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Rebirth

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She had never looked so lovely than when she was clothed in black and yellow. Perhaps it was how the brightness of the yellow sought out the gold strands in her auburn hair. Perhaps it was how the black dogs of House Clegane stretched across her narrow back screamed she is mine .

Or perhaps it was that she was simply beautiful, glorious in her furs and simple white gown. Lady Clegane.

They had wed during a very short, simple ceremony in the godswood; Sansa was truly Winter's daughter and a southron ceremony would have been as unsuitable as her lord husband would be as a whore. And as Sandor had no home to call his own, north or south, it fell to Sansa's own beliefs to shape the manner of their union.

The hall was stuffy, heavy with sweat and laughter and wine. He stole a glance towards his lady wife, sitting beside him and a full head and shoulders shorter. Her little hand was hot in his. He could feel how slender her fingers were, utterly breakable in his grasp. So fragile. She's like glass. I could snap her with a twist of my fingers.

He could feel her trembling next to him. Her body was like a live wire, hot and tight and ready. Why? No sane woman would smile in her place, yet that radiant smile had been playing on her face all day long, and he was loath to part from her for even a few minutes. Her small, full mouth had turned down at the corners when he had excused himself from the celebrations to cool down in the courtyard, and when he returned she had slipped her hand into his with a wide smile and a sweaty sheen above her lip. She's excited. Why isn't she frightened? Does her idea of a bedding include a game of cyvasse and a tray of lemoncakes? He found he didn't want to know. She's too innocent to want this. I'll have her maiden blood on my cock and she'll cry. I'll fuck her bloody, and then she'll tell me she had no idea what was to come, that she didn't know she was to spread her legs for a dog. Only a whore could bear the touch of his burned face against her skin, the thrust of his hips against hers. Only a whore would willingly fuck a dog, a dog with a purse full of gold and a bloodied sword at his side. Only a whore.

And my little bird is no such thing. She looked so chaste, damn her. She was clothed in creamy white, her demure dress clinging to her slender waist like running water. His hands could easily wrap around that tiny midriff of hers and lift her as effortlessly as picking up a goblet of wine. That might come in useful tonight. Lifting her by her hips and sheathing her on him would be the most natural thing in the world, as basic as breathing and as beautiful as the ancient spangle of stars in the winter sky. I could make her sing, tonight and every night. Mayhaps I'll be singing too. Or howling. A bird and her dog; a dog and his bird. It was tragic, cataclysmic, a lemon in his eye and a longsword through his guts. And yet he craved her like a man half-mad, craved her like sweet wine on a weeping wound. Aye, and how could I not?

She was beautiful, his pretty little bird, laughing delicately with those pink lips of hers and her slim hand branding her desire into the inside of his thigh. She wants me, damn me. Wants me. His past, present and future had shrunk to the fingers curling around his thigh and the painful swell of his manhood straining against his breeches. Blood thundered through his brain, through his loins like white hot fire. Gods, let me have her.

She turned to him with a laugh on her lips, and he shattered there in her gaze. Fuck this. Fuck this, I'm not waiting any longer. I need her. He stood up so suddenly his chair tipped backwards and fell with a crash that bought all eyes to the dais. Sansa looked at him with wide blue eyes, her mouth agape as the room around them fell silent. Seven Hells. He offered her his hand, completely out of his depth, but knowing she would appreciate the pretence. I'd sooner fling her over my shoulder. No man acts like this in the bedroom.

"My lady?"

His voice was harsh and cracked, and the hand he held out to her was damp with sweat. Get me out of here. Get me out of this mummer's farce. He could feel half a hundred eyes boring into the profile of his ruined face, and the other at the crutch of his breeches.

Her face split into a dazzling smile, all white teeth and rosy lips and flushed cheeks. She slipped her hand into his and rose gracefully, beaming as she turned to the crowd of guests waiting expectantly in front of them. "Our noble guests," she sang as she squeezed Sandor's hand. "Thank you for sharing the joy of our union with my lord and I today. There is no higher honour than receiving such esteemed guests at our table tonight." Her voice rang clear, sweet and pure. She's bloody good at this.

He gave her a tug. Come on, little bird.

"The lord is eager to attend his own bedding!" Raucous laughter sprang up from the benches. Like wildfire, the excitement of performing the bedding swept through the crowd, and Sandor suddenly found himself swarmed by sweating bodies, stinking of wine and piss and an ill-feigned interest in what he would manage to accomplish with his cock tonight.

"The bedding!"

"The bedding!"

"Bed them! Bed them! Let's see what goes where!"

