Sansa is the fourteenth person in line at the atrium Starbucks when she sees the email from Brienne, RE: RE: family 37 . She absently thumbs it open as her sister says, “Why are we doing this on the phone? We have a group chat for a reason.”
“It’s their thirtieth anniversary,” Robb is saying patiently. “We can’t just make some cupcakes and call it a day.”
“ We ?” Sansa says, waiting on the painfully slow atrium Wi-Fi to load Brienne’s email.
“Sansa can’t just make cupcakes,” Robb amends. “We have to throw them some kind of party, and the last time we tried to organize a party on the group chat it was a fucking disaster.”
“Okay,” Arya says, with the exaggerated and sarcastic patience of someone who had in fact been directly responsible for that conversation devolving into a GIF war, “Sansa can make them a cake, we all kick in twenty bucks for nice candlesticks, we get somebody to cater dinner so Mum doesn’t have to cook--there, party planned!”
“You’re a bad person,” Bran says.
Sansa inches forward in line. She’s still waiting for the email to load, which gives her time to think about what she’s going to order. If they’re paying for somebody to cater their parents’ anniversary dinner, probably she should just get a coffee--Robb and Sansa are the only two of their siblings with real jobs and it wouldn’t be fair to expect Bran, Rickon, or Arya to kick in for it. On the other hand, it’s been a long week and a hazelnut latte is Sansa’s favorite way of bribing herself to get her consultation letters done.
“I’m practical!” Arya says. “I’ve got exams, Robb’s gonna have a baby, Rickon’s got his horse dancing championship--”
“-- horse dancing ?” Rickon hisses, his first contribution to the conversation.
“--and you’ve got important loser stoner business,” Arya finishes. “Oh, and Sansa’s got her job, although she’ll still find a way to show all of us up with some fancy, thoughtful gift. Or cupcakes.”
“I’m not making cupcakes,” Sansa says. “Dad hates cake.”
RE: RE: family 37 finally loads as Bran and Arya descend into unhelpful bickering. Sansa, I’ve just gotten a referral for a patient with mild arrhythmia that tested positive for the family 37 Mybpc3 mutation. He’s adopted. I’m going to get a referral for him to see you as well. His appointment is Dec 15th at 3.30pm, see if you have time to meet with him afterwards. He could be what we need. BT.
“Shit,” Sansa says, faintly. She looks up a hair too late and realizes that she’s next in line and the barista is staring at her with slightly raised eyebrows. “Oh, ah, sorry, can I get a tall hazelnut latte?”
“If you don’t like my idea, why don’t you make a useful suggestion for once in your life?” Arya is shouting. “Candlesticks are classy!”
“Candlesticks are not classy,” Bran is saying over her. “They’re boring and Mum and Dad have like twenty sets.”
“Actually,” Sansa says to the barista, “can you make that a grande?”
At the joint lab meeting with Tyrion Lannister later that week, Brienne has Pod present the most recent data on the family 37 project. Normally Sansa avoids Brienne and Tyrion’s shared lab meetings like the plague, but the proband of family 37 is one of Sansa’s patients and she’s been following the study closely.
“Okay, family 37,” Pod says, clicking to his first slide. “Thanks for the pedigree, Sansa. Although, could you have possibly made the font a little bit smaller? I’m worried we can actually read the mutations on it--”
Everyone laughs, and Sansa makes a face at him. “Right, I’m so sorry that I managed to get four generations’ worth of data for you.”
Pod winks at her, which is unfortunate but something Sansa has decided to put off dealing with for the time being. “Anyway, family 37 is a hot mess. The proband is a 29-year-old female who presented with arrhythmia at 25 and infertility at 27. I’ve got her echoes in a few slides. Parents were first cousins, father died of heart failure at 65, mother died of heart failure at 57. Parents shared a grandparent--grandfather, dead of heart failure at 45, who married his first cousin, who died--shit, Sansa, I can’t read that, no human could. Is that font size three?”
“Fell down a flight of stairs,” Sansa says, looking up from her laptop. “It’s thought that she also had a heart attack, but I’ve talked with a bunch of people in that family and at least half of them think that the shared grandfather actually pushed her. Official cause of death was ruled accidental, no medical cause, and there wasn’t an autopsy because family 37 has an unbelievable amount of money.”
“Oh, to be so rich,” Tyrion says wistfully from across the conference table, and Brienne glares at him.
“When the socialist revolution happens, we’re definitely eating you first, Dr. Lannister,” Gilly says. She’s the youngest of Brienne’s grad students and has the energy to show for it.
“You flatter me, Ms. Tarly,” Tyrion says, fluttering his eyelashes at her.
Brienne says, “Bring us back on topic, Pod.”
Pod tries, valiantly, but Brienne’s grad students have got their blood up and twenty minutes later, after Pod has let himself be trapped in a tangent about whether or not the proband’s infertility is genetic, things descend into outright chaos.
“All of the miscarriages being homozygous truncation doesn’t work out with Mendelian ratios,” Lyanna is saying loudly as Sansa surreptitiously lifts the screen of her laptop and taps the touchpad to wake it up.
“It does if they also got mum’s Mybphl missense,” Pod shoots back.
Gilly says, “I don’t think that’s true?”
A new email from Brienne darts into the top of Sansa’s mailbox, and she looks up to see that Brienne is on her iPad, presumably checking emails and letting this battle for dominance find its natural conclusion.
RE: RE: RE family 37
Thanks, Sansa, it’ll be good to have you follow up with him. Hope the late appointment isn’t mucking with your holiday plans.
“Oh my god,” Lyanna says. “Do I need to draw you a fucking Punnett square? Five miscarriages is over half of the total number of children, which is double the 25% that you would expect to be homozygous truncation.”
Sansa sends back, No, sadly. Are you sure we couldn’t reschedule him for the 20th?
Sansa goes home on Friday, drops off her laptop and work bag, and turns back around to take the train to Trader Joe’s. She buys eggplant, garlic, clementines, tinned tomatoes, parmesan, and three different kinds of frozen tortellini, as well as a small poinsettia and a six-pack of the latest IPA from Landing Brewery. She makes it back onto the train before her phone rings, which feels like something of a personal miracle.
“I’m already on the train,” Sansa says immediately upon answering.
