It was the wine.
It mixed with her blood and thinned her shields, confusing suggestion and action. The insinuation of scheming and agendas lurked in every shadow cast by every candle in the Great Hall that night and she’d been unable to sleep since. The Dragon Queen had begun to play the game and the Hall had been filled to the brim with countless people who were unknowingly celebrating dying for it.
Sansa tested the ink and made sure it was dry as she sealed the scroll. Before she could lose her nerve, she tucked it into the messenger pouch and used one elegant knuckle to stroke the soft head of the messenger raven. Then, she reached over her desk and unlatched the window.
With a nibble from a feed dish and a disgruntled nip at Sansa’s trailing fingers, it launched from the wooden windowsill into the night. Sansa watched until the inky tailfeathers disappeared into the darkness before she shut the glass.
Just as she went to turn back to her fire, the cloaked shadow in the courtyard below caught her attention. She watched with sharp blue eyes as the shadow hastened to the stables with a distinct gait. Her breath caught her in her throat as she watched.
He’d denied her gift.
She couldn’t decide if that was because he did or he didn’t know if was from her. Didn’t know if it was because he was here or not, if it was because they were her people or not.
She could have made you happy, for a little while.
He’d all but barked in the girls’ face, she’d seen. Maybe it had been too bold, too assuming. Sometimes dogs didn’t trust treats after they’d been abused for too long.
There’s only one thing that’ll make me happy.
As soon as the words left his mouth, she needed to know. He eventually turned the tables on her in the way he always did when she prodded at wounds she knew were only held closed by hatred and scar tissue.
Heard you were broken in. Heard you were broken in....rough.
His eyes hadn’t wavered from hers and she saw the challenge in them – did they break you, girl? Did they break you like I knew they would?
Her jaw tightened as she watched him ease a door open and furtively check behind him before skulking into the depths of the horse stables. She knew this hateful world and the people who had a hand in building it – as she’d told him, they’d shaped her. Just as many of those same people had shaped him. Without the schemers and murderers and gamblers and knights of the world they would both still be weak and willing to die for it – to get out of the way of the strong.
She’d still be a Little Bird, scared and helpless and too proper to be angry.
Sansa’s eyes narrowed as she stared at the closed door and slowly turned away from the window. Mechanically, she reached for and donned her outer cloak and furs over the stiff day gown she hadn’t bothered to take off yet. She clicked the Direwolf clasp into place and drew her shoulders back, the wine running through her veins like scorched earth and good ideas.
She’d tried to give him happiness, something to say thank you for his efforts to teach her. His efforts to save her, drunken and disorderly as they were. To thank him for caring about her, her family and her people – and he’d rejected it. At first, she accepted that. The little girl in her, the little bird, accepted it.
Now, she felt the skin on the back of his hand under her palm – the bulk of his knuckles, the ridges of scars on his hands and the weight of his eyes as they looked down at the contact in shock. The way he hadn’t thrown her touch off or called her names. The small satisfied fire of respect that lit in his eyes. He accepted something then – something that would take him from her forever.
She yanked the door open and strolled purposefully out into the halls of Winterfell, stern brow set.
She’d changed her mind.
While the little bird accepted it – Sansa Stark did not.
She spied his awareness in the tensing of his shoulders.
When he whirled around with a dagger in his hand and held it out at her in a threat, she knew that it wasn’t her he’d been anticipating. As soon as he saw her, his face twisted in minor irritation and he stuffed the blade back into its hidden place in the saddle he was readying.
“They say he’s already dead,” Sansa said in lieu of a greeting and Clegane didn’t even bother turning around to grunt his dismissal of her point.
She watched him imperiously as he diligently packed and lashed his supplies, wrapping and strapping his weapons with the practiced ease of a seasoned soldier. The fact he was doing it all but silently by the light of a single struggling candle made it more impressive. It was warm enough in the stables – the shrieking northern wind rattled the walls and ceiling while some of the cold leaked in the draftier parts of the structure. The aggregation of horses and pilot fires under the water troughs lent enough heat it was comfortable inside.
