He moaned, and Sansa rose on her elbow to look at him.
He moans, but not because I made him moan.
His massive bulk stretched out across their bed, dwarfing the mattress; she looked a mere sapling in comparison to his endless breadth. He had fallen asleep on his back, lying spead eagled with vast arms thrown over her side of the bed. He had been there when she'd crept in at midnight, snuffing her candle out before she'd opened their bedchamber door as to not disturb his sleep. He'd slept badly of late, and she wanted him to catch up on his lost hours of rest as much as possible. It had been easy, disrobing as swiftly and silently as a cat before slipping in beside his still form to press her body against his hot flesh. He was feverish, and always had been, for as long as she'd known him; his skin was as hot as an open flame, a cruel shrine to the twisted, ruined mass of scarred tissue and bone that served as his face.
He had turned over in his sleep to face her, his dark hair streaming over the pillow behind him and falling over his enormous shoulder in jet tendrils. He had been growing his hair of late; it was longer than she had ever seen it. She knew better than to ask him to cut it; he would come to her when he'd grow tired of flipping it from his face. Sandor Clegane was not a vain man; truth be told, whatever beauty his face had held had been consumed by fire. His face had been stolen from him before he had begun to develop the comelyness he may or may not have been blessed with. Gods, even his voice had been stolen from him - flames had licked the soft hollow of his throat, charring his young vocal cords and leaving him with a low rasp that rang like a cracked bell. And so it was entirely bloody impossible that the man should ever develop an attachment to his own face; to the naked, shallow eye, Sandor Clegane looked like a monster, and a monster to most he remained.
He breathed shallow breaths, his ragged mouth twitching as he dragged in air through his hooked nose. The hair pooling over his shoulder and the nape of his neck fluttered as he exhaled, and she stretched out a pale hand to stroke it lightly, knowing he would not wake.
The first few weeks of their marriage had been hell. Warrior blood coursed through Sandor Clegane's veins. Since boyhood he had woken instantly to the slightest noise, the slightest shift in atmosphere, the slightest change in the bloody weather outside. Such was war, and such was the life of a soldier.
Sansa, whose sanity sometimes depended entirely on a good night's sleep, had consequently found her lord husband's frequent unrest extremely trying. Thankfully, over the last few moons he had grown to live with his shattered thigh and the knowledge that he would never fight again; and it had reflected in his sleep. He had never known such sweet rest, save from the tides of wine that had consumed him for more than half his dark and dreary life.
Tonight was not one of those nights. He was restless, shifting in his sleep with his mouth twisted into a frown. A pucker had formed between his jet brows, bringing them low over his eyes. He moaned again, his lips mumbling wordless nothings as he twitched again and again, his long thick fingers opening and closing inches from her face.
Sansa sat up to watch him. She could watch him for hours in this sweet slumber of his, when the burned disfigurement of his face lay hidden by his pillows and only the smooth side remained illuminated by the moonlight falling through their window. When his lips curled into almost a smile and when the jagged webs of war on his body were hidden by furs. When he became the man he could have been.
His lips twisted, heaving out broken words.
"No..." His voice was muffled against their bedding."No..."
Sansa frowned, pushing back the hair from his face. Why "no"? His face twitched at her touch, and he jerked violently, his heavy brows furrowed.
"No... no... please, please - no... don't... don't..."
The cords of his neck stood out like thick rope as he tossed in her wake. Please? Sandor Clegane was not a man of courtesy. She could count with the fingers on one hand how many times he had said please to her. That was simply his way; forceful, indomitable, ferocious. And she loved him for it.
But please ... that was worrying. It wasn't Sandor. She struggled to keep him together at the best of times, to stem his bleeding soul and keep his fragmented self from breaking apart. Please meant he was begging. Which meant he was dreaming again, and his dreams more often then not destroyed the careful scaffolds he and Sansa had built around his shattered being. His mouth was twitching, his old compulsive habit returning to give him comfort. He rolled over, his face pressed into the pillows.
