The late afternoon sun glared off his desk, and Pate exhaled deeply.
He wasn’t taking the exam—a nursing student, he was terrified by the very idea of trying to speak a foreign language—but the stress was rolling off those who were, hunched so low over their own desks that he could see spots of ink on a few noses as they resurfaced to think, or take a sip of water.
“Ten minutes.” Several of the candidates jumped a little as Pate called out the time.
The worst of them, he realised as he looked back up from his phone, was the redhead at the left end of the front row. Her knuckles were nearly white with tension, and her jaw looked as though she urgently needed a supplemental tetanus shot.
You never know, miss, you might pass.
Probably not, though. The Foreign Service exam had a fail rate of over 80%, although anyone who’d made it this far had at least cleared the oral exams in foreign language. He’d seen people leave in tears—at least one every spring—and one young woman had actually had a seizure with one minute left to go. His first year proctoring, Pate had always joked that he’d been hired partly because he had EMT certification. In the third year, it wasn’t a joke anymore.
To her credit, the redhead didn’t jump, although her handwriting sped up, to the point that Pate actually looked up at her in concern a few times. Leo—his nominal supervisor, and one of the laziest people Pate had ever had the misfortune to meet—had once told them that the average candidate studied for the FSE for about two years. Now it was all down to a few minutes.
He suppressed a groan as one man near the back of the room ran for the bathroom, his hands over his mouth. I hope you finished your sentence.
By the time the echo of puking had faded away, there were fifteen seconds.
“And…time. Pencils down, please.”
They all complied; the exam was video-recorded to prevent cheating, and the risks of writing past time were too high.
“Leave your paper on your desk, it’ll be collected. Good luck, and have a good weekend.”
The candidates were dead silent as they filed out of the room. Pate signed off the certificate for a successful exam, and began to gather his things.
The redhead’s voice was nearly inaudible as she paused in front of his desk.
“My pleasure, but I got paid for it too.”
She smiled faintly. “See you later, I guess.”
“I don’t give out the results usually, miss.”
“No, I’ll have to take it again.”
He thought he could see a tear welling up in her eye as she excused herself.
Mya had barely pulled up to the curb before a woman knocked on the cab door.
“Front seat or back?”
“Front’s fine.” The woman had her bag in the backseat before Mya could get out to help her. She nodded approvingly; she could always respect a passenger with hustle.
“Shett’s Tower Inn, please. Let me get the direc—“
“I gotcha.” Mya floored the gas and pulled out. Isembard Arryn Jetport was hardly King Aegon Memorial, but they were dangerously close to rush hour traffic on the V12.
“Here for work, or…?”
“Gulltown Scriveners’, actually. I’m presenting my book.”
“Oh, I forgot that was this weekend. Nice, what’s it about?”
“Fellow named Rickon Flint Stark. He was one of Daeron I's field commanders across the Wall back in the day, he was supposed to be Lord of Winterfell, but he didn’t live long enough.”
“Did you go up there, then?” The V12 was already starting to fill up, and Mya sighed as she swerved around a municipal bus.
“Across the Wall? I tried, but they don’t give out visas very easily, and I don’t think they were all that happy when they heard about my project. I got to speak with a few free folk in the Gift, though.”
“He wasn’t popular, then.”
“I did a history degree, and…he was a monster, honestly, one of the worst I can think of. He was one of the first northerners to reach the Vale of Thenn, when Aegon III was still on the throne, and I don’t think the barrel of his gun ever cooled off for that whole trip.”
“Yeah. Interesting, though.”
“Well, you might get to meet the Prince of Oldstones.” Mya sighed in relief as she took the exit towards the Old Harbour.
“He’s going to be doing some speech at the beginning, it was all over the Fisherman’s front pages. Handsome devil.”
“I can’t imagine he’d want to meet me. I…I wrote for the Karhold Sun, and we really did a number on his cousin.”
“Oh, I remember that. He just got out of stir, didn’t he?”