Comfortable if you enjoyed the smell of hay and horse, that was.
“What joy will you get stabbing a corpse?”
“Seems to be a fucking delight for everyone here,” He rasped in reply and gave her a dirty look over his shoulder as he tended to the great black beast he rides. Sansa tilted her head as she studied him.
“Your happiness is killing the Mountain,” She surmised outloud and he heaved an irritated sigh as he turned to fix her with his sharp grey eyes, pointing a thick finger at her.
“No one can say I can’t kill a cunt when the cunt is my brother.”
Sansa crossed her arms, shifting her weight to one hip and surveying him. He turned away, producing a horse brush he began to militantly prep with. The brush made a harsh scraping noise and scuffed lots of hairs free that fell to the stable floor in the candlelight.
“I thought you would accept my gift.”
“What gift?” He grunted irritably as he reached for a saddle blanket and inspected it for anything sharp.
“The girl. Before we spoke earlier.”
He stopped and finally turned to fully face her, grey eyes finding hers with a certainty they’d lacked for years before. He was suddenly sobered, yanked from his task with a rush of surprise as he stared at her. Then he shook his head twice and muttered something to himself that made one of her eyebrows arch.
“Too Littlefinger of me?” She asked almost amusedly.
“That too,” He snapped at her as he finished the brushing by hassling Stranger’s tail.
“It was a thank-you gift,” Sansa told him almost cajolingly and he scoffed loudly, tossing the brush into a well-used saddle bag. He batted his great paws together and lifted the thick blanket, throwing it wide over the back of the destrier and smoothing it expertly. Sansa watched, eyes trailing his large hands and squared fingers as they moved over the horses’ back with the practiced ease of someone who had done it a thousand time before. Her own back tingled with envy and she sighed dramatically to cover her shaky exhale as she looked up and caught him staring hard at her.
“What is it?” He asked her with a pointed exhaustion that spoke of exasperation and an unwillingness to fight her. He was resolved, there was no changing his mind. She chewed on the inside of her cheek nervously for a moment as she looked back at him, eyes stuck to his like a fly in a spider’s web.
“I can offer you a life here.”
“Not the one I want.”
“You don’t know what you want.”
“Piss on that – you want me to want what you want,” He snapped back at her and Sansa almost flinched at the words, flung with so much venom and truth that it shot straight to her heart.
“I want you to want me,” She retorted shortly and he snarled a short laugh as he walked to the far wall and hauled the entirety of his riding saddle off the beam, bending his back slightly as he all but threw it onto his steed over the blanket.
“You want me to stay with you. Hiding up here in the land of snows and broken things aren’t going to do anyone any good if Cersei lives – she'll just be coming straight here for you and who do you think her executioner is going to be?”
“Don’t pretend I’m stupid. You’re not saving me in advance any more than you’re trying to keep yourself from getting killed,” Sansa replied sternly as she gave him a flinty look she often found herself regarding the Dragon Queen with.
“It’s still my life and I’ll fucking go where I want,” He told her dismissively and Sansa crossed her arms as he put his back to her and started connecting straps, belting buckles and tightening laces and ties on the saddle.
She watched him with a lump in her throat – broad, stiff shoulders and a wide back. Stern brow and determined eyes so focused even the twitch in the corner of his mouth had stilled itself. His hair had been washed recently and hung loose in thick black waves to cover the burned half of his face. That he would allow himself to cease existence on the planet while she still lived burned in her chest like the most unpleasant fire and was going to leave the acrid taste of regret in her mouth her entire life. Part of her desperately wanted to go with him but the rest of her life, her legacy, her duty was...
“My place is here with my people,” She said out loud and he paused his yanking on a large belt around the beasts’ belly to look at her with a noise akin to a growl of frustration.
“That’s why this is another bleeding story from your books,” He grunted at her as he slowly lowered himself to one knee and angled his head to look under the horse at something he was fiddling with.
