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Is Love Truly Blind?

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“You’re a fucking idiot if you think I’d even consider this,” Sandor said giving his friend the most exasperated scowl he could muster.

 

“Yeah, you’re right. I should’ve known you’d be too chickenshit,” Bronn replied with a shake of his head.

 

Sandor snorted at the obvious barb, though he could still feel his pride rankle a little as he said, “It’s got nothing to do with being chickenshit.”

 

“Sure, you tell yourself that,” Bronn shrugged, turning away from him, “Whatever helps you sleep at night, mate.”

 

His teeth ground together as his friend tried and succeeded at provoking him. “I am not fucking scared of some stupid reality TV show.”

 

“Oh? Are you just afraid of women then?” Bronn asked as he turned back and raised a brow at him.

 

“I’m not afraid of anything!” Sandor growled and threw his hands in the air, “It’s just so goddamn ridiculous.”

 

“Right, right. Ridiculous. I totally understand,” Bronn replied in a tone that suggested he did not believe Sandor in the slightest.

 

Sandor sighed sharply and pinched the bridge of his nose. After another moment he returned his gaze to Bronn and said, “Look, this is just some fucking scam. If you want your fifteen minutes of fame, then you go right ahead but leave me the fuck out of it.”

 

It was Bronn’s turn to laugh as he said, “Do you really think I’m just going on the show to get famous?”

 

“Yes,” Sandor answered without hesitation.

 

“Okay, fine. Maybe I’d like a few minutes of fame. It certainly wouldn’t hurt,” Bronn shrugged, “But more than that, I want a chance to find love. Real love.”

 

“I’m sure your Tinder dates have more then enough love to go around. What about that one who’s stalking you? I’m sure she’d appreciate a chance at ‘real love,’” Sandor said with a smirk.

 

“You’re certainly a clever one,” Bronn said, giving him a look, “This could be your chance, too, you know. You’re always saying you wish you could find someone without having your face in the way.”

 

“I’ve never said that.”

 

“It’s been heavily implied.”

 

“I don’t think so.”

 

“Look, I don’t want to do this by myself, alright? I’d like to have one of my mates there, and you’re my best mate,” Bronn admitted, though Sandor didn’t know if he was stretching the truth a little in a bid to manipulate him.

 

In truth, nothing he’d said had really appealed to Sandor more than the idea of getting to talk to women without the obstacle of his face standing in the way. At this point, he was used to it, but most everybody else wasn’t. Even when he’d been up front about it on dating sites—this was before he’d deleted his profiles out of frustration—there was always that same look: revulsion. There wasn’t a single picture that could really do his scars justice. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a second date.

 

Apparently his internal conflict had shown on his face, because Bronn clapped his hand on Sandor’s shoulder and said, “I can tell you’re considering it. If it makes you feel any better, there’ll be 13 other blokes on the show besides us. You probably won’t even get that much screen time.”

 

“Hell, they probably won’t even let me on the fucking show. They’ll take one look at my face and show me to the fucking door,” Sandor said with a roll of his eyes.

 

“Then what have you got to lose? Just come down to the studio with me. If you don’t change your mind by the time we get there, then I’ll leave you be.” Bronn made his way across their apartment and grabbed his keys, jangling them as he said, “Come on, then, mate. We don’t have all day.”

 

Sandor sighed and shook his head, but followed Bronn out the door anyway. It was like his friend said: What did he have to lose?

 


 

“San, can you believe it?” Jeyne exclaimed from beside her, “They want us on the show! We don’t even have to audition!”

 

Sansa—who had only been half listening to her friend—finally looked up from the bouquet she was arranging and said, “I’m sorry, did you say ‘we?’”

 

“Yes, I said ‘we!’” They absolutely loved you in my post about those hair gummis!” Jeyne unglued herself from her phone to give Sansa an exasperated look as she added, “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

 

“Fun? What exactly about going on a reality TV show sounds fun?” Sansa replied, setting down the baby’s breath she’d been trying to find the perfect place for. “Have you ever seen The Bachelor? Or that other show where the people get married without meeting each other? They’re both so shallow!”

 

“Yeah, but this one is different, San. Love Is Blind focuses totally on the emotional connection. It’s supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to find true love,” Jeyne sighed as she put her hand over her heart.

 

“If it’s so focused on the emotional then why are they recruiting conventionally attractive social media influencers?” Sansa asked her with a raised brow.

 

Jeyne rolled her eyes and said, “Because we’re more open to experiences than other people and we obviously know how to have fun.”

 

“Right. Is that the line they gave you?” Sansa turned back to her flower arrangement, finally seeing where the baby’s breath would fit and putting it in its proper place. She picked up a length of ribbon and began to tie it around the vase, only to be stopped by Jeyne’s hand on hers.

 

When she met her eyes, Jeyne was giving her her best puppy dog look as she said, “Please, Sansa. It would mean so much to me if we could do this together. We always said we wanted to be in each other’s weddings, didn’t we?”

 

She doubted that had much to do with why Jeyne thought she should go. However, Sansa was a little tired of the dating scene. It seemed like no matter who she met, they either turned out to be a creep or a jerk. She wasn’t sure if she repelled all the good men, or if at this point they were already taken. Either way, she was ready to meet someone who took commitment as seriously as she did. Maybe this was the way to do it.

 

“Fine,” Sansa sighed which caused Jeyne to squeal in delight, “But only if I can get someone to watch the shop while I’m gone.”

 

“I promise you won’t regret it!” Jeyne said, throwing her arms around Sansa.

 

Sansa hoped her friend was right.

 


 

As it happened, finding someone to take care of her store was easy. Her assistants were more than happy to pick up extra shifts, especially when she told them why. There was something about running a flower shop that attracted romantics, and her employees were no exception.

 

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” Randa remarked, sipping her morning coffee.

 

“Yeah, it’s so unlike you, Sansa,” Mya agreed with a nod, “I thought you were done with love after Harry.”

 

“Well, Jeyne said—” Sansa began, but was cut off.

 

“Of course Jeyne is the one who roped you into it,” Randa said with a roll of her eyes, adding, “I wonder why she didn’t ask me.”

 

“I’m sure it wasn’t personal,” Sansa said in hopes of placating her assistant, “Besides, she said the recruiters wanted both of us. I guess they saw me in one of her Instagram posts.”

 

Randa shrugged and said, “I’m not really the commitment type anyway. It’s probably better if you go. Have you told your family yet?”

 

Sansa squirmed and said, “No, not yet. I’ve never been very good at lying, and I know Arya will be able to figure out something’s up. I wasn’t even supposed to tell you guys.”

 

“But won’t they worry?” Mya asked, her brows knitting together in concern.

 

“I still have time,” Sansa argued, “I just need time to come up with the right story.”

 

Eventually she settled on telling her family that she was going on a wellness retreat. She’d claimed that the pressures of running her own business were getting to her, and she needed a break. Both Ned and Cat had rushed to help her, offering her money or accounting services or more employees. However, she’d insisted she just needed a break and assured them once she got back everything would be fine.

 

All of this happened over the phone, as she was far too bad a liar to be able to convince them in person. Even now she felt a twinge of guilt at making them worry. However, if she managed to meet the love of her life, then she decided it would be worth it.

 


 

“Your fans going to be able to handle you being gone for a couple of weeks?” Bronn asked him as the shuttle they were in carried them to the studio.

 

“I pre-recorded some videos so they probably won’t even notice I’m missing,” Sandor shrugged. His online gaming persona, ‘The Hound,’ had garnered him quite a following, to the point where he’d been able to make it his full time job. This meant posting videos on a regular schedule, as well as streaming twice a week.

 

“Nice. Sneaky. Wish my job was that easy to get out of. I’m burning up all my vacation time on this show,” Bronn said with a sigh.

 

“Hey, this was your idea. I don’t want to hear any complaining,” Sandor said sharply.

 

“And I told you that you didn’t have to come with me,” Bronn replied, “No need to be so prickly. That attitude certainly won’t earn you any points with the women.”

 

Sandor snorted and rolled his eyes, still not sure he even cared what the women thought of him. Truth be told, he was shocked that he was even here at all. After Bronn had dragged him down to the studio, he’d fully expected to be shot down by the producers. However, they’d taken one look at him and said they’d love to have him on the show. Their reasoning: love is blind. He’d be the perfect candidate to prove the experiment worked if he actually found someone.

 

When they’d offered him a spot, he’d been prepared to say no. The word had been right on the tip of his tongue. However, when he’d opened his mouth to speak, the word ‘yes’ popped out instead. It was unexpected, and the only reason he could see for why he’d agreed was the vague guilt Bronn had left him with.

 

A much smaller part of him whispered that it was because he thought he might actually meet someone. It was a stupid idea, however, and one that he suppressed. The best he could hope for was to be edited out of the show completely. At this point, he was really only here as moral support for Bronn.

 

As the shuttle slowed to a stop, Bronn leaned over and looked out the window, saying, “Thought the place would be fancier. Like that apartment building they had on The Circle. Did you see that one?”

 

“No,” Sandor stated flatly.

 

“Right,” Bronn said, still looking out the window. He finally turned back to Sandor and said, “Well, hurry up, mate. We don’t have all day.”

 

The other men around them had already started to rise and proceed towards the exit of the shuttle. On their way out, one of the associate producers was standing at the door collecting people’s phones.

 

“Shit,” Bronn swore. He addressed the young woman, saying, “D’you really need to take my phone, love?”

 

“Yes,” she answered crisply, “We don’t want you to have any distractions from the outside world in the pods.”

 

Bronn sighed and handed over the device, muttering to Sandor, “You might’ve been right about this.”

 

Sandor suppressed a chuckle as he handed over his own phone, which rarely had any notifications for him at all outside of YouTube. He only hoped that the ‘pods’ or whatever had a decent place to work out. If nothing else, having something to read would probably get him through this experience.

 

As the men filed into the studio, he started to take stock of everyone they were with. It was a larger crowd than he expected. Most of the men were conventionally attractive, and none appeared to be older than 35. He was by far the tallest and oddest of the bunch, making him stand out like a sore thumb. There was only one man who was around the same size as him, but unlike Sandor, the man didn’t have any scars or other disfiguring marks.

 

Many of the other men threw looks his way, ranging from curious at best to disgusted at worst. All the scrutiny was already making him feel like a caged animal, and Sandor started looking for a way to make his escape.

 

Before he could, the doors shut behind him, sealing him in. The producers flitted about, herding them further into the room and telling them all to make themselves comfortable. “Nick and Vanessa will be in shortly. Just have some fun and get to know each other.”

 

Sandor could tell he didn’t really want to get to know any of these guys. Also, weren’t they supposed to be getting to know the women who were somewhere around here?

 

“I bet you not even half of these guys is gonna walk out of here with someone,” Bronn said quietly from beside him.

 

“I could’ve told you that before we even walked in here,” Sandor muttered back, his eyes still scanning the room.

 

The other men appeared to be following instructions. Handshakes were happening all around, and the room eventually filled with the din of friendly, albeit polite conversation. Sandor wondered if anyone would approach them, and was satisfied when people appeared to be too intimidated to try.

 

When he thought he was about to die from boredom, the hosts of the show finally made their appearance. They were enthusiastic, with wide grins and bright eyes. As they explained the process, Sandor’s unease mounted, culminating when they threw out the word, ‘marriage.’

 

His head swiveled to Bronn and he scowled down at the man as he hissed, “Marriage? I thought you said this was some kind of dating show.” If there weren’t any cameras around, he would have wrung Bronn’s neck.

 

“Technically you are dating someone. Just with the intent to marry them,” Bronn replied flippantly. He waved a hand in Sandor’s direction and continued, “Now hush. I’m trying to listen.”

 

The urge to escape only grew stronger within him, and he decided that he was going to leave. Meeting a woman was one thing, dating another, but marriage? He had no intention of getting married to someone he met on a reality show.

 

Before he could flag down one of the staff, they were once more being herded like cattle, this time to a hallway off the main lounge. Sandor tried and failed to get the attention of one of the production assistants, but to no avail as they were made to stand outside the doors that lined the hallway.

 

Just when he thought he’d finally caught someone’s eye, all the staff left the hallway, and he had no choice but to either enter the doors in front of him or stand out there like an idiot.

 

With a heavy sigh, Sandor pushed through the door and into the pod.

 


 

Sansa tugged at the hem of her dress once more as she took stock of the other women who were there besides her and Jeyne. There was a glamorous looking blonde, though Sansa could see from her dark roots peeking through that it wasn’t her natural color. Along with her was another blonde, though her hair was so light it was almost white. Her violet eyes were enchanting, and Sansa wondered if she’d be able to stand out in comparison.

 

“I bet none of these girls have as many Insta followers as I do,” Jeyne whispered to her.

 

Sansa shrugged and replied, “Does it really matter? They’re all gorgeous.”

 

“So? We are too, babe. Let’s go make some introductions,” Jeyne said, grabbing her hand and leading her across the room to where most of the women had gathered. Several were seated on the plush couches and chairs, but the majority were clustered around the kitchen island.

 

“Hello ladies!” Jeyne called as she strutted up to them. There were choruses of hellos in return as they joined the group. “I’m Jeyne, and this is my friend, Sansa. Who might you all be?” Sansa gave them a small wave, feeling her face flush slightly at the scrutiny as their gazes turned to her.

 

“I’m Margaery Tyrell,” said the bottle blonde, “Pleasure to meet you.”

 

“And I’m Daenerys,” added the platinum blonde, “But you can call me Dany. Everyone does.”

 

They chatted politely with one another for a while, which allowed Sansa to learn more about the women she was stacked up against. In doing so, she actually found herself much more at ease. Perhaps she had a chance after all, even if she was the plainest among the girls.

 

Eventually the hosts of the show came through and explained how everything would work. “The only time you’re going to interact is in one of the private pods. You’re going to be separated by one thin wall. You won’t ever get to see each other.”

 

Sansa’s heart started to race as the male host continued, explaining that they could choose who they wanted to spend time with, and it would ultimately lead to a marriage proposal. Only then would they see the person they’d chosen to commit to for life.

 

Her head was reeling as they were led to the pods. Sansa turned to Jeyne and said, “You never said anything about marriage!”

 

“It’s not that serious, San! You don’t have to actually say, ‘I do!’” Jeyne replied with a roll of her eyes.

 

“Right. I’ll just be the bitch who left her husband at the altar on television,” Sansa said, dropping her voice to a whisper as she noticed the curious looks from the other women.

 

“Sansa, this is a once in a lifetime experience. Are you really going to throw it away just because you’re afraid of a little commitment?” Jeyne crossed her arms and scowled at Sansa as she waited outside one of the doors.

 

“I’m not afraid of commitment!” Sansa argued, “I just don’t see how you can marry someone you’ve never even seen.”

 

“Well, if you go through that door, you might find out. If you want to leave, then leave, but I’m staying,” Jeyne said, disappearing into one of the pods.

 

When she did, Sansa realized that she was alone in the hallway with a decision to make: stay or go. She stared at the door she was supposed to have entered, wondering whether or not she would be making a mistake if she left.

 

What if her soulmate was waiting for her on the other side of that wall?

 

Even if marriage wasn’t what she’d intended, she knew deep down that Jeyne was right. With a sigh, she opened the door and entered the pod.

Chapter Text

“Hello? Anybody over there?” came a male voice from beyond a tall, blue wall at the opposite side of the room.

 

“Yes, sorry, I was just getting comfortable,” Sansa called as she took a seat on the couch. They’d all been given notebooks, presumably to take notes on who they liked and who they didn’t.

 

“Well, don’t let me stop you,” said the voice, “I like a woman who’s comfortable.”

 

Sansa wondered if this was his attempt at flirting, and couldn’t decide if she liked it or not. “Then you’ll really like me. I showed up in sweats and a hoodie.”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“No! I’ve got on a cocktail dress. Not like it matters, apparently,” Sansa replied, allowing herself to relax a little as she sunk back into the couch and put her feet up on the ottoman.

 

“Yeah? What else are you wearing?”

 

“Seriously?”

 

“Ha, no. I’m only teasing,” the voice replied with a good-natured chuckle.

 

Sansa was pleasantly surprised that they were off to an okay start. “Do you realize we’ve been talking for a while and we haven’t even told each other our names?”

 

“I guess I was enjoying the conversation too much,” he said, adding, “I’m Joffrey, though, if there are to be introductions.”

 

She felt herself blush, her heart skipping a beat as she said, “I’m Sansa. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Joffrey.”

 

“Oh, the pleasure is all mine. Your voice is lovely,” Joffrey told her.

 

“Thank you,” she replied, making a note that the man across the wall from her was very complimentary.

 

“So, what do you do for work?” Joffrey asked her, not beating around the bush.

 

“I own a florists shop actually. I love working with plants,” Sansa replied, wondering if he would mind her career choices.

 

“Self-made woman, eh? I like that.”

 

“What do you do?”

 

“I work in finance at my grandfather’s firm. It’s not interesting, but it pays the bills and then some.” She got the sense that he was trying to convey he had money, which didn’t exactly turn her on. However, it would be nice to have some financial security, especially if things went south at the shop.

 

“Your family must be very proud of you taking up their legacy at such a young age,” Sansa remarked as she jotted down his career in her notes.

 

“What makes you think I’m young?”

 

“Your voice, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice voice. It just sounds…youthful,” she finished lamely.

 

“Well, I suppose I’m only 28, if that makes me young,” he said, a shrug in his voice, “And how old are you? Not that it matters, of course.”

 

“I’m the same age as you, actually,” Sansa told him, still furiously scribbling down notes.

 

“Another thing we have in common. It’s starting to sound like we were made for each other,” Joffrey said flirtatiously.

 

“Only if you like dogs,” Sansa said. Better to get right down to it and make sure there weren’t any deal-breakers. The biggest thing on her list besides being respectful and loving family was whether or not her future husband would get along with her dog.

 

After a pause he said, “I love dogs. If I didn’t live in an apartment, I’d have a hundred.”

 

“Well, I don’t have one hundred. I just have one. Her name is Lady and she’s the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet,” Sansa gushed, thinking of her pup with a pang in her heart. If only they’d allowed pets on set.

 

“I certainly hope I get to meet her sometime soon,” Joffrey said, this time louder. She wondered if he’d moved closer to the glass. The thought made her heart flutter.

 

Before she could reply, she was told by one of the staff that it was time for her next date. Sansa said her goodbyes to Joffrey sadly, wishing they’d had more time to talk.

 

“Until next time, and believe me, there will be a next time,” he told her on his way out.

 

Sansa went on many more quick dates, though they weren’t really memorable. The men were nice enough, but there hadn’t really been that same spark that she’d had with Joffrey. Every so often she’d find herself drifting back to their conversation instead of paying attention to the men she was supposed to be talking to.

 

She’d finally made it to the last date of the day and was eager to finish so she could review her notes and pick her top five. Sansa had already put a big check mark by Joffrey’s name, but besides that she didn’t think it was fair to rank everyone else until she’d talked to her final suitor.

 

She sipped on a glass of wine while she waited, wondering what was taking him so long. If he took much longer, Sansa had half a mind to leave so she could see what the other women had to say. There was a small part of her that was nervous someone else had connected with Joffrey more than she had.

 

Suddenly, a gruff voice from the other side of the wall said, “Hello?”

 

Though she’d been expecting someone, he still scared her, so much so that she choked on the wine she’d been sipping. This sent her into an embarrassing coughing fit which took several moments to subside.

 

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” the voice asked her.

 

“Sorry, I just wasn’t prepared and choked on my wine,” Sansa told him, her face going red for all the wrong reasons.

 

The man snorted, which only added to her embarrassment. “What else were you expecting? A horse?”

 

“No!” Sansa exclaimed, defensive walls raising, “I just didn’t think you’d get here so quickly.”

 

“From the hall? Or do you think I came all the way from Antarctica?” he asked her sarcastically.

 

Sansa couldn’t tell if he was trying to be funny or if he was actually just this cruel. Either way, she made a quick note in her notebook saying that he wasn’t worth a second date. However, much as she didn’t want to waste her own time, she decided she’d still give him a chance to redeem himself in this moment.

 

“You sure do have a lot of jokes. What’s your name, funny man?” Sansa said. She hoped he’d respond to her jab in one of two ways: with anger, confirming that he was an asshole, or with contrition, proving that he just had a quirky sense of humor.

 

“I’m Sandor,” he stated simply, “And you are?” So much for figuring him out.

 

“Sansa,” she replied, refusing to make anymore effort.

 

“So, you think I’m funny?”

 

“I think that you think you’re funny.”

 

“Hardly.”

 

“So you’re just rude then.”

 

At that he scoffed and said, “Well, no one’s ever called me polite before.”

 

“I find it odd that you’re choosing to be so charmless on a dating show,” Sansa remarked, jotting down that note in her notebook as well.

 

“Ha, like you’re really laying it on right now,” Sandor replied with a harsh chuckle, “So far you’ve called me rude and charmless. How exactly is that supposed to win me over?”

 

“And you’ve made fun of me twice in less than a minute. Are you really trying to win me over? Or have you already made up your mind about me?” Sansa shot back. She sipped more of her wine and came to the realization that it might have gone to her head a little.

