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Stark Reflections

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Sansa sat on a large boulder as she shrugged off her heavy backpack. Over the past weeks, she'd become accustomed to the weight of it. Sansa never dreamed that she'd make it this far, and yet, here she was, somewhere near the California-Oregon border on the Pacific Crest Trail. She took a deep breath and admired the scenery around her. This was about as wild as the wilderness got. In every direction was thick lush forest as far as the eye could see. Her resting spot was on a bluff overlooking a steep slope to a crystalline lake below. To call it breath-taking was an understatement.

Sansa had learned a lot on her first ever solo backpacking expedition. She'd been hiking and backpacking with friends before, but this time she had needed to be alone, relying only on herself for survival. Too much of her life had been spent relying on others - family and friends - to help her through every little difficult spot she'd gotten herself into, which had been often. It had been her own decision to take a stab at life the hard way. Sansa had no problem admitting to the realization that she been spoiled and pampered most of her life. It had been hard at first, but she was getting the hang of it.

The trip had, admittedly, knocked her down a few pegs. Maybe that's what she needed. Sansa had been raised in a white upper-middle class family of highly educated professionals. She'd been taught that she was better than everyone else - she had the attitude and the wardrobe to prove it.  But for all the money and privileged lifestyle she had experienced, humility was a lesson not taught to her by her parents. And it was a lesson that had come too late in her life.

It was that same superior attitude that had gotten her father killed. Sansa's father, Ned, had been naive in thinking that he could wander into just any old neighborhood simply because he was a doctor. When he happened across a beaten woman, he had attempted to help, but it had all been a ruse to rob him. He had been stabbed only once, but that was all it took and then he was gone.

Since the death of their father, the remaining Stark family had been thrown on its ass as their world seemed to change before them in the blink of an eye. Ned's body was barely cold in the ground when Catelyn kicked Jon out of the house.

Jon had been the product of an affair for which Catelyn had never forgiven her husband. Reluctantly, she had agreed to allow the child to be raised in their home, but refused to be responsible for him in any way. Even as he proved himself to be a worthy human being as he got older, Catelyn had no love for Ned's illegitimate son. With her husband gone, Catelyn let her true feelings take over and told Jon to leave. Now, Jon was in Alaska working the oil fields.

Angry with his mother for breaking up the family and ousting the half-brother he'd been so close to, Rob rebelled by joining the Marines and was now stationed in Iraq. With Rob gone, Theon had nowhere to go and no longer felt welcome in the Stark home, especially with all the family drama that was going on. Theon and Rob had been best friends. Theon had come from a family of drunks and drug users, so Catelyn and Ned had welcomed the boy from the broken home into their own household and raised him as if he was one of their own. But with Rob and Ned both gone from his life, Theon fell into the patterns of his own family. Sansa had a vague idea of where he was, probably living under a bridge somewhere in Chicago.

And then, when things had finally started to settle down again, Arya decided to come out of the closet. The night she decided to inform Catelyn that she was a lesbian and introduced the family to her girlfriend had been an absolute disaster. With Arya and Catelyn at each other's throats, Arya threw herself into her love of sailing and was now somewhere in the South Pacific exploring the world from the sea. Arya and Sansa had never been that close, but now she missed her little sister dearly.

Through all of it, Sansa was the last of the good little Stark children. Until she met Joffrey. She had been so naive, holier-than-thou, and self-centered, that she when she finally discovered just what kind of person he really was, she left him, and the state, and fled to Seattle. She threw herself into her studies at medical school. After that, she did her residency at Grey-Sloane Memorial. It was there that she met her Doctor McDreamy, Ramsay Bolton. He had turned out the be the world's most sadistic bastard, but by the time she had realized it, it had been too late.

The cherry on the sundae was that she was currently a third year resident and she still hadn't chosen her specialty. Catelyn had been calling, wanting to know about her latest boyfriend, how she was doing at work, and how she'd done on her medical exams. Sansa was so filled with shame at the state of her affairs that she couldn't face her family. She constantly ignored calls and text messages from her brothers and sister. She answered only occasionally just so they'd know she was still alive. 

Sansa had needed to take this trip. Perhaps it was to prove to herself that she was worth something. Maybe she needed to discover her own inner strength. As she looked down at her trail map, she wasn't so sure she had it in her to keep going. She edged a dirty and ragged, unpolished fingernail along a squiggly line and gazed about her for some sort of landmark to get her bearings.

"I think I'm in Oregon now," she muttered to herself. But really, she had no idea. She was completely lost.

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Sansa pulled back the tent flap and looked up into the clear pristine sky. The air was crisp and fresh leaving her with a drugged feeling that she'd become used to since her first days on the trail. The constant exercise and pure clean air resulted in deep refreshing slumber like she'd never experienced in her life. However, trying to wake up in the mornings was the consequence she'd learned to live with.

After a quick breakfast of instant oatmeal and tea, Sansa packed up her pup tent and repacked her gear. Before heading out, she checked her trail map one last time and tried setting up her direction with her compass. She was on a trail, at least, but didn't know if it was the right one. Trails crissed and crossed all over the Pacific coast region. Some trails were easily marked and well-defined. Others were faded and grown over with weeds and grass. The trail she was currently following had been well traversed and definitve, so she felt at least a small measure of confidence in continuing to follow it. Sansa knew she needed to head north and this trail had to lead somewhere so ...

With a deep breath, Sansa pushed the panic away and reminded herself that at some point, she would come across a road, a highway or some sort of hint at civilization. She packed away the map, clipped the compass to her pack and began walking with the sun on her right side.

By noon, Sansa had become worn out from the nearly constant uphill climb. On other days, she had walked easily for eight or more hours, but mostly on flat or rolling ground. Today, she felt like she was climbing a mountain. She checked her compass to get her bearings and confirmed that she was still heading due north. When a shadow fell over her, she turned her head upwards to watch steely grey thunderheads rolling across the sky. It was a stark change from the weather earlier in the day.

After a brief rest to catch her breath, Sansa tried to get it in gear and walk a little faster. At the moment, she was on a bald mountain pate that consisted mostly of rocky granite with very little soil and few trees. She needed to get to the downslope where there would be more forest growth for shelter from the wind and the rain. She could feel a storm coming.

Unfortunately, it came faster than she was expecting. Before making the top of the rise, Sansa felt the first fat stinging drops hit her face and pelting the ground like mini water bombs. She began to jog lightly, finally having found the rise and knowing (hoping) that there was forest below on the other side. Going downhill would be much easier and far less effort than her morning climb had been. What she didn't count for was that the storm had been blocked from passing by the mountain itself. As she crested the rise, Sansa looked down to stare into the worst of the storm.

Still feeling as though it would be better to be down the hill and sheltered, Sansa began her descent.

After such a long journey, Sansa had learned a lot about hiking, climbing, and safety in the wilderness. She had learned that granite is slippery when wet. So as she started down the rocky slope with less care than she knew she should take, she was either driven by the idea of shelter, or she just wasn't paying attention. Maybe both. The rain started coming in torrents that drenched both her and her gear, weighing her down and making her dangerously unstable. She anxiously picked her way down from the top of one boulder to the dirt pack between them, then to the next boulder. Suddenly, the dirt pack disappeared from under her feet as it was washed away by a river spawned from the streaming heavens. In an instant, all trace of Sansa had disappeared from the trail.

Sansa found herself at the whim of the landscape as she was washed down the mountainside with rain, dirt, rocks, branches, leaves, and all manner of organic debris. Thrown about like a rag doll, she could feel the dirt and rock abrading her skin as the rough terrain attempted to twist and break her as she descended. Sansa curled herself into a ball to keep her arms and legs from getting caught, wrenched, or broken, but as her body bounced over rocks and tree roots, her head whiplashed on her neck. She closed her eyes and prayed as she hurtled to the bottom of the valley.

As the dam of mud and debris formed at the bottom, Sansa found herself thrown into a deep wall of muck that clung to her. She gasped and clawed with futility as the heavy landwash dragged her down. Her vision darkened at the edges, the air being squeezed out of her like a deflating balloon. As the last pinpricks of light disappeared from sight, Sansa struggled to thrust a hand toward the sky. The last thing she remembered was feeling the cool rain on the back of her hand.

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Sandor Clegane didn't know what to make of the young girl who was sleeping in his bed. He sat across the room and watched her. Her eyes twitched as she moaned and shuddered. She'd been like that for nearly 18 hours now. If she didn't wake up soon, Sandor knew he'd have to get her into town - to a doctor or to someone else who could get her to a doctor. Thing is, he hated going anywhere near town, especially in daylight.

The large, rough man turned back to his work on the table. He had caught two wild turkeys and four rabbits the day before the storm. The turkeys were awaiting their fate in a hastily constructed pen in the barn behind the cabin, and the rabbits had made a nice stew. Now he was cleaning the rabbit skins. He wasn't sure what he was going to use them for just yet, but he wasn't one to waste anything.

The girl moaned again. Sandor looked over to see her brow crease with some unpleasant thought. He wondered who she was, how old she was, where she'd come from, and why she was here. He easily could have gone through her pack to find out, but it was best not to violate her privacy unless he absolutely had to. Gaining her trust was going to be hard enough when she finally decided to open her eyes and got her first look at him.

"I don't need this bullshit," he grumbled to himself. Perhaps it was best he waited until dark and took her down to the Doc's place. He could be rid of her without any confrontation and she'd be better off. The only reason he hadn't done that yet was because of her injuries. A deep gash on her side, from under her right arm to the top of her hip, probably needed stitches or he risked the chance of accidentally opening her wound again if he tried to move her. Although it wasn't broken, he had made a splint for her left wrist - probably just a sprain. The worst injury the girl had sustained was a dislocated knee. It hadn't been badly dislocated so Sandor had managed to use a manipulation technique to relocate the patella, but the girl would still feel a lot of discomfort when she woke up. Not to mention the fact that she'd have limited use of the leg for a few weeks at least.

The rest of the girl's injuries were minor by comparison - cuts, scrapes, and bruises. She'd been extremely lucky. If Sandor hadn't come along at exactly the right moment ... He shook his head and tried to focus on the work in front of him. Until she could tell him how she felt or about any pain she had that might be internal, Sandor just didn't want to risk moving her.

It was getting dark and Sandor reluctantly admitted that he'd have to go into town. He could use some more bandages and ointment for the girl's cuts. He would pick up some dry goods now that he had an extra mouth to feed, and maybe stop and have a chat with the Doc, just as a precaution.

Before he left, Sandor made sure everything was in order in case she woke up while he was gone. As he leaned over her to check her pulse and her breathing, the corners of her mouth rose slightly. It wasn't quite a smile, but he couldn't deny how beautiful it made her look. Despite how filthy she still was - caked with dirt - he could see that she was one of those naturally beautiful women. If she wore makeup she certainly didn't need to. The girl had high cheekbones and a rosy flush. Her skin was pale and delicate, but he supposed it was because she was a natural redhead. Redheads were always very fair skinned, weren't they?

He had cleaned her up as best he could without violating her privacy. Sandor had washed her face and combed her hair, picking out chunks of mud and debris. He'd loved the feel of her thick, wavy hair and imagined that after it was washed, it would probably feel like silk. Hard as it was to control his curiosity, he'd never even considered removing her clothes although the mud and rocks had gotten inside her shirt and pants, causing rips and tears, but he'd done the best he could getting her cleaned up. She'd have to do the rest herself.

Sandor leaned over and brushed a wayward strand of hair that was caught in her long dark eyelashes. He stood straight, took a deep breath and made a mental note to pick up a shirt and pair of pants for her as well. The girl moaned softly again as Sandor left the cabin and locked the door behind him.

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The first thing Sansa remembered thinking before she woke up, was that her eyelids hurt. How was that even possible? How could a person's eyelids hurt? But they did. Of course, that was before she became conscious enough to know that everything hurt. As a matter of fact, it felt like her entire body was in some sort of compression suit, being squeezed like a vise. She tried to take a breath, but it felt like the world's largest cat was sitting on her chest, digging its claws into her skin. Needles of pain shot through her as she struggled to suck air into her lungs.

"Screw this," she thought. "I'll just deal with the eyelids first." Sansa fluttered her lids, wincing at the pain. Her vision was bleary from the water gushing over her stinging eyes. She blinked rapidly, ignoring the excruciating scratch of sandpaper over the surface of her eyeballs. Sansa could feel the tears dripping down her face as she tried to force her eyes open. After a few long moments, she began to see hazy colors that became sharper and more defined the more she blinked.

With the return of her sight, Sansa became aware that she wasn't feeling so muddled in her head. She hadn't even realized that her mind had been cloudy until she came completely awake. Sansa relaxed and took a few deep breaths. It was about her fourth good lungful of air that she realized her chest felt freer and didn't hurt nearly as much. With some of her strength coming back, Sansa was able to prop herself up and have her first look around. As she did, her knee and the right side of her ribcage screamed in unison.  She lay back down and stared at the ceiling for a moment letting her mind work.

The last thing she remembered was sliding down the side of a mountain in a rainstorm. Sansa closed her eyes and remembered dirt and rocks and bouncing over boulders and old forest growth. She could still feel the bumps and sharp pains of being tossed about like just another pebble in a landslide. Fortunately, she had stayed on top of the rubble and not been buried by it. Her last memory before waking a few moments ago, had been one of darkness and pressure - intense pressure - then nothing.

Obviously, her knee had been banged up pretty badly. She reached the fingers of her left hand across her belly to her right side and felt a long strip of gauze and tape. When she pushed lightly on the dressing, her rib cage erupted in pain. Under the deep cut that someone had taped, she presumed she had at least two broken ribs in addition to whatever had happened to her knee. But who had dressed her wound?

Sansa opened her eyes again. This time, she remained lying down as she looked around her. She was laying in some sort of cot, but a very comfortable one, in what appeared to be a very large and cozy cabin. The room she was in was what she'd always known as a "Great Room." A long wooden table and chairs sat in the middle of the room at the far end next to a huge stone fireplace. A cauldron the size of a beach ball hung over a blazing fire from an iron swing arm bolted into the side of the hearth. To one side of the hearth was a wooden door with a half window. Through it, Sansa could see a breezeway with another door beyond it, leading to the outside.

Sansa turned her head more to the left so she could see the immediate room beside her. The living room reminded her of an English-style den. Wood and leather furniture were positioned around a thick area rug of bright Native American patterns. The walls were lined with full height bookshelves - at least half a dozen - every shelf crammed with books, some stacked sideways on top of others. The entire cabin was carefully decorated with rustic artwork, hand-crafted wood sculptures, and antique equipment - hurricane lamps, Victorian bed warmers, and old tools that she couldn't identify. The cabin was neat, clean, and warm. The only light came from the fireplace, but it was enough to illuminate the entire room in a warm glow.

On the far side of the room, a wide staircase led up to a second level. The construction of the entire house appeared to be a mix of post and beam, rough timber, and hewn logs. There were no electric lights or any sign of modern appliances, and yet, neither was the interior archaic or old-fashioned. Except for the lack of electricity, Sansa imagined that she could very well be in a ski lodge in Aspen or Vail.

"Hello?" Sansa paused and listened. "Hello?" she said again louder. There had to be someone here; it was the middle of the night. According to the antique clock on the mantel, it was 3 o'clock. Since it was still pitch black outside, it had to be 3 am as opposed to the middle of the afternoon. That was assuming, of course, that the clock was accurate. She could hear it ticking, but that didn't mean it was properly set.

Sansa decided to try one more time. She picked up a tin cup that sat on a small table beside her. It was filled with water. She drank it dry and banged it on the side of the wooden bedframe. "Hello? Is anyone here?" Silence. Clearly, whoever had rescued her was not here at the moment. As she lay staring at the ceiling deep in thought, a wide beam of light swept over the ceiling.

Sansa cocked her head and listened to the sound of crunching gravel, squeaking brakes, and an emergency brake being pulled. A door slammed and heavy footsteps grew louder as they neared the cabin. The footsteps stomped up the stairs, clomped across a deck or porch and came to a stop at the outer door. It was too dark to see anything through the window just yet. Sansa took a deep breath and held it, anticipating her first glance at the person who had saved her life.

A key rattled in the door. The outer door opened and the owner of the cabin used the breezeway to shuck a heavy coat of some sort. The man - Sansa assumed it was a man simply because of the size of the person - bent down to retrieve a bag and opened the inside door.

Suddenly, it occurred to Sansa that just because she had been rescued, didn't mean she was safe. For all she knew, she could have been rescued by one of those hillbilly mountain men who hunt and kidnap female hikers to use as their sex slaves. Sansa's imagination ran wild. She closed her eyes tight and pretended to be asleep again. She listened to footsteps crossing the floor toward her. When he was standing next to her bed, he stopped. She could smell him - musky and soapy - and heard his heavy breath.

"You can open your eyes. I know you're awake." His voice was deep and gravelly, yet somehow soft at the same time. "I'm not going to hurt you." Sansa continued to hold her breath. "I know you're awake because when you were still unconscious, you were breathing."

Sansa realized the ruse was up. Slowly, she opened her eyes. Standing over her was one of the largest men she'd ever encountered. He was tall, broad, and muscular. His dark brown hair was longish and wavy. He had a full but neatly trimmed beard and small dark eyes. He looked at her with his head tilted slightly to the left. The left side of his face seemed kind and relaxed. In the darkness, the right side of his face seemed ... almost ... blurry. Sansa blinked her eyes trying get her brain to make sense of it. Before she could get a real good look at him, he turned away and made himself comfortable on the long leather couch.

"Try to get some sleep," he told her. "We'll talk in the morning."

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Sansa awoke to the sound of clinking utensils. Even before she opened her eyes, she could smell the aroma of food cooking and could hear the crackle of the fire. Sansa blinked to adjust to the bright light streaming through the windows. From her position on the bed across the room, she could see her mysterious benefactor sitting on a small wooden stool in front of the hearth. His back was turned to her. In the bright daylight, she could see just how large and imposing he was. Either that was a very tiny stool he was sitting on, or he was much more massive than she had initially assessed.

Sansa wasn't sure what to say, so she waited a moment before finally clearing her throat. The man froze for a moment turning his head slightly to the left. Sansa wasn't sure if he was looking at her through his peripheral vision. He turned his head back toward the fireplace.

"Well. It's about time you woke up," he grumbled. He continued working at whatever he was doing, perhaps stirring something in the cauldron that hung over the fire.

"Good morning," she offered hesitantly not knowing what else to say.

"What's your name, girl?" he asked without turning.

"Sansa." She hesitated wondering if she should hand out her last name to a stranger. He would have seen it anyway if he'd gone through her bag. Besides, what difference would it make? "Sansa Stark."

"I'm Sandor Clegane," he said. His words were curt and abrupt as though he had no use for conversation.

After a long, uncomfortable pause,  Sansa timidly asked, "Where am I?"

"You're in my cabin."

Sansa waited expecting him to say more than the obvious. When he didn't, she decided that he was either shy, bothered by her intrusion into his peaceful and solitary life, just plain ornery, or maybe even all three.

"I kind of figured that. This doesn't exactly look like the Ramada Inn." She tried to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, but there had been so much of that in her upbringing that it had become part of her very nature. She regretted her words almost immediately. Sandor Clegane made a sound that reminded her of a snorting bull. This wasn't a very good start.

"I was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail," she explained, "but I think I got lost. I'm not even sure if I'm in Oregon or Northern California." The big man's shoulders hitched as he tried to contain his amusement. Sansa felt a slow burn creep up her neck and into her cheeks. She suddenly felt like a toddler under the scrutiny this seasoned outdoorsman. He probably thought she was completely daft.

"You're on the wrong side of Klamath Falls, for sure," he retorted. "By about 90 miles." Sandor turned his head slightly to peer at her out of the corner of his eye. "You've almost made it into Leeston."

"Leeston? Where's Leeston?" she asked.

"East," Sandor stated. He appeared to stop what he was doing for a moment, his shoulders dropping. He angled his face toward her again and said, "A little girl like you has no business traipsing around the mountains by yourself. You're lucky you're not dead."

Maybe she'd gotten lost, maybe she'd wandered off the trail, but Sansa was not a little girl. She was a fairly seasoned hiker. Perhaps taking this trip on her own hadn't been such a good idea, but Sandor Clegane didn't know that and he had no right to call her a little girl. The burn in her cheeks intensified as it turned to anger.

"I'm not a little girl. I'm 27 and I've been hiking for years," she stated indignantly.

Sandor Clegane twisted his head a little further to the left over his shoulder. He stared right at her. "You're lucky you're not dead," he told her in a loud clear voice. He made sure to enunciate each word with emphasis. Sansa was too self-absorbed at that moment to hear the warning in his voice. Sandor watched as Sansa crossed her arms and pouted.  This one is used to getting her way, he thought sourly.

"I would have found my way eventually," she moped.

"Yeah, you might have come across a road that led somewhere," he growled. "But not for another 90 miles."

"I would have been fine."

Suddenly Sandor Clegane, mountain man in all respects, bolted to his feet and whirled on her. In two long strides, he was across the floor and leaning over her. "You almost died!" he yelled. He threw a long-handled wooden spoon at the table behind him. It splattered some sort of brown sauce as it bounced across the table and landed on the floor on the other side of the room.

Sansa cowered in the corner of the bed clutching the edge of a ragged patchwork quilt up to her chin. Slowly her attention drifted from the spoon on the floor, to the man who towered over her. She barely breathed as her eyes drifted up muscular legs in worn Wranglers. Thick meaty fists were clenched at his sides. The sleeves of his blue plaid flannel shirt were rolled up above wrists that were probably larger around than her upper arm. He was broad in the chest and shoulders - built like a defensive lineman. As Sansa was finally ready to look him in the eye, she gasped reflexively. The right side of his face was a mass of scar tissue, smooth and waxy looking. Rivulets of pink-white flesh twisted and knotted from the bottom of his jaw bone well onto his scalp where there should have been hair. His right eyebrow drooped slightly giving him a permanent look of deep melancholy.

What Sansa saw in his face at this particular moment was not melancholy. He breathed heavily through clenched teeth, his nostrils flaring. What Sandor saw in Sansa's face was not what he had expected. The girl had gasped when she'd first seen his face. That was no different than any other person who had ever laid eyes on him. But after a moment, the shock on her face quickly disappeared and became a look of curiosity. She tilted her head to look at him more closely. It wasn't the sort of reaction he was used to and made him mildly uncomfortable.

Sandor took a step back as he wiped his sweaty palms on the thighs of his jeans. "I saved your life, little girl." He turned back toward the fireplace stooping to pick up the spoon on his way. As he wiped the spoon with a dishrag, Sandor turned back and looked at Sansa. When she didn't say anything, he shook his head in frustration. "Your welcome!" he growled.

Chapter Text

Sansa could feel her upper lip break out with beads of perspiration. She sat rigid in a puddle of shame and self-loathing. This is not how her mother had taught her to be. Catelyn had instilled manners and dignity in her children. She had taught her daughters to be tough and self-sufficient. And yet, at the same time, Sansa had been coddled and spoiled. Because of her family's money and status, she'd never really had to rely on herself - until this trip. It's why she had decided to hike the Pacific Northwest in the first place. She wanted to prove to herself that she could, in fact, be self-reliant, confident, resourceful, and tough.

Somewhere along the way, Sansa had been so determined to see this through to the end, that she had become obsessive in her determination. She refused to accept help from anyone and she refused to ask for it. Not only had this Sandor Clegane come along and and saved her life, but she was going to have to bite down on her pride, and admit that she needed his help. Sansa would need a lot of his help over the next little while. Coming to the realization was tough enough, but now she had to apologize and then smile, swallow the mouthful of shit she'd tried spewing at him and actually ask for his help. What frightened her was that even though she was temporarily immobile, he had the power to make her life a living hell. He couldn't exactly refuse to help her - she was stuck in his cabin whether or not either of them liked the idea - but she hadn't exactly made the best impression on him.

After a long broil in her own juices, Sansa decided that the best approach was not to apologize immediately. If she did, the apology would come off as insincere and just a knee-jerk reaction to being scolded by her host. No, she needed to worm her way back into his good graces with a more diplomatic approach. She waited until he was no longer preoccupied with cleaning up the mess he'd created when he'd thrown the spoon across the room.

Sansa cleared her throat. "Ahh ... Mr. Clegane? How did you find me? How did I get here?"

Sandor Clegane turned his back on the spoiled, ungrateful brat and tried calming himself down by focusing on the cleaning up the splattered stew. He wiped the table, threw the spoon into a wash basin and located a clean one. After scraping carrot peelings into the slop bin, he turned his attention to peeling a couple of potatoes, washing, and dicing them. With a naked potato in one hand and a paring knife in the other, Sandor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. In through the nose and out through the mouth, he reminded himself. His hands were shaking.

He didn't know if he'd been unsettled by the fact that she'd gotten him riled up so easily, or by her unexpected reaction to him when she'd seen his face for the very first time. His temper was legendary around these parts, but he usually managed to control himself unleashing only on those who truly deserved it. He regretted having gone full-Clegane on this little Sansa-girl, but there was more than just anger in his reaction.

