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Thunderstruck

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Thunderstruck

Chapter One


“What’s the name of this band again?” Sansa asked for the umpteenth time, still only half paying attention. She flipped open her powder compact and applied a layer of sheer, cherry-flavored lip gloss. In a rainbow of rippling colors, the city lights reflected on the Chicago River and cascaded by her as Sansa’s eyes flickered out the window of Gendry’s ’69 Firebird, his pride and joy. 

Arya huffed in the front seat and swiveled around to Sansa with a look of utter annoyance plastered on her face.

“Cannibal Star! I’ve told you, like, five thousand times.” 

Her little sister, although hardly little anymore at sixteen, rolled her eyes in mock exasperation but quickly conceded.  Sansa was doing her a tremendous favor and Arya knew it. She had begged and pleaded with Sansa to come and even offered to do Sansa’s chores for the next week if she agreed, just this once, to help her out. 

Last weekend, Arya had been caught, once again, sneaking out to meet up with Gendry, a boy her parents didn’t quite approve of. Although three years older than Arya, Gendry was a nice guy and had a good job at the steel mill.  If he was a college student working hard to secure a future as a boring accountant or pompous Wall Street broker, Sansa doubted her parents would have had such a problem.  Even she had to admit it was a little unfair.  Either way, Arya’s rebelliousness had gotten her grounded despite Gendry procuring tickets and backstage passes to their favorite metal band. 

Their father had been adamant that Arya couldn’t go and no amount of whining changed his mind. It was her punishment for not only breaking curfew, but sneaking out to meet up with “that guy.” Arya complained all week, slowly breaking down her parents’s resolve instead of quietly accepting her punishment, as Sansa was apt to do.  Per usual, their mother relented first after Arya buttered their mom up with compliments and help around the house until she agreed to discuss the matter with their father. 

He was a harder sell, but after a lengthy discussion between the parental unit, their father had begrudgingly conceded under one condition: Sansa had to go with Arya and Gendry to the concert, a chaperone of sorts, although she was only two years older than Arya.  Regardless, Sansa was the responsible daughter, always trying to politely follow the rules and make as little waves as possible. Her reward for that was having to “escort” her sister to some stupid metal show. 

“Did you have to dress like a goddamn yuppie?” Arya huffed and looked mortified that she’d have to be seen with her prim and proper sister. 

With a cursory evaluation of her outfit, Sansa didn’t see what the problem was. She thought she looked quite nice; even their mother had said so.  Sansa had chosen a pleated skirt in her favorite shade of baby blue, a sensible white blouse, and a soft pink sweater.  Perhaps tying the sweater around her neck was a bit much, but the night was bound to grow chilly and she didn’t want to be without something to cover up with. Besides, who knew what sort of freak shows would be roaming around the place they were going. She didn’t want to be too exposed. 

“Arya, I really wish you’d watch your mouth.” Sansa tucked away her compact and lip gloss into her cross body purse. “Did you two have to dress like Sid and Nancy?” she added and motioned towards the front seat. 

“That’s quite a compliment. Thanks, Sansa.” Gendry beamed as he caught Sansa’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He had teased his hair almost as much as Arya, except his hair, much to Arya’s chagrin, was a few inches longer and fell well below his shoulders.  Sansa had stifled a laugh as she watched the two of them pass the Aqua Net back and forth while perfecting their coifs in Gendry’s bathroom mirror. 

“She didn’t mean it as a compliment, dummy!” Arya chided and whacked Gendry across the arm. The boy responded with a wink and the two of them exchanged a laugh across the center console.  Sansa had to admit, they were a cute couple and she was happy for her sister.  Although her own relationship with Joff had gone to hell in a hand basket, Sansa held out hope that perhaps she’d find someone she could share a genuine connection with, as Arya shared with Gendry. 

Parking in downtown Chicago on a Friday night was an absolute nightmare, and Sansa groaned in frustration when Gendry finally parked the car on a side street about ten blocks away from the concert venue.  He killed the engine and shifted his eyes between Sansa and Arya. 

“Ladies, we’ll have to trek it through the mean streets of Chi-Town,” he declared with a grin and jumped from the car. 

Let’s get this night over with, Sansa groaned internally and pushed the door open with a sigh.  She had never heard of Cannibal Star or whatever this band was called, but if it was anything like the music she heard blaring from Arya’s walkman, Sansa knew she was going to hate it.  To be fair, Arya hated Sansa’s music too and was constantly making fun of her for singing along to her Madonna or Cyndi Lauper tapes.

After walking five blocks, Sansa regretted wearing the blue pumps Margaery lent her.  While the heel wasn’t particularly high, the leather around the sides dug painfully into her skin, rubbing it raw with each step. Two steps ahead, Arya and Gendry chatted excitedly as they rattled off all the songs they hoped were on the set list.  “Gravedigger,” “The Hounds of Hell,” “Meat for the Butcher with the Sword.” Those had been but a few Sansa overheard them gushing about. After that, she stopped listening and instead started an internal countdown of when this night would be over with.

They neared the concert venue where a hoard gathered in line outside, shifting restlessly while waiting for the doors to open. Most were garbed in black from head to toe, hair teased wild and with shit-kicking boots on their feet.  Even Arya looked the part—torn up jeans over a pair of sheer black tights; black cowboy boots; a leather jacket that covered a tattered Cannibal Star t-shirt she borrowed from Gendry, who was dressed almost identical to his girlfriend. 

Both Arya and Gendry seemed to have read Sansa’s mind as they stopped one block short of the venue. Shucking out of her leather jacket, Arya balled it up and shoved it at Sansa. 

“You’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. Here. Put this on before you get laughed out of the venue.” 

Sansa shot Gendry a pleading look. “This is, like, embarrassing to the max,” she whimpered. 

Whatever sympathy Sansa hoped to gain from Gendry was lost as he grasped her by the shoulders and gave a soft squeeze.    

“Sansa, you know I like you, but if you get laughed out of the building, Arya and I are going to have to pretend we don’t know you. I busted my ass to get these backstage passes.”

By busted his ass, he meant incessantly calling into the local rock station who was giving out tickets and backstage passes to the show. As luck would have it, Gendry was eventually the one-hundredth caller and snagged the tickets he had spent so long rambling on about.  

“Yeah, yeah. I get it.” Sansa loosened her Izod cardigan from around her neck and tied it around her waist. As she slipped into the heavy leather jacket, she had to admit it was warm and didn’t quite call so much attention to her as the sweater did. Regardless, she’d hardly blend into the crowd and was bound to get stares anyway. 

The doors of the venue had just opened as they approached. The concert goers howled wild with delight as they were slowly shuffled into the building. By the time Sansa, Arya, and Gendry made it to the front of the line, the din of the crowd poured through the doors, intermingling on a haze of cigarette smoke which cast the room in a dull, dingy glow. 

“I need to see some ID,” a heavyset bouncer barked out. He cast an annoyed glance to the line that extended behind well them and wrapped around the building. Sansa’s heart skipped a beat. Arya was a minor, and there was no way this no-nonsense bouncer was going to let her through. As Sansa was about to turn to Arya with a feigned look of sympathy at having to call the night short, her sister produced an Illinois driver’s license with the picture of a woman Sansa did not recognize. 

Arya hardly seemed fazed, even as the bouncer shined a flash light on it and studied Arya’s face. Handing the ID back, the bouncer let Arya through. After showing her ID and being waved through, Sansa caught up with her sister.

“Since when do you have a fake?” Sansa asked, incredulous though it didn’t quite surprise her.

“Since I started dating a guy who knows a guy who makes kick ass fake IDs.” Arya appeared satisfied with herself as she flashed a smile at Gendry who shrugged his shoulders in response. 

The inside of the venue was a sea of writhing bodies, all packed in as close to the stage as possible. Red lights glowed like embers from wall sconces. Adjacent to the stage, a bar extended the length of the wall and was manned by two individuals covered in tattoos and sporting severe scowls as they served up beverages to the rowdy crowd. 

Sansa scanned the room. With their studded accessories, tight leather clothing, and teased out hair, everyone looked like they had just come off the set of a Judas Priest or Iron Maiden music video. Even with the leather jacket, there was no hiding that Sansa didn’t belong here.  She tapped Arya on the shoulder and pointed to the wall opposite the bar.

“I’m going to stand over there.”

“Sansa, come up front with Gendry and I,” Arya pleaded and took Sansa’s hand. She tried to pull her towards the crowd gathered in front of the stage. 

“Arya, no.  I really don’t want to.” Sansa pulled her hand away. The last thing she wanted was to get caught up in a mosh pit and ruin her clothes. Besides, her feet were killing her where the shoes had rubbed her raw. 

Rolling her eyes and growling in frustration, Arya threw her hands up in the air.

“Fine! Be a boring prude, Sansa. One of these days, I’m going to break you out of your shell.” 

Sansa shouldered her way through the crowd and ignored the intermittent cat calls and lewd stares as she went. She perched against the far wall and was surprised to find that she had a decent view of the stage, not that it mattered much. Mindlessly, she picked at her nails and tried to occupy herself the best she could. Her mind wandered to what she should be doing right now. 

Margaery had invited her to Loras’s surprise birthday party, a fete that was being thrown at a swanky restaurant downtown courtesy of the Tyrell family’s extraordinary wealth. Her friend had begged her to bail on Arya and spend the evening eating, drinking, and dancing the night away. As much as Sansa would have rather attended Loras’s party, she didn’t have the heart to blow her sister off. Besides, Joffrey was likely to be in attendance at the party and Sansa wasn’t quite sure she was ready to be in the same room as him just yet. 

The sudden sound of a bass drum reverberated through Sansa’s chest and the lights of the venue lowered until the room was cast in complete darkness.  Everyone in the building seemed to simultaneously gasp before a hush fell over the crowd. Clear as a bell, an undulating guitar riff sounded out from the speakers and elicited cheers from the concert goers. 

After a few bars of the riff, a low, guttural singing echoed through the room as the song slowed in its tempo until the room went silent once more. The energy of the building turned electric. The crowd steadily pushed forward and tension seemed to rise as silence wore on and smoke rippled across the stage. 

Once more, the bass drum pounded through the room along with two guitars, now dueling through complicated riffs. As soon as the singer’s voice pierced through the darkness, lights flashed against the stage, illuminating the band as they seemed to emerge from the smoke. The crowd broke into deafening cheers as the rhythm picked up. The room moved in unison with the beat, rocking and swaying with each pound of the drums. Standing on her tippy-toes, Sansa could see Gendry and Arya up front. Their hair whipped to and fro as they head banged to the song. 

Sansa had been to concerts before, but never had she ever felt as though her ear drums might burst. The music was beyond deafening. She could hardly hear the thoughts in her own head as the song wore on and the crowd belted out every word.  The lead singer sauntered around the stage clothed in quite possibly the tightest leather pants known to man. Sansa imagined the singer had been sewn into them and exhaled a laugh at the thought. That was what she didn’t understand about this type of music; these men fancied themselves hard and tough yet wore clothes tighter than any woman would and some even wore make up. 

Sizing up each member of the band, Sansa could see they fit the bill for most metal bands: obnoxious leather outfits, hair teased to the high heavens, and a few wearing heavy black eyeliner.  However, one band member stood out from the rest. Situated on the right side of the stage nearest to Sansa, this man’s form lurked in the fleeting shadows of the stage. 

Her attention was drawn back to the lead singer as the song came to a gradual end.

“Thank you, Chicago!” the singer belted out in falsetto before laughing into the microphone.  “We’re happy to end this tour back in our hometown. Make some noise for Cannibal Star!”

Before the singer could finish, the crowd erupted into more cheers as the next song set in and  quickly drowned out the horde. A steady pressure built in Sansa’s head. Blessedly, the song began to slow after awhile, and the drums fell away. The musician who lurked in the shadows stepped forward and drew the undivided attention of the crowd as he set into a wailing guitar solo. 

Mesmerized like all the rest, Sansa stared at him. He was quite possibly the tallest man she had ever seen, towering over his band mates who were by no means short. The black guitar was dwarfed in his hands and yet he played with intricate delicacy, his fingers moving deftly up and down the strings. 

Unlike the others, his hair wasn’t teased, but instead fell in raven black waves past his shoulders. With a curtain of hair around his face, Sansa couldn’t quite make out his features until his head fell back with eyes closed as he reached the climax of his solo.  His features were decidedly masculine: a strong jaw, heavy brow, and hooked nose. 

Sansa felt the heat hit her cheeks as she took in the sight of him. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, only tight fitting black leather pants paired with Doc Martens. His chest and abdomen were a chiseled expanse of taut muscles that rippled beneath his skin. Much like the rest of him, his arms were sculpted to perfection; his biceps and triceps defined in thick swathes of muscle.  Sansa couldn’t take her eyes off of him and instead found that her stare was magnetized towards him. 

The man opened his eyes as his solo waned behind the steady rise of drum beats. His gaze landed on Sansa and she could have sworn he was staring straight at her. She expected his eyes to roam away. Surely, hers was just another face in the crowd, if he could even make out any faces. His eyes remained glued to hers in a heavy stare as his hand continued to move up and down the guitar neck.   

Sansa shifted a flustered glance over her shoulder, certain he had locked eyes with someone else. The space behind her was empty. Sansa turned around, but the intensity of his stare was still on her. Members of the crowd seemed to notice. Much like her, they turned to see who he was looking at. 

She let her eyes drift up to him and felt her lips part as she pulled in a shaky breath. The corner of the man’s mouth pulled into a smug half-smile as he turned away. With the left side of his face now visible, Sansa let out a gasp. It was a disfigured mass of burned flesh extending from his forehead down to the middle of his cheek.  Locks of his black hair gave feeble cover to the worst of it, but the effect was still horrifying. 

Turning around once more, the good side of the man’s face was now visible to Sansa again, and when his stare landed squarely on her, she couldn’t help but lower her eyes. His scars were repulsive, that was for sure, but that wasn’t quite why she couldn’t meet his gaze. Swallowing hard, she felt a small flutter in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t want him to keep staring at her, and yet when she lifted her eyes again and found he was no longer looking, a sliver of disappointment welled up within. 

For the remainder of the concert, Sansa watched him, but he never again returned her stare.  After a lengthy encore, the band retreated from the stage. Good. We can go home now. As Arya came bounding up to her, out of breath and covered in a layer of sweat, Sansa remembered the backstage passes and felt her temporary joy evaporate. 

“Fuck yeah, that was awesome!” Arya screeched, her voice hoarse from screaming and shouting to the music. 

Gendry fell in next to Arya, equally as out of breath yet looking as though he were on cloud nine.  

“Did you have a good time?” Gendry gulped for air. 

Unbidden, images of the guitarist and the way he had been looking—no, staring—at her flashed across Sansa’s mind.

“Yeah.  It wasn’t so bad, I guess.” Her head pounded and she could already tell her hair and clothes reeked of cigarette smoke. 

After a majority of the crowd cleared the building, Sansa followed Arya and Gendry as a band aide led them down a hall to the backstage area. They approached the door and Gendry turned an apologetic stare towards Sansa.

“We only have two passes.  I’m sorry, kiddo.” 

Fine by me. What if I run into that guitarist? I don’t want that. 

“That’s fine,” Sansa assured with a smile.  “I’ll just wait outside. Have fun.”  

The two disappeared behind the door labeled Employees Only and Sansa headed down the hall towards an exit door. A bit of fresh air sounded a lot better than hanging out with a bunch of greasy, hairy metal dudes anyway. As she was about to push through the door, Sansa heard loud squeals from the other end of the corridor. Turning over her shoulder, she watched a group of girls heading backstage. 

With short skirts, high heels, and pounds of make up, each one seemed more scantily clad than the next. Sansa rolled her eyes and pushed through the door, but barreled into someone as she hurried through. Tripping on her heels, Sansa careened towards the ground until two hands reached out and gripped her firmly on her upper arms. 

 “I’m sorry!” Sansa exclaimed on a breathy exhale as she spun around.  Her eyes were met with a man’s broad chest, and as she lifted her gaze, she realized her body was flush with the guitarist from the band. 

“You’re shaking.  Do I frighten you that much, girl?” the man growled on a deep voice, the timbre seeming to match his size. 

“N-no,” Sansa stammered and lowered her eyes. She tried to wriggle from his grasp but to no avail. “You just startled me is all.” It was a lie. His size was intimidating and his face was gruesome. 

The man barked out a rough laugh as he let go of her and sat on the half flight of stairs leading to the ground below. 

“That’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one,” he remarked, equal parts bitter and amused. He wore a black t-shirt now and a pair of torn up jeans. 

She eyed the staircase and swallowed hard as she realized she would have gone tumbling down it had he not caught her. Sitting with the unburned side of his face visible to her, the guitarist took a long pull on a whiskey bottle. She wondered if he was drunk, a thought that filled her with dread. She didn’t know this man and they were alone outside together.  Stepping away from him slightly, Sansa pressed her back against the adjacent wall. A heavy silence settled between them. 

“You played very well tonight.” Sansa didn’t quite know why she felt compelled to compliment him. It’s not as if she owed this man a conversation or anything.

The man laughed again; this time, short and mirthless. 

 “As if you would know,” he mumbled and stared out at the parking lot. “You get separated from the rest of the groupies?”

“I’m not a groupie!” Sansa blurted out, offended that he would even think that of her. “My sister and her boyfriend had backstage passes. I’m waiting on them.” 

The man turned to her and let his eyes flicker up and down her body, stilling Sansa’s breath with each pass and making her wish she could melt into the wall and disappear. 

“And you didn’t want to go back there with them? A pretty little thing like you would’ve made it backstage just fine without a pass.” The man continued to leer openly at her with a not-so-subtle smirk pulling across the ruined side of his mouth. 

“This isn’t really my scene.” Sansa pulled the leather jacket tight around her and let out a breath when the man averted his gaze. 

“I can see that. I imagine you’d rather be at the mall, maxing out daddy’s credit card, yeah?”

He was mocking her. He assumed she was a certain type of girl, probably one of those Valley girls from California who were vapid and self-absorbed. The thought stung, although she didn’t know why. 

 “Why aren’t you back there with your band mates and the groupies?” Sansa shot back, hoping that he’d realize what he was missing and leave her in peace. 

“Not my scene,” he countered smugly and turned an intense stare at her. “Although, I’ll probably fuck one of those groupies later. We’ll see how the night goes,” he added with a shrug of his shoulders as Sansa’s mouth fell open. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, though, by the looks of you.”  

If the condescension wasn’t infuriating enough, the implication was downright vulgar and none of his damn business besides. He was making her nervous, and Sansa toyed with the idea of fleeing back inside. She could make something up about being cold or wanting to check on her sister; it would be that simple. However, she was rooted to her spot. 

“You’re vile,” Sansa said, but glared at the parking lot.  This was the perfect ending to a perfectly awful night. 

“And you’re a prude,” the man jeered without hesitation. “You need to loosen up a bit. Here.”  Holding out his arm, the man offered her the bottle of whiskey and his eyes matched hers in a heavy gaze. 

Instead of looking away, Sansa kept his stare and noticed for the first time that his eyes were pale grey. 

“No, thank you,” she murmured and butterflies inexplicably fluttered in her stomach. Licking her lips, Sansa finally broke the stare after it lasted a handful of seconds longer than any normal glance should. 

“Suit yourself.” He set the bottle down and leaned back with his elbows resting on the top step.  When he craned his neck to look up at her, Sansa realized he was appraising her once more.

“You look like that red-headed broad. Can’t think of her name.”

With an exasperated sigh, Sansa rolled her eyes. Ever since “I Think We’re Alone Now” came out, she was constantly getting compared to the red-headed pop star.    

“Tiffany? I look nothing like her,” Sansa groaned, her typical reply. Somehow she found herself more annoyed than usual by the comparison. She didn’t like the way he assumed that all she did was hang out at the mall, spend her dad’s money, and try to emulate Tiffany. 

The man must’ve sensed her annoyance. He laughed and Sansa imagined he was about to fire back another mocking jab. 

“You’re right. You’re a hell of a lot cuter than her, but that’s not who I was talking about.” 

Her cheeks burned hot now and the butterflies seemed to turn molten in her stomach as the heat spread through her body. After a long silence, the man snapped his fingers. 

 “Tawny Kitaen. That’s who you look like.” 

Initially, the name didn’t ring a bell until Sansa remembered the latest Whitesnake video and the buxom redhead doing the splits on top of a Jaguar.  Just when she thought she couldn’t be more mortified, another wave of embarrassment hit her.

The man stared up at Sansa and measured her reaction with an amused smile. This time it was he who licked his lips. 

“Just sayin’.  If you ever want to roll around on the hood of my Mustang in a skimpy dress, I wouldn’t exactly stop you.”

As the man broke into laughter, Sansa shook her head and was surprised to find a small laugh escape her own lips. 

“I think I’ll pass.” 

When another silence dragged between them, Sansa fumbled with the sleeves of the jacket and clutched the ends in her palms. 

“What’s your name?” she asked, wondering if he might be offended she didn’t already know.  Surely, this gave her away. She wasn’t an adoring fan who already knew his name and everything else about him. 

But somehow this seemed to strike a chord in him and he looked up at her with another half smile, although there was nothing bawdy about this particular one. Instead, there was a bit of appreciation to it. 

“The Hound,” he said, voice gruff and dark. 

“No, your real name,” Sansa pushed, assuming he had more than likely given her his stage name. 

“My real name doesn’t matter, not unless you plan on moaning it later while I’m on top of you.”  

Immediately, he swiveled his head up towards her, his mouth curled in a devilish smile and contorting his scars in a hideous manner. All Sansa could do was gasp in response. Why does he have to be so crude? Pouting, she looked away. Why are you still standing out here if he’s so crude?  The question lingered in her mind and she didn’t quite have the answer. 

“I’m sorry. That was really uncalled for,” the Hound conceded. Satisfied with an apology, Sansa took slow steps towards the edge of the staircase and sat next to him. With a guilty stare, the Hound matched her eyes in earnest. 

“I should have been more considerate.  If it means that much to you, you can be on top instead.”

Mouth agape, Sansa felt a blush creeping down her cheeks and neck towards her chest.  He was lewd, and no one had ever talked to her like this before. An unsolicited image of her straddling him flashed across her mind. Sansa shook her head to erase the thought as quickly as possible. Never would she ever do anything like that with a man like the Hound.  

He erupted with loud laughter and clutched his side while Sansa sat in dumbfounded silence. 

“It was a joke.” He elbowed her gently. The contact between them, brief as it was, caused Sansa’s breath to catch in her throat. “Lighten up a bit.”

Sighing her relief, although she was still troubled about the intrusive thought of straddling this man, Sansa settled back and released the tension in her body. She extended a timid hand to him. 

“My name’s Sansa,” she said softly and somehow managed to meet his eyes.

“Sansa,” he repeated and took her hand. She noticed his gaze flicker to her lips momentarily before returning to her eyes. 

“My name’s Sandor,” he said, hand still wrapped around hers. Although his hand was rough, his skin was warm against hers, the sensation rather pleasant. 

“Nice to meet you, Sandor.” His eyes wandered to her lips again, as if he had studied the way his name curled around her tongue and mouth. Maybe he didn’t notice, or perhaps he did, but he was still holding her hand. 

Behind them, the door bursted open, and Sansa yanked her hand away from the Hound’s. A fresh wave of embarrassment hit her as Arya and Gendry stood there, both of their eyes shifting between Sansa and the Hound. Sansa stood and brushed off her skirt. She felt as though she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t have.  All I did was shake his hand…

“There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you,” Arya chided before turning to the Hound. 

“You fucking rocked tonight! I think I have whiplash from all the head banging I did,” Arya beamed. Gendry had fallen into star-struck silence next to her. Sansa vaguely remembered now how Gendry went on and on about the Hound and the way he could shred on the guitar. 

“I…I…wow! You’re just…you’re like my idol, man,” Gendry stammered as the Hound stood up, towering over all three of them. He crossed his arms about his broad chest.

“Thanks, man. We’ve got band practice next week if you’re interested in stopping by.”

Paling and appearing as though he had just seen a flying saucer blaze across the sky, Gendry’s mouth fell open and he responded with a frantic nod.

“Yes! Jesus titty-fucking Christ, yes! That would be…holy shit…that’d be incredible!” For a moment, Sansa thought Gendry might hug the Hound for how gleeful he was. 

Grasping Arya by the shoulders, Gendry shook her, perhaps a bit too hard as Arya stumbled forward.

“Can I bring my girlfriend too?”

The Hound looked to Sansa. 

“As long as she brings her sister.” 

The Hound gave Gendry an address and time before striding for the door. He stopped beneath the doorframe and swiveled his head over his shoulder as he gave Sansa a wink and a smile.

Chapter Text

 

Thunderstruck

 



Chapter Two

"You ain't so innocent, I know
I know your heart's like mine, oh yeah
And I will find the time to make you mine"

 


-Rock Me, Great White


“Are you going to tell me what you and the Hound talked about?”

Arms crossed and foot tapping, Arya leaned against the doorway of the bathroom she and Sansa shared. She hadn’t changed into her pajamas yet, and her hair was still a wild nest of teased hair. 

What had she and the Hound—no, Sandor—talked about?  Beyond introducing themselves, their conversation had consisted mostly of sexual innuendos on his part and an embarrassed silence on hers.  Sansa’s cheeks flushed at the thought. 

“Nothing.” Sansa pulled her hair back into a neon green scrunchie. She wasn’t exactly lying to her sister, per se.  She was just excluding a majority of the details. They were inconsequential anyway. 

“You didn’t talk about nothing with him! Clearly, Gendry and I were interrupting a moment between the two of you.  Tell me what he said!”

On the car ride home, Gendry and Arya had squealed and gushed about their backstage experience that was swiftly eclipsed by the invitation to Cannibal Star’s band practice.  The two of them rehashed the evening’s events and planned what to wear to the practice. 

In the backseat, Sansa too had ruminated on the events of the evening, but in the solitude of her own mind. To remember the things Sandor had said to her was mortifying. Had Joffrey or anyone else been so brazen, Sansa would have likely been scandalized and thoroughly offended. However, she couldn’t help the lingering butterflies that fluttered at the thought of his words and the way he had looked at her.  

She felt light headed, and although she hated to admit it, perhaps a bit giddy too. Her silence had drawn Gendry and Arya’s attention when they all at once remembered Sansa had been outside and alone with the Hound. A deluge of questions poured from the front seat then as Arya and Gendry each, in turn, grilled her. What did he say? What did you say? What was he like? Why was he holding your hand? Why were you looking at him like that? Were you about to kiss him? Why didn’t you let him kiss you?

Sansa had remained tight-lipped about the whole thing and merely glazed over their questions with one-word answers or a shrug of her shoulders. Truth be told, there wasn’t much to tell.  Regardless, the questions got her mind spinning as she pondered the answers. 

He said I was a hell of a lot cuter than Tiffany and that he wouldn’t stop me if I wanted to roll around on the hood of his car. I said he was vile. He was crude and inappropriate. He held my hand because neither of us made the move to pull away. I wouldn’t have kissed him first, no. Was he about to kiss me? And would I have let him?

Those questions remained unanswered for now. Sansa doubted he would have kissed her, and even if he did, it would have been awkward. She didn’t even know the guy, and she certainly wasn’t the type of girl who just kissed random men from metal bands. Yes. Awkward. I wouldn’t have let him kiss me. 

Sansa splashed her face with tepid water and scrubbed off her makeup. Arya loitered in the doorway.

“Will you at least come to the band practice with Gendry and I?” Arya begged. It seemed this was the singular question she wanted answered tonight. 

After toweling off her face and pulling her hair free of the scrunchie, Sansa turned towards her sister who looked expectantly at her, lip pouted in a ridiculous fashion. 

“When is it?” The fluttering reemerged unexpectedly.   

“Tuesday at 7pm, downtown. Gendry can take us.” 

Sansa perused her planned engagements for the coming days in her head. There was the Tri Delta homecoming committee meeting, which she promised Margaery she would be at.  Beyond that, the beginning of her week was more or less open.

Despite her hair sticking up in all directions and eyeliner smeared across her eyelids, Arya was hard to say no to in this moment. 

“Fine. I’ll go.” Sansa flicked off the bathroom light and pushed past Arya.

“Aha! I knew it! Something happened between you and the Hound. This was a trap, you see.  You would never in a million years say yes otherwise. Tell me what happened!”

Arya skipped down the hall after Sansa, content to continue the tortuous nagging of details.

“Nothing happened, Arya,” Sansa groaned. “I talked to the guy. That was all. I introduced myself, I shook his hand, he shook mine, and that was it. You’re totally blowing this out of proportion.”

Arya was quick on Sansa’s heels into the room they also shared. It was seemingly divided down the middle. Sansa’s side was decorated in soft pastels, and her clothes were neatly organized in drawers with her makeup and hair accessories situated in orderly rows on top of her dresser. Arya’s side was a disaster, and had once been the same color as Sansa’s until she plastered over the walls with posters of metal bands, one of which happened to be Cannibal Star. Now that Sansa noticed the poster, she couldn’t stop looking at it, or rather Sandor, in particular. Arya must have followed Sansa’s eyes, although she could have sworn the glance was fleeting.

“Oh this is rich! Would you like me to hang it above your bed?” Arya taunted before pretending to faint on her own bed. “And then you can stare at it all night long. ‘Oh, Hound! Kiss me, my Hound.’” Arya pulled a pillow to her face and obnoxiously emulated kissing sounds. 

“Good night, Arya,” Sansa replied with finality. She climbed into bed and pulled the covers over her head. 

She waited until she heard Arya retreat to the bathroom before peeking out from under the covers. Curiosity pulled her stare towards the poster. On the far left, Sandor stood with his band members, a serious scowl on his face and the muscles of his chest and abdomen visible despite the leather vest he wore. His scars were visible as well, and Sansa imagined what they might feel like. 

Sandor wasn’t particularly handsome, not in the traditional sense at least. He didn’t possess the delicate facial symmetry as many of the other boys she knew did. In fact, all symmetry was lost due to his scars, which were hideous in their own right. However, he was strong, built like a Roman god, and there was something intriguing about his bluntness, the way he said what he meant and meant what he said.

The sink shut off in the bathroom and Sansa switched off the bed side lamp and turned away from Arya’s side of the room and the poster of Cannibal Star. Maybe I would have let him kiss me… 

With that thought, Sansa closed her eyes and drifted to sleep. 

 


                                                                                                    

The weekend dissolved away as they always did—consumed by massive amounts of homework and the occasional social outing in between. As a sophomore in the pre-vet program at Northwestern, Sansa couldn’t afford to fall behind and relinquish her dreams of attending veterinary school. 

With those thoughts fueling her studying, Sansa had flicked on her Purple Rain tape, spread out on her bed, and powered through the assignments she delegated for the weekend. It left little time for socializing though, and Sansa couldn’t help but let her eyes drift now and then towards the Cannibal Star poster above Arya’s bed as she studied.       

Taking the stairs two at a time, Sansa made it to the third floor of the University Center, out of breath and wheezing despite being in decent physical shape. Any day now, the Jane Fonda workout tapes Margaery insisted Sansa do with her would pay off. As she approached the meeting room, Sansa checked her bright pink swatch for the millionth time. She was late. Not by a few minutes where she could slip in and go unnoticed as her sorority sisters swapped the latest gossip from their weekend outings. She was massively late. 

After picking Bran up from baseball practice and dropping him off at home, Sansa had rushed to get back on campus before the homecoming committee meeting started. She would have been on time except the hunk of junk 1972 Volvo she drove had given her trouble, the engine refusing to turn over until it was good and ready. It hadn’t been good and ready until Sansa was already running five minutes behind. 

Sucking in a deep breath, Sansa quietly eased into the meeting room. Margaery lectured at the front of the room, but her eyes flickered towards Sansa who sunk into a chair at the end of the long table. 

“This year we’re paired with Sigma Chi.” Margaery’s brown curls framed her heart-shaped face and her lips curled into her distinctive smile. “The boys will give each of us a white rose, and in return, we’ll give them pansies, seeing as how these are our respective flowers.” 

Sansa pulled a piece of paper and a pencil from her bag.  If she was going to be late, she could at least take notes to save face. Margaery was a senior, and as president of the sorority, already grooming Sansa to be her successor, although Sansa thought Dany was better suited for the position than she was. 

“Myranda and I were thinking ‘Pretty in Pink’ should be the theme this year.” Margaery’s announcement elicited squeals from all the girls. “Everything will be decorated in shades of pink, and all the girls will have to wear pink along with a strand of pearls. We have to start busting ass to get the decorations done. I’m passing around a sign-up sheet. I want each of you to sign up for a weekend where you’ll be on decorations duty. No socializing, no studying.  Just decorations.”

Sansa groaned internally. While she enjoyed being in a sorority, she wondered where the other girls found time to dedicate entire weekends to making decorations or planning events.  Margaery studied interior design, a pursuit she would promptly drop as soon as she landed a rich husband. Beyond that, she was a socialite. Her education was more of a placeholder until she had a ring on her finger. 

Eventually, Margaery’s voice droned in the background as Sansa doodled mindless shapes on her blank sheet of paper. 

“…we want it to be elegant, but fun...” she heard against the backdrop of her thoughts. 

With her head stuck in books over the weekend, Sansa had been able to stave off the tiny, meandering thoughts that had slowly crept towards the front of her mind. 

‘If you ever want to roll around on the hood of my mustang in a skimpy dress, I wouldn’t exactly stop you.’

She had actually laughed at that and so had he. She knew hardly anything about him beyond his name, the type of car he drove, and that he was in a band. With such little information, why was he invading her thoughts in these quiet moments? There was something about him, but Sansa couldn’t quite put her finger on it. She would never in a million years go for a guy like him. Never. So why on earth couldn’t she just forget about it?

“…her cousin said he would DJ, but I really think I’d rather have the guy Arianne knows…”

Margaery never quite mastered when to take a breath and let others speak. Sansa counted the girl as one of her dearest friends, but she wasn’t in the mood for this. Weeks ago, she had been ecstatic at being included in the homecoming planning committee.  Now…well, now it just seemed tedious. 

The white noise of Margaery’s voice dropped off, and when Sansa lifted her gaze, she found all eyes on her.

“Sansa, are you listening?” Margaery hands covered her hips and her head cocked to the side, lips pursed.   

“Of course. Pink, Arianne’s DJ, elegant and fun.”  Sansa shifted uncomfortably in her seat, certain she missed something. That was all but confirmed as Mya gave a small shake of her head. 

“Tomorrow night we’re going to Oak Brook to look for our dresses,” Margaery sighed and rolled her eyes. “Will you be joining us?”

Although this was an impromptu shopping trip, Sansa knew she shouldn’t refuse. She was supposed to see him again tomorrow night. It hadn’t been an invitation in the traditional sense, but he had effectually declared he wanted to see her at his band’s practice. Sansa doubted Sandor would turn Arya away if she showed up sans sister, but Arya would be disappointed if Sansa bailed on her. 

All eyes were on her once more as Sansa continued the debate in her own mind. She had already been late to the meeting, and it was now clear she had hardly listened throughout the rest of it. You’re in no position to refuse. You didn’t exactly accept Sandor’s offer. You already did Arya a favor by going to the concert with her. She’ll just have to get over it.    

The matter was settled, but a tinge of disappointment rippled through her. 

“Well?” Margaery pressed.

Sansa opened her mouth to speak, but words didn’t quite come. “I can’t!” she finally blurted out against all reason. “I have something else going on.”

Despite Margaery’s smile, Sansa could tell the girl was disappointed, both as her friend and as the president of the sorority. Stupid, Sansa! Stupid. And for what? To watch some crude metalhead at his band practice? She already regretted the decision. 

“What else do you have going on?” Jeyne pressed. It had nothing to do with innocent curiosity. Sansa bit her lip and leveled irritated eyes at Jeyne. 

“Just a thing,” she responded, perhaps a bit too curtly. If the girls weren’t interested before, they were now, as the rest of them stared at Sansa. 

“If it’s ‘just a thing’ then tell us,” Arianne probed with a wicked smile. Of all the girls, of course she’d be the one to belabor the issue, probably having somehow sniffed out that this had something to do with a man. 

Sansa steadied her voice. “I’m hanging out with my sister.” Heat crept across her cheeks and down her neck. She wasn’t exactly lying. She would be hanging out with Arya. And Gendry.  And Sandor too. 

“Yeah, I’m so sure!” Jeyne huffed. “You never hang out willingly with your sister.”

Having known Jeyne all her life, Sansa should have guessed she’d be the one to call her out. It wasn’t until Sansa left for college that she and Jeyne had stopped with the merciless rotation of snarky nicknames for Arya. Despite being one of her oldest friends, Jeyne had a real talent for being a pain in the ass sometimes.    

“Can we just drop it?” Sansa groaned. 

“Is this about Joff?” Margaery prodded. “Sansa, I thought we all agreed that he was terrible for you.”

It was true. Sansa had gotten an earful from every last one of her sorority sisters after her last spat with Joffrey. The bruise across her cheek administered by Boros had faded away, but the events leading up to it still resonated with her. 

“It’s not about Joff!” Sansa snapped. She was exhausted by people suggesting she was still hung up on him and treating her like she was some fragile thing. 

He was controlling and jealous by nature, absurd considering Sansa knew very well he had been with other girls while they were still together. He was arrogant, sadistic, and manipulative. She could not wrap her head around why anyone would consider her stupid enough to actually mourn the end of that relationship. 

Margaery adjourned the meeting. The other girls chattered gleefully about the homecoming mixer with Sigma Chi and gathered their belongings. One by one, they filed out of the room. 

Sansa tucked her doodled sheet of paper into her bag along with her pencil and stood from her chair. The room cleared, save for her and Margaery. She half-expected to hear an earful about being late and skipping out on dress shopping. It wasn’t as if Margaery Tyrell ever got cross with someone, but she had a way of conveying disappointment with a smile still gracing her lips. 

“Don’t forget to sign up for a decorations shift.” Margaery handed Sansa the clipboard. 

Only two weekends were open. The others had filled up already. Sansa scribbled her name down and committed the date to memory. She’d write it down later. 

Together, the two girls retreated from the room and descended the stairs of the University Center. 

“Are you alright?” Margaery inquired after silence stretched between them. Her question didn’t probe, but instead Sansa deciphered concern in the girl’s voice. 

“I’m fine,” she assured. They headed outside and towards the parking lot.  “I’m sorry for being late. And sorry I can’t make it tomorrow.”

“No need to apologize.” Margaery offered a warm smile. “When you do go shopping for your dress, I’ll go with you, and then we can catch up.”

Sansa returned the smile and relief broke through the tension. “I’d like that. School’s totally sucked lately. I could use the break.” 

Fumbling for her keys in her purse, Sansa stopped at her car and lifted her eyes to Margaery, ready to bid the girl goodnight, but instead found her smiling devilishly in return.    

“I have the scoop on something, but you can’t tell anyone I told you this,” Margaery gushed and lowered her voice. “At Loras’ birthday party, Harold Hardyng asked Myranda if it was true that you and Joff split. After she told him you two were done, he said ‘That’s good news,’ smiled, and then he walked away. I think he’s planning on asking you out!”

Margaery squealed and gave a little bounce as she waited for Sansa to respond. 

Tall, with thick waves of sandy brown hair, deep blue eyes, and a chiseled physique, Harold Hardyng was undeniably handsome. Even before she and Joffrey broke up, Sansa had caught him cutting leering looks at her during various Sigma Chi events. He was in the same fraternity as Joff, and Sansa often wondered how her then-boyfriend never noticed Harry checking her out. Or maybe Joffrey had noticed but didn’t care as he preoccupied himself with hitting on her sorority sisters.

“Well don’t look too excited or anything!” Margaery giggled. “He’s gorgeous, and his family is loaded to boot!”

It was true. Harry was a trust fund baby and hailed from high-society, much like Margaery.  His father was a genius when it came to investments. Harry was set up for life. Everyone knew. Prior to dating Joffrey, Sansa would have been thrilled to have caught the eye of someone like Harry. In fact, she had caught the eye of someone like Harry. She caught Joffrey’s eye and foolishly believed she’d found exactly what she wanted. Her dreams had been dashed, as Joffrey turned out to be a royal prick. 

Sansa’s brow furrowed and she shook her head. “I don’t know how I feel about dating another guy from our circle. I’m sort of over it, you know? I think I just want to be single for awhile.”

“I understand,” Margaery shrugged. “He won’t be on the market for long though, Sansa. I’d jump at the chance if I were you.” 

Margaery pulled Sansa in for a hug and waved goodbye as she headed for her BMW. 

Sansa climbed into the old Volvo and said a little prayer before turning the engine. The heavens must have been listening. The car fired up with no coaxing. As she drove home, Sansa made yet another mental note to have the car looked at and sometime soon.                                                                                             


“The timing belt is shot,” Sandor informed the old woman flatly. She had been a customer for years at the auto repair shop he worked at and for years he had been telling her to get her fucking timing belt replaced before it crapped out. The woman’s older model Buick LeSabre was a pile of junk at this point, totaled all because she was a stubborn old broad. 

With mistrustful eyes, the old woman bristled and glared at Sandor, whose shift ended fifteen minutes ago. His eyes flickered towards the clock and his jaw clenched as he sucked in a deep breath. He didn’t mind working late and certainly didn’t complain about the extra boost to his paycheck. However, he hated being late regardless of the engagement that occupied his schedule. Today it was band practice. 

Sensing his rising annoyance, Barristan patted him on the back. 

“I’ll take care of it,” he murmured and pushed past Sandor. The old man rested his palms on the front counter. “Mrs. Harris, Sandor is one of my best mechanics. If he says the timing belt is shot, then the timing belt is shot.” 

Sandor slipped away as the old broad argued with his boss and the owner of the shop. Sandor snorted a laugh and snatched up his jacket and bike helmet. Better him than me. 

Barristan Selmy had the patience of a saint. He’d owned the shop for as long as Sandor could remember. The man even tolerated Sandor’s intermittent leaves when he went on tour. Certain he wouldn’t have a job when he returned to Chicago, Sandor was always surprised that Barristan allowed him to pick up shifts. ‘A mechanic with your skill and expertise is worth three of these mediocre guys I’ve got working for me,’ was the man’s reasoning. Sandor wasn’t one to argue that point, but gratefully picked up whatever shifts he could. 

In the bathroom, he washed as much grease off his hands as he could with a perfunctory rinse.  The rest would have to remain along with the smudges on his face. He didn’t have time to wash it off, and even if he did, he didn’t give a shit. Now twenty minutes behind schedule, he threw on his black leather jacket and pushed through the back door of the shop. 

Outside, the sun settled near the horizon as he strapped on his helmet and climbed on the back of his Harley. For mid-September, the air held a decided chill, the promise of an early fall. 

Rush-hour should have been long over, but navigating the streets of downtown Chicago turned into a royal pain in the ass. The practice spot was a mere eight miles from Selmy’s auto shop and yet the drive took damn near a half hour as Sandor hit every stoplight along the way. 

He flew into the parking lot behind the practice spot and noticed Beric and Thoros’ cars already there. 

The place was in a seedier part of town, hardly the most crime-riddled area of the city, but also not a walk in the park either. It was a loft space situated above the Kettleblack’s pub—a hole in the wall joint that was well-known in the metal scene. Bands that played here usually went on to get wider recognition from the Chicago music scene, and in Cannibal Star’s case, a record deal with a metal-oriented label. 

Osney had thought to expand the pub to the second level, but soon abandoned that idea when Beric had explained that they needed a set practice space in Chicago for the down time in between tours. The Kettleblack brothers were all too eager to accommodate Cannibal Star so long as they agreed to play shows at their pub while in town. 

In hurried paces, Sandor pushed through the back door of the pub and barreled past Osney’s office.

“Clegane!” Osney shouted. Sandor halted and considered whether or not to ignore the man.  He was already late, a few seconds wouldn’t make much of a difference. Heading back down the hall, Sandor hovered in the office’s doorway. 

“I’m running late. This better be important,” he grumbled. 

The man settled back in his seat and motioned to the ceiling with an impish smile. Sandor hated that smile. He tolerated Osney well enough, but something about the man rubbed him the wrong way. 

“You’ve got a little entourage waiting for you upstairs.” 

Sandor narrowed his eyes, still not understanding what the fuck he was talking about. Sensing his confusion, Osney clarified.

“A guy by the name of Gendry. Swears you extended the invitation personally. His girlfriend is here too.”

Sandor scanned his memories from the recent days. Gendry. Gendry. Who the fuck is Gendry?

He shook his head. The name didn’t ring any bells. 

“What about the red-headed girl? Pretty face, tight body, nice legs.” The man smirked as he swiveled in his chair. 

At once, the remembrance flooded Sandor’s mind. He had been well into a bottle of whiskey when he extended the invitation to this particular band practice and only now did the memory become fully fledged. He remembered the girl, though, and was surprised to find he even remembered her name. Sansa. 

“Fuck,” Sandor breathed and shook his head. “Alright thanks.” 

He strode down the hall, bike helmet in hand and jacket thrown over his arm. Heading up the stairs, Sandor could hear the faint sound of Bronn tuning his guitar while Harwin thumbed a few notes on his bass. 

As he entered the open space of the upstairs loft, Sandor was met with disappointed looks from his band mates. Twirling the microphone cord around his hand, Beric paced and raised his eyebrows as Sandor tossed down his bike helmet and jacket to the floor. He made for his Les Paul in the corner.

“You’re late, man,” Beric chided. 

In the periphery of his vision, Sandor caught a glimpse of vibrant red hair. From what he remembered of the girl, he wouldn’t have guessed she would actually come to his practice. In fact, he remembered now that she said metal wasn’t her scene. 

“I work, Dondarrion. Unlike the rest of you, I keep a fucking job outside of this,” Sandor countered, irritated as he lifted his guitar and positioned the strap across his shoulder. Bronn was staring at him, and when Sandor finally returned the stare, the man waggled his eyebrows and gave a small nod towards Sandor’s supposed “entourage.” 

Before Sandor could respond, Thoros began the beat for a few measures, and Beric set in with his signature falsetto wail that preceded a good many of their songs. Sandor averted his gaze to his feet, which pressed against the various pedals on the floor to distort the sound. 

When he did finally lift his eyes, he saw the three of them standing against the opposite wall.  The memories continued to find their place in his mind. There was the guy, Gendry, who looked absolutely star-struck right now as his head bobbed with the rhythm of Thoros’s beat.  Sandor remembered when he had been that way—enamored with the accolades and lifestyle of rock stars. Only now that he was living the “dream” did he realize what a fucking fraud it all was. 

Then there was the shorter girl with brown hair seemingly enjoying herself as much as Gendry, although Sandor didn’t quite remember her name. 

What he did remember was that she was the sister of the red-headed girl, Sansa. With big, piercing blue eyes staring back at him, the girl looked like a deer in headlights. Her pouty, perfectly pink lips parted as she watched his hands move up and down the neck of his guitar. 

The girl blushed and dropped her gaze and Sandor ceased the opportunity to take in the sight of her body. With an off the shoulder crop top shirt and a high-waisted skirt, a sliver of the girl’s midriff was visible along with the length of her legs. A tight body indeed.  

She didn’t look like most of the broads that hung around the band.  She looked like a good girl, the kind you take home to your mother; not the kind already corrupted by spending time in the music scene. 

In the nights after their initial meeting, Sandor had taken himself in hand, stroking the length of his hardened cock to the hazy memory of the long expanse of her legs, the swell of her breasts feebly hidden in her blouse, the fullness of her lips, the way she blushed furiously at each lewd and drunken remark he had made.  She should have decked him, and Sandor was a bit surprised she hadn’t; a little prep like her, surely she’d have a stick up her ass, or so he thought. 

Instead, she had smiled prettily for him, although she probably thought he hadn’t seen. He saw her well enough, although he had been more than a little buzzed. Despite his foggy memories, Sandor would stroke himself to release at the thought of her naked and on top of him—hips rocking and tits bouncing as she rode him with wild abandon, moaning his name as she climaxed. 

‘If it means that much to you, you can be on top.’

He remembered now saying that to her. Chuckling to himself, Sandor shook his head at the memory. She should have fucking decked me. 

Sandor had been certain the memory of this girl would hardly match the reality, the effects of alcohol having surely distorted her beauty. That was hardly the case, he realized, stealing not-so-subtle glances as he went through his chords and riffs in automatic motion. If his band members noticed, they didn’t mention anything during the down time between songs and the handful of discussions regarding things to change or work on with each.

After finishing the last song they had on tap for the evening, Beric called an end to the practice and the guys unburdened themselves of their equipment. As Sandor lifted his guitar from his shoulders and unplugged cords from his instrument, he could hear Gendry and the little brown-haired girl gushing to Beric and Bronn, breathless as they both blabbered off a myriad of compliments. 

Stretching until his back popped, Sandor lifted his eyes to Sansa who was still perched with her back pressed against the wall. She gave him a small but uncomfortable smile. She hadn’t been kidding; this was most definitely not her scene. 

 “I thought you didn’t like metal music,” he mused with a sardonic smirk as he approached her. Sansa lowered her eyes and shifted from side to side, apparently flustered. 

“You told me to come,” she said quietly. Her voice was soft, sweet, and entirely feminine—something else he had forgotten. 

“Did I?” Sandor laughed as he paced to the beer cooler Harwin always had in tow to practice. 

Given how drunk he had been and how attractive this girl was, it wouldn’t have surprised Sandor if he told her to come.  But even in his inebriated memories, he didn’t quite remember it happening that way. 

“You don’t remember,” Sansa responded after a moment, her voice crestfallen despite the shy smile on her lips. 

“I remember telling your sister to bring you along.” Was that how it happened? And why the fuck would this girl care if I wanted her here or not? Sandor snatched up two bottles of cold beer and plopped down on an old, tattered couch a few feet away from where Sansa was standing. 

She smiled once more as he held a beer out to her. He liked her smile. It was shy, it was sweet, and it was for him. Sandor couldn’t remember the last time a girl as pretty as her actually offered him a genuine smile.      

“This is nice,” Sansa said and settled next to him. She gently took the beer from his hand and her nail tapped against the bottle cap as she stared down at it. 

“This fucking hole in the wall?” Sandor questioned as he took the bottle from her hand and twisted off the cap before handing it back to her. “You’re a liar. A terrible one at that.”

Sandor took a long pull from the bottle and stared at Sansa. Tall in her own right, she looked small sitting next to him and perhaps a little scared too.  The others, her sister and that Gendry guy included, were downstairs, presumably for the hard stuff behind the Kettleblack’s bar. He and Sansa were alone now. On a couch. By themselves. And the girl seemed fully aware of it. 

“I was being polite,” she protested and her voice betrayed a bit of affront. 

“Always so courteous.” Sandor rested his arm on the back of the couch and behind her head. She blushed as he leaned closer to her. “That bullshit is lost on me, girl. What do you really think?”

He expected her to move away from him, to either continue looking wholly scandalized or to protest and finally deck him as she probably should have during their first conversation. To his surprise and confusion, she did neither. Instead, she held her spot next to him and simply swiveled her head to meet his eyes. 

“I do think it’s nice. The carpets are…” Sansa stared at the faded and thinning oriental rugs thrown about the floor. “The carpets are ugly.” She took a delicate sip of her beer. Sandor reckoned she probably didn’t like beer that much and had only accepted it to be polite, another product of polished manners. 

Head thrown back, Sandor let out a hearty laugh. Even her truths sounded polite. Sansa’s eyes shifted between him and the rugs, apparently not understanding why he was laughing. He stared at her, thoroughly enjoying her look of confusion as well as the features of her face.  She was pretty, he had already known that, but with his senses about him, he hadn’t quite expected her to be a fucking knockout. The best part was she probably had no idea how attractive she was, especially now as she bit her lip and inadvertently drew his attention to its fullness.

“What?” she breathed, chest rising and falling a bit more frantically now.

“I didn’t say anything.” His eyes shamelessly fixated on her lips again.   

“You’re staring at me,” she informed, as if he wasn’t fully aware of his own leering.   

“You’re nice to look at.” Sandor grinned and watched her cheeks flush and her eyes widen. “Get used to it.  You can’t tell me the pretty boys you hang around with don’t do it too.  The only difference is they try to hide it. I don’t.”

Sansa smiled back. “And why are you so sure I hang around with pretty boys?” She held her head up and steadied her eyes on him. Clearly, she didn’t like him making assumptions about her. 

“Call it an educated guess. Am I wrong though?”

“I’m here with you, aren’t I?” she questioned in earnest, her eyes matching his with sincerity.  Sandor knew when people lied, and he knew when they were being spiteful. The girl was doing neither, and didn’t quite understand the insult she had just paid him.    

“Yeah, the ugly dog,” he grumbled and pulled his arm from the back of the couch. “I get it.”

In an instant, Sansa’s hand flew to her mouth with a gasp and shifted towards him. 

“Oh god! No, that’s not what I meant. I’m so sorry.”

Sandor lowered his head so that she wouldn’t see the amused grin on his lips. 

“No need to lie about it.  My face isn’t anything to write home about it.”

It was the truth. He wasn’t deluded enough to actually think women truly found him attractive.  His body was in excellent shape, he knew that, and maybe some might find the good side of his face handsome enough. However, the scars were too much for most women to handle. He scored his share of groupies, but he knew well enough they weren’t fucking him for his looks.  It was a conquest of saying they fucked the Hound from Cannibal Star. Sandor was used to it and didn’t kid himself into thinking this chick would be any different. 

He felt Sansa’s hand rest on his knee, her fingers placed hesitantly there. 

“I’m not lying. I only meant to say that I…” Her voice fell away as she seemed to carefully measure her words this time lest she misspeak again. “If I wanted to hang out with some boring pretty boys, I would. But I didn’t. I came here instead.”

Sandor turned to her and found her eyes pooling with concern and sincerity. He hadn’t expected that and only shook his head with a chuckle. 

“What?” Her brows furrowed. If she was confused by his actions, then he was just as confused by hers. They could sort that out later. 

“You’re a fucking trip.” He set his beer down and abruptly stood. “Band practice is over. Let’s go.”  

Sansa followed suit and then followed him across the room. Downstairs, the others shared a drink with Sansa’s sister and Gendry, all erupting into laughter as Bronn regaled them with a story. 

After bidding the appropriate farewells, Sandor and his “entourage” headed for the parking lot while the rest of his band mates stayed behind. 

“Thanks for coming out.” Sandor extended his hand to Gendry. 

“Thank you! This has been great!” Gendry beamed and rested against a ’69 Firebird. 

“That’s a nice car.” Sandor motioned towards it with a half-smile. 

“Thanks, man. It’s my baby. You drive a motorcycle?”

Sandor lifted his helmet. “Looks like it.”

“I thought you drove a Mustang,” Sansa questioned with curious eyes turned to him. Filing through his memories once more, Sandor tried to remember when he told her that until a Tawny Kitaen reference raced across his mind.   

“I drive the Harley mostly. The Mustang is for special occasions.”

A steady silence blanketed them. The conversation was winding down towards the point where everyone said their goodbyes and went separate ways. With Cannibal Star very much involved with their fan base, Sandor met people all the time, a steady rotation of names and faces he never saw again. It made no difference. And yet he found himself hesitant to simply ride away and have Sansa become one of the many faces and names he once knew. 

“Want a ride?” Sandor blurted out before he could talk himself out of it. 

Wide-eyed, Sansa stared up at him, considering him with something between nervousness and confusion. From behind, her sister nudged her towards Sandor with a wicked grin on her face. 

“On the motorcycle?” Sansa breathed and continued staring up at him. She bit her lip again, a gesture that was driving him crazy. If she kept that up, he’d be biting at her lips too—nipping them between kisses and licks.

Leaning towards her, Sandor murmured in her ear, breathing her in as he did. She smelled like vanilla and strawberries. 

“Did you have something else in mind you’d wanna take a ride on?” Standing upright, Sandor cocked an eyebrow at her and a devious smile spread across his lips.

“Still with the innuendos.” Sansa gave an exasperated laugh and a shake of the head.

“Still with the blushing,” Sandor retorted as a flush spread across Sansa’s cheeks. “It’s a good look on you.”

Sansa dropped her eyes and smiled in return as if truly touched that Sandor continually alluded to the fact that he found her good looking. If he didn’t know any better, the girl’s boyfriend, if she had one, did a piss poor job at complimenting her. Not that Sandor was an expert in that either, but by comparison, it seemed as though he was nailing it.

“I’ll see you back at home.” Sansa waved to her sister and Gendry and followed Sandor to his bike. 

“Where do you live?” Sandor asked and handed her a smaller helmet from the compartment of his bike.

“Winnetka.” Sansa’s eyes matched his, gauging his reaction as she took the helmet. Beautiful and rich. And way out of my league. 

“Do you know where that is?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.” Every Chicago native knew Winnetka to be one of the wealthiest areas. Situated to the north of the city, Sandor drove through there plenty of times on his way to Milwaukee. 

After getting specific directions from the girl, Sandor climbed onto his bike. Sansa hesitated as she stepped to the motorcycle. Her lips pursed and she tried to puzzle out how to approach.  Sandor extended his hand to her for purchase as she climbed on behind him. Her fingers felt delicate and her skin soft against his rough, calloused palms which were still smudged with grease from the work day. 

As he released the kickstand, he felt her arms snake around his chest in a demure embrace. Polite as ever.

Apparently, the girl had never been on the back of a bike before. Like this, she’d go flying off the back the first bump they came to. With his feet planted on the ground, Sandor reached behind and grabbed her firmly by her ass. A tiny squeal escaped her lips as if she were about to protest until he pulled her against him, her chest flush to his back. Her thighs pressed against his hips as Sandor grabbed her forearms and pulled her arms tighter around him. 

“Hold on tight,” he instructed and backed out of the parking space. As he kicked on the engine, he felt her arms grip him tight and a steady increase of pressure at his hips as she squeezed her thighs against him. 

Sandor navigated the streets north towards Winnetka, avoiding the highways in favor of the side roads. He relished the feeling of her body flush against his as she hung onto him. More than a handful of times, he felt her press her cheek against his back and her arms wrapped tighten around him. She wasn’t exactly dressed for a motorcycle ride, and undoubtedly her skirt was probably hiked up higher than she preferred. They meandered through suburbia, stopping here and there at stoplights. As they approached yet another stop, Sandor shifted his gaze over his shoulder.

“Are you doing okay?” he shouted over the motorcycle engine. 

Sansa replied with a tiny nod and a tense smile. Eventually, Sandor took the turns on the streets she’d told him until he found himself in a neighborhood with houses that were obnoxiously large. As he approached her house, Sandor slowed the bike to a stop and pulled into the driveway behind a 1970s model Volvo. He killed the engine and put down the kickstand. He stood and offered Sansa his hand and helped her off the bike. 

She regarded him with a smile as she pulled the helmet off of her head and handed it back to him before smoothing down the long strands of her hair. 

“Next time you’re on a motorcycle, don’t lean away from the turns.” Sandor returned her helmet to the compartment under the seat.  

“How are you so sure I want to ride with you again?” Sansa countered coquettishly and bit her lip again. She stared up through her eye lashes, content to torture him, although she couldn’t possibly know what she was doing to him. 

“I didn’t say my motorcycle. I just said motorcycle.”

He meant it as a joke, but the girl once more looked crestfallen and perhaps a bit embarrassed as she lowered her eyes with a nervous laugh. 

“Oh,” was all she said as her lips formed into a shape of an “O,” exacerbating their poutiness. 

“Although, mine looks a hell of a lot better with you on it.”  He watched her lifted her eyes to him and gave Sansa a wink, which elicited a shy smile from her. 

Matched at the eyes, silence fell between them and they stared at one another, each seeming to subtly evaluate the other. She was beautiful. He knew that much about her and apparently came from a well-to-do family. Beyond that, Sandor knew little of Sansa. 

“You live with your parents?” He cast a furtive glance towards the enormous two-story, colonial behind him.   

Sansa nodded and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

“For now.  I’m moving into my sorority house in a few weeks.”

Sandor smiled at that.  She was in college—another tidbit he could add to his growing knowledge.    

“A sorority girl,” he repeated and raised his brows at her, the smug smile still plastered across his lips. “A rich, pretty sorority girl.”

“Don’t say it like that,” Sansa scolded and rolled her eyes. Once more,  she didn’t like being lumped in with the typical reputation that sorority girls held. Sandor was left to wonder why she even cared at all what he thought of her.    

“Imagine what your sorority sisters will say when they find out you’ve had my Hog between your legs.” 

Sansa’s eyes went wide again and a defamed gasp escaped her lips. This time, Sandor didn’t have the excuse of being drunk. Instead, he liked seeing the way she blushed at his crude remarks; he liked the way her lips would part when she gasped ever so slightly, the way her breathing became a bit more frantic as her chest began to rise and fall steadily. He liked that he could get a reaction from her, and he supposed it was nice that she hadn’t decked him for it yet. 

“Is that your car?” Sandor motioned to the Volvo. 

Sansa shot a disdainful look towards the old thing. “Yeah. I share it with my sister. I hate it.”

“Those are good little cars. Keep up with the oil changes and they’ll run forever.”  

Sansa lifted a timid gaze up to him. Once more the conversation had come to a lull, and it was obvious this was the cue for them to part ways. 

“Thanks for the ride,” Sansa spoke softly before gnawing on her bottom lip once more, clearly a nervous gesture, although Sandor swore to God she was doing it to tease him mercilessly.

“No problem.” He climbed back onto his bike, but hesitated. 

He should have just ridden off. Why was he not able to do that with this girl? Reaching into his pocket, Sandor pulled out his wallet and retrieved one of his business cards. It was a long shot, but the way he saw it, he was leaving this one up to fate. Sandor handed the card to Sansa. She took it from him and studied it with curious eyes. After a few moments, she seemed to understand and a sweet smile formed on her lips.

“If you ever need any maintenance, or if you just want to go for a ride.”

Sandor backed out of her driveway, watching as Sansa stared down at the card in her hands with a shy smile. He kicked on the engine and rode out of Winnetka with his own smile and the hope that maybe that old Volvo just might give out. 

Chapter Text

 

Thunderstruck

 

Chapter Three

"Crazy, but that's how it goes
Millions of people living as foes"

-Crazy Train, Ozzy Osbourne


The garish beep of Sansa’s alarm punctuated the last remnants of her dream. She grumbled and her hand shot from beneath her comforter, fingers fumbling until they reached the alarm’s snooze button. She pulled the covers over her head and had scarcely closed her eyes again before it blared once more. Three, four, maybe five more times she did this and was about to drift back to sleep when the alarm set in with its beeping again and her covers were yanked off of her.

“If you’re just going to keep hitting the snooze button, then why don’t you turn the damn thing off?” Arya stood over her with deep bags beneath her eyes and hair matted against her face on one side. “You’re not the only one in this room.”

Sansa snatched the blankets from her sister as Arya ripped the alarm’s cord from the wall and retreated back to her bed in stumbling steps. Fully awake now and irritated, Sansa jumped from the bed and grabbed up her robe.

“Do you have to be such a brat?” Sansa snapped and stomped her away towards the door. “The room will be all yours in a week.” A pillow hit the back of her head as she reached for the door knob.

“I bet you can’t wait to live in a house full of spoiled bitches. It will suit you well.”

Arya turned away and pulled the covers over her head with a huff. Sansa’s mouth hung open at her sister’s words that admittedly stung. If she wasn’t already running fifteen minutes behind for her first class of the day, she’d ream Arya for that. As it stood, she didn’t have time to get into a battle of words with her sister.

She rolled her eyes and headed for the bathroom for a quick shower. After toweling off, she  threw on an oversized striped sweater, leggings, and her Ked shoes. Her full makeup routine was abbreviated as Sansa applied just a bit of powder and concealer, a quick swipe of mascara, and a smattering of blush across her cheeks. With only five minutes before she had to be out the door, her hair would have to air dry.

With her school bag thrown over her shoulder, Sansa bounded down the stairs with car keys already in hand. Breakfast would have to be eliminated from her morning routine as well.

“Sansa!” her mother called from the kitchen just as she reached the front door. Sansa paused with a sigh and hovered in the foyer.

“I’m running late,” she shouted back.

Her mother shuffled down the hallway, still in her robe and with curlers in her dark auburn hair. In one hand was a large, tattered envelope stuffed to the brim with papers inside, and in the other was a steaming cup of coffee.

“I need you to do me a favor,” her mother said and handed Sansa the envelope. It appeared as though she was doing this favor whether she wanted to or not. “Your dad forgot these this morning and needs them for an afternoon meeting. Can you run them by his office for me?”

Sansa furrowed her brow and bit her bottom lip as she mentally scrolled through her schedule for the day. She was already running behind for Politics of the Twentieth Century with Professor Baelish, and she had planned on studying during the break before her chemistry lab started in the afternoon.

“Mom, that’s all the way downtown,” Sansa sighed and shook her head. “My morning class isn’t over until noon, and then my lab starts at two.”

Her mother cocked her head to the side and rested one hand on her hip. Sansa knew this was the mark of disappointment and the beginning of some sort of guilt trip that would end up in her agreeing to whatever task her mother wanted her to do. There was no getting out of this.

“Rickon has a doctor’s appointment. I need you to do this for me. You should have plenty of time.” Her mother gabbed the enveloped at her and gave Sansa a pleading stare. She hated when her mom looked at her this way and could have sworn she never saw the woman look to Arya with the same sort of expectation. Whereas Arya seemed hell bent on disappointing their mother, Sansa was expected to be a proper lady.

Sansa grabbed the envelope with a groan of protest and shoved it into her school bag.

“Thank you.” Her mother smiled warmly and kissed Sansa on the cheek before seeing her out the door. “Tell Petyr I said hi,” she called out from the porch as Sansa tossed her bag onto the passenger seat of the Volvo.

Although she nodded and waved back at her mother, she had no intention of passing that message along to Professor Baelish. It didn’t matter if he was a childhood friend of her mother’s, both of them having grown up next door to one another and attending college together.

The man was a creep and had somehow fixated on her after learning Catelyn Stark’s daughter was going to be in his class this semester. On more than one occasion, Sansa had caught him leering at her across the quad or even during the weekly in-class quizzes, conveniently when no one else might notice. Margaery had made a joke out of it, although Sansa hardly found it amusing. ‘Oh Sansa! He’ll never actually make a move on you. He would lose his job. Play it up. The whole professor-student fantasy exists for a reason. It’s fun!’

Perhaps Margaery Tyrell could maneuver her way through a situation like this, but Sansa wanted nothing to do with it and certainly didn’t see the allure of this sort of “fantasy.”

Her thoughts turned to her car as the engine refused to turn over. Of all times for it to give her trouble, this was the absolute worst. After a few more attempts, the engine fired up and Sansa headed towards Northwestern’s campus. She could deal with her car troubles later. For now, she needed to get to class on time.

When Sansa peeled into the parking lot nearest Scott Hall, she was already ten minutes late. The lot was nearly full, the only free spaces in a remote corner furthest from where she needed to be. Sansa pulled her bag from the car and hurried across the parking lot.

When she made it into the lecture hall, she was out of breath and saw that Baelish was already well into his lecture. As quietly as she could, Sansa tiptoed down the steps of the main aisle and eased into the nearest empty seat a few rows back from where Margaery, Mya, and Jeyne say together.

She lifted her eyes and Baelish was already looking at her, smiling slightly beneath a well-manicured mustache. Sansa averted her gaze and cringed as she pulled her notebook out of her bag. Myranda often made jokes that Professor Baelish, or Petyr as he told the students to call him, looked like a poor man’s version of Tom Selleck and a wannabe for a spot on Magnum, P.I. With his tight pants, penchant for colorful and casually unbuttoned shirts, and the red sports car he drove, Sansa had to admit it was true.

She tried her best to pay attention, scribbling the bits and pieces of information about the League of Nations as Baelish droned on. Her mind wandered elsewhere, namely the logistics of how she was supposed to get downtown to drop off her dad’s papers and then all the way back to campus again. She would have to skip lunch, a thought which only added to the inconvenience of her task. Her stomach was already grumbling with hunger and a missed breakfast.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she heard someone take a seat behind her. Sansa’s heart raced as she picked up on the familiar scent of his cologne. It made her sick to her stomach.

“Wanna tell me why you were late for class, slut?” Joffrey breathed into her ear. His voice elicited shivers to run down her spine. Sansa tried in earnest to still the shaking of her hand. Her eyes flickered about the room hoping someone might see, although there was nothing anyone could do for her right now. Her best option was to ignore him. Sansa steadied her gaze to the front of the room and tried to focus on Baelish’s lecture instead.

She knew Joffrey, though, and he wasn’t the type to back down. If anything, her reticence would spur him on even further. She squeezed her eyes shut when she felt his breath hit her cheek once more.

“People have been talking about us around campus, saying that you dumped me. What they should be saying is that I kicked you to the curb because you were a lousy lay and a fucking moron to boot.”

Joffrey chuckled when he saw Sansa visibly tense at that. She had, in fact, never slept with Joff, somehow sensing he wasn’t likely to be gentle with her. They had fooled around, but she never let it go any further than that. His patience with that particular facet of their relationship had waned almost immediately when they started at Northwestern. He had puzzled out quickly enough that girls were willing to sleep with him without much pretense of conversation or commitment.

Sansa felt the familiar sting of tears, brought on more out of exasperation than hurt. She was used to Joff’s insults, but after a few weeks of no run-ins with him, she’d thought that he would finally leave her alone. The incident with Boros and Meryn had left her on edge, precisely the reaction Joff had been looking to elicit.

“Still have nothing to say do you?” he continued, his voice every bit as cruel as she remembered. “Your family is trash. My father did Ned Stark a favor by hiring him. It was charity for your family. You’re the most pathetic of them all. You’re nothing.”

Sansa had had enough. She whipped her head around and leveled an irate stare at him. With his hair curled in golden waves to his chin and disgustingly thick lips, Sansa could hardly believe she had once found him attractive.

“This is harassment,” she scolded beneath her breath. “If you don’t leave me alone, I will file a restraining order against you. My dad-“

“Your dad can’t do shit! My grandfather runs this city, bitch. My family has more connections than you can even dream of. Don’t you ever tell me what to do. I’ll do whatever I want. You can’t do anything about it.”

Baelish was staring at them as he continued his lecture, obviously aware of the unpleasantries occurring between her and Joffrey.

“I should have listened to my mother,” Joffrey seethed. “She always said you were stupid and a waste of my time. I should have gone for Margaery.”

Joffrey removed himself from the seat behind her and headed back towards Meryn and Boros seated in the row adjacent to her.

Occupied with her and Joffrey’s exchange, Sansa hadn’t noticed the time, not until her classmates seemed to shift restlessly in their seats as they discreetly began putting away their notebooks and pencils. It was the tell-tale sign that Baelish would be wrapping up soon, and it couldn’t come soon enough. Sitting up in her seat, Sansa watched as Petyr turned to the clock and noticed the minute hand encroaching on the top of the hour.

“Alright. I think that will do it for today,” he announced and dusted the chalk off his hands. “Remember, you need to have a rough draft of your papers turned into your partners by Monday!” His voice carried through the lecture hall despite the class eagerly snatching up their belongings and clearing from the room.

Sansa waited in her seat until she saw Joff, Meryn, and Boros retreat from the room. Margaery and the girls must not have seen her, as they exited down the row away from her and headed out of the hall. Sansa tucked away her notebook and began back up the stairs of the hall in quick steps.

“Miss Stark,” she heard Baelish call out from behind her when she had almost reached the top.

She squeezed her eyes shut and cursed beneath her breath. This wasn’t the first time Petyr had spoken with her after class. In fact, the frequency of these “meetings” was increasing as the semester wore on. Sansa turned with a feigned smile, her eyes undoubtedly betraying her discomfort. With his hands shoved in his pockets, Baelish gradually closed the distance between them as he meandered up the stairs.

“You missed a riveting introduction to the League of Nations,” he joked on a saccharine smile. His eyes did not stray from her, but instead seemed to roam the features of her face.

“I’m sorry, Professor,” Sansa said and shifted side to side with unease. “I was late getting out the door this morning. I apologize for having missed it.”

“Oh, no. Don’t apologize,” he dismissed with a wave of his hand. “And please, call me Petyr.”

Sansa’s lips creased once more in a tense smile. He was the only professor she knew who preferred for his students to call him by his first name. It was a bit too informal for her taste. The other students, however, seemed to enjoy his unconventional approach to higher education. The rumors were that Baelish traveled around the country in the Sixties, a product of the counterculture and proponent of free love. Sansa cringed at the thought, considering that her mother had been close friends with the guy during that time.

Baelish stepped forward. He gently rested the tips of his fingers on her forearm and stared at her intently.

“You know, Sansa, if you ever need anything at all, my office door is always open. It doesn’t even have to be related to this course. Even if you just need someone to talk to, you can always come to me, and I’m not just saying that because your mother is my close friend.”

Sansa had been trying to avoid his gaze, but finally met Petyr’s insistent stare and nodded. She didn’t doubt that he would eagerly invite her into his office. As if the overpowering smell of his cologne wasn’t enough, that thought beckoned the bile to rise in the back of her throat and threatened to make her gag. Dealing with Joff had been enough to sour her day. This was too much.

“Good.” Baelish gave a toothy grin before slowly retreating. Sansa wasn’t sure if he meant to say more or was simply waiting for her to resuscitate the conversation with her own input. It made no difference. She wasn’t going to stick around long enough to find out.

Without another word, Sansa hurried from the room. She breathed a sigh of relief as she made her way from Scott Hall back towards the parking lot. Her walk towards her car was rife with tension as her eyes darted around the quad, waiting for Joffrey and his friends to pop out at any moment. They must have wandered elsewhere and Sansa made it to her car without incident. The engine of her Volvo fired up without much hassle and Sansa headed towards downtown.

As she made the half-hour commute into the city, her eyes gravitated towards her watch as she measured the time. Perhaps her mother was right; as long as the lunch-hour traffic was at a minimum, she would have plenty of time to return to school for her next class.

Sansa navigated the streets of the business district, mindful of how the lanes seemed to narrow and watchful as people attempted to parallel park. Having never mastered the art of parallel parking, Sansa opted for the parking garage of her father’s building and grabbed the envelope from her school bag.

She rode the elevator to the forty-third floor and still was quite sure what her father did for a living. He worked in corporate finance at Baratheon & Company and she knew he was part of the mergers and acquisitions department. Beyond that, details seemed to blur and Sansa couldn’t place what her father did all day beyond sit in meetings and take important phone calls. It all seemed terribly boring and stressful, especially considering her father was always tying up Robert Baratheon’s loose ends.

The thought of Robert unnerved Sansa. He was a nice enough man—loud and boisterous—but pleasant nonetheless. Regardless of how pleasant the man was, he and Cersei had still raised in Joffrey a monster for a son. Sansa’s parents had been relieved when Sansa ended the relationship, but it was still a tender subject; not due to any regrets on her part, but for the awkward fact that the Baratheons and Starks were still good friends. Well, at least the patriarchs were. Sansa knew for certain her mother couldn’t stand Cersei Lannister-Baratheon and imagined the sentiment was probably mutual.

Off the elevator, a receptionist greeted Sansa. Behind the woman, floor to ceiling windows held a beautiful view of downtown Chicago and the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. The view alone was worth the hassle of maneuvering through the city.

“Hello,” the receptionist greeted with a smile, lips a vibrant shade of red. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I am Ned Stark’s daughter. I’m here to drop off some papers to him.”

“He’s in a meeting, but I will make sure—”

“Sansa!” her father’s voice interrupted from down the hall.

Sansa turned as he approached with a beaming smile, one that intimated his relief at either seeing her or perhaps the adjournment of whatever meeting he was coming from. Sharply dressed as always, he wore a pressed grey suit, something she knew wasn’t quite to his taste but he wore anyway. ‘Dressing the part,’ was what he always called it, although he preferred to be clothed less formally.

He pulled Sansa into a tight embrace. “Good to see you, kiddo. Thanks for bringing the papers. I’d be dead meat without them.”

He sighed, seeming exhausted despite his cheerfulness, and led the way to his office.

When he pushed the door open, she could see stacks of manila folders piled on his desk, each filled to the brim with documents.

“Busy day?” Sansa asked and settled into a plush leather chair opposite his desk and placed the envelope on top of a stack of folders.

He leaned against the wall behind his desk and stared out the window to the city beyond.

“Yeah. There’s an important merger Robert wants me to take over while he’s on vacation.”

Sansa could tell her father had left quite a bit unsaid, perhaps his frustrations with the man who he had grown up with and now worked for. Undoubtedly, the shifting dynamics between Robert and her father put certain strains on their relationship. If that weren’t enough, Joff’s mistreatment of her had also been a point of contention between them as well.

“I don’t know, kiddo. The man seems content to work me into an early grave,” he joked with a chuckle and eased into his desk chair.

“You haven’t had any problems with Joffrey, have you?” he asked, but graveness now colored his demeanor.

Sansa swallowed hard and shifted her eyes away from him. Prior to this morning’s run-in, she hadn’t heard from Joffrey in a weeks. She didn’t want to alarm her dad by relaying what had happened in class. With any luck, Joff had gotten it out of his system and would leave her alone, but Robert was a University benefactor and that meant that Joffrey seemed to think he could get away anything. Unfortunately, that notion had been proven correct in the past and only exacerbated the behavior.

Sansa lifted her gaze to her father and offered what reassurance she could.

“I see him around campus, but he’s usually with his friends.”

Her father tensed at that and Sansa could hear him suck in a quick breath.

“Those boys are bad news. I still think Boros got off too easy with what he did to you. If you see them around campus, I want you to turn and walk the other way, Sansa.”

His words were heavy with concern and his eyes hardened with severity. It seemed this sort of sternness came naturally to her father. Not that he was a cold man but perpetually cautious and concerned for things he didn’t always have control over.

“I will. I really don’t think they’re going to bother me anymore.”

She couldn’t say for certain if it was true, but Sansa did know Joffrey had set his sights on another girl from a different sorority. Although she never wished Joffrey on any other girl, Sansa had to admit her relief at hearing that tidbit of gossip from Margaery.

Her father leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers in front of him. “And these sorority mixers, will he be at those?”

Sansa bit her bottom lip. She knew damn well he would be there. She nodded  and shrugged her shoulders.

“Dad, I really can’t help that. I can’t hide from him. I have to attend certain events for Tri Delta and, if he happens to be there, what am I supposed to do?”

“Everything will be fine,” she assured before he could protest. “I promise you I won’t be alone with him again. If I do run into him, it will be with tons of people around.”

He nodded, seemingly mollified for the moment. “Alright. If you say so. I’ve got to get back to work. See you tonight at dinner? Your mother is making pot roast. She’s been carrying on about it all week.”

Giggling, Sansa giggled and stood. With her stomach still grumbling, pot roast sounded divine.

“You bet! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

“Oh! One more thing,” her father called out as she reached the door. “The Hardyng’s are coming for dinner on Saturday. Your mom is really looking forward to it and wants you to be there.”

Sansa cast a dubious glance at him and grimaced. “Is Mom requesting Arya’s presence as well or is it just mine?”

She watched as her dad held up his hands in acquiescence.

“Don’t shoot the messenger! I’m just saying she’s really excited about finally having the Hardyng’s over for dinner.”

“This is about Harry, isn’t it?” Sansa pressed.

Her mother had, rather obviously, favored Harry over Joffrey even though Sansa had repeatedly reminded her mom that she wasn’t interested in Harry. Still, the woman was convinced that all it would take was getting Harry and her in a room together for sparks to fly.

Sansa watched the sheepish way her father shrugged and the conversation ended as his phone rang. She waved goodbye and headed back through the lobby.

On the elevator ride down to the parking garage, the unsavory memories of her relationship with Joff invaded her thoughts. They had known each other since eleven when Sansa and her family moved from Duluth, Minnesota to Chicago so her father could take the job at Robert’s firm.

At the time, she swore Joff was a spitting image of Leif Garrett from the covers of her Tiger Beat magazines. Many nights, she would pray that Joffrey would be her boyfriend and from sixteen on, it seemed the heavens had answered her prayers. Arya had always hated Joffrey and was never shy about vocalizing that hatred. If only I would have listened to my sister…

As it stood, Arya had better luck in finding good guys. Her sister’s first boyfriend, Gendry, was leaps and bounds better than Sansa’s own first attempt at a relationship. Perhaps she could take a page from her sister’s book after all. And what might that look like?

Sandor.

Unbidden, his name and image flashed across Sansa’s mind as she climbed  into her Volvo.

No. It was ridiculous.

He was uncouth and foul-mouthed. Even now, she could hear his voice, deep and rough, in her head; the way he seemed to say whatever he wanted, regardless of how crude or inappropriate. He was in a metal band and had been wasted the first night she met him. In fact, he didn’t seem to remember much of their first conversation. Then there was the way he always looked at her, his stares lingering a bit longer than what was customary for casual and polite interactions. Instead, his eyes would remain steadfast on her with a brooding sort of intensity that held a bit of curiosity despite the heaviness.

Perhaps more alarming than all of this combined was Sansa’s own reaction to him. She should be thoroughly offended and repulsed by the man, but that wasn’t the case. She too found there to be something intriguing about him. It had been nearly a week since she saw him last, and yet her thoughts seemed to wander to him in quiet moments. They were fleeting and quickly replaced by other, more pressing matters. Truth be told, Sansa purposefully steered her thoughts away from him.

On paper, he wasn’t her type, not in the least. However, Sansa knew she had already dated her “type”: pretty rich boys who drove nice cars, dressed immaculately, and came from well-to-do families. She thought Joff was her type and for all intents and purposes was, but that had been a disaster.

Maybe I could date someone like Sandor…

It was absurd and, although she would never admit it to anyone out loud, it was also enthralling.

Sansa shook her head, as if dispelling the thought, and backed out of the parking space. She pulled out of the garage and onto a one-way street and pursed her lips as she tried to visualize the layout of this part of town. She would have to circle around the block to catch the nearest highway ramp heading towards campus.

At the end of the block, the cross street was blocked off to traffic and construction crews and their equipment occupied the entirety of the road. The cars in front of her were in a dead lock, all trying to maneuver themselves away from the construction zone and towards potential detours. Sansa glimpsed the detour signs leading her further south down the road she was on.

She chewed her bottom lip as time steadily crept towards a quarter past one. At this rate, she might just barely make her second class. However, that hope diminished as the detour led her further and further towards the south side of town.

One by one, the cars in front of her turned off on various side streets, ignoring the detour signs and seeking their own path towards their destinations. With each passing block, the roads became less familiar to her, and the area deteriorated. The detour signs vanished and Sansa concluded that she must have missed a turn, perhaps too preoccupied with the dilapidated buildings that now surrounded either side of the street.

Realizing she’d have to turn around, Sansa turned onto a side street and pulled into a driveway. She shifted the car into reverse and backed out carefully to avoid an enormous pothole. Once out of the driveway, she threw the car into first gear, content to take out her frustration on the shift stick. The car lurched forward before coming to an abrupt halt, the engine having been killed as her foot slipped off the clutch. She turned the keys in the ignition and waited for the car to turn on. Nothing happened. Normally, the car at least made an attempt to turn over. Now there was only dead silence.

