Dreams and Discoveries
She'd always know, somewhere deep down, that he'd be coming for her.
Even when they said he was dead, slain somewhere near Saltpans, his helm a morbid trophy paraded around by outlaws, even then, she didn't believe them.
He'd always seemed indomitable to her; damaged but unbreakable.
Through her prayers to the old gods, in which she never failed to plead for him, she had conceived a deeply rooted certainty that he had his role yet to play, just as much as she had.
Besides, if he was dead, what sense was there to her dreams?
She knew how it felt to dream of people who were dead. About the bittersweet torment of speaking to a deceased loved one, all the while knowing that however much you wish it was true, how happy you might feel talking to them once again, they are just a weak projection of your grief and your longing. Even in your dreams, you know they are not coming back.
But with him, her longing was of a different kind. Growing into her adult body, learning things people had formerly taken pains to keep from her, her dreams of him were jumbled pictures of heat and naked skin. Of touches as inappropriate as they were stirring, of kisses more demanding than gentle, of words whispered to her in a deep, rasping voice, sounding like steel on stone.
A voice so different from Petyr's soft, cultivated tones that she sometimes wanted to spit in his face, telling him that with all the games he was playing, with all his lies and cunning and strategizing, he would never be even half the man the Hound was.
In her dreams, Sandor Clegane was very much alive.
So when one night she woke to the terrifying feeling of a large hand clasped over her mouth, when she heard the voice she had longed to hear, detailing a well-laid plan and finally asking her a question he had asked her once before, there was nothing to do for her but say yes.
He had indeed thought of everything, she has to admit while they amble along on their horses about twelve hours later.
Besides a gentle mare for her, he had brought a pack horse laden with ample provisions for the long trip to the north. There are bedrolls for the two of them, dry tinder and some firewood, which has to be replenished if opportunity presents itself and a couple of long poles and a heavy bundle of oiled sailcloth for a tent.
He'd packed a change of clothes, so she'd look more the part of a common woman traveling with her husband. A rather ugly monstrosity of a cap covers most of her hair and when he tells her gruffly that he'd prefer she wears the cap instead of keep dying her hair, she knows it's not a request but a command. He is certain that if she keeps her cap on, her head down and her mouth shut, the chances of someone recognizing her are slim to none.
The amount of forethought he had invested into this is evident as well when he explains to her the route he plans to take to bring her to White Harbour, where he hopes the Manderlys will take her in. He has mapped out the whole journey, up and including little settlements where he hopes to buy more provisions, holdfasts to avoid and inns to visit if they should grow tired of washing themselves in freezing streams and sleeping on the ground.
What he hasn't planned for, it turns out relatively quickly, is how to act in her company and what to talk about.
Not intending to make herself a target to his usual derision, she doesn't offer conversation either, although she is polite enough to answer his questions - the very few he has - about her marriage to Tyrion Lannister and her time in Petyr's company as exhaustively as she can, including even the more personal details.
If anyone has a right to know about those, she feels it is him.
She tells him about her forced marriage to Tyrion Lannister, about the degrading inspection of a Septa do determine the marriage wasn't consummated and could thus be declared null and void, and she tells him about Littlefinger's plans to marry her off while still groping and kissing her every chance he got.
In turn, he relates in a few terse sentences how he had fared since the Blackwater, surprising her with the news that her sister was still alive and moderately well when he'd last seen her.
She tries not to get her hopes up that Arya might still be alive, but cannot help the little spark of warmth that flares to life in her heart at the mere thought of the possibility.
After the exchange of information is done with, they mostly ride silently in single file on the narrow paths through the hills, each lost in their own thoughts. Even around the evening campfires, the exchange of spoken words rarely exceeds the most necessary information or orders regarding their journey.
The silence is not always uncomfortable, but more often than not it is fraught with tension and uneasiness.