“Can you get some fruit?” Robb asks.
“I got some clementines,” Sansa says.
“What?” Robb says. “I can’t hear you. Are you on the train? Already? Shit.”
Sansa hangs up on him. I got clementines , she texts.
How far are you? The flat looks like shit, Jeyne’s gonna kill me if I let you see this .
Sansa replies, I really doubt anything you’ve got happening right now is going to be worse than when we were teenagers. I’m just passing Fleabottom now; probably it’ll be like 10-15min?
In seconds, Robb’s sent back, Can you circle the block a few times? Or pick up some beer?
I got beer at TJ’s , Sansa replies. Tell Jeyne that I know it’s all your fault, anyway .
She’s gonna KILL ME , Robb replies. Please, Sansa .
I’ll go up to Major’s End and circle back on the southbound, but only because Jeyne cares and I don’t want to make her cry , Sansa replies, because she’s a soft touch and an idiot who now has to spend forty minutes on the subway doing the same trip twice.
Thxs Sans doesn’t come until Sansa’s shivering on the elevated platform at Major’s End, waiting for a southbound train. It’s been an unusually cold November for King’s Landing and Sansa’s had to break out one of her big wool scarves, ten years old and somewhat embarrassing because she’d still been learning to knit when she made it. She’s peering over the edge of it, looking north along the tracks, when she catches the eye of the only other person waiting at the station, a man a few feet away. He looks familiar; it takes her a second to realize that he’d also gotten off of the northbound train.
“I missed my stop,” he says to her. “Fell asleep.”
Sansa realizes a second later that this is probably prompted by the fact that she appears to be glaring at him--she’s in fact squinting to try and catch a glimpse of the southbound train, because she’s nearsighted--and it takes her a few seconds beyond that to realize why she might be glaring at a stranger.
“Oh,” she says. “Uh, good to know.”
“I’m not--following you,” he continues, and then he winces and looks away, over his shoulder, along the tracks. He has a familiar rumbly accent, the same one that Sansa had given up on suppressing sometime in her third year of university.
“It’s fine either way,” Sansa says, “because I have pepper spray.”
The guy whips his head back around to look at her. “Oh!” he says, and he takes two steps back. “Uh. Great. For you. Sounds--very safe.”
“Yep,” Sansa says, and the guy chooses not to reply and keep his distance, which seems fair. He doesn’t look like the typical King’s Landing mugger, for all that he has a bit of a beard; he has longer hair, pulled back into a stubby ponytail, and is wearing a nice wool peacoat, the collar propped up against the wind. He’s attractive, though, and Sansa has learned to distrust attractive people, which is what happens when you’ve gone to enough rich kid parties in university to have a few rohypnol scares.
Robb calls again, five minutes into Sansa and her potential mugger’s silent detente. “Where are you?” Robb demands; he’s tinny, like he’s put her on speaker.
“I’m at Major’s End, waiting on a train,” Sansa says.
“Still?!” Robb says.
“Listen, you ungrateful asshole,” Sansa says, and she realizes she’s starting to yell when the guy in the peacoat takes another quick, sliding step away from her. “I’m freezing my ass off waiting for a train because you told me your pregnant wife would cry if I saw your flat, so it’s your fault I’m going to be late and if I end up being murdered it’s also going to be your fault.”
“For fuck’s sake, Sans,” Robb says and he hangs up.
After about twenty seconds of silence, the guy in the peacoat says, “I really promise I’m not going to murder you.”
“Exactly what a murderer would say, I assume,” Sansa replies. She’s cold enough that it’s making her snappish; this always happens when she’s cold, which had seemed as good a reason as any to escape south for university and then, when it turned out that an average yearly temperature of 25C did improve her disposition, stay south.
The guy reaches up to scratch at his cheek, just above the start of his beard. Sansa notices that he has nice hands, with long fingers and short nails. “Right,” he says slowly. “That’s probably true.” After a moment, he adds, “Your poinsettia’s going to freeze.”
“Sorry?” Sansa says.
He nods his head towards her hands, where Sansa is holding the tiny poinsettia against the front of her coat. “The leaves are sensitive to below-freezing temperature. If it gets too cold, they’ll shrivel up and die. You might want to wrap it in something.”
Sansa looks down at the poinsettia that she’d bought at Trader Joe’s what now seems like a thousand years ago, when she was going by the standard autopilot drilled into her by her mother, always bring flowers when visiting someone’s home . A poinsettia had seemed like a cute idea four million years ago in the warmth of Trader Joe’s.
The plant does seem a little shriveled.
“Great,” Sansa says. She digs through her shoulder bag until she finds a spare grocery tote, printed all over with the graphic letterhead of The King’s Lander . Hopefully ethically-sourced cotton will be sufficient to protect it. “Are you a botanist, or a poinsettia enthusiast?”
The guy, who had been staring out into space, whips his head around to look at Sansa. It’s either windchill or a stupidly endearing blush that turns the skin above his beard pink. “Oh, uh, neither. I got one last year for my work’s white elephant and it froze when I walked home, so I looked up why.”
“It seems pretty ridiculous that the patron plant of Winter Solstice is sensitive to freezing temperatures,” Sansa says.
“They’re from Dorne,” the guy says. “Some ambassador liked them and brought them back to Westeros after he finished his appointment.” He coughs awkwardly. “That is, according to Wikipedia.”
“That’s so stupidly typical,” Sansa says. “I guess there’s a reason why we don’t have poinsettias back home.”
“Blue roses would die down here,” the guy says. “They need the ground to freeze for months.”
“For someone who claims to not be a botanist, you sure know a lot about plants,” Sansa says. She realizes about half a second too late that she is definitely flirting with this guy. With Sansa’s taste in men, he probably is a murderer.
“Come on,” the guy says, shifting and then lifting his bag to adjust it over his shoulder, “every kid north of the Riverlands knows that.”
“Yeah, fair enough,” Sansa says. “Oh, thank god, the train. I thought I was going to freeze to death.”
“I thought I was going to murder you?” the guy says, and then he mutters something that sounds like fuck .