 

“I’ve made up my mind about this ‘experiment.’ It’s a ridiculous concept. Do you really think you’re going to meet someone and decide you want to spend the rest of your life with them in only a few days?” Sandor asked her.

 

Sansa opened her mouth to disagree, but found herself unable to speak. There was some truth to his words, especially his point about how little time they were being given. It was still hard for her to imagine marrying someone she barely knew after only a few days. Especially someone she’d never seen before.

 

“See? You’re not even defending the show. You know just as well as I do that this is all bullshit,” Sandor said, the sound of smug satisfaction lacing his words.

 

“Or I’ve just decided that talking to you is a huge waste of my time and I’m getting ready to leave.” Sansa stood from the couch with the intention to do just that, hastily scribbling an ‘x’ next to his name to indicate that she never wanted to speak to him again.

 

“Not my fault you can’t handle the truth,” Sandor said, adding, “Have fun with the rest of your time here. Hope you find your soulmate.”

 

She could tell he was being sarcastic with the way his words bit. Sansa wished with all her heart there wasn’t a wall between them so she could throw her wine in his face. As it was, she finished her drink and slammed her glass down, hoping he could hear it.

 

With that, she exited the pod, her face red from anger. As she stomped down the hall, one of the producers approached her, tentatively asking for her choices. Sansa shoved the sheet into his hand, and stalked off into the common area where the other girls were waiting.

 

“…And his voice was so deep and sexy. I didn’t really think I was going to meet someone, but guys. I think Drogo is my soulmate,” Dany told a group of women whose eyes were glued on her. When she said the word ‘soulmate’ all the women ‘awww’ed in unison.

 

Sansa rolled her eyes and made for the wine glasses, ready to pour herself another. However, before she could grab them, she was intercepted by Jeyne. “So? How’d it go? Tell me everything!”

 

Thankfully her friend had a glass ready for her, and she took a long drink before saying, “It wasn’t what I expected at all.”

 

Jeyne’s eyes were wide as she led Sansa over to one of the couches, saying, “That bad, huh?”

 

“Just my last conversation,” Sansa told her, “My first conversation, on the other hand, was lovely.”

 

“Really? Who with?” Jeyne had leaned towards her conspiratorially and it occurred to Sansa that it might be best not to let the other women know who her number one was.

 

She glanced around to make sure no one else was listening, then came close and whispered, “Joffrey.”

 

Jeyne’s eyes lit up with delight as she said, “I knew it! He is so your type.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sansa asked, raising a brow at her friend.

 

“Charming, rich, sounds handsome,” Jeyne rattled off, ticking the qualities off on her fingers, “He kind of reminded me of Harry.”

 

Harry had been Sansa’s fiance, and they had ended things on less than amicable terms. He had cheated on her, though she’d never found out with who. The only clue were the panties she’d found in her bed that weren’t hers. After that, she’d put his things in trash bags and thrown them out onto the lawn. As far as she was concerned, she and Lady were better off.

 

She’d omitted the cheating part to her friends, simply telling them that he was more married to his job than he would ever be to her. Something about his infidelity made her embarrassed, almost like she wasn’t good enough for him.

 

“I’m sure he’s nothing like Harry,” Sansa said with a frown.

 

“Oh, babe, I didn’t mean it that way. Obviously he’s not in love with his job,” Jeyne replied as she reached out and gave Sansa’s knee a pat.

 

“The real question is, who did you connect with?” Sansa asked, wondering just how many men Jeyne would list.

 

Jeyne’s face turned pink and she almost looked shy as she said, “I really liked one guy. His name is Bronn.”

 

Sansa tried to think back on her conversation with him and remembered that he had an accent. He had seemed nice enough, if a little roguish. “And you say I’m the one with a type.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Jeyne said, tilting her head to the side.

 

“You always go for the bad boys! He’s obviously a player, even if he does have a nice accent,” Sansa told her.

 

“He was sweet! He told me I sounded very pretty and he actually takes my job seriously!” Jeyne crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Sansa which made her feel bad. Apparently she was quite smitten with this man, though hopefully not as much as Dany was with Drogo.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t realize you were already falling for him,” Sansa apologized.

 

“I guess I didn’t either,” Jeyne confessed, her cheeks turning darker, “I hope he’s not just playing me. Do you really think he is?”

 

“No, of course not. I barely talked to him, honestly,” Sansa told her in an attempt at being reassuring. It was the truth, too. He hadn’t really captured her interest, and she’d spent most of their talk thinking about Joffrey. From what she remembered, he was polite, if a little flirtatious. However, he hadn’t told her she sounded pretty at all.

 

Jeyne nodded, her gaze leaving Sansa and scanning the room. There were smaller groups of women whispering to one another, likely about the men they’d met. “Do you think anyone else likes him?”

 

“Possibly. But there are probably girls that like Joffrey, too. It’s part of the deal, isn’t it?” Sansa asked. The thought made her stomach twist.

 

“I guess. I didn’t realize how upset I’d get though,” Jeyne said, her eyes still focused on the other women. Eventually she turned back to Sansa and asked, “Do you feel the same way about Joffrey?”

 

“A little, I suppose. Maybe I’m being naive, but I really feel like he and I connected on a deeper level. Like, even if there are other women he likes, I’m the one he likes the most. Is that stupid?” There was a spark between them that was undeniable, and Sansa knew that didn’t come around often.

 

“I don’t think so,” Jeyne said with a smile. She reached out and squeezed Sansa’s hand, adding, “I really hope it works out for both of us.”

 

“Me too,” Sansa nodded.

 

At that point the two of them were interrupted by the other women who wanted to know all about their dates. The one thing that was universal: nobody liked Sandor. It almost made Sansa feel bad for him.

 

Almost.

 


 

“So, which guy does she actually want to talk to again?”

 

There were six people on Sansa’s list of eligible bachelors, though she had been instructed to choose only five men to have longer dates with. They’d tried and failed to figure out if the mark by Sandor was a check or an x. There was a similar mark next to another gentleman’s name, only adding to the confusion.

 

“Dunno. Flip a coin?”

 

“Sure. Heads, Sandor. Tails, Podrick.”

 

The coin spun in the air for a few moments before it landed with a soft thud on the table. George Washington’s profile shone brightly in the dim light of the trailer.

 

“Sandor it is.”

 


 

It was day two, and so far Sandor hadn’t heard anything from the producers about who he’d be going on second dates with in the pods. He’d be surprised if anyone had put him in their top five, and was certain he’d be getting escorted out soon enough. In the meantime, he’d be working out with some of the guys.

 

There wasn’t really a gym, just a room with a few dumbbells and a medicine ball. As all the weights were lighter than he was used to, Sandor resorted to doing handstand push up contests with some of the more muscular guys. So far Drogo was the only person to give him a run for his money. Much as he hated to admit it, he actually felt like he could be friends with the guy outside of all this bullshit.

 

“So,” Drogo began after he’d finished chugging some water, “You guys got a favorite chick yet?”

 

Sandor was a little surprised that he wanted to talk about the women, and decided to take back his earlier sentiments.

 

“Not quite. There was this lovely bird, Jeyne, but I still want to keep my options open. Margaery sounded like she’d be quite the tiger, and I’d like to get to know her better, if you know what I mean” Bronn said, wiping the sweat off his face.

 

Sandor raised his brow at Bronn and said, “I thought you were here to find love.”

 

“And an important part of love is whether or not you and your partner are sexually compatible,” Bronn replied which made Drogo laugh.

 

“Yeah, because that’s worked out so well for you in the past,” Sandor said with a shake of his head.

 

“Look, if I want to keep my options open, then that’s what I’m gonna do. Better odds that way. Not that you’d know anything about that,” Bronn told him with a smirk. The night prior, Sandor had confided in his friend that there hadn’t been a single woman he’d managed to make a connection with. Now he was apparently using that against him.

 

“Aw, come on. I’m sure at least one woman found your personality…charming,” Drogo said, clapping him on the back.

 

“Nope. I managed to piss one of them off pretty good though,” Sandor shrugged. His thoughts went back to the spitfire he’d had the pleasure of speaking with the night before. Most of the other women were awkward, not sure what to say to his obvious negativity. Sansa, on the other hand, had been bold enough to call him a waste of time and slammed her glass on the table. He’d found it almost endearing, and afterwards he hadn’t been able to get her voice out of his head.

 

“I guess there’s more than one way to win a woman over,” Drogo said with a grin, adding, “Just leave Daenerys alone, all right? She’s mine. I’ve already decided.”

 

“Seriously? You’re already ready to put your eggs in one basket?” Bronn asked incredulously.

 

“What can I say? When you know, you know.”

 

“What if she’s not attractive?”

 

Drogo scoffed and shook his head at Bronn. “Doesn’t matter what she looks like, man. She’s beautiful because of the way she makes me feel.”

 

“And you know all this already? After only one date?”

 

“Yep. Now, if you gentleman will excuse me, I have a second date to get ready for.” Drogo gave them a wave as he headed off to where they all kept their personal belongings.

 

“Can you believe that guy?” Bronn asked, turning to Sandor, “Thinks he’s in love already.”

 

Sandor only shrugged and went back to working out, this time doing sit-ups instead. Now that he’d conjured the sound of Sansa’s voice, he was having a hard time getting it out of his head. He hoped that exercise could clear his mind as it usually did.

 

However, he didn’t have long to keep going. One of the producers swept into the room and informed him that he had a second date he needed to prepare for that evening.

 

“With who?” Sandor asked. What woman was crazy enough to want to talk to him again, especially when he was so close to freedom?

 

The woman looked at her clipboard and said, “It seems Sansa was interested in another date with you. She was the only one, I’m afraid. I’m not supposed to tell you that, but, well, I’m secretly rooting for you. So don’t blow this.” With that, she left the room as quickly as she appeared, leaving Sandor dumbstruck in her wake.

 

Sansa wanted a second date with him? After how disastrous their first date was?

 

There had to be some kind of mistake.

Chapter Text

Sansa was buzzing with excitement after her pod date with Joffrey. It was only their second date, but she could already tell that he was something special. They’d spent two hours talking about their likes, dislikes, future hopes and dreams.

 

So far she learned that he liked dogs, children, snuggling, nights in watching Netflix, and quality time with his favorite person (her, she hoped). He also said that he wanted to have at least two kids, a boy and a girl, so they’d never be lonely. Now that he was financially secure he was ready to get married and start a family. All he needed was the right person (again, she hoped that meant her). He’d capped off the conversation by saying he was happy she wanted a second date with him.

 

“For a second I thought that…never mind,” he said softly.

 

“No, what?” she asked.

 

“I just thought that perhaps I’d been too flirty. Maybe made you think I wasn’t serious,” Joffrey replied. He paused another moment and said, “I’m glad you saw the real me behind all that.”

 

Sansa’s heart was pounding as she felt her cheeks warm. “Thank you for showing me the real you. I feel like I’ve connected with you more than I have with anyone ever before.”

 

Joffrey was silent again, and she wondered if she’d gone too far. However, a second later he said, “I feel the same. It’s crazy, especially since we’ve only known each other for a couple of days. I’m really glad you decided to do this experiment, Sansa.”

 

“Same. I don’t know how we would have met otherwise,” Sansa said. She moved towards the blue glass and put her hand on it, wishing she could push through to the other side.

 

“Well, I must go. Talk to you soon, princess,” he said, making her heart race faster.

 

If she was his princess, that made him her prince. She could live with that.

 

The grin on her face disappeared, however, when the next voice she heard was one she hadn’t expected to hear ever again.

 

“Uh…hi there,” came Sandor’s gravelly rasp.

 

Her brows knit together in confusion. Was this the producer’s idea of a joke? She’d clearly marked an ‘x’ on his scorecard. Were they just trying to get some drama out of her?

 

Rather than give them what they wanted, she said, “Hi Sandor. Fancy hearing you again.”

 

“Yeah, about that,” he began. She thought maybe there was a waver in his voice, but decided she imagined it. “Did you seriously put me down for a second date?”

 

“Would it be surprising if I did?” Sansa questioned. She stood and found one of the mini bottles of wine that was in the room. She’d need a drink if she was going to get through this without yelling.

 

“Honestly? Yeah. We obviously didn’t get off to that great of a start.”

 

“And who’s fault was that?” Sansa lounged back on the couch and kicked her heels off, intending to make herself comfortable.

 

He was silent for a moment, and she expected a stream of curses or insults. Instead, he surprised her, saying, “I guess it was mine. Can’t say I’ve got many excuses. I’m not really good with women or people in general.”

 

“Is that right? I wouldn’t have guessed,” Sansa replied. She felt guilty afterwards, as he seemed like he was trying to be kinder than the last time they talked. Meanwhile she was still behaving like an ass. “Sorry, I guess I’m still a little upset from our last conversation.”

 

“No, it’s fine. I should’ve known you were just trying to mess with me,” Sandor said, adding, “You were the only person who put me down for a second date. I should’ve known it was just a mistake.”

 

A part of her wanted to tell him it served him right. She doubted he behaved much better with any of the other women, especially after what they’d all told her. Yet somehow there was something in the way he’d confessed that last part. It was like there was an undercurrent of resignation and shame in the tone of his voice that made her feel like he really was used to rejection.

 

“I’m not trying to mess with you,” she told him. That much was true. It appeared the production staff were, however. “Maybe I just like a challenge.”

 

That earned her a chuckle which made her smile in spite of herself. “I guess that’s one way to look at me. And you’re not entirely wrong. I do have a bit of a chip on my shoulder.”

 

“A bit? I’m picturing it to be the size of a 2x4,” Sansa joked, which made him laugh again. Somehow despite everything, they were getting off on a much better foot.

 

“Honestly, it’s pretty much the whole damn tree,” Sandor admitted to her.

 

“And why is that?” she asked. She figured he’d say something about how people hated him because he wasn’t afraid to tell the truth or something in a similar vein.

 

However, he shocked her when he said, “I guess it’s because of my face. I’ve had horrible scars on it ever since an accident when I was a kid, and people haven’t treated me the same since.”

 

She’d found since she entered the pods that it was easier for her to pick up the nuances in people’s voices. Without their faces to look at, the subtle shifts in tone and pitch were plain as day. When Sandor spoke of his scars, she could hear his voice get rough with emotion, and somehow she knew he wasn’t just making something up to get her sympathy.

 

After a pause, he cleared his throat and asked, “Reconsidering that second date now?”

 

“No!” Sansa rushed, feeling guilty, “No, I was just trying to think of something to say. ‘Sorry’ doesn’t really feel like it’ll do your pain justice.”

 

Sandor snorted and said, “No need to be sorry. Just the way things are.”

 

Sansa felt for him anyway. She tried to imagine what his face looked like and what kind of scars they were. Sometimes scars made men look rugged. Then again, they also could make someone look like the Joker.

 

“Do you ever wonder what your life would have been like if the accident hadn’t happened?” Sansa asked. Something about being in the pods was making her bolder, allowing her to ask questions she’d never normally ask someone.

 

Sandor seemed to contemplate her question for a while. At least, she hoped he was thinking about an answer and hadn’t just walked out.

 

Wait, she didn’t care if he left or not, right?

 


 

Sandor stared at the blue wall in disbelief. He’d expected her to ask him what happened or how bad his scars were. Instead, she’d asked him something that even his many therapists hadn’t asked him.

 

He wished he could say he’d never thought about it, but every time he was rejected by a woman or turned down for a job, the thought popped up. ‘If it wasn’t for my scars, I’d…’ And every time he’d push it back down into its dark little corner and ignore it. Wondering about what could have been wouldn’t change the way things were.

 

“I’m guessing I wouldn’t be here,” Sandor eventually said, which was true. He didn’t think he should go much further down the rabbit hole beyond that. When she didn’t say anything, however, he couldn’t stop himself from continuing, “Honestly, I would probably have a different job. And different friends. And a completely different outlook on life.”

 

He could still remember himself as a child, though that felt like more than a few lifetimes ago. There had been an idealism in his childhood self that had been wiped out after he’d been burned. So many hopes and dreams that were shattered after his disfigurement. It pained him to think about the things he’d wanted to be, especially since none of them were within reach anymore.

 

Sansa’s voice came, this time much closer to the wall, her tone sad as she said, “I wish there was something I could say to make you feel better.”

 

“Don’t worry about it” Sandor snapped, shaking his head to clear his thoughts. Getting lost in feeling sorry for himself wasn’t what he’d come here to do.

 

“I shouldn’t have asked you that,” Sansa said quietly. He could tell from her more subdued tone that she felt guilty. He was about to tell her it didn’t matter when she kept speaking, “I don’t really know what it’s like to experience something as horrible as you have, but I do know what it’s like to have the way you envisioned your life change in the blink of an eye. It hurts, kind of like grieving for all the things you wished for. So, I’m sorry for your loss, Sandor. If you ever want to talk about it with me again, I’m here for you.”

 

Sandor sucked in a harsh breath, unable to stop the tears that came to the corners of his eyes. It was unexpected to have someone show him empathy. Sure, his friends had always been kind to him, but it wasn’t quite the same. Sansa was a virtual stranger to him, yet she was showing him kindness even after he’d been an ass to her.

 

He took a moment to collect himself, then said, “Thank you. I…thank you.”

 

Sandor could almost swear he heard her smiling as she replied, “You’re welcome.” She sounded radiant.

 

Feeling suddenly awkward and vulnerable, Sandor wracked his brain for something else to talk about. Eventually, he asked, “So, you have anything you’d like to share? I can’t be the only person who bares their soul today.”

 

Sansa chuckled, a sound which made his heart start to thump. “Um, not off the top of my head. Is there anything you want to know?”

 

Everything, Sandor thought, much to his surprise. He wasn’t sure he liked what was happening here. Getting attached to someone wasn’t part of the plan.

 

“Well, I told you something I’ve never told anyone. Why don’t you tell me something you’ve never told anyone?” Sandor asked, knowing he was likely overstepping his bounds.

 

When Sansa didn’t reply, he started to feel embarrassed. He didn’t have a right to ask her anything, and certainly not something so personal.

 

He was about to tell her she didn’t have to answer, when she said, “My fiance cheated on me. I never told anyone, because I thought they’d all think I wasn’t good enough to be loved.”

 

Sandor was taken aback by her answer. It wasn’t quite as deep as childhood trauma, but it was definitely more than he expected. “What kind of idiot would cheat on you?” he blurted out without thinking.

 

To his delight, his words made her laugh again, though there was a sadness to it this time. “What makes you think he’s an idiot?”

 

“I don’t know. My gut tells me you’re a good person with a big heart,” Sandor admitted, his cheeks reddening as he added, “You don’t hurt someone like that, and you sure as hell don’t let them go.”

 

“It’s sweet of you to say that,” Sansa told him, adding, “But I don’t think I’m all that special. Harry certainly didn’t think so.”

 

“Yeah, well, fuck what Harry thinks,” Sandor said, finding he no longer cared about maintaining a filter. “Any guy who cheats no longer has a valid opinion.”

 

“Is that some unwritten rule I’ve never heard of?” Sansa asked.

 

“Nope, it’s just the truth,” Sandor said, “Men who cheat are dogs. That’s that.”

 

“Hey now, don’t insult dogs. They don’t deserve that kind of reputation,” Sansa admonished him.

 

“My mistake,” Sandor chuckled. He decided to shift the conversation to something more casual then, and asked, “You a dog person, then?”

 

“Yes. Are you?”

 

“Pretty much. I haven’t had one for a while, which is a damn shame.”

 

“You could always adopt one from the shelter,” Sansa suggested.

 

“I wish. My apartment’s way too small and my roommate’s allergic. But the shelter’s definitely the way to go,” Sandor said, thinking about how much he had in common with dogs that were abandoned.

 

“You live with roommates? How old are you?” The tone of Sansa’s voice suggested she thought he was either very young or very pathetic.

 

“I’m 30,” Sandor said, hoping his age wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, “I promise, I’d live alone if I could afford it. Women aren’t the only people who rejected me because of my scars, so I haven’t really been making much money until recently.”

 

Sansa hummed sympathetically then asked, “What do you do for work now?”

 

Sandor balked at this question. His online persona was kept secret by a filter he used to make his face appear as that of a hound (hence the name). If he was specific about his work, his fans could figure out his identity, which was something he didn’t want.

 

“I work in the entertainment industry,” Sandor finally settled on saying. “What do you do?”

 

“I own a flower shop.” Of course she did. She seemed vibrant and full of life, even though he’d never seen her. She followed up her statement with another question for him. “How’d you break into the entertainment business? You must not be that bad looking.”

 

Sandor snorted and said, “It’s complicated. I’d rather not get into it right now.”

 

“Does your job pay well?” she said, continuing her interrogation. He couldn’t tell if she was trying to figure out if he was rich or trying to use his cash flow to figure out what he actually did for a living.

 

“I’m better off now than I was a couple of years ago. I could probably let you be a stay-at-home mom if that’s what you want,” he said in an attempt to bait her.

 

“I didn’t say that!” Sansa exclaimed, “I own my own business. What makes you think I want to be a house wife?”

