emotions under better guard. “I don’t recall.”

“I do. It’s one of the few things I actually remember from that night.” Her eyes trailed down his face. Petyr could feel her racing pulse through the sides of her neck, as quick as his own. “I remember telling you other things too. Like, uh… um.” She chuckled at herself, looking away. “I said that we should date. You asked me to tell you that when I was sober, so here I am.” Sansa took a step back. “Sorry if that was forward. I just... I like you a lot and I want to do something about it, because you’re driving me crazy. So we should date. If you want, I mean.”

Petyr should have laughed. This was far too easy for a man who loved the chase as much as he did, for someone who needed a willing Sansa for business only to have her fall right in his lap. But he knew better than to refuse her. He had to fuck her good and well before she’d tell him anything about her father, and maybe, just maybe, he could allow himself to enjoy the process. Because it felt good.

“You liked it when I kissed you,” said Petyr, his voice a low grumble. He walked her back against the bookshelf where she’d been before. She looked perfect there, young blue eyes and red hair contrasting the dark spines of political novels.

Sansa managed a little nod. “I did. I did like it.”

He touched one of her curls and grinned. “I’d be happy to replicate it for you.”

“Please.”

With no hesitations, Petyr held her face and leaned in, capturing her in a kiss. Sansa responded instantly. He could feel her smile. Her lips were more assured this time, moving against his with equal pace and fervor, and the thought that Ned Stark’s daughter would be his shot through him like a molten bullet. Petyr’s tongue parted Sansa’s lips to taste what he’d been denied. His hands slid hungrily down her neck and shoulders and back, gripping her tight against him. Sansa didn’t fight. She wrapped her arms around him and hummed when he closed the distance, eager for more contact, pressed together like the books on the shelves. Petyr exchanged her lips for her neck, kissing and nibbling at her skin just to hear her moan. He moved his hands underneath her sweater and traced his fingertips up her sides. The sound that came from Sansa was soft and light, as soft and light as she was, and he continued relentlessly.

“Petyr,” Sansa moaned, half chuckling and breathless. She pushed his hands down and away from her breasts before he could touch them. “I didn’t lock the door.”

Petyr kissed her neck once more and inhaled from her sweet-smelling hair. “One of these days, I won’t let that stop me.” He pulled back and lifted his hand to caress her cheek. Sansa’s face was flushed and her eyes were glazed over with need, a need he shared, one Sansa likely felt against her thigh. “My birthday is tomorrow.”

“Really?”

“Mhm.” He brushed her jawline. “Let me take you to dinner.”

Sansa blinked. “But if it’s your birthday, shouldn’t I be taking you out?”

“You wanted a proper date, didn’t you?” His eyes trailed the slope of her neck. “Spoiling you will be a birthday gift all it’s own, believe me. What do you say?”

Sansa bit her lip, considering, and then she smiled. The sight made him ache. “Only if you promise to give me an extra day on those assignments.”

Petyr laughed. “Only one.”

Spending more time with Sansa was a dire mistake, Petyr knew. But he was too absorbed in her to run back now. The Lannister plans became a distant nothing. He lifted his hands to Sansa’s waist, and kissed her less-than-softly.