Sansa laughs before she can stop herself, which means she is definitely flirting with this guy and her instincts are taking over. “Yeah, that seemed equally possible,” she says as the train pulls into the station. She and the guy are standing far enough apart to be in front of doors leading to separate train cars, which strikes her as an extremely convenient way to leave this conversation before Sansa’s stupid hot guy instincts do something really idiotic like offer him her phone number. “Thanks for the advice about the poinsettia.”
“Oh, yeah,” the guys says as the doors open. “Merry Solstice.”
“Merry Solstice to you,” Sansa replies, and she escapes into the heated train car.
“Why’re you so red?” Robb asks as he opens the door.
“Because it’s freezing,” Sansa says, shoving the King’s Lander tote bag into his hands. “Here, take this. Where’s Jeyne?”
“She fell asleep while we were watching the Bake Off Solstice special. Did you walk here? My god, it took you forever.”
“You’re talking a lot of shit for somebody who’s paying his sister to come make dinner for him,” Sansa says irritably, unwinding her scarf. “It took forever for a train to come. I’m never doing that again, by the way. The next time you think Jeyne is going to cry about something, I’m just going to bring her ice cream.” She piles her scarf and coat on top of a nearby end table and kicks off her boots.
“She can’t have ice cream anymore, it gives her heartburn,” Robb says.
Sansa picks up the bag of groceries and carts it into the kitchen. Behind her, she hears rustling and then Robb’s exclamation when he unearths the poinsettia. “It’s so tiny,” he says. “This is unbearably cute, I’m going to go give it to Jeyne. Why are you always so good at this?”
“At what?” Sansa asks, putting the bag of groceries onto the counter and beginning to unpack its contents.
“At this ,” Robb says, shaking the tiny poinsettia at her. “This is why Arya wants you to plan Mum and Dad’s anniversary party.”
“It’s just a plant, Robb,” Sansa says. “Even Arya could buy a plant.”
“No, it’s not,” Robb says. “It’s going to make Jeyne cry and then hug you is what it is. And that’s what the perfect anniversary dinner for Mum and Dad will result in: hugging and crying.”
Sansa rolls her eyes as she carefully folds the reusable grocery bag and then begins the usual hunt for a cutting board and knife. For two ostensible adults, Jeyne and Robb have a truly pathetic kitchen and it’s a horror to cook in. Sansa had managed to avoid it for years until Jeyne had gotten pregnant and realized that their usual fare--steam table specials on rice from the Bravosi take-out place around the corner--wasn’t going to cut it and then she’d made Robb pay Sansa to come and cook for them a few times a week.
“Robb?” Jeyne calls sleepily and Robb instantaneously vanishes from the kitchen.
Sansa’s managed to find the chef’s knife and a cutting board and is dicing the eggplant when Jeyne appears in the doorway from the living room. Her eyes look watery and more luminous than usual. “Oh, Sansa,” she murmurs. “It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen, where did you find it?”
“What?” Sansa says. “Oh, the poinsettia? At Trader Joe’s, I thought you might like it.”
“It’s so small ,” Jeyne says, and then she comes around the counter to hug Sansa. She smells like juniper and has become an expert at a kind of side-hug that doesn’t squish her belly against the hug’s recipient. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Sansa says, rubbing her back.
See? Robb mouths from the doorway, looking smug.
I hate you , Sansa mouths back.
It becomes increasingly obvious over the subsequent week that Sansa has been elected by her siblings to be in charge of their parents’ anniversary dinner. Arya sends her a list of caterers from Yelp; Bran makes an Amazon wish list of ideas for presents, most of which are terrible. Rickon texts the group chat, Dad likes rice pudding, doesn’t he? which is true, although it’s not a particularly festive dessert.
I’m not making rice pudding for their anniversary dinner , Sansa sends back. Is it just going to be us, or are we having a proper party?
Robb texts, I dunno, invite some of the neighbors? The Karstarks and the Mormonts? And we should invite Uncle Howland, but I bet they won’t come.
That’s like 40 people , Arya replies.
So? Mum and Dad like big parties , Rickon replies.
I am NOT making rice pudding for forty people , Sansa sends back a few hours later, when she’s had a chance to check her phone.
Arya sends a GIF of someone being stirred into a giant vat of white liquid, captioned DELICIOUS! The group chat becomes uninhabitable after that, so Sansa mutes it for a few days out of sheer self-preservation and does some research on caterers.
The morning of December 15th, like all Monday mornings, Sansa meets Brienne in her office to discuss some of their shared patients. In addition to the potential addition to family 37 and a patient with LVNC whose clinical panel just returned zilch, Sansa has four new patients who need a clinical panel that she wants Brienne’s thoughts on and Brienne wants her opinion on the returned results of a hypertrophic cardiomyopathy patient with an unusual mutation in a myosin isoform. They save the addition to family 37 for last.
“His name is Jon Snow,” Brienne says, opening his electronic medical records as Sansa quickly jots down a few final notes on the LVNC patient. “He was adopted, closed, by a couple in the north when he was a child but he doesn’t know much about his birth family.”
“In the north?” Sansa says, surprised. “And you think he’s a Targaryen?”
“I’ve never seen this Mybpc3 mutation before in anyone other than the Targaryens,” Brienne says. “It’s not even in ClinVar. It could be de novo and a coincidence, but the fact that he’s adopted, and it’s an arrhythmia--I have a strong feeling about this.” Brienne pauses for a moment and fiddles with her pen. “Looking forward, if I’m right and he has the second mutation, too, then we might need a mutual disclosure of relationship with Danaerys, maybe a paternity test. I don’t think we need to discuss the Targaryens with him today, but we need to prepare for it. Can you look into getting one of the psychologists to consult--maybe Varys?”
“Yeah,” Sansa says, making a note.
“Good, thanks,” Brienne says. “His arrhythmia is extremely mild. It could be that he won’t have the second mutation, in which case, if I can consent him, we’re going to have a very interesting control for the Mybpc3 paper that Pod is putting together. But if he has the second mutation as well, and is mild, then it means we’re missing a modifier--and that would be even more interesting, although Pod will hate it because he’ll have to wait longer to publish.”
“Oh, the horror,” Sansa says, mockingly, because Pod has been upping the ante on the flirting lately and it’s pissing Sansa off.