“Don’t know, don’t care.” There was fire in the woman’s voice, and Mya saw coldness settle into her grey eyes. “That story was pretty horrifying.”
Shett’s Tower was bustling when they got there, and Mya was relieved when her passenger offered to get out a block earlier, hefting her bag with a practiced ease.
“And…here you go.”
“Right, let me get your—“
“No, no, keep the change.”
It was about twenty dragons, and Mya smiled. “Thank you, Ms…?”
“Karstark. Alys Karstark.”
FRIDAY - Nighttime
She remained still for a long time after Satin was done, not moving to clothe herself.
He stood up, walking quietly over to the sink. Many of his clients—more of the men than the women—were like this after climaxing, exhausted, the stars still fading from their eyes.
She was hoarse—no wonder, she’d moaned and cried for the last five minutes, her lean body writhing under his oiled hands.
“My pleasure.” It really had been.
The client sat up, stretching, and he could see sorrow in her eyes. Not guilt—he’d seen that often enough, mostly from those who regretted seeking out a sex worker, or those who were cheating.
This was the sorrow of someone who was trying to forget about someone else.
“You must think I’m pathetic.” She had a rich Dornish accent.
“Why would I think that?”
His client laughed, crossing her arms under her teardrop-shaped breasts. “Isn’t everyone, who comes to you?”
“People have needs.”
She sighed, turning to fetch her clothes as he dried his hands off, and he couldn’t resist sneaking one last peek at the bottom he’d kneaded like bread as it vanished into her tight-cut jeans. “I used to…yes.”
“You’re missing someone.”
“It’s been three years. That’s…it’s not normal, I know it isn’t.”
“Whatever normal is.”
“Hmph.” She smiled faintly as she turned back to him, buttoning up her shirt.
“If you need to just talk, I offer that too.”
“Oh, I’m afraid I want be here too much longer. Took a job in Storm’s End.”
“Then good luck…Elia.”
He had a few minutes before his next client would arrive, and he did a quick round of yoga. Masseuse work could be hard on the hands and wrists, and he couldn’t risk an injury because he hadn’t limbered up enough.
He knew who she was, of course. Her older sister and a friend had engaged his services once when they’d been students at the Citadel—one of the first times he’d been pinned down and fingered, he’d quite liked it.
Oh, she’ll be a sort of aunt soon, won’t she? The Crown Princess’ delivery date was…well, any day now.
The people you meet in this job…
Sumner groaned as Jerrold scooped up another three cards. “Eyes are getting too damn old for this.”
It was warm enough to leave the main door open, and he could see the lights of Lannisport twinkling in the distance. An unusually quiet Friday night so far—they’d transported one man already after a stabbing on Ser Tyland’s Canal, but the only other two calls had been for drug overdoses, neither of which had required a trip to the hospital.
And yet, somehow, the tension was building. The Low Holy Nights, he called them—Thursday to Saturday, when every young buck inside the Lannisport Ring had an apparent legal obligation to get absolutely smashed. His grandmother, a tough old farmer’s wife from Crakesmarch, had once observed that “nothing good happens from two to five”, and Sumner’s experience hadn’t proved her wrong just yet.
Except one to two isn’t much—
The phone rang.
The black one, the one connected to emergency dispatch.
He was on his feet in seconds. “Tanners’ Road EMS, receiving.”
“Motorway wreck, exit thirteen, N4 southbound. One motorcycle, one station wagon. Driver not breathing.”
Jerrold was already scrambling into the ambulance when Sumner jumped in and hit the gas—and then the lights.
He never drove slow with the lights and horns on, there would’ve been no point—but when he talked about it a few weeks later, Sumner Crakehall would swear that he’d never driven faster than that night.
Knight’s Neck Road was a blur as they shot down the bus lane, his knuckles white on the wheel. Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck—he’d seen an auto accident once, when he was still a trainee, where a motorcyclist had been literally decapitated. Another one where the man had died in his own trainee’s arms. Merritt had almost fainted, and Sumner wouldn’t have blamed him one bit.
