"You must be exhausted. After my first day, I only wanted to see the bottom of a martini glass or ten," Margaery sympathized, handing Sansa a drink that she accepted with a limp gratitude.
It was eight o'clock on a Monday. Had Sansa not been shoved through the gauntlet at her last job, her first day at Wall Consulting, Inc. just might have done her in. As it was, she was tired—but not broken—but more than ready for a strong drink. "It's the people, I swear," Margaery added. "They're... a lot."
"There were several characters," Sansa admitted with a wry grin, toying with the olive in her glass and relishing the feel of the day's tension leaving her. It was deeply satisfying to let her constricting but gorgeous heels dangle on her toes as she slouched on the barstool next to Margaery at last. She had survived Day One.
This bar was also one of her favorites in Winter Town, and Margaery knew her well enough to know that this was the hideout from the world that Sansa would need the most. It was a speakeasy-themed bar, one of the first that had cropped up in the city before the trend had become so bloated and overblown. Its entrance was tucked behind a dumpster in a back alley, and required a password for entry. Inside, the walls were lined with rickety shelves of old, rare books that one could page through while curled in cozy, dimly-lit booths, sipping on rare cocktails and listening to witchy women singing haunted songs about broken love. The booths were covered in printed velvet, and the lights shaded with fringed green lamps, setting the tables in an absinthe glow. In the bathrooms, the walls were covered in polaroids of famous celebrities who had visited the speakeasy and had gotten drunk. Beneath their bleary faces they often scrawled either autographs or rude messages, and Sansa loved every picture, and had read each message, cherishing the inside jokes that she would never know and the little quirks of each person's handwriting. The bar was never crowded, and the bartenders were adept in both creating custom cocktails and fending off cloying strangers. It was the perfect respite after the day she had had.
"Wait until you meet Jon." Margaery's eyes were glowing over her cosmopolitan, the curve of her lips wicked. Sansa meant to ask what lip stain she was wearing—it was a deep mulberry shade and, per usual, excellent—but her mind snagged on the name.
"You mean Jon Snow?"
It had started with an offhand comment that morning from the creative director, Renly—something about him missing that tight rear view of Snow's—that had made the women surrounding him infuriatingly giggly. Renly had nodded to the darkened corner office for Sansa's benefit. "You haven't met him yet. Don't look so smug. One day soon you'll be giggling just like the rest of us."
In the moment, Sansa had been focused on getting the coffeemaker to work without embarrassing herself in front of Renly and his circle of adoring women, but she would not have probed further anyway. She had learned her lesson about office drama, and had had plenty of it in the past. This time, she had resolved, she'd live a simple life. She'd stay above it. The drama in her life would be contained to her Netflix and Hulu queues—she swore it.
Margaery leaned in now, clouding the air with her signature sultry rose perfume.
"Wait—you met him already? I thought he was still on that client meeting in King's Landing," she hissed indignantly. She was already checking her mobile, manicured fingers flying along the screen, presumably looking at the company's calendar. "You can't have. He's been gone for weeks. I don't think he'll be back in the office until Friday—I think he has to come back for that company outing thing."
"No, no. I just keep hearing about him," Sansa explained.
Renly's inappropriate remark had been the first of several cryptic references to this Jon Snow (Margaery had started tonight's outing by breaking it to her, gently, that Renly was gay. Apparently this had caused shock and tears among new female employees in the past, but Sansa had just laughed and informed her that she already knew. Well, it took you a few years to figure out my brother was gay when we were younger, so I thought a sit-down might help, Margaery had retorted. Low blow, Sansa had simply said.).
The second reference to this infamous Jon Snow had come when Sansa had been roped into a preposterously long photoshoot with the firm's photographer, Daario. They were taking photographs of a product for a report, and Sansa, still too new to have any projects of her own, had been assigned to help Daario arrange lighting. He was ludicrously handsome, in a dull sort of way, like a man from a cologne advert, with too-shiny hair that held an over-thought blue streak, and his shirt buttoned one button too low. He struck her as impulsive and emotional, and while the detached, experienced part of Sansa disliked him, the deeper part of her, the part that could not help but love people for their flaws, the part that read voraciously and connected deeply with even the side characters, appreciated his intensity.