“If I don’t get him out of the lab and into a faculty position soon, Lyanna’s going to stab him in the throat with a serological pipette,” Brienne says.
Sansa’s 3pm patient cancels--her kid has pneumonia--and the unexpected break sends Sansa hurtling down to cafeteria for a Diet Coke and a bag of honey-roasted peanuts. She’s armpit-deep in the cooler, trying to fish a lone can out of the back of the row, when someone clears their throat behind her and says, “Can I give you a hand?”
Sansa says, “I nearly have it,” straining on her toes.
The person behind her says, “I’ve been watching you do this for five minutes.”
“Surely not,” Sansa says, peeking at her watch. It says 3.08pm and nails the coffin shut on Sansa’s dignity. “Oh no, I have to get back upstairs. Dammit--”
“Seriously,” the person behind her says, and when Sansa reluctantly pulls her arm free and turns around, she realizes that she recognizes the voice, because it’s the guy from the train--the guy in the peacoat, which he’s now carrying folded over his arm.
“Oh!” Sansa says. “It’s you!”
“Yes,” he says after a moment. Then he looks at her a little more closely, eyes narrowed, and says, “ Oh .” This close, without coats or upturned collars, Sansa can see that he’s even more gorgeous than she’d initially realized, which is horrible. He’s wearing a thick sweater, jeans, and work-boots, and he’s got a few centimeters on Sansa, which is a surprise--she’d thought that he was shorter. “Hello. Still not murdered, I see.”
“Yes, that surprised me, too,” Sansa says. She can’t help smiling at him--her soft, flirtatious smile, which happens with zero cognitive input. It just appears on her face; she feels the muscles in her cheeks relaxing.
He smiles back at her, although she can only tell because his eyes crinkle in the corners. “Can I help you with that?” he asks. “Or am I risking pepper spray?”
“Oh, yeah,” Sansa says, stepping to the side, and he reaches into the cooler and grabs the last can of Diet Coke, which he offers to her, politely holding the far end so that she won’t have to touch him. At this consideration, Sansa feels more parts of her melt: her knees, her eyebrows, probably key parts of her nervous system. “Thank you,” she says. “That was probably quite embarrassing to watch.”
“You’re very flexible,” he says, and then he looks very briefly pained.
“Thank you,” Sansa says. “Good to know that yoga with my sister-in-law is paying off.”
“Oh?” he says. “Ah. Well, yes. It is. Do you--ah, do you work here?”
“Yes,” Sansa says, still melting a little, and then she realizes that, yes, she is working, and in fact has a 3.15pm patient. “Shit! Yes! I’m working! Sorry, it was nice to see you again,” and she has to sprint for the register, where she pays for her Diet Coke, honey-roasted peanuts forgotten, and then runs for the nearest elevator bank.
Exactly forty minutes later, Sansa walks into an exam room, juggling her laptop and a clipboard of new patient documents, and she sees him again. He’s sitting in one of the two chairs next to the exam table, jiggling his knee and looking into space. When Brienne ushers Sansa in, he rockets to his feet, and Sansa sees the moment that he recognizes her, again, this time with more exaggerated surprise: both his eyebrows go up.
“Mr. Snow,” Brienne says, “this is Sansa Stark, the genetic counselor.”
“Dr. Stark,” he says. After a horrible two seconds, he offers her his hand. He’s approximately a thousand degrees and Sansa’s hand, freezing cold, feels like a clammy fish in his grip. Nonetheless, Sansa manages a somewhat professional handshake.
“I’m not a doctor,” she says. “Sansa is fine.”
“Sansa,” he says, and he smiles at her with his eyes again. Oh, fucking fuck , Sansa thinks, with all the deepest sincerity of her early religious education.
Brienne says, “Sansa’s going to be able to walk through the genetic tests we’ve discussed more fully, Mr. Snow, and answer any questions you might have. It was a pleasure to meet you. Make sure to schedule a follow-up when you leave some time in the early new year.” She shakes his hand and leaves the exam room, taking approximately fifty percent of the available oxygen with her.
Sansa spends two or fifteen seconds staring at first him and then his peacoat, draped over the arm of his chair, like the universe is going to align itself for her. When that doesn’t work, she affixes a not completely genuine smile on her face and says, “Do you have any questions for me?” as she puts her laptop and clipboard down on the exam table.
“Yes,” he says. “I don’t know what em-why-bip is or what it does. Do we have to talk about--that study?”
“Only if you want to,” Sansa says. “That’s Dr. Tarth’s research program and it’s separate from her work as a clinician. If you don’t want to participate, it won’t impact your care.” They’re both still standing up, Sansa realizes, and she gestures for him to take his seat, which he ignores. “And I’m happy to talk to you about MYBPC3. Have you seen a genetic counselor before?”
“No,” he says. Sansa awkwardly lurches her weight onto her left and then right foot and then she sort of collapses into the desk chair that Brienne had been previously sitting in--it’s still warm--and finally Jon Snow goes down, too. It suggests that he was waiting for her to sit, which is so mind-blowingly stupid and charming that Sansa immediately decides not to think about it.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” he says. Sansa realizes--again!--that they’ve been silent for an abnormal amount of time, staring at each other. “I kind of thought you were a kindergarten teacher. That was the impression I got. Your scarf was really big.”
“Oh,” Sansa says. “Yeah. We don’t, um, have to wear scrubs or lab coats.”
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw you earlier,” he says. Sansa is not completely sure that he’s paying attention to what she’s said; it’s difficult for her to concentrate, too, being at the center of his attention. She can see under the excellent fluorescent lights of the exam room that his eyes are a silvery grey.
“Me neither,” Sansa says.
“I’m having a hard time figuring out which part of this is a hallucination,” he says, and Sansa is having the same problem so she says so: “Yeah, me too.” After a second, they both burst into laughter; Sansa feels slightly hysterical. She has to hold her sides to keep them from hurting.
She feels a little better afterwards, enough to say, “Do you want to talk about the protein first, and what it does? Then we can talk about your care. Dr. Tarth has recommended some more genetic testing and we’ll talk about your options.”
“Yes,” he says.
“Okay, great,” Sansa says. “Do you like visuals? I have some slides about MYBPC3 that might help.”