Come right down to it, Sandor preferred his solitude. He supposed he'd grown that way after years of isolation, bitterness, and severe rejection by people in general, but people were just as much at fault by proving that they were, in fact, a bunch of assholes at the best of times. There were some notable exceptions, of course. Sandor just liked his own company over anyone else's. He could do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and however he wanted. In one fell swoop, Sansa had come in and destroyed his solitude, upset his routine, and unsettled his emotional balance.

Despite all that, she had not seemed bothered by his face. Most people he met for the first time recoiled in horror. Sansa had not. That puzzled him even more. He had become seasoned at handling the situation when people gasped, turned their faces away, or even screamed. Sansa had caught him off guard by barely reacting at all and he honestly didn't know how to react to her lack of reaction. It was rather unnerving for him.

"Ahh ... Mr. Clegane?"

Sandor turned and looked at her. Sansa swallowed hard and asked her questions. Her face was pale and ashen and she turned her eyes down to her entangled fingers in her lap as she spoke.

"Just Sandor," he told her in a huff as he added the last potato to the pot. He stood up, set his knife on the table and turned a dining chair on the side of the table closest to her. He sat heavily in it. As he spoke, he kept his voice flat and his face stony to emphasize his displeasure with this whole situation.

"I was hunting. Lost a good catch, too, because of you." He watched her face carefully as he spoke. Sansa's eyes were wide and frightened. "I was in a hurry to get back - get out of the storm when the landslide cut me off. I had to go downslope to get around it. At the bottom, I saw your hand and leg sticking out of the slurry. Took me a bitch of a time digging you out of that muck. Then you nearly clawed my eyes out when I tried to lift you up. You couldn't walk so I had to choose between you and the stag."

Sandor stood up and moved to turn away.

"I was awake when you dug me out?" Sansa asked in disbelief. Sandor turned back to her and shook his head. "I should have chosen the stag.  At least I'd have gotten a decent meal out of him." Sandor walked out through the door of the cabin and slammed it behind him.

Twenty minutes later when he came back in, Sandor seemed slightly more relaxed. He took two porcelain bowls from a shelf and ladled hot thick brown stew into them.  He handed Sansa one of the bowls with a clean spoon and set his on the opposite side of the table so he could face her while he was eating. Before sitting, he opened a wooden box on the countertop and took out a partial loaf of crusty bread. He cut two thick slabs and brought one to Sansa.

"I imagine you must be pretty hungry by now," he grumbled. He motioned to the untouched bowl in her hands. "Eat up."

"Mr. Clegane ... um, Sandor?"

On his way around the table to his own food, Sandor stopped and turned to face her.

"I'm sorry for the way I behaved earlier. I realize now how selfish and ungrateful I was. I'm truly am thankful for what you've done for me. Thank-you."

Sandor nodded to her. He appreciated her efforts to recognize her own misgivings. As he sat down to his own bowl of stew, Sansa spoke again.

"Ahh Sandor? Thank-you for choosing me."

Chapter Text

Sandor Clegane wasn't sure whether to be happy or annoyed when Sansa asked for another bowl of stew. He supposed she must have been completely famished after not eating anything for almost 24 hours, and she had complimented him exceedingly on how good it tasted - "I've never had rabbit stew before," she'd told him - but he also wondered whether this little girl was going to eat through his reserves.

Reserves? he thought. Sandor shook his head in bewilderment at his own inane thoughts. It's summer, for fuck's sake, he reminded himself. He had a whole section of potatoes in the ground, he had corn growing, and there were six different kinds of vegetables doing quite well in his garden. In addition to his crops, Sandor had chickens, two little pigs, and now, two wild turkeys. In town, he had a side of beef at the Leeston Cold Storage.

In fact, Sandor should have been appreciative that the girl had complimented his cooking, but all he could do was to wonder when she'd be gone. Emily Post would be rolling in her grave. Sandor wasn't used to being a host, especially not to young ladies. It would be easier if she wasn't here. That way, he could be alone again, have the place to himself, enjoy the peace and quiet, relish in his own thoughts. Contrary to the common cliche, two could be a crowd and Sandor felt smothered by Sansa's presence.

"I think I can help you clean up," Sansa offered hesitantly. Before he had a chance to turn around, Sansa had already tried swinging her legs toward the edge of the bed.

"No!" he yelled. But it was too late. Sansa screamed, her face turning dangerously pale. Her mouth hung open in a silent gasp as she froze like some campy statue in a horror house attraction. Sandor rushed over and helped ease her back into a more comfortable position. She whimpered as tears ran down her cheeks.

Once Sandor had her back in a reclining position, he stepped back and let her have it.

"What the fuck did you go and do that for?" he yelled. "For fuck's sake you're bleeding again!" He stomped across the room and opened a cabinet that was stocked with medical supplies. He came back with fresh bandages, gauze, and tape. Sansa was taking deep breaths waiting for the pain to ebb away. As Sandor approached her with the dressings, she held up her hand and gave him pause.

"I was so comfortable that I forgot. How bad is this?" she asked trying to twist her head to see the gash in her side.

"You need stitches. When I walked into town last night I went to the Doc's place but he's not in Leeston this week." Sandor had a worried look on his face. He took a deep breath and said, "I can do it, but it wouldn't be pleasant and we'd probably end up looking like a matching pair." As he said that, he pointed to his own scars.

"I can ... wait ... what?" Sansa looked up and Sandor. "I heard your truck when you came back. Didn't you drive into town?"

Sandor sat down and set the dressings on the table. "I tried, but the landslide cut off the road ... in a couple of places," he admitted. "You might be here for awhile. It's twelve miles into Leeston. You can't walk and I can't carry you that far. At least not over that terrain." Sandor pointed to her leg. "You're going to need to be off that for awhile," he added.

"What did I do to my knee?" she asked.

"You dislocated it. I put it back in, but it will need to heal before you can put any real weight on it. At least two weeks depending on how bad it is."

Sansa nodded gravely. She grunted as she tried to shift herself to her left side a little bit. She would need as much access to the gash on her right as possible.

"I'll need a heavy gauge sewing needle, thick thread - cotton if possible." Sansa twisted her head further trying to examine her wound.

"Do you really want me to sew you up? It'll hurt like a bitch and I'm not exactly a seamstress."

Sansa had a strange look on her face. Sandor crinkled his brow as he waited for her to say what was on her mind.

"I know you think that I don't belong here, that I shouldn't have been trekking on my own like that, but there's a lot you don't know about me. I have my reasons for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone. All you need to know right now is that ... " Sansa paused trying to find the right words. "I really can take care of myself," she told him. "I'm a doctor."

Sandor's good eyebrow crept half way up his forehead. "You're a doctor?" he asked not quite ready to believe her. Sansa nodded.

"A doctor of what?" Cruel sarcasm was thick in his voice.

"I'm a third year resident in Seattle. I'm training to be a surgeon."

When Sandor realized his mouth was hanging open, he snapped it shut. That explained why she hadn't reacted when she'd seen his face for the first time. If she really was a surgical resident, she would have seen far worse. Other people's insides were a lot harder to look at than his outsides.

"I'm going to need to get this done," Sansa said, snapping him out of his thoughts. "If I don't do this soon, we're going to have a bigger problem."

"Infection?" Sandor asked.

Sansa shook her head. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. "I have to go to the bathroom."

Sandor nodded. "Right."

Chapter Text

Sandor gathered the things that Sansa had asked for. To her surprise, Sandor had a leather sewing needle that was curved. It looked very similar to a suturing needle and was perfect for what she needed to do. He also brought her a roll of thick thread and a small bottle that contained what appeared to be water.

"What's that?" Sansa asked.

"You asked for alcohol."

"Is it rubbing alcohol?"

"Not exactly," he admitted. "It's white lightning."

Sansa raised her eyebrows in question and shook her head.

"Firewater." Sansa shook her head again. "For fuck's sake! Hooch. Moonshine."

Sansa's jaw dropped. "Is that all you've got?"

"I have a friend who's a shiner ... a bootlegger." Sandor set the tools Sansa needed on the little wooden table beside her. "I grow potatoes and corn, he makes moonshine with it and we split the profits. I keep a few bottles on hand but I don't drink much."

"I don't believe you," Sansa challenged him.

"What? That I don't drink?"

"No. That you have friends."

Sandor might have thought she was serious if he hadn't noticed the smirk on her face. He tossed a snarky grunt in her direction anyway and went to put some boiling water in a bowl. This wasn't the time for smart remarks.

After both had washed their hands thoroughly, Sansa used the water to clean the wound as best she could. Following Sansa's instructions, Sandor opened the bottle and poured a half tumbler. From the spool of thread, he pulled a long line and snipped it off. Sansa told him to soak the thread in the moonshine and then squeeze out the excess moisture. Sansa took the sterilized needle and threaded it.

Before she could begin the procedure, Sandor handed her the tumbler of moonshine. "You might need this," he cautioned her.

Sansa threw back the shot of home-brewed whiskey and immediately thought that she had mistakenly swallowed a flaming torch. She coughed and sputtered as her eyes watered. "You drink this shit?" she asked Sandor.

"Fuck, no! They don't call it rotgut for nothing." Sansa gave him the most sarcastic look she could muster. "I keep a bottle for myself, but I use the rest in trade," he explained.

Sansa took a deep breath and got down to business. At the first stab of the needle, she yelped in pain. She closed her eyes, pressed her lips together and sucked air in through her nose. It took all she had to proceed with the second stitch. Sandor placed his hands on her shoulder and hip to keep her propped in position and to keep the skin taut as Sansa worked. When she hit a particularly raw nerve, she whimpered, but even Sandor had to admit she was a trooper about it. If it was him, he would have been spewing language that would make even the most foul-mouthed trucker blush.

By the time she was finished, Sansa was sweating profusely. It had taken every fiber of her strength to get through it but, she had to admit, the shot of whiskey had helped. Still, her hands were shaking and her face was drenched in sweat. She lay back and closed her eyes to catch her breath.

Sandor dipped a washcloth in the boiled water which was now gone cool, and wiped her face. He'd been impressed with her work. Sansa had stitched quickly and neatly creating a suture line that would likely not leave much of a scar after it healed. While Sansa rested for a few moments, Sandor went to the cupboard and came back with a tin that was slightly larger than a hockey puck. When he opened it, Sansa wrinkled her nose at the smell.

"What is that?" she asked. "It smells disgusting."

"It's salve," he told her. "It'll keep the skin around the sutures moist so it doesn't dry and tighten." Inside was a semi-opaque goop that reminded Sansa of Penaten cream. Sandor swiped a huge finger into it and traced down her skin on either side of the suture line. Sansa was surprised at how gentle he was despite his rough hands and oafish manner.

When he was done, Sandor began tidying up.

"Thank-you Sandor. I appreciate you helping me get through this."

"What was I supposed to do? Sit back and watch?" he growled. "If you'd made a mistake, you would ha' start bleeding again and then I'd be cleaning up that mess."

Sansa dismissed his harsh words. In the very short amount of time she'd known him, she realized that it was just Sandor's way. He was ornery and cantankerous and there probably wasn't much that was going to change that. She supposed it was because of whatever had happened to him that had caused his disfigurement. She was dying to ask, but until she knew him better, she doubted very much that it was a topic that would be open for conversation.

Sansa breathed deep and rapidly, in through her nose and out through her mouth. She closed her eyes and concentrated her effort on relaxing all her muscles.

"Well, I'm going to need your help again or you'll have another mess to clean up."

"For fuck's sake, what now?!" Sandor asked as he spun around and attempted to slam a dishrag onto the table. He would have been more satisfied if had been something heavy and loud. What could the girl possibly want now?

As soon as he turned to glare at her, he remembered. Even before the procedure she'd said she had to go to the bathroom. Sandor clenched his fists and snorted loudly, but he was surprisingly gentle as he carefully lifted Sansa from the bed. He slowly picked her up minding her leg and the fresh stitches which would likely be tender for a while.

Because his hands were full - full of Sansa - he asked her to open the door so he could take her outside.

"Why are we going outside?" she asked. "Where are you taking me?"

"To the outhouse! Where did you think I was gonna take you?"

"Outhouse?! Are you serious? Don't you have a bathroom?" Sansa asked as they burst through the door and into the fresh air.

"For fuck's sake, princess! I live on the side of a mountain. What were hoping for? A five piece en-suite with a bidet and gold faucets?"

As Sandor tromped down the steps, Sansa realized she was getting her first look at Sandor Clegane's home and property. The so-called cabin was more of what she would describe as a lodge. From the outside, it was even larger than what she'd seen from the inside. It looked professionally constructed and seemed solid and attractive. The cabin was located in the center of a small plateau with rocky steppes on three sides. The fourth side sloped downward to another lower plot that had been leveled for farming. The upper level contained the cabin, a huge barn with a small fenced animal pen to one side, an equipment shed (she assumed) and a chicken coop with a completely enclosed fence around it. At least a dozen chickens were scratching and pecking inside the wire barrier. The lower level contained large neat plots planted with corn on one side and various rows of knee-high vegetables on the other.

Just before the tree line was the outhouse. Sansa covered her nose and mouth and crinkled her brow.

"Don't give me that look," Sandor growled at her. "It's not that bad." He set her down on the wooden step and opened the door. Sansa was able to balance on one foot and by supporting herself with her good hand, was able to hobble inside. Between the wrist splint, the bandaged knee and the fresh stitches, Sansa was surprised that she could hobble two whole feet without falling on her ass.

As Sansa turned around to position herself in front of the seat, she couldn't hold her breath any longer. "OH. MY. GOD!" she yelled at Sandor.

Sandor slammed the door in her face and waited.

Chapter Text

"Do you mind walking around the yard?" Sansa asked Sandor as he lifted her to take her back to the cabin. "I like the fresh air."

"Would you prefer the basic package or the scenic tour?" he asked sarcastically.

With her left arm slung around his neck Sansa had an up close and personal look at the disfigured side of his face. Whatever had done this must have caused him excruciating pain. The scars were thick and hard as though he'd never received any medical treatment at all. In her medical career, anyone else she'd come in contact with who'd had such a devastating injury had also suffered the effects of traumatic shock. Despite his grouchy temperament, he seemed rather well-adjusted. She wondered again how it happened and why hadn't anything been done about it? With all the new medical technology available, there was no reason for Sandor's disfigurement to be this bad.

Sansa hoped she would have time to get to know Sandor. Perhaps part of it was the doctor in her wanting to know about his medical history, his trauma and maybe even a little bit of a need to "fix" him. It was in her nature - it was in any doctor's nature to want to fix something that was broken whether it was a bone, an organ, a psyche, or a face. Sansa wasn't any different. She just wanted to help him. Yeah right, she thought sarcastically, I'll fix him as soon as I can walk again.

When Sandor realized that Sansa was looking so closely at his scars, he tried to turn his head away, but there wasn't really much he could do. It was too late to pick her up from the other side now.  He mumbled something derisive under his breath and tried to ignore her. But it was too difficult. When was the last time he'd had a woman in his arms? Oh ... umm ... never! And here he was carrying this little girl around his dooryard. Despite his protestations, he carried her slowly around the property just inside the tree line.

Sandor tried to pretend that he was just as interested in the scenery as she was. Thing is, the only scenery that seemed to interest her at the moment was him. His face began to sweat under the weight of her examination. Though, he had to admit to himself that it probably wasn't the only reason his face was sweating. It certainly wasn't because she was heavy. She was thin and light and pretty.

There. He admitted it. She was pretty.

So why was he so damn cranky? A pretty girl who hadn't run screaming at the very sight of him? He ought to be thankful. Sansa seemed like a nice girl - a bit spoiled and frivolous - but nice. Yet, she was getting under his skin. All he wanted, all he'd ever wanted, was to be left alone. Sandor wanted nothing more than to take her down the mountain into Leeston so she could be someone else's problem. But he was stuck with her, for now at least. He hoped she wouldn't be too much of a nuisance and vowed to try and make the best of it.

After a long tour around the property during which Sansa had turned her face into the warmth of the sunshine and gotten some fresh air, Sandor took her inside. He gingerly set her down and helped her get comfortable on the bed. Sansa was worn out and wiggled down under the quilt so that she could close her eyes for awhile. Stitching her own wound and then keeping herself tense and tightened up because of her full bladder had taken a lot out of her.

With her body so relaxed and the throbbing in her side ebbing slowly away, Sansa's eyelids began to grow heavy. She heard Sandor clomping around the cabin and shuffling furniture but she tried to ignore it. He was just going about his business and he was probably glad that he didn't have her to attend to for at least a short while. When Sansa heard the cabin door open a few times, and what sounded like water sloshing, she finally opened her eyes to see what was going on.

Sandor was standing over her waiting expectantly. "Do you have any clean clothes?" he asked her.

"Of course. You didn't go through my backpack?"

Sandor shook his head. "I don't go rootin' through other people's things."

Sansa looked down at herself as Sandor fetched her pack and brought it next to the bed. Yes, it was about time she changed her clothes. She was a filthy mess. She pulled out some clean underwear, a t-shirt and jeans.

"You'll never get those on over your knee," Sandor told her. When he'd found her, Sansa had been wearing wide-legged cargo pants with velcro straps at the ankles. Sandor had been able to roll the lightweight fabric above her knee allowing him to re-align her joint, but the pants were torn and ragged from her slide down the mountain.

Sandor pulled out the bag he'd brought back from town the night Sansa had met him for the first time. Inside were a clean t-shirt and a loose-fitting pair of jogging pants. The label on the side of the bag declared "Mine Then Yours." Some sort of resale shop, Sansa guessed. The clothes were clean and looked in good shape.

"I had to guess at your size."

"No, that's perfect. Thank-you," Sansa said. There was no way she was going to be ungrateful, especially after all that Sandor had done for her so far. "Um, can you go outside while I change?" she asked hesitantly.

Sandor shook his head. "Oh no. You're not changing yet." He bent to pick her up off the bed. "You're having a bath first."

"A bath?"

"Yeah, a bath," he growled. "And you think the outhouse smelled bad?" Sandor carried her across the room to a door near the bottom of the stairs, just beyond the fireplace.

"Please don't tell me you're going to stick me in a bucket out in the barn," she protested.

Sandor kicked open the door to a small room that contained an old-fashioned hand-cranked washing machine and a bathtub.

Sandor set her down on a wooden stool that he'd placed inside the tub which was filled halfway with cool water. The short legs of the stool stopped just below the surface of the water - high enough for her to reach down into it, but not high enough to touch her fresh stitches.

"You have a bathtub?" she asked in disbelief.

"Just what kind of hick do you think I am?" he yelled.

"I never said you were a hick. I just thought - "

"I swear to God, little lady, if you - "

Sansa raised her hands in surrender. "Okay, okay. I'm sorry."

Sandor was breathing like a bull with both fists clenched at his sides. When he'd got himself under control, he picked up the buckets he'd used to fill the tub and left the room. When he came back, he had the cauldron in one oven mitt-covered hand and her clean clothes in the other. He dumped the cauldron of hot water in the tub, resulting in pleasantly warm water. From the fold of the clothes, he produced a knife.

"Use this to cut off your pants. They're ruined anyway. When you're done, pull the plug out of the drain. The water goes into a reserve tank that waters the garden down the hill." He pointed to a shelf over the edge of the tub. "Soap, shampoo, washcloth, and a pitcher to rinse with." From a linen cabinet, he retrieved a thick fresh towel and set it on top of the clothes. "Call when you're done and I'll come get you."

Sandor stood on the other side of the door and leaned against it, trying to get his breath. He didn't understand what was wrong with him. His hands were shaking again and he was sweating. Suddenly Sandor bolted into the main room and grabbed the bottle of moonshine. He uncapped it and gulped as much of it as his throat could stand. He had a feeling it was the only thing that was going to get her out of his mind.

Chapter Text

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.


"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?

Chapter Text

After they had finished their lunch, Sandor Clegane took up the dishes and cleaned his kitchen. Sansa had barely been able to choke down what was left of her omelet. She'd been left in a turmoil of mixed emotions. She felt stupid about having walked so far off course because she hadn't thought to turn off a phone that was no use to her on the trail anyway. She was still feeling sorry for herself, but was also angry that she was still feeling sorry for herself.

Sansa sat at the table feeling useless and fidgety. She resented feeling that way, especially in Sandor's presence. He already thought of her as a spoiled princess, and she wanted somehow to help, but there wasn't really anything she could do without getting in the way or causing more of a fuss. She managed to swing her legs toward the bed, hobble over by leaning on furniture for support, and lay herself down on the cot. At least Sandor wouldn't have to do that for her.

"I've got work to do outside this afternoon," Sandor informed her. "Do you have to go to the outhouse?" he asked.

As if she didn't feel useless enough, the question had made her feel like a toddler in toilet training. With no comment, she shook her head.

"Then you best get some rest. You've had a difficult morning and you need to heal." To both their ears, Sandor's voice had sounded strangely compassionate with no hint of snark or irritability. Sandor turned and went outside, leaving Sansa alone.

Sansa let her gaze wander around the room, but couldn't think of what to do with herself. The only thing she could do at the moment was read. She leaned down and pulled her backpack closer. Sansa dug out her pocket novel but her mind was too flighty to focus on a silly little romance novel. She snugged down under the quilt and listened to the sounds of the cabin and wilderness around her.

The clock ticked quietly on the mantel. The beams of the cabin creaked ever so slightly in the stiff mountain breeze. A momentary squawk broke out from the chickens. Sandor was likely feeding them. A large, heavy door creaked as it swung on its hinges. The barn, maybe? A few long moments later, Sansa listened to a repetitive hollow thonk! as Sandor chopped firewood. Sansa closed her eyes and imagined him doing it, swinging those muscular arms as he split the logs. When he was done chopping, the mountain man carried the wood up to the porch where he stacked each piece on a pile next to the cabin wall.

When her stomach rumbled, Sansa wondered what Sandor would be cooking for dinner. The rabbit stew for breakfast and the omelet lunch had been positively scrumptious. She found it amazing that a man could be so ... so capable in everything he did. Sansa would be the first to admit that she wasn't much of a cook herself. Of course, being a surgical resident didn't really allow time for cooking much more than Kraft dinner or warming canned soup in the microwave.

Sansa pushed herself down under the soft warm blanket. Maybe Sandor will teach me to cook, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

The chores finished, Sandor came back in the cabin to find Sansa in a deep sleep. If he'd realized, he wouldn't have stomped through the house mumbling and grumbling like a 600-pound grizzly bear. He tried to tiptoe quietly - as much as his 6'-6" frame would allow - while he washed up and got things ready for supper.

He was hesitant to start making cooking noises just yet. The girl needed her sleep and he didn't want to wake her. Sandor silently moved to the dining chair closest to the bed, sat, and watched her. He didn't know what else to do with himself. Alright, truth be told, he couldn't help himself.

Sansa wasn't exactly what he would call an attractive sleeper. Her face was squashed against the pillow with her bottom lip pulled down and she was drooling. She was still pretty. Her thin pointy nose and clear pale skin made him envious. She seemed so delicate regardless of the deep snore that emanated from her.

When he'd been carrying her around the yard for some fresh air, he'd felt not just the weight of her in his arms, but the heat that radiated from her. Even under the stink of dirt and sweat, he'd gotten a hint of her natural aroma and it had tantalized him. And then after he'd made her have a bath ...

Sandor winced as a sharp pain stabbed through his gut. She had smelled so good.

Sansa reminded him of everything he couldn't have and would never know. Sandor longed just to have a face that he could show in public. He wanted to stroll the streets of Leeston in the afternoon sun instead of sneaking in through the back doors of the shops in the middle of the night. He wanted ...

Christ! What the fuck does it matter what I want? Sandor screamed inside his head. He was who he was and he'd always be stuck with this face so what was the use in dreaming his stupid little fantasies?

What has she done to me? Sandor wondered. He'd only spent a total of ten hours with her and the girl had already turned his whole life upside down. Sandor stood up faster than he'd intended causing his vision to swim. He stumbled back against the chair making it scrape across the floor. Sansa opened one eye and stared at him.

Sandor froze. He tried to think of something quickly. "I ... um ..." He took a breath and got his wits about him. "I'll be starting supper so I thought I'd give you some time to wake up before we eat."

Sansa smacked her lips and opened both eyes, blinking rapidly. "Can you take me out back first?" she asked hesitantly. Sansa was reluctant to mention the word outhouse when she really wanted to call it something else. Nasty was the first word that came to mind.

Sandor picked her up and carried her and tried desperately to pretend he was carrying cordwood. Getting rid of her would come none too soon.

They spent the rest of the night in uncomfortable silence. Sansa pretended to read her book and Sandor made it appear as though he was tinkering with an old fuel pump. Really, the only thing on their minds was each other.

On the fourth morning of her incarceration, Sansa woke to another brilliantly sunny day. Normally, waking to such amazing weather would have been a reason to rejoice. Those warm, clear days on the trail had made her feel freedom that she couldn't express in words. Today, Sansa felt anything but a sense of freedom. Sandor secretly felt the same way. The previous three days had been a long, mundane routine, especially for Sansa. Sandor at least had the option to go outside, tend to his work and do whatever else he was doing just to get away from Sansa.

Sansa spent her days exercising her knee. The kneecap felt like crushed glass was lodged in it, but she knew if she didn't exercise it, the joint would freeze and the pain would be unbearable. She still couldn't put any weight on it, but at least it was bending.