Gods. "There will be no fucking bedding," he snarled as he tore himself free from the damp hands that had begun to paw at his clothing. "Fuck off , before someone dies tonight."

"It's tradition!" Some idiot was either soft in the head or wasn't man enough to handle his drink; no sane or sober man would dare contradict Sandor Clegane. I could crush his head with my fist. His fingers twitched.

"Tradition means fuck all in this household, you bloody buggering fool." His hand had been ripped away from Sansa's as the bedding had commenced, and he shoved his way back to her with a face like thunder. She was breathless, flushed with embarrassment as he grasped her wrist and tugged her towards him. A man held onto her other wrist as she was pulled into Sandor's chest, relentless in his determination to provide the baying guests a traditional bedding ritual. He started as he suddenly felt the kiss of metal against his skin, and hot breath against the back of his neck as Sandor wrenched him away from Sansa with enough force to rip his am out of the socket. I might before the night is over. I'd make him fucking eat it after as well.

"If you lay one more finger on her, I'll rip you your own cunt to play with." He growled, laying his dagger at the small of the man's back, the blade sinking into his soft white skin. Can't remember even unsheathing it. "Believe that, you piece of fucking filth."

His fingers were iron around her wrist as he ploughed his way through the throng of drunken guests, every demand for a proper bedding bringing his brows lower and lower over the fury that were his eyes. Keep asking, and there'll be another Red Wedding on our hands.

His little bird squeaked as he dragged her like a sack full of potatoes towards the door, mumbling apologies to anyone who could hear her over the din. He strode out of the door and no sooner had the reach the privacy of the empty corridor did he grip her narrow shoulders with an intensity that made her flinch.

"Did you want to take part in the bedding?" His voice whipped out much harder than he had meant it to, cutting her to the bone. Her lips were trembling.

"No." Her face was flushed, high colour spreading over her fine cheekbones. "Their hands... they were all over me. Thank you for taking me away, my lord."

"Sandor." He pulled her close, their breath mingling as one. "You're my lady wife now, little bird. You may not want them to touch you and look at you, but I can." He smoothed his hands over her spine, and she shuddered, her mouth forming a little o as she dragged in a ragged breath. He was hard and tight against his breeches again, just looking at that plump mouth of hers and the bead of sweat that lay shivering on her collarbone. Seven fucking Hells.

Her eyes were wide in the dim light. "I know, Sandor." She took his hand, soft skin against his callused palm. "I know." Her autumnal hair shone in the light thrown from the torchlight above. She's the Maiden herself. But not for long.

His chest was tight, his breeches were tight; Seven save me, I need to make her mine. Tonight. Now. His hand closed around hers with a decisive slap , tugging her towards the stairs as desperately as a half-drowned sailor clings to driftwood. She gasped as he suddenly scooped her up in his arms, as effortlessly and as fluidly as molten gold.

"Sandor!"

He took the stairs two at a time, struggling on his ruined leg, his breath sawing in his chest.

"Put me down, ser - " He shouldered his way into their bedchamber, hardly noticing the flames that licked the hearth, hardly noticing the flagon of wine that stood on their bedside table. Aye, she's all the wine I need. She's all woman, damn her, she's all a man could ever need. She was small and warm in his arms, struggling like a wolf pup and so bloody insistent, she barely stopped squirming and he liked it, he liked it when she fought back and showed him the wolf inside, the she-wolf buried under her plumage.

She staggered when he set her down, her eyes icy. "There was absolutely no need - "

He cut her off, his hands palming her hips as he chafed his low rasp, deep and intense and dark. "You say you know you're mine, girl." His eyes devoured her in the light of the hearth; her hair was alight, red and orange and golden, pure gold. Such a pretty, pretty little bird. "Then show me. Show me how you know you're mine. Gods, girl, I've waited long enough." She shuddered under his hands. "Show me."

Her eyes were forget-me-not blue. They were the last things he saw before she twined her arms around his neck and brought her lips to his.


His mouth was hard on hers as he gripped her waist painfully, the hard hooks of his fingers digging into her soft flesh. I'll have bruises tomorrow morning, she thought. But she didn't care, and kissed him back with a wild abandon that made them die a hundred deaths there in the tangle of her arms and copper hair, as she kissed him with her heart on lips and fire in her stomach.

He groaned under her mouth, long and low and full of need, of hot desperate need that inflamed her and sent a flash of fire over her skin and down her spine. He was everything she knew in that very moment; she drowned in his lips and in his hard hands as he slowly dragged his fingers from waist to hips, from hips to her behind, cupping her and stroking her as she shuddered in her cage of hard muscle and hot, sweating flesh.