 

Sandor couldn’t help but laugh at her indignation as he said, “Well, you keep asking about how much I make. How else am I supposed to take that line of questioning?”

 

“Not that way!” Sansa argued, though he could detect the hint of a smile in her voice, “I’m just trying to figure out what you do.”

 

“Hey, maybe I’ll tell you on our next date,” Sandor blurted out before he could stop himself. He realized how presumptuous that sounded and added, “I mean, if there is one. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to talk to me again.”

 

Sansa was silent for a second, and he finally wished he could see her face. Not being able to see what she was feeling or thinking was killing him as he waited for her to answer him. For all he knew she was gagging at the thought of going on another date with him. Somehow the idea of that actually stung a little.

 

“I’d like that. Another date, I mean,” Sansa finally said, much to his immense relief.

 

“Me too,” Sandor agreed to his own surprise. “Until next time?”

 

“Yeah. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Sansa said, then added after a pause, “Good night, Sandor.”

 

Sandor’s heart raced at the way she said his name, and he replied, “Good night, Sansa.”

 

With that, he stood from the couch and exited the pod, wondering what in the fuck had just happened.

 


 

Sansa leaned up against the door of the pod, her head reeling. Had that actually just happened? Or had she just dreamed up that entire conversation?

 

She’d gone from finding Sandor to be one of the worst people she’d ever met, to actually wanting another date with him in the span of just one conversation. Something about his vulnerability had touched her and made her want to know more about him. He felt like the polar opposite of Joffrey who was all charm, charisma, and poise.

 

At the thought of Joffrey, Sansa began to feel guilty. After all, he probably didn’t expect her to be interested in any of the other guys. She almost felt as though she was cheating on him by considering another date with Sandor.

 

When she entered the lounge, she saw that Jeyne was nowhere to be found. No doubt she was in the pods with Bronn. Much as she was happy that her friend seemed to be finding a match, she could really use someone to talk to right now. Instead, she decided to drink a glass of wine while she waited for Jeyne to eventually make an appearance.

 

As she grabbed a glass, she could overhear Margaery gushing to her group of girlfriends, “…and then he said he was glad I decided to do the experiment because otherwise we never would have met! He’s basically prince charming.”

 

Sansa stiffened, and she strained to listen to the rest of what Margaery said. Someone asked her if she thought he was the one, to which she replied, “Of course! No one here is his equal, and as far as I can tell, no one is my equal besides Joffrey. It’s like we were made for each other.”

 

The wine glass she was holding nearly slipped out of her hand. However, she caught herself before it actually hit the floor. Apparently Joffrey was keeping his options open after all.

 

“Sansa, are you all right?” a voice asked from beside her.

 

She turned and saw Daenerys looking at her, her brows knit together in concern. “I’m fine, thanks,” Sansa replied, grabbing the wine glass and filling it up.

 

Dany gave her a look and said, “You’re obviously not. Look at how much wine you just poured.”

 

Her glass was nearly filled to the brim. Sansa flushed with embarrassment and replied, “Okay, maybe I’m not exactly fine.”

 

“Do you want to talk about it? I know you don’t really know me very well, but I’m a good listener,” Dany told her with a sympathetic head tilt.

 

Sansa considered her options. She could either drink herself into a wine coma or talk to someone who was offering to listen. Daenerys had already declared herself in love with Drogo, so she supposed she had nothing to lose if she wasn’t competition.

 

Dany led her over to one of the couches and sat down, patting the seat next to her. “So, tell me which boy is causing you problems?”

 

Sansa sighed, then leaned in and whispered, “Joffrey. Or more specifically that he also seems to like Margaery.”

 

Dany hummed sympathetically and said, “I heard her bragging to her little clique. It probably doesn’t mean anything though.”

 

“It sounds like he said something to her that he also said to me,” Sansa told her, her heart twisting.

 

“No!” Dany exclaimed, then leaned in and said, “What was it?”

 

“That he was glad she did the experiment because they never would have met otherwise.”

 

“Is that all?” Daenerys asked, adding, “Because if so, then all the guys must be trading lines. Drogo said that to me, too.”

 

“So you think it’s a coincidence?” Sansa questioned.

 

“I just don’t think you should worry,” Dany said, “I’m not sure what’s normal for this type of experiment, but it seems like most people have more than one person they’re talking to.”

 

“You don’t,” Sansa challenged.

 

“True, but Drogo and I are probably the exception to the rule,” Dany shrugged, a smile on her face. She looked like she truly was in love. “Do you have anyone else who’s piqued your interest?” she asked after a pause.

 

Sansa blushed, feeling as though she’d been caught doing something she shouldn’t. “I might,” she finally admitted.

 

“Ooh! Do tell,” Daenerys squealed with a grin.

 

“I had a second date with Sandor,” Sansa said, staring into the depths of her wine glass.

 

“Sandor?! The guy that everyone hates?” Dany asked her incredulously, “How? Why?”

 

Sansa was about to explain when Jeyne finally entered the room. She looked like she was on cloud nine, which she could only surmise to mean that her date had gone well. Before she could wave Jeyne over, Dany was doing so, likely because she needed to share her disbelief with someone else.

 

“What’s going on ladies? Spilling some hot tea over here?” Jeyne asked when she joined them.

 

“Sansa was just telling me that she went on another date with Sandor,” Dany told her before Sansa could. When Jeyne’s eyes went wide, Dany nodded and said, “Yep, that Sandor.”

 

“Seriously, San? I thought you said he was an asshole,” Jeyne said, turning to face her.

 

“He’s different than we thought,” Sansa rushed out in his defense. When they both gave her a look she added, “Seriously! We had a really good talk.”

 

“Are you telling me that Joffrey has some competition?” Jeyne asked her quietly.

 

Sansa wanted to tell her that no one could beat Joffrey, but as she compared the dates she’d had that day, she could see a big difference between them: one had been superficial and the other hadn’t. Though she’d initially felt like she’d gotten to know Joffrey quite well, she’d realized after her date with Sandor that she and Joffrey only managed to talk about surface things. They hadn’t gone deeper. Not like she and Sandor had anyway.

 

“Maybe,” Sansa finally said to the shock of everyone, including herself.

Chapter Text

CONFESSIONALS

 

 

 

Joffrey

 

Of course all the women love me! Yeah, I’m handsome, and that’s helped me out in the past, but let’s be real: I don’t need this face to get all these chicks wrapped around my finger. Every single one of them has been eating out of the palm of my hand. If I could, I’d keep talking to all of them just to keep my options open.

 

What? Favorites? Please. Why would I waste my time with favorites when I can have my pick of the litter? I guess if I had to choose, I’ve been paying ‘special’ attention to Margaery and Sansa. They seem like they’re eager to please, and I like that in a woman.

 

Yeah I’m going to walk out of here with someone! What Joffrey wants, Joffrey gets. And I want a woman who’ll cook my meals and clean my house. So far any of them seem qualified. I just need to figure out which one of them will be the easiest on the eyes. And the most obedient, of course.

 

 

Sandor

 

Hey, I was just as surprised as you when Sansa said she wanted a second date with me. Supposedly she likes a challenge, although I don’t know if I buy that.

 

No, I’m not that upset that no one else was interested. I mean, sure, it’d be a bit of a hit to the ego if I was like any of the other guys, but I’m not. You get used to rejection with a face like this. It comes with the territory. Besides, if I’m being honest, none of the other women really interested me that much. I’m sure they’re all ‘lovely people’ or whatever, but Sansa was something else. Even on our first date, she was a spitfire.

 

A m I worried about how she’ll react to seeing my face? Of fucking course I am. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself. She said she didn’t think she was something special, but she is. I’m sure I’m not the only guy who’s trying to get her attention. I doubt she’d say yes, even if I asked.

 

Do I want to ask her? Ha. That’s a loaded question. You realize we’ve only had two dates, right? It’ d be damn near impossible to know that in such a short time.

 

 

Jeyne

 

This has been such a crazy experience! There are so many guys, I can’t even remember half of their names. Not that it matters, of course. I already know that Bronny is the one for me. I don’t want to tell anyone though. Sansa said he seemed like a player, and I don’t want any of the other ladies to try to make their move on him.

 

What drew me to him? Honestly? His accent. There’s something so charming in the way he speaks. Well, that and the fact that he didn’t make fun of me for being an influencer. I know a lot of people don’t really take me seriously when they find that out, but he said he thought I was brave for pursuing a career like that. It…made me feel good when he said that.

 

I feel like I’m blushing. Am I blushing? God, I must look so pathetic getting all starry-eyed over a guy I barely know. Hopefully he’s handsome. I don’t think having an ugly boyfriend would be good for my brand.

 

Bronn

 

Oh yeah, there’s quite a variety of women. Most of ‘em seem like a lot of the birds I’ve met in the real world, though. I’ve spent a lot of time on Tinder—you guys know that, though—and I’d be willing to wager I’ve even hooked up with a couple of ‘em.

 

There is one girl who’s caught my fancy though. Jeyne. She’s got something the other women don’t: an easy job that pays a lot of money. What does being an influencer even mean anyway? All you need to do is hock products on some social media site, and a company will pay you $100K. It’s genius. I wish I’d figured out how to break into that industry sooner, but I don’t think I have the charisma.

 

Jeyne though. She said she’s quite well off. With any luck I’ll be a house husband in no time.

 

 

Sansa

 

I have to admit, I never actually expected to meet anyone. This just seemed like another of Jeyne’s ‘get famous quick’ type schemes. Although, I don’t know how being on a reality show would help her ‘brand.’ I guess bad exposure is still exposure, right?

 

Not that I’m saying this show is bad! It seems like it’s working out well for a lot of people. Dany has Drogo, Jeyne has Bronn, and I have…well, I have problems. Meeting one guy seemed impossible, but somehow I’ve managed to get involved with two people. Is that normal? I guess you probably can’t answer that.

 

I also get the feeling that Joffrey’s talking to someone else as well. Margaery hasn’t stopped talking about him to anyone who will listen. I tried to avoid her, but she managed to corner me and Jeyne in the kitchen. It was awkward, especially because she asked me if I had anyone special I was talking to. I didn’t know what to say! How are you supposed to tell someone that the guy they can’t stop gushing about is also the guy that you want to gush about?

 

Hmm? I suppose I could have talked about Sandor. It’s just hard, what with the way he managed to turn off all the women in one day. Even Dany and Jeyne find it strange. I don’t think people would understand unless they got to know him the way that I did. There’s something really sensitive and sweet underneath the gruff exterior.

 

 

Margaery

 

Of course Joffrey and I are going to get married. I knew from the first time we talked that he was my match. I’ll admit, it’s a little unconventional, especially for someone of my pedigree. However, it seems as though Joffrey comes from quite a prominent family as well. He’s the only man here who’s good enough for me.

 

And we have so much in common! He said he’s a cat person—he absolutely hates dogs—that he loves adventure and traveling, and that he only wants one child. He even called me his princess! I’m not really the type to buy into all that fairytale nonsense, but this feels really magical. Of all the ways to meet someone, I never imagined finding my future husband on a reality show.

 

Oh, I’m not at all worried about the other women. I know more than one of them had their hearts set on Joffrey, but so far I’ve managed to let them know who he belongs to. The only one who hasn’t seemed to take the hint is Sansa. I know she’s been talking to him. I overheard her giggling with her little group of girlfriends. I tried to get her to admit it the other day, but she wouldn’t budge. I think she knows she’s messing with the wrong person.

 

Still, Joff told me we had a very deep connection, unlike he’s ever had with anyone else. I know we’ll wind up together. Even if I have to nudge things in the right direction.

 

 

Daenerys

 

I never expected to find love so quickly. Drogo really is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. The men in my life haven’t exactly been…well, let’s just say they’re not good people. But from the moment I talked to Drogo, it was like there was this warmth to him that wrapped itself around me. He even told me that he can’t wait to meet my beardies—that’s bearded dragons, if you don’t know. I’ve never met a guy who actually wanted to see my lizards. It feels like fate.

 

Oh, no, I’m not afraid of any of the other women. Sure, I’ve heard a few of them talking about him, but it doesn’t seem serious. And even if they are, I won’t hold it against them. They don’t know they’re falling for my future husband. Besides, it seems like everyone is hung up on that tool, Joffrey.

 

How am I so sure of everything? Well, it’s like they say: when you know, you know.

 

 

Drogo

 

Oh, Dany, no question. She was like a breath of fresh air. I’ve met a lot of women in my life, but goddamn did she have a spark. Ain’t anyone else in the world like her.

 

Of course I’m gonna propose to her. It’s really just a matter of when. Like, maybe I should wait until the third date, because that’s the same date you’d do it on? Is that romantic?

 

I really want to do it as soon as possible, but you guys keep telling me it’s too soon. That I need to give some of the other women a chance, or else it’ll taint the experiment or something. Like I give a shit about that.

 

All I want is to walk out of here with Dany. And that’s what I’m gonna do.

Chapter Text

Sansa was reading one of the many novels that they had to keep themselves entertained between dates when Daenerys burst into the room. She was dressed in white, looking almost like a bride, and she had a radiant grin on her face.

 

“Drogo proposed!” Dany exclaimed, causing everyone to look at her. Once they were over the initial shock, everybody started clapping and crowding around her. Sansa heard choruses of ‘congratulations’ and ‘you must be so happy’s, and realized she should probably go offer some kind words as well.

 

“That’s going to be me soon,” a voice said from beside her before she could get up to join the women. Sansa turned to see Margaery sitting on the arm of the couch next to her. She was smiling down at Sansa, though it didn’t quite meet her eyes. “Joffrey, I mean. He’s going to propose soon. I just know it.”

 

“You think so?” Sansa asked in an attempt to be polite. She’d had another date with Joffrey that morning, and it had gone well. However, she couldn’t stop comparing his answers to what Sandor might have said. It had made her feel guilty, especially since Joffrey had said he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He’d said a lot of other sweet things, too. Things he may very well also be saying to Margaery.

 

“Oh yes. On our last date he said he couldn’t imagine a future with anyone else,” Margaery told her, sighing happily, then adding, “I just feel so lucky that I found someone, you know? Or maybe you don’t. I haven’t really heard you talking about anyone.”

 

Sansa flushed with embarrassment. “I’ve been talking to a few people.”

 

“Such as?” Margaery asked, her head tilting to the side with curiosity.

 

“Sandor,” Sansa blurted out before she could stop herself. She still didn’t feel right admitting she was talking to Joffrey, so she said the next name that popped into her head. Anything to stop the interrogation after all.

 

Margaery’s eyes went wide, before she laughed and said, “Are you serious? That uncouth oaf?”

 

“He’s not uncouth!” Sansa exclaimed, feeling suddenly protective over him, “Sure, he’s not quite well-spoken, but he’s a good person.”

 

“I’m sure none of the women would agree with you,” Margaery replied, her eyes going to where they were still all gathered around Daenerys, “But if he makes you happy, then I’m sure people will be happy for you.”

 

Sansa opened her mouth to say something else, but Margaery stood and left before she could, joining the women that surrounded Dany. She wondered if she’d made a mistake in admitting she’d been seeing Sandor. Then again, what was the worst Margaery could do with the information? Tell the other girls? Perhaps they’d tease her a little, but most everyone had been supportive. She could take a little criticism on her choices. It wouldn’t kill her.

 

She had another date with Sandor that night, and the thought of talking with him made butterflies fill her stomach. It hadn’t been that long since they’d spoken last, but she found herself watching the clock in anticipation. The novel had been a decent distraction until Margaery had interrupted her reading. Try as she might, the words on the page blended together until she eventually put the book down in frustration.

 

Dany was still standing at the kitchen island, the excitement having finally died down enough for Sansa to approach her without having to fight through a crowd. She was grinning from ear-to-ear when Sansa said, “So, I hear you’re engaged?”

 

“Yes! I knew it was going to happen, but still. It’s so exciting,” Dany gushed.

 

“So, where’s the ring?” Sansa looked at her empty left hand with a raised brow.

 

“Oh, I haven’t gotten it yet! He’s going to give it to me when we get to see each other tonight,” Daenerys explained.

 

“Wait, you guys get to see each other already? I thought you didn’t meet until the honeymoon!”

 

“Nope. Once you get engaged, you get to meet your future husband.”

 

“Are you nervous?”

 

“Not at all,” Dany said with a smile, “Honestly, I’ve been waiting for this moment since the first time we spoke.”

 

“You’re not worried about what he looks like? Or that he won’t like the way you look?” Sansa questioned. It was something that had been on her mind ever since Sandor had said something about his scars.

 

“Maybe if our connection was weaker, but I know we’ve built something that transcends the physical. Whatever he looks like, he’s my Drogo, now and forever,” Daenerys said, still smiling like a woman in love. It almost made Sansa jealous, especially how simple her courtship had been. No rivalries, no competition. Just a woman and a man choosing each other. “Ooh, it’s almost time. I’d better go. Have fun on your date tonight.”

 

Sansa nodded, watching her disappear with some of the production team into another room. She wondered if she’d ever be in the same position. With the way things were going, she suspected not.

 

When it was finally time for her date with Sandor, she did her best not to rush to the pods. After all, she didn’t want to appear too over-eager. Rumors were already spreading about who was talking to who, and she didn’t want anymore people talking about her than already would be when Margaery told everyone about Sandor.

 

Her worries all melted away once the pod door was shut, and it was just her and someone she felt like she could actually trust. “Hey there,” she began as she got comfortable on the couch.

 

“You actually showed. I’m impressed,” Sandor said from the other side of the wall. Where at first she’d thought his voice unpleasant, the deep, gravelly tones now sent a shiver down her spine.

 

“What? You thought you’d chased me off?” Sansa joked, adding, “I don’t scare that easy.”

 

Sandor paused a moment then said, “I thought maybe the scars would make you change your mind.”

 

Sansa’s heart broke for him. How many times had he been rejected by superficial women in the past? Apparently enough to make him very distrustful of everyone. “This show isn’t supposed to be about looks, remember? Besides, you have no idea what I look like. For all you know, I have two heads or something.”

 

“I mean, that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing if both the heads were attractive,” Sandor said. She could hear a devious smile in his voice as he added, “I can think of a lot of things two heads could do, at the same time even.”

 

Sansa got his meaning and couldn’t help but laugh as she said, “You’re ridiculous! If I’d known you were such a perv, I might not have come back.”

 

“Hey, I’m a man with a needs who’s been stuck in what basically amounts to a frat house for the last few days. What else do you think would be on my mind?” Sandor told her, a teasing lilt to his voice, “Are you telling me you ladies haven’t been talking about that kind of stuff? Or is it all tea parties and hair-braiding on the girls’ side?”

 

Sansa’s face flushed as she remembered a few rather inappropriate conversations she’d been a part of. There was much speculation about size, skill, and stamina. So far Drogo was thought to have the largest, Joffrey the most stamina (at Margaery’s insistence), and a young man named Pod was said to have the most skill.

 

“I can tell by your silence that you don’t want to admit you girls are just as bad as we are,” Sandor said. She could hear the smug satisfaction in his voice and felt her blush deepen.

 

“I mean, it’s a dating competition. Those are very important attributes when choosing someone to spend the rest of your life with,” Sansa replied primly.

 

Sandor snorted and said, “So I take it you’re a bunch of size queens over there?”

 

“No!” Sansa exclaimed, scandalized, “It’s…not all about size. It’s much more important how you use it, in my opinion.”

 

At that Sandor laughed at loud and said, “I can’t believe you actually said that.”

 

“What? You don’t think I can talk about things like that?”

 

“Well, the fact that you couldn’t say the word ‘sex’ just now makes me think that you’re a bit of a prude. Not that I mind. But I’m sure you can tell by now that I’m not shy about shit like that,” Sandor explained, suddenly becoming more serious, “So if that’ll bother you, you should say so now. I don’t want to waste either of our times.”

 

Sansa considered what he said. She was used to a certain refinement from the men she’d dated in the past. Talking about sex was reserved for when the act was actually happening, and there were certainly no jokes or innuendo. She could only imagine what her family would think of the conversation she was having right now.

 

Still, none of her past relationships had worked out. It was probably time for her to try something different.

 

“It’s not a deal-breaker, if that’s what you’re asking,” Sansa eventually said with a shrug that he couldn’t see.

 

“Then what are your deal-breakers?” Sandor asked her.

 


 

He held his breath as he waited for the list. Ever since their second date, Sansa had been on his mind, consuming his nearly every thought. It occurred to him that he needed to figure out if they could really work before he let himself get anymore attached. With all he did know about her, Sansa seemed like the oil to his water. The cat to his dog. The hand to his beehive.

 

“Well, we already covered that you must love dogs,” Sansa began.

 

“Which I do,” Sandor interjected.

 

“Right. And you have a job—though you still won’t tell me what you do—so that’s covered. Do you want kids?” Sansa asked.

 

Sandor hadn’t ever really thought about it before. Even finding someone had seemed a herculean task. Kids hadn’t crossed his mind when there wasn’t a guarantee there’d be a mom to go with them.