In a panic, Sansa scanned her surroundings. She had landed in a sketchy part of town, the nearest gas station a few blocks away. She swallowed hard and took deep breaths to calm herself. I’ll just walk to a gas station and call someone. No big deal. Sansa snatched up her bag and pulled the keys from the ignition.

With quickened paces, she headed towards the gas station, her eyes cautiously taking in her surroundings as she went. When she reached the payphone on the side of the minimart, Sansa dug in her bag and pulled out her wallet. She sifted through the coins inside, fingering past pennies and a lone nickel but coming across no dimes. If she wasn’t so resolved to get this situation taken care of, Sansa could have burst into tears; tears of frustration and tears of anger. She knew she should have had her damn car looked at before now.

An old woman shuffled past her to pay for her gas and Sansa called out.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” she pled. “Would you happen to have a dime? My car broke down and I need to call someone.”

The woman did not speak, but instead shoved her hand in her pocket and removed a few coins. Picking out a dime, she handed it to Sansa with a small smile and walked away. Only now did it occur to Sansa that she didn’t know her father’s office number by heart. It was written down in her address book that sat on her dresser at home.

Arya was at school and her mother at the doctor’s office with Rickon. Her options were quickly dwindling. To make matters worse, she only had one phone call. Sansa stared at the dime in the palm of her hand and Sandor’s words flooded her mind.

‘If you ever need any maintenance or if you just want to go for a ride.’

With renewed resolve, Sansa tore through her wallet, remembering she had put his card in there and hoping to God that it was still in the same place. After thumbing through the other cards, she finally found it.

Sansa picked up the receiver and pushed the dime into the pay phone. She dialed the number to Selmy’s Auto Repair. With each ring, she could feel the steady rise of her heart beat until a deep voice answered on the other end.

Chapter Text

 

Thunderstruck

 

Chapter Four

"And I want and I need
And I lust animal"

-Animal, Def Leppard


Sandor was elbow-deep in a Pontiac’s engine when the shop phone rang over the sound of Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo blaring from the radio. By the third ring, he shifted his gaze through the large window separating the front of the shop from the garage. Behind the counter, Selmy still haggled with the son-of-bitch trying to talk him down in price on a full transmission repair. In the next bay over, another mechanic, Lenny, was fitting a tire to a rim and blissfully ignoring the phone.

Sandor cursed beneath his breath and carefully removed his arms from beneath the hood. He wiped his hands on the front of his pants, although it hardly eliminated all the grease smeared across his fingers. When he reached the wall, he snatched up the phone and pushed the receiver to his ear.

“Selmy’s Auto Repair. Sandor speaking,” he grumbled, more curt than Barristan would’ve been happy with and his agitation glaringly apparent. His expertise was in fixing cars, not customer service. He left that bullshit up to Selmy who was leaps and bounds better at smoothing over issues with customers.

“Sandor?”

The voice on the other end faltered, seeming to pick up on his irritation. The receiver nearly slipped from his greasy fingers. Sansa’s voice was uniquely feminine, her words swathed in sweetness.

“Yeah?”

“This is Sansa.” The words came hesitant, as if certain she would have to remind him who she was.

It had been over a week since he last saw her, but she had invaded his thoughts on many occasions since then. He tried to put her out of his mind as he went through the motions of oil changes, tune ups, and tire rotations during the day and band practice at night. Somehow, she had burrowed herself into his memory—something that both exhilarated and vexed him.

When he didn’t respond right away, Sansa continued, voice still heavy with uncertainty.

“You know, the girl who came to your band practice last week?”

Sandor smiled into the phone and said nothing as she continued.

“My sister was with me. And her boyfriend, Gendry?” Sansa’s tone came softer and her words inflected at the end so that her statements sounded more like questions.

“Hmm. I don’t know. Doesn’t ring a bell. Are you sure you have the right number?” Sandor stifled a chuckle as an exasperated sigh flittered from the other end of the line.

“I was the one with red hair.”

“I meet so many redheads…” Sandor’s voice trailed off and he waited for Sansa’s response.

“You gave me a ride home on your motorcycle. Remember? I live in Winnetka.” By now, she was damn near pleading and her disheartenment was obvious. With that, Sandor gave up the charade.

“Oh! Sansa. That’s right. The sorority girl. Now I remember.” He could’ve sworn he heard a tiny sigh of relief on he end before she began again.

“Yeah. Hi. You gave me your card and, as it so happens, my car completely gave out on me just now.”

He felt bad for her, he really did. However, Sandor couldn’t help the wicked grin that spread across his face. She was calling him for help.

He leaned against the wall with one arm crossed over his chest. “Where are you? Are you with the car?”

In the background, he could hear the din of traffic. It sounded as if she was outside, stranded more than likely.

“Yes. Well…no,” she replied, obviously flustered. “I’m at a gas station a few blocks from the car. I’m in kind of a rough part of town on the south side.”

Wordless, Sandor nodded and the grin disappeared from his lips.

“Alright. Tell me where you are, and I’ll come and get you. Then I can take a look at the car.”

With the phone tucked between his shoulder and chin, Sandor snatched up a pen and a scrap of paper from the workbench next to him. Sansa relayed her location, and Sandor scribbled it down, trying to mentally locate where in the city she was. True to her word, it was a shitty part of town and nowhere for the likes of Sansa Stark to be.

“Okay. Stay at the gas station. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Sandor hung up and grabbed the keys to the shop’s tow truck.

He was familiar with the area Sansa was stranded in. Years ago, he had played gigs at a hole-in-the-wall venue a few blocks north. During the day, there was nothing much to worry about, perhaps a few bums panhandling for spare change. By night, though, it was a different story.

Peeking his head through the door separating the front desk, Sandor called out to Barristan who had finally rid himself of his pesky customer and looked none too pleased about the whole ordeal.

“I got a call for a tow on the south side. I’ll be back in a bit. The serpentine belt is about shot on the Pontiac and they should probably look into flushing their brake fluid.”

Barristan nodded his head with a distracted smile and his eyes wandered back towards the stack of paperwork in front of him. Taking that as his cue to leave, Sandor strode outside and towards the tow truck and hopped in the driver’s seat.

The drive to the gas station took longer than he would’ve imagined. Every asshole in town was out and about at this particular moment. Sandor shook his head and chuckled to himself, remembering clearly that he had considered giving Sansa his card a crap shoot.

In all honesty, he hadn’t expected to hear from her. She was a prep—a sorority girl who was well-to-do and probably had only paid him false courtesies through fake smiles. He had wholly expected her to drift away into obscurity, never to be heard from again. Sandor would have liked to say he could have cared less, but the truth was she had inexplicably crawled beneath his skin—an uncomfortable and disconcerting notion.

When he pulled into the small gas station situated amongst decrepit buildings and rotting facades, Sandor spotted Sansa sitting on the curb outside the mini-mart, knees pulled to her chest and chin resting on knees. At the sound of the diesel engine, her head popped up and bright blue eyes flooded with relief. She pushed herself up from the curb and headed towards the passenger door in quick steps.

Sandor leaned over the seat and pushed the door open. He took Sansa’s bag from her as she climbed into the truck. As she settled in the seat, Sandor couldn’t help but steal a glance at her. Once again, his memory had diminished her beauty. The last time he had the effects of alcohol to blame. This time it had likely been the side effect of pushing her out of his mind every chance he could. She wasn’t made up like most of the chicks that hung around the band. It was obvious the girl was naturally stunning, a characteristic he found incredibly appealing.

“Thank you so much.” She considered him with wide, grateful eyes as if he were some sort of savior or perhaps her knight in shining armor. If that was the case, the girl was going to be solely disappointed. He was certainly no fucking knight.

“Just doing my job,” he replied as he carefully maneuvered the truck in reverse.

As he turned over his shoulder to look out the rear window, Sandor’s arm settled on the headrest of Sansa’s seat. Although he was focused on getting the truck out of the lot without backing into a gas pump or another car, he saw out of his periphery that she was staring at him. It wasn’t the brazenly obvious leers he regarded her with, but manifested in shy glances that lingered a bit too long to be insignificant.

“You see something you like?” He pulled his arm away and put the truck into drive.

His gaze settled on Sansa just long enough to watch as her eyes dart away from him and her mouth fall open, the embarrassment obvious.

“No…I…” She stopped herself short of stammering and Sandor remembered now how easily he could get her to blush. Her cheeks flushed as she turned to him.

“If you turn left, it’s down the second street on the right,” she spoke softly and nervously twirled a lock of hair around a slender finger.

Sandor said nothing and nodded, noting how her hair fell in long waves over her shoulders. He didn’t know jack shit about what women did to their hair, but he knew he preferred how Sansa wore hers compared to the way most girls teased the hell out of theirs and sprayed it with a fuck-ton of hairspray.

Silence continued between them as Sandor flicked on his blinker and waited for his opportunity to turn out of the gas station. He never paid much attention to lulls in conversation and could happily sit in silence with other people, not noticing whatever awkwardness others perceived. If the tension growing between him and Sansa was anything to go by, she was the opposite, and her discomfort at the quiet was made obvious as she began to speak.

“I hope it wasn’t too much trouble coming to get me and all,” she began almost apologetically and clearly failed to realize that it was his job to do shit like this. “I was coming from my dad’s office downtown and there was a detour. I’m not really familiar with this part of town and I must have gotten turned around or missed a turn. Anyway, I just kept going and going and before I knew it I was here. Obviously, I wouldn’t think this would be part of the detour, so I decided to turn around and head back from the direction I came. When I did, I killed the engine and then it just wouldn’t come back on. I didn’t have a dime on me to call anyone, so I had to ask this old woman for one. I figured you’d be the best person to call, and luckily I still had your card.”

Sansa finished her monologue and took a deep breath that seemed to loosen any residual nervousness. Gazing over at her, Sandor shook his head and exhaled a laugh as he pulled the truck out on the main road.

She stared at him. “What’s so funny?” Her auburn eyebrows knitted together in confusion, lips pursed to the extent of looking pouty. He had almost, almost forgotten about his fascination with her lips. This was enough to jar his memory as he watched her lick her bottom lip before offering him a timid smile.

“You’re like one of those birds that sit outside my bedroom window and chirp their little heads off right before the sun starts to rise, which is usually about the time I’m finally getting to sleep.”

It was meant to be a joke, a little jab at the fact that she was a nervous talker. His sentiment seemed to float over her head and just like that Sansa’s smile faded and she quickly averted her eyes from him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I talk too much sometimes.”

Sandor could have laughed again as she apologized to him after he had been a prick. He eased the tow truck in front of her car and put it into park.

With her head downturned, Sansa stared at her hands folded in her lap. Resting one elbow on the center console between them, Sandor cupped her chin with one hand and forced her to look at him. Without much prompting on his part, Sansa obliged, staring at him wide-eyed and with lips parted in surprise at his touch.

“It was a joke…little bird,” Sandor affirmed with a grin and watched a small, relieved smile play across her lips before she lowered her gaze and blushed. He stared at her lips, toying with the wild idea of pressing his mouth to hers. She was close enough to him and hadn’t shifted away. It would be purely impulsive and indulgent on his part. As moments passed, the tension was on the rise once more, statically charged with whatever flowed between them.

Sandor swallowed hard and decided to pull away before he did something stupid. He was on a job, after all. Off the job, it’d be different. In quick, fluid movements, he pushed open the door and slid out of his truck. Sansa had followed him to her car and popped open the hood. Sandor settled in front of it.

With the hood open, he instructed her to try to turn the car on. After a few unsuccessful tries, Sandor investigated the usual suspects for this problem. Sansa stood next to him—far enough away to not interfere with his work but close enough that he could see her watching him. This wasn’t a curious gaze as his hands inspected various parts of the engine. And it wasn’t a bored, glazed over stare as she waited for her car’s diagnosis. No, she was staring and taking her chance to contemplate him as intently as he contemplated her, the only difference being he didn’t care if she saw him doing it.

“I’m only going to keep letting you eye fuck me if you make good on it one of these days.” Sandor turned a devilish smile to Sansa whose gaze fled somewhere else, for all the good it did.

“I’m not eye—” She stopped herself short of repeating his words. “I’m not doing that. I’m just watching what you’re doing to my car.”

Sandor released a grumbling chuckle and turned towards her. She was blushing again, her cheeks redder than he had ever seen them, as she appeared wholly scandalized by his suggestion.

“Bullshit. You don’t know a damn thing about what I’m doing to your car.”

Sansa’s eyes flickered away again and she crossed her arms tight over her chest. She seemed to be pouting, perhaps perturbed that she couldn’t get away with leering at him as he could with her or maybe still embarrassed that he caught her in the act.

“My best guess is it’s the battery, a spark plug, or the transmission.” Sandor closed the hood. “All in the order of how expensive it’s going to be to repair. I’ll tow it back to the shop. We’re booked for the next few days, so the earliest I could even look at it would be Monday.”

“Okay,” Sansa replied and bit her lip with apparent disappointed at the timeline. With today being Thursday, he didn’t quite know what she expected. The shop was always busiest during the weekends, and he couldn’t make an exception for her just because she was some rich girl or because he wouldn’t mind one bit fucking her senseless.

“What’s wrong?” he demanded, perhaps a bit too harshly. He fully expected her to complain about how long her car was going to be in the shop and maybe even ask him to do her a favor by looking at it sooner.

“My chemistry lab starts in fifteen minutes. I’m going to miss it.” Her gaze drifted to her watch.

Her answer surprised him; not that he didn’t think she was studious, but mostly because she wasn’t bitching about her car. In fact, she didn’t seem too concerned about it, but instead was more disappointed at missing class.

Sandor never went to college, deciding academics weren’t in the cards for him. He learned his trade as a mechanic and, in his down time, fucked around on the guitar. The success of Cannibal Star was never anything he chased after. It just happened. Regardless, even he knew missing one class wasn’t the end of the fucking world and would hardly spell disaster for Sansa, especially given the fact that she had a legitimate excuse for skipping.

“Shit happens,” he shrugged, his attempt at making the girl feel better, although he knew it was shit for solace. “Chemistry lab sounds boring as fuck anyway. You’re probably not missing much.”

A slow smile crept across her lips as she stared up at him and gave a small nod. She didn’t let her eyes fall away, but instead continued to hold his gaze. Sandor wasn’t sure if she was about to say something or was waiting for a prompt from him. Either way, he found it was now he who was having a hard time keeping her stare. He felt the need to look away as the air between them grew heavy once more—not uncomfortable, but still unsettling in a way he wasn’t quite used to.

“If you want to wait in the truck, I’ll get your car hooked up.” He looked away and cursed himself for doing so. There was no reason for him to be acting as if he had never been around a beautiful woman before. He had been around plenty and never before had this bullshit happened.

He didn’t wait for Sansa’s response, but instead stepped away from her, grateful now for some distraction as he went about getting her car hooked up to the truck. He went through the familiar motions. He had done this more times than he could count, and yet he had to repeat certain steps, his hands and mind clearly suffering from a disconnect.

Her effect on him was unnerving. Over the past week, he had chocked it up needing to get laid. It was purely a primal reaction to a pretty girl. However, Cannibal Star’s gigs never failed to produce an enclave of attractive women for him to indulge in, but he never caught himself thinking about them after the fact. He was left to wonder why Sansa was so different. He hadn’t even kissed the girl, for fuck’s sake.

When his task was done, Sandor climbed into the truck and headed back towards the shop. He avoided her gaze that was on him once more in sideways glances and curious stares. He decided it would be best to treat this like he would any other customer— distant, professional, only conversing when necessary and about vehicles only. If she wanted to ask him about her spark plugs, he would answer. Beyond that, he forced his eyes and thoughts to remain on the road.

They continued on in silence save for the low murmur of the radio. He could tell she was growing uncomfortable with his reticence and would likely start chirping again soon. Before too long, he’d probably get caught up in answering questions like what his favorite color was, if he thought the Berlin Wall would ever come down, if the Blackhawks would go to the playoffs this year.

He knew little about Sansa, but enough to anticipate her questions. He allowed himself a small smile when she finally broke the silence.

“How long have you been a mechanic?” she asked and glanced at him once more.

“Look, you don’t have to do that,” he replied flatly. It was better for both of them if he shut this down sooner rather than later. She didn’t need to waste her manners on him and he wouldn’t have to suffer through questions she couldn’t care less about the answers to.

“Do what?” Her voice came dejected. “I was just asking a question.”

Sandor’s jaw tensed and, when they were stopped at a red light, he turned to her.

“I don’t like small talk for the sake of filling up dead air. You don’t have to pretend you’re interested in what the fuck it is I do with my life.”

As soon as the words left his lips, Sandor knew they were uncalled for and held some sort of bitterness to them, although he wasn’t exactly sure where it was coming from. Perhaps he was unwilling to let himself believe Sansa would actually give a shit about wanting to get to know him. He assumed questions like this were a product of polished manners and nothing more.

He expected her to avert her eyes, to turn away and resume the ride in silence. Maybe she would pout after being called out, or perhaps she would get pissed and finally realize her courtesies were lost on him. Sansa did none of these things, and instead seemed to steel herself, unwilling to back down so easily against his biting words.

“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I am interested? Or are you always this rude?” Crossing her arms over her chest, she stared at him as she awaited an answer. Sandor had come to expect a lot of things out of this girl—bouts of blushing, shy smiles, timid conversation—but this sudden flash of assertiveness was not one of them.

He was the one now shocked into silence as he turned his attention to the road when the light turned green. He felt like a jackass. It had, in fact, not exactly occurred to him that she might be genuinely interested. He wasn’t a pretty boy jock she was probably used to running around with. He wasn’t going to college. He wasn’t from a wealthy background. Despite the relative fame of being in Cannibal Star, he lived a modest lifestyle. Though loath to admit it, Sansa was out of his league in more ways than one.

Despite all of this, it seemed he was making a bigger deal out of it than she was. With his guard coming down a bit, Sandor sighed and glanced at Sansa.

“Twelve years,” he said. “I went to trade school after getting my GED. After two years of that, I started working at Selmy’s shop off and on for the past ten years.”

The admission dated him, Sandor knew. That may very well be another thing working against them. He would turn thirty this year and she probably wasn’t even old enough to drink yet.

Sansa remained quiet as she stared straight ahead with her arms still crossed defensively about her chest. As the silence wore on between them, Sandor now took up the burden of discomfort. With each passing moment of Sansa not uttering a word, he was growing increasingly convinced that he had blown it. Only minutes earlier, she was happily willing to engage in conversation. Now she had turned into an ice queen—stoic, unwavering, and utterly quiet.

“What are you studying in school?” Sandor grumbled. He knew she heard him; from the corner of his eye, he could see her stir in her seat. He waited for a response and, when he didn’t get one, he found it aggravated him much more than it should have.

“Are you not going to answer me?” he demanded, his frustration rising. She was the one who wanted to make small talk in the first place and now she was purposely blowing him off.

“Apologize first,” Sansa replied haughtily and looked out the window.

“What?” Sandor snapped in response and leveled an irritated stare at her.

“For being rude.” She turned to him, chin tipped up as she held her head high. “You should apologize.”

Sandor erupted into sardonic laughter as he shook his head. This girl was out of her mind if she thought he was going to apologize to her. He refused to apologize for being honest, for calling out the fact that she was baiting him into conversations that she couldn’t give a shit about at the end of the day. Perhaps there was a chance that he may have been wrong, but that was besides the point and his pride wouldn’t let him admit that now.

“No,” he fired back. “I answered your question. You got what you wanted.” Sandor pulled the tow truck behind the back of Selmy’s shop where he spotted an empty space for Sansa’s car.

“And now I want an apology,” Sansa reasoned firmly. Once more, Sandor was taken aback. She was stubborn, almost as stubborn as he was. This was shaping up to be a battle of wills.

Sandor put the truck into park and turned to her. He saw the beginnings of a smile form on her lips and her eyes shone with a play glint. He gave a faint nod and narrowed his eyes at her, but returned her smile with a smug grin. When he killed the engine, silence crept between them once more.

He let his gaze roam the features of her face. He considered her eyes, which were a brilliant shade of blue, large and round; her nose, delicate and upturned at the end; her lips, full and ripe for the taking. Slowly, Sandor leaned closer towards her, his upper body hovering over the center console as one arm reached across, and his hand settled on the arm rest next to the passenger side door.

Sandor could see the rise and fall of Sansa’s chest. He fixed his stare on her lips, the object of his fascination, and he noticed how they parted with what he could only call anticipation. Lifting her chin, Sansa tilted her head slightly, making her lips all the more accessible to him, if he wanted them. And God, how he wanted them. The space between them was mere inches and filled with mutual exhilaration as Sandor matched her eyes and lowered his voice.

“You want an apology, do you?” he murmured close to her lips, eliciting a shudder to move through her if the ragged little breath escaping that perfect mouth of hers was anything to go by. “Well, little bird, we can’t always get what we want. Maybe it’s about time someone teach you that.”

Sandor gripped the door handle on her side as he pulled away from her slightly. She was blushing furiously, as he knew she would be, but he hadn’t expected to see the desire, and now disappointment, lingering in her eyes.

“Here. I’ll get that for you.” He pushed her door open with a devious smile.

He pulled the keys from the engine and hopped out of the truck. He circled around to the back and began unhooking Sansa’s car. He smiled to himself and shook his head. The look on her face had been priceless—confusion, embarrassment, and dare he say, devastation at the abrupt halt to what she had anticipated from him. The girl couldn’t actually think he would kiss her right then and there with his co-workers and boss meandering about somewhere. No, if he was going to finally claim her mouth, it would be at the right place and time; somewhere where they wouldn’t be interrupted, he could give her lips all the attention they deserved. Besides, it was a lot more than just a kiss he wanted to give her.

After a few moments, Sansa circled around to the back of the truck with her bag thrown over her shoulder and her hands folded in front of her. She was still flushed a deep shade of pink and her eyes were at her feet.

“I’ll see if my dad can come and pick me up. Is there a phone I can use?” Sansa’s eyes flickered towards him, but didn’t remain there long. “Also, if you have a phone book as well, that would be great.”

With his hands preoccupied, Sandor motioned to the shop. “Head right through that side door and the lobby is straight ahead. Whoever is behind the desk can let you use the phone and give you a phone book to use.”

She stared up at him with a small, grateful smile before turning away. After unrigging her car and maneuvering it into the empty parking space, Sandor returned the tow truck to its spot in the lot and headed inside.

With a phone book and the phone resting on the counter of the front desk, Sansa had the receiver pushed to her ear, her brow furrowed as she twirled and untwirled the cord around her finger. Behind the desk, Lenny had propped up his feet and was nose deep in a magazine. As Sandor came around the back of the counter, Lenny lowered the magazine and waggled his brows before discreetly tipping his head to Sansa.

Sandor followed the man’s gaze, thankful that the girl hadn’t seen. The last thing Sansa needed was Lenny leering at her. Sandor could manage that just fine on his own.

“Get lost,” Sandor grumbled at Lenny. The man lowered his magazine and retreated to the garage. Sandor grabbed a pen and began filling out the paperwork for Sansa’s car. With his shift for today pretty much over, the rest of it could be filled out later. In front of him, Sansa sighed and hung up the phone receiver.

“I can’t get a hold of anyone,” she informed quietly. “My dad left early from work and my mom isn’t at home.”

Without lifting his eyes, Sandor continued filling out the paperwork as he tried in earnest to quell the grin that formed on his lips.

“So you’ll be needing a ride, I take it,” he said flatly. He shuffled through the folders on the desk and placed Sansa’s paperwork in the Monday file.

“Yes, if you don’t mind,” she replied on a soft voice, clearly disconcerted by her situation.

“Just can’t get enough, can you?” Sandor tossed the folder on top of a short stack of paperwork. Sansa let out a nervous giggle and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear.

“Yeah, I’ll give you a ride, if you say please.” Sandor crossed his arms and gauged her reaction.

Wide-eyed, Sansa’s gaze flew up to him, her mouth opening and then closing as if she couldn’t quite manage a response. “Wouldn’t want to be rude now, would you?” he continued with a smug grin.

“You can’t be serious.” Sansa exhaled a laugh and stared at him in disbelief.

Sandor uncrossed his arms and pressed his hands to the counter. He leaned towards her and matched her eyes as he lowered his voice.

“You can’t imagine how serious I am about giving you a ride and making you say please.”

Sandor knew he was toeing the line with this girl. Eventually, he was going to cross that line, and she was going to either deck him like she should have the night they met or tell him to take a hike. And once more, Sandor was surprised when she did neither. Instead, she pressed her lips together to stop her own smile from forming and shook her head.

“You’re terrible,” she whispered and laughed once more. The girl had a sense of humor and took his outlandish and inappropriate statements in stride; yet another wildly attractive quality to her.

“I’m just being honest,” Sandor countered with a shrug. “Now, say please.”

“Please.” Her response was reluctant and her lips inadvertently pouted as she stared up at him.

Sandor had to give it to her: she was damn near irresistible like this and hard to say no to, not that he was planning on denying her what she needed right now. Still, he knew it would be dangerous if she knew how easily she could get what she wanted out of him by a small pout of those gorgeous lips and a doe-eyed stare.

“Are you hungry?” he asked, realizing now he hadn’t had time to eat lunch and his stomach was descending into grumbles. Beyond that, he wouldn’t exactly mind extending this impromptu run-in with Sansa.

“Yeah, I am actually.” Her eyes lit up as she smiled at him.

“Me too. We’ll get a bite on the way.” Sandor grabbed up his leather jacket and bike helmet “It’ll be on me,” he continued as she met him at the end of the counter.

Standing in front him, Sansa quirked an eyebrow at him, arms crossed about her chest as she gazed at him expectantly.

“You can call it an apology of sorts,” Sandor conceded with a half-smile and led the way out the door and towards his Harley in the parking lot.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Five

"I gotta know tonight
If you're alone tonight
Can't stop this feeling
Can't stop this fire "

-Hysteria, Def Leppard


Sansa pressed her thighs against Sandor’s hips and wrapped her arms securely around his chest. She held on tightly as he navigated turns on his motorcycle, heading north through the city. He cut through side streets of the business district, many she was unfamiliar with as he avoided the bulk of the rush hour traffic. Although the route he was taking was surely a bit out of the way and ultimately wouldn’t save them much time, Sansa found herself enjoying the ride anyhow. It was a pleasant end to a day that had been god awful so far.

The breeze whipped through her hair, sending strands of it to whirl around them from underneath the helmet she wore. Had she anticipated riding on the back of a motorcycle today, she would have brought a heavy jacket. The wind was chilly and she shivered as she pressed herself close to him, absorbing his warmth the best she could. She wondered if he noticed how firmly she clung to him, less shy than she had been the last time she was on the back of his bike.

Earlier, Sansa demanded an apology from him. He had been rude and she wanted him to show her some respect. He hadn’t apologized to her, though. In fact, not only did he not apologize, she could have sworn he meant to kiss her. The space between them had been mere inches as his body hovered close to hers. She had anticipated a kiss and in the frantic moments before the kiss, or rather, unkiss, Sansa had battled with herself over what to do. Her mind was practically screaming that she should, of course, be offended that he’d be so presumptuous; her body, though.

Her body had reacted to him in ways she hadn’t expected, in ways that betrayed and taunted the prudish misgivings of her mind. Her heart had pounded in her chest and butterflies fluttered in her stomach only to settle as a sweet, dull ache between her legs. It was troubling. It was exhilarating.

With her body against his, she could feel the solid mass of muscle that covered Sandor’s frame. She had seen him on stage without his shirt, his jeans slung low on his hips as his fingers worked the neck of his guitar. Now, she could feel how muscular he was as her fingers gripped ever so slightly against his sides.

She picked up the scent of leather, sweat, and something unique, something wholly masculine as her cheek momentarily rested against his shoulder. Despite his grotesque scars and the crude manner in which he spoke, Sansa had to admit there was something entirely enticing about him. He was rugged and hard in a way she hadn’t seen in any of the boys she hung around with. Maybe that was it; the boys she hung around with were just that. Boys.

Boys parading around as men, thinking that the crux of masculinity was how much money they could make when they finally broke into a Wall Street job, where they got their Armani suits tailored, which country club they belonged to. By comparison, Sansa could see Sandor was a different breed. He didn’t seem to care much for appearances. He was simple, hard working, and, although he spoke to her in ways no other guy dared, he was at least honest.

They ended up in a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. The houses were small and quaint in their own right, populated by workers from the steel mill a few miles away. Sansa knew of the neighborhood. Gendry lived somewhere nearby. A smile crept across her lips with thoughts of both her and Arya ending up in the same neighborhood with men their parents would positively loathe and detest.

Sandor pulled into the parking lot of Rosy’s Diner at the corner of a quiet intersection. The outside was kitschy: neon lights and glass tiles set amongst red and white painted brick, all to be expected from a retro-style diner. After climbing off the bike, Sansa pulled off her helmet and, as discreetly as possible, tried to smooth down the tangled mess that was undoubtedly her hair right now. Sandor must have noticed her attempts at vanity. He let out a low rumble of laughter before taking the helmet from her and stowing it away in the seat compartment.

When they approached the diner’s entrance, Sansa reached for the door, but her motions were stilled as Sandor’s hand got there first. Holding the door open for her, he shot her a bemused smirk as she walked through. It was a small gesture, but Joffrey had never offered her such courtesies. Sansa was used to opening her own doors, pulling out her own chairs, easing in to her own jacket, being dropped off at the end of her driveway as he sped off without so much as a peck on the cheek. The realization was jarring.

The inside of the diner was just as cheesy as the outside. The black and white checkered floor was slightly sticky beneath her feet. A long counter extended almost the full length of the establishment with metal stools dotted along the way, every other one occupied with a patron clutching a cup of coffee or polishing off the last bit of their meal.

Sansa followed Sandor towards the back of the seating area and slipped off her book bag. She slid into the red vinyl booth across from him as a waitress tossed down two laminated menus.

“Hey doll,” the middle-aged woman greeted Sandor with an exhausted sigh, tresses of her straw-like blonde hair coming loose from the bun on her head. “You want the regular?” she asked with her pen already scribbling her pad.

“Yep.” He handed her back the untouched menu.

“And for you, sweetheart?” the woman asked with a dull, coffee-stained smile. It seemed this was the type of establishment that thrived on being a relic of neighborhood nostalgia rather than exceptional service.

“What’s the regular?” Sansa asked, options limited considering she’d hardly even glanced at the menu.

“A stack of pancakes with a side of bacon and a large orange juice,” the waitress rattled off, her chain-smoking tendencies entirely evident as her voice rasped from her lips.

“I’ll do the same,” Sansa responded with a polite smile. “A short stack, though, and a small orange juice, please.”

The waitress nodded as she scribbled down the order and took the menu from Sansa’s hands.

“It’ll be right up.” The waitress quickly shifted her eyes between the two of them and gave a knowing smirk before shuffling away.

No sooner had the waitress left than Sandor’s eyes were on Sansa. She could feel him looking at her even as her gaze roamed over the restaurant, studying the pie case, the cheap plastic vases holding artificial red roses on each table, the second shift workers seemingly loathing the night ahead of them. The tell-tale heaviness was on her the entire time, and when her eyes finally settled on him, Sandor was staring back at her, his face impassible.

“You must come here a lot,” Sansa remarked as she shifted beneath his gaze. Why must he stare at her like that? The butterflies emerged once more and her cheeks felt warm.

Sandor settled back in his seat and stared out the window with a shrug. For that, Sansa was grateful. The last thing she needed was him seeing how easily he made her blush; surely, it would only egg him on more.

“I live around here,” he replied and returned his eyes to her. “The food’s cheap and not bad. Good hangover food too,” he added with a small chuckle.

“Where do you live?” Sansa asked, not knowing what else to say. It seemed if it were up to Sandor, they would just stare at one another from across the table, talking with their eyes and nothing more.

“Why do you ask?” His interest was obviously piqued. He seemed alight with curiosity.

“Why do you think?” It seemed obvious to her. She was trying to get to know him better. It was a normal component to polite conversation, something he was entirely unschooled in, apparently.

Sandor settled in his seat and propped his hands behind his head. He evaluated her through a narrowed gaze and a devious smile played about his lips.

“Hmm. If I had to guess, you want me to take you to my place after this so we can make good on all this talk of you taking a ride.”

Clearly pleased with his answer, Sandor quirked an eyebrow at her.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sansa groaned as she rolled her eyes. She had set herself up for that one and was surprised she hadn’t seen it coming. It seemed these sort of lewd innuendos were par for the course with him.

Wholly amused by her response, Sandor let out a loud laugh before unwittingly licking his bottom lip.

“What? You don’t put out on a first date?” he japed with a wink, his grin widening with delight.

Sansa rolled her eyes once more. At this rate, they were going to roll right out of her head because it seemed Sandor enjoyed regarding her with such vulgarity.

“This isn’t a date,” she deadpanned, keeping a straight face the best she could. It wasn’t funny, really. A true gentleman wouldn’t speak to her this way. Then again, Joffrey had been all sappy declarations of affection and polished manners when they first started dating and that had quickly vanished to reveal the horrid little monster underneath.

“Well excuse me, then,” Sandor responded, pulling his arms free from behind his head and crossing them about his chest as he feigned affront. Assuming that was the end of it, Sansa watched as Sandor quieted. He stared out the window again as if studying some feature of the parking lot.

Sansa felt a tug of guilt. He meant no harm, that much she could tell. It wasn’t as if he truly thought he could take her back to wherever he lived and she would jump into bed with him. Just as she was about to say something, a small smile tugged at the corner of Sandor’s mouth once more. His gaze returned to her, this time with an impish smirk, and he leaned forward, murmuring his words with a low rasp and his eyes steady on her.

“Do you put out on a non-date?” His smile faded, although his eyes still gleamed with mischief.

“No, I most certainly do not!” Sansa’s chin tipped up with an irritated sigh and a shake of her head. It was a snooty response. She didn’t care. If he was allowed to be vulgar, she was allowed to be a snob.

“My mistake,” Sandor chuckled and held his hands up in the air. After a cadence of silence, Sandor shrugged and appeared nonplussed as he casually regarded her once more. “It just seemed to me you that enjoyed having your thighs wrapped around me on the back of my bike, pushing those perky tits of yours against my back, nuzzling up against me.”

The waitress appeared at the end of their table with her tray and carefully slid the plates onto the table. She tossed down a pair of straws and a pile of napkins. Neither Sansa nor Sandor paid the woman much attention as they matched eyes from across the table. It was a deadlock as neither of them broke the stare.

“Don’t think I didn’t notice that,” Sandor continued on a low, sultry voice. “I did. And you better believe I liked it just as much as you.”

Despite her mouth hung open, Sansa didn’t know what to say or how to respond. Once more, her mind was demanding that she deny it, that she tell him he was insane if he thought she was intentionally doing any of those things, and that she wasn’t remotely interested in him. That wasn’t the truth, though. And of what little she knew of him, she figured out he could sniff out lies better than most.

On the other hand, she wasn’t about to admit that there had been something oddly tantalizing about being so close to him, that instead of being repulsed by all the sexual suggestions he was making, she found herself doting on them more and more, the visuals clear and eliciting her mind to wander to places it hadn’t quite been before. She was a good girl, a nice girl. And nice girls didn’t entertain the thought of men such as Sandor doing those types of things to them.

The waitress had asked a question. Sansa barely heard her. Without breaking their gaze, Sandor offered a one-word reply that sent the waitress flittering away with a sigh.

Sansa drew in a breath, but said nothing and instead turned her attention to the food in front of her. After slathering her pancakes in the appropriate accoutrements and cutting them into bite-sized pieces, she ate slowly, despite the fact that her stomach had been growling and grumbling all day.

“You never answered my question about what you’re studying in school,” Sandor finally broke in between bites of bacon that he had been dipping in syrup.

After a delicate dab at the corners of her mouth, Sansa placed her napkin back on her lap and cleared her throat.

“I’m in the pre-vet program,” she said, happy that the conversation had returned to being civil. “I want to go to veterinary school.”

Sandor shook his head and sipped his orange juice. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and stared at her with a faint smile.

“The little bird wants to save the animals,” he commented before taking an oversized bite of pancake. “Now, that’s fucking adorable.”

Sansa said nothing in response. She didn’t offer a polite smile or acquiesce with a quiet sigh. Instead, she picked up her fork and, in deliberate motions, piled pieces of pancake onto the tines. She squeezed her fist around the utensil and rested the bottom against the table as she pulled back on the prongs with her index finger.

Pokerfaced, she matched his eyes, the threat looming should he have more to say, more jokes to make, more mocking to dish out. She may not have crude quips to fire back with, but she had learned a thing or two from Arya. Flinging food was one of them.

Equal parts taken aback and impressed with her call to arms, Sandor relented, his head nodding ever so slightly with what seemed to be approval. Two can play at this game, she thought with a ghost of a smug smile.

“I was kidding,” Sandor said. “I respect that. I really like dogs. I’ve thought about getting one, but being on the road sort of kills the possibility.”

Nibbling on the pancake bits still on her fork, Sansa cocked her head to the side with curiosity. He hadn’t spoken much about his band. He didn’t claim his musicianship like his band mates, parading around as he collected accolades and reveled in the lime light.

“How is it that you’re able to be both a mechanic and a guitarist in a metal band?” Sansa asked. She settled back in her seat with a smile and began to relax.

“I’m between tours right now,” Sandor explained as he munched on another piece of bacon. “I don’t like doing nothing in our downtime, so I work at the shop.” He gave a brief pause. “Besides, that’s my job. It was what I was doing before Cannibal Star and it’s what I’ll do after, I’m sure.”

“You don’t think you’ll continue being a musician?” Sansa asked, intrigued now at how he handled his fame. While metal was certainly not the type of music she listened to, Sansa knew enough to know that Cannibal Star wasn’t some garage band playing hole-in-the-wall gigs. They had a large fan base that extended well outside Chicago and the Midwest.

“Not forever, no. Music is a young man’s game. Unless you’re the Rolling Stones, most musicians fade out eventually.”

Sansa nodded and bit her bottom lip. She wanted to ask how old he was, but couldn’t quite conjure up a way to inquire without sounding rude, at least in her own mind. He was older than her, she knew that for sure, in his early thirties, perhaps. His eyes had drifted to her lips and Sansa realized now that she was staring at him.

“Are you from Chicago?” she asked. Her cheeks flushed again with a familiar burn.

“No, I grew up out West, in California. I moved here after my dad died.” Sandor seemed to tense. His jaw set firmly.

Sansa’s brows pulled together and she frowned into her juice cup. “I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. What about the rest of your family? Are they still in California?”

Sandor exhaled a mirthless laugh and shook his head. He pushed a lone piece of pancake around his plate, trailing it through a puddle of syrup and melted butter.

“My mom died a few years before my dad. My sister died when she was a little girl. She fell into a storm drain during a heavy rain and drowned. And my brother…”

Sandor gave pause as his features seemed to darken, his eyes hardening as he stared blankly down at his plate.

“Last I heard, he OD’d on heroin a few years ago,” Sandor finished, but abruptly dropped his fork to his plate and ran his hand through his hair.

Words fled and Sansa scrambled for something to say, but anything she might offer was poor consolation to what he’d endured.

“Sandor, that’s terrible,” she finally managed and reached across the table where she rested her hand on top of his. “I don’t even know what to say. Sorry hardly seems enough.”

“Save it,” Sandor cut in sharply. “I could give a fuck about my brother. My parents have been dead a long time. My sister…well…I don’t know.” His voice trailed off and he shook his head as if driving away unsavory thoughts.

She pulled her hand away and settled it gently in her lap, but Sansa felt a twinge of guilt for having brought up the subject. It was unimaginable to her that anyone would be without a  family.

“The food is really good,” she commented with a bright smile, deciding it best to change the subject altogether. “I’ve never had a hangover, but I’ll take your word that it’s good for that too.”

Sandor stared across the table with an incredulous smile forming on his lips.

“Wait. Hold the phone. You’re a sorority girl and you’ve never been drunk before?” He laughed hard and crossed his arms over his chest with his eyes narrowed in disbelief.

“No,” Sansa giggled and shook her head. “Not all sorority girls are vapid, drunken morons. Besides, I don’t like the taste of most alcohol. My older brothers have made me mixed drinks before, but they’re always too strong.”

“You’ve got older brothers too.” Sandor sucked in a breath. “Fuck me. I better be on my best behavior then. No more talk of you riding me. At least not around them.”

Sansa couldn’t help the smile that formed on her lips, no more than she could help herself from laughing along with him now.

“You’re unbelievable.” She gazed up at him through her lashes.

“If you put out on non-dates, I’d show you how unbelievable I can be,” he countered with a wicked grin.

Sansa shot him a chiding look, although it hardly stopped another smile. She was blushing again, she knew, and once more her imagination produced fleeting thoughts and momentary visions of them together: naked, panting, a fine sheen of sweat over their bodies as she straddled him, head thrown back and moaning his name. She had long wondered how pleasurable sex could be. When she would reach between her legs and delicately dip two fingers into herself, she would envision the man she would eventually give herself to and he had always gone faceless. Unexpectedly and against all control, Sandor seemed to have taken this faceless man’s place.

“Exactly how many siblings do you have?” Sandor asked, rousing her from her silent musings and Sansa hoped like mad that he couldn’t puzzle out her thoughts, although it hardly mattered. He was more than likely thinking the same about her. Now, they were both guilty as charged where that was concerned.

“Umm…I…well,” she stammered and pulled in a breath to calm herself. Her skin was hot beneath her sweater. “There’s Robb, he’s the oldest. He’s in law school at Yale. Then there’s Jon who is finishing up officer training in the Army. There’s Theon who is basically my adopted brother. He’s studying at Miami University in Ohio. And when I say studying, I mean partying. You’ve met Arya. She’s two years younger than me and in her senior year of high school. Bran is thirteen and too smart for his own good. Rickon is seven and completely wild but a sweetheart.”

When Sansa finished, she took a long pull of her orange juice through her straw.

“Big family,” Sandor noted with a slow bob of the head.

“Yes, I’m very fortunate.”

“You’re from up North, aren’t you?” he asked, but seemed to already know the answer.

“I’m from Duluth. I moved here when I was eleven.”

“You still have the accent,” Sandor remarked with a smirk.

“I know. I hate it,” she groaned. Although she knew her Minnesotan accent wasn’t as awful as it used to be, she was still self-conscious of the way her vowels rolled off her tongue.

Sandor exhaled a quiet laugh as she lifted her eyes to him. His gaze flickered up and down her form, but this wasn’t a leering stare. Instead, there was something almost admiring in the way he regarded her now.

“It’s fucking cute,” he said and upended the rest of his orange juice. “You wear it well.”

The waitress appeared again and pressed the check to the table. She cleared the plates out of the way. Reaching behind to his back pocket, Sandor opened his wallet and handed the waitress a few bills and instructed her to keep the change.

“Thank you. For this and for everything.” Sansa offered him a smile and chewed the end of her straw, but let her eyes linger on him. The way he approached her was unorthodox, his blatant innuendos and crude jokes certainly foreign to her. However, beneath all of that, there seemed to be something unconventionally appealing about him, though she couldn’t quite place it.

“It’s all part of being a gentleman.” He shoved his wallet into his back pocket.

Unbidden, Sansa let out an uncouth snort. “I didn’t know those existed anymore.” Her response came quiet and perhaps even a tad bitter.

“Are the frat boys not proper gentlemen?” Sandor prodded. It sounded like another one of his jokes, his way of mocking her as if she were some sort of caricature of a college sorority girl. When she lifted her eyes to him, though, she found him staring at her with genuine curiosity.

“Not the ones I know. They’re more interested in sports and drinking and partying.” Now that she thought about it, she didn’t quite understand why Margaery and all the other girls were so gaga over the frat boys anyway. Their only redeeming qualities were superficial and had to do with either their looks or how wealthy their families were.

“So the sorority girl isn’t interested in the frat boys. Say it ain’t so.” Amused by Sansa’s response, Sandor let out a rumbling laugh.

“I dated a guy from a fraternity. I thought we were perfect together and he was everything I wanted,” she confided, although she couldn’t quite say why. She didn’t speak much of Joffrey and avoided the topic wherever she could. “I couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Sandor’s smile faded as he studied her face intently. “Sometimes people aren’t always who they seem to be,” he said after a short silence had settled between them.

She couldn’t say for sure who exactly he was referring to but Sansa held his stare.

“No, they certainly aren’t,” she agreed with a small smile gracing her lips. “When we were on the phone, did you really not remember who I was?”

The question came from nowhere. It had lingered in the back of her mind, and she hadn’t planned on asking him. It didn’t seem to matter to her until now.

Sandor furrowed his brow and stared down into the empty contents of his juice glass, upholding a stoic façade for many long moments before finally breaking with a smile as he lifted his eyes to her.

“You did remember!” Sansa laughed and tossed her wadded up straw wrapper at him and missing him by a good few inches. “You’re so rude!”

“And you’re so gullible,” Sandor countered with a laugh. “Of course, I remembered.”

A flush of giddiness came over Sansa at his admission, something she hadn’t felt in quite awhile. She had convinced herself and her sorority sisters that she was too busy with school to venture into the dating world. That was only a half-truth, really. The other half was that she had been chasing after a feeling—this feeling—and had turned up empty handed with all the boys who had shown interest in her. It seemed she had found what she was looking for in the most unlikely of places.

“Alright. Let’s get you home,” Sandor said and scooted out of the booth. Sansa followed and snatched up her book bag before they headed for the parking lot.

Sandor retrieved the extra helmet and placed it on her head. Before she could thank him, though, he pulled the helmet down over her eyes and shot her a playful grin as she pushed it back up, feigning a pout as she buckled the strap underneath her chin.

He settled on the bike and scooted forward to make room for her. She remembered now the remark he made about her pressing herself against him, the way he too acknowledged their close proximity and admitted he enjoyed it.

Despite a subtle chill to the air, Sansa found her sweater was stifling once more and her heart was a steady thrum in her chest. She climbed on the back of the bike and her hands gripped Sandor’s shoulders for purchase.

Perhaps out of curiosity or maybe her own brand of deviance, Sansa slowly rolled her hips forward against him. Her legs spread behind him and her thighs pressed against his hips. She let her hands trail from his shoulders down his chest as she wrapped her arms around him. Easing herself forward, Sansa pressed her breasts against his back, writhing a bit as she situated herself comfortably against him.

As soon as her movements stilled, Sandor turned his head to look over his shoulder as he lifted an brow at her in an accusatory stare.

“What? I don’t want to fall off!” Sansa protested with an innocent shrug.

“You’re a cock tease,” Sandor groaned with a frustrated sigh and a shake of his head.

“No, I’m not.” Sansa had been called many things in her life, but a cock tease was hardly one of them.

“Well, you’re teasing mine.”

“Stop it. I am not.” Sansa gently swatted his arm and dropped her gaze.

“Don’t believe me? Reach down and find out.” Sandor flashed a devilish grin before turning around.

He released the kick stand and backed out of the parking spot before firing up the engine.

A small smile crept across Sansa’s lips, a secret smile she made sure he didn’t see. Surely, she would never be so bold as to grope him, the thought was absurd. Enraptured once more, she pressed ever so slightly against him, clinging onto Sandor as he navigated turns. When they came to stoplights, he would settle back against her, perhaps expecting Sansa to pull away and maintain a modest distance. Instead, she held her place behind him, their bodies flush and warm against one another.

As Sandor pulled in front of her house, Sansa could see her dad was already home, his car parked in the driveway beside her mother’s vehicle. Sandor cut the engine and pushed down the kickstand as Sansa slowly maneuvered off the bike.

Sandor turned to sit side saddle and removed his helmet. He wiped at the sweat beading on his brow. Unbuckling her own helmet, Sansa handed it back to him and watched as he replaced it to the seat compartment.

“Nice running into you again, little bird. I’ll let you know about your car.”

“Thanks,” Sansa breathed quietly and shifted from side to side.

For many moments, neither of them said anything. The space between them grew heavy as they exchanged lingering stares with one another. Sandor looked as if he was about to say something and Sansa took a small step towards him. She didn’t know how she found the words to broke the silence or what possessed her to blurt them out. Either way, she heard herself saying them before she had a chance to think them over.

“Are we going to keep improvising run-ins or are you going to take me on a proper date?”

She could only fleetingly look him in the eye as she asked. She stared at her shoes and waited for him to speak. When he said nothing, she felt an embarrassed flush hit her cheeks. Before she could backpedal, Sandor settled his hands on her hips and coaxed her towards him.

The flutters in her stomach morphed once more into a sweet ache between her legs now accompanied with a sudden flush of wetness. He gripped her hips as she stood between his legs on either side of her. His fingers brushed beneath her chin and he tipped her head up ever so slightly so that she could meet his eyes.

“There’s nothing proper about me, babe,” he said on a deep, throaty chuckle. “Yeah, I can arrange something,” he nodded with a half-smile. “I have a gig tomorrow night, but Saturday I’m free. I’ll pick you up at seven. How’s that?”

Sansa bit her lip hard to conceal her delight and nodded. With a groan that seemed to originate in the back of his throat, Sandor’s eyes fixated on her lips.

“Goddammit, girl,” he breathed with a shake of his head. “Fuck it,” she heard him murmur, more to himself than to her. She gave a tiny squeal as he pulled her closer to him, his lips brushing against hers. No sooner had their lips touched than Sansa heard the front door of her house swing open.

Sansa stood up, back abruptly straightening and her eyes widening as a slow panic set in.

“Sansa,” her father hollered and dashed onto the porch. She turned over her shoulder as her father’s eyes shifted between her and Sandor. Her mother wasn’t far behind, falling in next to her dad’s side as she wrapped her arms tightly around her middle and stared at Sandor Clegane perched on his bike. Sandor’s hands retreated from her hips, but by the look on parents’s faces, it appeared his gesture towards discretion was too late.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Six

"She's got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I hate to look into those eyes
And see an ounce of pain"

-Sweet Child O' Mine, Guns N' Roses


Despite the plush cushions of the floral-printed couch he was sitting on, Sandor shifted uncomfortably. His elbows rested on his knees and his hands clasped tightly in front of him.  His teenage years had been spent drifting between friend’s couches, in and out of jobs as he scrounged his money to put himself through trade school. He was spared the stern lectures and silent stare downs from his parents. It seemed, though, that Ned Stark was content to provide him the experience he had missed out on. Sansa sat on the the other end of the couch with an empty cushion between them. In the recliner across the room sat her father. He stroked the salt and pepper whiskers of his neatly trimmed beard.

Ned rocked ever so slightly in the chair as his eyes drifted between his daughter staring down at her hands in what appeared to be shame and Sandor who stared right back at him. 

Ned Stark was a hard man to read. His eyes were a cold grey and the thin line of his lips was downturned in what appeared to be something between a scowl and a frown. Sandor didn’t quite understand what rules Ned and his wife, Catelyn, imposed on their daughter, but they sure as fuck didn’t apply to him.  He was a grown man and Sansa, for all intents and purposes, was a grown woman making her own way in the world, albeit underneath their roof for the time being. 

An uncomfortable silence wore on and Sandor played it all back in his mind. Undoubtedly, Sansa’s parents heard the buffeting of his motorcycle engine when he pulled up to the house.  He would bet the barn on the fact that they saw the exchange between the two of them: the way Sandor had rested his hands on Sansa’s hips and how she had been standing between his legs.  Whether or not they saw the way he had pulled her into him, eagerly seeking out her lips, he didn’t know for certain. By the way Ned was silently boring through him with a steely gaze, Sandor imagined the man had seen it all transpire. 

To think about it now, it probably wasn’t his best laid plan to claim that pretty little mouth of hers right then and there. Since the day he met Sansa, she had been driving him crazy with the whole lip biting thing and he had to find out for himself what it was like to nibble on those perfectly full and pink lips. To call it a kiss, though, was ridiculous. He barely had the opportunity to lavish the attention on her that he wanted. Instead, he felt her pulling away and turned around to find her parents standing on the front porch—concern, relief, confusion, and horror plastered on their faces. 

After an awkward introduction and Sansa haphazardly explaining what had happened to her car, Ned offered Sandor a firm handshake and invited him inside. That didn’t stop the man from eying Sandor warily as they went. Sansa’s mother had given a terse nod and a weak smile as Sandor introduced himself to her as well. She was a refined woman, decked head to toe in some Colors of Benetton getup. She possessed the same graceful features, auburn hair, and deep blue eyes as her eldest daughter and despite the warmth she tried to invoke with her smile, Sandor could tell damn well that the woman wasn’t pleased with whatever she had seen. 

“So, Sandor,” Ned finally spoke on a deep voice. His brow folded in thought.  “Explain what the issue with the Volvo is again.”

“My best guess is a spark plug, the transmission, or the battery.” Sandor leveled his eyes at Ned who stared back unwavering as the battle of wills wore on.  “I didn’t get a good enough look to say for sure.”

As soon as he finished, Catelyn fluttered into the room carrying a tray with glasses of iced tea, one of which she handed to him.

“And where is it you work?” she asked as settled into a love seat adjacent to him. Her eyes momentarily flickered over his scars before discreetly fluttering away. 

Sandor suddenly felt every bit the greasy mechanic he was. “Selmy’s Auto Shop.”

Had he known he was going to be meeting Sansa’s parents, he would have made at least a half ass effort to appear somewhat put together. Although, he imagined it wouldn’t quite matter.  Catelyn Stark, pleasant as she may be, stared down her nose at him with sideways glances and aloof smiles. On the other end of the couch, Sansa shifted, uncrossing and then recrossing her legs as her foot bobbed up and down with obvious discomfort.   

“I know Barristan,” Ned nodded with a faint smile tracing his lips.  “He’s a good buddy of my friend Robert.”

Silence settled over them once again and Sandor took a sip of his iced tea before setting it on the end table next to him, careful the bottom of the glass ended up on a coaster. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t been around this sort of luxury before—oversized, solid mahogany furniture, elaborately woven area rugs, old as fuck antiques serving as upscale knick knacks. He had been to plenty of album release parties held at some label exec’s mansion, he had spent the night in fancy hotel rooms, eaten at restaurants that were too snooty for their own damn good and certainly not for the likes of him or his band mates. 

Of course, it all made him feel uncomfortable and invariably out of place, but this was a different sort of discomfort and one he wasn’t used to. Record execs were all cocksuckers and douche bags, flaunting their wealth at every turn. Despite their own apparent wealth, there was something humble about the Starks.

“Well, in any event, Ned and I are grateful for your help and for bringing Sansa home,” Catelyn spoke with a slight southern accent, clearly not a native Minnesotan like her husband.  “We were worried sick.” She glanced at Sansa with something between disapproval and tepid relief.   

“You act as if I was out all night and you were about to send out a search party,” Sansa responded with fleeting annoyance. 

By the way Catelyn’s mouth hung open ever so slightly before she gathered her composure, Sandor could tell that it wasn’t often Sansa talked this way to her parents. 

“How were we supposed to know, Sansa? Petyr said you weren’t in chemistry lab this afternoon,” Catelyn fired back with blue eyes piercing through her daughter.   

Ned squeezed the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes softly as he shook his head. 

“Was he checking up on me or something?” Sansa huffed and crossed her arms over her chest.  From their conversation today, Sandor knew she had had a relationship with a frat boy; one that had gone sour. As Sansa grew increasingly irritated, Sandor wondered if Petyr was her ex. 

“You left your notebook in his class and, when he went to your lab to return it to you, you weren’t there,” Catelyn countered in defense of this Petyr character.  It seemed to him that Catelyn had a soft spot for the guy, whoever he was.

“He also said you had a run-in with—”

“Cat, please. We’ll talk about this later,” Ned intoned with finality and pulled his hand away from his face and held it out to his wife. 

Catelyn relented with a sigh and pressed her lips together, obviously displeased with the turn of the conversation. The awkwardness filling the room had little to do with him now, Sandor could tell; he was no longer the elephant they were all clumsily maneuvering around.

“Sandor, would you stay for dinner?”

The question caught him off guard, especially given that Ned was asking. Sandor lifted his eyes to Ned staring at him once more, seemingly evaluating him still, although some of the tension had eased. 

“Yes, please stay for dinner.  We have plenty of pot roast,” Catelyn added softly and not insincerely, but still with a bit of icy reserve. 

Sandor had had his fill of both food and awkward conversation, but when he cast a furtive glance towards Sansa, he saw she was already looking back at him, a small smile playing on her lips and hopeful eyes peering at him. 

“Thank you. That’d be great,” Sandor said, not knowing why the words were rolling off his tongue. He had meant to decline, the string of “thanks, but no thanks” statements on the tip of his tongue. Somewhere along the line he was becoming a slave to those sweet smiles Sansa gave him. It both confounded and exhilarated him. 

Before much more could be said, the front door swung open and the little wisp of a girl came bounding through. Her headphones blared an all-too-familiar tune and Sansa’s sister, Arya, bobbed her head to the music as she shucked out of her backpack and let it fall to the floor with a heavy thud. 

As she head banged away and cut through the riff of an air guitar solo—a solo Sandor himself had written and played many times with Cannibal Star—the girl was unaware that she had an audience. When she caught sight of them all sitting in the living room, Arya froze, the mop of hair on her head tousled and jaw dropping as she tore her head phones off. 

“Holy shit!” she cried. Her wide eyes ran a circuit around the room before ultimately landing on Sandor. 

“Arya Stark!” her mother snapped and wagged a chiding finger. “You watch your mouth, young lady.”

Ned huffed a quiet laugh and shook his head, his frigid reserve now on the thaw. 

“Mom, do you know who this is?” Arya screeched and bolted into the room. She shoved her finger a few inches from Sandor’s face. Cateyln followed Arya’s finger and once again surveyed Sandor who was wholly out of place in her living room. The woman seemed to fret over her words, quietly puzzling out exactly what Sandor was to her daughter.

“He’s Sansa’s...friend, Sandor. Have you two met?” Concern flooded Catelyn’s face probably at the thought of not one, but both of her daughters being mixed up with him.

“Mom! You don’t understand! This is Sandor, the Hound, Clegane.” Arya paused as if the mention of his stage persona would inspire a sudden epiphany in her mother. When Catelyn stared back at Arya blankly, the girl continued. “You know? From Cannibal Star?”

“That’s that metal band I keep hearing about,” Ned broke in with a toothy smile, the first real smile Sandor had seen from the man. 

Arya gave an emphatic nod and turned to her dad now as Catelyn continued to study Sandor through sideways glances and toiled over this new information. He couldn’t tell if it set her at ease or perplexed her further, but imagined it had to be the latter. 

“Why is the Hound in my living room right now?” Arya darted over to Ned and sat on the armrest of the recliner.   

Ned rocked back and forth in the chair. “He gave your sister a ride home.”

All eyes in the room turned to Sandor once more. Arya and Ned stared at him from the recliner, Catelyn cut subtle glances in between sips of iced tea, and Sansa gazed up at him through her eye lashes and with a delicate smile on her lips. 

Sandor cleared his throat and studied the grandfather clock to his left, certain that if he looked anywhere else a pair of Stark eyes would be watching him. This fucking family was like a pack of wolves. 

Catelyn finally broke the silence as she stood with a soft sigh. “Well, I need to finish a few things for dinner.” 

Arya jumped up from the recliner and dashed across the room to Sandor in a few quick steps.  She wrapped both of her small hands around one of his and tugged on him to get up, digging her heels in the carpet and letting out a low grunt to get him to move. 

“I have to show you my tape collection! And my Garbage Pail Kids collection!” With another yank, Sandor stood.

“He’s a musician, Arya,” Ned chuckled and stood up from the recliner. “The man’s probably more interested in my vinyl collection.”  

Ned patted Sandor on the back and shook his head.  “I don’t understand the appeal of cassette tapes. And now these compact discs. It’s a shame. Unfortunately, you’ll have to humor her.” He motioned his head towards Arya. 

“Aren’t you a little old to be collecting Garbage Pail Kids still?”

The sing-song timbre of Sansa’s voice sounded to his right and she quietly manifesting by his side as Arya continued to tug him towards the staircase.

“Bite me, Sansa.” Arya shot Sansa a mocking smile and her head slightly cocked to the side.  “Shouldn’t you be at the mall or something with your bimbo friends?”

Sansa’s mouth hung open with an offended gasp and her cheeks flushed red. Her brow furrowed and she pouted her bottom lip. A rumble of laughter eased from Sandor’s lips.  Sansa wasn’t exactly intimidating when angry, but she sure as hell was fucking cute. 

Before they could continue on, a boy—one of Sansa’s brothers—descended the stairs with a Rubik’s Cube in hand. With fast movements, the boy, who took after his mother with auburn hair and blue eyes but his father’s stern and solemn countenance, twisted the block. The colored squares rotated at great speed as his eyes remained focused on the task. 

When he reached the staircase landing, the kid looked up, apparently startled when his eyes landed on Sandor.

“This is my brother Bran,” Sansa introduced. “Bran, this is Sandor Clegane.”

With a small smile, the boy held out his hand, looking up at Sandor as he mouthed an almost silent “hello,” before resuming his focus on the Rubik’s Cube and continuing on towards the kitchen.

Arya tugged his arm again and led Sandor upstairs, chattering along the way about all her favorite metal bands: her preference for Ronnie James Dio over Ozzie Osbourne, her love of Iron Maiden, her distaste of Motorhead. By the time they had made their way to the bedroom at the end of the hall, Arya had given him a complete run down of her musical tastes. Sansa quietly trailed behind them.

No sooner had they stepped foot into what appeared to be a shared bedroom between Sansa and Arya than another boy appeared in the doorway dressed in a He-Man costume, the mask of which was propped up on the kid’s head. A mop of auburn curls spilled out from underneath the mask as he stared up at Arya with wide blue eyes. Sandor chuckled to himself.  Stark children were fucking crawling out of the woodwork. Any second now, he’d be faced with the myriad of older brothers Sansa had. 

“I can’t get past this level on Paperboy,” the little boy whined as he yanked insistently on Arya’s arm. 

Ary shook her little brother off and pulled out a large plastic bin of cassette tapes from under her bed. “Have Bran help you, Rickon. Can’t you see I’m busy right now?”

“He doesn’t play anymore,” the kid insisted and stuck out his bottom lip. “Please.”

Arya released a heavy sigh and her gaze shifted between Sansa and Sandor. In the corner of his vision, Sandor saw Sansa shrug her shoulders at her sister.

“Fine! But that’s it!” Arya conceded. 

Rickon pulled Arya out of the room by her hand. When the two left, Sandor and Sansa came to the simultaneous realization that they were alone in her room. Sansa stood to his left and fumbled mindlessly with the ends of her sleeves. 

Walking to the center of the room, Sandor took in the sight of what appeared to be Sansa’s side—pastel pink bedding with a few stuffed animals set against the pillows, a poster of The Breakfast Club hanging on the wall next to her bed, a pink radio perched on her desk. The stark contrast of the other half of the room was almost laughable. Among the disarray on Arya’s side, there was also a scattered collection of Garbage Pail Kids cards, a Gremlins lunchbox as well as other collectibles, and on the wall Sandor spotted a row of posters, starting with Lita Ford and ending with Cannibal Star. 

“What’s that?” He flashed a smug smile and tipped his head to the poster. 

“Oh. That’s Arya’s,” Sansa informed almost immediately, as if to clarify any wild ideas he might have. Clearly, it wasn’t her idea to hang a Cannibal Star poster in her bedroom, but her cheeks flushed all the same.

Sandor grumbled a laugh and strode to her bed where he plopped down, careful to leave his feet dangling off the side of the bed. He reclined back with his hands behind his head. Her pillow held the sweet scent he now associated with her.

 “You’ve got a pretty clear view from here,” he spoke through a wicked grin and glanced towards Arya’s side of the room and the poster hanging next to her bed. 

Sansa averted her eyes from the poster, looking down at her feet as she shifted from side to side. 

“I’m not gonna lie,” he chuckled and steadied his eyes on Sansa, who was now looking up at him through her lashes, biting her bottom lip in some sort of conspiracy to drive him fucking mad. “It’s kind of hot to think about you staring at me while you’re in your bed.”

“You would think that,” she giggled. “It’s not as if I fall asleep staring at your picture like some adoring fan.”

“Oh, I wasn’t talking about you falling asleep while looking at my picture,” Sandor replied on a deep, husky voice. He sat up slowly. “I was thinking of other activities you might do alone in your bed while looking at my picture.”

Sansa’s eyes widened and a blush emerged across her cheeks. As Sandor pushed himself up from the bed and walked towards her in slow, deliberate steps, her chest began to steadily rise and fall.   

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Her reply came haughty, but weak.  

“Playing coy now, are we?” Sandor’s eyes raked up and down her body. “Shut your door, take your clothes off, and I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”

Sansa stood unmoving where she was as he approached her, the space between them mere inches as he stared down at her. Pulling in a deep breath, she met his eyes, her face placid despite the deep red of her cheeks. In careful movements, she walked backwards to the door and pushed it shut. With her back against the door, she reached for the bottom hem of her sweater, pulling it up slowly as she held his eyes.

When the hem of her sweater moved above the top of her leggings, she stilled her movements, a small sliver of her midriff still visible.  

Sandor narrowed his eyes at her. “You calling my bluff?”

“What if I am?” Sansa released her hold on the sweater and let it fall back in place over her leggings.

“You’d only be half right,” Sandor said and began traversing the distance between them once more. 

She’d surely deny it, but Sansa Stark was a fucking minx—pressing her full tits against his back, slowly grinding against him as she straddled behind him on the bike. His cock had been half-hard the entire drive to her place and was fully erect now as he moved closer to her. She had come out of left field by asking him if he planned on taking her out. 

The truth of the matter was that he had thought about it but didn’t quite think to ask in that moment. The girl was on top of her shit, though. Sandor would have undoubtedly drove off, only later realizing he had missed the opportunity to solidify their next rendezvous while he had the chance. It was brilliant on her part. 

His hands engulfed the sides of her hips now and Sandor couldn’t help the thoughts that flooded his mind: her hips bucking against him, just like they had on the back of his bike, how she surely wasn’t as innocent as she made herself out to be. True enough, he believed that she wasn’t some hussy, but he sensed a curiosity in her, a willingness to explore her wild side if the right person came around. He hoped he was that right person. 

“I’d be full on right,” Sansa corrected on a sighing breath. “For all your talk, you won’t do anything with my parents around.”

His hands moved from her hips and pressed against the door on either side of her head. Sandor bent forward slightly so that he was eye level with her. For the second time today, he let his mouth hover just over hers as he spoke. And just like earlier, she craned her neck ever so slightly towards him, her anticipation clear as she stared back at him.

“You’ve got me on that, yes. But you’re missing the other part of it,” he murmured, his eyes fixated on her lips as he watched them part.

“What’s the other part of it?” she whispered and moved closer to him as if to close the distance. Sandor pulled away from slightly and exhaled a low chuckle as she gave a pout.  He made it up to her by brushing his lips along the length of her neck, pressing soft, lingering kisses there, interspersed with gentle licks.

“I plan on making good on all my talk,” he murmured in her ear. He was close enough now that with each frantic intake of breath, Sansa’s breasts swept against his chest. He felt her arms wrap tentatively around his middle, her nails softly scratching at his back.

“I’m going to give you a ride and make you say please,” he continued. Shifting to the other side of her neck, he lavished attention there too, each kiss terminating so that he could speak and then beginning again after every other word.

“I’m going to show you all the things I want you to do to yourself while you’re alone in your bed, staring at my picture. And I’ll have you moaning my name while I’m on top of you or you’re on top of me. It doesn’t quite matter to me. Either way, you’re going to be taught a lesson about what happens when you try to call my bluff.” 

When Sandor shifted away from Sansa, he could see the desire accumulating behind her wide-eyed gaze. She was scandalized, to be sure, but exhilarated, it would seem. Her breathing came ragged, her lips moist from licking them, her fingers insistently pressing into his waist as she gently fisted the fabric of his shirt. Leaning in, Sandor placed a soft kiss to her lips and gave a quick, exploratory lick there before pulling way.

“But none of this while we’re underneath your parents’ roof,” he declared with a smirk of delight at the sight of Sansa’s apparent disappointment. 

Sandor reached down his pants and tucked the hardened length of his cock against the waistband of his boxers. Sansa watched his movements, but her eyes flickered away in embarrassment when he winked at her, having caught her in the act of staring as he adjusted himself.

“There will be plenty of time for show and tell later,” he intoned devilishly. “Right now, though, your parents are probably wondering what we’re doing up here.”

With a vacant nod, Sansa opened the door and smoothed down the front of her sweater and the length of her hair before stepping out in the hallway. Arya and the littlest Stark, Rickon, fell in after them and emerged in the kitchen with Sansa and Sandor, their time alone in Sansa’s bedroom hardly apparent. 

Ned offered Sandor a seat next to him and Sansa went about helping her mother divvy out dishes and silverware around the table. 

“I’m He-Man!”

A muffled little grunt sounded next to Sandor and came with a firm tug on his arm. Swiveling his gaze over his shoulder to the seat beside him, Sandor was met with the masked face of He-Man as Rickon flexed his muscles. 

“I can see that,” Sandor chuckled as the kid claimed the spot next to him by scooting his chair closer to the table and dipping a finger into the water glass at his place setting. 

“I think you’ve got a friend,” Sansa laughed through a beaming smile and handed a napkin to her father and then to Sandor. 

“What happened to your face?” Rickon questioned with curiosity as he pushed his mask onto the top of his head.

“Rickon!” Sansa shrieked, obviously horrified by her little brother’s question. Sandor let a wry smirk settle on his lips. 

“I had a run in with Skeletor,” he spoke gravely.

Rickon’s face was awash with wonderment and delight as he bounced in his seat, staring up at Sandor in apparent awe.

“Don’t worry, I beat him,” Sandor added with a wink. 

In the kitchen, Catelyn gave a warm laugh, the tension she had earlier held having disappeared now as she carried over bowls and platters of food and set them at the center of the table.

Catelyn took a seat to Ned’s left with Arya beside her and Bran at the opposite end of the table. The kid still fiddled with his Rubik’s Cube as food was being passed around. Sansa sat on the other side of Rickon and helped put food on his plate. Sandor couldn’t help stealing a glance at her, one which she returned with a sweet smile. Across the table, Arya evaluated both of them through narrowed eyes as she shoveled food into her mouth.    

Having stuffed himself full of bacon and pancakes not even few hours ago, Sandor couldn’t quite summon his appetite. Sansa must have been in the same boat. The food on her plate was scarce. 

“Sansa, you’re not eating much,” Catelyn commented between dainty bites of potato. “I thought you loved my pot roast.”

Sansa took a sip of water and lowered her eyes.

“I do. I’m just not very hungry.”

Arya stared at Sandor’s plate similarly sparse and the girl seemed to be putting two and two together; by his size alone, Sandor appeared to be the type of man who could eat anyone out of house and home. And normally, he would be. 

Not much else was said on Catelyn’s part, and the meal proceeded with light conversation.  Ned and Catelyn took turns asking their children about school or discussing the events the family had planned for the upcoming week. 

Intrigued by their dinner guest, Sandor was asked a myriad of questions: where he was from, how long he’d been a mechanic, if he thought he’d continue his career as a musician. When asked about his own family, he skirted around the issue much like he always did. Sansa had shifted a sympathetic look to him then and immediately changed the subject to spare him the discomfort of talking about his family or lack thereof.

“You know, I used to play in a band. A long, long time ago,” Ned informed after a lull in conversation.

From across the table, Arya snorted a laugh and sopped up the gravy on her plate with half a dinner roll. “Yeah right! What did you play? The triangle?”

Leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed over his chest, Ned sported a nostalgic smile, apparently happy that one of his children was engaging him in conversations of his good ole’ days. 

“I played the guitar.” He glanced at Catelyn shuffling about the kitchen as she cleared the table. “That’s how I met your mother.  She came to one of my shows and the rest, as they say, is history.” 

Catelyn returned his smile and scooped leftover food into Tupperware containers. Sansa had removed herself from the table and helped her mother.    

“That’s not quite how it happened, my love,” the woman corrected dotingly. “I originally had eyes for your brother and came to see him.” 

“Was your band any good?” Sansa asked.

Ned shrugged and cast his eyes to the ceiling in thought, unaware that his wife had just mouthed the word “no” with an adamant shake of the head.

“Oh, sure. We had a few songs that went over well and even had our own little following around town. Robert wasn’t so great at keeping a tune, but he was in it for the girls mostly.  Your Uncle Brandon quit the band and Jon Arryn decided he was getting a bit too old to be rocking out with us.”

All at once, the Stark children snickered in laughter, even Rickon, who hadn’t been following the conversation and couldn’t know what his siblings found so amusing.

From across the kitchen, Sandor felt a pair of eyes on him. Lifting his gaze, Sansa stared at him, her lips curled up ever so slightly at the corners. Discreetly, Sandor returned her smile before she looked away and continued helping her mother. Once more, Arya seemed to notice; her head shifted between Sansa and Sandor and she gave an exaggerated eye roll. 

Delighted to have another musician to talk to, Ned regaled Sandor of his days in a band—how he had had hair down to the middle of his back, how he and his band mates traveled to gigs in a carpeted Volkswagen van, how his front man, Robert, had almost convinced Ned to light his guitar on fire just like Hendrix had.

In return, Sandor shared his own experiences in the music business. The evening ended with Ned showing Sandor his guitar, a dusty old Les Paul that he had stored away in the closet of the den. Sandor offered the name of a guy in town he knew who could fix it up on the cheap, which Ned gratefully accepted.

After thanking Ned and Catelyn for dinner and signing Arya’s Cannibal Star poster after she begged him to, Sandor made his way out to his bike parked in the driveway. With her hands tucked gently in front of her, Sansa followed him and settled in front of him as he sat sidesaddle on the bike with his back to the house.

“Thank you again for everything,” Sansa spoke sweetly and matched his gaze. “I know my family is a lot to handle in one sitting. And you didn’t even meet the older brothers.”    

“Your family is great,” Sandor chuckled and ran his fingers through his hair. He hadn’t known what to expect from Sansa’s family beyond her little sister, who was the polar opposite of her. Despite operating on a different wavelength than him, Sandor was happily surprised to find that the Starks were down to earth and easy to talk to.

Sansa shifted closer with eyes down turned as she chewed her bottom lip. He tucked one hand under her chin and tilted her head up to look at him.

“Until Saturday then,” he rasped and brushed his thumb along her bottom lip.

“Yes. Saturday. A proper date.” Sansa smiled and leaned into his touch as he now swept his thumb across her cheek.

“A proper kiss too,” Sandor said with a half smile with eyes steady on her. Sansa held his stare, her chest beginning to rise and fall now in a quickened tempo. 

“You better believe I’d finish what we started right now, but I’m almost certain we have an audience.”

Sansa shifted her gaze to the house behind him with a knowing smile.

“Yup. We sure do. Arya and Bran are watching from my bedroom.” Sansa waved towards the window and let out a soft giggle. “Saturday then.”

Taking slow steps, Sansa backed away from his bike, watching as Sandor strapped on his helmet and began backing out of the driveway. 

“Goodnight, Sandor,” she spoke quietly through a smile.

“Goodnight, Sansa,” he replied before starting the engine and riding out of her neighborhood. 


                                                                                                    

Perched against an “out of order” Donkey Kong machine, Sansa watched Arya navigate her frog across the screen of the arcade game she was playing. She had never taken an interest in what Arya and Gendry did on weekends, but decided to join them for their Friday night ritual of pizza at the arcade. 

Between bites of greasy pepperoni pizza, Gendry and Arya had debated whether or not to attend the Cannibal Star gig that was going on across town. Sansa had felt the steady increase of her heart beat as the two of them playfully bickered over the pros and cons of trying to make the show. Sansa had listened to them go back and forth, feeling a slow heat move through her as she kept quiet. 

Ultimately, Gendry had reasoned that by the time they drove across town, parked, and waited to get into the venue, the band would be almost finished with their first set. And that wasn’t even factoring in the issue of it being a twenty-one and up show. Arya had begrudgingly admitted that Gendry was right and that they would catch the next show. 

Occupied for now with Frogger as Gendry tried to beat the top score of Tron, Arya continued her frantic movements of the joystick as she bit her bottom lip in concentration. When her last frog was squashed by a zooming taxi cab, she cursed beneath her breath and turned a defeated stare towards Sansa.

“What’s your damage?”Arya grumbled as the two of them walked back to their table and sat down.

“What do you mean?” Sansa replied, but already knew she had been a downer for the majority of the evening—stewing over her thoughts rather than actively engaging her sister and Gendry.

“You said you wanted to tag along to play Mrs. Pacman.” Arya took a hard gulp of her root beer. “Mrs. Pacman is yours for the taking.” She motioned her head to the game devoid of anyone playing it. 

Sansa would have to give up the ghost. After getting over the initial giddiness of her date with Sandor, she quickly remembered that the Hardyng’s were coming over on Saturday for dinner. Her father had told her in passing when she stopped by his office, and she had completely forgotten when she agreed to a date with Sandor. 

Even if she wanted to reschedule with him, Sansa realized she didn’t have his number. All she had was his business card with his work number. She had thought to call the shop and explain the situation, but found that when she picked up the phone, her fingers refused to dial the number. She decided that she would have to come up with some way to ditch the Hardyng’s on Saturday. Besides, the thought of canceling with Sandor left her awash with disappointment. 

Sansa had answered a million and one questions from her little sister about her run-in with Sandor.  It seemed Arya was content to bug her until Sansa confessed the secret Arya was sure she was hiding. Her little sister was irritatingly observant; she conjured up evidence of lengthy eye contact and the fact that neither Sansa nor Sandor ate much during dinner as the basis of her accusation that something had happened between the two of them.   

Sansa had held onto her secret, refusing to indulge her sister. Her parents had asked her a million questions too, but their questions revolved mostly around her run-in with Joffrey.  Her father was particularly concerned and almost hurt that she hadn’t confided in him when she stopped by his office. 

While she certainly wasn’t going to tell her parents about her date with Sandor, Sansa wanted to tell her sister, if nothing more than to get her advice on what to do about the scheduling issue. 

“Can I tell you something?” Sansa chewed on her soda straw and stared at Arya from across the table.

“Is this going to be a sister heart-to-heart?” Arya whined on a pained sigh. 

 “Arya, please,” Sansa pleaded and cocked her head to the side.

“Fine.  Spill it.”

“I’m going on a date tomorrow night.”

Sansa gauged her sister’s reaction and waited for Arya to make some sort of flippant statement. Instead, Arya looked entirely bored with the information and responded with a disinterested shrug.

“And you thought I’d give a shit about that?” Arya groaned. “It’s Harry, isn’t it?”

“Harry? Why would you think it’s Harry?”

“He’s coming over for dinner tomorrow night and you have a thing for rich assholes,” Arya commented.

Despite her sister’s curiosity about Sansa’s interaction with Sandor, Arya wasn’t connecting the dots. If anything, Sansa imagined that Arya never in a million years expected her to go on a date with a guy from a metal band. 

“It’s not Harry,” Sansa corrected quietly.

“Who is it?” Arya demanded.

Sansa felt a smile creep across her lips as she held her sister’s impatient and curious stare. She watched as understanding bloomed across Arya’s face and her sister’s eyes went wide as saucers.

“You can’t be serious!” Arya shrieked and elicited stares from the people around them. “Gendry! Sansa is going on a date with the fucking Hound!” Arya screamed across the arcade at Gendry who turned around with eyes wide in disbelief. 

“Arya! Keep your voice down!” Sansa pleaded. Not listening or paying her any mind, Arya jumped in her seat, arms outstretched as she bellowed at the top of her lungs.

“My sister is going on a date with the fucking Hound from Cannibal Star!”

After giving a tiny bow, Arya plopped back down in her seat. Gendry jogged over with a million-watt grin plastered to his face and sat down next to Arya. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. 

“There’s a problem though,” Sansa said. “He’s picking me up at seven tomorrow night, and I can almost guarantee the Hardyng’s will still be over.”

She chewed her bottom lip and toiled over the situation, trying to puzzle out what to do.

Arya lowered her voice. “We need a plan. When seven rolls around, I’ll create a distraction and you can sneak out.”

 “That’s a terrible plan,” Gendry snorted with a laugh and a shake of his head.  “It’s not going to work.”

Arya shot her boyfriend an offended look. “How do you know? I’m great at shit like this!”

“Oh, really? Is that how you got caught sneaking out to see me then?”

Arya ignored Gendry for now and settled her eyes on Sansa once more.

 “Seriously. When seven rolls around, I’ll figure out a way to distract everyone. Have your purse or whatever crap you plan on bringing ready to go by the door. That way you can just bolt. I’ll tell Mom and Dad you had something you had to do for that bimbo cult you’re a part of.”

“It’s called a sorority,” Sansa corrected with a roll of the eyes.

“It’s a cult of bimbos.” 

Disappointment welled in Sansa once more. She doubted she could actually pull off ditching dinner with the Hardyngs. Maybe Sandor would understand. She hoped he would and wouldn’t take her request to reschedule as a cheap ploy to get out of their date. 

“I don’t know,” Sansa began dejectedly. “Maybe I can reschedule.”

“No!” Arya shouted and leveled an intense stare at Sansa. “Come hell or high water, you will go on a date with the Hound.”

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Seven

"I can't wait for the nights with you

I imagine the things we'll do..."

No One Like You, Scorpions


 

Sandor called bullshit on every musician he’d met who claimed that they lived for the thrill of being on stage. Complete and utter bullshit. 

He had just finished the encore of Green Fires, Black Water,” the wailing guitar solo being the highlight of the longest song Cannibal Star had recorded to date. By now, he was covered in a layer of sweat. It rolled in beads down his bare chest and abs. He had ditched his shirt halfway through the first set. The pounding heat of the stage lights was too much to bear. To the delight of the group of women who pushed their way up to the front of the stage, he’d pulled the sweat-soaked t-shirt off and tossed it into the crowd. He watched in amusement as half a dozen women damn near clawed each others’s eyes out to snatch it up. 

Now, the stage lights burned hot against his skin and blinded him to the majority of the venue. It was the largest show they had played in town since their last tour ended and, by his estimate, was sold out. The machines that billowed out thick blankets of smoke onto the stage made him claustrophobic. He had told Beric to ditch the damn things but to no avail. While Sandor thought it was fucking hokey, the front man was all about aesthetics and keeping up with the proverbial Joneses of the mainstream metal scene.  

When the song finally came to its end, the lights cut and the crowd went berserk, screaming and wailing for yet another encore. A pair of red lace panties whirled by Sandor’s head and landed in front of Thoros’s drum kit. Whether they were meant for him or for Thoros, Sandor didn’t care enough to find out.  

Despite the dim of light of the stage, Sandor could see Beric shifting his gaze between his bandmates. The man’s eyes searched out any traces of approval at playing just one more song.  Sandor knew how this went; an encore for an encore for an encore. You give these greedy fuckers in the crowd just one more and they’ll demand as many as they please. 