"Too bad our resident model isn't here," Daario had jested vaguely, and the other photographer, Theon, had rolled his eyes as he set up his own camera. He'd rolled in late, joking snarkily under his breath with another employee about the apparently wild weekend he'd had, his hair mussed with bedhead. Ew, Sansa had thought automatically, but she'd smiled pleasantly anyway.
"If you like that mopey, pouty look," Theon had said, his gaze lingering on Sansa, watching for her reaction. "What about you, new girl?"
His voice had been sly, dangerous. She could already tell that Theon was trouble, something of a prevaricator, seeking drama and prodding for it when he could not find it, but she was prejudiced: she had already heard about Theon Greyjoy. Her brother had known him at university and had been friends with him, in the way that Robb was friends with everyone, but of course Robb would never say a bad thing about anyone.
Still, there was something electric about the room when Theon entered it, some tension on the brink of fun. His eyes were wicked and he was far quicker than Daario, not just with his work but with his retorts, too. The way his shirtsleeves were rolled up and the way his dark eyes gleamed with wit, matching a cocky smile, was oddly compelling, but Sansa felt too old to have a work-crush and knew better than to fancy a man who advertised his sexcapades. She had turned away from him, ignoring the way her belly had clenched at how he'd said, new girl.
No need to play with fire, she told herself. Even if it might seem fun.
"I can't say it's my thing," she'd said blandly, and had knelt down—pencil skirt and all—to adjust one of the tripods. Theon had crouched with her.
"I've got that," he'd said hastily, surprising her.
"Ugh. Get a girlfriend, Greyjoy," Daario had snipped, and Sansa had flushed. It was not even lunchtime yet and already she sensed herself wading waist-deep into office drama. She'd have to be more careful.
"Ignore Naharis," Theon had reassured her, holding out a hand to help her up that she'd not accepted. "He thinks he's funny. It's awkward."
"You're jealous that I use Snow's hands for photoshoots and not yours," Daario had ruthlessly assessed. "You're jealous of Jon Snow in general. You can't understand why he's so successful, or why he's so well-liked, and you think it should be you, not him. It's awkward."
The remark must have hit close to home; Theon had turned away, and Sansa had wondered if she had misjudged him.
"Right, um, I think this angle looks better," Sansa had stammered, still baffled by the cruelty of what Daario had said. She pointed to Theon's set up. "Please don't take this the wrong way. Yours is lovely. But I believe this angle will better satisfy the report requirements. It is a specs photo, after all."
Daario studied her, and Sansa turned away from him with a lump in her throat, but when she faced Theon, he was looking at her with the most naked gratitude that he hastily erased from his face.
"Alright," Daario said at last. Sansa had smiled slightly at Theon—she never could stand a bully—and he half-smiled back at her.
The third cryptic reference to Jon Snow and what she assumed were his good looks came from one of the other senior managers, Daenerys. Perpetually stressed out and, apparently, prone to loud, self-important outbursts, she had not even looked at Sansa when her secretary, Missandei, had brought Sansa in to introduce her. Evidently she had some sort of deadline coming up, and seemed to find her deadlines significantly more important than those of anyone else. Sansa had been curious about her—on the one hand, she sounded insufferable. On the other, she was a woman who had climbed the ladder and had more believers in her than any other woman that Sansa had ever met, so she had to be doing something right.
"Oh, another fangirl for my nephew," she had said, not taking her eyes from her laptop screen. With another hand, she was scrawling an elegant but messy signature on a stack of paper.
"She'll be in Tyrion's group, ma'am," Missandei had said politely, side-stepping the implication. "She won't be working with Mr. Snow."
"Well, she's still got eyes, hasn't she?" Daenerys finally looked up. "Pretty eyes, at that," she noted carelessly. "I have a ten o'clock."
"Yes, of course, ma'am; with Hizdahr," Missandei said, and ushered Sansa out.
When the door shut, Sansa had turned to Missandei.
"Thank you for introducing me, Missandei. The thing is, I care about my career," she said carefully. "What can I do to ensure Daenerys is confident in my—"
The door swung open, and Daenerys poked her fabulously-styled head out.