Something unspoken coils between them, defined only by what she had dreamt about him and the troubling heat that sometimes settles low in her belly when she looks at him for longer than necessary or the thrill she feels when he touches her.
She'd long seen the hunger in his eyes and with what she knows now, she has no doubt he'd always looked at her that way, even when she was little more than a child back in King's Landing. The hunger is not only sexual, or maybe the physical hunger is but a helpless expression for what he really needs from her, but it's there and it surrounds her with an ever-increasing sense of urgency.
So, when it finally happens, she is only surprised that it has taken him all those days to reach this point.
Most nights, he wouldn't even share the rather spacious tent with her but sleep outside, murmuring something or other about being on his guard.
Sometimes though, when the wind is so icy that even Stranger huddles together with the other two horses to share warmth; or when it's snowing or raining, he crawls into the tent with her, always keeping his distance.
Until one night, he doesn't.
The heavy sailcloth blocks all light from outside and for a while only the pattering of the raindrops on the oiled canvas can be heard, as if they are both holding their breaths.
He reaches for her then, at first tentatively, but when she comes into his embrace readily enough, he presses his mouth to hers, overwhelming her with an onslaught of sensations nothing could have prepared her for.
She'd thought she knew, thought he'd kissed her before, all those months back, but either she had made this up out of thin air, or his kiss back then must have been very different from the way he kisses her now.
This kiss is an almost desperate gnashing of teeth and battling of tongues, interrupted only by gasps for air.
Nothing like the elaborate dancing of tongues and slanting of lips that Petyr had tried to teach her about either, and she is thankful it isn't. Petyr's kisses had never made he feel anything but boredom bordering on disgust.
Now, she is neither bored nor disgusted, too busy trying to match his ardour, too distracted by the fire curling in her belly and the galloping beat of her heart.
His hands aimlessly roam her body over the thin shift she is wearing, finally finding its hemline and dragging it up to her waist.
"Don't say no," he pleads with her in a broken whisper between frantic kisses and even more frantic movements. "Let me have you. I cannot..."
She doesn't find out what he can not, because for one thing she doesn't intend to say no and for another what he apparently can and did do is find a way to wrestle his stiff manhood out of his breeches while spreading her legs.
He thrusts into her in one sharp move and she cannot hold back her scream of pain, while above her he makes a sound somewhere between an anguished sob and a howl of triumph.
She'd known there would be pain and the accounts of the women she'd spoken with varied wildly in that regard, but she hadn't expected to feel as if she was being torn apart by a blunt, massive object.
She tries to breathe through the pain as she had been advised to, tries to relax her muscles but the pain is as unrelenting as it is unbearable especially when he starts to move and she feels tears running copiously down her cheeks while praying it would be over soon.
Fortunately, it is.
After only a couple of irregular thrusts, he grunts and she feels the spill of his seed inside her, oddly disenchanted at the indignity of an act that people had made such a to do about for most of her life.
He rolls away from her for a moment, but then she feels a gentle caress on her face that ends abruptly when he encounters the wetness on her cheeks.
"I am sorry," he says, his voice breaking on the last syllable.
Then he hands her a cloth to clean herself up with and rolls away from her once again.
While she is still trying to wipe away the fluid between her legs which she assumes is blood, she hears his breathing slowing and evening out into the regular, deep patterns of sleep.
How he can sleep after what had just happened is beyond her.
But somehow, sleep finds her eventually and when she wakes up, bright daylight shines into the tent from where he had left it open.
The hopes she had entertained of the awkwardness between them vanishing once they had lain together had been utterly unfounded, she finds out the very next day.
It's even worse now than it has been before.
He avoids looking at her, avoids speaking with her and generally behaves as if trying to be invisible. Which in itself would be hilarious if it wasn’t so vexing.
When she mounts her mare and cannot help but wincing in pain, he visibly flinches, but doesn't comment on it.
Although the pain isn't nearly as bad as she had suspected and the amount of blood she had found on closer inspection of the cloth she had used last night had been not even been close to what she had envisioned. Most of the fluid she had wiped away last night had been something else.
