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The Awakening

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Somehow, Sansa managed to finally get some studying in.

Even though the Earl Grey lingered on her tongue, she took Econ notes and highlighted her study guide. Even with the image of Clegane’s strong, massive hands deftly washing teacups, Sansa was able to reread her notes about Jane Eyre and underline key passages. Even as Clegane’s Irish walking cap sat on the table, staring at her, begging to be returned to its owner, she made flashcards for her Intro to Anthropology class.

When the clock struck 5pm, Sansa couldn’t take it anymore.

She packed her study materials back in her knapsack, then made a cheese toastie for an early supper. After a few squares of chocolate and a glass of wine, Sansa took Clegane’s cap from the table and headed outside.

She hadn’t realized it was starting to drizzle. The scent of an oncoming storm was thick in the air, the sky a dark grey. The air seemed abuzz with electricity as Sansa crossed the yard to Clegane’s cabin. As she walked up the porch to his front door, she could smell cigarette smoke from the open window.

Sansa rapped gingerly on the door and stepped back. She waited three heartbeats until the door opened and Clegane’s hulking frame appeared behind the screen door.

“Hello,” he said simply.

“Hi.” Sansa fiddled nervously with the cap in her hand. “You left this on my table.”

Clegane looked at the cap, then at Sansa again. He opened the screen door and retrieved the hat with a nod. “Cheers.”

Sansa smiled politely. She cleared her throat and looked up at the sky. “Looks like rain.”

Clegane leaned his head out the door and looked upwards. “Aye.” He eyed Sansa and asked, “Have you studied yet?”

“Yes, actually.” She chuckled and added, “Anthropology’s going to drive me to drink.”

“What’s your poison?” Clegane asked.

Sansa shrugged. “A cheap bottle of rosé at my place.”

Clegane groaned and rolled his eyes. “Fuck that swill. You want a real drink, I’ve got something for you.”

Sansa brightened. “You do?”

“Call it a reward for studying well.”

Sansa grinned. She felt an immense win, that this brutish man had let his walls down even slightly to offer her a drink from his own stash. It was like solving a complex riddle to open a labyrinth. There may have been a whole maze yet to get through, but at least it was a start.

“I’ll just—wait one moment,” Sansa said, jutting her thumb behind her shoulder. “I’ll be right back.”

“Just walk in when you’re ready,” Clegane said, closing the screen door.

Sansa turned with a large grin and hurried to her cabin. She took an empty grocery tote and filled it with her rosé, her box of gourmet chocolates, and a few slices of bread and cheese. Sansa quickly checked her reflection in the mirror. She didn’t know why she suddenly cared what she looked like. Though handsome in his own way—yes, even she could admit that—he wasn’t exactly giving the models on the Paris runways a run for their money. Still, Sansa wanted to pretty. She brushed her hair and put a cardigan on over her short sleeve shirt.

Thunder rolled overhead as Sansa trekked back to Clegane’s cabin. She walked in as he instructed and closed the door to block the wind.

His cabin was almost identical to hers—a few mismatched pieces of furniture and different art hanging on the walls—but otherwise the same. The scent of cigarettes was thick in the air, followed by the sizzle of meat on a pan in the kitchen. Clegane was standing over the stove, tending to whatever he was cooking. Dirty dishes were piled in the sink and his leather jacket was draped over one of the kitchen chairs.

“Do you eat meat?” Clegane asked.

“Yes,” Sansa replied. She set the tote on the couch and approached the kitchen. “What are you making?”

Clegane took the skillet off the stove, turned the flame off, and stuck a fork in the massive steak he was cooking. He transferred the meat to a cutting board and sawed it in half with a large knife.

“Grab a plate. Third cabinet next to the sink.”

“I already ate,” Sansa said apologetically.

“You’ll want some meat in you for what we’re about to drink.”

Sansa giggled and took two plates from the cabinet. She set them on the table, along with utensils and glasses, and folded a pair of paper towels neatly. When Clegane was done cutting the meat, he turned with the platter and raised a brow at the neatly-set table.

“We’re not having tea with the Queen,” he said.

“I know,” Sansa said, grabbing the rosé from her tote. “But I thought it would look nice, anyway.”

“You and your aesthetics,” Clegane grumbled. “And put that away,” he said, motioning to the wine. “I told you, we’re having a real drink.”