Shaking his head, Sandor unburdened himself from his guitar and bounded towards the backstage area. He squinted against the fluorescent lights of the corridor and ignored the giggles of a few groupies waiting at the dressing room door. As he approached, the girl leaning against the doorframe lifted the loose fabric of her crop top to flash her tits. Wholly uninterested, Sandor responded with a roll of his eyes and a snort. He vaguely caught the breathy sound of the girl’s whiny protests as he pushed through the door and slammed it behind him, presumably in the face of the fucking twat who thought to gain passage by showing off the goods. 

He snatched a beer from a cooler and took a greedy pull from the bottle, the cool sensation feeling fantastic as he swallowed it down. Sandor wiped the sweat from his brow as he plopped down in a large club chair with a sigh. A light knock came at the door, but he ignored it.  Normally, he’d be more than happy to entertain a willing groupie for the evening. When it came to sexual appetite, he gave the rest of his band mates a run for their money. 

Sandor didn’t have Bronn’s swagger, Beric’s sex appeal as a front man, Harwin’s conventional good looks, or Thoros’s charisma. The women flocked to him because of his size (assuming his dick was proportional to his height) and his aloofness; they saw a challenge in him. Tonight, Sandor wasn’t in the mood for it. Tonight, his mind had been on a certain redhead—the sweetness of her lips, although he only got a small taste, the smiles she gave him, the fact that he was taking her out tomorrow night and had no idea where the fuck to take her. He was out of his league with this one, and even more so, out of his element.    

Sandor’s thoughts were interrupted as another knock came at the door, this time more insistent and eliciting a wave of irritation. Flying from his seat and traversing the room in a few pounding steps, Sandor yanked the door open as he growled out a response. 

“Go bark up another tree, you cum dumpsters.” 

In the doorway, the groupies were gone, having moved on to a more receptive recipient of their attention. In their place was Sansa’s sister, Arya, and her boyfriend, Gendry.  

“Well, aren’t you just a charmer? Did you bag a date with my sister with that mouth?” Arya questioned sardonically and cocked an eyebrow at him.

Sandor exhaled a chuckle at the irony of the girl’s words as he stared down at her. I very well may have bagged a date with this mouth…and I plan to get another with it too…  

“Sorry. I thought you were someone else,” he mumbled with a shake of the head before fully registering the girl’s words. “Wait. How the fuck do you know about my date with Sansa?” 

“Duh! We’re sisters! Besides, I saw the way you looked at her at the dinner table last night.” 

The girl glared at him, her words accusatory as she prodded a finger against his chest in emphasis. “The two of you were ridiculous! My parents are either blind or stupid for not noticing.”

For as small as she was, Arya seemed fearless—something that was likely to get her into trouble one of these days. 

“Watch it, girl! I’m not in the mood for this shit,” Sandor warned on a growl before taking another swig of his beer. With a quick glance up and down the corridor, he found it empty and quiet for the time being. “How the fuck did you get back here?” 

“We snuck in,” Arya admitted with a nonchalant shrug. “Dropped Sansa off and came here.”

Sandor furrowed his brow, his interest suddenly piqued.   

“She didn’t want to come with you?” he asked and willed his voice towards indifference. The last thing he needed was Arya somehow sniffing out his vested interest in the matter of her sister. 

“She doesn’t know we’re here,” Arya whispered, as if it were some sort of secret. 

“Why are you here then?” Sandor demanded. He liked Arya and all, but unless she came with her sister in tow, Sandor wasn’t interested in entertaining the girl.  

“I knew we shouldn’t have bothered you,” Gendry cut in with a defeated shake of his head.  “I’m sorry. I tried to talk her out of it—”

“I don’t give a shit one way or another,” Sandor interrupted bluntly. “You’re not bothering me,” he added, although it was a bit of a lie. Like all of the gigs he played, he preferred unwinding alone after coming off stage, enjoying a beer or two in solitude.

Sandor retreated away from the door and back inside the room where he eased into the chair once more and propped his feet on an empty plastic crate. Arya was quick after him, scampering into the room at his heels and plopping down in the seat adjacent to him. Gendry followed her with some trepidation, clearly still concerned about imposing. Sandor handed the kid a beer from the cooler, an attempt at getting him to loosen up a bit.  

“I’m here because my sister has a real talent for dating supreme douche bags,” Arya declared.  

Sandor glowered at the girl. She had some fucking nerve, busting in here and insulting him. 

“I don’t mean it like that!” Arya quickly corrected. “Look, you’re the only cool guy she’s ever gone out with. My dad likes you. He didn’t say so, but I can tell. Rickon won’t stop talking about you, and my mom even admitted you’re a nice guy.” 

Sandor couldn’t help but snort at that and rolled his eyes. Arya was damn near pleading with him; for what, he didn’t quite know.  

“Your mom doesn’t know me from fucking Adam then,” he chuckled darkly.  

True enough, he wasn’t planning on breaking Sansa’s heart and giving Catelyn a reason to hate him. But there were plenty of other things he planned on doing with her daughter that the woman wasn’t going to approve of. Sandor bit his bottom lip hard at the thought.  If only Ned and Catelyn had any idea what was going on in Sansa’s bedroom last night…   

Arya cocked her head to the side in obvious interest. “Have you ever taken a girl like my sister out before?”

“I’ve never met a girl worth taking out,” Sandor shrugged. “Before Sansa, that is.”

Arya shot from her chair and stood in front of him, a look of disbelief plastered on her face.  

“Hold the goddamn phone! Is this your first date?” The girl’s eyes went wide with amusement. 

“Who the fuck do you think I am?” Sandor snapped with a fair bit of irritation. “No! Of course not.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie; Sandor had been with plenty of women. To say that he dated any of them was a stretch. There were a few that captured his interest and ones he wouldn’t exactly have minded seeing again. However, they all fizzled out—the initial attraction and exhilaration falling away to ultimately lead to mutual disappointment. He hated shallow and vapid women.  They hated the fact that he didn’t lead an opulent rock star lifestyle.    

“Where are you taking her?” Gendry asked and pulled Arya onto his lap to corral the girl. 

“Shit. I don’t know yet,” Sandor sighed and ran one hand over his face and through the length of his hair. “Dinner and somewhere else.”  

Arya give an exasperated sigh.  

“Mormont’s Steak House is her favorite restaurant,” the girl said. “Call ahead and make sure that they have the lemon cakes on the dessert menu. Sansa loves lemon cakes. She likes girly, romantic shit too.”

“So you busted in here just to tell me what to do for my date tomorrow night?” Sandor chuckled. Arya was clearly a handful to deal with, but he had to admit he was grateful for her input. He wasn’t likely to come up with these ideas on his own. 

“She’s something else, I know,” Gendry agreed and shook his head. Before Arya could protest his teasing, Gendry pressed a kiss to the girl’s cheek.  

“Fine,” Sandor grumbled. “Steak house, lemon cakes, and some romantic shit afterwards. Got it.” 

“Good!” Arya bounced a bit on Gendry’s lap and clapped her hands in excitement. “When you pick her up, don’t come to the door. She’ll come out to your car.” 

“Girl, I wasn’t born yesterday,” Sandor growled. “I’ll come to the fucking door and get her, like a real knight in shining armor since, apparently, she likes that sort of thing.” 

It wasn’t that Sandor minded being on his best behavior with Sansa. In fact, he found himself agonizing over how to keep from disappointing her. Pulling up in front of her house and blaring his horn for her to come out wasn’t his idea of making a good impression. 

“No! Just trust me,” Arya insisted and matched Sandor’s eyes. “Park on the street, and she’ll come out to you.  Don’t come to the door.”

Sandor narrowed his eyes her, but huffed a laugh.  “You’re a strange one, kid,” he murmured before polishing off the last of his beer.  

“I’m not a kid!” Arya hopped from Gendry’s lap. “We’ve got to go. It’s already past my curfew.” Gendry followed Arya to the door, turning to wave at Sandor before leaving. 

Arya hovered in the door frame momentarily before turning to face him. 

“Take care of my sister,” she spoke quietly, almost gently, as her eyes sought him out from across the room. 

“That I can do,” Sandor said sincerely with a half smile and a slight nod.   


Oh, god. He knows. Just don’t look at him. 

Sansa clutched the railing and continued down the stairs. Heels an inch too high and dress  shorter than what she’d normally would wear for such an awkward occasion, she took each step gracefully, minding the way her heel slid slightly on the slick hardwood of the staircase. From the living room, her father stared at her. His newspaper rustled and lowered ever so slightly so that he might evaluate her choice of attire. He knows. I would never wear something like this for a night entertaining the Hardyngs.  

When she reached the foyer, Sansa made a bee line for the kitchen, heels clicking hurriedly against the floor. If anyone might comment on her outfit—sky blue dress with a pleated skirt skimming dangerously high on her thighs, bare shoulders and strappy, nude heels—she’d lie. 

Arya had lying down to a rare and hardly admirable art form replete with feigned sincerity and an acute awareness of body language. This trait seemed to be blissfully absent in Sansa’s genes. Regardless, she would try. Push come to shove, she’d make up some drivel about having her eye on Harry Hardyng. Her mother would surely appreciate that bit long enough for the fib to go unchallenged.  

Seated at the counter, Arya lazily cut cherry tomatoes in half before tossing them in a bowl of spinach, looking bored out of her mind as they landed with a soft plop. Their mother meticulously tended to her famous lamb shanks, her culinary crowning achievement and something obviously meant to “wow” the Hardyng palettes.   

“You look very nice, Sansa,” her mom remarked as her eyes flickered to Sansa, curiosity forming behind her gaze but never manifesting into questions. 

“Thanks, Mom,” she responded and was set to the task of julienning carrots.  Somewhere between the second and third carrot, Sansa caught the heaviness of her sister’s eyes on her.  Turning to look, Arya was staring at her with a smug grin creasing her lips. She shook her head. 

“What?” Sansa mouthed at her sister silently. Arya shrugged and gave another taunting shake of the head.  

Their silent exchange was cut short as their mother settled herself across the counter from them and helped with the salad. 

“I’m just so pleased we could finally have this dinner with the Hardyngs. I’ve been trying to get them over here for ages.” 

Sansa stifled a groan and exchanged glances with her sister who looked just as unimpressed.  

“Why? They’re such pretentious pricks,” Arya blurted out.  

Years ago, when Sansa and her family moved to Winnetka, the Hardyngs had been the first to welcome them to the neighborhood—the first to saunter over with fake smiles and a store-bought apple pie; the first to begin not-so-subtly keeping tabs on the comings and goings of the family; and the first to begin gossiping behind their backs with all the other neighbor busybodies. 

Her mother wanted to fit in and seemed genuinely hurt by the Stark family’s exclusion from neighborhood activities. Her mom would have given up ages ago, but Mrs. Hardyng was a prominent member on the HOA committee and made no bones about throwing her weight around, effectually shunning those she considered “unfit” to be a part of the neighborhood clique of snobs. Those who found themselves in her proverbial crosshairs eventually opted to move to a different neighborhood rather than dealing with Hardass Hardyng, as she was called.

“Arya, for one evening could you just behave yourself?” their mother pleaded, lips pursed in an unamused frown.  

Arya relented with a sigh and tossed the last of the tomatoes into the salad bowl. 

“Only because you’re asking. Not because I actually like the people. Mrs. Hardyng’s ass has its own gravitational pull.” 

Sansa couldn’t help the giggle that escaped her lips. Spurred on by Sansa’s laugher, Arya continued, her face flushing red as she too began to laugh through her words.

“Seriously, you could orbit planets around that thing, and Mr. Hardyng should be spending Saturday nights at AA meetings, not boozing it up in our living room. And Harry might as well be coronated as King of the Douches, successor to Joffrey Baratheon, ass hat extraordinaire.”

Sansa gasped for breaths and clutched her side, tears streaming down her cheeks as she laughed so hard her stomach ached. Arya was rendered into much the same condition, more amused by the reaction she was getting than anything else.  Even their mother broke with a small smile. Somewhere behind them, Sansa’s father manifested, reaching between Sansa and Arya to snatch a piece of tomato out of the salad.

“I can’t say I disagree with any of that,” he mumbled quietly, raising his eyes to his wife with a mischievous grin. 

“Oh, not you too!” Sansa’s mother giggled with a beaming smile as she chucked a piece of carrot at her husband.

“Mom, there’s no two ways around it! They’re a family of tools,” Arya declared, breathless from laughing and smiling like crazy.  

As the scent of black pepper and rosemary lamb shanks wafted through the kitchen a few hours later, the family of tools rang the doorbell. The table had already been set—china plates and crystal glassware pulled out of their resting place in the china cabinet—and hor d'oeuvres were neatly arranged on serving platters.  

Standing in the living room with Arya and Rickon, Sansa heard gleeful greetings pouring from the foyer. There were exchanged compliments, a slew of empty “thank yous” and “we should have done this ages ago.”  

Mrs. Hardyng wasted no time making herself a plate of hor d’oeuvres while Mr. Hardyng requested a double shot of bourbon on the rocks. Sansa spotted Harry as he walked in, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his corduroys as he sported a bored expression framed by tousled, dark blond locks.

More greetings were exchanged as the Hardyng’s arranged themselves around the living room. Mrs. Hardyng dished out her typical array of backhanded compliments. This time, she declared how much she admired the humble way in which the house was decorated—nothing extravagant and everything seeming so quaint with middle-class charm. 

Mr. Hardyng hardly spoke as he sucked down his first glass of bourbon and shook the remnants of melting ice to rouse her father’s attention. Sucking down nothing but his own pride, her father wordlessly lifted himself to his feet to begrudgingly refill the man’s glass.

Rickon fidgeted before resting against their mother with sleepy eyes. Arya alternated an icy glare towards each of member of the Hardyng family in turn. Sansa tried her best to smile and nod at Mrs. Hardyng, who had been dominating the conversation despite having her mouth full of food. From the kitchen, Sansa heard the oven timer buzz. Collectively, every Stark in the room, save Rickon, who had fallen asleep nestled against their mother, jumped to their feet, eager for the opportunity to excuse themselves from the one-sided conversation.  

“I’ll get it!” Sansa nearly shouted as she bounded from her seat and shuffled into the kitchen.  Bent over as she pulled the lamb shanks out from the oven, she felt the heaviness of eyes on her and heard as someone cleared their throat behind her. Sansa stood and realized now that she was probably giving whoever it was a good show. Her dress was barely covering her ass cheeks. 

After sliding the roasting pan back into the oven and tossing off the oven mitts, Sansa turned to see Harry approaching in uncertain steps, moving slyly around the counter with a knowing grin.

“I’m sorry about what happened with you and Joff,” he said, although Sansa couldn’t discern any traces of true sympathy.   

“Thanks,” she mumbled, her gratitude just as insincere as Harry’s apology. With awkwardness being the order of the evening, Sansa stood silently, shifting from one foot to the other as she eyed the doorway of the kitchen.  

Harry drummed his fingertips against the counter. “He’s been saying that he broke up with you because you didn’t put out.”

Sansa felt her forehead crease in both confusion and disgust. Thoroughly disenchanted from her dissolved relationship with Joffrey, she couldn’t stomach this bullshit.   

“I’m aware of that,” she snapped. 

“Why don’t you do anything about it?” 

The question came, blasé as ever, as Harry’s countenance slipped back into expressionless boredom.  

“I tried.  Remember?” Sansa pointed at the right side of her cheek. The bruise had faded and healed with time and cold packs. The memory had not and wasn’t likely to leave her anytime soon.  

“I mean, if it’s not true, then why would he be saying it?” Harry crossed his arms and his sudden amusement at the conversation was now plain as day. Another one of Joffrey’s cronies.

“For the same reason you’re asking me this question: because he’s an asshole.” The words bubbled up, from where, she did not know. They exited her lips effortlessly and Sansa felt the victory manifest into a smile, saccharine and mocking.  “Excuse me. Your mother isn’t finished stuffing her face with food,” she added before snatching up another tray of hor d'oeuvres and sashaying into the living room.

Another hour passed of uncomfortable conversation.  Sansa noticed how her mother had stopped smiling at this point, perhaps too socially exhausted to carry on the charade.  Her father appeared to be fairing no better and was held hostage in a conversation with Harry and Mr. Hardyng about the stock market. When the clock struck seven, Sansa felt her heart skip a beat and her eyes met Arya’s across the room.  

Wordless and sly, Arya slipped from her seat and strode from the room to the foyer. Sansa watched as her sister gazed out the window before announcing that she was going to check on the bread in the oven. Her announcement was met with disinterested nods. From where she was seated, Sansa saw a black Mustang roll to a stop in front of the house. Oh, god. He’s here.  It’s him.  

Her chest heaved in short breaths and Sansa quietly rose and worked her way to the foyer. She turned over her shoulder and caught sight of an oven pan with garlic bread engulfed in flames.  Her mouth dangled open in horror and Sansa dashed towards her sister. 

“Go! I’ve got it under control,” Arya hissed and shoved Sansa away before sprinting into the living room with a fire extinguisher in hand. “Mom! Dad! Come quick! The kitchen is on fire!” Sansa heard Arya screech with near deafening volume.  

In an instant, plates and wine glasses crashed to the floor as everyone scrambled towards the kitchen. By the time they made it, Arya had put out the fire with the extinguisher and was relaying the events to all but Harry, who, Sansa could have sworn, stayed behind to watch her slip out the front door with her purse in hand.      


                                                                                                  

It wasn’t as if he were a thoughtless man. No. After all, Sandor had made a reservation at Mormont’s Steak House, just as Arya suggested, and even inquired about their famed lemon cakes, which were indeed on the menu for the evening. He had dressed himself in black slacks and a black button down shirt.  If it weren’t for the hideous scars adorning half of his face, he would have pulled back the long strands of his hair. As it stood, though, his hair helped to mask the worst of his scars, so he at least took immaculate care to brush it out and make himself somewhat worthy of the long legged, red-headed beauty who would be his date for the evening.  

Thoughtless? No. Certainly not, but it wasn’t until he pulled into Sansa’s neighborhood and traversed the winding road up to the Stark residence that it dawned on Sandor to gather some rehearsed words for whichever Stark parent was likely to answer the door. “Good evening, sir.  I’m here for Sansa.” That was too formal. Who the fuck was he kidding? Then again, Ned Stark—polite and cordial as he had been—was not to be trifled with. That much Sandor knew for certain. Peppering his greeting with well-mannered “sirs” couldn’t hurt, even if the word felt awkward and unfamiliar on his tongue. 

As it turned out, rehearsed words would have been for naught. No sooner had Sandor climbed out of the front seat of his Mustang and drawn in a deep breath to calm himself (he was, in fact, nervous, although he didn’t care to admit it) than he spotted Sansa heading down the driveway towards his car in hurried steps. As she approached, he could see her cheeks were flushed a delicate shade of pink and her eyes were wide in exhilaration, as if she were engaging in activities she shouldn’t be.  

Sandor wasn’t one to pay much attention to women’s clothing, but the dress Sansa had chosen for the evening showcased every conceivable inch of her body he longed to touch, kiss, and caress: legs, shoulders, back, and a subtle swell of cleavage. Funny how priorities changed. He was no longer concerned about what her old man had to say, or rather, what he should be saying to him. Now, his efforts resided firmly in keeping his hands off of her long enough to show her a proper evening.  

“I was planning to come to the door,” Sandor laughed and met Sansa at the end of the driveway.  

“Oh!” was all she managed before nervously looking over her shoulder at the house as she made her way towards his car. “I didn’t want you to have to walk all that way,” she added haphazardly before reaching for the handle of the passenger door. 

More quickly than her, Sandor reached the handle first but not before her hand glided across his. The contact, small as it was, drew her attention to him. Looking up at him, she smiled shyly as her eyes steadied on his face despite the scars.

“Forgive me,” she whispered. “I’m being rude. Thank you for picking me up. I’ve really been looking forward to tonight. You look very handsome.” 

Had she not matched her eyes to his, and had he not felt her fingers curl ever so slightly around his hand, Sandor would have thought her a liar—courteous but insincere, simply spouting off words a well-bred girl like her knew to say.

“Baby, you’re anything but rude,” Sandor murmured back, uncertain why they had taken up hushed tones with one another.  

He stepped towards her, the space between them small but alive with an electricity that seemed to flow between them uninterrupted. Sansa did not move away or avert her eyes. If she was nervous, she didn’t let on but instead, mimicked his step forward until her body was flush against his. She continued to stare up at him with knowing eyes, wanting eyes. 

Pulling the door open for her, Sandor watched Sansa climb into his car, stealing a glance as her skirt rose dangerously high up her thighs. A minx, indeed. He caught the subtle, satisfied smile she gave, presumably to herself, as he walked around to the driver’s side. Only then did she readjust her skirt.  

“I have to say I’m happy you picked me up in a car and not your motorcycle,” Sansa admitted as Sandor fired up the engine.  

“What’s wrong with the motorcycle? If I remember correctly, you seemed to like having your legs wrapped around me.”  

He had come to expect a timid smile, a playful roll of the eyes, or perhaps a nervous giggle at his lewd jokes. Shifting a glance to Sansa, her was surprised to find that instead, she had lifted an eyebrow at him, but her lips were curled into a devious smile.  

The ride towards Mormont’s was pleasant, filled with more conversations geared towards getting to know one another. By the time they pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Sandor had learned more about her passion for animals and her future plans as a vet, her growing disdain for sorority life, and her interests in music, which were a bit different than his but intriguing nonetheless. The conversation was a natural give and take, something he hadn’t quite encountered with any other female before. Usually, the women he made even a half-assed attempt to “date” couldn’t be bothered and honestly neither could he. Conversations were forced and awkward, ultimately reinforcing the notion that he was doomed to have only sexual relationships with women.    

The restaurant was situated on the north side of town with a tremendous view of Lake Michigan. It was quaint and classy but not overbearingly ritzy. The patio overlooking the rippling waters was in high demand, but never a thoughtless man, Sandor had reserved seating in a quiet corner of the patio.  

“This is my favorite restaurant!” Sansa gasped with glee as the car rolled to a stop in the parking lot. “How did you know?” she added, bouncing a bit in her seat as she beamed. 

“I have my ways,” Sandor shrugged and internally writhed at whipping out such a cheesy line. 

Sandor circled around to open Sansa’s door and offer his hand. They made their way into the building and were seated outside. Sansa had descended into silence as she marveled at the view of the lake, the fresh cut flowers at the center of their table, the soft sounds of the piano from inside.

Sandor watched her, noting the way the corner of her mouth lifted in a dreamy smile and her eyes scanning the waters before settling back on him. The gratitude was plain as day. As her full lips opened to say something, the waiter manifested at their table, rattling off the evening’s special and inquiring about drink orders. Settling for water at the moment so that they might study the drink menu, the waiter obliged and fluttered away to the next table.  

Sandor perused the menu, scanning the list of whiskeys in hopes of finding his favorite. He was only acutely aware of the giggling to his right, which was accompanied by hushed whispers.  When he lifted his eyes, Sansa shot him a smile as she discreetly motioned her head in the direction of a group of hostesses and waitresses gathered near the entrance to the patio, gawking at him and Sansa. It was the last place on earth he expected to be recognized—in a hole-in-the-wall pub on the south side of town, sure—but not here.  

Sansa cast a furtive glance towards the girls, who were now aware that they had been spotted. “You seem to have some admirers.”

“How do you know they’re not admiring you?” Sandor countered and took a sip of water. 

“Just a guess,” Sansa shrugged with a smile. “I’m a girl.” 

“Maybe that’s what they get down on.” Sansa lifted her eyes to him, wide in bewilderment. “I can’t say I blame them,” he continued, lowering his voice to a grumbling timbre as he swept his gaze up and down her form in an obvious leer. 

“Is that supposed to be a compliment or something?” Sansa laughed and settled back in her seat. 

“It’s whatever you want it to be.” Sandor leveled his eyes on her and his mouth curled in a lascivious grin. As much as he wanted to stymie this sort of banter, at least for the evening, he couldn’t help himself. Every shy smile and scandalized blush from Sansa only succeeded in encouraging him.  

“I’ll take it as a compliment. Although, most men compliment a woman on what she’s wearing or how she looks,” she haughtily schooled and took a delicate sip from her water glass.  

“Oh yeah?” Sandor bit his lip, accepting the challenge as Sansa held her head high with a self-satisfied smile. “Okay. You’re a fucking knockout and I like your dress. I’d like it better if it were on my bedroom floor along with whatever you’ve got going on underneath it.”

For a moment, she said nothing, but instead seemed suddenly interested in the drink menu.  In an immediate panic he had not expected, Sandor was certain he had crossed the line. She took his crude jabs in stride, but perhaps this was a bit too much. 

“You’re presumptuous,” she spoke softly and studied the menu with downturned eyes.  

He thought to apologize, to turn the tides of conversation towards something more appropriate for a first date.  

“I’m honest,” was all he could come up with.  Sandor had moments of thoughtlessness, and apparently, moments of stubbornness as well. With his water glass to his lips, he finally saw Sansa lift her eyes to him. Slowly, she leaned over the table and spoke in hushed tones. 

“You’re presumptuous to assume I’m wearing something underneath this.” She sat back again, gauging his reaction as she went.

Sandor choked on the gulp of water he had just taken and wiped his lips with the back of his hand/ He coughed and his mouth dangled open in utter shock. 

“Oh, I see how this works. You can dish it out, but you can’t take it?” Sansa teased. 

Sandor smirked at her and spoke on voice dark, deep, and filled with warning. “No, I’ll take everything you’re offering. A couple times over. Better be careful what you’re putting on the table, though, little bird.”

His blood was up, pumping through his veins with an emerging heat. He needed a drink to get through the evening, but perhaps a drink would only embolden him further. It made no difference to him. 

He had to give it to the girl, though. She could hold her own against him, and it was entirely enticing in a way he hadn’t quite experienced before. She was beyond physically appealing, but there was a mental challenge involved as well. Smart, sweet, sexy—Sansa Stark was a deadly combination by all accounts.  

“So what are you wearing underneath that dress?” Sandor pressed further. The banter was a slow roll of burning desires and he wasn’t about to stop it now. No, he’d let the momentum take them wherever it pleased.  

“A lady doesn’t talk about such things.” 

Having settled on her own brand of deviousness, Sansa flashed him a smile, one auburn eyebrow arched playfully. Her polished manners were a full-on charade now. The girl knew what she was doing. To assume otherwise would be to dangerously underestimate her.  It was enthralling, to say the least.  

“A lady wouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. Tell me,” Sandor insisted.  

“I can tell you later.” Her lips sealed shut, unwilling to divulge any further.   

“You can show me later.”

The waiter, a waifish middle-aged man, appeared next to their table with his hands placidly folded behind his back. “Have you two decided on drinks for the evening?”

“You were looking at wines,” Sandor noted as he steadied his eyes on Sansa. “What kind of wine do you like?” he asked and she bit her lip. She was underage, but a in a place like this, it was doubtful she’d be carded. Nevertheless, he saw the uncertainty in her eyes. 

“I’m not sure. White, maybe. Sweet,” she said, suddenly shy and yet her gaze remained on him.  

“A glass of your best sweet white for the lady,” Sandor said before ordering his own drink and offering Sansa a wink, reveling in the way her lips pulled in a bright smile. 

The drinks came, and with them, more banter—innuendos and subtle teasing, fueled by the effects of alcohol.  By the time the waiter wandered over to take their meal orders, Sansa was halfway through her glass of wine and swaying lightly in her seat, a soft smile permanently gracing her lips. She had placed her fingers delicately on his forearm, settling her hand there gently as she laughed merrily at the stories he was regaling her with from Cannibal Star’s last tour.  

They both ordered steaks, the apparent piece de resistance of the restaurant, according to Sansa, after Sandor assured her to get anything she wanted and as much as she liked. He’d spare no expense for her. Their food came out as the sun began to set, and candles were lit between them at the table. With a contented sigh, Sansa cast him an adoring glance from across the table.

“This is all so lovely, Sandor.” 

When she smiled at him, he felt his reserve begin to thaw, to melt away as he toyed with the idea of leaning across the table and giving her a proper kiss. He wanted to taste her, to finally indulge in her without interruption. By some comical jest of the universe, Sandor caught movement out of the corner of his eye as a man casually sauntered over to their table.  

“Sansa,” the man spoke in a velveteen voice.  

“Professor Baelish,” she responded, flustered as she dropped her fork and knife to the plate with a clatter. 

The man hovering next to the table, or rather next to Sansa, appeared to be in his early forties. With a near-neon Hawaiian print shirt and pastel sport coat, he was outfitted to appear much younger than his actual age. The net effect was almost laughable, and Sandor worked to stifle the sardonic chuckle bubbling up from within.

“Oh please! I insist you call me Petyr,” the man said and rested his hand heavily on Sansa’s bare shoulder. “Gorgeous evening for a night out,” he continued before finally acknowledging Sandor’s presence with a dubious stare.

Silence momentarily settled between all three of them. Sansa fidgeted in her seat, the man continued to gape through seedy eyes at Sandor, and Sandor stared back, unwilling to return the man’s saccharine smile as his jaw set tensely.   

“Petyr, this is Sandor,” Sansa introduced nervously. “Sandor, Petyr.”

Sandor said nothing, but instead, offered the man only a curt nod of the head as he swirled the tepid contents of his whiskey glass.  

“It’s nice to meet you. I’m a long-time friend of the Starks,” Petyr informed warily although with a cheerful tone in his voice. Not that it mattered. Sandor didn’t buy this man’s bullshit.  Besides, Petyr’s hand had moved discreetly down Sansa’s back. She stiffened in response, internally writhing, it would seem. 

Sandor narrowed his eyes at the man. “And Sansa’s professor by the sound of it.”

Peter pulled his hand from Sansa’s back and chuckled. “Oh yes. I teach at Northwestern.” He motioned to the building behind them. “I know the owner of this restaurant, Jorah, and stop in quite often. Although, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here before. What part of town are you from? Surely not the north side.” 

 “No. South side, although I’m from California originally,” Sandor intoned bluntly, clenching his jaw to stop a slew of threats and insults from hurling out of his mouth. The fucker had some real nerve. 

“Fascinating,” Petyr remarked insincerely. “I hail from Baltimore. And what is it you do for a living, Sandor?” 

Finishing the rest of his drink with a healthy gulp, Sandor slammed the glass back down to the table a bit harder than he intended.

“I’m a mechanic.” He matched the man’s eyes, challenging him to make some sort of passive-aggressive comment.  

“He’s also a guitarist in a very popular metal band,” Sansa broke in proudly as she smiled at Sandor. 

“We share a few things in common then.” When Petyr spoke, he was staring at Sansa, huffing out a laugh before turning his eyes back to Sandor. “I’m the lead singer in a Huey Lewis and the News cover band. We play around town. Just for fun, of course. You can’t make a living being a musician, but clearly you know that, hence your mechanic job.” 

Sandor felt his hands, both of which were resting on the table in clear view for all involved, curl into fists. From across the table, he could see the disappointment in Sansa’s eyes, her pleasant evening unraveling into a disaster. Steeling himself, Sandor swallowed hard and regained his composure. 

“No, definitely not in a cover band, but record deals aren’t exactly chump change.”  

“Fair enough,” Petyr shrugged and narrowed his eyes at Sandor and the man’s smile gave way to his thin lips sealed shut in a scowl. “Well, you two enjoy your meal. Sansa, it was a pleasure as always. Your mother will be thrilled to hear of this run-in,” he added, patting Sansa on the shoulder before ambling off with his hands shoved into the pockets of his pastel pants.  

“What a fucking prick,” Sandor grumbled with a shake of his head. By the way Petyr turned his head slightly over his shoulder, Sandor was sure he had heard him.  

“I’m sorry,” Sansa whispered with a frown and picked at her mashed potatoes. By the crestfallen look on her face, he knew she was not only disappointed by the interruption but clearly embarrassed as well.

Sandor reached across the table and cupped his hand beneath her chin, tipping her head up to look at him. 

“Hey, you don’t get to be sorry for that. Don’t apologize for him.”

A smile reemerge on her lips and her body seemed to relax. 

Continuing with their meal, the mood had lightened some, but Sandor was vexed by the ordeal with Petyr. The guy was a creep, no doubt, but he couldn’t put out of his mind the way the man had looked at Sansa and touched her. 

“Does he always look at you like that? And…put his hands on you?”  The question came with some reservation, and it bordered on being none of his goddamn business. 

Sansa offered a wan smile and a discontented sigh. “He definitely creeps me out but hasn’t ever crossed the line,” she reassured. “He’s my mom’s friend, so…”

“So you put up with it,” Sandor finished. “Your mom mentioned him the other day, and I thought he may have been an ex-boyfriend.”  Finding some humor in his assumption now, Sandor shook his head with a throaty chuckle.   

If he found the situation fleetingly humorous, Sansa seemed to find it down right hilarious. In an instant, she was laughing once more and vanquishing any residual discomfort brought on by the run-in with Petyr.  

“You can’t be serious?” she giggled through gasping breaths. “I would never date a guy like that! I mean, do you see how he dresses? He’s like Don Johnson and Tom Selleck’s love child.”  

Sandor laughed and, when he caught the eye of the waiter, discreetly nodded his head at the man who returned the gesture before shuffling towards the kitchen. 

“I have a surprise for you,” Sandor said, feeling himself growing inexplicably nervous.

“What is it?” Sansa urged and pouted when Sandor shook his head.  

“Tell me!” she insisted.  

Sandor tipped his head to the waiter who was coming with a plate of three small lemon cakes dusted with powdered sugar. Wide-eyes dazzling in the candlelight, Sansa flashed him with a million-watt smile.  

“Lemon cakes are my favorite!” she squealed and bounced slightly in her seat. She clapped her hands together before delving into one of the confections. 

“I called ahead to make sure they were on the menu.” 

Taking a small portion onto his fork, Sandor tried the cake. Not particularly afflicted with a sweet tooth, he enjoyed them nonetheless, but more so, was relieved that Sansa was in high spirits once more as she savored the dessert.  

After splitting the third lemon cake with her and paying for the bill, Sansa thanked him once more and rested her hand on top of his. Wrapping his fingers around her palm, he lifted her hand and slowly pressed a kiss to each of her fingers. He watched, enraptured, as her lips parted slightly in surprise, and her chest began to rise and fall rapidly with each breath. When his ministrations were done, he begrudgingly disentangled his hand from hers. Even with such a simple and apparently chaste gesture, he could feel his pulse quicken and the familiar heat of arousal pass through him.  

“Let’s get out of here.” He took Sansa’s hand in his and led her out of the restaurant.  


The flutter of butterflies in her stomach had hardly ceased throughout the evening.  Sansa hadn’t quite known what to expect from Sandor. He was rough around the edges, but thoughtful in his own way. He handled the evening with a haphazard delicacy, one which suggested he hadn’t quite “courted” a woman per se. She adored that he took himself out of his element to show her a good time and was thoroughly mortified when Baelish showed up with back-handed comments dripping in condescension. Sansa had thought the evening was ruined then, that Sandor had been made to feel so thoroughly out of place that perhaps he might never want to take her out again.  

He seemed to take everything in stride and shrugged it off, but the thought remained with her, especially now as he led her back to the car. She didn’t know if he had anything else planned for the evening or if he was now ready to get the night over with. The worry settled at the pit of her stomach, effectually squashing any remaining butterflies. In the corner of her eye, she could see Sandor shift his gaze to her. She lowered her head so that he might not see her frown. She didn’t want him to think she had had a bad time. On the contrary, everything had been beyond her expectations—the gorgeous view of the lake, the candle light, the conversation, their meal topped off with her favorite dessert.  

When they reached the passenger side of the car, Sandor reached in front of her to open the door. Instead, though, he pressed his hands against the car on either side of her, leaning forward slightly as Sansa settled with her back against the car. Face to face now, she offered him what must have been a dull smile. His brows furrowed and his eyes grew heavy with concern. 

“What’s the matter?” he asked, his voice husky and deep and sending a shiver to run up her spine. 

“I just…” Her voice caught in her throat as she scanned through her mind to find the right words. The truth. Just tell him the truth. 

“It’s silly really,” she laughed nervously. “It’s just…I’ve had such a wonderful time with you. I don’t want the evening to end.” 

She thought he might laugh at her or perhaps find a way to turn this into a lewd joke. At first, he said nothing and when Sansa lifted her eyes to him, she found the corner of his mouth was upturned in a half-smile. His own gaze, though, settled on her lips and one arm coiled around the small of her back, pulling her closer until their bodies met. His other hand rested against the side of her neck where his fingers buried into the thick waves of her hair. 

At once, the butterflies were back in business. Her stomach flipped, her heart beat, and her tongue glazed across her lower lip in anticipation. He was going to kiss her. A proper kiss on a proper date.  

Sandor’s mouth pressed against hers, soft yet restrained at first as he gauged her reaction. His lips caressed against hers, surprisingly tender and sweet in a man who had spent much of their conversations suggesting all the physical things they might do together.

Sansa’s arms snaked around his middle in return. When her lips parted against his, his tongue slipped into her mouth. The hunger came then, the desire they both shared. Sansa returned the kiss with a fervor, gingerly biting his bottom lip and pressing herself closer to him. Unwittingly and somewhere along the line, she had begun to slowly writhe against him. She wanted to be closer, for her body to be melded against his. With her breasts pressed against his chest, Sandor reluctantly broke the kiss, giving a small lick to her lips before pulling away slightly. 

“I had planned for us to take a walk down the boardwalk. I know a place that’s a bit more secluded,” he breathed against her mouth before claiming her lips again, unhurriedly and lingering. 

Sansa hummed a reply and nodded, too preoccupied to mind much where they ended up so long as he kept kissing her. 

After a few unsuccessful tries at ceasing their attentions to one another, Sandor finally managed to open Sansa’s door with a grumbling sigh. Inside the car, he stared longingly at her, his eyes sweeping up and down her form. Biting her lip, Sansa leaned over the center console. She pressed her mouth against his neck, running her tongue in dawdling circles right beneath the corner of his jaw. She listened in rapt to the heaviness of his breathing, near panting and interspersed with deep moans.  His hand was clutching her bare thigh, moving slowly beneath the skirt of her dress and stopping right before her panty line. 

Outside the car, both her and Sandor seemed to simultaneously catch the sight of an older couple gawking at them in horror and disgust. Sandor let out a rumbling laugh and turned on the car.

“We better get out of here before we’re banned from this place for putting on a little after-dinner show.” 

Sansa nodded with a giggle, breathless and bleary-eyed with desire she hadn’t quite experienced before. After a short drive south, Sandor parked the car in a lot alongside the shore of Lake Michigan. As promised, there wasn’t another soul in sight. From up north, the lights still danced in far-off orbs on the water that lapped against the sands of the beach. Out of the car, Sandor took her hand once more, leading her towards the length of sand down off the boardwalk. 

“I’ve never been to this part of the shore before,” Sansa said and slipped out of her heels.  

“Let me guess, you haven’t ventured far outside of Oak Street beach,” Sandor said with a smile. 

“I’ve been a few other places, but nothing like this though.  This is…” Sansa let the words die on her tongue. 

It was perfect and she was enchanted by it all.  She found herself staring at Sandor, watching now as he studied the waters. He must have felt her eyes on him. Without a word, he turned to her and his hands settled on the slender curve of her waist. With a tug, she was pressed against him once more. Even in the darkness, she could still make out the way he drank in the sight of her. It wasn’t a leering look, but rather he seemed to relish her form and savor the way she looked in this moment. 

“This is one of my favorite places in Chicago,” he said and one hand glided down her shoulder and the length of her arm. It was just a ghost of touch, but elicited goosebumps to prickle her skin. The back of his hand ran up her arm and slowly traversed down her back. 

Sansa returned his touch as she pressed her palms against his chest. His muscles were taut underneath as she smoothed her hands towards his shoulders, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck. 

“It’s gorgeous,” she spoke with a contented sigh. “But, maybe…” 

“Maybe it’s not ideal for what we have in mind?” Sandor finished her thought with a wicked smile on his lips.

Sansa nodded in devious delight, happy that he was the one to vocalize the suggestion. Sandor effortlessly lifted her up and in return Sansa gave a squeal of surprise before wrapping her legs around his waist. Carefully, Sandor carried her back to the car and felt for the handle of the backseat door.  

After setting her down, Sansa climbed in, scooting along the seat to make room for him. He lowered himself on top of her and a tingle ran through her as the bare skin of her back made contact with the cool leather seat. His lips met hers, picking up where they had left off with ease. 

With her legs draped over his hips, Sansa surrendered herself to the kiss and freed any lingering inhibitions. It started as a gentle give and take, sensuous and exploratory, their hands roaming one another’s body. Finding the same place on his neck as before, Sansa alternated between licks and kisses to the spot that seemed to drive him wild. With each pass of her tongue, his breathing became more rapid and he rocked his hips against her. She could feel his hardness between her legs and one hand was cupping her breast, kneading gently.

He reclaimed her mouth with a deep kiss, his tongue hot against hers and his hands running down the silhouette of her curves. Emboldened and with an insatiable ache between her legs, Sansa rolled her hips against him until they fell into a rhythm with one another. It was slow and deliberate, their eyes meeting, heavy with lust. 

Sandor’s hands ran up the outsides of her thighs, pushing up further underneath her skirt as he hooked two fingers beneath either side of her panties. 

“Are you sure you don’t put out on a first date, hmm?” he murmured against her mouth, gliding his tongue across her bottom lip. 

His thumb ran along the outside of her panties over her slit until he pressed gently at her clit in smooth circles. Sansa hummed in return, her eyes closing and mouth opening to release a soft moan. Instinctively, her knees dropped further apart against his touch. The wetness between her legs soaked through her underwear and she knew he could tell as a low, reverberating groan rumbled from his throat.  

With each pass of his thumb came a jolt of tingles through her body as her hips slowly ground against his touch. He had pulled away ever so slightly to watch her. Her skirt was around her waist now, her head dropped back, as she continued to buck her hips. She wanted just a little bit more; his long fingers dipping into her, reaching all the spots that she couldn’t quite reach as he whispered in her ear all the things he wanted to do her, would do to her.  

Sandor’s motions slowed, but now all four of his fingers from each hand slipped beneath the sides of her panties as he gripped her hips, stilling her movements. Only then did it occur to her that he had asked a question, a request to go further. She wanted it. God, she wanted it, but she also wasn’t that kind of girl. With a beleaguered and frustrated sigh, Sansa closed her eyes. 

“Yes, I’m sure,” she confirmed begrudgingly with a nod. She felt Sandor remove his hand from her hips and settle them against her sides as he propped himself up on his elbows.

“That’s a shame,” he whispered against her neck, his words terminating in kisses. “I’d love to bury my face between your legs right now and devour you. I bet you taste amazing.” 

Sansa felt a wave of heat move through her and the tantalizing visuals quickly followed. No one had ever done that to her before. Joffrey had refused when she expressed curiosity at what it might feel like. Perhaps Sandor felt the way her breathing had become ragged or maybe it was the unbidden moan that had escaped her lips at his words, but Sandor had lifted his lips from her neck and was staring down at her laid out beneath him.   

He was waiting for a response again, permission to proceed. The space between them had grown heavy in a different sort of way. 

“You have no idea the things I want to do to you, girl.” Sandor shook his head with a laugh, his hair brushing lightly against her cheek.   

Another silence had settled between them and Sansa found she couldn’t look him in the eyes.

“Is that all you want me for?” she asked haltingly and stared at the floorboard of the car. 

“Well, no. Ideally, you’d reciprocate,” Sandor retorted on an exhaled laugh.  

Sansa wriggled beneath him, her palms pushing against his chest as she sat up.  Confused, Sandor obliged and extracted himself from her. Sansa smoothed her skirt down and settled into the seat.

“I’m not joking, Sandor. I want to know. I’m not that kind of girl.” An anxious sort of fear had come over her; perhaps irrational, but certainly a product of her time with Joffrey. Surely, Sandor had the right of it when he said that sometimes people aren’t all that they seemed. 

Bewildered as he sat next to her, Sandor ran one hand over his face with a sigh before turning to her. 

“I know you’re not that kind of girl, which is why I like you,” he offered in earnest, his eyes heavy with import and matched to hers. “I don’t want some girl who’s only good for one thing. I want someone I can actually talk to, someone smart and sweet. Someone I respect.” 

Sansa nodded, her eyes downturned as a smile crept across her lips. Sandor cupped the side of her face and his thumb brushed against her cheek bone. When she lifted her gaze to him, he began once more. 

“Sansa, we won’t do anything you don’t want to. My fucking god, you turn me on, but I’m not going to blow you off just because you’re not riding my dick right now.” 

She knew he meant every word. She could tell by the perplexed look on his face, the way he seemed more concerned with proving his sincerity than with resuming their activities. Sansa also saw the disappointment coloring his features; not disappointment with the turn of events, but rather disappointment with himself.  

Despite the gracelessness of his words, she knew it was the truth. When a small giggle escaped her lips, Sandor turned confused eyes at her. She settled her hand on top of his and placed a soft kiss to his lips. 

 “You turn me on too,” she whispered against his mouth before crawling onto his lap.

“I know I do,” he responded with an assured smile before returning her kiss with as much delicacy as she had initiated it with. His lips were a warm caress against hers and his arms wrapped around the small of her back. Lifting a brow in curiosity, Sansa stared at Sandor with a questioning smile. 

“You’re so fucking wet right now,” he explained on a deep chuckle and smoothed his hands up and down her back. He stared at her with his lips curled in a smile and his head rested against the seat. 

“You don’t know that,” Sansa countered. She sunk into him further and her hips swiveled slightly against him. She could feel he was hard again and moaning quietly with the cadence of her movements. 

“Prove me wrong,” he spoke on a husky voice. His hands at her hips guided her motions. 

“I can’t,” Sansa admitted and bit her lip. 

“Prove me right then,” Sandor mumbled against her mouth and occupied her lips.  

Sansa took a measured breath before sliding back slowly and perching herself on his knees.  With her back pressed up against the driver’s seat, Sansa pulled up the skirt of her dress.  As much as her breathing had become erratic, nearly panting with anticipation, so too had Sandor’s. He watched her in wonderment, his eyes alternating between studying her face and eagerly drinking in the sight of her hand running up the inside of her thigh. 

Reaching the soaked juncture between her legs, Sansa hesitated and tried to gather up the courage to show him how much he turned her on. Eyes dark and heavy with desire, Sandor slowly nodded his head in encouragement. Pulling in a deep breath, Sansa pushed her underwear to one side, revealing herself to him. She watched him swallow hard and sigh a deep breath which came more as a grumbling moan followed by a nearly indiscernible slew of expletives. His hands gripped the tops of her thighs and he tore his heavy-lidded stare from between her legs to look her in the eyes.

“Touch yourself,” he commanded and unwittingly licking his lips.  

“Wh-what?” Sansa stammered as another wave of heat moved through her body. Leaning forward slowly, Sandor whispered against her lips.  

“I want to watch you touch yourself.” Sensing her hesitation, he offered her a slow kiss, unhurried and sweet, which she returned gladly. When he settled back in his seat once more, hands resting behind his head, Sansa felt a surge of desire envelope her, spurring her on as she moved her hand between her legs. 

As her finger swept across her clit and trailed through the pool of wetness between her legs, Sansa couldn’t remember a time she had been this turned on. She dipped one finger and then two into herself and relished the momentary satisfaction she felt. Her head lolled back and her eyes fluttered shut as she lost herself in the feeling of her own hand working between her legs.  She whimpered and writhed, moaned and sighed. When Sandor’s own moans had joined her in a duet, she opened her eyes.  He was watching her, his mouth parted, lips moist as he stroked the length of his cock. 

Forgetting all courtesies, Sansa stared at his manhood, reveling in his size which was more than generously proportioned to his body. He was huge and the sight of him stroking himself, the sound of his groans, elicited another flush of wetness to emerge between her legs. 

Chuckling as he now noticed her leering at him, Sandor pulled her hand away from between her legs. The two fingers that had been buried inside of her glistened with wetness. Slowly and with his eyes seeking her out in the darkness of the car, Sandor sucked on her fingers, his tongue swiping against their length. 

“I was right; you’re wet and you taste amazing,” he declared with a grin. “I win,” he added, burying his face against her neck and nipping gently beneath her ear. 

“What do you win?” Sansa asked with a sigh, delighting in the subtle jolts of pleasure reverberating through her.  

“You tell me,” Sandor murmured against her neck between kisses.  

Without the pretense of thought, Sansa reached for one of his hands and guided it between her legs. And, without hesitation on his end, Sandor slid one long finger inside of her, stroking deftly against the spot she couldn’t quite reach herself. Sansa let a sharp moan escape her lips. Spurred on by her response, Sandor slipped a second finger inside of her and his thumb moved in small, teasing circles against her clit. In a haze of ecstasy, Sansa reached between them, taking Sandor’s cock in her hand and smoothing her palm up and down his length. 

Biting his lip hard, he grunted in response. His fingers had momentarily stilled as he moaned against her neck. Surrendering to the bliss, Sansa rocked her hips against his hand, writhing until she found just the right spot. Continually, she did this and with each roll of her hips, she felt her legs beginning to shake. 

“Need something else to ride, girl?” 

Faintly, Sansa caught the sound of his voice interspersed with the moans of his own pleasure. He whispered in her ear and his arm wrapped around the small of her back to still her movements as his fingers slid in and out of her, listening in rapt to the sounds pouring from her lips.

“I won’t stop you. God knows, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I met you. Your tits bouncing, legs spread for me, moaning my name, begging me for more. You think about it too, don’t you?”

The thought of giving in completely to her own desires as well as his, flashed across her mind. It would feel amazing. He would be gentle with her, she knew with a certainty. He would go slow, he’d stop if it hurt too bad. Oh, but how could it? If his fingers felt this good... And his lips, too. They were at the curve of her cleavage spilling from her dress.  

“Yes, I think about it too,” Sansa breathed and pressed hard against him. With a firm yank, Sandor pulled the top of her dress down, exposing her bare breasts and taking one hardened nipple into his mouth. With his unoccupied hand, Sandor cupped her other breast and gently rolled her nipple between his thumb and forefinger.  

Through the haze of sensations rolling through her body, Sansa realized Sandor had guided his manhood between her legs and what she was grinding against was the length of his cock. It slid against her clit and he bucked his hips against her. 

Gathering her faculties as best she could, Sansa slowed her own movements to a halt. 

“I can’t…I’ve never…” she admitted, feeling foolish for having let it go this far only to turn him away. 

Joffrey would have been livid and hurled insults at her. When Sandor stopped suddenly, she worried that he might be angry with her too. He settled back in the seat with a sigh, his hands resting against her hips. She stared down at her lap, unable to meet his eyes in case she might find disappointment lingering there. 

“You’re a virgin,” she heard him speak gently. It was not unkind, but rather came as if he had already figured as much. 

Sansa nodded. In the silence, she heard Sandor pull in a breath before feeling his arms wrap around her. Pulling her towards him until she was cradled against his chest, Sandor ran one hand down her arm as the other brushed lightly through her hair. He pressed a kiss to her forehead and one to her cheek. 

 “When you’re ready then,” he spoke quietly. 

Once more, she nodded against his chest. Lifting her chin until his lips were matched to hers, Sandor claimed her mouth in a slow kiss, one that sealed his sincerity and calmed any of her emerging doubts.   

“I want to see you again.” He spoke plainly and with the ghost of a smile. 

“I’d like that,” Sansa whispered, burrowing against him. 

“Next weekend I don’t have any shows,” he said. He took her hand and interlaced his fingers with hers.  

“I’m moving into the sorority house next weekend.” Sansa squeezed his hand and gave him a sleepy smile. No longer would she have to sneak out of the house to see him.  The thought was ridiculous in and of itself. She was an adult, after all. 

“How about I drop by then? See your new place and then I can take you to my favorite guitar shop. I need to see about a Stratocaster I’ve had my eye on.” 

“It’s a date.”  

Sansa could imagine it now; Margaery’s face as Sandor pulled up, perhaps on his bike, Jeyne’s snickering disgust, Myranda’s nod of approval, Dany’s confusion. She didn’t care though. It didn’t matter what they thought. All that mattered was the way he held her now, his hands warm against her skin, the scent of his cologne, his lips delivering kisses to her cheek, the tip of her nose, the top of her head. 

“A date it is.” Their plans were sealed as Sandor placed a delicate kiss to her lips. “I should get you home.”  

Sansa gave a reluctant nod and, after replacing articles of clothing to their proper places, they  extracted themselves out of the back seat. The drive back to Winnetka was pleasant, filled with conversation about the evening they’d had.

Each red light afforded the opportunity for one of them to lean across the center console and steal a kiss, each consecutive one becoming more heated than the last. The light would change to green just as Sandor’s fingers had made their way back between her legs or Sansa’s hand found his hardened cock once more. The cars behind them would blare their horn and they’d begrudgingly continue on to the next light, only to repeat the process all over again. 

By the time they made it to her neighborhood, they had once more found themselves in a predicament of not being able to keep their hands off of one another.  Sandor pulled to a stop in front of her house and pressed his lips to hers in a chaste kiss, one that was in humorous juxtaposition to the activities they had been engaging in for most of the evening.

“I’ll walk you to the door,” he insisted and put the car in park. 

“You are in no position to be walking me to the door when my parents are probably watching.” Sansa motioned to Sandor’s lap and the outline of his rock-hard manhood clearly visible there.

“Fair enough,” he agreed with a laugh. “I’ll walk you to your door next time.” With that, he stole one more kiss; this time, warm and lingering and unconcerned with who might be watching.  

“Goodnight, little bird,” he whispered against her lips. 

“Goodnight.” Sansa kissed his cheek and flashed a smile. 

When she retreated inside, her parents were already in bed.  The house was dark as she climbed the stairs as quietly as possible. Her hair was a mess, her dress disheveled, her lips swollen from kissing. The last thing she needed was for her mother, or worse, her father to catch her at the top of the stairs and berate her with questions.  

In her bedroom, Sansa closed the door and noticed Arya was gone for the night, probably having snuck out to see Gendry. She flicked on the light and, in the bathroom, washed her face and brushed her teeth before slipping out of her dress. She threw on an oversized t-shirt, humming to herself as she combed out the knots in her hair. 

In the replay of the evening, her mind hurriedly skipped through the memories of dinner and landed on the rest of the night. She knew dating Sandor would be different and an experience she wasn’t used to, but she hadn’t anticipated the way he made her feel; the butterflies, the anticipation, the curiosity, the arousal, the excitement, the pure pleasure and glee. He was amazing and she cursed herself for even having entertained the idea early on that she might not give him a chance. 

Sansa climbed into bed and let the memories of the evening slowly flood her mind. She tried to place what exactly it was that she found so tantalizing about him. He was course yet oddly gentle with her. The things he had whispered in her ear had nearly sent her over the edge. It was erotic and enthralling in every conceivable way. 

With unhurried movements, Sansa ran her hand over her t-shirt, between her breasts, and down her stomach, stopping at the elastic of her underwear. She pulled in a breath and slipped her hand underneath, drawing up one leg so that her lips parted. With her middle finger, she gently stroked between her legs in soft, teasing motions. She was still wet from earlier in the evening, her panties soaked through.  

Sitting up, she pulled off her t-shirt and pushed her underwear down to her knees.  Lying back down, she spread her legs, hearing Sandor’s voice clear in her mind.  I’d love to bury my face between your legs right now and devour you. You have no idea the things I want to do to you, girl…

She dipped two fingers into her warm wetness as deep as she could, stroking herself from the inside, but hardly able to reach the same place she that he could. Eyes closed, she imagined him running his tongue over her clit, sucking and lapping at it until she cried out his name. And she would. For him, she would. Bundling up a third finger, she imagined what he would feel like inside of her, how he would fill her up and how she would eagerly take him in.

She licked her lips now and envisioned riding him, just like he always talked about.  With his hands roaming over her, she would ride him hard, ride him slow, experimenting with each roll of the hips as she rocked her way down his length.  

Steadily reaching her climax, Sansa rolled on her stomach, her bare breasts pressed against the sheets, her cheek buried against the pillow as her fingers worked deeper and her thumb rolled against her clit harder. She imagined being on her hands and knees, letting him enter her from behind. He would pull her hair and whisper how good it felt in her ear as he thrust into her hard. And she would let him. She would tell him she wanted more and he would make her say please, just like he said he would. 

Panting as she slowly withdrew her fingers soaked down their length, Sansa rolled on her back. Flushed as she caught her breath once more, she opened her eyes, which met the sight of the Cannibal Star poster hanging over Arya’s bed.  

She pulled her underwear back on and curled up under her blankets. Sansa stared at Sandor’s unsmiling form on the poster; his taut, sculpted muscles, broad shoulders, strong arms. You have no idea the things I’d let you do to me, she thought with a smile.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Eight

"Oh, she's a little runaway
Daddy's girl learned fast all the things he couldn't say."

Runaway, Bon Jovi


Ned was already in a foul mood for a Sunday. With no discernible cause for his irritation, he rose early to enjoy some peace and quiet with the morning newspaper and a cup of coffee. His lips barely touched the edge of his mug before the phone rang at precisely eight o’clock on the dot.

The shrill sound carried through the house and irritated him further. Who the hell would be calling so early on a Sunday morning? Who in their right mind, beside himself, was up and moving at this hour? With the family still sound asleep, Ned hurried towards his office, coffee sloshing out of his mug as he went, each splatter met with a colorful word seethed beneath his breath.

When his bare foot landed on one of Rickon’s Legos, he yelped in pain and hobbled towards the phone. His face was undoubtedly the same shade of cherry red as the godforsaken piece of plastic embedded in his foot. If the family were churchgoing folk, perhaps he’d have some godly inspiration towards patience. The Starks were not and Ned lost his patience by the time he snatched up the phone from its cradle.

The curt greeting he had intended to breath into the speaker died on his lips when he heard the sound of Sansa’s voice coming through the line. She’d apparently gotten to the phone faster than him and sleepily conversed with someone on the other end.

“Did I wake you?”

He expected it to be a telemarketer soliciting money for one thing or another. Or perhaps even Mr. Hardyng calling to apologize about being an insufferable prick and polishing off the last of Ned’s good whiskey.

Instead, it was a deep, grumbling voice and an odd question for a stranger to be asking. He could only hope that Sansa knew this individual. The reassurance from that thought fled quickly enough. After all, this wasn’t the voice of some boy a few years past puberty. It was a man she was talking to—a man asking if he had woken her. Ned stilled and pulled the speaker away from his lips so that his breathing wouldn’t travel through the line.

“Mmm, maybe,” he heard his daughter sigh into the phone sweetly. He settled against the edge of his desk and pressed the phone hard against his ear though he could hear just fine.

“You sound sexy in the morning,” the man said, but this time with a depraved chuckle.

Ned felt his blood pressure rise and his body stiffen. He knew that laugh and could almost imagine the shit-eating grin likely on this guy’s face. His fingers curled against his palm and for a moment he thought to say something into the phone.

“Is that right?” Sansa cooed.

Ned was stunned into silence. The whole situation was equally infuriating and shocking. Since when did his baby girl humor this sort of crap? Furthermore, since when did she start associating with grown men? And why did this moron have the nerve to call up in the first place?

“Yeah,” the man laughed once more. “I can’t stop thinking about last night,” he said after a cadence of silence.

What the hell does that mean? What happened last night? Quietly as he could manage, Ned covered the speaker of the phone with his palm and let out a heavy sigh. He wanted to jump out of his skin. He wanted to tell this punk that if he knew what was good for him, he’d never call this number again. He wanted to run up the stairs and rip the phone in Sansa’s room right out of the wall.

“Me neither. I had an amazing time.” Sansa’s reply came near breathless.

Ned could see her now—all starry-eyed and smitten, floating on cloud nine. He had seen this in her when she started dating Joffrey. It broke his heart the way she suffered through the disenchantment of that shitty relationship.

“And you’ll never believe what I did when I got home!” Sansa continued gleefully.

Oh dear God.

Ned felt his face flush in anger and mortification. If he hung up the phone now, he wouldn’t have to hear this. He could pretend that perhaps Sansa and this…man…played a nice game of Parcheesi last night. Or maybe they had a riveting discussion about Reaganomics. Then again, he didn’t know what was worse—his daughter canoodling with a grown man or becoming a staunch Republican supporter. 

“What?” the man egged on, lasciviousness pouring through the phone and making Ned literally sick to the stomach.

“Mmm, it has to do with me, naked in my bed, and the poster hanging above my sister’s bed.”

Ned braced himself against the desk. He breathed heavy and shook his head. A stack of folders careened off the desk and onto the floor with a heavy plop. He winced at the sound, hoping it hadn’t carried through the speaker still pressed against his palm.

“Fuck,” the man veritably groaned into the phone. “Goddamn, that’s hot. I can’t wait to get you alone again. The things I’m going to do to you, girl.”

Oh my God! No. Oh lord.

Ned paced the floor. He wanted to hang up. He had heard enough, but the jerk called his damn house for heaven’s sake! It was his God-given right as the man who paid an arm and a leg for the girls to have a phone line in their room to hear what this fool had to say to his sweet girl.

“Oh yeah? And what exactly do you plan to do?”

He had never heard Sansa talk like this. God! But why would he? To him, she was sweet Sansa—soft-spoken, diligent in her studies, kind, and respectful.

No. Not my innocent girl! This middle-aged loser is corrupting her!

“Well, I had planned on licking that sweet…”

Worked up into a frenzy, Ned spun on his heel. As he lunged forward to continue his pacing, he slammed hard into his wife who had somehow manifested in front of him.

“What are you doing?” Catelyn screeched in bewilderment as she lost her balance and stumbled into the desk.

“Shhh!” Ned hissed, waving his hand frantically to quiet his wife.

“…until you scream for more.”

“Who is it?” Cat demanded firmly and rubbed her hip with a small wince of pain.

“Not now! I’m busy!” Once more, he tried to shoo Cat away and gently nudge her towards the kitchen.

“Ned, give me the phone,” his wife insisted.

Her demand was accompanied by the look. One hand was firmly planted on her hip and with her head cocked to the side, she held her other hand out for the phone. He had been married to her long enough to understand that this woman would not back down once she donned the look.

“No!” Ned insisted, nonetheless. He was being obstinate and he knew it. So did she, but he dodged Catelyn anyhow, bobbing away from her as she tried to grab for the phone. In zigzags, she chased him around the room until the phone cord stretched to its limit.

“You’re at work today?” Ned heard Sansa inquire brightly. He listened carefully and staved off Cat who lunged forward again to snatch the phone.

“Yeah, I’m picking up some extra hours to help Selmy out. I’m calling to let you know that I had to order a part for your car. I probably wont have it ready until Thursday, maybe Friday.”

Ned stopped. Dead in his tracks, he halted and so too did Catelyn. Him! The mechanic.

“Put the phone down, Ned!” Catelyn drew out her words and marked each heavily at the end. It was her way of weaving fierceness into her voice.

“That’s fine. I was hoping to see you sooner though.” Sansa gave a disappointed sigh.

“I’ll be heading through Evanston tomorrow. Maybe I can come see—”

Distracted and out of breath, Ned had only noticed the phone being pulled away from his ear at the last moment.

“Cat! Stop! No, no. I just want—” he whispered frantically as he tried to grab for the phone.

“What has gotten into you? Who was that?” Catelyn demanded after replacing the phone to its cradle.

“You! I! You should…”

Scrambling for an explanation, Ned came up empty handed. What exactly did he need to explain? He wasn’t the one having explicit conversations over the phone.

“Well?” Catelyn pressed. She wouldn’t be letting him off the hook. That much was clear as she inched forward.

“You should have heard the things Sansa was saying to…to…this…guy. No! Man. A full-grown man! Not just some boy her own age.”

Whatever shock and horror he hoped might grip Catelyn at this bit of information was replaced with a pointed look launched in his direction. Arms crossed about her chest, foot tapping on the floor, his wife pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes at him.

“You were eavesdropping, Ned,” she tried to reason.

In the end, he would ultimately admit she was right. A few hours would go by and he’d have to hang his head to seek her out, mumble out how she knew better all along and he should have listened to her. After all, that seemed to be the arrangement he signed up for in marrying her. He wouldn’t have it any other way, but in this moment he needed to make her understand. The man they invited into their home and fed at their own table was a pervert out to corrupt their daughter.

“I had to! I meant to put the phone down, but…I just…” Once more, he fumbled gracelessly over his words.

“You just what?” Catelyn pressed and she wouldn’t stop until he admitted his wrongdoing. Stubborn though she was, so was he.

“I have an obligation as her father to make sure that she doesn’t…you know…”

God, just quit while you’re ahead.

“That she doesn’t talk to a member of the opposite sex?” Catelyn wrapped her arms around Ned’s middle. Her lips curled into a soft smile as she stared up at him. He never knew what it was that curbed the fierceness and replaced it with dotting affection.

“The things they were saying,” Ned shook his head as he spoke. He wouldn’t dare relay them. They were bad enough to hear, let alone repeat. “She was with this man last night.”

“Arya said she was with Margaery last night, something for the sorority.”

As it stood, Ned could barely keep track of his own schedule, let alone all six of his children. When Sansa had mysteriously disappeared last night, Ned didn’t find it so hard to believe that he had simply forgotten some sorority activity she had already scheduled. Cat had looked just as befuddled at the information, which, in hindsight, was an oddity.

The woman had a near-inhuman ability to keep every family member’s schedule straight. Statistics would dictate she was bound to forget something every so often and, every so often, she did forget a soccer practice, PTA meeting, or something of the like. Cat had merely shrugged as Arya nonchalantly explained that Sansa had some “airhead gathering,” as she called it, to go to.

“She wasn’t!” Ned insisted, whipped up into a tizzy once more at the realization he had been duped by his own daughters. “This…guy...this man guy…she was with him!”

“Maybe he was over at Margaery’s too. Did you think about that?” Cat reasoned calmly.

Ned freed himself from his wife’s arms, shrugging her off as he bounded towards the stairs.

“I have to handle this!” he insisted.

“Here we go,” he heard Cat mumble at the bottom of the stairs.

It didn’t matter. She could patronize all she wanted, but he was going to get to the bottom of this come hell or high water. Ned took his steps two at a time before hurdling down the hallway. He didn’t bother to knock on his daughters’s door, but instead unceremoniously burst into the room—a cardinal sin for a father of two teenage girls.

He had hoped to find Sansa still on the phone with San-dork or whatever the chump’s name was. To his supreme disappointment, she had hung up the phone and was curled up in her bed, facing the door with a smile on her lips.

Both of the girls popped up at the intrusion. Arya rubbed her eyes and blinked in confusion, obviously still sound asleep prior to him barreling into the room.

“Out of bed!” Ned demanded firmly. It wasn’t often he shouted at his kids and even now he tried in earnest to keep his voice down. “Both of you. Downstairs, now.”

He didn’t wait for the girls to get up, but instead headed down the stairs and into the living room. Cat had settled into the recliner, her feet pulled up onto the chair as she cradled a coffee cup in her hands. Ned paced for what felt like an eternity. Cat stared at him as if he might burn holes in the carpet the way he was walking back and forth. Eventually, the girls ambled into the room and plopped down on the couch, one right next to the other.

“Where were you last night?” he questioned curtly and stared at Sansa. Hands settled on his hips, Ned continued to pace as he awaited an answer.

Sansa was a terrible liar. It was a running joke in the family. Of all his children, she was the worst at it. He watched his daughter’s eyes grow wide and fill with panic before her mouth fell open to speak.

“Dad, I told you. She was at Margaery’s,” Arya spoke on behalf of Sansa. The two momentarily exchanged glances.

“You pipe down! Sansa, where were you?”

“I was…like she says. I was at Margaery’s.” Like clockwork, Sansa faltered. Her voice caught in her throat and her face went red as she frantically shifted pleading eyes to Catelyn.

“You ran out on your mother’s dinner party and that was bad enough! Now you’ve got your sister lying for you. Who was the man you were talking to?”

“What man?” Sansa questioned indignantly. Suddenly, the understanding bloomed across her face, which deepened to a darker shade of red. “Wait, you were listening in on my phone call?”

“I happened to pick up the phone and I heard a few things,” Ned admitted. The conversation was already uncomfortable enough without rehashing the finer details.

“Why were you listening in on my phone call?” Sansa demanded and scooted to the edge of the couch.

“That’s not the point. The point is I’ve had enough of you two going around all over town with these guys who are up to no good. Between Arya sneaking out to go do god-knows-what and you gallivanting with some guy last night!”

Ned’s voice rose with his anger. He never knew Sansa to be like this. He always expected a battle of wills with Arya, who shared his stubbornness. He never imagined to have it out like this with Sansa, though.

“I wasn’t gallivanting. It’s called a date.” Sansa drew in a deep breath, lifting her chin as she matched her eyes to his. Ned realized only then that he had stopped pacing. “Yeah, I was on a date,” Sansa affirmed once more. “So sue me!”

Ned’s jaw dropped. Whipping his head to Cat, his wife too seemed floored by Sansa’s sudden brazenness.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into the two of you.” Ned pointed at each of his daughters in turn. “We need to talk about this. About you two and your…activities…with these men you keep seeing.”

“Activities? They just went on a date, Dad! Chill!” Arya interrupted with a roll of the eyes.

“No, I will not chill!” Ned cried out. “I was a young man once. I know how men are, especially with beautiful girls. You’re both young and pretty and these men will take advantage of that. Now, if you have…you know, when you do…” Ned ran a hand over his face with a deep sigh before starting again. “When you have…”

He couldn’t manage the words. He had had this talk with Robb and Jon and never remembered it being this damn hard. If anything, it should be easier the second time around, but Ned felt himself growing increasingly enraged at the idea of any guy doing those things with his daughters.

“Sex. When you have sex,” Cat sighed and shook her head at the disaster this conversation had become.

“You need to be responsible!” Ned’s outburst came from nowhere. There was so much more he needed to tell them, to warn them of, but it was all he could manage to say without the words vanishing on his tongue.

An awkward silence engulfed the room as everyone avoided each other’s stares as best they could.

“Wait, is this a sex talk?” Arya questioned in disbelief. “Oh my god!” She slumped back against the couch and buried her face in her hands with a mumbled groan. Pulling her hands from her face, she shot Ned the look. It was the same cocking of the head to the side and the same pointed stare he so often got from his wife. “You’re trying to have a sex talk with us and you can’t even say the word sex!”

“Arya, stop,” Ned sighed and closed his eyes. The wherewithal to have this conversation fled him now.

Arya turned to Sansa with a devilish smile. “Did you let the Hound nail you? Is that what this is about?”

“Arya!” Sansa chided and swatted her sister’s arm.

“What? It’s apparently what everyone wants to know,” Arya shrugged before elbowing Sansa playfully. “So did you? Is his shlong huge?”

“Eww!”

The outburst came from behind him and Ned spun around to find Bran and Rickon standing in the doorway of the living room. Nose crinkled in disgust, Bran shook his head while Rickon erupted into giggles. Ned hoped against hope that his youngest didn’t quite know what he was laughing at.

As a father, this was a waking nightmare; the kind no one talks about in regards to parenthood. No one ever warned him that this day would come; the day when he would have to have these conversations and the potential that he might fail miserably at them as he was now.

“Bran, go in the kitchen with your brother!” Ned snapped.

“Why aren’t you having this talk with Bran? In a few years he’ll be Arya’s age,” Sansa huffed before Ned could speak again and end the conversation. “Will you listen in on his phone conversations too?”

“You’re both grounded,” Ned scolded and eyed each of his daughters, hoping he conveyed his disappointment in them. “No more sneaking out, no more covering for one another. That’s it. You’ll both come home right after school, no going out on the weekends.”

“Fine.” Sansa shot from the couch and calmly smoothed down the front of her bathrobe. “I’m moving out next weekend anyway so it doesn’t matter.” She brushed past him and sashayed to the stairs in movements graceful despite her anger. Sharing in her sister’s anger, but not so much of her grace, Arya stomped from the room, fuming as she went.

“Yeah, maybe I’ll move out too!” she shouted and trailed after Sansa.

“You will do no such thing!” Ned bellowed. “Now go to your room!” he added for good measure.

“I was going there anyway!” Arya fired back.

“Good! And take down your posters when you get up there!”

Tit for tat, they would go. Arya craved having the last word as much as Ned did. It seemed for now he would have the final say on the matter and couldn’t help but find satisfaction in this. His lips tugged into a relieved smile before Sansa shouted from the top of the stairs.

“And to answer the question, his shlong was huge!”

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Nine 

"She's my cherry pie

Cool drink of water such a sweet surprise 

Tastes so good makes a grown man cry 

Sweet cherry pie" 

-Cherry Pie, Warrant


 

Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach blared from the boutique’s speakers at the mall on the north side of town. If Sansa believed in universal signs, this would surely be one of them—a cautionary tale wrapped up in the lyrics of a campy pop song. She didn’t need signs when she had her father’s insufferable silences and stern scowls to contend with. They were signs in and of themselves; his message loud and clear, speaking volumes despite icy reticence.

Sansa didn’t beg for her father’s permission to go to the mall. She was a grown woman. She didn’t need his permission. After getting home from work, her father thumbed through the newspaper in his beloved leather recliner with a glass of scotch on the table next to him and The Dark Side of the Moon sounding from the record player.

Her father quietly mouthed the lyrics to Money and Sansa dramatically threw herself to the couch with a heavy sigh, staring forlornly through the sheer white curtains of their living room window. A miserable pout formed on her lips and she conjured all sorts of sorrow to surface in her eyes when she cast a pleading gaze his direction.

The top half of the newspaper folded over on itself and her father made the profound mistake of asking what was wrong. Sansa commenced her well-rehearsed sob story: the eminent approach of the homecoming mixer, her ghastly lack of a pink dress, the pressures from her sorority sisters who were all terribly concerned that Sansa Stark—the up-and-coming president of Tri Delta—didn’t have her dress yet. Her father cut her off halfway through the sob story, right at the part where Sansa blathered on about sequin designs and offered to draw her dear old dad a diagram of what her dream dress looked like.

He agreed to let her go to the mall, no begging required, yet when Margaery’s cherry red convertible zoomed up the driveway to the thrumming beat of Culture Club, her father visibly tensed and his gentle rocking abruptly halted.

Maybe he doesn’t like Boy George, Sansa tried to convince herself when the slow groove of Pink Floyd clashed with Karma Chameleon in an awful cacophony. 

The truth was her father probably preferred Boy George in all his gender bending glory to a mechanic in a metal band and the dubious gaze that followed her to the door said her dad knew damn well Sansa was meeting up with Sandor tonight. Her father wasn’t stupid and Sansa didn’t exactly write the book on spinning believable lies.

Still, she didn’t know what tipped him off—perhaps the exuberant smile she tried to hide as she bid him farewell with a tight hug and the sweetest “thank you” she could muster. He merely nodded in return, regret written all over his stoic countenance. Nothing was said, not a word. Papa Don’t Preach didn’t hold a candle to her dad’s ability to inspire a guilty conscious and now Madonna’s serendipitously chiding melody faded into the next candy-coated pop song. 

Sansa studied her hands, particularly the sparkly sheen that covered her skin and caught the light from above. She wondered how on earth she was going to get all the glitter off. The dress she tried on earlier was covered in it and now the better half of her body was too. 

“What is she doing in there?” Margaery hissed beneath her breath while filing down one hot pink nail. The girl lounged on a red leather couch with shopping bags about her feet. The Tyrell’s had money to burn and Margaery was always more than happy to help with the burden of spending it.  

Sansa shrugged distractedly in response and picked at the glitter on her palm. Margaery had shoved Jeyne into the fitting room with an armful of pink dresses and Jeyne had been in there for well over fifteen minutes now. She whimper and pouted and ultimately refused to show Margaery and Sansa the dresses she tried them on. According to Jeyne, one of them looked too much like something Cindy Lauper would wear, the other was too poofy, and now this one apparently made her ass look big.   

“It…” A frustrated sigh came from the dressing room. “It’s stuck, okay? The zipper is stuck because my ass is the size of Montana!”

“Oh, honey, no one’s ass is the size of Montana!” Margaery assured sweetly. “Besides, there’s plenty of time between now and homecoming to come to Jazzercise with Sansa and I.” 

Margaery’s head lolled to the side and she rolled her eyes. Sansa didn’t notice at first. She stared at her watch with the distinct feeling that time was crawling along—one agonizing tick followed by a dawdling tock. With the weight of the girl’s eyes on her, Sansa’s hands fell to her lap, but it was too late. Margaery already caught her sneaking yet another peek at the time.

The first instance was in the food court as the girls shared a basket of cheese fries and gushed over homecoming plans. Sansa had grown quiet and studied the timepiece on her wrist with boredom painted across her face. She had looked up to find Margaery sporting a coy smile, though the girl didn’t raise any questions. The second time Sansa had been watching the clock while mindlessly thumbing through dresses on a rack. Margaery had strolled up and observed they were all the wrong color.

“No, silly!” the girl had laughed merrily. “The theme is ‘Pretty In Pink,’ not pretty in teal.”   

Now, Margaery’s perfectly plucked eyebrows rose in Sansa’s direction and her mouth curled into a devious smile.

“Spill it,” she insisted and tossed her nail file into her purse. She pulled her knees onto the couch. “What’s going on with you?”

“What are you talking about?” Sansa responded with unconvincing apathy.

Feigning ignorance was worth a shot, but Margaery Tyrell had an unusual and sometimes infuriating aptitude towards observation. Nothing escaped her, especially when her curiosity had been piqued.

“You haven’t picked out a dress yet,” Margaery began with a pointed look. “The chiffon one looked gorgeous on you. Why didn’t you get it? And why do you keep obsessing over the time? I told you I’d get you home to watch Miami Vice with your dad. I think it is so sweet you watch it together, by the way!” 

Sansa’s stomach lurched, the knot tightening with compounded guilt. She lowered her eyes and chipped at the nail polish on her fingers. Her dad didn’t even watch Miami Vice. He talked at length about how Don Johnson was a sleaze ball and how any man sporting that much pastel was surely no good. In one day, Sansa had woven an elaborate web of deceit—first, omitting details of her shopping trip to her father and then lying to Margaery about the origins of her early curfew. Sooner or later, she would cross her lines and the whole web would unravel, exposing all of her secrets.

Sansa glanced at Margaery through her eyelashes and found the girl smiling, head tilted to the side with glossy curls falling around her shoulders.  

“I have to do something in ten minutes,” Sansa admitted timidly. Flakes of mint green nail polish continued to drift to her lap.

“What do you have to do?” Margaery prodded.

“I’m meeting someone.” Sansa hoped the indifference she willed into her voice would dissuade Margaery’s curiosity for now. 

“Who is it?” The girl bounced in her seat with a squeal, delighted to be made privy to all the details. “Not Harry, I hope! God, after that stunt you said he pulled on Saturday.”   

That was one thing Sansa was forced to come clean about. Margaery had already spread the gossip that Harry and Sansa were the new “it” couple on campus. The other sorority girls had looked visibly distressed when Sansa explained why she would not be one-half of the new “it” couple. Just like that, Harry was branded a douche bag and collectively deemed unsuitable as boyfriend material. 

“No, it’s not Harry,” Sansa nearly scoffed. “It’s just someone I’m talking to.”

“Get real! Who is it?” Margaery licked her bottom lip and cast a wide-eyed stare at Sansa. “At least tell me what fraternity he’s in,” she added, near breathless, and Sansa exhaled a nervous laugh.   

She shook her head. “No, he’s not in a fraternity.”

“So he’s a jock then. What sport? Football?” The questions came in rapid fire, one after next, and they’d continue until Sansa spilled all the delicious secrets Margaery thought she was holding onto.

She hated to lie again, but had no intentions of telling Margaery that she was seeing a guy from a metal band. She certainly wasn’t going to say that she had already gone on a date with him. And it would be a cold day in hell before she admitted that that date had ended in the back seat of his car—her writhing in his lap and his hands cupping her breasts and slipping between her legs.  

“Well, it’s not…I…” Sansa stumbled over her words and Margaery went silent while she patiently awaited an answer. 

“It is a football player, isn’t it?” Jeyne’s voice sounded from the dressing room before the door flew open and the girl barreled out. “Who is it? Did you invite him to homecoming?” Jeyne hobbled as she put on her shoe and balanced the dresses thrown over her arm. 

“Yes!” Margaery squealed and clapped her hands together. “You have to bring him as your date! Ideally, he should be someone from Sigma Chi, but we’re letting the rules slide a bit this year.”

Laughter burst through Sansa’s lips and her hand flew over her mouth to disguise her smile. Sandor at the homecoming mixer would be a sight to see; him showing up in his low-slung leather pants and a pair of black cowboy boots, sporting a scowl as he mingled amongst preppy frat boys; him slow dancing with her to Air Supply or whatever else Margaery insisted be on the playlist.

He’d make fun of everyone the whole time while whispering dirty remarks into her ear. He’d steal kisses and his hands would slide from her waist to her hips and down to her ass when no one was looking, or perhaps when people were certainly looking because Sandor didn’t care that people saw them together.

The entire affair sounded much more appealing with Sandor there, but Sansa’s smile faded and the laughter abruptly stopped. She already dreaded homecoming this year. She didn’t have it in her to play cat-and-mouse with horny frat boys while sipping overly sweet punch and pretending she adored every corny song that played. If she brought Sandor, others would laugh too and for different reasons. The ones that didn’t point and snicker would ask questions. They’d pry; if not with their eyes, then with a flurry of snobbish inquiries that she didn’t have the patience for and she certainly wouldn’t subject Sandor to it.    

“Yeah, maybe.” Sansa forced a contrived smile and gave a non-committal shrug. 

“Well, you better go on and meet this football player of yours.” Margaery handed Sansa her purse and shooed her off the couch with a delicate flick of her wrist. “We’ll meet you in front of the south entrance in an hour.”

Sansa nodded, not caring to correct Margaery or tell her that her rendezvous most certainly did not involve a football player. The girl would figure it out eventually, but now was not the time to get into the semantics of her love life. Sansa hurried from the boutique and out into the open corridor of the mall. 

For a Thursday night, the place bustled with activity. She strolled past groups of teenagers gathered outside various stores. Families crowded the food court as parents corralled unruly children and pacified them with sugary treats. Sansa stopped in front of the directory and scanned for the music store on the list.

“Meet me at the record store. It’s the only place I’ll be caught dead in at the mall,” Sandor had grumbled over the phone last night. 

He called in the rare sliver of time where the Stark household was blessedly empty: Arya running amuck with Gendry before curfew, her mother taking Rickon to get fitted for glasses, Bran at marching band practice, and her father at his Monday night bowling league. Her conversation with Sandor had been brief, only long enough to compare their respective schedules for the week.

Sandor’s band practices and gigs fell on Sansa’s free days and the fleeting chunks of Sandor’s free time were during Sansa’s sorority meetings or study groups. The only overlap was tonight. They had a small window of time before Sandor and his band mates left for Milwaukee to meet with their manager.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to my place?” Sandor had asked over the phone. His voice had been deep and drawn low to a guttural groan with the implicit suggestion.

“Won’t you have to make time to clean it?” Sansa had giggled in response, twirling the phone cord around her finger as she flopped to her bed and stared out the window.