In the process of discussing his mutation and arrhythmia, Jon Snow reveals himself to be intelligent and a little shy. He looks less nervous as the appointment proceeds, maybe because Sansa hasn’t threatened him with bodily harm today, and by the end, when she’s giving him the forms to consent for the whole genome sequencing that Brienne’s lab will perform to find if he has the second Targaryen mutation, he’s relaxed back into his chair, his knee a mere handful of centimeters from Sansa’s.
He scribbles his signature at the bottom of the last page and says, “Here,” handing her back the clipboard. When he passes back her pen, he’s not as careful as he’d been with the can of Diet Coke; the tip of his index finger drags along the back of her hand. It’s approximately the twelve most sexually charged milliseconds of Sansa’s entire life.
“Ah,” Sansa says, strangled, and he flinches back into his chair like he’s been electrified. “Right! Thank you, Mr. Snow. When you check out, the administrator will make an appointment for you to have your blood drawn.”
“Please, it’s Jon,” he tells her. Sansa can feel herself turn pink like she’s been dipped headfirst into a hot bath.
As Sansa scrambles to her feet, he also stands. It’s hard to tell if he’s nervous or it’s just those beautiful manners again. “I mean, no need for--Mr. Snow. Since it’s probably not even my name, I guess.”
Sansa says, “Of course it’s your name. A family is more than an inherited mutation.” She means it sincerely, but a second later she realizes what she’s said and has to close her eyes at her own stupidity. “I mean,” she says, and since she doesn’t have a good explanation for her own behavior, she can’t follow up with an actual clarification and they have to stand there in silence for a moment.
“That’s nice of you to say,” Jon says. He sounds like he genuinely means it and doesn’t think Sansa is an asshole, so she risks opening her eyes and sees that he’s looking down at her with a peculiar expression. “It was a pleasure to see you again, Ms. Stark.”
“Sansa,” she says. She holds her laptop and clipboard against her chest like their weight will excuse her rudeness in not offering to shake his hand, but she really doesn’t trust herself. “It was lovely to meet you. As an actual person and not a potential murderer.”
He smiles at her then, the corners of his eyes crinkling. “Merry Solstice, Sansa.”
“You too, Jon,” she says, and she escapes the exam room at something embarrassingly close to a flat-out run.
According to Brienne, Jaime had put his foot down about hosting the departmental Solstice party this year because of the dog. “He says it was bad enough when it was just the kids,” Brienne had said at the end of Pod’s lab meeting, “but adding a dog to the mix was too much. He’s probably right; last year it was too crowded and somebody nearly took Cate home with them because she fell asleep on their coat.”
“Who accidentally takes a three-year-old home?” Sam had asked, incredulous, to which Brienne had replied, “An extremely drunk MD cross-appointed with Pathology. It made more sense to rent space this year. Tyrion picked out some gallery downtown for it.”
“Yikes,” Lyanna had said.
“I was forced to swear on my dear nieces’ and nephews’ lives that none of the art would be nudes,” Tyrion had said in a tone whose sincerity had been impossible to judge.
Sansa shares an Uber with Gilly and Lyanna from the hospital on the last Friday before the Solstice and finds, to her surprise, that it actually is quite a tasteful space: white-washed walls, dramatic light fixtures, huge abstract paintings of various neighborhoods in King’s Landing. “I think I used to live above this restaurant,” Gilly says as they’re browsing the paintings, holding glasses of champagne and nibbling on cheese squares. “I really think so, this was back when Sam and I were living in Fleabottom--oh, yeah, look at this, ‘ Bottom At Night , mixed media.’” She grins into her glass of champagne. “How much do you reckon they’re charging some rich twat to hang this in their fancy loft? Because Sam and I were paying two hundred a month in cash to live in that apartment.”
“At least eight hundred, I would guess,” Sansa says. She’s surprised by how much she likes the painting; it feels like she’s standing on the elevated platform at the Fleabottom stop on the yellow line, watching the city through the rain. King’s Landing looks its best when slightly blurry. “Would you have thought Tyrion likely to pick this place?”
“Never in a thousand years,” Gilly says. “I’m sure he made that new MD/PhD fellow do it. What’s her name--Sharon? Shae? She’s got fantastic taste--did you see her dress last week, when she came to lab meeting right out of clinic? That was the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen.”
Sansa says, “I know ,” and then jumps when she feels a hand graze her lower back. “Oh!” she says when she turns and sees that it’s Pod, holding a beer bottle by the neck and grinning down at her and Gilly. Yikes , she thinks, and she shuffles a few scant centimeters away by pretending to scan the room for anyone else she knows. There are quite a number of potential escape routes, as the entire genetic counseling masters program has been invited and Sansa has mentored about half of the students.
“What’s this, then?” Pod asks. “Oh, very nice. Enjoying the art, ladies?”
“Oh, you know,” Sansa says vaguely.
Gilly sneaks a quick glance at Sansa out of the corner of her eye and then tilts her head, pretending to shake back her hair, towards a cluster of nearby masters students. One of them is looking at Sansa with a half-raised eyebrow, and as Gilly says, “I actually think I quite like them. It makes a great change of scenery, doesn’t it? Although I miss having Jaime and Brienne’s kids running about,” Sansa winks at the student.
“Hey, Sansa!” she calls, lifting a hand.
“Oh, Arianne!” she says. “Sorry, nice to see you, chat later,” and she escapes to the masters students, who close ranks around one of their own with immediate enthusiasm.
“No boyfriend to scare him off this year?” Arianne asks in a low voice.
Sansa thinks for about half of second about Jon Snow and then she hates herself. “No,” she says. “He’s nice enough, I suppose, but I’m not interested.”
“A man like that needs to be beaten over the head with something,” Arianne says. “Like a nice pair of breasts. Anybody interested?”
There’s a half-second pause and Arianne is opening her mouth, looking ready to say something mean, and then Ellyne, whom Sansa had mentored for her second rotation in cardiology last year, says, very quickly, “Yes. For ages, embarrassingly enough.” She downs the rest of her glass of red wine, quickly runs her fingers through her hair to reverse her part, and says, “Into the breach!” with much more cheerful enthusiasm than Sansa might have expected.
“Damn,” Arianne says as Ellyne books it across the room. “Look at her go.”