"Were you the one coming from Vale?" she asked suddenly.
"Yes, I worked under Petyr Baelish and reached Senior Consultant there," Sansa said smoothly. Daenerys studied her, narrowing her eyes and squaring her shoulders.
"Yes, I remember now. Jon was the one who told me about you, actually. Impressive resume. He told me you were fired... but he also told me that Petyr Baelish is a misogynistic ghoul." And without another word, she had slammed the door in their faces.
Margaery was nudging her, bringing her back to the present.
"Sorry," Sansa said, and she took a long swig of her martini.
"I heard one of our resident photographers took notice of you," Margaery said slyly.
"Oh, him," Sansa dismissed, but she found herself thinking again of Theon's forearms. He was not her type—he seemed a bit of a walking disaster of cockiness and self-assurance mixed with low self-esteem—but he'd had something about him. A certain cleverness that was dark, enticing; more intriguing, on the whole, than the bland types she had been dating recently. He'd made a sly reference to an obscure play she'd always loved, Florian and Jonquil, and she'd been so surprised that she hadn't even replied to it at first. "Forget it. Back to this Jon Snow," she said quickly, "what's his deal?"
"Not even I know," Margaery admitted in a low voice. "He doesn't eat lunch with anyone. He's either in his office with the door shut and the blinds down, or out on business trips. He refuses to have a secretary, because he believes it's a wasteful and insulting concept, which is sort of progressive and interesting, isn't it? He and Theon Greyjoy hate each other, and no one knows why. He has one drink maximum at office gatherings—on the rare occasion that he goes at all—and no one has any idea about his personal life. Is he dating? Does he have pets? Does he do anything besides work? No one knows. That, and he's deadly handsome. ...In a sort of brooding way. He's not my type but I absolutely would, given the chance. On the rare occasion that I've seen him present to a client, he kills it. He's got this quiet, solid energy that wins them over every time. He's done his research, he knows his slides, and he just knows what he wants." She paused, thinking. "God, yeah. After a client meeting? I totally, absolutely would."
"Would what? Sleep with him?"
It wasn't terribly surprising—Margaery was much more comfortable with that sort of thing than Sansa had ever allowed herself to be. In university, Margaery had rarely slept in her own bed, and would show up to their eight am lectures with gloriously rumpled hair and mascara beneath her eyes, looking tired and glamorous and deliriously in love, compared to Sansa's sleek ponytail and crisp, good-girl shirts; highlighters and color-coded notes.
Their lives were different, now, and yet...not different at all. Oh, Sans, Margaery had sighed, when Sansa informed her stiffly that she had been let go from her last job. She had not even explained why yet, and Margaery was already looking past the job. Now, at least, you can actually live your life and have some fun. Don't you get it? You're free.
"You'll see. I promise you'll have the same thoughts. There's something about that pouty, brooding mouth and those curls..." She shivered. "I'd never be able to date him, though," she dismissed. "He's far too uptight. But you might actually work well with that," she realized brightly.
Sansa rolled her eyes.
"Thank you, Margaery," she said.
Still, for all the jokes, it was clear that Jon Snow was someone she needed to impress if she wanted to recover from the failure—unfair though it was—of her last position, at Vale. Even though Margaery was already moving on and laughing about something else, Sansa sipped her martini and made a vow. Jon Snow would know her, and would be impressed by her. She would not let his praise of her resumé be the last time he complimented her. She would win him over—she would be successful at Wall Consulting.
It was not until later in the week that she met the notorious Jon Snow at last. And for all of her determination, after the meeting she would have liked to simply bury her head in the sand.
Not a good start.
"So will you be coming along for the office gathering on Friday, new girl?"
Theon was standing in the mouth of her cubicle, examining one of his cameras. Sansa looked back at her computer, to the report she was proofing for Tyrion. She wouldn't have a proper project until next week, so she was eagerly picking up any work she could. So far, she genuinely liked her boss, Tyrion. He was clever, and seemed good at what he did—plus, he hadn't shown any blatant signs of amorality, a significant change compared to her last mentor. Though the man was clearly a flirt, she did not think she'd find herself trapped in an elevator with him as his hand crept up her skirt any time soon.
