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What a shit day it had been.


The pissant little prince was now a king, and the whole city was rejoicing. Well, the whole city was being forced to rejoice. The small council had the Watch trot along the royal family’s route, forcing the smallfolk out to the cobblestones and promenades to wave and shout blessings to their new king. He had watched the Goldcloaks scurry out of the Red Keep shortly before the royal family, to be sure the procession met with crowds waving and cheering on the way to the Great Sept.


As if the gods would listen. As if the gods existed.


Joffrey didn’t seem to notice the weary eyes in gaunt faces that gave their adulation halfheartedly. The crowd waiting outside the Sept was marginally more enthusiastic, filled with lesser nobles and the wealthy of the city still unsure what this new reign would bring, but smart enough to know kissing the bratty boy's arse was not optional.


The procession stopped, and Sandor Clegane dismounted, moving to where the boy sat astride a large white gelding. Grooms gathered about to hold his mount and bring around the stepstool so the prince about to be crowned wouldn’t risk a spill when he dismounted. He couldn’t give two shits if the brat fell on his face, but it was his duty to guard the wretched boy, and guard the wretched boy he would.


While he stood by waiting for the king-to-be to dismount his horse, Sandor turned his fearsome helm in the direction of the gilded carriage. The rest of the royal family was safely ensconced inside. Several grooms rushed to help the queen mother and her younger children carefully step onto the paving stones, followed by the delicate figure of Joffrey’s betrothed. Her pale blue silks hugged her slender body, and her hair glinted in the sun even more than all the Lannister blonde surrounding him. It looked like golden fire, haloing her face.


He hated fire.


“Come, Sansa. Come, dog,” Joffrey's command was sharp. Without a word or hesitation, Clegane had turned on his heel and followed the boy up the steps into the Great Sept.


That evening had been better than the coronation ceremony. The celebration meant wine flowed freely, even in the barracks. Patrolling shifts were kept short for the Watch, so they could participate in the festivities as well. The King's Hound had enjoyed the night off and the wine. At first. But after several hours, the chaos and raucous irritated Sandor, and when the firebreathers were sent down after performing in the throne room, he'd sought an escape from the flames and cacophony.


Escape seemed near to impossible though, for every hallway and balcony was filled with revelers and their drunken singing, mostly the Lannister song despite the fact their new king bore the name Baratheon. When indoors afforded no peace, the hulking man tried the gardens, which were no better. With a growl and an uttered curse that sent those nearby scurrying, he veered towards the last possible place of refuge: The Godswood.


It was a lonely place, this little bit of forested wilderness within the Keep's walls. Darkness enveloped him within a half dozen paces, and the noise from the festivities fell away. He sighed, making his way deeper into the copse.


As he approached the little heath where the heart tree grew, he saw a shadowy form kneeling beneath the branches of the great oak. All he could see was a dark cloak spread about the figure. He'd have to get closer to see who it was.


Sandor crept across the carpet of grass, his footfalls softened by the turf to near silence. As he closed the distance between himself and the kneeling figure, he saw it was female, and she was whispering what sounded like a prayer. Curving around to the woman's left side, he caught sight of a lock of auburn hair peeking out from the hood of her cloak. The tall man straightened with a grunt.


“What are you doing out of your cage, little bird?”


The woman started, the opening of her hood swinging toward where he stood. She pushed the fabric back and he saw her blue eyes clearly in the moonlight. Hesitantly she stood, her eyes darting away from him to look somewhere over his left shoulder. He didn't blame her. He knew Joffrey enjoyed setting him to long hours guarding her, to make her uncomfortable with his imposing, scarred presence. Few could look him in the eye. None of those that could were Ladies.


Sansa seemed to gather herself before offering a mousy reply. “I was praying, Ser.”


Sandor snorted and replied gruffly, “How many times do I have to tell you I'm no Ser? I'll never be one of those Knights from your stories.”


She stiffened but didn't say anything in response. He looked at her. He knew why she was in the Godswood, why she was praying. The newly crowned king was to pronounce judgment upon her father tomorrow. Her father kept to the old gods, so of course she'd be praying for him here. Not that it would do any good.


The Hound sighed.


“Come along. I'll take you back to your rooms.”


Her feet seemed rooted to the ground, so unmoving was she. He rolled his eyes and with tight lips offered her his left arm. That seemed to free her feet, and she stepped over to rest her fingertips against his elbow.


Sansa Stark wore the same pale dress as she had to the Sept, but her hair was down and she was no longer adorned with jewels and gems. As they walked, she seemed to float, and the paleness of her skin and the gown made her seem almost spectral. When they reached the entrance to the Godswood, she pulled her hood back up. The gesture brought a question to mind.


“How did you get here?” He asked. She still didn't look at him, her eyes drifting from the foliage to her feet.


“Everybody was celebrating. Nobody noticed me on the way here. I just wanted quiet. And to pray,” she spoke so softly he found his head bowed towards her just to hear her low words.
He said nothing in response, and his silence didn't go unnoticed. Still not turning her eyes towards him, she posed him the same question, “Why did you come to the Godswood tonight?”


His gray eyes glanced toward her. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead at the Keep rearing up before them.


“Same as you. For the quiet.”


“Not to pray?”


“No. There are no gods.”


When her step faltered, he reached his right hand around, expecting to have to catch her. But she turned to face him, shock written plain as day on her face. Her blue eyes were wide and staring directly at his broad chest.


“How can you not believe in the gods?”


His eyes narrowed. Such a pretty, innocent little daughter of a Lord, who had never known the realities of life. She had never had to hunt for her food, to sleep under a hedge. She had never spent a day marching through the mud and muck and cold only to fight a grueling, hot battle at the end of it. Her face had never been splattered by the blood of a slain enemy. Her face had never been burned.


Sandor was surprised to discover he was growling deep in his throat.


“Look at me,” he barked. Shining blue eyes rose hesitantly to his half-ruined face. He took a step forward, looming over her, peering down as his lips bared his teeth in a farce of a smile.
“Do you think the gods would let this happen to a boy?” He gestured to the right side of his face, twisted and scarred. When she didn't say anything, her blue eyes only staring tremulously up at his gray, he continued, “What gods would see fit to scar a seven year old child in such a way?”


The girl swallowed, but to her credit, her eyes stayed on his. More than most could do, when facing his snarling, maimed visage. He took a breath and turned to march to the Keep, pulling her along in his wake.


The few revelers still out and about quickly vanished when they saw him coming, paying no mind to the cloaked figure he escorted. When Sandor Clegane looked ready to do murder, everybody in the Keep tread lightly and stayed out of his way. He was grateful for the girl's silence, and watched her out of the corner of his good eye. Sansa kept her face downcast, apparently trying to avoid drawing the attention of those they passed. When the passageways were empty, he was startled to see her eyes turned back up to his face. Only his perpetual scowl kept his surprise from showing.


Sandor's booted feet thudded against the stone as they ascended the stairs to Sansa's apartments. Her slippered feet made almost no sound at all. The hulking man shoved her door open and held it, facing her as she paused before him.


“Back in your cage, little bird.”


He watched her hesitate, her eyes flickering into the dim room. His brow knotted. What was she waiting for? A written invitation?
Confusion turned to astonishment as she placed a hand on his bicep and raised up on her tiptoes to brush a kiss across the ruined flesh of his cheek. With wide eyes, he stared down at her as her heels dropped back to the floor.


“Thank you for your escort Se-, I mean...Hound.”


And with that, she turned and vanished behind the door of her apartments.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Shortly after midday, Sandor found himself climbing the steps of the Sept again, heeling the King and Queen Regent with Sansa following. A flock of white-robed Kingsguard trailed her. He wondered if they were to protect the King, or to keep the girl from fleeing. It made him uneasy. Just what did the boy have planned?


The royal procession made its way out to face the statue of Balor, assembling themselves to the right of the King upon a stone outcrop. As the Hound moved behind the royal family, he shot a dark look towards Lord Baelish's back as Littlefinger placed himself beside Sansa.


Only moments later the crowd erupted at Lord Eddard Stark's appearance. He was dirty and haggard, his eyes more sunken and his face less fleshy than they had been. From where he stood, Sandor could see Sansa offer her father an encouraging smile as the guards forced him past her to stand before the crowd. Shouts were quickly silenced as the Lord of Winterfell began to speak his confession.


Halfway through, a stone struck the side of Lord Stark's head, causing him to stumble. Sandor reached out a gauntleted hand, catching the man before he could fall. Once Lord Stark had found his footing again, Sandor turned to resume his place by the brat King but not before he caught Sansa looking at him. A tentative but grateful smile graced her lips just briefly.


The disgraced Lord finished what he had to say, and Maester Pycelle offered his wisdom, speaking of mercy. Then Joffrey spoke, and everything went straight to Seven Hells.


Ser Illyn moved as Sansa screamed for someone to stop him. The crowd shouted and swarmed close to the raised stone as the great Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell dropped to his knees, disbelieving eyes scanning the unruly crowd. Sandor placed his sword hand on the hilt, moving to stand before Joffrey and his mother Cersei. Something inside of him wrenched at Sansa's cries for mercy.


As he watched, Eddard's head lowered and he began to whisper. Something was mumbled, something about a promise, spoken so softly Sandor wasn't sure he heard the doomed man correctly over the crowd’s thunderous roar.


And then Ser Illyn swung.


The Hound felt something thump into him and nearly drew his sword, until he realized the impact came from behind himself. Turning, he saw Sansa collapsed into a heap of blue silk and auburn hair.


“Sansa.” He said softly, reaching through the mass of hair and silks to try to shake her shoulder. Instead his gauntlet touched her face and she shifted, her cheek pressing against his hand. Her bright eyes were shut with unconsciousness, her lips still parted from unheeded pleas. So pitiably naive.


A member of the Kingsguard, one of those Sers he paid no mind, came and scooped the girl up roughly as her father's head was raised above the crowd. Deafening screams echoed up the plastered walls. The common folk jostled their way to the front of the crowd with kerchiefs and rags, soaking up the blood running down the stones as souvenirs of the King's judgment. The small council and royal family turned to leave, and Sandor kept pace behind the brat, though his eyes watched the guardsman cradling Sansa closely. She might have lofty ideas from her stories and songs about Knights being brave, noble and true. He knew otherwise.

Chapter Text

She could feel the sunshine on her skin, bathing her in light and warmth. It felt as though the sun itself was embracing her, filling her with its radiance. Sansa closed her eyes to savor the sensation, the brilliance enveloping her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.


There was a sound; nothing in and of itself to worry her, but enough to catch her attention. Blue eyes opened to reveal her father climbing the stone steps of the Great Sept before her. The same sun illuminated him from behind, and he smiled when her eyes lit upon him.


“Father!” She cried. Joy suffused her at the sight of his face.


But he did not speak. With each step, his expression changed. Sansa watched in horror as her father's face grew ashen and sad as he approached where she stood. When his boot landed on the step before her, his hand reached for her and he opened his mouth to speak.


And he crumbled away like dust.


She woke with a shriek, the image of her father disintegrating still before her eyes. A crow called somewhere, maybe in her own head or maybe outside her darkened windows. In her frenzied state, she couldn't tell.


Out of the darkness appeared a worn glove. The brown leather stretched over what was clearly a man’s hand. Without thought Sansa clutched it, pulling it to her face with both hands. The heavy thumb stroked across her cheek, and she gasped air into her lungs as she broke.


“Oh father, it was horrible, so horrible. I dreamed that I watched you die and...and...I couldn’t..,” she squeezed the hand harder, tears staining the hide a deeper shade.


The thumb paused in its stroking. She glanced in confusion to the shadow where her father must be standing.


“Not your father, little bird,” came a voice she recognized. Fear shot through her and froze her in place. The voice continued as she went rigid, “You’re safe, in your cage in the Red Keep.” When she said nothing, the thumb slid across her skin again. Sansa released the breath she had been holding before tremulously asking, “Why are you here?”


“I was ordered to stand guard outside your rooms tonight,” His voice was flat but not as gruff. The edge of rage, the dangerous glint usually present in his address was missing. She would have called the tone almost gentle, coming out of any other mouth but his.


Doing her best to remember her manners, despite being alone in the dark with a man wearing nothing but her shift, she softly intoned, “I thank you for your protection, Ser.”
A snort filled the air. “I’m no Ser. Remember that, girl.”


And then he withdrew. The hand vanished, and she heard the door unlatch and then close. Sansa turned her head, and in the dim lighting from the hallway outside, she could see the shadows of his boots under the door.


For some reason she couldn’t explain and didn’t care to ponder at the moment, knowing he was there soothed her anxiety. He was Joffrey’s fearsome and cruel dog. But she couldn’t believe the thumb she could still feel on her cheek would have any part in hurting her.


The next morning she was woken by a handmaiden bustling in and out, emptying her chamber pot and dressing Sansa in her morning robe. When the girl brought in the breakfast tray, Sansa risked a glance into the hallway. The Hound wasn’t there. She shook her head and darted her eyes back to the fussing handmaiden. Of course he wouldn’t be out there still. He couldn’t stand guard on her all the time.


A page appeared while Sansa was idly picking the contents of the tray. The King had requested her presence in the throne room in one hour. The boy was sent off with Sansa’s assurances to the King she would be there as commanded, and the handmaiden began to help Sansa dress.


When Lord Eddard Stark’s daughter entered the gallery of the throne room, her appearance did not go unnoticed. The King smiled up at her, a smile she would have once thought sweet. But now she recognized the thinly veiled malice that shone in his eyes and the baring of his white teeth. How could she have ever thought him once so glorious?


Joffrey went on with whatever it was he was doing. Torturing some smallfolk, it sounded like. Once she realized that was exactly what was happening, she focused on keeping her face neutral and looking at anything else but the King and the man on the floor before him. A minstrel, it seemed.


Her blue eyes slid past the King, jumped away from Ser Meryn and fled Ilyn Payne before stopping on the next figure. He stood dismissively, paying no attention to anything around him, his stance almost bored. Sansa’s eyes slid up, and she saw from across the room his gray eyes fixed on her. His expression was blank, but his eyes never left her face. She could feel them burning her, and a flush rose all throughout her skin.


The King’s voice caught her attention, and she jerked her eyes away from Sandor Clegane. The blonde brat stepped down from the throne and approached her with an excited grin, the emotion overriding some of the usual malice. Her reddened skin quickly turned pale, and she offered him a demure curtsy before he commanded she follow him. Sansa felt a flutter in her belly when the King and his heelhounds moved on down the corridor, leaving her momentarily alone with the Hound. Those gray eyes bore down on her, shadowed by his lanky hair. She held his gaze though, for once paying no mind to his disfigurement. What was it in those eyes? Why did she want to know?


“Do as you’re bid, child.” His voice was back to its usual gruffness. She obediently turned and followed Joffrey through the castle as he went on about absolutely nothing of note.
The young King led the troupe on a winding trail through the Keep until they slipped out a side door onto an arched walkway. They rounded a corner and the King stepped out onto a wooden platform suspended in midair, his grin wild as his hands rose.


Sansa’s eyes shifted to where the King gestured, and she cried out.


“No, please no!”


Hands seized her shoulders when she turned her face away from the gruesome sight. Leather gloves, similar to the one that had touched her face so soothingly the night before now caught her in a vice grip, keeping her from turning her body away. These were not the same gloves, not the same hands. She trembled, twisting her neck to bury her face in her shoulder, anything to keep from seeing what it was Joffrey had wished to show her.


“Mother says I am still to marry you, so you’ll stay here and obey,” the King snapped. When she made no move, her eyes still downcast with Meryn Trant’s fingers digging into her flesh, the King bellowed.


“Look at him!”


Summoning every ounce of strength and courage she could find, the young woman slowly raised her chin, and blue eyes glazed with tears lifted to see her father’s gray face. Blood had congealed in smears where it had been hastily stuffed in a sack to bring back to the Keep. She stared, void of any expression, her stomach twisting in so many knots she felt fumes rising in her throat. The wicked boy gleefully pointed out her Septa before promising to bring her the gift of her brother Robb’s head.


Without thought, she snapped back at him in a voice like iron, “Or maybe he will give me yours.”


Sansa knew she might have just signed her own death warrant for treason. She didn’t care. For the first time in a long time, she met the King’s gaze. Blue eyes that had leaked tears just moments before now seemed coated with frost. Joffrey jerked in response to her insubordination, but her cold glare seemed to pull him up short. At a word from the brat, Ser Meryn pulled the girl around and backhanded her across the face with his gauntlet, striking her twice.


No more. This wasn’t how Knights behaved. This wasn’t how a King behaved. None of them were true, or honorable. None of them deserved to be Knights, or Kings. As she turned back towards Joffrey, who was smiling up at her beloved father’s head, she tasted the blood from Meryn’s blows. And glancing down to the little wooden catwalk and the drop to the paving stones below, she knew how to end it.