Sansa smiled and shrugged. She sat at the table with her host loaded her plate with steak. It smelled buttery and looked perfectly medium rare. Clegane acquired an amber-colored bottle from one of the cabinets and poured a few fingers in Sansa’s glass. Lagavulin whiskey—at least ten years old as far as Sansa could tell from the bottle.

“I’ve never had Lagavulin,” she admitted.

Clegane sat at the table with his plate loaded and poured himself a glass. He raised his glass and said, “Tha thu a 'coimhead brèagha.”

Sansa smiled and asked, “What’s that mean?”

Clegane drank, keeping his eyes on her. When she didn’t get a response, Sansa tipped her glass towards him and drank. She coughed and sputtered as the fiery liquid slid down her throat.

Clegane laughed, a low rumble from deep within his chest. “Eat something. It’ll get easier.”

Sansa blushed and started in on her steak. Between chews she said, “You didn’t say you could cook.”

“Can’t,” Clegane admitted. He ripped a hunk of meat with his teeth and chewed loudly. “But every man should at least know how to cook a steak.”

“Fair enough.”

Clegane poured her another glass, swallowed, and said, “When you’re ready.”

Sansa raised her drink and said, “Here’s to you, here’s to me, if ever we should disagree, fuck you and here’s to me.”

Clegane grinned. “Naughty word from the little bird.”

Sansa raised a brow and drank. The whiskey went down smoother this time, like warm velvet. She was already feeling a hum radiating from her bones. More thunder rolled outside the cabin, then the pitter-patter of rain on the roof.

Clegane poured himself another draught and sipped it slowly. They ate in silence for a few moments, listening to the rain and thunder. Sansa took another bite and stared at her host as she chewed.

“Why did you invite me here?”

The question made Clegane stop eating. He lowered his fork and knife and said, “Do you regret coming already?”

“No, no,” Sansa laughed. “It’s just . . . you seem like the loner type. When we first met—”

“We’re only havin’ a drink here, little bird. Don’t read so much into it.”

“That’s another thing,” Sansa said, forking the last of her steak in her mouth. “Why do you call  me ‘little bird’?”

Clegane blinked a few times at Sansa. His jaw tightened as the wheels turned in his head. He finally grunted, poured himself another whiskey, and downed it completely. Finally, he said, “It’s your hair.”

Sansa furrowed her brows. “What?”

“Your hair reminds me of a cardinal in the winter against the snow. At sunset, it looks like the breast of a robin. And at night . . . like this . . .”

Clegane trailed off, blinking slowly at Sansa as his face softened. Her curious smile vanished, replaced by a startling feeling of vulnerability. It was as though he were peering directly into her soul, seeing her for all her flaws and mistakes and, yes, even beauty. She felt completely naked.

“Anyway,” Clegane rasped, “let’s have another.”

He poured Sansa more whiskey. She looked at the gold-hued drink and grinned as an idea popped into her head. “Shall we play a game?”

“Games are for children,” Clegane mumbled, pushing his empty plate aside.

“Come on.” Sansa rolled her eyes and took the bottle of whiskey from the table. She plopped down on the couch and retrieved the chocolate and bread from her tote. Sansa looked over at the table where Clegane was still sitting and waved him over. “I won’t bite you.”

With a grunt, Clegane got up from the table and joined Sansa on the couch.

“The game,” she said, “is Never Have I Ever.”

Her host rolled his eyes. “Bloody hell.”

“I’ll start.” Sansa held the bottle of whiskey by the neck as she thought of the first confession. “Never have I ever .  . . been in a fight.”

Clegane gave her a look and grabbed the bottle. He took a swig to indicate that he had, indeed, been in a fight or two in his life. “You won’t like the things you learn about me,” Clegane said, failing to suppress a smile.

“Go on, then,” Sansa laughed.

Clegane sighed heavily and said, “Never have I ever . . . voted Labour.”

Sansa took the bottle and drank.

“Quell surprise,” Clegane said, grinning.

“Never have I ever voted Tory.”

Clegane held up his hand and shook his head. “Never have I ever voted.”

Sansa laughed. She took a sip and smacked her lips. The whiskey was going straight to her head now. She felt light and airy, like she could dance until the sun came up. “Never have I ever . . . um . . . hunted deer.”

Clegane grabbed the bottle and drank. “Hunted a lot more than that in m’life.”

“Hush, it’s your turn.”

“You’re pushy when you drink,” Clegane said.