 

“I’d be open to it with the right person,” Sandor answered, adding, “I didn’t have the best parent growing up, so I don’t really know how I’d be as a dad. I’d want to know that the person I’m having kids with could knock some sense into me if I was fucking up. Wait, do you want kids? Because if you don’t, that’s fine by me, too.”

 

“No, I do,” Sansa replied, “I come from a big family.”

 

“How big are we talking?” Sandor said as he tried and failed to keep the nervous edge out of his voice.

 

“Like, three brothers and one sister big? And a cousin who’s been staying with us for a while. And all of their significant others,” Sansa said, thinking of all the people she’d have to introduce her future husband to. “Does that bother you? Because we’re very close, so we’re kind of a package deal.”

Sandor sighed and said, “I don’t make the greatest first impression, as you know. I don’t mind that you have a big family, but I can’t say it’s not going to be a problem.”

 

“I’m sure if you met them they’d learn to love you,” Sansa said in a bid to be reassuring, “And even if they don’t, they love me, so they’ll at least be nice to you.”

 

Sandor barked out a laugh and said, “That makes me feel so much better.”

 

“Well, what’s your family like? There’s no guarantee they’ll fall for me,” Sansa argued.

 

“They won’t,” Sandor said, continuing before she could get upset, “Because I don’t have a family. Not anymore.”

 

Sansa’s silence seemed to last for an eternity before she quietly asked, “What happened to them?”

 

“It’s a long story, and I don’t really want to talk about it,” Sandor told her. He could feel his walls start to rise again, and he said, “I hope that’s not a deal-breaker.”

 

“It’s not,” Sansa stated firmly, “I hope one day you trust me enough to tell me. Until then, I can accept that it’s your story.”

 

Sandor nodded, the dark thoughts receding as he came back into the present more. “Any other things that’ll take me out of the running?”

 

“Do you like pineapple on pizza?” Sansa asked him.

 

Sandor chuckled and said, “Fuck no. Fruit doesn’t belong on pizza.”

 

“Then I think we’re good,” Sansa replied. He could hear a smile in her voice until she added, “Unless you have some deal-breakers I’m not aware of. I can’t be the only one.”

 

He’d lowered his standards so much there probably wasn’t a woman in the world he wouldn’t at least give a shot. Maybe if she was 80 years old. Then he’d probably draw the line.

 

“I mean, you know about my scars. If you don’t think you can’t handle that, then we have a problem. Otherwise, you’re in the clear,” Sandor said. He felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, and he settled back into the couch, taking a sip of the whiskey he’d poured himself when he first walked in.

 

“Like I said, I’m not here to find someone handsome. I want someone decent. Brave. Gentle. Strong. I don’t know. I’m just don’t want to wind up with another jerk,” Sansa told him. He could hear the resignation in her voice and knew she was thinking about her ex.

 

“Hey, I can’t say I’m not an ass at times, but I’ll always treat you right,” Sandor said, his heart thumping in his chest, “No one would hurt you as long as you were with me. If they tried, they’d get the business end of my fist.”

 

He realized that suggesting he was violent might not have been the best angle, but she chuckled and said, “That’s sweet, although I wouldn’t want you to actually fight anyone.”

 

“Well the offer still stands,” Sandor said. He realized he might be scaring her a little, and added, “But I won’t ever lay a hand on you. You have my word on that, too.”

 

“I know,” Sansa replied quickly, “Although…I hope that doesn’t mean you won’t ever touch me.”

 

Sandor nearly choked on his whiskey, his face turning crimson at her sudden forwardness. It was the first time in a long time that a woman actually made it seem like she wanted him. From the shy way she said it, he almost wondered if she realized how sexual it sounded.

 

“I, uh, wouldn’t object to touching you. Only if you wanted me to, though” Sandor eventually said. He downed his drink then, not sure if he could make it through this conversation. Even though he had no idea what she looked like, he still felt a surge of desire at the thought of his hands on her body.

 

She let out a throaty chuckle and said, “It would be kind of hard to be married to someone if you didn’t want them to touch you.”

 

“Yeah, I guess. Don’t have much experience there. I haven’t even had a girlfriend,” he admitted without thinking. As soon as the words left his mouth, his face turned redder. How pathetic did he sound right now? Being in these pods was messing with his head, making it easier to tell people embarrassing shit. He quickly explained, “The scars. And the chip on my shoulder. You know.”

 

Sansa hummed in response, and he realized that might make her re-think even talking to him. After all, how could he hope to build a successful marriage when he didn’t even know the first thing about relationships?

 

“Is that a deal-breaker?” Sandor asked quietly when she didn’t say anything. He held his breath, willing the sudden pain in his chest to leave. What did he care anyway? This was doomed from the start.

 

“No,” Sansa said after a moment, “I can’t say it doesn’t worry me. But someone has to be your first, right?”

 

“Right,” Sandor agreed, hope sparking again, “The cork has to be popped sometime.”

 

“Maybe…maybe we could do that together,” Sansa told him shyly.

 

“Yeah, maybe,” Sandor said, his heart thumping out an uneven rhythm in his chest. He knew it was foolish, but he actually thought she might mean it. Either way, he was too chickenshit to ask.

 

“I’ve only ever been in one relationship,” she supplied in an effort to change the subject, “But you know how that ended. Experience doesn’t necessarily equal skill. Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to relationships.”

 

“So we’re both just stumbling around in the dark?” Sandor asked with a laugh, “That’s comforting.”

 

“It could be worse,” Sansa defended, “We could be doing all this on camera. Oh wait.”

 

That made Sandor laugh more, which lightened the mood considerably. It was very easy to forget about the cameras with how unobtrusively they were placed. Sometimes he wondered if he was saying too much, but then who knew if this show would ever actually air?

 

They kept talking for what felt like—and turned out to actually be—hours. It was strange. He’d never felt this at ease with someone before. It was almost as though they’d known each other forever, even though it had only been a few days.

 

When their date came to a close and they said their good nights, Sandor sought out Bronn. He hadn’t told him much about who his friend had dubbed, ‘the only woman dumb enough to date him,’ but now he needed some advice.

 

“Did’ja hear? Drogo’s engaged,” Bronn told him immediately, “He’s in there meeting Dany right now. Lucky bastard.”

 

Sandor had missed that bit of news, as he’d gone to the pods early to get settled in for his date with Sansa. Now that things were becoming more serious, he found he needed a little time to psych himself up. “Lucky? Is that jealousy I hear?” Sandor asked with a smirk.

 

“Jealous that he gets to finally touch woman. I haven’t had sex in days. I miss the gentle touch of the feminine mystique,” Bronn groaned. Between his little black book and the bevvy of dating apps on his phone, his friend rarely spent the night solo.

 

“Maybe some time off is good for you. I hear too much will make you chafe,” Sandor told him with a grin. His comment earned him a shoulder shove, which only served to make him laugh.

 

“Oh, fuck off,” Bronn said with a roll of his eyes. When Sandor didn’t reply to the barb, Bronn raised a brow and asked, “What’s gotten into you, mate? I’ve never seen you in a good mood before.”

 

Sandor wasn’t sure he could say what he was feeling out loud. If he did, it would make everything real, and that scared the living shit out of him.

 

When he didn’t say anything, a sly grin overtook Bronn’s face, and he said, “Don’t tell me you’re actually falling for her.”

 

“Fuck you.” Okay, now Sandor was in a bad mood.

 

“There he is. That’s the Sandor we all know and love,” Bronn replied, digging an elbow into his ribs. It took a few more moments, but Bronn finally seemed to realize he wasn’t in the right mood to dick around. “Hey, you all right, mate? I was only teasing.”

 

“Well, knock it the fuck off,” Sandor growled.

 

Fortunately for him, Bronn and he had known each other long enough that Bronn could see through the surly exterior to know something was actually bothering him. “Oh my god. You’re actually falling for her.”

 

Sandor sighed and ran his hand over his face, shaking his head and slumping back into the couch afterwards. “Yeah, I think I am.”

 

There. The words were out. He’d finally admitted the truth to the entire fucking world. Literally. The cameras that were trained on him glinted in the light of the studio space, reminding him that he didn’t have a lick of privacy.

 

“Good god. I can’t decide if this is a miracle or not,” Bronn said, his brows still raised in shock.

 

“I am so fucked,” Sandor sighed again, staring up at the ceiling and wondering what he was going to do now.

 


 

Though Sandor had left the pod, Sansa remained, her heart torn. There were now two great men in her life, and choosing between them seemed an impossible task. On the one hand, Sandor was genuine, if a little rough around the edges. On the other, Joffrey was polished and would likely fit much better into her world. She knew she had to make a decision soon, or else she’d wind up with neither of them.

 

She found the pods much more relaxing than anywhere else, so she decided to linger there in order to have some private time to think about what she wanted. When she thought about Joffrey, she was struck most by his smooth talking, though that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He showered her with little compliments, but she had no idea if they actually meant anything or not. Plus, she couldn’t shake the little ways in which he reminded her of Harry after Jeyne had pointed out that they were similar.

 

When she thought about Sandor, she couldn’t forget the way he’d acted towards her on their first date. He’d been rude to her, as well as all the other women. She didn’t want to be with someone who would go out of their way to hurt others. However, talking more with him showed her a different, better side of him. His earlier actions had likely been a product of his trust issues and insecurities. After getting through his walls, she saw his true nature and the heart of gold she’d always been looking for.

 

Though Joffrey seemed like her white knight on paper, she had a feeling Sandor would show her the kindness and love she wanted. So far he’d been nothing but honest with her, even telling her things that would make other women run. The only things she knew about Joffrey were superficial at best, and that wasn’t the foundation that she was looking for.

 

Sansa’s mind felt clearer than it had in a long time, and when she exited the pod she felt like she was ready to make a commitment. However, she was shaken moments later when one of the producers approached her and told her that Joffrey had requested to speak with her in the pods. Immediately.

 

The urgency was strange, and a pit formed in the bottom of Sansa’s stomach. She re-entered the room and sat down, though now it felt much less calming than it had a few moments ago. Even the air in the pod felt cooler.

 

After a few minutes of silence, Sansa wearily said, “Joffrey…?”

 

“Well, Sansa,” he replied, his tone like ice, “Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

 

“What’s going on?” Sansa didn’t like where this was going. He’d never been anything but warm and flirtatious. This new side of him was starting to scare her.

 

“I just had a very interesting date with Margaery. You know Margaery, don’t you?” Joffrey drawled. He almost sounded bored. “She mentioned you two were very close.”

 

“I wouldn’t say that…” Sansa said, wracking her brain for what Margaery might have said to him. It was only when he spoke next that it clicked.

 

“Well, you certainly trusted her enough to tell her about your little boyfriend, Sandor,” Joffrey snarled

 

And there it was. She’d thought the worst thing Margaery could do was tell the other girls about Sandor. It had never occurred to her that she would tell Joffrey.

 

“Joffrey, I…” Sansa trailed off. What could she say?

 

“So it’s true? All this time I thought you were sweet, innocent even,” Joffrey continued his cruel tirade, “But now I know you’re nothing but a two-timing whore.”

 

Sansa gasped, the words hitting her like a slap in the face. “Joffrey, please, you don’t mean that.”

 

“Oh, I do. How could you do this to me, Sansa? After all the compliments I paid you, and all that time we spent talking to each other. How could you betray me like this?”

 

Tears were rolling down Sansa’s face now as she tried and failed to come up with a way to defend herself. However, there were no words for what she’d done. She was no better than Harry.

 

“That’s what I thought. You disgust me, Sansa. I never want to hear from you again,” Joffrey told her. She could hear the sneer in his voice, as he added, “Get out of the pods and go home. You’re not good enough for anyone, even the guy whose face looks like it went through a meat grinder.”

 

Sansa laid on the couch and cried for a long time. Even Harry hadn’t spoken to her that way. No one in her life had ever been so cruel. It hurt, not just because the words were harsh, but also because they were true. She’d played with fire and gotten burned. It was what she deserved.

 

When she finally collected herself enough to go back to the pods, she arrived just in time to see the women crowded around Margaery. It was a mirror image of what had happened to Daenerys earlier, and she had no doubt in her mind what had happened.

 

“Oh it was so romantic!” Margaery said, her voice a breathy sigh, “He told me he’d never doubted for a second that I was the woman he was meant to spend the rest of his life with. Then he got down on one knee—as far as I know, but I know—and asked me to make him the happiest man on earth.”

 

Sansa tuned the rest of it out. She’d cried enough for one day, and wasn’t sure she had any tears left. Her eyes scanned the room and found the only two women who weren’t congratulating Margaery: Jeyne and Dany. Both of them stared at her with pity. It almost made her sick.

 

“We’re so sorry, babe,” Jeyne said, reaching over and giving her hand a squeeze when she sat with them.

 

“Yeah, it’s just awful,” Dany agreed. Sansa tried to avoid looking at the diamond ring glinting on her finger, but it was practically the size of an egg.

 

Sansa only shrugged and said, “It’s what I deserve for talking to someone else.”

 

Jeyne scoffed and said, “Are you serious? This is a dating show! You’re supposed to talk to more than one person.”

 

“And he was obviously talking to Margaery. You shouldn’t blame yourself,” Dany nodded.

 

It was hard to hear them over the insults Joffrey had hurled at her in the pod. The word ‘whore’ still rang in her mind loud and clear.

 

“I’m pretty sure they were doing more than just talking,” Jeyne remarked, her eyes on the other woman, “You don’t propose to someone you’re only stringing along. He was obviously just playing you both until he could make a decision.”

 

“And clearly he made the wrong choice,” Dany chimed in, “You’re a way better catch than Margaery.”

 

“How?” Sansa asked, finally looking at them, “She’s rich, she’s stunning, and she was faithful to him.”

 

Jeyne rolled her eyes and said, “She’s not even that pretty, and money isn’t everything. San, what’s gotten into you?”

 

Sansa couldn’t bring herself to tell them what had happened in the pod. The words he’d said to her were like knives, each one opening a tiny wound. It shamed her to think about what he’d called her, especially since it was accurate.

 

Instead, she rose from the couch and made her way to the makeshift sleeping quarters the studio had set up. The beds weren’t comfortable—they were more like cots, really—but all she wanted was to disappear for a while.

 

As soon as her head hit the pillow, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. She could only hope when she woke up that all of this had been a nightmare.

Chapter Text

When Sansa woke the next morning, she was still in the studio and still filming Love is Blind. With a heavy sigh, she picked herself up off the cot and went in search of breakfast. Tempting as the wine looked, she opted for some fruit instead. Not that she had much of an appetite. She was sick to her stomach and couldn’t even face herself in the mirror.

 

With Joffrey now engaged, her morning was clear. She used the time to mope, lounging in her pajamas instead of fixing her hair or putting on makeup. The other women knew something was wrong with her, but none of them asked. Their knowing eyes told her that Margaery had finally let slip about their little situation. She probably acted sympathetic, though Sansa could see behind the facade to the conniving witch she was underneath it all.

 

Jeyne eventually made an appearance, her face flushed and her eyes giddy after her date with Bronn. Blessedly, there was no news of an engagement, so Sansa didn’t have to sit through another round of congratulations.

 

“Wow, babe. You look terrible,” Jeyne told her.

 

“Thanks,” Sansa muttered, not meeting her friend’s eyes.

 

“This Joffrey thing has really got you down, huh?” Jeyne asked. She positioned herself across from Sansa so that she was sitting cross-legged on the couch and said, “Come on. It’s not like you to not want to talk about it.”

 

She and Jeyne had been friends since childhood, and she had run to her with every crush or romantic fancy for years. This time was different. Her throat felt like it was all closed-up, the words blocked, choking her to death.

 

Before she could say anything, the producers reminded her that she had a pod date scheduled with Sandor. If she didn’t go now, she would be late.

 

At this point, she didn’t feel like dating anyone. However, when she thought about him sitting and waiting for her, the guilt at ghosting him was enough to propel her in the direction of the pods. The door felt heavier than it ever had as she pushed through and made herself at home on the couch.

 

Sansa willed herself to speak. To say something and break the awkward stillness that had overtaken the pod. She could tell he was on the other side of the wall, likely waiting for her to make the first move.

 

When she didn’t, Sandor cleared his throat and said, “Late today, huh? Had another date that went well?”

 

She knew he was just trying to be funny, but he hit a nerve, and without thinking she snapped, “What if I did? Would that bother you?”

 

It felt cruel to say something like that to him, especially with the insecurities she knew he had. Still, the words had left her mouth before she’d stopped them. It was too late to un-ring that bell now. Sansa held her breath as she waited for the inevitable barrage of insults. She wondered if ‘whore’ would be among them.

 

“Honestly, a little,” Sandor finally said. Instead of sounding angry, he just sounded sad. “But I get that I’m not the only guy here. It would be stupid of me to think that you haven’t met anyone else.”

 

“Have you? Met anyone else, I mean?” Sansa asked. She examined her nails as she wondered which of the women might have been talking to him.

 

“Uh…no,” Sandor admitted hesitantly, “You’re the only one. I wasn’t lying when I said no one else put me down for a second date.”

 

Sansa snorted and said, “So I was your only option.”

 

“I guess, but you’re also the only woman I wanted a second date with anyway. If you hadn’t put me down, I’d have just gone home,” Sandor told her.

 

“And if you’re not my only option? What then? Are you really going to be happy if I walk out of here with someone else?”

 

Sandor scoffed and said, “Obviously I wouldn’t be fucking happy about that. If it’s not clear, I don’t really get close to that many people. You’re the exception to the rule, Sansa.”

 

“Would you think I was a whore?” The word tasted bitter on her tongue, and she held back tears she didn’t realize would come.

 

“What? No!” Sandor exclaimed, “Didn’t think a word like that was even in your vocabulary. But no, Sansa, I wouldn’t think you were a whore. Would it fucking suck for you to leave here with someone else? Sure. But I want you to be happy. If that’s not with me, then so be it.”

 

It had been a long time since someone had put her happiness first. Harry hadn’t. Her friends didn’t. Even her parents didn’t. Hearing him say that made a tidal wave of emotions crash into her all at once. Sansa pulled the blanket on her lap up to her chest and started to cry.

 

“Hey, did something happen? You’re acting strange, Sansa. It’s freaking me out a little,” Sandor said. There was a hesitation there, almost like he was afraid he was overstepping his bounds. When she didn’t reply he said, “Sansa, if you don’t say something, I’m going to break this wall down and come over there to make sure you’re okay.”

 

His gruff voice was much closer to the blue wall than it ever had been before, and she had a feeling he could make good on his threat. Sansa slid off the couch and scrubbed the tears from her eyes, walking over to the wall and putting her hands against the cool surface.

 

“Are you here, Sandor?” she asked softly, her voice still tear-stained.

 

“I’m here,” he said at once, his voice dropping to a harsh whisper as he said, “Just talk to me. I don’t want you to do anything stupid.”

 

Sansa pressed her forehead against the blue wall and said, “I didn’t think this would be so hard.”

 

He was quiet for a while, until he replied, “Sansa, if you want to be with someone else, that’s okay. You don’t have to feel bad. Don’t let me hold you back.”

 

The truth was, she didn’t want to be with someone else. Even before Joffrey had officially ended things with her, she’d been leaning towards Sandor. However, being caught between two men had only made things confusing and painful. Did Sandor really deserve to be with someone who couldn’t be loyal? And was she really choosing him if he was her only option at this point?

 

“You’re not holding me back,” Sansa admitted, “If anything I feel like I’m holding you back.” Perhaps he’d be home and happy instead of stuck here waiting for her to make a decision. She really was one of the most selfish people she’d ever known.

 

“How? Sansa…if anything, you’re one of the best things in my life right now. I know it’s crazy, especially since we’ve only known each other for a few days, but fuck. I…I can’t imagine walking out of here and not ever talking to you again.” Sandor’s voice was rough with emotion, and all Sansa wanted was to reach through the glass to the man on the other side.

 

“Then marry me,” she blurted out. It was impulsive, borne from the emotion of the moment, but still she meant it. At his words, she realized she didn’t want to leave here without him either.

 

“Are you serious?” Sandor asked her, his tone incredulous, “I don’t want you to rush into something because you’re upset.”

 

“I’m not,” Sansa sated emphatically, “From day one you’ve never been anything but yourself. All I’ve ever wanted was to be with someone who I knew I could trust. Someone who would make me feel safe and like I could be myself. That person is you, Sandor. Please, leave here with me.” She knew she didn’t deserve him, but she decided to keep being selfish and wanting him anyway.

 

Sandor was quiet for some time before he finally said, “I’ll marry you.”

 

“Really?” Sansa breathed, her heart hammering in her chest.

 

“Really,” Sandor replied, adding, “You’re the only person I could see myself doing this with.”

 

“I know,” Sansa said, a tearful smile forming on her face as continued, “I can’t wait to meet you.”

 

“Yeah, me too,” Sandor said gruffly. She wished she could see his face right now so she could tell what he was thinking. She supposed she’d be seeing it soon enough.

 

After their proposal, the producers whisked them away to get ready for the reveal. As soon as Sansa was out of the pod, she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d been too rash. In the moment it had seemed right. But once she told Jeyne and Dany, the looks on their faces made her doubt herself.