“Just the bedroom,” Sandor chuckled. She heard the longing in his voice despite the mirth of his laughter. His suggestions were no longer jokes meant to make her blush. Now, it was a form of foreplay and she had no doubt he meant what he said.

“What if I don’t want it in the bedroom?” Sansa had countered shyly through a devious smile, her heart racing and her skin flushed with a rising heat. 

Sandor had gone quiet on the other end of the line and Sansa’s palm landed against her forehead as she silently cursed her own inexperience. Surely, he should’ve laughed at her. Even she knew her attempts at sexiness were utterly ridiculous. Laughter hadn’t drifted through the line, though, only a brief pause followed by the sound of Sandor’s voice.  

“Then I’ll give it to you wherever you want, little bird,” he finally replied with discernable traces of wonderment and arousal lining his words. “I’m fucking hard just thinking about you.” On the other end of the line, Sansa could hear the soft panting of Sandor’s breaths.

“You’re always hard,” she playfully countered and a delicate laugh softly sounded from her lips. 

“Yeah, well, I’m always thinking about you,” Sandor responded and Sansa was no longer laughing.   

He had said it without missing a beat or fear of how it might make him sound. No lewd suggestion existed between the lines and the sincerity was as unabashed as all his saucy one-liners meant to make her squirm. Truly, Sandor Clegane meant the things he said and Sansa had underestimated how far his candid declarations would go. His words were not fanciful as Joffrey’s had once been, but her heart soared in ways it never had before. It was those moments that Sansa could never explain to her father, Margaery, Jeyne, or anyone else for that matter. In those moments, he made her feel wanted in every conceivable way, far beyond just the physical. 

Sansa had shot up in her bed and her hand found its way to her heart. She had had every intention of reciprocating his genuine and thoughtful declaration. On the tip of her tongue was a whole repertoire of sweetness she’d been waiting to unload on someone who was worthy. 

The moment was ruined, though. The headlights of her father’s car had caught Sansa’s attention and stymied all those beautiful words before she could speak them.

“I have to go. See you tomorrow!” she’d shrieked into the phone before unceremoniously slamming the receiver back into its cradle. 

The memory alone left Sansa wincing as she turned away from the mall directory. She’d lain awake last night staring at the ceiling. Her fingers worried the lace end of her sheet as she conceived all sorts of ridiculous plots to call him back, to tell him everything she meant to say, but couldn’t. 

I’ll tell him tonight, Sansa resolved and navigated through the crowds, chewing her bottom lip. Past each storefront, she rehearsed a planned apology to accompany her lovely words for Sandor and hoped he’d forgive the way she hung up on him. After half a dozen storefronts down, Sansa saw the sign for the music store lit up in neon lights. She rolled on the tips of her toes and scanned for a tall man looking distinctly disgruntled and awkwardly out of place. Even if he was there, Sansa was still too far to see. She slowed her pace and her hands trembled in anticipation. Her cheeks burned with a familiar heat of a bright red blush she knew all too well.

Sansa ducked into another clothing boutique and examined herself in the mirrored wall. With her fingers, she tousled her hair and pulled a tube of cherry lip-gloss out of her purse. She smoothed down the front of her orange skirt and shucked out of her jean jacket. Beneath, she wore a tie-dyed crop top shirt that revealed most of her midriff. She blushed with renewed embarrassment. The shirt was low cut and showcased more cleavage than she was normally comfortable with. Nevertheless, she gave a firm push on her breasts and tied the jacket around her waist.

“Ready,” she whispered to her reflection, but her eyes were still wide and her hands still trembled. 

Out in the corridor of the mall, a group of boys gawked at her with their jaws nearly slamming to the floor and their eyes greedily roaming her body. An old couple looked downright appalled when their heads craned towards her as she passed. Sansa wrapped her arms around her middle and picked up her pace.

She scanned the front of the music store again and waited for the crowd up ahead to disperse. Slowly, a group of pimply pre-teens comparing cassette tape purchases wandered on and, standing at the entrance of the music store, muscled with long black hair, was the cardboard cutout of Slash. Her heart sank and Sansa stopped in the middle of the corridor. She checked her watch only to find she was five minutes late.

Maybe he forgot.

She licked at the cherry gloss on her lips and shifted from side-to-side, trying in earnest not to pout, or worse, cry. She stared at the music store with weak knees that refused to propel her forward and her head dropped so that her chin was nearly tucked against her chest. She hardly noticed the small hallway to her left or the figure lurking within it.

A hand coiled hard around her wrist and pulled her into the hall. Sansa yelped in surprise and struggled feebly against the firm grip, but a large hand covered her mouth. Sandor towered over her and grinned like a mad man, eyes dazzling as though he’d been watching her the whole time. He pushed her soundly against the wall, his body flush with hers and warm against her skin.

“You scared me!” Sansa scolded when Sandor removed his hand and pressed it to the wall beside her head. Her heart pounded in her chest, deafening in her ears, and her knees shook again with a different sort of weakness. She struggled to regain her breath; tiny gasps came through parted lips and she stared up at him.

“My apologies,” Sandor murmured. With his head dipping towards her, his lips brushed softly against her mouth as he spoke. He let his lips linger, teasing her with an anticipated kiss that never quite came. Sansa could feel the warmth of his breath hitting her lips. He smelled like leather and aftershave, musky and masculine.

Impatient, she lurched forward, but Sandor pulled back with an amused grin and throaty chuckle. His hands engulfed her waist and his gaze leisurely swept over her form, ambling over her breasts, across her midriff, and down the length of her legs.

“Goddamn,” he exhaled with a widening smile as his thumbs tucked beneath her crop top and lace bra. Sandor slowly traced the underside of her breasts with each thumb. Starting with her legs and up through her arms and shoulders, chills radiated through her body. Her head fell back against the wall in a gentle thud. Sansa smoothed her hands over the front of Sandor’s leather jacket. If she busied her fingers, he might not notice how they trembled.

She found it hard to meet his gaze and she instead studied the faded print of the Black Sabbath shirt he wore. Her fingers traced the pattern of the letters. Loops and lines, she kept tracing until Sandor removed one hand from her waist and tucked it beneath her chin. With a subtle urge, he lifted her head until she matched his eyes.

 “Don’t be nervous,” he spoke on a quiet breath. “I’d say we’re well beyond that,” he added with a laugh. Sansa felt a timid smile creep across her lips and her hands slid up the front of his shirt until her arms snaked around his neck.

“I know,” she whispered with a nod and her gaze swept from his chest to his face. 

Sandor’s hair, normally left loose around his shoulders, was pulled back into a neat ponytail. He was clean-shaven too, Sansa noticed. Though they hadn’t gone so terribly long without seeing one another, she noticed things about him she’d forgotten, the smallest details of his features—the small scar above his left eye, the way his eyes were a pale grey in fluorescent light, the shape of his face.

His other scars weren’t so terrible to look at either and she admired how he let her look. Perhaps it was a show of trust and she bit her lip to suppress another smile until Sandor eased forward. With one hand cupping her cheek, he pressed his mouth to hers in a warm kiss, delicate and tender at first. Sansa’s lips parted and she tugged on Sandor’s leather jacket until he was flush against her once more.

Sandor responded by bucking his hips in smooth, slow motions and deepened the kiss with a steady urgency. The hand at her cheek disappeared beneath her skirt and, cupping her ass firmly, Sandor lifted Sansa up. With her back against the wall, her legs easily found their place wrapped around his waist and her arms coiled tighter around his neck as she drew him closer. 

Her skirt rode high up her thighs, exposing the full length of her legs as she met the rolling movements of Sandor’s hips with timid writhing of her own. His other hand cupped the fullness of her breast. His fingers gently traced the curve of her cleavage before curling beneath the lace of her bra and brushing against her nipple. 

His touch—a gentle caress, yet entirely wanting, strained and yearning—felt divine against her skin, eliciting goosebumps with each sweep of his fingers across her nipple and each roll of his hips against the emerging wetness between her legs. The smell of his cologne mingled with sweat and the leather of his jacket was intoxicating. Her head swam and her heart thrummed once more in a heated cadence. Sandor’s warmth, his touch, and his scent conjured an unbidden moan to escape Sansa’s lips and her legs wrapped tighter around his waist. 

“Do you mind!” a woman’s voice sharply scolded. Their writing rhythm abruptly stopped and Sansa and Sandor both turned in unison to see a middle-aged woman cup her hand over her child’s eyes.

“Sorry,” Sansa replied breathlessly and smoothed down the front of her skirt after Sandor set her down. The woman glared at them with a furious scowl as she huffed and puffed all the way down the hall towards the bathrooms. 

“Should’ve gone to my place,” Sandor teased with a chuckle. 

“I know,” Sansa relented and turned towards him. She interlaced her fingers with his and gazed up at him.

The devilish grin on his lips suited him somehow. His black cowboy boots added a few more inches of height and that suited him too. All the things that set him apart—his height, his strength, the unabashed way he carried himself—Sansa doted on them all and now found herself in the predicament of not being able to take her eyes off of him. 

Sandor wrapped his arms around her and pulled her closer to his chest. They stood together in the middle of the hall—Sansa tucked against him, cheek pressed to the fabric of his shirt, breathing in him while Sandor smoothed his hand over her back.

I missed you, she wanted to say, the beginnings of her declarations. Sansa shifted in Sandor’s arms and rested her chin against his chest. He smiled, dipped down, and pressed his lips to hers in one small, sweet kiss. 

“Let’s go before that stone-cold bitch comes back with her fucking kid,” he murmured. His hand slipped into hers and together they headed into the main corridor of the mall with Sandor leading the way.  

People stared as they passed—more old people looking on with shock and horror at the nice little suburban girl holding hands with a rock n’ roll hellion; more middle-aged women casting judgmental glances and smiling to themselves because they went home to investment bankers or lawyers or rich doctors; more teenagers awkwardly gawking at Sansa’s breasts and peering at Sandor in equal measures of terror and awe. 

If Sandor noticed, he didn’t let on. Instead, he kept his eyes straight ahead and his boots pounded against the ground with every stride, but his grip on Sansa’s hand coiled tighter when men let their eyes linger too long on her bare midriff or legs. She didn’t ask where they were going. It didn’t matter. All she wanted was alone time with him, somewhere they could talk and she could tell him how she thought of him all the time too. Somewhere he could pull her onto his lap and kiss her the way she wanted him to without people interrupting. Somewhere he could touch her and hold her and it wouldn’t matter if anyone saw.

The crowds thinned with each storefront they passed. They headed straight into the heart of retail wasteland; lonely looking shops with barren shelves boasting forgotten tchotchkes and one department store signaling the end of the road. Bored workers rested against glass displays of jewelry and watches, staring out into the quiet space vacant of shoppers. Around the corner from the department store was a small nook with a bench and a side exit probably used by no one.

Sandor let go of her hand and eased down onto the bench. He rested his elbows on his knees and threaded his fingers together in front of him. Sansa sat down next to him and allowed a buffer of space between them. She crossed her legs politely, but her foot bounced nervously and she chewed her lip again.

“Where are your band mates?” she asked and fought the urge to chip at her nail polish.

“Around here somewhere,” Sandor shrugged. “Probably trying to pick up chicks. I told them I’d meet them in about an hour.”

Sansa nodded, though she didn’t quite care where the rest of Cannibal Star was. The question merely bought her time as she collected the stray bits of her thoughts and haphazardly wove them into coherent strings of words.

“Sandor,” she began softly. 

“Little bird.” Sandor gazed in her direction, head turned slightly over his shoulder. He smiled at her—the fondness quite evident—but so too was the space between them. His eyes drifted to that space and then back to her.

“About yesterday, when we were on the phone.” Sansa swiveled towards him and scooted closer. Her knees tentatively grazed his; a small touch, but her cheeks blazed once more.

Just tell him. Just be honest.

“Yeah?” Sandor’s brows quirked with expectant curiosity.

All her words—sincere and doting, flowery and sweet—fell to pieces. If she spoke now, they’d be a jumbled mess. She wrung her hands together, both palms now coated in a fine sheen of sweat. A broad grin bloomed across Sandor’s lips as if he understood, somehow eliciting forbidden knowledge of Sansa’s thoughts just by studying the way she blushed and how she could no longer look him in the eye, 

“Are you wondering if I was jacking off while we were on the phone last night?” he chuckled darkly.

“What?” Sansa gaped at him. She had no doubt that he had been and the thought no longer rendered her scandalized and vaguely horrified. Instead, it was tantalizing; the thought of him thinking of her in that way, taking himself in hand, and making absolutely no bones about it. 

“Oh. No. I mean…I just…” Sansa fumbled through her words, like she knew she would. The gracelessness with which she spoke and the timid hesitance, Sandor noticed this as well and a grimace now formed on his face with mounting frustration. He eased back against the bench and rested his hands behind his head. 

“I’ll try to keep it under wraps next time,” he offered with a wink when Sansa turned to him. 

Her heart sank to the far depths of her chest, plummeting to her stomach where the butterflies fled and left a hollowed sense of want and her own frustration. This was their only night together this week and she was making a fine mess of it. Tongue-tied, though she had so much to say, Sansa let her eyes fall to her lap. 

“No, that’s not what…nevermind,” she faltered again and when she looked at Sandor, his head was cocked slightly to the side. He took her hand and gave a gentle squeeze. 

“What I’m trying to say is,” Sansa started once more, encouraged by the way his thumb stroked gently over the top of her wrist. “When you said you were always thinking about me.” Sansa pulled in a deep breath and swept her gaze back to him, intent to look him in the eyes when she spoke. “Sandor, I just…I want you to know…that was… you are…” 

Her eyes squeezed shut and Sansa heaved a sigh. She heard Sandor exhale a quiet laugh and felt as he shifted closer to her. One of his hands cupped her cheek and his lips gently met hers. Sansa wrapped her arms around his neck and sighed into the kiss when he pulled her closer.

“What’s gotten into you tonight?” he murmured between kisses. His tongue swept across her lips and the butterflies returned at once. “Just spill it.” He kissed her cheek and then her forehead before draping his arm across her shoulders. Sansa rested her head against his chest and intertwined her fingers in his. 

She relished his warmth and breathed him in deeply, savoring the way he smelled and the way his fingers brushed over her shoulder and through the strands of her hair. Sitting up, Sansa turned towards Sandor and pulled her legs onto the bench. A contented smile tugged on her lips as he continued playing with her hair. 

“My dad heard our phone conversation on Sunday.”

It was the wrong confession. She had no intention of reliving the embarrassing details, but the words flew off her tongue quicker than she could stop them. She buried her face in her palms and the rest of her confession came muffled through intermittent giggles of sheer mortification.

“The one where you said…the thing about wanting to…well…the one with all the sexual stuff. I had to sit through this really awkward lecture about safe sex. Totally awful!”

Sansa pulled her hands away from her face when Sandor erupted into laughter, his voice bellowing throughout the vacuous hall in an echo. Sitting up, Sandor shrugged, nonplussed and entirely unapologetic.

“Well, tell your Pops that I take your sexual education very seriously,” he intoned on a sultry voice and lifted one brow at Sansa. 

“Oh really?” she taunted through a giggle. 

Sandor’s hands coiled around her forearms and with a sudden tug, he pulled her onto his lap. A small yelp escaped Sansa’s lips followed immediately with more laughter. His arms wrapped around the small of her back and his lips slowly grazed the length of her neck. His hands gripped her hips and conducted her movements—slow, grinding circles, writhing against his lap again and she could feel his hardness between her legs along with another flush of wetness. 

“I’ll teach you everything you need to know,” he groaned in her ear before sucking gently on her earlobe. One of Sandor’s hands moved from her hip and grazed up her thigh, disappearing beneath her skirt. His fingers tentatively brushed between her legs, stroking gently on the outside of her panties. A finger hooked beneath her underwear, pulling it to the side and his thumb swept softly through the wetness pooled between her legs. He worked lingering circles at her clit and Sansa rolled her hips to meet his movements. Her head lolled back and her eyes fluttered closed with a quiet sigh. 

“That’s very considerate of you,” she whispered breathless. “I’ll keep your selfless gesture between us, though.” 

Sansa pressed her chest against Sandor’s, seeking out his lips in a fervor when two of his fingers slipped between her legs. Gripping his shoulders, Sansa eased herself up the length of his fingers and back down in steady movements. She moaned quietly on an exhale, his thumb continued to brush with delicious delicacy at her clit, and Sansa’s movements were no longer subtle. She writhed against him and her fingernails dug at his shoulders.

“We’re about to have an audience,” Sandor mumbled in her ear and reluctantly pulled his hand from between her legs. “Let’s take this somewhere else.” 

“Oh!” Sansa gasped and turned her head coyly over her shoulder. An old man wandered around the corner just as Sansa extracted herself from Sandor’s lap. Too polite or perhaps too senile to notice, the man waddled past them without a second glance in their direction.

Sandor stood and a distinct outline of his erection was clearly visible against the tight fabric of his jeans. He reached down to readjust himself, though it hardly made a difference, and took her hand. In the adjacent department store, a woman at the jewelry counter flipped through a magazine as Sansa and Sandor passed. She gave a distracted nod by way of greeting and continued thumbing through the pages.   

Deeper into the store, Sansa followed Sandor towards racks of clothing and mannequins adorned in the latest styles. The far corner of the store was empty and obscurely quiet, save the sound of saxophone music drifting from speakers in the ceiling. Sandor turned to Sansa and pulled her against him. His lips crashed into hers and his hand cupped the fullness of her ass with a deliberate squeeze. 

“Wasn’t there a dress or something you wanted to try on?” he grumbled against her mouth, his panting breaths hot against her lips. 

“Yes. This.” Preoccupied with the urgency of his mouth hungry against hers—tongue sweeping against her lips and hands running against the silhouette of her curves and cupping her breasts—Sansa blindly reached out to the rack next to her. Her hand coiled around the first hanger she felt and she ripped it from the rack.

The article of clothing was a god-awful sweater vest, something her grandma would probably find attractive. With a mischievous smile, Sansa tugged on Sandor’s hand and pulled him towards the dressing rooms at the back of the store. His free arm coiled around Sansa’s waist and he pulled her against him until her back was flush against his chest. His lips savored her neck, teeth raking against her skin in gentle nips and soft licks. In cautious steps, they rounded the corner and stumbled into an empty fitting room. Sandor kicked the door shut and firmly secured the lock while Sansa tossed the granny sweater to the corner of the dressing room.

He pinned her against the wall and his fingers worked quickly to loosen the jacket tied around her waist. When it fell to the floor, Sansa lifted her arms above her head and Sandor pulled her crop top off, tossing it behind him before he shucked out of his leather jacket and Black Sabbath shirt. 

Sansa’s gaze landed squarely against the muscled contours of his chest. If she didn’t count all the times she shamelessly gazed at the Cannibal Star poster hung over Arya’s bed, Sansa had only seen him shirtless once; the night she was serendipitously dragged to a Cannibal Star show. Her fingers ran up the taut expanse of his stomach and across the broadness of his shoulders. Her ministrations were rewarded with an enticing moan that eased from Sandor’s lips, though his mouth was once more at her neck.

He slipped her bra straps off her shoulders and his lips traced her collarbone in lingering movements, brushing gently with intermittent kisses until he trailed towards the curve of her breasts. Reaching behind her, Sansa unhooked her bra and dropped it to the floor. Sandor cupped her breasts and his tongue worked in tight circles over each nipple before he lifted his head and stared down at her naked chest.

“You’ve got glitter all over you. Have you been at the strip club or something?” he asked with a wicked smile.

“No! Have you?” Sansa feigned offense and swatted his arm.

“Don’t need to. I’ve got you,” Sandor declared. His smile faded and his eyes darkened as they roamed her body once more. “Take your clothes off.”

“Why?” Sansa whispered. Her words terminated in a kiss and she nipped lightly at his bottom lip. 

“Why?” he repeated. One hand palmed her breast and the other slid down her stomach beneath her skirt and panties. “Because I want to taste you and lick you until you scream for more. Remember?” His mouth hovered over hers and his fingers stopped short of dipping between her legs. “Now take these off,” he commanded on a groan and one finger tugged on her panties.

“You take them off.” Sansa pressed her back against the wall and matched his eyes through a sultry gaze. She licked her bottom lip and bucked her hips against him. 

Sandor’s hand slipped behind her back and unzipped her skirt, which fell to the floor and pooled at her feet. Sansa stepped out of it as Sandor planted his hands against the wall on either side of her shoulders. Leaning forward, his tongue ran between her breasts and down her stomach, interrupted here and there with dawdling kisses divine against her bare skin. He stopped just as his lips reached her panties and he eased himself down onto his knees. His hands engulfed her hips and held them firmly against the wall.

He gazed up at her as his fingers hooked beneath her panties on each side of her hips. Chest heaving and heart pounding wild in her chest, Sansa watched as her underwear slid slowly down her thighs, stopping just above her knees. Sandor continued to hold her gaze as his tongue dipped between her folds and swept over her clit in one smooth, slow circle followed by another slower circle and yet another, even slower still. Sansa’s head fell back against the wall and a shudder moved through her body. Her underwear fell the rest of the way to the floor. Sandor’s hand smoothed up the inside of her thigh. His tongue lapped at her wetness and a finger slipped inside of her.

Sansa draped one leg over Sandor’s shoulder and reached above her head to grip the clothing hook for balance. Sandor urged her legs further apart and his lips worked in concert with his tongue. He sucked gently on her clit and slipped another finger between her legs. A whimper escaped Sansa’s lips and, unbidden, her hips rolled to meet each flicker of his tongue and the soft fullness of his lips between her legs.

The deep grumbling of Sandor’s groans came muffled and his hand gripped her ass, pulling her closer to him as the cadence of his tongue and lips carried on with an unrelenting crescendo. Sansa’s legs trembled and she felt her knees weakening. Her moans came louder, breathier, and with heaving sighs pouring from her lips. Each sound she made seemed to urge Sandor on, his ministrations building until a blinding wave of pleasure barreled through her.

Sandor’s thumb brushed against her clit and his tongue replaced the fingers buried inside of her to work in deft, shallow circles. The mounting pressure between her legs accompanied a sudden flush of wetness and Sandor moaned, his breathless pants sending chills up her spine. He kept his motions steady, following each quiver of her body and matching it to the movements of his lips, tongue, and thumb still sending jolts of ecstasy through her body, manifesting in incoherent moans that sang from her lips.

Lost in the sensations buzzing through her, Sansa didn’t immediately register the banging at the fitting room door, not until Sandor suddenly stopped his movements.

“Sir, is everything alright in there?” a man’s voiced hollered insistently. 

Sandor’s forehead rested against Sansa’s stomach and she could feel the warm bursts of his exhaled breaths against her skin. 

“Fuck off. Everything’s fine,” he grumbled. The shadowed figure outside the dressing room loitered momentarily before retreating in heavy footfalls. Once the man was gone, Sandor sighed softly against Sansa’s stomach before delivering a flurry of kisses against her side. She erupted into giggles at the tickling sensation of his lips brushing against her skin. 

“God knows I love the sounds you’re making, but you’ve got to be quiet,” Sandor laughed when he rose to his feet. His fingers traced against her cheek and he pressed a kiss to her lips. “Can you do that for me?” he murmured.

Resting her palms against his bare chest, Sansa shook her head. She lifted her eyes to Sandor who stared down at her with brows drawn together in confusion. 

“No?” he breathed incredulously. His eyes roved over her nakedness and he bit his bottom lip hard as a groan rumbled within his chest. Her bare breasts were still rising and falling and the taut buds of her pink nipples were still hard. Sandor’s hand cupped her breast, his thumb swiping over her nipple.  His eyes continued down between her legs where she was still wet and wanting.

“No,” Sansa repeated and slipped her hand in Sandor’s. She tugged him over to the chair in the corner of the dressing room. With her hands planted against his shoulders, Sansa urged him to sit and he obliged by slumping into the chair. His hands rested on Sansa’s hips and he continued to stare at her, drinking in the sight of her with an aching desire heavy in his eyes.

Standing between his legs, Sansa lowered herself to her knees and Sandor ran one hand over his face, heaving a languished sigh into his palm. He gazed down at her and stroked his fingers through her hair. 

“We should have gone to my place,” he asserted and licked his lip as he watched Sansa unzip his pants. 

“Oh yeah? What would we be doing there?” Sansa returned his gaze with a coquettish smile and tugged at his pants until they were around his ankles. 

“You’d be on all fours and I’d be fucking you senseless. You could make as much noise as you want.” Sandor’s thumb traced over Sansa’s bottom lip and her fingers tucked beneath the band of his boxers.

“On all fours, huh? I think I’d like that or maybe I still want my ride.” Sansa gazed up at him as she pulled down his boxers. Sandor took the hardened length of his cock in his hand, fingers coiled around its thickness and his thumb tracing circles over the top.

“I never said you couldn’t have both.” Sandor released his cock and let both of his hands settle behind his head. “Remember what I told you about that ride. Take it anytime you want, girl.”

Sansa pressed her hands against his thighs and scooted towards him. She was still soaking wet and aching between the legs. His tongue and mouth were divine, but she couldn’t stop the thoughts running through her head—her writhing on his lap, easing up and down the length of his cock, and Sandor’s hands at her hips, guiding her movements.  

“I want to, but not in a dressing room.” Sansa lifted one brow at Sandor. He took her hand and wrapped her fingers around his cock, coaxing her palm to slide up and down with constant rhythm.

“Of course, not in a dressing room,” he chuckled on a husky exhale and let go of her hand. Sansa continued stroking his length, marveling at the way his lips parted and his words quivered when he spoke. “I’ll want to take my time with you, little bird. I want to hear all the pretty little moans coming from your pretty little mouth. But for now, there’s something else I want you to do with that pretty little mouth.”

Sansa licked her bottom lip and nodded gently with a soft smile. Sandor gathered up her hair in his hand and watched intently as Sansa pressed her lips to the tip of his cock. She stared up at him, uncertain as she ran her tongue in circles where her lips had been. Sandor gave a small nod of his head and closed his eyes as his head fell back against the wall.

With her hand working the base of his cock, Sansa took as much of him into her mouth as she could. Each tentative suck elicited a heavy sigh from Sandor’s lips and Sansa followed the sound, her tongue swiping tender circles as his tongue had done with her.

Sandor’s hips began to writhe and her rhythm matched each rolling motion, her hand continuing to stroke and her lips caressing his hard manhood with gradual pressure. Restrained moans sounded on each exhale and Sansa gazed up at him. Sandor had thrown one arm over his eyes and his bare chest heaved with each breath.

She willed her movements into the same tantalizing concert as Sandor had paid her. Relaxing her jaw, she flicked her tongue against the head of his cock and she took him in deeper. Her rhythm gradually gained in speed, each pass rewarded with another pleasured groan, louder than the last and the hand at the back of her head led her movements.

“Goddamn, Sansa. Just like that,” Sandor groaned, a deep rumble sounding heavily through his lips. Beneath her, she could feel Sandor tensing. His legs squeezed hard against her shoulders and his writhing movements stopped abruptly. He pushed her away and his hand groped against the floor. Sansa settled back on her knees and wiped her lips with the back of her hand.

Sandor’s hand engulfed his cock and, after two quick strokes, he doubled over with the hideous sweater vest balled in his lap and soaking up his seed. Sandor slumped back in the chair and tossed the sweater vest to the corner of the dressing room. His chest still heaved and his face was flushed, his brow covered in thin beads of sweat.

“Come here.” With fatigued eyes, Sandor extended one arm in Sansa’s direction.

She pushed herself from the floor and crawled carefully into his lap. Curled in his arms, Sandor engulfed her lips with warm, deliberate kisses. The rhythm waned and Sansa rested her head against Sandor’s chest. She listened to his heartbeat, which gradually quieted after a few moments.

“Now I’m sleepy,” she confessed and buried her head in the crook of his neck.

“Me too,” Sandor responded with a contented sigh. “I think we have to get going though,” he added reluctantly.

Sansa hadn’t bothered to check her watch. Preoccupied with the myriad of sensations buzzing through her body, time was the furthest thing from her mind now and she couldn’t be bothered with it. With a quick check of her watch, Sansa realized just how lost in time she’d been. Fifteen minutes past the hour and fifteen minutes late. Sandor turned her wrist towards him, reading the time and overcome with a similar sense of urgency.

“Fuck! I was supposed to meet Harwin and Bronn at eight.”

Sansa hopped from his lap and Sandor flew from the chair. The two of them snatched clothing from the floor, tossing each other bits and pieces of attire. Another banging rattled against the dressing room door and two shadowed forms were on the other side now.

“There are two pairs of legs in there!” a man shouted from the other side.

“Yeah, and you’re about to have two black eyes if you don’t get the hell out of here,” Sandor bellowed back as he pulled on his leather jacket.

Sansa slipped back into her shoes and turned towards the mirror. Her hair was a mess, knotted on one side and her skirt now donned deep wrinkles from being crumpled on the floor. She quickly combed her fingers through her hair and gathered up her purse. Sandor flung open the door and the two men on the other side gaped at him with wide-eyes.

“You two need to leave i-i-immediately and I m-m-mean it,” a pudgy security guard stammered. Next to him, a balding middle-aged sales associate with an indignant scowl crossed his arms tightly over his chest, just below his proudly displayed name tag. Taking Sansa’s hand, Sandor barreled out of the dressing and back through the department store. The ladies at the perfume counter whispered to one another when Sandor and Sansa hurried past. 

They retreated down the open corridor of the mall, past the rows of stores, some with their gates down and fatigued sales associates counting out change in the registers or dusting shelves and sweeping floors. Sandor gripped Sansa’s hand tight and quickened his pace, each of his steps hitting the tile with a pounding thud.

The security guard wheezed each of his breaths and scampered somewhere behind them as he struggled to keep up. When Sansa turned over her shoulder, the security guard’s cheeks were ruddy and his eyes were wide, half-petrified and half-determined to do his job, even if it meant taking two black eyes in the process.

At the south entrance, Margaery and Jeyne waited near the doors, both girls propped against the far right wall with their bags at their feet. Margaery’s back was pressed firmly against the wall, as though she were trying to melt into her surroundings and she gazed out the doors, contemplating her escape perhaps. Jeyne looked positively disgusted. Her upper lip curled into something like a snarl and her eyes narrowed into icy slivers, launching daggers across the front entrance towards the opposite wall.

Across from Margaery and Jeyne, Bronn and Harwin whistled and hollered at girls walking by. In a tattered black T-shirt, cut off at the sleeves and with low slinging black jeans bearing half of his chiseled mid-riff, Bronn paid every passing female some variation of the same lewd compliment: a comment about their ass or their tits.

Harwin cracked shy smiles at Bronn’s antics and smoothed back the teased tresses of his bleach blond hair. He nervously adjusted the red bandana tied at his forehead and toyed with the wallet chains hanging across his hip. Bronn’s bawdy hoots and Harwin’s hearty laughs echoed through the south entrance corridor, each round causing Jeyne and Margaery to visibly cringe with repulsion.

Jeyne turned an annoyed glance in Margaery’s direction, but her eyes swept to Sansa and Sandor as they approached. Her gaze landed squarely on Sansa’s fingers interlaced with Sandor’s. By some shameful instinct, one she had no control over, Sansa’s fingers slipped from Sandor’s hand and her arms fell tightly to her side, elbows digging into her ribcage.

Sandor’s gaze felt heavy against her skin with an unfamiliar weight. If she looked at him now, she’d be filled with another wave of shame, but there was more than one instinct she had no control over. Though she bid them not to, her eyes flickered towards him and she momentarily caught the confounded way his brows furrowed at her. His attention was drawn suddenly to Jeyne who darted towards Sansa.

“Sansa! Where were you? We didn’t know what happened!” the girl screeched and her shrill voice drifted through the empty corridor. Interrupted from their amorous pursuits, Harwin and Bronn pushed themselves from the wall and ambled towards the commotion.

“We have to leave now,” Sansa quietly pleaded when Jeyne stared at her in pure terror as Harwin and Bronn fell in by Sandor’s side.

At once, a circle of people had enveloped them—Jeyne and Margaery stared at Sansa with sudden concern and confusion; Harwin and Bronn still cracked jokes and tossed salacious smiles at Jeyne and Margaery; and the poor security guard looked as though he was going to piss his pants.

“Oh my god! Who are they?” Jeyne shrieked and narrowed her eyes at Sandor’s band mates. “Looks like they got lost on the way to a Judas Priest concert.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Bronn shouted with evident affront as he stepped towards Jeyne. Sandor’s arm shot up and he pushed Bronn back with a forceful shove. “Man, these chicks aren’t coming to Milwaukee, are they?” Harwin added.

“In your dreams, sleaze ball!” Jeyne retorted petulantly with her nose wrinkled in disgust.

“Please, just stop.” Sansa gripped Jeyne’s shoulders and glared at the girl.

“More like in our nightmares, bitch!” Bronn’s voice echoed loudly and Harwin commenced with raucous laughter once more.  

“Stop, man! Come on!” Sandor shouted above the Harwin’s laughter and Jeyne’s incessant yammering of insults.

Sansa’s head spun and the circle felt claustrophobic, as though everyone were lurching towards one another, snarling and laughing and yelling. Her skin flushed now with embarrassment at her own stupid lies as well as anger that she’d partaken in such elaborate deceit in the first place. Tears pricked her eyes and the night outside beckoned with the cool, quiet solace of an autumn night.

“We’ve got to go,” Sansa insisted shakily as she turned to Margaery. She thought to find sympathy from her friend, but instead the girl nodded curtly and refused to look at Sansa. Margaery silently pulled her car keys from her purse and gathered up her shopping bags with a disappointed grimace forming on her lips.

“What happened? Are you okay?” Jeyne demanded when she looped her arm in Sansa’s and began to lead her away.

“She’s fine. She was in good hands with me.” Sandor gripped Sansa’s shoulder and tugged her back towards him. Jeyne responded with a hard yank on Sansa’s arm.

“Oh, I’m so sure!” Jeyne sneered and pried Sandor’s fingers off of Sansa’s shoulder. “Get off her, you creep!”

Releasing herself from the tug-of-war, Sansa pulled her arm away from Jeyne and stepped backwards until she was by Sandor’s side. She tucked her hand into his, but his fingers were limp, refusing to interlace with hers as they had before.

“No, Jeyne. It’s not like that. This is Sandor. Sandor, this is Margaery and Jeyne.”

Margaery cracked a faint smile, a product of learned courtesies more than anything else, and she glanced at Sandor with her nose high in the air. Sansa had seen that look before and knew the cruel words that usually followed, all the ways Margaery haughtily declared her disgust.

Jeyne wasn’t so smart as Margaery and she gaped at Sandor as though understanding had only just now been gifted to her. She stared at Sandor’s scars with a renewed repulsion flashing over her face, obvious enough that Sandor undoubtedly noticed.

“Ladies,” Sandor nodded his head in Margaery and Jeyne’s direction before turning to his band mates who’d fallen silent. “This is Harwin and Bronn. They’re not as bad as they look,” he quipped, but an awkward silence followed.

“Eww, you actually know them?” Jeyne spun towards Sansa. The bright pink lipstick on her mouth made her teeth look yellow in the fluorescent light.

“Take that stick out of your ass and you can get to know us too, sweetheart,” Harwin countered. The bangle bracelets he wore gently clanked as his palm landed against Bronn’s in a high five.

“All of you have two minutes to vacate before—” the security guard intervened suddenly. His face was still red and now he looked like he was going to cry. 

“Before you call the real cops? Fuck off, man. I told you we were leaving,” Sandor snapped furiously and the circle fell silent at the bellowing outburst. 

Margaery and Jeyne appeared equally horrified. Harwin and Bronn averted their eyes to the floor or ceiling. Sansa felt fresh tears threatening to spill down her cheeks. The night was ruined, an utter disaster now as her web of deceit slowly started to unfurl. Jeyne lifted one finger and pointed at Sandor, but looked to Sansa with an astonished smile. 

“Wait, Sansa. Is this the football player you were meeting?” she asked on a condescending giggle. “He doesn’t look like any of the football players I know. Please tell me this isn’t the guy you’re seeing. God! That would be disgusting to the max!”

“He’s not on the football team, Jeyne,” Margaery murmured quietly.

Harwin and Bronn burst into sudden laughter, doubling over and gripping their sides as they gasped for breaths. Sansa stared pleadingly at Sandor and turned towards him.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered and buried her face against his arm, fingers clenching tighter around his hand. 

Sandor stared at his feet and bit his lip, nodding slowly and releasing his fingers from her grip.

“We’ve got to get on the road,” he said. His voice rumbled from his chest, quiet yet firm. “It was a pleasure as always, Sansa.”

His countenance was stoic and impassible now and she might have easily mistaken it for anger. He glanced towards her fleetingly and Sansa saw the hurt fracturing through his hardened reserve. It wasn’t anger that vexed him, she realized.

“Nice to meet you, ladies,” Sandor added politely before trailing after Harwin and Bronn. The three of them headed towards the Cannibal Star van parked at the end of the outside walkway.

“Well, you have a lot of explaining to do, Sansa,” Jeyne lectured. One hand rested on her hip and the other wagged a finger in Sansa’s face. “I certainly hope you haven’t already asked that piece of scum to homecoming. No way in hell—”

Sansa lurched towards Jeyne, the abruptness sending the girl stumbling backwards a few steps.

“Fuck you, Jeyne,” Sansa seethed through clenched teeth. Her nose hovered a few inches from the girl’s petrified face. 

“Excuse me?” Jeyne gasped and her mouth hung open. Sansa noted how she looked like a fish, how her hair was teased too much, and how her eye shadow was an ugly shade of blue.

“You heard me,” she replied, deliberately marking her words, and her eyes narrowed. “You really should pull the stick out of your Montana-sized ass.”

Jeyne and Margaery gasped in unison and surely had something to say about Sansa’s outburst, her lies, and the guy she was seeing. By the time the girls had gotten over their utter shock, Sansa was already gone. She ran towards the doors of the mall and burst through. Outside, her feet pounded hard against the pavement.

“Sandor! Wait!” she shouted. The night was chilly and her ragged breaths steamed from her lips in white puffs. 

At the end of the walkway, Sandor, Harwin, and Bronn all turned towards the commotion of her running and frantic shouts.   

“Holy shit,” Bronn mumbled. The van door flew open and Thoros poked his head out. Smoke billowed from the backseat and a cigarette rested between his lips. 

“Give me a minute,” Sandor said and began towards Sansa.

He approached in uncertain steps and stopped in front of her. Sansa’s fingers coiled against the sleeves of her jacket that covered half of her palms. She shifted uneasily on her feet. The members of Cannibal Star watched and listened in earnest, their ears tuning to whatever they could hear and their eyes alight with sudden interest. Sansa ignored them. She didn’t quite care anymore who heard what she had to say. She sucked in a deep breath and lifted her eyes to Sandor.

“What I was trying to say earlier, but it didn’t come out right, is that I think about you all the time too, Sandor. I mean that. I don’t care what my friends think or what my dad thinks. I don’t care what anyone thinks. You’re the one I want. I choose you. And I’m sorry. I lied to my friends because I didn’t think they’d understand and obviously they don’t, but that doesn’t matter. You’re what matters. Only you.” 

The words weren’t lacquered in sweetness like the lyrics of all those candy-coated pop songs. In the end, her declaration was simple and flustered. Her heart nearly pounded out of her chest and her voice was tremulous. When she finished, her gaze had drifted to the ground and she stared at her feet with great interest because she was too afraid to see him look at her with disappointment or hurt.

Sandor took a sudden step forward. In an instant, she was wrapped in his arms, one securely around her shoulders and the other at the small of her back. He yanked her towards him and she careened into him. His lips met hers in an urgent kiss and, when she gasped in surprise, his tongue swept effortlessly against her own. Cheers erupted from the Cannibal Star van, each member of the band howling like a feral wolf and shouting out raunchy encouragements.

“Good. I choose you too, little bird,” Sandor whispered against her lips when he broke the kiss. With her arms draped around his neck, Sansa rolled onto the tips of her toes. Her lips brushed his in a tender kiss. She pressed her nose to his and smiled.

“That’s fucking love, man,” Bronn commented from inside the van and Sansa responded with a quiet laugh.

“Wanna come to Milwaukee tonight?” Sandor asked.

Sansa glanced towards the mall where Jeyne and Margaery emerged through the doors. Jeyne snickered when she saw Sansa pressed against Sandor, her arms still wrapped tightly around his neck and his lips delivering kisses against her cheek. She thought only momentarily about what her father might say, the way he might consider her with dubious eyes that saw too much, including the hidden secrets of her smiles. 

I’ll deal with it another day.

“Yes,” Sansa whispered without a second thought and certainly no regrets.

Sandor took her hand and they hurried towards the van. Cannibal Star broke out into a round of applause as Sansa and Sandor approached. Beric’s falsetto voice drifted out the driver side window and he pounded his fist against the side of the van.

“Hell yeah! Sansa’s coming with us!” his voice warbled loudly as Sansa climbed into the back seat and Sandor followed.

The rest of Cannibal Star piled in and the door of the van slammed shut. Bronn leaned across Beric towards the open driver’s window. Margaery and Jeyne stood at the end of the walkway gaping at the Cannibal Star van, painted a glossy black with a snarling hellhound on the side.

“She’s one of us now!” Bronn shouted and cranked up the radio.

The sound of wailing guitars and driving drum beats poured through the speakers and out the window. Bronn thrashed his head to the music, teased hair flying and foot stomping against the floorboard of the car. Beric lifted his arm out the window and his fingers formed into metal horns. The tires squealed and the car lurched forward.

In the back seat, Sansa nestled her cheek against Sandor’s chest, breathing in the scent of leather and cologne. She felt him kiss her forehead and his hand brushed down the length of her arm. She smiled to herself, knowing damn well there would be hell to pay for tonight and finding it terribly difficult to care one bit about it.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck 

Chapter Ten

"I got a fever ragin' in my heart, you make me shiver and shake
Baby don't stop, take it to the top, eat it like a piece of cake
You're comin' closer, I can hear you breathe
You drive me crazy when you start to tease"

-Heaven's On Fire, KISS


The ivy lattice’s rhombus-shaped holes fit Arya’s hands and feet nicely. She scaled the side of her house with ease, but the maneuvers no longer challenged her. She knew the routine—up the lattice, tiptoe onto the front porch overhang, pop the screen, nudge open the bedroom window, home free.

Only when she did this now, the bedroom she shared with Sansa was dark—lights off, the door shut to the hallway, and no Sansa in sight. Strange, she mused momentarily before resting her hand against the nightstand for purchase. Carefully, her leg eased into the darkness and the tip of her shoe poked around the floor. Bending and contorting like a cat, Arya managed her way through the window without causing much of a ruckus. A satisfied smile curled across her lips as she flicked on the nightstand’s lamp.

The powder pink phone on Sansa’s nightstand let out a shrill cry, loud enough that Arya yelped with a startle and dashed towards it. Halfway through the second ring, she snatched up the phone and pressed it to her ear.

“Hello,” she half-whispered, expecting Gendry on the other end calling to confirm she’d made it home safely. The boy was daft at times, but she liked to think he wasn’t stupid enough to call while her dad loitered somewhere in the house.

“Arya,” Sansa’s voice came through in a panicked hush. “It’s me!” she added with insistence.

No shit. Arya rolled her eyes and plopped down on the edge of Sansa’s bed. 

“Yeah, I know it’s you.” On the other end of the line, Arya heard the whizzing of passing cars and the wind picking up. “Where are you? It’s almost past curfew. And why are you whispering?”

“I can’t talk long. I need you to cover for me.”

A round of laughter infiltrated Sansa’s words—three, maybe four, men all cutting up and talking over one another. Intrigued, a smile bloomed across Arya’s lips and she twirled the phone’s cord around her index finger.

“Who’s that in the background?” she pressed.

“I’m with Sandor,” Sansa nearly hissed, impatience growing.

Arya’s brow folded in confusion until the realization dawned on her—the other voices sounded familiar.

“Is that…is that Cannibal Star?” she began, voice drawn low with incredulity. Sansa remained silent on the other end. “Woah, woah, woah! Back up a minute. Are you with Cannibal Star, yes or no?”

“Yes. I’m in Milwaukee,” Sansa sighed as if her current situation—hanging out with fucking Cannibal Star—was some trivial, commonplace occurrence. “I need you to make something up. Tell Dad I had to go back to campus for something. Just make it believable and buy me some time. Like, a lot of time.”

“In what twisted reality do you get to live my dream?” Arya huffed indignantly. 

“Arya, how many times have I covered for you?”

The pleading in Sansa’s voice sent a deviant smile to form on Arya’s lips.

“I value quality of lies over quantity. By that metric, zero times,” she responded, mimicking Sansa’s penchant for haughtiness.

An exasperated sigh drifted through the phone, a mix of frustration and emergent disappointment.

“Fine,” Arya relented. “I’ll tell him something, but you owe me big time after this!”

“Thanks. Love you. Bye.” Sansa’s parting words came exuberantly, all running together before the line abruptly went dead. Arya stared at the receiver in her hand and shook her head.

“Lucky bitch,” she murmured before replacing the phone back to its cradle. 

Pushing herself from the bed, Arya crossed the room and poked her head into the darkened hallway. Rickon was already asleep by now. She eased past his room and towards the end of the hall. Bran’s room was empty, the kid likely at some school function—leading band practice, organizing a student council event, poising himself to become some sort of wunderkind, ready to take over the world. Good for him, Arya thought and smiled to herself because at least one Stark kid had their shit together.

Halfway down the stairs, Arya noticed a light in the living room was on, the tall lamp that resided next to the hideous recliner her dad favored so well. The other half of the room, along with the adjacent dining room, was shrouded in darkness. Rising onto her toes, Arya willed her steps towards silence. Her plan was to ease past the living room and straight to the kitchen. It would have worked except the floorboard at the bottom of the stairs creaked loudly against her weight.

“Living room. Now,” she heard her father say, authoritative yet still gentle.

Four, Arya estimated. She’d devised what she called the Ned Stark Rage Scale based solely on his tone of voice or the look on his face. The man normally functioned within the two to six range, but every so often, after his hoard of children relentlessly pushed his buttons, he’d reach a nine. He’d get quiet, but the veins in his neck would bulge and his cheeks turned red. He’d lose it momentarily and then sulk in some parental existential crisis until he ultimately apologized.

Arya slinked around the corner to the living room and put on her brightest smile as she bounced up to the edge of the recliner. She ruffled her fingers through her dad’s salt-and-pepper hair. He swatted her hand away from his head and pointed to the front door.

“Arya, front door. Front door, Arya. It’s high time you two met. You’re tearing up the screen on your bedroom window climbing in like that,” he lectured and folded his newspaper into neat quarters. “I assume that was your sister on the phone. When will she be home?”

“Listening in on phone conversations again? I thought you learned your lesson about that one.”

Arya sunk into the couch and rested her head against the cushion. With her hands folded across her stomach, she stared at the ceiling.

“Is she with that idiot what’s-his-bucket?” her dad grumbled and tossed the newspaper onto the table next to him.

“You know his name,” Arya scolded and cut a glance towards her dad. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed where the pads had dug into the bridge of his nose. 

“Sandork,” he sneered and laughed at the moniker. Arya responded with an exaggerated roll of her eyes.

“That stopped being funny a long time ago. In fact, that was, at no point, actually funny.” She leaned into the padded armrest of the couch, the side of her face cradled in her palm. “Also, he’s a veritable rock god. Show some respect.”

With her free hand, Arya picked at the clumps of lent that invariably clung to the couch. She heard her dad pull in a deep breath, either ready to shout or sigh his frustrations. He favored the latter tonight, probably too exhausted to engage in the former.

“Arya, you need to show me some respect,” he cautioned. “Where is your sister and when will she be home?”

With the question, Arya sat up and turned a serious look towards him, something that usually preceded her lies. Only this time she hadn’t quite devised a foolproof narrative that included contingences should he press for details or question her sincerity.

“She’s in Milwaukee with the Hound and the rest of Cannibal Star,” she replied honestly because, truly, what was the big deal if Sansa was out gallivanting with a metal band? “They’re probably having an orgy right now—everyone just bumpin’ uglies, gettin’ right up in each other’s business. I bet she’s smoking three kinds of pot and—”

“That’s enough,” her father snapped and lifted a hand as if to create a barrier to the rest of Arya’s sardonic diatribe.

“Dad, there’s nothing you can do. Okay?” Arya sighed. “Sandor’s a good guy. He won’t let anything happen to her. She’ll be fine.”

Her dad grimaced at the sound of Sandor’s name, perturbed that anyone might say reasonably kind things about the guy. Nodding, he placed his glasses back on his face.

“I wouldn’t hold out on her coming home tonight, though,” Arya continued carefully. Sansa wanted time, but the clock read well past nine. Whatever Sansa planned on doing tonight—orgies, pot smoking, or otherwise—the girl wasn’t going to be home anytime soon.

“What is that supposed to mean?” The vein in her dad’s neck twitched and, even in the soft light of the lamp next to him, Arya saw red starting to flood his cheeks.

She cocked her head to the side, one eyebrow lifted as she gave her father a pointed look. If she knew damn well why Sansa wasn’t coming home tonight, her dad certainly should know too and she wasn’t about to get trapped in another awkward and excruciating sex talk.

“I never expected this from her,” he mumbled dejectedly and shook his head.

“I’m sorry, but, hey, I’m home on time!” She offered him an enthusiastic and cheesy smile. “At least Sansa and I alternate being disappointing screw-ups.”

Her dad shifted a fatigued glance in her direction and relented. A tired laugh eased from his lips followed by a heavy sigh. Arya pushed herself from the couch and began towards the foyer. Her father lifted one hand to stop her movements and stared up at her with questioning eyes. He hesitated momentarily, measuring his words with his brow folded in contemplative reserve.

“Arya, about that thing with the pot and the orgies, that’s not…I mean, people don’t really…anymore…do they?”

Horrified he’d even think to ask that, Arya gaped at him, not entirely certain if she should respond or laugh away the awkwardness of the question and high tail it back upstairs.

“God, Dad! No!” she screeched. “It’s not the summer of love in the Haight-Ashbury district. Sansa’s in Wisconsin. Wis-con-sin. What trouble could she possibly get into there?”


“Mmm.” Sandor’s deep voice hummed quietly in the far back seat of the van. They’d stopped to get gas and the rest of Cannibal Star wandered off to an empty field next to the gas station to smoke and stretch their legs.

“So everything’s cool?” he asked between kisses pressed against Sansa’s neck. 

“Yeah. It’s fine,” she breathed, hardly content to discuss her call home now. Arya would cover for her. Whether or not her dad actually bought it, Sansa didn’t really care.

As soon as she returned to the van after making the phone call, Sandor had asked—no, told—her to take off her panties again. Without a word of protest, Sansa slid them down her thighs and then calves and Sandor monitored carefully before tugging her onto his lap.

Her crop top had slipped off easily enough and gathered around the small of her waist. Similarly, her bra had disappeared somewhere on the floorboard near Sandor’s feet, probably resting amongst empty beer cans and food wrappers. She didn’t care about that either. Right now, all her thoughts were on the way his hands smoothed over her breasts and his tongue swept across her nipples until they hardened.

Sansa slid back on his legs until her back rested against the seat in front of them. She propped her feet up on the edge of the seat, one foot on each side of Sandor and her legs spread before him.

With the pad of his thumb, he teased her clit in circular motions until Sansa’s back arched and she writhed with his movements. He swiped between her folds, spreading the wetness around in soft strokes and watching his own ministrations between her legs. 

“I want to fuck you,” he declared and stared between her legs. Sansa continued to rock her hips gently against his touch and her knees fell further apart.

In between the waves of pleasure, she discerned the shadowed outlines of Sandor’s bandmates across the parking lot. She saw the glow of their cigarettes move through the darkness. For now, they seemed occupied, but she couldn’t say for how long.

“You do?” Sansa inquired on the dying end of a moan.

She already knew this of course. He’d been murmuring dirty declarations into her ear the whole drive up to Milwaukee. With the music blaring from the van speakers, no one else could’ve possibly heard. Sequestered in the far back seat, the others also didn’t see how Sandor’s hand had slipped underneath her shirt and swept against her nipples. He had guided Sansa’s hand into his pants and she curled her fingers around his cock. In steady motion, she had stroked him as best she could in the small amount of space afforded by the tightness of his jeans.

By the time the other band mates declared they needed to stop, Sansa was soaked between the legs and Sandor looked wholly uncomfortable and frustrated with how hard he’d become.

“We’ll stay in here,” he’d grumbled as his bandmates filed out of the van. They all understood perfectly well the subtext to Sandor’s statement. Bronn winked at them and Beric had laughed wickedly. That’d only been ten minutes ago.

Sandor’s touches now were delicate and meant for him to watch how wet he made her. He seemed hell bent on taking his time, though Sansa wasn’t sure how much time they had.

“I’ve seen one set of lips wrapped around my cock.” Sandor momentarily pulled his hand from between her legs. His fingers glistened from her wetness and he ran his thumb along her bottom lip. “Now I want to see the other.” His eyes drifted down her faintly heaving chest and then back to her folds and swollen clit that ached to be touched again.

Slowly, he eased two fingers inside of her, seemingly admiring how easily they slid in and out. Sansa circled her hips again, urging Sandor’s fingers deeper inside and letting out a sharp moan when his thumb brushed her clit. She wanted more. Her mind raced with thoughts of his cock buried inside of her, covered in the same wetness as his fingers. He’d awakened a part of her she’d kept hidden for so long, shameful and embarrassed it even existed, but now the physical want was coupled with an insatiable urge to explore these desires. Sansa cupped her breasts and swept her fingers over her nipples.

“I’m starting to have suspicions you only want me in inappropriate places.” She gasped when Sandor added a third finger inside of her, all three in a tight bundle that stretched her further. “The backs of cars and vans, fitting rooms…”

“I want you everywhere,” he grumbled and leaned forward. He pressed his lips to her neck again and sucked softly at the hollow space right beneath the edge of her jaw. “I offered to take you back to my place once.”

Did he? Sansa scanned her memories of their time together, which was always rife with innuendos and blatant suggestions. At the diner, she remembered. She hadn’t taken him seriously then and assumed he only said those things to watch her blush and squirm. 

“That was when we first met.” Sansa dipped her head and licked Sandor’s lips.

When she deepened the kiss, he matched her fervor. Her hand slipped towards the front of his unzipped jeans and gave a tug, enough that his hard cock sprung from the confines of his pants. Sansa wrapped her fingers around his shaft and worked her palm up and down in smooth motions. The fingers of Sandor’s right hand still worked between her legs, but he wrapped his other hand around Sansa’s and guided her movements. 

“Is this what you want?” Sandor groaned and squeezed her hand tighter. He nipped gently at her bottom lip, a subtle demand for an answer. 

Sansa matched his eyes in a heavy-lidded gaze and nodded. A devilish smile broke across his lips and he shifted his eyes to between her legs. 

“I know it is,” he chuckled darkly. “You’re soaking wet, spreading your legs for me. I’d say you want it. God, I’d love to see you riding my dick right now.”

Sansa shifted forward, easing herself towards Sandor until she was straddled on his lap. Pulling her hand away from his cock, her arms draped over his shoulders. Sandor removed his fingers from between her legs and let his hands settle at her hips.

In the darkness of the van, she still made out the strong features of his face—sharp jaw, hooked nose, eyes grazing over her nakedness with fond admiration. Though he was certainly rough-around-the-edges, he regarded her with a surprising gentleness. The contrasting qualities only fueled her attraction to him and she surged with want now. 

Sansa placed slow kisses at Sandor’s neck and cheek before her lips swept softly against his. Curiosity bid her to let her folds brush against his hardness. She ground gently and felt how Sandor’s body stiffened. His hands gripped her hips tighter and his shoulders went rigid. His eyes narrowed and his mouth contorted with a pleasured groan.

With careful movements, Sansa pressed the soaking juncture between her legs against his cock, easing up and down to spread her wetness there. With each pass, Sandor’s chest heaved with increasingly heavy breaths. Sansa slipped one hand to his manhood and rose to her knees. She eased herself down enough that the tip of his cock brushed against her clit. Sansa guided the movements there with steady circular motions. Her knees trembled, ready to buckle until Sandor replaced her hand at his shaft with his own. 

Sansa gripped his shoulders to steady herself and Sandor continued the circular motions at her clit before gently sliding the tip of his cock against her opening. 

“Mmm,” Sansa moaned, half a protest, but she eased down just enough that she felt the pressure at her opening. She rotated her hips in swiveling motions, taking a tiny bit of him inside of her. Sandor sucked in a sharp breath, which then exited his lips on a rumbling moan. 

“Are we doing this here?” he breathed and matched her eyes, appearing both enthralled to the point that his breaths came panting, but also flustered, as if he hadn’t truly thought they’d take it this far in the back seat of the Cannibal Star van. 

Sansa stilled and chewed her bottom lip as she held his stare. The shamefulness emerged, the prudent part of her screaming from within that this was complete madness. She’d held out on Joffrey for years, the lack of sexual advancement in their relationship a solid sore spot that eventually led to the break. With Sandor, her inhibitions fled and the idea of sex became a demonstration of how much she adored him, rather than a milestone to reach at some arbitrary point. 

“I want you,” Sansa finally whispered against Sandor’s lips, arms clinging tighter around his shoulders. “But no, not right here.” 

Ashamed of herself and feeling guilty for having teased him like this, Sansa shifted away from Sandor, lifting one leg in order to remove herself from his lap. His hands gripped firmly at her waist and he tugged her back towards him until Sansa’s naked chest was pressed against him. 

“That’s fine,” he said with a grin. His fingers brushed through her hair and he placed tender kisses to her lips. “I want to take my time with you, fuck you how I want to. Can’t do that here.” 

A heat hit Sansa’s cheeks, thrilled at the thought and nervous too. Everything between them seemed to have escalated so quickly and yet she wanted him more than anything else. Both curiosity and desire had come to outweigh any fear or reservation. Sansa smiled and pressed her hands against his chest, propping herself back up as she did so. Sandor sunk his fingers into her hair and yanked gently, exposing the length of her neck. His lips nipped and sucked there before his mouth swept towards her ear. 

“When I do, you’re going to be a good girl and tell me how much you love it, how badly you want to be fucked.” His voice was a deep rumble, not loud by any means, but no less forceful. He coiled his fingers tighter into her hair. “Isn’t that right?” 

“Yes,” Sansa sighed with a shudder running through her. 

Sandor shifted, arms wrapped around the small of Sansa’s back as he rotated towards the empty part of the seat next to them. He eased her towards the far end of the seat, until her back rested against the side of the van. Sansa lifted her arms over her head, only now taking note of the extent of her nakedness. Sitting next to her, Sandor’s hands urged her thighs open until her legs were spread as far as the backseat would allow. He leaned forward and pressed his mouth between her legs. 

“You’re always such a sweet little thing,” he murmured. His lips worked against her folds, brushing with each soft kiss pressed there. 

Your sweet little thing,” Sansa added and gently lifted her hips to meet his kisses. 

Sandor pulled away slightly with a wicked smile. “You’re damn right you are.” 

He turned his head and ran his tongue down the inside of her thigh. With the tip of his tongue, he traced one slow line across her opening and up to her clit where he licked. 

Sansa’s chest heaved at the sensations rolling through her. Her eyes drifted to Sandor between her legs. Her stared up at her, while his lips and tongue moved in perfect concert. 

He sucked at her clit before letting his tongue circle her opening. Back and forth, he cycled through the movements before he dipped one finger inside of her and stroked slowly. His tongue lapped at her folds and swept against the sensitive spot that left Sansa panting and moaning. She ground her hips against him and her head fell back against the side of the van. Sandor followed the sound of her heavy sighs and the trembling of her legs draped over his shoulders. He found what drove her wild and sent blinding bursts of pleasure to erupt at her core—the delicious combination of licks and swipes, sucking and stroking. 

All of it brought her to the brink, certain she couldn’t take much more, but more, she wanted more. She wanted to ride him, wanted him inside of her. She wanted the weight of him on top of her, sliding in and out, whispering all the sinfully delightful things in her ear, telling her what he wanted to do to her and then demanding certain things, dominating and consuming. She wanted it all and thought to ask for it; to say, “Fuck it and fuck me,” but the silhouetted movements coming towards the van caught her attention and Sansa gasped loudly, shifting away from Sandor. 

“They’re coming back!” Sansa frantically tapped Sandor’s shoulder until he removed himself from between her legs. 

“Fuck,” he sighed and tucked himself back into his pants.

Sansa snatched up her bra from the floorboard and hastily slipped it on. After smoothing down her skirt and putting her top back in place, she felt around the floor for her underwear. When she looked up, Sandor cracked a devilish smile at her, panties dangling from his finger. 

“I need those back.” Sansa tried to snatch them quickly from his hand, but Sandor yanked them away. He slipped her panties into the inside pocket of his jacket and laughed brusquely when she pouted. 

“That’s what you get for being a tease,” he grumbled and slinked his arm around her shoulders, tugging her closer to him. “Besides, I like knowing you’re wet and not wearing any panties.” 

Sansa felt his breath warm against her lips, the words preceding the kiss he placed there. His hand grazed up her thigh and his middle finger brushed delicately at her slit. He teased her with the lightest of touches until she spread her knees apart, just enough so that her lower lips spread too and, when he stroked again, his finger slid inside of her. 

Harwin flung the door of the van open and climbed in. The rest of Cannibal Star similarly piled into the van. Sandor removed his hand from underneath Sansa’s skirt and placed it demurely on her knee. 

“Smells like sex in here,” Thoros commented and swiveled in his seat towards Sansa and Sandor with a raunchy smile plastered to his lips.

A flush of heat hit Sansa’s cheeks at once with a deep blush. She lowered her eyes from Thoros and ignored the look Sandor shot her, one that likely savored her timid mortification. Tucked close to his side, Sansa felt the low rumble of his laughter and the hand at her knee gave a gentle squeeze. 

The remainder of the ride commenced much as it had before—metal music blaring from the speakers, Harwin easing through riffs on his air guitar, Thoros drumming his fingers against his knees, and Beric belting out the lyrics of the songs. Sansa had never heard any of this music before and, while she made no fuss about it, she certainly didn’t understand the appeal. Everything sounded shrill to her ears. With his band mates preoccupied, Sandor turned his attention to Sansa. 

His kisses started at her neck in small nibbles and gentle licks. Slowly, he moved from her neck down to her collarbone, back up and along her jawline, and finally to her lips. He savored each of their kisses, apparently not minding the presence of his band mates. With slow, deliberate movements, his tongue swept against her own. 

Eventually, the van turned into a gated neighborhood and came to a stop at the end of a long, paved driveway that wound towards a sprawling home. With a frustrated groan, Sandor tore himself away from Sansa and pulled his arm from around her shoulder while Cannibal Star hopped from the van. 

“Where are we?” Sansa asked. The house rivaled some of the homes in Winnetka in both size and extravagance. Everything looked new and well kept from the landscaping to the architecture. Of course, the shiny red corvette in the driveway also seemed to suggest whoever lived here didn’t want for much. 

“This is our manager’s place,” Sandor replied. 

“Oh,” Sansa nodded and carefully climbed from the far backseat of the van. Bent over, she had no doubt that Sandor was enjoying the view of her naked bottom peeking out from beneath her skirt. Outside the van, Sansa tugged at its hem, almost certain a gust of wind would come at an inopportune moment and reveal her nakedness. 

Sandor slipped his hand into hers and they made their way towards a large porch framed in tall columns. Without knocking or ringing the bell, Beric flung open the front door of the house like he owned the place and strutted inside. The rest of Sandor’s band mates followed after him. Sansa found the inside to be just as exquisite as the exterior. The foyer floor was covered entirely in large slabs of marble that held the reflection of a large crystal chandelier hanging from above. 

Off the foyer to the right, three women sat in a formal living room. With Cannibal Star’s arrival, all three pushed themselves from the oversized pieces of furniture they lounged on. The far wall of the living area was mirrored and reflected the space of the room—a chaise lounge, a loveseat, and a small couch, all covered in white leather and arranged around the room with a white baby grand piano in the corner.

“Hey boys,” a tall woman with teased black hair greeted. An off-the-shoulder leopard print shirt showcased her tattooed arms and bare midriff. She slinked across the room, hips swaying within the skintight confines of her black leather pants. She was pretty, Sansa noticed. In fact, all three women were stunning in their own way. 

The other two—both blondes, though one looked considerably younger, closer to Sansa’s age—fell in next to the woman in the leather pants. With similarly teased hair and heavy make-up, they both smiled coquettishly. 

“Girls! Looking fine as ever!” Bronn commented, though his eyes continually roved over the older blonde.

“We aim to please,” she responded and wiggled her shoulders enough that her breasts jostled in her low-cut dress. That earned her another appreciative glance from Bronn who licked at his bottom lip.

Sansa shifted next to Sandor’s side, suddenly uncomfortable and feeling sorely out of place. With a glance at her own outfit, it looked derivative of a Palo Alto valley girl and juvenile in comparison to what the other women were wearing. She was Debbie Gibson to their Lita Ford. Her movement closer to Sandor roused the attention of the black haired woman.

“I see you picked one up along the way. Who is this?” Her eyes dazzled with intrigue and she stepped closer, a curious smile forming on rouged lips.

“Sansa,” Sandor announced. “She’s with me.” Sansa clutched his hand tighter, but smiled politely when the woman approached.

“Mona,” the black haired lady introduced. “C’mon, darlin’. We’ll keep you company while the men talk shop.” Mona took Sansa’s hand from Sandor before motioning to the large staircase of the foyer.

“Jerry’s upstairs in the office,” she said and gently tugged Sansa towards the living room. The band retreated to the staircase with raucous laughter echoing through the foyer along the way. Eventually, the laughter faded as they headed down the upstairs hall. 

“This is Lexie.” Mona pointed to the older blonde haired woman in the low-cut pink dress. She gave a small, distracted wave while digging into her purse. 

“And this is Candy.” The younger blonde smiled sweetly at Sansa and patted the space next to her on the couch.

“Ladies, this is Sansa. She’s with the Hound.” Mona resumed her position sprawled out on the chaise lounge.

“Nice to meet you,” Sansa greeted shyly. She seated herself carefully next to Candy and tightly crossed her legs. “Is Jerry the manager?” she asked.

“Jerry Vale,” Mona confirmed with a nod and paused briefly as she lit a cigarette pressed between her red lips. “He manages all the metal bands worth their salt,” she continued on an exhale of smoke.

Scanning the collective looks on Mona, Lexie, and Candy’s faces, Sansa gathered that she was supposed to be impressed by this bit of information. She hadn’t heard of Jerry Vale before, but feigned a look of understanding, one that left at least Candy and Lexie convinced. Mona flashed a knowing, but kind smile at Sansa.

“Are you Jerry’s wife?” Sansa asked Mona, a question that elicited giggles from Lexie and Candy. 

“No,” she shook her head and ashed her cigarette in a heavy ashtray next to her. “Have you seen him? He’s short, ugly, and bald.”

“He still pulls a lot of tail,” Lexie countered before snatching up a wine glass on the table next to her and taking a long sip.

“All thanks to Cannibal Star,” Mona laughed. “Jerry gets the hand-me-downs.” The woman tilted her head back and smoke billowed through pursed lips. 

“Hand-me-downs?” Sansa’s brow folded at the term. She clutched the purse on her lap and felt stupid for asking. She didn’t know who Jerry was and certainly didn’t understand the term, though she could probably guess what it meant.

Slumped back in the couch, Candy rotated her head to Sansa.

“The girls who get backstage, but none of the guys are interested in. Those girls end up with managers, the road crew, publicists.”

“Oh. So why are you all here?”

Sansa winced as soon as the question left her lips. She didn’t mean to imply any of these women were “hand-me-downs” and expected at least one of them might be offended that she’d even suggest—inadvertently or otherwise—that they were. Mona and Lexie both looked nonplussed by the question as both now occupied themselves with the cigarettes they smoked. Candy simply held her vapid smile.

“We knew the guys were coming in town,” Mona said. “We’re not here for Jerry,” she added with a laugh. Sansa laughed along with her, if nothing more than to ease the inexplicable nervousness settling at her belly.

“So, you and the Hound?” Mona quirked one eyebrow suggestively at Sansa and the corner of her mouth lifted in a smile.

“What’s he like in bed?” Lexie pressed. “God, I bet he likes it rough,” she speculated, voice like gravel and her words manifesting on something akin to a groan.

All three women stared expectantly at Sansa. She lowered her eyes to hands that coiled around the strap of her purse. 

“I wouldn’t know,” she admitted quietly and with a shrug.

“Honey, you haven’t fucked him yet?” Mona asked incredulously. 

Sansa shook her head and steadied her gaze towards Mona. The woman narrowed her eyes at Sansa, not unkindly, but still it seemed she didn’t believe her or, in the very least, something didn’t add up in Mona’s mind. 

“We’re taking our time,” Sansa explained. “We’ve only been on a few dates.” 

“Dates?” Lexie all but reeled and the confusion around the room grew. Befuddled looks remained on all the women’s faces.

“So this is something different.” Mona shook her head and stubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray.

“Are you with the guys?” Sansa ventured and her eyes drifted to each woman. While it’d been made clear they weren’t hand-me-downs, Sansa didn’t understand how exactly they fit into Cannibal Star’s world. 

“I’ve been with Bronn, Beric, and Thoros. Bronn’s my go-to, though,” Lexie answered and then glanced to Mona who replied next. 

“All, but Sandor.”

“Just Harwin,” Candy announced with evident pride and a widening smile. “Actually, I think I gave Bronn head once on the way to a Seattle gig.” She lifted her eyes to the ceiling in thought about that last bit, as if she couldn’t quite remember.

The answers still left Sansa confused. She chewed her lip and cast another glance around the room.

“Are you their girlfriends?” 

“Girlfriends?” Mona repeated and abruptly shook her head. “No. Those boys don’t usually bed down with one chick. They can’t. They’re on the road most of the time. I have a full-time job and my own life. I’m not going to throw that all away to follow them on tour.” She paused momentarily and looked at Candy. “No offense, sweetie. When they’re in town, I show them a good time. Works for me, works for them, everyone’s happy.” 

Are they happy, though? Sansa wondered. They certainly looked it, at least for now, but what about later? When the men were gone and they were alone again, would they be happy then? Sansa nodded, as if she understood, but the concept seemed troubling and unnatural to her, and Mona’s answer succeeded only in tightening the knot in Sansa’s belly. 

“I stay here while I finish school,” Lexie said. “Bronn goes out on the road. We have an understanding.” The emphasis on the last word intimated the meaning. Sansa knew what Lexie was getting at, but could do little to stop the faint look of shock that surfaced on her face.

“Look, the tours are long,” Lexie asserted. “They don’t come home much and when they do, they’re beat. I know he fucks other women on the road. He wears protection and I don’t ask about it. Out of sight, out of mind. My only stipulation is that when he’s in town, he only fucks me.”

The room went silent as the women quietly evaluated Sansa’s reaction. Under the heaviness of their curious stares, Sansa let out a nervous giggle and turned to Candy. 

“What about you and Harwin? It sounds like you two are together.” 

Sansa cringed at the sheer optimism of her words and immediately understood how incongruent the sentiment was within the context of this conversation. Still, she smiled at Candy, hoping that perhaps her situation wasn’t so unconventional as the others. 

“About a year ago, I went to a Cannibal Star show in Phoenix. Harwin invited me on the tour bus and asked if I wanted to come with them to Santa Fe. So I did. I traveled with them around the west coast for a month while they wrapped up their tour. Afterwards, I got a job in Chicago so I could be closer to him in between tours.”

Given her pleasant countenance, Candy didn’t appear miffed by her situation. Sansa willed her smile to remain, but felt pity for Candy swell up within her. 

“What do you do for a living?” Sansa asked. 

“I’m an exotic entertainer,” Candy informed proudly, an attempt to brace herself for whatever judgment Sansa might throw at her. 

“I see,” Sansa nodded. It’s rude to be judgmental, she quickly reminded herself. Her mother always told her to add a polite follow-on question in situations like this, a way to tame any awkwardness and reassure the other party that no judgment had been passed. “What’s your favorite part of the job?”

“Hmm,” Candy hummed in thought. “I guess it makes me feel sexy and empowered,” she shrugged and her answer sounded uncertain, as though she hadn’t ever thought much about it and had never been asked either. 

Across the room, Mona pushed herself from the chaise and shuffled towards the piano where an uncorked bottle of wine sat.

“Have you ever dated a musician before?” she asked and refilled her empty wine glass. 

“No,” Sansa shook her head.

“I figured as much.” Mona winked at Sansa and eased into the chaise with a heavy sigh. “You seem like a nice girl, Sansa. Save yourself the heartache and let Sandor know what your boundaries are. Whatever it is you expect from him, put it out on the table in clear terms. He may not agree to those terms, but at least you were upfront from the start.” 

The sudden advice caught Sansa off guard. She hadn’t truly given any of this much thought. It all seemed rather simple: they liked each other, they went on dates, and eventually he’d become her boyfriend. Wasn’t that how it worked? Looking around the room, Sansa quickly understood that the rules had been rewritten. Nothing here worked as it normally would.   

“That makes sense,” Sansa agreed, but her throat felt dry and hoarse. She averted her eyes to her lap again. 

“Don’t expect much from him outside of the bedroom,” Lexie offered sincerely, though Sansa couldn’t quite stomach any more well-intentioned advice she hadn’t asked for. 

“They’re sweet, but they’re still men,” Candy chimed in and lifted both brows at Sansa, as if her vague statement should illuminate everything. 

“Men with pussy being thrown at them left and right from beautiful women,” Mona added with a loud laugh. 

All three of the women laughed in unison, as if they all understood the same inside joke. It seemed to Sansa, though, that the joke was at their expense and the price was a broken heart. Perhaps Mona and even Lexie felt in control of their arrangement with certain Cannibal Star members, but clearly Candy was simply along for the ride. She seemed to harbor feelings for Harwin and probably hoped that one day her set-up with him would pay off; that he’d realize what a catch she was and commit to her. 

Sansa didn’t join the laughter and couldn’t stop the frown that formed on her lips. 

Was that what would happen with Sandor? Would he go on the road and expect her to agree to his terms, whatever those were? The thought left an empty ache in her chest. The women in the room were nice and meant well, but Sansa couldn’t imagine herself happy in any of their situations. 

“Is there a bathroom around here?” she asked after the laughter waned.

“It’s the last door on the right,” Mona said and motioned to the hall off the foyer. 

Sansa stood and gave a polite smile before leaving the room. The foyer carried the faint echo of the women whispering as Sansa made her way towards the hallway. 

They think I’m naïve, she concluded. And maybe I am. 

In contrast to the foyer, the bathroom was bedecked in black marble that covered the floor and walls. Sansa set her purse on the back of the toilet. She turned on the sink’s gold faucet and let the water run over her hands. She lifted her eyes to the mirror and studied her reflection. She looked nothing like the women in the other room. She didn’t wear heavy make-up and her hair wasn’t teased. When she left home in a crop top and mini-skirt, Sansa had been convinced her outfit was scandalous and borderline inappropriate. Now, it looked like child’s play in comparison to what the other women had on.

Sansa turned off the sink and dried her hands with a towel hanging on the adjacent wall. With her shoulders thrown back, she paid herself another look in the mirror without the burden of comparison. I’m a catch, she thought and smiled. Smart, and sweet, and loyal. 

Still, that didn’t change the reality that Sandor was in a metal band, one that apparently garnered a lot of attention from women and meant his lifestyle would put him on the road, away from home and traveling for large amounts of time. Sansa watched her smile fade in the mirror. Maybe Sandor thought Sansa understood, that their arrangement was implicit. They’d never talked about where this was going. Whatever they were, it wasn’t bound to be normal or to follow the typical set of dating rules. She understood now what Mona meant about establishing expectations and boundaries. 

Sansa emerged from the bathroom and heard Mona’s laughter drift from the living room. She stood in the darkened hall, contemplating whether she should go back to where the women were. She found herself caught between two worlds—dissatisfied with the haughty snobbery of her sorority sisters and appalled at the uninhibited acceptance of moral ambiguity that the ladies in the living room favored. 

I don’t belong to either, Sansa thought and wandered further down the hall towards the room at the end. A small lamp had been left on in there and Sansa found herself in a mostly empty space. A Victorian-style tufted loveseat sat against the far wall with the lamp next to it. Along the walls, framed platinum and gold records hung in rows. Slowly walking the perimeter of the room, Sansa read the band names associated with each record. Most were Cannibal Star, a few from other well-known bands, and a handful were from bands she’d never heard of before. 

“What are you doing in here?” Sandor’s voice suddenly sounded from behind her.

Sansa spun around and found him leaning against the doorframe with a smile on his lips. His eyes slowly drifted up and down her form, roving over her curves and her bare waist before finally settling on her breasts. 

He pushed himself from the doorframe and paced towards her with deliberate steps. When he reached her, Sandor grabbed Sansa by the waist and yanked her towards him. He dipped his head and almost captured her lips in a kiss, but Sansa lowered her head in the space between them. Gently, she pulled away from Sandor and took a step backwards where her eyes fell to the floor. She could feel him staring at her, confused by her sudden rebuff of his affection. 

“Sansa, I don’t read minds,” he said with obvious frustration. “What’s going on?”

Play it cool. Not now. Sansa met his insistent stare and tried to feign a smile, but the words bubbled up uncontrollably, bursting through her lips before she could stop them.

“I really like you, but I don’t know how this is going to work. I’m not like Lexie and Mona. I’m not going to stay here and just have an understanding when you’re on tour. And I’m not like Candy. I’m not going to follow you around the country just so you won’t sleep with other women.” 

The words must’ve come out all in one long, frantic breath. Sansa was nearly heaving by the end of it. Her hands trembled so she folded her arms across her chest and shifted nervously from one foot to the other. 

She watched Sandor’s jaw tense and his Adam’s apple move with a heavy swallow, appearing entirely uncomfortable with the conversation that’d hardly started. He shook his head and let out an exasperated laugh, though it did nothing to lighten the mood. It sounded mocking to Sansa’s ears and she steeled herself for whatever it was he had to say.

“I know you’re not like them,” he told her.

She probably should’ve been satisfied with that, but more words found their way from Sansa’s lips, words she swore she would keep in check. 

“I don’t know what you want from me. If its just sex while you’re in town…”

Though weak and timid to begin with, her voice waned to nothingness and tapered off with an incomplete thought. If he just wanted sex, then what? Sansa thought she’d been clear about the “then what” part of it. Perhaps her wanton behavior earlier had given him the wrong impression. She pulled her arms tighter against her chest and tipped her chin up so she could match his eyes. 

“We already had this conversation.” He kept his voice down, but Sansa saw the agitation that stirred within him and edged his words. She knew he could be crude, but not like this, not defensive and cross. “I told you I want more from you than just to get laid.” 

Sansa lowered her eyes and sealed her lips shut lest more words flew from her mouth and irritated him further. This was a mistake. I shouldn’t have brought it up. 

“Is this because I said I want to fuck you?” Sandor demanded. “Or was it something those twats told you?”

When Sansa lifted her eyes, she met his insistent stare, but merely shrugged. At the time, Mona’s advice seemed solid. Now, Sansa felt ridiculous for having brought it up in such a manner, effectively cornering him with accusatory assertions.

“I shouldn’t have brought you here,” Sandor grumbled and Sansa wondered if he meant to say it out loud. “Not with them hanging around,” he added, but his words still stung. Sansa drew in a sharp breath. 

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” she nodded. “It’s late. You should take me home.” 

Her voice wavered and the lump in her throat burned. I won’t cry, she decided, but the tears clung to the corners of her eyes and, when she lowered her gaze to the floor, they broke free. 

“What is it that you need?” Sandor asked softer than before. He crossed the room and sat at the edge of the loveseat. Resting his elbows on his knees, he cradled his forehead in the palm of one hand. “Commitment? Is that what you want?” 

He sounded fatigued now more than angry, at a loss and confounded by the evening’s turn of events. 

“Eventually,” Sansa answered. “We’ve only been on a few dates.”

“Who the fuck cares? I’m not keeping tabs on that,” Sandor sighed, head still in his hand. “Commitment. You want me to nail you down, am I right?” 

Mouth agape, Sansa narrowed her eyes at Sandor, though he could not see. 

“Don’t mock me!” she seethed with her own anger. Her fingers curled towards her palms and she pursed her lips. Sandor lifted his head from his hand to look at her. He stared momentarily before a sudden smile bloomed across his lips and he chuckled. 

“I’m not mocking you, Sansa,” he continued, still laughing. He lurched forward and encircled his arms around her hips. He settled back against the loveseat and pulled Sansa onto his lap in the process. 

“I want to know. Is that what you want?” he asked again as Sansa squirmed within his hold.

“Stop it!” she insisted. Her palms pressed against his chest to push him away.

“Not until you tell me.” With a devilish smile, Sandor tightened his hold on her. One arm wrapped around her shoulders and the other across her lap until she was wedged against him and unable to move. Sansa wiggled to urge her release, but the effort was futile.

“Yes,” Sansa huffed with a pout and settled in his arms. “Is that what you want?” 

“Of course,” he said as if any notion suggesting otherwise was ridiculous. “You’re fucking cute when you’re angry,” he added with a grin.

Sandor lifted his arm from her lap and cupped her cheek. Leaning forward, he pressed his mouth to hers and slowly parted her lips with his tongue. With her anger dissipating, Sansa surrendered to the kiss. When she finally pulled away, she sat up and repositioned herself on his lap. Straddling him, she rested her hands against his chest. 

“Have you been in a relationship before?” she asked. 

“Once,” Sandor answered with a nod as his hands smoothed up and down her back. 

“How long was it?” Sansa wasn’t sure if she truly wanted to know. While pleased Sandor wasn’t entirely inexperienced in relationships, the thought of him with another elicited small pangs of jealousy. 

“Three years,” he told her and settled his hands around Sansa’s waist. “She knew me before Cannibal Star got signed.”

“Why’d you break up?” Sansa ventured carefully. Perhaps this was another sore topic for Sandor, something he’d rather not discuss. His face remained impassible as he gave a shrug. 

“It just got too hard. Me being on the road, girls being around. She didn’t trust that I wouldn’t slip up. I never did and I never wanted to. Didn’t matter, though. It still fell apart.” 

“I’m sorry,” Sansa whispered, uncertain of what else to say so her eyes drifted to her hands resting against his chest. 

“Don’t be. I’m not.” He leaned forward and pressed another kiss to her lips, unhurried and sweet.

“Sandor,” Sansa whispered against his mouth. “I don’t want you to sleep with other women, not that I think you would. It’s just…that’s my boundary. No cheating.” 

“That’s a given,” Sandor agreed. “Look, I don’t want to see other women,” he murmured in the small space between them. “My band mates do it, but it’s never been my thing. I only want you. I don’t care how hard things get. I’ll bust my ass to keep you, little bird, but I need you to trust me. That’s the only way this thing is going to work.” 

The tips of his fingers traced over her collarbone in soft, sweeping motions.

“So you and me—what do you say?” A grin tugged at the corner of his mouth as he stared at her.