She took a step forward, followed by a second. Joffrey turned his face towards her as she advanced, curiosity briefly crossing his features. Then a broad hand closed over her shoulder.
“Girl,” came the Hound’s voice. She turned to face him and he closed the space between, his hand lifting a ragged handkerchief to stroke it across her bleeding lip. Those gray eyes held her as the blood was blotted, before he stuffed the rag into her palm. Sansa trembled when he took his hand away.


Joffrey said more words about obedience, and when she didn’t respond he left, Ser Meryn and the rest of the guard trailing after their King. Sandor hung back, standing expressionless on the catwalk with her until the boy was out of earshot.


“Save yourself some pain girl,” he advised quietly, “Give him what he wants.”


Not knowing what to do, she silently extended the rag, now dotted with her blood, back towards Joffrey’s dog. He glanced at it, a darkness in his expression, before saying “You’ll be needing that again.” Then he turned and strode away, leaving her alone with severed heads staring into the nothingness surrounding her.

Chapter Text

It was well after dark when Clegane took up his position standing outside Sansa’s door. Her shivering earlier in the day out on the catwalk had not gone unnoticed. Like the Hound, the brat King had presumed her shaking was out of fear when Sandor touched her, and that evening Joffrey took great delight assigning the Hound to guard Sansa’s door as she slept for a second night.


What had the fool girl been thinking that morning? She had been lucky Trant wasn’t as intelligent as he was vicious, or he would have run her through without a second thought and let her body plunge to the paving stones far below. Sandor still couldn’t say with certainty what made him step up and stop her from sending the boy on a seventy foot fall. It wasn’t out of any affection for the brat.


He’d actually felt a bit of admiration for her. All these schemers in court playing the game, trying to find a way to wrest the Iron Throne away from the wretched boy, and she’d been the only one to have the balls to actually do something about it. It took a backbone of steel to take that first step, quite literally, in assuring the King’s reign was brief.


So why hadn’t he just let her?


She had been through enough. Her family torn away, her father executed by the man she was still going to have to marry. A little sister vanished into thin air. He could understand, in a way. He knew what it was like to be betrayed by those you should be able to trust.


Some part of him couldn’t stand to see her destroyed. There was a sheltered sweetness to her, something that had reminded him of a brief time in his own childhood. She was a Lady, virtuous and kind, the type of daughter every mother wanted and the type of woman every Lord with lands and titles thought to marry. Nobody he could recall having ever met exemplified an honorable Lady the way Sansa Stark could.


And so he’d moved, intercepted her without orders, and wiped the blood from her torn lip. When the King had left them, oblivious to how close he’d actually been to meeting the Stranger, Sandor had offered her the only advice he could think of to fill the silence.


Now he stood outside her door, in the still of the empty hallway with naught but his own thoughts for company. Seven Hells, he wanted some wine.


Clegane was pondering where he might find a cask of a good Dornish Red when screaming came from inside Sansa’s chambers. In a flash he was through the door, his sword half-drawn, the faint light of the moon falling across the girl’s bed. She was sitting upright, her chest heaving as she panted, her face ruddy and tearstained.


Glancing about the room, Sandor realized it was another nightmare. His sword slid back into its scabbard as he settled himself, gray gaze watching the girl. Her eyes darted wildly and she panted, choking on her sobs.


“Who’s there?” she demanded, but her voice was small and tinged with fear. He moved out of the shadows, the motion catching her eye, and the two stared at one another for a moment.


“Hound,” she finally breathed. It sounded relieved, though she still shook all over. He gave her a nod, confirming what she could already see with her two eyes.


“It was horrible. I was in the godswood in Winterfell, and I could hear my father but no matter which way I went, I couldn’t find him. I could hear the growls and screams of lions and I thought they were killing him, and I had to find him, do something to help...” she trailed off, dissolving into quivering, silent tears.


He approached her bed, reaching out much the same way he did the night before when her dreams had woken her. He cupped her left cheek in one of his large hands, tilting it up slightly as he ran his thumb against her skin, careful to avoid her swollen and tender lip.


“You’re all right now. Safe in your bed. No lions are coming to eat you.”


He was surprised when Sansa leaned into his touch. The night before she had simply frozen when she’d realized whose hand it was. Now her face pressed against his palm, and he silently cursed the leather that kept him from the smooth warmth of her cheek.


“The lions are always coming for me.”


It was so soft he thought at first he had misheard her.


“Mayhaps, little bird,” his reply was just as subdued, “But as long as I’m here, no lions are going to touch you.”


He started to withdraw his hand, now that her sniveling had subsided, but she caught it in both of her own. Blue eyes shining in the moonlight fixed him. She no longer cried, but she certainly wasn’t calm.


“Stay. Please.”


The Hound considered the request, turning it over in his mind before shaking his head. “I shouldn’t be here now.”


“Just until I fall asleep. Please?” The pleading tone in her voice sent a shiver up his spine. He knew he should go. The smart thing was to go, before this looked any more improper than it already did. But too late, he found himself agreeing.


“Aye. Until you’re asleep. Better fall asleep fast, girl.”


As she wrapped herself up in the fine linen sheets and light summer blankets, he took a seat in a chair near where the fire had burned down to embers. Not too near, though. Once he had settled in such a way he could still draw his sword, he watched her.


When he had first arrived in Winterfell, she had still looked something of a child. Her figure at the time had hardly been developed, and she had behaved much like a child, often caught up in stories and fantasies of valorous Knights rescuing noble Ladies from tribesmen or dragons or whatever ridiculous things the minstrels at castles sang about. She had changed during her year in the capital. Gone was the skinny, baby-faced girl he’d seen when he rode into the courtyard of her family’s holdfast. In the dim moonlight, he could see the way the sheets molded her body, following shapely legs up to the curve of her hip. The fabric was pulled tight across her chest, and there too he could see she was more rounded than he’d previously noticed.


Sandor crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair as he eyed her. He shook off thoughts of her body, so close to being in full bloom, and watched for the deep, even breath of sleep. He’d only agreed to stay until she slept, so he waited for the signs that she was.


Before long her breathing slowed and her face went slack. Sansa’s lips parted and he heard the deep sighs he had been waiting for. After several minutes passed to be sure, he slowly rose from his chair. The stone floor presented a problem with his heavy boots, but he carefully made his way to the door. He opened it a crack, giving his eyes a moment to adjust to the torchlit hall when he heard a voice behind him.


“Sandor?” His name came to him from the shadows, the sound like a caress. He paused and looked over his shoulder, though he couldn’t quite see her or the bed in the dim.


“Thank you for staying.”


He couldn’t think of what to say to that. He was unused to gratitude, the concept almost foreign to him. So he nodded once, sure she could see it with his body silhouetted in the light of the hallway. Then he stepped out, and the door shut behind him with a crisp click.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~

 

Sandor had the luxury of a few hours sleep in his small room in the barracks before he was summoned to meet the royal family in the private dining hall. How he hated family meals, forced to stand around with nothing to do or guard against while the nobles feasted. It was considered a great honor to guard the King and family as they dined, but he’d never found it to be anything other than an utter waste of his time.


But he came when called, and was more than a little surprised to find only Joffrey, Cersei, and Sansa seated at the large table. The usual entourage of handmaidens, pages and lesser servants were nowhere to be found, nor were Cersei’s younger children. Ser Meryn glowered in the corner closest to the King; Sandor moved to take up space along the far wall. As he came to rest with his back against the bricks and both hands settled on his sword hilt, the boy spoke.


“Mmm, Dog, there you are. Took you long enough. Tell me, how was it guarding my lady’s chambers last night?”


Clegane blinked. The brat was up to something.


“It was quiet, your Grace.”


He stole a glance at Sansa. Her eyes stared at the plate of fruit before her, expression carefully neutral.


“There, you see mother,” the brat went on, “Nothing to be worried about. The Northmen wouldn’t dare try to take her. They’d be cut down before they could make it through the gates. And my lady would never think of going with them.” The boy looked to Sansa, who quickly bobbed her head.


“I would never, your Grace. I am loyal only to you, my beloved King.”


The words made the brat smile, though Sansa’s voice held none of the enthusiasm it once had before her arrival at King’s Landing. Her answer pleased the boy, but his mother was not so convinced.


“My son, I am sure Lady Sansa is loyal, but there are those who would hurt us if they could. And framing us for the death of Lady Sansa would most assuredly mean the execution of your uncle Jaime. Sansa is your betrothed and rightful heir to Winterfell, now her brother and mother are open traitors to the crown. That makes her a target. We must protect ourselves by protecting her.”


Joffrey contemplated this for a moment, but the Hound saw through the queen mother’s pretty words. The girl was a pawn; a way to control the North and keep Jaime Lannister alive while captive of Robb Stark.


The King drummed his fingers upon the tabletop for a moment before speaking.


“I see the truth of your words, mother. Very well. Ser Meryn, henceforth you will be the personal bodyguard of the Lady Sansa.”


Sandor frowned. Not only would Trant do little to protect Sansa, he would find any excuse to beat the girl. If not something worse than beating her. Trant was known amongst the Kingsguard for having certain proclivities, and the girl’s innocence and virtue would draw him like a bee to honey even if she was a little older than the girls he typically favored. Sansa seemed to have drawn the same conclusion, judging by how much color drained from her face.


Fortunately, it seemed the queen mother had heard of the Knight’s tastes.


“Not Ser Meryn,” Cersei put in quickly, “His loyalty to you is without question, and his skill in combat unparalleled.” The queen took a drink from her goblet before continuing, “We need someone as unquestionably loyal to you my son, but who can be spared from their duties for this task.”


Now Sandor saw why he’d been summoned to such an intimate family meal. It had been Cersei’s plan from the start. Trant appeared torn between preening under the praise and putting in an offer to take charge of the girl. That would be a disaster. And one he could stop.


“I’ll do it.” Sandor said. All eyes turned towards him. Trant’s gaze stabbed pure loathing at him, but Sansa’s blue eyes were all relief. She knew something of Trant herself by now. “The girl’s no trouble.”


“A fine idea,” Joffrey put in, leaning back against his chair as though he’d thought of it himself, “My Dog will be your new bodyguard. What say you, Sansa?”


“I am happy if it please you, your Grace,” she said, a small smile crossing her lips. To the Hound’s surprise, it looked genuine.


When the meal concluded, Joffrey and his mother turned their attention to the small council, heading to the large chamber with Ser Meryn heeling after them. Sandor and Sansa were left standing alone in the marble corridor. The two eyed each other for a moment before she broke the silence.


“Thank you Se-my Lord. I appreciate your offer.”


He snorted, “It was me or that fool Trant, little bird. And as much as you dislike me you would have found Trant’s company far less appealing.”


Sansa’s blue eyes locked with his gray, holding his gaze as she elegantly said, “I know very well Trant would have been an unpleasant bodyguard, and I am relieved I do not have to face down that prospect,” she paused, her head tilting slightly to the side, eyes still locked to his, “But whatever impression you have of me, let me make something clear. I do not dislike you, and I am truly grateful for your protection.”


As she turned and silently glided down the hallway, he realized while they had stood close and spoken softly, not once had she flinched.

Chapter Text

Sansa ran the hairbrush through her auburn locks for the hundredth time, and for the hundredth time she thought about how she did not want to go to bed. She had dismissed the handmaiden nearly an hour earlier, and had spent the time watching her room grow darker, distracting herself from the thought of sleep by any means she could.


Now the room had grown so dark she could hardly see her own reflection in the silvery mirror.


The hairbrush was set on the dressing table and she stood. She had already undressed and now wore only her shift with a linen robe wrapped around her figure. If another night of terrible dreams were all she had to look forward to, she'd rather stay awake.


So she collected an ember from the fireplace and lit several candles. When the room was bright enough that she could read, she settled herself in a chair with a book.


But what had once been the enthralling tale of love between a chivalrous Knight and his maiden fair bored her. So much time spent in King's Landing meant she had learned the true nature of Knights, and the cruel subterfuge so often used by Ladies at court. Over many long months, the disillusionment had set in, and she could no longer read the stories or listen to the songs without feeling betrayed by their composers and those who sang them. After all, it wasn't fair that the lofty ideals portrayed by the characters were so impossible to reach.


Having set the book aside, she stood again, and wandered about her chambers. Sansa paused near the windows, gazing beyond the gauzy curtains the moonlight filtered through. She counted stars until she was distracted thinking about how far away those little points of light were, and how she might get so far away too.


When she turned from the window, her eyes fell upon the door to the hallway. Light seeped around the edge of the frame, and at the bottom she could see the shadows cast by booted feet.


The Hound.


Of course he would be back, guarding her chambers, as Joffrey had ordered him. She released the breath she had unknowingly held. Strange that those two unassuming shadows should provide so much comfort.


But then, was it really Sandor Clegane? Ser Meryn had also been considered for the task of guarding her. She knew it was all a ruse, to keep her from fleeing and any of her father's supporters in the city from accessing her. It could be the Hound's apparent assignment to her was just a ruse as well.


She crept to the door and knelt, trying to see if it was Clegane's boots stationed outside her door. But the crack was too narrow for her to see through. Not enough to determine who was standing there, at least. Her lips tightened and she straightened. Only one way to find out.


Sansa laid her fingertips against the rough wood, to support herself or bar anyone on the other side from entry, she wasn't sure. In a voice barely above a whisper, she addressed the door. “Hound?”


It took several long moments before she had a response, moments spent feeling her heart trying to climb into her throat. But eventually an answer came, so soft she almost didn't hear it herself.


“Aye.”


Relief flooded through her and her body sagged against the wood. She rested her forehead to the door and breathed deeply. Unbeknownst to her, the slightest smile flitted across her lips.


“Thank you.” Her lips brushed the wood when she spoke.


There was a pause before he replied, “No need to thank me, little bird. Go to bed.”


Why should his rasping growl soothe her? Sansa could feel her body relax just with the knowledge he was there. Such a silly, trivial thing. But feeling more easy about going to sleep, she moved away from the door and shed her robe before blowing out the candles and crawling into bed.


This time, the dream was different.


She was in the crypts of Winterfell. Cold and dark as they were, a light from everywhere and nowhere pushed back the shadows. No matter where she was or which way she went, the dim light surrounded her and kept the shadows at bay. Before she knew what was happening, her feet were moving her deeper into the crypts. She passed her uncle Brandon and her grandfather Rickard, men she had never met but held in great respect. Lyanna made her pause. Father hadn't ever talked about her aunt Lyanna. His face grew distant and sad whenever her name was brought up, and he'd never say much beyond that Arya reminded him of her. Sansa scowled at the statue, wondering what the woman herself had actually been like. Whatever her father's feelings, stories had been told about Lyanna both at home and in King's Landing. A sad tale, having been kidnapped at the hands of Prince Rhaegar only to die before she was freed.


Sansa could understand why her father had declared war against the Targaryens.


But the statue was just a statue and offered her no insights or answers, so she moved on. And the shadows moved with her, keeping a little bastion of light surrounding her. Until she came to the steps leading deeper into the crypts.


The stairwell was like a great cavernous maw opening before her. And so very dark. When her feet brought her to the top of the stairs, the light failed. It didn't dim or fade away, it simply stopped as though the wall of darkness was a tangible thing. She inched forward thinking the light would eventually fall upon the first stairs. But it did no such thing.


“Winter is coming.”


Her father's voice! It came from everywhere at once, and Sansa glanced around, trying to find it. “Father?” she called into the darkness.


A fluttering sound. Behind her. She spun, and atop her aunt Lyanna's statue a raven perched. It watched her, unblinking.


“Father!” She called again. And the raven stared.


Sansa quickly grew tired of this bird sitting and looking at her. What in the world was it doing in the crypts, anyway? There was nothing to eat here, and it was dark and cold as a place to nest.


“Get out of here, you stupid bird,” she muttered at it.


And then the raven moved. Wings spread to lift itself from Lyanna's statue, wings that beat like thunder and blew like a storm. Sansa threw her arm up, shielding her eyes as the feathered body collided with her head. Talons sliced her skin like knives, and she felt the blood burning down her arms. She grunted, cried out. But the raven beat her with its wings and tore at her flesh.


Finally she screamed for her father.


With a start she woke, panting and soaked in her own sweat. Tears poured from her eyes, and she hastily felt her arms. When her fingers met unbroken skin, she gasped with relief.
“Easy, little bird. You're all right.”


There was the gloved hand, reaching for her. She seized it, pulling it to her face, her hands wrapping around it to hold to her cheek. Blue eyes looked up at Sandor's face; half-hidden in the shadows, she could only see his scars. She felt no fear or trepidation. No part of her wanted to look away. He was there, as he had been every night since her nightmares had begun.
When her tears subsided, the man tried to regain his hand by pulling away. Sansa held him firmly within her grasp.


“Don't leave,” she whispered. He stared at her for a long moment before nodding. Certain he would not go back on his word, she released his hand from her grip.


