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Stark Reflections

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Sansa rooted through her backpack looking for her brush. She couldn't believe how good she felt. Before the bath, her skin had been itchy and dry from the dust and dirt clogging her pores. Her hair had gotten stringy and matted. Luckily she had the forethought to fill the rinsing pitcher with water before she started sponge-bathing herself. The water had turned filthy and murky almost immediately. Now, she felt fresh and clean and was comfortable in her new-to-me jogging pants and t-shirt. Sandor had done a good job picking them out. The clothes fit perfectly. She could have worn her own t-shirt, but she wanted Sandor to know that she appreciated his thoughtfulness.

And by the way, what was up with him? Since he'd brought her back out to the main room, he'd been even grumpier than normal. He wouldn't look at her and had snapped at her every time he opened his mouth. She had never meant to imply that he was a hick, certainly didn't think that of him. He had an amazing home, seemed to live very comfortably, and obviously worked very hard. She realized it took a lot of effort to maintain a place like this, especially with no electricity. And he had crops and animals to look after on top of that.

Sansa finally located her brush and began long straight strokes on her thick red hair. Once she'd got her hair untangled, she gripped her hands down the length of it, squeezing out the excess water which dripped onto the floor. She was distracted momentarily when Sandor snorted, grabbed a small wicker basket and left the cabin, slamming the door behind him.

"Now what did I do?" she asked the empty room.

With nothing else to do but sit and wait, Sansa pulled a pocket novel out of her pack and tried reading. A short time later, Sandor came inside with a basket full of eggs and vegetables. He looked at her, mumbled something under his breath that she probably didn't want to hear anyway, and set to work washing and cutting the veggies.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" she asked.

"No."

"I could cut up the peppers," Sansa offered.

"I'm fine."

Sansa was uncomfortable. It made her uneasy when people were angry with her. One of her many faults was always trying to make other people like her. She had gone too far in bending herself to make everyone else happy. That was how she had ended up with Joffrey and Ramsay.

"So ... " Sansa felt like a fool. She always knew what to say. Now she was totally blank. "Bootlegging must be pretty lucrative for you, I guess?" she finally blurted.

"I'm not a bootlegger. My friend is a bootlegger but I'm not. I do other work. The money I get from the shine is just a little extra pocket change. I do it mostly as a favor."

Sansa felt relieved. At least he was speaking to her. "So then what do you do?"

"I read. A lot."

"Reading isn't a job," Sansa said hesitantly.

Sandor turned around and glared at her. "Isn't it?" He turned back to the cutting board and swept the diced vegetables into a skillet. When they were softened, he added onions and seasoning. Sansa watched with rapt curiosity. She was amazed at how adept he was in the kitchen. No man she'd ever had in her life had known his way around a kitchen like Sandor seemed to. While the veggies were simmering, Sandor cracked eggs into a big glass measuring cup and whipped them. He added some white powder and water then poured the mix into the skillet.

"Do you think you can sit at the table?" Sandor asked.

Sansa nodded. "I think so."

As a matter of fact, she was quite comfortable with her bad leg stretched out under the table. Her side reminded her that she was still in a lot of pain, but she was doing pretty well all considered. It felt good to be sitting upright again.

"Thanks for the clothes," she said. "They fit really well."

Sandor nodded at the skillet in front of him never turning to acknowledge her. "You're welcome."

"And I feel a lot better since that bath."

"You smell better, too," he added. Sandor dished out the eggs and vegetables and grated some hard cheese over the two plates. He handed one to Sansa and sat down across from her. Sandor had made a Western omelet. It smelled delicious and tasted even better.

They began to eat in silence, when Sansa remembered something she wanted to tell him. She carefully leaned down beside her and pulled her backpack up next to her. From a pocket in front, she pulled out her cell phone. "I almost forgot to tell you. I found my phone. It survived, but I can't get a signal."

"And you won't," Sandor advised. "Not up here."

"Oh." Sansa was dejected. She was hoping she could at least let her mother know what had happened and that she was okay. She still didn't need to be back to work for a while, so that was fine, but she didn't want her mother to start wondering why she hadn't heard from Sansa recently. Sansa turned to put the phone back where she'd stored it in her pack. Sandor leaned far over the table.

"Is that where you kept your phone?" he asked.

Sansa nodded. "Yes, why?"