When Sandor was in the cabin, Sansa attempted to draw him into conversation, but he would have none of it. He bitched and moaned, but mostly tried to ignore her. During long silent moments during which Sansa tried to force her concentration to reading, she would look up to find Sandor staring at her. He would suddenly look away to continue on with something he'd been working on. Sometimes it was the other way around. Sandor would be aware that Sansa was studying him. He supposed it was the doctor in her, as though she were examining a patient. Sandor wished there could be more in her eyes. In his heart he knew she would never see him as more than a curious medical case.

And so it went over those last three days. This morning had been no different.

At the crack of dawn, Sandor was up and made oatmeal for both of them. He tended to Sansa's needs as required, then he was out the door. Sansa was now able to hobble about the cabin, but didn't dare to try and go much farther. She slowly wandered over to the book shelves and perused Sandor's collection. Many of the books were expected for a man like him. There were books on farming and raising animals. Sandor had several medical reference books. Some volumes were dedicated to identifying trees, plants, herbs and wild berries, while others were detailed in how to fix or build anything. Sewing, simple machines, geology and English grammar were also among the subjects on his shelves.

It was the last book shelf that puzzled Sansa. That one entire unit was filled with every Lord Varys book ever written. Sandor didn't seem like the kind of guy who would be interested in the type of books written by Lord Varys. The well-known author was a quite peculiar man who had written several dozen fantasy novels. He wrote stories about dragons and mystical warriors in strange lands. Varys insisted he had been abducted by aliens and wrote a "true account" of learning secrets from them regarding the fate of the dinosaurs and how they were linked to the ultimate demise of our planet. No one really even knew his real name. He called himself Lord Varys and insisted that it was his true identity.

It was quite a stretch for Sansa to imagine Sandor cozying up to a Lord Varys novel after studying the common medicinal plants of the Pacific Northwest regions. Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door. Before Sansa even had a chance to wonder who would be knocking on Sandor's door and why, someone unlocked the door and two large burly men burst into the room.

"Well, hello there little lady. You must be Sansa Stark. We've been looking forward to meeting you."

Chapter Text

From the way the two men were staring at her, Sansa vaguely wondered if she was naked. The only physical thing they had in common were wide cheesy grins. The man who had first spoken had very close cropped hair, almost a brush-cut, and he was completely grey. He had a short, neat beard, very serious eyes, and looked to be in his fifties. He was dressed in jeans, a denim jacket and white t-shirt and had a knapsack slung over one shoulder.

The second man also had a knapsack, but wore light brown corduroys and a matching sport coat over a plaid shirt. He seemed roughly the same age as Sandor, at least in his mid-thirties or early forties. He had a messy mop of bright red hair and a long untamed red beard. Above his small piercing eyes, he waggled his eyebrows suggestively at her. They both had lots of healthy teeth.

Sansa leaned on the chair in the living room watching the two men enter the cabin. She wasn't quite sure how to approach the situation. She opened her mouth to at least say "hello," but the older man rushed into the room with enthusiasm.

"I've got a present for you," he told her.

"Umm, thank-you?" Sansa offered hesitantly.

The red-haired man stepped back through the breezway and grabbed something from just outside the door. He produced a pair of crutches that he thrust in her direction. His cheesy grin turned into more of a leer the closer he got to her. The older man snatched the crutches from the younger one and brought them over to where Sansa was standing.

"It's nice to finally meet you," the older one told her holding out his hand. Sansa shook it. His grip was strong, firm, and lingering. When he let go of her hand, he immediately offered her the crutches which Sansa gladly took. To her surprise, they did not need to be adjusted for her height.

"Thank-you," Sansa said a second time, genuinely grateful. Her eyes flicked back and forth between the two of them. "If you don't mind my asking, who are you?"

The older man chuckled at himself and thumped his chest with his fist. "I'm Nick Davos," he told her. He held up his left hand and waved it in front of her. Nick wore a specially fitted leather glove with shortened fingers. He appeared to have lost all his fingers just below the last joint leaving him with one inch stubs. "My friends call me Half-Hand. And that," he said pointing back toward the red-head with a perturbed look on his face, "is Doc Tormund."

At his introduction, Doc rushed forward to shake Sansa's hand between both of his. The cheesy grin spread wider and the handshake lingered even longer. "You can call me Red."

Doc Tormund leaned toward Nick Davos and in a lower voice that Sansa could hear quite clearly, said, "She's a redhead."

"I noticed that, Red." Nick had an exasperated look on his face.

"Just think of the beautiful babies we would make." He waggled his eyebrows at her again. Nick rolled his eyes, and turned to push Doc Tormund back toward the kitchen where they both took seats and waited for Sansa to join them.

When the burning blush finally began to dissipate from Sansa's face, she took her place in the seat farthest from both of them.

"You're a doctor?" Sansa asked in disbelief.

"Yes, actually he's the town doctor in Leeston," Nick answered for him.

"And do you always flirt with your patients this way?"

Doc Tormund looked insulted. "I am completely professional with all my patients." He leaned toward her. "You're not my patient ... yet."

Sansa got up and used the table for support as she shuffled down closer to Doc Tormund. She lifted her shirt and showed him the suture line in her side. "I'm a doctor, too. I did these myself. So whatcha think?"

Doc Tormund examined the wound and poked at it with his finger. "It's healing very nicely. I don't think anything more needs to be done. Just keep it clean and moisturized and you won't have much of a scar."

"Congratulations," Sansa said with a mischievous grin. "Now you're my doctor." Doc's face dropped, and Nick beamed. He elbowed the Doc and said, "I like her."

After a pleasantly quiet moment, Sansa started the conversation. "So how did you know my name?"

Doc Tormund was the first to speak up. "Four days ago, Sandor left a note in my office explaining the situation. We were intrigued so we decided to come up and see for ourselves."

"Yes, but how did you know my name?" she asked again.

The two men gave each other a funny look. "It was in the note," explained Doc.

Sansa's eyes narrowed as she recalled her conversation with Sandor just before she'd had a bath. "I don't go rootin' through other people's things," he'd said. But when Sandor had gone into town, Sansa had still been unconscious. The only way he could have put her name in the note is if he'd gone through her backpack and found her ID.

"What else did the note say about me?" Sansa asked suspiciously.

"Would you like to read it?" Doc asked reaching into his backpack.

Sansa took the neatly folded piece of paper and began to read. Sandor Clegane's penmanship was surprisingly neat and artistic.

I found a young woman on the mountain. She was caught in the landslide. I had to dig her out of the mud dam. She has sustained a few injuries, but nothing too terrible or life-threatening. She had a dislocated knee, but I managed to fix it up and bandaged it for restricted mobility. I put a splint on what appears to be a sprained wrist. She also has a long deep gash on her right along the side of her ribcage. She'll need stitches but I'm hesitant to try and do it myself. I got the bleeding stopped and put a dressing on the wound for now. Hopefully that will hold until I figure out what to do. Other than that, she has a few scrapes and bruises. The thing that worries me is that she has been unconscious for about ten hours now. I'll keep her here until further notice. I hope she doesn't run screaming, she's kinda cute. Ha ha just kidding. Keep an eye on the news, will you? Her name is Sansa Stark, she is 27 and she's from Seattle.

Sansa set the note down in shock. When she looked up, both men were staring back expectantly. Sansa could feel her cheeks flush. She handed the note back to the doc, but he waved it off.

"You keep it," he told her. "So now you see why we were to curious to meet you," Doc said revitalizing his toothy grin.

Sansa smiled pleasantly and swallowed. "So if you're the doctor," she said pointing at Red, then turning toward Nick, "you must be the bootlegger?"

"Bootlegging is just a little side hobby of mine. I make a few cases a year and that's all. I don't really have time for it now that business is booming."

"And what business is that?" Sansa asked good naturally.

"Have you heard of Nick the Plumber?" he asked.

Sansa nodded. "Yeah, he's the owner of a company called Body Plumber. We use his magnesium citrate at the hospital all the time. You look just like the caricature on the bottle." Nick was grinning and bobbing his head.

"You're Nick the Plumber? So you don't run a still on the mountain?"

Nick shook his head. "I have a factory just outside Leeston. I used to be deep into bootlegging ... among other things ..." Nick displayed his left hand for her. "This is when I realized I needed to get into a safer line of work." He put his hand back on the table. "And that is why they call me Half-Hand."

Sansa sat back in her chair. "Wow, I had no idea. Sandor made it sound like you had a tin shack out in the woods." She sat up straight again and addressed both the men. "So have you known Sandor for a long time?"

Nick Davos and Doc Tormund glanced at each other uncomfortably. "He hasn't told you?" Nick asked.

Sansa shook her head. "Told me what?"

Nick sucked a lungful of air in through his teeth. He glanced at Doc, then at Sansa. "Sandor and I go a long way back. He came to me when he was 14. He saved my life." Nick tilted his head to the side slightly and added, "I saved his a few times, too, I think."

"How?" Sansa was genuinely interested. She was about to hear the tale of Sandor's past. She was sure of it. However, Sansa was disappointed when Nick shook his head.

"It's not my place to tell," he informed her. Sansa looked at Doc, but he shook his head indicating that it wasn't going to come from him. Sansa understood that it was probably a matter of doctor-patient confidentiality.

"Oh is it because you're his doctor?" she asked him.

"No, it's because I'm his friend."

Doc Tormund's response made Sansa even more curious.

"I'm surprised he hasn't told you himself," Nick stated.

"Actually," Sansa admitted, "he barely speaks to me at all. I think he resents me being here. But ..." Sansa slapped her palms flat on the table in an expression of finality. "As soon as he gets the mountain road cleared, he can bring me into Leeston and be done with me."

The men stared blankly at Sansa for a long moment, then glanced at each other with more discomfort than the first time.

"What?" Sansa asked, her eyes darting back and forth between them.

Nick Davos spoke first. "The road was cleared the day after the storm," he explained. Sansa's face dropped. "I sent a road crew up there right away when I found out it'd been blocked. Sandor and I look out for each other," he added.

"Sandor has left early every morning. He told me he's been working on clearing the road." It didn't make sense. Combined with the things she'd learned from his note, Sansa's mind went into overdrive. What exactly was Sandor up to?

"Wait ... how did you get up here?" Sansa asked them. "When I saw the backpacks I assumed you hiked."

"We drove," Nick said hooking a thumb over his shoulder toward the cabin door. "I picked up the Doc and brought my truck up here. Up in these parts, you always bring a pack with you, even if you're driving. You just never know when you'll need one."

"And you didn't see Sandor on your way here?" Sansa asked.

A strange look came over Nick's face and he leaned across the table toward Sansa. "Did you say he's barely been speaking to you?" Sansa nodded. "Has he been swearing a lot?"

"Oh yeah," Sansa stated firmly. "Every other word."

"Has he been cranky? Behaving strangely?" Doc chimed in.

"Well ..." Sansa considered. "I don't know him very well but I'd have to say yes. I just assumed it's because he's been uncomfortable sleeping on the couch."

"Why has he been sleeping on the couch?" Doc Tormund asked.

"He gave me his bed," she said indicating the cot in the corner. "Where else would he sleep?"

"In his bedroom upstairs." Nick shook his head in bewilderment. "He's got a beautiful master suite up there with a four poster that he carved with his own hands."

Suddenly the two men were grinning widely at her. Sansa couldn't help but smile back even though she had no idea what she was smiling about. It was simply contagious.

Doc Tormund stood first and Nick followed. They gave each other a hearty bear hug and laughed. "I think our boy is growing up," Nick cheered.

Doc leaned down close to Sansa and pinched her cheek. "Methinks the Hound is smitten with you!"

Sansa shook her head in protest. "No. No way. He hates me."

"The Hound definitely doesn't hate you," Nick informed her with an adoring smile. "I think he's got a crush."

"Why do you keep calling him the Hound?" Sansa asked trying to ignore their insistence that Sandor Clegane was somehow infatuated with her. That just wasn't possible.

Both men laughed and wiped their eyes. "Because he's a hound dog," Doc told her. "Always sniffing out lost hikers. You don't know how many people he's found in the last twenty years. And he's an excellent hunter. Comes back with something every time."

"He's been up here for twenty years?" Sansa asked. She could barely believe it.

"Twenty-five," Doc said. "Ever since ..." Nick smacked him in the chest before Doc had a chance to finish what he was saying.

"I think it's time we got going," Nick told both Sansa and Doc. "Tell Sandor we're sorry we missed him. We'd love to stay for the show," he said with a knowing glance toward Doc, "but we've both got work to do and I suspect it would be better for Sandor Clegane if we weren't here when he got back."

Sansa was glad she'd met both of them and told them so. Doc Tormund gave her some brief advice for strengthening her knee. Sansa thanked them for the crutches, gave each of them a brief hug, and told them she hoped to see them again. She waited in the doorway and saw them off as they got in Nick's truck and drove away.

Chapter Text

Sansa stood in the doorway of the cabin long after Nick Davos and Doc Tormund had left. She was frozen with shock, a deer in the headlights. Her mind raced, circling around and around. For the last four days, Sandor Clegane had been cold and distant, swearing and complaining at her. He had called her "princess" and made her feel coddled and ungrateful. On the other hand, Sandor had reminded her of just what she had accomplished even though she'd wandered a hundred miles off course. According to both Sandor and Nick, it was not that unusual for hikers to find themselves on the wrong side of the mountain.

Sansa chewed on her fingernails, a habit she'd managed to curb years ago. A chill wind blew down from above so Sansa retreated to the warmth of the cabin and closed the door. She sat back at the table and picked up the note. She tried to imagine Sandor's hand writing the words. What had he really been thinking when he'd written "I hope she doesn't run screaming. She's kinda cute." Had it been an inside joke for a friend? Or had he meant what he'd written?

Sansa folded the note and tucked it into a pocket of her backpack. What else had Sandor seen when he'd gone through her pack? Sansa began tearing apart the contents trying to see everything through Sandor's eyes. She couldn't. She didn't know him well enough to even guess at what he might have interpreted from her personal belongings. Sansa repacked the bag and sat on the edge of the cot.

The cot. The cot she thought was his. She thought it was his because he'd been sleeping on the couch five feet away from her. Sansa looked over at the stairs. She hadn't really thought about what might be up there, it had never occurred to her to wonder. If she'd had any assumptions, Sansa might have thought that the upstairs was storage space for tools and equipment he might need being that the cabin was off-grid.

Sansa got up, grabbed one of the crutches and started to climb. The muscles in her jaw trembled as she gritted her teeth. She wasn't angry exactly. She was determined to figure out what was going on. As she crested the top step, the room opened wide before her. The entire upper floor was a loft suite with a huge king-sized bed accented by six-foot tall spindles on each corner. The high mattress was covered in a patchwork quilt of dark burgundy and beige swatches in a pinwheel pattern. The room was warmly decorated with custom artwork, wood carvings, and brass knickknacks similar to the lower level.

Sansa propped herself on the edge of the bed. It was soft and cozy. In addition to the hand-carved bed, were a matching dresser, a gun cabinet, and a wing-back chair by the window. The chair and the table next to it created a cozy reading spot. Sandor had several volumes waiting on it, with a bookmark in the middle of the book on top.

At the other end of the room was a fireplace. It was immediately above the fireplace in the kitchen, identical, but a smaller version.

Sansa stretched out on the bed and wondered how she was going to handle this. She needed to approach Sandor the right way. If she didn't do it just right, it would all blow up and they would end up hating each other. Sansa wasn't even sure how she felt about Sandor. She barely knew him. He barely knew her, and yet Nick and Doc were sure that Sandor had a thing for her. Before she could decide how she felt about him, Sansa would have to get to know him. She wanted to get to know him, but he wouldn't talk to her. Sansa decided she'd have to face that problem head-on.

"I'll come right out and tell him that I want to get to know him," she confided in the empty room. Sansa supposed she could just start by telling him about her visitors today. He'd know anyway as soon as he saw the crutches.

Sansa rolled over on the bed to look out the window. She pressed her face into the pillow and breathed deeply. She could smell Sandor in the fabric.

Could I have feelings for a man like him? she wondered. Was that possible? Sandor had to be in his late thirties at least. That would give him a good ten years on her. He was a mountain man who lived in the wilderness, she was a surgical resident who lived in the city. He didn't have a TV or a radio or a telephone. Sansa couldn't live without Twitter and Facebook.

Sansa sat up with a sudden revelation. She could live without social media. In fact, she had been living without it for the last two months. When it came right down to the wire, she'd done just fine over the past four days living here without anything electric or electronic. All that aside, what could she feel for him?

Sandor Clegane was a handsome man, she finally admitted to herself. Half of his face had been damaged somehow, but his scars certainly were not grotesque. In fact, she found it fascinating the way the skin had twisted and rippled. She was captivated in the same way that an art connoisseur might be captivated by a Picasso. Sansa had seen Picasso's Head of a Woman. She could not see the beauty in it as others had, but she could see the beauty in the natural patterns of Sandor's scars.

He seemed like a good man, caring, and compassionate. Sandor was tall, muscular, and ... And what? Sansa wondered. What did he have that Joffrey and Ramsay didn't have? Besides the obvious of course.

Sandor was a man. A real man. He was masculine and strong. He was also sensitive and thoughtful. He had comforted her when she was upset or in pain. He had carried her to the bathroom and he'd bought clothes for her.

Sansa suddenly realized something else. He'd kept her here. According to Nick, the road was cleared almost four days ago. Sandor could have taken her into Leeston the day after she'd sutured herself up, but he hadn't. He hadn't wanted to let her go.

Sansa was dumbfounded that she'd never thought of any of this before. He'd been right in front of her and she had never noticed him, never really taken a look at who he was. Now she could see more clearly. That didn't mean that she would develop feelings for him, but there wasn't any reason why she wouldn't either. There was only one way to find out.

Sansa sat at the kitchen table with one of Sandor's books spread open before her. It was a book on knots. Sansa had cut a couple of feet off a safety line she'd taken from her backpack. It's not like she would be needing the safety line anytime soon. Using the bit of rope, she had already learned how to do several complicated knots including a double overhand slip knot and a threaded figure eight loop.

Sansa looked up when she heard the outer door to the cabin open.

"Hi!" she said when Sandor had closed the inner door behind him. Her voice was perky and energetic. Sandor glanced at her quickly, surprised by the change in her demeanor. He nodded in her direction and sniffed the air.

"What's that smell?" he asked.

"I made chili," Sansa informed him. It was one of the few things she knew how to cook no matter the type of pot available. "There's no meat in it, but it's still pretty good without it." She shrugged her shoulders. "I thought you might be hungry by the time you got back and I wanted to do something for you for a change."

Sandor stared at her briefly not knowing what to say. He looked her up and down and said, "I need to get cleaned up."

"Okay, it'll keep." Sansa went back to the book and learned how to do a post clove hitch.

Chapter Text

Sandor lugged pails of water into the washing room. Since the cauldron was filled with food, he couldn't heat water for his bath, but he was looking forward to the cool refreshing water anyway. Something about Sansa's behavior was making him nervous. He tried not to think about it as he scrubbed himself clean and washed and combed his hair. Normally, when he was on his own, he didn't care that much how he looked and often tied his hair back out of the way. Tonight, Sandor swept his hair down over the side of his face in a feeble attempt to hide some of the scarring.

While Sandor dished out the chili, Sansa cut them each a thick slice of bread. They ate mostly in silence as they sat across from each other assessing and wondering. Sandor spoke only once to tell Sansa that the chili was good. He was too nervous to say more.

After they ate, Sandor cleaned up. Sansa remained sitting at the table waiting.

"I've got to go out out to the barn and do some work," Sandor said uneasily. It was just an excuse to get away and Sansa knew it.

"Come sit and talk to me," Sansa said nodding toward his chair.

Sandor evaluated his options. He could ignore her and get away outside, but the pull of her was irresistible and he found himself back at the table.

"How old are you?" Sansa asked.

"Why? What difference does it make?"

“Just curious.”

Sandor narrowed his eyes with suspicion. “I’m forty. Why do you want to know?”

Forty, Sansa thought. Thirteen years difference. Lady Di and Charles were thirteen years apart and look how that turned out. Sansa shouldered on. "I want to get to know you," she finally answered.

"Why? You’re going to be leaving soon anyway.”

“How about right now?” Sansa challenged. “We could be there in what … less than an hour?”

“What are you talking about?” Sandor asked, confused.

“If you’re so eager to get rid of me, let’s go now.”

“I told you. I’ve got to get the road cleared.”

Sansa stared at him. She hated being lied to, but she wasn’t angry, not with Sandor Clegane. How could she be?

“The road was cleared the day after the storm.” Before Sandor could protest, she added, “You’re friends a came by for a visit today. Nick Davos and Doc Tormund.” Sansa pointed to the corner next to her. “They brought me crutches.”

Sandor sat and stared at her. He didn’t know what to say. He swallowed hard and gave up. It was time for her to go. Clearly, that’s what she wanted.

“Fine. If you want to go to Leeston, I’ll take you in the morning.” He started to stand up.

“Sit down, Sandor!” The tone in Sansa’s voice caught him off guard and he sunk back onto his seat.

“I didn’t say I wanted to go to Leeston. You’re the one who’s been saying you want me to go. And yet the road has been cleared for four days and you haven’t taken me.” Sansa leaned across the table toward him. “Because you want me to stay.”

Sandor stood up and leaned on his knuckles. “What the fuck makes you think I’d want a spoiled princess like you to stay?”

Sansa tried to control the grin that wanted to spread across her face, but she lost the battle. “Because you think I’m cute.” She leaned down and retrieved the note from her pack. She unfolded it and slid it across the table between Sandor’s fists. He looked down at it as his cheeks started to turn pink.

“Because I didn’t run screaming. Because you’ve been sleeping on the couch right next to me instead of in the beautiful bedroom you have upstairs.”

The muscles in Sandor’s jaw quivered. He glared at Sansa, his shoulders heaving with what appeared to be rage, but he didn’t speak.

“Because you didn’t take me into Leeston even though you had lots of chances to,” Sansa reminded him. “Your friends seem to think you have feelings for me.”

“Does it matter how I feel?” Sandor asked her.”Do you think I’m stupid?”

“Not at all,” Sansa answered honestly.

“Then why would I risk letting myself get wrapped up in some spoiled little brat who’d head for the hills the first chance you got. Do you really think I’d believe a woman like you could have any interest in a man like me?” he shouted.

“Why not?” Sansa asked raising her voice to match his. “Give me one good reason why not.”

“Look at me!” he yelled pounding his fists on the table. Leaning as close to her as he could get from his side of the table, Sandor pulled back his hair and pointed to his scarred face. “Look at me!”

“I’ve seen your face. It doesn’t bother me.”

Sandor bellowed in frustration. He was going into a full on rage. “You know nothing about me. You don’t know what my life is like, where I came from, what I’ve been through.”

“So tell me!” Sansa pleaded.

Sandor screamed with rage. He lifted the long end of the table and flipped it over sending everything on it flying in all directions. With her good leg, Sansa pushed her chair back out of the way in time to watch the table upend and land upside down against the fireplace.

With the table out of the way, Sandor grabbed Sansa by the shoulders and growled in her face. “It’s none of your fucking business!”

On his way out the door, Sandor kicked a metal canister out of the way. A cloud of flour erupted. The canister landed somewhere in the living room with a clang. Sansa remained sitting until Sandor was well away from the cabin.

Sansa watched Sandor go out to the barn then began cleaning up the mess. The edge of the table had slid down the wall and was now resting in the hot coals of the fire but hadn’t yet caught alight. Sitting in a chair, Sansa pushed on one of the table struts with her good leg, shoving it far enough to drop off the edge of the hearth ledge away from the fire. To the best of her ability, she cleaned up the flour and anything else that had gone astray.

By the time she was done, Sansa figured Sandor had had enough time to calm down. She grabbed her crutches and went out to the barn to see him. When she arrived, Sandor was sitting on hay bales staring down between his feet. He looked sad and worn out.

Sansa took a chance and sat close next to him on the hay. She was on his right side. Tentatively, Sansa placed her hand on top of his and squeezed it. He didn’t pull it away. She reached up to the scarred side of his face and pulled his hair back behind his mangled ear, lightly brushing her fingertips over his gnarled skin. Sandor didn’t recoil from her touch.

“I won’t kid myself that I could have a life with you or any woman,” he told her without looking up.

“Why?” she asked, squeezing his hand.

“Tomorrow I’ll take you into Leeston and show you.”

Chapter Text

Sandor helped Sansa climb into the pickup truck. He stashed her crutches behind the seats and got in the driver's side beside her.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked before starting the engine.

Sansa nodded. "Yes. Are you sure you want to do this?"

Without answering, Sandor started the engine. As he started toward the road he said, "I've done it too many times already."

Not long after Sandor had turned off the mountain road and onto the two-lane highway, Sansa saw a break in the tree line where the edge of the town began.

It seemed like a quaint village built at the turn of the century. Tall brick buildings lined either side of a wide street edged with angled parking. Lots of the townfolk were out enjoying the warm, sunny weather.

As they were cruising into the center of town, Sansa checked her phone. Even in the middle of this small civilization, she still had no signal.