 

Still, they did their best to be supportive, even helping her get ready. Jeyne had always been better at the hair and makeup stuff than her, and Dany had impeccable fashion sense.

 

“What do you think? Burgundy or emerald?” Daenerys asked, holding up two dresses.

 

Jeyne glanced up from where she was holding the hair curler and said, “Burgundy. It’s off the shoulder and the color will complement her skin tone.”

 

Dany nodded and put the emerald dress back into Sansa’s suitcase. She busied herself with picking out jewelry to add to the outfit, though she glanced at Sansa and asked, “You’re really sure about this?”

 

“Yes,” Sansa answered automatically. When Jeyne scoffed behind her, she added, “I am. He’s so genuine.”

 

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be a good husband,” Jeyne retorted from behind her, “Besides, I thought you had your heart set on Joffrey. What made you change your mind so quickly?”

 

“I didn’t ‘change my mind.’ I’ve been leaning towards Sandor since our second date,” Sansa defended.

 

“Then why were you so upset when Joffrey got engaged to Margaery? I’ve never seen you so depressed,” Jeyne questioned, this time coming around to look Sansa in the eye as she worked on the hair in front.

 

Sansa still hadn’t told her friends about the nasty things Joffrey had said to her. The shame she felt as his words still lingered, and she didn’t want to hear her friends echo his sentiments. It was one thing to have a stranger tear her down; she couldn’t handle it from people she cared about, too.

 

“It was just a shock. Maybe I wasn’t going to get engaged to him, but I still cared about him. It would have been nice for him to at least tell me he didn’t want to be with me,” Sansa said in an attempt to explain her actions. Ironically, the fact that he had told her he didn’t want to be with her had actually been the problem.

 

Jeyne raised a brow at her in a way that suggested she didn’t believe her, but she didn’t press Sansa any further. Instead, she looked down at her face and said, “Red lip? Or nude lip?”

 

Dany joined her and said, “Red. It’ll go with the dress and really pop, especially if you just do some simple eye make-up.”

 

Jeyne nodded and said, “Right. I’ll get the mascara and lashes.”

 

When Jeyne crossed the room to rummage through her suitcase, Daenerys came closer and whispered, “I asked Drogo about Sandor.”

 

Sansa’s eyes went wide, and she asked, “What did he say?”

 

“He said that he thinks Sandor is crazy about you. He’s not the most social, but Drogo said he got really good vibes from him and that he trusts him,” Dany confessed, her eyes darting back to Jeyne, before returning to her, “Look, I know we haven’t known each other long, but I think it’s a good thing that you’re not with Joffrey. Don’t let Jeyne bring you down.”

 

After that, Sansa found herself feeling better. She knew that Jeyne wasn’t trying to bring her down, but rather just wanted to make sure Sansa was making a good decision. In her heart, she knew that the man she’d gotten to know in the pods would treat her well. She only hoped that he was who he said he was, and didn’t turn out to have a hidden side.

 

When it was finally time, Jeyne and Dany walked her as far as they could, each of them giving her encouraging pats on the shoulder. The producers led her the rest of the way until she was standing in a nicely decorated room with a large arch at the end. There were opaque doors that barred her from seeing what was on the other side, and judging by the line going up the middle, they would open to reveal her to her future husband.

 

Standing there waiting for the doors to open, Sansa suddenly began to feel nervous. All this time she hadn’t had to think about what she looked like, even going so far as to propose to him in sweats and a hoodie. Now that it was time for him to actually see her, she couldn’t stop thinking about her hair, her face, her body. Would she be too skinny for him? Would she be pretty enough? What if he was much shorter than her? She wouldn’t necessarily mind giving up heels, but she liked to be able to wear them sometimes.

 

Her thoughts were effectively cut off when the producers finally gave the signal that the doors were about to open. Sansa took in a deep breath, only letting it go when the doors finally slid to the side.

 

Her eyes fell on the man standing across from her, and much as she wished it to be different, all she could do was stare at his scars. While he hadn’t downplayed them, he certainly hadn’t prepared her for them either. The left half of his face had clearly been severely burned at some point in his life. She had no idea what kind of accident could cause that damage, and a part of her didn’t want to find out.

 

When someone cleared their throat and reminded her that she needed to start walking towards him, she felt her feet begin to move, though her steps were mechanical. To his credit, Sandor didn’t start to approach her until she began to approach him, which she found to be considerate. As he neared her, she started to notice other things about him, such as his sheer size. He was several heads taller than her, and extremely muscular. He was also carrying a single red rose.

 

Overall the man in front of her looked nothing like what she’d pictured in the pods. Sansa was having trouble reconciling the intimidating person she was seeing with the sweet man she’d gotten to know. Perhaps this was what the experts had meant when they asked, is love truly blind? Right now she was leaning towards no.

 

Once they reached each other, Sandor held out the rose to her, saying, “Here. I got this for you.”

 

There he was. Though the face was nothing like she pictured, the voice was still the same, and she felt goosebumps at the sound of it so near.

 

Sansa reached out and took the flower from him. As she inhaled its scent, she said, “Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome,” he replied gruffly. When he didn’t say anything else, she finally looked up into his eyes. Reflected in their steely gray depths were the many rejections he’d experienced in the past as well as the acceptance of what he must have thought was one more. It was a look that broke her heart.

 

Without thinking, she reached out and wrapped her arms around him. His body was hard underneath the suit, but his arms were soft as they returned her embrace. The way he held her was gentle, almost as though she were something precious that he didn’t want to break. Sansa’s heart thumped out an uneven rhythm as she laid her head against his chest, listening to the way Sandor’s heartbeat seemed to match its pace hers.

 

When he pulled away, he trailed his hands down her arms, causing more goosebumps to raise on her skin. His fingertips were calloused, suggesting that he’d done rough work in the past. Sansa’s gaze drifted to his lips, and for a moment she thought he meant to kiss her.

 

However, he dropped his hands a second later, and it was like their connection was severed once more. She regained her breath, and took a step back saying, “You’re much taller than I thought you’d be.”

 

Sandor grunted, his lip curling as he said, “Is that all that you’re surprised by?”

 

Sansa was taken aback by his sudden defensiveness, and she bowed her head, unable to meet his gaze as she replied, “I can’t say your scars aren’t more than I expected, but they don’t change how I feel about you.”

 

“I’ll believe that when we’re on the honeymoon,” he told her. There was a sarcastic bite to his voice that made her flinch, and she was reminded of the man she’d first met.

 

“Then I’ll see you on our honeymoon,” Sansa said, placing her hand on his chest and leaning up to give him a kiss on the cheek. With that, she turned on her heel and walked back down the hall, his rose still in her hands.

 


 

Sandor was stunned, staring after the most beautiful woman on earth while she walked away from him. The feel of her lips was almost burned into the flesh of his cheek, and he couldn’t stop his fingers from brushing where they’d been. He also couldn’t take his eyes off her—or her ass, which was just as nice as the rest of her—until the doors slid shut and blocked her from view.

 

After that, he turned and wandered back the way he came, his heart filled with mixed emotions. Sandor wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to forget the look on her face when she finally saw his scars. It wasn’t unlike any of the other times he’d met a woman. The only difference was that the revulsion and disappointment she apparently felt hurt him much more than if it had come from a stranger.

 

He wondered if he’d actually see her on the honeymoon. It would have been easy enough for her to say something just to placate him so she could make her escape. He wouldn’t actually believe her words until they were on some tropical island together and far away from all this bullshit.

 

When Sandor finally made his way back into the common room, Drogo was there to greet him, a huge grin on his face as he asked, “Well? What’d I tell you? It’s like nothing else you’ve ever felt, right?”

 

“It was different,” Sandor replied with a shrug, sliding out of his suit jacket and tossing it onto the couch.

 

“That’s all you have to say? That it was different?” Drogo asked him incredulously, “Dude, when I saw Dany it was all over. I’ll never look at another woman the same way. I must have said ‘wow’ to the producers like 12 times!”

 

Sandor rolled his eyes at the soppy, over-the-top bullshit and said, “Look, she was beautiful, I liked what I saw, we’ll see if it works out. I’m not going to moon over her like a fucking teenager.”

 

“Let me guess,” Bronn said as he entered the room, “She didn’t swoon over your dashing good looks? Didn’t make puppy eyes at the sight of your gorgeous mug?”

 

“Fuck off,” Sandor growled as the image of her face when she saw him flashed through his mind. It was something he’d sooner forget.

 

“Look, mate, you can’t blame her if it takes her some time to adjust. How much did you actually tell her about your scars?” Bronn asked as he crossed his arms over his chest.

 

Sandor wanted to say he’d told her everything, but that would be a lie. Truth was, he’d only told her that they existed. In hindsight, he probably should have given her the gory details. Maybe that would have saved them both some pain.

 

“I’m guessing by your silence you didn’t say much,” Bronn continued, giving his friend a knowing look, “Just don’t count her out yet. Jeyne—my fiancee—said she’s a kind woman. You should give her a shot.”

 

Sandor was about to retort when he and Drogo realized at the same time what he’d just said. “Fiancee?” Sandor exclaimed as Drogo cheered and slapped Bronn on the back with an ‘atta boy.’

 

“Hey, you two can’t have all the fun,” Bronn shrugged, adding, “Plus, I haven’t seen a woman in ages. Figured I’d get engaged to the bird I liked the most, and we’ll see where it goes.”

 

“You don’t think that’s leading her on a little?” Sandor questioned.

 

“For all I know she’s just on this show to help her ‘brand.’ You ever considered that she might be leading me on?” Bronn shot back.

 

“I mean, you asked her to marry you, man. At this point you look like the asshole,” Drogo chimed in.

 

Bronn just rolled his eyes at both of them and said, “It’s not like I’m going to dump her once the cameras stop rolling.”

 

Sandor looked at Drogo and said, “I’ll bet you fifty bucks that he ends the relationship before they even leave the honeymoon.”

 

Drogo snorted and said, “You’re on.”

 

“Right, well, you two can fuck off. I’m going to go meet my fiancee,” Bronn said, flashing them the English equivalent of the finger before stalking off to where Sandor had just been.

 

“You really think they won’t work out?” Drogo asked when Bronn was gone.

 

“We’ll see,” Sandor shrugged, adding, “I’m more worried about me and Sansa.”

 

“I don’t think you have anything to worry about,” Drogo said, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder, “Dany says she likes you a lot.”

 

Sandor whirled around and said, “Are you seriously gossiping about me with your woman already?”

 

Drogo laughed and replied, “There ain’t much else going on, man. But don’t worry, we’ll stop talking about you when we’re allowed to be in the same room for more than fifteen minutes.” Sandor groaned as Drogo followed his statement up with a wink, clearly indicating that he planned on moving to the physical part of his relationship as soon as possible.

 

Still, he wondered if what Dany had told Drogo was true. It certainly hadn’t seemed like it when Sansa had seen his face. After that, her eyes had stayed on the ground for most of their meeting, almost as if she couldn’t face him. The only time she had looked at him was right before she’d hugged him, an action he was still puzzled over.

 

She’d also told him that his looks didn’t change how she felt about him. A large part of him desperately wanted to believe that was true, especially with how attracted he was to her. Sansa really was the total package: beautiful, kind, intelligent, independent. She was everything Sandor never knew he’d been looking for.

 

Now all he had to do was not fuck things up by putting up walls to keep her out.

 

He could do that, right?

 

Right?

 

Fuck.

Chapter Text

The next day passed by quickly, with it culminating in him taking his suitcase and getting loaded into an SUV that brought him to the airport. He’d said his goodbyes to Bronn and Drogo who were also similarly ferried away. The only person he didn’t say anything to was the cunt he didn’t expect to get engaged at all: Joffrey. With how much he bragged about being able to bag any of the ‘bitches’ in here, he couldn’t believe none of the girls had heard about his behavior. Sandor felt sorry for the woman who’d tethered herself to that human garbage.

 

Still, much as he was grateful to be leaving the studio, he knew his troubles were far from over. Sandor hadn’t really been thinking about much besides being with Sansa when he’d agreed to marry her. However, once the high from getting engaged had worn off, he realized he’d inadvertently signed up for another month of near-constant surveillance.

 

Thankfully, the drive to the airport wasn’t interesting enough to be filmed, so he had a break from having a camera shoved in his face for a little while. That gave him plenty of time to think about whether or not Sansa would be waiting for him there. Sandor felt his stomach work itself into knots as he wondered if she’d already changed her mind. He didn’t know if he could handle standing at the gate like a chump while she went back home to tell her friends and family about the bullet she’d narrowly dodged. Especially with the ring he hadn’t been able to give her burning a hole in his pocket.

 

In spite of all his doubts, he still made his way through airport security, going through the usual extended pat-down he got courtesy of his scars. After that, he walked to the gate and took a seat, refusing to look around and see if she was already here. Better to let himself be disappointed when he was on the plane and she wasn’t sitting next to him.

 

However, a few minutes later he felt a tap on his shoulder, along with a voice he’d know anywhere saying, “Hey stranger.”

 

Sandor’s heart was in his throat as he turned and locked eyes with Sansa’s lovely blue ones. He hadn’t had a chance to notice their color much the day before, but now that they were here, he felt like he could get lost in their depths.

 

“Can I sit down?” she asked, looking suddenly unsure when he didn’t speak.

 

“Yeah, of course,” Sandor said quickly, grabbing his backpack from the seat and motioning for her to join him.

 

They’d been told they were going somewhere tropical, and Sansa had dressed the part, wearing an airy dress and a sun hat. Much like the night they’d met, her neck and collarbone were on display, and he found himself wondering how it would feel to press his lips to the delicate skin there.

 

Instead, he cleared his throat and said, “Surprised you showed.”

 

She raised a brow at him and asked, “Really? I told you I’d be here.”

 

“Yeah, but come on. You and I both know my face wasn’t exactly a welcome surprise,” Sandor replied, turning away from her.

 

“And I said that your scars don’t change the way I feel about you,” Sansa told him after a sharp sigh.

 

“You can say that all you want, but the way you looked at me tells a different story,” he scoffed. Sandor knew he was fucking this up, but he couldn’t help it. His insecurities wouldn’t stop rearing their ugly heads, his scars getting between them just as he knew they would. The only surprise was that it was his fault instead of hers.

 

Sansa shook her head and said, “I still can’t believe you don’t trust me after everything. How is this ever going to work if you won’t listen to me when I tell you the truth?”

 

“Maybe it won’t” Sandor shrugged, cursing himself for saying something like that out loud. It was one thing to have those doubts on the inside. It was quite another to put those feelings on Sansa, especially when it seemed like she was actually trying.

 

Sansa sighed once more before picking up her bag and rising out of the chair. She turned to him and said, “If we can’t even make it on the plane without you giving up, then I don’t see the point of going through with the honeymoon.”

 

When she tried to walk away, Sandor reached out and grabbed her arm, saying, “Wait.” To his relief, she stopped and turned around. At this point people were staring, so he released her and said, “Will you just sit down? Please?”

 

Sansa looked as though she didn’t want to, but after a moment she joined him once again, her arms folded across her chest as she asked, “Well?”

 

Sandor ran his hand through his hair and said, “This is just a lot harder than I thought it would be. You’re fucking gorgeous, and don’t pretend like you don’t know it. Compared to you, I’m a monster. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but goddamn. I guess I’m just waiting for you to realize this was all a mistake.”

 

“Sandor…” Sansa trailed off. He’d heard her use that tone enough times in the pods to know that she was feeling sorry for him. His hackles started to raise until she reached out and placed her hand over his, the touch soft and sweet. “You don’t need to worry. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it as many times as I have to for you to believe me: I’m not going anywhere. I need you to try and trust me, okay? This won’t work if you don’t.”

 

Sandor’s heart was pounding in his chest, and he willed himself to say something. However, the words were stuck in his throat, and all he could do was turn his hand over and lace their fingers while he nodded in agreement. That seemed to be enough for her, because she gave his hand a squeeze and settled back into her seat.

 

To anyone on the outside, they would look like a normal couple who’d just had a minor argument. He wondered if that would ever be true. For now, he knew that all he could do was try to trust her and see this process through to wherever it would lead.

 


 

Sansa tried to focus on anything other than the fact that the size of Sandor’s hand dwarfed her own, and could likely do some serious damage if he had a mind to. It still felt so surreal that the man beside her was the same person she’d spent all that time talking to in the pods. The only thing that confirmed it was him besides his voice was the reappearance of his surly attitude.

 

Particularly cutting had been his admission that he thought there was a chance things wouldn’t work out between them. Sansa hadn’t asked Sandor to marry her on a lark. There was at least a small part of her that could imagine a future between them. If nothing else, she knew she had to at least enter into this with the mindset that they would make it. It pained her to know he didn’t feel the same.

 

When they were finally called to board, she expected Sandor to let her hand go. However, he held it all the way until they had to have their boarding passes scanned, then retook it once they were walking down the gangway. Sansa found it oddly comforting, especially because she wasn’t the biggest fan of flying.

 

Thankfully the flight was a smooth one, with only one bout of turbulence that Sandor squeezed her hand through. Still, Sansa was grateful when they landed and they were able to make their way to the shuttle that would take them to the resort.

 

“Where do you think the rest of the couples are going?” Sansa asked Sandor as they cruised down the streets.

 

“Jeyne didn’t tell you?” Sandor replied, though he kept his gaze trained out of the window. In their time in the pods, Sansa had confessed she’d come there with a friend, and Sandor told her his situation was much the same. It was one of the things they’d bonded over. She still thought it was funny that they’d all wound up falling for each other. Perhaps when this was all over they could go on double dates. If they lasted that long anyway.

 

“She was kept in the dark just like us,” Sansa told him, adding, “I wish she and Bronn were able to join us. It’d be nice to have another couple around.”

 

“Afraid to spend time alone with me?” Sandor questioned as he finally turned to look at her.

 

“No,” Sansa snapped, glaring back at him, “This is just such a unique experience. It would be nice to have someone to talk to about, well, everything. Especially someone who knows me better than anyone except my own family.” When he only grunted in response, she added, “Don’t you wish Bronn was here?”

 

He seemed to think about it for a while before he said, “Not really. He’s my friend, but we don’t talk about emotional shit. He’d probably be too busy with Jeyne to come up for air and listen to me bitch anyway.”

 

Sansa’s face turned scarlet at the mention of her friend involved in intimate relations and she scolded Sandor, saying, “You shouldn’t talk about things like that!”

 

“Why not? It’s true,” Sandor shrugged, adding with a smirk, “Your face looks just how I pictured it when I said shit like that in the pods.”

 

She willed the blush on her face to disappear as she said, “Are you just trying to get a rise out of me?”

 

“What if I am?” Sandor replied, a glint of amusement in his eyes. Sansa felt her heart skip a beat with the way he was looking at her. She was finally seeing a glimpse of the person she’d asked to marry her, and even with the scars she felt herself growing attracted to him.

 

“Then I’d have to do something to get a rise out of you as payback,” Sansa answered. She slid her hand across the seat of the shuttle until it reached his knee. His eyes grew wide as she continued until she was moving her hand up his leg.

 

Before anything else could come of her actions, the shuttle came to a sudden stop. Sansa snatched her hand away, bringing them both to her chest as she felt her blush go all the way down her neck. She had no idea what she’d meant to do, acting so brazenly in the back of a vehicle. Her embarrassment was only compounded when she noticed the driver glance back at them, a smirk on his face.

 

“Looks like we’re here,” Sandor said suddenly. He reached out and opened the door, hopping out and moving around back to get their bags.

 

Sansa followed behind him silently, refusing to make eye-contact with the shuttle driver when he handed her the only bag Sandor hadn’t opted to carry. It was actually a little impressive watching him tote their suitcases about as though they were empty. Apparently his muscles weren’t just for show after all.

 

The two of them were silent until they reached their room, after which Sansa asked him which drawers he wanted and which side of the bed he liked to sleep on. His answers were short and didn’t invite any other conversation, causing her to worry that she may have been too forward. It wasn’t really like her to reach out and touch someone in such an intimate way. It was even less like her to do so in what amounted to a public place. Just the thought of it brought color to her cheeks once more, and she glanced at Sandor in hopes that she could figure out what he was thinking.

 

The side of his face that was scarred was the one she could see, and much as she wanted to, Sansa forced herself not to look away. If they were going to be married in a month’s time, she might as well get used to them. Though they looked like they had healed long ago, the damage was still extensive. He no longer had an eyebrow above his left eye, and the lid drooped slightly. Though his hair wasn’t long, he kept it swept over the side where the burns were in an effort to cover it. What his hair didn’t cover, however, was his ear, which barely existed but for a hole in the side of his head.

 

Overall, the look was gruesome. However, Sansa found that the longer she stared, the easier it was to accept them. It helped that in her observation she had started to notice many things she hadn’t before. There was so much more to him than his scars, such as the tattoos that snaked their way up his forearm and the neat way his beard was trimmed. And of course there was his impressive physique, which suggested he took good care of himself. All of these things had been eclipsed by the one thing she knew he wished people wouldn’t notice. In her heart, she felt as though she was no better than all the people who’d come before her and added to his insecurities.