 “Yeah,” Sansa nodded with a smile before settling her head on his shoulder. Sandor held her tight against his chest and kissed her forehead.

A rap of knuckles against the doorframe roused their attention. Sansa sat up and turned to find Thoros standing in the doorway. 

“Hey, sorry. You guys ready to go? Bronn and Harwin are staying behind.”

“Yeah,” Sandor nodded. “We’ll meet you outside.”

When Thoros disappeared back into the hall, Sansa removed herself from Sandor’s lap and gathered up her purse. 

“We’ll be passing through Winnetka. We can drop you at your place,” Sandor offered.

Though Sansa forced a smile and a dull nod, both came crestfallen and with the weighty acknowledgment of what she’d have to face when she got home. She’d already exceeded the shelf life of Arya’s lie; whatever it was, it couldn’t have bought her this much time. Sansa felt Sandor’s hand encircle her wrist and he pulled her towards him. 

“Or if you wanted to avoid any Papa Stark lectures tonight, you could come home with me. It’d be nice to have you in my bed tonight and wake up to you in the morning. I’ll make you breakfast and take you to school.”

Sansa stared up at him. His proposition came sincerely, but the uncertainty lingered, as though he’d been momentarily afflicted with worry that she might decline. She understood then something she hadn’t considered—that Sandor had invested his heart in her too. All the lascivious remarks and the seeming precedent on sex masked something more that’d begun to develop and Sansa could see it in him now as plain as day.

“I’d love that,” she smiled and rose to her toes to sweep her lips against his cheek. “I guess it’s about time I finally see your place anyhow.”

“You guess right,” he quipped with a rough laugh and took her hand, his fingers intertwined with hers. 

Sandor led the way down the hall and through the foyer. Mona, Lexie, and Candy gathered near the front door to see Thoros and Beric off while Bronn and Harwin descended on another bottle of wine in the living room. 

“Excuse me,” Sandor grumbled and began towards the door, shouldering past Mona with Sansa’s hand still secure in his own.

“You two can stay.” Mona lifted one brow and cast a pointed look at Sandor. Sansa didn’t fully understand the implicit suggestion, but noticed how Sandor grimaced and glowered at the woman. 

“Nope. My girlfriend and I are going home.” Sandor squeezed Sansa’s hand and pulled her closer to him. 

“My mistake,” Mona acquiesced with a fading smile and her eyes flickered over Sansa. “Moving up in the world, I see,” she added with a wink. 

At that, Sandor stepped out onto the porch and led Sansa towards the van. 

“Stay away from that one,” he cautioned. “She’s no good.”

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

 

Chapter Eleven

"It's early morning, the sun comes out

Last night was shaking and pretty loud

My cat is purring, it scratches my skin

So what is wrong with another sin?"

 

-Rock You Like A Hurricane, Scorpions

 


“What are you gonna do if he takes you home and it turns out he’s into weird shit?” Arya  asked the question earlier in the evening. Sansa had been sitting in front of her bedroom’s vanity mirror, hand faintly trembling as she tried to apply lipstick with some precision. The question was genuine and her lipstick was a mess. Arya had stopped practicing karate moves long enough to wait for an answer and Sansa had wiped her lips clean with a tissue.

 

“Like what?” She had swallowed down the enormous lump in her throat. She wasn’t as experienced in the bedroom as Sandor. Or rather, she wasn’t experienced. Plain and simple. Not at all. And God, by the way he talked, he’d probably settle for no less than his equal—a veritable sex goddess who was up for anything and well-versed in it all.

 

“I don’t know.” Arya’s foot had cut through the air and she twirled in place, some strange amalgamation of a fighter and a dancer. “What if he collects Precious Moments?”

 

Sansa had laughed and brushed out her teased bangs. They’d looked stupid and she liked her hair in natural waves; bit by bit, she undid all her work. “He doesn’t collect Precious Moments.” 

 

Arya had zeroed in on Sansa’s hesitation, brief though it was, and probably the red blotches that’d emerged on her neck and chest.

 

“Your mind went to weird sex stuff, didn’t it?” Arya’s face had softened with sympathy. “Like up the butt kind of stuff?”

 

“I was not!” The butterflies began then; not the pleasured kind that came with sweet romance, but the kind that made her nervous and her palms sweat and voice quiver. “Don’t say that.”

 

More gentle than usual, Arya had knelt beside Sansa and stared up at her in a serious gaze.

 

“If he wants it up the butt, you leave. If he collects Precious Moments, you leave. If he’s into both, you fucking run as fast as you can. Call me from a pay phone and I’ll come get you. I swear, these men folk.”

 

Arya had shaken her head and rolled her eyes as if she knew and Sansa kissed her baby sister on the forehead all the same. The sentiment didn’t go unnoticed.

 

Well beyond midnight and standing in the middle of Sandor’s apartment, that all seemed a world away. On the top floor of a highrise, his place overlooked the Chicago River that glittered down below and the still waters of Lake Michigan even further out.

 

“Stay here.” He loomed behind her and kissed the back of her neck. His fingers had dipped beneath her jacket and gripped her bare waist. “Make yourself at home. I’ll just be a few minutes.”

 

Sansa nodded and he disappeared in a room off a long hall. There wasn’t much to make herself at home in. Sansa couldn’t quite tell if she was relieved or disconcerted that the man didn’t collect anything, not even proper furniture. His place was large and mostly empty and every movement she made—every step towards the belly of the vacuous space or every nervous clearing of her throat—echoed in its colorless walls.

 

In what must be the combined living and dining rooms, a futon rested against the wall. Across from it, a TV sat on a stack of plastic bins that looked like they were buckling beneath the weight. Between the TV and futon, a simple wooden crate functioned as a coffee table. No art adorned the walls, no personal touches, nothing. Just floor to ceiling windows that redeemed in the absence of anything that might let on that someone lived here.

 

Only a half-wall separated the living area from the kitchen. There was at least a table there and the kitchen itself was pristine. No dishes in the sink, no odd collection of magnets. Sansa fought the urge to open drawers and see if he even had the requisite supplies to cook a meal.

 

She peered down the long, darkened hall just as Sandor emerged from wherever he’d been. Oh God. What if that’s where he hides all the weird stuff?

 

He’d lost his jacket and let down his hair that tumbled over his shoulders. He came towards her in slow steps that menaced only because she knew what this meant and because he looked so good in a white t-shirt and probably even better out of it.

 

“Your place is so clean,” she said on a hollow breath that quivered. Her stomach roiled with butterflies, both thrilling and unsettling.

 

“You sound surprised.” He wrapped one arm around her waist and tugged her towards him.

 

She pressed her palms against his chest, but couldn’t meet his eyes. “No, I just…I like it.”

 

Sansa struggled with words, battled to regulate her breathing, and scrambled to pull herself together. She didn’t have to be a sex goddess, but she at least needed to avoid collapsing in on herself in a mess of nerves.

 

“Don’t bullshit me,” he grumbled and pressed his body against her. He was warm and his muscles taut. “There’s not much to like.”

 

Sansa cast a glance around the empty space, any excuse to avoid his eyes. He stared at her now. The ruse was up and he was on to her. “Did you just move in?” she asked and hoped he wouldn’t notice how she trembled. 

 

“Six years ago,” Sandor said and took her hand.

 

He led her down the hall and, if Sansa was supposed to respond, she dropped the ball on the conversation. Six years. He’d lived here six years and hadn’t furnished or decorated the place. It finally clicked for her, but before she could say anything Sandor continued.

 

“I’m on the road a lot. No sense in making a place feel like home if I just have to turn around and leave. It’s more of a place to crash than anything.”

 

She nodded and gripped his hand as he led the way to the mysterious room he’d tended to. They stood outside the door now. Sansa didn’t care about the other shuttered spaces, all the other doors that could house Precious Moments or elaborate set-ups fit for sex goddesses only. This was the only one that mattered for her and for Sandor too she now realized.

 

He looked down at her expectantly and with a smile she’d never seen on him before—sweet and maybe even a little nervous too. Why would he be nervous?

 

“What’s in that room?” she asked on a quiet, thin breath and tucked her hair behind her ear. Her eyes fell to the floor.

 

“Open it and find out,” she heard him murmur. 

 

Sansa let go of his hand and her fingers swept to the doorknob, her palms now covered in a sheen of sweat. She pushed through to the other side. It might as well have been another world. For as sterile as the rest of the place was, his bedroom made up for it in spades. It was large and clean like the rest of the place, but the similarities began and ended there.

 

The entire room was cast in the gauzy glow of candlelight. Across his dresser, the side tables, and the deep windowsill were candles of various sizes, all flickering with warm light set against dark red walls. The four-post bed looked plush with pillows and lush linens pulled neat and tight across the mattress. Across the hardwood floor, a thick piled area rug was soft beneath her feet as she stepped inside.

 

Sandor settled behind her and Sansa sunk against him, her back flush against his chest. She felt every breath he took and one arm snaked around her middle. His hand brushed the hair from her neck. The warmth of his breath bathed her skin there and his lips found the hollow space right beneath her jaw.

 

“It’s beautiful. Is this how you normally keep it?” she asked on a pant.

 

He laughed in a divine exhale, the sensation a soft burst against her neck and his voice was a rumble against her back. “Not quite. I hoped I’d be bringing you back here tonight. I took a chance.”

 

Wrapped up warm in his grasp, Sansa turned in his arms and gazed up at him. She smiled as the tangle of nerves at her core unwound a bit.

 

“What? You look surprised again.”

 

Surprise wasn’t it. Nervous and reeling was more like it, but she donned the charade of surprise with a soft smile. With her arms around his neck, Sansa pulled him nearer until her lips pressed against his.

 

“All that dirty talk and it turns out you’re a romantic at heart.”

 

Sandor took a step forward and then another, forcing Sansa to shuffle backwards until the back of her legs met the edge of the mattress.

 

“I told you I’d fuck you senseless,” he murmured and his hands nearly encircled her waist. “I didn’t say anything about not making it special for you, did I?”

 

Sansa smiled again and shook her head. It was special and she’d make a fine mess of it if she couldn’t pull herself together. She sucked in quiet breaths to ease the way her limbs trembled. Sandor lifted her and, in one gentle movement, tossed her to the bed.

 

She scooted backwards as he crawled onto the mattress after her. When he eased on top of her, he kissed her slow, almost tentative, and his palm covered over the portion of her waist afforded by the crop top where his fingers danced at the edge. Sansa sat up as he lifted it over her head and tossed it to the floor. Her bra followed then her skirt. Piece by piece, he rid her of her clothing until Sansa was fully naked and he had only taken off his boots and shirt.

 

As dawdling as he was in removing her clothes, Sandor spent just as much time lavishing attention to her lips, then neck, down her shoulder, and to her breast where his tongue ran a unhurried circle around each nipple in turn. In a soft touch, his fingertips grazed the outside of her bare thigh up to her knee and back down again where he gently beckoned her knees to fall apart. One finger dipped between her legs in a delicate swipe like stroking the wings of a butterfly. He alternated between studying her face and the quiet pants that escaped her slightly parted lips and claiming those lips for himself in tender kisses.

 

Once more his mouth ran down her neck and between her breasts, but this time kept going. When he left a trail of kisses down her stomach, Sansa tried to steady her breathing so he might not notice the frantic rhythm it’d taken on. Her heart threatened to beat out of her chest that heaved. Her fingers sunk into his hair, but trembled. She knew what was next and wanted it more than anything, but couldn’t stop the way she shivered.

 

This was it. This was where he’d find her out. She just had to tease him in the dressing room and back of the van, alluding to a prowess she certainly didn’t have any claim to. Now he’d collect on all those sultry promises and Sansa would fail to deliver.

 

With his bare chest between her thighs and lips at her navel, Sandor gazed up at her. “You’re shaking,” he whispered. “Are you nervous?”

 

Shit. Sansa squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head more vigorously than she intended.

 

“Don’t be,” he breathed against her belly where he planted a kiss. Sandor scooted up next to her and rolled onto his back where his head met the pillow. His hand encircled her wrist and he pulled Sansa on top of him. Her eyes went wide as her legs spread over his hips where his pants were unzipped.

 

“Uh-uh,” he chided. “Up here.” His hands gripped the back of her bare thighs and he tugged her up his chest. She tried to settle there and thought it was odd he wanted her to straddle him like this, but then again, what the hell did she know about all this?

 

“All the way,” he laughed and, with one firm yank, Sansa’s knees passed his shoulders and sunk into the pillow on either side of his head.

 

It never occurred to Sansa that he could please her like this. She might’ve been embarrassed, but forgot all that nonsense when the tip of his tongue dipped between her folds in a delicate lick that lingered and savored. The only delicate thing about this man was how he teased her with his tongue and lips, both of which promised so much pleasure, but only on his command.

 

He kissed her between her legs now flush with wetness and lifted one brow at her with a deviant smile. “Hold on,” he said and Sansa followed his eyes to the headboard. Her hands gripped the top of it and it was a good thing she did.

 

She nearly collapsed, knees buckling beneath her, as Sandor swiped his tongue again, this time with more pressure. The tip swirled between her legs as deft in precision as it was divine with the soft sensation of his lips and the warmth of each panting breath between her legs.

 

Sansa grasped the headboard and the nerves fled, a distant thought as her head rolled back and the rhythm her heart beat now was one of mounting pleasure and gasping moans. Unbidden, her hips swiveled and she ground against his mouth and met each lick with a roll of her hips and her legs drifting further apart. She lost herself in the sensation that rose with each flick of his tongue and swirl of her hips until it broke upon her in hard and sudden release she hadn’t seen coming. She sighed a sweet cry and her eyes drifted down to him.

 

Sandor gazed up at her and, though his mouth was lost between her legs, Sansa could tell by his eyes that he was smiling. The insides of her thighs trembled against his cheeks and her knees wobbled as she climbed off him, breathless and panting.

 

“Liked that, didn’t you?” he chuckled and wiped his lips that glistened with the back of his hand.

 

His eyes danced with desire when Sansa responded with an eager nod and reached for him. She pulled him towards her until he sunk next to her side, propped up on one elbow as he gazed down at her.

 

“See,” Sandor whispered and stroked the side of her cheek with the back of his hand. He kissed the tip of her nose and then her forehead. “No reason to be nervous.”

 

Her body still hummed as he rolled off the bed and Sansa watched his jeans and boxers fall to the floor. The nerves bent the knee to wanton lust and she remember now why she’d been embolden to tease him.

 

In the amber glow of the bedroom, he looked sculpted from marble—every muscle shaped and defined, strong arms and broad shoulders, and his manhood fully erect. And his face—sharp jaw and cheek bones and even his scars appealed too. All of it. She wanted him. This strong, gorgeous man was now climbing onto the bed towards her. His black hair hung loose around his shoulders and he gazed at her from beneath his brow as he drew nearer. Sansa eased onto her back and the butterflies came again and so did the frantic rise of her pulse.

 

Sandor eased on top of her and Sansa felt his shaft brush between her legs. She wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted her hips gently to meet his. She’d done that so many times before of the back of his motorcycle—teasing and tempting and promising things that she was terrified she couldn’t deliver on, not in the way he probably wanted. Just do your best.

 

She felt like a fraud who was about to be found out and closed her eyes to hide, but they opened again when Sandor kissed her with so much sweetness and stared down at her with a look that said he’d be patient and gentle and all the things she needed and wanted because that’s really what fucking her senseless was all about. She got it now and kissed him back. Her fingers sunk amongst his hair and she gazed up at him.

 

He said nothing, only drew a long breath as reached between their bodies. Sansa wrapped her arms tight around his shoulders when she felt the pressure between her legs. He eased into her and bit his lip with what Sansa imagined was restraint. His eyes closed and brows knit together. The pressure surmounted and she sucked in a steady breath. Her legs trembled against his hips.

 

Fully inside her, Sandor’s head collapsed towards her chest and his hand ran down her leg in time with one slow thrust. Lips parted in a quiet pant, he looked to Sansa and, though it stung, she nodded enough that he took it as permission. His lips swept against hers and deepened in time with the gentle rhythm he rocked in.

 

Sansa’s mouth dangled open with a small, pleasured gasp that punctuated the pain with welcome reprieve and Sandor plunged his tongue inside. The taste, the touch, the warmth—it all came together then and his hand slid up her forearm until his fingers interlaced with hers. He pressed his forehead and nose to hers and groaned as he slid between her legs. 

 

“You okay?” he asked and smiled when she nodded. He kissed her hard with the force of all his desire behind it, but didn’t lose sight of the tempo he’d created for her; the one that was eliciting breathy moans and bidding her legs to wrap tighter around his hips and arms across his shoulders.

 

He was warm and passionate and intense. She’d assumed all that sexual desire would find its release in chaos and urgency, but he took the reigns and reeled it in and Sansa unraveled because of it, coming apart in his arms. She matched the urgency of his kiss and the slow rise of pleasure came again and he must’ve known. Sandor pulled back just enough to watch as her head fell against the pillow and she sighed in sweet release through panting breaths. The restraint left him and Sandor quickened his pace, his hips bucking against her and lips crashing into hers. He tensed again and groaned through gritted teeth.

 

Propped up on his hands, he hung his head between them and Sansa couldn’t see his face through the curtain of his hair and downturned eyes, but saw well enough how his shoulders heaved with heavy breaths. She cupped his cheeks and almost asked if he was okay, but he lifted his eyes to her with a soft smile on his lips.

 

“You were perfect,” he whispered against her mouth and the confession terminated on a kiss. “Come here.”

 

Sandor rolled off of her and settled on his back and Sansa curled next to his side beneath the blankets and burrowed her cheek against his chest. His fingers traipsed up and down her arm. When his breathing slowed towards sleep, he kissed her forehead, blew out the candles, and settled behind her, his chest against her back. Sandor fell asleep before her and, in the black silence, Sansa marveled at how he’d surprised her in ways that dazzled and delighted.

 

She thought he’d like it rough and wild and fast and that she wouldn’t be able to handle it so she’d only disappoint him in the end. She couldn’t have been more wrong. And that was her own fault—Sandor knew what he was doing and was just as experienced as Sansa assumed he would be, but with that experience came the understanding of how to respond to her body, listen for the sounds she was making, and follow them until he was certain he was hitting the right spots with the right rhythm to bring her pleasure. He was in control and made that known, but in the end her pleasure was the prize he was after.

 

Sansa tried to sleep and might’ve snagged an hour or two, but Sandor woke her sometime in the middle of the night. His palm smoothed down her stomach, enough to rouse her, and his finger dipped between her legs where she was still wet and now wanting as he swiped in languid movements with one finger. With this chest against her back, his tongue ran up her neck and he whispered in her ear.

 

“I want you.”

 

The gruff rasp wasn’t a suggestion. Sansa wouldn’t deny him anyhow because she wanted him too, so she smiled and shifted to roll over to face him.

 

“No,” he commanded on a lusty, sleep-edged groan. He gripped her hip, hard enough that she knew to obey him, and rolled to her stomach. “Like this.” His fingers sunk in her thigh and he pushed it forward, enough so that her legs parted for him. “So I can feel you,” he groaned and slid inside of her from behind.

 

A moan escaped her lips, dampened by the pillow at her cheek. So I can feel you. Confusion at first—he could feel her regardless—Sansa understood the meaning now. Every part of their bodies pressed together. The weight of him on top of her consumed. His fingers interlaced with hers and Sansa’s palm pressed against the mattress. His other hand cupped her breast and his lips savored her shoulder, neck, and cheek in slow kisses as he thrust deeper.

 

Closer than they had been, this was how he liked it, she realized. He was in control and Sansa submitted to his will, his desires. She was awash in pleasure at every pant, every groan in her ear, every ragged exhale of his breath and it left her wetter and more wanting. Sansa bucked her hips against his movements and, in the small space beneath him, spread her legs further and he responded by easing into her deeper. 

 

His rhythm quickened. His weight was heavier on her as he trembled on his forearms. Sansa’s fingers gripped his hand and her toes curled. She buried her face in the pillow that went warm and humid with each of her breaths. Sandor’s lips rustled against her ear and he moaned her name like a prayer.

 

With all that delicious pressure on the rise between her legs, Sansa felt him harder within her and his breaths became groans encouraged as Sansa cried out as she rode the wave of her release. His own release came quick on hers and she could feel the way he pulsed inside of her.

 

Sandor pressed his forehead against her cheek. “Goddamn,” he whispered and kissed her temple and then her jaw. He collapsed to his side and curled behind her with his arm draped over the dip in her waist.

 

Sansa turned in his arms and swept her lips against his. He kissed her soundly and wrapped her in his arms. Her head found its place in the crook of his shoulder and she listened to the cadence of his breath deepen and slow and eventually it lulled her into sleep.

 

In the morning, the sun streamed through a crack in the curtains and woke Sansa still tucked against Sandor’s chest. On his back and with his arm crooked behind his head, Sandor slept. Sansa smiled and watched his bare chest slowly rise and fall. She planted a kiss there and ran her fingertip up and down the well-defined muscles of his stomach. He looked good in t-shirts and even better out of them and felt even better still—his hard, strong body against hers. 

 

On the next pass, Sansa let her fingertips ease closer to the sheet across Sandor’s hips. The fabric was just sheer enough and the sun just bright enough that Sansa discerned the outline of his manhood. She licked her bottom lip and only meant to lift the sheet when her fingers reached the threshold, but a look wasn’t enough. She slipped her fingers beneath the fabric and the shy, tentative stroke of her fingertips must’ve woke him.

 

He stirred beneath her touch and, when Sansa thought embarrassment might burn her up, Sandor grabbed her by the wrist and the slumberous confusion on his face turned into a smirk. He shoved the sheet towards his knees and yanked Sansa on top of him. Aware now of her nakedness, she straddled him just below his hips. He stared between her legs where her lower lips were spread. He licked the pad of his thumb and smoothed it in circles through the wetness between her legs. His other hand wrapped around his cock, palm running up and down its length.

 

“This what you want, girl?” he rumbled on a voice deep with sleep and heavy with desire.

 

Sansa nodded with a shy smile, but not enough to please him. He gripped her chin.

 

“What do you say?” he demanded, no trace of humor behind the deviant smirk that only faintly creased his lips.

 

“Please,” Sansa whispered. He loosened his grip on her chin and slipped one finger in her mouth.

 

She swirled her tongue around it and sucked gently with eyes softly shut. She opened them and looked at him again and understood by the way he bit his lip and his jaw had clenched and eyes flashed with hunger she’d never seen before, this was going to the famed ride he’d promised, and quite a ride at that.

 

Sandor’s hands settled on her hips and Sansa drew in a deep breath as she rose slightly on her knees. She wrapped her fingers around his shaft and eased down until she felt that sweet pressure give way and fill her up. His head sunk back against the pillow with a throaty grunt and Sansa began with an easy cadence, exploratory as she swiveled her hips and her hands settled on his chest.

 

She wasn’t a sex goddess, but the way he watched her on top of him, she might as well have been. Sansa embraced it. She eased up the length of his cock and back down and relished his eyes closed and head thrown back just as much as the steady pressure building between her legs. A moan escaped her and her legs trembled. She buried her fingers in her hair and lifted it from her shoulders.

 

“Jesus Christ. Just like that,” she heard him pant, but was too lost in this and riding steadily towards a climax. Head thrown back in a symphony of sounds escaping her, she released her hair and steadied herself with her hands on his thighs.

 

Sandor thrust his hips hard enough that Sansa toppled off of him and onto her side. The worry that she’d done something wrong or displeased him in someway didn’t even have time to fully form in her mind. With one rough yank at her hips, he forced her on all fours. Sansa’s confusion turned swiftly into a pout. She shifted backwards towards him with desperate desire for him to be inside of her again. Sandor bent over her, his chest against her back. He nipped at her ear and exhaled a soft laugh.

 

“No,” he commanded and the tip of his dick teased her opening, sliding ever so slightly into her with the promise of everything she wanted in this moment.

 

“Yes,” Sansa all but begged. She tested the waters and eased back so he slid inside of her. Sandor lifted himself upright and on his knees behind her. On all fours, Sansa controlled the tempo now. “Like this,” she whispered and turned over her shoulder as she ground against him. 

 

Sandor nodded and his head lolled back. “Fuck,” he moaned to the ceiling and ran both hands through his hair as Sansa took him deeper with each roll of her hips.

 

When she turned over her shoulder once more and wet her lips with her tongue, Sandor was already watching and must’ve remembered himself again and how he’d lost his command. Strong fingers gripped her hips and he took charge of their rhythm and she let him. She’d always let him because she was a good girl. He reminded her of that with one deep thrust that left her knees shaking and, when she lost herself again, Sansa panted out a please, but wasn’t quite sure for what.

 

Sandor hummed his pleasure as if savoring every bit of her and slowed his movements to taunt. He eased his length out of her until just the tip of his cock teased and she ached on the edge of her release. Sansa tried to thrust herself backwards, but his grip wouldn’t let her. He stilled her movements for a moment until he let go of her hips.

 

Sansa’s knees separated further from one another and she sunk to her elbows and forearms. Sandor let her drive the wild rhythm. It wasn’t enough. She wanted more and drove her hips hard against his and cried out her pleasure at how deep he was inside of her, filling her up, but she’d lost the rhythm that’d bring her home. Her hand flew to his and guided them to her hips to take over.

 

A throaty chuckle rumbled from his lips and he leaned over her once more. “And don’t you forget it,” he whispered in her ear and rolled his hips in a tantalizing thrust that hit all the spots Sansa couldn’t manage.

 

She’d never forget it; never forget he could make her feel this way. She swore it on a panted ‘yes’ against his lips as she swiveled her head towards his. She was rewarded with another thrust and then another until she was begging again, “More. God please.”

 

A sheen of sweat covered their bodies now pressed together again. Sandor kissed her hard and fucked her even harder and she moaned into his mouth. She didn’t care how loud she was, certainly not like this; she was wet and trembling and demanding with the way she bucked into each thrust. She wanted more and he gave it relentlessly until the blinding pleasure became too much and burst with another flush between her legs and cry from her mouth.

 

Sansa drifted in a daze, delirious and body still humming as Sandor thrust his hips twice or three times more, enough that he bit his bottom lip hard and his arm curled around her tight as a vice. With one loud groan that rivaled maybe Sansa’s own outburst, he collapsed to the mattress next to her and stared at the ceiling in an almost catatonic state—eyes wide and mouth hung open as he panted hard—and one hand covered his face.

 

“Where’d you learn to do that?” he mumbled into his palm on a hoarse voice, quiet enough that Sansa didn’t know if she was supposed to answer or even hear.

 

She laid on her stomach and the glorious sensations rolling through her body manifested in strange ways. She wanted to cry, but didn’t want to be that girl—the one who was fucked so good it left her in tears. Don’t be that girl.

 

It didn’t matter. Sandor already knew. She was gazing up at him in a hopeless, dreamy, lust-ladden and fully satisfied way that there was no hope in keeping this a secret. She didn’t try and instead shifted towards him with a happy sigh and a smile she couldn’t stop. He chuckled and held her against his chest. She rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes as the tips of his fingers ran down her spine.

 

“Come take a shower with me,” he said after a few moments and pressed a kiss to her forehead. 

 

Out of bed, Sandor led her by the hand to the bathroom. If multiple rounds of sex were meant to release all the pent up desire and longing, the shower was for admiration in slow kisses and soft touches. Amongst the steam and soap bubbles, they took turns running a washcloth over the other as their eyes soaked in the sight.

 

Sandor drew Sansa towards him until their bodies met and her hands rested against his chest. His gaze flickered from her lips to her eyes across her cheeks and back again.   

 

“God, you’re so beautiful,” he whispered in a sort of affirmation and shook his head in what looked like wonderment.    

 

Sandor had said many things that made Sansa blush and even things that sent her heart flying to the heavens and she assumed—or hoped—he thought she was beautiful, though he never directly said it. She recognized the look on his face now—the hunger in his eyes that didn’t seek to consume with ravenous desire, but rather sought to have her nearer, as if being skin to skin and joined by touch and taste and lovemaking wasn’t enough. The things he’d always left unspoken fell into place and she knew what they meant now.

 

With the water cascading over them, Sansa smiled and lifted to her toes. She pressed her lips to his and he deepened the kiss with tender urgency. The water grew tepid by the time they finished washing their hair and rinsing off.

 

Out of the shower, they took turns brushing their teeth and hair. In the bedroom, Sansa toweled off and retrieved her crumpled clothes from the floor, keenly aware that Sandor watched her dress.

 

“We’re going to do that all the time.” His declaration came matter-of-fact as he slipped a clean white t-shirt over his head. “You know that, right?”

 

“Yes,” Sansa laughed and stepped into her miniskirt. 

 

“Good,” he smirked and pressed a quick kiss to her lips on the way to the bedroom door. “C’mon. I’ll make you breakfast.”

 

As it turned out, Sandor did have all the requisite supplies to cook a meal—at least enough to fry up some eggs and bacon and fire up the coffee maker. He even made her toast and happened to have a fresh bottle of orange juice in the fridge. The man without furniture somehow managed all the materials to make breakfast.

 

Sansa watched him work his away around the kitchen. He wasn’t a giddy man and by no stretch of the imagination was he that right now. But the way he moved—lighter and less brooding and with a satisfied little smile that rested just as much behind his eyes as it did on his lips—seemed to intimate that everything had gone according to his plan. It appeared he gambled with more than just the pre-positioned candles in the bedroom.

 

“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say it looks like you knew I’d be here this morning.” Sansa pulled her legs to her chest and cradled her coffee mug in the small crevice of space beneath her chin.

 

Standing at the stove, he glanced over his shoulder with a grin. “Nope. I do this every morning. The whole thing.”

 

“Really?”

 

“Fuck no,” he laughed and looked to her once more. “Of course, this was for you. Like I said, I took a chance. And here you are.”

 

“You’re sweet,” Sansa giggled.

 

No man—other than her father—had ever made her a meal. They hadn’t really done anything for her. What little consolation prizes of decency Joff ever tossed her way were either self-serving or used to guilt trip her later.

 

“I’m something. Not sure ‘sweet’ is it.” Sandor divvied up the eggs, bacon, and toast onto two plates and brought them to the table.

 

She smiled up at him with gratitude he must’ve puzzled out went far beyond just eggs and bacon. “You look happy,” he said and placed a plate in front of her.

 

“I am happy,” she sighed and gazed at him. 

 

Here they were—Sansa woke up next to him and now they shared a meal in his home; no surreptitious rendezvous in malls or vans or wherever else they could catch a few moments of privacy together. This was real and it was intimate and it was only them.

 

“Good. Me too,” he settled in his seat. The sunlight coming through the windows beyond the kitchen caught the strands of his hair that dried in waves. “Cannibal Star has another show coming up soon. You gonna be there?”

 

“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it,” Sansa beamed.

 

Sandor peppered his eggs and lifted one brow at her. “Even if it’s a school night?”

 

“Especially if it’s a school night.” Sansa bit into her toast to disguise a mischievous smile. He saw it anyhow. 

 

“I’m a bad influence on you,” Sandor exhaled on a quiet laugh and shoved a forkful of eggs into his mouth. 

 

Sansa nibbled at her bacon and dumped more cream in her coffee. It twirled like wisps of a cloud that she watched spinning on itself. They’d come so far, her and Sandor. She’d go to his upcoming show as his girlfriend. At the last one, she hadn’t even known who he was. She was an outsider to his world and now she was a part of it and maybe others had something to say about that. Maybe they’d assume she was just another Mona or Candy waiting to have her conquest. 

 

“What’s going on in that gorgeous head of yours?” Sandor asked and broke Sansa from the reverie.

 

“Will those other women be there?” She lifted her fork and pushed the eggs around her plate.

 

“Groupies? I imagine so.” By the way he looked at her, Sansa couldn’t quite tell if Sandor knew where she was going with this.

 

“No. I mean the ones I met last night. Candy and Mona and…”

 

She couldn’t honestly remember the other one’s name and it didn’t matter. Sandor set his fork to the table and snatched up his coffee mug.

 

“Oh. Maybe,” he shrugged. “They’re not really into the music so I can’t imagine they’ll come for the show.”

 

“Why are they around if they don’t even like the music?” The question departed her lips and she already felt like an idiot for even asking. It was too obvious to even warrant an answer. “Never mind,” she shook her head and dug into her eggs. 

 

“Hey. Don’t go thinking you’re one of them. You’re not.” When she lifted her gaze, Sandor was leaning forward in his seat, chest to the edge of the table and searching out her eyes. “They’re attracted to the fame. Not the music, not even the men involved. Just what it gets them.”

 

“And what does it get them?”

 

“The fuck if I know.” Sandor gulped down his orange juice. The glass looked tiny in his hand and he looked sufficiently uncomfortable now. “Bragging rights maybe.”

 

“Why should I stay away from Mona?” Sansa blurted out. Leave it alone, better judgement warned, but she barreled past the wisdom and dove headlong into awkward conversation.

 

Sandor’s brow folded and his head cocked to the side.

 

“Last night, you told me to stay away from Mona. How come?” Sansa sunk back in her seat but her shoulders tensed and her body had gone rigid.

 

“Was it not obvious?” he grumbled and, when his jaw clenched, she couldn’t quite tell where his agitation resided—with her or Mona.

 

“It was. I just…what’s her story?”

 

Sandor grabbed the orange juice and refilled his glass. With another long gulp, he downed half of it and cleared his throat.

 

“She thinks she rules the roost. There are the chicks who show up when we come through their town. Then there are the hanger-ons, the ones who follow us on tour and think that makes them part of the inner circle. Mona is one of those. She’s been around as long as Cannibal Star has. She claims she saw our potential early on. I think she’s full of shit and I’ve never really figured out what she’s after.”

 

Sandor was a perceptive man and Mona wasn’t clever or motivated enough to hide her intentions.

 

“Is it not obvious?” she pressed, genuinely perplexed that he couldn’t see. 

 

He lifted one brow at her and Sansa laughed, but not for mirth. “You!” she cried and the rising frustration now existed on both sides of the breakfast table. “They all told me who they’ve been with. She’s been with everyone but you. Was she lying?”

 

“No. We fooled around a couple times years ago—like ten years ago—but I never slept with her. That was when we were first signed and had gained some traction in the metal scene. I was a young man and suddenly women were throwing themselves at me. It was hard to resist becoming enamored with it all.”

 

A pang of guilt filled Sansa’s belly and stole her appetite. He’d been gentle and slow and sweet with her last night and made her eggs and bacon in the morning, and Sansa might as well have invited the Spanish Inquisition to the breakfast table. These things happened years ago. She was probably still in grade school the last time Sandor even entertained the idea of letting Mona have her conquest.

 

“Look, I’m not still enamored with it,” Sandor said before Sansa could gather an apology. “That shit fades and it fades quick and, when it does, it gets old and you just want something that’s real.”

 

He reached across the table and gripped her chin in a light touch. “No more,” he insisted and matched her eyes. “I’m with you. I want you. End of story. Don’t overthink this.”

 

Sansa nodded and gave up the cause because relief came quick and she felt silly for even worrying about it. They finished their breakfast in light conversation and laughter and Sansa helped him carry the dishes to the sink when they were done. 

 

“Lets get you to class.” Sandor planted a hasty kiss to her cheek. “Oh hey, your car will be ready today,” he said as he yanked on his boots by the front door. “I’ll pick you up later and we’ll swing by the shop to get it.”

 

“So that means I get to see you again today?” Sansa shrugged into her jacket with a barely contained smile. The giddiness sent her bouncing towards him and she wrapped her arms around his middle.

 

“Sounds like it.” Sandor’s hands settled at her waist and he seemed to marvel at the way she gazed up at him like a love-sick school girl. “I’ve got practice tonight. You should come, if you want.”

 

Sansa gave an emphatic nod and whispered against his lips, “I want.”

 

“Figured you might.” He smirked and slapped her ass. “Let’s go.” 

 

On a normal day, Sansa would’ve refused being on the back of a motorcycle on her way to school. She would’ve complained about it ruining her hair or wrinkling her clothes or being too cold. She’d rail against the notion of showing up to class looking like a thorough train wreck.

 

Weeks ago, she’d be the girl who complained about all those things, but she wasn’t that girl today and maybe wouldn’t be again. Heart soaring, Sansa merrily hopped on the back of Sandor’s motorcycle. She was sore and tired and in gorgeous raptures. She didn’t care about her hair or clothes or the fact that she wasn’t wearing makeup. She was delirious and happy and the morning was chilly, but he was warm and everything she wanted.

 

Halfway through the ride, Sansa buried her cheek against Sandor’s back and smiled. I’m lucky, she thought. Maybe he thought the same. At a stoplight near the campus entrance, he reached down and squeezed her hand and filled her up with butterflies that hummed in her stomach and sent her heart both floating and racing once more.

 

Outside the lecture hall, Sansa’s classmates gathered in clusters. Some chatted. Others furiously filled in answers to their homework assignments. More people loitered than usual. More eyes peered at the sound of a motorcycle roaring up the road. And all eyes stopped and gaped in uniform fascination as Sandor pulled up in front of the lecture hall.   

 

“Got quite the audience,” Sansa heard him holler over the idling engine. He flipped down the kickstand and killed the bike. In the absence of that mechanical purr, the silence deafened until the whispers started up. “Is that Sansa Stark?” one girl asked. “I heard that guy’s in a band. Probably not a good one,” some guy—a complete stranger—commented. Sansa shot the guy an offended look, but Sandor merely barked out a rough laugh.

`

Sansa replaced her helmet to the seat compartment and zipped up her jacket to cover her bare midriff. She tugged at the hem of her orange miniskirt, a beacon for judgement and bright in the morning light.

 

“Afraid cocksucker over there might see?” Sandor slid his aviators to the tip of his nose and smirked.

 

Sansa shrugged. She’d taken a shower and who would know that she’d been wearing the crop top and miniskirt since last night; of course, that excluded all the hours and all the delicious euphoria of being naked in Sandor’s bed. Heat spread across her cheeks.

 

Sandor gripped her hips and tugged her towards him until their bodies collided. “Fuck all these people,” he growled against her lips. “You can do whatever you want.”

 

One hand slipped up her skirt and settled on her ass with a soft squeeze. Her squeals dissolved into a giggle that terminated in a kiss, warm and lingering, sweet and slow. If others saw or watched—surely they were—she didn’t care. Her heart raced and body hummed as his hands came to her waist.

 

“Sure you have to go?” He grinned, but a glint of something—hopefulness, maybe—glimmered in his heavy-lidded gaze.

 

Sansa’s palms smoothed up his back and she draped her arms over his shoulders. “Hmm.” She planted a delicate kiss to his lips, demure despite the desire rising in her and in him too. She could feel a faint pant bathing the skin of her neck as his lips caressed her there. “You have to go to work.”   

 

“Says who?”

 

“Says your boss probably,” Sansa laughed.

 

“I don’t answer to him. I don’t answer to anyone. Only to you, little bird.”

 

He winked at her and bit down on his bottom lip and Sansa took his words for the tremendous compliment she knew them to be. This wasn’t lip service or a declaration of defiance. Sandor Clegane didn’t offer polished courtesies and Sansa didn’t want those anymore. His verbal affections were boorish and uncouth, but she never had to question their sincerity.

 

“Your last class ends at three thirty, right?” he asked.

 

Sansa nodded and the now all-too-familiar butterflies fluttered at her core.

 

“Well then I’ll be waiting.” Sandor stood with a stretch and dipped to capture her lips once more.

 

He swung one leg over the seat, released the kick stand, and backed the bike away from the curb.

 

“You better be thinking about me in there,” he said in a playful warning that rested on the razor edge of tenderness. 

 

“I promise I will be.” Sansa blew him a kiss and watched him pull away. She waited until the buffeting engine thinned to a distant rumble and he disappeared in the fold of the road.

 

When she turned, the onlookers had also thinned but the ones who remained regarded her with disgust. With each step towards the building, judgmental eyes roved over her body, bare legs and bare face, hair a frizzy and wind blown mess. The murmurs began again, but faded as she passed.

 

Myranda called this the walk of shame. On Saturday mornings, like clock work, some poor soul tip toed down the sidewalk of sorority row with her heels in her hands and mascara smudged beneath her eyes. Margaery and the others entertained themselves by gawking at those girls. It all seemed so juvenile and bitchy now.

 

I’m not ashamed.

 

Sansa squared her shoulders. With nothing to hide behind—no books to clutch to her chest, no backpack straps to fiddle with—she marched into the lecture hall as that girl. Sitting in their usual spot in the hall, Margaery and Jeyne glanced over their shoulders as Sansa descended the aisle. Though her heels were on her feet and she’d wiped clean her mascara, they branded her as one of the so-called tramps trotting down sorority row; a girl to be pitied and ridiculed under the moral guise of “she earned our cruelty.”

 

Sansa approached their row, but her usual spot next to Margaery was occupied with a stack of books and Jeyne’s purse. The message was clear, but Sansa was left to puzzle it out on her own. Margaery busied herself with her nail file—her calling card of dismissiveness. When the nail file came out, the girl had nothing to say, no attention to give. Jeyne stared toward the empty lectern as if willing Professor Baelish to appear and deliver her from an awkward altercation.

 

Sansa stepped closer. Her bare thighs pressed against the seat at the end of the aisle, her seat now bearing the message neither Jeyne nor Margaery had enough guts to say.

 

“So neither of you are talking to me then,” she spoke loud enough that even the people a few rows down heard and gaped in her direction.

 

Neither girl responded. Jeyne huffed and Margaery’s lips pursed in that annoying way that looked like a half-smirk so you never could tell if she was upset or amused. Sansa knew well enough that this wasn’t amusement.

 

“You can sit over here,” a voice called out from behind. 

 

Sansa turned to the row behind her and up the aisle a few steps. Mya Stone smiled at her; a genuine smile that needed no interpretation. Sansa took Mya up on the gracious offer and sunk into the seat next to her.

 

“Thanks,” she sighed.

 

Furthest back in the lecture hall and, with no notebook or pen, Sansa felt like those kids who idolized Robert Smith and The Cure and slinked around campus with dark makeup and tortured expressions. Those kids sat in the back and never took notes. Sansa had always wondered why they even bothered; what was the point? Relegated to the back, she realized the point was liberation.

 

“I was exiled too,” Mya murmured and her gaze flickered to Margaery and Jeyne whispering to one another.

 

“What’d you do?”

 

Mya chewed her pen cap and grinned in a way that reminded Sansa so much of her sister. Even the dark mop of curls that framed her face and the mischief gleaming in grey eyes was reminiscent of Arya.

 

“Pink’s not my thing. So I bought a black dress to the homecoming mixer. It’s not goth or anything. I thought it looked nice. Classy, you know? Something I could wear again. It didn’t sit well with Queen Margaery. She said I had to return it. I don’t have to do anything, I said. So, here I am. In exile.”

 

“The nerve,” Sansa snickered and rolled her eyes. With a blanket of silence between them, Mya seemed to burn with a question on the tip of her tongue, but fiddled with her mangled pen cap instead.

 

“I take it you heard.” Sansa crossed her arms over her chest and her hands disappeared into the sleeves of her jacket. 

 

“Sure did,” Mya chuckled. “Margaery called a DEFCON 1 sorority meeting last night. I never thought it’d end. I missed Knot’s Landing.” She cut a stern glance at Sansa. “Don’t tell anyone I watch that show, okay?”

 

“You have my word.” Sansa quieted with the burden of guilt that pressed into her. “I’m sorry, Mya.”

 

“Why are you apologizing? It should be them.” She tipped her head towards Margery and Jeyne and a devious smile danced on her lips. “Heard he’s in a rock band. That’s pretty rad. What’s his name?”

 

“Sandor.”

 

“Do your parents know?”

 

My parents. She’d shoved them to the furthest corner of her mind where they lingered as a heavy presence and now were catapulted smack dab into the forefront and refused to be ignored. Her father was fuming and her mother was crying. Sansa just knew it.

 

“Oh god,” she groaned into her denim-covered palms. “Sorta. I’m probably in so much trouble. I lied about being with him last night and stayed at his place on top of it.”

 

Before Mya could respond, Professor Baelish waltzed past the lectern to the chalkboard and wrote in giant letters, white against black:

 

SEX SCANDALS.

 

Sansa swore half a dozen faces turned to where she sat. Baelish set the chalk down a moment before picking it up again and adding:

 

IN POLITICS.

 

“Do you get creepy vibes from him?” Mya whispered.

 

“He wrote the book on creepy,” Sansa whispered back and Mya agreed with a loud, sharp laugh that elicited a glare from Jeyne and affront from Baelish who stood down front, just as self-important as ever and gearing up for another lecture full of controversial material.

 

For an hour, he cantered back and forth on stage as one of his grad students advanced the slides in the carousel projector. Marilyn Monroe and Jackie Kennedy took turns being projected behind Baelish. His shadow crossed them as he shared lurid details of Marilyn’s affair with JFK. The connection to 20th century politics came at the tail end of his lecture, the tacked on details that somehow excused what was otherwise an excuse to talk about that tramp Marilyn and how she ruined Jackie’s life; never mind the man involved in it all or the deep complexities of both women.

 

Class ended with applause, as it always did, and Baelish did his little bow at the front, positively beaming and lapping up the accolades. As students filtered out, Baelish jogged up the aisle towards Sansa who waited for Mya to collect her things.

 

He reached Sansa’s row and feigned an exaggerated pant. “That was quite the hike.”

 

“Am I not allowed to sit up here?” Sansa countered. He stared at her legs.

 

“You can sit wherever you like,” he said through a fake smile framed by a perfectly waxed mustache. “Your mother called me. She’s worried sick, but was so happy—well, happier; it’s all relative—when I told her you made it to school.”

 

Confusion must’ve pooled on Sansa’s face. She felt her brows pull together and her mouth dangle open as she searched for something to say. Why the hell hadn’t her mother learned, after all these years and her father’s perpetual misgivings, that this man wasn’t her friend? 

 

Baelish smirked again with obvious delight. “I saw that your friend, Santiago—”

 

“Sandor,” Sansa quickly corrected. 

 

“Oh, that’s right. Well, I saw him pull up on his motorcycle. You two made quite the entrance. Don’t worry, I was discreet. I didn’t mention that part to your mother. I didn’t want to worry her more than she already was. In any case, she wants you to call her as soon as class is over.”

 

Baelish crossed his legs at his bare ankles and settled back on his penny loafered feet, utterly pleased with himself.

 

“Did she say anything else?” Sansa pressed.

 

“She presumed you were with this Sand…Sandoval?” He squinted and scratched the back of his neck. “Am I getting that right?” With a dismissive wave, he continued. “Anyway, she assumed you were with this Sandoval character. But I’m not one to get in the middle of things and meddle in other people’s business. That’s just not who I am. I only wanted to pass along the message to you.”

 

“Yeah, I see that,” Sansa grumbled.

 

Baelish left and Sansa’s mood soured. The dream lifted and her feet were planted firmly in the reality she’d soon face. Her parents were pissed and this was going to be war.

 

“You’re more than welcome to use my office phone, you know,” Baelish tossed over his shoulder while descending the aisle. A fan club of students waited for him down below.

 

Margaery and Jeyne exited their row and made for the door at the top of the lecture hall. They were probably content to breeze past Sansa with scarcely more than disapproving scowls, but Sansa stepped into the aisle and blocked their path.

 

“So you’re stonewalling me now?”

 

Margaery eased towards Sansa and lowered her voice. “You should feel lucky that you’re just getting the silent treatment.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” Sansa felt naked again without anything to hold onto or hide behind. She curled her fingers around the end of her jacket sleeves.

 

“You know what it means.” Margaery tipped her chin high in the air. She was shorter than Sansa by a good four inches so it was the closest she could get to staring down her nose at her. “There are dozens of girls who would kill to be in the position you’re in—slated to be the next president of the sorority, having caught the eye of someone like Harry Hardyng. After that stunt you pulled last night, I’m positive you lied about your run-in with him.”

 

“All you had to do was stay the course,” Jeyne interjected with so much self-righteousness it emboldened her to step toe-to-toe with Sansa. “It’s a shame you just had to throw it all away.”

 

“Shut your mouth. No one asked you,” Sansa snapped and resisted the urge to slap Jeyne’s over-blushed cheek. 

 

Behind Sansa, Mya burst into laughter and Sansa sensed the girl inch closer. Margaery’s hands curled into tight balls and face flushed red. Her voice wavered when she seethed each word through a clenched jaw.

 

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you lately, but you should care more about your reputation, Sansa. I’d honestly be ashamed if I were you. You’re fortunate that the other girls weren’t there to witness your little tantrum last night. I’ve been discreet. If I were you, I’d show a little gratitude.”

 

The diatribe was rich coming from a girl like Margaery who’d had everything handed to her on a silver platter from her wealthy Grandmother. She’d wanted for nothing, bought her way into everything, and now had the nerve to wax lyrical about gratitude, discretion, and reputation of all things.

 

“I don’t care if you tell everyone. I’ll tell them myself. I’m not ashamed. And I won’t be threatened.”

 

A saccharine smile—one that rivaled Baelish for being overbearingly disingenuous—curled on Margaery’s perfectly pink lips.

 

“Wasn’t a threat, dear,” she chirped. “Just a word to the wise.” Margaery ascended the steps past Sansa, daggers gleaming in her eyes as she went. “Come on, Jeyne,” she beckoned. 

 

Jeyne scampered behind. “And you can forget about coming to Jazzercise with us,” she tossed out. It was meant to masquerade as a haughty afterthought, but was so deliberately planned to add insult to injury. It accomplished neither, so Sansa laughed.   

 

“Jazzercise isn’t real exercise!” Mya shouted, hands cupped around the sides of her mouth. “If you want exercise, hop your ass on a treadmill, Jeyne!”

 

A round of chuckles rippled through the lecture hall and Jeyne’s cheeks deepened to a fuchsia as she hurried away.

 

In the back of the hall, Sansa relished the second round of liberation. A night of sex, a walk of shame, and a few choice words were all it took to unburden herself from the weight she’d carried for well over a year. Margaery used to make Sansa nervous, so great was her admiration of the girl. She’d been all too eager to please, but never stopped to ask herself why she cared, what Margaery brought to the table, and if a friendship was even worth it.

 

Mya stepped into the aisle, overflowing with evident pride at Sansa who’d probably just assured her permanent exile.

 

“Well, was the sex good at least?” the girl asked.

 

“Unbelievable,” Sansa replied, not a beat between question and answer. 

 

“Then it’s all worth it?” Mya nudged her with an elbow and the girls started towards the door.

 

Sansa smiled to herself, unafraid of the hailstorm waiting for her at home. “Absolutely.”

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

 

Chapter Twelve

 

“We'll fight the powers that be, just

Don't pick our destiny 'cause

You don't know us, you don't belong

Oh, we're not gonna take it

No, we ain't gonna take it”

 

-We’re Not Gonna Take It, Twisted Sister

 


 

“You look chipper,” Phil the new guy commented.

 

Crouched near the wheel well of a Cadillac, Sandor glared at him. Phil had a lot to learn; things that weren’t in the employee’s manual. Phil had torn through that thing and exalted it as gospel. His enthusiasm rivaled that of a teenage boy about to lose his virginity in all its breathless fervor.

 

Phil rested against Sandor’s work bench and twirled a wrench in his hand. Sandor cut an annoyed glance in the kid’s direction and hoped like hell some jackass would wander into the lobby and Phil could blow his load over customer service.

 

“Hey man,” Sandor barked. “Paws off the tools, yeah?”

 

Last time the front was slow, Phil roamed in here and lent Sandor’s socket wrench to another master mechanic who should’ve known damn well not to borrow tools. Sandor’s stance was simple—what’s yours is yours. Lose something? Tough shit.

 

“I just meant you seem light in your loafers today,” Phil explained, blithely unaware he was standing knee-deep in his own grave, the one he dug himself. 

 

The garage stopped at once. A few bays down, Chuck dropped a part and howled with laughter. Even Bruce in the next bay paused his ministrations to the bottom side of a pickup.

 

“W-what?” Phil stuttered.

 

He was already a moon-faced kid with big watery eyes that always looked on the verge of crying. Those eyes veritably bulged from his head now as he shifted a frantic stare between Sandor and Chuck who ambled over. Bruce shook his head and resumed trying to break a bolt free.

 

Sandor stood. With a rag, he wiped each hand clean of grease and eased towards Phil in deliberate steps. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”

 

“I…I just…you just seem happy…happier.” Phil stumbled backwards into the work bench and the wrench landed on the floor in a metallic thud. The sound seemed to damn near stop Phil’s heart as the kid choked on a breath and clutched the badge proudly displayed on his shirt pocket.

 

Chuck settled next to Phil with arms folded over his chest. “Boy, do you know what that phrase even means?”

 

Chuck was an old, crusty bastard and a mean son-of-a-bitch whose bark was a walk in the park compared to his bite. That was precisely why he was also Sandor’s favorite co-worker. He could count on the man not to bullshit him.

 

In petrified paralysis, Phil froze, and the blood drained from his pudgy cheeks.

 

“You just implied he likes cock,” Bruce shouted from beneath the pickup.

 

Phil rushed forward, saucer-eyes alight with contrition and now all his zeal poured into making amends. “I’m so sorry! Sandor, I didn’t…I didn’t know…”

 

The kid must’ve thought the better of putting hands on him. He stopped short as Sandor towered over him with a look that said it all. Phil swallowed hard and Sandor returned to the Cadillac. He tipped his head to the front desk beyond the glass door separating the garage from the lobby.

 

“Go make yourself useful. And stay the fuck away from my tools. I won’t tell you again.”

 

“Yes, sir.” Phil picked up the wrench from the floor and returned it to the bench. He hurried from the garage and back behind the front desk.

 

A presence still lingered next to Sandor. He lifted his eyes to Chuck giving him that knowing look—a smart-ass smirk and a glint in the eye that said he just knew. Men didn’t often share the gift of the unspoken with one another, perhaps just this.

 

“You do look like a man who got fucked good and well last night.” Chuck’s white mustache twitched into the closest thing to a smile Sandor ever saw on him. It still looked half a scowl.

 

Sandor exhaled a laugh and nodded. “Good and well.”

 

The answer was satisfactory enough for Chuck who whistled a tune and returned to his bay.

 

Good and well. It was an understatement if there ever was one. If he cared to talk much about it—and he didn’t—he might’ve corrected Chuck and told the man he’d been fucked slow, hard, sweet, and rough until the sun was about to rise and he wanted sleep, but wanted Sansa more and she was all too eager to please. She’d begged, purred, moaned, and screamed; rode him like her life depended on it and went absolutely wild when he fucked her from behind—legs shaking, breasts bouncing, and her beautiful face looking back at him like he was her God.

 

They didn’t make simple phrases for that sort of thing, so Sandor shut his mouth and went back to work. He appreciated that neither Chuck nor Bruce expected details in the same way that his band mates did. Beric and the others usually wanted the play-by-play. It was a means to compare conquests in just another dick measuring contest. Numbers alone stopped being enough years ago. They needed details to suss out who was the better man.

 

But Sansa wasn’t a conquest. She’d been warm and sweet and most of all she’d been trusting. For his part, Sandor had been ashamed it took him so long to identify in her what was missing all these years of bedding wanton women. Intimacy.

 

Sansa let him kiss her and hold her. Even something as simple as interlacing her fingers in his and looking him in the eyes had been a novelty. Good and well. Maybe that’s what Chuck meant. Maybe that mean old son-of-a-bitch knew a thing or two about it, enough that the same woman put up with his grouchy ass for thirty years of marriage.

 

Sandor spent the rest of the day turning wrenches and staring down the clock. Time crawled and well past noon Bruce reminded Sandor that he hadn’t taken his lunch break yet. He wasn’t all that hungry. He should’ve been ravenous, but Sansa had a strange effect on him, and he picked at breakfast instead of devouring it, more content to talk to her than stuff his face on the way out the door as he normally did. 

 

Every minute closer to three sent him headlong into distraction. His attention to detail fell apart at the seams in frayed thoughts. Maybe he’d propose dinner tonight. Maybe she’d want to stay the night again and they’d actually sleep. Or maybe they’d go another night without it, and he’d get fucked good and well right into Saturday morning.

 

The clock hit three, but Sandor had hit a wall hours before and the Cadillac would just have to sit another night in the shop. He packed up his tools and stripped out of his work shirt to the black t-shirt underneath.

 

“You outta here?” Chuck hollered over the radio and fussed with an alternator on the fritz.

 

“Yeah, but I’ll be back in a bit for the Volvo. Gotta go pick up its owner.”

 

Bruce poked his head out from underneath the hood of a Buick with a faint smirk. “Since when do we offer that service?”

 

“Ever since ‘the owner’ is the girl he’s seeing,” Chuck filled in the blank and rumbled with uncharacteristic laughter. “Oh, to be a young man again,” he sighed and returned to his work.

 

Sandor hurried from the garage and did the best he could in the bathroom. He washed the grease from his hands and arms and even wiped clean his face, something he normally left for the shower at home. He combed back his hair and gathered it in a tight bun at the nape of his neck. Out in the hall, a familiar voice drifted from the front as he gathered his things from the locker—wallet, keys, helmet—and shrugged into his leather jacket.

 

I know that voice.

 

He paused momentarily, but it only took that moment for recognition to snap into place and send him stomping down the hall to the front desk. Phil must’ve disappeared into the garage. No one was up front, except for Sansa’s father. Sandor set his helmet down on the counter, the only thing that separated him from Ned who looked an awful lot like he wanted to hurl himself at Sandor. 

 

Sandor crossed his arms over his chest and settled back on his heels. “Ned.” The tepid greeting bought him precious little.

 

If a look could kill, Ned’s would slaughter. Staring daggers did no justice to the barely buttoned-up fury that raged beneath Ned’s still facade. The man stepped to the counter in his grey suit and pristine satin tie. His face flushed at least one shade redder than it had been a mere moment ago.

 

“I was just leaving to go get Sansa,” Sandor said and picked up his helmet again. He’d get his jabs in where he could and would’ve happily waltzed out the door, but Ned stepped around the counter’s corner to block his path.

 

“That won’t be necessary.” His voice raised enough that Sandor halted mid-stride. “Sansa has some things going on. I’m here to pick up the car.”

 

Sandor dropped his chin to his chest and laughed with a shake of the head. “Some things, huh?” He stared at Ned, eye to eye. Neither of them would back down. That much was plain to see. “Funny. She failed to mention those things this morning—not in bed, or the shower, or at the breakfast table. Not even when I dropped her off at school.”

 

Now Sandor was just fucking with the man for the hell of it. Not a word of it was a lie, though. It wasn’t even some bloated version of the truth meant to get under the skin. Ned seemed to know as his face turned an unnatural shade of crimson.

 

“Does she know you’re here?” Sandor pressed and, just when he thought Ned was about to drop dead of an aneurysm on the spot, the man cleared his throat and wove some calm into his voice.

 

“That’s not really any of your concern. You’re nothing more than her mechanic. It should be all the same to you, whether I’m here or she is.”

 

Sandor stared down Ned from beneath his brows. Two could play this game and if this fucker wanted to go toe-to-toe with him, he was in for one hell of a fight.

 

“It’s not all the same to me,” he grumbled on a voice drawn low and deep. “And I’m much more than her mechanic.”

 

The last bit came like a warning and Ned stiffened in response. His back went straight as a board and he wasn’t a particularly tall man but stood as if he were; shoulders thrown back and chin tipped high and mighty.

 

“You do realize she’s an adult and can make her own decisions?” Sandor continued when Ned went quiet. “Or are you in denial about that too?”

 

“She’s not even twenty-one yet,” Ned snapped. “Just because she can make her own decisions, it doesn’t mean they’re the right ones.”

 

Sandor set his helmet down again and leaned against the filing cabinet behind him. “Cut the bullshit and say whatever it is you came here to say.” Once more, he folded his arms over his chest and settled in to listen to whatever drivel Ned Stark had come to offer him.

 

Ned stepped towards the counter and marked his words with deliberate force. “I know you know what I’m saying. She’s young and has a future ahead of her. She can’t afford to get distracted by—”

 

“By what?” Sandor interjected.

 

He’d make Ned say it. It wasn’t as if Sandor hadn’t heard it all before or was too fucking dense to read between the lines. This shit wasn’t new—daddy’s girl falls for the wrong kind of man. But if Ned Stark came here to give him the business, then he better speak his goddamn mind. At least, there was some respect to be had in that.

 

Sandor watched as something relented in Ned, enough that the man changed his approach. Rigid before, now he leaned against the counter and tapped his fingers on a laminated brochure. He closed his eyes and seemed to reflect on some distant memory before staring plainly at Sandor.

 

“Let me level with you. I was in a band, okay? I don’t talk a lot about it or brag, but my band, we were kind of a big deal. I know what goes on. The girls and the drugs and the…well, you know…”

 

“The fucking? Yeah, I do know.” Sandor narrowed his eyes at Ned who’d just offered his pièce de résistance of unsolicited advice but couldn’t summon enough self-awareness to know he was making a fool of himself.

 

His words reignited Ned’s stilted, slow burning anger. He glared at Sandor with the red flush returning to his cheeks, only this time it was like a tidal wave spreading down his neck as Sandor continued.

 

“You spent the Sixties high off your ass on LSD and playing dive bars with your shitty little band. I don’t think you’re qualified to speak to the lifestyle.”

 

Ned’s arms fell to his side and, though the counter obscured his hands, Sandor assumed they curled into fists. The rest of Ned looked coiled like a spring, ready to pop at any moment.

 

“What were you doing with her last night? She didn’t come home.”  

 

Sandor stood from the filing cabinet and walked to the counter directly in front of Ned. He leaned in as he spoke through a smirk.

 

“What do you think we were doing? You just claimed to know what musicians are all about. Take a guess, old man.”

 

Locked at the eyes, neither spoke. Sandor didn’t expect an answer and Ned wasn’t going to give one. That knowing look—the one all men knew—passed between them. Ned didn’t crack a smile like Chuck had. He looked more like Phil, struggling for something to say and eyes bulging from his head, but, unlike Phil, not in a way that looked like he could burst into tears. Ned was a hard man and sure as shit wouldn’t offer that sort of satisfaction to Sandor; not a chance in frigid, blustery hell.

 

“Sansa means the world to me,” Ned fumed. “I won’t let a scumbag like you drive a wedge in my family just because you think you deserve her. You’re punching way above your weight and I think you know it. What could you possibly have to offer her?”

 

There it was. The million-dollar question gilded in value judgements and self-righteous bullshit. Sandor might have answered if the elephant in the room didn’t demand some sort of recognition.

 

“That guy she dated. Tell me, Ned—did you have this talk with him?”

 

Ned blinked at him but didn’t break eye contact. Sandor saw it, though—the faint grimace of their little family secret revealed in the open even though no one, not even Phil bumbling through his day, was here to listen. Some chump and his frat boy cronies roughed up Ned’s baby girl and the man still had the utter audacity to come in here demanding to know what Sandor could offer her; as if Sandor were barely hitting the bottom-rung of decency and deserved a good dressing down because of it.

 

“No, you didn’t, did you?” Sandor’s patience waned and now he was the one fighting off the urge to hurl himself across the counter. “He fit the mold—strait-laced douche bag with a drinking problem and anger issues, but he must’ve looked real good on paper, right?

 

“It didn’t matter if he made your girl happy, just as long as he checked all the boxes so you could pat yourself on the back and call it a job well done as a father. Didn’t matter that he put hands on her. He had the pedigree, the right last name. If it’s not him, it’ll be another just like him—just as wrong for her, just as much of a monster beneath a pretty boy facade. So, tell me again how much you care about your daughter, Ned.”

 

He must’ve thrashed a nerve in Ned; something that struck just a little too close to the truth the man probably denied or ignored or tucked away because it brought with it too much inconvenient guilt.

 

“Stay away from Sansa.” Ned jabbed a trembling finger at Sandor. “You’re five years shy of being a dried-up has-been with no future. The game doesn’t last forever, and you’ll end up empty handed; working a dead-end job with no prospects, no means of improving yourself, and certainly not with a girl like Sansa. She deserves more than you’ll ever be able to give her, and you know it.”

 

Sandor would’ve decked him. Sansa would forgive him eventually. It’d be worth it. The fury that enveloped them was a pressure cooker in bad need of an outlet. Sandor’s hands curled into tight fists and his jaw clenched in that familiar way that meant he was ready to go down swinging, even if it meant losing his job. And Ned was ready for the same in his pressed suit and sweat beading down his temples where a vein bulged beneath the skin.

 

The door from the garage swung open and Phil cantered through with keys and paperwork in hand.

 

“Sir, you are all set with the Volv—” Phil halted. “Oh.”

 

Sandor refused to take eyes off Ned, anything that might bear even the slightest resemblance to backing down. He heard Phil gulp and saw him shift in his periphery, as if gaming out his next move. After a few agonizing beats of silence, Phil slipped past Sandor and settled awkwardly behind the counter.

 

Apparently, Ned played the same long game and, without taking eyes off Sandor, reached a slow hand to his back pocket. He produced his wallet and pulled free a credit card that he slid across the counter to Phil who probably wanted to shit his pants right about now.

 

Phil floundered. He shuffled nearer to Sandor and then backwards and forwards again, second guessing his every move, until Sandor snapped an irate stare at the kid.

 

“I’ll just…with the…slidey contraption.” Phil’s voice cracked and he hesitated as he reached for the credit card imprinter in front of Sandor. Phil fumbled with the machine and grabbed Ned’s card from the counter in slow delicacy, but little grace.

 

“They say these babies are the way of the future,” he waved the card with a nervous laugh and it almost slipped through his fingers. “I don’t see it. Cash is king. Of course, you are a valued customer, Mr. Stark, so we are pleased to accept whatever form of payment you prefer.”

 

Ned and Sandor glared at Phil, perhaps the only thing they’d both agree on in the moment—the intense desire for Phil to shut the fuck up and get on with it. Then again, no one could laud the kid for his ability to read a room, certainly not now as the motherfucker blathered on in phrases lifted from that goddamn employee’s manual.

 

“I do hope your service was satisfactory,” Phil cheerily tacked on to the silence and returned Ned’s card to the counter. 

 

Ned slid his card back into his wallet and grumbled, “It wasn’t. You can rest assured that I will be filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. And I think it goes without saying that you will not be getting any more of my business.”

 

“Good,” Sandor huffed. “We don’t need or want your business.”

 

Phil’s big eyes went buggy and his mouth tumbled open as he gaped at Sandor in flabbergasted disbelief before turning to Ned. “That’s not…sir, we appreciate—”

 

“We appreciate you going to hell and getting fucked along the way.” Sandor tossed the Volvo’s key to the counter with enough force that it bounced, slid, and then tumbled to the floor where it hit the tile with a thud.

 

“Oh my God,” Phil whispered and whipped his head to Ned. “Sir, that is not our stance on customer service. I can assure you of that. My colleague is—”

 

Ned lurched forward, chest to counter as he screamed, “Your colleague is a raging asshole who should be fired immediately for his treatment—”

 

“For my treatment of your daughter?” Sandor bellowed. “She didn’t seem to mind it one bit last night the way I had her wet and begging for more!”

 

Ned’s hands clenched into white-knuckled fists and, when he hurled himself around, Sandor was sure he would be on the receiving end. Instead, Ned launched himself at a cardboard cutout of the Michelin Man sitting in the corner. He punched a hole right through the center. Phil expelled a whimpering breath and Chuck and Bruce bolted from the garage and into the lobby.

 

In a last stand, the Michelin Man swallowed up Ned’s fist. Ned strung together a slew of expletives that didn’t quite match and tried to rip his fist from the cardboard’s hold. Frustration surmounted and he kicked the sign hard enough that he freed his hand but bent the thing in half.

 

The embarrassment that should’ve been there all along came. Ned turned to find an audience gaping at him. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed at his brow. Fucking Phil, though, just couldn’t seem to leave well enough alone. The kid delivered the final straw.

 

“Sir, we’re gonna have to ask you to leave. Our company policy—”

 

“Fuck your company policy! And fuck you!” Ned pointed at Sandor and barreled toward the door. “And fuck the Michelin Man!” He kicked the cardboard cutout for good measure on the way out the door and darted outside.

 

For a moment, the four of them—Sandor, Phil, Chuck, and Bruce—were rendered into an awed silence. If he weren’t so furious, Sandor might’ve laughed and would be delighted at having a story to share at band practice. But this wasn’t some customer he’d never see again—out of sight, out of mind. This was Sansa’s father, and this wasn’t bound to be the end of it. Far from it, it was only the beginning and, as sure as the sun would rise, he and Sansa would have hell to pay.

 

Bruce broke the silence. “He forgot the key.”

 

All of them stared at it on the floor.

 

“Should…should we…?” Phil stammered and turned to Sandor.

 

A moment later, Ned came tearing towards the front door. He flung it open and dashed through. A lesser man might’ve abandoned the Volvo and called it all a wash, not worth the blow to the ego to come back for it. Like it or not, Ned Stark clung to his pride and apparently to the Volvo sitting in the parking lot.

 

He snatched the key from the floor and glared at Sandor. “She will never see you again.”

 

“Over my dead body,” Sandor fired back. 

 

“That can be arranged.”

 

“That a threat?” Sandor rounded the corner of the counter and would’ve careened himself at Ned, but Chuck’s arm shot up and blocked his path.

 

“C’mon now,” Chuck rumbled. His arm fell back to his side and he turned to Ned. “I can’t have you hassling the folks here and mangling the Michelin Man. Best be on your way before this gets ugly.”

 

Good old Ned—put-together, white bread Ned—hung his head and made for the door, defeated by his own pride and ego. Sandor might’ve felt bad for the man or at least pitied him in so far as he’d just made a thorough fool of himself.

 

Ned glowered over his shoulder at Sandor, once more silently declaring that this wasn’t the last word. In the end, Ned got the final say. He’d be heading to pick up Sansa and have it out with her while Sandor was left empty handed, relegated to finishing out the workday with nothing much to look forward to and no way to warn Sansa what was coming her way.

                                                                                                    

 

“I don’t know where he is.” Sansa gripped her purse strap and stared down the strip of asphalt that led to the lecture hall. Her watch said it was heading towards a half past four and her heart sank deeper into the pit of her stomach with each passing minute.

 

“It’s okay,” Mya shrugged and offered Sansa a sympathetic smile. “If he doesn’t show up, I’m happy to take you home.”

 

“I’m sure he’ll be here soon.” Sansa tossed out the dull reassurance as much for herself as for Mya. 

 

The whole point of Mya waiting with her was so she could meet Sandor. It also doubled as the prime opportunity to put last night’s meltdown at the mall to bed and prove to Sandor that at least one of her sorority sisters was sane and normal and not a total stuck-up bitch.

 

And Mya wanted to meet him, too. The girl had only heard lurid details about him through the filter of Margaery’s snobbery and Jeyne’s hysteria. Sandor was hulking and horrid and Sansa had willingly climbed into the back of a death metal van, probably to get high and let them all have a go at her. At least, that was the picture that’d been painted.

 

Sandor would’ve just laughed it off and told Sansa not to bother with damage controlling reputations with people who didn’t matter. Mya mattered, though, so Sansa waited outside and bounced in place as the air took on a subtle chill and twilight fell around them. 

 

“Sure you don’t want to try calling him?” Mya asked and Sansa followed her eyes to the lecture hall lit up from within. Baelish was probably lurking somewhere in there. Sansa didn’t want to risk it and Mya seemed to know. “It’s really not a problem to take you home,” she said. 

 

Sansa eyed the empty road. Bad luck—or maybe bad karma—would dictate that the moment she left with Mya, Sandor would roar up on his motorcycle, just as dejected at her absence as she was at his.

 

She willed him to manifest and almost believed she had done it when an engine sounded from just beyond the soft slope of their vantage point. Sansa’s heart leapt to her throat and raced with anticipation until a car broke the hill’s horizon. A Volvo—her Volvo—rolled towards them.

 

“This might be him.” Sansa ran frantic fingers through the ends of her hair and licked her bottom lip. But why would he pick me up in my car though?

 

Logic should’ve prevailed and she should’ve known. Her heart and high hopes both dove from great heights to plummet past her stomach to some subfloor of her spirit. Disappointment was the very least of it. Of course, Sandor wouldn’t pick her up in her own car. Only her father would do that, and it was her father rolling down the window and slowing to a stop near the curb.

 

“I’m taking you home. Get in.” He stared her down with foreign anger she’d never seen in him. If Arya were here, she’d say he established new upper bounds of the Ned Stark Rage Scale. He had his moments, but nothing like this. His suit was wrinkled and so was his face, every line visible with his heavy scowl. 

 

“Where’s Sandor?” Sansa meant it as a demand, but her question came thin and shaky.

 

“He’s not coming. Get in now,” her father seethed. 

 

Sansa reeled from the curb and inched backwards. “What? You had no right—”

 

“I’m your father and I had every right!” he howled out the window and spittle flew from his mouth. If class hadn’t ended an hour ago, this might’ve been the second showing of “Sansa Stark Makes A Scene Outside The Lecture Hall.”

 

 “Get in the car, Sansa.” Her father quieted but his anger hadn’t waned. It roiled beneath icy eyes and through clenched teeth, something like putting a lid on a boiling pot. The futility staggered and anger would find its outlet somewhere.

 

“No!” She spun to Mya who’d also inched away from the curb, probably in a desperate attempt to extricate herself from a tense situation she hadn’t signed up for. “Can you take me home?” Sansa pled.

 

“Of course,” Mya nodded and eyed Sansa’s dad with wary hesitation, as if he might have something else to say or his anger could turn at any moment to Sansa’s would-be savior. 

 

“I’m not going with you!” Sansa screamed.

 

She grabbed Mya’s hand and they bolted away from the curb and across the grassy knoll that separated the lecture hall from a parking lot down below. When she lost her shoe, Sansa nearly tumbled down the hill. Mya steadied her with a strong grip and, once Sansa retrieved her shoe, they sprinted the rest of the way. If her father came looking for them, Sansa wouldn’t have known.

 

They dove into Mya’s car and drove off before the Volvo would’ve had a chance to even make it down the hill and around the corner to where they were.

 

Sansa ranted the whole way home and Mya, blessed sweetheart she was, listened and agreed with heavy nods. Her father had no right. He was ruining her life. This was all his fault. She was gearing herself up for the all-out war that was waiting for her at home. She’d pay for her “little stunt,” as he was probably going to call bolting from him. If she’d given it any thought, Sansa might’ve asked Mya to drop her off at the Kettleblack’s bar. She could ride out the weekend with Sandor in ecstasy until she had to move into the sorority house. Problem solved. She could bypass all the messy bits.

 

Nothing was that simple, though, and clearly Sandor already had words with her dad, so what right did she have to sidestep the inevitable when he’d faced it head on?

 

Mya turned into the neighborhood and eased down the street to Sansa’s house. Somehow her father beat them there. He must’ve sped down the highway like a bat out of hell just to make sure he’d be pacing down the door when Sansa walked in. Mya parked behind the Volvo and Sansa turned to the girl, feeling every bit the shit friend, but Mya merely smiled.

 

“I owe you big time,” Sansa avowed and meant it. Come hell or high water, she’d make it up to Mya. She wouldn’t be like Margaery or Jeyne who used people and tossed them aside.

 

“Don’t sweat it. You’ve got plenty on your plate right now.” Mya peered towards the front door. “Good luck and God speed,” she chuckled. 

 

“Thank you. For everything.” Sansa climbed from the car and tugged at the bottom hem of her miniskirt.

 

The walk to the door was agony in each step. Surely, this was what Arya felt all those nights she snuck off with Gendry. If she weren’t in a skirt, Sansa might have taken a page from her sister’s book, scaled the lattice, and climbed through her bedroom window. She could hide out until her father left for the office in the morning.

 

That wouldn’t work either. She’d have to face the music, so Sansa summoned the support Arya might give in this moment and ascended the porch steps to the door.

 

Be brave. Take no shit, she told herself. With one deep breath, she squared her shoulders and pushed through the front door. Her plan was simple—a quick slip to the right, tiptoe up the stairs, home free down the hall. If only…

 

The plan crumbled the second Sansa stepped foot in the house. She hadn’t even closed the front door when her father catapulted from his recliner in the living room.

 

“Get in here!” he shouted.

 

Sansa twirled towards the living room. “Stop telling me what to do! And stop meddling in my business. You had no right to go to Sandor’s work today!”

 

She hurried down the hall and into the kitchen. Her father tore after her just a breath behind, hollering and fuming the whole way like a hurricane hell bent on destroying everything in its path.

 

“You live in my house! I pay your tuition. I put a roof over your head and food on the table! You will do things my way! You will never see him again.”

 

“You don’t get to tell me that!” Sansa embraced her own anger now and spun towards him, hurtling her words with just as much force as he had. “I will see him as much as I want to! In fact, I will see him every minute of every day if that’s what I want to do. And you know what? You don’t get to control that! I’m not a child!”

 

Stunned she wasn’t going to take this lying down, her father appeared absolutely baffled. He settled back on his feet and watched in dazed silence as Sansa walked to the fridge, removed the water pitcher, and poured herself a glass of water. 

 

“You know who you’re like?” she said with smoldering placidity now. If he were the storm, she was the eerie calm in the eye; just as unsettling but in an entirely different way. “Petyr Baelish. That’s who. You just can’t help yourself. You have to go and get in the middle of it and ruin everything all because you want it your way. You don’t care if it makes me miserable.”

 

Sansa lifted the glass to her lips but her hand trembled as she sipped. She eyed her father over the rim.

 

“Don’t you dare compare me to that pastel buffoon,” he warned on a low voice, dark with anger. “Why do you insist on lying to me continually and at every single turn?”

 

Sansa only meant to toss the remainder of the water in the sink, but the glass slipped from her fingers and went with it. It shattered in the sink, breaking into a million pieces. Unfazed, Sansa fired back.

 

“Because you suddenly insist on telling me who I should and shouldn’t be with. And you know what? You never told me not to be with Joffrey. You just let it happen. I finally find someone who treats me right and makes me happy and you have to go and fuck it all up!”

 

Silence reigned supreme now. Her father drew a deep breath and lifted his eyes to the ceiling. He smoothed his hands over the wrinkled ruin of his suit jacket and slicked back the untidy strands of his hair.

 

“I have nothing more to say to you,” he murmured. “You’ve disappointed me more than you’ll ever know. I don’t even recognize you anymore, Sansa. Go to your room.”

 

The words stung and Sansa didn’t know if he’d deliberately meant for them to. She was changing, shedding parts of herself and evolving and she didn’t think it was so bad, but other parts remained—the part of her that never wanted to be a disappointment or let down those she loved.

 

Sansa breezed past him and slinked down the hall and up the stairs. The argument was over, but she felt no better for it. In her room, she sunk into her bed and pulled the phone from her nightstand next to her side.

 

By now, Sandor would be at band practice. She was supposed to be there with him, shirking responsibilities and putting off the inevitable; not facing it all here in this hellscape of her homelife. And now she’d have to face the fall out on the other end with him, whatever that was.

 

Receiver pressed to her ear, Sansa dialed the number to Kettleblack’s bar and held her breath as it rang. By the second ring, a thin layer of sweat covered her palms. On the third ring, someone picked up.

 

“Kettleblack’s.” Music drifted through the phone along with a man’s rough voice.

 

“Hi, I need to talk to Sandor. I think he’s there for Cannibal Star’s—”

 

“They’re in the middle of it right now, love. Call back in about an hour or I can take a message and let him know you called.”

 

An hour was eternity. “Yes, please,” Sansa sighed. “As soon as they break, can you have him call Sansa Stark right away?”

 

“Sure thing.” The man hung up before Sansa could confirm he got her name right or insist it was urgent, and well before she could give him a call back number, just in case. Her eyes sank to the receiver in her hand that tolled with a deadline.

 

An hour. He said an hour. I just have to make it until then.

 

An hour meant two listens of The Bangles cassette or a listen and a half of Toni Basil. In the end, Sansa busied herself in complete silence. She peeled out of her miniskirt and crop top and changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt. All she wanted to do was curl up in bed and stare at the phone. That’d only make it worse, Sansa decided, and opted for productivity. Tomorrow, she was moving to the sorority house and running around with Sandor Clegane meant she’d blown off packing.

 

Sansa tossed armfuls of clothes from her closet to her bed. She had planned to sort through it all and pack it nicely. To hell with that plan—she’d take it all with her and didn’t mind one bit how wrinkled her clothes might get. She shoved the piles into large plastic bins her mother had brought up from the basement.

 

The hour that was promised came and went; then half of another. She heard her mother come through the front door with Rickon and Bran in tow. The boys ran up the stairs like a herd of elephants and barreled down the hall. She expected her mom to come find her, to be the voice of reason and tell her it would all be okay.

 

Oh no. Oh dear. Oh fuck. Sansa collapsed to the edge of the bed. Baelish’s message to call her mother had slipped from Sansa’s mind. After the stupendous disaster of class and her run-in with Margaery and Jeyne, it’d been the furthest from her thoughts. Her mother was probably livid too, but unlike her father wouldn’t seek Sansa out. She’d leave Sansa to stew in the guilt until Sansa sought her out to apologize.

 

In the end, no one called her for dinner. It didn’t matter. Sansa’s belly knotted and twisted and not with hunger. She eyed the phone and battled the urge to call the bar again, but finally opted for music as a distraction.

 

Two songs into a Madonna cassette, the phone finally rang beneath a heap of clothes on the bed. Sansa heaved the pile off, sweaters and bras and skirts tumbling to the floor, and snatched up the phone underneath.

 

“Hello.” She was near breathless by the time she answered, and her head swam with unrehearsed apologies and thoughts. They’d come out a jumble and she didn’t rightly care, so long as Sandor was on the other end to receive them.

 

“Hey.” His voice drifted through the line, enough that Sansa melted to the bed and would’ve given heaven and earth just to melt into him too.

 

“What happened today?” She flipped to her stomach and pressed the phone hard to her ear, as if that might bring him closer.

 

“Ask your old man,” Sandor grumbled. “He started it.”

 

Sansa sat upright, keenly aware that something was wrong. Sandor cleared his throat on the other end and said no more.

 

“What did you say to him? He’s furious.”

 

Sandor huffed a heavy breath. It cut through the line as sharp as his words now. “What did I say to him? I didn’t say shit, Sansa. Don’t put this on me.”

 

“I’m not putting it on you,” she tried to soothe and twirled her finger around the phone cord. If only she was there with him, they could put this to rights, face to face. “I’m just trying to understand what happened.”

 

“He told me to stay away from you. I told him I wouldn’t. He didn’t seem to like that. I also told him you and I fucked last night. He didn’t seem to like that either.”

 

Matter of fact, Sandor deadpanned the details, but a chill ran through Sansa like ice water rushing through her veins. She swallowed hard. “You told him that?”

 

“What the fuck is it with you and him?” Sandor demanded and irritation grew in his voice. “You’re an adult. You can do what you want. Why is this a big deal? I’m sure he’d figure it out on his own eventually. It’s not that hard to piece together—I like you, you like me, we’re together, we go on dates, we fuck. End of story. I don’t see what the problem is.”