"Yes, of course I'm coming," she said, defiantly not looking back at him. In reality, the idea of spending her Friday evening with people she worked with sounded nauseating, but consulting was so heavily dependent on relationships. She could not afford to be the new girl who had skipped out on a company social event.
She edited out a semicolon; Tyrion seemed to cherish them. In her periphery, she saw Theon fully enter her cubicle, and heard him lean against her desk. When she quickly glanced up, she saw his hip, and looked back at her screen quickly.
"They're typically a total shitshow," he confided. "Well worth your time. Everyone gets plastered—Lollys usually ends the night in the toilets, vomiting; Tyrion hits on his secretary, Shae; last time Daenerys stood on a table and ranted incoherently about social injustices and was kicked out of the bar."
That caught her attention. Sansa could not help but glance at Theon now and she saw his eyes flash with something like victory.
"A senior consultant was kicked out of a bar?"
"I'm telling you, it's better than Netflix. It usually sucks being new and having to go to these things, but you shouldn't worry about that, here." He paused, biting his lip. "Plus, you're Robb Stark's little sister, so I'll look out for you, make sure no one gross gets any ideas and hits on you," he promised.
"Thanks. I usually can hold my own," she said calmly, turning back to the report.
"I could tell," Theon was saying. "You seem independent. I bet you don't let too many people in—"
He was cut off by a shrill sound, something close to the sound of chickens, and they both looked up. Lollys, one of the junior consultants, skidded to a halt by the cubicle, looking harried.
"Jon is back," she hissed. "Places, everyone! Don't let him catch you chatting!"
Sansa looked bemusedly at Theon, who shrugged.
"Everyone makes a big deal about it when he's in the office," he explained, as a few blurs flew past her cubicle. The office was fluttering with a deadly, quiet sort of activity, like preparing for a national emergency. "It's just because he's never here. He's a tight-ass and will get on your case about whether you're making the most of your billable time," he added. He shoved off from her desk. "Sounds like a good time for me to run out for an espresso break. You want to come?"
"No, thanks—I promised I'd finish this for Tyrion," she said with an apologetic smile.
"Suit yourself," Theon said, and slipped out of her cubicle.
Sansa finished her edits, but she'd always caught more errors on paper than on a screen. Printing it would help. When she poked her head out of the cubicle, the office was notably quiet, the only noises that of the efficient clicking of keyboards and low, muttered phone conversations. It was the most focused she had seen the office yet. Jon Snow's office in the corner, however, remained dark.
The printer was in a separate alcove off of the main area, and Sansa stood before the printer, watching page after page of the report spew out from the printer.
There was a part of her that reluctantly acknowledged that going out for coffee with Theon might have been fun. I bet you don't let too many people in. It was a canned observation, but nevertheless astute. She didn't let many people in, and sometimes she wondered if that was a mistake. It had become a habit, during her last job, and though it had initially protected her, it had also led her to this moment, in which she had been fired, and consequently taken a pay cut, and no longer had her own office—not to mention lived alone. She could not remember the last time she had done something just fun, just for herself.
It might have been fun to go with Theon. It was a crisp day, and outside of the large arched windows, the city looked tantalizing, the way it always did in late autumn, as the world hurtled toward the excitement of Christmastime. It might have been fun to bundle up in her coat and walk to the cafe with him—they might have talked about books, or—
"—Is that print job necessary?"
Sansa looked over her shoulder. A lean man of middle height—she was wearing heels, so that she was precisely eye-level with him—in a crisp dark suit was scowling at her. His jaw-length dark hair was tidy, but he had rough stubble and deep shadows beneath his dark eyes. He had a harried, impatient look about him, like he had had too much caffeine in a short amount of time and was the sort of person to answer emails at four-thirty in the morning. She knew his type: consulting tended to produce men who were either ludicrously lax and prone to drinking whiskey from cut-crystal glasses during the day, or men who developed lockjaw and insomnia and an addiction to their email.
"I don't think we've met—I'm new," Sansa said gamely, holding out her hand. His handshake was firm but his eyes did not soften with friendliness. "Sansa Stark. I'm one of the new consultants."
"I asked about the printing," he said bluntly.