Even riding becomes somewhat bearable after a while, but even so she is grateful that he suddenly finds it necessary to rest and dismount the horses much more frequently than they had during the days before.
He doesn't share her tent that night despite the slight drizzle and she doesn't ask him to.
The next day, the pain seems completely gone and all her attempts at locating it again are in vain.
She starts to feel somewhat foolish for having made such a fuss about something that - in retrospect - wasn't that bad to begin with and had taken far less time to heal than other things that had been done to her in the past.
The feeling of foolishness quickly morphs into profound guilt when he doesn't stop walking around her on eggshells and doing everything to alleviate a pain she doesn't even feel anymore.
At one point, when he proposes another break to "stretch his legs", she snaps at him that she'd rather continue on their way, which causes him to grit his teeth and keep riding without a pause until the sun sets. It also causes her to feel even more wretched.
They leave the mountains behind during the next few days, feeling the closeness of the north in the bite of the wind and the frozen ground, hard under their horses’ hooves.
By now it has gotten ridiculous - not to mention hazardous for his health - that he is still sleeping without any protection from the elements, but it's no good to point that out to him, he just grunts and tells her he had worse, while she is silently fuming.
She wants him back in the tent with her. Not just because she wants him to be comfortable, not just because it is much warmer when he is in there, but because curiosity is eating at her with every passing day.
They' said it would only hurt the first time. That it'd be bearable later, pleasurable even, for some.
How would it be then, for her? At least that she has to know.
Besides, she wants him to stop feeling guilty.
So, one night, her usual question denied once again, she strips down to her shift right in front of him.
"I want you to sleep with me tonight," she says, trying to keep the nervous flutter she feels out of her voice.
He stares at her with widened eyes, mouth all but hanging open.
She wonders if she had gotten across that she wants to do more than sleep, but since she doesn't know what else to say, there is nothing else for her to do but to turn and crawl into the tent with as much dignity as one can muster while on all fours.
She hears some rustling and scraping and then the sound of heavy footsteps when at last, he follows her.
"You sure?" he asks in between kisses even more desperate and frantic than the ones he had given her the first time.
She makes an affirmative sound, strangled by the elation she feels at being so close to him once again. The physical reality of his warmth and strength, the immediacy and urgency of his need for her make her push the memory of the pain into a far recess of her brain, never to be thought of again.
Heat unfurls inside her and when he thrusts into her with the same impatience she remembers from before, with the same cry of near anguish; instead of pain there is only delight at being connected so intimately and even some pride at now being able to endure this without any discomfort at all.
His movements stoke the fire their kisses had started and she can feel herself growing tense in anticipation of something unknown. Something that shortens her breath and quickens her heartbeat.
But it only lasts for a few moments until he groans his release and - after a few more grinding thrusts - withdraws and heavily lies down next to her, his breathing laboured.
Cold creeps up inside her as she wonders if that was all there was to it.
Yes, it didn't hurt and yes, it was pleasurable as long as it lasted, but now she feels as if having been shown a sumptuous meal only for it to be taken away again before she could have a single bite.
Why did reality always had to show her how pointless her dreams were?
He lies very still next to her but wasn't sleeping and she feels a sudden, almost overwhelming need to crawl over to him and huddle into his warmth, because as disappointing as this has been, she had relished the part in the beginning, when there was heat and closeness.
She doesn't do anything, however, just lies where she is, legs still spread as if waiting for things to continue and jumps when suddenly, he starts speaking.
"I am... not good at this," he says and it sounds like a confession a man might make under torture.
That there should be a level of skill to this act is news to her. It seemed rather straightforward and easy to accomplish.
"Only ever did it with women who were glad if it was over quickly."
There is a world of loneliness behind his words and on instinct she reaches across the space separating them and takes his hand, squeezing it slightly.