 

“The problem is my parents won’t even talk to me right now.” Sansa rubbed one eye with the heel of her hand. “This whole thing is a mess,” she mumbled and immediately wished she could take it back. It rolled off her tongue before she could stop it.

 

When she hoped he might understand and give her a pass, Sandor went silent on the other end of the line. She waited for him to speak, to say something, to tell her it’d all be okay, but even Sansa knew that that’d be asking too much. He was the one caught in the crossfire of a Stark family battle of wills.

 

“Are you still there?” she asked and scooted to the edge of the bed.

 

With another heavy breath, he spoke again. “Yeah.”

 

Sansa clutched the phone. “Say something.”

 

“What do you want me to say?” Sandor rumbled. “That I’m sorry for how things went down today or that I regret it? I’m not sorry and I don’t regret shit. Look, I can’t get into this with you right now. I’ll call you sometime this weekend.”

 

“Don’t be mad at me.” Sansa’s heart stammered a ragged beat and her stomach fluttered with nausea.

 

“I’m not,” he sighed, and she couldn’t tell if it meant he was relenting. “I’m tired and I’m frustrated. I’ll call you tomorrow or Sunday, okay?”

 

That was forever away. Sansa ached at the thought and tears welled in her eyes. “Okay,” she whispered. What else could she do or say that would undo whatever her father had done? 

 

“‘Night, little bird,” he rasped and hung up. For a second time, Sansa listened to the deadline blaring through the phone.

 

She returned the receiver to the cradle just as Arya wandered into the room sucking on the last remnants of a cherry popsicle. Her lips and the corners of her mouth were stained red and left Sansa awash in childhood memories with the way her sister’s hair was also a mess of wavy curls falling into her eyes.

 

Arya plopped down next to Sansa on the bed. “So, I heard you were…” She shoved the popsicle stick against the inside of her cheek until it created a small mound on the outside. A quick in and out, she emulated the lewd act.

 

Moments ago, Sansa had been on the verge of tears and now she burst into laughter. The tears broke free and rolled down her cheeks as she leaned into Arya.

 

“Is it true?” Arya asked and shoved the hair from her eyes. “Did you let the Hound nail you?”

 

Sansa bit her bottom lip, but it did little to disguise the cheeky smile that formed there anyway.

 

“You hussy!” Arya squealed and grabbed a pillow. She swung it swiftly into Sansa who yelped at the contact. The pillow tumbled to the floor and Arya gazed across the room at the Cannibal Star poster on the wall. “God, you’re my idol these days, Sansa. How the hell did that happen?”

 

“I don’t know.” Sansa retrieved the pillow from the floor and cradled it against her chest. “You’re the only one, it seems.” She pressed the pillow into her face and collapsed to her back on the mattress. “Arya, what a mess.” 

 

Sansa pulled the pillow away from her face and stared at the ceiling. She swiveled her head to her sister who shrugged and bit off the last bit of popsicle.

 

“Look on the bright side.” Arya winced and rubbed her fingers to her forehead. “Brain freeze. Sorry.” She let the popsicle melt in her mouth and continued. “You’ve reached peak coolness the past couple of weeks. I dig this new Sansa. If you want my advice—and trust me, you do—leave the stick-up-the-ass Sansa in the past where she belongs and run off into the sunset with the Hound. Mom and Dad will get over it and then he can be my brother-in-law and I can die happy.”

 

If only. Her father would drop dead on the spot if Sansa ran off with Sandor.

 

She laughed and sat back up again. “Thank you. That’s good advice. How the hell did that happen?”

 

How did it happen? Since when was Arya the only one who seemed to understand Sansa in this household? And since when could Sansa relate to Arya and confide in her?

 

“I’ve always been smart. You just didn’t listen to me.” Arya stood from the bed and pranced across the room to an empty plastic bin. “You suck at packing. I’ll help.”

 

Sansa slipped off the bed as well and returned to the closet now half empty. “That’s unusually thoughtful of you.”

 

Arya scooped up an armful of Sansa’s shoes and dropped them into the bin. “Don’t get it twisted. It’s not like I care or anything. Or want to help you out. Or feel bad that you’re having a tough time with our dear old dad. Or love you or want you to be deliriously happy because you deserve it or anything like that. I just want more closet space.”

 

“I love you, too, Arya,” Sansa said with a smile. She wouldn’t miss much in this house, but she’d miss her sister. “You deserve to be happy too.”

 

The smile faded as Sansa began plucking the clothes from the floor and tossing them back to the bed. In her periphery, Arya hovered as she watched Sansa.

 

“You’re bringing down the vibe of the room,” Arya complained and walked to Sansa’s vanity where a pink cassette player and an assortment of cassettes sat. “I know what you need.”

 

She glanced at Sansa and plucked one cassette from the vanity. “It wouldn’t be totally terrible if we listened to this Whitney Houston lady.”

 

Sansa broke with a smile again as Arya replaced Madonna with Whitney in the cassette player. Her finger hovered over the play button.

 

“Well, well, well, Arya Stark.” Sansa crossed her arms over her chest and tapped her foot. “Does this mean you actually like some of my music?” 

 

“If you tell Gendry, so help me God…” Arya warned and pointed the popsicle stick at Sansa.

 

“It doesn’t leave the room,” Sansa vowed and crossed her heart with her index finger and a stern nod to seal their secret. 

 

Arya jabbed the play button and cranked the volume knob. A beat drifted from the speakers and Arya’s shoulders bounced in a syncopated rhythm. She shimmied towards Sansa and held out her hand to her.

 

“Come on, Sansa,” she cajoled with a devious smirk and a look that said she wouldn’t take no for an answer. 

 

“Arya,” Sansa pouted and breathed a quiet laugh.

 

“You can’t be sad all night.” Arya grabbed Sansa’s hand and yanked her to the center of the room, the only small space not littered with clothes or crowded with plastic bins. 

 

Whitney Houston crooned about wanting to dance with somebody who loved her. For Sansa, that somebody was her sister. Arya twirled Sansa in a graceless movement and lip synced the first words into her popsicle stick. She tossed a hairbrush to Sansa who mimed the words with weak conviction at first until Arya attempted a breakdance move and succeeded only in looking like she was having a seizure. All bets were off then. Sansa erupted into laughter that only egged her sister on further.

 

With Arya’s metal idols plastered to the wall and looking on, Sansa and Arya twirled around the room, each rising to the challenge to make the other collapse into hysterics; Arya with her ridiculous gyrations and Sansa with her obnoxious attempts to hit Whitney’s high notes.

 

Packing meant making a thorough wreck of the room as they tossed clothes and whirled amongst neon fabric and chiffon, breathless from laughing. They made an awful ruckus that surely their parents heard. Neither she nor Arya cared. They were well beyond that.

 

The worries drifted away as clothes were shoved into plastic bins amongst giggles and dancing and secrets shared amongst sisters. Sansa divulged details and regaled Arya with her story of triumph over Margaery and Jeyne and Arya beamed with more pride than Sansa had ever seen in her sister. 

 

In the end, it took two listens of Whitney Houston for Sansa to pack up her life at home into plastic bins. It all looked different than she would’ve imagined mere months ago—the bulging bins, the clothes stuffed inside, her sister by her side and in her corner, and Sansa at the odd intersection of who she’d been and who she was becoming.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Thirteen

I can feel my love for you
Growing stronger day by day
And I can't wait to see you again
So I can hold you in my arms.

-Is This Love, Whitesnake


Summer was over and October came with all its biting and sudden insistence. Leaned against the passenger door of his Mustang, Sandor watched white wisps of clouds drifting across a clear black sky. A blanket of wet leaves covered the road of sorority row and glittered with the reflection of streetlights. He rubbed his hands together to drive in some warmth and checked his watch. If she wasn’t here in another two minutes, he’d go get her and her sorority sisters could witness in real time the corruption of Sansa Stark as a man of his ilk showed up at their door. The absolute horror.

 

Sandor didn’t have to go get her. A minute later, the door to her new place—a three story brick house with a large porch and dying flowers out front—opened and Sansa slipped through and hurried down the porch steps. With her jacket’s black hood pulled up, he couldn’t see her face; not until she crossed the rain-slick street. When she approached, Sansa lifted sad eyes to him and her lips were drawn in a frown. The very picture of sullen, it was in such sharp contrast to the way she normally regarded him with eyes alight and boundless smiles.

 

He might’ve taken this as a sign that the jig was up; she finally realized he wasn’t it or her fucking father peddled his propaganda and filled her mind up with wild ideas. In this Cold War of wills, Sandor might as well have been as red as a Russki for how Ned handled his shit.

 

Sansa stopped a few feet from him with her rain boots heel deep in a puddle. She stared at her hands folded in front of her. The white puffs of her breath betrayed a frantic inhale and exhale through parted lips. Big blue eyes looked up at him again, only this time welling with tears.

 

He pushed himself from the car and leaned forward. “Come here,” he whispered and grabbed her by the wrist to pull her towards him. Sansa settled with her palms rested against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her middle and clasped his hands behind her back.

 

“You’re not mad at me anymore?” she asked but couldn’t look at him. Her gaze remained focused on his leather jacket’s zipper pulled up to his collarbone.

 

Sandor unclasped his hands and cupped both of her cheeks. When he dipped his head to search out her eyes, they’d dropped from his zipper to the ground.

 

“I was never mad at you,” he murmured when she finally relented, and he caught her stare. Her eyes still glistened but flickered across his face now in hopeful relief. “I was just frustrated with the situation. That’s all it was. I’m sorry if I took it out on you. That’s the last thing I should’ve done.”

 

He wasn’t one for words of apology—words didn’t mean shit most of the time—so he yanked her nearer and pressed his mouth to hers to solidify that he meant it and felt the warm little exhale of a small gasp. He parted her lips with his tongue in a kiss that came like sweet release to all the longing and want that’d built up over the weekend. Somethings just couldn’t be said; they had to be shown and maybe that was what this was: the showing because he couldn’t quite get the telling right. And there was so much he needed to tell her.

 

Sandor had thought of her constantly—all Friday night, Saturday early morning well into the afternoon and then all evening too. He busied himself with errands and other trivial bullshit to get a handle on it but, by Sunday afternoon, it dawned on him that he’d left things a haphazard mess during their last phone call. That shit was squarely in his corner and his responsibility to put to rights.

 

He deepened the kiss now in that effort and one hand cradled her head and his other arm wrapped around the small of her back to hold her closer. Her arms found their way around his neck and, when they finally came up for air, she smiled so sweetly at him, though the light in her hadn’t quite come back.

 

“I missed you,” she panted and brushed a strand of hair from his cheek when the wind picked up around them.

 

“Oh yeah?” Sandor chuckled and delivered soft kisses to her neck; her pulse warm against his lips. “What did you miss?” He crept back towards her mouth and wanted more of her, all of her.

 

“Everything,” she whispered. The sincerity was enough that Sandor pulled back to look at her and found no trace of a lie in the way she stared up at him nor in the steps she took closer, as if to dissolve the distance—small though it was—between them.

 

She’d upend him this way. It wasn’t a matter of if but when and the when was coming swift and fierce and may already be here. Sandor searched out her eyes to see if she knew. Sansa was smart and clever, and he didn’t honestly expect that he’d ever get much past her but, no matter how hard he’d searched over the past month, he never found the ill-intentioned guile he’d unearthed in other women who paid him interest.

 

Sansa was warm and pure and, if she kept looking at him like she was now, she’d bring him to his knees and the bitch of it all was that she wasn’t even aware of what she was doing to him. If anything, she was more uncertain now than she had been, and Sandor never expected that uncertainty to reside in how he might feel about her.

 

“You ready?” he asked when raindrops invaded the small space between them in a gentle patter.

 

When Sansa nodded, he kissed her cheek, pushed from the car, and took her hand, warm compared to the icicles of his fingers. Sandor opened the passenger door for her and closed it after she climbed in. He settled in the driver seat and fired up the engine to get the heat going.

 

“I’m really sorry about my dad,” Sansa said, and a pained expression returned to her pretty face. She’d had a hell of a weekend between moving to her sorority house and navigating tumultuous waters with her father. That much was clear to see and delivered the gut-punch of guilt as Sandor turned to her.

 

His calculus had been simple—give her space over the weekend to sort out what she needed to. He gave her what he would’ve wanted if the roles were reversed, but they were different people and needed different things from each other and that became abundantly clear when he called her on Sunday. He figured it out quick enough that he’d only piled on top of her disappointment because she needed him, and he hadn’t been there for her. He wanted to be irritated that she didn’t just ask or pick up the phone and call, but that wasn’t the point and even he understood that having to ask for reassurance sort of defeated its whole purpose.

 

He reached across the center console and took her hand. “You don’t have a damn thing to be sorry about. You did nothing wrong. It’s everyone else who owes you an apology.” His thumb followed the ridges of her knuckles and Sandor stared out the windshield with a smirk playing on his lips. “He’s banned from Selmy’s, though.”

 

Sandor laughed and Sansa did too but covered her face with her free hand. “So embarrassing,” she grumbled into her palm and once again inherited misplaced emotions, ones that should belong to her father or to him, not her.

 

There was no shortage of colorful words Sandor had for Ned and he’d gotten most of them out of his system in rants to Harwin and Bronn—the man was a fucking lunatic, unhinged, out of his goddamn mind, a lucky bastard to have Sansa for a daughter and even luckier to have walked out of Selmy’s without getting knocked the fuck out. He bit his tongue now to stifle the urge to spout off again. It’d only upset her if he did.

 

Sandor steadied his eyes out the passenger window and nodded to her sorority house across the street. “Looks nice.”

 

“It’s okay, I guess,” Sansa shrugged, and the flatness of her reply worried him. She didn’t even crack a smile; nothing for her freedom to play by her own rules, stay out as late as she wanted with whoever she wanted, and live her own life.

 

“Are you sure you want to be here?” Sandor asked and the concern in his voice must’ve caught her attention.

 

Sansa turned to him and looked more bound and backed into a corner than before she moved. “I don’t know what choice I have. I’m not going back to my parents’ house. I can’t get a place on my own. So, this is my option.”

 

A heavy sigh escaped her as she contemplated her new home, but her deep-seeded disappointment said this was no home for her; just a place to go to at the end of the night.

 

“You could always move in with me,” Sandor said without thinking.

 

It earned him a pointed stare and Sansa laughed like he was joking. Sandor chuckled too but didn’t have so much faith that this was a joke to him and that thought alone sent him into a tailspin he scrambled to get control of. Put a fucking tourniquet on it, he demanded of himself and hoped like hell this shit worked that way.

 

Sansa finally cracked a small smile. “Not all of my sorority sisters are that bad.”

 

Are you fucking serious?

 

Sandor stopped this particular thought from manifesting but knew damn well his face said it all—the incredulity that the chicks Sansa ran with were ‘not all bad.’ He’d met precisely two of them and that had been more than enough to paint a vivid picture of what they were all about. Birds of a feather, he had a hard time believing that judgement, cattiness, and stifling expectations to look, act, dress, live, and think a certain way didn’t spread like the plague among all the chicks living in that house.

 

“I don’t get you sometimes, little bird.” Sandor shook his head with a mirthless grin. “Most people are thrilled to be out from under their parent’s roof and you seem miserable about it. And I can’t say I blame you.” Once more, he motioned to the house. “You don’t fit in with them. And I think you know it. I’m right, aren’t I?”

 

Her eyes flickered across his face with enough of a pause that he could tell she absolutely knew he was right. Of course, he was. He was tough and gritty, and all his decent qualities were still rough around the edges, but his judgement of people was usually spot on.

 

“I met you drinking alone on a staircase when you could’ve been backstage with a hoard of women,” Sansa countered instead of admitting he was right. “You don’t always fit in with your band mates either.” 

 

She crossed her arms over her chest in stubborn resolve, bit her bottom lip, and stared out the window. It was cute, if not slightly irritating. 

 

“But I still like them as people. They’re still some of my best friends. Can you say the same about your sorority sisters?” 

 

No. The answer was no; that much was plain to see in her downturned eyes that were sad again and Sandor just couldn’t quite land on a topic of conversation that didn’t seem to upset her.

 

“Not anymore,” Sansa murmured with a hopeless shrug and the pain probably ran deeper than even she acknowledged.

 

“But you used to?” The question was genuine and one that’d played in the back of his mind. Their worlds had collided in unexpected ways that thrilled and enticed him, and he wouldn’t have it any other way, but he wondered if Sansa would agree.

 

She lifted her head again and gazed at the sorority house. “Yes, until…” Her voice drifted away, lost in the white noise of the rumbling engine.

 

“Until you met me?” He finished her thought with a question, but now knew the answer. It didn’t take some great oracle or shrewd observation to see it clearly enough. The writing was on the wall. Sansa’s world was changing, but so was she.

 

She confirmed with a nod and looked to him. “It’s not you, though,” she assured with force enough that he knew she needed him to believe her. “They just don’t understand.”

 

She wasn’t a liar and Sandor never thought she was, but the girl candied the unsavory bits of her reality and expected others to ignore the bitter truth beneath it. It didn’t land like a lie would, but Sandor refused to be spoon-fed the mistruths and swallow them down with a smile on his face.

 

“Are you sure?” he pressed. “It sounds like us being together is having quite the impact on your life.”

 

When her eyes flew to his again, Sansa once more looked like she might cry. “Please don’t say that.” She reached for his hand and scooted until her knees pressed hard against the center console.

 

“I didn’t say it was a bad thing,” he chuckled. “But if it is, if you’re not okay with it, then you need to let me know. The last thing I want is to fuck things up for you, Sansa. If it’s not such a bad thing, then maybe that’s saying something about the people you hang around with.”

 

She bit her bottom lip and nodded but cast another worried glance out the window; one that seemed like she knew she’d made a mistake moving into the sorority house and wasn’t quite sure how to fix it.   

 

“I just need to find somewhere I belong,” she said.

 

Sandor wanted to make it better, to fix it for her, but didn’t know how to either. It wouldn’t be so simple as her living with him. This superseded that. Sansa was at a crossroads in her life and it wasn’t fair for him to yank her in his direction, even though that’s all he wanted to do.

 

He leaned over the center console and caressed her cheek in his palm. “Hey,” he whispered against her mouth. “Where do you belong?”

 

She hesitated, only because she was probably second guessing herself and maybe what she meant to him. He kissed her tenderly—a soft kiss that replaced his normal fervor with a supple delicacy—and it was enough of a hint that she finally answered.

 

“With you?” she asked, hopeful and timid.

 

Sandor nodded. “With me.” He observed the smile that bloomed across her lips and some of her brightness returned with it.

 

Rain pattered the windshield. Now was the time to tell her. The words bubbled at the back of his throat. Some part of him knew to put off seeing her over the weekend because he didn’t know how to tell her this. He’d spent half his time alone trying to craft the best way, the right combination of words that would let her down easy and spare her as much heartache as he could. The other half of the time he’d spent trying to ignore this and that just made him feel like a fucking coward and a fraud.

 

Sandor’s eyes flicked to the car’s clock. In two weeks from this very moment, he’d be boarding a plane for the first stop on Cannibal Star’s next tour. On Friday night, he got the tour schedule after practice finished up and it about gutted him. Four months of European dates, a brief stop back in the States, but only in LA to write and record and prepare for the next leg of the tour—three months in Asia. Then it was back to the States to hop around the West Coast for interviews and small venue shows. Only after all that would they be permanently back in Chicago. This tour would be the longest they’d ever been on the road, a massive production being pushed by their label.

 

‘When are we getting a break and coming back?’  Sandor had asked their tour manager who showed up to practice bursting with the “good news.”

 

‘July of next year. You’ll have three weeks off and then back on the road to finish the US leg of the tour, which will wrap up next December.’

 

Ambitious was the word Harwin used, probably the most diplomatic response of them all. Bronn called it bullshit, Beric had gone quiet, and Thoros grumbled something about them not being young men anymore and this schedule wreaking havoc on them, body and soul. Sandor hadn’t said anything. He crumpled the schedule printed on pristine paper, chucked it at the tour manager with a look that must’ve said “you’re out of your goddamn mind,” and bounded down the stairs where Osney promptly informed him that Sansa Stark had called. The timing was absolute shit.

 

“What is it?” Sansa asked and licked her bottom lip. “You look like you want to say something.”

 

He felt the blood drain from his face, but his pulse was on the rise; an odd combination of being scared shitless and irritated with the timing of everything. The universe finally tossed him a bone only to rip it from him.

 

There was so much he wanted to say to her, but none of it was coherent. It was a mixed bag he hadn’t even sorted through for himself, so he decided to hold off for a little while; just until he could make sense of it all.

 

“I missed you too,” was all Sandor could really manage right now, but no word of it a lie. It brought on another of Sansa’s smiles—radiant and all for him—and that too gutted him, so he kissed her again and hoped she might not notice.

 

Sandor pulled away from her and put the car into drive but kept his foot on the brake. “Are you ready?” he asked and lifted one brow at her. “I’ve never taken anyone here before. You’ll be the first.”

 

“Ready.” Sansa gave an eager nod and buckled her seatbelt.

 

The sentiment seemed to drift over her head and maybe that was just as well. There was never really a reason to take any other girl, even the one he’d committed to years ago. He drove across town to the guitar shop tucked away in his old neighborhood, the one he used to run around in when he first moved here.

 

Times were different then. The guitar shop was just a hole in the wall and Sandor struggled to get by, living in a cramped place with Thoros and Bronn. But everything had changed. The guitar shop had become a legend by now—too much recognition and a victim of its own success in how the owner, Frank, seemed in over his head.

 

“Before Cannibal Star was signed, I used to come to this place to practice on the guitar,” Sandor told Sansa when he turned down the long drag that eventually led to the shop. “I hadn’t saved up enough for my own, so Frank let me fuck around on whatever I wanted, just so long as I promised to buy my first guitar from him. And I did. Been coming here ever since. It’s where I buy all my gear.”

 

At a stop light, Sansa swiveled to him and she got it now. Her blue eyes went wide and she grabbed his hand and tugged it towards her lap with a dreamy smile.

 

“I can’t wait to see it,” she breathed and looked like she wanted to thank him; as if letting her into his life was some sort of tremendous honor and not just something that a half-way decent boyfriend should always do.

 

You still have to tell her, the voice in the back of his head—the one summoning up all the guilt and self-doubt—reminded him.

 

Sandor leaned over and occupied her lips until the light turned green and some asshole behind him blared their horn. When they reached the shop, the rain had let up some and Sandor took Sansa’s hand as they navigated the puddles of the guitar shop’s parking lot.

 

Inside the shop, half a dozen customers wandered about the space, eying instruments hanging on the wall or staring into glass display cases. A few seemed to recognize Sandor as he approached the counter where Frank assisted a customer. Those people whispered to one another or stared at the picture of Cannibal Star on the wall—the one Frank insisted on keeping up—and then whipped their head to Sandor with saucer eyes and star struck smiles.

 

When Frank caught sight of him, he abandoned his customer and ambled around the register to greet Sandor. The man’s hair was going grey and more wrinkles cropped up at the corners of his eyes every time Sandor saw him, but his hearty laugh was the same and so was the way he yanked Sandor into a hug every time he saw him, even now. Sandor released Sansa’s hand and patted Frank on the back.

 

The man let Sandor go and his eyes landed on Sansa who shifted nervously on her feet.

 

“Finally settling down, huh?” Frank rumbled with laughter and clapped Sandor on the back.

 

“Looks like it.” Sandor glanced at Sansa and winked at her with a sly grin that bid her blue eyes to fall to the floor and a bright smile to grace her perfect mouth. “Frank, this is my girlfriend, Sansa.”

 

Frank jabbed his hand towards Sansa who lit up at being introduced as Sandor’s girlfriend. “Frank. Nice to meet ya.”

 

Sansa shook his hand and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. “Nice to meet you too,” she said on a soft, shy voice and beamed up at Sandor again. 

 

Frank waved them to the back of the shop towards a private practice room. “I’ve got her set up back here. I think you’re gonna like the sound. She’s certainly one of a kind.”

 

Sandor took Sansa’s hand once more and followed Frank to the back. The room was small and encased in acoustic foam with just a wooden stool, a peddle board, amplifier, and other bare essentials for checking sound. A fond smile pulled at Sandor’s lips. He’d spent countless hours back here honing his craft—early mornings, late nights, as long as he could until Frank wanted to close up.

 

When he saw her sitting in the corner, Sandor knew he was going to like much more than the sound. Love at first sight, the ’65 Stratocaster was gorgeous, unscathed, and all his. It gleamed in a burst of orange that faded to red and then black. He let go of Sansa’s hand and made his way across the room.

 

He settled the strap across his shoulder and the guitar found its place pressed against his hips and hit all the right spots on his body. His fingers swept up the strings in a delicate touch and his palm cradled the neck. He gave it a strum and she sang sweet for him. The sound melted into the foam walls and Sandor couldn’t help the guttural groan that escaped him when he gave it another strum.

 

Only two things made him feel this way; guitars and women—the curves, the feel against his body, the response to his touch that sent them singing. The similarities were staggering.

 

It took only a few more passes up and down the fretboard for Sandor to decide that she had to be his. And it only took one look at Frank for the man to know. He grumbled a laugh and nodded as though he knew all along. He probably did. The man knew Sandor’s tastes in guitars and understood the magic when something special came along. And it had; on all fronts, guitars and women, it had.

 

“It’s pretty,” Sansa said. She smiled in such a wholesome way that Sandor knew she wasn’t deriding perhaps the only thing other than her that made him light up on the inside like a damn Christmas tree.

 

“I’ll leave you to it,” Frank laughed and left the room, sealing the door shut behind him.

 

Sandor smirked at Sansa sitting on the stool across the small space. “It’s not supposed to be pretty,” he chuckled. 

 

“Sorry. It’s manly.” She bit her bottom lip and gazed up at him with doll-eyed innocence that was a complete sham. He should know. It drove him wild. 

 

Sandor returned the guitar to the stand in the corner and started towards her in slow steps. “I’ll give you something manly,” he warned on a groan and adjusted his half-hard cock.

 

Sansa stood from the stool, eyes darkened with desire, and Sandor pressed her against the wall where she sunk slightly into the foam. His mouth landed on hers in a hard kiss and his hands disappeared beneath her skirt. If it wasn’t for the goddamn leggings she wore, he’d be sliding her panties down her legs and burying himself inside her.

 

As it were, that’d have to wait despite his blood being up. His hands gripped her wrists and he raised her arms above her head, pressing them into the foam as he thrust his hips into her. He stilled when Sansa dipped her head with a nervous smile. When he let go of her wrists, her fingers fumbled with the zipper of his jacket, apparently her new favorite nervous fixation.

 

The room was warm and steadily creeping towards stifling now. He should’ve taken his jacket off and wanted nothing more than to take her clothes off too but was distracted by the way Sansa’s brows pulled together and her lips pursed with something unspoken.

 

“I have to ask you something.” Her eyes flickered up to his but couldn’t stay there. She gazed at the guitar in the corner.

 

Sandor pressed one palm to the wall next to her head. The other settled on her waist. He licked her lips, forcing them to part for him, as he plunged his tongue into her mouth.

 

“What?” he asked but didn’t want to stop kissing her. The question was an unwelcome interruption to all the things he wanted to do to her right now. He was hard and kissing those gorgeous lips of hers was just the start of it.

 

Sansa’s cheeks flamed red. “I’m embarrassed,” she murmured. 

 

“Just say it,” Sandor laughed and stared down at her. 

 

Her lips parted as if she might speak but sealed shut again. Sandor’s head dropped back, and he sighed to the ceiling before returning an imploring gaze to her. He eased closer, mere centimeters between her mouth and his. She leaned back into the wall, but her hips pressed against him, a deliberate bid to drive him fucking insane as she ground ever so slightly against his cock, and her arms wrapped around his waist.

 

“The other night you were naked and sitting on my face,” he said. “And now you’re embarrassed?”

 

“Well, I’m not embarrassed about that,” she giggled. 

 

“Good. Because we’re gonna do that again later,” he mumbled into her mouth and meant it.

 

He’d do it every chance he could because the view of downtown Chicago from his apartment had nothing on the view of Sansa Stark riding his face. He’d gazed up at her beautiful face contorted in pleasure, the bottom side of her perfect breasts, hands gripping the headboard for dear life as her legs shook, body quaked, and she moaned sweeter than any guitar he’d ever encountered.

 

“What do you need to ask me?” he sighed with aching frustration. He wanted her now. He couldn’t wait, but something had gotten her tongue tied and, as much as he wanted that something to be him fucking her into speechless oblivion of incoherent moans, apparently it was something else.

 

Sansa’s hands found their way to his shoulders and she seemed to summon the courage to ask whatever was taking such a tremendous effort.

 

“There’s this thing coming up for my sorority. It’s a homecoming mixer.” Her gaze flickered away and then back to him, as if tentatively gauging his reaction.

 

Confused, Sandor felt his brows pull together and eyes narrow. “Okay.”  

 

“My sorority hosts it every year with our sibling fraternity,” Sansa explained. “I have to go to it, and I don’t want to this year, but I was wondering if you’d want to go with me as my date.”

 

Her voice had softened by the end of it and the words accelerated until they all spilled out of her mouth on one quick, quiet breath. Her fingers swept from his shoulders to his jacket zipper again and her eyes did much the same—staring at some innocuous point on his chest with cheeks flushed pink.

 

“It’s sort of like a dance,” she continued when he hadn’t said anything. “What are you thinking?” she asked and stared at him with the burden of letdown already stirring behind her eyes.

 

Sandor drew in a long breath and stared at the ceiling in thought. “I’m thinking that the only dances I’m normally into are the kind that happen at strip clubs.”

 

“Stop. I’m being serious,” she laughed and swatted his arm. 

 

“I am too,” he chuckled and bit his bottom lip hard as he stared down at her. He’d give heaven and earth to see Sansa strip for him. “I take it it’s not that kind of dance.”

 

“No, definitely not,” she shook her head with a scandalized smile, yet another sham. She couldn’t honestly expect to uphold the charade of shock and appall, not with the way she fucked him the other night and begged for more. He had her number and she seemed to know.

 

Sansa sighed with a slight frown. “Look, I know it’s not your scene and—”

 

“And what?” Sandor interjected and tried to manage some measure of gentleness. The words still came out too rough. He smoothed them out with his hands on her hips. 

 

“You’ll feel out of place.”

 

He delivered a slow kiss to her lips. “I’d be there with you, wouldn’t I?”

 

“Yeah,” she nodded, and a small smile lifted the corner of her mouth. 

 

“Then I wouldn’t be out of place,” he whispered. “No, it won’t be my scene, but it’s important to you, so I’ll be there.”

 

Sansa bounced with glee, lit up from within and throwing her arms around his neck as she careened into his embrace. “Really?” she questioned, breathless and gazing up at him.

 

“Yeah, really,” he laughed and kissed her again.

 

Don’t make promises you can’t keep, that fucking voice crept in because he hadn’t bothered to even ask when this homecoming dance was, but that didn’t matter. He’d long be on tour by then and avoided all thoughts of what that meant for him and Sansa.

 

There are ways to make it work, he reasoned with the well-placed guilt that had every right to hound him now. He’d figure it out and didn’t know what ‘figuring it out’ might look like, but it sure as shit didn’t involve him letting her down. The band would just have to make do with him missing a couple nights of the tour.

 

And how long are you going to be able to keep that up?

 

There it was again. Reason and logic were a bitch that wouldn’t just let him live. He could manage his way out of a couple gigs to come through for her, but what about all the other nights—the year and three months’ worth of not being there for her? How would it work then?

 

Sandor stilled and forced a smile because Sansa hadn’t looked this happy all night. She radiated joy and all the doubt that seemed to burden her mere moments ago had vanished. But things like this didn’t just go away or fade so Sandor took up the mantle on that doubt. He needed to tell her and there’d never be a right time—it’d either make her sad when she was already down or steal her smiles when she was happy like she was right now. Neither were all that acceptable to him. 

 

“You won’t regret it.” She lifted to her toes and swept her lips against his in a delicate kiss, another one replete with all her honeyed sweetness.

 

“Oh yeah?”

 

“Yes.” She gave an eager nod. “You have my word.”

 

Sandor pressed her against the wall once more and his hands settled to the sides of her neck. “I better have a lot more than that by the end of the night,” he grumbled and bucked his hips against her. His mouth replaced one of his hands as he ran his lips up her neck and nipped at her ear lobe. 

 

“Which night?” she breathed, and her breasts pressed against his chest.

 

“All of them,” he mumbled, and his tongue ran down her neck. “I want you every night.” His hands disappeared up her skirt and gripped her ass with a firm squeeze. “I want you right now.”

 

“Right now?” she giggled. “There’s a perfectly good bed at your place.”

 

When he pulled away, she stared at him incredulously though desire rested behind her eyes and manifested on plump lips and panting breaths.

 

“No,” he grunted. “Can’t wait that long.” His fingers snapped the waistband of her leggings. “Take these off.”

 

With a wicked grin, Sandor backed away from her until his legs hit the stool and he sat. Across the room, Sansa turned to him. She eased out of her jacket and let it fall to the floor and stepped out of her rain boots but eyed the door.

 

“No one’s coming in here,” Sandor assured on a deep groan as she peeled off her leggings to reveal the smooth expanse of her long legs. His dick was rock hard by now and he unzipped his pants to free it.

 

 Facing the wall, Sansa gazed over her shoulder at him in what appeared, at first, to be some ancient relic of her demure manners, as if she didn’t want him to see her undress. That notion was shot to shit as Sandor watched in dumbfounded awe as she lifted her skirt and grabbed the sides of her panties. Legs shoulder width apart, she bent over slowly and her underwear slid down her thighs and then calves and finally to the floor.

 

He didn’t care about her underwear or anything else, not even as she remained bent over and looked towards him to gauge his reaction. It was a wonder his lip wasn’t bleeding for how hard he bit it or that he hadn’t passed out from the frantic breaths he took as he stared at her, perfectly pink and wet between the legs and inviting him with a small little wiggle. A rough laugh escaped him because she should’ve known better than to tease him by now. Nothing was stopping him from making good on it.

 

When Sansa stood upright, Sandor was already bounding from the stool and had crossed the room. His lips collided into hers as he grabbed her up and she squealed in surprise at the sheer urgency of it all. He pulled her across the room, back to the stool.

 

“God bless America for all these skirts you wear, little bird,” he moaned into her mouth before bending her over the stool. “You make things easy.”

 

With zero pretense, he buried himself inside of her and Sansa gasped. Her forearms collapsed against the stool, fingers gripping the edge. The first few thrusts came gentle and he lingered inside her, relishing every bit of her warmth with eyes closed and hands encircling her waist. He eased his length in and out of her with a low pleasured groan.

 

She was warm and wet and tight and everything he wanted. And he wanted all of her, all the time, just like this, so he rolled his hips hard. His fingers dug into her bare hips now and she responded with a soft moan that meant he was hitting all the right spots. He kept those spots and fucked her how she wanted until she panted and writhed and gazed over her shoulder at him with that wicked little smile that drove him crazy. Her legs shifted further apart, and she eased back down his length in a way that meant she wanted more.

 

Their first night and morning together, Sandor had spared her how rough he sometimes wanted it. The lust ran wild and free now as he felt her tighten around him. He thrust hard and Sansa threw her head back with a loud cry and, though he couldn’t see her face, he hoped like hell she was about to come because he couldn’t keep this up much longer. He gathered up her hair in his hand and gave a little yank.

 

He stared down at his cock slick with how wet she was and moving freely in and out of her, her perfect lips wrapped around his shaft, and listened to the gorgeous way she moaned his name. He slammed his hips into her back side until he was as deep as he could go and his body tensed at once, his breath catching hard in his chest, head rolling back as he bit his lip to stifle the moan erupting from his lips at the explosiveness of his release. It came hard and pleasurable enough that he doubled over on top of her, his chest to her back.

 

Sandor let go of Sansa’s hair and blessed America again for the soundproof walls. He kissed her neck which was damp with sweat and felt her back rise to his chest with each frantic breath. He stood again and eased out of her. Sansa buried her face between her forearms still resting against the seat of the stool.

 

She didn’t move and Sandor watched the rapid rise and fall of her back and heard her heavy pants that slowed now. The guilt settled in him for having fucked her here and like this, bent over a stool and skirt gathered around her waist. She turned back towards him with that look she’d been giving him all night.

 

He knew what it meant—the girl was in deep, deeper than maybe she realized—and that just made him feel worse. She deserved a hell of a lot more than to get railed in the back of a guitar shop; not that he minded it, he’d fuck her anywhere on God’s green earth. But something felt off, wrong, and dirty about this and not the kind of dirty he could get behind.

 

Sandor tucked himself back in his pants and offered Sansa the red bandana from his back pocket to clean herself up. They put themselves back together in silence and once Sansa had finished dressing, Sandor settled back on the stool and pulled her towards him.

 

“You gonna stay at my place tonight?” he asked and brushed free the hair that stuck to her cheek.

 

She nodded and offered him a shy smile. Her cheeks were still flushed pink. That look came again as she stepped towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck in what he understood was the want for intimacy. He’d gotten what he needed and now she was seeking what she needed—closeness, to be held, to be wanted in a different way.

 

Sandor took her hand and forced her to meet his eyes as he spoke. “Sansa, you know I like having you there, right? I like falling asleep next to you and waking up next to you. All of it.”

 

She smiled in another bid to undo him and paid him a gentle kiss to his cheek and then to his lips. “I like being there, too. I like all of it. Every part.”

 

“Every part?” he repeated, and she nodded at an apparent loss that he might not believe her.

 

He did believe her in ways he’d never believed any other women who tossed false compliments his way in hopes of capturing his attention.

 

Sandor wrapped his arms around Sansa, and she must’ve thought he meant to kiss her again, but instead he pulled her into a firm embrace and his chin rested on her shoulder.

 

“Are you okay?” she whispered and smoothed her palms down his back. He nodded against her shoulder and squeezed tighter.

 

“Tomorrow. What are your classes?” he asked and let go enough so that he could look at her.

 

“I’ve got just one in the morning,” she said. One hand settled on his shoulder and the other against the side of his neck. Her thumb traced his scarred jawline. He’d never—ever—let anyone touch him like this, not there. She hardly seemed to notice anymore, and he’d let down his guard. 

 

“Skip it.” His hands gripped the dip in her waist. “Just stay with me. All day. Just you and me.”

 

Sandor had never asked her to do something like this and never would again, but a fervor began in him, something like kicking a can of kerosene to fire start the blaze. And he was racing against time to figure this out, to make it work.

 

He stood from the stool, kissed the top of her head, and took her hand. “Let’s go home.”

 

They left the shop just as the rain came in again. The night was damp and cold, but tender in a way and quiet too. Sandor took her home where, not a few steps in the door, he spilled her clothes to the floor and left a trail on the way to the bedroom.

 

Lights off and curtains open to the cityscape beyond, he made love to her. He was never the type of man who really knew the difference from fucking and never thought it’d matter all that much. When it mattered—and it did now—the difference was a bright line, so striking there was no way in hell he’d ever unsee it. It was burning him up and he was better for it.

 

Nose-to-nose, hand-in-hand, and bodies pressed together, he thrust deep and slow and watched and listened in wide-eyed wonderment at every sound she made, the way her eyes fluttered closed, and her hair cascaded over her shoulders when her head tilted back and because he wanted more of her, his lips found that divot beneath her chin and his arms wrapped tighter around her. He gave her everything she wanted, everything she asked for, all the closeness and loving touches and doting gestures. She could have anything she wanted from him and he made damn sure she knew without a shadow of a doubt.

 

On their first night together, Sansa had looked at him like he was her God. Now it was him gazing at her like he never wanted to let go and couldn’t wrap his head around being apart from her.

 

With Sansa asleep in his arms and sheets of rain pounding his window, it all became clear that it wasn’t so easy as putting a tourniquet on this and maybe that was okay. There was probably no better way to bleed out than like this and Sansa wasn’t the only one in deep.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Fourteen

 

No sign of the morning coming

You've been left on your own

Like a rainbow in the dark

A rainbow in the dark.

-Rainbow In The Dark, Dio


A line of people had already snaked around the venue when Sandor’s Mustang roared up. One of those people happened to notice and that started a domino effect of cheers and howls and metal horns that all rolled like a tidal wave as they drove by. From the passenger seat, Sansa saw him crack a faint smile though his aviators obscured his eyes.

 

“So, you do like it!” she teased and squeezed his hand resting in her lap.

 

“I like our fans,” he nodded and parked in a secure lot behind the venue and next to the Cannibal Star van.

 

Sansa swiveled in her seat and looked out the rear window. “Hey, that’s where we first met!”

 

The stairs were empty, but it wasn’t so long ago that Sandor sat there, tossing out one-liners that made her blush something fierce and Sansa couldn’t have known how her life would change. Everything had come full circle.

 

Sandor followed her gaze with a faint smirk gracing his lips. “So it is.” He gripped her thigh and, though she knew he wasn’t all that sentimental, if he reserved even a small space for romantic nostalgia, this moment would go there.

 

He removed his hand from her thigh and cupped her cheek. When he leaned over the center console, his lips pressed to hers and what started as a gentle kiss deepened with passion and want and what Sansa knew well enough by now was the prelude to their lovemaking.

 

“You regret it?” he murmured into the kiss and stilled to listen.

 

“No, not at all,” Sansa reassured because that was what this was really about.

 

He may not be sentimental, but Sandor was skeptical, and she could tell he was waiting for the other shoe to drop; that moment she might realize he wasn’t what she wanted or that she could do better, and she’d leave him high and dry. That wouldn’t happen. She gazed at him with what she hoped was the full force of her adoration behind her eyes.

 

“You sure?” Sandor chuckled, but the follow-on question caught Sansa off guard in the way that he might not believe her.

 

She wrapped her arms around his neck and tugged him closer.

 

“I’ve never been more sure.” She kissed him with her own brand of urgency—tender and sweet and loving, the kind meant to make a believer out of him and chase away any doubts.

 

When she broke the kiss, Sansa matched his eyes and settled her hands on his cheeks. “You mean everything to me.”

 

He smiled, brighter than she’d ever seen in him, and kissed her again. “Good. And you mean the same to me.”

 

Neither wanted to leave the car. That much was clear with the way he held her against his chest and smoothed his hand over her back while delivering kisses to her cheek and forehead. Sansa had been finding clever ways to talk around the plain truth of it. She was falling in love with him—or maybe standing knee-deep in it already—and wondered if he knew. She couldn’t get much past him and imagined he had already seen it in her. In some echo of her past, Sansa might’ve fought tooth and nail to preserve her dignity by hiding it lest it get thrown in her face.

 

She stood plain in that truth and let him see because she’d caught glimpses of him standing right there with her; like now, with the way he gazed at her and quieted and then wrapped her up again as if she might dissolve away like a dream. He’d been doing that the past few days and she’d always remind him she wasn’t going anywhere. She was his. All his. That would never change.

 

“I guess we should get going,” Sandor said with a groan.

 

Out of the car, Sandor took Sansa’s hand and carried his guitar case in his other. They crossed the parking lot that deceived in its quiet and hurried up the stairs where they first met. As soon as Sandor, opened the back door everything changed.

 

The hallway on the other side was full of people, all wearing lanyards or badges or other form of identification that meant they played some role in this production. They rushed about, shouting orders, communicating on walkie talkies, and most sparing no more than a nod of acknowledgement or a pat on Sandor’s back as they passed.

 

The venue hummed with activity that Sansa might call chaos, but it all seemed to work in well-oiled unison. In one room off the hall, catering had set out a delicious assortment of food on long tables, more than anyone could ever hope to eat, and Sansa wondered if it was all for Cannibal Star.

 

Of course, it wasn’t and that was made obvious as Sandor led her deeper through the back fluorescent-lit hall. A crew of people unloaded two whole trailers worth of gear—instruments, amplifiers, speakers, lights, microphones, and piles of cords. Everything had a label, and everything had its place on the stage that housed another group of people taping down wires and putting things in their rightful place like they’d done it a million times before. They probably had. That much was obvious.

 

Sandor introduced her to a dozen or more people—stage managers, assistants, audio engineers, people with titles she’d never heard of before and hadn’t the foggiest what their job might actually entail.

 

“This is my girlfriend Sansa,” he’d say and every time her stomach flipped, even after the twelfth iteration. She’d smile and shake their hands before they hurried off to complete some other task.

 

In the main part of the venue, just beyond the stage, Sandor handed off his guitar case to the crew member specifically responsible for setting up his gear.

 

“I’m breaking her in tonight,” he explained to the older gentleman who listened intently. “I still want the Les Paul tuned, sound checked, and on stage, though. Got it?”

 

As Sandor ran through his list of requirements, Sansa evaluated the empty space. The last time she was here, she perched against the wall, sorely out of place; enough so that Sandor noticed her from the stage. Now here she was—somehow a part of it, by his side and full of pride that she was here with him. She was Sandor Clegane’s girlfriend.

 

A flurry of butterflies assaulted her core and she squeezed his hand. Still heavily engaged in conversation, Sandor didn’t turn to her, but she felt him squeeze back. And just like that, the butterflies went wild, dancing and soaring and Sansa couldn’t quite recall a time she’d ever been this happy.

 

Across the cavernous space, Harwin and Bronn perched against the bar absent a bartender. It didn’t matter. They reached behind the bar, pulled out bottles, and helped themselves to shots that they shared with six women Sansa had never seen before. Candy, Lexie, and Mona—those women were nowhere to be seen.

 

“My only stipulation is that when he’s in town, he only fucks me.” Sansa had once forgotten Lexie’s name, but remembered now the line in the sand the woman had drawn with Bronn.

With his hand up another woman’s skirt, Bronn had all but called in the tide to wash that line away and, with it, the illusion of commitment—thin though it was—he’d had with Lexie.

 

Sansa must’ve stared too long. Harwin noticed her across the dimly lit room and waved. “Hey! Look who bothered to show up!” he shouted.

 

Sandor turned to his band mates now hollering their greetings and demanding he and Sansa come drink with them. The women giggled and joined the cause, one even hiked up her dress to reveal her bare ass, no underwear in sight.

 

Sansa’s heart dropped and, along the way, took with it all those butterflies; squashed, de-winged, ground to dust. You’ve got to have thicker skin than this, Sansa chided herself. She forced a smile and felt Sandor’s gaze pressing into her, but she couldn’t look at him. Maybe he’d think she wasn’t cut out for this. The thought stung.

 

He gave a soft squeeze of her hand once more and started towards the back hallway. “We’ll catch up with you all later,” he shouted to his bandmates who responded with a round of boos. “C’mon, little bird,” he murmured. “Let’s get you somewhere nicer.”

 

Somewhere nicer was back down the hallway and into his dressing room, a reprieve of quiet from the flurry of activity.

 

“I didn’t realize so much is involved in your shows,” Sansa commented when they were safe inside the small space housing a tufted sofa and vanity with a mirror outlined in globe lightbulbs.

 

Sandor shut the door bearing his name and tossed his leather jacket to the sofa against the far wall. “It didn’t used to be this complicated or this much of a production. More people show up every year we do this. Fuck, some of them I don’t even know their names or faces.”

 

He collapsed to the sofa with a heavy sigh. Leaning forward, he gripped her hips and pulled her towards him. Sansa settled between his legs and rested her hands on his shoulders. Her fingers swept amongst his hair hanging loose there. He closed his eyes seemingly to relish the sensation. For such a hard and rough man, Sandor loved it when she played with his hair. He never said as much, but he always leaned into her touch and closed his eyes with placid contentedness softening his brow and bidding his mouth to curl in a smile. Sansa was all too eager to indulge him.

 

“You gonna be okay while I’m on stage?” he asked when he opened his eyes again. Though a faint smile traced his lips, concern still pooled in his gaze.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.” Sansa laughed, hoping it might dispel her nerves. Why was she nervous? She’d already seen him perform and it wasn’t like those women at the bar were here for him. “It’s just a little overwhelming, but don’t worry about me.”

 

“It’s not normally this crazy.” He kissed her bare collarbone and the swell of cleavage left by a low-cut shirt and push-up bra.

 

Sandor had about fell over when Sansa emerged from his bathroom dressed for the evening. She’d only left Sandor speechless a few times and she counted today as probably the most memorable of them. They’d already made love this morning and in the shower in the early afternoon and yet he had wanted her again when they were already running late, so she indulged him in that too and would be lying if she said she didn’t want him all the time just as he wanted her.

 

“Why is it so crazy tonight?” Her nails scratched softly across his back, but he stiffened beneath her touch and not for the pleasured sensation.

 

Sandor pulled away from her just enough so that he could meet her eyes. He drew in a deep breath but didn’t speak. His gaze shifted to his feet and the hesitation sent her heart racing because this pause was laden with bad news. She could feel it in her bones.

 

“Sansa, we really need to talk. I—”

 

The dressing room door flew open behind them and the commotion from the hall spilled in with it. A stage manager hovered in the doorway. 

 

“Hey, sorry to interrupt. We need you for sound check and Thoros wants to rearrange the set list and Beric’s pissed, so you all need to sort it out in...” The man puffed an agitated breath and checked his watch. “An hour because Chicago PD wants the doors opened early since the line outside is getting crazy and…”

 

“Okay, I got it!” Sandor snapped and buried his face in Sansa’s chest. “Jesus Christ,” he breathed against her skin and she comforted as best she could by rubbing his shoulders now tense.

 

They left the temporary sanctuary of the dressing room and by now all the equipment that’d lined the hall must’ve been set-up on stage. The frenzy had calmed some and most of the crew descended on the catering room.

 

Sandor pointed to a man in there who looked as close to a Viking as anyone Sansa had ever seen. A behemoth of long limbs and solid muscle, he rivaled Sandor in height with a long sandy blond beard and even longer bright blond hair tied back at the nape of his neck. He shifted around awkwardly in the small catering room, looking irritated as he dodged people scurrying around him.

 

“That’s Sally. I told him to keep an eye on you while I’m on stage. If you need anything, just let him know.”

 

Sansa nodded and Sally must’ve heard his name—or what Sansa hoped was a nickname. He turned and waved one enormous hand at her with a toothy smile.

 

“Why do you call him Sally?” Sansa asked.

 

Sandor smirked and narrowed his eyes at Sally with a playful smirk on his lips. “Because he hates it.”

 

Sally waved again—this time just his middle finger and this time directed at Sandor who rumbled with a deep laugh.

 

The stage manager darted halfway down the hall towards them. “You ready? The others are waiting,” he shouted, and Sandor probably would’ve told him to fuck off or fired back some other sniping retort, but the man disappeared around the corner again.

 

“Here I go.” He cupped Sansa’s cheeks and his lips crashed into hers in a hasty kiss. “I’ll see you later.” He kissed the tip of her nose and before she could mutter anything—a good luck or break a leg or ask what he needed to tell her—Sandor hurried down the hall.

 

For a moment, Sansa hovered in the hall and smoothed down the curled length of her hair. She’d been smart enough not to wear heels this time and instead opted for flat-heeled black slouch boots, but even still shifted uncomfortably on her feet.

 

“I’m sure you’re starving,” Sally hollered and tipped his head to the catering table. “Don’t be shy. There ain’t much leftover for the shy folks.”

 

With a gracious smile, Sansa eased into the room, her presence largely unnoticed as a gaggle of people swarmed the table and inhaled a meal while they could. She made herself a small plate of finger sandwiches and vegetables.

 

She would’ve been content to just stand in the corner, well out of people’s way, but Sally slapped a crew member on the back, a kid barely older than Arya if Sansa had to guess.

 

“Beat it,” Sally barked. “Let Sandor’s girl sit.” 

 

The kid scrambled from the room and Sally pounded the seat of the metal chair to bid Sansa to sit.

 

“Thank you,” she murmured with a small smile and took the seat, feeling slightly guilty for the kid she’d just displaced.

 

Sansa ate her sandwich in silence and Sally did much the same. Bit by bit, the room cleared out until it was only her, Sally, and a few late comers who bemoaned the picked-through trays and dwindling selection of desserts.

 

From beyond the room and down the hall came the steady pound of a bass drum. Even from here, the beat reverberated and shook the walls in a subtle vibration. When the drum stopped, a guitar picked up in its place for a few measures of rising and falling chords. Beric’s rasping falsetto wailed through the speaker but stopped as he complained to the sound guy through the microphone that they weren’t loud enough.

 

“So, what do you do?” Sansa asked Sally and worried she’d been rude by not making small talk before now.

 

Sally took a swig of his beer. “Little of everything,” he shrugged and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The conversation began and ended there.

 

The stage manager appeared again with sweat beading on his brow, perpetually out of breath and wheezing through his words.

 

“Doors open in less than five. If you want a good spot, I’d head out there now.”

 

Sansa picked at the vegetables on her plate and dunked a carrot in a pool of ranch dressing.

 

“He’s talking to you, sweetheart.” Sally nudged her gently and winked when Sansa’s eyes snapped to him.

 

She spun to the door with a half-chewed carrot in her mouth. “Huh? Oh! Sorry.”

 

Sansa discarded her paper plate in the trash and followed the stage manager down the hall and through a set of double doors to the venue beyond. The bar was fully staffed now, but empty of Cannibal Star and those women she’d seen earlier. The darkened stage was empty of Cannibal Star too, but Sansa discerned the black silhouettes of their instruments and equipment.

 

The stage manager wandered off to where a group of bouncers and a security detail had gathered near the venue’s front doors. Sansa took up her same spot from last time, near right stage and a table against the wall where she’d have line of sight on Sandor.

 

What privilege she might’ve felt for being the only one in here now was short lived. Shrill laughter echoed off the stage as Harwin and Bronn’s “guests” sauntered down the stage steps and took up their spot at the bar again. One of them adjusted her bra and pushed her boobs up while another pulled a compact from her purse and teased her hair with the tips of her fingers.

 

The doors opened and a round of raucous cheers bled in from outside. For thirty minutes, Sansa observed as the space filled up with people and the room steadily pulsed with energy. It came alive with rowdy men in leather and studs and covered in piercings and tattoos and women in clothing that scarcely contained or covered their goods. A great many of those women pushed towards the front of the stage to take up their posts.

 

“My sister is banging the Hound!”

 

The familiar shrieking broke through the din. A round of howls and cheers buzzed about the room and a group of people cleared away as Arya sprinted across what little space was left on the floor. She bounded up to Sansa whose cheeks burned hot as she hopped out of her seat and hoped like hell the crowd dampened the echo of Arya’s announcement.

 

“Arya, what is wrong with you?” Sansa meant to admonish, but her lips broke with a smile and the relief of a familiar face.

 

Gendry jogged after Arya, out of breath and with black eyeliner smudged beneath his eyes. He’d teased his hair to the high heavens again. Mouth agape, Arya’s eyes swept over Sansa’s black tights and jean skirt with a leopard print belt around her waist.

 

“Look at you!” her sister squealed. “You look like Madonna if she got kidnapped by Slayer and was held captive for several months, but somehow escaped and just wasn’t quite herself afterwards.”

 

Sansa laughed and pulled Arya into a hug. “Thank you for that very odd and specific compliment.” 

 

Arya squirmed out of Sansa’s embrace and yanked on her arm. “Mosh Pit! Let’s go.” She didn’t wait for an answer and wasn’t really asking as she dragged Sansa from the table.

 

Sansa dug her heels into the ground and glanced towards the stage. “No, he’ll know to look for me over here, so I’ll stay put.” 

 

Arya turned to Sansa with her bottom lip in a pout, a childish gesture for her sister who looked just as wild as Gendry and the others who filled the venue.

 

“I had Sandor put your names on the list for backstage access,” Sansa told Arya and Gendry. “You can come and go as you please back there.” 

 

Arya gasped and collapsed to her knees and then tumbled to the floor. “Oh God! This is amazing. You’re amazing. You better not do anything to screw this up, Sansa, okay?”

 

Gendry went silent and for a moment Sansa thought he might burst into tears. Instead, he threw his arms around her, lifted her off the floor, and twirled her in place. He set Sansa down and pulled Arya to her feet.

 

“Babe, that floor is probably disgusting,” he laughed and, ever the voice of reason and responsibility, turned to Sansa. “After the show, where’s our rally point if we get separated?”

 

Sansa hadn’t really thought about it. She hummed to herself and snapped her fingers with a thought. “I got it! Let’s say out back. In the parking lot.”

 

“Rock on,” Gendry nodded. “See you on the other side, man!” He high-fived Sansa and once more scrambled after Arya who bolted towards the stage and nudged her way through throngs of people all pushing in a steady lurch forward.

 

By now, the crowd packed the space from wall-to-wall with barely enough room to squeeze in more. The bouncers subdued a mob of people who’d been turned away at the door. When those doors closed, what started as just a din of conversation and laughter crescendoed into boisterous chants for Cannibal Star to take the stage. The hoard grew rowdy with each passing moment and the chants turned feral until the entire room was plunged into darkness.

 

A blanket of silence fell over the crowd and the room stilled until big, backlit letters reading “Cannibal Star” illuminated the stage. The room erupted with cheers and screams and even glass breaking as four men broke into a fist fight somewhere near the mosh pit.

 

Five shadows descended upon the stage, smoke billowing across as they went. In the darkness, Beric’s voice rang out, unaccompanied by the rest of his bandmates. The room quieted again but, when Thoros’s bass drum kicked in, the room exploded with wild and unbridled energy that hit a fever pitch when lights set the stage ablaze.

 

Without hesitation or moment of introduction, Cannibal Star barreled headlong into their first song with driving rhythm, Beric’s wails, and the complicated riffs from Sandor’s guitar. He’d taken off his t-shirt and with the guitar slung low on his hips, Sansa felt her breath catch in her throat and heartbeat quicken in a steady beat.

 

The room was loud; so loud she struggled to hear herself even think, but what was there to think about? Sandor looked every bit the Rock God Arya had always sworn he was. His fingers moved up and down the neck of his guitar and assaulted the strings with deft ease despite the explosive tune that pounded through the room.

 

Mesmerized in a way she’d never been before, Sansa watched his hands. God, his hands! The things those hands could do, the way they could make her melt beneath his touch and tremble with anticipation and pleasure. His bare chest glistened with a sheen of sweat and the way the stage lights hit him he looked sculpted from marble with muscles rippling beneath his skin.

 

He strode towards the front of the stage for his solo, head thrown back and his hair cascading around his bare shoulders. She’d seen that look before when she rode him. Just before he came, he always threw his head back like that and bit his bottom lip hard like he was now. Sansa wanted him. Wet between her legs and aching, if he jumped off stage right now, she wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t pull him into the dressing room where she’d be the one commanding him.

 

When he opened his eyes, a heavy-lidded gaze landed squarely on Sansa, one she knew was deliberate and it meant he wanted her too. He thrust the back of his guitar and winked at her before turning around and striding back to his peddle board as Beric set in again.

 

One song ended and rolled right into another, just as highly charged and loud and fuel to the room’s fire that burst from the writhing crowd. The first show she’d come too seemed as utterly subdued and boring as an orchestral symphony compared to how untamed the crowd was tonight.

 

Once more, Sandor worked his way to the front of the stage, but this time he was met with a group of women reaching for him there. From her vantage point, Sansa could see clearly enough as one of them lifted her top and flashed her bare chest at Sandor. As if that wasn’t enough, she bounced in place, tits jiggling right along with her. Sandor smirked at the woman. She’d seen that smile. He’d paid her that smile too.

 

Why’d he smile at her? Sansa felt herself sliding into a pout and if she didn’t stop it, it’d spoil the evening.

 

Thick skin, Sansa. He was a musician. Of course, there would be women who flung themselves at him and showed him their breasts and maybe he’d flirt back, but that didn’t mean anything, especially when she was the one going home with him.

 

Sansa laughed it off to herself, but the pangs of jealousy had already set in and half-way through the night that jealousy blossomed again when a pair of panties went whizzing up on stage in Sandor’s direction. She rolled her eyes and pushed it down. Don’t be that girl.

 

The encore came after the band briefly exited the stage, but Sansa’s ears rang and the dressing room’s reprieve from the noise and the smoke sounded like a piece of heaven right now. She slipped from her stool and shouldered through the crowd packed like sardines and sweaty and spent from the exertion and thrill. At the backstage door, Sally let her through, but eyed the stage as the band came back out to thunderous applause and cheers.

 

When the door shut behind her, Sansa sighed with the dampened sounds of mayhem behind her. The fluorescent lights buzzed above and the crew, stirred up in a frenzy earlier in the evening, all sat around in metal folding chairs and engaged in easy conversation with one another. Soon, they’d have to disassemble all their hard work and pack it up until the next show, whenever and wherever that might be.

 

Sansa pushed through Sandor’s dressing room door. Inside the room, her heart nearly leapt from her chest. She wasn’t alone and the face that met hers was certainly no stranger.

 

Just as startled as Sansa was, Mona abruptly sat up on the sofa. She was naked, save a black thong, and reached for Sandor’s leather jacket, which she cradled to her chest to cover her bare breasts.

 

“I thought you’d be Sandor.” Mona’s voice dripped with disappointment, but not a drop of remorse or embarrassment or even sympathy from one woman to another. 

 

“What are you doing here?” Sansa tried to steady her voice and summon the strength that might thicken her skin and guide her through this situation.

 

Mona huffed a laugh and narrowed her eyes at Sansa. “What do you think, love? I know you’re young, but you’re not that naive.”

 

Where strength failed Sansa, pride came through. It straightened her spine and Sansa stood tall and tipped her chin high.

 

“If you’ve come to finish your Cannibal Star collection, Sandor won’t be interested.”

 

Mona hesitated and Sansa almost collected her victory, but the woman’s bright red lips curled into a deviant smile. The pity she hurled at Sansa wasn’t well-intentioned, but rather the kind that sought to belittle and condescend; like a consolation pat on the head for a girl who was out of her depth.

 

“You seem very sure of that.” Mona crossed her arms over her chest and rested them on top of Sandor’s jacket. Her long legs did much the same, one crossed over the other. “He and I go back years, a decade even. We’ve always danced around the inevitable. I think you forget—I know what these men like, I know how they like it, what they crave.”

 

“Maybe that’s true for the others, but he doesn’t want you. You’re just making a fool of yourself.”

 

When Mona stood, Sansa’s fingers curled into her palms. On bare feet, the woman tiptoed to the vanity and rested against the edge. She plucked a cigarette from a pack that hadn’t been there before and lit the end of it until puffs of smoke appeared. Eyes steady on Sansa, Mona tilted her head back and exhaled wisps of smoke.

 

“I heard you finally got your taste of him.” Envy flashed in Mona’s dark eyes made even darker by the heavy eyeshadow, liner, and the fake lashes she wore. “He told me himself. Said you’re shy and sweet, but he wants a woman, not some timid girl who still fucks like a virgin. He said you couldn’t really handle him. You tried, sweet thing that you are, but you’re just too inexperienced and he doesn’t want someone he has to teach all these things to.”

 

Sansa stifled a gasp. Mona had reached into her fears and doubts and all her insecurities and set them off like an alarm that blared through her, insisting that it really was true—Sansa wasn’t enough for him.

 

“I don’t believe you.” The lie trembled from her lips and tears blurred her vision.

 

Mona shrugged and ashed her cigarette into a beer can that also hadn’t been there before.

 

“Makes no difference to me what you believe. He wants it rough and he wants it dirty. He can’t have that with a vanilla cupcake like you. That’s why these men always come back to the ones like me.” She stood from the vanity and let her arms fall to her side. The jacket tumbled to the floor and pooled at Mona’s bare feet.

 

“He can use me and abuse me and not have to feel bad about it the next day. He doesn’t have to feel anything he doesn’t want to with me. It’s just sex.”

 

Don’t cry. Sansa dammed the tears and wished like hell she had Arya’s ability to think on the fly and hurl out insults with no filter between mouth and mind.

 

Sansa didn’t possess that ability, so she stood silent and reeling. Mona padded back to the sofa and spread herself across it, showcasing the length of her legs and her naked breasts.

 

“You’re welcome to join us. I know he’d like that. Can’t say I’d mind it either.”

 

Mona’s laugh made Sansa’s skin crawl. She shook her head and wanted to leave and meant to, but Mona started in again.

 

“Suit yourself, but you’d better get used to this, baby. The boys will be on tour soon enough. There will be a whole slew of girls waiting in his dressing room, one in every city, ready to give him what he wants.”

 

“Tour?” Sansa shook like a leaf in a storm and Mona delighted in watching Sansa’s world crumble around her.

 

Swift as the wind, Sansa suddenly didn’t care about Mona’s nakedness or her taunting. A deeper betrayal gutted her now.

 

Mona nodded and puffed on the cigarette. “They got their tour schedule last week. They leave for the European leg the week after next. Then Asia. Then the US. They won’t be back in Chicago for another year, at least.” 

 

The stray bits of disbelief Sansa carried as a shield—the ones that told her Mona was full of shit and lying to her face—dissolved away. Why was it that Mona knew about something this important, but Sansa didn’t? That settled it; if Sandor confided in Mona about going on tour, it wasn’t beyond belief that he’d divulge all the other things too.

 

“He didn’t tell you, did he? Seems like the sort of thing a man would tell his girl. You are his girlfriend, right?”

 

The tears broke free and Sansa spun away because insult to injury meant that Mona would see her crying. She yanked open the dressing room door and slammed it shut behind her. She felt no better for it as tears streamed down her cheeks and she tried to keep up with them. She swiped them away with the back of her hand and hurried down the hall towards the door at the end. The parking lot was her freedom, her only sanctuary now.

 

At her back, the crowd’s cheers grew louder when the door opened, but faded again when it shut.

 

“Sansa!” Sandor shouted. “Where are you going?”

 

She should’ve kept going and reserved what dignity she had left, but Sansa spun towards him with furious tears barreling down her cheeks.

 

“Your friend is in there! She’s waiting for you.” The hallway cleared of people. They scurried away, either out of respect or they had work to do or because they didn’t want to get caught in the battle that was surely about to ensue. 

 

Still shirtless, Sandor panted. His hair was damp with sweat and in quickened strides he closed the distance between them. “My friend?” His brow folded, as if he didn’t know; as if he could keep these secrets from her and she was just some stupid little bird, too naive to ever know.

 

“Mona!” Sansa flung her arm towards the dressing room door and the woman sealed shut and waiting for Sandor inside. “Her tits are out and everything. She said you told her that we had sex, that you thought I was too timid, that I couldn’t give you want you want. Go on. She’s in there. I’m sure she’ll be all the things I’m not.”

 

Head hung in defeat and cheeks burning hot, Sansa gasped with a sob and, when Sandor didn’t say anything, she lifted her eyes to him and expected to find him bitter for having been found out.

 

His mouth dangled open and eyes widened in bewilderment so sincere that Sansa didn’t know how to respond. Apparently, neither did he. He shook his head and darted towards her. He tried to reach for her, but Sansa stepped backwards to maintain the buffer of space between them.

 

“Sansa, I never said any of that. I would never say any of that. Of course, you’re enough—more than enough—for me. You’re everything I need, little bird. I swear I didn’t know she’d be here. I didn’t ask her to come, if that’s what you think. She’s trash and just trying to get a rise out of you.”

 

His insistence might’ve been the balm to her hurt, but something else was eventually going to drive a wedge between them. The watershed moment had come and, if he was going to undo all the chaos Mona had caused, he needed to prove that woman wrong on all fronts.

 

A wave of nausea slammed into Sansa and she trembled again. “Were you going to tell me about going on tour? Or were you just going to leave?”

 

Sandor sucked in a deep breath and stared at the ceiling. For all his dumbfounded confusion just a moment ago, he was a man caught now.

 

“Shit,” he whispered to himself. One hand settled on his hip and the other pinched the bridge of his nose. “Yes, I was going to tell you. Of course, I was going to tell you. And fuck no, I would never just leave.”

 

“When?” Sansa demanded and all her words trembled along with her limbs. Her knees felt weak, ready to betray her and send her tumbling to the floor. “When were you going to tell me?”

 

“Earlier before we were interrupted in my dressing room. I’m sorry. I know I should’ve done it much sooner. I was trying to find the right time. I wanted to sort out what it means for us.”

 

Desperate for damage control, Sandor darted forward and tried to wrangle her again, to pull her into his arms and make this all go away. It was too late for that now.

 

“Sansa, I swear—”

 

“We both know what it means for us!” Sansa ripped her arm from his grasp as he gaped at her. “You lied to me!” 

 

“I didn’t fucking lie to you!” he bellowed and filled the hall. “I was going to tell you. Tonight. We can figure this out.”

 

He reached for her again, another frantic attempt, and Sansa took one giant step backwards.

 

“No!” she snapped and didn’t care anymore who saw or heard. She indulged her heartache and each gasping breath echoed in the hall as she cried, feeling every bit the naive little girl who was out of her depth and didn’t belong here.

 

She couldn’t quite say if Sandor was at a loss. By the way he sighed—part frustration and part defeat—she’d guess he was but couldn’t meet his eyes.

 

“Look, this is what I do.” His voice had gone cold and quiet. “You knew what you were signing up for. I can’t back out of this. We’re not just some fucking band who play local shows to pull pussy. I’m signed to a record label. I have to tour. It’s in our contract. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t figure this out.”

 

Sansa stared up at him, probably a mess of mascara-stained cheeks and bloodshot eyes. “I told you what my boundaries are, Sandor. I’m not like Candy. I’m not going to follow you around like a lost puppy and I’m not going to have an ‘understanding’ with you.”

 

“I never asked you for either of those things. I only asked you for one thing. Just one. What did I ask you for?” 

 

He paused and the fierceness behind his eyes implored her to answer. How the hell was she supposed to remember in a time like this? Sansa shook her head and he appeared addled that she couldn’t conjure the memory, that she’d let it slip from her mind.

 

“I asked you to trust me,” he rumbled on a low voice and affront he had no right to. “That’s it. Trust.”

 

“How can I trust you if you keep things like this from me? How is that going to work?”

 

He licked his bottom lip and, when he closed the space between them, Sansa stood her ground because something quieted in him, but it did little to ease her pain. This wasn’t the quiet resolution in a couple’s quarrel that’d run its course and would blow over. This was the silence that proceeded raising the white flag and throwing in the towel. She felt sick again.

 

“I was going to tell you,” Sandor insisted once more. “I’d never just leave. But tours are hell on relationships. I don’t think you understand what it’d be like or how hard we’d have to work just to keep things afloat, not even moving forward. We wouldn’t see each other for months at a time. There’s jealousy and temptation and not knowing how the other is living their life. People grow apart, they get hurt. We really need to think about this and talk about it.”

 

“What’s there to even talk about? It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind,” Sansa whispered, quieted too but in her own disbelief, like floating through a lucid dream that she couldn’t escape. “You’ve already gone ahead and figured out what it means for us. You were never really planning to factor me into this, were you?” 

 

“Of course, I was. You wanted honesty!” Sandor snapped. “This is honesty. It’s not some sugar-coated fairy tale. It’s hard and it hurts and, if you can’t accept that at face value, how are you going to accept it when we’re five, six, seven months in?”

 

At a loss, Sansa shook her head—out of answers that she never really had to begin with.

 

“I don’t know,” was all she could really manage and something in her answer—or lack thereof—was the tipping point for him.

 

Sandor threw his arms in the air and backed away from her. “You know what? Do whatever the fuck you want. Maybe this was a bad idea after all. I’ll go on tour, you can live a normal life, find some dude who works a nine-to-five gig, wears khakis, the whole thing.”

 

“I don’t want that!” Sansa shouted. “I want you. I’ve only ever wanted you. But you lied to me! How am I supposed to trust you on tour if I can’t trust you now, if you can’t be honest with me?”

 

Sandor’s eyes snapped to her and Sansa knew she’d taken it a bridge too far. She’d never called into question his loyalty or integrity. She never had to. In the war of words, her shot landed and branded him a liar, a distinction he didn’t deserve. That was the danger; even if she wanted to take it back, the damage was done. His jaw clenched and he sucked in a breath that looked an awful lot like absorbing the blow. It was so plain to see now. For him, love and trust were one of the same with no way to decouple; reject one, you reject the other.

 

“Look, if this is where we’re at, then maybe I’m not good for you.” His eyes fell to the floor, a refusal for her to see him come undone. “I know it and I think you do too.”

 

He hardened to stone and he was never particularly warm, but Sansa realized now that whatever warmth a man like Sandor Clegane had to offer, she’d gotten all of it. His icy reserve now cut to the bone.

 

“What are you saying? That you don’t want to do this anymore?”

 

Sansa was the one now closing the chasm between them. She stepped towards him and Sandor stood his ground in more ways than one. She tried to search out his eyes and any indication that this was all just a bluff she could call him out on, but he refused her even that much.

 

“It’s probably what’s best in the long run.” He said to the wall next to him, jaw clenched tight and arms crossed over his bare chest. Head still turned to the wall, he looked to her only out of the corner of his eye. “Look at all the damage us being together has already caused in your life. You’re not talking to your parents. You’re losing friends. Everything was fine until I came along. We’re trying to force a place in each other’s worlds and it just isn’t working.”

 

The tears began again. Her bottom lip quivered in such a pathetic way that even Sansa wanted to feel sorry for herself. “So what? We’re done then?”

 

He finally had the decency to look at her. She’d never seen him cry before—and probably never would—but right now might be the closest to it. His brows pulled together in a pained expression and he bit his bottom lip hard to stop whatever was rising up in him.

 

“I’m sorry, Sansa. I never meant to hurt you,” he murmured.  

 

If he meant it, she wouldn’t know. Eyes to the ground now and with her world crumbling around her, Sansa backed away and was gone before he could say much more. She ran gracelessly down the hall like a wounded animal and pushed through the door at the end and out into a chilly autumn night.

 

 Sansa barreled down the steps where they first met and didn’t anticipate the way it landed like a punch to the gut and wounded her all over again.

 

Arya and Gendry waited for her at their rally point in the parking lot. Sansa bolted past Gendry, whose face contorted into shock and confusion, and ran headlong into her sister’s arms.

 

“What happened?” Arya breathed and held onto Sansa who would’ve collapsed to the ground if not for her sister propping her up and holding her tight.

 

“We...he broke up…with me,” Sansa choked on the words. They tore her up from the inside out like bringing up barbed wire. It gut her and bled her dry.  

 

Arya released Sansa who collapsed to her knees. Her sister darted for the stairs. “I’ll fucking kill him.”

 

Gendry grabbed Arya by the back of her leather jacket and corralled her, kicking and screaming.

 

“I’m gonna kill you, motherfucker!” Arya screeched on a piercing howl towards the double doors at the top of the stairs as Gendry subdued her in his arms. “Watch your back, bitch!”

 

“Just take me home.” On the ground, Sansa buried her face in her hands and licked at the salty tears rolling over her lips. “I just wanna go home.”

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck

Chapter Fifteen

If we take some time to think it over baby

Take some time, let me know

If you really want to go.

-Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone), Cinderella


The sendoff happened with all the regular fanfare at the Kettleblack’s bar. The place was closed to patrons, but still burst at the seams with people. Jerry Vale drove down all the way from Milwaukee to see them off and Sandor still didn’t understand why. They’d done this all before—each iteration was the same, just made more of a spectacle than the last time. More faces showed up with each tour too and mixed with the familiar ones who were old hat at this by now.

 

In the back of the bar, Sandor stood against the wall with his arms folded over his chest and a deep desire to quite literally get this fucking show on the road. It was never that simple, though. The tour manager had to make a speech. Then the road crew manager. Then Beric. There were people to thank for bringing this all together, heartfelt goodbyes to the folks who were hanging up their hat for this tour, and logistical bullshit to run through because God forbid five grown ass men manage themselves.

 

On it went with a rowdy round of cheers after each person’s self-indulgent excuse to hold hostage the attention of about fifty or more people. At first, Sandor thought he’d miscounted the room. How the fuck was the label sending fifty people on the road to assist the five guys in Cannibal Star? The math seemed bloated and bureaucratic and it wasn’t that Sandor wasn’t grateful and didn’t have those moments where he still pinched himself to see if it was still real. He was grateful but didn’t quite know if this was still the dream or not.

 

The preamble ended with applause and the room broke apart along the fault lines of roles—the road crew left to load up gear; the logistics people argued amongst tabbed binders and day planners about the tour schedule and finances and other such bullshit; and Cannibal Star stayed the fuck out of the way. Their role was probably the simplest of all of them—show up and play.

 

Sandor pushed through the throngs of people towards the stairs at the back. Tradition meant he’d pack up his own guitar and hand it off to Sally who was about the only person he trusted to ensure it all arrived overseas unscathed.

 

With this tour, one difference made itself immediately clear. Sandor could hardly make it two steps across the room before he was stopped. The first came like a sharp shock.

 

“Your girlfriend is gorgeous and so sweet,” a sound engineer said, and Sandor was too blindsided to respond so he kept moving.

 

“I really hope we see her on at least a few of the tour dates,” a roadie commented with a sly smile that Sandor swore was mocking. By now, more people had to know what happened. The rumor should’ve spread like wildfire. This was some fucked up joke and Sandor was the target of the first prank of this tour. He shouldered past that asshole and was almost home free, but one of the label reps stopped him before he could reach the stairs.

 

“I heard your girl is quite the catch. People can’t stop gushing about her,” the woman laughed and by now it all landed like hard blows Sandor was forced to endure. He choked it down like bitter medicine because he did it to himself, but this felt too much like being slowly poisoned to death by his own hand.  

 

You just had to show her off. He’d add it to the pile of regrets and rake himself over the coals for it some other time. There would be plenty of opportunity for that. Long flights, even longer nights, sleepless oblivion—Sansa would reign supreme in his mind throughout it all and he’d count down the clock to the next tour stop, each gig offering a reprieve from being torn apart from the inside out.

 

For now, he retreated up the stairs to the practice area and the only place safe from the mayhem. He entered the room and a hush came over his bandmates who all sat huddled on the couches. They turned to Sandor in unison with grave expressions painting their faces.

 

Sally somehow got himself caught in the crossfire of what was probably about to be a difficult conversation if Sandor was reading the room right. There wasn’t much space left between the lines, nothing in the margins to misinterpret. He’d have to be a moron to not notice how they all peered at him with some combination of concern and trepidation.

 

Sally shifted near Sandor’s gear with a cord coiled around his arm and looked like a man who wanted to be anywhere in the world other than where he was right now. He gave Sandor a sympathetic nod of acknowledgment and dropped his eyes to the peddle board at his feet.

 

“Hey man,” Sandor murmured to him. “Mind packing them both up for me?” He motioned to his Les Paul and new Stratocaster. Whatever was about to happen seemed serious enough that Sandor would have to break with tradition, probably not a good omen for this tour. Then again, the tour could go to hell in hand basket engulfed in flames and he wouldn’t rightly care.

 

Sally agreed with a solemn nod and Sandor ambled past his bandmates to the table at the back with the cooler. With his back to the room, he pulled out a beer and cracked it open.

 

“What is this?” he asked and took a swig from the bottle. “An intervention?” A laugh rumbled from his lips and landed against a wall of silence behind him.

 

He turned around. No one else was laughing. No one had even cracked a smile, not even Bronn who he could usually count on for comedic relief in situations like this. Sandor sat against the edge of the table. Beric looked to Bronn who spoke up first.

 

“You’re not eating. You look like shit, so I know you’re not sleeping. You’re more of an asshole than normal.”

 

Sandor narrowed his eyes at the man. “Fuck off.”

 

After a heavy pull from his beer, he slammed the bottle down on the table and took up a defensive stance. Once more, his arms folded liked a shield across his chest, he squared his shoulders, and his jaw set in a scowl.

 

Truth was he was a fucking mess and wasn’t so stupid to believe that he was hiding it all that well. And he made no effort to hide it. It was ugly and hard, and he was in a bad way, so what was the point of putting up a facade? Of course, his bandmates would notice, but Sandor had underestimated the effect it was having on them. He showed up to practice but fumbled through chords and his patience had gone threadbare and snapped with even the slightest annoyance.

 

When he ate, he felt sick, so he drank to keep something in his belly, but that just made him sick too. All that nausea kept him up at night where he was alone with his thoughts that just wouldn’t stop and so it became a vicious cycle of regret, longing, and deep pain he’d never had to endure before and apparently didn’t have the requisite wherewithal to cope with.

 

“Listen,” Beric sighed. “We’re gonna be gone for a long time. You need to get straight in the head if this is gonna work. I’m not just talking about the band. I’m talking about you. You can’t keep going on like this. Something’s gotta give.”

 

“Fine,” Sandor shrugged and waited. Once more, unspoken words passed between the others through sideways glances and knowing looks. “Say what you gotta say and let’s be done with this.”

 

“Try to forget her, man.” Beric’s attempt at consolation sounded more like scolding except he stared at Sandor with sympathetic eyes. “She was sweet and all, but she’s not your first and won’t be your last.”

 

Bad advice. Beric should’ve known better. Sansa wasn’t another number in the litany of women Sandor had fucked; a girl he’d bookend with more after her and a long line ahead. Those girls were forgettable; another face amongst many. Sansa was a far cry from that.

 

“Fuck as many women as you can on tour,” Bronn all but shouted as if he suddenly remembered the carnal joys that awaited him and reacted like a kid who was just told he was going to the toy store. “I know it sucks, man, but you’ll get over her fast that way.”

 

More bad advice. That relief was temporary; it worked for a moment like a shot of morphine for a missing limb. When it wore off, the pain came back along with guilt and regret and a part of you was still gone. Sandor looked to Thoros and lifted his hand in a gesture to say, Go on. Your turn.

 

“We’re not gonna be back here for the better part of a year. I know it may not seem like it now, but that’s a lot of time and things will get easier. She’ll fade out. They always do,” Thoros offered, more lip service.

 

Sandor nodded, not because he agreed, but because that was the hope; that this would eventually go away. Time heals all, but something in him said it might not heal this.

 

“You did the right thing,” Harwin broke in. “It’s always better this way. I break up with Candy before every tour. I still come back to her, though. There’s nothing saying you can’t do that. Maybe Sansa will still be around and you two can work it out.”

 

Harwin rounded out the guidance that still landed short of being useful. Harwin had been kidding himself for years that Candy was under his thumb and he was safe from her ever slipping away. Little did he know Candy was making her rounds in another band’s circle. That chick was already gone, miles down the road, and Harwin hadn’t even noticed.

 

When they finished, all four of them looked to Sandor and waited.

 

He stood from the table and ran his fingers through his hair with a sigh. His hands settled on his hips and he stared at the back of the room and his only exit from this impromptu “come to the light” talk.

 

“I don’t know what you want me to say,” he grumbled. “I’ve showed up to practice on time. I didn’t back out of the tour when maybe I should have. What are you looking for from me right now?” 

 

“Are you in this?” Beric demanded, agitation on the rise. “If you’re not, we need to know now before all this shit gets underway.”

 

Sandor sucked in a sharp breath and glared at the man from beneath his brow. He’d prefer another round of verbal gut punches he received downstairs to this bullshit. The sound engineers, label reps, and all the others weren’t close enough to really know and their blows were accidental, but Beric understood full and well what Sandor had sacrificed to be here.