Sansa smiled through her disbelief. Behind her, the report finished printing, and they were left in silence. She could not believe anyone would bother to question a print job, of all things. What was this man's problem?
Theon strolled into the alcove, bearing two paper cups and still bundled in his own coat. Flurries were lingering in his dark hair, and he bumped into the crabby man as he brushed past him. It had not been an accident.
"Welcome back, Snow," Theon shot over his shoulder. "Hey. Got you one," he said to Sansa, handing her a latte, but Sansa was still staring, dumbfounded, at the man before her.
This was Jon Snow?
This was the man that no one seemed to stop talking about?
He's not even that tall, Sansa thought furiously. Over Theon's shoulder, she saw the notorious Jon Snow shoot Theon an irritated look before turning away from them.
"I'm trying to print something. I'd appreciate it if you hurried up," was all he said as he stalked back to his office and shut the door. Theon was smirking.
"That's what he gets for not having a secretary like every other senior consultant," Theon said in a low voice. It was not low enough; Sansa was sure Jon had heard it. "Don't worry about him."
Sansa was mortified. "Seriously, don't worry about him. He must've gone off his laxatives today," he joked.
"Thanks," she said numbly, taking the latte from Theon and collecting her report with her free hand. "I'd better get back to my desk," she whispered.
She hated herself for thinking, as she walked back to her desk, that Renly had not been wrong about the view of Jon Snow from behind.
The week had been a blur, and though overall things had gone well, Sansa had not yet found the opportunity to recover from the awkwardness of her first encounter with Jon Snow. But tonight was the office gathering, and Margaery had confirmed that he would be in attendance.
This was her chance.
Sansa had chosen her outfit with the care of a general preparing for battle—her best black heels, her most tailored black pencil skirt, and a forest green blouse that, magically, required little adjusting and tucked effortlessly into her skirt with no bunching. She wore no jewelry and little makeup, and put her hair in a low, businesslike bun. She looked all business; she looked highly competent and experienced.
She had picked her strategy: she would buy Jon Snow a drink. Whiskey, she decided. Something masculine but tasteful. He seemed like a man who would be interested in the stock market, so she'd open with a vague comment on stocks. Perhaps he liked sports, and so she had picked up a few different sports-related magazines on Thursday night and had spent the evening curled on her couch with a glass of wine, reading and highlighting and making notes. Should he happen to be a man who followed literally any sport—hockey? Cricket? Curling?—she would be ready with a quip. He did not seem to care much for luxury, and he did not strike her as a man with a family, so she would have to be tactical: their conversation would have to, in some way, add value to his life in his eyes.
She would win him over.
All day, she anxiously studied his office, but he was off-site at meetings and would be meeting up with the group directly at the bar. No matter; it would only make her strategy more crisp. She would put him in awe of her knowledge of the stock market and then, once he had warmed to her and had had a few sips of whiskey, she would drop a few mentions of her previous projects at Vale and a few key client names, to remind him of how impressed he had apparently been with her resumé. She would undo his disdain of her and would put herself in a good light in his eyes, and then she would have two of the more successful senior consultants on her side.
"Ready? We're all walking over." Theon was shrugging into an elegant, tailored wool coat as he came into her cubicle. Margaery was behind him, walking with Lollys, gossiping happily.
She was ready.
Sansa rose from her desk like she had been summoned by the gods themselves, and pulled on her own burgundy coat. There was a hopeful flutter in her belly, but she tied the belt of her coat with determined hands. Her career was everything to her, and she would have an office and a senior title of her own within two years, come hell or high water. Her mishap at Vale would not define the rest of her career; he would be proven wrong about everything he had said so softly, so cruelly, into the phone that one last time.
Theon was smirking at her as they left the office. "You're the only woman in the office who doesn't look like she's about to go on a trashy date," he remarked under his breath, as they stepped into the brisk afternoon. The sky was blushing with sunset, and early commuters were crowding the sidewalks.
Ahead, Margaery, Lollys, Shae, and a few other women were walking together. Behind them, she could hear Renly's daring, careless laugh.
"That's a bit sexist, don't you think?" she countered. Theon snorted.
"Come on," he said easily, unabashed. "You were thinking it too."