As the scarred man took a seat in the same chair he had occupied the night before, she pulled the linens tight to her and curled around to face him. With her back to the window, she could better see his facial features in the moonlight. She focused on the unblemished side of his face, trying to imagine what he would have looked like had he not been burned. The smooth skin was evenly toned, his jaw looked square under the short beard he kept. But his eyes were his most attractive feature. Sansa thought he would have been handsome, had his brother not disfigured him. Even with the scars, frightening as they were, he wasn't bad looking. The scars just made him look fierce.


With a start, she realized he was looking at her too. His eyes seemed to be resting at her hip, where the thin linen hugged her down to her thigh. She felt her pulse quicken. No man, aside from her father and Maester Luwin, had seen her in bed dressed only in a flimsy shift. It was exhilarating, in a way, to be so meagerly dressed with him looking at her.


The silence between them was broken when he spoke, “Get some sleep, little bird.”


Part of her wondered if he had seen her staring, or if he'd seen her notice his gaze on her body. It hadn't been his usual rasp, a barely concealed rage wrapped within what she had always thought was contempt. This was softer. Was he trying to soothe her?


She inched toward him across her feather mattress, a hand extended out into the empty air between them. Her fingers opened tentatively, palm facing the ceiling, her pale eyes reflecting the dim moonlight.


At first he didn’t seem to notice the supplicating gesture. That or he chose to ignore it. But Sansa was determined. After several long minutes, the Hound finally snorted. Despite the harsh sound, his hand was tender as it swallowed Sansa’s own. She wriggled her fingers, feeling the leather and warmth of his touch. Eyes fluttering shut, she wondered if he might take off his glove to hold her hand someday.

Chapter Text

It had gone on for nearly a month now, this night terror and hand-holding business. It always started the same way. He took up his place outside her room as she readied for bed. Once she had blown out her candles, she bid him goodnight through the heavy wooden door. There would be relative silence for an hour or two.


And then she would scream.


The first few times he’d practically splintered her door, barging into the room with his sword half-drawn, eyes darting to find the assassin or rapist or kidnapper coming for the little bird. And she would be on the bed, alone, twisting in her sheets and whimpering. He would wake her with a quiet word and by stroking her cheek. Just before he touched her, she would fly awake, clinging to his hand and forearm. Once he had extracted himself, he would take the chair by her bedside at her big-eyed request. Sansa would reach for him once she was wrapped up in her blankets, and he’d spend the rest of the night watching her sleep while he held her hand.


At first he’d been annoyed. After half an hour, his arm would begin tingling from being held upright so long. It made his fingers numb, and he spent the morning hours working the feeling back into his flesh. But after a week, the tingling subsided, and he noticed the endurance in his arm had markedly improved. So he considered it just more training and grew less irritated by the whole thing.


He was no fool though. He might have been in the company of a few whores and killed more than a few men in his life, but Sandor knew something of what went on in the high born circles. Sitting in her room holding a barely-dressed Lady’s hand while she slept was a bad place for a Clegane to be discovered. So just before dawn broke and the servants began their chores, he’d tuck the little bird’s arm back under the blankets and slip out of the door to find his own bed.


Recently something had changed. When he raised the blankets to place the slender arm into bed, light fell across her body. The thin linen of her nightgown allowed the light to seep through, and he saw her pearly skin beneath the diaphanous fabric. The Keep could burn to the ground around him in that moment and he couldn’t have torn his eyes away. No woman could have skin like that. She looked like a carving made of cream, all soft curves and pale smoothness. He released a breath he hadn’t known he was holding, and the small sound made her stir. Quickly he laid her arm upon the mattress and placed the blankets back around her before slipping out the door.


He’d visited Littlefinger’s brothel that day, before he took up his place outside the little bird’s door. But none of the girls drew a second glance from him, pretty as they were. He left a little drunk and disgusted with himself. He hadn’t been able to choose a girl because none of them looked like Sansa. Or maybe they looked too much like Sansa. He couldn’t fucking tell.
He wanted to laugh. Even the gods couldn’t play that cruel a joke.


That same night there was another surprise in store for Sandor Clegane.


When Sansa had taken his hand, she didn’t smile and close her eyes to sleep. She had watched him, her glance trying to penetrate him like so many swords. Then she asked some sweetly benign question, and he answered in as few words as possible. Seemingly satisfied, she had gone to sleep. And just before daybreak he’d bundled the little bird up in the blankets, and stolen a glance at her luscious form.


And so for the past week, he had found babysitting the little bird much less onerous. For the first time in a very long time, he was actually looking forward to obeying Joffrey’s orders.
Sandor hadn’t been standing outside her door for much more than half an hour when he heard Sansa shriek. He slipped through the door and hurried to her side. Immediately she had snatched his hand, her breathing already steadying. And he sat in the chair, Sansa wrapping her fingers around his glove.


She calmed remarkably quickly, her hair catching the moonlight and shining like strands of flame. It didn’t make him flinch as it once had.


For a long time he felt her blue eyes on him, but she said nothing. Just watched him. He tried not to look directly at her, worried she would see the shameful need he kept in careful check around her of late. Sandor instead studied the garden outside her window several stories below.


“Sandor,” she finally whispered. He turned his head toward her, his dark eyes meeting her light. It was the first time she’d spoken his given name.


“Whatever we say here stays between us...just the two of us. Right?”


His forehead knitted. What was she on about? When he said nothing, she continued, “I mean, if I tell you something, you won’t breathe a word of it to anybody? Not Joffrey, or the Queen, even if they order you to?”


Sandor blinked. “That’s not a small thing to ask, girl.”


He felt her hand tremble, but she surprised him by holding his gaze steady. “I understand Sandor, and I withdraw my request. Please say nothing of it, and think on it no more.”


Clegane winced at the sudden chill in her voice. It was the carefully neutral, emotionless tone she used with Joffrey and the Queen. “I will keep your confidences, little bird,” his mouth spoke the words before he knew he was saying them, “I swear it by the old gods and the new, even if I don’t believe in them myself.”


Sansa paused for a moment before softly asking, “And how do I know you’re telling the truth? As you’ve repeatedly pointed out, you’re no Knight, bound by honor.”


He snorted. “I like dogs better than Knights. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he’ll look you straight in the face.” He made a point of staring her in the eye as he spoke. Slowly the Stark girl nodded, though she didn’t look any less serious than she had moments before.


“I’ve wanted to ask you something for weeks now,” her words came slowly, gaining momentum as she went on, “The day after Joffrey was crowned, when he took me to see...to see...”
“I remember,” he broke in gently, before the tears started. She looked at him gratefully before continuing.


“You came to me after he hit me, and dabbed the blood from my lip.”


Hearing how the brat had hit the little bird that day made him wince, and angrier than he’d been when it had happened. He didn’t know why the memory should burn hotter now, but there it was.


“Before that, after he struck me, I had a thought. I know you know what it was,” she said quickly when he tried to stop her. Seven hells, if anybody heard what she was saying! “And I know you stopped me and covered by wiping away the blood. But I want to know why? Why did you keep me from doing it? You’d be free, and I would be too.”
Something pleading had entered her tone, something needful. With those blue eyes fixed on him and her hands clinging to his and that timbre in her voice, he felt something pulling the truth from his chest and out of his lips.


“Because I couldn’t stand to see us both die. I would have cut them down, every last one, to stop them from getting to you. Only I couldn’t have killed them all. Eventually they would have killed me, and then your pretty head would’ve decorated the walls as well. No, little bird. Better to have stopped you.”


It was perhaps the longest string of words he’d spoken to her at once.


She said nothing. Her big blue eyes, even more pale in the moonlight, remained on his face. His whole face.


After long moments, he felt her fingers move. They traveled up his hand to the wrist. The leather tightened and relaxed when the fasteners were released. Only then could he pull his eyes away from her face. He watched as her small fingers coaxed the leather from his hand, slowly baring his flesh. A rush surged through him and he could not remember ever feeling so exposed. The worn leather dropped to the floor at the side of her bed, and he felt the cool of the night air against his naked skin.


Sandor’s breath caught when her soft fingertips brushed against his. The calluses on his own flesh felt all the more rough when her delicate skin slid against them. Not the finest linen or silk could feel as luxurious as her touch.


His fingers curled around her dainty hands and she gasped. He took his turn exploring the milky skin, fingers tracing the delicate curve of her palm down to her slender wrist. He stole a glance at her, and saw her lidded gaze fixed on their twined hands. Sansa’s pink lips parted and a small sound escaped her. Only then did Sandor realize how he was stroking her, caressing her in a way he had never touched anyone before.


It took most of the strength he had in him to draw his hand away, moving it to the same unassuming position as it had been in for weeks while she slept. His gaze raised to her face and he saw her blink several times, though her eyes retained their drowsy appearance. With a sigh her own hand took up its usual pose and her eyelids slid shut.


Before long she was breathing the deep, even breaths of sleep. He watched her for some time, wondering what he had gotten himself into. With what they had said tonight, they could be executed for treason. He couldn’t understand why they’d both willingly spoken the words. And then they had shared a moment more meaningful than any others in his life without uttering a thing. Something else for which they could probably find themselves executed. Whatever it was, they were in deep. But as he sat and contemplated Sansa Stark, getting out of it never crossed his mind.

Chapter Text

The sun baked down upon the stone courtyard overlooking the sea, a late summer heat wave making the gathered nobility fan themselves. The onlookers glinted from their perspiration. Many of them looked bored with this little tournament thrown for their King’s nameday; though many wore fixed approving smiles, the way their fans snapped gave the lie.


Sansa was glad the brat seated next to her under the shady pavilion hadn’t noticed. Joffrey was too enthralled with the Knights and soldiers fighting for his prize. A few hundred golden dragons wasn’t a particularly large purse, but it had attracted those close to the city who had the talent and the time. The girl wanted to sigh. She hated these little mock battles that shed real blood and ended real lives, all for the sake of entertainment. But Joffrey positively adored the violence and carnage, so she quietly kept her smile fresh and her applause ready.


Part of her wanted to cry out when she saw an enormous man step out onto the paving stones wearing a hound’s head helm and black armor. Sandor! Her heart climbed into her throat and she found herself gripping the armrests of her chair, knuckles going white. Mother have mercy!


Joffrey waved them on and Sansa leaned forward in her chair. What would she do if he was injured? Or worse, killed? Her chest heaved, breath coming raggedly and her eyes glued to the two men.


From the first swing, it was clear the Hound was vastly more skilled than his opponent. The smaller man was instantly on the defensive, attempting to block each of the larger man’s strikes and losing. Sansa was on the edge of her seat until the final blow. She cringed as the smaller man tumbled off the high wall, crashing to the ground more than thirty feet below. While Joffrey popped out of his chair to praise his dog, his betrothed leaned back in her seat with a gasp of relief.


Joffrey turned to her, a maniacal smile on his lips. “Did you like that?” He posed to her.


Frantically, she tried to recall what he had said, something that would appease him.


“It was well struck, your Grace.”


“I already said it was well struck,” he replied sharply. Sansa glanced down at her lap, her stomach dropping. She could practically feel Ser Meryn shift behind her, anticipating Joffrey’s command to strike her.


Bracing herself, she raised her crystalline eyes back to the pinch-faced boy. “Yes, your Grace,” she offered demurely. Please let it please him.


After a sharp glare, Joffrey turned away and called for the next opponents. Sandor Clegane approached the pavilion, standing under the shade to Joffrey’s right as the King spoke to a rather plump man dressed in poor fitting armor. Sansa glanced toward Sandor, relieved he was safe, relieved he was close. His gray eyes darted to her briefly before moving on. It pleased her that he didn’t look to the King, or Princess Myrcella, or even young Prince Tommen first. No, he looked at her

.
Commotion made her whip her head around and she saw the plump Ser with the ill-fitting armor forced to his knees by Meryn Trant’s blow. She watched in horror as the Kingsguard held the man down and poured wine down his throat. Without thinking, she cried out.


“You can’t!”


“What did you say?” Joffrey demanded beside her. Sansa whirled in her seat to face him, jaw working as she tried to find some excuse, any excuse.


“I only meant it would be bad luck to kill a man on your nameday,” she simpered.


“What kind of stupid peasant superstition...” the brat King snapped, clearly about to set into a tirade. That is, until a deep voice rasped from his right.


“The girl is right. What a man sows on his nameday, he reaps all year.” Sandor didn’t spare a look for Joffrey or the heavyset man, this Ser Dontos, as he spoke. He stared straight ahead, looking bored with everyone and everything around him.


Joffrey scowled, but the Hound’s utterly disinterested expression seemed to calm the boy down. After a brief exchange with Sansa, where she carefully worked to restore his better humor by some well place ego stroking, the King declared Dontos his new fool.


The entire court fell suddenly and completely silent when a jovial voice shouted across the courtyard, “Beloved nephew!”


The crowd parted and Sansa was startled to see the King’s infamous uncle, Tyrion the Imp. He was trailed by a sellsword that looked entirely too confident in the royal surroundings, several Lannister soldiers...and were those wildlings?!


Sansa did her best not to stare while Tyrion greeted his family. Not just at the halfman, who she had only seen in passing once at Winterfell. His entire entourage was noteworthy, though not in the way most people would think of noteworthy attendees at the King’s nameday tourney.


She was caught by surprise when Tyrion turned to her and offered a slight bow while intoning, “My Lady, I am sorry for your loss.”


While Joffrey snapped at his uncle for offering condolences over the death of a confessed traitor, Sansa worked again to find words. This was the first time anyone had offered any sympathy. Her blue eyes sought out the Hound, and seeing him standing there, a pillar of silent strength, gave her courage. No, Tyrion wasn’t the first to offer sympathy.


“My father was a traitor,” she spoke almost if reading from a script, “My mother and brother are traitors too. I am loyal to my beloved Joffrey.”


One corner of Tyrion’s mouth crooked up, and she wondered if he could hear her insincerity.


“Of course you are,” was his reply. The way he glanced at her over his goblet of wine said he’d noticed the pretense, but his words were cheerful as he set down the cup and strolled towards the Keep. His strange little retinue heeled him like trained dogs.


The King shouted after his uncle, and when that made no difference, he barked at the Hound to escort his betrothed back to the Keep. Relieved the festivities seemed to be over for now, she stood and glided to Sandor. His expression didn’t change as they turned and walked back towards the hulking mass of dizzying towers.


When they’d passed through several corridors and the sounds of the tournament had faded, Sansa raised her hand and settled her fingertips at the Hound’s elbow. At first, she didn’t think he had noticed, and no wonder wearing all that leather and steel. She was content even if he didn’t. The smallest contact helped put her at ease. Then his elbow crooked just slightly, a silent acknowledgement of her fingers upon him. His stony expression never faltered, but she found herself fighting to hide a wide smile.


It was more than pleasant to have found something of a friend in the King’s dog. It was certainly not something she had expected to find anywhere in King’s Landing, least of all with a Clegane. Widely known for their vicious nature and brutal mercilessness, who would have ever thought the younger of the legendary brothers would spend all night in silence, just to hold a seventeen year old girl’s hand so she might sleep?


All too soon they were approaching her door. They hadn’t spoken a word the entire walk, but Sansa was not ready to part from him just yet.


“Do I have to go back to my rooms?” She asked him softly. His gray eyes turned down to her, and he blinked.


“Joffrey only said the Keep. Where do you want to go? My Lady,” he added belatedly.


Sansa wanted to smile. It was the first time she’d heard him use a title without some measure of scorn. Even if it was an afterthought. She looked down the hallway towards the bright sunlight slanting through the windows. “It’s too pretty a day to be indoors. Does the Godswood count as part of the Keep?”


Sandor seemed to consider a moment before saying, “Aye, it’s behind the walls, so it’s part of the Keep.”


The smile split her face in two, “Then let us go to the Godswood.”


The passageways remained empty with the exception of a few servants hurrying about their tasks. The gathered nobles must have not been released, instead waiting in the bright sun upon the brat king’s return. Sansa felt almost as if she and her protector were alone on a relaxing stroll. My protector. The thought pleased her, though she couldn’t understand why. Something deep inside was very confident he was exactly that.


The corridor opened out into terraced gardens, leading only a short way from the imposing Red Keep to the little Godswood. Once they’d passed the last of the redstone arches, there were no other people to see. The gardeners must have tended their duties in the morning hours when it was cooler, Sansa decided.


The shade of tall trees quickly enveloped the pair, and for the first time since her father’s arrest she felt some measure of peace. She’d dearly loved playing in the Godswood at home. Growing up she had watched her brothers Robb and Jon along with Theon play at being knights and fighting great battles in the Godswood. Once she had played with them, sitting up in a tree while they roughhoused and loudly proclaimed their individual intents to rescue her. It had been great fun, until Mother had caught them all and she’d received stern lectures on proper, ladylike behavior.


After that, she hadn’t played with the boys again, but she still escaped to the Godswood once in awhile, just to enjoy the comfort of nature.