 

It was only when he cleared his throat that Sansa realized she’d been staring far longer than was proper. However, Sandor hadn’t seemed to notice, instead raising his head to finally look at her as he said, “I have something for you by the way.”

 

“Oh?” Sansa asked, wondering if it would be another rose.

 

“Yeah,” Sandor said, walking towards her. As he approached, she could feel her heart start to pound, and she wondered what he was about to do. It was only when he got down on one knee that it became clear, his hand holding a solitaire ring that looked tiny in comparison to his fingers. “I didn’t get a chance to do this when we met. Hell, I didn’t even get a chance to do it in the pods. So, here. Let’s make it official.”

 

It wasn’t the most romantic declaration, but Sansa had a feeling that being this vulnerable was a big enough step for him. She held out her hand, allowing him to take it and slip the ring on. Though it wasn’t as lavish as the ring Harry had given her, the diamond still sparkled beautifully in the low light of their hotel room. Somehow she already loved it more.

 

“If it’s too simple I can get you something else,” Sandor said as he rose, his hand on the back of his neck, “I didn’t want to pick something you wouldn’t like since I don’t know shit about jewelry.”

 

“It’s perfect,” Sansa told him. She looked up into his eyes, her heart still racing. Her body took on a life of its own then as she wrapped her arms around his neck and stood on her tip toes, her lips softly grazing his cheek.

 

Sandor’s arms snaked around her waist, holding her close as he made to kiss her lips. It would have been passionate, the perfect first kiss, if not for the camera that seemed to loom closer. He must have caught the movement out of the corner of his eye, because he hesitated, then set her down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead instead.

 

“I’m glad you like it,” he muttered as he wandered back to where he’d been unpacking his suitcase. Sansa got the sense that the producers were disappointed, though not as disappointed as she was. She shot a glare in their direction for ruining the moment before she went into the bathroom to lay out her toiletries.

 

Even there the camera crew followed her. It was strange how much more obtrusive they were now that she and Sandor were out of the pods. She supposed it was made worse by how many actual people there were floating around. They were much more visible and took up quite a bit of space in their suite, exacerbating the awkwardness that had come up between her and Sandor.

 

While Sansa was doing her best to ignore them, she had a feeling Sandor wasn’t having as much luck. She still found it surprising that a man as self-conscious as him would agree to be filmed. Perhaps he didn’t realize how long the commitment would be. Or perhaps he had and decided he wanted to cut it as short as possible. That would explain why he’d been so surly in the beginning.

 

“Hey,” Sandor said from the bathroom door, “I guess there’s some dinner they have planned for us on the balcony.”

 

“Right,” Sansa replied with a nod. She finished laying out her makeup and toothbrush, then made her way to meet him.

 

Things only seemed to become more awkward after she was seated at the table. The cameras hovered around them, making it hard to talk as candidly as they had in the pods. Instead they made polite conversation about the weather and the sound of the ocean. Once they’d gotten through safe topics, the conversation dried up, and they ate in silence. Even though they were seated quite close together, Sansa felt as though they were further apart than they ever had been in the pods.

 

She was finally able to exhale when they left after midnight. Sansa twisted the lock once the door shut to keep them out for good. They were already putting a strain on her relationship with Sandor. She’d seen it in his eyes every time he’d glanced at the camera over her shoulder. If this kept up, she wasn’t sure they’d make it to the wedding.

 

“Thank fuck they’re gone,” Sandor announced from where he stood by the bed. His voice made her jump as she’d been so lost in thought and he chuckled as he said, “Sorry. Did you forget I was here?”

 

Quite the opposite. He was all she could think about at the moment, especially now that they were finally alone. “No, I was just a little out of it,” she answered, her back pressed against the door as Sandor started to approach her.

 

He loomed over her, his eyes gazing down into hers as he said, “Are you coming to bed?”

 

Sansa’s body felt warm all over as she tried to decide whether that was an invitation or a simple question. She bit her lip and watched Sandor’s eyes flick down to them. She could almost swear she saw desire there and wondered if he would pick up where he’d left off after he proposed.

 

“Well?” he asked, his gaze meeting hers once again.

 

“Yes,” she answered breathlessly as she waited for him to make the next move. Her skin prickled with anticipation as his hands began to move towards her.

 

However, the moment was shattered seconds later when a knock came at the door. She jumped again, though this time was much less pleasant than the last. It turned out to be a production assistant who wanted to give them their schedule for the next day. They were supposed to spend the morning filming at the beach, and then have a romantic dinner by the ocean at night.

 

By the time she’d finished going over the schedule, Sandor had already brushed his teeth and laid down. Apparently the mood had been tenuous at best, and one interruption was enough to ruin what could have been. Sansa supposed it was just as well. She didn’t want to rush into anything physical anyway, in spite of how her body was reacting.

 

Once she finished her own nighttime routine, she joined him in the bed which was large enough that they could sleep without touching. Sandor was on his side, his back to her, and she couldn’t tell if he was sleeping or not. Sansa reached out her hand across the bed, meaning to touch him between the shoulders and get his attention. She thought better of it a second later, deciding to let him sleep and have some peace.

 

They could talk in the morning. Until then, she hoped Sandor would have pleasant dreams.

Chapter Text

CONFESSIONALS

 

 

Sansa

 

I had no idea I was going to propose. When I went into the pods that morning, I wasn’t really thinking about anything except, well, you know.

 

Do I have any resentment for Joffrey? I…I’m not sure. What he said was cruel, and I don’t believe it was warranted. However, can I blame him for being upset and getting heated in the moment? I suppose not. It’s not as though it matters. I won’t ever hear from Joffrey again, and I sincerely hope he and Margaery are very happy together.

 

And no, I don’t regret my decision. Perhaps it was a little impulsive, but I finally figured out what I wanted. Even before mine and Joffrey’s little altercation I knew that he wasn’t really the one for me.

 

Is Sandor? I guess we’ll see.

 

 

Sandor

 

Yeah, when she asked me I don’t have a clue what the fuck was going through her mind. Hell, I still don’t know what she was thinking. One second we were just talking and then the next we were engaged. It happened so fast I felt my head practically spin off my shoulders.

 

Did I expect it? Fuck no! I mean, maybe I wanted it to happen, but never in a million years did I think she and I would wind up together. There had to be a ton of other guys in the pods who were trying to get with her. Even if you couldn’t see her, you could tell she was beautiful, and not just on the outside. I knew whoever did propose to her would be a lucky son of a bitch.

 

Ha. I don’t know if she regrets it or not. If she does, she hasn’t said so yet. What I do know is that no matter how all this shit turns out, I don’t regret it. Not for a second. Finding her and getting to know her has been an experience I’m never going to forget. If it ends, I’ll be grateful for having had a chance at all. And if it doesn’t, then I guess I’m a lucky son of a bitch.

 

 

Joffrey

 

Am I worried about how people are going to see me when this airs? Absolutely not. Sansa deserved everything I said to her! The nerve of that woman to not only go behind my back with some ugly cretin, but flaunt it, too? I’m a firm believer that if someone is acting like a whore, then you should tell them they’re a whore. God knows how many other men she was stringing along with that little innocent act of hers.

 

What do you mean, ‘hypocritical?’ I’m a man! I need to have variety in my life. It’s expected for me to play the field a little. And I never told Sansa she was the only person I was talking to. It’s completely different.

 

She did tell me that. I’m sure of it. Why else would I get so upset that she was going behind my back with someone who looks like an extra on the set of The Walking Dead? And even if she didn’t outright say it, she made it pretty obvious with how sappy she always got in the pods. ‘Oh Joffrey, you’re the only man for me.’ ‘Oh Joffrey, I could never love anyone else.’

 

Far as I’m concerned, I dodged a bullet. Margaery’s way hotter anyway. At least, that’s what she told me.

 

 

Margaery

 

I have nothing to be sorry about. I can’t believe you would even ask me that. Perhaps I gave Joffrey a little nudge by telling him something about Sansa, but that’s not illegal is it? It’s not like there are rules to this ridiculous ‘experiment.’ Besides, he had a right to know. If he’d been talking seriously to anyone else, I would want to know that I was wasting my time.

 

What do you mean ‘what about Sansa?’ He wasn’t serious about her. He was obviously just confused by her manipulations. She may have fooled everyone else with her little ‘nice girl’ act, but I saw through her from the moment she entered the studio.

 

And the nerve of her. As if someone who owns a flower shop could ever be good enough for an investment banker. Frankly, she should have known her place and given up on him after the first date, but you know those social climbing types. Once she got a whiff of his wealth and status I’m sure Sansa wanted to sink her claws into him and never let him go.

 

I believe in karma. I’m sure she’ll get what’s coming to her for trying to get between me and my husband.

 

 

Bronn

 

I did not propose just because all the other blokes did. I proposed because I wasn’t about to leave here with nothing. I spent two weeks of my life in that bloody studio. What a waste if I just left and went on my merry way. Besides, if Sandor can find someone, then I ought to as well.

 

Jeyne seemed thrilled when I asked. I guess she fancies me a bit more than I thought. I almost felt a little guilty. Then I saw her, and she was absolutely gorgeous. Honestly, she looks a bit different than I expected. All those influencers wear makeup like they’ve shoveled it on with a trowel. She had a much softer look. I quite liked it, actually.

 

She’s a good kisser, too. Maybe my head’s in a state ‘cause I haven’t been with a bird in a while, but those were some of the best kisses I’ve ever had. If the cameras hadn’t been there, I’d have done a lot more, too. Thank god we’re finally on the honeymoon so we can have a bit of privacy.

 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a very eager young woman back at my suite.

 

 

Jeyne

 

I still can’t believe Bronny proposed to me. I was starting to get worried, especially with all the other women getting engaged around me. I was sure one of those thots was going to come out and tell everyone they’d managed to snag him instead.

 

I don’t know. Ever since that first day, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that he’s not as hooked as I am. Sure, he says all the right things, but words are just words. Now that we’re on our honeymoon I’m ready for him to put his money where his mouth is. And maybe put his mouth a few places, too.

 

God, he is such a good kisser. And he’s so hot too. I have a feeling he’ll be very good for my brand. Whenever I can actually post about him on Insta, anyway. I didn’t know I’d have to hide him until this thing airs. It seems a little unreasonable, especially considering I could just pretend we met on Tinder or something, but whatever.

 

Hey, when do I get my phone back? I didn’t have enough posts queued and I really want to take some pics of our honeymoon suite.

 

 

Daenerys

 

Oh yeah, Drogo is even better than I imagined. I know our connection transcends that of the physical realm, but still. Those biceps. That hair. And his eyes. I was basically putty in his hands when we met. Actually, I was almost literally putty with the way he picked me up and spun me around. There was so much love in the way he held me. I won’t ever forget that moment.

 

I can’t even begin to describe it. The way things feel when we’re together, I mean. It’s like he’s the missing piece to a puzzle I didn’t even know was incomplete. He’s just so funny. I feel like we’re laughing all the time. And when we’re not laughing, well…I don’t kiss and tell.

 

Hmmm. I think the first thing we’re going to do when we get back to reality is get matching tattoos. And before you ask, no, I don’t think it’s a stupid idea. We’re soulmates. Our bond is as permanent as the ink we’re going to get.

 

 

Drogo

 

I still can’t believe Sandor wasn’t just blown away by his fiancee. I remember seeing Dany for the first time, and it was un-fucking-real. Just picturing the way her smile lit up her entire damn face makes my heart do little flip flops. I hope I can make her smile like that for the rest of our lives.

 

Oh, she told you about the tattoos? Yeah, I’ve got a guy who does great work. See? His lines are fucking incredible. I was thinking we could do something with dragons since she’s got those beardies. Honestly, I’ll get whatever she wants. I’m sure we’ll figure it out before we get back. If we have time to talk between—

 

Shit, sorry. Didn’t realize I wasn’t allowed to get x-rated. It’s not like you guys don’t know what we’re up to. We’re two people in love on our honeymoon. And yes, I did just say in love.

Chapter Text

Sandor feigned sleep when Sansa finally slid in bed beside him. For a moment he thought he felt her moving closer, but decided he just imagined it when he never felt her hand against him. Then again, it was probably for the best that she didn’t touch him. There were several times that night where he’d been close to taking her, and until he knew for certain that she was going to stick around, he didn’t want anything to happen between them.

 

It was made all the more difficult by the fact that it seemed like she wanted him, at least physically. The way her eyes had roamed over his body made him hungry for her in a way he hadn’t been for a woman in some time. Then again, he could just be seeing what he wanted to see. Sansa made it quite clear she didn’t like his face, and he couldn’t imagine she’d be interested in just his body.

 

Rather than dwell on it, he burrowed deeper into the bed to finally get some decent sleep for the first time in a week. Hard as he tried, however, Sandor only slept fitfully until the dawn began to come. At that point, he finally fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. He awoke feeling only partially rested, still in a haze as he became aware of his surroundings.

 

The first thing he noticed was the waterfall of red hair that was immediately in front of his face. It smelled like something floral, and he found it pleasant. The next thing he noticed was the form his arm was draped around, and how obscenely it was nestled into his pelvis. Somehow between sleeping and waking, he and Sansa had become tangled up. Their bodies were intertwined, with him cradling her in his arms. Much as he enjoyed it, Sandor wasn’t convinced she would find it as pleasant. Especially considering their sudden nearness was exciting him in more ways than one.

 

He tried to slide away from her, but she sighed and shifted so that her hand was wrapped around his, effectively holding him in place. Now there was no way he could move without waking her and revealing the position they were in. The last thing he wanted was for her to think that he’d manhandle her without her permission.

 

Sansa stirred again, but as Sandor couldn’t see her face he had no idea if she was waking or not. The only thing that told him she was awake was the sudden way she stiffened up in his arms. Her hand left his, and she began the slow process of extricating herself from the tangle of their limbs. He closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep until Sansa had fully left the bed and the bathroom door shut behind her.

 

At that, Sandor’s eyes snapped open and he rolled onto his back to stare at the ceiling. Sansa’s reaction told him everything he needed to know about how she felt being close to him. Whatever he’d thought he’d seen the night before must have been in his head after all. Best to keep his hands to himself from now on, nighttime accidents notwithstanding.

 

The bathroom door opened again, and Sandor sat up on his elbows, Sansa’s eyes locking on his as she rounded the corner. Her mouth popped open, her cheeks pink as she said, “Oh, you’re awake.”

 

“Good morning to you, too,” Sandor replied, thankful for the blanket that covered him at the waist, “Sleep well last night?”

 

“Quite well, thank you,” Sansa said, her cheeks flushing further. He noticed she hadn’t changed out of her pajamas, and wondered why until she rejoined him in the bed and said, “The camera crew will be here soon. They want to film us ‘waking up.’”

 

Sure enough, as soon as the words left her lips there was a knock at the door, followed by the production staff, directors, and camera operators all flooding in. Sandor didn’t like that they had 24 hour access to his room, but he supposed he knew what he’d signed up for. The team quickly went to work, directing them to just act natural while at the same time posing them so that they were snuggled together. The irony appeared to be lost on everyone except he and Sansa.

 

Unlike this morning, they were instructed to lay so they were facing each other. Her face was just inches from his, and Sandor did his best to keep it that way. He didn’t want her to be anymore uncomfortable than she already was.

 

Instead, he kept his focus on her eyes as they looked up at him from beneath her lashes. However, even that sent him crashing into a feeling of longing he’d buried some time ago. It seemed there was nothing she couldn’t do that would make him attracted to her.

 

“Sandor?” she questioned, bringing him back to reality.

 

“Hmm?” he replied in an attempt to act like he’d been listening.

 

“I asked how you slept,” Sansa said. Her fingers were tracing circles on his back, which only made it harder to focus on her words.

 

“Like an angel. Way better than when we were in that god-awful studio. I figured they’d have better than camping cots for us to sleep on,” Sandor told her. He decided two could play it that game, and ran his fingers along the back of her neck, satisfied when the action elicited a shiver from her.

 

“Yes, this is so much better than before,” Sansa said, adding, “Especially waking up next to you.” With that, the fingers which had been moving in slow circles around his back slid closer to his front, resting on his hip. They played with the waistband of his pajama pants, causing his cock to twitch in response. Just what in the fuck was she playing at?

 

Unfortunately, she had the unfair advantage of having the blankets to cover her actions. Anything Sandor chose to do would be in full view of the group of people currently watching them. As there was little else he could do to return the favor that would be appropriate with all the cameras present, he settled for sliding his finger up the shell of her ear before letting them get tangled in her hair.

 

“Yeah, that’s a pretty big improvement over my last sleeping arrangements,” Sandor said with a nod. He thought about it for a moment and continued, “Or really any of my sleeping arrangements. I’ve never woken up next to a beautiful woman before.”

 

Sansa’s cheeks flushed a pretty pink color at the compliment. “So you’ve woken up next to ugly women?” she asked in an attempt at humor.

 

It was probably for the best that she didn’t know the half. There were too many meaningless fucks in his past to count, and all of them were uglier than Sansa. Rather than admitting any of that, he said, “I just haven’t woken up next to any women.” Not really a lie, as most of them left either right after they finished or before he woke up.

 

“Oh,” Sansa said, her voice small, “Well, now you have. Maybe we should have mimosas with breakfast to celebrate another first.”

 

With that, she was up and out of the bed. Sandor sat up and watched her make her way to the balcony where the producers must have laid out some food for them. Naturally, champagne fizzed in glasses just waiting for orange juice to be added. Sometimes he wondered if they were being plied with alcohol in an attempt to make the experiment more of a success.

 

“Well?” Sansa asked from where she sat.

 

“Coming, dear,” Sandor replied as he rose out of bed. She gave him an indulgent smile while she completed their cocktails.

 

True to her suggestion, Sansa raised a glass and toasted to the first morning Sandor woke up next to a woman. It was a strange thing to do, but he still found it endearing, clinking his glass up against hers before downing the drink in one go. It wouldn’t be enough to get him buzzed, but it might take a bit of the edge off of what was going to be an uncomfortable morning.

 

When it came to the outdoors, Sandor preferred mountains and hiking to the sun and spray of the surf that the beach offered. He almost always got sun-burnt, and people had a tendency to stare when he wasn’t wearing much. There was much more solitude in the woods, and other hikers almost always kept to themselves. A part of him wished they’d been sent to more remote destination than the resort they were currently filming at.

 

Sansa, on the other hand, seemed perfectly content as she slipped into a bikini and made her way down to the beach when their breakfast was finished. The airy cover-up she wore did little to hide her figure, and Sandor scowled at everyone whose eyes lingered longer than they should have. In an effort to make things clear, he took her hand just to show everyone who she was with. After that, the looks lessened considerably.

 

“This looks like a good spot,” Sansa said from beside him. She smiled up at him, shielding her eyes with her free hand as she asked, “What do you think?”

 

“It’s as good as any I guess,” Sandor shrugged, finally releasing her hand so he could spread out the beach towels she’d brought.

 

Once they were settled, they each started to apply sunscreen, though Sansa painted a much prettier picture than he did. Especially when she asked if he needed help with his back. The way her hands felt kneading into his skin was pure bliss, and he got so lost in the touch that he almost didn’t notice her ask for his help in return. If he thought her touching him was great, it was nothing in comparison to being able to put his hands on her. It was only when he remembered that he was supposed to not be touching her that the enjoyment he felt was cut short.

 

“All finished,” he said gruffly, removing his hands from her shoulders as though they’d burned him.

 

Sansa glanced back at him, a strange look in her eye as she said, “Thank you. Do you want to swim with me?”

 

Sandor eyed the ocean warily before saying, “I’ll be just fine here. Not a big fan of sharks.”

 

“Are you serious?” Sansa asked, her lips twitching up as she stifled a giggle, “You’re afraid of sharks?”

 

“They’re probably about the only thing I can’t fight off, so yeah, I don’t like them. Give a guy a break,” Sandor replied, crossing his arms over his chest.

 

“You’re more likely to get struck by lighting, you know,” Sansa told him, still grinning at his expense.

 

“Oh yeah? Well, you’re more likely to get tossed into the ocean by your fiance if you keep teasing him,” Sandor shot back with a smirk.

 

“Somehow I doubt that. There might be sharks by the shore after all,” she said. Her gaze was locked onto his, her eyes challenging him to make good on his threat.

 

Sandor was more than happy to oblige, rising off the towel and hoisting her up before she had a chance to know what was happening. Sansa squealed in surprise, a noise he hoped he’d be able to have her make in another context someday. As it was, she struggled from where she was hitched over his shoulder, though she laughed the entire way down to the water.

 

Her giggles only subsided when he finally plunged her into the cool depths of the ocean. At first he expected her to resurface immediately, and when she didn’t he became worried. Sandor leaned over the place where she’d entered the water, only to be surprised moments later when her arms shot out and wrapped around his neck. Being bent over threw him off balance, and he tipped forward easily, his whole body becoming submerged in the salty brine.

 

When he came up for air, Sansa was already on the surface, laughing brightly at how he looked with his hair flopped everywhere. The sound made him smile in spite of himself, and he shot through the water to grab her around the waist and dunk her again. Sansa was too quick for him, however, darting away from him with ease.