Her lips throbbed when he kissed her; they yearned more when he broke away. Come back. She shuddered as he leant close to her, his ragged breathing hot and heavy on her ear, his hard, callused hands drawing a blazing trail down into her loins.

"You're mine, little bird." I know. His voice was hot ash, harsh and broken and deep; he was like poison to her, sweet poison - her death, but what a beautiful death it was. Sansa died there in his arms; died and was reborn as one with him. She wasn't Sansa without him by her side, without his arms around her.

Her hands were full of his coarse black hair, long strands running though her fingers like water. She tugged at him, wanting to feel his mouth claim hers as his own, but he pulled against her.

"Look at me."

His thumb brushed her cheekbone like a whisper, gentler than she thought possible. Her eyes lingered on the dark hair creeping above the open neck of his shirt, then to the vast expanse of hard muscle across his chest... he was all man, and he was fire; he burned her, as flames long ago had burned him. Flames had claimed him as their own that day, and in turn he claimed her with his dark, fiery touch; he would never know how closely he resembled his own Hell.

His hand found her chin and dragged her face up to his own; his handling was rough, and she twisted in his grip.

His harsh voice was brutal against her sensitive ears. "Stop squirming, damn you, and look at me." His brows were pulled down close over the hollows of his eyes, hard and dark and desperate; something strange reared in those grey depths, a lonely fragility that fought and bit and twisted against itself, but was nevertheless there. Ashamed of his weakness, yet hateful of the mask created to hide it, he lay trapped in his own sorrow; it took Sansa's lips to draw him out of his darkness and make him the man he could have been.

All these things she knew as she looked at him with hard, clear eyes. She was an extension of him, no matter how many times he had tried to cut the thread that bound them together with angry words and violent gestures. He had given her a part of his soul the day the story of his long, slow descent into Hell had come tumbling from his scarred lips in a drunken stream.

His ruined mouth opened to form the words his throat was too choked to say. His lips twitching like a crushed spider, he looked her hard in the eyes, with his brows set in that hard way she was so accustomed to.

"I'm yours, little bird. Gods know how much it shames me to say it. But I am. " He stared down at her with eyes full of that strange light; that same light that screamed I'm vulnerable. "And you've known it the whole time, you bloody buggering woman. You've always known." His rough lips were back under her ear and she sighed, her hands tightening in his hair as his nose skimmed the length of her jaw.

"We both have, ser." Her voice was tremulous under his touch.

He pulled away from her again, sliding one large hand down the front of her bodice and wrenching the fabric towards his chest with a loud rip; and suddenly her naked breasts were raised with goosepimples and her split gown hung low around her hips. He raked his eyes down her pale flesh and grinned; for a moment the ghost of the Hound lingered about his crooked, ruined smile and dark, hungry eyes.

Sandor Clegane drew her close and threw her over his broad shoulder in one fluid movement, striding to the bed standing in the corner of the room. "Aye, you have the right of it, little bird." he growled, and Sansa felt the warmth between her legs burst into hot, desperate flames as he flung her down onto the mattress and knelt over her, ripping off his shirt to reveal his broad chest. His rough hands slid up her thighs and beyond. "I do believe I'll have a song from you tonight."

She moaned. I'll sing for you, all night. 

Chapter Text

She had woken to a cold, sterile bed once more. The familiar hulking shape of her husband lying beside her was absent for the third dawn in a row. Only the indentation of his muscled body had remained, a poor substitute for the real thing and a mere ghost of the man himself.

It was a little thing, but it hurt just the same. The little things always hurt.

"Sandor?"

He was breaking his fast at the very top of the room, his vast shoulders tight as he spooned gruel into his ruined mouth. She tripped up to him, smiling that open, generous smile he had coaxed out of her over the years. Calculating, brutal and totally indomitable in the field, he had also proved to be victorious in other battles as well; battles that transcended physical combat and a deft swordhand. He had destroyed Sansa's armour, her shield of courtesy, and taught her to open herself to him.
His ungainliness as he sat in a chair far too small for him brought a smile to her lips. He was simply too large to be allowed; his height was unmatched save for a handful of other monsters from across the land. She slipped a hand over the back of his neck. He's so tight, she thought, kneading his taut muscles. It cannot be of benefit to him. Mayhaps it is behind his silence of late.

He sighed heavily as she massaged his broad shoulders, her slim deft fingers loosening the knots deeply buried in his powerful body. He caught his breath as she worked at a particularly tight area, her small circular motions easing the tension there, like bittersweet hooks drawing out the soreness of his soul.