"This hasn’t gone away.This will never leave either of us alone,” Sansa offered frostily and lifted her eyebrows disdainfully in response to the flat look he shot up at her from his place on the hay floor.
“You’ve said yourself your place is here, being a lady. My place is there, killing things. Everyone says you’re smart enough to know the difference.”
“How knightly of you,” Sansa spat with an ugly emotion she couldn’t name roiling in her stomach and watched as he growled and then rose with a grunt from his place on the floor, looming in her view as he stared down at her with hard, glittering eyes.
“I am no knight,” He told her brusquely and Sansa shrugged one shoulder briefly and seethed his own words back at him, “Knights are meant for killing, are they not?”
A gigantic hand shot out like lightning, encircling her entire throat and pushing her back against a support pole between stalls. His face loomed, lips pulled back in almost a snarl as he put his face in hers and sneered down at her features.
“Knights have Kings and Queens, whom they go kill for. I kill for no one but myself and don’t you forget it,” He rasped at her and grinned a horrible, menacing smile as he increased the pressure slightly. Sansa narrowed her eyes at him, jaw tilted up as she insolently regarded him out of the corner of her view.
“Fine,” She choked out at him. His pupils dilated slightly as she swallowed and her throat flexed under his palm as she gasped, “Let us both nurture our regrets.”
He growled at her openly then, fingers twitching around her throat and moving his body closer to hers, pressing her deeper against the pole. He stared into her face, his own a landscape of frustration and indecision and she watched the harshness bleed away slightly, his eyes softening and his lips unfurling.
“I was right. You’re not the Little Bird anymore; just wish it could have been by a different method,” He rumbled - the tone gentle where the words were rough.
She met his eyes with understanding and watched his gaze rove her features with shades of admiration and sadness. His eyes finally found hers again and they locked into place with the rush of familiarity and electricity that simply being close to one another generated. The butterflies in her belly went crazy and the newly familiar aching heat intensified deep within her. His eyes, always so carefully trained on hers, slid down to look at her mouth hungrily like a dog observing a treat he’d not been given permission to have. His hand loosened from around her throat, sliding up her neck to cradle the base of her skull. His body was solid and warm against hers, easily covering her frame with his bulk and towering over her despite her height.
“You were one of the only reasons I survived,” Sansa whispered back softly and watched something akin to pain flicker across his face. She watched his intention, the focus of his eyes and the angle of his mouth and she tilted her face up expectantly.
He moved and then stopped, exhaling sharply as he held himself back at the last second.
Impatiently Sansa lifted her mouth to his instead, closing the space for him to melt against his lips like a snowflake on a hot stone. The hand cradling her neck activated, holding her to him as the shock of the kiss echoed through their bodies. Sansa had never been kissed by a man who was taller than her and relished in the crush of her body to his large one. She basked in the way he kissed her inexpertly, the awkwardness of his response erased by his quick observation and mimicry of how she kissed him – slowly, gently, fervently. As the kiss deepened, she found herself applying varying pressure and explored his reaction before remembering something she discussed with a giggling friend in the Vale; gently she sucked his lower lip between hers briefly. His hips moved against her, eliciting a muffled sound of pleasure before he jerked his head back and separated their mouths.
Fleetingly, he looked wild and confused before his other hand slid up the side of her neck and mirrored the first, holding her firmly as he looked down into her face. Sansa almost whimpered at the expression of lust and bit her lip, a motion his eyes followed with keen interest.
“I won’t pay this price to stay,” He told her roughly, voice stained with affection. She felt his grip loosen and clapped her hands over his, holding them firm to their place on her neck as she looked back at him.
“I’m not asking that, I’m asking you for a favour,” She rushed out and clung to him, earning herself an openly bewildered look as he breathed harshly in their brief struggle.
“Speak plainly,” He all but growled at her and she held firm as he half-heartedly tried again to pull away.
“You’re going to make me say it, aren’t you? You’re going to make me beg you to have me as the only man I’ve ever wanted,” She all but cursed at him, giving up and letting his hands slip from their place adoring her.