 

“Careful Sandor!” she called, a cheeky grin on her face, “There might be sharks over here!”

 

“The only shark out here is me,” he replied with a wolfish smile, “And the only person who needs to be worried is you.”

 

With that, he pulled himself through the water using brute force to propel himself faster than she could swim away. She shrieked with surprise as he finally snatched her up, his arm wrapping securely around her waist while she giggled. Her body was slick against his while she wriggled against him in an attempt to escape.

 

Just as he was about to dunk her back down into the water again, Sansa’s entire body stiffened, her laughter subsiding as quickly as it came. For a moment, he thought he might have hurt her, and Sandor released her to make sure she wasn’t injured. However, she just floated in the water in front of him, her eyes fixed on the beach.

 

“Everything okay, Sansa?” Sandor asked as he placed a tentative hand on her shoulder.

 

Sansa jumped at the contact and she whirled to face him, saying, “Oh, everything’s fine. I just feel a little ill all of a sudden. I must have swallowed too much seawater.”

 

She began to wade out of the water and back to their towels, with Sandor following behind her. He found her change in mood strange and wondered what he might have done to cause it. The only thing he could figure was that she might have worried he’d get turned on by their bodies touching. He had been pawing at her like an animal after all. It was only natural she’d get nervous that he’d misinterpret what she wanted.

 

Still, Sandor wanted to help her if he could, so as soon as she was settled on the towel he asked, “Do you need anything? I could go around the shops to see if there’s something to settle your stomach.”

 

“I think I just need to lie down for a while,” Sansa told him. She paused for a moment, then added, “It would be nice if you stayed with me.”

 

Sandor nodded and lied down on the towel next to her, surprised when he felt her tentative hand over his own. He turned it over and laced their fingers in an effort to offer her what little comfort he could. And if that was all he could do, so be it.

 


 

Sansa gripped Sandor’s hand as hard as she could without alerting him that there was something more wrong with her than an upset stomach. Her skin still prickled with a chill as she tried to push the voice she thought she’d heard out of her head. It was silly. There was no way Joffrey would be staying at the resort.

 

And yet she was almost sure she’d heard him from the beach. As many times as she’d heard him in the pods, it would be hard to mistake his voice for anyone else’s. However, Sansa found it hard to believe that they would book two of the couples at same resort. That would just be ridiculous, especially with how heated things had become between the two of them when he’d ended it.

 

Instead she tried to focus on how nice the sun felt on her skin, and how steadying Sandor’s presence was beside her. The solid weight of his hand reminded her that no matter what happened, he’d be there to protect her. Somehow in spite of only knowing him for a short time, he still made her feel safer than she’d ever felt with a man.

 

Especially this morning. Sansa felt her face flush as she remembered the way his form had surrounded her when she’d woken up. She couldn’t say if it was on purpose or if they’d wound up cuddling by accident. What she could say was that she’d enjoyed it. It seemed as though Sandor had been enjoying it as well, based on the feel of him pressed into her backside.

 

However, she hadn’t wanted to embarrass him, so she’d done her best to extricate herself from their compromising position before he woke up. Sandor still seemed skittish around her, and Sansa didn’t want to do anything to further push him away.

 

Or at least, she’d thought he was skittish until he’d been playing with her in the ocean. The way he’d so easily picked her up and tossed her around was simultaneously arousing and frightening. Her only comfort was that the man she knew wouldn’t hurt her, dunkings in the ocean notwithstanding. She wondered if he’d be willing to toss her around in their suite later on.

 

Eventually the crew grew bored of filming them lounging on the beach and instructed them to go back to their room and get ready for dinner. Much like at the airport, Sandor held her hand until they got back to their hotel room. He even went so far as to make sure she was feeling better before he let her go take a shower which she found endearing.

 

“I’ll be out here if you need me. Just holler,” Sandor told her as he shut the door.

 

Now that she was alone, Sansa found she didn’t want to wash the smell of the beach off just yet. The scent would forever be a reminder of hers and Sandor’s time in the ocean. She could still feel his hands on her, and the strong muscles of his chest against her back as he hoisted her up against him. It was enough to make her flush with desire, and for a moment she considered inviting him into the shower with her.

 

Instead, she shook the lustful thoughts from her mind and hopped into the large stall (big enough for two, she noted distantly). The cool water helped calm her down some, just enough to focus on what she was going to wear to dinner. She’d asked the production team repeatedly if it was supposed to be upscale or casual, and all they would tell her was that she should dress her best.

 

When she could finally settle on her look, she relinquished the bathroom to Sandor. Unlike her, it took him very little time to get ready at all, and then they were off down to dinner.

 

“You look nice,” he remarked casually as they strolled to the elevator.

 

“Thank you,” Sansa replied, flashing him a smile. She eyed his outfit, and said as uncritically as she could, “Do you think you’re dressed up enough?”

 

Sandor’s only brow quirked up at her as he replied, “Hey, I am who I am. Plus I fucking hate button-ups.” He’d opted to wear a t-shirt and khaki shorts, which wasn’t what Sansa would call anyone’s best.

 

“You wore a suit when we met,” Sansa reminded him as the elevator doors shut and they made their way down.

 

“Believe me, that was the exception to the rule. Kinda like you,” Sandor replied, echoing a sentiment he’d made to her on the night she’d proposed.

 

Sansa hummed thoughtfully before she said, “I hope you’ll at least wear a suit when we get married.” The statement was meant to be an innocent one, but it seemed to knock Sandor for a loop. When she turned to look at him, his eyes were wide, almost as though he’d forgotten the end goal of this experiment.

 

“I guess I could make another exception,” he mumbled, unable to meet her eyes.

 

Before she could ask him about his reaction, the elevator dinged and the doors opened. People were standing to the side to let them out, so she had no choice but to exit instead of questioning why it seemed like he didn’t want to marry her. Perhaps it was just as well. They didn’t need to fight before dinner.

 

They were silent as they made their way down to the beach. The wind whipped around them, and Sansa could see a storm on the horizon. She hoped they wouldn’t get caught in the rain, and thought of how she’d told Sandor they’d be more likely to be struck by lightning. It felt as though the universe was trying to get back at her for mocking Sandor’s phobia.

 

The closer they got to their destination, the more distinctly Sansa thought she could hear voices. She only found out her ears weren’t playing tricks on her when she rounded the corner and saw Jeyne wrapped around someone who could only assume was Bronn.

 

The moment her eyes locked onto Sansa, she squealed and propelled herself out of her seat. “Sansa! I can’t believe you’re here!”

 

Jeyne’s arms flew around her, nearly knocking her into Sandor. Sansa laughed, relieved to see a friendly face as she replied, “Jeyne! What are you doing here?”

 

“We’re honeymooning! I had no idea they’d send us to the same place! But this is so exciting. You, me, Bronny, and Sandor should all double date,” Jeyne gushed as she looped her arm into Sansa’s to drag her over to her new fiance. “Bronny, this is my bestie, Sansa. Sansa, this is my future husband.”

 

“Nice to meet you, love,” Bronn said, extending his hand for a handshake which she returned. He glanced over at Sandor and said, “Good to see you again, mate. Resort been treating you well?”

 

“As well as any place this fucking hot could,” Sandor said as he took a seat by his friend, “What about you? Or have you even left your room?”

 

Sansa gasped and said, “Sandor!”

 

“What? It’s a fair question,” Sandor argued.

 

Sansa was about to tell him that it was extremely impolite to talk about things like that in front of her friend when another squeal of delight interrupted their conversation. She turned just in time to see white-blonde hair shooting towards them in the form of none other than Dany. Somehow the minute woman managed to envelope both she and Jeyne in a group hug, her laughter contagious.

 

“Wow! It really is you!” Dany breathed when she finally got over her excitement, “I felt bad because I didn’t get your contact info, but it looks like we’ll be spending a lot more time together.”

 

“No kidding,” Sansa said, wondering how they’d all managed to end up at the same place.

 

As introductions were made all around, Sansa felt the cold pit of dread settle in her stomach. It appeared all the couples were here except one. This morning she’d been so sure that they wouldn’t send everyone to same place, but the arrival of someone she prayed she’d never meet again now seemed inevitable.

 

Just as she was about to excuse herself, the voice she feared said, “Well, well. Look what we have here. Margaery, come quick. It seems we have company.”

Chapter Text

Sansa’s reaction to Joffrey was immediate and visceral. Her stomach turned, and without thinking she moved closer to Sandor, positioning him so that he was between her and everyone else. He didn’t seem to notice, something for which she was grateful. All she wanted was to get through this dinner and then she could escape back to the safety of their suite. Sandor didn’t need to know anything more.

 

“Oh, how lovely!” Margaery cooed, her voice saccharine with false delight, “I’ve missed you ladies so much!” She approached each of them, giving them air kisses on both cheeks. When she reached Sansa, it seemed as though her smile took on something more devious, and she added, “My Sansa, you’re looking quite well since the last time I saw you. Apparently engagement agrees with you.”

 

“Thank you,” Sansa mumbled as her heart started to race. She looked over Margaery’s shoulder and saw Joffrey staring at her with an intense look that almost bordered on hatred. The one thing she’d had going for her was that Joff hadn’t known what she looked like. Now that Margaery had let the cat out of the bag, she only felt more fearful for herself.

 

Before they had much more of a chance to chat, the producers quickly ushered them to their seats so that one of the hosts of the show could introduce them all to one another. While she spoke, Sansa couldn’t stop stealing glances at Joffrey. He was as handsome as she’d imagined, with a strong jaw that had just the right hint of stubble and a well-pressed suit. His most prominent accessory, however, was Margaery, who’d draped herself around him possessively, her manicure practically digging into his arm. Sansa was reminded of how she’d been in the pods, and wasn’t surprised that this same attitude extended to real life as well.

 

Suddenly everyone around her was raising their glasses, and Sansa realized that the host’s speech was coming to an end. Once she disappeared, it was time for them all to mingle. To Sansa’s immense relief, the production team wanted to separate the men and women first. After that, they’d get a chance to talk to the men and women they chose not to marry.

 

“So, how was everyone’s first night with their future husband?” Jeyne asked in an attempt to be conversational. The mood around their table was awkward, but Jeyne’s natural charisma and outgoing nature made it impossible for her to leave them all standing in silence.

 

“It was wonderful,” Margaery gushed, her eyes sparkling, “We just couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. That’s to be expected of course, what with all the pent up passion from not seeing each other for so long. I’m sure you ladies all know what I’m talking about.”

 

“Oh totally,” Dany agreed, her cheeks rosy as she continued, “Drogo and I got to know each other very well.”

 

“Oh? So you can tell us if he really does have the biggest…?” Jeyne trailed off, her eyes glancing down suggestively.

 

Dany laughed and replied, “Only if you tell me about yours! I saw the way you were all over Bronn just now. Did you guys get down and dirty last night?”

 

Sansa sipped her wine quietly while Jeyne went on about how she really shouldn’t kiss and tell and then proceeded to tell anyway. Her face reddened as she wondered what the men would think if they could hear what they were talking about. Apparently Sandor had had a point back when he’d accused the girls of being just as bad as the guys when they were still in the pods.

 

“What about you, Sansa?” Margaery asked, fixing her with a piercing gaze, “Did you and Sandor have a nice time last night?” The way she said his name dripped with both disgust and condescension, and she felt a small spark of anger at how Margaery did so little to hide her disdain.

 

“He was a gentleman,” Sansa replied primly, her fingers tightening around the stem of her wine glass as she tried to maintain her composure.

 

Jeyne snorted and said, “He doesn’t really look like one. Honestly, I’d have climbed him like a tree if I were you.”

 

Dany nodded vigorously in agreement as she drank her cocktail, adding, “Absolutely. Just look at those muscles.”

 

Sansa’s cheeks were on fire as she said, “Hey! That’s my fiance you’re talking about!”

 

“So? It’s not like we’re going to do anything, San,” Jeyne replied with a roll of her eyes.

 

“Certainly not! With those scars, I’m surprised you can even stand to be seen with him!” Margaery exclaimed. The stunned silence after her statement made her realize that she crossed a line, and she folded her arms in front of her as she continued, “What? Were we really just going to ignore the elephant in the room?”

 

“Okay, but did you really need to be such a bitch about it?” Jeyne asked as she scowled at Margaery.

 

“How dare you speak to me like that?” Margaery cried back, “Do you have any idea who you’re dealing with? My family could ruin you.”

 

“I think everyone needs to take a breath and calm down…” Dany began in an attempt to keep the peace.

 

“No! Not until she apologizes to me,” Margaery exclaimed as she slammed her fist onto the table.

 

“Like I have anything to apologize for! You’ve been nothing but a bitch since day one! If anything you should apologize to Sansa for getting between her and Joffrey and then insulting her fiance on top of that!” Jeyne argued, throwing her hands into the air.

 

I got between her and Joffrey? Please. That pathetic little social climber could never have stood between us. If anything, she was the one who was trying to get between him and myself!” Margaery sniffed. She turned to Sansa then and said, “I’m so sorry that I was willing to acknowledge the ghastly face your husband-to-be is sporting. I’m so sorry that your friends are too cowardly to tell you that you managed to land the ugliest man of the bunch, and now you’ll be the biggest laughingstock in America. Karma certainly hurts, doesn’t it?”

 

Sansa’s body seemed to take on a life of its own in that moment, her hand and arm acting as separate entities as she threw what was left of her wine in Margaery’s face. The red liquid dripped down her chin, dotting the white dress she wore with spots that looked like blood. It filled Sansa with an ugly sense of satisfaction until Margaery’s eyes brimmed with tears and she stormed over to where the men were talking.

 

In no time at all, Joffrey was striding towards them, his glare fixed on Sansa. Her spine tingled with fear as she instinctively took several steps back and wished she’d worn flats instead of heels.

 

“What did you do to her?” Joffrey hissed when he reached her. Though he was shorter than her, there was still a ferocity about him that made her feel like she was only ten inches tall.

 

“I—I just—She—” Sansa began to stutter, unable to form the right words. It was strange how quickly he’d changed from someone she’d cared for to someone she feared in so little time.

 

“Oh, cat got your tongue?” Joffrey asked mockingly. He reached out and grabbed her shoulders then, giving her a shake as he continued, “I asked you a question! Now answer me!”

 

“Hey!” Sandor shouted. Sansa had been so focused on Joffrey that she’d nearly forgotten her fiance. However, it was impossible not to notice him now as he appeared by Joffrey in a flash, grabbing him by the collar and wrenching him away from her. He lifted him so that he was just off the ground and growled, “Keep your fucking hands off my girl or I’ll show you what a real man does to a piece of shit like you.”

 

Joffrey’s fingers worked uselessly against Sandor’s fist as he attempted to pry himself loose from Sandor’s grasp. When he finally accepted that he wouldn’t be able to free himself, Joffrey gritted his teeth and said, “Just let me go you bastard!”

 

Sandor snorted and said, “If only. But since you asked so nicely.” With that, he released Joffrey who stumbled and nearly fell to the ground. Margaery rushed to his side immediately, acting as the ever attentive girlfriend and fussing over him as if any physical harm had actually come to him.

 

Before Sansa could react, Sandor had his arm around her shoulders and was steering her back towards the hotel. As they were walking away, she heard Joffrey yell, “Yeah! You and your whore had better run away!”

 

There was that word again. Sansa felt a knife twist in her gut, her reaction to it as strong as it had been in the pods. Tears sprung to her eyes, and she wished with all her heart that tonight had never happened.

 

Sandor had frozen beside her, his body nearly vibrating with rage as he turned around and growled, “What the fuck did you just say?”

 

Before anything more could happen, Sansa put her hand on Sandor’s arm and whispered, “Please, let’s just go. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

 

“Not before I knock some sense into that cunt,” Sandor replied as he took his first step back towards the rest of the group.

 

“No, please,” Sansa begged. She wrapped both of her hands around his arm and tugged on it, adding, “There are cameras everywhere. I don’t want to spend the rest of our engagement with you in jail.”

 

When he finally looked down at her, Sandor’s eyes softened. With a sigh, he turned back around and pulled her close, saying, “Fine. But when I can get him alone, he’s going to regret the day he was fucking born.”

 

Sansa only nodded in response as she clung to the man beside her like he was her lifeline. His body was solid and strong beneath her hands, and just what she needed to keep her grounded right now. Though she was physically here, her mind still lingered on the beach where they’d left everyone. How would people see Sandor now? Would Jeyne fear for her? And what would everyone think when this show finally aired?

 

It seemed to take an eternity for them to reach their suite, and when they did, the camera crew actually followed them inside. Sansa wanted to tell them to get out, but she lacked the strength to do anything much but collapse onto the edge of the bed.

 

Sandor knelt down in front of her and began to undo the straps of her heels with surprising delicacy for a man of his size. As he did, he glanced up and asked, “What the fuck happened?”

 

Sansa sighed and shook her head, muttering, “I threw wine in Margaery’s face.”

 

To her surprise, Sandor laughed, asking, “Oh yeah? I bet she deserved it. What’d she do to you?”

 

“She…said something about your face,” Sansa told him hesitantly. She wrapped her arms around herself, waiting for the inevitable onslaught of curses. When they didn’t come, she glanced at Sandor and saw a resigned look on his face.

 

“You didn’t have to throw your drink at her just because she was talking shit. I’m used to it. It’s not like I’d have known what she said anyway,” he shrugged as he slipped her shoes off and tossed them where her suitcase was. “You don’t have to worry about me, little bird. I’m made of tougher stuff than anything she can send my way.”

 

“That’s not the point!” Sansa cried. When he wouldn’t look at her, she put her hands on the sides of his face and directed him so that his steely gaze was fixed on hers. “I know what she said, and it was unforgivable. I’m not going to let her talk about you like that. I won’t let anyone talk about you like that.”

 

Sandor’s expression was unreadable, though she felt the unspoken understanding that bloomed between them. Without thinking, Sansa leaned forward and placed her lips against his. It was the barest brush, but it was enough to spark something within him, because moments later his arms were wrapped around her waist and she was swept up off the bed. His mouth was hungry for hers, the kiss going from chaste to passionate more quickly than she anticipated. Even so, it was a welcome change.

 

Less welcome, however, was the audible sigh she heard from a member of the production team, which reminded both of them that they weren’t alone. They broke their kiss abruptly, with Sandor setting her down on the floor. The tiles were cool against her bare feet, a stark contrast from the heat she was feeling everywhere else.

 

“Seriously? You guys the fucking worst,” Sandor groused, scowling at the producers and camera crew. They apologized and pushed them to keep talking, a much more difficult feat now that they could feel the eyes on them.

 

“I still can’t believe Joffrey called you a whore,” Sandor supplied when neither of them could think of anything to say. “No idea where that even came from, but he’s gonna fucking regret it.”

 

Sansa felt sick at hearing the word again, and without thinking she blurted, “He said it because it’s true.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Sandor questioned, his brows knitting together.

 

She slumped back onto the edge of the bed, her shoulders hunched with shame as she told him, “It was something he said to me in the pods when he found out about you and me. He told me I was nothing but a two-timing whore. And he was right.”

 

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Sandor exclaimed, effectively interrupting her. “What, just because you were talking to me that makes you a whore? How?”

 

“Because I wasn’t being faithful to either of you,” Sansa said in an attempt to explain. Her cheeks became wet with her tears as she continued, “I know what it feels like to be cheated on. I should never have been dating you both at the same time. It wasn’t fair to either of you.”

 

“Sansa, we’re on a dating show!” Sandor said with a shake of his head. He came over to her, sitting himself on the bed and taking her chin in his hand to make her look at him. “That was the whole point. You were supposed to get to know more than one of us. Joffrey was being a piece of shit because his pride was hurt. Guys that douchey want to believe every woman in the world only has eyes for him.”

 

Sansa couldn’t stop crying. Though it had occurred to her that Joffrey might have been unfair, it felt good hearing someone else say it. Ever since that night, she hadn’t been able to shake the guilt she’d been carrying. Sandor’s words made the burden easier, especially since much of her guilt had been due to not telling him she’d been seeing Joffrey.

 

Before she could say anything else, one of the camera men began to walk closer to get a better shot, once again reminding them how little privacy they were now entitled to. That was enough to make Sandor snap, and he was off the bed in a flash, looming over everyone with a thunderous expression on his face.

 

“Can’t you see she’s upset! Give us some fucking privacy, would you?” He was menacing as he stood to his full height, finally using his size as an intimidation tactic. If it were aimed at Sansa she’d be frightened, but at the moment all she could do was stare at him in awe. He was almost like a warrior with the way he was trying to protect her.

 

The production team appeared to finally take the hint, backing out of hers and Sandor’s room before reminding them that they agreed to be filmed as much as was necessary. Apparently they were making a one time only concession. She didn’t think it was out of kindness so much as it was due to fear, but she didn’t care. As long as they were gone.

 

Sandor returned to her as soon as he twisted the lock on the door. He sat next to her on the edge of the bed, his hand on the side of her face as he said, “Better?”

 

Sansa leaned into the touch and gave him a tearful nod as she told him, “I’m sorry you have to see me like this.”