 

“I’m here, aren’t I?” he snapped. “What the fuck else do you want from me? I let her go. I shouldn’t have, but I did. And here I am. I showed up for this shit like I always do.”

 

Beric’s face flushed red like he had something else he wanted to say, but Thoros sprung to his feet and inserted himself between them, arms stretched out to create distance.

 

“Alright, alright! We all said what we had to say. Let’s just bury it.” Thoros’s eyes shifted between Sandor and Beric until both men nodded.

 

One by one, each of Sandor’s bandmates stood and, on their way out, either clapped him on the back or offered a one-armed side hug with some whispered word of encouragement. He appreciated it on a superficial level, but the depth of true understanding just wasn’t there.

 

They were all jaded in some way and too far gone to notice. The way they lived their lives—always on the move, on the road, never getting attached to anyone or anything—wasn’t normal. None of this was normal and they all seemed to have forgotten. Or maybe it was just their own way of coping.

 

After the others left, Sandor hung back. He’d almost forgotten Sally was still here, packing up his gear in slow, deliberate movements to go unnoticed. The man remained quiet, but when Sandor crossed the room to make for the stairs, Sally stood from Sandor’s guitar case on the floor and shot him a sideways glance that said he too had something to get off his chest.

 

“Hey man,” Sally grumbled. His fingers fumbled with a folded-up guitar strap. “Not that you’re asking for any more opinions on this, but just so you know—you’re a fucking idiot of epic proportions.”

 

“What the fuck, dude?” Sandor spat back. He’d had his fill of well-meaning advice, but this wasn’t even that. This was the verbal equivalent of getting ice water thrown in his face. It snapped him back to his senses, but at the cost of being entirely caught off guard.

 

“I saw the way she looked at you,” Sally explained. “Head over heels, that girl is in love with you. You’ve fucked more women than most—how many could you ever say looked at you that way or made you feel the way she does?” 

 

None. Not a single one. Not even within spitting distance. The closest it ever came to being real was still just idolatry and, when it was over, they moved on and no one on either side was ever really more satisfied or happier for it.

 

Sandor turned to Sally. He used to think that height had everything to do with the way Sally always looked him in the eye—the man had a good two inches on Sandor which was a rare feat—but somewhere along the line Sandor realized that wasn’t it. Sally didn’t mince words and Sandor respected that in a man, even if those words were meant for him. Sally didn’t scare easily and certainly wasn’t sparing feelings now.

 

Sandor eased closer to the man in slow steps. “Since you’re offering unsolicited advice, what would you have done?”

 

Sally stroked the length of his braided blond beard and scanned the floor at his feet as he gathered his thoughts. “For a girl like that, one who looked at me the way she looked at you?” He returned his eyes to Sandor. “I would have held onto her forever. Come hell or high-water, I wouldn’t have let her go. The man upstairs doesn’t put many like that on our path. When he does, you don’t just turn them loose, dumb ass.”

 

Having spoken his mind, Sally patted Sandor on the shoulder, picked up the guitar cases, and carried them downstairs, leaving Sandor alone with the weight of the only good advice he’d received all evening.

 

Sally’s footfalls on the stairs were replaced with another set bounding up the steps with tell-tale urgency. The tour manager poked his head over the banister, cheeks flushed red and sweat beading on his brow.

 

“Airport taxi is here. You ready?” he panted.

 

Sandor’s hesitation was brief, a sliver in time, but the tour manager noticed, and Sandor could already see the rising panic in the man.

 

Gotta show up for something, the dutiful part of Sandor chided, the part that told him to soldier on because he was swiftly reaching the end of the rope and the bottom wasn’t looking so pretty.

 

They all had their coping mechanisms for dealing with this shit and maybe this was his. He could run away to the road and leave it all behind him and hope like hell that he’d forget. It wouldn’t work this time, he already knew.

 

Sansa Stark looked at him in a way no other woman had, and he felt for her what he had never felt for anyone else. The prospect of losing her to the road, to distance, to time apart was too much to bear so he’d tossed it all to the wind and watched her flounder instead of fly. If it wasn’t the pain that stuck with him, then it’d be the regret or guilt or frustration for having made a mistake like this, perhaps the biggest mistake he’d made. Time didn’t heal all things and it certainly didn’t put them back to rights. 

 

Sandor took one last look at the practice space emptied of their instruments; the last look he’d get for the better part of a year.

 

“Yeah. I’m ready.”                                                                                                  


The fire popped and crackled and dissolved into embers at the edges with each gust of wind. Beneath her sweater and jacket and scarf coiled tight around her neck, Sansa soaked up the warmth at her face. With cold fingers, she yanked the hotdog-adorned stick from the fire. Arya tossed her a bun that hit Sansa’s arm and toppled to the ground in Gendry’s backyard.

 

“Sansa! You’re supposed catch it.” Arya bent over and dug in the bag for another bun. Sansa pelted her in the backside with a marshmallow.

 

Mya laughed and Arya squeaked. She swiveled towards Sansa and squirted ketchup, but the stream dribbled to the ground, and Arya burst into bright giggles brought on by red wine.

 

On the way out of the sorority house, Sansa had breezed past Mya’s room where the girl sat on her bed writing in her journal, alone on a Friday night and looking just as listless and lost as Sansa felt. Mya had refused the invitation to the bonfire at first. She didn’t want to impose or be a bother. She’d insisted she was fine with a night in, but Sansa saw the disappointment in the girl at what must’ve been cancelled plans. Sansa insisted and convinced her it would be a small and quiet gathering, and that Sansa truly wanted her there. Mya relented and accepted with shy delight at being included.

 

“Arya, we’re gonna get ants!” Gendry hollered as he made his way across the backyard with another bottle of wine. On his head was the plastic Viking hat he’d picked up at a Halloween store earlier. Arya had insisted it suited him and that he needed it for “The Ritual” as she’d taken to calling this night.

 

Gendry made his rounds and topped off each of their red plastic cups that functioned well enough in the place of proper wine glasses that he didn’t own.

 

“Who the fuck gets ants in October?” Arya rolled her eyes but gazed at Gendry with a doting smile Sansa never saw and was certain didn’t exist until Arya met him. Sansa recognized something of herself in that smile and knew well the feeling that must’ve been running through Arya right about now.

 

“People who squirt ketchup on the ground. That’s who! That shit’s nothing but sugar.” Gendry tickled Arya who shrieked and squirmed but was ultimately subdued with a kiss on the cheek. Standing behind her, Gendry wrapped his arms around Arya who closed her eyes, sunk against her boyfriend’s chest, and smiled again, that same sweet, besotted smile.

 

I wonder if that’s what I looked like with Sandor. The thought stung like stuffing salt in a gaping wound, so Sansa let it go. It didn’t matter anymore.   

 

Arya pulled the Viking hat from Gendry’s head and placed it on her own. She cleared her throat and held her head high with her wine cup lifted to the sky. “Let the ritual commence!” 

 

Gendry handed her a rolled-up tube and unburdened Arya of her wine cup. When he did, Arya unfurled the Cannibal Star poster that normally hung over her bed.

 

Seeing his face again drove a knife in Sansa’s heart. She averted her eyes to her lap and the hotdog on the plate, but her appetite was long gone, snuffed out with just one look that left her gutted now.

 

“Which one is he?” Mya asked between bites of a s’more.

 

The most handsome one. The knife twisted. Sansa didn’t expect this kind of pain because the only good thing to come out of Sandor going on tour was that she wouldn’t have to maintain a constant level of emotional preparedness at running into him around town. He would be gone, in some city in some part of the world probably having the time of his life. And she’d be here—licking her wounds and trying her best to move on.

 

“This one here.” Arya tapped the poster and Sansa followed the sound more out of instinct than indulgence in her own pain. She glimpsed his face again and it felt like ripping out her own heart.

 

“Take a good look,” Arya said and held the poster for them all to see. “This here is Sandor Clegane—the Hound, as some know him. He was a Rock God, untouchable by us mere mortals. Except for Sansa. She touched his—”

 

“Oh my God,” Sansa groaned and buried her face in her palms. 

 

“What?” Arya protested. “I was gonna say heart, but yes, you’re correct. You also touched his penis.”

 

Mya chuckled and Gendry eyes widened. He shook his head and jabbed a hotdog towards the flames that illuminated the way he blushed. With a smile on his lips, he gazed at Arya as if she was hanging the moon in his sky.

 

“He’s fallen from grace now,” Arya continued. “He’s strayed from metal glory and might as well be one of those dumb ass pop stars that Sansa loves. You know the ones.”

 

Arya circled the fire and her voice rose with theatrical conviction. “We must sacrifice the other Rock Gods to the flames too. Beric, Harwin, Bronn, and Thoros—they must suffer for the sins of their idiot guitarist. What an ass goblin he is. But it’s the only way. May Judas Priest and Black Sabbath and all their brethren have pity on this dickhead’s soul.”

 

Gendry lifted his cup and spoke through a mouth full of hotdog. “Amen!”

 

Arya tossed the poster to the flames where it curled in on itself and distorted as it burned. She spun towards her boyfriend and held out her hand.

 

“Gendry, what have you to sacrifice to the metal Gods?”

 

An exasperated sigh escaped his lips and he shook his head. “Arya, I still want to listen to their music. No offense, Sansa.” His sympathetic gaze landed on Sansa. She shrugged in acquiescence.

 

“Traitor!” Arya’s pointed finger flew towards Gendry along with the hurled accusation.

 

Sansa’s lips pulled into perhaps the first genuine smile in a week and her cheeks warmed with the wine and the fire.

 

“Fine,” Gendry relented and pulled a tape from his pocket. “You can have the cassette. But I’m not giving up the vinyl, babe! I mean, c’mon!”

 

“Alright fine,” Arya relented at his protest and ripped the tape from the cassette until it hung in long ribbons that danced on a chilly autumn breeze. She turned to Sansa with the cassette resting in outstretched palms.

 

“You may do the honors, oh wronged one.” She bowed to Sansa who took the tape and set her wine cup on the ground. Arya placed the Viking helmet on Sansa’s head and backed away from the flames.

 

“You’re so weird,” Sansa laughed and stood from the lawn chair. The flames licked high towards the sky and Sansa tossed the eviscerated cassette into the fire. The tape crackled as it burned, and the heat rendered the plastic a molten mess.

 

The satisfaction was temporary, but even that moment of reprieve was more than Sansa had gotten all week. She’d searched for higher ground in the turmoil of her heartache and found none, so she drowned in the sorrow. It was pulling her under. Sometimes she woke up in tears and gasping for breaths, her chest aching so horribly she wondered if she’d ever be whole again. If this night taught her anything, though, it was that she would smile again, and nothing lasted forever, not even the hollow pain that haunted her.

 

Sansa returned to her seat and, for silent moments, they all gazed at the flames, entranced by the warmth and the way the fire danced. Eventually, Gendry stood and excused himself to check on the pizza in the oven. The quiet continued after he left with even Arya calming to contemplative stillness so at odds with how she normally buzzed and bounced with unbridled energy.

 

Mya stirred on Sansa’s left. “You miss him?” she asked on a tentative, soft breath, heavy with sympathy and concern.

 

At face value, it was a simple question and Sansa already knew the answer. By night, she slept alone and hated the empty space next to her, the cold purgatory of falling asleep without being wrapped in Sandor’s arms. By day, he drifted into her thoughts and found his place amongst all the things she’d wanted to do with him, all the experiences they could’ve have together.

 

That was the crux of it; they ended before they ever really began, and Sansa mourned the lost potential more than anything else. They could’ve been great together. They had been great together, but maybe it just wasn’t enough for him. She wished she could’ve asked him why. He told her he thought it was easier this way, but nothing about this was easy. He never wanted to hurt her, but here she was; with tears breaking free and streaming down her cheeks.

 

Sansa wiped them away with the back of her hand and realized she owed Mya an answer so she gave the simplest one she could. “Yes, I miss him. Every minute. It doesn’t stop. Only when I sleep.”

 

Sansa stared up to the black sky covered in a mauve haze from the city lights. A plane passed over head and she wondered where he might be tonight and if he thought of her, was lonely like her, couldn’t sleep or eat like her. Then again, he wanted this, and only torture and delusion came from telling herself that some small part of him might consider this all as a mistake. Sandor carved his convictions in stone. There was no going back for him.

 

Mya scooted her lawn chair closer to Sansa and Arya did the same. When Arya rested her head on Sansa’s shoulder, Mya mirrored the sentiment. Bundled up and in a plastic Viking hat, Sansa cried quiet tears. Arya and Mya wrapped their arms around her and the three of them sat huddled together but said nothing. What was there to say? They let her cry and stayed by her side.

 

Sandor had told Sansa that she lost friends because of him and, in truth, she’d shed the ones who didn’t matter; the ones who judged her and cut her from their lives when she no longer fit the aesthetic they’d curated with vapid precision. But Sansa had found friendship in her sister for perhaps the first time in their lives and a kindred spirit in Mya who’d been there all along; Sansa just hadn’t been looking.

 

Her mother had comforted Sansa over the phone and told her that people come into your life for a season, a reason, or a lifetime. Though her heart ached, Sansa could garner some comfort in believing that Sandor crossed her path for a reason and maybe the reason was this. She’d changed and evolved because of him. She’d discarded old and outgrown parts of herself that just didn’t work anymore and that she couldn’t keep holding onto. And, in the process, she’d found the ones who mattered, the people who loved her regardless of the shape she’d taken. She had hoped that he would be one of those people and hoped he’d stick around for longer than a season and more than just a reason.

 

In the end, Sansa wouldn’t come away empty handed. Sandwiched between Mya and Arya and staring up at the sky, she might’ve found somewhere she belonged after all and the ones she belonged with; the ones who saw and accepted her now for who she was, the person she’d become.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck 

Chapter Sixteen

 

“Shed a tear 'cause I'm missin' you

I'm still alright to smile

Girl, I think about you every day now

Was a time when I wasn't sure

But you set my mind at ease

There is no doubt you're in my heart now”

 

-Patience, Guns N’ Roses


“That’s not your real name, is it?” Sandor wasn’t drunk enough to be this much of an asshole. He could play the part, though. He lifted the glass to his lips and stared down the bartender who offered him just as much patience as he did booze. 

 

The Frenchman lowered his eyes and laughed, more gracious than Sandor would’ve been if the roles were reversed.

 

“It is. Pierre is…uh…like Peter.”

 

He spoke in a heavy accent, but somethings were universal. Pierre smiled in a terse way that meant he wasn’t interested in conversation; not this one at least. The man wandered down the bar to serve another customer. It was just as well. Sandor wasn’t up for talking. And what the fuck did he have to say to Pierre of all people?

 

For a third night in a row, Sandor drank at the bar and Pierre was either too polite to ask what Sandor’s problem was or he didn’t know the right words to sustain what would be a cumbersome conversation.

 

It didn’t stop Pierre from eying Sandor and asking if he was okay. When Sandor looked at him like he had a dick growing out of his forehead, Pierre had motioned to Sandor’s glass containing nothing but one large and mostly melted ice cube. He realized then the man didn’t give a shit about his emotional state, only whether or not he wanted another drink. These days Sandor always wanted another.

 

He stared at his reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I look like shit.

 

First class flights were wasted on him. He didn’t sleep. He didn’t eat. He’d have to drink his weight in booze to make up for the cost. They’d landed two mornings ago, and he powered through the jet lag by cutting through the Jardin de Tuileries and wandering the street along the Seine.

 

He’d seen it all before—Notre Dame hadn’t changed; still just an old ass church. The river was still lined with vendors selling over-priced garbage. The Champs-Élysées was still just as crowded. He loved Paris, partially for all these reasons. The city never really changed. Rain or shine, it soldiered on and, in a particularly thoughtful moment, Sandor mused he might have a thing or two to learn from it.

 

A familiar face approached from behind and settled in the empty stool next him.

 

“We’re in Paris and you’re at a hotel bar.” Thoros’s boisterous chuckle drew the attention from the handful of patrons in the dusky, mahogany-encased space. Jazz softly lilted from a pianist in the corner and at tremendous odds with Thoros’s chaotic presence.

 

“Only place I’ve found that sells bourbon,” Sandor said and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. 

 

It was a lie. If he looked hard enough, he’d find another bar with another Pierre or Antoine or Claude who would serve him bourbon with a side of wayward judgement. This was Paris. Anything he wanted he could find here. Almost anything, at least.

 

Thoros had oiled his beard and slicked back his hair that he neatly bundled at the nape of his neck, a flourish he normally didn’t bother with. His flushed cheeks and the way he swayed in his seat said he’d been at the bottle too, but for much different reasons probably.

 

“The whole point is to try something new, man. Branching out is the allure.”

 

With hawk-eyed precision, Thoros turned as a group of women marched into the bar in a cacophony of clacking heels and buttery laughter. Each carried a half a dozen shopping bags emblazoned with some well-known designer’s name. They spoke in flawless French to one another and one waved down Pierre with a delicate flick of the wrist and a red-lipped smirk.

 

 “Some of the most beautiful women in the world here,” Thoros commented and matched Sandor’s eyes to cement the suggestion. 

 

The women were beautiful, but in an effortless and understated way. They didn’t hide behind teased hair and gobs of hideous blue eyeshadow. Their beauty was subtle and somehow more feminine for trying less hard to be so. Sandor could appreciate them in the same way he could appreciate all those paintings hanging in the Louvre—objectively from a distance and knowing damn well they looked better here than they ever would in his home.

 

Stunning though they were, the gaggle of French women did nothing for him other than remind him of why he was drinking in the first place because Sansa was gorgeous in that same way that didn’t have to try. And if he thought too hard or drank too little, he was face-to-face with missing her more than he could take.

 

“Not interested,” Sandor grunted and downed the rest of his drink. The glass slammed to the bar top harder than he intended, and Pierre cut a curt glance in Sandor’s direction as if a bull had suddenly stumbled into Pierre’s personal china shop.

 

“Not interested in what?” Thoros stroked his beard that framed a wicked grin. “New women or new booze?”

 

“Both.”

 

Pierre ambled over and, without hesitation or even eye contact, snatched up the bourbon bottle to pour another round.

 

“I’ll just take the check,” Sandor said and covered his glass with his palm. 

 

“That bad, huh?” Thoros swiveled in his stool towards Sandor, all out of smiles now and well-meaning suggestions. They all were. Each of his bandmates had tried in some way to curb the damage that’d already been done. They’d joke or make awkward attempts at a heart-to-heart that always fell flat even if it came with the best of intentions. 

 

“Looks like it.” Sandor tossed down a fistful of Francs and shoved them across the bar. Pierre could sort it out. In three nights, he trusted the man enough to assume he wouldn’t take Sandor to the cleaners for his ignorance of the currency. And if he did, Sandor didn’t rightly give a fuck.

 

Thoros folded his arms over his chest and shook his head. “You’re a strange cat, you know that?”

 

“Why?” Sandor had been called many things before, most not so favorable, but this particular observation was the first.

 

Thoros laughed again, this time quieter; a soft exhale, a shake of the head, and something shifting in the man, a sudden understanding. He stared in earnest at Sandor.

 

“You break up with a chick right before tour. You’re an ocean and seven time zones away from her. For most men, it’d be out of sight, out of mind. Off to the races. Nothing and no one to hold you back from taking full advantage.” Thoros paused and seemed to measure his words. When he spoke again, it was with unusual gentleness; at least as gentle as a man like Thoros could manage without becoming self-conscious about his masculinity. “But you’re not most men. And she’s not just any woman, is she?”

 

“No, she’s sure not,” Sandor said and felt exposed without a drink in his hand, but it was too late now. Pierre brought his change and Sandor tucked most of it away in his pocket. The rest he left on the bar. It was the least he could do for Pierre offering enough patience—or maybe just staid aloofness—to deal with Sandor.

 

“Why’d you do it then?” Thoros pressed and it was the first time anyone had asked him this; not even Sally, who Sandor knew damn well was burning to know.

 

It was the million-dollar question, but he had no simple answer, neatly packaged and prepped to deliver to anyone who might ask. He always had an answer to this question for women who’d tried to get too close to him—too needy, too demanding, too fame-whoring. There was always something, always a reason to keep his distance, an out if he ever needed to hit the eject button. With Sansa, there was no answer; other than he was out of his depth and too scared shitless to deal with it.

 

He was face-to-face with perhaps the first real thing he’d ever encountered, and he’d bolted rather than face down the prospect of her slipping away. Gentle, soft-spoken, kind-hearted Sansa was the real powerhouse here, the one summoning up the strength and conviction where he’d faltered and failed her.

 

“I don’t know,” was all he said with a shrug and fumbled through an answer. “I felt like she deserved more; someone who can be there for her. We all know how it goes. We’re gone for months; only back for a few nights at a time. City after city—it’s the same old shit. Weird hours, crazy travel schedule, never home for long. She deserves more than that.”

 

Tipsy as he was, Thoros buzz-sawed through the bullshit and right to the chase.

 

“You mean she deserves more than you, as if you’re not enough? Because that’s what it’s really about, man. I’m no fool. I can see it. Well, let me tell you this—you’re tough as nails, Sandor, but you’re a good man. You deserve good things. And she’s a good woman! I aint shit for math problems, but I’m pretty sure that adds up to you deserving her!”

 

Thoros’s voice grew loud again with vigor and he slammed an open fist on Sandor’s back a bit harder than he probably intended but smiled more sincerely than Sandor could remember.

 

“I made a mistake,” Sandor admitted, more to himself than Thoros, but the man heard it and tried his best at consolation. 

 

“Look, I’m sure she’ll take you back.” Thoros stood from the stool and shoved it clumsily back under the bar. “Tell her you’re sorry, get on your knees, whatever it takes, man. You’ll figure it out.”

 

Sandor searched his face for the glimmer of understanding he’d seen in Thoros a moment ago, but the man was within spitting distance of being shit-faced. The meaning sailed right over Thoros’s head as he leered at the table of French women all sipping on cappuccinos now.

 

The mistake wasn’t so simple as prematurely pulling the plug on the greatest thing that’d ever happened to him. He didn’t really ponder much about God or the Universe, but if anything was looking out for this shit-show planet, it did him a solid by bringing Sansa into his life and Sandor had done the karmic equivalent of giving that God or whatever the hell it was the middle finger.

 

That mistake could be forgiven. This wasn’t about that. This was about a choice he had made; one he’d been making for years. It was his crutch, the excuse he used to never put down roots, to keep people at arm’s length a safe distance away. There were always tours to go on and towns to make. Never once had he considered just not doing it and he never really had a reason until now and, when that reason showed up, he was too stupid or scared or some combination of both to actually make a call and pull the trigger.

 

There were ways to make this work, if he tried hard enough and if he wanted it enough. He’d left Sansa crying in the dingy hallway of some venue thinking that she wasn’t important enough for him to try, that he didn’t want her badly enough to make it work. That was the egregious mistake, the one he feared was unforgivable, and he wouldn’t blame her if it was because he had the audacity to wax lyrical to her about truth then he couldn’t even face his own.

 

“Sure you’re not interested in expanding your tastes?” Thoros coaxed and propped himself up against the bar. 

 

Sandor nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. You have a good night. Don’t do anything stupid,” he chuckled, the odd rumble in his throat feeling foreign to him these days.

 

“You know I don’t make promises like that,” Thoros winked at him and retreated from the bar, across the hotel lobby, and out into the streets beyond. 

 

Sandor wasn’t far behind. He had to eat somewhere, so he shrugged into his leather jacket, thanked Pierre who looked all too pleased to finally offload him, and made for the streets. Outside, the sun had long set and gave way to a clear, chilly night marred only by the thin wisps of clouds that floated above and a heaviness he just couldn’t shake.

 

The humid air puffed from his lips in white clouds as he walked along the Seine, which was quieter now with the vendors packed up for the evening and Parisians tucked warmly away in candlelit brasseries. He passed dozens on his walk and yet his appetite never came. He couldn’t stomach the thought of food and not even another drink.

 

Even at this late hour, the city hummed with life and dazzled with light. He sought simultaneous quiet and distraction. It was too much to ask for both, so he cut down a side street of old stones until the city’s pulse faded behind him. 

 

Real life existed here—small businesses, family flats with flower boxes lining the balconies, and cafes with scarcely more than a handful of people who watched with curious eyes as an interloper made his way into their quaint, secluded existence.

 

Sandor turned a corner to head back for the hotel on the quieter path. His footfalls echoed in the hollow street until another sound joined in. At the far end of the block, a waiter whistled to himself and swept under bistro tables that sat beneath a cafe’s crimson awning. The tune grew louder and more melodic as Sandor neared. The repeated notes gained some conviction and, when Sandor passed the waiter, the mustachioed man tipped his head to him and continued his work stacking chairs and sweeping out cigarette ash and crumbs to a cobblestone street.

 

Something about the tune stuck as if on a loop in his head. Long after he turned another corner and it faded into silence, Sandor held onto a few measures in his mind. At the end of the day, he found the quiet distraction he was after in a whistled melody, just subtle enough to appeal to him.

 

When he reached his hotel, Sandor went straight for the elevator, up to his room, and fumbled through the dark until he reached the writing desk in front of the window that overlooked the street below. He didn’t bother with the lights, just the single desk lamp that illuminated the space beneath it in a small globe of light.

 

He sat beneath it, pen in hand. On hotel stationery, the words came—simple and honest and backed by a whistled tune he just couldn’t shake. He wasn’t a lyricist, not like Harwin who could whip up words to a song like it was no harder than breathing or Bronn who had a penchant for the darker content of their music.

 

Every sentiment that’d escaped him came in a deluge now; all the things he couldn’t say. Somewhere along the line he’d bottled it up and drowned it in a sea of bourbon to keep it from his door. But the perpetual buzz he’d nursed for the past week and half began to fade and the sober clarity it left behind demanded he look it in the face and pay his dues. And so, he did with each written word, bleeding himself dry on the page.

 

Sandor finished just as midnight crept up on him, but the relief was only temporary and rapid on its heels came the urgent desire to make it right, to fix what he’d broken. He picked up the phone and fumbled through the extra digits to place a long-distance call. Halfway through Sansa’s number, Sandor hesitated. 

 

He had to make her see and understand; he had to make it right and make it better and he couldn’t do that holed up in a fucking hotel room in Paris while she was thousands of miles away from him. It wouldn’t translate over the phone, but once more he was stuck between competing desires—the indelible urge to put things to right and the knowledge that over the phone just wasn’t the way to do it. In the end, he couldn’t afford to bungle this. If he had one shot to take, it wasn’t going to be this way. 

 

The line shrilled with a robotic repeated tone and Sandor hung up the phone. There wasn’t much he couldn’t sleep off—hangovers, bad gigs, and apparently this. Sandor did barely more than shuck out of his jacket and boots and crawled into bed for a night of blackout sleep; no dreams, no waking in the middle of the night, no staring up at the ceiling with regret and turmoil as his constant bedfellow. Just pure bliss of nothingness until Beric pounded on the door the next day and wailed in falsetto on the other side.

 

“Fuck off!” Sandor bellowed and pulled a pillow over his head.

 

“You alone in there?” Thoros shouted and ratta-tapped a rhythm at the door, intent to drive Sandor to the depths of insanity or rage-induced homicide. Either would suffice.

 

His bandmates took his silence to mean he wasn’t alone and bawdy laughter resounded in the hall. By now, the other hotel guests were no doubt just as irritated as Sandor.

 

“It’s almost noon. Meet us downstairs in an hour,” Beric yelled. “That’s plenty of time for one more go around with her.”

 

Sandor rolled to his back and pressed the pillow to his face. They could think what they wanted. He didn’t care. He just wanted to sleep, but that was shot to shit now so Sandor rolled out of bed and stumbled to the shower.

 

The ice-cold water did the trick to wake him up, but little to lift his mood. He was awake, but miserable though blessedly had been spared a hangover. Out of the shower, he pulled on a pair of black jeans and a black t-shirt and grabbed his wallet from the desk.

 

Three pages of lyrics stared up at him. He put them on the page and brought them to life and now he’d not only have to live with the harsh reality, but also come to terms with it, word by written word. He gathered the pages and almost tossed them in the trash, but, in a split decision, folded them up and tucked them in his back pocket on the way out the door. 

 

Sandor beat his bandmates to the lobby of the hotel by at least twenty minutes and they might’ve busted his balls for it or pressed for all the lurid details of the woman he supposedly bedded last night. Instead, they found him eased back on some cushy settee, legs stretched out in front of him, back and head against the wall, and his eyes obscured by his aviators.

 

Hands interlaced over his middle, Sandor acknowledged them with nothing more than a faint nod, but otherwise didn’t stir. Their tepid yet delicate greetings to him said they knew—knew the last thing he would’ve done last night was take a chick to bed and the last thing he wanted right now was to be fucked with. They said precious little and waited for the van to pull up out front. When it did, Cannibal Star silently filed out of the hotel and piled in.

 

Thoros reeked of booze, enough so that Bronn warned no-one to light up a cigarette around him. As for Bronn, he sported a grin that said he’d had his fun last night. Harwin fell asleep with his cheek pressed against the window and Beric fussed to their tour manager in the front seat about how they were already late, and Sandor spoke what they were all surely thinking when he broke Beric’s balls for being a diva.

 

Late was relative. They rolled up to the arena five hours before the doors were even set to open. Back home, they wouldn’t even consider getting here this early, but this wasn’t a hometown show. The arena was sold out; 30,000 seats that meant a congruent amount of effort went into the production. Stage set-up, lights, pyro, smoke, sound—it all had to be perfectly orchestrated to their tour manager’s vision, which was over-the-top and too gaudy for Sandor’s taste. He missed the simpler times when it wasn’t such a cluster fuck of shit that could go sideways and label wonks whose jobs were on the line if it did.

 

Sound check was veritable torture. Beric had fine-tuned his ears over the years for the right mix; as loud as they could be without drowning out one component or the other until it all muddled together. Everything had to be crisp and precise and perfect and Beric thought he knew better than most sound engineers who begged to differ.

 

The majority of sound check was Beric second guessing and double checking their work that most times eventually led to either Beric sashaying off stage or the engineer bounding off with a few choice words to spare.

 

Today was no different, but the arena sound was beyond Beric’s self-styled talents. It didn’t stop him from arguing. For the first show of the tour, everyone was seeking perfection.

 

“Give him a few months,” Sandor grumbled when Thoros looked like he was about to lose his shit and his drumsticks were enduring the man’s frustrations. “He’ll lighten up. He always does.”

 

A few months in, they’d embrace the imperfections, too tired and road-weary to really give a shit anymore. They’d go through the motions, ride the high of adrenaline that came from actually doing what they loved, and sleep off the rest of it between gigs. When sound check finally ended, Sandor was the first to abandon his instrument and bound off stage.

 

Down the hall, Sally bumbled towards him in lumbering steps. 

 

“My acoustic back there?” Sandor motioned to a large open break area at the end of the hall where the crew had dumped a random assortment of shit, including the band’s suitcases and other personal effects.

 

“Yes, sir,” Sally tipped his head to Sandor in feigned deference and clapped him hard on the back as they passed each other in the hall.

 

“Don’t call me sir,” Sandor grumbled with a sharp laugh. 

 

“Don’t call me Sally,” the man barked back with a deviant smile. “I put your suitcase in your dressing room…sir.”  

 

Sandor found the guitar buried in the back of leftover gear they wouldn’t need for tonight’s show. He pulled it out and tuned it and sat on a wooden stool with it in his lap. He owned some of the best guitars in the world, but nothing quite beat the sound and feel of a good acoustic. It felt like coming home in a way. With that thought, Sandor remembered the lyrics burning a hole in his back pocket.

 

He pulled them free and tossed them on the high-top table next to him but focused on the whistled tune that etched its place in his memory. He whistled the melody and the chords came easy and found their place in perfect pitch with the tune. He followed the muse or whatever it was that somehow brought this all together.

 

Beric breezed into the open area, but halted dead in his tracks. Lost in the song, Sandor didn’t stop, not until Beric approached and settled in the empty stool at the table. Sandor dampened the strings with the palm of his hand and looked over at Beric.

 

“What’s that?” The man asked and tipped his head towards Sandor’s guitar. 

 

“Just something I’m fucking around with,” Sandor shrugged and moved to pack up his guitar, but Beric lifted one hand to stop him. The other hand gathered up the hotel stationery and scanned the words. Worked up in tizzy not too long ago, Beric seemed awash in calm now. 

 

“You’re not normally a lyricist, but this is pretty damn good.” He flashed a smile at Sandor and gentled his words with a soft laugh. “You should break your own heart more often.”

 

“Thanks, man,” Sandor laughed. 

 

For quiet moments, Beric studied the lyrics as if wrapping the melody he’d heard from Sandor around the words. “Mind if I join in?” he asked and lifted the sheets of paper still in his hand. 

 

Sandor shook his head. “Not at all. I’ll count off.”

 

He strummed the chords and Beric whistled the tune now and what passed between them was what existed in the early days and still existed now too, just hidden behind all the excess bullshit that only got in the way. It was the tandem and the magic of music they could create together and the way they just understood where the other was heading with only a look or a beat.

 

Beric sang the lyrics in a stripped-down way that matched the simplicity of the melody and the sincerity of the words behind the song. He didn’t rely on wails or falsetto or other vocal maneuvers meant to impress or showcase his talent. Sandor always thought the man’s true talent shone through in times like this when he tried less and didn’t have an audience.

 

A few measures in, Thoros wandered into the room and stood off to the side. He closed his eyes as if soaking in the sounds. Moments later, Bronn barreled by but stopped mid stride. Awestruck, he listened and inched nearer to the table as Beric sang and Sandor’s fingers caressed the strings with delicate riffs and doleful strums. Eventually, Harwin joined and settled between Thoros and Bronn who had inched near the table until Cannibal Star had formed a close circle and nothing else existed between them but the music.

 

Harwin and Bronn joined in soft background harmony that accompanied Beric’s repeated lyrics towards the end. Thoros didn’t consider himself much of a singer, but his voice contributed too and found its own place in the mix.

 

One by one, the road crew gathered on the periphery of the band. Whatever catastrophe they’d been tending to, the fire they’d been trying to put out, they all abandoned it now and listened. At first there were only a handful and now crew members called others over to listen until it seemed as though the whole goddamn production stopped everything to be a part of this moment.

 

Beric belted out improvised lyrics, impassioned and drawing from something deep within because every one of them had been here before. They could say they hadn’t, but Sandor had watched each of his bandmates suffer through the sacrifices of being on the road and let go of someone special along the way.

 

They’d buried down the pain over the years and let it callous over, but the hurt still existed somewhere within. They each poured that heartache into the song now until the melody tapered, and it had to come to an end at some point. Sandor plucked a few final chords and let the last note hang in the air on a sad, simple, sweet reverberation.

 

At the end, the band all stared at each other. The crew knew not to clap, not to interrupt so they all whispered to each other and went back to work and left the band to have this moment together.

 

“This aint our normal sound, but I think we really got something here,” Beric murmured on an unusually quiet and serious breath. 

 

Bronn nodded in thunderstruck agreement. “We could debut it on this tour and record it when we get back home, just a thought.”

 

The spell was broken for Sandor at the notion of living this night after night, tour after tour, having this kind of pain immortalized in vinyl and tape. He stood from the stool and grabbed up the lyrics.

 

“No. It’s not meant for anyone to hear.” 

 

Sandor dropped his eyes and set down his guitar. He left the room, tossing the lyrics in the trash along the way. Sandor retreated to the solace of his dressing room and wanted nothing more than to be alone now.

 

He had broken bones before, sliced open his knuckles on snapped strings, gotten in drunken brawls that left his eyes blackened and face busted open. That pain was easy and healed up without much effort. For those injuries, time passed, and his body took care of the rest. He’d take that pain over this kind every second, every moment, and with every beat of his broken heart. He didn’t know what to do with this loss, didn’t know how to manage it without relying on vices, and didn’t know how to stop the spiraling.

 

Sandor sunk into a leather chair with his elbows resting on knees, head in his hands. A knock came at the door.

 

“Come in,” Sandor grumbled and lifted his eyes when the door opened and Harwin eased inside. Of course, it’d be him.

 

Harwin was the youngest of them all and the prettiest too, but he was also the bleeding heart of the group and the only one that couldn’t quite keep up with his own playboy reputation. There were cracks in the facade with heartache and loneliness seeping through.

 

“It was for Sansa, wasn’t it?” Harwin asked and approached Sandor who settled back in the seat.

 

Sandor stared at his hands interlaced in his lap and nodded.

 

“Then it’s not true,” Harwin said. In his hands was the hotel stationery that he must’ve pulled from the trash. He handled them with a somber delicacy as if they were a treasure he’d taken up the charge of protecting.

 

“What isn’t true?” Sandor pressed.

 

Harwin sat at the edge of the empty wooden table next to Sandor. “That no one is meant to hear it. She’s supposed to hear it, man. Sansa needs to hear it.”

 

His blue eyes lit up and beamed in a way that the other bandmates routinely gave him hell about. Thoros had a theory that Harwin would be the first to launch a solo career and one day run off to give Kenny Loggins or Richard Marx a run for their money with sappy love songs.

 

Sandor stood and patted Harwin on the shoulder as he crossed the room to his suitcase. “I think she’s done hearing things from me, brother.”

 

Crouched in front of his suitcase, Sandor unzipped the bag and dug through the contents for his stage outfit. He tossed bits of clothing to the ground. He’d have to repack it all anyway and making a mess of his suitcase was the furthest thing down on his list of things he gave a shit about in this moment.

 

“So that’s it then? You’re just going to give up?”

 

Sandor stopped and swiveled towards Harwin who appeared genuinely perplexed that there wasn’t any other option.

 

“Look, man,” Harwin continued with incessant belief that just wouldn’t quit. “It’s not often a special one comes along. We should know. We get more pussy flung at us than any man ever should. We can spot the special girls better than most. She’s a special one. You know it. I know it. You can’t just let that go.”

 

Sandor sat on the floor; knees pulled towards his chest with his forearms resting on top.

 

“What am I supposed to do?” He ran his fingers through his hair. “We’re not heading back to Chicago for, what? Nine months?”

 

“Says who?” Harwin scoffed and cracked a smile. “We’re fucking Cannibal Star. We make our own rules. All these people are only here because of us. If we refuse to do this shit, they don’t have jobs. I think we all sort of forgot at some point that you, me, Thoros, Bronn, Beric—we call the shots. This is our band. We can let it run our lives forever or we can make our own choices. I think it’s time we start remembering what’s important to us and giving that a bigger place in our lives than all this shit.”

 

By the end of it, Harwin was faintly out of breath and his feminine cheek bones flushed red, but his eyes blazed in a way Sandor had never seen and he spoke truth in a way the others hadn’t but Sandor understood now they all felt it and dealt with this in their own way.

 

“You’re suggesting I leave the tour?”

 

Harwin swiveled his wrist to check his watch. “It’s five now. If you haul ass to the airport, you could be wheels down in Chicago by eight-thirty.”

 

Sandor cradled his forehead in his palm. “This is insane, man,” he murmured more as an aside, but Harwin shuffled towards him. The hotel stationery manifested in Sandor’s downturned gaze as Harwin thrust it at him.

 

“No one said love was sane,” Harwin chuckled. Sandor took the lyrics from him and lifted his eyes to Harwin standing over him. “Your choice. The others will understand. Bronn can take up your spot-on lead guitar and backups for rhythm guitar are a dime a dozen. Fuck, we could have Sally do it. Point is, we’ll manage.”

 

Harwin’s suggestion hung thick in the air, even after he cantered from the room and disappeared in the hall beyond, not unlike the one Sandor had left Sansa heart broken in, believing she wasn’t enough for him, not important enough to try. Fix the mistake.

 

Self-pity and defeat tried to glue him to the floor amongst the mess he’d made of his suitcase, but his heart was a bigger mess and his mind was made up and that alone sent him flying to his feet and bolting to the dressing room door that he tore open. Fix it.

 

“Hey!” he shouted to Harwin halfway down the hall. The man spun on his heel. “Tell Sally to book me on the next flight to Chicago. I’m leaving.”

 

Harwin grinned like an idiot and sprinted down the rest of the hall, screaming for Sally along the way. Sandor bounded back into the dressing room and ripped the phone receiver from its cradle. With trembling fingers and adrenaline pumping in his veins, he dialed her number. No answer. He tried again and again failed in the task. He bit his lip hard in frustration and dug through his wallet for his lifeline, the only one left.

 

Sandor dialed Gendry’s number. “Pick up, pick up,” he whispered and sunk against the wooden table, foot erratically tapping the floor.

 

“Hello?” A bright little voice yapped on the other end, faintly out of breath.

 

“Arya, it’s Sandor, is—”

 

A click and the line went dead. Sandor frantically jabbed at the phone’s handset tab until the line reset itself. He dialed the number again. His shoulders ached with the tension there and he paced the floor with the receiver in his hand and the phone cord following him across the floor.

 

“What the fuck do you want?” Arya screeched when she picked up again.

 

“Don’t hang up on me!” Sandor hollered as his heart pounded in his chest.

 

“You are an emotional terrorist and a thief of joy!”

 

Sandor paused at the insult and might’ve given the kid credit for thinking on the fly, but there was no time for that now. He gripped the phone hard.

 

“Listen to me, I need to talk to Sansa. Do you know where she is or how I can get ahold of her?” He collided to his knees in front of his suitcase and shoved fistfuls of his clothes back in.

 

“She doesn’t want to talk to you. No one wants to talk to you!”

 

With a tremendous crash on the other end, the line went dead once more.

 

“Motherfucker,” Sandor seethed and dialed the number again. The buttons bore the brunt of his anger as he smashed them with forceful jabs.

 

“Stop hanging up on me!” Sandor exploded when the line picked up, the surmounting frustration and fervor too much to take. “I’m calling long distance.”

 

“I don’t care if you’re calling from the fucking moon, you twat!” Arya howled like a feral animal. “You broke my sister’s heart and I better never see you around these parts again or—”

 

Arya’s voice faded and a struggle ensued on the other end of the line with soft scuffles and Arya ranting in the background.

 

“Sandor?” Gendry’s voice drifted through the phone. “Is that you? Why are you calling here?”

 

“I’m taking the first flight back from Paris tonight.” Sandor pounded his fist into his suitcase to pack down the absolute chaos of his clothes. “As soon as I land in Chicago, I need to see Sansa. If only her sister would fucking cooperate with me…”

 

“How about I cooperate my fist with your face, asshole?” Arya’s voice cried out in faded fury.

 

“Arya, please,” Gendry admonished. “This is serious. He’s coming to win her back. He knows what a tool he’s been, alright? Will you cool it?”

 

Sandor shut his suitcase and yanked the stubborn zipper that strained to close. “You just call me a tool?”

 

Gendry returned to the line. “Yeah, dude. I’ve been on the front lines here and it’s been rough, you know? Really rough.” Sandor heard him sigh through the phone. “All I know is that Sansa has that thing for her sorority tonight, that homecoming thing, so she’s probably tied up with that stuff right now. I don’t know how to get ahold of her.”

 

A punch to the gut, Sandor sat on his suitcase and expelled a heavy breath. He was supposed to be there with her. He told her he’d come through for her and he meant to, but good intentions weren’t worth shit if he couldn’t even show up for the one girl who mattered to him.

 

“I need a huge favor from you.” Sandor waited and a hopeful pant passed his lips.

 

Gendry hesitated on the other end and Sandor heard the whispers drift through the line and if the kid meant to mask them, he was doing a piss poor job of it.

 

“Arya says you get one favor and if you fuck it up…” Gendry paused.

 

“His Les Paul will be kindling for my next bonfire. I’ll snap his dick off…” Sandor heard Arya whisper as if he might not hear. Or maybe he was meant to.

 

“Alright, alright, I got it,” Gendry whispered back.

 

“She says she’ll light your guitar on fire,” he spoke matter-of-factly into the phone. 

 

“Say the dick part,” Arya insisted on a hiss in the background.

 

“No!” Gendry countered on a quiet, but firm protest.

 

“Hey!” Sandor snapped and sprung to his feet. “I don’t have time for this shit!”

 

“Okay, okay,” Gendry relented. “We’ll help. What do you need?”

 

“I don’t have time to get my car and get to her.” Sandor yanked up his suitcase and dashed across the room to snatch up his jacket on the table. “I need you to pick me up from the airport in my mustang. It’s parked at the practice space. The Kettleblacks have the keys. I’ll make sure they know to expect you. Can you do that for me?”

 

A pause came. A lifetime. Sandor’s heart raced and he felt his knees faltering beneath him. He held his breath.

 

“Yes. Definitely.”

 

Sandor released a heavy sigh into the phone. “Thank you. I owe you. Unless you damage my car in any way and then I’ll have your fucking head, understood?”

 

“Got it,” Gendry chuckled.

 

“Thanks, man.” The phone crashed to its cradle and Sandor barreled from his dressing room, yanking his suitcase behind him.

 

Sally was waiting, pacing the hall with his cheeks flushed red. “I already had your flight booked. You leave in an hour.”

 

Sandor felt his brows draw together, heavy in confusion as he stared at Sally. “What do you mean you already had it booked? How…what?”

 

“Call it a hunch,” Sally shrugged with a coy, shit-eating grin so clearly satisfied with himself for calling this. “I had a feeling even your dumb ass would come to your senses. I wanted to hedge so I booked a flight. Gotta say, my instincts and timing are impeccable.”

 

Sandor broke with a smile, trembling now as the adrenaline coursed through his veins and sent his hands shaking.

 

 “You can thank me later,” Sally laughed. “I’ll take you to the airport, but we gotta go now, man. Give me this.”

 

He reached for Sandor’s suitcase and patted him on the back before running for the door at the end of the hall. Beric and the rest of his bandmates had gathered in the hall too and Sandor expected to have to explain himself and summon whatever excuses he could.

 

“I gotta go,” was all he said and lifted his arms in the air. He let them fall to his sides again. For a moment, they stared blankly at him. “Look, I always come through for you guys, but right now I gotta come through for her. I’m not willing to lose her. Period.”

 

Thoros nodded, eyes alight with delight, and Harwin winked at Sandor. Even Bronn broke with a wry smile and an “Atta boy.”

 

Beric grinned and tipped his head to the backdoor. “Get outta here. We’ll be fine. Go get the girl.”

 

Sandor could’ve hugged them all in a rare display of affection and appreciation but didn’t have the time to spare. He sprinted down the hall and exploded through the backdoor of the arena where Sally huddled behind the driver seat of some tiny fucking European sub-compact that barely fit his hulking form. Sandor climbed in and hardly got the door shut before Sally slammed his foot on the peddle and sped towards the airport.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck 

Chapter Seventeen

 

“Who's gonna tell you when

It's too late?

Who's gonna tell you things

Aren't so great?

 

You can't go on

Thinking nothing's wrong

Who's gonna drive you home

Tonight?”

 

-Drive, The Cars


Sansa’s legs burned and she raced like the cold morning wind, heart pounding in her chest covered with just a thin t-shirt. Halfway across the quad, the scrunchie fell from her hair and she bid it farewell. Someone would find it. Neon pink wasn’t known for being subtle. Maybe the groundskeeper would toss it in the trash. It didn’t matter. She didn’t have time to go back. She sprinted across dew-covered grass, soared over a stone bench like a gazelle, and yanked open the gym’s back door.

 

“I’m here!” Her shouts echoed off the gym walls covered in paper flowers, string lights, and a giant glitter-encrusted heart with three pink triangles inside in case anyone forgot that Tri Delta was hosting this affair.

 

Sansa bolted across the basketball court and to the table at the back where Jeyne, Dany, and Arianne all sat with a veritable craft store worth of supplies in front of them.

 

“I’m sorry,” Sansa panted and crouched over, hands gripping her knees. “I overslept, but I’m here.”

 

Overslept was a gross understatement. She was an hour and a half late. She might’ve tried to lie and say that she didn’t hear her alarm, but she’d heard it just fine. With each jab of the snooze button, she knew damn well she was toying with trouble.

 

The truth was she didn’t quite care and couldn’t summon the motivation to climb out of bed. As it stood, Sansa poured all her energy into showing up for class and that alone zapped her. So exhausted with the effort, last night she passed out on her bed at eight o’clock. 

 

But Sansa didn’t need to cover up the lie. She could’ve paraded out the God’s honest truth and it wouldn’t have mattered. Jeyne didn’t spare a passing glance. The girl tapped a tube of glitter over poster board. The pink sparkles stuck to cursive glue letters that spelled out the name of each Tri Delta girl.

 

“You were signed up for last weekend.” Jeyne glared at Sansa from beneath her brow.

 

Sansa gripped the edge of the table lined with open tubes of glitter all in different shades of pink.

 

“What?” she breathed, gulping down air to catch her breath.

 

“Watch it,” Arianne muttered and shot Sansa an offended look as the glitter tubes wobbled on the table.

 

Jeyne carefully set the glitter tube down and eased back in her seat. Arms folded, she tipped her chin high and proud and with a snooty glint behind her eyes as she stared at Sansa.

 

“Over a month ago, we all signed up for a weekend. Yours was last weekend.” Jeyne grabbed a piece of paper from the table and shoved it at Sansa who took it and scanned the list of names.

 

Sure enough, in her very own handwriting, her name was next to last weekend’s date. She meant to write it down or commit it to memory, but then Sandor had careened into her life from left field and nothing had been the same. The date had simply vanished from her mind, completely lost and only now finding its place again in faded memories.

 

Sansa cast incredulous eyes towards her sorority sisters at the table. They toiled away over decorations that just looked shitty and stupid and doused in way too much glitter. None of the girls would look at her.

 

“Why didn’t anyone come get me?” Sansa pled. “I was already moved into the Tri Del house. Someone could’ve gotten me.” Her eyes landed on Jeyne and she pointed at the girl. “I saw you that morning! You could’ve said something, Jeyne.”

 

“It’s not my job to babysit you, Sansa.” Jeyne’s upper lip curled in a scowl. “If you were more responsible, you wouldn’t be in this mess.”

 

Sansa replaced the sign-up sheet to the table and launched into her last-ditch effort to reason with Jeyne, to remind the girl of who she used to be before this cult of cattiness and backstabbing had gotten the best of her.

 

“You didn’t used to be like this, you know that?” Sansa whispered so that the others might not hear. “I remember when you were actually kind and considerate and—”

 

“And you didn’t used to be such a slut!” Jeyne’s outburst echoed through the gym and she leveled cruel eyes on Sansa whose cheeks burned now. “Looks like both of us have changed.”

 

Old Sansa would’ve cried. She would’ve been mortified, humiliated, and would’ve taken this lying down. Then again old Sansa wouldn’t have been in this situation. She would have yielded to Jeyne and Margaery, done their bidding, adopted their thinking, and certainly would’ve never given Sandor a second glance, much less the time of day. And her life would’ve been sadder, hollower, and more boring because of it.

 

Sansa had changed into a version of herself she liked much better and that version scooped up the tubes of glitter in both hands, threw her arms in the air, and watched with delight as a sparkling pink gradient rained down on Jeyne, Dany, and Arianne who all shrieked in unison. Sansa dropped the empty tubes to the floor and waltzed off as Jeyne desperately tried to save her hideous glitter-and-glue creation.

 

Sansa pushed through the gym’s double doors and into the vestibule beyond where she found Mya cross-legged on the floor next to a window. As sunlight streamed in, the girl shaped pink tissue paper into a flower, but stared up at Sansa with grey eyes gone wide. 

 

“What the hell happened to you?” she asked and gaped at Sansa’s hands covered in a sheen of glitter.

 

Sansa gazed down, noticing now how her white t-shirt was dusted in pink and so were the tousled ends of her hair. Her stunt was well-worth the glittery collateral and a smirk of pride creased her lips. Before she could answer, the double doors behind her burst open and a red-faced Jeyne came screaming through. Arianne and Dany scampered behind.

 

“And now we have to clean it all up! It’s a disaster! She ruined it!”

 

“Is that your handy work?” Mya grinned like mad and motioned to the hall where Jeyne wailed like a banshee all the way to the bathroom.

 

“Yep, sure is.” Sansa plopped down next to Mya. She rested with her back against the window and pulled her knees to her chest.

 

“Sweet.” Mya chuckled, but her gaze drifted to the misshapen flower in her hand. A dozen more were scattered around her on the floor, equally as crumpled and asymmetric.

 

“Need some help?” Sansa asked.

 

Mya surveyed her work and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess. It couldn’t hurt.”

 

The problem wasn’t Mya. Sansa layered tissue paper and tried to glue the pieces together at the center. The glue stick tore at the paper and her attempt at a flower ended up just as deformed. The flowers in the gym seemed expertly crafted in comparison, lovingly created by girls who still gave a shit.

 

Sansa frowned at her flower and tossed it to the pile of wasted effort. These flowers just wouldn’t make the cut and would end up in the garbage anyhow. Why am I even here?

 

Mya seemed to ponder the same question. She wadded up the tissue paper in her hand and chucked it to the side.

 

“Hey,” Mya murmured. Her eyes shifted in a tentative gaze to Sansa. “There are worse things than not having a date for tonight’s mixer.”

 

Like a broken heart. This was more than just not having a date. Sansa couldn’t conjure enough leftover emotional energy to even feel sorry for herself. One night of her life didn’t matter. It was all the other nights alone and without him that loomed like an uphill battle she might not win.

 

“You’re right.” Sansa nodded. Tissue paper clung to the tips of her fingers tacky from the glue stick. “Like being here with this stupid…flower…” Sansa flung her wrist to free the paper, but to no avail. “…bullshit.” She ripped the tissue paper off and tossed it to the floor. “God, a year ago I could hardly contain myself setting up for this thing.”

 

A year ago, Sansa was also the picture of a dutiful sorority girl: manicured fingers deftly shaping perfect decorations; her dress procured weeks before the dance; her planner filled with all her responsibilities, the ones she’d rather drop dead than miss—or worse—forget. 

 

Mya snorted a laugh and stared at her hands that no longer bothered with decorations. “I remember.”

 

“You do?” Sansa felt the heat of shame and embarrassment rush to her cheeks. “I’m sure I was totally annoying. I’m annoyed just thinking about it.”

 

God, I hope I never acted like Jeyne. Sansa scanned her memories for moments of cruelty, times she judged others too harshly, or said things that wounded other people or made them feel less than.

 

Mya was quick to douse the rising panic in Sansa. She gave a firm shake of her head.

 

“No, not annoying.” The girl paused and fiddled with a glue stick that occupied both her hands and now her eyes as she contemplated it. “You’ve always been nicer to me than any of the others. I’m different and not everyone accepts it like you do.”

 

Sansa knew well enough what Mya meant. The whispers drifted around campus about the girl who dressed a little too androgynous and couldn’t be bothered with frat boys or jocks. Joffrey had had truly cruel things to say about it and Jeyne, though not as cruel, certainly shared in the blatant intolerance.

 

“I remember you this time last year,” Mya continued. “I remember how excited you were and involved and up Margaery’s ass. I remember thinking, ‘Here’s this really cool chick who’s genuinely kind and cares about people and dresses awesome and is smart. Why the hell does she care so much what Margaery and the others think of her?’

 

“You have more depth than Jeyne could ever hope to have; more integrity than Margaery; more class than Myranda. I just never got it. They’re cheap knock-off versions of you, Sansa. They should be rising to your level, not trying to drag you down to theirs.”

 

At the end of it, Sansa felt the familiar burn of tears, but these were so different than the ones she’d shed for the past few weeks. It’s okay to be who you are now, Mya probably meant, and the girl would know.

 

Sansa leaned over the wreck of tissue paper and hugged Mya. The sun streamed bright and warm against her skin.

 

“Thank you for being a good friend to me,” she whispered before settling back on her knees. “You know I think the same about you, Mya, and I’ll always stick up for you, right?”

 

A faint smile painted Mya’s lips and she nodded. Jeyne stomped back down the hall, still ranting and with Arianne and Dany trailing after her. She glared at Mya and Sansa and flung open the gym door.

 

“I wish we could just start our own sorority or something,” Sansa grumbled. 

 

“Or quit this bullshit.” Mya huffed a gentle laugh, one that said she considered the prospect a pie-in-the-sky dream, but it fire started something in Sansa.

 

Why hadn’t it ever occurred to her to leave? She wasn’t bound by oath or law or even friendship now to Tri Delta. She didn’t owe them her loyalty or time or allegiance. And what exactly was she getting out of this other than misery?

 

Sansa lifted her eyes to Mya and found the girl staring back with the exuberance of the same realization.

 

“I will if you do,” Sansa said with a mischievous smile. 

 

“I’m in,” Mya nodded and tucked her dark curls behind her ears. “But I say, first, we have the time of our lives tonight to rub it in their faces. We can’t let them think they drove us away.”

 

“Deal.” Sansa extended her hand to Mya who took it and gave a firm shake.

 

“Deal.”

 


                                                                                          

“Who’s upstairs?” Ned asked Cat in the kitchen and knew damn well what the answer was.

 

He’d heard the shower come on and, not so long after, the scent of peaches wafted down the hall. He knew Sansa’s graceful footfalls, far gentler than all his other children who stomped around like elephants. It was a wonder the subfloor hadn’t given up the ghost by now.

 

“Sansa is getting ready here.” Cat glanced up from her magazine resting on the counter. “The sorority house is too crowded with all the girls getting ready for tonight.”

 

“So she says.” Ned dunked his hand into the container of Cheez Balls and popped them into his mouth.

 

He never would’ve hoped that Sansa’s experience living at the sorority house would be hell. He garnered no satisfaction from it, especially not with how she left home—giving him the silent treatment and only mumbling a goodbye. He had talked to her little since; mostly stilted conversations rife with awkward silences and ultimately ending when Sansa asked to speak to her mother.

 

“So she says,” Cat repeated on a sigh. She knew all the details. Sansa called her once a day, often in tears. “Are you going to talk to her?”

 

Cat’s question had only one answer. By Ned’s calculation, that didn’t make it a question at all; only a suggestion disguised as a query.

 

“Ned.” Cat stared at him from beneath her brow and his name came long and drawn out like a warning.

 

He stuffed more Cheez Balls into his mouth. “What if she yells at me again?”

 

Ned never pegged Sansa to share in Arya’s temper, but, when it burned, it burned bright and blindsided. Hers wasn’t anger for the sake of outlet—things said in the heat of the moment. It cut to the bone with truth and illuminated all the things Sansa was too polite to point out otherwise. The great mistake was assuming she didn’t notice or see those things. He could handle being yelled at, but not so much the blinding truth.

 

“You are a grown man. Start acting like it, darling.”

 

Cat flipped the magazine shut and tucked it beneath her arm before circling around the counter. “It’s been weeks and she’s your daughter. You have no excuse.”

 

She pressed a kiss to his cheek and wiped the corner of his mouth with a napkin. “She’s leaving here at seven. I sincerely hope, and also expect, you to have talked to her by then.”

 

Cat pressed another kiss to the tip of his nose and wandered out of the kitchen. Ned had precisely one hour to figure out what to say to his daughter. He hid in his office, the sacred place his children knew not to disturb him. It was a firewall for Arya’s flippant needling, Rickon’s wild shenanigans, and Bran’s philosophical musings. Only now, Ned likened his retreat here to burying his head in the sand. At a quarter to seven, he decided to face the music and crept from his office and down the stairs.

 

He found Sansa in the living room struggling to put on a delicate gold bracelet. She stunned in a petal pink dress he’d never seen before. Ned didn’t know the first thing about fashion trends or that Madonna lady who seemed to influence those trends with an abundance of jewelry, lace, and those weird gloves with no fingers.

 

What he did know was that his daughter was a timeless beauty and never more so than now. She looked a classic queen from the silver screen—an elegant quarter-sleeve satin dress that fell just below her knees and a simple white evening jacket; soft curls of her long hair pulled back at her temples; and just enough makeup to enhance her already gorgeous face without mucking it up in bizarre shades of eyeshadow like blue and, God forbid, green.

 

Ned stuffed his hands in his pockets and entered the room in tentative steps. He cleared his throat to announce his presence and pointed to Sansa’s wrist when she lifted her head with a dejected frown and sad eyes.

 

“Can I help?”

 

Sansa nodded and dropped her head again as she held out her arm, bracelet draped over the back of her wrist. Ned fumbled with the clasp for many moments fraught with silence and the unspoken. When he finally managed the task, Sansa smoothed down the skirt of her dress.

 

“You look beautiful, Sansa,” he said. She responded with a dull smile.

 

Ned settled in front of her. “I only ever wanted you to be happy. I hope you know that.”

 

“I know,” Sansa whispered.

 

Did she know? Did she truly know? If she didn’t, he couldn’t say that he blamed her. By all appearances, he’d busted into her romance, made a fine mess of it, and then cold-shouldered her for weeks. 

 

“I overreacted,” Ned continued. “You were right. It wasn’t my place to intervene. I was a jerk and an embarrassment and I’m so sorry, sweetheart.”

 

That was the least of it. With deep shame, Ned had confided in Catelyn about that rampage he went on at the auto shop; how he’d lost his cool and destroyed a Michelin Man; how he’d called Sandor a raging asshole among other things. It all had gotten so out of hand.

 

He must’ve worn his contrition now. Sansa relented with a small smile, still so sad but at least she’d look at him. She wrapped her arms around his middle and rested her head against his chest.

 

“You were a huge jerk, but I forgive you, Daddy,” Sansa whispered, her gentle nature prevailing as always.

 

Ned broke the hug and gripped her shoulders as he stared at her. “I’m sorry I messed things up with you and Sandor.”

 

He’d heard of their break from Arya. Sandor wanted better for Sansa but, too consumed in her own fury, Arya didn’t understand. She blamed it on the guy’s stupidity and a whole host of other reasons wrapped up in colorful language Ned had been at a loss to address in his youngest daughter.

 

For Ned, guilt came hard and it came swift. He found no joy in the news, no vindication. It only solidified the bitter truth he’d avoided—he’d been wrong and somehow he’d contributed to it. Maybe he put the idea in Sandor’s head, telling the man that he was far out of Sansa’s league and had nothing to offer her. 

 

Sansa shook her head and dabbed at tears that welled in her eyes. “You didn’t mess it up. It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess.”

 

Ned retreated across the room and sunk into the couch. Sansa followed and sat next to him, her head resting against his shoulder.

 

“Your Grandpa Tully didn’t like me much when I started dating your mom,” he admitted. The memories of that time were faded and some altogether missing, but this one was technicolor in its vividness.

 

“I can’t imagine why,” Sansa huffed on a laugh.

 

With a smile, Ned gazed towards the ceiling. None of his kids believed any of his stories from the Sixties. Not a single one. They couldn’t quite reconcile their square, boring dad with the crazy tales and he’d only shared the mild ones.

 

“I know you don’t believe me, but I was wild back then,” Ned tried again and glanced at Sansa who listened in dubious rapt. He’d take what he could get.

 

“I had long hair and worshiped rock n’ roll. Your mom smoked pot for the first time with me and I dropped her off at home. We were too stoned to cover our tracks. Your Grandpa smelled marijuana on her the moment she walked through the door and acted about the same way with me as I did with Sandor.”

 

In some subconscious bid for history to repeat itself, Ned drew inspiration and even some direct quotes from Hoster’s furious diatribe in his own outburst with Sandor. The name calling, the threats, the warning to never speak to his daughter again—they all came courtesy of Hoster Tully. Nothing about Ned’s embarrassing display was truly original, all just derivative of an age-old story of a father’s misguided efforts at protecting his daughter.

 

“It worked out for you and mom, though,” Sansa said and, while she had the right of it, she didn’t have the rest of the story; the hard parts that so often precede happy endings. 

 

“It did after I apologized to her father and promised to clean up my act.”

 

Sansa sat up and stared at her hands in her lap. When, she spoke again it was soft and resigned, a girl who’d given up. “I don’t think Sandor will be apologizing to you.”

 

“Well, I don’t think he owes me an apology,” Ned chuckled. “I can see now he really does care about you.”

 

“Then why’d he do it?” Sansa lifted her eyes to him. Tears broke free and spilled down her cheeks. Ned took her hand.

 

“Men are idiots sometimes. The right one comes along and we get scared and do stupid things. I’m sure you’ll find your way back to each other. If not, there are many men in this world who would be lucky beyond belief to have you.”

 

He didn’t know what camp Sandor Clegane fell into—scared or stupid or maybe even both—and couldn’t rightly say if they’d come together again, but considered Sansa’s time with Sandor, in the very least, a lesson and an opportunity to grow. Sansa had taken that opportunity and ran with it.

 

Ned lifted Sansa’s hand and pressed a small kiss to her knuckles. “I’m proud of you,” he whispered.   

 

Her brow wrinkled in confusion. “For what?”

 

“For sticking to your guns when it counted. And for the woman you’ve grown—and are growing—into.”

 

Sansa looked like she wanted to cry again but was no longer awash in sadness. She beamed and threw her arms around him. “Thank you.”

 

When the clock chimed seven, Ned stood from the couch. “You’re going to be late. You should hit the road. I didn’t even have time to teach you my signature dance move so you can impress the other kids.”

 

Sansa stood and burst with laughter. “I’ve seen it before, Dad. I think I’ll manage just fine.”

 

She retrieved her purse from the coffee table and Ned followed her to the door where he kissed her cheek. “Have a wonderful time. You deserve it.”

 

Sansa smiled and gave him a hug, and Ned retreated down the hall towards the kitchen and the giant container of Cheez Balls.

 

“Dad,” Sansa called out after him. He turned to her as she stood beneath the front door’s frame and a chill of the night’s air swept down the hall.

 

“The guy Arya is seeing, Gendry, he’s a good one too. He loves her, treats her well, and makes her happy. He’s a calming presence for Arya and we all know how much she needs that. I hope you give him a chance.”

 

Don’t make the same mistake twice, was the warning, delivered with the simultaneous delicacy, compassion, and astuteness that only Sansa could manage with such effortless grace.

 

“I’m happy to hear it and I will,” he nodded. “I’d love to meet him. I’ll tell Arya to bring him by for dinner one night.”                                                                                              


The dim lights hid the flaws in all the decorations and maybe that was by design. It all came together nicely—twinkle lights drizzling down the walls, all those tissue paper flowers, and a small stage at the front of the gym lined with carnation and rose arrangements.

 

“Well, I’d say it’s official,” Mya laughed and was illuminated in the pink glow that enveloped the gym. The disco ball whirled up above and cast glittering beams to slowly circle the space.

 

Next to Mya, Sansa stared at Jeyne’s gaudy poster board creation, only partially disappointed that her scene this morning hadn’t sabotaged it. Sure enough, every Tri Delta name sparkled in swirling cursive letters; all but two—Sansa and Mya.

 

Their exile wasn’t carved in stone but emblazoned in glitter. By sorority standards, that probably carried more permanence and Sansa didn’t rightly care. Neither did Mya. The girl smiled up at the poster board with smug satisfaction. 

 

Sansa lifted her plastic cup to Mya. “Here’s to freedom.”

 

“To freedom.” A smile crept across Mya’s punch-pink lips.

 

That freedom carried a small price. Mya and Sansa hung on the outskirts of the gym, thoroughly ignored as the space filled with muscle-bound frat boys all sporting some version of a pink shirt—polos, button downs, even some in t-shirts. The Tri Delta girls all opted for elaborate get ups—poufy dresses, even poufier hair, bangles for days on their wrists, and as much pink lipstick, blush, and eyeshadow as they could plaster to their faces.

 

The whispers and dirty looks moved across the writhing room as music pulsed and the night wore on. Many cast offended glances at Mya’s black dress—a reminder that she was different—and some looked disgusted at the girl’s choice of shoes, black Doc Martens. Many burst into laughter at Sansa’s dress.

 

“As if dressing like a prude makes her any less of a tramp,” one girl said to her Sigma Chi boyfriend as Sansa passed them.

 

Mya looked primed to hurl herself at those people, but Sansa simply lifted a delicate hand and offered a smile to the gawking couple.

 

“Not worth it,” she whispered to Mya. 

 

Weaponized kindness, her mother called it, and Sansa wielded it well into the night. She slaughtered by not giving a shit and this wasn’t some feigned attempt at forcing the cruelty to roll off her shoulders.

 

In the back corner of the gym, well away from judgmental looks, Sansa and Mya danced their hearts out. Mya wasn’t one for dancing. At first, she awkwardly tucked back her curls behind her ears, perhaps too self-conscious to really let loose, and merely swayed to the beat with downturned eyes.

 

Sansa had cajoled her and, much like her sister had weeks ago, employed all manner of ridiculous dance moves to bust up Mya’s residual embarrassment. She even trotted out her dad’s signature dance move—a strange gyrating number he claimed was all the rage in his hippie heyday.

 

It worked. An hour and a half into the mixer, Mya Stone lost all inhibitions. The girl cut it up like the best of them and joined Sansa in shouting out the lyrics to each sugary pop song and even a few rocks songs Mya requested from the DJ. Others looked on with horror that Sansa and Mya weren’t the hapless wallflowers they were supposed to be. They were anything but and some people even paid them envious looks that meant, “why should those two be having so much fun?”

 

Sansa’s body hummed, her skin flush from dancing and the sugar rush of overly sweet punch that she and Mya gulped down to cool off. Sansa’s cheeks and chest ached from laughing and she fanned herself with her crossbody envelope purse. Against the bleachers, she and Mya took a well-earned break.

 

A sweet little blonde-haired girl named Lily with rosy cheeks and shy eyes broke through the crowd and approached Sansa and Mya in uncertain steps. She was a freshman and Sansa had completed group assignments with her in Baelish’s class. The girl was soft spoken and so often steamrolled by the other sorority girls, but she was smart and funny and had plenty to say if only people paid attention to her. And Mya certainly did.

 

“I like your dress, Mya,” Lily said and wrung her hands in front of her.

 

She nervously tugged at the end of her butter blonde curls pulled up in a high ponytail. When she lifted her eyes again, they landed on Mya who blushed something fierce. Even in the pink light, Sansa could see it well enough; if not for the color, then the way Mya’s chest rose and fell in a frantic breath and her eyes had gone wide.

 

“Do you want to dance?” Lily asked Mya over the beginning choir harmony of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer”.

 

Mya’s mouth hung open and she stammered disjointed words, none of which culminated in a “yes” or “I’d love to”. She turned to Sansa with a tortured expression—so clearly wanting to have her moment but not intent to abandon Sansa here alone.

 

Sansa gently nudged Mya forward. “Go on,” she encouraged with a smile. “I’ll be fine.”

 

And she was fine—all alone or with someone else—Sansa was just fine.

 

With Lily leading the way to the dance floor, Mya turned to Sansa and mouthed a “thank you”, lit up from within and disappearing into the crowd with Lily.

 

Against the wall and watching all the others, Sansa swayed to herself. With the others too lost in the rhythm of the song, she didn’t field any judgmental looks or whispered taunts. She scanned the gym, realizing the mistake it would’ve been to bring Sandor here. If Sansa didn’t fit into this world, then neither would he.

 

She lifted her eyes to the gym ceiling where a net held up hundreds of white and pink balloons. If it’s meant to be, let it find a way, was her own prayer she sent to the heavens.

 

The music cut out and, for a moment, the gym fell quiet until Margaery took the stage. The room erupted in cheers. Sansa had seen Margaery floating around all night—mingling amongst the crowd and doing her duty as president with Jeyne scampering at her heels. The Sigma Chi boys catcalled, and Margaery breathed a gentle laugh into the microphone.

 

“I must say,” Margaery began and flipped her hair over her bare shoulder. “Sigma Chi, you boys clean up nicely and are certainly pretty in pink.”

 

Another round of cheers deafened with hoots and hollers and yowls of delight for the queen who had spoken. Sansa rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest.

 

“As you all know, this is my last homecoming mixer as a Northwestern Wildcat and as the President of the Tri Delta sisterhood.”

 

Boos echoed through the gym. Margaery giggled and waited until the crowd quieted again.

 

“While we still have another semester, I am announcing my replacement early. I’ve watched and evaluated several girls over the past year. Most had their merits, but one was a standout.”

 

Sansa’s heart pounded in her chest and she couldn’t quite say why. Instinct bid her to move away from the tucked away bleachers and towards the back of the gym. She wasn’t so delusional to think that she was still the top contender as Margaery’s replacement but throughout the crowd people turned to Sansa.

 

First, Harry Hardyng with a devious sneer who then turned to another Sigma Chi brother who also cast a knowing glance in Sansa’s direction. Then there were her sorority sisters. Peppered throughout the crowd, those girls looked to her too and then to one another with eyes that betrayed a horrid secret.

 

Sweat covered Sansa’s palms, which she wiped against the skirt of her dress. She shifted further away from the crowd and towards the back double doors of the gym. Her limbs trembled as Margaery spoke again.

 

“This girl is the pinnacle of class and moral standards. She didn’t diminish herself or her worth for cheap thrills with the wrong kind.”

 

Even through the dim light, Margaery’s gaze found Sansa well enough at the back of the room. And so did more eyes from the crowd. They all followed Margaery’s sickening smile, full of mocking and disingenuous placidity, to the where Sansa froze.

 

“This girl didn’t disrespect the sisterhood at every turn with her bad behavior and even worse decision making. She didn’t tarnish her reputation with a long haired, leather-clad loser who left her anyway because she will always be a disappointment.”

 

The entire room turned. Sansa could scarcely breathe as tears welled in her eyes. This was a nightmare, a pink-tinged nightmare. She closed her eyes and opened them again. Like something out of movie, people pointed, and they laughed. In graceless steps, Sansa eased backwards, but her legs went weak, knees about to buckle. She couldn’t let them see her cry.

 

“This girl is everything a true Tri Delta should aspire to,” Margaery’s voice rose into the speakers. “This girl is Jeyne Payne. Congratulations, Jeyne. You’re the next Tri Del President!”

 

Thunderous applause and cheers shook the room as the balloons rained from the ceiling. Sansa punched her way through that cascading pink and white wall as the tears broke free. She sprinted towards the gym door and collided into the cold night beyond.

 

A sob escaped her as she clutched her stomach. Her frantic breaths manifested on white puffs. Sansa retreated across the parking lot and, with the back of her hand, swiped at the tears streaming down her cheeks. Trembling fingers fumbled for the car keys in her purse.

 

She just had to tempt fate with her smug musings about being fine. She hurried to her car before someone slipped out the back door and saw her like this. Sansa unlocked the car and pelted her purse inside.

 

She slammed the door shut and rested her arm against the car, forehead against her forearm. She worked to regulate her breaths and all that effort was ruined in an instant when scuffling footfalls sounded behind her.

 

Some asshole had a lot of nerve to come out here, to kick her while she was already down and waving the white flag with burning cheeks and bitter tears of humiliation. With her face buried in the crook of her arm, Sansa stilled. Maybe they’d go away if she ignored them, but then she recognized the sigh that escaped him, heavy with want, and the scuffle of boots. She’d heard it before. Sansa lifted her head and turned around.

 

Ripped from one of her dreams, the kind that left her in breathless devastation when she woke, Sandor stood before her. Faintly out of breath himself, he panted through parted lips and wide eyes roved over her body, head to toe and back again and then another pass for good measure because he looked just as bewildered as Sansa felt.

 

Her heart slamming in her chest said this was no dream and she wasn’t merely wading in a pool of memories. Sandor licked his bottom lip and hurried towards her. His brow folded together, seemingly at a complete loss to see the tears staining her cheeks.

 

“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be on tour,” Sansa said and wrapped her arms tight across her chest to shield against his advance.

 

It worked. He stopped a few feet from her. The wind picked up and carried with it the scent of him—woody, earthy, masculine, leaving her adrift and yearning for everything she wanted, for him.

 

“I left,” Sandor whispered with a softness she’d seen only intermittently from him. He so often hid behind lewd behavior or sternness he carried as a shield and, just when he let that guard down, he’d let her go. Perhaps she’d seen too much. 

 

A deluge of tears wet Sansa’s cheeks more than she could keep up with, so she gave up the effort.

 

She cleared her throat. “I thought you had a contract. A commitment.”

 

Sandor shuffled forward and Sansa sunk against the car lest she hit the ground for how her knees weakened.

 

“Some commitments are more important.” He matched her eyes, but Sansa faltered, her gaze dropping to the ground.

 

“Why aren’t you inside?” he asked.

 

When Sansa lifted her eyes again, they drifted to the gym and the music pulsing from inside. One of the double doors had been left open and the crystalline beat danced into the night.

 

“I wasn’t having a good time.” She bit her bottom lip to quell its ridiculous quivering.

 

“I can see that,” he said with defeat splintering through like a soft crack at glass. For a moment, he looked like he was breaking apart too. “I thought you had an obligation to your sorority sisters.”

 

He motioned to the rose-tinted glow that emanated from the open door and deceived with its lush allure. It might as well have been a gateway to hell. Sansa was never going back. And here she stood at the crossroads once more and Sandor wasn’t the only one breaking apart again. That horrid ache returned, the one she swore she’d finally staved off well enough to muddle through each day.

 

“Some obligations aren’t that important.”

 

Her stilted response left them nowhere to go and hadn’t that been the idea? He left her. It was done. The road they’d traveled together ended abruptly and he’d tossed her aside to live out his dream without her in it.

 

Sandor’s hands found their way into the pockets of his jeans that fit him like a glove. She hated that he looked so good; that his leather jacket looked warm and familiar; that his hair tumbling across his shoulders and drifting on the breeze reminded her that he once loved when she played with it; that he felt like home and she was in bad need of shelter now with nowhere to go; and that she wanted him just as desperately as ever but he’d cast her aside.

 

Sansa said none of that and instead decided to stand tall against the pain. Her hands curled into tight fists and not because she was all that strong in the moment. She still shook and her throat still burned, but she’d suffered enough humiliation for one night. The least she could do was feign some composure.

 

“Sansa,” he sighed with a pained expression he had no right to. “I know things have been hard and I—”

 

“No, you don’t know!” she cried when she meant to be a silent sentry to her own heart; collect his words and move on, but it felt like the world was falling away from beneath her feet and she was going down with it. “You bailed when it got a little bit hard! Not even a lot hard. Just a little. You weren’t the one left blindsided and broken hearted, so don’t tell me it’s hard.”

 

She spun away but stumbled and Sandor dashed forward to catch her. Sansa steadied herself against the car and felt his strong hands at her waist. He urged her to turn towards him and tried to pull her into his arms in a desperate bid to close the distance. As much as she wanted to be wrapped up in his embrace, the pain he’d carved in her ran too deep.

 

“Sansa, please,” he pled with her and she turned in the cage that was his arms now. Her eyes met his chest where her palms pressed against him. She pushed him away and though it wasn’t by any means hard, he stumbled backwards with a look like she’d shattered the earth beneath him.

 

“Why did you come back? Tell me!” she demanded, all her hate poured into the way her voice trembled and how she was crying again.

 

Sandor’s mouth opened but nothing came. At such a profound loss, his gaze darted across her face and he looked for the first time scared. Petrified. Coming undone at the seams and he swallowed hard, gulping down the night’s air but didn’t manage an answer.

 

Whipped up in a frenzy of her own grief, Sansa lurched towards him, her turn to close the distance. How was he holding onto stray bits of composure while she was coming apart? What right did he have?

 

“How is it that you have all the right words, can somehow manage the lewd little quips and innuendos, but you don’t have anything to say when it really matters? Why are you here, Sandor? Why did you come back?”

 

“I wanted a dance with you,” he scrambled to answer, and the words bled together in one long, anguished exhale.

 

He wasn’t holding it together. He had no upper hand here, that was clear to see with the way his hands shook and his breathing looked labored and painful. And he looked like a man so at war with himself, torn up from the inside out and he was something of a mirror to her own pain.

 

“What?” Sansa breathed.

 

He took a step towards her, deliberate now and something quieted in him. She stepped backwards until she settled against the car again.

 

“I wanted a dance with you. I made a commitment. I told you I’d be here. I gave you my word.”

 

With another step towards her, he found his voice, deep and sincere, and gained the ability to meet her eyes.

 

“If I’m going to spend my life coming through, showing up, being there, I want it to be for you. Not everything else. Fuck touring and fuck contracts. Those things come and go, and it doesn’t really matter, but you do. You matter to me so much more than all of that.”

 

Gravel crunched beneath his feet. Sandor was closing the space between them.  He stood taller and the intensity behind his eyes hadn’t waned.

 

“I don’t fall in love often or maybe I’ve never really been in love until now, so I’m sorry if I don’t say the right things or if I get this part wrong. I had all these eloquent, well-spoken things to say. I rehearsed it over and over on the plane and I’m fucking forgetting it all now. So, I’m gonna have to wing this and I won’t try to make it some goddamn sonnet because that’s not me anyway.”

 

Nearer. A foot apart now. He could reach out to touch her if he wanted and he dropped his voice low. The world around them seemed to still, as if it were only them in this moment. It might as well have been.

 

“I ended it because I was afraid you’d fade away from me; that it’d be a slow death in losing you and I didn’t know—I don’t know—how to manage that kind of pain. I’ve never had to before and I didn’t know if I could bear it.”

 

The distance melted away. She could smell the leather of his jacket, feel the warmth emanating from him as he pressed his hands against the car on either side of her shoulders. He leaned towards her, bending over slightly until they were eye to eye.

 

“And it turns out I can’t manage that kind of pain. It doesn’t matter how it happens. I just can’t. Without you, I can’t. I was a coward and I was stupid, and I don’t want to lose you. I can’t lose you.”

 

A ragged little breath passed Sansa’s lips as he removed one hand from the car and cupped her cheek. The other hand cradled the back of her head, his fingers buried in her hair. Forehead to forehead and nose to nose, he spoke again, each word a whisper against her lips. 

 

“And if it’s too late and you tell me to leave, I will if that’s what you really want, but I had to come back because I love you, Sansa. I needed to come through for you and I needed you to know that I am so in love with you.”

 

By the end of it, he was shaking; fingers in her hair, lips against hers, and one arm slipping towards the small of her back to pull her against him and throughout it all she felt the way he trembled. In his arms, Sansa trembled too.

 

“You love me?” Her question came with a lump burning in her throat that dissolved now into more tears. Sansa gazed up at him and felt the frantic rhythm of his heart beating against her palms pressed to his chest.

 

He nodded. “More than anything. I don’t…” He bit his lip, choking on the words. The man who could turn a phrase better than anyone was fumbling and her hands at his chest rose and fell with the deep breath he took. “I can’t…without you. I need you.”

 

Enough was enough. Sansa rolled to her toes, arms tossed around his neck, and falling into him. Her lips collided against his and her urgency alone sent him gasping for a change. And now it was her deepening the kiss with so much want that he stumbled back on his heels and laughed.

 

“Do you too?” He asked and she felt him tense beneath her, as if there were any answer other than yes; desperately, completely, head-over-heels yes.

 

“Yes, of course! I love you too. More than anything.” Sansa gave an eager nod, words spilling altogether and interrupted with ceaseless kisses she planted to his lips.

 

Sandor smiled in a way she’d never seen before; dumbfounded relief with something stirring deep that said he’d collected few declarations of love in his lifetime, if any.

 

He wrapped her tight in his arms as if she might fly away. “I hoped you might,” he muttered in her ear. 