The humiliation of her admission made her want to go crawl into a pig sty and cover herself but she stood firm as her Mother would have; brave and honest. Brave like a Tully. Honest like a Stark.
He stared at her, flummoxed and she scrambled in the resounding silence.
Finally, he coughed a short laugh and rasped, “You looking to get fucked in a stable?”
Sansa swallowed nervously and lifted her chin in defiance as he turned back into her space and once again backed her slowly against the pole. He looked down between them at her body and then back up to her face predatorily. This threat had the opposite effect on her as her nipples tightened painfully under her dress and something deep in her throbbed. Always trying to scare her away, she decided.
“I’m trying to do as you wish and live without regret – if you’ll permit it,” She snarked back to him evenly and a smirk bled onto his face at the reply. The scariest part about him was how her body reacted like a rising sun, coming alive and heating with a simple glance or brush. It was if she was a cold, lifeless corpse until he was around and then life would fizz and snap through her veins and her body would want for things more delicious and more forbidden than food or sleep. How many times had she lay in her bed after sundown, thinking of him and thinking of his ferocity – only set aside so he could fall upon her and touch her. She would think these thoughts and imagine their acts and visualize his glittering gaze until the void between her legs positively hurt.
“The husband you fed to his pets was prettier than I. My face is a regret,” Clegane all but hissed at her and Sansa couldn’t help but roll her eyes, a reaction that had him invade her space once again with a hard look.
“I’m sorry I’m not your happiness but I’d like for you to stop denying me mine,” Sansa retorted succinctly and he snorted derisively. Sansa lifted her head, making sure he saw the look she cast at his mouth before offering him her sharp gaze. He glowered at her, on to her tactics.
“You’re not my happiness, you’re my weakness. I didn’t leave the Isle after losing my helm and wind up in the North for the weather. I always...,” He trailed off almost miserably, his jaw flexing in anger as he forced himself to stop talking but Sansa had already picked up the meaning. Her heart was already pounding in her chest, breathing hitched with victory.
“You always find me,” She finished for him in a whisper.
Sad, dog-like eyes flicked to hers for a moment before he gave two short nods, confirming her statement. Sansa inhaled sharply and offered him her own secret in return.
“Somehow, I compare all men to you.”
“Sandor -,” She started in exasperation but was cut off as he moved his mouth against hers, sealing her words with his lips. Sansa tried to kiss him back, startled by the new energy he poured into the contact as he all but consumed her – sucking her lower lip, nibbling her top lip, flicking his tongue against her lips as she had done to him. When she opened her mouth, he invaded it and what started as a slow, languid exploration quickly escalated into a war of fused mouths and fencing tongues. Sansa’s hands found their way into his hair and it was surprisingly thin and soft. His paws grabbed her hips and pulled her lower body flush with a lustful grunt. She used her grip on his hair to tug him harder against her and pressed her chest up together with his as she felt his hands begin to roam – smoothing over the swell of her skirts around her hips, finding the curve of her bottom through the fabrics, running up her torso and ribs. She whimpered in anticipation as his fingers moved over the thick leather on her bodice towards her breasts. She could feel the pressure as he moved his hands over them and wished she were bare. Her fingers abandoned his hair to fall down his chest and snake into his cloak - pulling and tugging daintily here and there until she felt give and the material of his tunic bunched upwards.
She grabbed and pulled sharply, the tunic coming free of the front of his britches under his furs. She soaked her hand over the hard pane of his lower abdomen and sucked gently on his tongue. His reaction was like dragonfire in her belly as he groaned into her mouth.
She felt his hand grab at her outer thigh and was confused until he hiked the material of her skirts to her knee and understanding flooded her. She breathed a shaky breath as she was rocked with understanding; he genuinely meant to take her right then and she wanted him to. She wanted him to crush her against this pole as he explored her, she wanted him to helplessly fight her skirts to run his large hand up her covered thigh, she absolutely wanted and whimpered for his fingers as he worked his way into her smallclothes. H e struggled with the dainty silk laces at the front and paused, releasing her mouth to curse between clenched teeth. Sansa let out a breathless laugh that was cut off with a sharp gasp as the overloud sound of silk ripping was heard.