Sandor got up and came around the table. From right next to the pocket where she'd just stashed her phone, Sandor unclipped her compass. Then he took her phone from its neighboring pocket. He held the two items together in front of her, then slowly moved them apart. The needle on the compass changed direction. When he moved them closer together again, the compass needle swung the other way.

"You do realize that a cell phone emits an electromagnetic field, don't you?" Sandor shook his head. "Seasoned hiker, eh?" He set the items down on the table and went back to his meal. "You weren't walking north, you were walking east."

Suddenly, Sansa didn't feel so good. Her stomach lurched as the blood drained from her face. She pushed her plate of half-eaten food away. Just the smell of it was making her want to gag. She never should have done this trip - not alone. She'd been a fool to even try it. What had she even been thinking? That she could walk through the wilderness for hundreds of miles on her own?

Sansa bit her bottom lip to keep it from trembling but the corners of her mouth pulled down against her will. Her eyes bleared, but she didn't dare blink because she knew that if she did, the tears would spill. She did not want to cry in front of Sandor Clegane. He already thought she was a spoiled princess. What would he think if she started blubbering like a baby?

When her eyes began to sting, she had no choice but to give in or go blind. Sansa blinked and the tears flooded down her cheeks.

"Ahh, Christ," Sandor muttered. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it."

Sansa shook her head. "I should have known better than to do this. You were right. I had no business traipsing through the mountains by myself."

"Yeah, well, I shouldn't have said that. I didn't know you."

"But you were right. I nearly got myself killed." New waves of sobbing overwhelmed her. "I walked in the wrong direction for a hundred miles, I almost died, nothing I ever do is any good, and I always end up with men who hate me." Sansa buried her face in her hands and wept. "Now you hate me."

"That's enough, damnit," Sandor bellowed hammering his fist on the table. Sansa jumped at the sound as all the dishes on the table leaped into the air. Sandor shoved out of his chair and came around the table. "This isn't a fucking pity party!"

He grabbed Sansa by the shoulders. "Anyone could have made that mistake. You think you're the first hiker who's done that? It happens all the time. And not just anyone can decide to walk the Pacific Crest Trail. You had the courage to try and do it alone. Then, you fell down the side of a mountain and came out of it with only a dislocated knee, a sprained wrist, and a bad cut."

"Only because you dug me out of the mud. Otherwise I'd be dead. Isn't that what you told me?"

"Do you ever just shut up and listen?" he yelled. "You're only 27 and you're practically a surgeon. You sewed up your own rib cage without anesthetic." Sandor showed her a tiny scar on the back of his hand of about two inches long. "I had to do my own stitches once and I made myself cry." He waved the back of his fist in front of her for emphasis. "For this!" Then he pointed to the wound on her side. "You barely let out a whimper. And for 42 stitches!"

Sandor took a deep breath and put his hand on the back of her neck. A wave of heat washed through him. Her smooth, clean hair brushed against the back of his hand. It did feel like silk. "I don't hate you. I just don't like self-pity."

Sansa was stunned. She had no idea what to say. She barely knew Sandor Clegane, but in one moment he had somehow changed the way she felt about herself. Sansa realized that she had no right to complain about her life. Not when she was sitting across from a man who had lost half his face and lived on the side of a mountain without power or running water. She dried her tears and tried to compose herself.

As Sandor sat back in his chair, Sansa felt the atmosphere change between them. She wondered what Sandor Clegane thought of her now. She'd gone from pampered princess to blubbering baby in less than six hours. Sandor didn't really seem angry with her, he didn't appear to be disappointed in her. But the way he was looking at her. It was as though he was trying to figure something out - like when you're playing chess and trying to decide on your next move. Was that what it was? No. There was something else. She could feel it and it mystified her.

Sandor went back to his meal and continued eating. He suddenly understood now why he'd been so angry and bitter towards Sansa Stark. He was bitter because he knew she would have to leave. Soon. He could not allow her to stay here much longer. That little girl had no place on his mountain.

Sandor gave a barely perceptible toss of his head. No, he reminded himself. Clearly, she's no little girl. His heart pounded as he realized that he'd never really thought of her as a little girl. He'd been trying to deny it, but he had no choice but to admit it to himself. He thought of her as a woman.

In the morning, he would start working on clearing the road. As soon as she could get mobile enough, he would take her into Leeston and be rid of her.

Why damnit? Sandor was disappointed with himself. Oh God, why had he touched her hair?