"I did note that all the men are wearing cologne like they're about to go on a trashy date," Sansa retorted. "Even you." To her surprise, Theon simply laughed, and she found herself grinning reluctantly.
"You just look like you're on a mission," he explained, as they paused at a light. "Espionage, or something."
Sansa thought of the highlighted and earmarked sports magazines piled on her coffee table. She touched her bun, to ensure it was still neat. "You might as well relax," he continued. "Like I said, these things are a shitshow. It's not the usual uptight consulting, where these are basically meetings. Daenerys will be pissed before seven," he added, glancing back over his shoulder warily. Sansa followed his gaze to the blonde. She was walking with Daario, looking surprisingly girlish and flushed.
"Does Jon Snow get drunk?" she asked innocently. Theon scoffed.
"God, no. It's hurt him, honestly," he reasoned. "The fact that he won't let loose with everyone else is not great. That's really the only thing you can do wrong, is not join in with everyone else. And I know he can throw down; I knew him years back, in school. I saw him get utterly trashed for the first time when we were like fifteen. It was hilarious."
"I can't picture that," Sansa admitted.
"He's anal-retentive now," Theon said carelessly. "Lives for his work. He thinks he's got to save the damn company every time there's a screwup; he acts like it's a matter of life or death."
"You don't seem to like him much."
Theon shrugged. They had reached the bar, called The Devil's Details, and they paused and turned to each other, waiting for the rest of the group. His dark eyes flicked, so briefly, to the sliver of her throat not protected by her coat, then up to her eyes again. She had not felt pretty in so long, but the way his eyes lingered on her lips, her throat, her hair made her feel pretty. Wanted. Seen. Don't be an idiot, she warned herself, and she looked away, shoving her hands in the pockets of her coat. She knew better than this, didn't she? Yet he was not so simple; her initial assessment of him had been shallow. She could not help but think he was more than the image to which he so carefully tended, and she could not help but sense that learning what lay beneath that image might be fun.
And she had frankly had very little fun in the last few years.
"Honestly? I just think he's a self-important asshole," he said.
Before Sansa could ask more, Renly and his fans had reached them, and Daenerys and Daario were not far behind.
"Can we go inside?" Margaery complained, dancing in place. "It's cold."
"Let me just let Jon know. He's across town," Daenerys was saying, taking out her mobile and glancing at the street signs for reference. Sansa fought the urge to ask when he would be joining them. She had to make sure Daenerys knew she was not just 'a fangirl' of Jon, so when the other girls started to pipe up and ask when he'd be done, Sansa turned away as though disinterested.
It was only five, so the bar was not crowded. Inside was wood-paneled, the bar backlit with red lights. The front was all windows, looking out onto the street. Later, the street would be packed with revelers—there were many bars along this stretch, and it was a central location—and there would be a line forming out the door, but for now it was easy to find a large table for the group. Sansa was feeling increasingly anxious; if they were all stuck at one table, it would be harder to snag Jon Snow and buy him a drink. How much time would pass before she would have another opportunity to bond with him? A week? Six months?
"First round's on me," Renly called, and some of the group cheered. "Let's start with whiskey," he said devilishly, shrugging off his Burberry coat and clapping his hands together.
"Please tell me you won't go all professional and dull on me," Theon begged, as the shot glasses of whiskey were passed around the two tables they had occupied. Sansa took hers. She'd never liked whiskey, but she also knew consulting politics all too well. Just as she could not be the new girl who did not go out with the group, she could not be the new girl who turned down the first drink—especially when a senior person was paying.
"I can't back out of the first round," she promised, and tossed back the shot with the others. It hit her throat and slid into her belly like molten gold, and within moments, she had begun to calm down. The sky outside was darkening, but still no sign of Jon Snow.
"Look, Lollys is already drunk," Theon said into her ear later, his breath ghosting along the shell of her ear and neck. The bar was already beginning to feel more humid. Indeed, Lollys was red-faced and laughing far too hard at something Renly had said. Renly and Margaery looked between each other, Renly quizzically silly and Margaery biting back laughter. "Lollys didn't realize Baratheon's gay, and a few years ago she tried to get him alone in a bathroom stall at the holiday get-together," Theon confided. "Don't know how she missed that; he advertises it like a neon sign."