“Those are expensive,” She complained softly.
“They’re in my way,” He rumbled in reply before overwhelming her again with a kiss as he pushed his hand between her legs. A thick finger traced the curls of her slit before burrowing between her lips and both of them groaned as he reveled in the wetness that soaked over his knuckles. The tip of his finger teased her opening and Sansa struggled with the rushing in her body that was increasingly loud and demanding more, demanding it faster and wishing for it harder. She felt like a boat that had come loose from its moorings and was spinning aimlessly in the chop.
The hand on his stomach coursed down, pushing past his britches and easily finding the scorching heat of his arousal. When her fingers encircled his shaft, she found it turgid and urgently pressing downwards against the fabric covering it. He felt like the softest of ermine furs wrapped around the hilt of a sword with a nest of coarse hair – her fingertips did not touch around his girth but she relished in the ruined groaned that tore from his throat as she gave him an experimental tug. A pulse of need coursed through her while she worked him more, as he was larger than anything she’d experienced before. It stood to reason, he was a much larger man overall and the query if she’d be able to fit him - take all of him at once - scorched her already raw nerves. She broke away as he touched her clit, mouth open as she breathlessly whined through his attentions.
When he dipped one and then two fingers into her Sansa keened at the pressure – the drag of his coarse digits sent spangles of sparks shooting through her, especially as he pulled the fingers out and then slowly pushed them back in to the same effect. He was watching her face with the same seriousness he’d been giving saddling the horse. The same animal that had now irritably moved as far away from them as the open space allowed. She bit her lower lip to keep from moaning in his face, even as she ground her hips down on his hand like a cat in heat.
“Last chance,” He told her raggedly, voice cobbled together by lust and determination. Sansa met his eyes drunkenly, lids heavy and abandonment the last thing on her mind. Instead, she offered him a feral grin that made his already dark eyes deepen to twin chips that focused solely on her.
“You won’t take yes for an answer where other men won’t take no,” Sansa accused with a small smile and was rewarded with a drawn-out groan as she wiggled against his hand again. He uttered a low growl and gathered her against him. Sansa squeaked as her feet left the ground and her arms scrambled for safety around his neck, pillowing her rigidly protected breasts against his clavicles. He pressed her newly elevated body against the pole and Sansa moaned as he angled his head and she felt teeth scrape her neck just under her ear.
She wrapped her bent leg around his waist, like she’d seen of a tryst between a scullery maid and a stable boy when she was younger.
Sandor’s hand found her knee and followed the line of her thigh up, cupping and grasping the flesh of her rear. Reluctantly, she lifted her other leg and wrapped it tightly as she pulled him closer to her. He leaned forward and claimed her in a rough kiss, pressing his upper body against hers with crushing pressure as he moved his hips back and his free hand struggled with the front of his britches. After some minor work due to the volume of her skirts, he grunted in satisfaction and his hips returned between her legs, now bare. His cock pressed coyly against the closed lips of her sex and they both breathed the same air in trepidation as they blindly kissed and struggled to touch more of one another. Sansa was beyond her station in life, free of the confines of her duty and lost in her open want - how close she was to filling the needy ache in her only deepened it to nearly hysterical levels. Half of the frenzy, half of the arousal, was that this was the first time she truly wasn’t afraid. It was the first time she wanted to touch someone else more than she didn’t want to be touched. More than she wanted anything.
“It’s okay, it’s okay. Please?” She whispered to him mindlessly. She touched his face and kissed his nose and his cheeks and pressed more chaste kisses to his lips as he held her against him and breathed like a lathered horse at the end of a joust. Her whispered words were like the chant of little spells leading him to give into her and when her mouth went to his, she was unprepared. He lifted his face and met her eyes as he lifted her slightly, her back was pressed deeper into the pole and he stilled as he lined himself up. Then, he kissed her deeply and Sansa sank onto him as if her body had been built for his, merging them both as they shared a groan.