The motorway was already slowing down. Thankfully, the drivers had had the sense to keep right when traffic began to choke up, and the old EMT was able to keep the pedal nearly to the floor all the way from exits nine to thirteen. At some point—he thought it was exit ten, he couldn’t tell—a blue light came on in the rearview as a police car pulled in.
Stranger fuck me sideways, please please please let us be on time—
Twelve. Traffic was now at a complete standstill.
Thirteen, and he nearly stopped breathing.
The station wagon had gone headfirst into the guardrail; the motorcycle, its front wheel crushed flat as a pancake, lay a few yards ahead, two unmoving forms beside it and three standing around them.
Sumner hit the brakes so hard he would later swear there’d been sparks and leaped from the ambulance. He caught a glimpse of Jerrold jogging towards the station wagon, where a woman—the driver—was leaning against the side, her face in her hands, shaking like a leaf.
The others—they’d been in the car in front, he would later find out—parted as he dropped to one knee.
The man was gone. No one had ever survived with a neck at that particular angle.
The woman, though—she’d at least had the sense to wear a motorcycle jacket, and Sumner tore the collar open. Her pulse was shallow, so much so that he nearly gave up.
But it was there.
And then…then it wasn’t.
He instantly began to perform chest compressions, cursing under his breath. Come on, come on, come on…
She wasn’t going to make—
Her eyes flew open.
He barely caught her fist before it broke his nose, and then she was fighting like a devil, her eyes wide with pupils nearly invisible.
What the fuck is she—“Help me!”
The police officer had caught up at some point, and it took both of them to wrestle her to the ground, Sumner trying with all his might to keep the other man from putting pressure on the girl’s sternum. Eventually—he couldn’t have said how—they got her into the ambulance, where the officer cuffed her to the gurney.
“You need to sedate—“
“It could kill her!” Sumner roared back.
“She’ll try to kill—“
The girl went limp—again—and Sumner cursed, grabbing the defibrillator.
She jumped—once when he pressed the paddles to her chest, and then went still.
A normal still, this time. He could see her eyes—grey, that’s an unusual eye colour—blinking very, very slowly.
“Stranger.” The police officer slumped against the wall of the ambulance.
“We need to get her to the ER now.”
“Keep the cuffs.” The officer handed him the key.
“Don’t you need—“
“Jon’s got a backup set, and I don’t know what she’ll do. Or what she was—“
“Cocaine. Got to be cocaine.”
“She’s got cocaine eyes. Or she did. JERROLD!”
His partner looked up from where he was crouched over the driver.
“I’ll take care of her.” The officer jumped from the back of the ambulance.
The ambulance wasn’t quite as fast going to the ER, and Sumner remained in the back, his eyes on the girl.
It wasn’t, he realised, just the eyes. The skin around her nose was red, the telltale sign of a heavy drinker.
“Where am I?”
She spoke when they were almost to the hospital, her voice rough and ragged.
“Your friend who drove the motorcycle?”
“He didn’t make it. I’m sorry.”
“I…no…” She would’ve shown more emotion, he thought, but she barely had enough energy to remain awake.
“My fault…I…it has to stop…”
She kept muttering to herself, her eyes darting back and forth, until Jerrold and Sumner pushed the gurney into the Lady Jeyne Polyclinic’s emergency reception bay.
“Do you have a name?” The intake man looked up at Sumner as two orderlies wheeled it away.
“The cop gave me her wallet.” Jerrold offered it to the younger man, who took it.
“Okay…Stark. Arya Stark. Got it. Thanks.”
They left slower than they’d arrived. Sumner could feel waves of exhaustion sweeping over him; even for EMT standards, it had been an intense call.
Gods, I can’t imagine where she’s going to end up.
Stay tuned for the spinoff of Grey-Eyed Baroness:
SPEAKER, SEARCHER, WATCHER, WAIF
This fall on Archive of Our Own