Sandor spotted an opening in front a squat 1950’s building of ugly yellow brick. It was the typical style for the United States Postal Service. Before Sandor had even angled the truck into the parking spot, Sansa noticed people on the street stopping and watching. Obviously, they recognized the vehicle and its owner.

Sansa started to open her door, but Sandor reached for her arm. He was about to say something, but changed his mind. Instead he told her, “I have to go to the post office and the library store. Stay close, okay?”

Sansa nodded, concerned by the reluctance in his voice. “Library store?” she asked.

“You’ll see.”

Sandor got out first so that he could retrieve her crutches and help her. As Sandor was closing the car door behind her and Sansa was getting balanced on the crutches, an older woman walked by them on the street. She threw them both a look of sheer disgust and snorted derisively. Sandor didn’t seem to notice.

Sandor opened the door of the post office and Sansa swung herself in. As Sandor approached the desk, the post master looked uncomfortable. He was a man in his sixties with a narrow face and small round glasses perched on the end of his nose. He looked over the edge of his spectacles at Sandor with a quick side glance at Sansa.

“I don’t want any trouble,” he informed Sandor.

“And you won’t get any if you give me what’s in my box so I can get out of here.”

“Doc usually gets your mail for you.”

“Well today I’m getting it.” Sandor kept a cool expression and waited patiently. The post master went into the back room and came back with two brown paper wrapped parcels slightly larger than a package of photocopy paper, and several envelopes.

“Thank-you,” Sandor said politely taking the items from the counter. As Sandor reached for them, the post master stepped back, never taking his eyes off of the mountain man.

Sandor put his mail in the truck before they moved onto his next errand. Sandor pointed across the street to a small signless shop. Sandor waited until there was enough time for Sansa to cross the street safely with her crutches. As they got close to the other side, a Dodge Charger careened around the corner and sped straight at them. At the last possible moment, the driver slammed on the brakes and blared endlessly on the horn. The driver leaned out the window and flipped them the bird.

“Get out of the way you fucking freak!”

When Sansa and Sandor were safely past the front bumper of the car, it peeled rubber down the main drag. Sansa and Sandor glanced at each other, but neither said a word.

When they entered the stuffy little shop that Sandor had referred to as the library shop, Sansa immediately understood why. The shop was divided in two. Library to the left, bookstore to the right. Sandor explained that the town was too small to support both, so the librarian used part of the shop as a bookstore. He didn’t keep much in stock, but would order in anything you wanted.

They were approached by a short rotund man with mousy brown hair and a Lincoln-style beard. He wore a baggy brown sweater and khakis. Despite the fact that he appeared the same age as Sansa, he wore senior citizen type loafers with Velcro closures.

“Well, it's a surprise to see you here," he said to Sandor. The man seemed mildly uncomfortable with Sandor’s presence, and yet at the same time, delighted to see him.

“Sansa Stark,” Sandor said swinging his hand toward the shopkeeper, “This is Sam Tarly.”

“Delighted to meet you, Miss,” Sam said nodding his head politely. He turned his attention to Sandor. “Your order came in. Shall I put it on your tab?”

“That would be great, Sam.”

Sam retrieved a plastic bag from the back room and handed it to Sandor. “Will you be looking for anything specific today?” Sam asked.

Sandor shook his head. “We’ll be on our way before you catch any hell.” Sam looked mildly relieved but was gracious as he said his good-byes.

“Is there anything you need while we’re here in town?” Sandor asked.

Sansa hesitated. Sandor was being overly accommodating, but she didn’t want to make him stay in town any longer than necessary. “Umm, no,” she said reluctantly with a shrug. “I didn’t bring any money with me.”

Sandor pulled out his wallet and handed her a fifty dollar bill. Sansa tried to refuse, but Sandor folded the bill and stuck it in the pocket of the flannel shirt she wore today.

“Pharmacy or general store?” he asked.


Sandor gestured in the direction they needed to go, a few doors down the street.

“Hey,mister.” Sansa and Sandor turned to see a six-year-old boy that had come up behind them.

“What happened to your face?” he asked innocently.

Sandor squatted down to eye level with the boy. “I was in a real bad accident,” he answered honestly and openly.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not anymore. Want to know what it feels like?” The boy nodded excitedly and started to reach toward Sandor’s face, but jerked to a stop when he heard a shriek.

“What are you doing?!”

Sandor jumped to his feet. A woman who reminded Sansa of the Wicked Witch of the West ran toward them and grabbed the boy’s hand to pull him away. She shook the boy violently and admonished him.

“That’s what happens to little boys who misbehave,” she told him. “If you don’t behave you’ll burn in the everlasting fires of hell.” The boy started to bawl. She looked directly at Sandor. “Stop scaring little children and go back to where you came from,” she hissed. She turned and hurried away dragging the little boy behind her.

Sansa was speechless. She felt as though she should have said something instead of just standing there and letting it all happen, but she had been shocked into stupor.

“I’m sorry, Sandor. I should have said something.”

Sandor shook his head. “There’s nothing you could have said to a woman like that. According to her, everyone is going to burn in eternal damnation for something or other.”

They turned back and continued to the pharmacy, but they weren’t going to make it there today. As they neared the door to the shop, a group of five young men appeared out of nowhere. At the head of them was the driver of the car that had threatened to run them down.

He chortled. “Whatta we got here, boys? Looks like the freak got himself a little girlfriend.” He laughed crudely. “Beauty and the beast.”

“We don’t want any trouble, Shawn. We’re just here to run some errands,” Sandor informed him.

Shawn ignored him and turned his attention to Sansa. “Hey there, sexy,” he said leering at her. Shawn jerked his head toward Sandor. “Do you make him fuck you from behind so you don’t have to look at his face?”

Sansa’s jaw dropped in shock and disgust.

“That’s enough, Shawn!” Sandor bellowed stepping slightly in front of Sansa. Shawn swung himself around so that Sansa was between the two men.

Shawn reached out to stroke her cheek. Sansa wrenched her head away. “When you’re ready for a real man, you come and see me.”

Sansa wasn’t going to keep quiet this time. “If you even had a penis you’d know it takes more than a little gummy worm to be a real man,” she said flicking her eyes toward his crotch. Shawn snarled and swung his arm up aiming for Sansa’s cheek, but Sandor blocked him.

“I think that’s enough bullshit for today, Shawn,” Sandor told him. Sandor had his fingers tightly wrapped around Shawn’s wrist. Shawn struggled but Sandor was twice as big and twice as strong.

“Did the freak tell you he murdered his whole family?” Shawn hissed. Sansa tried to hide her startled reaction. Sandor squeezed Shawn’s wrist threatening to break it as the younger man whined and thrashed trying to get away.

Sansa wrapped her fingers around Sandor’s free hand and gave it a squeeze. “Let’s go home,” she told him. Finally, Sandor released him and Shawn slinked away rubbing his wrist.

When he was a safe distance away, Shawn said, “Get the fuck out of town, freak!”

Safely back in the truck, Sansa and Sandor were strangely quiet. Sansa had no idea what to say. She’d had no idea that people could be so cruel. Sansa realized that Sandor could have told her about the way people were with him, but he'd wanted her to experience it first hand so there was no doubt about the truth of it. She put no confidence in Shawn’s statement about Sandor murdering his family. People said things like that when they were frightened and didn’t know any better, but it had rattled her nonetheless.

“Do you mind if we stop by the factory and see Nick?” Sansa asked. “I’d like to ask a favor of him.”

“Sure,” Sandor said. He looked happy to be leaving Leeston behind for the day. Just on the outskirts of town, Sandor turned onto a narrow paved lane that led to Nick’s factory. As soon as he pulled the truck into the parking lot, Nick came rushing out the front door.

“Hound!” he shouted with his characteristic grin.

“Half-Hand!” Sandor shouted back with a half smile. They smacked each other on the back good-naturedly and proceeded to help Sansa out of the truck.

“Good to see you again, my dear.” Nick winked at her. “What are you two doing in town at this time of day?”

Sansa and Sandor looked at each other uncomfortably. The exchange seemed to worry Nick.

“Actually, I came to ask a favor.” Sansa piped up. “I have no signal on my phone and I need to contact my family and my work – let them know what’s happened to me,” she explained.

Nick held her affectionately by the shoulders and said, “Make as many calls as you like. Go right in the front office and Jeannie will get you a line out.” He rocked back on his heels and put his hands in his pockets. “Sandor and I are going to stay out here and have a chat.” His look indicated that it would be more than just a chat, so Sansa left them alone to talk.

When Sansa returned after making her calls, Nick was giving Sandor a friendly punch on the arm. Whatever they had been saying, Sandor nodded in agreement as he glanced over at Sansa. “I will. I promise,” he told Nick.

Sandor got in the truck and Nick walked Sansa to her side. Out of earshot from Sandor, he told her, “Sandor Clegane is a good man. He’s been through some hardships … as we all have,” he said reminding her of his missing fingers, “but he truly is a good man. I trust him with my life and I would do anything to protect him. I hope I don’t have to say any more.”

Sansa understood. “It was nice seeing you again, Nick. And thank-you for letting me use your phone.”

“If you ever need anything … anything … let me know.” Nick helped her into the truck and waved as they drove away.


Chapter Text

The silence in the truck was deafening and unbearable. Neither Sansa nor Sandor were ready to discuss the events of the day, but Sansa had to say something before the atmosphere cracked wide open.

“If you never go into town during the day, how do you get the things you need, your mail, your books?” Sansa asked.

Sandor looked straight ahead through the windshield as he answered. “I have a key to Doc’s place. If I need medical supplies I take them and leave him a note. If I need anything else, I leave him a note and he gets it for me. Doc also picks up my mail and leaves it in his office for me. Sam has an apartment at the back of the library so I just knock on his door and he lets me in. Same with Jerry – he owns the grocery market.”

“Oh.” Sansa sat quietly as Sandor turned onto his private road. She wanted desperately to broach the subject of what she’d witnessed, wanted to tell him she understood, but the truth is that she would never understand. Yes, she was appalled at the behavior of those people, but she would never be on the receiving end of their looks and comments as Sandor always would be.

Sandor watched Sansa out of the corner of his eye. She was quiet and thoughtful. He hoped he hadn’t been too hard on her the day before. He also hadn’t expected her to remain so cool and calm. Sandor could tell by her expression that she hadn’t regretted coming into Leeston with him, being seen with him. In fact, after bumping into Shawn, she had taken his hand to lead him away from the confrontation.

Sandor rubbed one hand over the knuckles of his other, trying to remember what her fingers felt like on his. Sandor wished he could reach over and take her hand and hold onto it tightly. Suddenly, he was warm. He rolled down the window to let the breeze cool him off. Sandor hoped he wasn’t misinterpreting her reaction to all of this. Sansa seemed strong. She didn’t hold the same opinions as others and saw nothing different about him except a severe wound.

All of this made him want to open his heart to her, but he couldn’t - not yet. Not until she knew the whole truth. Sandor just hoped that Sansa would continue to be the same person he had seen in her so far. A battle raged within him. Part of him hoped that she could see past it all. The other part of him had no hope for love from a woman like her to a monster like him.

It would be hard not to try and influence her to get her to see it from his point of view. But Sandor knew that if he tried that and failed, he would only drive Sansa away farther and faster.

Halfway up the private mountain road, Sandor stopped the truck and looked at Sansa.  He took a few deep breaths as he looked over her. Despite the slightly worried look on her face, she smiled softly and something inside him crumpled a little. He wanted to be able to let go and throw himself into a freefall, but knew that if he was wrong, it would devastate him. He decided that he just wanted to let her know that he hadn’t given up on her.

“I promise you that I’ll tell you everything you want to know, okay?” Sansa smiled back at him. Sandor was relieved when she held out her hand to him. He accepted it into his with reassurance and continued driving up to the cabin.

Sandor stood in the doorway of the cabin and watched Sansa sit at the table. Sansa waited for him to join her but he just stood there. Sandor was nervous. His hands were shaking and he was sweating. He wondered if Sansa could hear his heart pounding from across the room. He was trying to think of the words he would say to her. Sansa could almost see the thoughts flitting around behind his eyes.

“The reason I could never imagine you wanting to be with me doesn’t have anything to do with way I look,” Sandor finally admitted. He tentatively stepped around the table to the chair facing Sansa. “I knew that from the first time you saw my face.”

Sandor looked as though he was having a hard time breathing. He knew if he didn’t get this out now, he would lose his nerve. He sat down across from Sansa and wrung his hands. It was difficult for him to look at her, but he forced himself to do it.

“The first person I ever killed was my mother,” he told her. “She died in childbirth. I know it wasn’t my fault, but because of me, my father was left with a baby and young son to take care of so he resented me from the moment I was born. We were poor, so my father moved us up into the hills on the other side of Leeston and discovered a way to make a lot of money.” Sandor stopped and looked up at Sansa to see her reaction so far. She was attentive, but Sandor couldn’t read her expression, so he continued.

“My father started a meth lab. I had an aunt in town so she had me most of the time when I was a baby. She wasn’t a very good person, but she wasn’t bad either. My brother, Gregor, was six, but he was still old enough to help out so my dad kept him there. For six years Gregor was exposed to all those chemicals and it did something to him. My dad was a user and when he got older, Gregor was using, too.

“By that time, business was booming and my dad needed more help. I was six, so he took me back and made me work. That’s how I met Nick Davos. He worked for us.”

“I stayed away from the chemicals and the drugs, so I survived okay, but Gregor was …” Sandor paused to think of how to explain it to Sansa. “He wasn’t right,” Sandor said making a twisting motion by his head.

“Gregor and my dad always used to go off hunting for days at a time. They left me behind to watch the place. I was glad when they went away because it meant they weren’t beating me up. Sometimes when they were gone, Nick would come. We sort of became friends, but you can never really have friends – not in that business.”

“One day, my dad accused Nick of stealing from him. They held him there for days, kept cutting off his fingers. Eventually, they were going to kill him, but I waited until they were asleep and I let him go.”

“Why didn’t you go with him?” Sansa asked.

Sandor shrugged. “By that time I was only ten or twelve. I didn’t know any better. I had no place to go, I didn’t know anyone, my aunt was dead. And …” Sandor took a deep breath. Shame clouded his face. “I’d never been to school. I didn’t even know how to read.”

“A few years later, I was out hunting or getting firewood … something, and … well, Gregor was almost twenty by then. He had a little shack about a mile away. I never paid any attention to it before. I figured it was just the kind of place a boy his age had where he smoked and looked at his magazines … you know.”

“Anyway, I was in that area and I heard a noise so I went there and looked inside.” Sandor looked up at Sansa and stared hard. The look on his face frightened her.

Sansa sat back and swallowed. She looked fragile. Sandor wanted to hold her and comfort her, but there was more to tell.

“He had a girl in there. She was tied to the bed. I won’t tell you what he did, I could never tell you that. But that’s not the worst part. Gregor’s shack was full of hiking equipment. There were backpacks and ski jackets and boots and … they were all women’s. It wasn’t the first time.”

A slowly growing sense of horror was coming over Sansa. Sandor could see it in her face. He had started this though and so he had to see it through to the end.

“I let her go. I don’t know how long she’d been there, but she was in pretty rough shape. I went back to our cabin, maybe to distract them so she’d have time to get away, maybe because I was just in shock. On my way back, they caught me. They knew what I’d done. That’s when I found out what their hunting trips were really about.”

Sandor pointed to his face. “This is what he did to me.” When he looked up, Sandor could see tears starting in Sansa’s eyes. She stayed quiet and listened.

“Gregor beat me up pretty bad. My dad just watched when Gregor grabbed me by the hair and pushed my face into the fireplace. Because I took his toy away from him. He held me down while I screamed. I was fourteen and I was pretty big even then, but Gregor was bigger and stronger and he was cranked.”

“I could feel my face burning away. The pain was bad, but the smell … that was so much worse.” Sandor reached up and pulled his hair down over his face, not even realizing that he was doing it. When he looked up again, Sansa’s face was streaming with tears, the shock and disgust evident on her face.

“When the police got there, they found the cabin and the meth lab. They found Gregor’s place. But they couldn’t find my dad or Gregor anywhere. They were never seen again.”

Sandor stopped and waited for Sansa to get herself under control. Between sniffles, she asked Sandor, “They got away? Gregor and your dad?”

Sandor shook his head slowly.

Sansa crinkled her brow as it dawned on her. “You?” she asked pointing at Sandor.

Sandor nodded.

Sansa covered her mouth with her hands to try and keep from sobbing.

 After a few moments, he spoke again. “No one knew what to do with me, so when Nick came and claimed me, they let me stay with him. He taught me to read, made me go to school but I wasn’t there for very long, maybe a year. I couldn’t stand it there so I came up here when I was fifteen. I’ve been here ever since.”

“Why didn’t you leave? You could have gone to the city. You could have gotten help. In the city no one cares if people look different.”

“I had to stay. The girl that I let go? She wasn’t a trekker like you. She was just on a day hike with friends when they got separated and she got lost. She was from around here. When I let her go … she was pregnant. She had a son.”

Sandor watched Sansa’s face, but he could tell she hadn’t quite made the connection.

“The boy is my nephew.”

Understanding dawned in Sansa’s eyes. “He’s Gregor’s son?” Sandor nodded. “Do you ever see him?” she asked.

Sandor nodded again. “You met him today.”

Chapter Text

Using the sleeve of her shirt, Sansa wiped the tears from her face. There was so much to think about. Sandor had been an abused and neglected child with nowhere to turn for help. He had been uneducated and held captive by the only family he knew.

Sandor had been one of millions of children who are caught in miserable situations with no way out. For the terrible crimes his father and brother had committed, against those women, against Nick, and against him, Sandor had finally fought back. He had made them disappear. He killed them. Was it justified? Had justice really been served? And now there was a little Gregor running around out there somewhere.

Her face was puffy and red from crying, but Sandor could see the fear in her eyes. A nervous tingle edged through him. It was one of the things he had worried about. He didn’t want Sansa to be afraid of him.

“Why didn’t you just let the police get them? They would have gone to prison.”

“They would have gotten out of prison.”

“But there were so many girls,” Sansa said.

“There was one girl,” Sandor told her. “They never found any others. I knew my father and brother were smarter than that. Without a …” Sandor hesitated not wanting to say the word. “Without a body, it’s circumstantial. I didn’t want to take that chance.”

Sandor read the doubt on Sansa’s face. He was starting to lose her. He couldn’t help himself but try to convince her. “I knew the law because my father knew the laws and he made sure we knew them, too. When you’re a drug dealer you make sure you know the law so you can play it to your advantage.”

Sansa couldn’t look Sandor in the face. He felt her starting to slip away from him. “I didn’t plan it, Sansa. They hurt me and so I lashed out. I hurt them for all the women they’d hurt – women just like you. Then I hurt them for all the people they’d hurt with their drugs. I hurt them for Nick.” Sandor was getting angry. He wasn’t angry with Sansa, he was frustrated because he couldn’t stop all the old feelings from resurfacing. All the hurt and torment came rushing back at him.

Sandor thumped his fists on the table as he stood up. Sansa jolted in her chair. “I hurt them so that they could never hurt anyone ever again.” Sandor paced the floor trying to control his rage. He stalked up to the fireplace hearth and punched the stones with his fists, venting his fury. When it was drained out of him, Sandor leaned his forehead against the cold stone, his body sagging.

“Aren’t there enough monsters in the world?” he asked no one in particular. Worn out, Sandor returned to his chair across from Sansa, but she wouldn’t look at him. He had lost her. Maybe it was better that way. She could go back to her world and he could stay in his.

Sansa suddenly got up and grabbed her crutches. “I need to go outside,” she told him.  When Sandor moved to get out of his chair, Sansa held up her hand to him. She wanted to be alone.

As soon as Sansa was out the door, Sandor’s body began to tremble. He had tried to warn himself of this. He had tried to control his expectations and not invest too many hopes in the possibility of having Sansa in his life. But she had gotten inside him – more than he wanted.

It wasn’t just Sansa, it was knowing that if there was no hope for him with someone like her, there would be no hope for him with anyone. He bit into his scraped knuckles trying to control the trembling while he waited for his judgment.

The cool afternoon air hit Sansa’s face and she couldn’t hold it any longer. She bolted off the edge of the porch as her crutches clattered to the ground and she vomited. It could have been her. Sansa realized that she could have been another victim of the Clegane family legacy. Shawn was out there, a product of his demented father, while she had been alone on the trail lost in the woods.

Sandor hadn’t stopped all the violence. Or had he? Her imagination was getting away from her again. Sansa couldn’t presume that Shawn was anything like that half of his DNA. He was an angry young man whose father was a monster and who had been the product of a rape, but Sansa couldn’t assume that he was any more than that.

Sansa hobbled over to the rain barrel and rinsed her mouth. While she leaned over it looking at her reflection, she saw a frightened little girl who had been rescued and taken in by a man who had killed his own father and brother. With the memories of the family she’d grown up in, Sansa couldn’t even fathom what it must have been like for him to be raised that way. So was it all justified?

Nick had told her that Sandor was a good man. Sandor had saved his life. Sandor had saved Sansa’s life. And the life of the woman who had given birth to Gregor’s son. Nick and Doc said that Sandor had found many lost hikers over the years. How many of those were lives that might have been lost otherwise?

Sansa sat back on the edge of the porch and closed her eyes. In an instant, she was thrown back to the day of the storm, the day she had been dragged down the mountain and into the landslide. She felt the weight of the earth and rocks around her and she was cold. Then she’d felt the heat of Sandor’s hand as he’d pulled her from the mud dam panicked and screaming. He had wrapped his arms around her as she thrashed in fear and pain, trying to keep her from hurting herself even more.

Sansa hadn’t realized that the memories of that day had been in her the whole time. She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. She wept until she was dry. With a shuddering breath, Sansa picked up her crutches and went inside.

When Sansa came in, Sandor was sitting with his hands clasped in front of him and his head down. He lifted his head quickly watching as Sansa approached on his side of the table. He was pale and defeated, already having guessed at the judgment against him.

Sansa knew what she was doing. She had made the right decision.

Sansa leaned her crutches against the wall and attempted to stand solidly on both legs, her fists balled at her sides. She winced and shifted her weight to her good leg.  Her jaw was set with determination as she clenched and unclenched her fingers.

“You won’t hurt me,” she told Sandor. It wasn’t a question.

The defeat in Sandor’s face disappeared as he sucked in a sharp breath. He slowly rose to his feet and faced her. Sansa didn’t move except for the opening and closing of her fists. Sandor took a cautious step toward her. Again, Sansa didn’t move, but she was on her guard.

“No, I won’t hurt you,” he told her. Sandor couldn’t imagine ever hurting Sansa. He hoped she realized that it would be impossible for him to harm her in any way.

Sandor slowly stepped closer, his heart pounding. He was afraid that if he moved too quickly, she might bolt. When he was within reach of her, Sandor placed his hands on her shoulders and pulled her toward him. He wrapped his arms around her feeling her small body rigid and trembling against his chest.

Sandor rested his chin on top of her head and breathed in the scent of her. He kept one arm around her and put the other on the back of her head and stroked her hair. The warmth of her trembling body rushed over him, but he went no further with her. Sansa would have to come the rest of the way to him. If he had to, he was still prepared to let her go.

When Sansa finally lifted her arms and wrapped them around him, Sandor was so awash in relief and joy that he felt hot tears in the corners of his eyes, but he blinked them away. He hugged her a little tighter. Sansa relaxed, pressed herself into his chest and hugged him back.

Chapter Text

Sansa was down to one crutch. After only six days, she was able to put very limited weight on her injured knee. She exercised the joint as often as she could, but she didn’t want to push it too hard and end up with a worse injury than she already had.

Sansa set the slop pail down so that she could unlock the doggie door in the barn. Sandor had laughed at her when she called it that, but he had to admit that’s exactly what it looked like. The little pigs came squealing out into the fresh air and waited expectantly at their trough. Sansa filled it and watched them greedily gobble the scraps.

“Don’t get too attached,” Sandor warned. He pointed to one of the pigs. “That’s Christmas dinner.” Then he pointed to the other pig. “That one will be for Easter.”

Sandor sat down on the wooden bench beside Sansa and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. They had agreed to take things slow. Both of them still had things they needed to work out.

“Am I invited?” Sansa asked jokingly.

“Of course. You know I would want you here, but …” He looked at her curiously. “Don’t you have family to be with?”

Sansa shrugged. “I don’t know. I have four brothers, a sister, and my mother, but we’re not exactly a big happy family right now.”


Sansa explained to Sandor how her family had been torn apart and spread around the globe. Jon was in Alaska, Rob was in Afghanistan, and the last Sansa had heard, Arya was somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean.

“Didn’t you say you have four brothers?”

“I have two younger brothers, Bran and Rick. Bran’s 24 and Rick just turned 20. They’re in college and they have girlfriends and family isn’t really their main priority right now so I don’t know if they would even make it home for Christmas.”

“What about you?” Sansa asked. “You wouldn’t be fattening a pig if you’re going to be alone, would you?”

“What makes you think I would be alone? There would be five of us. Six if you were here.”

Sansa counted on her fingers. “I presume you mean Nick Davos and Doc Tormund, but who else?”