His large forearm moved between them and barred her chest, applying lifting pressure and Sansa’s small fingers went to the hand that he wrapped around her throat as he held her to the pole and started to move. His other hand was under her, fingers dug deeply in the flesh of her bottom and thigh even as he angled himself so he could move faster. His face was a shifting shadow of lust and awe looking up at her - his lips were hilariously kiss stung, hair mussed over his scars and eyes darker than coal. He filled her so wonderfully, stretching and pressing on a place in her that had long been ignored.
His pace was reckless, wild and savage. Her legs clamped around his waist did nothing to slow the snap of his hips once he got moving and she didn’t want him to anyway – the pleasure that his movements were bringing overrode any other signal she was getting. They were a cosmic joke, millimeters apart like this, with his hand on her throat and arm pressing her chest tightly to hold her body as he took his pleasure in her. Her white legs wrapped around him, stockings newly ripped free of their buttons and bunched around her ankles. The way he fucked her with violent precision was a complete contrast to the way he gazed into her face with the love and desire she’d always imagined he would.
The hand around her neck tightened and restricted her breathing and for a moment Sansa could have panicked but something clicked, trusted, and instead she felt herself loving it. The surrender to his hands, to the violence, to the sheer brutality he’d always tried to scare her with made her dizzy. She could still breathe but it was a battle under his grip, strong fingers warm and purposeful around her throat. The plate of his palm pressed deeper as he fucked her harder and the pleasure in her brain sharpened as he moved. It felt like the world narrowed and fell away and the feeling of him pressing up into her and the drag as he pulled out was louder, bigger and brighter in her head. There was an anticipatory swoop in her stomach like when she missed a step in the dark that heightened the clench of pleasure clawing it way up her back.
A garbled noise fell out of her mouth and Sandor’s hand suddenly loosened as he went to pull it away in alarm. Sansa grabbed it, pulling it back to her and pressing it harshly against her neck even as he slowed his thrusts and was looking at her with confusion.
“Keep going,” She gasped raggedly and dragged his hand back, smiling as he replaced the pressure and picked up the pace again.
“Stranger fucking take me, choking Sansa Stark,” He cursed her as she sighed again and writhed against him. She loved his power, loved his passion, loved it was never used to hurt her. His fear of hurting her drove her closer to the edge, drove her closer to the raw feeling of safety burning in her chest. The less air she had, the more sharply she felt it until she was nearly blind with pleasure and every thrust was driving her closer to her goal. It all built into a crescendo of colours and flashes until it felt like a soap bubble popped and she seized, her mind going white. His name, drawn out and plaintive, fell from her lips on a moan as she shuddered and shook around him.
He slowed down and released her throat but didn’t stop moving, even as she shook and let out a shrill cry at the continued stimulation. The gush of wetness between them just drove him a little madder, drove the reality of the situation home a little harder, made this being one of the most important acts of his life more special and he clamped both his hands under her ass to drive into her with reckless abandon. How much she wanted him, infuriated him, trusted him and was willing to release him mauled his brain and understanding of the world. He fucked her, tight and hot and wet and willing, with the astonished admiration he never thought he’d reveal. Her face, pink and sweaty and smiling at him only drove him higher. Her fingers sliding into his hair, pulling his scalp and massaging his head, drove him higher. His name on her tongue, honeyed and dripping with desire, drove him higher.
His peak caused his muscles to thicken and fill with iron – he froze as his pleasure exploded behind his eyes and there was a strained moment of clenched teeth before his forehead dropped to her shoulder and he groaned her name once, singular and final.
There was a brief agonized pause as they breathed, still wrapped around one another. His arms started to shake and reluctantly, he lowered Sansa until he felt her legs release him. His cock slid free of her body as her feet touched the ground and her arms slipped from their loop on his neck, trailing forgotten to brace on his chest as they rested for a moment. Sansa’s head fell forwards and obscured her face from his by pressing it into his chest.