It seemed a lifetime ago she had last seen the Godswood in Winterfell. The Godswood in King’s Landing was not near so beautiful to her, despite their carefully manicured and groomed grounds. She supposed that was a goodly part of it. Godswoods should be places to revere nature, not to see it forced into unnatural arrangements.
But still, it was pretty. And, most importantly, blessedly empty.


The two moved deeper into the greenery, and her blue eyes peered up toward the Hound. He might not have been as pretty as her brothers’ friends, but she felt just as safe in his presence as she had in theirs. That was surely strange. It was even more strange that one of the most feared men in King’s Landing, if not all of Westeros, was so quick to offer her kindness and comfort. In his own way.


Sansa glanced down at her fingertips, still resting lightly upon his arm. Her eyes remained on her own hand as it moved, hesitantly sliding down his arm. Her touch was so delicate he didn’t seem to feel it at all. When her hand reached his wrist, she curled her fingers around to slide down his palm until they rested between his thick, leather-encased digits.
Then he noticed.

Chapter Text

Sandor had been more than happy to be excused from the King’s farce of a birthday tournament. His part of the day was done once his opponent was defeated, and he didn’t savor the thought of standing around wearing armor in the hot sun all day. Of course, the thought of standing outside Sansa’s door wearing armor for the rest of the day didn’t sound much more appealing, but at least he would be out of the sun and away from the brat.

He didn’t want to admit to himself that there was more to it than that. No, it was better to consider her the King’s property to guard, and leave it at that. He kept her safe. It was his job.

The Hound took in the sight of the Godswood appreciatively as they walked into the little forest. It was cooler than even the Red Keep, and the leafy branches seemed to open up like welcoming arms before them. He’d never truly considered the place before. After all, how much did one tree really differ from the next? But now that he looked at it, really looked at it, he could see why Sansa liked the woodland.

So distracted was he that he failed to notice her hand moving until something tightened around several of his fingers. He started, jerking his hand away to free it from whatever had tangled around him. Surprise turned to shock when he realized what was wrapped around him was Sansa, and the sudden snap of his hand yanked her right into the breadth of his chest.

He looked between her wide blue eyes and their entwined hands as he held them slightly aloft and away from his body. “What are you doing, girl?”

She blinked and her eyes turned down, staring straight at her slender hand as it rested on his maile. Her pale jaw worked as if trying to remember how to form words. Sandor’s stormy eyes darted around the little clearing. If anyone saw!

When he was certain they were truly alone, he looked back to Sansa. She was still staring at his chest, and had still not replied.

“Look at me!” he barked. Her blue eyes alighted upon his almost immediately, and he was taken aback when he saw two perfectly calm pools peering up at him. He held her eyes for a moment before giving a significant nod to their still awkwardly woven fingers, “What’re you doing?”

For a moment she looked confused he would ask such a question. “You hold my hand every night,” her voice was soft and the words were delivered patiently, “You’ve been holding my hand every night for a month. I like holding your hand. It seems a normal thing to hold it when we’re alone.”

“You don’t know we’re alone,” he growled down at her. His eyes nearly popped when her lips curved into the smallest smile.

“Yes we are. I watched for people the whole way here. And saw you check just now.” Her tone softened and her eyes lowered again. “I just wanted a few minutes to be myself, without being surrounded by vipers disguised as ladies and killers wearing the skin of knights. With you...with you I know I’m safe.”

Clegane snorted, the thick fingers of his left hand catching her chin almost roughly to turn her face up to his.

“The world is built by killers,” he rumbled, “So you’d better get used to looking at them.”

He’d intended the words to drive home the point she was never safe. Not in her little woodland, not in her rooms, and Gods, certainly not with a lethal dog like him. He wanted her to be afraid so she would never let her guard slip. She would sing the pretty songs they’d taught her, and never give anyone around her an opportunity-

“You won’t hurt me.”

It was a quiet statement of fact, her clear voice confident while her blue eyes bore into his gray. At the angle he held her chin, her lower lip caught the sunlight and saliva coating the pink flesh glistened. Something deep within Sandor Clegane loosened, and he stroked his thumb across that plump, wet lip.

“No, little bird. I won’t hurt you,” he vowed in a whisper. His right arm dropped, his hand keeping hold of hers. Suddenly he was conscious of how tightly he was gripping her delicate hand and immediately tried to loosen his fingers. Quickly Sansa placed her free hand over his to stop his struggle, and she offered him a gentle smile.

“Let us walk.”

Even though he was nearly twice her size and ten years her senior, he found himself following the little bird’s lead. Aside from a few dim memories from childhood of his mother, he couldn’t recall ever having taken a stroll with a woman while holding her hand. No lady had ever given him a second look other than to recoil, and whores were for bedding and forgetting. Never in his life had he thought he’d ever be in such a position. And to have the future queen place so much trust in him, to confide in him, to willingly touch him?


It was all the more unnerving when he saw the contented expression on her serene face as they passed through a beam of sunlight slanting through the leafy canopy. He couldn’t recall seeing her more at ease than in that moment. Sandor was fully aware some lord or lady or handmaiden or anybody could come upon them, and then at the very least they would both face some very uncomfortable questions. And he hated to admit that it might go worse for her than for him.


Sansa began to hum as they walked. The tune was slow and hymnal, and Sandor found the worries about her safety and vigilance against discovery falling away. As he looked to her again, he found she was admiring the foliage and flowers they passed. Her eyes followed curling green vines as they climbed over and down an old stone arch. When she reached out to caress a yellow blossom, he discovered it was possible to be envious of a plant.


He knew a goodly amount of time had passed, but when their path brought them back to the beginning of the Godswood it felt as though their walk had taken no more time than a blink of an eye. Though he was still uncertain, Sansa wore a small, pleased smile. That made a part of him something approaching satisfied.
The entrance to the Godswood also served as an exit, the canopy of trees opening like a maw before them. And he felt Sansa’s hand squeeze. Glancing down where their fingers were still joined, he opened his mouth to speak, only to be forestalled.


“I don’t want to go back,” she breathed. Her contented expression had slipped and something feral had crept into the corners of her eyes.


He couldn’t blame her. The King’s little uncle appearing would not put the boy in a good humor, and when Joffrey was in a bad mood it never bode well for a Stark. She must be considering what was in store for her that very evening, and not best pleased by the possibilities. He didn’t want to think on it either.


For a moment he felt a hot flash of rage. At the brat King, for causing her so much pain. At his mother, for doing nothing about it. At Sansa, for accepting it. And at himself. He knew she could do little to better her circumstances, and it wasn’t fair to grudge her that. But he could do something. He could shield her a little more, guide her whenever it was possible. Over twenty years serving the Lannisters had taught him a thing or two, after all. And the brat polishing the throne with his arse was more Lion than Stag.


“Fuck the King,” he muttered. He hadn’t meant for her to hear, much less respond, but her startled eyes flew to his face. Keeping his own expression neutral, he eyed her sideways as she took in his words. Her shoulders squared and she drew in a deep breath. Big blue eyes turned frosty, and she released his hand from her grasp. He felt a pang at the loss.


“Yes,” she whispered to him, her determined gaze fixed upon the towers of the keep, “Fuck the King.”


Pride swelled in him as he trailed her out of the Godswood. All the Lions and Stags were so busy playing the game, they had forgotten there was a Wolf in their midst.

Chapter Text

The King’s birthday celebration lasted until late into the evening, and Sansa found herself returning to her rooms ready to fall into bed. After a little help from a fussing handmaiden to be freed from the binds of her silk dress, she shooed the woman away to tuck herself into bed. Sansa had never had a handmaiden in Winterfell. Not really, anyway. After a little help from her mother or Septa or a close friend, Sansa had always seen to herself.


Joffrey had been grotesque all night of course, alternating between boasting of serving her brother’s head at the next feast and cooing at her through bared teeth of helping himself to her maidenhead that very night. Strangely the presence of Lord Tyrion served to temper the brat while providing some comfort to her. Tyrion smiled and made jokes and asked after her well-being. And each time Joffrey had attempted to interject cruelly, his uncle had reduced him to angry silence with a few well-placed words. Cersei hadn’t liked that at all, but propriety kept her from making too many comments in front of the gathered Lords and Ladies.


Sansa had enjoyed the evening. Even if it had gone on far too late.


As she set her hairbrush on the dressing table, she glanced at her heavy door. Sandor had been there too, watching the festivities. Kingsguard and Goldcloaks had floated in and out of the gathering all night, but he’d never never left his post. She had supposed he was simply doing his duty and had no interest in celebrating, but she caught him watching her out of the corner of her eye, even when the King was nowhere near her.


Now she waited for the familiar thud of his boots outside her door. He would be there any minute, and she found herself fidgeting in anticipation. That startled her. Since when did she fidget around him? Granted when she first had met him she’d found herself looking at her fingers twisted in her silks instead of his maimed face, but that was before she knew him. Now it was different.


Gods, it was different now, wasn’t it? She’d made a decision that very evening, surrounded by Lannisters with no hope of freedom. Maybe it had been a small act of defiance. Maybe it had been one of the few decisions she had left for herself. It was difficult to pin down exactly why. She had decided, even if the reasoning behind it was murky.


A heavy footfall in the hallway jerked the Stark girl back to attention. When the steps stopped just outside her door, she smiled. At last, he is here.


Sansa stood and quickly gathered her dressing gown around her, the robe pulled tightly about her shoulders and waist so she was decently layered. There was the little matter of having to remove it to get into bed, but she was still wearing her shift. Which he’d seen her in before. Her plan was sound. It wasn’t indecent. It wasn’t.


On silent, bare feet she crept across the stone and placed her fingers the door. And she asked the same question she asked every night.


“Sandor?”


A pause, then, “Aye. Goodnight, little bird.”


Summoning all her courage, she lifted the latch of the handle and opened the wooden door just wide enough for her to push her face through. Clegane looked down at her, his forehead knotted as he glanced between her face and the door.


“Come in, Sandor,” she did her best to use the same no-nonsense tone her mother used to keep her brothers in line. To her delight it appeared to be effective. His bearded jaw worked for a moment, but his feet immediately moved towards her. Sansa stepped to the side and opened the door completely to allow the big man into her chambers.


He stopped just inside the door, his back rigid and hand resting on his sword hilt. He glanced about the room almost as if he hadn’t seen it before. She considered for a moment maybe he hadn’t when it was lit.


“What is it?” He grunted before adding a belated, “My Lady.”


Her lips tightened at the formal address. Titles felt like invisible bars caging them both.


“I had considered, Ser,” she said pointedly, “That the nightmares come when you’re not present. Yet, when you are present, I sleep easily. Seems like we could save time and spare us both the discomfort of my nightmares by stopping them before they start.”
He’d listened to her patiently enough, but as soon as she paused he blurted i

n a rough tone, “I’m no Ser. Don’t call me that.”


She gave him an indulging smile, “Then don’t call me Lady.”


“You are a Lady.”


Ser, I command as your future queen you stop calling me Lady at once.”


He blinked. “I cannot take that vow. I have to address you properly at court.”


“When we are alone, then. I command you to stop calling me by my titles when we are alone.”


Sandor immediately folded at the waist, hand over his heart, “I swear it. When we are alone.”


Sansa’s knees bent, and she dipped in a courtly curtsy worthy of a ruler. Clegane’s eyes bulged as he righted and saw what she was doing.


“None of that!” he barked, “You never do any bloody curtsying to me, my...” He paused, suddenly unsure what to call her. Her blue eyes watched him turn over options in his head, before he settled upon, “Little bird.”


She knew it was by accident, but the thought of being called his little bird sent a thrill through her stomach. Heat suffused her, bringing a blush to her cheeks. They stood staring at one another for a long moment before Sansa remembered it was her turn to speak.


“I give you my word, Sandor. When we’re alone, I won’t curtsy.”


He seemed to relax a little once she’d made her promise. She gestured towards the chair he’d occupied nightly for more than a month. “Please,” she invited.


His lips tightened as he moved to take a seat. “I don’t think this is wise. There are still servants about, little bird. If one of them finds I am not at my post, it could mean trouble.”


Sansa finished blowing out the candles and moved to stand before the windows, the bed between them. The bright moonlight filtered in behind her, silhouetting her as she untied her dressing gown. It’s now or never.


“I ordered everyone to leave me alone tonight, and they were so tired from the feast I know we won’t be bothered.”


She saw him grimace and draw himself up, ready to argue with her reasoning. But her robe dropped from her shoulders and pooled at her feet, and Sandor Clegane gasped.


It took every ounce of her will to stand there nonchalantly. All she wanted to do was pull the robe back up to decently cover herself. His eyes confirmed what she knew; from his seat the moonlight outlined the curves and slopes of her body through the light fabric, perhaps just a little more than she had intended. She reminded herself that he couldn’t see any more detail than vague shadows, but she was still more exposed than she had ever been, standing before him in a very thin shift.


Sansa’s bravery was almost undone when she finally remembered to see Sandor’s reaction. Gray eyes stared unabashedly from a face that was somehow both startled and greedy. His knuckles were white, fingers gripping the wooden chair arms tightly. He was leaning forward, and she could see the muscle of his shoulders straining beneath his tunic. It was so raw, this visceral response just a hint of her body could provoke. For the first time in all her life, Sansa felt what it was like to be powerful.


When she inhaled he let out a low sound, and he uttered, “Seven fucking Hells, little bird.”


She watched as he tore his eyes from her, his head whipping away as if he’d been physically slapped. Her own breath caught in her throat and she gasped as she was released from his gaze. For a moment the only sound in the room was the ragged edge of their breathing.


“Get under your blankets,” Sandor suddenly barked. She jumped and found herself doing what she was told, drawing the linens up to her neck immediately, wide blue eyes trained on the side of his face. Why did he sound so angry?


Once he was certain she was in her bed, Sandor rounded on her.


“Just what the fuck was that all about?” His eyes bore down on her, and she trembled, “Do you have any idea how you just looked? Do you know what could have happened just now if it was anybody else here but me?”


“But it’s not anybody else,” she whimpered, “It’s you. You won’t hurt me.”


His gray eyes softened even though she saw his lips draw back and he warned, “Not every hurt is a physical beating. Remember that, girl.”


Sansa raised her chin, finding a little remnant of courage. “I am well aware of that. But you won’t hurt me.”


Sandor closed his eyes and exhaled. “No, little bird. I won’t hurt you.”


He leaned back in the chair, suddenly looking very exhausted. Deciding to take another risk, Sansa reached out from under the blankets to take the gloved hand resting upon his knee. He started at her touch, but simply watched as she pulled his paw to her cheek and nuzzled into his palm.


“I am sorry I made you angry,” she whispered. Her blue eyes closed tightly, afraid the apology would anger him again. But it was only right she apologize, she reasoned, since she had been the one to anger him. That had certainly not been any part of what she had envisioned might happen.


His thick thumb brushed across her skin. She recognized the comforting gesture he used so often when she woke up frightened from her nightmares. The chair creaked, and she felt weight on the edge of the mattress. Then his cheek pressed to the top of her head.


“No, little bird. You didn’t make me angry. I made me angry.”


She opened her eyes at that, though she could see nothing but his gray tunic covering his chest. He knelt on the floor next to her bed and was leaning over her to rest his head atop hers. Her mind flashed back to earlier in the day. My protector.


“Do you understand, Sansa? You’ve nothing to apologize for,” he growled when she failed to respond.


Hearing him speak her name, her first name, sent a shiver through her. She was finally being addressed as an adult, as a woman, by a man. By this man.


“I understand,” she sighed, unable to keep a little relief from her voice. His thumb stroked across her cheek several more times before he returned to the chair. As he settled back into the wooden seat, Sansa’s fingers worked at the buckles on his glove before tugging the leather off his hand. She explored his flesh for a few moments, sliding her fingertips over his to trace along his thick knuckles down to his palm. Then she leaned down, her hair cascading around her face as she placed a small, soft kiss on the skin of his upturned hand.

Chapter Text

Sandor stood at the foot of the stairs, staring up into the tower that held a very small number of apartments and even fewer occupants. The only real resident up there was Sansa Stark. Which was why he was standing at the bottom of the stairwell more apprehensive to make his way up into that tower than he would have been facing an enemy’s charge. The charge would be preferable. At least he knew what to do about that.


He didn’t know what to do about Sansa Stark. Lady, he reminded himself. Lady Sansa Stark. He’d made no vows about what to call her inside his own head, and one of them had to remember who he was and, more importantly, who she was.


She’d certainly forgotten that last night. Seven bloody Hells, she’d forgotten anything approaching propriety last night. And he had hardly slept since. Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was her standing in the moonlight proving to him that she was nothing short of a grown woman. And fuck, she had grown into the perfect woman.


But he had no right to think of her like that, to see her ripened figure at the corner of his eye day and night. She was going to be queen, and that meant she wasn’t even her own anymore. Sansa belonged to the King. Every inch of her. A Hound like Sandor Clegane should have never in his life seen a high-born Lady like that. By rights Joffrey could take his head for it.