"That's enough, little bird."

He shifted from under her touch and she withdrew, pulling out the chair beside him and folding into it gracefully. A slight line had formed on her brow, pulling her fine eyebrows together.

"You rose early this morning, my lord." Her voice was bright, but she knew he sensed something else behind it. She reached for the loaf sitting in front of him and tore it in half, lifting a chunk of soft white bread to her lips.

He continued to eat his gruel, his spoon hitting the sides of his bowl with a sharp clink that rang in her ears. Never speaking, he gulped down his flagon of water like a man parched. Not wine, she noticed while she watched him grimace as he drank. But he misses it. He'd be smiling by now if that flagon was full of wine. Smiling or angry, one of the two.

His chair screeched as it scraped along the hard stone floor. He rose, his scarred mouth set in a hard line as he looked at her with steel grey eyes. He looks tired, and wary. So very wary. Her stomach flickered with worry as her eyes travelled over the ruined face she'd come to love. Dark bruises ringed his eyes and his skin stretched tight over his skull; he looked more gaunt than ever, and the unhealthy sallowness of his pallor unnerved her. She stretched out her arm and caught him as he brushed past her.

"Sandor..."

He looked down at her stiffly, his forearm tight in her grip. He was flexing his hands, she could see that, and his eyes were dark. Dark with violence, dark with turmoil, it varied. He had been a different man a few days ago, his chest heaving with that gruff burst of mirth that made her heart skip. Something dark had evidently risen in the night and caught him in its jaws, shaking all the lightness out of him.

She tried again. "Sandor, my love, are you feeling alright? You seem out of sorts... Perhaps you should stay inside today..." She quelled under the look he gave her, black brows pulled low over his bruised eyes .

She was well used to these silent, brooding fits that would consume her husband from time to time; she took it as a price to be expected from a soul as battered and tormented as his was. And still is. It was best to leave him to himself on such days, but be readily available to offer the shelter of her arms and lips if desired; some days he would lose himself in her body for hours at a time and emerge only to eat or drink or sleep. On others he would languish silently without so much as a word in her direction, spending his lonely hours in solitude before creeping back to their bedchamber in the early hours of the morning.

He ached those days, she knew, ached for himself and the ghost of a man who never became. He was a damaged man, broken beyond repair; still she fought tirelessly to heal him, to try and rid him of the hatred and bitterness that had clung to his soul for so many years. But every so often he was completely lost to her, like a rock in estuary sands; isolated beyond reach.

He looked down at her face, his eyes unreadable. A lock of hair curled over her breastbone and he tucked it back behind her neck, his thick fingers holding the strands far more delicately than she thought they were capable of.

"Don't worry about me, little bird." His voice was gruff, forced.

She picked at the loaf in her hands. "How could I not? You look ill, Sandor. You need to rest."

His mouth twitched . "I'll survive."

Chunks of bread now littered her lap. She continued picking. "And I believe you won't. Please, Sandor."

He was as stubborn as his old name sake, the grim set of his mouth screaming defiance. "Will you stop me from doing what I want, little bird? Will you hold me back with those thin little arms of yours?"

She stared down at her hands, picking. So easy to rile. "Sandor, please. I... worry, nothing more. Now stop this..."

The muscle in his ruined cheek jumped violently, his mouth now twitching with abandon. "Stop what?" The gruesome twist of his lips still unnerved her, though she'd rather die than admit it to him. He was relentless. "Out with it, girl."

Pick, pick, pick. Her fingers couldn't stop.

His voice was like an axe blade to her ear. "Now."

"I worry about you, Sandor. Worry and stay awake half the night until you come back to me. I want you to be happy, and I want you to stay with me. I can make you happy. I have made you happy." She picked at the bread in her lap. "Being angry with me won't help. All I want is you... All I want is for you to stay with me today."

He snorted. "You mean you can't abide me when I'm like this. That's why I remove myself for days as a time, mayhaps you noticed." His voice was deep, dark and bitter. "If you're lucky, my useless fucking leg might cause me to trip and snap my neck. Or some little cunt in the woods might mistake me for a monster, and shoot an arrow through my eye." He laughed completely without humour, spitting out his mirthless bark. "Gods, what a sweet way to die. Mayhaps I should pray to those Gods you like so well, ask them to kill me in my sleep. Would that make you happier?"

She gaped at him. His black fury overwhelmed her. "Sandor, please! Do not talk of s - such things... " Why is he like this? Why has he always been like this?