“Did I hurt you?” He asked finally, remembering how much force he’d used on her little neck. The head on his chest rocked side to side, no. Then she stood, her face grave and anguished for a brief moment before she mustered a mask forth.
“No. You did the – the true opposite. Thank-you,” Sansa told him wetly, biting her lips together as soon as she forced it out. Her eyes stung sharply as she tried to suppress the sudden sweep of sadness that flooded her.
He was leaving.
Something inside her, deeper than any part touched by man, knew it was the last time. This miracle she thought dead before was truly, honestly leaving. He was going to face the one thing in Westeros she believed was capable of killing him, short of a dragon.
He looked back at her, watching the play of emotions on her face with the deadset of a soldier looking into battle. She forced herself to blink, forced herself to inhale and straighten her highly abused skirts. She ignored the soak of fluids between her thighs.
“I told you -,” He began and she held up her hand as she pressed past him and stepped away. Habitually she brushed her hands over herself, fixing any loose parts and putting any stray hair away as she made a sharp inhale said, “Good hunting.”
Sandor watched her warily, meeting her eyes as he nodded once and slowly, he stepped away. She waited a beat, watching him intently as her face flickered and she broke.
“Please?” She sobbed once as she lifted the join of her wrist to her mouth with a surprised gasp. How close the seams were to undoing scared her and large tear fell from her left eye. She watched him inhale slowly, watched his eyes shimmer with sadness before he cleared his throat and shook his head, a dog freeing itself of water.
Sansa nodded once again and took a long, steadying breath. She glanced at him again before she came to a compromise.
“Should you live -,” She started haltingly and he took a single step towards her, hand reaching for her. Without meaning to, a fleeting smile flit to her face at the hope she saw on his.
“I’ll be at the gates in three months.”
“Should...should you live.”
“Should I live,” He echoed as he held her gaze, even as it swam with tears. She nodded three times and absently, automatically, gave him a curtsey before she turned on the spot and drifted away. She couldn’t look back, held in her chest as frozen as she was and she wandered like a lost ghost towards the stable door and let herself out.
The frigid Northern air did nothing to clear her head – in fact, the oppressive cold just made her starkly aware of the heat and warmth and passion she’d just left. She gnawed on the fragile skin of her lower lip as she walked away and felt the sorrow of a true widow – the woman who lost the life of the man she loved. She wanted to crack open, she wanted to fall apart but the reality was his heart still beat.
She knew she’d tell herself, every day and every moon – his heart still beats.
Even when it wouldn’t. Even when in truth, his heart would stop – stabbed or scorched or crushed or poisoned – eventually there would be a day or a night where she told herself that his heart still beat and it would be a lie. It would be still and Sandor would become something remembered in her heart.
She ought to be thankful, with the bruises she felt blossoming on her neck and bottom, that she could memorize the feel of him on her body. She could try to remember the smell - she would always have the memory.
Woodenly, Sansa tugged open the heavy metal and wood shaft door to the Lord’s Tower – hidden behind thick, never trimmed shrubs. It creaked open ominously and she stepped in, barring it behind her. Then, she crumbled.
Her knees let out and she found herself on the floor, hands braced on the door she’d just latched shut. Her body convulsed and she found herself gasping as loud, wet sobs racked her body. She gave in and she let herself cry, mouth open as if she’d been struck and eyes screwed shut so tightly it was a wonder so many tears poured forth. The cries of agony faded into long, shaking sobs even as she tried to move away from the door and threw herself down on the stairs. There, she curled onto her lap as much as her bodice would let her and buried her face in her hands.
She felt lost and cast aside, once again betrayed by the Gods she prayed to – new and old. How they could steal such a prize from her, how the world could just be so horrible that she was never going to be enough to stop the men she loved from dying and the men she hated from hurting her and her people.
It was when she leaned to her right, leaning into the shoulder of the person sitting beside her that she realized she wasn’t alone. It was the bony shoulder of her sister that found her in the darkness and held her fast, not commenting or moving. It was there she was finally held by a family member, sobbing her pain openly into the void of the world.