The worst part of it was he knew all these things. He knew she wasn’t his and never in her life would be, knew that she belonged entirely to the King, knew that he should never hope to see her like that again. But he couldn’t fucking help himself. He hoped.


And that’s why he hesitated at the foot of the stairs. If she put on another inadvertent display as she had the night before, he wasn’t sure he could stop himself from pulling her into his arms to crush that soft, lithe body against his and taste her. Had she ever even been kissed before? Would she have the faintest idea how? His stomach lurched at the idea of that brat King kissing her.


He shook his head. No, none of that would be happening. If Sansa Stark did not remember her high born status, it would be up to him to remind her. Somehow.


And to keep his hands, and mouth, decidedly to himself.


So he steeled himself and climbed the slowly circular stairs into the tower. It didn’t take long before her wooden door came into view. Sandor could see faint candlelight seeping under the edge and into the hallway and winced. He’d delayed taking up his post in the hopes she would be asleep, and it seemed that plan had failed.


It didn’t take long before a soft voice came from the other side of the heavy wood. “Sandor?”


Her voice was like a knife flaying him open. It took a moment before he could reply, and then it was with a brusque, “Go to bed, girl.”


There was nothing for a moment, no reply, no sound at all. Then he heard the latch of the door lifting. Quickly his eyes darted across the hallway to a niche with a marble pot. His eyes fixed on that pot like it was the most important thing in Westeros.


He heard more than saw the door open just enough for her face to peer through. “Won’t you come in?” She asked, her voice small and unsure.


“No.” It wasn’t much more than a grunt. Don’t look at her. Just look at that bloody pot.


“Why not?”


“You bloody well know why,” he growled, studiously avoiding looking at her, “It wouldn’t be proper.”


There was another pause, longer this time. If he had been the sort of man to pray, he might have prayed to the old gods and the new to make the fool girl come to her senses and shut that door. But he wasn’t the sort to pray, and she didn’t shut the door.


“Nothing improper will happen,” she finally offered in what he presumed was supposed to be a reassuring tone.


“Just being in there is improper, girl. Go to bed.”


“I sleep better, with you near me-” she started, and he gave up and rounded on her.


“You’re not a child any longer,” he snapped, “You made that abundantly clear with that little display last night. If you’ve got nightmares, see the maester for some remedy for it. It’s got nothing to do with me. I’m only here to guard your door,” he finished the tirade with a huff of breath, staring down at her wide blue eyes.


Sansa blinked up at him. All he could see was her face, the rest of her was hidden by the door. He did thank the gods for that bit of mercy. Sandor waited for her to say something, but she just ducked her head and retreated into her rooms, the door closing behind her. Once it was shut and light no longer seeped underneath the door’s edge, he rested his head against the stone wall.


I’m sorry, he wanted to say. I’m sorry that I broke my promise and hurt you. I’m sorry I can’t free you from your cage. I’m sorry that I can’t stay close to you, because I want…


He swallowed, not wanting to admit the truth even in his own head. Because I want you all to myself. For a moment, he let himself think of how sweet it would be if he could. It was a selfish thought, with no consideration of her worth and virtue, though he savored it. But it could never happen, so he didn’t dwell.


Sandor did dwell on what he had said. He’d hurt the girl, that was clear in her eyes when he’d finished his diatribe. It made him uncomfortable, what he’d done. Nothing about it sat well. He was unused to feeling responsibility for another person beyond being a simple bodyguard. But then, Sansa wasn’t just a body to guard.


Shortly before dawn, he heard her cry out. Every fiber in his being wanted to open that door and make sure she was all right, stroke her cheek and take her hand in his and let her know she was safe as long as he was there. But he remained standing outside her door, listening closely as her cries faded. As she settled, his hand twitched toward the door’s handle before he remembered himself and jerked his arm back to his side.


Feeling almost as helpless as he had since he was a boy and his brother had held his face to the flames, he leaned against the rough wood.


“I’m here, Sansa,” he spoke softly, hoping she heard, “You’re safe, little bird.”


The sniffles abruptly stopped. Sandor held his breath until he heard her reply.


“Thank you.”


That cool tone again, that voice she used to keep the nobles convinced of her meekness. Gray eyes closed tightly. He never wanted to hear her sound like that with him. How badly had he fucked up? What could he do to fix it?


He spent an hour considering what might keep her from hating him, what it might take to earn his way back into her good graces. And an idea finally came to him, but it didn’t make him happy. As the sky began to turn purple and no other ideas were forthcoming, Clegane resigned himself to the only option that was remotely viable.


Sandor left Sansa’s door and pounded down the stairs. Instead of seeking his own blankets, he headed to the stables. An assortment of fine horses stood in elegant stalls enjoying their breakfast as grooms and stableboys darted about. He ignored them all, and they were quick to avoid him. Each horse received a cursory look as he moved from one to the next, till he found a likely candidate.


The horse was a mare, a little on the smaller side which he thought would do just fine. She was so pale her coat was like butter, and her mane and tail were snow white. When he approached the door she reached out to nose his hand with her gray muzzle. After receiving a pat, she turned her attention back to her breakfast. A docile little thing, it seemed.


“You,” he barked to a boy passing by with a bucket of grain, “What’s this horse’s name?”


The boy ducked his head before answering, “That’s Sundrop, m’lord.”


“Whose is she?”


“She belongs to the crown, m’lord. Would m’lord like me to take her out for examination?”


Sandor glanced back at the mare placidly chewing her hay. “No. Go about your business boy.”


It was well after sunup when he left the stable and made his way back into the Keep. But he didn’t seek out his bed, no matter how much he was starting to ache for it. Instead he focused on his plan. He was unused to having to make plans and follow through with them, unless it was for battle. But this wasn’t battle, not in the traditional sense, and he needed every one of his wits. Especially given the man he was going to see had so many of his own.


After a fair hike up a great number of stairs to a tower even higher than Sansa’s, he found himself facing a door more ornate than those lower in the castle. He rapped firmly and waited for a reply.


A few minutes later the door opened, and Sandor peered down at Tyrion Lannister. The smaller man was dressed, though not neatly, and his eyes appeared groggy with recent sleep.


“Clegane,” he sounded surprised, “I did not expect to see you standing outside my door so early. What is it? Does the King or my sister require my presence?”


Sandor though he heard a sound inside the Imp’s rooms but ignored it. Better to get this business over with.


“Good morning, my lord. Begging your pardon for disturbing you so early, but no, neither the King or Queen mother sent me. I came here to discuss a matter with you,” he rumbled. The little lion’s eyebrow quirked up.


“A Clegane wants to discuss a matter with me? Forgive me, my Lord, but your family isn’t much known for their conversational repertoire. More for fighting, and disemboweling enemies,” a greasy smile slid across Tyrion’s features as Sandor chafed at the eloquent insult, “But I am happy to consider what you have to say,” the dwarf’s arms folded across his chest, clearly expecting Sandor to begin speaking immediately.


There were servants and pages in the hall, and Sandor wasn’t keen on risking more than he must. Glancing around, he nodded towards the sitting room behind the little Lannister, “I’d prefer to talk more privately, my Lord.”


That made Tyrion’s brow furrow. He looked over his shoulder into his apartments before replying a little loudly, “Of course, come in. Might I get you a cup of wine, Clegane?”


“Thank you, no, My Lord,” Sandor replied gruffly. He wanted to get through this as quickly as possible and find his blankets. Wine would not help either of those things. Tyrion shut the door behind him.


“All right Clegane,” he said as he walked past the tall man, taking a leather armchair near the arched window, “What is it you need from me?”


“It’s about Sansa, my Lord.”


“Ah, the Lady Stark,” Tyrion spoke lightly as he poured a goblet of fine Arbor, “I understand you’ve been guarding her of late. Tell me, is she an obedient charge?”


The Hound grew weary. These innocuous questions, coming from a Lannister, were loaded with unspoken meaning. “She is a Lady, my Lord Hand, and loyal to her King. She’s never given an ounce of trouble.”


Tyrion took a swallow of the wine, looking over the cup at Sandor before replying, “I am sure she never has. So why does the Lady Stark bring you to my quarters with the sun barely up?”
“I’ve come to ask a favor, my Lord.”


“You wish to be free of babysitting her? I can’t imagine that’s an exciting occupation. I could speak to the King on your behalf, I suppose...” He trailed off, looking to the Hound with raised eyebrows.


Sandor shook his head, “I am content to continue guarding the girl.”


“That I am glad to hear,” Tyrion took a drink before continuing, “So what favor is it then?”


With a deep breath, Sandor Clegane set about the task of trying to match wits with a Lannister. And when he left the Imp’s apartments an hour later, he wasn’t sure he had been successful. The man had made it clear he expected something for this favor, but had agreed in the end, if not exactly the way Sandor had planned. Whatever debt Sandor had incurred with the King’s Hand, it was worth it if it made Sansa happy.

Chapter Text

To her own surprise, Sansa’s eighteenth nameday had gone largely unnoticed by the Royal family. Something for which she could not possibly have been more pleased. At breakfast the King had spoken of taking her to the gardens to luncheon with his betrothed, perhaps with Trant for company; a prospect which had made Sansa’s throat go dry. The Queen had seemed indifferent to the idea and Sansa began to grow genuinely afraid until Lord Tyrion spoke.

“Your Grace, dear sister, I am afraid we have pressing matters to attend today. Word has reached us that Stannis Baratheon is building a fleet. Which can only mean one thing. If we are to counter Stannis, we need ships. And with the need for ships comes the need for soldiers to man them, which in turn means stores of food to be bought and wages to be paid. I am afraid our day will be filled with meetings and planning for a potential siege,” he looked apologetically to Sansa as he spoke. For her part, she did everything possible to let them all know she was content to read in her rooms and perhaps pray in the Godswood. Joffrey had scoffed, but Tyrion had readily agreed. The Queen seemed far more concerned about this news of Stannis’ fleet, something of which she’d apparently not been made aware, than to spare a thought for Sansa’s plans.

After breakfast Lord Tyrion had graciously bowed her out of the dining hall, sending Clegane along to escort her back to her rooms. She had walked in silence, trying to appear indifferent to his presence. But inside she felt an uncomfortable pressure, a need to be near him and speak, to find a way back to that strange little alliance they’d stumbled into. Apprehension stilled her tongue.

So she followed along at his shoulder, silently heeling him like a trained pet. But to her surprise, they veered down a hallway the opposite direction of her rooms. Blue eyes glanced back toward the familiar arched corridor, then up towards Sandor’s set face.

“Sandor,” she whispered as as softly as she could manage while keeping pace with the tall man, “Where are we going?”

His gray eyes turned toward her and she breathed deeply. He hadn’t met her gaze since that catastrophic night things went all wrong. She stared up at him, seeing no anger or agitation. Instead, he looked almost eager. Why would he look eager?

“We’re going to celebrate your nameday,” he responded quite matter-of-factly. Sansa blinked, unsure she had heard him correctly. But before she could question him further, a servant appeared, and she fell silent.

They made their way through several halls before arriving at a small stable she hadn’t visited before. It had the unkempt look of a place that hadn’t seen use in a long time. Sansa was surprised at the dust and dirt; this place looked terribly lavish to be so neglected. As the pair moved through some gilded archways leading into the marble yard, she looked to Sandor again.
“What was this place?”

“The private stables for the Targaryens. King Robert had most of them torn down after the war, but this bit was used until the new stable was built. By that time Robert had forgotten to care about them.”

She followed the Hound around a corner and there stood three horses and several people. Sansa recognized the big black warhorse as the Hound’s blasphemously named Stranger, a horse with a disposition considered almost as disagreeable as his owner. Two stableboys struggled to keep hold of the big stallion. Standing not far away was a rangy brown gelding, ready to ride with two supply packs hanging over his flanks. A dark-haired boy dressed differently than the grooms stood with the gelding.

But Sansa was immediately taken with a delicate mare so pale golden she was almost white. The mare stood quietly while Stranger fought his handlers, her big brown eyes carefully watching the goings-on but not appearing one bit out of sorts. It appeared as though she didn’t even need the groom holding her reins.

“What is this?” Sansa spoke, her forehead furrowed. Sandor turned to face her completely, speaking for her ears alone.

“I thought you might like a ride in the King’s Wood.”

The quiet, simple admission took her breath. She looked up at him, utterly bewildered, then back to the three assembled horses.

“What are in the packs?”

“Something to eat. Some meats and cheeses. A few other things.”

Her blue eyes fell on the oddly dressed boy with the brown gelding. “And him?”

Sandor’s lips tightened, but he replied, “He is my squire for the day. He’ll fetch us anything we need, and return you safely to the Keep should we encounter any trouble.”
A chaperone, she thought. She couldn’t have cared less who set this spy upon them. Her lips broke into a huge smile, blue eyes shining, and she gripped his left hand in both of hers for a moment.

“I don’t know what to say,” she whispered, “Thank you, Sandor.”

Something crossed his features. A hint of a smile, maybe. But then he was loosening his hand from hers.

“No need to thank me, little bird,” he murmured, not as roughly as she had expected, “Go see to your horse.”

The big man strolled away, barking at the young men still struggling with Stranger. Sansa approached the dainty mare, speaking to her softly as she stroked the horse’s nose. The mare nuzzled against her hand before Sansa stepped away and the groom helped her mount. The sidesaddle was ornately decorated, and she was relieved to discover it was also comfortable. While she arranged her skirts, she stole a glance at Sandor. He sat astride his black stallion, the horse quietly obedient now that his master was in the saddle. The squire also sat his horse, looking down at the animal as though he expected it to bolt any moment.

“Ready?” Sandor called to her as the grooms backed away from their charges. At her nod, the Hound turned his stallion and trotted out of the yard. Sansa's mare, despite being much smaller than Stranger, kept up easily.

The route Sandor led them through looked almost as neglected as the stables themselves. The paving stones rang with each stroke of a horseshoe, but old cobwebs hung from niches and archways, and windblown dirt had collected along the edges of the way. They let themselves through a small gate and followed a second path behind the King's stables. Boys with refuse carts hugged the walls so they could pass. Shortly they came upon the small portcullis leading to the King's Wood. Sansa's eyes bulged when she saw the number of gold dragons passed to the watchman guarding the gate. Then Stranger was trotting past the wrought-iron, and Sansa booted her little mare after him.

Once the gate was well behind her horse, Sansa grinned. Free! In the verdant forest away from the Red Keep she was free of Joffrey, free of the Lannisters. Free of them all! She wanted to laugh. And suddenly she realized she was giggling. The warrior astride his black stallion glanced over his shoulder, and she gave him a broad grin before nudging her horse into a gallop.

Sansa raced the mare past Sandor and heard an uttered curse from the scarred man. Gleeful, she dashed through the undergrowth, weaving through trees until she found a broad, grassy meadow. The wind whipped through her flaming hair, and the mare’s streaming white mane brushed against her smooth cheeks. Finally she slowed to a stop and waited in the center of the greenspace, breathing nearly as hard as the golden horse.

It wasn't long before she heard Stranger charging through the foliage, and within moments Sandor rode into sight. His brow furrowed as he caught sight of her, and she braced herself for an upbraiding.

"You ride well. Better than I thought you would," was all he said. She blinked at him, unsure how to take the comment. So she ducked her head.

"Thank you," she replied, pleased that her surprise didn't show in her tone.

Another noise brought her attention to the treeline, and she saw the lanky gelding with the squire and packs come cantering out of the woods. His rider held the reins too high and he appeared to have no sense of balance, bouncing nearly out of the saddle with each stride.

Free of the Lannisters, indeed.

As his horse came to a panting stop, Clegane snorted, "Have you never buggering ridden before, boy?"

The squire bowed in the saddle and nearly tumbled to the grass underfoot, "Only a little, my lord."

"Well, keep up. Learn or be left behind." With that, Sandor turned back to Sansa, "We'll ride up that slope."

Turning her mare to follow, Sansa glanced back at the squire. He was still flustered, and so she kept her mare to a walk as they began to ride up the low, treed hill. Feeling a moment of pity for a boy not much younger than herself, she dropped back to speak with the squire.

“Are you alright?”

He glanced at her in surprise before attempting another bow from his saddle, “Thank you for your care, my Lady. I am well. Just more used to carts than saddles.”

The squire had a genuine way of speaking, even if his words came slowly. She wondered if perhaps he was like herself, a bird trapped in a gilded, lethal cage.

“What is your name?” she found herself asking. The boy ducked his head before replying, “Podrick, my Lady.”

“Well Podrick,” Sansa smiled to him, “I’ll try to keep you safe from my bodyguard.” She giggled at the boy’s stricken expression and heard the Hound bark a laugh.