“Well, there would be me, Doc, Nick and his wife, and my nephew.”

Sansa leaned back in shock. “Really? You would want your nephew here?”

Sandor nodded. “Of course.”

“But why? He hates you.”

Sandor looked confused. “He doesn’t hate me. Why would you think that?”

Sansa wondered if they were having the same conversation. She was standing right beside Sandor when they were in Leeston that day. “He had some pretty nasty things to say,” Sansa recalled.

Sandor looked insulted. “Since when is it nasty to say ‘Nice to meet you’ to someone?”

“When did Shawn say that?” Sansa asked, distinctly recalling every foul word that had come from his mouth.

Sandor threw his head back and laughed heartily. Sansa was relieved to finally see him smile so genuinely, but she didn’t get the joke.

“Shawn isn’t my nephew. Sam is.”

Sansa’s jaw hit the floor. “Sam?!” Sandor nodded. A big grin was plastered across his face.

“But Sam is so nice. I guess I assumed that any son of Gregor's would be a lot more like he was.”

Sandor waved away the idea. “Shawn is just some angry kid. He’s a small mind in a small town. Fortunately, Sam got all his mother’s DNA. She was a pretty nice lady.”

“Was?” Sansa asked cautiously.

“She did her best, but after what she went through with Gregor, she had a pretty hard time of it. She never blamed me for any of it. She made me promise that if anything happened to her, I would take care of Sam. They didn’t have a lot of money, so I sent Sam to college. I think that when she saw how well Sam was doing, she figured he didn’t need her anymore and she kinda gave up. She died about three years ago.”

“Does Sam know the whole truth about what happened?”

Sandor nodded. “He knows everything. We’re pretty close and I look out for him. He’s working on his masters in English literature right now. I don’t think he needs me too much anymore,” Sandor admitted.

Sansa put her arm around Sandor and snuggled into his shoulder. “Don’t you ever give up,” she told him. She wanted to tell Sandor it was because she needed him, but she wasn’t ready for that. Not yet.

Chapter Text

“I wrote a book,” Sandor explained. He went to his fourth bookshelf, moved a few volumes around and removed a thick, hard-bound book. He came back to the dining table, sat next to Sansa, and handed her the book.

Life From Nothing – A Guide to Organic Wilderness Survival

“You wrote this?” Sansa asked. She was truly surprised given Sandor’s lack of education.

“Nick taught me to read and he made me go to school. I hated school so I didn’t stay long. It wasn’t just because of my face,” Sandor explained. “It was because of who I was. Even though I was nothing like my dad and my brother, people would always associate me with them. I would always be a Clegane – at least in name.”

As she listened, Sansa opened the book and flipped through the pages. Sandor shifted closer under the pretense of looking at the book with her. Her aroma was intoxicating to him and he wanted more of her.

“I did love to learn, though,” Sandor continued. “I read voraciously. Anything I could get my hands on. I learned a lot, but this,” he said indicating the cabin around them, “was the only thing I knew how to do. There were lots of books on gardening, building, hunting, but nothing that explained how to start and all the in-between – how to make it all work together.”

“Nick found a publisher who agreed to come out here to meet me. I was still pretty self-conscious back then. When the publishing agent came out and looked at what I’d written, he was surprised that it was so well written. He asked me who edited my book. I told him I did it myself. Because of the way I live – I’ll get to that in a moment – he asked if I’d be interested in an editing job. I told him I would, but that I prefer my life out here and Jim – that’s his name, Jim Thorpe – said that’s why he offered it to me.”

“I don’t get it,” Sansa said shaking her head in confusion.

“The author he had in mind had very strict requirements for his process,” Sandor said making air quotes. He casually dropped his arm around Sansa’s shoulders. “The man is very peculiar. He’s paranoid of technology.”

Suddenly Sansa understood. “Lord Varys?” she asked recalling Sandor’s unorthodox collection. Sandor nodded. He reached behind him to the cabinet to get the two parcels they’d picked up in Leeston a few days before. He gave one to Sansa so they could each open a package. Under the brown wrapping paper was exactly what Sansa expected – photocopy paper boxes. Inside the boxes were a stack of hand-written manuscript pages. Each box contained one copy of the same manuscript. Sandor was free to mark them up as he saw fit.

“In addition to editing his books, I do research for him. He pays me a lot for that. Plus my book did really well. So that’s how I could afford to send Sam to college.”

Sansa turned to look at Sandor. He had drawn himself closer to her. With his slightly parted lips and soft expression, Sansa knew what he wanted, she could see it in his eyes. It wasn’t lustful or insistent or possessive. There was just wanting.

 With one arm around her shoulders, Sandor moved his other hand and gently rested it on Sansa’s knee. Sansa jumped to her feet shoving her chair away from the table. “I’ll start cleaning up if you’ll go get some water,” she suggested awkwardly.

Sansa didn’t notice Sandor’s shoulders drop as she made her way around the table away from him collecting their plates and glasses. It hadn't been the first time she'd reacted that way, but Sandor was hoping that if he kept trying, gently, that eventually Sansa would come around.

Sandor got up and went outside. He came back in with two buckets of water. He poured one into the wash basin while Sansa scraped the plates and the skillet into the slop bucket.

Sandor stood back and watched Sansa as she began washing the dishes. She was pretending not to notice that he was there. Sandor chewed his lip trying to decide what to do next. He wanted his relationship with Sansa to move forward. He wanted to be patient with her, but damn, he wanted her.

Forcing himself to be tender and cautious, Sandor moved behind Sansa. He placed his hands on her hips and slowly moved them under the hem of her shirt to touch the skin on her waist.

“Don’t!” Sansa screeched as she whirled on him.

Sandor stepped back with his hands up in surrender. Sansa tried to slow her panicked breathing. When she saw Sandor’s eyes flick nervously to her right, she followed his line of sight to the steak knife in her hand. Sansa was shocked, not even realizing she had grabbed it and pointed it at him.

“Is that what you think of me?” he demanded. “Will I always be just another Clegane to you?”

Sansa gulped and dropped the knife on the floor by her side. She put her head down, unable to look Sandor in the eye. She was frightened and embarrassed, but neither did she try to explain or appeal to him.

“Do you think I would hurt you?” he asked, bewildered. Sansa shook her head still staring at the floor, trembling.

“Then what? What is it?” Sandor pleaded.

“I don’t know,” Sansa whimpered.

“You don’t know what? You don’t know if you trust me? You don’t know how you feel? What is it?” Again, Sansa didn’t answer and wouldn’t look him in the face.

“Do you feel anything for me at all?” Sandor’s voice was strangely calm.

“I … I don’t know,” she stammered.

Sandor’s heart sunk. Sansa had expressed a desire to be with him. She had even shown him some affection. But the closer he tried to get, the more she pulled away.

“What is it you want from me, Sansa? Do you even know what you want?”

Sansa looked up, her eyes wide and frightened. In that face, Sandor could imagine what she must have looked like as a young teenager, awkward and unsure of herself.

Sansa shook her head.

“Then why are you still here? If you don’t want to be here you could have left days ago.” Sandor was exasperated. He wanted so much to be able to love Sansa, but only if she could feel the same way about him. Sandor didn’t want to say his next words, but he needed to be honest with her.

“If you can’t feel anything for me, there’s no reason for you to be here.”

Sansa burst into tears and hurried out the door grabbing her crutches and Sandor’s car keys on the way out. Sandor let her go. He sat on the edge of the porch in the deepening twilight and stared out into the trees.

Sandor’s heart wrenched with pain. He hadn’t meant to let himself get so attached so quickly, but Sansa was irresistible. She was beautiful, intelligent, caring, and thoughtful. She thought for herself and was stronger than she realized. More than anything, it hurt to sit here and not go after her. But he couldn’t force her to love him. That’s what would make him a monster.

Sansa drove Sandor’s truck into Leeston. She didn’t know where else to go. She just needed to get away, to think, to figure things out.  Her mind wouldn’t stop thinking about Sandor or the things he’d said to her, so she drove slow to make up for her lack of focus.

Sansa hadn’t left for home because she wanted to stay. There were feelings, oh yes, there were definitely feelings, but they were stuck inside her and she couldn’t get them out. Sansa wouldn’t even know what words to use if she had the courage to talk to Sandor about it.

Sandor was the cliché. He was everything she could ever want in a man.  He was strong, sensitive, gentle, and handsome despite his scars. He had trusted enough in her to tell her his story. She had her own story and her own scars, but her scars were on the inside. They were deep, they were still painful and she was partly to blame for them. If Sandor knew, he would never be able to look at her the same way again.

In downtown Leeston, Sansa could have shot a machine gun down the middle of the street and not hit anything. She could have danced naked in the middle of the only intersection in town, and no one would have noticed. The town was dead.

There were a few lights on inside the homes and some of the apartments above the storefronts, but the town was tucked in for the night. Sansa looked at the dashboard clock. It was only 7:00pm.

Sansa pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. Even in the middle of the summer, it got really cold at night in the mountains. Sansa knew this, but she hadn’t been thinking when she’d bolted out the door without a jacket. The inside of the truck quickly turned chilly. She could turn the engine on again, but she’d already taken Sandor’s truck. Burning an entire tank of gas just because she was cold would be pushing too far.

 Sansa took a deep breath, blew her hair out of her face and knocked on the door. When the door opened, a young mousy-haired woman opened it and peered out at her.

“Hello,” she said brightly. She had a quirky smile that made her buck teeth seem a little more prominent.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I must have the wrong door.” Sansa stammered, confused. Sandor did say that Sam lived at the back of the library. Sansa wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. “Sorry to disturb you.”

As she was about to turn away, Sansa heard Sam’s voice. “Who was it?” he asked the young woman. He came to the door and saw Sansa as she was about to leave.

“Oh, hello,” he said. “I’m sorry I’ve forgot your name.”

“Hi Sam, I’m Sansa.” She shivered again and rubbed her arms.

“Come in, please,” he told her making room between him and the woman. “Let’s get you out of the cold.” Once they were inside, Sam introduced them. “Sansa, this is my girlfriend Gilly. She’s visiting from Portland for a couple of weeks before school starts again.” He leaned toward Gilly and said, “This is Sansa. I think she’s my uncle’s girlfriend.”

“You’re not sure?” Gilly asked him. She turned to smile at Sansa. “It’s nice to meet you, Sansa.” She turned back to Sam and said, “What do you mean you’re not sure?” Her smile and manner were sweet and genuine just like Sam’s.

“Well, I’ve only just met her once for a brief moment a few days ago.” They both turned and smiled at Sansa as though they suddenly remembered she was there.

“Honestly, I’m not even sure,” Sansa said. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, all the mixed up feelings inside her exploded and she burst into tears. Sam and Gilly bustled her into the small cozy living room and sat her down.

“I’m sorry,” Sansa told them. “The only other people I know in Leeston are Nick and Doc and I don’t know where they live. I didn’t know where else to go.”

“That’s okay,” Sam said. “I’m happy to have you here. What’s wrong?”

“Sandor and I got into a big fight. He wants to be with me and I want to be with him. He’s been so patient with me, but I panicked when he tried to put his arms around me and …”

“Oh ahh …” Sam stood up and backed out of the room. “Sounds like talk for women. I’ll be in the library if you need me,” he said as he hurried away.

Talking to a woman who was a total stranger, who didn’t know her at all, made Sansa somehow willing to open up. She was embarrassed, but she told Gilly the whole truth.

Gilly smiled sympathetically. When she started to speak, Sansa was surprised by her thick southern accent. “When I first met Sam, I didn’t ever think he could love somebody like me, not with what I been through. You see, my momma walked out on my daddy on account that he was sleeping around with other women. He got real drunk and mean all the time and started molesting me and my four sisters. We got taken away and put in foster care, but I always somehow thought it was my fault.” Gilly paused and put her hand on Sansa’s shoulder. “Now I know that what happened to you ain’t the same, but the point is, it wasn’t your fault any more than it was mine. If Sam’s uncle is a good man, he knows that it don’t matter what’s been done to you. What matters is what you do.”

“But I was so stupid. I let it happen.” Sansa shook her head. “No, he could never love me knowing what I did.”

“Why don’t you let him decide that? You can go home and you’ll both be hurt and wondering or you can tell him the truth. If he decides he doesn’t want you, you can still go home and you’ll know …” Gilly lifted her head in defiance. “… that he wasn’t worth havin’ in the first place!”

“Thanks, Gilly. I really appreciate you listening.” Sansa felt a little bit lighter inside, but she would still have to face Sandor. “I hope you’re right.”

Gilly went and retrieved Sam from the library so that he could see Sansa off.

“I’m sorry this is the way we had to meet again, Sam. I was hoping it would be better that the first time I met you. You seemed nervous about Sandor being there and – ”

Sam shook his head. “Oh no, not at all. I wasn’t nervous about Uncle being there. I was nervous about you being there. I wasn’t sure if you knew about me and I was worried what you’d think about me because of who my father was.”

“Sam, I could never hold any of that against you. None of that was your fault.”

“Ah ha!” Gilly said, playfully punching Sansa on the arm. “See?”

Chapter Text

When Sansa arrived back at Sandor’s cabin, he was still sitting on the edge of the porch waiting for her. He didn’t get up to help her out of the truck, didn’t move to meet her as she came toward him.

Sandor sat with his elbows leaning on his knees, looking at the ground. As Sansa came closer he looked at her briefly, then back at the ground.

“Sandor, I’m sorry,” Sansa said. “I’m sorry because I made you think that I don’t have feelings for you.” Sansa gulped. This was really hard for her and it was only the beginning.

“I do have feelings for you,” she admitted. Sansa tried to control the trembling. She wasn’t sure if it was the cold night air or the fear. No matter, she was determined to be strong. It’s why she had taken this trip in the first place.

“I wasn’t pointing the knife at you. I was pointing it at someone else. I guess I got confused for a moment because I know you’re not him.”

Sansa took a few steps closer. Her gait was stumbling because her knee had stiffened in the cool dampness. Sandor was looking at her now instead of the ground.

“I’m afraid, Sandor. I’m always afraid. It’s not because of anything you’ve done. It’s because of what I did and I can’t make it go away. I can’t make him go away.” Sansa took a few more steps and Sandor sat up straight.

“He’ll always be there because I was stupid and I was naive and I let him do things to me and …” Sansa started to cry. Sandor stood up, but didn’t move toward Sansa.

“The first time you tried to touch me, it reminded me of all that and I didn’t think that you would ever be able to look at me if you knew the truth.”

This time, it was Sandor who took a few steps closer to Sansa.

“When you touched me it was …” Sansa stopped to reassure herself that she was saying the right thing. “It was with kindness and tenderness and … with love. I’m not used to someone touching me that way.”

“If you want to stay here,” Sandor told her, “you’re going to have to get used to me touching you that way.” Sandor stepped forward and took hold Sansa’s hands. “I doubt there’s anything you could tell me that would make me see you for what you’ve done instead of who you are.” Sandor tenderly wiped the tears from Sansa’s face.

“Do you want to stay here?” he asked.

“Yes,” she answered with a sniffle.

“Do you want to stay here because you want to be with me?”

Sansa nodded. Sandor bent so he could look her in the eye, and taking her face in his hands he said, “Then tell me what he did to you.”

Sansa closed her eyes, took a deep breath and held it. When she exhaled, she took Sandor by the hand and led him inside. She made her way across the kitchen to the stairs. Sansa tried to take the first step, but winced when she put too much pressure on her knee. She turned to face Sandor.

“Can you take me upstairs?”

“What? Sansa no. We’re not going to do that. A minute ago you were afraid to let me touch you. And now – ”

“No,” Sansa told him. “It’s not that. I need to show you something and I think I would be more comfortable upstairs.” Somehow the loft suite felt more secluded and intimate, more private. Kitchens, Sansa believed, were for cooking and sharing the details of your day at work and laughter and living. The loft was the kind of room where secrets were shared and confessions were made.

“Are you sure?” he asked. Sandor was concerned that she was giving him something because she thought it was what he wanted. It wasn’t what he wanted. Not this way.

Sansa nodded and swung her arm around his shoulders when he moved to pick her up. At the top of the stairs, Sandor set her on her feet and lent her an arm as she moved toward the bed.

“Sansa what is this about?” Sandor asked, his concern growing.

Sansa lit the hurricane lamp on the bedside table giving the room a warm, cozy glow. “Sit down,” Sansa directed pointing to the edge of the bed. Sandor sat. Sansa stood in front of him and turned her back. With a deep breath to steel her courage, Sansa pulled up her t-shirt and lifted it over her head so that she was wearing only her bra.

“Bloody fucking hell!” Sandor exclaimed. Sansa stood with her t-shirt clutched to her chest, trembling uncontrollably.

Sansa’s back was covered with long, thin jagged scars that stretched across the breadth of her back and down along her spine. Large dark welts were still visible from old bruises and badly healed cuts. Her soft, pale skin looked like a road map of abuse and violence.

When Sandor reached forward to touch her, Sansa didn’t flinch. He put one hand on her bare shoulder and with the other, traced a scar across her back. Her skin was cold to the touch. Sandor wanted to pull her back, wrap his arms around her and keep her warm and protected. He wanted to but he wouldn’t do it until he knew that it was what she wanted.

“I know what kind of animal it takes to do this.” Sandor told her. “This is not your fault.”

“I let him do it,” Sansa blurted. “When I first started seeing Ramsay, he was normal, just like any other guy. Then he wanted to experiment a little and I went along with it. I was afraid of what he would think of me if I didn’t. That he would think I was lame or … I don’t know … boring. Then he wanted to try something else and each time it got a little rougher. At first I did it because I didn’t know where to draw the line. By the time I realized where it was going, he had too much control over me and he got mean and started really hurting me.”

“Why didn’t you tell someone?” Sandor asked.

With her back still turned to him Sansa said, “How do you tell someone about that? Who would I tell? My friends? My family? I was too ashamed.”

Sandor put his hands on Sansa’s shoulders and urged her to turn around. He gently brushed his fingertips down her arms as she clutched her t-shirt over her chest. Tears were welling up in her eyes, but she didn’t let them spill.

“Why did you stay with him? Why didn’t you leave?” he asked her.

“For a long time he somehow had me convinced that I belonged to him. He told me I was a slut and that I wanted it and that I was worthless without him. After a while I started to believe it. Who else could ever want me after what he'd done to me, what I allowed him to do to me? I didn’t think anyone would ever want to look at me. I thought everyone could look at me and just know.”

Sansa lowered the t-shirt from her chest. She didn’t care if he saw her in nothing but her bra. Sansa seemed comfortable with being exposed to him, and he wanted to encourage her to keep feeling comfortable, so Sandor took the shirt and set it aside so that he could hold her hands.

“I was afraid of being alone but eventually I figured out that it was better to be alone than to be with him. So I left, but he started stalking me and harassing me. That’s why I decided to come here and hike the trail. I needed to prove to myself that I could be on my own, but …”

“But what?” Sandor asked gently prodding her to continue.

“I’m still afraid of being alone,” Sansa confessed.

Sandor squeezed Sansa’s hands. “You’re not alone. You never were. Even without me, you have family. Some day, when you’re ready, you’re going to tell them the truth about what happened to you.”

Sandor put his hands out to the sides of her and waited. He wouldn’t pull Sansa toward him, he wanted her to come on her own. Sansa cautiously stepped closer and leaned against him. When he felt her body relax, he wrapped his arms around her.

Sansa felt the warmth of Sandor envelop her. He gently and carefully stroked the damaged skin on her back. His warm hands were soothing, his touch, magically healing. The pain and the tension seemed to drain away from her and she felt herself relaxing, sinking into him.

With all that she’d been through, all the pain and suffering, Sandor wanted Sansa even more. He wanted to hold her and shelter and protect her. He wanted to love her.

Sansa pushed her face into Sandor’s shoulder, breathing in his warm, musky scent. For the first time in a long while, she felt safe. She wrapped her arms around him and let him hold her. They stayed there, Sandor sitting on the edge of the bed holding Sansa in his arms.

“I think you should sleep up here tonight,” he finally suggested to her.

Sansa shook her head no. “This is your bed, your room.”

“It’ll be more comfortable for you,” he insisted. Sandor stood with Sansa still in his arms, and slipped her small body under the covers, still wearing her jeans. He squatted down beside her and looked into her bottomless blue eyes. He lifted his hand to push her hair away from her face. "I will never hurt you," he promised her. "And I'll never let anyone else hurt you." As he stood to leave, Sansa reached out and took his hand.

“Will you lie next to me for a while?”

Sandor shook his head. “I don’t think that would be such a good idea.”

“Please? Just until I fall asleep?”

How could he refuse? Sandor wanted to lie next to her, hell, he wanted a lot more than that, but he also wanted to give her what she needed and that would take time. Sandor relented and lay down on his side of the bed, on top of the covers. Sansa rolled to her other side to face him, but Sandor stayed on his back and focused on the ceiling with his hands across his belly.

When he felt Sansa’s fingers wrap around his arm, Sandor closed his eyes and breathed deeply trying to control his thoughts. It was so difficult to lie here and not give in to everything he was feeling and wanting.

When he finally rolled on his side to face her, Sansa was already asleep. Sandor quietly slipped off the edge of the bed. He watched her for a while. She was beautiful in her slumber. When he felt his own eyes start to flutter with weariness, Sandor went downstairs to sleep on the cot. He went to sleep easily knowing that Sansa would still be here in the morning and that things would be very different between them.

Chapter Text

“Hit it in the middle with your fist,” Sandor told her. Sansa punched the dough the way he’d shown her. Sandor watched over her shoulder from behind as she folded and kneaded. His chin was resting on her shoulder and his arms were around Sansa’s waist and she was perfectly comfortable.

It had taken a few days for him to be able to be confident with the casual contact between them. Sandor was always touching her, and Sansa always let him. Each day, they were closer and more affectionate.

When he felt it was ready, Sandor placed the big white blob in a skillet with high sides and draped a damp towel over it. The towel, he explained, would keep it from drying out while it “rested.”

“It’s kinda small,” Sansa told him wrinkling her nose.

“That’s what she said,” Sandor joked. Sansa rolled her eyes.

“For someone with no internet and no television, how is it that you still know all the bad jokes?”

“Doc keeps me up to date,” he confessed. “The yeast in the bread will make it rise. When it’s risen, we’ll bake it.”

Sandor squeezed his arms around her tighter and lightly kissed her neck. Sansa giggled shyly. She was warm and receptive and things were going better than Sandor had imagined. However, something had started picking at Sandor’s mind. It hadn’t really occurred to him in the beginning, and now he was trying to ignore his nagging doubts.

At some point he would have to face it and he and Sansa would have to figure it out, but for now, they were happy and getting ready for a dinner party.

Sansa had asked for the dinner and Sandor thought it was a great idea. Sandor wanted to meet his nephew’s girlfriend. Sam and Gilly had been together for a while, but he’d never really had the chance to meet her properly. Sansa wanted to get to know Sam, Sandor’s only blood relative, and the rest of his family. That included Doc Tormund, and Nick and Netti Davos.

Everyone would be coming to the cabin, so Sansa had worked hard alongside Sandor to get everything ready. They would be serving roast beef and mashed potatoes, fresh home-baked bread, and salad from the vegetables in Sandor’s garden. Nick was bringing a special batch of something he’d made and been keeping for a special occasion. That had worried Sansa, so she’d made sure to pick up some wine in town the day before. While she was in town, Sansa stopped at Nick’s office for a brief visit and to use the phone, which he’d told her she was welcome to do at any time.

“Are you sure I can’t pay you for my long distance calls?” she asked Nick. He dismissed her concerns.

“I make so many business calls all over the country, you’re probably saving me money,” he joked.

Sansa called Catelyn and got updates on the status of her family. Arya was currently in Australia. She and Catelyn had agreed to a tentative truce when Arya admitted that everyone was right. Arya’s girlfriend had stolen her boat and sailed off into the sunset without her. Now Arya was waiting for a flight to bring her back to Chicago.

Next, Sansa called Jon and was surprised to find out that Robb was there with him. Robb had been wounded (nothing serious) and sent home. Because he was still angry with Catelyn, he decided to go stay with Jon for a while and check things out. Jon had just been promoted to shift supervisor and was ecstatic to hear from Sansa.

As usual, Bran and Rick were off somewhere doing college boy things and not answering their phones, so she left messages.

The evening was amazing. Sandor and Sansa learned a lot about Gilly and were positive that she and Sam were perfect for each other. Gilly was attending college in Portland and was studying early childhood education and specializing in childhood trauma awareness. She wanted to be an influence in the lives of young children so that they wouldn’t have to go through what she did as a child.

Sam and Gilly discussed their plans to stay in Portland permanently and get married after they were finished with school. He still had a way to go with his thesis, but already, Sam had been tentatively offered a position at Concordia.

When asked, Sansa told everyone about her education and residency at Grey-Sloane Memorial. She was hoping that’s all they wanted to know, but Netti delved deeper.

“How long do you have left?” Nick’s wife asked.

“Before I left I had just passed my third year exams so I have two years left,” Sansa answered politely hoping that would be the end of it.