And when he finally started screaming, Sansa was the first to hinder his weeping wounds, the gaping holes torn into his broken soul by a flaming brazier and a relentless hand twisted into his hair. She was the first to smooth cement into the cracks of his walls, the first to stop them from collapsing entirely. The first. Her arms encircled him, and desperately, fiercely clung to him as she willed him to wake. Wake up, Sandor. Wake up, for me.
He was burning.
His world was orange and red, yellow and gold. Shadows flitted amongst the flames, but they were gone within the blink of an eye. Mayhaps they perished in the blaze. Mayhaps they were ghosts from his childhood, from a time where he had a face and not half of one. Mayhaps they were others who had descended into Hell, tasted its bitter wine for themselves and returned while desperate for a second swallow, like himself.
Or mayhaps his sanity had well and truly flown the nest. Fire did that to you.
His skin was crisping up on his face, on his back, his hands... Gods, it was unbearable, the flash of fire against his soft flesh, against the wet jelly of his eyes... He was melting, melting all over again, except this time nobody would pull him away and douse him with ice water and healing oils. He was burning, Seven help him, burning beyond relief. His world shrank to the intolerable searing of his skin, the torturous decent into the underworld where fire reigned and flesh served only to burn like pork on a spit, crackling and weeping and singing away to reveal the bone underneath...
He cried, and his tears evaporated on his face. His screams were swallowed by the flames, which were swallowed by him in turn and charred his throat and chest, leaving only lumps of raw blistered flesh that throbbed and split open with every shuddering breath he took.
A young woman with red-gold hair stood and watched as he beat at himself frantically, trying to tame the flames that feasted on his skin like rabid dogs. She was beautiful, he knew that without even looking at her. He knew her, but there was nothing to be done. He belonged to fire; and like a jealous lover he belonged to fire and fire alone.
She watched him without moving, and as a phantom hand twisted into his hair and dragged his head down towards a fresh pit of flames, he felt a second, daintier hand join the first. He knew without looking whose hand it was, and he screamed.
He screamed until the blaze burned his voice away. And when he couldn't scream any longer, he screamed in his head, again and again until his shrieks and the everlasting unquenchable crackling of the fire were one and the same.
He woke up with a gasp, his broad chest heaving.
Her arms were still around him, twined around his neck as she knelt beside his damp, shivering body. His fear was infectious. Her heart skipped along with his as he lay in the tangle of her arms, his fierce face bloodless.
He looked so vulnerable, with those dark eyes of his locked in a tortured stare that made her weep for him. He was an open wound, barely keeping his fragile shell together. It was painful to watch his slow, torturous disintegration, watching him claw at the healing scabs of his heart and watch him bleed out in front of her. She clutched at him, inhaling his strong scent, and burrowing herself into the nest of his hair.
'Oh, Sandor... my love...'
He was hot, he was cold, he was utterly lost. She could feel the sticky glaze of his sweat against her naked skin, and her heart twisted. He is broken. And I cannot put him back together.
He threw his arms around her, pulling her close. She knelt there between his strong legs, arms twined close around his neck, cheek pressed against the ruin of his face. She could feel the healed ridges of his scars against her smooth skin, and a wetness on his face that wasn't sweat. He clutched at her as one clutches onto memories of a person passed, passed into the untouchable world beyond that of the living. He was a phoenix; proud, noble, beautiful; finding death in flame and reborn in the ashes. Sidestepping dark fire only to be consumed by them again. Her chest seared for him.
He broke down there in the warmth of her arms, great limbs shaking as she stroked his head and soothed him, kissing his raw, scarred ear and holding him in such ways no words can describe.
'There... shhh. I'm here, right here.' Her voice shook with suppressed tears. Hold them back. He does not need my pain. 'I'm always here.'
'Fire,' he croaked from within the mass of black and red hair and tangled limbs. She held him tighter still as his voice broke. 'Fire.'
'I know, my love. I'm here.'
Sansa kissed him all over, from his smooth cheek to his ruined one, from one dark brow to the other, from the pink shell-like side of his lips to the sad twisted ghost of his burned mouth. He shuddered at her touch, great strong arms locked vice-like around her body.