As they topped the rise, Sansa’s mirth left her. Below stretched the entirety of King’s Landing and Blackwater bay, roofs and water alike glimmering in the sun. Gulls wheeled and dove above the docks that stretched like fingers into the sparkling water. Baratheon banners shrugged in the faint breeze atop every tower in the Keep, and the golden spire of the Great Sept of Baelor shone.

While her eyes scanned the sight of the city below, she murmured aloud, “How can someplace so beautiful be so hateful?”

She started when Sandor made a sound beside her, and only then did she realize her voice had carried further than she thought. But his chuckle held little mirth, and he replied, “Yes, little bird. Some of the prettiest places are just viper nests, filled with shit and corpses.” Sansa fought the urge to wrinkle her nose at the thought.

They rode back down the hill in relative silence until Sandor stopped them under the shade of a large oak. Podrick struggled out of his saddle and scurried over to help Sansa dismount until Sandor waved him away and held her stirrup himself, and she tried to hide a large, pleased smile.

Podrick quickly laid out a thick blanket for Sansa to sit upon while the Hound removed the horses’ bridles so they could graze in the meadow. By the time he finished and settled on the corner of the blanket opposite Sansa, the squire had laid out an assortment of fruits and cheese with a skin of wine. She thought it a delightful midday repast, and sharing it with one of her favorite people on her nameday made it all the sweeter.

Once everything had been set before them, Podrick bowed and settled himself under a nearby tree, far enough to not eavesdrop but close so neither would have to shout to draw his attention. Sansa turned to her bodyguard when the boy had left them.

“Why did you name him Stranger?” she asked, gesturing toward the black grazing not far away. Sandor shrugged.

“Why not?”

“It’s blasphemous to the Seven, isn’t it?”

“Maybe, if you believe in them. I don’t,” he replied simply, watching the three horses as he sprawled on his elbow.

Sansa took a sip of wine, mindful not to drink too much. She certainly didn’t want to get winesick, but drinking gave her time to consider how to frame what she really wanted to ask. After she set down the goblet, she straightened her skirts. So busy was she trying to find the words, she failed to notice Sandor watching her from the corner of one gray eye.

“I have something I would ask you,” she said softly, still not meeting his gaze. He turned his head toward her.

“Then ask. Only look at me,” he responded. Her blue eyes lifted from her skirts to see both of his gray locked onto her face. That gaze made her feel warm, and she struggled to keep her nerve.

“You’ve stopped coming into my room,” she said in a soft rush, hoping their chaperone was too far to hear.

When she said nothing more, Sandor replied, “That’s not a question.”

She sighed, a muscle in her jaw twitching before she spoke again, “Why?”

Sandor’s gray eyes turned back to the three horses, “You know very well why, girl.”

“I am sorry,” she whispered, “I didn’t mean to cause you any distress, nor offend your honor.”

He chewed on a cube of cheese, still not looking at her, before replying, “You didn’t offend my honor, little bird. You never could. I don’t have any honor to offend.” She tried to interrupt at that. He most certainly had honor! But he continued before she could speak, “Were I caught alone with you in your chambers, that would cause you trouble. Best I stay outside, guarding your door and your honor. Besides,” he added, “It seems you’ve slept well enough this last week.”

“I still have nightmares. They don’t trouble me when you’re near.”

“I’m still near, just outside your door.”

Her lips tightened, “Is there nothing I can say to change your mind?”

Finally his gray eyes returned to hers. She was surprised at how they looked. Longing. Wistful.

“No, little bird,” he breathed.

They ate in near silence, and Sansa did her best to hide the disappointment she felt so keenly. In one breath he spoke of having no honor, and in the next he proved just how honorable he was. How could he not see his own goodness? She could trust him completely. Why couldn’t he?

The sun had just passed its zenith when Podrick spoke up, “My Lord, My Lady, we should return to the Red Keep.”

Sandor ordered the boy to pack their things quickly while he tended to the horses. Sansa stood, shaking the winkles from her silks. When Sandor approached, leading her golden mare, her smile became less strained.

“What is her name?” She asked. It hadn’t occurred to her to ask before.

“Sundrop.”

That made Sansa’s smile grow. A fitting name for a horse that warmed her heart so, “It suits her, don’t you think?”

Gray eyes glanced between the horse and Sansa’s face, “Aye, little bird. I suppose it does.”

He helped her into the saddle, offering her a knee so she could mount more easily. Sandor remained standing at the mare’s shoulder as she adjusted her skirts and took the reins.

“Sansa,” he softly intoned. Her blue eyes met his immediately. Each froze in the others gaze, barely drawing breath as they stared. Sansa felt something pass between them, something that made her lips part, though no sound emerged. A breeze caught her hair, blowing a strand loose. The wind seemed to bring Sandor back to himself, and he quickly said, “Ride more slowly this time. Don’t want to break that pretty neck.”

Then he turned on his heel and went to his horse, snarling at Podrick to hurry and mount his gelding. She smiled at his back before heeling Sundrop after Stranger.

The sun was sitting a fair bit lower in the sky by the time they arrived back at the castle. She hadn’t realized, in her joyful taste of freedom, how far into the woodland they’d gone. When the three arrived at the abandoned stableyard, Sandor ordered Podrick to return the horses to their stables. He would be down shortly to see to Stranger himself, after returning the Lady Sansa to her room. She barely kept the wince from her face at hearing him speak her title, even if it was to someone else.

Silently he lead her through the Red Keep, back to her apartments in her lonely little tower. Sansa climbed the stone steps hesitantly. Half a day away from her captors reminded her just how caged she really was.

She paused outside her door, turning to Sandor, about to offer him her sincerest thanks for a beautiful day. Before she could speak, a red lock fell into the corner of her vision, the same tress that had been freed by the wind. His thick hand reached toward it hesitantly, taking it in his gloved fingers to tuck it behind her ear.

Breath caught in Sansa’s throat at his reverent touch. He was so close, towering over her, his body within a breath of touching her own. Something hid in his gray eyes, elusive. Something she desperately wanted to discover.

The sound of footsteps coming up the stairwell caught her ear, and Sandor jerked his fingers away from her hair as though it had suddenly become as fiery as its color. He straightened, stepping away from her, and she heaved air into her lungs again. Sansa fought the color trying to stain her cheeks and turned to face whoever was coming, stilling her features to smoothness.

A slender and pretty woman only a few years older than Sansa stepped around the corner. Her hair was raven-black and her large brown eyes nearly matched her hair. She was dressed in the robes of a royal maid, though Sansa could not recall seeing her before.

The woman looked surprised at the sight of the pair; clearly she had expected Sansa to be alone in her chambers.

“Lady Sansa,” it was a half-question spoken in an unfamiliar accent.

“I am,” Sansa replied, lifting her chin, “Who are you?”

“I’m Shae, my Lady. Your new handmaiden.” The woman clasped her hands in front of her.

“I didn’t know I needed a new handmaiden,” she replied dryly. Sansa felt Sandor stiffen behind her, and she turned her blue gaze to him.

“Thank you for your escort, my Lord. I appreciated the turn about the gardens,” she hoped he would understand her lie, and not speak of it. Hurriedly, she continued, “I would speak to my new handmaiden. I am sure you understand.”

Without saying a word Sandor bowed deeply, more deeply than she had ever seen him bow for any of the royal family, even Joffrey. As he rose he shot Shae a hard look before striding away without a word.

Chapter Text

That fucking handmaiden.

Sandor wasn’t sure how he meant it. Fuck her for clearly being sent to spy on the little bird. Fuck her for whatever she would report. Fuck her handler, whatever noble prick that thought to use Sansa for his own gain.

Fuck her for interrupting.

And fuck him for all of it.

He was sure when he had agreed to Podrick as a chaperone – and the insult the Imp had offered by setting that boy to the task – that Tyrion had more in mind, something that would offer him more leverage. That handmaiden, with the predatory look in her eye, was most certainly there to watch Sansa’s every move. And if Sandor fucking Clegane hadn’t gone to ask a Lannister, a bloody Lannister, for a favor she wouldn’t be saddled with a spy.

Deep down he hated to admit that the woman had good timing. If he’d stood there for a breath longer, staring down into those icy blue pools, his self control would have evaporated. Grudgingly, he was grateful to the wench, even if it meant he would never taste Sansa.

The whole day hadn’t exactly gone according to plan. He thought she’d enjoy a few hours riding and come away all smiles and everything would be fine. But she had to ask her questions, and he wasn’t quick enough to give her clever answers. He knew he’d fucking hurt her, again. Maybe it would stop all this foolishness. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if she stopped whatever it was she was doing. Even if that wasn’t what he really wanted.

What he wanted didn’t matter. Only Sansa mattered.

So he had spent the rest of the afternoon thumping people around the training yard as he considered whatever it was he could do to make one, final offering to the little bird. One last chance to make her smile. Even if he burned in Seven Hells for it, by the old gods and the new he was determined to bring her a moment of happiness.

Now he climbed the stairs to guard Sansa Stark’s door, a paper-wrapped parcel tucked into his belt-pouch. He could feel the weight of it, and couldn’t help but remember its presence with each step. Sandor had no idea how he was to speak to her to begin with, much less offer her the meager gift he’d tucked carefully into his pouch. He stood in front of her door dumbstruck, searching for the right words. I might as well be painted like a bloody fool!

It was then he noticed the candlelight didn’t glow under the edge of her door. He could hear nothing within her rooms, no voices or footfalls. With a deep sigh, he realized she was probably already asleep, and silently he cursed himself for not arriving earlier.

Determined he would bestow this parting gift, he tested the door. The bolt hadn’t been thrown, and the hinges only creaked softly as he swung it open. Inside the room was dimly lit from the moonlight seeping through the archways of her balcony. He crept across the stone, gray eyes searching for a place he could leave the little paper package. Someplace she would find it, but wouldn’t be readily noticed by her new ‘handmaiden’.

After a few minutes of silent searching, his gaze fell upon the inlaid stand next to her bed. From the door it couldn’t be easily seen, so there was less chance of it being found by anybody else. He slunk toward the delicate table, watching for any reaction from Sansa with each careful step. When the table was in arm’s reach, he opened the buckle on his leather pouch and, as quietly as he could, drew out the contents. The waxy, yellow paper crinkled under his grip. As he set the tiny bundle down, white fingertips laid against his wrist.

For half a heartbeat he wanted to leap away and draw his sword to defend himself. It was his training, his nature. Yet he recognized that slender hand and hesitant touch. Resignedly he straightened. She was awake, she’d caught him in the act, now there was nothing for it but to accept what came next.

Sansa withdrew her hand as he stood helplessly next to her bed. With more grace than he had thought possible, she raised up on her elbow and picked up the paper. Deftly and with little rustling she unfolded the parcel in her lap, and when its contents were revealed she smiled tremulously at him.

There. She had her lemon cake. She was smiling and happy. His part was done.

And as he turned to leave her, her hand wrapped around his forearm in a firm grip. Sandor turned halfway back to her, ready to softly explain why he couldn’t stay. He would beg her to understand if he had to. It was for her sake, her honor.

But he met her steady gaze, direct and unyielding. Not cold, though. How could something so icy blue melt his every defense and leave him bared while he wore every stitch?

Sansa’s pink lips glistened in the low light when they curved in the faintest of smiles. She gestured wordlessly toward the chair next to her bed, the chair he’d sat in dozens of times. Feeling the last of his reluctance slip away, he moved to the seat and settled into it. Her hands reached up and tugged off his leather glove. Sandor felt a rush of breath leave him when her silken skin came in contact with the rough flesh of his fingers, and stifled a quiver when he heard her own contented sigh.

Their hands gripped one another as she settled back against her pillows, neither willing to let the other slip away now. As she closed her eyes he began to stroke her palm with his thumb. The callouses couldn’t feel pleasant, he imagined, but she made a soft sound and snuggled into her mattress. Before long sleep overtook her.

Sandor stared at her for hours. How could he have ever hurt her, rejected her, rebuffed her? He was as much a monster as his face made him appear. And yet she still smiled at him, looked so immeasurably pleased with his meager gift. Nobody ever smiled at him that way, had ever appeared so gratified to see him. And fuck, she never flinched away from his visage. Not anymore. He couldn’t recall the last time she really had.

Alone in the dark silence of her room, he made himself another vow. From that moment forward, he would protect her above all others. He would course as she directed, attack as she wished, shield her from enemies, and rip out the throat of any who would seek to do her harm. Even the king himself. He would be a hound. Her Hound.

When the sky began to fade toward light, he quietly rose and reluctantly freed his hand from her grasp. Sansa shifted as he laid her arm on the feather mattress. She would never know his vow; she couldn’t, for both their sakes. It ached; not taking a knee to speak the words wasn’t right.

Before he considered when he was doing, he knelt at her bedside, and laid his naked hand over hers. The words came in the barest whisper.

“I am yours, my La--Sansa. Sansa, I will shield your back and give my life for yours. I swear it by the old gods and the new, little bird. I swear it on my life."

And he learned forward as he removed his fingers to place his lips against the back of her hand. Her scent nearly overpowered him, and he hated that his ruined flesh touched her. Sansa deserved only the most perfect things in life, and he was very far from perfection. But he was good at killing, and good at instilling fear with the slightest look. He could put those skills to use for her.

As he showed himself out the door, he failed to see her small smile, the blue of her eyes glinting in the last of the moonlight at his retreating back. When the door clicked shut, she was whispering even more softly than he had.

"And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat at my table, and pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new, Sandor Clegane.”

Chapter Text

“You are smiling today, my Lady Sansa. Do you have a secret?”

Turning blue eyes to her handmaiden Shae, she tried to school her expression. Despite something of a rough start, she’d found herself liking this dark haired beauty from Volantis. Shae was blunt, loyal, and fierce. And good at ferreting out intrigues at court.

“I was just thinking about my wedding to my beloved Joffrey,” she spoke as casually as she could, hoping the other woman would believe her, “Queen Cersei feels we should begin making plans soon, now that I am of age.”

Shae nodded, but her expression belied the gesture. Sansa quickly tried to divert her.

“How long have you been in Westeros, Shae? Do you know much of our wedding customs?”

The dark woman looked a little surprised by the questions. Sansa supposed most nobles rarely asked after their servants, and probably not about their lives before they started their service.

As Shae opened her mouth to answer, there was a rapping at the door. Sansa rose, straightening her blue skirts while Shae opened the door. Outside stood a goldcloak.

“Lady Sansa, the King requires your presence in the throne room.”

Sansa’s heart dropped into her shoes. Shae spun around and moved quickly to her side, sweeping back Sansa’s hair and straightening her bodice. The Kingsguard tapped his foot impatiently.

Moments later they were sweeping hurriedly down the hall, only slowing a few steps before the great heavy doors of the throne room. The goldcloak spoke to one of his brethren, who ducked inside the room to announce her arrival to the assembled nobles.

When the doors swung open, Sansa lifted her chin and strode into the throne room with a straight back. Shae heeled just behind. It appeared most of the nobles were there, but oddly she could not see any members of the small council or the royal family, except for Joffrey. He lounged across the throne flanked by guards. At the foot of the dais stood Ser Meryn Trant, and her stomach tightened until her eyes slid to Sandor Clegane.

Seeing his huge form standing to one side of the steps leading to the throne gave her strength. She had his vow he would protect her. While she was unsure what he could do to stop one of Joffrey’s rages outside killing the wicked boy, just knowing he was there steeled her.

Her slippers came to a stop at the first marble step, and she dropped into a deep curtsy. Shae mimicked her Lady. When Sansa’s head rose, Joffrey was on his feet staring down at her. A crossbow in his hands was pointed directly at her head.

All Sansa’s courage fled at the sight of the bolt aimed at her nose. Tears leaked from her eyes before she could think to stop them.

Gods, what did I do? He is going to kill me!

“You’re here to answer for your brother’s latest treason,” the brat King hissed.

“Your grace, whatever my traitor brother has done, I had no part. You know that. I beg you, please-”

She was cut off by Joffrey barking at his cousin to give evidence of the northmen’s crimes against the crown. Lancel Lannister told the court a vicious tale of her brother commanding thousands of wolves to slaughter a Lannister force, and afterwards feating upon the dead men with his human companions.

Sansa trembled at the words. Pure lies, they had to be! But Joffrey’s crossbow did not lower.

For the briefest moment she glanced toward Sandor. His hands were clenched into fists, straining the leather of his gloves across his knuckles. He paid no mind to Lancel or the King; strangely, Sansa thought, he watched Meryn Trant.

“Killing you would send your brother a message,” Joffrey muttered. Sansa trembled while tears poured down her ruddy cheeks. For a moment she was sure he was going to fire that bolt and break her skull in two, but then he lowered the weapon and scoffed, “But my mother insists on keeping you alive.”

Sansa couldn’t hear what was said next through her relived crying. She stared at the stone beneath her skirts, little more than a crying, silken heap on the floor.

Then she was standing, and Ser Trant was approaching her. Wide blue eyes stared of her terrified face as he laid a gilded gauntlet on her shoulder and struck her, hard, in her stomach.