“That’s a shame,” Sam said. “Just when you and Uncle are getting on so well. And now you’ll have to be apart for two years while you're back to Seattle.” Sam leaned forward and wrinkled his brow. “I just can’t see Uncle leaving here to go to the city to be with you.”

An uncomfortable look passed between Sandor and Sansa. Gilly elbowed Sam hard in the ribs and gave him the look.

“Taking the Hound off the mountain is like trying to take the flea off the dog,” Nick informed them all.

Sandor put his arm around Sansa and pulled her close. “We’ll figure it out,” he assured them. He just wished he could assure himself.

Everyone laughed and joked and talked into the evening. Nick was disappointed that only Doc and Sansa were willing to try what he referred to as his Leeston Elixir. The rest enjoyed the coughing and sputtering that ensued. Doc thought it was “good stuff” and Sansa mistook it for paint stripper.

As everyone left for the night, Sansa and Sandor were complimented on both the meal and how well they fit together as a couple. They saw their guests off, went inside and sat together on the couch, Sansa snuggled under Sandor’s arm.

“What are we going to do?” he asked. “At some point you’ll have to go home.”

“I’m not sure I want to,” Sansa confessed.

“Are you worried about Ramsay?”

“Maybe,” Sansa said. “but that’s not why.”

Sandor twisted around so that he could put his hands on Sansa’s shoulders and look her straight in the face. “You’re not thinking of doing it for me, are you? I won’t let you give up your chance at a career as a surgeon. I would never ask you to do that.”

“Thing is,” Sansa said with a long sigh, “I don’t think I was supposed to be a surgeon. I became a doctor because my dad was a doctor and I was the only chance left to follow in his path. Jon became an engineer, Robb was never really sure what he wanted until after my dad died, and then he joined the Marines. From the time she was little Arya wanted to be an oceanographer.”

Sansa made an I-give-up gesture. “I did it to make my dad happy. It feels like almost everything I’ve done in my life was to make someone else happy. Hiking the trail wasn’t just about getting away from Ramsay, it was about figuring out what I really wanted.”

Sandor took a breath and held it. “And did you find what you were looking for?”

Sansa smiled wide and nodded. “Lucky for us I wasn’t a more experienced hiker. Then I never would have wandered a hundred miles in the wrong direction and ended up here.”

Sansa got a worried look on her face and chewed on her lip.

“What’s wrong?” Sandor asked.

“Have you ever wanted something but you were afraid to want it because you might want it a little too much?”

Sandor’s eyes widened. Oh yeah, ever since you showed up, he thought. Instead, he bit his lip and smiled.

Sansa felt the back of her neck grow hot and her face flush. Her heart was pounding so loud that she was sure Sandor could hear it. Her breath was short and rapid. She knew what she wanted but she couldn’t move.

Sandor also knew what she wanted. He could see it in her eyes. All this time, he had let Sansa take the lead, letting her decide what she was comfortable with. She had reached that point, but her fear wouldn’t let her go any farther. That was Sandor’s cue to lead her there.

Sandor took Sansa’s face in his hands and brought his lips to meet hers. Sansa’s lips were soft and warm. He wanted to keep kissing her forever, but he wanted to be sure.

Sansa lifted her hand to stroke his face. The smooth scars rippled under her fingertips and his beard was soft on her palm.  She leaned forward and kissed him again, this time firmer and longer. She parted her lips allowing Sandor’s tongue to touch hers. The tingle of her warm breath, the taste of her enflamed him and he wanted more.

Sandor kissed her lips, her face, her neck. He could feel Sansa squirming against him as his lips trailed across her collar bone, so he forced himself to stop. Holding her by the shoulders, his breath heavy and fast, he watched as Sansa brought her fingers up to the top button of her flannel shirt and opened it. Her fingers slowly moved down, undoing each button. As gently as he could, Sandor slipped the shirt off her soft silky shoulders. He was aching inside, aching to be with her, to lie next to her and feel her skin against his.

Flannel shirt still hanging on her arms, Sandor picked Sansa up and carried her upstairs.

Chapter Text

The chickens needed to be fed, the eggs collected, and the piglets let outside for a run. There were lots of other chores, too, but Sandor didn’t want to even think about them. Instead, he pulled the quilt higher over his shoulder and wrapped his arms tighter around Sansa. He suspected that she was awake, too, but neither of them made a move to get up.

Sandor couldn’t get enough of Sansa. Her small warm body was tucked into his. Sandor traced his fingers down her thigh and she wiggled closer. It would be difficult for him to let go of her, even for a moment.

The first time they made love, Sansa had been stiff and uncertain, but she encouraged every touch, every stroke, every kiss. Slowly, she had relaxed and allowed herself to feel Sandor’s affection in the gentle and tender way that his skin touched hers. Any reservations she had ebbed away. Her reluctance turned to passion and she opened herself up to him utterly and completely.

As Sandor swept his large, rough hands over Sansa’s soft smooth curves, he wondered where the future would take them. Sansa had told him that she wasn’t sure she was meant to be a surgeon. If she quit now, she would be forfeiting the three years of hard work, endless nights and exhausting shifts that she’d completed for her residency, not to mention her investment in medical school. Sandor didn’t want her to make a rash decision based on him, but he didn’t want to lose her. Not now, not after they had finally been able to allow themselves to love each other.

The same thoughts had flitted through Sansa’s head. She would never ask Sandor to leave his mountain. He had been here for 25 years and built everything from the ground up with his own hands. Sandor had lived in Leeston his entire life. Granted, Leeston wasn’t exactly Sandor’s ideal paradise, but it was all he knew. Leaving here was one thing, but going to the city … Sansa would never ask him to consider that.

Sansa closed her eyes and told herself that it would all work out. The solution would present itself, she was sure. When one road is closed for maintenance, there is always an alternate route.

The month of May passed by in a whirlwind laden with affection and togetherness. Sandor and Sansa were nearly inseparable.  Sansa’s knee was almost back to 100%. Doc had removed her sutures leaving behind a barely noticeable scar. A week earlier, Sansa had set up a conference call with her supervisor and the Chief of Surgery and arranged for a postponement of her residency. Postponements were very rarely granted, but Sansa had done exceptionally well – she had high marks on all her medical exams and she was an extremely talented surgeon. The fact that she was the favorite of many of her superiors helped slide her postponement under the radar. Sansa had nine months to make a decision and figure out her future.

Mine and Sandor’s future, she reminded herself. No matter what she decided, it would affect him, too.

Yesterday, Sandor had agreed to take her hunting with him. Not only did he want her to know how to use and handle a gun safely, he wanted her to become familiar with the terrain and the wilderness around her.

As they stalked through the woods over the last two days, Sandor taught her a lot about the different wildlife in the area, the trees, the plants, the lay of the land in general. He taught Sansa to use his rifle, showing her how to clean it, load it, and use the sight to line up her target.

Sansa’s first few shots went astray as she adjusted to the sound of the gun, the impact of the recoil, and learning how to line up the sight. Sandor had been pleasantly surprised when her next five shots had hit the target dead on.

“Probably for the same reason I’m a good doctor,” Sansa told him. “I have good eyesight and a steady hand.” She smiled up at Sandor with a smug grin. “I think I just might make a pretty good hunter,” she boasted.

Sandor rolled his eyes. “No you won’t.”

“Why not?”

Sandor snatched the rifle out of her hands and checked the safety. “Because the way you tromp through the woods with your feet dragging and your tongue wagging, you’ll scare off all the game for a hundred miles.”

“But I – ”

“Shhh!” Sandor quietly pushed Sansa back against a tree and motioned her to be still. A young buck had wandered into a clearing ahead of them. Sandor aimed and fired, taking the deer down in one shot.

After gutting the deer, Sandor packed up the rifle and handed the case to Sansa. Taking the deer by its legs, he swung the buck across his back and over his shoulders and started back. Sansa was amazed at how strong Sandor was. She had known he was strong, but for any other man his size, it still would have been a two-man job to carry that kind of dead weight.

As they trudged back into the clearing around Sandor’s cabin. They looked up to see Sam’s car parked in the dooryard. Sam came out of the cabin, not expecting to see Sandor and Sansa. He bolted across the expanse of yard toward them.

“I was just leaving you a note,” he explained breathlessly. “Shawn’s crashed his car.” Sam gasped to get his breath. “His girlfriend … doubled over in pain.” Sam’s word’s blurred together in a panic. “Agony … high fever …” he sputtered between gasps of air.

“Why are you here, Sam? Why didn’t you get Doc Tormund?” Sansa asked.

“Because Doc’s rotation has him in Fielding this week,” Sandor told her.

“His rotation? I don’t understand.”

“Never mind,” Sandor told her. “You go with Sam. I have to take care of this,” he shrugged indicating the deer carcass. “I’ll catch up.”

Sansa got in the car with Sam, and they sped into Leeston.

When they arrived back in town, Sam pulled up at Doc’s office. Inside, Gilly was waiting with Shawn. His girlfriend, Theresa, was writhing in pain and curled into the fetal position. She was pale, feverish and uttering a sound that was somewhere between a moan and a wail. Gilly was trying to keep her calm and wiping her forehead.

Sansa was instantly angry. “Was she wearing her seatbelt?” Sansa asked him abruptly as she began to examine Theresa. Her pulse was thready and her skin was hot.

Shawn shook his head.

“She never should have been in that car with you,” Sansa berated him. “The way you drive, you have no business carrying passengers.”

“I was being really careful,” Shawn whined. The boy was pale and frightened.

“If you were being so careful, then why wasn’t she wearing a fucking seatbelt!” Sansa shouted. It was always carelessness like that that ended up in tragedy.

“She said it hurt her belly too much to have it on,” Shawn told her.

Sansa paused in her examination, her anger suddenly gone. “Are you telling me she was like this before you crashed?”

Shawn nodded with exaggeration. “She had a stomach ache but it was really bad, so she asked me to take her to the hospital in Klamath. I started driving faster because she was in so much pain."

“Oh, God.” Sansa turned back to Theresa. “Hold her down flat,” she instructed Sam and Shawn.

Sandor rushed into the office. “What’s going on?” he asked. Sansa gave Sandor a worried look, then lifted Theresa’s blouse. Sam held down the girl’s legs while Shawn held her shoulders. Gilly kept wiping her face and tried to keep her calm. Theresa shuddered and moaned loudly.

Sansa pressed her fingers down either side of Theresa’s abdomen. It was rigid and swollen. At a certain spot, Theresa wailed in pain when Sansa put pressure on her. Sansa looked up at everyone trying to control the expression on her face.

“She has a ruptured appendix. I need to operate on her, but I can’t do it here in Doc’s office, she’ll never make to the hospital, and I don’t have a sterile room.”

“Yes, you do,” Sandor informed her. “Leeston Cold Storage.”

“The butcher shop?” Shawn exclaimed.

Sansa nodded. “It has a stainless steel table and it's completely sanitized,” Sansa agreed. “It’s all we’ve got.”

Sandor carefully lifted the girl onto a stretcher. Shawn helped him put it in the back of Sandor’s truck where Sam and Shawn rode beside her to keep Theresa as immobile as possible. Gilly helped Sansa gather the instruments and supplies she would need from Doc’s office.

At the Cold Storage, the butcher told them he would help in any way he could. Sansa immediately got to work setting up her makeshift operating room. She asked the butcher for a telephone with a speaker phone and to set it up in the room. Sansa wanted access to call someone at Grey-Sloane Memorial “just in case.”

“I’ve done this operation dozens of times already, but if something goes wrong, I don’t want to waste time looking for a phone.”

But Sansa didn’t need to make a phone call, because the operation went without a hitch. Gilly, Sandor, and the butcher (who had at least some knowledge and skill with anatomy) assisted Sansa in whatever way they could, while Sam kept Shawn company in the cold storage office. While they were waiting, Sam had a heart-to-heart with Shawn. Sam told him the long and sordid truth about his uncle, and about what had really happened up on the mountain.

Sandor watched Sansa work, impressed with her focus and professionalism as she performed flawlessly. Nothing got in the way of her concentration, even when infected tissue erupted from Theresa’s abdomen, causing a rather loud squawk from Gilly, and a stream of profanity from Sandor.

Sansa was amazing. Sandor had to convince her to continue with her surgical residency. It was ridiculous for Sansa to give up on her career just to be with him. It would be a waste of her skills and talent. Sandor didn’t want to be away from Sansa, and he knew he would be miserable in any city let alone being that far away from his mountain home, but they would just have find a way and work it out.

Sandor forced himself to face the truth. He would have to give her up. Sansa belonged in a hospital, and he belonged here where he’d always been.

“I’m going to sit with Theresa for a while until she comes out of anesthesia,” Sansa told Sandor. “If you want to head home, Gilly told me she’d help clean up here. Sam will give me a ride back later.”

Sandor tried to hide the sadness that threatened to overwhelm him. Their time together had been too short. Sandor was about to lose the most wonderful woman that had ever come into his life. Sandor Clegane had fallen helplessly, hopelessly in love, but he couldn’t be selfish and try to hold onto her.

Sandor would have told her he’d stay and help, but he would have made himself useless for thinking about what he needed to tell her when they got home. He kissed her and told her he’d see her later.

As Sandor was about to climb in his truck, Shawn and Sam came running toward him.

“Umm, Mr. Clegane?” Shawn said awkwardly. Shawn turned to look at Sam who was standing slightly behind him.

Sam nodded toward his uncle. “Go on, then,” Sam told Shawn giving his shoulder a nudge.

Shawn was nervous and reluctant. “I just wanted to apologize for being such a dickhead,” he told Sandor. Shawn gestured to Sam. “Sam told me all about you. I didn’t know,” he said shaking his head. “That don’t matter, I guess, I was just an asshole.” He looked Sandor in face. “I’m sorry and I want to say thanks for helping out with Theresa. Y’all saved her life I expect.”

Sandor pointed a finger in Shawn’s face. “If you or any of your friends ever call me a freak again, I’ll hammer your ass into the ground. Got me?”

Shawn gulped and nodded, then shook the hand that Sandor offered him.

Sandor heard Sam’s car pull into the dooryard. By the time he got downstairs, Sam had left again. Sansa came rushing into the cabin like a Tasmanian Devil.

“That was amazing!” she squealed running into Sandor’s arms. He swung her around and hugged her tightly.

“I thought you said you’ve done that operation before,” Sandor said, confused.

“Hundred times,” Sansa said tearing off her jacket and twirling excitedly. “But that’s not the exciting part." Sansa sat down at the table and dragged Sandor with her. As soon as he sat, Sansa was up again and pacing the room.

“So when Sam and I were driving into town, he explained the situation with Doc Tormund. So then I called Doc Tormund and talked to him – he’s in Fielding this week – and he thinks it’s a great idea. But, oh, wait … First, I called Seattle and talked to Dr. Webber and explained the situation and he’s going to talk to the board and Doc Tormund agreed to be my attending and then I can come back!”

Sansa waited for Sandor’s reaction. He didn’t have one because he hadn’t understood one frigging thing that had come out of Sansa’s mouth. Clearly she was ecstatic, but he couldn’t quite grasp why.

“Don’t you think that’s amazing?” Sansa asked.

“I’m not even sure what you just told me,” Sandor said blankly.

Sansa shook her fists in Sandor’s face and growled with frustration. “I’m going to be Leeston’s town doctor!”

Sam had explained to Sansa that it was really difficult for small isolated towns like Leeston to find dedicated physicians. As a result, some of the towns accepted a physician on a rotation basis. Doc Tormund rotated his services spending one week in Leeston, one in Fielding and two alternating weeks in Crestwood which was the largest of the three towns.

After a long talk with both Doc Tormund and Richard Webber, the Chief told her it might be possible to get Sansa a four-year fast track as long as she could find a way to continue her surgical training at a nearby hospital over an extended period of time.

 “Dr. Webber told me it’s not a guarantee, but he would try. I’d have to go into Klamath Falls at least a couple times a month to perform surgery. But it means I could stay here, Sandor.” Sansa got on her knees in front of Sandor and put her head in his lap. Sandor stroked her hair.

“Leeston would have its own doctor, I wouldn’t have to give up the time I’ve put in so far …” Sansa looked up into Sandor’s adoring face. “And I get to stay here with you.”

Sandor smiled with a combination of pride, relief, and love. He was about to tell her he loved her, but Sansa wrinkled her nose as she chewed on her lip.

“There is one small catch,” she told him.

Chapter Text

Sandor waited expectantly. He could see the thoughts and ideas flying through Sansa’s mind as she put all the pieces together in her head. She was excited and happy and he hoped, in love. He knew that he was.


“Well what?” Sansa asked, her consciousness suddenly inhabiting her body again.

“Don’t keep me in suspense,” he grumbled. “What’s the catch?”

“The catch?” She said trying to focus her thoughts. Her head was all over the place. “Ohhh, the catch! Yeah well, you see, I thought I was going to have to do a five-year program. That’s how long residency is when you specialize. I only just got my through my third year. But …” Sansa stood up and started pacing again.

“If you’re good and you get in on a lot of surgeries and … if you decide to go into general surgery, you can shorten your residency to four years. Dr. Webber told me he was hoping that I would specialize because of how well I’ve done, but he said that if I want to become a general surgeon, I can fast track a four year program.”

Sandor’s shoulders dropped. He was happy for Sansa, but he knew what it meant for him. “You’d have to go back to Seattle for a year.” Sandor couldn’t hide the disappointment in his voice.

Sansa smiled and shook her head. She got that look on her face – the look Sandor had come to know so well in the past few weeks. One eyebrow was arched high up her forehead and she got a devilish grin.

“Six months,” she told him. “Thus … fast track.”

This made Sandor a little happier, but it was still six months of Sansa being in Seattle and him being here, away from her. He had waited all his life for her and he didn’t want to waste any more of his precious life waiting without her. He had missed out on too much already.

Sansa sat back on the floor and put her head in his lap, hugging his knees. “I know it’s six months, but it will go by so quickly you won’t even realize it. And then we will be together for as long as we want.”

Sandor reached down, and grabbed her arms to pull her onto his lap. He hugged her close and kissed her. He would never get tired of her warm, soft lips, so luscious and inviting.

“Will you really be happy here?” he asked her. If now wasn’t the time to ask, it would never be the right time. They had to have this discussion before they started making hard plans that would affect the rest of their lives.

“Up here, there’s no electricity, no running water, no telephone and no … what do you call it … Tweeter?” Sandor looked her in the face. “It’s the only life I’ve ever known, but can it be your life, too? Would you really be happy?”

Sansa giggled. “It’s called Twitter. And I haven’t missed Elosie taking a poll on whether she should have strawberries or blueberries on her cereal every morning.” Sansa shifted on Sandor’s lap to look more directly at him.

“Okay, so I noticed that the breeze comes from the southwest. So, if we install a screened window near the top on the left side of the outhouse, the breeze would vent it, it wouldn’t smell so bad and that would make me happy.”

Sandor laughed out loud.

“But seriously, Sandor, I am happy. I love this place. The fresh air, the wilderness, the nature, not being so connected all the time … I feel like I finally have time to stop and have a real thought in my head. You’ve made it so livable here that I don’t even miss electricity.”

“Oh yeah,” Sansa added. “There is one other thing. You’re here. And that’s why I’m here. That’s the only reason I’m so excited about everything else. Because it means I get to be with you.”

Sandor couldn’t resist the beautiful smile that formed, lighting up Sansa’s entire face. He slipped his hands under the back of her t-shirt and caressed her skin pulling her closer as he kissed her. A wave of heat washed over him as her warm sweet breath mixed with his. Sandor stood, with Sansa in his arms, and carried her upstairs.

Sansa went into town to check up on her patient. She wanted to be sure that Theresa was recovering properly. Sansa found the girl resting comfortably in her bedroom at home, smiling despite the normal discomfort and pain of post-op care. Sansa wrote her a prescription, checked her incision and assured her that everything looked good.

On her way to Nick’s factory to make a few phone calls, Sansa noticed a few town folk lingering outside Doc’s office. Out of curiosity, she stopped and asked what was going on. Drum Peterson informed her that they heard there was a new doctor in town and they were hoping he might show up.

Sansa bit her lip to keep from smiling. In no hurry to go anywhere, she decided it might be a good opportunity to get to know the people of Leeston a little better. She pulled around back and opened Doc’s office. Drum Peterson was shocked to find out that the new doctor was also the Hound’s girlfriend.

“If you have a problem with that, you can wait for Doc Tormund,” she suggested. Since the Doc had been in town last week, it would be another three before Drum would be able to see him again. Or he could drive into Klamath, an hour and a half away.

Drum Peterson hemmed and hawed, then dropped his pants to his ankles. “It hurts when I pee,” he told her.

Sansa coughed to cover the uncontrollable snort of laughter that erupted from her. “You can pull up your pants, Mr. Peterson,” she informed him as she handed him a little plastic cup. “I just need a urine sample.”

In total, Sansa saw five patients including a four-year-old who had blue snot. She extracted a chunk of Midnight Blue Crayola from his nose and advised his mother to supervise him while he was coloring.  After each patient, she informed them that it would be at least six months before she might be a permanent resident of Leeston. And until then, they should assume that Doc Tormund was their one and only doctor.

All in all, it was the most satisfying work day Sansa had ever had. It was then she realized that she was making the right decision. Leeston town doctor was what she was meant to do with her life. And with her general surgery license in place, she could still perform emergency procedures and do the occasional surgery in Klamath.

After her impromptu work day, Sansa visited Nick’s office and made a few phone calls. When she arrived, there were two messages for Sandor. They were from Jim Thorpe. He would be arriving next Wednesday for a very important meeting.

Sansa got used to going into town and taking care of the errands. It meant that Sandor didn’t have to go into Leeston after dark and sneak in through all the back doors. She also wanted to check in on Theresa and stop by Nick’s in case there were any messages from Seattle or from her family.

One day after about a week, Sansa arrived back at the cabin to find a Cadillac SUV parked in the dooryard.

“Shit!” Sansa muttered, racing inside. She’d forgotten about the meeting with Jim Thorpe. Sandor had wanted Sansa to be there just in case. Although Sandor had been dealing with Jim Thorpe for more than fifteen years, Sandor recognized that Sansa had some city smarts that he lacked, and Sandor had a feeling that he might need her for whatever it was that Jim Thorpe was so anxious to tell him.

Inside, Sandor, Jim Thorpe, and another man were drinking coffee. When Sandor had told Jim about everything that had happened and the arrival of Sansa in his life, Jim suggested that they wait for her. He didn’t tell Sandor why, but Jim suspected he might need Sansa’s influence on the matter.

“Sorry I’m late,” Sansa said as she breathlessly rushed into the room.

“It’s no problem. We only arrived about twenty minutes ago – just enough time for Sandor to catch us up on the changes in his life. Congratulations.”

Sansa beamed. She was introduced to Jack Kelley, with no explanation of who he was or why he was there.

Jim Thorpe got right to the point. “HBO is interested in buying the rights to Dragon Games,” he informed them. Dragon Games was the Lord Varys book series that had reached the best seller list so many times that new volumes sold out in minutes.

“Lord Varys has tentatively agreed to enter negotiations, but he won’t do it without Sandor Clegane. It would mean that you’d have to be involved in writing the screenplay,” he told Sandor.

Jim gestured toward Jack. “Jack is a producer who works with HBO. He’s here to answer all your questions.”

And there were a lot of questions. Sansa didn’t know that much about the industry and Sandor knew nothing at all. He was glad that Sansa was there to ask the things he’d never even think of. Jim and Jack were patient, answering all their questions, explaining the process they’d have to go through, all the details that it would take to make the project happen. Jim explained that they didn’t have to make any decisions right away. However, HBO wanted to get the ball rolling within the next nine months. That’s how long it would take to get contracts in order and so on.

“There are a couple things you need to understand, and that’s why I wanted Sansa to be here.” Jim paused and looked at Jack who nodded for him to continue.

To Sandor he said, “First Lord Varys wants to meet with you in person. He won’t leave his island in Hawaii, so you’d have to go there to meet him. Second, you would be required to attend a lot of meetings and that means traveling to California quite a bit. You’d be meeting a lot of people.”

Jim Thorpe knew how Sandor would feel about it. It’s why Sandor Clegane had remained hidden away on this mountain his whole life. He was hoping that Sansa might convince him somehow, or that she’d be willing to accompany him and support him. Jim Thorpe knew how difficult it would be for Sandor Clegane to show his face to the world.

Chapter Text

“No!” Sandor shouted as he paced around the kitchen table. His voice sounded like the rumble of an impending buffalo stampede. The whole cabin shook.

“Absolutely, fucking, no!” His face was beet red, his hands shoved deep in his pockets, and his head down as though he was about to ram his skull against anything that got in his way.

Sansa hadn’t said a word because she’d already known what Sandor’s reaction would be. The two of them had smiled politely and thanked Jim Thorpe and Jack Kelley for coming. Sandor waited and watched them drive away before he’d erupted, finally letting go of the tidal wave of emotions he’d been suppressing for twelve agonizing minutes.

Sandor momentarily stopped his pacing and glared at Sansa. “Don’t even bother asking. They can all go fuck themselves!”

Sansa made clear from her expression that she hadn’t asked and had no intention to. She remained in her chair and watched Sandor pace until he got at least most of it out of his system.