"Don't talk of the truth, you mean? I'm good at telling the truth, that's why I used to terrify you stupid back in King's Landing. Hateful, you called me, I remember. Am I still hateful to you?" Here and now, a hundred times yes.

A pause. And then -

"Seven hells, girl, stop that fucking picking."

Wordlessly, she stood up, letting the mutilated loaf fall to the floor as she swept away from him.

She made her way to their bedchamber, her feet echoing along the stone. Her anger was like a stone in her chest and she was breathing hard by the time she'd blindly crashed up the staircase and stopped in front of the heavy wooden door. Slapping her palm against it, she pushed it open and threw herself on the bed where they had joined countless times. When he's not wrapped up in himself. She could see the indentation their bodies had made over the month they had been wed.

She sat there until her backside grew numb, staring unseeingly through the yellowed glass of the window. The sky was a slate-grey canvas, deepening to a stormy violet that hung ominously over the distant mountains. There's a storm coming. She shivered, wrapping her arms around her. I hope he's not outside when it breaks over our heads.

A knock at the door made her jump. "Yes?"

"My lady?" The pallid face of her handmaid appeared around the door. "I brought up the embroidery you requested this morning."

"Oh - " She frowned. "Oh, yes. Bring it here. I have a few hours to spare." She didn't have anything else to do, besides sit at her window and cry for herself, and for the broken, bitter man she called her husband.

"As you say, my lady." Her handmaid was a sweet girl, quiet and eager to please. Sansa couldn't face the still silence of the chamber, with nothing but the distant rumbling of thunder rolling across the skies to keep her company. She called out as the girl made to leave.

"Joanna - !" She stood up, and the storm broke above them with an almighty crash. "Stay with me for a time. The weather unsettles me so."

The girl curtsied. "As you say, my lady."

Several hours had passed before she heard his familiar heavy gait ascend the stairwell. He used to be so strong and quick. Whole. In body, at least. His strength remained, that was for sure; his massive bulk was formidable in the field, and intoxicating in bed. But the badly-healed wound in his thigh had severely diminished his speed and agility, thus ending his career as a professional killer. And becoming Sandor. The Hound is dead.

He shouldered his way through the door, dripping wet and his face like thunder.

"Out," he snarled at the handmaid, who threw Sansa a stricken look before ducking around Sandor and scurrying down the stairwell, her hurried footsteps echoing against the stone.

Sansa looked up at him reproachfully. "Why did you speak to her so?"

He bore down on her like a wounded bull. "Because I want to speak to you."

"You could have asked her like a man befitting of your station." Her voice was mild, but still his face darkened.

"What, a dog? Since when did I stop being a fucking dog?"

She looked up at him steadily, completely and utterly at sea. He was all bluster, she knew it. "Since the moment you stepped foot on Quiet Isle. Since the moment you draped House Clegane's sigil over my shoulders and took me for your wife." Her eyes never left his. "There's the man I love somewhere under all that anger, Sandor. Try and find him."

A fierce battle played in his eyes at her words; black rage and hot, prickly remorse matched each other blow for blow. He's lost, and he has no idea how lost he is. A wild upheaval of emotion gripped his ruined features and twisted them; he looked like a man half mad with sorrow. He fell to his knees in front of her, his face ashen.

He opened his mouth, but no words were spoken. He knelt there in front of her like a man beaten, his lips struggling to form the words he so desperately wanted to say.

"Forgive me," he finally croaked, his voice hoarse. His broad shoulders trembled. "I'm no... suitable husband for you." He bowed his head and struck the floor with his fist. "Seven hells... Sansa, I've never apologised for who I am. But you... you make me realise what I am. You stand there, all pure and innocent and so fucking righteous. And me..." His voice broke. "I'm just a dog, a dog who'll rip your fucking face off, whatever the cost. I always have been. It helped me, saved me."

She looked at him kneeling there on the floor, so big and powerful, and yet his shoulders sagged with a despondence that disturbed her. Get up. Please, get up and be the man I know you are.

His deep voice was no louder than a whisper now, ragged and painful and so raw, like an open wound in salty tide. "Gods know I don't want to hurt you, girl. I'd rather hurt myself. I do hurt myself." He raised his head, and his eyes were empty tunnels. "What was that song you sang to me during the battle of Blackwater? Took that from you as well, didn't I? Held a dagger to your throat and made you sing." The corner of his mouth twisted. "Aren't I a real man, little bird, snatching songs from little girls at knifepoint?"
He was lost in his own bitterness. She slid fom her seat to join him on the floor, grasping his wrist. "I sang you Gentle Mother, Font of Mercy."