 

The steady thrum of music that’d pulsed from the gym’s open doors waned to silence. The quintessential rhythm of a slow song now lilted through. Sansa draped her arms around Sandor’s neck and felt his embrace tighten around the small of her back.

 

“You owe me a dance,” she said. 

 

His lips swept against hers in a kiss, warm and tender. “I owe you more than that,” he countered but it sounded more like a vow to her ears. 

 

“This will do for now,” Sansa whispered against his mouth and swayed with him, gentle and slow. She pressed her cheek against his chest and soaked up all his warmth as he held her against him.

 

In a parking lot, Sansa got her dance and with each swell of the music understood what he’d meant all along. Sandor lost a bit of his eloquence when it came to words of love, but never his pointed perceptions. He’d had the right of it.

 

They didn’t belong in either of their worlds, but it wasn’t so mutually exclusive to mean they didn’t belong together. They’d both drifted in the liminal spaces, not really a part of their own worlds but seeking belonging anyhow.

 

What he probably meant was this moment right now; at the homecoming mixer that would’ve surely been a disaster had he come with her, but where they found their place outside of it and that place was with one another; that place was right where she was, in his arms and in raptures for this man she loved so deeply. The temporary separation from him defined new meaning of being lost, drifting at sea and looking for shore. And now he was here, pulling her in.

 

Sansa swiveled her head, chin to his chest, and gazed up at him. Sandor stilled his swaying and his hands smoothed up her back and over her shoulders until his palms cradled each of her cheeks.

 

“I don’t wanna be here anymore,” Sansa murmured, and Sandor’s brows drew together, his countenance painted in concern.

 

“Where do you want to be?” he asked on a voice deep and she’d happily drown in it forever.

 

“Where I belong.” Sansa’s fingertips swept against his chest and found their way to the ends of his hair.  She busied her trembling hands twirling the thick, jet-black locks around her fingertips.   

 

Sandor removed one hand from her cheek and stilled her movements as he pressed her palm against his chest, covering over the back of her hand with his. Once more, she felt the steady thrum of his heartbeat.

 

“And remember where you belong?” He gazed down at her, more handsome than he had any right to be. A man in love was always more handsome.

 

“With you.” Sansa smiled. The last time he asked this, she had answered his question with doubt woven through her words. The conviction in her answer now bid a broad smile to sweep across his lips. 

 

“You belong with me. We belong together.” It sounded like a vow again and he tilted his head, leaning towards her for another kiss to seal the words. His tongue swept across her bottom lip and she responded with a gentle sigh.

 

“Then take me home. Your home,” she said.

 

Sandor pulled away and gazed down at her. No one had ever looked at her this way and it was enough that Sansa’s cheeks burned, and her heart soared, and the night suddenly didn’t seem so cold or harsh, but decadent in warmth and sweetness.

 

“I want it to be ours,” he said haltingly, testing the waters. “I don’t want you to live in the sorority house, Sansa. I want to come home to you every night. I want to wake up and fall asleep next to you. See you naked in the shower whenever I want. Watch you get ready in the morning. All of it. That’s what I want.” 

 

“Ours,” Sansa beamed. She dropped her eyes with a timid smile and cleared her throat before lifting her gaze to him again. “Can we get real furniture?”

 

A deep rumble of laughter escaped him and sent Sansa soaring over the moon again, falling to pieces now for all she’d missed; things she’d exiled out of her mind lest it tear her apart. Like his laughter and how it crinkled the corner of his eyes, the way he looked at her with placid wonderment sometimes, the feel of his hands, the urgency of his touch. It all came bounding back to her now.

 

“Anything you want, it’s yours. I’ll leave you in charge of the decorating.” He kissed her again, this time soft and now his hand slipped into hers. “Come on. It’s time you and I go home. We’ve got more making up to do,” he added with a wink and a smirk. 

 

Sansa retrieved her purse from her car and, with her arm looped in his, she rested her head against his shoulder. He led the way across the parking lot to his Mustang to drive her home. Their home.                                                                                                    


“Aren’t you tired?” Sansa had asked when they stumbled through the door, joined at the lips and hands roaming each other with lust burning wild. Sandor couldn’t reconcile the indelible desire coursing through him with the need to be delicate; not just for her, but the dress he assumed she didn’t want ruined because he couldn’t contain himself.

 

Tired? No. Time differences didn’t mean shit. He was alive and electric, thrumming with resounding relief that somehow also reminded him of what failure might’ve looked like.

 

A cold shower was in order; not just for her sake—he’d been sweating bullets on the plane and in the car, all the pressure pounding through him—but his own sake too. His dick was painfully hard from the moment Sansa climbed into his Mustang. Cock tease that she was, she did him no favors on the drive home, her fingers toying with his jean zipper and her perfect lips plush against the pulse at his neck.

 

He toweled off now and couldn’t quite recall a time he felt nervous in the prelude of sex. He was shaky, hands fumbling as he wrapped the towel low on his hips. That was also for her sake. Two could play this game of teasing and he’d finally met his match in the coy, entirely put-on innocence of the woman in his bed right now—the love of his life, the only one who mattered, his for as long as she’d have him.

 

Sandor found Sansa where he’d left her. She sat on the bed and had removed one layer of pillows but hadn’t slipped beneath the covers. Her dress hung in the closet and Sandor likened it to breaking ground, more symbolic than practical. Sansa didn’t give a shit if it got wrinkled, even said so herself.

 

But they had done it together. She had slipped out of her dress and, in nothing but her heels, bra, and underwear, intent to tease him straight into insanity, Sandor had handed her a hanger and she hung her pink dress next to his leather jacket in the closet.

 

In his arms, warm against his side, they’d both stared at the pairing and agreed it felt right, like consummating a new beginning of their relationship. He’d handed her his favorite Black Sabbath t-shirt then, another symbolic gesture because Sandor never let women wear his clothes. Take a man’s shirt and you own a bit of his soul, he always believed. Sansa could have it all.

 

Sandor leaned against the doorframe of the bedroom now. His Sabbath t-shirt slipped off Sansa’s shoulder. By design or by accident, it didn’t matter. She bit her lip and gazed at him beneath thick lashes and lust-laden eyes. The long auburn waves of her hair were glossy even in the dull light of the bedroom. God and her legs. He’d die a million deaths with the gorgeous expanse of those legs wrapped around his hips.

 

“What are you doing?” she giggled and, in a timid gesture that wasn’t as fraudulent as before, tucked her hair behind her ear. She licked her bottom lip she’d been biting just moments ago.

 

“Memorizing,” he said after scanning his mind for the right word.

 

Appraising didn’t do it justice. Admiring was much the same. Remember this moment forever, something told him, and he was already lightyears ahead of it, drinking in the details of her.

 

“What are you memorizing?” She turned to her side towards him, propped up on her elbow that sunk into the pillow beneath her and her head resting in her palm.

 

Everything was the answer, right down to the shape of her lips he’d missed so badly, the sound of her voice that’d haunted him in dreams, the way her perfume lingered on him and in secret moments when she hadn’t been around, he set out in search of the smell of her on his clothes. Every bit of her being, he needed to commit it to memory. All of it.

 

“Right now. You. This,” he said through a smile. Sansa looked like a dream with the soft light encasing her, so bone-crushingly beautiful.

 

“Had you forgotten?” She rolled to her stomach, legs bent, and toes pointed.

 

He wasn’t the only one memorizing. Sansa eyed the towel and Sandor wondered if she knew that she was just as adept at leering as he was. He could almost hear her inner narrative hoping against hope that the towel would drop.

 

Beads of water rolled from his damp hair, down the taut muscles of his chest, and over his abs. He ran his palm down his chest and relished the way her lips parted in anticipation as his hands traveled towards the towel, but ultimately settled at his sides.

 

He shook his head and crossed the bedroom. “Forget? No, not for a minute.”

 

Sandor crawled onto the bed and laid down next to her. When she turned to him, he did the same and his hand settled in the dip of her waist. Now was the time for admiration. Face to face, he felt like he was looking at her for the first time.

 

“If you didn’t forget, then what did you do?” she asked on a quiet breath and dropped her eyes, which were a brighter blue than he could ever recall. “Did you cry?”

 

She lifted her gaze again just in time to watch him respond with a solemn nod.

 

“I don’t believe you.” She exhaled a delicate laugh that seemed to soften the edges of any inadvertent offense.

 

Sansa took his hand in her own and held it between them. With the other hand, she traced one fingertip over his knuckles. Sandor shifted closer to her and rested his head against the pillow. His forearm now hung over her waist.

 

“Calling me a liar again?” he chuckled.

 

Sansa was quick to shake her head and the corner of her mouth lifted in a smile.

 

“No. Calling on you to make a believer out of me.”

 

He leaned forward and kissed the apple of her cheek and then her forehead. She was too far away still, so he tugged her closer until her legs entwined with his and every word, every affirmation of longing—that was really what she was after—could be spoken with his mouth pressed against hers.

 

“Yes, I shed tears. I drank too much, slept too little.” His tongue parted her lips in a deep kiss. He’d missed how she tasted. “I’m not good with words.”

 

Still too far, he wrapped her tight in his arms, the never-let-you-go kind of embrace, the one she should’ve been in all along. Nose and mouth pressed against the side of her neck, he sighed.

 

“It was a hole in my chest,” he whispered. “I couldn’t breathe, and nothing really filled it. I didn’t know what to do with the pain. I couldn’t bury it and I didn’t want to live with it. But the worst part was knowing I’d done that to you too. I couldn’t live with that either. There was only one choice to make. It’s this. Right here. It’s you. It was always going to be you.”

 

Rolling to her back, Sansa yanked him on top of her and an insistent tug came from her arms wrapped around his neck. Her hands rested on either side of his face, thumbs sweeping against his cheeks, unmarred and ruined alike with just as much tenderness on either side.

 

“See, you are good with words, good enough to put in a song even.” She kissed him sweet and pulled him closer, her legs and arms coiling around him and hanging on now like she never wanted to let go. He hoped she wouldn’t. 

 

“What makes you think I haven’t?” he murmured, and the confession bought him a girlish gasp and a flurry of kisses against his cheek, neck, and mouth.

 

“You wrote me a song?” Sansa asked, breathless and hopeful and looking at him like he hung the moon in the sky. Her cheeks were a pretty pink, lips plump from kissing him.

 

With Sansa beneath him, Sandor propped himself up on his elbows. “Maybe,” he shrugged with a sly grin. 

 

“When do I get to hear it?” She cradled the back of his head, fingers laced amongst the damp tendrils of his hair.

 

“When the time is right.” He planted a slow kiss to her lips. “And if you don’t believe me now, you’ll believe me then.”

 

Before he could say much more, Sansa was demanding his affection again, lips crashing against his, urgent in the attention she lavished upon him. She sucked gently on the small crevice of space right below his ear and at the corner of his jaw, the part that drove him wild. It hadn’t taken her long to find it their first night together and she’d been wielding it as a weapon against him ever since. 

 

“In the meantime, there are other ways to make you believe,” he groaned, and his hands disappeared beneath her t-shirt to the bare skin underneath. She gave a heavenly sigh at his touch, eyes softly closed.

 

“Sit up,” Sandor commanded on a murmur and she did as she was told.

 

He followed her movements and gripped her waist, but his fingers swept to the bottom of the t-shirt and he pulled it over her head.

 

Sandor laid down, hands behind his head and his gaze roved over her body, bare breasts faintly heaving with each breath, and blue eyes gone wide with delight and mischief as she reached for the towel.

 

His hand encircled her wrist before she could make it there. With a devious smirk, he simply shook his head and, good girl that she was, Sansa understood what it meant but it didn’t stop her from pouting.

 

She rose to her knees and hooked her thumbs on either side of her underwear. In a show of defiance, she took her sweet time sliding them down her luscious thighs towards her knees and purposely bent over to obscure the view between her legs as she unburdened herself from her last bit of clothing.

 

Sansa settled back on her knees, legs slightly spread. Wet and pink and perfect between the legs, just like he remembered, he took a deep breath and matched her eyes now, her desire plain to see. At her tentative reach for the towel, Sandor nodded, and Sansa lit up like she was opening a present and damn near burst at the seams with delight when she unwrapped the towel and his cock sprang free.

 

She wrapped her hands around his shaft. Sandor covered his face with his palms, a deep exhale escaping him with each pleasured pass of her fingers tight around his cock. Sansa shifted on her knees and wrapped her sweet little mouth around the tip and gave such a ladylike sweep of her tongue. So eager to please, he’d put that instinct to good use, but not tonight. Tonight was about her.

 

He sat up and the abruptness sent Sansa up too. “Lay down,” he murmured into a kiss at her lips, but let his tongue rove along the side of her neck and, once more, she obeyed.

 

In another exercise of memorization, Sandor trailed kisses over the shape of her body—between her breasts and across each perfectly pink nipple with a swipe of his tongue that made her shudder; the dip of her waist that made her giggle, over her slender hips, down the gorgeous length of her legs to her knees, up the inside of her thigh and she wasn’t laughing now. The only sound she made was a gasp of anticipation when he eased her legs apart.

 

She used to be embarrassed at this bit and he used to call her bluff. She fucking loved it and wasn’t ashamed to show it now. Sansa fingers sunk amongst his hair and she simultaneously lifted her hips and urged his mouth to meet the juncture between her legs, as if he might miss.

 

Sandor exhaled a laugh. The burst of his breath between her legs elicited a moan from her. Forearm draped across her stomach, his thumb swiped at her clit in soft movements, just how she liked. He’d never forget how she liked it and would make damn sure she’d never forget how he delivered.

 

His tongue sunk between her folds. Gentle at first, dawdling, taking his time as he interspersed licks and kisses and gazed up at her. He knew she liked to watch, and he’d give her a show if that’s what she wanted. And she wanted it. Sansa gave a little nod and hummed with each wave of pleasure. Sandor lifted his head slightly, enough so that she could watch his tongue swirl in deft, tight little circles at her clit.

 

Her legs fell further apart with a heavy moan and Sandor quickened his rhythm. Head thrown back, she gripped the sides of the pillow beneath her.

 

“More. Please. More,” she begged.

 

Sandor dipped one finger inside her, easing in and out, dripping with wetness and she bucked her hips to meet the rhythm and demand his mouth. He obliged, every flick of his tongue rewarded with her crying out for God and him and things completely indecipherable as she writhed like wild beneath him. 

 

Another flush of wetness meeting his lips, Sansa burst with another moan, music to his ears and the sound more beautiful than he remembered. Sansa went limp beneath him and panted, body covered in a sheen of sweat. Sandor sat up and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

 

Her arms reached for him, intent to draw him near, but instead he circled his hand around her wrist and pulled her up.

 

“Come here,” he rumbled, voice deepened with desire.

 

He sat against the headboard and pulled her towards his lap. She knew what it meant. He wanted her close. He wanted to watch; to catch every exhale she made with his mouth, to whisper in her ear, to have her flush against his chest, wrapped up so thoroughly in one another.

 

Sansa straddled him and Sandor wrapped his hand around his shaft as she gripped his shoulders to steady herself. She eased deliciously slow down his length. Head tilted towards the ceiling with her hair cascading down her back, she loosed a long sigh and Sandor took the opportunity to let his lips lavish her neck. His arms coiled around the small of her back and he drew her nearer until her breast pressed against his chest. He took one in his palm and rolled her nipple between his thumb and finger.

 

His mouth faithfully followed the trail of her chin up to her cheek and she hummed with each pass as they rocked in slow unison together, the give and take driving him deep inside her with each roll of their hips. Sandor exhaled against her mouth, a low grunt escaping him. Warm and wet, she was heaven on earth, her arms tight around his shoulders and her lips divine as he deepened the kiss.

 

The pace quickened as Sansa rode up and down his length. He gripped her waist to guide her movements and breathed her name, hand at the back of her head, fingers buried in her hair.

 

“Did you miss me?” she panted against his mouth. Sandor rested his forehead against hers.

 

“Every second, every moment.” With a roll of her hips, his confession spilled from his mouth on a moan. She could take them all, every last one.

 

“Me too.” She wrapped her arms tighter around his shoulders as he thrust deep and hard, wanting more of her, every bit he could manage.

 

“Fuck,” Sandor seethed through clenched teeth with the blinding pleasure threatening to burst upon him.

 

Sansa shifted, controlling the speed. Faster, she went, gliding up and down his shaft and tossed her head back, her cries of pleasure crescendoing through the room and her hips grinding against him.

 

Sandor yanked her against his chest. His lips crashed into hers. His fingers sunk against her hips. He thrust hard to meet her movements. Faster and she was laughing and sighing and losing herself until he felt her tighten around his shaft with her climax.

 

She cried out, almost toppling over as she dissolved in his arms, all her tension washing away. He drove himself deep inside her, thrust after thrust until his own release came hard, unfurling with waves of pleasure slamming into him.

 

For a moment, they held one another, each heaving for breaths, chest against chest, hearts racing in similar beats, and neither moved. When their breathing slowed, Sandor pressed a soft kiss to her lips and, with Sansa pressed against him, he collapsed back to the mattress and eased himself out of her.

 

Sansa settled against him, head tucked in the crook of his shoulder. With his arm draped over her side, he traipsed his fingers up and down the silhouette of her curves, every inch he could reach.

 

She stilled against him, but, in little loving gestures, here and there she pressed kisses to his bare chest or nuzzled her cheek against him or sighed so sweetly it’d pull him from the precipice of sleep and he’d wrap her up tighter against him and that just set the whole damn thing into motion again—more sighs, more kisses, more nuzzles.

 

Eventually, sleep finally prevailed. When it came, it came with a vengeance; pissed off he’d evaded it for so long, for so many weeks. With Sansa in his arms, some child-like fear took hold in Sandor that he’d fall asleep and this would all be a dream. He’d wake up in some hotel, in some city in the world, with Harwin or Beric pounding down the door. 

 

In the end, that wasn’t what woke him. Even in his sleep, Sandor sensed the weight of being watched and it lured him from the depths of dark slumber. When he cracked his eyes open, Sansa was turned towards him and gave a weak smile.

 

“You’re supposed to be sleeping,” Sandor rasped and reached for her.

 

“I can’t sleep.” 

 

“Why can’t you sleep?” He ran his palm up her arm and back down and shifted towards her.

 

Sansa’s eyes settled on her fingers tracing the weave of the bedsheet beneath them.

 

“Because I know you have to go back soon.”

 

Saturated in sorrow, her voice wavered and the city’s aura coming through the window was just bright enough that, even in the dead of night, Sandor discerned the way her eyes glistened.

 

“Says who?”

 

“Says the people.” Her full lips pouted in such an endearing way that Sandor almost laughed but thought the better of it as he propped himself up on his elbow.

 

“Who are ‘the people’?” he grumbled and kissed her cheek.

 

“Your label people. Your band. All those people who are involved in your shows.”

 

She still couldn’t meet his eyes, probably afraid of what she might find; a night of passion and love and longing only to be left holding the bag again as he jetted off to the next tour stop and promised to keep in touch.

 

“You’re the only ‘people’ I care about,” Sandor assured. “I’m not going back if it means being away from you. And that’s what it will mean.”

 

In the darkness, she searched out his gaze and reached for his hand. Her fingers coiled around his palm.

 

“I don’t want you to give up something you love and then resent me for it later.”

 

“I love you. Not touring. You. And you know what I resent?”

 

Sandor paused and she shook her head at the question. “I resent being in this position because I let some fuck wit of a tour manager run roughshod over my life with an insane tour schedule. I don’t resent you. Not ever you. So let that thought fly out of your pretty little head, my pretty little bird.”

 

Lips still pursed, she gave a faint smile and a sigh that he wasn’t so dense to think meant all was okay; that she'd drift off into sweet dreams now with the answer she needed to set her mind at ease. As it stood, the elephant still loomed in the room.

 

Sandor rolled on top of her, forearms sinking into the pillow on either side of her head and Sansa stared up at him expectantly.

 

“You know what we’ll do tomorrow?”

 

His question bid her to bite her bottom lip, a habit after all this time she hadn’t broken, and he hoped like hell she wouldn’t break it now. From underneath him, her hips bucked against him with sensuous suggestion.

 

“That’s a given,” Sandor chuckled and willed his dick not to get hard; not right now at least. “Rest assured, we’ll be doing that every day. You won’t walk straight for a month.”

 

Sansa giggled and Sandor matched her in mirth, but quieted. He studied the features of her face. His hand rested against the side of her neck, thumb sweeping across her cheek.

 

“Tomorrow, we will sit down with my tour schedule and you and I will decide together what works for us. As a couple. I’ll be home as often as we want. If you see places you want to travel to on the schedule, then you’ll come with me as much as you want and as much as your school schedule allows.

 

“I’ll deliver our terms to my band and the tour manager. If it doesn’t work for them, then I’m out. The only negotiating I’m doing is with you because you’re the most important thing to me, Sansa. I’m not gonna let this come between us again. I already made that mistake once.”

 

He only caught the beginning of her smile before she pulled him down on top of her to kiss him soundly. The smile was genuine, he could tell, radiant and not the kind meant to placate.

 

He recognized the shift in himself too, like the world put back to rights after all that sullen discontent. He scanned the pages of his memories and couldn’t come up with a time he’d ever felt his soul settle like it did now.

 

“Anything you want, you will have. I will give it to you,” he whispered, indulging the need for her to know, for it to have been said just in case she ever doubted or still did.

 

Even in the dark, he discerned that look she’d been giving him. He’d caught glimpses of its fleeting origins as they’d gotten to know each other, across the table at the diner, the times she climbed off the back of his motorcycle. Over time, he’d seen it grow and become more resilient; like the time she watched him make breakfast for her in the kitchen, at the guitar shop, backstage at his show. He knew how to place it now and, more importantly, how to accept it from her.

 

Sansa pressed her nose to his and whispered against his lips. “All I want is you. You’re all I ever wanted. You are loved, Sandor Clegane. You are so very loved.”

 

The declaration came deeper than a simple “I love you”. The world had made those words empty—fans shouting it, groupies professing it, emblazoned on signs in a sea of faces, tossed out with no regard or meaning and he never believed anyone who said it to him; not that many had and certainly never up close, never like this.

 

He was loved and it felt like finding family and the place he belonged after drifting for years. She was it. And he’d regret and resent more than anything that he’d ever let her go but would exalt the grace by which she let him in again.

 

In her heart and all the light and love that Sansa carried with her, Sandor was finally home. 

Chapter Text

 

Thunderstruck 

Chapter Eighteen

“Love is all around you

Love is knockin' outside your door.

Waitin' for you is this love made just for two”

-Love Song, Tesla


Sandor ran his palms over the front of his leather pants, fully aware that wouldn’t do shit to rid them of their sheen or settle his nerves already shot not an hour off sound check.

 

He cleared his throat and greeted Robb standing upright and rigid in the corner of the catering room picked clean. “Good to see you again.”

 

“Likewise,” was the response, just as stoic as his father though he looked every bit his mother’s son and just as out of place at the venue with his pressed pants and starched shirt. At a metal show, the kid—who wasn’t really a kid and made damn sure everyone knew it—still played the part of polished lawyer looking to be made partner in the next five years. At last year’s Thanksgiving, he’d been sure to tell Sandor and it wasn’t meant to be boastful, just an awkward attempt at conversation.

 

He’d thawed with the end of winter and, by Easter, didn’t flinch when Sandor busted his balls for showing up to brunch looking like a pastel princess in his mint green sweater and khaki pants. The kid could dole it out like the best of them and took shit-talking in stride.

 

Clacking heels sounded in the hall and about sent Sandor’s heart out of his chest. The rhythm was off. It wasn’t her. Sansa walked in a way that made him half-hard just thinking about it—hips swaying, long legs moving with grace, and the look she gave when heading his way. After a year together, he still couldn’t get enough of her.

 

A leather-clad groupie sauntered by the catering room, just slow enough to eye the men gathered in there and looked faintly disappointed Sandor was the only Cannibal Star member in sight right now. The rest were Sansa’s ragtag assortment of older brothers.

 

Hawk-eyed, Theon sat upright and pushed a mop of ash brown curls out of his face. His neck craned and he damn near tumbled from his seat as the chick continued down the hall for greener pastures.

 

“Hey man, fair game?” Theon wore a devilish grin. He’d probably give Harwin and Bronn a run for their money if that girl gave him half the chance.

 

Sandor exhaled a laugh but couldn’t quite manage the mirth. His stomach roiled with nausea. “Knock yourself out, man.”

 

Jon cut Theon a judgmental look but softened with a sly smile and a shake of the head.

 

“What?” Theon launched himself out of the chair and tossed one arm across Sandor’s shoulders, barely able to reach without rolling onto his toes. “I’ll just say I know this guy and I’m in.”

 

A hardened military man, it’d taken Jon the longest to come around to Sandor. A Great Wall of reticence and waters that ran deep, Sandor hadn’t known how to breach either. Jon matched Robb in the unspoken threat requisite in older brothers—break her heart and we’ll break your legs—but Sandor wouldn’t put it past Jon whereas Robb could talk the talk but probably couldn’t summon the walk. At Arya’s graduation party and encouraged by one too many drinks, Jon had finally given up the ghost and spent most the night talking Sandor’s ear off.

 

Jon ignored Theon and leveled his eyes at Sandor when Theon slinked back to his seat.

 

“You nervous?” Jon asked. The question landed in the center of the room, quickly filling it with oppressive unease. On cue, Sandor’s stomach flipped again, and his mouth went dry. Some odd instinct bid him to pat his back pocket.

 

“Yes,” he answered plainly; no use trotting out a false claim to fearlessness. He was scared shitless. End of story.

 

He folded his arms tight across his chest, a shield that did little to stave off nerves he hadn’t felt since the first time Cannibal Star played a sold-out arena.

 

“Don’t fuck it up,” Theon taunted with a good-natured grin.

 

“If he was gonna fuck up, it would’ve happened by now,” Robb said and spared a discreet wink in Sandor’s direction to squash hard feelings.

 

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Sandor grumbled.

 

The kid had the right of it. He and Sansa weathered more than most in their first year together. They’d traveled the world, places she’d never been, and Sandor never thought he’d see with someone he loved. They’d been put through the paces and, if the relationship was going to fail, it would’ve been in the last year. The hardship of distance, time, misunderstanding, and loneliness hadn’t spared them. Like a sea-battered stone, it smoothed out the jagged bits through trials they overcame. At the end of it, they shone brighter for having weathered the storms.

 

Their travels together on tour were well-documented in polaroids Sansa lovingly glued into photo albums that she just as lovingly displayed on their bookshelf in the condo she also lovingly (and tastefully) decorated. Come to think of it, Sansa scarcely did anything without loving patience and strength—the times they’d spent apart, weeks’ worth of a grueling tour schedule, long-distance spats that had to be put on ice until he got home so they could fight it out and make up like a proper couple. And that they did in spades. Halfway in the door he’d be mostly undressed, stumbling over pants around his ankles and Sansa ravishing him with kisses and whispered declarations of love.

 

The one declaration they’d whole heartedly agreed on—never again. Sandor had had his fill of midnight calls with Sansa in tears at being apart that left Sandor scaling a mountain of guilt for constantly leaving. Never again.

 

By the end of tour, Cannibal Star had made a similar declaration. “Music is a young man’s game. We ain’t young men,” Thoros had delivered the mantra to their tour manager last month who looked about ready to shit his pants or throw a punch. Maybe both. They weren’t doing it again was the point. They’d plan their own tour from now on, domestic gigs at their own leisure and perhaps a foreign leg when they damn well pleased.

 

The hall beyond the catering room steadily filled with more crew members and Beric whizzing past with a trail of chiffon scarves he’d wrapped himself in. Sandor eyed the doorway with the unlikely notion that Sansa would appear. His heart skipped a beat with more heel clacking that bounded right into the room. Hair-teased and tits barely contained in her top, Lexie cantered in with Bran Stark in tow.

 

“I found this little sweetheart wandering the hall,” she remarked with a doting grin and squeezed Bran in a side hug. “Told me all about how to solve a Rubik’s cube in under seven minutes.”

 

“It’s simple really,” Bran shrugged. He yanked the lollipop from his mouth and waved as Lexie retreated for the hall. “Thanks, Lexie,” he shouted after her.

 

Theon flung one hand towards the door. “What the hell, dude? I should’ve gotten lost in the hallway too. I could’ve…you know.”

 

“You could’ve what?” Sandor rumbled with a laugh. “Shown her something else than can be solved in under seven minutes?”

 

“That’s too generous. Three minutes tops,” Jon joined in with a smirk.

 

“She’s with Bronn. Don’t even try.” Bran deadpanned his wisdom and a round of laughter filled the small room. He turned to Sandor, mouth stained red from the lollipop. “They’re here. Gendry’s parking now.”

 

Sandor shot Bran a smile. “Thanks, buddy. Alright, you guys better head out there.” He motioned to the venue beyond. The din already flittered down the hall as the crowd packed in. “You saw Sansa last. She’s not onto any of this, right?” he asked Bran.

 

The kid shook his head, thick bowl cut shifting across his forehead. “Nope. Sansa still thinks everyone’s in town for Arya’s birthday.”

 

Sandor loosed a sigh but felt no better for it. A pounding in his head set in, the prelude that meant playing a gig was going to be hell. 

 

“Rickon wanted you to have this.” Bran produced a piece of folded up paper from his back pocket and handed it to Sandor.

 

He unfolded the paper to reveal a crayon drawing of He-Man who looked an awful lot like Rickon, holding hands with a scarred giant and giving a thumbs up.

 

A pang of guilt ran through Sandor. He’d wanted Rickon here too, but Cat didn’t think a metal show was appropriate for him. The compromise—Rickon would come over for a He-Man slumber party at Sandor and Sansa’s place as soon as Sandor figured out what the fuck a He-Man slumber party might entail.

 

“He said to tell you not to throw up on her,” Bran informed dryly, yet another one of the Stark children who took after their mother in looks and father in composure. Sandor used to wonder where Sansa inherited her warmth and Arya her raging temper that’d damn near tried to burn Sandor alive with wrath. The girl had calmed down quick enough, burning too bright to sustain that kind of heat.

 

“Solid advice,” Sandor chuckled, folded up the paper, and tucked it in the empty back pocket, but didn’t pass up the chance to pat the other. Perhaps the most expensive purchase he’d ever made was hidden away back there, rivaling even his guitars and gear in money he’d thrown down to make it his. It’d be worth every dollar spent if he could pull this off. Sandor swallowed hard and expelled the thought of failure.

 

He ambled to the door, stopping to see Sansa’s brothers out and each offered their own brand of encouragement along the way.

 

“Alright, man, this is it. Break a leg,” Theon beamed and patted Sandor on the shoulder. Bran said nothing but waved and hurried down the hall after Theon.

 

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Robb gave a reserved nod, but stray bits of warmth stirred behind his eyes. 

 

“We’re all rooting for you, brother.” Jon’s encouragement came sincere and with a glint of excitement that was buried somewhere in Sandor too.

 

In the silent moments after they left, Sandor sunk against the edge of the emptied catering table and tried to unearth his own anticipation, but found it tangled in nerves. He couldn’t quite decouple that flutter in his belly and, when he thought too long about what he might say, the flutter was more nausea-inducing than sweet.

 

He drew a deep breath, but the room was stuffy, the light garish, and so Sandor sought sanctuary in the empty hall. He eyed the double doors at the end and toyed with the idea of barreling through and seeking out what he needed now; the only one who knew how to soothe him, knew what to say. She was out there somewhere with her mother, Arya, and Gendry.

 

Slow steps shuffled behind him in a soft echo. Sandor knew who it was. As much as he knew Sansa’s footfalls, he also knew her father’s as well.

 

He turned to Ned who eased closer, a Walkie Talkie slung on his hip because he wore that thing with more pride than anyone else involved in this production. Ned Stark got to live out his purported glory days in the music scene as an honorary Cannibal Star crew member. He helped out for the Chicago shows, Sally’s shadow as the two set up gear or tied up loose ends.

 

“How’re you holding up?” Ned asked and, when Sandor rested with his back against the wall, Ned did too.

 

“I’m not,” Sandor chuckled, though there was nothing funny about the way he felt right now—scared out of his mind and ready to topple over. He turned to Ned who offered an easy smile, about the closest thing to comfort Sandor could get right now.

 

The Starks had welcomed Sandor into the fold with graciousness he never thought he’d see from them again, the least of which their proud patriarch. That old stubborn bastard, Ned Stark, wasn’t so stubborn after all and apologized to Sandor with a stipulation—that they bury the hatchet and move on.

 

Sandor had obliged for Sansa’s sake and assumed that was the only reason Ned had come around as well. They could forgive one another but wouldn’t forget what kickstarted their battle of wills in the first place. And what had started it? Neither could really remember and that was the point. Anger without origin wasn’t worth holding onto.

 

With each passing holiday and the occasional Sunday dinners, Ned and Sandor put their differences aside and, what originally had everything to do with Sansa, grew into meeting on common ground of mutual respect and what some might even call friendship. Sandor certainly did.

 

“Thanks for helping with all of this,” he murmured and motioned to the double doors. By now, the chants had started; the crowd pulsing in a four-beat rhythm. Cannibal Star. The beats drilled into Sandor’s head. 

 

Ned smiled with a look of pride he often reserved for his own children. “It’s my honor. Are you nervous?”

 

The million-dollar question just wouldn’t quit, and Sandor spared a bit more truth with each iteration.

 

“Ned, I feel like I’m gonna fucking pass out or vomit. Or both.” Sandor stared at the drop ceiling above, yellowed from the years and from cigarette smoke that often filled the venue in a dingy haze.

 

“Just breathe,” Ned encouraged with a gentle laugh and his eyes crinkled at the corners. He really was a good man. “You’ll be fine, son.”

 

The moniker wasn’t lost on Sandor. Ned had started tacking it on to throwaway statements, a caboose laden in paternal sentiment hitched up to banal musings or other mundane minutiae. Sandor’s father was dead, and Ned Stark had more sons than he could keep track of. The man didn’t need another, but he’d accepted Sandor as such a few months ago one warm late summer evening. A breeze moved sweet through the trees and the sun melted against the horizon. Sandor wasn’t quite asking for Ned’s permission, but rather vowing that he’d love Sansa until his dying breath. And Ned wasn’t just granting his daughter’s hand, but also accepting Sandor into the fold.

 

The Walkie Talkie at Ned’s hip crackled and broke the silence as Sally’s voice rippled through.

 

“Michelin Man—it’s Sally, is Sandor ready to go on? Over.”

 

Ned turned to Sandor with a smile and waited a beat until Sandor gave a nod. Now or never.

 

Ned lifted the Walkie Talkie to his mouth. “Michelin Man here. I copy. He’s ready. Over.” 

 

Sandor closed his eyes and drew a deep breath. When he opened them again, he released a ragged exhale and swiped his palms down the front of his pants once more.

 

“Here I go,” he said with a quiver in his voice that hadn’t been there before. “See you on the other side.”

 

Sandor headed down the hall towards an adjacent corridor where he could already hear the rest of his bandmates and Sally gathering.

 

“Hey,” Ned hollered behind. Sandor turned on his heel to find Ned pointing a solemn finger at him. “You’re a part of this family, no matter what.”

                                                                                                    


“It seems crowded tonight,” Sansa remarked and clutched Sally’s arm. His hulking form cleared a path through the boisterous crowd that’d packed in for Cannibal Star’s last show of the tour. Of course, it’s crowded.

 

Sally’s voice could carry, certainly well enough over the rising swell, but he tossed a cheeky smile over his shoulder and kept quiet. Sansa gripped one of her mother’s hands and Arya had the other, the three of them daisy-chaining lest they get swept up and separated.

 

Sally promptly deposited them at a VIP table corded off against the wall, the spot Sansa always requested, and it became obvious to the crew at some point why. The line of sight to Sandor was clear as a bright blue day, but this had more to do with nostalgia. Since the night she met him, Sansa always perched in this spot and he always knew to look for her here.

 

“Enjoy the show,” Sally rumbled on his way towards the backstage hall, his voice and his form swallowed up by the exhilarated hoard.

 

They settled around the table and Sansa shed her leather jacket but admired the way it looked with her white lace miniskirt. Something in the contrast appealed to her these days or maybe it always had. The difference—she was free now to express herself, no longer tied to sorority group think. Freedom had been sweet, and Sansa forged a new alliance with Arya, now a freshman at Northwestern, and Mya and Lily, now a couple. The four of them hung around campus; walking together between classes, lunch breaks in the courtyard, dinners together on the weekends.

 

“While Gendry’s getting our drinks, I’m doing mom’s hair,” Arya announced. She dug through her purse for a comb and settled behind their mother.

 

Arya backcombed like the best of the them, evidenced by her wild hair she sported to Cannibal Star shows, and their dear mother obliged with graceful patience. 

 

“Don’t do it too much,” their mother complained. Her swat missed Arya’s hand, but landed on a teased nest of hair.

 

“Quit squishing it, Catelyn!” Arya flicked her hand away and set in again. “Do you wanna look like Joan Collins for the rest of your life? The correct answer is no. This ain’t Dynasty; it’s rock n’ roll.”

 

A bright chuckle escaped both Sansa and her mother who rolled her eyes. “Girls, I’m serious. For Thanksgiving…”

 

“Halloween is barely over,” Arya whined.

 

“I need to plan! There’s gonna be a crowd. We’ll have nine of us, Gendry, Sandor, Robb’s bringing his new girlfriend.” She counted on manicured nails until she ran out. “Who am I missing?”

 

Sansa plucked a compact out of her purse and slathered on a layer of lip gloss. “Mya and Lily said they’d stop by. Sally is coming too.” 

 

Gendry broke through the crowd carrying four drinks and visibly tensing as he dodged rowdy fans head banging despite the lack of music. 

 

“Ladies, vodka cranberry.” He set a plastic cup in front of Sansa and her mother each. “And a cherry coke for my little cherry pie.” He planted a kiss on Arya’s head and plopped down in an empty seat.

 

“Honestly, bite me, Gendry,” Arya sniped with daggers in her eyes but a smile on her lips. The dissonance was a product of keeping up appearances because, underneath it all, Arya loved the way Gendry doted on her.

 

“Ignore her.” Their mother cut Arya a chiding look and smiled sweet at Gendry. “Thank you, honey.”

 

“We’re talking Thanksgiving, babe.” Arya continued her work on the winged hair that framed their mother’s face. “I want pumpkin pie. Gendry wants apple.”

 

“No, don’t go through any trouble,” Gendry cut in. “Anything you make will be fine, Mrs. Stark.”

 

Their mother patted him on the hand. “I will make an apple pie just for you.” 

 

After a hard roll, Arya’s eyes landed on Sansa in a knowing exchange. The running joke in the family as of late—Gendry was their mother’s favorite and that included of her own children. The woman claimed no allegiance, but Gendry had ended Sandor’s run as boyfriend to dote over. Sansa had reminded Sandor that he still reigned supreme as her father’s favorite, a turn of events that surprised everyone.

 

“Well,” Sansa began and tossed her compact back in her purse. “Sandor will eat anything you put in front of him.”

 

As soon the as the statement left her lips, Sansa bit her straw and thanked the Lord for the dimming lights that surely masked burning cheeks. The innuendo whizzed over the table and Sansa eyed the empty stage to occupy her mind.

 

Try as she might, visions from the afternoon invaded her thoughts. Out of the shower, Sansa had cut across the hall to their bedroom and Sandor had planted himself at the end of their couch with a clear vantage point. She’d dropped the towel to the floor and disappeared into the bedroom. Like a Pavlovian response, Sandor bounded down the hall and put those instincts to good use. He tossed her to the bed, spread her legs, and dove in, lips and a tongue well-versed in hitting the right spots and even some new ones in a pleasurable surprise.

 

Sansa fanned herself with her envelope purse as the venue slowly faded into darkness. The crowd erupted in piercing howls and cheers that settled in a thunderous chant.

 

Sansa swiveled in her seat and lifted her drink. “They’re about to go on, so here’s to my adorable and only slightly demonic baby sister, Arya! I hope this isn’t stealing your birthday thunder.”

 

The others followed suit with plastic cups and a lone aluminum can clanking together.

 

“Are you fucking kidding?” Arya shouted over the crowd. “I get to celebrate my birthday with Cannibal Star and force my family to suffer through my exceptional musical taste in hopes you all will come to the light. That’s the dream!”

 

Sansa giggled and sipped her drink, marveling at the feat of bringing all the Starks together. It was worthy of admiration. Even Bran bubbled with excitement near the bar where Robb, Jon, and Theon cut up about something, their laughter swept away with the rest of the room that pulsed in effervescent glee.

 

Robb must’ve felt Sansa staring. He shifted a glance to her across the room and lifted his drink. Jon turned and gave a thumbs up, Theon an obnoxious wave, and Bran shifted with his hands awkwardly steeled to his side as if he didn’t quite know what to do with them.   

 

The lights cut out; the venue delivered into pitch black. Sansa knew what came next. Every city, every venue, always the same—darkness, a quiet hush, smoke billowing across the stage, five darkened figures descending, a beat where everything stilled, Beric’s wailing voice, and the crowd losing its collective mind as the stage lit up like wildfire and Cannibal Star exploded with vigor, instruments thrashing and the crowd rushing forward.

 

Every time, every city, every venue, it never failed to leave Sansa faintly breathless in wonder and beaming with pride, a smile erupting across her lips.

 

She’d become that girl and wore it like a badge of honor. Sansa had become one of those blissfully happy creatures who just couldn’t help but slip in statements about her boyfriend at every conversation or get lost in dreamy admiration watching him on stage or doing mundane things like washing the dishes. If you gave her an inch, she’d take a mile, off to the races singing the praises of the man she loved.

 

After the first song, Arya and Gendry bolted for the mosh pit and Sansa checked up on her mother, who looked overwhelmed with a polite smile, but well into the first set bobbed along to the beat and even shimmied at the end of one of Sandor’s guitar solos.

 

Sansa didn’t blame her mother. Sandor always looked good up on stage, but tonight he’d done something different and Sansa’s admiration of him was just as much trying to pin-point that difference as it was the delicious foreplay of watching him perform.

 

Perhaps it was his leather pants. They were tighter than they had any right to be and slung dangerously low on his hips. He’d let his hair down as usual, but tonight it flowed over broad shoulders and chiseled arms in long glossy waves. But it wasn’t that either.

 

Sansa gave up trying and drank in the sight of him, enjoying whatever had gotten into him tonight and fantasizing about all the ways they could put that to good use later.

 

She sang along to each song and knew the lyrics by now. It’d taken some time—more than a handful of tour stops around the world and tagging along to the recording studio—but she could hum along, shake her ass, and cheer with the crowd. She’d also developed her own rituals for Cannibal Star shows. The most enduring was slipping to side stage towards the end of their second set. When that time came, Sansa turned to her mother.

 

“I’m gonna go backstage,” she croaked, voice hoarse now. “Will you be alright? You want me to send dad out here?”

 

“No, go! I’m having a great time.” Her mother sucked down the remnants of her third vodka cranberry and waved Sansa away. “Besides, your father loves doing his backstage duty.”

 

Sansa laughed and hugged her mother, who was well on her way to being tipsy, and disappeared backstage. Down the corridor, she greeted various crew members gathered around and waiting to be put back to work.

 

She hurried up the half-set of darkened steps to side stage just in time for the favorite part of her favorite song. Sandor stepped forward for his solo, fingers deftly tracing up and down the guitar’s neck in exacting precision. There was something about the way he moved during this solo; the way his hips bucked against the back of his guitar, head thrown back, and bare chest slick with sweat. 

 

A clearer view in the shadows, Sansa devoured the sight of him, and he liked knowing she watched him here. The girls at the front of the stage got their view for as long as they could handle getting jolted around in a rowdy crowd. And Sansa got hers—sheltered in the wings and sometimes she’d tease him with a little shimmy in a low-cut top or a skirt hiking up bare legs. The corner of his mouth would twitch, and he’d get that glint in narrowed eyes that warned not to tease him. She did it anyway. And she did it now.

 

Arms lifted over her head, she slowly rolled her hips and her crop top lifted to reveal the lacy red underside of her bra along with her bare midriff. In a slow drag, Sansa ran her hands down the side of her breasts, the dip of her waist, and curve of her hips. Sandor watched, the intensity of his gaze remaining on her. He bit his bottom lip hard and his jaw clenched in that familiar way that meant he’d bend her over his amplifier and take her right now if he had the chance.

 

Instead, when the song ended, Sandor strode over with ardent determination that made Sansa flutter with anticipation and wet between the legs. Boots stomping, Sandor swung his guitar around to his back and pressed Sansa up against the wall.

 

His lips crashed against hers, tongue plunging in her mouth. His blood was up, pulse thumping against her palms at his chest. Slick with sweat and pressed against her, his breath panted a warm beat against her neck.

 

“You trying to get me hard?” he veritably growled in her ear. Sansa laughed. There was no trying. He was hard. Period. He rolled against her in a thrust and she felt just how aroused he was.

 

Sansa’s lips grazed up his neck and delivered kisses along the way. She teased with a gentle nip on his earlobe. “You trying to get me sweaty?”

 

“When I take your clothes off later, it won’t matter how sweaty you get.” His hands circled her bare waist and he pressed another kiss to her lips, slow and tender but losing no urgency.

 

“Well.” She circled her arms around his neck and tugged him closer. “When I take your clothes off later, it won’t matter how hard you get,” she whispered and pulled away enough to match his eyes. “The harder, the better.” Her tongue ran over her bottom lip and eyed the bulge straining against his leather pants.

 

“You’re goddamned right,” Sandor groaned through clenched teeth and squeezed Sansa’s ass until she yelped.

 

“What the hell, man?” Bronn hollered from the stage, arms thrown in the air. “You two can fuck later!”

 

“You’re needed out there.” Sansa eased from the wall but pressed her breasts against Sandor’s chest and teased with one quick lick to his lips.

 

“I’m needed in here more.” Sandor snapped the waistband of her skirt but extracted himself from her embrace with a weighty sigh.

 

“You’re gonna get it later,” he warned on rumbling laughter and with a pointed look.

 

“Is that a threat?” Sansa countered with a sultry smile.

 

“Nope, mark it down as a promise. And one I fully intend to keep.” Sandor reached down the front of his leather pants and adjusted his hard manhood for all the good it did. There was no hiding a dick that big with pants that tight.

 

With a wink, he returned his guitar to its proper place and retreated to the stage in a stride Sansa swore was a deliberate and swaggering saunter. Must be the pants, she speculated with an adoring smile.

 

The band powwowed at center stage for some reason. Sansa didn’t care what it was. She took the opportunity to admire Sandor’s ass in his leather pants, making a mental note to demand he wear them more often. A round of nods, the circle broke for the next song, normally their encore, but the set list had inexplicably changed and the song they played didn’t usually come last. With the change up came another oddity. At the end of the song, Sandor ditched his electric guitar for an acoustic.

 

A handful of crew members hurried on stage with stools, one for each band member, and adjusted the microphones. Sandor stiffened, the muscles in his back and shoulders rippling beneath his skin. The audience quieted in confusion, an eerie silencing of a spirited crowd.

 

Look at me. Sansa willed her eyes to bore into Sandor but couldn’t manage the same intensity that he could; all those moments she could feel his gaze. He busied his hands and his eyes on the acoustic guitar resting in his lap and murmured something to Sally who nodded and leaned in close. For a few moments, the entire band, lined up on stools, looked to Sandor and not in urgent demands to carry on with the show. They guarded something behind knowing smiles exchanged with one another.

 

Whatever Sally said bid Sandor’s brows to draw together in concentration and his Adam’s apple bobbed with a hard swallow. Sally patted Sandor on the shoulder, retreated to side stage, and slipped past Sansa before she could ask what was going on.

 

“It’s great to be back in Chicago, especially coming off a long tour,” Beric sighed into the microphone and elicited a hearty cheer. “We’re gonna end the night on a different note and debut a song we’ve never performed live. We saved this one for our hometown crowd. You all have supported us through the years and made Cannibal Star what we are today. This one’s for you.”

 

With a shaky breath, Sandor counted off the beat to a song that started with a resonant strum, a melodic backdrop to Beric whistling into the microphone.  Tender lyrics told a tale about patience and the yearning that comes with distance, trials, and tribulations. All of it struck a chord of the familiar in Sansa.

 

Every city, every venue, every place she’d been with the band, Sansa had never seen them like this—the brotherhood obvious between them, the heartfelt way Beric drove meaning into words and sentiments Sansa had heard before from Sandor. In the times things got hard, every mile between them like a knife in the heart, he always soothed with the same words about patience and faith. They loved each other and the rest would work itself out.

 

She watched Sandor with his eyes downturned and bare chest rapidly rising and falling, and understood he had something to do with this. He poured himself in to the song and his fingers now carried the rest with each gorgeous strum. The audience swayed in mesmerized unison and, one by one, lighters went up like a dusting of stars in the dark.

 

The last note hung sweet in the silence before the crowd erupted with claps and howls, chants and cheers. When they quieted, Beric returned to the microphone.

 

“This song was written by our very own Sandor Clegane at the start of this tour, so we wanted to end tour with this song and thank you all for coming.”

 

With tears staining her cheeks, Sansa didn’t have to be told that Sandor wrote this. Of course, he did. He shifted his eyes to side stage, seeking her out with a sweet little grin.

 

“I love you,” Sansa mouthed. His smile widened and he might’ve responded but Beric cleared his throat into the microphone and Sandor turned to his bandmate.

 

“We have one more piece of business to take care of tonight.” Beric paused. “Miss Sansa Stark, can you please join us on stage?”

 

Leaden legs rooted Sansa to the floor. She misheard. Of course, she did. They didn’t say her name.

 

“Sansa Stark,” Harwin sang into his microphone.

 

That settled it.

 

“You’re needed on stage, girl!” Bronn hollered. Sandor’s cheeks blazed red, maybe just a trick of the stage lights, and he couldn’t look at her.

 

Oh no.

 

Sansa swallowed hard despite a dry mouth. Her heart pounded a frantic beat in her chest. Her ears buzzed and her mind couldn’t quite inspire her body into motion, so she froze dumbfounded in the shadows.

 

Two hands gripped her shoulders from behind. “I think that’s you,” her dad whispered. “Go on.” He nudged her forward and Sansa turned over her shoulder.

 

“Don’t they mean Arya? For her birthday?”

 

This was a mistake. All those people. They’d see her on stage. She wasn’t a performer. What was she supposed to do out there? Was she supposed to say something?

 

“No,” he chuckled, and Sansa noticed now Sally hovering behind her father. “He said your name, sweetheart.”

 

“Okay,” she sighed on a ragged breath.

 

Sansa’s legs wobbled as she stepped into the glaring light of the stage. She squinted against it and, behind that light, was a swaying sea of shouting shadows. Her skin roasted and her cheeks burned just as hot.

 

Sandor swiveled in his stool towards her and reached out a hand to guide her. She clutched his fingers and her eyes searched out his face covered in a sheen of sweat, strands of his hair sticking to his cheeks, but his skin looked ashen now.

 

“What is this?” Sansa’s question quivered on a nervous laugh but went unanswered.

 

Drawing a deep breath, Sandor stood from the stool and lowered to the ground in front of her. The leather pants strained against the thick swathes of his leg muscles.

 

Did he drop his guitar pick? Sansa’s eyes darted across the dingy stage floor until her gaze landed on him again when the entire room erupted in howling cheers that deafened as much as the lights blinded. One knee. He was on one knee.

 

The world froze. Like a gauzy frame of an old movie, everything blurred at the edges. The crowd sounded muddled now, far off. Or was it still deafening? She couldn’t tell. All her faculties went into making sense of the sight before her—Sandor doing his best to settle on one knee and digging into the back pocket of his leather pants.

 

Whatever he was after was taking more effort than he intended. He gripped her hand and bit his bottom lip where a sudden, satisfied smile formed. Now she knew why. When he brought his hand forward, a diamond ring rested on his pinky, slid down to the first knuckle.

 

This wasn’t happening. It was just a dream. A joke. A sob escaped Sansa. She covered her face with her free palm, but felt Sandor squeeze her hand. Look at him, you idiot.

 

Sansa pulled her hand away from her face. Salty tears rolled down her cheeks and over her lips. Ring secure on his pinky, Sandor took her other hand and pulled her towards him.

 

“Come here.” His chuckle was swiftly swept up in the crown chanting “Say yes!” over and over again with rhythmic insistence.

 

Sansa shook like a leaf and sunk to her knees in front of him, collapsing against his chest and she wasn’t the only one shaking. Curled against him, Sansa felt Sandor trembling too.

 

Sandor kissed her cheek and gripped her hands. She relished the scent of him, the warmth of his body as he held her close and shakily murmured into her ear.

 

“When we got back together, you told me to make a believer out of you. I wrote that song for you when we were apart, Sansa. It’s yours. It will always be yours. And I told myself you wouldn’t hear it until I felt like I’d done enough for you to believe that we could make it. We’ve been through so much this past year and I’ve never loved anyone or anything more than I love you. I never will. You’re it for me. That’s all there is to it.”

 

Sansa felt the wetness against her cheek and knew it wasn’t her own tears. She rested her forehead against his and closed her eyes, but heard the quiver running through each of his words.

 

“My first question, do you believe me now?”

 

She opened her eyes again and met his wide-eyed gaze. More color had drained from his face. He licked his bottom lip in anticipation of her answer.

 

“Of course. I never had any doubts.” 

 

Sandor dropped his eyes and something quieted in him. She could’ve sworn the crowd did too. The chants thinned and the world fell away again, but this time it left only them behind. He lifted his eyes again and smiled.

 

“My second question—will you marry me?”

 

Sansa wouldn’t remember what happened next if she tried. She hurtled into his arms with foreign force and squealed a yes blotted out by the crowd exploding into applause. Somewhere in the daze Sandor laughed as they tumbled backwards.

 

Sansa steadied herself against his chest with Sandor’s grip firmly at her hips. “Yes.” She kissed him hard. “Yes.” She mumbled against his mouth. “A million times, yes. Always.”

 

“Folks, I think we got a yes,” Beric announced into the microphone though the shouts and applause still thundered on.

 

The ring. She’d forgotten all about it. And so had Sandor. Settled on their knees and facing one another, they could do little more than exchange bewildered laughs and frantic kisses. When Sandor remembered it, he slipped the ring on her finger. Both their hands trembled. What a beautiful bumbling mess it was and neither cared about their tear-stained cheeks.

 

Sansa held up her hand. Gorgeous, huge, sparkly. She’d admire it later. As it stood, she could hardly breathe, and her heart was surely about to pound right out of her chest. Sandor eased himself from the floor and pulled Sansa up with him.

 

He held her hard against his chest, the kind of embrace where she knew he’d be damned to let go. Eons could pass just like this and he’d happily stay here; face buried in the side of her neck, breathing her in, and holding her tight and tighter against him.

 

Sansa’s arms coiled firmly around him and, when her eyes fluttered open, her gaze landed on side stage where her father burst with pride and Sally swiped at tears barreling down his cheeks.                                                                                              


“How the fuck did you pull that off?” Bronn nearly careened himself into Sandor whose arm shot up to stop the man short of hurling into Sansa too. She clung to his side, intoxicated on whatever she saw in him. “Everything,” she’d told him time and time again and he believed her enough to pull this off.

 

And how the fuck did I pull this off?

 

“You trail-blazing son-of-a-bitch! Now we all gotta settle down,” Thoros shouted, cheeks red enough Sandor swore he must’ve downed half a handle of whiskey already.

 

On it went as Sandor led the way down the back hall and gripped Sansa’s hand. Her ring pressed into his skin, an unfamiliar sensation. He knew the feel of her hands well, the shape of her fingers.

 

The coming down off adrenaline rendered him dizzy, delirious, in a daze. He’d barely had enough time to throw on a t-shirt and retrieve his jacket from his dressing room. Even that had been a mental feat and, without Sansa sweetly cooing from the corner, “Darling, don’t forget your wallet” and “Sweetheart, your keys,” he wouldn’t have accomplished a damn thing. 

 

A cacophony of congratulatory glee, shouts and hoots and a whole mess of sentiment that got lost in the noise erupted in the hallway lined with Cannibal Star, every crew member involved in the tour, friends, family. Sansa and Sandor were battered liked pin balls bouncing down the hall. Where he got solid claps to his back and shakes of the hand, she got gentle kisses on her cheek and whispers of what a beautiful bride she was going to make.

 

At the end of the hall, they reached Sansa’s family and, by all rights, his family now too. Sandor hadn’t spared much thought to the notion, only passing recognition, because he’d spent most his life without one, his band his only family. A void wasn’t meant to be noticed and it hadn’t been; not until that void was filled with love and warmth and acceptance. He’d gone so long without it, Sandor never truly stared down what’d been absent in the first place. This woman, this life—it was a blinding light burning away that darkness.

 

Theon, Robb, and Jon beamed on one side of the hall in a trio of approving smiles no doubt eased on their lips from booze. With his bowl cut a mess, even Bran looked like he was coming down from the time of his life. On the other side of the hall, Gendry stood with his arm slung across Arya’s shoulders.

 

The girl lifted Sansa’s hand where the massive pear-shaped diamond danced with fire on a thin gold band.

 

“I helped pick it out,” Arya announced with her own version of pride that never quite beamed but existed all the same. “I told him you deserved a ring that looked like it may’ve been responsible for sinking the Titanic. You’re welcome.” 

 

“Thank you,” Sansa giggled and admired her hand and so too did Sandor. The diamond was perfect in every way. The jeweler had rendered Sandor, Arya, Cat, and Gendry into utter silence when he brought it out, but it was brought to life on Sansa’s finger.

 

Arya squeezed Sansa in a hug. “I love you,” the girl whispered sweetly. She peaked around Sansa and cracked a smile at Sandor. “And I guess you too.”

 

At the end of the line, Sansa’s parents stood side-by-side in front of the double doors leading outside. Misty-eyed and barely hanging onto her composure, Cat embraced Sansa and whispered something Sandor wasn’t meant to hear so he turned to Ned who was wearing a Cannibal Star t-shirt and a smile.

 

“You did good, son.” He shook Sandor’s hand and clapped his shoulder. “Everything’s ready to go outside.”

 

Good old Ned tried to manage a subtle wink and might’ve succeeded in discretion if it weren’t for the cheesy thumbs up that he also gave.

 

“Thank you,” Sandor said, and Ned and Cat stepped aside.

 

Sandor glanced at Sansa whose cheeks were rosy pink and she smiled in a way he’d never seen from her, backlit by happiness she struggled to contain.

 

“You ready?” he asked. She squeezed his hand and breathed a yes. All they were doing was going outside, but it seemed an awful lot like crossing a threshold, stepping into a new part of their life together.

 

Sandor pushed open the door to the steps where they first met and, when it closed again, it sealed off the applause in the hall. Sansa gasped at the sight and Sandor might’ve too if he hadn’t known what was coming.

 

Tea light and pillar candles adorned each step and flickered amongst scattered rose petals. An ice bucket housed a bottle of champagne with two glasses next to it. It all stunned in its sweet simplicity.

 

“Who did all this?” Sansa turned to Sandor. Her thumb swept against the back of his hand and she gave him that look like he’d hung the moon for her.

 

All Sandor had really known was that he wanted to end the night where he and Sansa had begun. The rest was Cat’s idea because he was in bad need of a woman’s opinion. Arya’s suggestion of a midnight mausoleum picnic with Black Sabbath playing in the background just wasn’t going to cut it. With luck on his side, Cat intervened with the more romantic details.

 

“Your mom helped me with the idea.” Sandor smoothed the hair from Sansa’s cheek and placed a tender kiss there. “Sally set it up before we played the last song.”

 

The man had taken obvious care, Sandor recognized now, right down to a folded-up blanket—a detail Sandor hadn’t even thought of but cherished now as a crisp chill sunk against his skin.

 

Sandor took Sansa’s hand and they descended the first few steps to settle in the middle of the staircase. Sandor unfurled the blanket and tossed it around her shoulders as she handed him the bottle of champagne to do the honors. He popped the cork and poured the wine, but in perfect unison they both abandoned their glasses on the steps.

 

Sandor’s fingers sunk into her hair and what he meant to be a gentle kiss came urgent and hard. Their lips crashed together, and he swallowed up the soft little sigh she gave as his tongue swept against hers. His hand disappeared under the blanket and even further beneath the crop top she wore. He cupped her breast and savored her lips sweeter than any champagne. Drunk on desire, his dick strained hard against these fucking leather pants; the last anyone would see of them because, with Sansa around, there was absolutely no hope of hiding what she inspired in him.

 

And what she inspired now was a delicious ache brought on with the way she gently kissed his neck and reached for his dick. Her palm pressed against the outside of his pants in a proper, exploratory touch and he covered over her hand, guiding her to grip him hard. There wasn’t anything proper about this; no use in pretending.

 

His lips pressed against hers, softer now, and through the lace of her bra, he rolled her hardened nipple between his forefinger and thumb. Sansa rewarded him with a sigh and melted in his arms, body limp as she relaxed against him. 

 

“You’re still shaking,” she whispered against his mouth. Starting at his temple, she ran her fingers through his hair with a delicate sweep. He closed his eyes at her touch, relishing the sensation but also marveling at the way Sansa drove out doubt and fear. Sandor sometimes liked to claim fearlessness; he’d seen too much to spook easy. What a ruse it was—he was stronger with her by his side.

 

“I wanna fuck you right now,” he replied and, while it wasn’t a lie, it also wasn’t the full truth. Sandor was still drifting somewhere in the exuberance of the evening and the loosening of nerves that’d left him exhausted and still trembling. He was only biding time until his feet hit the ground again.

 

“These stairs have seen a lot of action from us,” Sansa remarked, and Sandor admired the way her silhouette looked in the pale moonlight.

 

“Only one thing left.” He lifted one brow with a smirk and surveyed the stairs and the height of the rail.

 

Standing up or bent over, it didn’t matter. They could figure out the logistics of fucking. They always did. He liked the challenge and she liked the thrill; a match made in heaven.

 

Sansa gripped the front of Sandor’s leather jacket and tugged him towards her. “You will fuck me in our bed like a proper fiancé,” she giggled.

 

“You’re the proper one in this relationship, babe,” Sandor murmured against her mouth. “Not me.”

 

“You have to wait.” She planted a supple kiss, as sweet as it was tempting, to his lips. “This will help in the interim.”

 

Sansa retrieved their forgotten champagne glasses and handed one off to him. The glasses clanked together in cheers.

 

“I see you’re changing your tune already, Ms. The-Harder-The-Better.” Sandor took a slow sip from the glass and eyed her over the rim. 

 

“No, I’m most certainly am not,” Sansa corrected with a haughtiness he could get behind because she’d long ago abandoned all that pearl-clutching affront. “And that’s Mrs. Clegane to you, pal.”

 

Sansa broke with bubbling laughter, bright as the full moon hung above and Sandor swore nothing could ever be this perfect. She smiled at him dreamy and tossed her arms around his neck and if he didn’t know any better, he’d say she was well on her way to being tipsy despite abandoning her glass once more.

 

“Oh my God,” she sighed, lovesick and glowing. “You wrote me a beautiful song and I get to be your wife.”

 

Sandor chuckled and drew her closer, as close as he could, and pressed his forehead against hers.

 

“Mrs. Clegane,” Sansa exhaled. She breathed it like a daydream, a delicate hush that soaked in the wonderment.

 

Sansa pulled away enough to grip his hand and gaze at her ring as if she were the lucky one and he were the prize. All this time, she’d never made him feel like her love was an act of charity, a favor she bestowed upon him by good graces alone.

 

“Mrs. Clegane,” Sandor repeated because he hadn’t heard it out loud like this.

 

He’d only whispered it to himself once when he went to get the mail. Sometimes even he indulged in daydreams, so he imagined Mrs. Clegane on letters addressed to her or how she might manage the cursive of a new last name. A few months ago, at the bottom of a drawer, he found a wrinkled piece of scrap paper with Sansa Clegane doodled from margin to margin and every space between. She’d manage just fine.

 

Realizing now he’d actually pulled this off, a sudden flush of adrenaline came over him; like a wave crashing, invigorating and powerful. It brought with it a broad smile and Sandor was lovesick in his own way and swore to himself he’d marry her this moment if he could.

 

Sansa scooted close and tossed the blanket over his shoulders. Sandor eased back on the stairs with her nuzzled up next to him, cheek against his chest. One arm draped over her side.

 

“Were you scared?” she asked and gazed up at him. Sandor brushed his fingers through the length of her hair. Sansa always looked beautiful, somehow even managed it when she came down with the flu, but he’d remember this moment and the way she looked right now—blue eyes and pretty lips, flawless skin and flushed cheeks.

 

“Yes, you have no idea,” he whispered and lifted one leg. “And these fucking pants! I could barely get on one knee or the ring out of my pocket.”

 

Of all the things—all the minor little fucking details he went over and over again in his head—the last goddamn thing he’d accounted for was the leather pants shrinking just enough from the metric ton of sweat he’d shed to preclude him from getting down on one knee.

 

Sansa burst into laughter and so too did Sandor on a deep rumble, the scenario humorous only in hindsight.

 

“I love these pants on you,” she cooed and wrapped her arms around his chest. She pressed a soft kiss to his lips.

 

“Better enjoy it,” he grumbled. “I’m never wearing them again.”

 

Sansa’s bottom lip pouted, just as arousing as it was endearing. Sandor held her tight against him and trailed kisses along her neck up to her ear.

 

“Maybe once in a while for you,” he muttered. “But only if you ask nicely and it ends with you being naked and on top of me.”

 

“Of course, that’s only fair,” she laughed as Sandor swept his fingertips along the bare skin of her waist. “That reminds me of the night we met, and I asked what your real name was, not your stage name. Do you remember that?”

 

“How could I forget?” Sandor watched the way the candles flickered on the breeze. “We were right here. I said my real name doesn’t matter. Not unless you planned on moaning it later while I was on top of you or you were on top of me. Either way.” He matched Sansa’s eyes and cracked a smile. “Not exactly a story for our future children.”

 

“It all came full circle,” Sansa said and burrowed her cheek against him. 

 

“It did.” Sandor took her hand and lifted it until the ring caught the light.

 

For a quiet moment, they both admired it until Sansa stirred slightly against him and cleared her throat.

 

“How did you know you wanted to marry me?”

 

Sandor drew a deep breath to buy some time, but not for a lack of examples. He had plenty of sterling moments too big to fit into words that seemed so small. In the end, he selected the best way he knew how to explain it.

 

“I asked your dad once how he knew he wanted to marry your mother. He said there are two ways to look at it. The first—wanting to spend your life with someone. In that way, they’re a bonus, icing on the cake. You don’t need them. You want them.

 

“The second way to look at it is not wanting to spend your life without that person. Sounds like a subtle difference but it’s not. That’s the one person you can’t imagine going on without. They’re not the icing, they’re the cake. Everything else is icing, extras. You want them and you need them. He couldn’t picture a future without your mother and that’s how he knew. And that’s how I knew. I can’t fathom a life without you in it. Just doesn’t make sense.”

 

Sansa propped herself up to look at him and tears brimmed in her eyes. “Does that mean I’m your cake?” she asked and traipsed her fingertips up his chest.

 

“Yes,” he whispered and covered over her hand with his, her palm pressed to the beat of his heart. “My lemon cake.”

 

Sandor gave her a wink and a smile, and her tears broke free with merry laughter.

 

“You’re my lemon cake too,” Sansa beamed.

 

Sandor interlaced her fingers with his and pressed a kiss to her knuckles. “Your lemon cake wants to take you home now.”

 

“Because you promised I’m gonna get it?” Sansa stood and let the blanket pool at her feet. By now, half the candles had burned out and the other half Sally would take care of.

 

Sansa rested with her back against the stair rail and arms circled around his neck. Sandor’s hands settled at her hips. The breeze swept between them and Sandor pulled her against him, wanting her warmth and her touch. 

 

He kissed her forehead. “Yes. Because I promised and I won’t break my promises to you.”

 

“I have a promise too.” Sansa matched his eyes and spoke sweet. “To love you. Always to love you.”

 

“And I’ll love you always too.”  It was the only promise that mattered, for him and for her, and they’d been making good on it for a solid year with no signs of stopping.

 

With his arm across her shoulders, Sandor descended the steps and Sansa’s arm coiled around the small of his back. Wrapped up in one another, they trailed in dawdling steps across the parking lot towards his motorcycle.

 

In another indulgence in nostalgia, Sandor settled side-saddle on the seat, gripped Sansa by the hips, and drew her towards him. She stood between his legs, hands at his shoulders.

 

“You know what my other promise is?” The corner of his mouth curled in a devious smirk and his hands slipped to her ass.

 

She hummed and bit her bottom lip just like the days when they first danced around the inevitable. “I think I can guess but tell me.” 

 

Sandor leaned forward. In the still night, his leather jacket crackled. His hand brushed the hair from her neck. When Sansa tilted her head, Sandor pressed his lips to the pulse point just below her ear.

 

“No matter how old we get,” he vowed. “You’re always gonna get it.”

 

He tapped her ass and she giggled softly as she climbed behind him, securing her helmet as she went.

 

“Ready, little bird?” he rumbled and turned over his shoulder. She coiled her arms tight around him. Sandor covered over her hand with his, her ring pressing into his palm.

 

“Ready,” she smiled and kissed him for good measure.

 

The lights rippling on the Chicago River guided their way home and it all seemed to Sandor like riding into a future he couldn’t have curated for himself if he’d tried. Luck—or maybe something greater—had been on his side one night over a year ago on the empty steps after a show where a gorgeous red-head came barreling through the door, damn near into his arms and into his life. His little bird, his lemon cake.

 

Sandor settled his hand against hers once more, the sensation of the ring against his palm already becoming familiar. If his feet never hit the ground again, Sandor didn’t quite care as long as the feeling now never ended—wind sweeping, heart racing, his whole life put to rights, and Sansa holding onto him with more love he’d ever known.

Chapter Text

Thunderstruck Outtake #1

Sally Cancels the THOT in Sandor's Dressing Room


Back to the door, Sally watched the venue thin out. This bit was always the same. The city or the venue didn’t matter. Groupies and drunks, they were always the last to go. The drunks would plant themselves in an empty floor and wail for another encore well after the band left the stage and the crew started clearing off the gear. The groupies would flock to the door Sally had planted himself in front of and wield their feminine wiles in hopes of sneaking past.

 

As it stood, neither the groupies nor the drunks got too far, and Sally occupied himself with self-indulgent daydreams. He was usually hungry right about now. Having scrambled for scraps earlier, tonight was no exception. While Cannibal Star was likely on the prowl for booze and women, Sally had one thing on his mind.

 

Soft and sweet. Heaven on his lips. He’d savor every moment.

 

I shouldn’t.

 

He’d already had two cupcakes, but then also that beer and he wasn’t a twenty-something anymore, metabolism burning through every bit of bullshit he put in his body. His gut could prove it; the wobbly bits that hadn’t been there two years ago and showed no signs of slowing down now.

 

What’s a third cupcake when you’ve already had two? Sally reasoned with himself.

 

Catering got the kind he liked; the icing wasn’t too sweet and melted like butter on a hot July day in his mouth. Not that he ever let it be known. This shit wasn’t about him and he was just grateful no one had told him to pound sand yet. If anything, Cannibal Star had become some of his closest friends, the crew like family. They took care of their own and catering got the cupcakes he liked. That must count for something.

 

A flurry of activity snapped Sally out of his daydream. The crew all appeared absolutely addled as a roadie hurried across the stage, hollering about something or another that beckoned the others to gape in saucer-eyed wonder. The roadie jumped down to the floor and rushed to Sally.

 

“Shit’s going down. Sandor and his girl,” the kid panted and nudged his way past Sally and through the door that led to the hall.

 

“Oh my God!” Sally damn near punted the roadie out of his way and bolted down the corridor. He caught of glimpse of fiery red hair blazing towards the back door and Sandor looking like the world was crumbling around him.

 

Sandor turned to Sally, at a loss and out of words, any stray bits of explanation he could manage. That all fled the man now and he tore into his dressing room like a tornado, fury quick on the heels of emotional ruin and it was a wonder the flimsy door wasn’t ripped off the hinges.

 

“Trouble with the little lady?”

 

Sally hovered outside the dressing room and recognized the voice emanating from the other side. Mona the Monster’s ludicrous attempt at sultry banter was embarrassing even in the best of times and now solidified her place squarely on the blacklist of shame.

 

The men of Cannibal Star didn’t spook easy and certainly put up with their fair share of crazy if it meant getting laid at the end of it. It took a lot to get added to the blacklist.

 

“Get the fuck out!” Sandor’s shouts exploded into the hall and he bounded towards the doorway, wrangling Mona by her upper arm as he went.

 

“If you think I’ll tell you twice, you’re stupider than I’ve always known you to be.”

 

The woman’s feet barely had the opportunity to the meet the floor before her mostly naked ass was being tossed into the hall for Cannibal Star, the crew, and all of God’s green creation to see.

 

Ankles buckling, she stumbled and barely caught herself when her arms shot to the cinderblock wall.

 

“I’m actually very intelligent—” she fired back, equal parts furious and haughty even now, mostly naked and looking haggard in the harsh fluorescent lights beaming up above.

 

Anger like Sally had never seen consumed Sandor. Wide-eyed fury, fists curled, chest heaving, and face burning red—if Sally didn’t know any better, Sandor was teetering on the precipice of quite literally exploding.

 

“You’re trash! That’s all you’ve ever been,” he seethed in a commendable show of restraint, so much so the man was shaking. He pointed a trembling finger at Mona the Monster.

 

A crowd had gathered in the corridor, the message having spread like wildfire. By Sally’s estimate, the entire production now lined the hall to watch this holy terror finally get taken to task. Mona the Monster had a reputation all her own—an ungodly abomination of self-righteous entitlement and paper-thin self-esteem.

 

Sandor shifted towards her in a quiet step and a faint smirk Sally knew to be the calm in the storm. The fury roiled beneath the surface but next came the exacting cruelty that Sandor wielded better than anyone Sally knew.

 

Mona seemed to know what was coming too. Her eyes scanned the hall of faces all watching in twisted delight at her impending downfall. Her arms crossed over her chest in a laughable attempt at modesty.

 

“In all these years you’ve been around, spreading your legs for anything with a guitar and a pulse, I’ve never gone for you,” Sandor began, voice a deep rumble, but his eyes still flashed with rage. “I haven’t even looked at you twice. I find a girl who’s leaps and bounds better than you in every conceivable way, the first girl I’ve ever loved, and that’s when you think I’m going to hit it? Tell me again how intelligent you are. You’re nothing. You’re old, your tits are saggy, you reek of cigarettes and booze. Even at your youngest, all you could ever offer anyone was a lousy lay and now you’ve defined new levels of disgusting and that’s the only distinction you’re worthy of.” 

 

Snickering and quiet encouragement rolled over the crowd. Mona’s eyes darted up and down the hall, desperate to find a sympathetic gaze to latch onto. For some absurd reason, her eyes landed on Sally.

 

“Don’t look at me!” Sally barked. “You’ve done it now, you nasty bitch.”

 

“Like you’ve ever amounted to anything,” Mona snapped. “You’re a nobody!”

 

All at once, the members of Cannibal Star hurled themselves from their perches throughout the hall, peeling away with congruent fervor to be done with Mona the Monster.

 

“Done! You’re done!” Sandor bellowed and lurched towards her, settling in next to Sally’s side. “If I ever see you at one of our shows or practices, you even breathe the name ‘Cannibal Star’ in this city, you’re getting a Stratocaster shoved so far up your ass, you’ll be choking on the strings for the rest of your shit-filled life.” Sandor leveled irate eyes at Sally. “Take out the trash.”

 

Sandor turned on his heel without another glance and disappeared in his dressing room. Silence blanketed the hall.

 

After all these years, the shame finally caught up to Mona and, when it came, it came like an avalanche. For the rest of them, justice came just as mighty and sugary sweet. Tears rolled down Mona’s cheeks in a river of jet-black mascara. In one last ditch effort, she reached for Thoros, tits now exposed for all to see.

 

“A bridge too far. Get the fuck out,” he grumbled and eyed her in a way no groupie ever wanted to be regarded. Sandor had the right of it—disgust. This woman was worthy of nothing more than that.

 

Mona stumbled towards Harwin, probably seeking out the softest of the bunch, the one most likely to toss her stray bits of sympathy. Sally held his breath and said a little prayer that the kid would keep his wits about him. 

 

“You heard the man,” Harwin sniped with usual iciness. “You’re done. Get out.”

 

In a few more faltering steps and gasping cries, Mona eased down the hall towards Bronn. Sally fell in after her, blocking her path should she try to flee the other way. Mona blubbered a plea and Bronn crossed his arms tight over his chest.

 

“This was a long time coming, sweetheart. We all stand behind his decision. Get gone.” Bronn motioned to the door at the end of the hall leading to the parking lot.

 

Sally remembered now that’s where that sweet little Sansa had disappeared, and he hoped like hell that girl still wasn’t out there. Or maybe it was better if she was—she could witness Mona’s fall from grace, though she probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much as the crew was now.

 

A wave of applause rolled down the hall, growing louder as Mona continued towards the doors with Sally close behind. At the end of the line, no rope left to cling to, Mona turned to Sally.

 

“Can I at least get my clothes?” she pleaded on a quivering breath.

 

In only heels and a thong, Mona tried in earnest to cover herself. Sally reached around her and pushed open the door. A blast of chilly air swept through.

 

“No, should’ve thought about that when you took them off in his dressing room.” Sally shoved Mona through to the other side and followed after. She shivered against the night air. “I mean, he came here with her. How fucking stupid are you? What exactly did you expect?”

 

Mona lifted her eyes from the ground and glared at Sally but must’ve thought the better of mouthing off. As it stood, she was the one humiliated for all to see and standing outside naked. Sally scanned the parking lot for Sansa and thanked the man upstairs that she wasn’t here. Hopefully, she was safe and okay.

 

Sally spotted a flattened cardboard box perched against the fence on the other side of the lot. He motioned his head towards it. “You can cover yourself with that.”

 

She had the audacity to scoff. The offended breath escaped her thin, ugly lips that snarled at him. Sally prodded her shoulder with his finger and stepped to her, forcing Mona to shuffle backwards.

 

“Now you listen here, and you listen well, you tramp—Sansa is beautiful, and kind and she loves him. You’re not even in the same Universe as her. You have nothing to offer him. And if you think she’s some lovesick hanger-on, I’ve known that man far longer than you have, and I’ve never seen him like this. He loves her too.

 

“Nothing’s coming between them. Not a tour, not distance, not time. Nothing. Mark my words, they’re it for each other and they’ll figure this out. And you’ll still be a dried-up, bitter hag.

 

“Like he said. You’re done. I’m putting the crew on notice. If anyone catches a whiff of your skanky ass, you’ll leave here missing more than just your clothes next time.”

 

“Bye now!” he taunted with a wave before pulling the door shut.

 

On the other side, the hall had cleared out, both shows of the night now over. Sally retreated to the catering room and poked his head inside. The stars aligned in a rare formation and by some celestial miracle one lone cupcake sat pristine and unaccounted for on the table. Sally plucked it from the spot on the plate and admired the swirl of white icing on the top.

 

Back down the hall, he cradled the cupcake in his hands but the little flush of joy he felt was short lived as he passed Sandor’s dressing room door, wide open now. Inside, Sandor dwarfed the chair he sat in, elbows to knees and his forehead cradled in the palm of his hand.

 

Sally hovered beneath the doorframe, almost certain Sandor was aware that a presence had joined him. His shoulders tensed and his breathing shallowed, but the man remained resolute in his abject misery that kept him rooted where he was.

 

“Anything I can do?” Sally ventured.

 

Face still obscured, Sandor didn’t move other than the faint shake of his head. It was a wasted courtesy anyhow. What exactly could he do? Anything he could think to offer would be like tossing fistfuls of dirt into a gaping chasm that’d been created in Sandor’s life. The futility was absurd, and the man was so clearly already suffering the loss.

 

Sally’s gaze drifted to the cupcake in his hand—the last one, but he’d already had two, so the right choice was glaringly obvious. He paced into the room in shuffled steps and stopped in front of Sandor. 

 

“Here. Take this.” He held out the cupcake and Sandor finally lifted his head from his hand. Sally saw clear enough what he’d been trying to hide. Sandor’s eyes glistened with tears. 

 

“Those are your favorite.” Sandor shook his head and settled back in the seat. “Why do you think we tell catering to get them?”

 

“Always assumed it was a coincidence,” Sally shrugged. “Then it sounds like there will be plenty of cupcakes in my future. Take it.”

 

He jabbed the cupcake towards Sandor who took it from Sally and set it on the table next to him.

 

“Thank you,” Sandor murmured on a voice almost as deflated as he looked. 

 

A cumbersome silence fell between them and Sally took it as his cue to leave. He retreated to the door but stopped beneath the frame.

 

“If you’re curious, after handing her ass to her, I told her touring, distance, time, a tramp in your dressing room—I don’t honestly believe any of that is going to come between you and Sansa.”

 

“How do you know that?” Sandor countered and a deep crease of contemplation settled between his brows.

 

Sally could’ve laughed. It was obvious. Everyone that met Sansa tonight commented on it in one way or another and it all distilled down to the same damn thing—something shifted in Sandor with her around. She quieted him in a way, the stillness of peace for a man so accustomed to a life uprooted and unsettled; one who prided himself on being grounded and Sansa rooted him in a different reality—one where he was worthy of love and she was more than willing to give it.

 

Sandor had no family, nothing much to call his own, except now her and it scared the poor bastard in a way that meant he understood the gravity of what he’d been given. In some ways, Sally couldn’t blame him; the guy had been given the keys to the kingdom and bore the responsibility of not fucking it up.

 

“Just a feeling,” Sally said because how the fuck was he supposed to explain all this? The man would figure it out one way or another. “When you know, you know. You know?”

 

Sandor expelled a quiet laugh. “Yeah, I do know,” he said, shouldering the tremendous weight of regret. Sally had been there. The lessons of age came with more than just a few extra pounds and some things were heavier and harder to carry.

 

“Was she out there?” he asked and, when his eyes drifted from the floor to Sally, Sandor looked caught in a tangle between devastating sadness and foolhardy hopefulness.

 

“No, man. She’s left.”

 

Once more, Sally glimpsed the way Sandor’s eyes glistened when his gaze returned to the floor. Sandor bit his bottom lip hard and nodded.

 

Sally offered what paltry advice he could, and it wasn’t about placating the man. He and Sandor had an honest understanding, one that meant they could speak freely with one another and Sally took that liberty where he could and right now Sandor needed it.

 

“She may have left, but that doesn’t mean she’s gone,” Sally offered. “And you may not be able to get her back tonight but, one of these nights, you will. You just wait and see.”

 

It was a call to faith and Sally didn’t know much about what Sandor believed in and in some ways it didn’t matter. Certain things superseded the superficial constructs of belief and love was one of them. And if there were ever two people desperately, stupidly in love with one another, it was Sansa and Sandor and sooner or later they’d figure it out.