When Sandor had finally calmed down enough to throw himself into the oversized leather chair in the living room (causing it to slide two feet across the floor with a horrible screech), Sansa approached the book shelves across from him and pretended to peruse the books on the first unit.

“Why do you have all these books, Sandor?” she asked pointing to a wide selection of photo studies from around the world. “You’ve got books on the Amazon rainforests, the Great Pyramids, the mountains of Switzerland, castles of Ireland and Scotland, African safaris, Yellowstone park … Are these all places you dream of going some day?”

Sansa pulled a book from the shelf and held it in front of him. “You’ll never know what the Grand Canyon looks like if you’re only willing to go there at night.” Sansa returned the book to its place on the shelf.

“Or would you just rather hide up here on the mountain looking through your picture books dreaming about those places while everyone else is going there and actually experiencing the world?”

“You don’t know what it’s like to have a face like this,” Sandor growled. “You don’t know what it’s like to go somewhere and become the tourist attraction.” Sandor shook his head and corrected himself. “… The freak show.”

“You’re not a freak ... Or a monster,” she added before Sandor had a chance to. “I know you’re not going to agree with what I’m about to say, but hear me out.” Sansa climbed onto Sandor’s lap so that she was facing him with her knees on either side of his.

“I think you’re a very handsome man.” Sansa held up a finger to silence him before Sandor could protest. “When I’m lying in bed next to you at night, I see this half of your face,” she said indicating the unburned side. “Before Gregor pushed your face in the fire, this is how you looked. It’s how you were born. “You’re not a monster, Sandor. And you’re not a freak. You’re scarred … wounded.”

Sansa put her hands on both sides of Sandor’s face and stroked his skin. The unblemished half was soft, smooth, and warm. The burnt side was shiny, rippled, and cool to the touch.

“I think you’re a handsome man,” she told him again. “And not just half of your face. All of it. It’s who you were when I met you and I never want you to change.” Sansa kissed his lips. She pushed his chin to the side and kissed his warm, unscarred cheek. Sansa pushed his chin the other way and kissed the rippled skin on his other cheek.

“I think your scars are beautiful,” she told him.

Sandor believed her. He could tell that she had come to adore him just as he was. Sansa never made him feel different or ugly. That’s why he loved her so much. But alas, he shook his head. Not even Sansa could change his mind regarding the way he felt about himself.

They talked some more about it but Sandor was bull-headed and obstinate. Dragon Games would have to go on without him, or not at all, he didn’t care.

Sansa finally gave in. “If that’s how you really feel …” she waited for Sandor to nod, and he did. “There is another option,” she told him.

“And what’s that?”

Sansa took a deep breath. “I want you to come to Seattle with me for the six months that I have to be there. I have a friend I want you to meet. He might be able to help you.”

“I’m not seeing any fucking psychiatrist, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Sandor protested.

“His name is Dr. Jaime Lannister. He’s one of the country’s top ten plastic surgeons.” Sansa waited for Sandor’s reaction, but he just stared at her. For a long time, he said nothing, so Sansa kept talking.

“You’d still have to come to Seattle and people would see you, but there’s an advanced burn unit at Grey-Sloane with lots of patients who have suffered disfigurement. You would get to meet others who’ve been through the same kind of traumas, you’d meet their families. And all these people,” Sansa said spreading her arms wide, “wouldn’t look at you any differently than I do.”

Sandor still didn’t say anything or change his expression.

“It wouldn’t just be an overnight trip, or even a couple of days. There would be tests and examinations and consultations. All that would take a while. After that, Dr. Lannister would tell you what exactly what it is he can do for you … or what he can’t do. Then you’d have to decide whether you want to go through with it. In the meantime, you could stay with me and we would still be together while I’m finishing my residency.”

Still, Sandor didn’t say anything. There were a lot of things to consider. Sansa got up off his lap and looked down at him sympathetically.

“I know there’s a lot to think about, so take your time. I’m going to go out and feed the animals,” she said heading through the kitchen. At the cabin door, Sansa paused and turned back.

“Sandor, if it wasn’t for your burns and your scars, you wouldn’t be the person you are today. If Gregor hadn’t pushed your face in the fire, where would you be right now? You wouldn’t have come onto the mountain and built all this,” she said indicating the cabin around them. “Life From Nothing, remember?”

“You probably would have stayed in town with Nick, maybe gone to college and blah blah blah.” Sansa rolled her hand through the air to make her point. “You never would have been here. That means I wouldn’t be here right now.” Sansa sighed deeply.

“Sandor, no matter what you decide to do, I’ll support you. But I also want you to know that I don’t ever want you to change. I think you should stay exactly the way you are.”

After Sansa went outside, Sandor sat in his chair going over and over everything Sansa had said. He trusted her and respected her, but this was his face and he’d had to live with the consequences of it for over twenty-five years now. He had to live with the shrieks, the jokes and whispers, the glares, and prolonged glances. He didn’t want to be anyone else’s entertainment or punchline.

Sandor got up and went to his bookshelf. He removed a tall, thin book and flipped through the pages. The title declared “Aloha!” and it contained amazing photos of lush rainforests, volcanoes, and black sand beaches.

Sandor snapped the book shut and placed it back on the shelf. He decided he wanted to go to Hawaii.

Chapter Text

Sandor lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t sleep. He turned and looked at the digital clock on the dresser. It was 3:47am … and damn that thing was bright. Everything was too bright, too loud, and over-stimulating.

He’d woken again around 2:30 this morning when Sansa’s roommate, Eloise, had used the microwave to heat a quick dinner after a late shift. He’d listened to the sharp beeps followed by the hum and the clank of the door when it was done. After that, the furnace came on. All around him, Sandor could hear the ever-present hum, and see the glowing luminescence as light creeped in from the streetlights, the digital clock, and the little red light in the smoke detector.

Sandor rolled over in Sansa’s bed and pulled the quilt over his head. She was working a night shift. Sandor thought about the first time he’d seen her in her scrubs. She was almost a different person. Almost. She was still the same Sansa he knew, of course, but she looked so professional, so in charge.

This was her world. It wasn’t really that bad, but Sandor could never get used to it. Even Sansa felt differently when she’d returned home to Seattle. The absolute quiet and dark of the mountain had been a dramatic contrast to the constant thrum of life in the city.

Sandor was almost worried by just how quickly Sansa had re-adapted to her old life. It wasn’t long after they came here, that Sansa deleted Twitter and Facebook off of her phone, so he had to hand it to her there. The mountain had done positive things for her in that way. She relished the disconnection that the mountain life had given her, and Sansa had expressed a desire to get back to that.

“It’s only six months,” Sansa had told Sandor. He had been suffering from sensory overload, subjected to too many sights, sounds, and even smells coming at him from every direction. The constant bombardment of stimulation had left Sandor almost in a stupor.

“How the fuck does anyone focus?” he’d asked in bewilderment. But it wasn’t long before Sandor was able to move in a sort of rhythm with the city. He was slow and cautious, and he’d never get used to the lights and sounds, but it no longer got him “wigged out” as Sansa had called it.

People were exactly the same, though. That was something that was no different from Leeston. According to Sansa, in the city, nobody cared because everyone was different. That wasn’t exactly true, but it wasn’t a lie, either. Sandor was still the focus of stares and whispers. A teenage girl had pointed to him, said, “Oh my God!” and giggled with her friend when he looked in her direction. But for the most part, Sansa was right. Everyone was in such a hurry or eternally focused on their phones, that most people never even noticed him.

Sandor rolled over in bed again. He wished Sansa was lying beside him. He wished they were back in the cabin in Leeston. He wished he could sleep. Fact was, he was nervous about tomorrow. Tomorrow was the day. Tomorrow, Sandor’s face would be placed in the expert care of Dr. Jaime Lannister. He just hoped the guy was as good as Sansa believed.

Sansa ran down the hall toward Sandor. He watched as her stethoscope bounced against her chest as she sprinted around patients and carts. Her arms were full of patient files, but she was smiling and full of energy.

“Hey!” she said hugging him with her free arm. Sandor bent down and kissed her. He glanced nervously around as people paused to watch them.

“I wasn’t sure if you’d find your way to the right department.” She placed a hand on his arm and squeezed. “Are you going to be okay? I know you’re nervous, but I promise, Jaime is a great guy and he’ll take good care of you.”

Sansa led him into a short, quiet hallway and then into a plush office with a corner window. Dr. Lannister looked up from his paperwork when they entered. In Sandor’s first impression, two thoughts came to him. First, why wasn’t this guy modeling Calvin Klein underwear? And second, he didn’t so much as twitch when he first gazed upon Sandor’s face – as if he’d seen it a hundred times already.

“Jaime, this is Sandor,” Sansa said by way of introduction. Dr. Lannister and Sandor shook hands, then the plastic surgeon invited him to sit. Sandor waited expectantly for Sansa to join him in the other chair.

“I really want to be here, I do, Sandor, but I have a surgery scheduled. Besides, if I’m here you might not say what you really want to or how you really feel. We’ll talk later about it, I promise." Sansa kissed him again then bounded out the door.

“That’s a really wonderful woman you’ve got there,” Dr. Lannister said as he took his seat. "I want you to know that Sansa wasn't just making an excuse. It really is best if she's not here because I want you to be able to talk freely without wondering if you're giving me the right answers. Please be completely honest with me about how you feel." Dr. Lannister sat back behind his desk. “Before you tell me anything … before I tell you what’s involved … do you have any questions? Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Sandor thought for a moment. “Are you really as good as Sansa tells me you are?”

Jaime Lannister laughed openly. “Sandor … do you mind if a call you by your first name?” Sandor indicated the negative. “Look at my face. Do you seriously think I born this handsome?” he said with a quirky smile.

Sandor laughed and immediately felt at ease. As they talked, Sandor knew that Sansa was right. If anyone was going to be able to help him, it was Dr. Lannister. The doctor asked Sandor how it had happened, so Sandor told him the gory details. Jaime – that’s what he insisted on being called – examined the extent of his scarring, took some measurements and a small skin sample. He poked, prodded and finally pricked Sandor’s face with a needle to determine where there was working muscle tissue and blood flow, and where there wasn’t. Jaime checked his eyes, his ears, and his pulse to determine what shape Sandor was in overall.

After the thorough examination, Jaime Lannister explained what would be involved in giving Sandor plastic surgery, if that was in fact, what he ultimately decided to do. There were no obligations, and they still had to do more tests to determine to what extent they would be able to improve Sandor’s face.

“Any more questions?” Jaime asked him.

“Have you ever had a case as bad as mine?”

Jaime considered long and hard before answering Sandor’s question. “Did Sansa tell you what my specialty is?”

Sandor was confused and his face showed it. “You are a plastic surgeon, aren’t you?”

Jaime chuckled. “Even plastic surgery has specialties.” He was going to say more, then changed his mind. “Come with me,” he told Sandor.

“This is Sherry,” Dr. Jaime said indicating a brightly smiling teen girl. Well, she was smiling as much as possible with no lips and not much left of a face. Sherry’s face looked like someone had left a wax doll to melt in the sun. The web of scars disappeared under the collar of her hospital gown.

“Sherry was babysitting her two little brothers while her mom was working a double shift at an industrial dry cleaning factory. As a treat, she decided to make French fries for her and her brothers. When she had her head turned for a split second, the youngest brother tried to grab the pot handle off the stove. It was filled with hot oil, and it was a gas stove. It spilled on Sherry and ignited.”

Sherry waved from the bed. “Hi, I’m Sherry,” she said to Sandor. “How did yours happen?” Though she didn’t have a normal smile like other people, Sandor could see it in her eyes.

Sandor glanced at Jaime who encouraged him to answer. “I fell into a fireplace when I was about your age," he told her. No need to give her the horror story that was his life.

Sherry got a funny look on her face. “How come you didn’t get fixed?” she asked innocently.

Sandor shrugged. “I didn’t know I could get fixed until I met this doctor.”

Sherry smiled and waved from her hospital bed as Jaime took Sandor to meet some of his other patients on the ward. A fireman who’d had a ceiling collapse on top of him causing 3rd degree burns down most of his back. A little boy who’d found his father’s secret stash of fireworks and wanted to ride a rocket to the moon. A woman who’s possessive husband had doused her in gasoline and set her on fire because he’d rather kill her than let her leave him.

“See?” Jaime said to Sandor. “You and all my other patients are different from everyone one else. But they’re the same kind of different as each other. They suffered a trauma and now they’re here to get my help.”

Back in Jaime Lannister’s office, Sandor suddenly felt ashamed. He hadn’t realized there were so many people in the world who had suffered such horrible misfortunes as he had. In a kind of way, he realized, he'd been feeling sorry for himself all these years.

“How can Sherry be so happy after what happened to her?” Sandor asked. “She’s got to know that she’ll never be like other girls again.”

Jaime shrugged. “She knows that she’s alive, as opposed to the alternative. She also knows that if it weren’t for her, it might have been her little brother in here. You see, she used her body to block the oil from hitting him when it spilled.”

“Frankly,” Dr. Jaime said. “I don’t think she ever wants to be like other girls. She’s proud of who she is.”

It took a long time for Sandor to come to a decision once Dr. Jaime Lannister had presented all the options. Both Sansa and Sandor sat in the plastic surgeon’s office watching as photographs of Sandor’s face slowly morphed into a computer-generated likeness of how his face would look after the procedures that would be performed.

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” Sansa asked when she saw the result.

Sandor took a deep breath. He’d thought long and hard about it. He had worried and puzzled that he was doing the right thing, that it would be the right decision in the long run.

Finally, Sandor nodded. “Let’s do this thing,” he announced. Sansa squealed and hugged him. She was relieved that he’d taken his time to really consider all the ramifications of what changing his face would mean. After all, he would have to live with the decision for the rest of his life.

It wasn’t the first time Sandor Clegane was nervous and it likely wouldn’t be the last. He took deep breaths and tried to relax. Sansa stayed by his side and held his hand. She would stay until they wheeled him away. Then she would watch from the operating theater because she wouldn’t be allowed to assist or be in the operating room. Then, she would be waiting next to him when he woke up.

Sansa reassured him, but all the soothing words in the world wouldn’t change the fact that he was terrified. They had already shaved half of his head and his entire beard. They were only going to shave half of his beard but Sandor had told them to take if off completely.

“I’m not walking around with half a fucking beard!” he’d shouted. “I’ll look like a fucking fanny.”

“At least I got to see you once without it,” Sansa offered apologetically even though she’d had nothing to do with the decision. “It’s just hair. It’ll grow back.”

Sandor rolled his eyes. Sansa could feel the tremor in his fingers as he held onto her for dear life. Here he was, all six and half feet and 280 pounds of him and he was cowering like a little girl. And Sansa, 115 pounds and a whole foot shorter, was the strong one.

“You’ll be just fine,” Sansa reassured him again.  “Jaime and his team are some of the best doctors and nurses in the country. You’re in good hands. I promise.”

When it was finally time, Sansa hugged him tightly, kissed him, and squeezed his hand as he rolled away. “I’ll see you when you wake up,” Sansa called after him.

Chapter Text

Since he had to stay in the city until he healed and for follow-up visits with Dr. Jaime, Sandor decided to use the opportunity to get to work on Dragon Games. He’d decided to stay the entire six months with Sansa, and make the most of the opportunities that would help him do his work.

First, Sandor and Sansa found a good contract lawyer to make sure everything was on the up-and-up. When the paperwork started arriving, Sandor made good use of the copy place down the street. Now that he had everything he needed, both Eloise and Sansa found themselves working the same day-shift. That meant Sandor had the apartment all to himself. He started by reading sample screenplays to get an idea of how they were written. He wanted all the ground work laid before he and Sansa headed back to Oregon. Once they were back home, Sandor would start doing his own writing in the peaceful and quiet solitude of his mountain.

Sandor looked up from his screenplays, caught in a daydream. He was currently reading the screenplays for The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, as had been suggested by Jack Kelley. Sandor was about to dive into the third one, called Willow, but he never got a chance at it. The phone rang. It was Sansa reminding him of his appointment in two hours from now.

As if he could forget. Today, the bandages were coming off.

“I think you look amazing,” Sansa told him. Sandor blushed a little and scruffed at the stubble on his chin. He’d had to keep shaving until his skin started to heal. Now, three weeks later, he was finally starting to see some progress in getting his beard back the way it was.

“What do you think everyone else will say?” Sandor asked.

Sansa and Sandor were on their way back to Leeston. They were headed south on Interstate 5 with the back of the pickup truck loaded. They’d packed all of Sansa’s stuff in the back. Because there was a lot she didn’t want or wouldn’t have any use for on the mountain, much of it got left behind or sold.

“The same thing I told you a dozen times already, Sandor. They’ll love you no matter how you look. All that matters is that you’re happy.”

Sansa smiled knowing that Doc Tormund and Nick would be pleasantly surprised with the results. The same would go for Sam and Gilly when they came for Christmas. Sansa couldn’t wait to see the look on everyone’s faces.

Doc and Nick jumped off the porch and strode toward the pickup truck as soon as Sandor pulled into the dooryard. Both came to an abrupt halt as Sandor climbed out of the cab. Sansa hung back and delighted in watching the scene unfold. She couldn’t suppress the smirk at seeing their surprised expressions.

Doc and Nick looked at each other, baffled, as though making sure they were seeing the same thing. Sandor stood and waited for their reaction.

“What the hell happened?” Nick finally exclaimed.

“You fucking hate it, don’t you?” Sandor growled. Doc and Nick looked at each other, wide smiles plastered to their faces.

“No,” Nick told him. “I love it.”

“What about you, you dumb Swede?”

Doc Tormund raised an eyebrow giving him his characteristically perturbed look. “I’m Norwegian!” Doc then proceeded to swear in his native tongue. “You made a good decision, my friend,” he finally said.

“At first, I thought maybe you chickened out.” Nick came closer and examined Sandor’s face. To Nick, he pretty much looked the same as the last time they’d seen each other. The right side of Sandor’s face was still covered in scar tissue, but there were some notable differences. They were good differences, though.

Sansa stood over Sandor and explained to Nick and Doc exactly what had been done in the procedure.

“Dr. Lannister discovered that Sandor had lost almost half of his hearing in his right ear. That was because he was missing most of the auricle (the cartilage part that sticks out of the side of your head), and there was also some damage to the ear canal.”

“Jaime fixed Sandor’s inner ear and reconstructed his ear on the outside to make it look normal, and also to make it easier to wear glasses.”

Sandor snorted. “I don’t need glasses!” he protested. Sansa ignored him. They’d already been through the argument a dozen times. Sansa had won, and so Sandor was getting reading glasses in the new year.

“Then, Jaime reconstructed the muscle tissue over his right eye. The lid was starting to drop and it would have started giving Sandor problems if it wasn’t corrected. He also got some new muscle tissue in his cheek.”

Sandor hated that everyone was looking at him like a bug under a microscope, but he stayed quiet and let Sansa do her thing.

“And lastly, Jaime shaved some of the worst of the scar tissue from around the corner of his mouth and his eye.” Sansa explained that the scar tissue in those spots had been rigid and inflexible and had started to harden a little. Because of that, Sandor’s facial expressions were being pulled. Sometimes it even caused him discomfort if he smiled, laughed, opened his mouth wide, or squinted.

“Dr. Jaime told me they could have done a total facial reconstruction,” Sandor piped up, “but it would have taken years and dozens of surgeries and there are no guarantees that my face would look completely the same on both sides.”

Sandor and Sansa looked at each other, then across the table at Nick and Doc. Sansa told them, “Apparently, there was too much damage to the fleshy part of Sandor’s face, and not enough blood flow. A lot of the blood vessels and nerve endings were damaged. Plus they’d have to do balloon implants to create enough viable tissue to cover the areas where scar tissue would be removed.”

Sandor squeezed Sansa’s hand. “After I met some of the other patients there, I guess I realized that I’ve lived with this for twenty-five years and I don’t see the point in going to all that trouble this late in my life. I met a 16-year-old girl named Sherry who has a lot less face than me and she doesn’t care what people see when they look at her. It might sound kind of corny, but if you take away a sixteenth of an inch of skin, we all look the same. It’s not how you look, but what you do, that ultimately matters in our short lives.”

Sansa put her arm around Sandor. He put his around her shoulders, hugged her close and smiled down at her. “Why should I waste all that time and money trying to get pretty, when I already have people around me who love me the way I am?”

Sansa sat at what would soon become her desk in her office in Leeston. It wasn’t hers just yet. Sansa wouldn’t be taking over for Doc Tormund until December 1st, still a week away. For now, she was perusing patient files and getting herself familiar with the medical histories of her 483 patients – the entire population of Leeston. There were only 214 active files right now, but it was still a lot to go through.

Sansa looked up when the back door opened. Sandor came in to pick her up from work and take her home. It was four in the afternoon. Sandor decided he was tired of sneaking around at night. He was too old and tired to care what people thought of his face anymore. His confidence seemed to have affected everyone’s outlook because Sansa had noticed a shift in the general attitude toward him. Maybe it had been because of Sam’s talk with Shawn, or maybe it was because of Sansa’s influence. They would never know. Sansa was just glad to see Sandor walking around town smiling and happy in broad daylight.

“So what exactly did you need all the way over in Klamath?” she asked.

“You’ll see,” he smiled giving her a kiss. “Did you talk to your family? Are they coming for Christmas?”

Sansa sighed. “No. No one’s coming. Robb had to go back to Afghanistan. Jon can’t get away from work – apparently there is a problem with a pipeline leak. Bran and Rick are going to stay with their girlfriend’s families for the holidays.” Sansa sighed. “And mom and Arya are going after each other’s jugulars again. They decided to stay home and not spread their Christmas misery.”

Sandor thought for a moment. “I think I might have an idea about that, but let me make a couple of phone calls and then we’ll talk about it.”

“I really miss my family,” Sansa admitted. “Oh, by the way, I was expecting medical supplies, but instead, the UPS guy dropped this off for you.” Sansa produced a large box and handed it to Sandor. He opened it to find two smaller boxes. They were hand-held military radios. Sansa was baffled.

“One stays in town and one comes with us. If ever there is an emergency, someone can get hold of you at the cabin.”

“Two questions.” Sansa held up two fingers. “Why not get a telephone installed up there and how are we going to get power to keep this thing charged?”

“It would cost a fortune to get a phone line brought up to the cabin, and anyway it would probably come down every time there’s a storm. Besides, we’re not always in the cabin. If we’re out in the barn or out hunting, the radio can come with us.”

“And second,” Sandor said with a big smile, that’s why I went to Klamath. I picked up some solar panels.” He shrugged. “It’s supposed to be a cold winter and I’ve been thinking about getting a heater for the barn – keep the animals warm.”

“What about me?” she said with mock derision.

He smiled suggestively. “Oh don’t you worry. I’ll keep you warm.”

Sansa bolted awake in the middle of the night. She wasn’t sure if it was the remnants of a bad dream that made her wake, or if she’d heard a noise outside. When she opened her eyes, Sandor was sitting up, quiet and listening.

“You heard it, too?” he whispered.

“Heard what?”

Sandor brought his finger to his lips, listening intently, but Sansa didn’t hear anything. After a long moment of dead silence except for the creaking of the cabin and the trees swaying in the wind, Sandor relaxed and lay back down beside her. Eventually, he rolled over, tucked Sansa’s small body into his and fell back to sleep.

Three nights in a row, they had the same experience. Each morning, Sandor went for a stroll around the perimeter of the property, and each morning there was nothing out of the ordinary to be seen.

On Saturday, Sandor decided to go into town and use the phone at the doctor’s office to make a few phone calls. Between the two of them, Sansa and Sandor had read the instructions and managed to install the solar panels, but they were having trouble with one of the connections. Sandor made some excuse about wanting to use the computer to do some Christmas shopping on Amazon so that Sansa wouldn’t want to come with him. Really, he needed some time alone to make a few other phone calls as well.

When Sandor finally got back to the cabin, Sansa was nowhere around. He supposed she might have gone for a walk in the woods, but he knew she wouldn’t go far. The landscape still wasn’t that familiar to her and she was nervous about getting lost.

Sandor went inside the cabin but he knew that he wouldn’t find her there. Sansa always greeted him from the porch when he returned. He looked anyway, but still no Sansa.

“She’s just gone for a walk,” he muttered to himself. Sandor moved to the kitchen table to resume examining the electronic coupling for the solar panel battery units that had sent him into Leeston on a quest for answers.

Before he sat down, Sandor saw two items sitting in the middle of the table that hadn’t been there when he’d left. Sansa’s cell phone was turned on and sitting next to her compass. He might not have thought anything of it, but Sansa had absolutely no use for her cell phone anymore. At least, not here at the cabin and not in Leeston. They’d only decided to keep it for when they were traveling.

Not only was the cell phone turned on, but it was sitting right next to her compass. Sandor recalled the first week he’d met Sansa. He’d made fun of her for getting lost because the electromagnetic field from her phone had re-polarized her compass.

Sandor took a step forward and heard something crunch under his foot. It was a shiny piece of paper, crunched up in a ball and discarded on the floor. Sandor picked it up and smoothed it out.

The page had been ripped out of a travel magazine they’d picked up for Hawaii. The advertisement showed the back of a woman in a bikini looking off across the blue ocean with a palm tree shading her. Across the woman’s back were slash marks that had been scratched across the paper.