“Leave her face. I like her pretty.” Joffrey called from the Iron Throne. As Sansa desperately tried to ger air back into her lungs, the knight freed his sword. Suddenly a sharp pain caught her across her thighs and she stumbled to her knees before the throne. Joffrey was standing, approaching where she cried in pain from Trant’s blows.

“My Lady is overdressed. Unburden her.”

Sansa looked wildly at Joffrey as the anointed knight ripped at her dress. The stitching tore with a sharp rip, and she felt the cool air against her skin. Quickly she grabbed at the scraps as they fell away, clutching them to her chest in an attempt to cover herself. She looked to the Hound and found he was looking away from her, the jaw on the scarred side of his face clenched in rage.

As Trant walked around to face Sansa, Joffrey intoned, “If we want Robb Stark to hear us, we’re going to have to speak louder!”

He finished in a shout, and Trant raised his sword. That was when she heard Sandor.

“Enough.” He growled. Both Sansa and Ser Meryn glanced at the huge man. Sansa’s breath left her when she saw his gray eyes staring death at Trant. Before either man had moved a muscle, before the King could realize what was going on, another voice echoed all throughout the throne room.

“What’s the meaning of this?”

The room fell momentarily silent at the demanding, commanding tone. Ser Meryn lowered his sword, and Sansa sagged with relief as she turned to see the source of the authoritative tone. Lord Tyrion Lannister strode toward the dais, the nobles giving a wide breadth to both the Lord Hand and his companion, the new commander of the watch, Bronn.

“What kind of knight beats a helpless girl?” Tyrion snapped at Ser Meryn, placing himself directly between the Kingsguard and Sansa. While Trant and Bronn exchanged hard words, Tyrion demanded someone cover Sansa. Before any of them knew it, Sandor was moving toward her, practically ripping the white-and-gold cloak from his shoulders. She wished she had a moment to take comfort in his presence, but that would be a mistake with the entire court watching. Quickly he wrapped his cloak tightly around her kneeling shoulders. As he pulled back, the fingers of his left hand brushed her cheek softly, and then he was walking away.

Sansa glanced at Tyrion, standing to her right. If he had noticed the tiny gesture, he said nothing.

“She is to be your queen. Have you no regard for her honor?” Tyrion snarled at his nephew. The boy shouted back, and Sansa tried to disappear into Sandor’s cloak. Desperately she hoped the brat would forget all about her and take out his anger on his uncle. The dwarf stood between her and the King, and she took the shield he provided as an opportunity to quickly wipe her tears on the bleached wool of the cloak.

When Tyrion had rendered the court silent with well-placed words Sansa hadn’t really heard, he approached her. She remained on the floor, clutching the ruined silk and heavy wool around her like armor. Without a word, he extended a small hand. Sansa blinked her big blue eyes before accepting his help and rising to her feet.

Joffrey rose indignantly as Sansa and Tyrion turned, but said nothing as they strode down the center of the milling nobles toward the door. Shae came to walk on her other side. As Tyrion spoke his apologies for his nephew’s awful behavior, Sansa replied with the only thing she could think of.

“I am loyal to King Joffrey, my one true love,” she was proud of the ice in her tone.

The Hand remained at the doorway to the throne room as Sansa left, trailed by her handmaiden. She was relieved to be alone, relieved that there were few on the path back to her tower that might see her.

But she was most relieved to return to her rooms. As soon as the door was shut, Shae was at her side. She helped quickly remove the shredded silk, unknowingly setting Sandor’s cloak aside on the chair he took each night. The foreign woman switched between gentle words of comfort and growled curses at Joffrey’s treatment, until she was sent away to dispose of the destroyed gown.

As soon as the door was shut, Sansa threw the bolt. She didn’t want to leave her room for the rest of the day. She didn’t even want to put on any of the other beautiful silk dresses hanging in her wardrobe. Standing in her smallclothes, she took up the white cloak and wrapped it about her shoulders. It smelled of dirt, and wine, and leather, and sweat, but underneath the cacophony of scents, she could smell him.

Clad in Sandor Clegane’s cloak, she collapsed onto her bed. And then she began to weep.

Chapter Text

Sandor wanted wine.

Seven Hells, he wanted wine more than he had any other time in his life.  He’d been through battles less daunting, grueling, and devastating than today.  His mouth practically watered at the thought of a keg of one of those fine Dornish reds, or an Arbor gold.  They could wash away the memory of today.  If he drank enough.

But there was something he wanted more than wine.  More than drinking himself into an oblivious stupor.  

And so he was rushing through the Keep, fighting back the horror clawing at his brain.  He couldn’t remember such a sharp, sickly feeling buried deep within his gut ever before.  

Tyrion hadn’t let him go to Sansa’s door at the proscribed hour tonight.  No, the Imp had insisted Sandor deliver a gift to his nephew’s chambers.  The halfman had said it with a grin the Hound should have known meant no good.  So he’d found himself ushering two women through the servants corridors of the Keep, one with dark hair who gleefully bounced her way through the castle.  The second was taller with red hair almost the color of the little bird’s, but she conducted herself with more dignity and grace than the other.

Whores.  He could see why Tyrion had chosen the pair.  The redhead would offer more restraint, draw it out for the King, while the brunette would be all raw enthusiasm.  

It hadn’t taken long for all three to realize this was not going to turn out the way the Imp had planned.

Sandor had carried the poor, ruined girl to Tyrion himself.  His right arm and the lower half of his tunic were soaked with her blood.  The Hand had sent for the Maester immediately while Sandor and the redheaded whore, Ros, had related what they could of the girl’s fate.  He wasn’t sure even the most gifted Maester, something which Pycelle was most certainly not, could save the girl’s life.

And bloody Hells, the girl was not much older than Sansa.

It was all too much.  Now he knew exactly what Joffrey was capable of, and knew he’d love nothing more than to make Sansa scream like that dying whore.  The thought of her, her innocent, beautiful virtue being ripped into pieces, made his stomach churn and sour fumes rise in his throat.

He couldn’t bear that.

Quickly he climbed the stairs towards the little bird’s apartments.  It was well past midnight and she would likely be asleep, but he had to go.  He had to see her with his own eyes, know that she was safe.

A frown crossed his features when he opened her door easily.  She should have barred it; he would need to speak with her about that, advise her of caution.  Especially now that Joffrey had a true taste of torturing a woman, likely to death.  The thought was soon forgotten as the latch clicked shut behind him, and his gray gaze fell upon her sleeping form.

It took his breath.  Her supple body in the dimness, the light blankets molding every dip and swell of her figure would undo any man.  But tonight the pleasing sight also filled him with relief.  Sansa could not sleep so easily, be so unblemished, if Joffrey had come for her while he was busy with the Hand.  The poor whore’s fate had not been visited upon her.  She was safe.  

Sandor crossed the intervening space in a handful of steps, not bothering for quiet.  He discarded his sword belt carelessly upon the chair before he sank onto her mattress.  The weight of his bulk sitting on her bed made her stir, and without thought he wrapped powerful arms around her and pulled her into his chest.

The sound of her voice was muffled against his shoulder, so he loosed his grip and looked down.  Her blue pools stared drowsily up at him.  

“Sandor,” her voice was thick with sleep, and she yawned before continuing, “Is something wrong?”

It took a few moments before he could find the words.  “No little bird,” a pause, and then, “Yes.  I failed you today.  I should have put a knife through that bastard brat’s heart and taken off Trant’s head for even looking at you.  And I should have fed him his own cock for ever touching you.”

Sansa looked both startled and confused before realization dawned in her features.  He went on.

“I won’t ask you to forgive me.  I can’t be forgiven for it.  They should have died.  I should have sent them to meet the Stranger.  Seven Hells Sansa, I don’t know what I am trying to say.  I am just so sorry.”

His voice broke at the last and he bowed his head before he could shame himself any further when suddenly two soft hands delicately cupped his cheeks. 

“There is nothing to forgive,” came her musical voice, still tinged with sleep, “If you’d tried, you would have died, and I would have too.  I am glad you did nothing.”

Sandor’s gray eyes squeezed shut.  He didn’t deserve her kindness or mercy.  A part of him still wanted to lash out in anger at her gentleness.  But it was such a small part now, it was quickly overwhelmed by something else.  Something strong, protective.  Something that warmed him almost to the point of burning.  Something that made him squeeze her more tightly.  His eyes opened.

“Sansa,” he breathed, staring down into the porcelain serenity of her face.  Then his lips were touching hers.

The heat within him exploded.  Sandor’s mouth caressed against her full, pliant lips, suckling the flesh and tracing it with the tip of his tongue. He pulled her, bringing her slender body flush to his.  There was no stopping the rumble in his chest when he felt her breasts crushed to his chest.  As he drew upon her lips, he felt more alive than he ever had before.  Her mouth was so sweet, so warm and delicious and her.

A sound penetrated his ears, and he realized she was keening softly.  For the briefest moment he feared he was hurting her, that she was angry with him, but then recognized that tone of pleasure.  It nearly drove him mad with need.  She could sing such pretty songs, he was sure, when he plied his lips and tongue and fingers just right.

Before the thought could take him over and ruin them both, he raggedly tore his mouth from hers.  Sansa’s parted lips allowed a husky breath to escape into the sudden space between them.  He heaved air into his lungs. Bloody Hells, what did I just do?  Fuck. Fuck!

“Sansa,” he finally breathed.  After several more gulps of air, he started for the second time, “I shouldn’t have done that.  I shouldn’t be here now!  Gods, I didn’t protect you today, and now I’ve gone and touched you in a way I never should have-”

He tried to finish speaking, tried to remove his arms from her lithe and panting body.  But her finger was suddenly over his mouth, and her free hand wrapped around his forearm to keep it in place at her waist.

“If you had not touched me, Sandor Clegane, I would have eventually touched you.  By the old Gods and the new, I swear it for truth.”

Her lips curled into a smile at the startled expression he knew was gracing his ruined face.  When she removed her fingers, he opened his mouth to grovel, but the words died on his tongue when her mouth inexpertly pressed to his.  It was tentative, her kiss, and much more restrained than his had been.  He allowed her lips to explore; he’d allow her anything she wanted at that moment.  Her mouth might have been artless, but she was eager.  And when she didn’t shy away from the ruined corner of his mouth, he felt a throbbing deep within his chest.

It seemed like hours had passed when she finally pulled back.  His eyes slowly opened and stared down at her.  Her face had a slightly dreamy expression, and she wore a beautiful, open smile.

“There.  Now you know it for true.”

Sandor didn’t know what to say.  He held one of the most incredible women in Westeros in his arms, a woman with such beauty and breeding she’d been chosen to wed a King, and one who was so intelligent she was surviving a court that sought her humiliation and pain.  And she had kissed him, willingly.  It had to be some wonderful, cruel dream.

He gathered her into his arms, trying not to crush her in his tight embrace.  His nose buried into her fiery hair, and he breathed in her scent.

“I have no words, little bird,” was all he could offer.  A delicate hand squeezed his arm.

“You need none,” she whispered.

Before long he found himself seated at the head of her bed, her head resting on his stomach.  He felt a pang to see her pale skin contrast with the blackened patch of blood just below her head.  For hours he stroked her hair as she slept, doing nothing more than focusing on her comfort while she rested.  And as the sky lightened toward the dawn, he finally roused her to leave.  Sansa barely woke when he rose and laid her gently down upon the mattress.  Sandor let his fingers travel down her smooth cheek to touch her lips.  She sighed when he did, and he smiled.  It was foreign to him, smiling, but he found great pleasure in it when his little bird was the cause. 

Chapter Text

The silk of Sansa’s pale skirts made a swishing sound with each stride.  Heeling her down the lavish corridors of the Red Keep was her dark-haired handmaiden Shae.  Sansa had grown surprisingly fond of the woman and her unrefined-yet-honest ways in the short weeks the foreign woman had been with her.  Despite her words often being blunt, the advice Shae offered was frequently wise.  For someone who seemed to have minimal knowledge of serving a Lady, she was deft at the intrigues of the court and navigating the noble currents.

But Shae wasn’t the reason Sansa’s step was light.  Even the folded invitation in her hand had only brought a small amount of joy this morning, and Sansa had come to enjoy the brief visits she and Princess Myrcella shared.  No, this morning Sansa was happy because of Sandor Clegane.

Finally, finally , he had come to her of his own, woken her by taking her into his arms.  She still felt the fading ripples of bliss when his mouth had come down upon hers.  Sansa hadn’t realized how much she wanted, needed to kiss him.  That he had struggled to honor her, to protect her virtue, had only made her desire it more.  And when she had caught his face in her hands and kissed him, a pressure had begun to warm her.  A pressure that felt divine, and one solely connected to him.  And mostly centered between her thighs.

Just remembering now she felt it again.  A flush rose in her cheeks and she fought it down.  Sansa did not want to have to lie to Myrcella about the cause of her blushes.

Two Goldcloaks stood outside Myrcella’s doors.  Sansa glanced down the hallway toward Cersei’s apartments, concerned the Queen might be joining them.  But no servants or Kingsguard were near her rooms, which meant she was away from them.

She was allowed in once she had been properly announced.  Myrcella sat upon a chaise in front of a sweeping view of Blackwater Bay.  The fifteen year old set her book upon a table and stood, straightening her golden silks to greet Sansa.

“Lady Stark,” she smiled.  Sansa dipped in a low curtsy to acknowledge the greeting, and Myrcella continued, “Thank you for answering my invitation.” 

“Thank you for the invitation, princess Myrcella,” Sansa replied smoothly as she straightened, “It is an honor to be asked for a private audience.”

The princess grinned, her golden hair catching the light streaming in from the windows.  Her blue eyes, more ocean than Sansa’s sky, came to rest over Sansa’s shoulder.  Sansa spoke before Myrcella troubled herself with asking.

“This is my handmaiden, Shae.  I will send her away, if it please you.”

Myrcella seemed to consider it for a moment before replying, “No, Shae may stay.  Dear Sansa, I have so much I want to tell you, and desperately wish your thoughts on the matters before me.”

“My thoughts?”  The redheaded Stark replied, suddenly wary.  What possible advice could she give the princess?

“Yes, if it isn’t too much to ask,” the younger woman replied.  Sansa was surprised to see anxiety in her features.

“It is never too much, princess,” Sansa said slowly, “Only, I am not sure which thoughts of mine you seek, on which matters.”

“Please,” Myrcella gestured to a table inlaid with mother-of-pearl.  She and Sansa settled in low-backed chairs, and after Myrcella had sent for cheese and punch, she continued, “I am happy to explain, I just beg you please not tell my mother of what we discuss.”

Sansa felt some of the color drain from her cheeks.  Keeping secrets from Cersei, especially about her only daughter, would have severe and dire consequences if those secrets were later discovered.  But Myrcella had no sister or Septa to ask for advice, and Sansa suspected Cersei was not a listener like her own mother Catelyn.  So she assured the princess she would not reveal the girl’s secrets, and hoped she was never put to the question about them.

“My mother recently told me,” the younger girl began slowly, “Because my father is dead, it is up to my mother and brothers to find me a match, as my father cannot.  Today I came to learn that my Lord Uncle Tyrion has arranged my betrothal to Prince Trystane of Dorne.”

When the princess paused, Sansa offered an encouraging smile, “Congratulations to you and Prince Trystane, Princess Myrcella. You will be a beautiful bride.  May the old gods and the new smile upon your union.”

“Thank you, Lady Sansa, but it is not the wedding I am worried about,” the blonde confessed, “I know little of what to expect in Dorne, and even less of the Martells.  I admit, deep down I am shamed to say I am afraid.  I will be far away from my family, from everything I know.  Uncle Tyrion says it’s safest for me there, with my Uncle Stannis coming here.  Oh Sansa,” a pleading tone entered the girl’s voice, “You’re the only one I know who had abandoned her home and family for their betrothed.  Tell me, is it as bad as I fear?”

Sansa considered her words carefully before speaking.  Her own betrothal had been wonderful, at the start.  Something out of a beautiful song.  But that song turned ugly and now her betrothal had made her little more than a prisoner of the crown.

“It isn’t always easy, princess,” Sansa said measuredly, “You will miss your mother, and your friends.  But you will find happiness with your betrothed, I am sure of it.  Our mothers did, and their mothers before them.”

Truth be told, she knew Cersei had never been happy with Robert, but Myrcella didn’t need to hear that about her own parents.  The princess appeared unconvinced, so Sansa tried another angle.

“My father always told me the Martells were fiercely proud, but honorable and kind to the common folk.  And my mother once told me the Martells are handsome, all lustrous hair and dark eyes,” Sansa almost giggled to remember her father’s expression when he’d heard her mother comment on the handsome features of the Dornish.  Everyone within earshot had a good chuckle.  Even had Ned, eventually.  When she relayed the entirety of the story, Myrcella herself laughed.