Sansa has a kind of prurient interest about how Ellyne’s pursuit of Pod is going to proceed, but she almost immediately spots Brienne coming up behind Arianne and it’s probably best for all parties involved that no faculty witness what’s about to happen over by the painting of Fleatbottom.
“Hey, Brienne,” she says, moving to intercept her. “How’re the kids?”
“Rowdy,” Brienne says. Predictably, her conversation turns immediately to work. “Did you have Jon Snow’s blood sent to the lab?”
“Handed it off to Gilly on Wednesday,” Sansa says. “It might even be sequenced before Solstice--I talked to the core and they seemed optimistic.”
“They’re always optimistic,” Brienne says. “It’s whether they can back that up with their actual performance that remains to be seen.” She lifts her hand and nods in acknowledgement of somebody behind Sansa. “Any plans for the Solstice break, Sansa?”
Sansa takes a sip of her wine. “Up to visit my parents for a few days,” she says. “The 22nd is their thirtieth wedding anniversary, so we’re having something of a party for them. By ‘we’ I mean myself, primarily, although my siblings are involved in name.”
Brienne briefly smirks at Sansa, an expression that uncannily mimics her husband. “You’re too responsible, Sansa. This is why we all rely on you.”
“Ha!” Sansa says. “And what about yourself? Are you and Jaime taking the kids to Casterly?”
“My father-in-law would throw himself off of the Rock if he didn’t get to see them at least once a year,” Brienne says. “Or he’d had me murdered, I suppose. Either way, it’s too inconvenient not to go.”
Brienne is so astonishingly accomplished--dual-degree clinician and research scientist, chair of the department of genetics, champion writer of grants and over a hundred peer-reviewed papers--that it is sometimes nearly impossible for Sansa to imagine her as a wife or mother. Perhaps it says something about Sansa that she finds it difficult picturing someone occupying all of those roles at the same time.
“Sounds like you’ll have a lovely time,” Sansa says, and although she means it at least a little sincerely, all Brienne does is laugh.
Sansa has a good enough time at the departmental Solstice party that it’s rough going to get herself to her train on time the next morning. She’s on the 7.10am Northern Line to Winterfell along with what must be half of the university students in King’s Landing. Although she’d planned to get a bit of work done--Sansa will be done with her consultation letters when the Jade Sea freezes over--when she finds her seat and settles into it, stuffing her bag under the seat in front of her, Sansa can’t find it in her heart to focus on work. She spends an embarrassing amount of time instead with her headphones on, listening to a Solstice playlist on Spotify and fantasizing about running into Jon Snow at the canteen in the hospital again and not saying something hugely idiotic, for once in her life.
When’s your train in? Arya texts at a little after 11am, waking Sansa up from a doze.
It’s scheduled to arrive in twenty minutes, but I think we’re running behind , Sansa replies. Are you picking me up?
Yeah, volunteered so I could get into town and check on the caterers like you asked Bran to do yesterday. He forgot, of course, because he’s a lousy pothead.
Sansa rolls her eyes so hard that she feels a muscle twinge in her forehead. Thanks for doing that. Should’ve known better than to ask Bran.
Rickon would’ve done it but the horse dancing’s got him fucked up. Caterers say we’re sorted. Robb and Jeyne picked up the banner on the drive yesterday. You heard back from the Karstarks?
Yeses all , Sansa replies. That’s 39, maybe 41 if some Mormont cousins make it into town on time. Lyanna says they’re not sociable, so who knows. But we should have enough food for 41.
Proper shindig, I like it , Arya replies, predictably. Lyanna’s one to talk about not being sociable, anyway.
A younger, more naive and easily-riled Sansa might’ve fallen for that trap, but Sansa’s had years of experience with Arya’s emotional immaturity and she knows now how to deal with any mention of her sister’s exes, which is to say: ignore them.
Have Mum and Dad said anything? Did you tell them I offered to cook on the day so Mum won’t plan anything?
Yes yes yes calm down it’s sorted , Arya responds. Bran’s failing trigonometry as of last week, they don’t need any lies to keep them distracted.
Any lingering traces of sleepiness disappear at this news; Sansa wriggles upright and furiously types, Whaaaat??
Lol you know Bran, that boy’s a mess. He’s grounded over the school break and they’ve got some uni friend of Robb’s who’s a mathematician coming over after Solstice.
What the hell is a proper mathematician going to do with Bran’s shoddy trig?
Haven’t the foggiest, Robb probably said it to distract Mum before she strangled Bran at the dinner table. Oh, think I hear your train.
Arya is waiting at the station for Sansa sporting an enormous shearling-lined denim jacket that is both seasonally inappropriate and her boyfriend’s as well as a freshly shorn undercut.
“I like your hair,” is the first thing Sansa says.
“Fuck off,” Arya says. “Wow, only one bag? Where’s the rest of it?”
“Fuck off,” Sansa says promptly, and Arya grins at her as she pulls on a toque--oversized, also probably Gendry’s--hiding the exposed skin under her left ear from the wind. “How’s it going at the house?”
“A fucking nightmare,” Arya says. “We’re taking the scenic route home.”
It’s a tense two days leading up to the anniversary party. Sansa’s parents are furious with Bran and since he’s grounded he’s constantly underfoot, available to be yelled at and sour moods at will. Jeyne, probably too pregnant to have traveled, is only comfortable when moving and accordingly, like a shark, constantly patrols the lower floor of the house. Robb trails behind her like a dispirited duckling. Sansa makes a lemon drizzle cake for dinner on the Solstice in an attempt to lift spirits but the good mood it produces only lasts a few hours.
“Thank the gods for this party, eh,” Arya says at breakfast on the morning of the 22nd. “This house is fucking bleak is what it is.”
“Oh, fuck off,” Bran mumbles.
“Don’t say that too loudly, Catelyn’s putting laundry in,” Jeyne hisses as she circles into and then out of the kitchen.
“Mum’s got to know about this, she’s just being nice,” Rickon says, and Arya goes to shove his head into his porridge. “Watch the hair!” Rickon shrieks and his voice breaks, which is a deadly sign of weakness upon which Arya immediately pounces. They’re tussling for real within twenty milliseconds, Arya trying to squash Rickon’s pouf situation, Rickon trying to claw her eyes out with his thumbs.