Sandor went upstairs and got his gun.

Chapter Text

Sandor threw on his hunting jacket tossing Sansa’s cell phone and compass into his breast pocket. He slipped on his bug out bag and slung his rifle over his shoulder as he bolted out the door.

Sandor really wanted to sprint for the hills, but he suppressed his emotions. He moved to the center of the dooryard closed his eyes, took a deep cleansing breath, listened and waited. No unexpected sounds came to him.

Sandor opened his eyes, removed Sansa’s cell phone and compass from his pocket, and held them next to each other. He slowly followed the compass to the north-east edge of the property. He scanned the tree line looking for some sort of sign.

Thank-you, Sansa, he thought. On the few times he’d taken her hunting, he’d constantly had to remind her to lift her feet high when she was walking. This was to prevent stumbling on hidden undergrowth or roots, and to minimize the sound her footfalls made as they were creeping up on a deer or other wildlife.

Sandor bent to the ground and pressed his fingers into a drag mark in the mud where grass had been torn up. Sandor was no tracker, but he recognized the signs of movement through the thick vegetation.

Before he moved into the treeline, Sandor examined the compass again. The compass needle was pointing due north, even though the scuff mark indicated that Sansa had been traveling east-north-east. Sandor put the two items back in his pocket and stepped into the woods.

For over an hour, Sandor followed scuff marks and very obviously broken branches. He moved slowly and cautiously, often taking moments to stop and listen. He recognized the direction Sansa was heading. She was going back to the spot where Sandor had first found her. A straight climb from there would bring her to the trail – the wrong trail – that she’d been following before the landslide.

Along the path, Sandor came across crumbs from a granola bar, an earring, a nickel, the cap from her tube of lip balm. Sansa was leaving him a trail of breadcrumbs. Sandor was thankful that Sansa hadn’t gotten caught leaving the clues. Following her trail might have been a lot more difficult otherwise.

After checking the horizon carefully, Sandor started up a rocky bluff, frequently stopping to listen for any sounds or checking for movement through the trees. He heard nothing – even the birds were quiet. Near the top, the bluff had a sharp steep edge about five feet high with narrow ridges that allowed for handholds and footholds.

At the top of the bluff, Sandor kicked around the clearing, looking for his next clue, the next sign that would lead to Sansa. He was worried about her of course, but his concern was staring to deepen. It had been three hours of following breadcrumbs but he hadn’t heard one sound. Not a shout, a rustle of leaves, not the twitter of a bird. On the top of the bluff, there was a stiff breeze. If there were any sounds, he should have heard them carried on the wind.

Sandor unslung his rifle, readied his grip and flicked the safety. He walked the perimeter of the clearing, spiraling outward toward the tree line so that he wouldn’t miss anything. When he saw it, Sandor didn’t know why he hadn’t seen it immediately.  He started toward a wild blueberry bush. Something was snagged on it and flapping in the breeze. As he got closer, he realized it was a Kleenex. When he was within a few feet of it, the thin tissue tore and blew away.

Sandor came to a dead halt. The hair on the back of his neck stood up. Frozen in place, Sandor slowly turned his head, carefully scanning through the trees for the slightest movement.

Sandor sighed deeply and shrugged his shoulders. It was useless, he wasn’t going to find her this way. With a slight shake of his head, he slung his rifle back over his shoulder and turned back toward the edge of the bluff.

Leaping a short distance down to the first wide ridge over the edge of the bluff, Sandor swiftly unslung his rifle again. Just below the top edge of the bluff had been a hollow spot worn into the rock over thousands of years of ice and rain weathering it away. Sandor squatted and slowly backed into it, flicked the safety on the rifle again, and readied to aim.

Sandor waited for almost ten minutes. He’d been positive he was right, but now, he wasn’t so sure. Sansa’s trail of clues had been too perfect, too regularly spaced, and too obvious for her not to have gotten caught leaving them.

Then there was the Kleenex. Sansa didn’t use them. Part of life in a mountain cabin meant not purchasing anything that was disposable. Kleenex, paper towel, and even food wrap were on the naughty list. Those items were too expensive and resulted in too much waste. Instead, they used rags, handkerchiefs, and reusable plastic containers.

Someone else had put the Kleenex there. Someone else wanted Sandor to follow the trail. And they had been very close by. Within moments of him seeing it, the Kleenex had torn and blown away. That meant that it had been placed there only moments before he’d seen it. It’s also the reason Sandor hadn’t seen it immediately. Because it hadn’t been there when he’d first looked.

Sandor controlled his breathing, struggling not to move or twitch. He leaned forward slightly to ease the pressure on his knees. He was almost about to concede that he might have been a little paranoid when he heard a slight scuff. He froze again and listened.

Another two minutes went by. It felt like four hours.

Unexpectedly, a body flew over the edge of the bluff and landed about five feet in front of Sandor. Sansa’s red hair whipped around her as she landed on her back. Sandor stayed quiet, his pulse racing and sweat dripping into his eyes. He wiped clumsily at his brow, careful not to make a sound. Slowly, Sansa moaned and rolled like a log. As she rolled to face him, Sandor brought his finger to his lips, cautioning her to silence.

Sansa’s wrists were bound and her mouth duck taped. Her eyes flashed wide for a split second when she noticed Sandor. Her eyes flicked upward to the edge of the bluff above Sandor. Sandor raised his hand beside him. He showed her one finger, then two, then three.

Sansa kept her eyes aimed upwards, away from Sandor. He watched her fingers. Quickly, she pointed one finger, then balled her fists again.

When she was able to look down at Sandor momentarily, Sandor indicated his gun to her and raised his eyebrows. Sansa again aimed her eyes at the top of the bluff. Sandor watched her hands. In only a fraction of a second, she flashed him a thumbs up.

Sandor took a breath and thought. Whoever was up there had a gun, but was alone. After a few more long moments, Sandor heard someone moving, slowly working their way over the edge of the bluff. An instant later, a man jumped down, landing on his feet between him and Sansa, with his back to Sandor.

Sandor flew to his feet and rushed the short, squat man as he stood looking down at Sansa. Sandor held his rifle sideways in front of him and rammed the much smaller man in the back of the neck. Sansa attempted to roll out of the way, but the two men fell on top of her.

Despite his small size, Sansa’s kidnapper thrashed and struggled making it hard for Sandor to hold him down.

Sansa thought quickly and wiggled herself into a position where she could wrap her legs around the man’s neck. She squeezed tightly as Sandor attempted to wrangle his wrists, but it meant he’d have to set down his rifle. He set the gun down to his left. Pinning the man’s wrists with his left hand, Sandor began punching the kidnapper with his right.

After three hard blows, the man began to sag under Sandor’s weight. Two more punches for good measure, then Sandor began to get up, dragging the man with him. Sansa reluctantly spread her legs to release him.

Sandor dug in his pocket with one hand still squeezing the man’s wrists in his other. From his pocket, Sandor retrieved a jack knife and triggered the spring action to open the blade.  He held it out toward Sansa who immediately sawed her bindings over the blade.

With his focus on Sansa, Sandor momentarily eased his grip on the assailant  who took the opportunity, twisted out of Sandor’s grip and whirled to face Sandor with a pistol he’d pulled from his pocket.

A demented smile slowly spread across the man’s face. Sandor recalled watching the Lord of the Rings movie while in Seattle. The man that stood before him looked like the evil version of Frodo. Blood oozed from his nose and down over his lips, but he didn’t seem to notice.

“Ramsay, no!” Sansa screamed as she peeled the duck tape from her lips. “Please don’t hurt him.” Sandor eyed his rifle lying in the dirt out of reach.

Ramsay turned and smiled at Sansa. “Don’t worry, my love. I am a man of mercy.” Ramsay’s voice grated on Sandor like steel wool. Ramsay spun unexpectedly and fired the gun into Sandor’s chest.

Sandor felt himself stagger back and fall. His chest felt on fire and he couldn’t breathe. He slowly closed his eyes. As he lay there waiting, Sandor did not immediately feel the life ebbing out of him. He wheezed as he struggled to breathe, each lungful of air shallower and quieter than the last.

Sandor heard Sansa scream. He heard Ramsay slap her.

“You said you were a man of mercy!” Sandor heard Sansa cry.

“A quick death is a merciful one, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I hate you!”

“Good,” Ramsay hissed. “You know I prefer it that way.” Sandor could hear the twisted intentions in Ramsay’s voice.

There was a scuffle and Ramsay punched her. Was it in the face? It sounded like a punch to the face. Sansa cried out and another scuffle ensued. The gun went off and then there was quiet.

A stab of pain went through Sandor’s heart. Grief washed over him as he realized that he’d never actually told Sansa that he loved her. She had known it, he made sure of that, but he’d never said the words. Now he would never get the chance.

Sandor lay still and listened to the sound of the quiet, felt the cool fresh breeze on his face as tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes. He could still hear Ramsay moving around. Sandor was still conscious enough to realize that his hand had landed on a large rock. Maybe he still had enough life left in him. Perhaps, if he focused his remaining strength …

Sandor curled his fingers around the rock, determined to go down swinging. If Sansa had to die, Ramsay certainly deserved it, but he knew he wouldn’t have a chance. He listened as determined footsteps moved toward him.

Wait for it … Sandor suddenly sat up, opened his eyes and flung his arm in an arc a hard as he could. Sansa jumped back just in time.

“Sansa?” he wheezed. His vision started to darken and he fell back to stare at the sky. Sansa ripped open his jacket and his shirt and dragged her hand over the surface of his chest. At one spot, Sandor hollered in pain and started coughing. Then Sansa went digging through his layers of clothing.

“You’re going to be okay,” she told him. Sandor opened his eyes. Sansa smiled at him. Her hair was stringy and disheveled, she had a black eye and a split lip that was bleeding, but her smile was beautiful.

She held up a flat black object for him to look at. Sandor struggled up onto his elbows. His chest felt like it had been hollowed out with a melon spoon and his vision threatened him with unconsciousness, but he pushed up enough to see what Sansa was holding. It was her cell phone with a bullet lodged right through the center of it. The long narrow casing had made it most of the way through the phone before stopping. Sansa’s hand was covered in blood.

Sandor put his hand under his jacket and felt his chest. There was a hole. He pulled his hand out to see the blood on his own fingers.

“It’s okay,” she told him. "It’s a deep wound, but it didn’t go through to the lung. You’ve probably got a couple of broken ribs.”

Sansa helped Sandor off with his knapsack and got him to lie down in a comfortable position. She looked in the side pocket of the bag where he kept the first aid supplies. Sansa packed the hole with gauze and taped the wound. Then she gave him some water and a protein bar to help him get his strength back. After a half hour, Sandor was able to get to his feet.

“Can you walk?” Sansa asked.

“I can, but we’ll never get back before dark. We need to get away from here.” Sandor looked over to where Ramsay lay. There was a single neat hole just under his the left side of his chin. A large pool of blood had formed a sort of macabre halo around him.

“The wolves will smell that. We need to get down the bluff at least.”

Sandor and Sansa took their time, moving slowly until they had reached a safe spot. Sandor tried to help a little, but Sansa did most of the work as she built a large fire and made a simple shelter out of the tarp from Sandor’s bag.

It wasn’t long after dark that they heard the wolves howl in the distance. They were far enough away, and each of them now had a gun. Sansa had Ramsay’s gun and Sandor kept his rifle within reach at all times.

When they finally settled down for the evening, Sansa snuggled close careful not to irritate Sandor’s wound. He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

“I thought I lost you today,” he told her.

“I thought I lost you when I saw you lying there not moving.”

“How did he find you?” Sandor asked.

“He threatened Eloise. She was always really afraid of him. He can get pretty much anything out of anyone. He just has this way of – ”

“Not anymore, he doesn’t.” Sandor hugged Sansa as close as he could. He urged Sansa to turn so they could look at each other. “Ramsay is gone. For good.”

Sansa began to cry. Tears dripped slowly down her face. “Sandor, I'm so sorry." She turned her face and buried it in Sandor's shoulder. He pushed her back so that he could look in her eyes.

"It's not your fault." Sansa shook her head and sobbed but Sandor made her look at him. "You did what you had to do to survive. It's the same thing I had to do to survive. Ramsay brought this on himself after what he did to you." Sansa leaned against his shoulder and Sandor held her while she cried. When her tears finally abated, she looked up at Sandor.

"There’s something I want to tell you.”

Sandor shook his head and smiled. “No way. Me first.” He pulled her closer and brushed the hair away from her face. He brought her face close to his so that their foreheads were touching.

“I love you,” he whispered. "I love you so much. I wanted to tell you earlier but I'm an idiot so I'll keep saying it until I make up for how long it took me to do it. I love you."

Sandor kissed her and never wanted to let her go, but Sansa pushed him away. Tears streamed down her face but she was smiling. “I love you more,” she told him.

Sandor shook his head with a grin. “Well … that’s debatable.”

Chapter Text

Sansa got up from her chair, and picking up the jug of mulled wine, began to refill all the glasses as Doc launched into his next tale. Everyone was laughing and joking and enjoying themselves thoroughly.

It was good to see everyone together, happy and healthy and in good spirits. It almost wasn’t that way. Sansa thought of how many times over the past ten months that someone had been hurt or almost died. Then she thought about how all those times had turned out okay. But what if they hadn’t?

Sansa put her hand on Sandor’s shoulder. Her turned and smiled at her then went back to listening to Doc’s joke. Sandor was still a little sore, but three weeks later, his bullet wound was almost completely healed and the three broken ribs were well on the mend.

When Sam and Gilly had first arrived for the Christmas holiday, they were amazed and delighted at Sandor’s lack of transformation. Sam had been worried that his uncle would get a more dramatic procedure changing the look of his face. Sam and Gilly were relieved that the changes he made were more for quality of life than for vanity. Both of them had also noted a marked difference in the attitude of the people of Leeston. Everything was working out for the best.

Talk of the kidnapping incident was kept to a minimum. Nick and Doc were told what happened when Sandor and Sansa had arrived back at the cabin. When Sam and Gilly arrived they were filled in. It went no further than that, because everyone wanted to focus on the joy of the season. The tragedies were in the past, those tragedies had been survived, and they had moved on.

Sansa was till drifting away in her thoughts when she heard Nick ask a question. Sansa heard Sandor answer it, but it wasn’t until Sandor lightly shook her arm that she snapped back to the present.

“Hmmm?” she asked, blinking.

“What about you?” Nick asked. “Are you looking forward to the trip to Hawaii?”

“Of course. I’ve been there before but only just in Honolulu in a huge resort in the city, so it won’t be anything like where we’re going.”

Lord Varys had invited them to stay for three weeks. They had pushed the trip off until the end of January. Travel was less hectic now that most people were back to their post-holiday lives and things had settled down in Leeston allowing Sansa to take the extended vacation.

It took some hand-holding, soothing words of encouragement, and a little bit of alcohol, but Sansa did manage to get Sandor on the plane. It was his first time flying. Sandor successfully checked off a lot of firsts in that one trip, but he delighted in every moment of it.

The flight took them to Honolulu on O’ahu. From there, they took a second flight to Lihue on Kauai. At Lihue airport, Sandor and Sansa were surprised to find a limo driver waiting for them. It was Lord Varys’ personal driver come to pick them up and drive them directly to the northwest corner of the island, over an hour away.

When they finally arrived, they were shocked and amazed – by both their host and his home.

Lord Varys was short, round, and very bald. Like, Telly Savalas bald. He was dressed in a silk kimono with an elaborate pattern of bright pink tropical flowers and brilliant green palm fronds.

“My dear friends. I’m so glad you’ve finally arrived.” He walked with his arms out toward Sandor. “Sandor Clegane. Finally, after all these years.” He shook Sandor’s hand covering it with both of his.

Lord Varys turned his attention to Sansa. “Ah yes. The prince has brought his princess. Come, my dear,” he said to Sansa with his arms held wide. He gave Sansa a warm hug, then held her at arm’s length and looked her up and down. He gave Sandor a look of approval.

“You’ve done very well for yourself, my friend,” he told Sandor.

“Lord Varys, this place is amazing … and it’s so huge,” Sansa remarked.

Lord Varys explained that he preferred to be remote, but not too remote. His home had once been an out-of-the-way resort that had gone bankrupt. He purchased the resort and the surrounding property and had it renovated to his needs. It was perfect for the solitude and space he required. The property was large enough for him to have as many guests as he wanted, but still have his private space.

“And I do like having my parties.” He laid a hand on Sandor’s arm. “It’s a shame you couldn’t have attended one of my parties over the years, but I do understand the need to hide oneself away.” Lord Varys led them through the main house to a wide set of double doors. “I don’t ever leave my home, but then why would I want to when I have all this?” He flamboyantly threw open the sliding doors. Beyond was the most amazing view either Sandor or Sansa had ever seen. The neatly tended yard was laboriously crafted with ornate gardens, wide swaths of green grass and bordered with picture perfect palm trees. Beyond the yard was a wide black beach, and beyond that, the open ocean.

It truly was paradise.

Over the next three days, Lord Varys and Sandor went over all the paperwork and negotiations from their agents and HBO executives until they were satisfied enough to sign all the agreements and begin working on Dragon Games within the next few months.

Each day, Lord Varys would appear in a different kimono of varying designs. Some were a plain solid color, some bore elaborate designs in a multitude of patterns, but he only ever wore his kimonos.

The three of them were sitting around one afternoon having tea on the lanai. Now that the business end of things had been completed, they were enjoying casual conversation, and Sansa and Sandor’s vacation could begin.

“I’m so glad you opted for only minimal improvements during your cosmetic procedures,” Lord Varys commented to Sandor. “Your face has character like no other.”

“You knew about his surgery?” Sansa asked, surprised that Sandor had shared it with him.

“Why, of course, my dear. Sandor tells me everything.” Lord Varys leaned forward and placed a hand on Sansa’s knee. Surprisingly, it did not feel creepy in the least. She felt only the warmth conveyed by his words.

“Sandor and I have been close friends for many years. In fact, I think he’s my only true friend.”

“But you only just met for the first time three days ago.” Sansa was confused.

“Oh, yes, but we’ve been corresponding regularly for more than 15 years.” Lord Varys fluttered a hand at this throat. “Your Sandor writes the most marvelous letters. Sad how the art of letter writing is nearly dead. Anyway, Sandor and I have come to know each other very well through our letters. Oh, and the phone conversations. We’ve had many long phone conversations over the years.” Lord Varys looked down at his Mickey Mouse watch.

“Oh,” he exclaimed. “I have some urgent business to attend to. Why don’t the two of you go for a nice stroll on the beach?”  Lord Varys stood quickly and scuttled off through the house. “Ta ta,” he said waving over his shoulder.

Sansa and Sandor walked along the shoreline holding hands and watching as their toes disappeared into the black sand. A warm breeze whipped around them making them feel like everything was right with the world.

It wasn’t long before they came to a large boulder at the edge of a sand dune. Sandor led Sansa over to it and they sat down. They stared out over the endless expanse of ocean and horizon. Sandor put his arms around Sansa and hugged her close. He kissed the top of her head, then turned her face up and stared down into her blue eyes.

“Thank-you for coming into my life,” he told her.

Sansa smiled. “I think it was you who came into my life first when you pulled me out of the mud.”

Sandor kissed her passionately for a long time. When he finally broke their kiss, he said, “Can I ask you a question?” Sansa nodded.

Suddenly, Sandor slipped off the edge of the rock and knelt in front of her. From out of thin air, he opened his hand and produced a small velvet box. Sansa gasped. Before she had a chance to react, Sandor opened the box and the question came.

“Will you marry me?” It was the perfect little diamond ring, held out to her by the perfect man. Sansa burst into tears. She nodded excitedly, tears flowing, too emotional to get any words out. Sandor took the ring from its box and slipped it onto her slim, delicate finger. It fit perfectly. When she looked up at Sandor, there were tears in his eyes. Sansa leapt forward and hugged him so tightly, that Sandor lost his balance and fell backwards onto the volcanic sand beach. They laughed and kissed as they rolled on the wet sand.

As they walked back to the resort, Sandor suddenly stopped and turned to Sansa. “Will you marry me today?” he asked her.

“What?” As if the proposal wasn’t enough, Sandor had shocked and surprised her again.

“Will you marry me today? Marry me here in this perfect paradise?”

Sansa wanted to say yes. She wanted to leap into Sandor’s arms and say, “Yes, yes, yes!” but she couldn’t. A sad look came over her.

“I can’t, Sandor, not today. Not without my family. Not without your family.”

Sandor was disappointed, but he understood. It would be selfish of them to not include the family that she hadn’t seen in almost a year. Sandor agreed that he would want Nick Davos, Doc Tormund, and Sam to be with him.

They climbed the steps onto the deck and up to the wide sliding doors that led inside. Before they went in, Sandor picked up her hand and admired the ring he’d put on her finger. He’d chosen it himself and it suited her perfectly. He kissed her hand then kissed her lips.

Reaching over her, Sandor pulled the doors apart. When Sansa turned around, everyone was there. Everyone. She scanned the room with her mouth hanging open. Catelyn, Arya, Jon, Bran and Rick and their girlfriends all stood waiting. Nick and Netti Davos were standing next to Sam and Gilly. Doc was standing next to Lord Varys and eyeing him peculiarly.

Sansa didn’t know who to run to first. It had been so long since she’d seen any of them, she was frozen to her spot. So they came running to her. Everyone hugged her at once, embracing each other.

When she finally got herself under control, Sansa used the sleeve of her shirt wipe the tears from her face. Everyone congratulated them. Sansa turned to Sandor and hugged him. He picked her pick off the ground and embraced her as tightly as he could.

“But … how?” she asked bewildered and amazed. Sandor pointed to their host. “Lord Varys arranged everything. He’s very good at keeping secrets,” Sandor advised with a wink.

Sandor set Sansa on her feet and got down on one knee. “I’m going to ask you again,” he told her. “Will you marry me today? Will you marry me here, now, in this perfect paradise … with all our friends and family?”

“Yes,” Sansa said. “Yes!”

While Lord Varys and his staff got the grounds prepared for the ceremony, Sansa was introduced to the new girlfriends in the family. Bran’s girlfriend was Tarah, and Rick’s girlfriend was Linda.

Jon walked up to Sansa and gave her a long embrace. They hadn’t seen each other since Catelyn had kicked him out years earlier. Sansa knew how hard it was for him to be here, but he was here for Sansa, and he’d had no intention of missing this.

“You look amazing,” he told her. His devilish grin was just as she remembered. “I want you to meet someone.” He gestured behind him to a feisty-looking redhead with freckles and a long braid. “This is my fiancée, Ygritte.”

Sansa welcomed her to the family and chatted with them for a few minutes. She hated not being able to talk longer, but there were so many things to do. “I have to find a dress to wear and I have no idea who will be marrying us and –”

“Uh, that would be me,” Jon piped up.

“You?” Sansa asked in disbelief. There had been so many surprises already today.

Jon nodded. “I got my license a few years ago. Up where I am it’s pretty remote and many of the men are pretty religious. You have to be when you’re doing the kind of work we are and under those conditions.” Jon spread his arms wide and grinned. “So I’m a minister!” he announced.

“Thank-you, Jon. I wouldn’t want anyone else to marry us,” Sansa said hugging him again. She turned sad again. “I just wish Robb could have been here. Have you talked to him?”

Jon nodded. “A few days ago. He sends his regrets and best wishes. He tried to get leave but …” Jon shrugged. That’s just the way it was.

Jon wasn’t the only one full of surprises. Lord Varys presented Sansa with a full length white silk kimono. The style was close fitting to accentuate her curves, but it was a wrap dress so that it could be tightly wound around her resulting in the perfect fit no matter her size. The fabric was thin, delicate and stunning.

As Sansa was ready to make her way to the open grounds of the resort for the ceremony, a commotion broke out. Sansa looked out the window to see a helicopter flying in low. Ready to go out to her family and friends, Sansa arrived in time to see the helicopter taking off again in the distance. A man in combat fatigues rushed toward her with a duffel bag in his hands.

“Did I make it in time?” Robb said as he hugged her and swung her around. Sansa laughed and cried. Now everything was perfect.

Jon stood before them and read from a small leather book.

“We are gathered here today in the sight of God, family, and friends to witness the union of man and wife, one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever.”

“Who comes before God to ask His blessing?”

“I do,” Sansa answered.

“Who comes to claim her?”

“I do," answered Sandor.

“Sansa, do you join this man freely, to take him as your protector, your friend, and your husband?”

Sansa raised her eyes to gaze upon Sandor's adoring face. Tears slipped from her eyes and ran down her cheeks. “I do,” she promised.

“Sandor, do you join this woman freely, to take her as your protector, your friend, and your wife?”

“I do.” Sandor knelt before Sansa and held her hand in his. Jon wrapped a red ribbon around their hands.

Sandor said his vow. "In the sight of God, we seal our souls, binding them as one for eternity. I am yours and you are mine from this day until the end of our days.”

Sandor kissed her hand, then stood and let the ribbon fall to the floor. He kissed her tenderly. "I will love you forever," he told her.

And that's how it was until the end of their days.

The End