"I can't blame her."
"Oh, that's your type?" Theon asked archly, settling back. Sansa rolled her eyes, but Theon was smiling, and she could not help but smile too. When he leaned in again, she felt his leg brush hers under the table.
"He's handsome," she argued. Shae had turned to them with interest.
"No one," Sansa said calmly, just as Theon said, "I am."
"You know who's handsome," Shae began in a low, dangerous voice. "Jon Snow."
"Ugh, here we go," Theon muttered. Next to her, Tyrion threw back his head and roared with laughter. He was on his third shot of whiskey.
"He looks like a punched puppy," Tyrion countered. "I do love the man but really, I don't see the fuss."
"He looks sensitive. Like a good lover," Shae mused, a far-off look in her eyes. "I bet he's not afraid to go south for the winter, if you know what I mean."
Sansa choked on the fresh shot of whiskey that had somehow ended up in her hand; Theon was grinning at Shae. "It's the mouth," she added.
He did have a nice mouth. Sansa had unhappily noticed it earlier in the week, and now she felt foolish though she could not quite pinpoint why. She had also noted Renly's good looks, and has not felt bad about that.
"It's the fact that he looks like a girl," Theon shot back easily, but his words were drowned out. At the second table, Daenerys, her cheeks flushed and eyes bright, was making an impassioned speech that kept getting steamrollered by Renly's sarcasm.
"Next round is on me," Tyrion said suddenly. "Let's do whiskey again; they have one from Skagos that I'm terribly curious about, and I try to have whiskey on-hand when Dany gets going."
He was her boss; she could not turn this one away, either. Sansa raised the shot glass with the rest of them and hoped that Jon Snow would be running late. It would give her time for the third shot of whiskey to wear off. She threw it back with the rest of them, and coughed a little as she set the glass down. The bar was growing crowded, and more from the office had joined. Lollys was getting a bit loud, struggling to sit properly on her chair, and the music was growing louder. Shae was leaning so far in front of Tyrion that her breasts were practically smothering him, and in the corner, Margaery was being wooed by at least five different men with a sort of catlike satisfaction. Sansa watched in shock as Daenerys shrugged off Daario and sauntered to sit with Margaery, and the two women bent their heads together, talking in low voices and making rather a lot of eye contact. Across the tables, Sansa accidentally met Renly's eyes, and he winked cheekily at her.
"And thus, the shitshow begins," Theon said in her ear. Her skin prickled; his lip had brushed her skin.
"I think I need some air," Sansa confessed, her tongue thick in her mouth. She'd never done well with whiskey. She got to her feet unsteadily.
Theon watched her get to her feet.
"There's a back balcony," he said. "Come with me." His hand was at the small of her back, as he forged a path for them to the back of the bar to an open staircase leading to the second floor, which was lofted over the first. The crowding had grown oppressive, and Sansa gratefully burst out into the frosty night air with Theon at the back of the second floor. She wasn't wearing her coat, and the night went through her like a knife. A few people were out there, smoking in clumps, and the air smelled like fire and smoke. Together, they stood in the corner, and looked out over the alley.
"Sorry," she said sheepishly, as they lingered by a pot of soil that must have once held a plant. "I don't like being drunk," she confessed.
"Oh, yeah, me neither," Theon said vaguely.
It was only seven-thirty, but it felt so much later. Her head was swimming and her throat felt raw. It seemed impossible that she had only had a few shots of whiskey and yet felt this tipsy, and she took in steeling breaths. "Are you alright?"
They faced each other; Theon set his hand on the railing beside them, and his forearm brushed her hand. She pulled away, tucking a loose lock behind her ear, and his dark eyes followed the movement disappointedly. She was just warm enough to wonder what might happen if she didn't pull her hand away. It might be fun. This time, she let her handle linger, and when Theon stepped closer, his hand brushing hers, it took her a moment to pull away.
What are you doing? she desperately wondered.
Letting myself have some normal fun, the deeper part of her crowed. Sansa pulled her arm away and twisted away from him.
"Yes, I'm fine. I just needed some air," she admitted. Together, they looked out at the city, glimmering in the night, and listened to the roar of nightlife around them. "We'd better get back inside," she said after a while.