“Always a real pleasure to be home,” Sansa says, but no one hears her, because Jeyne and Robb have circled out of the kitchen, Arya and Rickon are too busy trying to seriously maim each other, and Bran has nodded off into his breakfast--or is still high, Sansa can’t see enough of his face under the hood of his sweatshirt to tell.
When she sighs, exasperated, and moves to roll her eyes at the ceiling, she sees her mother standing in the doorway to the laundry room, halfway through folding a t-shirt. She looks a little misty-eyed as she gazes upon the chaos at the table, almost like she’s missed them all trying to kill each other before breakfast. This is why Sansa finds it impossible to visualize herself as a mother; Sansa would have murdered every single one of her siblings, herself included, had she had to parent them.
“Missed us, did you?” she asks her mother, who smiles at her a little mysteriously and goes back into the laundry room.
Sansa spends the afternoon making Dothraki pepparkarka in the kitchen, which maintains the illusion that she’s making dinner and gives her enough authority over the proceedings therein to kick out all of her siblings. She turns the radio to a local channel still playing Solstice music and hums along with an old choral recording as she cuts out squirrels and pigs and hedgehogs with her mother’s collection of battered old cutters.
“Do you need any help?” Jeyne asks on her fourth or fifth time through the kitchen after lunch. “Even I can’t really fuck up cutting out a biscuit or two.”
“Sure you could,” Sansa says mildly, not looking up from the tray she’s arranging. “Can you go somewhere quiet and call the caterers, check in that they’re still arriving at 5pm? And then you and Robb have to contrive to get Mum and Dad out of the house, I hope you’ve thought of something.”
“I could pretend my water’s broken,” Jeyne says.
“We want something that would get them back here by 7pm,” Sansa says. “Can you have a baby in three hours?”
“Gods willing,” Jeyne replies and she waddles off towards the living room.
“Don’t let her pretend to have the baby,” Sansa tells Robb when he inevitably appears a few seconds later.
“Who?” Robb says, and then, “Oh, yeah, no, we’re going to tell them we need to get some wine for dinner and then I’m going to forget my credit card at the store and not remember until we’re nearly home. Should buy us forty minutes, maybe longer if I can pick a fight with Dad over that Dornish red he thinks is overpriced.”
“You’re my favorite,” Sansa says. “Come over here and I’ll give you a kiss and a biscuit.”
“ Ewww ,” Robb pretend-hisses, and then he comes over to take the pepparkarka hedgehog that Sansa brandishes towards him. He lets her kiss his cheek before stuffing the entire hedgehog into his mouth. “Happy Solstice, Sans.”
“You too, you filthy animal,” she says.
Sansa’s mother cries and her father looks completely unsurprised when they come home to find forty of their neighbors and friends crowded into the front room of the house, shrieking “SURPRISE” like wild animals. Arya’s wearing a silver party hat with tinsel shooting out of the top and the banner that Jeyne and Robb had smuggled up--HAPPY 30 YEARS, cut out of shiny gold paper--is hanging precariously from the mantel above the fireplace.
“Oh, my loves,” their mother says, and she gathers all of them in for a hug. “You’re all terribly unsubtle but this was very nice of you.”
“I told you she knew,” Rickon says.
“But she cried and that’s what’s important,” Arya replies.
“Shut up, both of you,” Robb says from where he’s got his octopus arms wrapped around their mother’s head. “We’re having a moment. Respect the moment.”
Arya sniggers, which effectively ends the touching emotional scene, and they have to all disentangle themselves from their parents to let the rest of the party have a chance at offering their good wishes to Ned and Catelyn.
Sansa’s waiting on her third whiskey sour in the kitchen a few hours later when some Mormonts chase her down to congratulate her on a party well done. “Thanks,” she says as Lyanna’s sister goes in for a drunken hug, “but I didn’t do all of the work.”
“Just most of it,” says Gendry as he expertly cracks an egg and separates out the white. “You still want these as doubles, Sansa?”
“I only have to stagger my way upstairs, I might as well live dangerously,” Sansa says. “I’m so glad you could make it, Lyanna. I wasn’t sure Brienne would let you out of lab.”
“Once she had the brats herded off towards the Rock there wasn’t much she could do,” Lyanna says. “Besides, I had to kick the tires on this one. You treating our Arya all right, then?”
“Fuck off,” Gendry says mildly.
“Fuck you!” Lyanna replies, delighted. “Oi, Jon, get in here. Have you met our Sansa? Sansa, this is my cousin, Jon. He’s Uncle Davos’ spawn.”
Sansa should be surprised to see Jon Snow comes in from the living room, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck, but she’s not. She’s just tipsy enough to feel delighted and it blunts the edge of her confusion. “Jon!” she says. “Uncle Davos, really?”
“Oh!” he says when he sees her. “I--that is, these are your parents?”
“Yes!” Sansa says.
“How’d you know Jon, then?” Lyanna says. “He’s not one of your legion of exes, is he?”
“Fuck off , Lyanna,” Sansa says, and she can feel herself turn red like it’s happening to someone else.
“I went to university with Robb,” Jon says, amazingly enough, and that at least rescues Sansa from Lyanna’s clutches. The Mormonts make off as a group and leave Sansa and Jon and Gendry, the latter shaking Sansa’s cocktail over the sink to prevent any of it from splattering the counters.
“You went to school with Robb?” Sansa says. “That’s kind of incredible, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Jon says. “I hadn’t realized--I mean, Stark, there’s a lot of you, aren’t there? I suppose I should have guessed.” He’s looking at Sansa--really looking--with his beautiful, clear grey eyes. Sansa can feel warmth in the pit of her belly and it’s hard to know if it’s the alcohol or something in his expression.
“Sans,” Gendry says, sliding a coupe glass across the counter towards her. “All right, then?”
“Yes,” Sansa says, a little dazed. “Do you want something to drink, Jon?”
“I’ll get another lager in a bit,” Jon says and Gendry nods at him. “I knew you were northern but I hadn’t guessed--well. Robb’s a bit of a wanker, isn’t he?”