Sansa stuck her tongue out between her teeth and giggled. Clegane’s face reddened and he smiled. “Never ‘ave I ever . . . been to Australia.”

Sansa seized the bottle and sipped. “Gap year last year,” she said. “Never have I ever gotten a tattoo.”

“Hmmph,” Clegane snorted. He took the bottle and drank.

Sansa’s mouth flew open. “Really? Where?”

Clegane licked his lips, set the bottle down, and started to unbutton his shirt. Sansa’s heart seized. He pulled his shirt down from his left shoulder to reveal a curious yellow sigil with three black dogs. Sansa’s eyes lingered on Clegane’s bicep, the dark hair on his arm that looked oddly smooth to the touch. He wore a white undershirt but Sansa could still see the outline of his pecs and the large patch of black fur on his chest. She unconsciously gulped.

“What—er, what’s it mean?” Sansa asked.

Clegane put his shirt back on and smirked. “It would take too long to explain.”

Sansa offered him a weak grin. Her fuzzy, clumsy mind was still on his arms and biceps and chest and—

“Never have I ever watched a reality TV program,” Clegane said.

Sansa blinked from her stupor and laughed. She reached for the bottle and mumbled, “Prick.” Sansa took a swig and wiped her mouth. The room was spinning now. The rain pelted the roof steadily, and the clap of thunder every so often was like a gunshot that made Sansa jump.

“Your turn, love,” Clegane said.

Sansa looked at him. He was getting sloppy, as well—sprawled on the couch with one arm propped on the back and one foot on the coffee table. His face was flush and he had a mischievous grin glued to his face. Sansa liked it.

“Never have I ever shagged in a car.”

Clegane snorted a laugh. “Why am I not surprised?”

“Shut up,” Sansa giggled.

“Gimme that.” Clegane took the bottle from Sansa and drank heartily. He sighed and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Do I get to hear the details?” Sansa prodded. She jabbed him in the side with her foot. “Some lost love from long ago?”

Clegane’s smile vanished. He looked down the neck of the bottle and mumbled, “Never have I ever been in love.”

Sansa frowned. “You’ve never been in love?”

Clegane shook his head.

“Oh.”

Sansa stared at him, imagining him as a younger man. She thought of all the girls he might have been with, how many hearts he may have broken by not exchanging those three words. She envisioned him going to bed alone at night, walking through the park without someone. Sansa wondered what he would be doing if she weren’t here. Drinking alone, eating alone, being angry alone. Tears welled in her eyes.

“What’re you doing?” Clegane asked. “Are you—?”

“I’m not crying,” Sansa said, wiping her eyes.

“Oh, drink already,” Clegane growled. He handed her the bottle.

“How can you never have been in love?” Sansa asked, taking the whiskey.

Clegane rolled his eyes and said, “Let it go, little bird.”

“But everyone deserves to be in love.”

Sansa knew she was at the stage of being drunk where she was weepy and sentimental. Arya like to make fun of her for it. While her sister got more belligerent and bold with every drink, Sansa would wilt like a tulip and lament the world’s problems. The end result was always the same: too much hugging and a wicked hangover in the morning.

“Drink your truth, little bird,” Clegane said.

Sansa looked at the bottle. It was nearly empty already. She wondered how much she had drank. Was Clegane as sloshed as she was? Or did he have a higher tolerance as most men did? Regardless, he probably thought she was being ridiculous. Most people did. Poor, naïve Sansa—so pretty and stupid and trusting and—

“I think you deserve to be in love,” Sansa whispered.

Clegane’s face hardened. “You don’t know me well enough,” he said.

“But I do,” Sansa argued. The room spun and she put her hand on the coffee table to settle it. “You’re kind—”

“You’re drunk.”

“And you’re mean, but I think you’re pretending to be mean. I think you want to be around others.”

“Enough,” Clegane mumbled.

“I’m not wrong,” Sansa insisted, scooting closer to the large man. “You’re a good person. I can see it.”

“You know shit all, girl.” Clegane snatched the bottle from Sansa and put it on the floor by his end of the sofa. “Stop talking before you say something you’ll regret.”

“I don’t care how angry you are,” Sansa said defiantly. “I like you.”

Enough!” Clegane’s voice boomed in time to a loud clap of thunder.

Sansa jumped. For a brief moment she felt sober as she stared at Clegane’s fearsome eyes. Before she could utter an apology, Sansa felt her mouth watering. She then turned and, completely without grace, vomited on the coffee tab.