"Teach us all a kinder way." He met her eyes, and gripped her hands fiercely, painfully, so tight she wondered whether he would ever let her go. "Teach me that way, little bird. Gods know I need it. Please. Please."

Gentle Mother, strength of women. She slid her arms around his thick neck, her smooth cheek pressed against his disfigured one. He needs me.

"I will, Sandor." She brushed his dark hair from his face, ran her hands over his stubble, pressed her lips to his forehead. She could feel the puckers of his tortured expression on his skin, and she smoothed them out with a little smile on her face. "I will."

Bitter winds howled at their window, but their bedchamber was as warm and dry as shedded leaves. Her arms were still locked round his neck, and she drew them down over his shoulder blades, pressing her palms against the wet fabric. She kneaded the hard, tight muscles there, and he sighed, his broad chest rising and then falling sharply.

"Now," she said as she dug hard fingers into the knotted dip of his neck. He groaned under her touch, arching his spine. "Where were we?"

Chapter Text

He woke as suddenly as if someone has screamed in his ear.

He was used to waking up quickly; it did not do to linger in sleep while battle horns blew outside the tents. Fight, eat, snatch some sleep when you could. That was war.

His little bird however, was a different case. It seemed as if she fell down a a very long, dark tunnel during the night, taking hours to crawl back into the morning light. And when she emerged, she was blinded and bleary, throwing her hands over her eyes to shield them from the glare. Perhaps it was something to do with the heavy food they indulged in, perhaps it was sweet exhaustion from when their bodies had joined the night before; either way, in sleep she was lost to him.

He turned to face her, throwing his arm out to touch her hair or pull her close, but only the indentation of her body remained in the nest of furs they called bed. He was on his feet in an instant, already padding through the room as silently as a ghost.

He found her on her knees in front of the privy, as if in prayer. She retched noisily, hawking up last night's stew. The sour smell of vomit hung heavy in the air. She turned her head slightly as she heard him enter, making shooing motion with her hands.

"You do not have to see this." She was trembling. "Go and break your fast, my love. I'll be with you in a few min -" She wheeled back in time to vomit violently into the privy. He scooped her heavy curtain of hair away from her damp face, rubbing her narrow back as she heaved.

"Go away," she croaked when she'd finished, wiping her mouth with her forearm. He ignored her, his hand moving in circles between her shoulder blades. Her skin was like an open flame, hot and sticky to touch.

"You're burning up, little bird. You've probably got some sort of fever." She got up shakily and made to brush past him, but he blocked her path. "Go back to bed. It'll pass. I'll bring you something to cool you."

She shook her head, her eyes bleary. "I've got too much to do. I'm alright, really."

"Go to bed."

"Why? I've been like this for days now, it has not made the slightest difference."

Why must she be so fucking difficult all the time? "You're useless like this," he told her bluntly. "You're shaking, look." He held up her wrist before her face. "I'm not having you being a martyr and spilling wine all over the place with your tremors, girl. You'll drop your embroidery things and I'll end up with a fucking needle through my foot. Now, off to bed."

She looked at him, her small mouth set in a hard, thin line that defied all authority.

"Get to bed, girl, before I throw you over my shoulder and tie you down there."

She defies me, and I let her do it again and again and again. I can't say no to her, damn her. Damn her into the Seven bloody Hells. She crossed her arms over her breasts, frowning.

She looked immovable, like petrified wood. Gods, he thought as he flipped her over his shoulder as promised and strode over to their bed. She's more bloody mule than bird. She beat weakly at his back with each step he took, but he paid her no heed; her pounding fists could easily have been pillow down.

He set her down gently, pulling furs over her naked body. She looked bloodless; her freckles stood out sharply against her milky white skin. Pretty little bird. Only her collarbone and upwards were visible by the time he'd finished piling covers over her.

"Now stay there," he growled as she glared up at him, swaddled in fur. "Don't fuck around trying to do some bloody Great Deed you don't need to do. Just lie there, sleep, get some rest." He dumped a pail next to her head unceremoniously. "Spew in that. Don't bother going to the privy, you'll just make a bloody mess." He made his way to the door, the corners of his ruined mouth curling upwards as she threw daggers at him with her eyes. "I'll be up now. Don't move."

He pulled on a pair of breeches and a roughspun shirt before tramping down the stairs, limping. The ache in his thigh pounded dully; it had never truly went away, and he could feel it today more than ever. Bloody thing. It was as if someone had stripped him naked and thrown him into the street; he felt completely vulnerable without it, as if someone had taken his heart or his lungs away and eaten them in front of him.