Sansa bursts into laughter. She is definitely a little drunk and this is for sure a bad idea, fuck, but she sips her whiskey sour and can’t help herself feeling anything other than amazing. Here’s Jon and he’s smiling at her, dressed in a green button-down tucked into dark jeans, looking so yummy that Sansa wants to take a bite out of the side of his neck like some kind of depraved vampire. “He’s that,” she agrees. “How do you think we’ve never met until now, then?”
“I only just moved to King’s Landing,” Jon says. “Have you been south for very long?”
“Ages,” Sansa says. “I get bad-tempered when it’s cold, ask anybody.”
“She’s a right bitch,” Gendry says.
“Shut up, Gendry,” Sansa tells him. “That was a metaphorical inquiry.”
“You didn’t tip me,” Gendry says, and Sansa glares at him over the rim of her coupe glass until he vacates the kitchen, which she figures she can do because he’s basically family--he and Arya may not be getting married until Arya’s mercurial mood decides on it, but he’s functionally one of them now.
“I should have guessed,” Jon is saying, again, when she looks back at him. There are twinkling lights everywhere--Sansa’s mother loves decorating for the Solstice--and his eyes are glittering a little bit as he looks at her. “You’ve got that look.”
“What look?” Sansa asks, widening her eyes at him.
“That Stark look,” Jon says, mysteriously.
“I don’t look a thing like any of them,” Sansa says, a little confused.
“It’s not that,” Jon says. “It’s like you’re well-loved, you know? Your whole family. Robb was always getting packages at school with biscuits and things in them. Like you knew where you belonged.”
Sansa says, “How many lagers are you on?”
“One,” Jon says. His cheeks are turning rosy above his beard. “Didn’t mean to say that.”
“I know the feeling,” Sansa says and he smiles at her with his eyes, crinkled and tilted up in the corners. “I mean,” Sansa finally manages to add, some horribly embarrassing number of seconds later, “this is my fifth shot of whiskey, technically, so I’m drunk and that can explain most of what I’m doing. I don’t know what your excuse is.” She bites her lip and looks at Jon up through her eyelashes, which she knows is a ditzy move but here she is, doing it.
“You’re really beautiful,” Jon says, dazed, and then, “ fuck .”
Sansa laughs so hard she has to put her coupe glass on the counter and bend over, holding her stomach with her elbows. She doesn’t even have a good explanation for it, because she’s not that drunk, really--Gendry is for sure making her singles and complaining about doubles to make her feel better, because everyone in Sansa’s family thinks that she’s a lightweight. She just feels incredibly happy. Winterfell always makes her happy, which is bizarre because it’s a backwater where the sheep outnumber the people and there’s nothing to do after 8pm except go the pub and drink with all the old men.
“Am I?” she finally manages, straightening up. “That’s nice of you to say.”
“I think it’s making me out to be an asshole,” Jon says. “Fuck, I should go before--god knows what’s going to come out of my mouth next. I’m going to get another lager and then go find Robb, shall I?”
“No, no,” Sansa protests between the last few spurts of giggles. “It’s actually rather nice.”
“That’s nice of you to say,” Jon says, “but I think I’m going to go throw myself in the lake all the same. You’ve been very professional and I’m just--well, clearly a fucking disaster.”
“Oh no,” Sansa says, and something in his expression kills the last of her laughter. She reaches out and touches his right forearm with the tips of her fingers. “I’m glad you said those nice things, Jon. I think--well. I’m glad you think I’m beautiful. You’re very lovely. Is it weird to be saying this? You’re my patient.” He’s staring at her, so she adds, “I’m so glad you’re here. I’m always so happy to see you.”
“You thought I was a serial killer,” Jon says. “When we met on the train.”
“Yes,” Sansa says, “and yet there I was, flirting with you, like an idiot.”
“Was that flirting?” Jon says.
“Oh, yes, definitely,” Sansa tells him. She starts to curl her fingers over his forearm. He’s wearing the sleeves of his button-down pushed up over his elbows; he has dark, curling hair on his forearm and it’s springy under her hand. It’s making Sansa a little crazy. She wants to lick his arm. “I don’t take botanical advice from just anybody, you know.”
“Did the poinsettia make it?” Jon asks, politely.
“Yes, thank you for asking,” Sansa says. After a few seconds of staring into his eyes, she says, “I’m flirting with you again, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
Jon says, “Would you like to have dinner with me tomorrow? I can--if it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll see another genetic counselor. I’m sure Dr. Tarth can recommend someone.”
Sansa’s never heard five sexier words than his utterly sincere if it makes you uncomfortable .
“Why wait until dinner?” she says and it takes Jon about half a millisecond to respond, reaching out with his left hand and curling it around the nape of her neck, yanking her in against his body. He tastes like yeast and Sansa makes some kind of horrifying squeaking noise before she sighs into it, melting against him. His lips are so soft and his beard rubs against her chin, delightfully, a contrast in texture that sends little tingles up and down her spine until she’s shivering.
“You taste so fucking sweet,” Jon says.
“It’s the drink,” Sansa says, dazed, and Jon murmurs, “No, that’s not it,” and slants his mouth over hers at a new angle, licking her mouth open with a filthy swipe. Sansa’s making out against her parents’ kitchen counter before she has more than half of a second to think about it, Jon’s warm chest pressing her backwards until her spine’s arched and she’s got both hands buried in his hair. He smells so good. Sansa can feel all of her nerve endings going at once, a million neuromuscular junctions sending calcium action potentials in crashing waves.
“Wow,” Sansa manages to say a thousand years later, when she’s had to unpeel herself from Jon to get some air. “Uh. Yes, I will have dinner with you tomorrow.”
“What are you doing later tonight?” Jon asks breathlessly and he doesn’t wait for her to answer before he’s kissing her again.
“Want to go out for breakfast?” Sansa asks Jon the next morning, after she’s kissed him awake and he’s gone down on her for the fourth time in less than five hours, and he says, flatteringly winded, “Yes.”
After a second he adds, “Oh--shit, I have to tutor this kid today, what time is it?” Sansa reaches for her phone but she’s barely grabbed it off of the bedside table when he says, “Wait, I think--it might be your brother? Do you have a brother failing trigonometry?”
They stare at each other for five, six, seven seconds and then Jon says, “This is fucking unbelievable,” and Sansa laughs so hard that she actually cries.