 

“It’s all part of the deal. For better or worse, right? And this is the worse part,” Sandor said, his thumb tracing soft circles against her skin, “I’ll do whatever I can to make you feel better, okay? Just say what you need, and it’s yours.”

 

Sansa’s heart skipped a beat when she saw the way he was looking at her. There was a great deal of affection in his eyes, and she thought of how easy it would be to kiss him again. In truth, the way he was acting made her feel loved in a way she never had been before. It was a dizzying feeling that left her breathless and wanting more.

 

“I just need you, Sandor,” she whispered, her arms wrapping around his neck as she drew him in for another kiss. His lips found hers easily, their touch soft against her own. The passion from the previous kiss had been doused, but that left behind something deeper that smoldered within her center.

 

Sandor’s hands found her waist, and soon they tumbled back onto the bed. Her heart began to race as she felt his fingers begin to trail their way across her body to where her jumpsuit was buttoned together. The thought of him undressing her made her flush with desire, and when his fingertips grazed her chest to open the first button, she nearly let him do it.

 

However, the thought of their first time becoming intimate happening on a night this awful was enough to extinguish whatever desire she felt for him. Sansa placed her hand on top of his, and that was all the signal he needed to stop. Sandor pulled himself away from her, ending their kiss.

 

“Everything okay?” he asked, his voice husky with desire.

 

“Yes,” Sansa replied breathlessly. She took a moment to compose herself, then continued, “If it’s okay, I don’t think I want to go any further. Not tonight.”

 

“We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to,” Sandor told her. He guided them both back up into a seated position and asked, “Are you ready for bed? Sleeping, I mean. Not anything else.”

 

Sansa’s gave him a weak smile and nodded her head. All the energy seemed to leave her body then, and he almost had to carry her to the bathroom so she could remove her makeup and brush her teeth. It was a different kind of intimacy, having someone else there during her nightly routine. Sansa found she didn’t mind it so much, especially with her needing his support tonight.

 

Once she was finished with everything, she insisted that Sandor wait in the bathroom for her to change into her pajamas. It seemed silly after all they’d been through, but she still felt the need to be modest, as he’d never actually seen her naked before. However, he indulged her anyway, but only after he rolled his eyes at her.

 

“How long does it take to change your clothes?” Sandor asked from the other side of the door when it was taking her longer than usual to pick out something appropriate to wear.

 

Sansa shook her head and just grabbed the first thing that looked like it would cover her enough, quickly stripping out of her jumpsuit and throwing on the gauzy nightgown. “I’m done,” she called as she slipped into bed.

 

“Finally. I thought you might’ve fainted or something,” Sandor said with a laugh as he exited the bathroom. He didn’t seem to feel a need for any kind of modesty, because as soon as he grabbed a pair of shorts out of the drawer, he stripped down to nothing right in front of her.

 

Sansa averted her gaze, though she snuck a quick glance at him anyway. He was going to be her husband at some point. It wasn’t like she wasn’t going to see it all eventually anyway.

 

However, just as quickly as he’d stripped, he was clothed again. Only his muscular chest was bare to her now, but even that was covered soon enough when he got into bed beside her. Unlike the night prior, Sandor laid facing her. His eyes glittered in the darkness as he looked in hers.

 

She could feel the unspoken question in the air, and Sansa decided to answer by sliding across the chasm and curling up against him. His response was immediate, his arms cradling her to his chest, his lips pressing a soft kiss against the crown of her head.

 

“Good night, little bird,” Sandor whispered after they’d been snuggled together for a few minutes.

 

Sleep had been just about to overtake her, and if she’d been more awake she’d have asked him about the nickname. As it was, she murmured a good night back before drifting off into peaceful oblivion.

Chapter Text

The rest of their trip went uneventfully enough until the last night. Sandor and Sansa, much like the rest of the couples, had been invited to a goodbye cocktail party to send them off into their real lives. It would be the first time that either of them had seen everyone else since the night of the dinner. Sansa wasn’t sure if it was by design or if that was the original filming schedule. Either way, she had been relieved not to have to relive everything so soon after the incident.

 

Sansa opted to wear a yellow two piece set that consisted of a bandeau and a maxi skirt, her hair long and flowing about her shoulders. She kept her makeup simple, hoping that she wouldn’t stand out too much even though she knew it would be a small crowd of only eight people. Somehow she doubted Margaery and Joffrey were the forgiving types. If they were holding a grudge—and they certainly were—Sansa didn’t want to think about what they might do to her. The only comfort she had was knowing Sandor would be by her side.

 

When they arrived at the bar, it was only natural that Margaery and Joffrey had been the first to arrive. Sansa moved closer to Sandor, wrapping her arm around his. He responded by untangling himself from her and wrapping his arm around her waist instead. It was a possessive gesture that communicated to anyone around them that he would protect her.

 

As soon as she and Margaery made eye contact, the other woman made her way over to them. Sansa expected her to yell or be catty, but she surprised her by saying, “Oh, Sansa, can you ever forgive us?”

 

“Forgive you?” Sansa asked, her brows knitting together in confusion. That was the last thing she’d expected to come out of Margaery’s mouth, especially with the way they’d left things.

 

“The way that Joffrey and I behaved the other night was just ghastly,” Margaery replied, her eyes shining with regret, “I’m embarrassed even thinking of it. I just hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive both of us for the things we said and did. I would hate to leave here knowing that we’ve hurt you so much and didn’t make things right.”

 

At this point Joffrey had sauntered over as well. Sansa had but to take one look at his face and know that this was all an act. The cool indifference she’d caught in his eyes before he’d changed expressions was enough to tell her that they were doing this for the benefit of the cameras. The only thing she didn’t know was whose idea it was to make nice.

 

“I think the person you really owe an apology to is Sandor,” Sansa said as she placed her hand on his chest. “He’s the one you said such cruel things about after all.” She knew Margaery had very little respect for her fiance, which would only make it that much more difficult for her to keep up her facade. It gave Sansa a twisted sense of satisfaction to know that she was making this as hard for them as possible.

 

Sure enough, Margaery’s mouth twitched as she did her best to hold her expression. She turned her gaze to Sandor then, and said, “I am so very sorry for what I said about your scars. I’m sure whatever happened was traumatic enough without my insensitivity adding to your pain.”

 

“Doesn’t matter what you said. I didn’t hear it, and I don’t give a fuck what you think anyway. But thanks,” Sandor told her with a shrug. Though Sansa didn’t much approve for his language, it was worth it to see the look on Margaery’s face. Before she could say anything, Sandor added, “Honestly, I just want to make sure your fiance knows he needs to keep his hands to himself from now on.”

 

Margaery’s face flushed at the mention of Joffrey’s violence, and she said, “Of course! Joffrey is very sorry for how he handled everything. Aren’t you, darling?”

 

“So sorry,” Joffrey drawled, doing little to hide his boredom. He seemed to remember himself once the cameras loomed closer, and he added, “Obviously I let my temper get the better of me, and it should never have happened.”

 

“If it ever happens again, you’ll understand what ‘letting my temper get the better of me’ actually looks like on someone who can do more than threaten women,” Sandor said, his voice low and menacing.

 

Margaery and Joffrey both looked like they wanted to say something, but they were interrupted by the appearance of Bronn and Jeyne. The moment her best friend’s eyes locked on hers, she rushed over to Sansa and wrapped her up in a fierce hug. Afterwards, she pulled back and grabbed Sansa’s hand, saying, “If you’ll excuse us.”

 

To her surprise, Sandor let her go without putting up a fight. She supposed he knew that he could trust Jeyne to take care of her in his stead. Sansa allowed herself to be led back through the bar until the two of them wound up in the bathroom. She spun Sansa by the shoulders and found the microphone that was strapped to her skirt, turning the knob so that it would no longer pick up their conversation. She gestured for Sansa to do the same when she was finished.

 

“Okay, now that we’re actually alone,” Jeyne said, flipping some of her hair over her shoulder, “Are you okay? I’ve been trying to find your room since the dinner party but no one would tell me where you were staying.”

 

“Really?” Sansa asked, shocked that they were purposefully being separated.

 

“Yeah. Apparently that would interrupt everyone’s ‘important bonding time’ or something,” Jeyne told her with a roll of her eyes. Her expression softened then and she added, “I’ve been worried sick about you. I can’t believe what a creep Joffrey turned out to be.”

 

“Yeah, I guess you were right. He’s just like Harry. Actually, he’s worse than Harry because at least Harry never laid a hand on me,” Sansa said, wrapping her arms around herself with a shudder.

 

“Oh, babe. I never wanted to be right,” Jeyne replied as she reached out to give her another hug, “I’m just glad Sandor was there. Not that Bronny wouldn’t have defended you. Or Drogo. But Sandor obviously can handle himself.”

 

Sansa laughed weakly at the thought and said, “He’s certainly strong enough.”

 

“It seems like he really cares about you,” Jeyne supplied. There was an awkward pause after that, and Sansa knew she wanted to say something about his scars.

 

“Just get on with it,” Sansa said as she crossed her arms over her chest.

 

“Get on with what?” Jeyne asked innocently. Another pause, followed by, “Okay, fine. His face, San. It’s…a lot. Are you still into him even with all of that going on?”

 

Sansa sighed and said, “You’re just as bad as Margaery, you know that? Maybe you didn’t call him ugly, but you’re still implying that he doesn’t deserve to be loved just because he’s disfigured.”

 

“Hey, I’m nothing like that hag!” Jeyne exclaimed, her hands on her hips, “I’m just asking a question. Are you really telling me you didn’t have second thoughts when you first saw him?”

 

The question stung, mostly because it was true. Her initial reaction to him hadn’t been a good one, and there had at least been a small part of her that had wanted to run.

 

Jeyne seemed satisfied by her silence. She reached out and put her hands on Sansa’s shoulders as she said, “See? You aren’t saying it, but I know I’m right.”

 

“You’re not making things any easier,” Sansa replied, pulling herself out of Jeyne’s grasp. “It doesn’t matter how I felt then. What matters is how I feel now. He may have scars, but that isn’t going to stop me from caring about him, and it won’t stop me from marrying him either.”

 

Jeyne’s eyes were wide at her outburst, but her expression changed soon after as she said, “You don’t have to get upset, Sansa. I’m here for you no matter what. You’re my best friend, and I just want to make sure you’re okay. So, if you really care about him then I support you 100%.”

 

“Of course I really care about him!” Sansa exclaimed. When she saw Jeyne put her hands up in defense, she did her best to calm herself and said, “Fine. I believe you. Just, no more talk about his scars, okay? He’s insecure enough without everyone whispering behind his back.”

 

“You have my word,” Jeyne agreed, extending her pinky finger so they could seal the deal like they did when they were children. It was a sweet gesture, only soured when Jeyne added, “Can we talk about his body though? I mean, wow. Those muscles. Those hands. He must have a huge—”

 

“Jeyne!” Sansa yelled, rushing to put her hands over her friend’s mouth.

 

Jeyne dodged her easily, laughing as she said, “Ego! I was going to say ego!”

 

“Whatever! Let’s just get back out there. I’m sure the production team are going out of their minds now that we’re throwing off their precious schedule,” Sansa said with a shake of her head.

 

Sure enough, as soon as they exited the room they were bombarded by people who were both angry that they had delayed filming and that they’d turned off their mics.

 

“Do you really need to record us in there? That’s kind of sick, don’t you think?” Jeyne asked as one of the crew rushed to turn her mic back up.

 

Once they rejoined the others, Sansa saw that Dany and Drogo had arrived. To her relief, Joffrey and Margaery had decided to take their leave early. Apparently they had quite a lot of packing ‘among other things’ left to do. It saved Sansa the trouble of having to pretend like she actually wanted to spend anymore time with them than was absolutely necessary.

 

Them being gone lightened the mood considerably, and the three couples spent their evening bonding and having a good time. It was the first time since the dinner that they’d gotten a chance to hang out, and Sansa found she enjoyed it much more without the cloud of Margaery and Joffrey hanging over them. She even felt good enough to let loose and have a couple more drinks than she would have normally.

 

Being tipsy made her handsy, and soon she was practically hanging off Sandor like a koala clinging to her favorite eucalyptus tree. Sansa wasn’t sure if he enjoyed it or not, but he indulged her just the same. His large hands held her by the waist, ensuring that every time she stumbled she didn’t land on her face.

 

“You’re going to regret this tomorrow,” Sandor told her with a chuckle when they were finally walking to the elevator that would take them to their suite.

 

“I regret nothing!” Sansa replied with fierce determination. She kicked off her heels while they were waiting for the elevator to arrive and was gratified when he picked them up for her.

 

“Yeah, tell that to the three shots that are gonna make you throw up all over our bathroom,” Sandor snorted as steered her into the confined space with his hand on the small of her back.

 

“I feel fine!” Sansa insisted, leaning on him for support, “Shots don’t stand a chance against me! I’m a Stark. We can hold our liquor.”

 

“Is that right? Then why can’t you stand up straight?” he asked her with a smirk, his eyes alight with mischief.

 

“I can stand on my own, thank you very much,” Sansa sniffed. She released her hold on him and straightened to her full height, only to stumble when the elevator came to a sudden stop. Sandor’s hand was on her elbow in an instant, but not without him laughing at her. “That was not my fault.”

 

“Sure thing, little bird. Let’s get you back to our room in one piece, and then you can show me how well you hold your liquor,” Sandor said with a shake of his head.

 

“Little bird,” Sansa repeated as they walked down the hallway, remembering how he’d called her that a few nights ago.

 

“Hmm?” Sandor asked. He was trying to fish their key card out of his wallet, so he wasn’t focused on her.

 

“You keep calling me little bird. Why?” Her question made him pause, his fingers no longer flipping through the different cards stored in his wallet.

 

“It’s just a pet name,” Sandor eventually answered, adding, “If you don’t like it, I won’t call you that anymore.”

 

“So we’ve already graduated to pet names? That’s not fair,” Sansa whined. He’d finally gotten their door open, and she pushed into the room first, continuing, “I don’t even have a pet name for you. You should have told me so I would have had time to come up with something.”

 

“I don’t think that’s how that works,” Sandor replied as he dropped her shoes with the rest of her things, “Aren’t they supposed to be organic? Like something you just come up with on the fly?”

 

“How about I call you Big Daddy?” Sansa suggested. She flopped on the bed and stared at the ceiling which swam in her vision.

 

“Absolutely not,” Sandor stated.

 

“Hmmm. Big Boy?”

 

“No.”

 

“Hot Stuff?”

 

“Jesus. They just keep getting worse.”

 

“Then what?” Sansa asked, finally leaning up on her elbows to look at him. He’d pulled off his shirt, and was standing there in just his shorts. The sight of him was breathtaking, and for a moment she forgot their conversation entirely.

 

“Then nothing,” Sandor told her. He took his place by her on the bed, grabbing her hand as he explained, “I don’t call you ‘little bird’ because I expect anything from you in return. It just popped out one day, and now it’s there. So please, for the love of god, stop trying to come up with something for me. At least when you’re this drunk.”

 

Sansa giggled at the desperation in his words, and she said, “Fine. But only if you kiss me.”

 

“You got it,” Sandor replied, leaning down to place a chaste kiss on her lips. That wasn’t enough for her, however, and Sansa pulled herself up to straddle his lap. His hands wrapped around her backside, pulling her flush with his chest. She slid her hands up his neck to cradle his head as she sucked his lower lip into her mouth.

 

Sandor growled and deepened the kiss, his desire evident as she felt it pressed against the apex of her legs. Perhaps it was the alcohol making her feel bolder, but she didn’t care. She ground against him anyway, allowing him to feel her and know that she knew how much he wanted her.

 

“Okay,” Sandor said suddenly breaking their kiss. He was breathing heavily, his chest heaving under her own as he continued, “We need to stop now. You’re too fucking drunk to be doing this.”

 

“Oh come on,” Sansa pouted as she tried to lean in for another kiss. When he stopped her, she sighed sadly and said, “Just give it to me Big Daddy.”

 

“Thank you for officially killing the mood,” Sandor replied. He gently peeled her off of him and laid her back down on the bed. “You need to get changed into pajamas. I’m going to brush my teeth.”

 

Sansa did as she was bid, pulling on the first thing she could find amongst her clothes. This later turned out to be another cocktail dress she’d worn a few nights ago, but at the moment she didn’t care. All she wanted was to pass out, and the pillows on the bed were calling her name.

 

When she woke up the next morning, her mouth tasted terrible and her teeth felt fuzzy. The clothes on her body were all wrong, twisted and too tight for pajamas. Sansa’s head pounded, and the bright light spilling in through the windows only compounded the pain drumming behind her forehead.

 

“Hey, you’re finally up,” Sandor said. She raised her head away from the pillows and finally got a look at the shit-eating grin on his face. Sansa only groaned and buried her face back from where it came. Moments later, his hands were on her shoulders, and he said, “Oh no. No more sleeping. If you don’t get up now we’ll miss brunch before our flight back home.”

 

“Why is everything so bright?” Sansa whined as she was hauled up into the waking world once more.

 

“Because you have a massive fucking hangover,” Sandor replied. He held out a bottle of water and some aspirin which she took gratefully. “Do you remember anything about last night?”

 

Sansa considered his question, all the details pouring back as she did so. The most mortifying of all were the nicknames she’d tried to come up with for him. She groaned and buried her face in her hands after she took her aspirin.

 

“I guess you do,” Sandor chuckled.

 

“I’m sorry,” Sansa apologized when she could finally face him, “I said some very unbecoming things.”

 

Sandor snorted and replied, “You know I don’t care about shit like that.”

 

“Even so, I shouldn’t have been so…forward,” Sansa sighed. As she pulled herself out of bed and stood on shaky legs, she finally got a look at her “pajamas” and only felt more embarrassment.

 

“It was actually kinda cute,” Sandor shrugged, moving past her to start shoving clothes into his bag. “You’re usually so put together. It was nice seeing you let your hair down for a change.”

 

“Right,” Sansa said. Her head was spinning and she could no longer put together a coherent sentence. What she needed at this point was a hot shower and to brush her teeth.

 

When that was finished, she did her best to get ready without throwing up into one of the many receptacles around her. It was challenging, but she managed to throw her hair up into a bun and put on some concealer and mascara before she needed to sit down.

 

“Sansa, it’s almost time to go,” Sandor told her from the other side of the door. She groaned and hoisted herself up once more, gathering the rest of her things and exiting the bathroom.

 

To her surprise, her suitcase was already packed. All that needed to go into it were her toiletries, which she currently held in her hands. “Did you do this?” Sansa asked, turning to face him.

 

His hand was on the back of his neck as he replied, “Uh, yeah. Sorry if it was over the line. It just seemed like you might need some extra help this morning.”


“No, it’s fine,” Sansa told him, her cheeks turning pink. It was a sweet gesture, much more thoughtful than she would have anticipated. As she placed the rest of her things where they belonged, she glanced back at him and said, “Thank you for this.”

 

“Don’t mention it,” Sandor said with a wave of his hand. With that, they were headed downstairs.

 

Brunch went well enough, until the hosts made another appearance. Sansa had been happy to be leaving Mexico, if only to be putting as many miles between her and Joffrey as possible. However, as Nick and Vanessa gave their speech, they revealed that the couples would be living together in the same apartment complex. It was as though they were doing their best to create as much drama as possible, and Sansa didn’t want any part of it.

 

“Isn’t this so great, San?” Jeyne gushed as they made their way to their shuttles, “It’ll be like college all over again!”

 

“Except in college we didn’t have boyfriends, and we actually lived in the same apartment,” Sansa reminded her.

 

“So? I’m pretty sure I can get one of the producers to make it so we live next door to each other,” Jeyne said as she eyed up the people around her.

 

“All I want is for Joffrey and Margaery’s place to be as far from mine as possible,” Sansa muttered, her lips drawn together in a tight line, “Knowing these people, I’ll be right across the hall from them.”

 

“Hey, it’s not like you guys have the same schedule. You probably won’t ever see them except when we all have to hang out together,” Jeyne said in an attempt to be reassuring. However, her words had the opposite affect, as they reminded Sansa that she’d have to film yet more scenes with them. The idea nauseated her.

 

“I just want this to be over,” Sansa replied.

 

“You’ll get your wish in a few weeks. Don’t forget, the wedding is only 20-something days away,” Jeyne said. She snuck a glance back at their future husbands, then turned to Sansa and whispered, “Bronny and I finally did it last night.”

“What?” Sansa gasped, partially because she thought they already had, but also because she was surprised just the same.

 

“I know! God, it was so amazing. Like, obviously I’ve had sex before, but this was on a whole other level. Doing it with someone you love is way better,” Jeyne sighed, her eyes starry.

 

“Did you just say ‘love?’” Sansa asked.

 

“Oh my god! I guess I did,” Jeyne replied, her eyes wide with disbelief. “Oh well. I’m in love. I’m not even a little embarrassed.”

 

Sansa wanted to talk more about it, but they were told to say their goodbyes, then put into separate shuttles to be ferried to the airport. She could only assume it was because the production team didn’t want them together unless they could film it. If she’d known how much control of her life she’d be giving up, Sansa wondered if she’d have even bothered to sign up for this at all.