Eventually, she stifled herself. Wiping her face and doing her best to control her breathing she sat up and finished cleaning herself up hastily.
“Sorry,” Sansa muttered blankly and Arya said nothing in the darkness. The torches weren’t lit here as it required servants to know about it. Sansa sniffed loudly and glared into nothing above her as she steeled herself.
“I’m going with him,” Arya told her plainly and with a lousy exhale Sansa nodded to no one in the darkness, eyes puffy with defeat and sadness. How painfully typical, she thought.
“Were you -,” Sansa began before her sister cut her off sharply.
“- No. I saw him go; saw you follow. Made myself interested in the North Tower for a bit and then – this,” Arya told her with a hint of sadness, shards of pity that Sansa closed her eyes against and sniffed loudly.
“Go on then or you’ll have to ride hard to catch him. Hardly becoming of an assassin,” Sansa told her, the last bit coming out a little more bitter than she intended. Arya got up, moving to the door. The scream of the cold metal in the latch sounded but the door didn’t open as the smaller Stark hesitated.
“He loves you, you know. Has since Kings Landing.”
“It’s not enough,” Sansa found herself moaning with fresh tears, the wound open and gaping and sore. Half-heartedly, she wiped them away and the door was opened and she could finally see the drawn, serious face of her younger sister. Arya nodded, steeling herself as she went to go out the door.
“Arya,” Sansa stopped her and waited for her to turn and meet her eyes, “Listen to him, when he needs you to. If you die in front of him - he will be lost. He will die, needlessly. He’ll give up. Please. For me.”
She gazed back at Sansa for a long moment before she nodded once and with a loud screech, the door was banged shut and the weak morning light from outside disappeared. Sansa was plunged into darkness again and she waited for a moment, letting the shock of the finality settle in the air before she struggled to her feet.
Numbly, she braced herself on the wall and staggered up the stairs, hurrying and lifting her skirts the higher she went. By the time she pushed open the door behind a tapestry in the hallway outside the Lord’s chambers, she was in a full run.
She unceremoniously threw open one of the double doors to her quarters and swept into the room, going to the window she’d let the raven out earlier. The morning was crisp and bright, with an easy robin's egg blue sky streaked with pink and wispy, fleeting clouds. As she threw open the window, she spied them. Sandor’s horse in the distance, dark and tall and followed at a short clip by a swiftly moving Arya. She’d catch up with him long before they were out of view of Winterfell. Much to Sandor’s annoyance, Sansa guessed.
Weakly, she sat on the sill and leaned her head on the lead frame as she stared at their shrinking miniatures. If she cried, her tears would blur the view and the last movements she could see.
When they were gone, the window was shut. Her cloak was dropped over the back of a chair. She barely managed but eventually the hard shell and bulk of her lovely black gown puddled around long legs. She stepped out of the dress, her boots, her freely dangling stockings. In her shift and ripped, wet smallclothes she crawled under the furs of her bed and forced herself to settle as she stared blankly at the stone ceiling above her.
As much as she hated to admit it, she wasn’t above this. She wasn’t above feeling the gravity of the emptiness she was experiencing now – this is her fairytale, always had been. A step in the story that she wanted and enjoyed and would look back on with love when it wasn’t so painful but right now, she felt as if her heart had been torn from her chest.
She let herself fall to tears, cries and sobs.
Despite all the pain inflicted onto her over her life, the agonies she’d endured, this was different. This was a combination of pains, worsened by fondness and tenderness and hope. She knew there was only more troubles ahead, knew dark clouds loomed and knew even if she survived any further storms – he wouldn’t be there. He’d been there and seen it all – the monsters, the magic, the courts – but he’d not be there for anything else. There would never be a happiness that wasn’t coloured by a shadow with wide shoulders, piercing dark eyes and a grating, rasping tenor. Never would there be someone so dedicated to her - and to leaving her.
Never had she felt so broken in.