Sandor Clegane was not a man that you would have ever fancied when you were younger. No. In fact, he was far from the well-kept, elegant lads that you had your eye own. His hair was not carefully trimmed to fit under a helmet, seeing as he rarely wore one... and his face was not clean shaven, beaming with pride. Sandor was rugged, brutish even— and he was the opposite of prideful; Solemn and angry, he would sulk around—more aggressively than you had ever seen a man brood and pace—and he would do it in a way that simultaneously reflected his moderate self-hatred and keen sense of his unmatched physical abilities.
No, Sandor Clegane was not a man that would have enticed you as a young lady; but now that you had grown into a woman and been out in the world, you knew that he was a far better man than any of the “Prince Charmings” you had chased after. He was strong, and brave, but could be quietly gentle and deeply attentive when he wanted to be. All you had to do was wear him down and convince him that you were being kind with no alterior motive—kind with the intent of fully knowing him and fully loving him all at once.
You and he had been preparing for the Battle of Winterfell for some time, and were anxiously awaiting signs of the wight walkers’ arrival. After years of smithing as your father’s apprentice, you were able to fight with a surprising amount of power for your size. Men always underestimated you, which was actually a nice advantage in a sword fight, but you feared that they could be right when it came to defending a fortress from a siege of snarling dead reincarnated into savage predators. You underestimated your own abilities then, too. But regardless, you kept training and preparing because it meant that you got to spend time with Sandor.
Sandor had been north of the wall with your fellow apprentice, Gendry, and several others. You had mended his armor and sharpened his sword before they left, which meant that you had spent several hours with him over the course of a couple weeks in close proximity... refitting his armor and constantly undressing and redressing him. It’s hard not to get close to someone when they have to bare their body before you. “Sorry,” he would say, “that you have to see this,” gesturing to his naked torso. You didn’t mind, of course, and were grateful that the heat from the flames and smoldering iron made it impossible to distinguish your flushed face from a blushing one.
You had met Sandor before, you reminded him at his first fitting; Many years ago, in Kings Landing, when all hell broke loose at what you called the ‘assassination’ of Ned Stark. He had nearly ripped your arm off of your body trying to hoist you from the ground as you had been trampled by the stampede in the mass chaos. You remembered that he had thrown you over one shoulder, and your friend Jon’s little sister, Arya, over the other, and carried you out of the crowd. He set you down without even looking to see if you had landed on your feet, and ran off to save a screaming Sansa Stark from a horrifying situation. As you told him this story, his eyebrows furrowed and betrayed his apathetic demeanor.
“I remember grabbing Arya and a lady’s maid from the ground. That was you? What were you doing in Kings Landing and why were you dressed like a... well...” he lowered his gaze.
“A lady?” You chuckled at his sudden embarrassment.
“You know what I mean.”
“I do,” you continued. “Rob Stark sent me to keep an eye on Sansa. He hadn’t heard anything from her since she had gotten there, so he sent me to go as a maidservant. I had only just arrived when the slaughter began... I guess I passed it off convincingly enough for you to have believed my masquerade.”
Sandor shrugged and a smirk donned his tired face. “I think anyone can appear royal or wealthy as long as they can wear the clothes and smile incessantly.”
You laughed at his snarky comment, but silently agreed. As a female blacksmith, you were used to dealing with the rich... Fathers who wanted new swords forged as presents for their sons’ birthdays, eager young lords who wanted to propose to their future fiancées with rings made of precious metals, and family matriarchs who came to have their jewels refitted or repaired to pass down to their daughters... the list went on. But you were never jealous of them. In fact, you pitied them in some ways. Smithing had made you strong and resilient; you had to stand up for yourself, mentally and physically, and you had to learn how to earn your living through that work. Nothing had been handed to you. Sandor knew this, and remarked that that was another reason that he would never have pictured you as a lady of the court. That, and you could never “smile incessantly.”
The following fittings were filled with more conversation and shared moments of subdued laughter. You coaxed information out of Sandor about his childhood, and he felt surprisingly comfortable sharing it with you even though he put up a fuss about it. You never pressed too hard, but just hard enough that he could sense your genuine interest and he almost always gave in. You made a point of never calling him ‘The Hound,” as others did, and knew that he behaved the way he did as a defense mechanism. People he loved had betrayed him—hurt him and scarred him—and you had to earn his trust.
When you both realized that you would be staying to defend Winterfell, he began training you. You weren’t a bad opponent for him, considering that he was one of the best fighters you had ever seen. You were agile and unpredictable, which made it difficult for him to keep up. Still, he looked forward to training every day because he cherished your relationship.
“(Y/N),” he would say, “you can’t show them mercy in the same way that you do a living person. You don’t have time to dance with them and wait for them to crack under pressure. They won’t. They have no feelings, no souls... they will kill you without a moments thought and they will have next to no trouble doing it if you spare them the time.”
You steeled yourself against the thought of a skeleton climbing up the walls of the fortress you had known your whole life, remains of a person that you might have passed on the street scaling cobblestone like a cat climbs a tree.
“I won’t give them the time,” you growled as you lunged for Sandor, too quick for him to block your attack. Any time your weapon made contact with his armor, he would sigh and snicker. He could never be mad at you. Actually, he was proud of you, and you knew it. Just earning his respect was a feat, but moving past his defenses of snarkiness and the intimidating demeanor meant that he trusted you and appreciated your presence.
When it became clear that the wight walkers would reach Winterfell in a matter of days, the atmosphere shifted, and so did your relationship with Sandor. Somehow, the urgency of it all pushed him to reveal a startling truth to you—and you had nothing to do but take it all in... and revel in it.