"Yeah. Can't miss the shitshow," Theon said.
Inside, the atmosphere had changed. It was darker, the red backlighting more vibrant, and people knocked into Sansa as she followed Theon to the open staircase. As they turned the landing, she saw the door swing open downstairs, and her heart jolted into her throat.
Jon Snow had arrived. He was scanning the crowd, and nodded when he saw their group. From this vantage point, Sansa could freely watch him shrug out of his coat with movements brisk and businesslike, and push his way to the tables. His suit was plain, and he needed a shave. He looked like he had not slept in a few days, but there was something to him—some indefinable thing that made everyone pause and look at him. To her surprise, he smiled genuinely at a few of the employees, greeting them with one-armed hugs and, in one fiery-haired giant man's case, a full bear hug.
The mystery only deepened: who was Jon Snow? Who was this man of blunt rudeness at prints and bear hugs with graphic designers? Who was this man who had bothered to look at her resumé and seemed to know her story already?
"Great," she heard Theon groan.
This was her chance. She was less tipsy, definitely less tipsy. She was a grown woman who could handle this. She knew how to do business with a little alcohol in her system; at Vale consulting, it had been part and parcel of the job. She squared her shoulders as she came down the steps. She was Sansa fucking Stark, and she would get Jon Snow to love her. Getting people to love her was her talent, she reminded herself; it was her secret weapon.
"You made it," she said, as their path converged with Jon's. He turned to look at them, his brows arching, and with a lurch of horror she realized how it looked: she and Theon had come together from another place, flushed with cold and not wearing their coats. Jon's grey gaze was more chilling than the night air as he looked them over with unmistakable disdain.
"As did you," he remarked. Sansa swallowed. The more awkward she acted, the more incriminating it might seem. There was no way to tell him that she had not been off somewhere with Theon inappropriately; the best was to show him. She pressed on.
"There's an empty chair by me," she said. He didn't look happy about it—nor did Theon—but there weren't any other options, and soon they were sitting side by side, with Theon on Sansa's other side. Jon irritably pushed a large potted palm frond out of his way as he sat. This close, he smelled faintly of aftershave and coffee, but none of the strong cologne that seemed to be a trend among the other men. He smells good, Sansa thought dizzily, then reeled with horror. Oh, fuck. She was still too tipsy. How had this happened? Tyrion tore himself from Shae.
"Snow! You made it. I've already bought a round, but I'm so pleased that this one's on me, too," he greeted. Jon shifted uncomfortably, considerably less warm to Tyrion. He held up a hand as the other loosened his tie.
"—Nonsense!" Tyrion insisted, and Shae laughed a little harder than necessary. Stock market, Sansa reminded herself. Stock market and sports, and I'll ask how his meeting went. She wanted to decline the whiskey that was passed to her, but then everyone—even Jon—was holding a shot of whiskey. "Well, this is in honor of our beautiful boy, who just won us a client that we have been struggling to win over for the decade that I've been at the Wall. From all sources, the meeting was bloody electric, and somehow even Stannis was impressed. To Jon Snow!"
Sansa was so nervous, so lost in her own head, that she threw back the shot before they had toasted together. They looked at her, bemused, but then toasted together anyway, and each one threw back the shot. Wait. Shit.
"You're supposed to wait," Jon remarked, after he had taken the shot and set his empty glass down. His voice was just slightly rough from the whiskey. Sansa's throat was on fire and her neck was warm, and Sansa turned to look at Jon.
This was her chance. She had behaved awkwardly, but she had prepared for this, and she could salvage this.
Stock market, she told herself, but that was not what came out of her mouth.
"Well, I'm a bad girl," she confessed.
In the moment, she did not study the words. It had been a careless joke—she of the color-coded notes and highlighters, a bad girl?
To anyone else, it would have been funny.
There was a buzzing sound in her ears, and Jon Snow was looking at her with powerful disdain. What was his problem? He was looking at her like she'd said something rude—through the haze of alcohol, she realized what she had said.
"I saw your CV—I had hoped for more," he said briskly, and turned from her to face Tyrion.
On his other side, just over his shoulder, Theon was staring at her, his eyes wide and lips parted.