Sansa hadn't understood. She had twined her arms him, her fiery hair against his face. "You're still the greatest warrior in Westeros," she'd said, smiling. "Nobody handles a sword like you do." It's not the same, he'd wanted to scream in her face until she understood, until she felt a tiny fraction of what he was feeling. It will never be the same. I'm broken, it's over. I will never fight again.

He trailed slowly across the stone floor. It's for the best. If it keeps her safe, then it's worth it.

He has lost himself the day his face had been kissed by fire. The spray of blood across his face had sometimes brought him to life and reanimated his dead, burned heart, but it was an empty, cursed life that dragged him even deeper into his own suffering. But she had found him, that little bird. She had found and sewn together each torn fragment of himself he had discarded over the years, until he was not lost anymore. True, he wasn't quite found; but he was the nearest thing to it. And that was more than he could have ever have asked for.

She's all I have now. Gods be good, never let me lose her.


 

She was sweating underneath the pile of furs.

She could feel the trapped warmth of animal hair against her naked body, and she kicked her legs free and let them hang over the edge of the bed, long and slender. The cold air bit at her flesh, making her shiver.

She lounged on their bed, twisting her head around to look out the window. The sky was a flat grey, overcast and dull. But comforting. She liked days like this; it gave her an excuse to stay inside, using the threat of rain an overcast sky always carried as her motive. A formation of ducks flew into the distant mountains, an she watched them idly, letting her mind drift to the night before where Sandor had taken her desperately, like a parched man drinks sweet wine after days without. The firelight had glimmered on the scarred chaos that was his skin, layer upon layer of healed white tissue that criss crossed his body like a wooden opponent in a tourney ground. He was so big, so rough but she liked it, she liked it when he pinned her down with his legs and twisted her hair in his hand as they reached the peak of their union.

Her limbs were made of stone; perhaps Sandor was right, perhaps she was coming down with something. She had been too tired of late to appease Sandor's need of her, leaving him to eek out his own method of satisfaction. She heard him sometimes, when he thought he was alone in their bedchamber, not knowing that she had frozen outside their door, listening to him rasp her name as he rode out his climax. He fell asleep straight after more often than not, with sticky hands and a peaceful smile on his ruined face.

She'd been glad when he had, to tell the truth; her legs felt curiously swollen, as if they were filled to the brim with water and weighted down with rocks. She had only ever experienced it during her moonblood, and that was only one or twice -

She suddenly sat bolt upright. My moonblood.

Her queasiness and feverish brow forgotten, she shivered as violently as if a bucket of icy water had been thrown over her. Oh Gods. It can't be. She flew through time, straining to remember the last time she'd woken to find blood between her legs. A week before the wedding. She was late, far later than she'd ever been before.

She hadn't even heard him ascend the steps, and he shouldered his way through the door roughly, as he always did. He had a damp cloth and a bowl in his hand.

"Bloody hell, you've managed to stay in bed this time."

She looked at him blankly, the furs lying around her thighs. He stared at her, his customary hard look crossing his face as she gazed at him, thinking, questioning...

Her thoughts tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. "My moonblood has not arrived, Sandor. Nor did it last month."

He gaped at her, his mouth sagging slightly as he held the cloth in midair.

She continued, her heart beating against her chest so loudly it was impossible to not hear it. "It has not been confirmed... yet. But I'm late. And the sickness..." She swallowed painfully. Say something. "My mother... my mother used to complain of morning sickness. I remember her getting up every morning with her hand over her mouth. She was with child with Rickon then." She scuffed her feet along the wooden floorboards. "The sickness... my moonblood... I - I think I'm with child, Sandor."

He was made of ice, of stone, or something that had frozen him completely to the ground he stood on. His eyes were wide in his bloodless face, grey ringed with white. Gods, let him say something, anything.

His face flickered and came to life. "Hells... Why?" he croaked, gesturing at her stomach with a large callused hand. "How?"

"Whatever do you mean, how?" she snapped. Does anything ever please him? "How do you think children are made? Pray to the Mother and hope for the best?"

Her sudden fury shocked him, and she could see from the sudden twist of his features he was rearing up to meet her mid-blow.

"How many women do you think I've had, girl? More than you could guess, and I've never had any whelps from any of them."