She doesn't know what to say or if he even expects her to say anything.
He shifts and rolls toward her again, his left hand still in hers, his right ghosting over her body, sending shivers over her skin.
His hand finds its way between her legs and she gasps in surprise when he touches her there, her flesh still sensitive and swollen, her folds slick and moist with the remnants of their coupling. He gently strokes her for a while and she makes a few appreciative sounds because it feels nice.
With the pitch black of the tent surrounding them, she can only rely on what she feels even though she wishes she could see him. So she is surprised again when something very warm and moist touches her breast, teasing her nipple through the thin fabric of her shift.
His mouth, she concludes while her thinking starts to turn foggy at the combined sensation of his fingers on her and his tongue and lips doing wondrous things to her breast. She loses her train of thought completely, when on a broad and erratic stroke of his fingers, he grazes a spot somewhere down there that shoots a fiery spark of pleasure through her whole body and makes her gasp.
He stops for a moment and then repeats the movement, causing her to moan again.
After a few more repetitions, she is right where she had been before, reaching for something she has no knowledge of, tense and coiled in expectation and now almost desperate to reach this unknown goal at all costs.
"Don't stop," she murmurs ceaselessly in between ragged breaths and - fortunately - he heeds her, working the little patch of skin he has found until the pressure inside of her bursts and pushes her over the edge into a black abyss of weightlessness, waves of pleasure crashing over her, making her forget everything she ever knew.
She hears a cry somewhere and wonders why it sounds like her own voice, but she doesn't really care.
When finally, reality claims her again, the first thing she realizes is the source of warmth hovering over her, big and strong and solid like a wall.
"Sandor...," she says and it's a question, even more than one, because suddenly she has so many. But she doesn't get to ask them because his mouth is on hers again and he kisses her this time with more gentleness and less desperation, lingering, tasting and enjoying and she is too wrapped up in her newfound joy that she almost doesn't notice when he settles between her legs, his manhood stiff and ready.
"Can you bear it once again?" he whispers against her lips.
She doesn't know if she can, but she feels too good to be ungenerous when he'd been so generous to her, so she nods and winds her hand into his hair to draw him down for more kisses.
He sinks into her slowly and deliberately, and this time it feels like a caress instead of an intrusion, like the merging of something that belongs, and after only a few more thrusts she is almost giddy with the realization that he takes her on that joyful journey again of which she now knows the destination.
"Don't stop," she murmurs in between kisses and it feels as if he smiles.
It goes on much longer than before, long enough for her to experience that astounding burst of pleasure again, different this time, radiating outwards through her whole body from a place deep inside her that his measured thrusts had woken to pulsing life.
He groans his release moments afterwards and although she doesn't want him to, he rolls away to his side of the tent.
"That was much better," he states, pride evident in his voice.
She giggles helplessly, despite feeling a bit bereft and cold without his body near hers.
"Yes, it was."
There is a grunt and some rustling and later a deep, satisfied sigh followed quickly by soft snoring.
Someone had once told her that men were supposed to fall asleep "right afterwards", but she couldn't have imagined that it was meant literally.
She, on the other hand, feels more awake and alive right now than during the day, her head buzzing with thousands of thoughts and questions. She has half a mind to shake him awake, but then refrains, knowing from former experiences that this generally wasn't an advisable course of action.
Residual awkwardness is still there when she leaves the tent the next morning, but it has shifted somehow.
His movements had lost all traces of being jerky and impatient and while he still holds himself with a warrior's upright posture, his shoulders are relaxed and his hands loose on Stranger's reins. Even his face has lost much of its usual forbidding scowl.
He seems much more relaxed and at ease around her than he ever had and subsequently, she feels more at ease as well.
When she tries to catch his gaze and smile at him, the side of his mouth twitches but he turns away after a moment and for the rest of the day mostly avoids meeting her gaze.
She - on the other hand - cannot stop looking at him.