He shifted there under her kisses, and she pulled back from him to search his face, finding ashen torment in its depths. Dark brows pulled low over his eyes as he gazed back at her, muscle twitching in his cheek in the same familiar dance she had grown accustomed to in her years of knowing this great tragedy of a man. He pushed up from the furs of their martial bed without a word, striding to the bedroom window, as naked as his name day.
As if bidden by a thread, she followed him wordlessly. Her warm hand strayed to the small of his broad back as she leant against his scorching body, silent as she too stared out of the misted glass into the darkness beyond. They leant wordlessly against each other as the minutes wore on, as they gazed out into the night. The stars hung in the sky, oblivious to the troubles of those who lived their lives under their spangled nightly banner, totally ambivalent to the flaming curse of Sandor Clegane and his lady wife standing miles below them. It's strange, she thought as she watched those distant orbs, how the stars always remain the same. No matter what plays out below them. She glanced up at her husband, whose cheek was still twitching.
He held up a great, scarred hand.
'No more about it. I don't want your sympathy.'
Thank you very much, Sandor. 'I was worrie-'
He snapped his head towards her, teeth bared. 'Did you not hear? I bloody well said no more.'
Silence yawned between them. She withdrew her hand from him as if burned, turning back towards the bed. No sooner had she sat on the furs with her back turned towards him, did a strong hand gently pull her shoulder towards him with a firm tug.
Her eyes averted from his scorching gaze, she shook him off.
Gnarled hands pawed at her again. 'Bird.'
With a sigh, she turned to face him. He was still pale, but the vicious snap of his temper had vanished as suddenly as it had surfaced.
'Forgive me. A dog snaps when threatened.'
She shook her head, autumnal mane tumbling over her bare shoulders. 'When did I threaten you? I sought to comfort you. You pushed me away.'
'I know. Seven save me, I know.' He pulled her towards him, and she fell into his great arms, gazing into his fierce face. He hardly knows his own mind.
'I've never been a good man. Hells, I don't know what a good man is. But I know a good woman when I see one.' He gripped her tightly to his broad chest, and she sighed there in his grasp. 'But I've never known a woman such as you. Mayhaps it's the bloody she-wolf who rears her head from time to time.'
Sansa pulled herself from him, pushing black hair from his bloodless face with trembling fingers. 'You are too fierce to give into dreams, Sandor. Accept comfort when you can. It will help.' She kissed his hand, and his eyes sought hers hungrily. 'And I will always comfort you.'
Something incomprehensible twisted in the depths of his stare.
'Aye,' he breathed, coarse voice breaking. 'I know you will, little bird. You always do.'
She squeezed his hand, and the stars outside burned bright as she poured comfort into a greater and more beautiful light. His chest heaved in the semi-darkness.
He cleared his throat, customary hard line of his mouth returning. 'Now, girl. Bed.' He spoke in the manner in which one attempts to return to normality, puffing and muttering and manhandling her touch that made her heart swell for him. He will not need my body tonight, she thought as high colour gradually returned to that ruined, hell-kissed face. He needs sleep and comfort and the knowledge that I am there for him.
'Come on, girl. Into the furs. Or else you'll sleep all bloody morning and into the afternoon. And I'm naught but a lonely bastard at the best of times.'
He gently turned her body from him, folding her body onto the furs so that she lay on her side with her back towards him. He huffed as he slid into bed behind her, his hips against her buttocks and his nose against her neck. Strong arms crossed over her waist and stroked her navel as he drifted idly into sleep, his shallow breathing gradually deepening as the minutes passed.
She stared into the darkness, tensing with each small twitch of his body. The last thing she wanted was for him to fall back into his dreams; watching her strong, vicious warrior falling prey to grey dream-wolves broke her. As to the effect they had on him, she was not prepared to see it happen again tonight.
He murmured behind her and a wave of apprehension broke over her. Oh gods, not again. He will break. He huffed behind her, and she twisted in the tangle of their limbs to look at him. Moonlight fell across his sleeping face, and in the half-light, she watched his ruined lips move.
And there, in the hard early embers of morning, did her lord husband smile in his sleep, dreaming tales of dogs and songbirds. Gradually, the stars outside dimmed, and so did the dark flames that licked his dreams.