Is he truly so foolish? Her bitter disappointment in his reaction ignited something in her, something that made her long to shake him until the storm that played across his brow had gone. "The only women you ever lay with were harlots," she spat, clawing at the furs that had fallen around her hips when she'd sat up. "Women who drink moon tea daily, women who don't want bastards from their loyal customers. Do not compare me with them, Sandor. He's your child, and I mean to keep him."

"Him?" He was aghast. "It's a boy? An heir?"

"He might be."

He stared at her with those hard eyes of his, his twisted mouth twitching. And then from his chest ripped a laugh, a harsh bitter snarl that left her insides cold. "Gods, an heir for House Clegane, how bloody tragic. And a worthless get if it's a girl."

Her jaw fell open. "Sandor!"

His eyes flashed and suddenly he was kneeling before her within seconds, his large hands wrapped around her wrists. "Can't you see, girl? You carry a pup, dregs from a dog's seed." His dark eyes were cruel in the hard morning light. "You're not a Stark anymore, girl. You're a Clegane now, and Cleganes aren't worth shit. You should have married some high lord's son. You'd be with child by now as well, except you'd have a highborn whelp in that womb of yours, not some sad offshoot from some bloody hound." His voice dripped with bitterness.

Her voice was slow, deliberate. "I don't want this child... because he is yours?"

His eyes were black fire; hollowed pits that stripped her down to her very core. "You should have married another man, damn you. You'd have fucked someone worth fucking,and I could've died and rotted in some shithole inn. That's what we should've done." His fist struck the mattress; she felt the frame tremble beneath her.

Her wrist were still imprisoned in his iron grip; her hands were slowly turning numb.

"Sandor..."

He cut across her. "I want the best for you, little bird. I just can't give you the best. Why do you think I'm acting like this now? Am I being hateful again?" His loomed over her, huge and impossibly broad. "Hateful or not, you need someone else, girl, someone who can give you the life you want. Fuck my life, I have no life. But I'll make sure you'll have one." His jet brows slanted low over the dark pits of his eyes, devouring her in his black intensity.

She gazed at him, looking past his ruined face and angry eyes. "By ridding me of something you and I created together?" She was appalled. "No. No. Never. I want this child, Sandor. And so do you. I know you do, I'm not a stupid little girl."

His jaw had set in that hard line she knew so well, stubborn and defiant, but his throat worked, his face twitching with some naked emotion he couldn't control. He opened his mouth, closed it, and opened it again. He looks so lost. His eyes had dimmed; his ruined face looked wrong without the wildfire that were his eyes, the scorching gaze that left her naked and raw in their wake.

"Do you want this child?" Her voice was gentle. Tempt him out with soft words .

He seemed incapable of speech. He nodded tersely, his black hair hanging limply as he bowed his head towards the mattress. He was a big man, dwarfing almost everyone he met, yet he looked oddly insignificant as he brooded on his knees in front of her. She waited for the words she knew would eventually come.

His voice was raw, as if his throat had been flayed. "Aye, bird." He met her eyes, grey into blue. "Gods hear me say it, I do."

And he smiled his crooked smile as she beamed at him, the skin over his cheekbones stretching over his skull. Perhaps fatherhood will soften him. Her heart felt a hundred pounds lighter, a nightingale singing in her breast as she reflected on the little life that quickened within her, the little life she and Sandor had created.

She threw her arms around him; he was so broad her fingers refused to touch eachother over the vast expanse of his muscled back. His large, corded arms were like feathers around her, barely touching her skin.

"You won't crush the child if you embrace me as usual, Sandor..."

His voice was like rough sand in her ear. "What, and risk my lady wife's fury? You near snapped my neck earlier, bird. Between my ruined leg and soft heart you could overpower me easily." He laughed his short, sharp bark, rumbling through his chest like a drum. "But don't count on it, girl. I'm still the same old evil dog as I've always been."

She pulled back from his chest."Yes, you are. But have you ever seen a dog kill its bitch?"

He looked at her hard, his eyes unreadable. Something strange twisted in their depths, and his mouth twisted as the fire in his eyes flickered. "No, I haven't. But you're not a dog's bitch, girl. You've got a bloody big wolf as your sigil; and that's what you are."

She clung to him, breathing in his scent. He smells of sweat and horses. And of me. Her dead father's voice resonated from some long forgotten conversation as Sandor stretched out beside her on their bed, his rough hand falling across her stomach; wolves mate for life, Sansa.

Chapter Text

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.

Kill me.


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.

'Sandor...'

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.

'Bird.'

Her eyes averted from his scorching gaze, she shook him off.

'Goodnight, Sandor.'

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.

'Little... bird...'

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.

'My bird...'