Cannot stop seeing the massive, mail-clad shoulders, the broad strong hands, the whole hulking body of him and wonder if this was in fact the same man who last night had made her see stars.
She entertains herself with replaying last night's events over and over, while trying to imagine how he must have looked then; naked and aroused and moving above her, thrusting into her body. Unfortunately, all her musings, combined with the steady pressure the movement of the horse under her has her almost drunk with anticipation by the time Sandor decides to make camp for the night.
She wolfs down her food rather more hastily than usual and crawls into the tent as soon as she is done eating, even though the sun hasn't even fully set.
To her delight, he follows her only moments later, the urgency in his kisses and caresses telling her that she wasn't the only one anticipating.
His fingers dip between her legs, where - to her acute embarrassment - a copious amount of liquid had pooled as soon as he had started kissing her.
He stops for a moment and she starts to panic that it is with disgust, when she feels his lips at her ear.
"Wanting this so bad?", he asks and she makes an incoherent sound as an answer, because his fingers have started moving again, spreading the wetness over her nether lips, coating the bundle of nerves that had given her so much pleasure last night.
Suddenly, though, the fingers are gone and so are his lips from her ears and the comforting pressure of his bulk next to her.
Before she can determine what has happened, his hands are on her legs, drawing them wide apart and she braces for the feeling of his manhood thrusting into her when another, completely unexpected sensation shoots through her sharply enough to make her cry out.
He has his mouth on her, his tongue eagerly lapping at her folds, sucking at her tender flesh and it is so wildly inappropriate, so shockingly vulgar it should make her pull back in outrage and disgust. But its dark in their tent and they are alone in the woods and so nobody can see her writhing in mindless pleasure under those uncouth ministrations and nobody can hear her beg for more until her release hits her with the force of a charging warhorse and leaves her sobbing and laughing and trembling in its wake.
She hasn't quite recovered when he thrusts into her none too gently but she welcomes the boldly physical anchor provided by the strong body above her and the big presence inside her because she somehow fears that otherwise she would just shatter into a million pieces and be blown away.
Having him moving inside her gives her a completely different kind of joy of not only being roused towards even more rapture, but to go that way together with him, feeling how urgency and need drive him just as mercilessly as they do her. She lifts her legs as high as she can and wraps them around his hips, seeking to have him as deep in her as possible and he grunts his appreciation, rewarding her with deeper, more forceful thrusts each of which sends a shockwave of sensations coursing through her body and tingling over her skin until she falls over the edge once more, this time taking him with her.
This time when he tries to roll away from her, she follows and clings to him, still overwhelmed by the wonders their physical union made her experience.
"I am so glad you found me," she whispers into his skin. "So glad you came to take me."
He draws her to him a bit tighter in response and she feels him nuzzling the crown of her head.
"How did you know where to look?" she asks the question she hadn't thought to ask before. "And why did you?"
He turns a bit towards her and draws the pelts of their bedding over them both before folding her into a tight and warming embrace. She decides that she would like to sleep like this every night from now on. She hasn't felt this safe, this warm and this protected for so long it feels like forever.
"Dreamt about you," he murmurs above her and startles her a bit. She had started to think she wasn't going to get an answer. "Almost every night for months. Always woke up either hard as a rock or covered in my own seed."
She wonders if she should tell him that she had similar dreams, but decides against it.
"Drove me fucking insane," he continues. "So, when the dreams showed you at the Vale, I thought I'd go there to get you out of my head."
He pauses for a while and she is battling some foolish disappointment that this wasn't the romantic declaration some obstinate part of her still hoped for.
"But when I saw you, I knew I couldn't leave without you." He presses a kiss into her hair. "Not again."
Tears prick at her eyes and she huddles even closer to him, stroking his chest in wordless thanks.
What counted, she thinks, is that he did come and that he did take her with him, consequences be damned.
And he'd dreamt of her. Just as she had of him.
Maybe it was romantic after all.