The pair of young women fell silent when the servants brought the refreshments.  Sansa took the time to reflect upon her own situation.  She no longer loved Joffrey; when she really thought about it, she didn’t think she had ever loved him.  Now she avoided him whenever possible, along with the Queen.  She’d learned who not to trust in King’s Landing.  And who she could.

Shae poured punch into the silver goblet before Sansa.  With her back to the princess, her handmaiden shot her a look that screamed caution.  It sadden Sansa when she realized Shae was right.  She liked Myrcella; both the princess and prince Tommen were gentle in spirit.  But they were still Lannisters, and whatever she said to Myrcella would no doubt eventually get back to Cersei.

“I think of you as a sister, Sansa,” Myrcella spoke after the servants had retreated back to the halls, “Soon we will be sisters by law.  I hope I can confide in you as I would a sister.”

“Of course,” Sansa assured her.  Where is this line of questioning going?

The princess looked grateful before continuing, “I don’t have any aunts, or sisters, and no Septas.  I know you had those things, Sansa.  People willing to advise you,” she fidgeted, “I have nobody that I can ask about...womanly matters.”

Sansa’s eyebrows lifted before she could stop hrself. Myrcella finished in a rush, “Mother’s mercy, I am terrified of the marriage bed.  I know nothing about it Sansa.  Trystane...he will expect me to know things, and I don’t know anything!”

The younger girl crumpled, her shoulders trembling as she fought her tears. Sansa felt her heart twist.  Moving quickly around the table, the redhead knelt next to the blonde and placed a comforting arm around her.

“Calm yourself, Princess.  I am sure you have nothing to fear,” Sansa hoped Myrcella didn’t hear the lie, “I am sure Prince Trystane will be gentle.”

“But what will he do? And what am I supposed to do?”

“My Septa told me I should allow my husband to do his duty, and I should think on the sons I will bear,” Sansa spoke slowly, realization dawning on her.  Gods, I’ll have to let Joffrey do things to me!

She must have looked about as stricken as she felt, for Myrcella simply cried harder.

Movement out of the corner of her eye made her glance over her shoulder.  Shae had come to stand just behind her, leaning towards the pair with concern written all over her slender face.  Sansa glanced between the Princess and her handmaiden before speaking, “Shae, do you know anything of what to expect?”

Shae hesitated, her nearly black eyes flicking between the Ladies.  Finally she sighed, and said, “I know something of it yes, my Lady, your Highness.”

Myrcella sniffled, “You do? Oh please, please tell me.”

The handmaiden straightened, “Begging your pardon, your Highness, my Lady.  I am not sure that would be proper.”

“I don’t care if it’s not proper,” Myrcella wiped her eyes and drew herself up, and for a moment Sansa could see Cersei’s fierce force of will in the younger girl, “It is my duty as a Princess and the betrothed of a Prince of Dorne to understand what is expected of me to produce an heir.  If you have that knowledge, you shall impart it.”

Shae’s eyes widened and she glanced at Sansa.  The Stark shrugged, she herself curious about this hidden knowledge belonging to her handmaiden, yet unwilling to push the woman to share.  Shae sighed, and dipped a rather poor curtsy.

“As you say, your Highness.”

Myrcella’s grin was positively joyous as she directed Sansa and Shae to be seated at the table.  The foreign woman looked uncomfortable yet resigned.  Sansa decided to content herself with listening.  

“Most men will be gentle the first time,” Shae said after Myrcella’s prompt to begin, “If it is also his first time, he might not know much either.  But if he does or doesn’t know, he will be between your legs, and then he will put himself inside. It might sting or feel like a pinch, but the pain is brief and then it can feel nice.”

“Is there pain each time?” Myrcella gasped.  Shae shook her head.

“No, your Highness. After the first time it should no longer hurt.  There might be blood the first time, but that is normal and nothing to be frightened about.”

Sansa’s stomach tightened.  She had the distinct feeling Joffrey would not be gentle, and the subsequent times would not be painless.  The thought of him rutting atop her, snarling down at her, making her bleed with his...his thing , made her want to sick up.

Shoving the thought aside quickly, she realized she’d missed Myrcella’s next question, but Shae’s answer caught her attention.

“It might last some time, if he is strong.  Bigger, stronger men can go longer.  If he is the pampered noble and does not practice warrior arts, then I would not expect much.”

Sandor is big and strong.  There is no finer warrior.   The heat rushed to Sansa’s cheeks at the sudden thought, and Myrcella giggled.

“Why Sansa, you’ve gone positively scarlet!  Are you considering your own marriage bed?”

Sansa swallowed, the thought of Sandor evaporating as Joffrey was forced into her mind. “Who would not consider the King when speaking of such things, your Highness? I hope to please him in every way.”

Myrcella gave her a wide smile, but Shae’s own look at Sansa spoke volumes.  Oh no, Shae did not accept that response.  But she said nothing of it, and continued.

“I know a little of the Dornish.  I expect this Prince is a trained warrior, your Highness.  This is a good thing, for you.”

Sansa and Myrcella glanced at one another.  “Why is that a good thing?”  The princess finally asked.

Shae smiled.  “Because it means he will last longer.  It takes more time for a woman to finish, than a man.”

“What does that mean, to finish?” Sansa asked.  

The handmaiden seemed to consider for a moment before replying, “If you are lucky, and he is not the lazy man, you’ll start to feel very good.  He should see this, and do the things to make you feel even better.  And then you’ll feel a tightening before a burst.  I know it does not sound like it is not scary, but you will like it.”

Sansa released a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.  She glanced toward Myrcella and found her eyes staring, round with wonder.  The redhead couldn’t blame the princess.  It had never occurred to her that she might find enjoyment in the marriage bed with her husband.  Some of the bawdy songs she’d overheard soldiers singing spoke of tasting women.  Sansa now wondered what it was, exactly, they were tasting.

The stunned silence held until Shae shifted in her seat and cleared her throat.  Myrcella blinked, and her eyes snapped to the foreigner.

“I thank you Shae, for your counsel,” the princess said, slightly breathless, “I assure you this visit will remain between us.  I expect neither of you will speak of it.”

Sansa and Shae promised to keep the entire discussion to themselves, though Sansa felt very distracted while she made her assurances.  What could it feel like to burst?

Before long there was a rap at the door.  Shae answered, and a Goldcloak entered to inform Myrcella the Queen required her.  Sansa curtsied to Myrcella, then gathered up Shae to glide from the room.  Outwardly, she did her best to appear the perfect, virtuous Lady.  Inside, she felt a raw warmth that made her weak, a feeling very similar to Sandor’s kiss the night before.  

As the two moved through the mostly empty hallways of the Keep, Sansa finally turned to her handmaiden and asked, “How do you know these things?”

Shae gave her a sidelong look before replying, “Volantis is not as conservative as your Westeros.”

When it was clear she was not going to say anything more, Sansa pressed, “What more do you know?”

A wide smile crossing her features, Shae turned to address Sansa directly, “Lots, my Lady.”

Chapter Text

The Hound climbed the stairs towards Sansa’s apartments feeling every muscle with each step. Stannis Baratheon meant to claim the crown by force, and that meant the city needed to prepare its defenses. Sandor had spent the day drilling new recruits after a short rest in his small quarters. On his feet, in the sun. For hours.

Now he was exhausted. And it hadn’t helped that through all his waking hours, his mind kept drifting to Sansa. How she’d felt pressed to his chest, her small frame molding to his larger. Her scent had filled his head, stirring within him a dizzying ache. Her coral lips had branded their sweetness into his. In his head, all day long, he could hear her soft sighs and little mewls.

He shook his head. Better to forget all that. He would protect her, shield her from Joffrey and all his bloody Knights, but he knew he’d never taste her again. That lithe body would never be his to hold, that perfect mouth never his to kiss. That song never his to hear.

The thought was torture.

So better to not torment himself and push any thoughts of Sansa Stark’s lusciousness from his mind. Focus on protecting the city and the Keep. After all, it meant protecting Sansa.

The door leading to the girl’s chambers was shut though light seeped under the wood. The Hound paused for a moment, considering if he should knock and speak to her, or silently take up his post. For minutes the options rolled around his head, until the decision was taken from him.

The heavy door opened to reveal Sansa on the other side. The fine silk robe hanging from her shoulders hinted at what lay underneath the thin fabric. Her long hair hung down her back, loose and free to catch the light. Sandor fought to breathe evenly as his gray gaze fixed her, the battle nearly lost when she smiled up at him.

“Come in, Sandor,” her soft, musical voice was like a caress. Glancing down the hallway to be sure no prying eyes could see, he stepped into her room and closed the door.

He stood regarding her for a moment. Sansa smiled up at him, a picture of elegance even in her bedclothes. She looked expectant, like he should be saying something. The fuck was he supposed to say? He wondered if she thought he would spout off poetry like those bloody Knights in her bloody songs. Well, he’d never recited any poetry. He didn’t even know any poems. If she thought for one minute he was going to become some dewy-eyed cunt in golden armor to hand her flowers from the back of a tourney horse, she had-

“I’m glad to see you,” she said. Sandor blinked at the honesty. Seven Hells, had any woman ever said such a thing to him? And if so, had they actually meant it?

Unsure how to reply, he gave a little nod and grunted in response. The beautiful girl took it in stride, her smile never wavering, her eyes never flickering. Instead, she took him by his gloved hand and led him toward her bed.

Sandor plopped down in the chair, causing it to creak ominously while she unfastened his glove. Part of him knew he should argue with her, tell her to blow out the candles and go to sleep. Gods, he shouldn’t even be in her room! But the other part, the louder part, swiftly quashed all other thoughts, and he was transfixed with her slender fingers deftly removing his glove.

The leather slid from his hand, revealing a scarred paw easily twice the size of her own. The contrast startled him. She had never been made for war, for fighting, for clawing her way through life. Sansa was like a figurine, a beautiful porcelain doll to be revered. But he knew now that was just a pretty veneer; nobody made of anything less than Valyrian steel could have survived a court so desperate to see their undoing.

His eyes widened when she took hold of his other hand and freed it from its leather casings. It was only a pair of gloves, but he felt practically stripped bare. He held his breath and she sat silently, looking at the rough scars and calluses covering each of his hands. When finally her fingertips slid between his, he practically groaned.

Aye, this was torture. The sweetest torture.

Sandor struggled not to react as she took her leave exploring each hand. Let the girl have her fun; for whatever reason his fingers seemed to fascinate her, and he wasn’t about to discourage it. Sansa traced each gnarled knuckle like it was fine lace to be felt rather than seen. Her forehead creased whenever her touches crossed over pale, puckered skin marking an old wound. It made him shift in his seat, seeing her frown directed at any part of him. But she would roll the tip of her thumb over the blemish and though it made no difference to his flesh, her features smoothed. When her expression became more contented, he relaxed.

Suddenly Sansa withdrew her hands. His gray eyes blinked and turned to her as she slowly rose to stand before him. Their eyes met, and he had the distinct impression she was much more at ease than he himself. The bewilderness barely kept from his expression, Sandor wondered what to expect next.

Her blue eyes holding his gaze, Sansa’s ivory hands worked at the delicate belt holding her silk robe closed. He heard the whispering of silk more than saw the knot come free, and then the robe was falling from her shoulders.

It was the same linen shift he had seen before, or perhaps one just like it. Sandor didn’t really care to examine it so closely as what lay under that brushed, filmy fabric. She wasn’t silhouetted as she had been that confusing evening; the candles in her room lit it enough to keep her mostly hidden. It was still far from decent, but he refused to care.

Sansa gestured for him to rise. He stood slowly, towering over her. It was a reminder just how delicate she was. For a moment he felt like some sort of hulking beast, a monster from a virtuous Lady’s nightmares. But this Lady smiled at him like he was a Knight from a song, and for a moment he found himself enjoying it.

Then she reached for his sword belt.

Sandor caught her hands in one of his paws. “No, little bird,” he spoke softly. Quiet words felt right.

The Hound nearly started when her steely blue eyes fixed his gray, and she spoke firmly, “Yes, Sandor. You can’t sleep comfortably with a hilt in your ribs.”

A jolt of pride shot through him at the calm surety in her tone. She was starting to learn her worth, to assert herself as the Lady she was born to be. A Lady far above his rank, the second son of a minor lordling with nothing to offer but his sword and a vow he had to find some way to fulfill.

Looking at it from that perspective, who was he to deny a Lady’s command?

For a moment he stood staring down at her, his fingertips against her skin so he could feel the faint brush of her pulse beneath. Something hung in the space between; intangible, dangerous, and utterly powerful. As one exhaled, it passed to the other, the balance shifting rhythmically, forever, until one of them conceded. It grew, enveloping and dizzying them both.

Until Sandor dropped his hands.

The smile that graced Sansa’s lips nearly unmanned him. How could a slip of a girl have disarmed him so? The question was fleeting, for her fingers deftly loosened the leather encircling his waist, and then she was carefully laying his sword on the chair. At a loss for what else to do, Sandor sat on the edge of her bed as Sansa moved through the room to blow out the candles. Even that was done with a Lady's grace. The warm light finally extinguished, she returned to her bed. Sandor stood, prepared to move back to the chair at her bedside when she stopped him.

“Don't be silly,” she whispered, “You can't get a good night's sleep sitting up.” Sansa pulled the blankets back and gave him a sweet smile as she added, “You need the rest.”

Sandor's mouth worked, trying to find the words that would make her relent. It was a horrible idea, sharing her bed. Even if he remained clothed. While he struggled, she proceeded to glide around to the other side of the feather mattress. With the moonlight behind her, he was again reminded of what her shift tried to hide, and his resolve was stolen. But the sensible voice in his head spoke just loudly enough, and instead of climbing under her blankets, he settled stiffly atop them.

For a moment her forehead furrowed at him. It almost amused him, finding small ways to twit her on the nose when she clearly expected his agreement and compliance. Even if seeing Sansa happy pleased him far more.

After a minute, the reason behind his reluctance seemed to dawn on her, and she relaxed next to him. Sandor barely stifled a gasp when he felt her slim body nestle against his right side. He hated she was on that side, in full view of his scars. But the way she tucked her head into his bicep and rested her hand on his chest had him quickly forgetting all about his ruined visage.
“You don't smell of blood this time.”

The words made his eyes pop open. Seven Hells, he had forgotten all about that poor girl Joffrey had killed. Hearing her speak of it brought it all back; how the poor whore grew pale and weak as her life drained onto his tunic. Sandor brought one of his hands to his chest to envelop hers, his body tensing with the memories.

“Whose was it? Did somebody hurt you?” Sansa asked.

He swallowed before replying, “No, little bird. Nobody hurt me. It's nothing for you to worry over. Go to sleep.”

For a moment he thought she was about to push him for more. Sansa rose up on her arms to look down at him with her impossibly big blue eyes. He set his jaw, prepared to dig down and be more stubborn than she could ever possibly be. The old gods and the new put together could not bring him to tell her what Joffrey did. He refused to put that fear in her eyes.

But she didn't say a word. He could do nothing but look up at her face, her red hair almost violet in the faint azure moonlight, silently studying her as she did him. He had no idea why she'd want to stare at him so. She was a beauty, and man or woman, high or low, all those who encountered her stared. Why she'd want to offer him the same treatment, he could not fathom.
When her hand slid gently across his smooth cheek, he moaned softly. It shamed him to his core to make such a noise, but with her face filling his vision and scent clouding his mind, he had no chance of stopping himself. The sound seemed to delight her though, judging by the grin that graced her features. Sansa surprised him further by leaning down and brushing a chaste kiss against his lips.

“Goodnight Sandor,” she whispered, tucking herself back beneath her blankets with her hand resting upon his chest.

He laid silent next to her, listening to her slow breathing as she dozed, and wondered. A paradox, this little bird. How could she be so many things at once? A sweet as the Mother’s kindness, as courageous as the Warrior; as innocent as the Maiden, as wise as the...well, she was certainly clever, this Northern girl, but she would never be a Crone.

He nearly snorted to himself. Early in the evening he had chafed at the idea of reciting poetry, and now he was composing it in his own head!

Sansa shifted, and his attention jerked back to the present. It was quickly apparent his self-chastisement hadn’t woken her. She snuggled her face into his shoulder, and he could almost feel her warmth on his cheek.

As carefully as he knew how, he laid his hand over hers and placed a gentle kiss on her red hair.

“Goodnight, Sansa.”

Chapter Text

Sansa had woken when Sandor left her chambers just before dawn. She’d reached for him, hoping he could stay just a little longer, catching his bare wrist. The black hair sprinkling across his skin was surprisingly soft against her fingers, and she smiled sleepily up at him.

Without a word, the fearsome warrior had carefully plucked her fingers away from his wrist, holding them within his left hand. Once he was freed, he bent to bestow a kiss on the back of her hand before tucking her arm back into the warmth of her bed. It was so tender that she didn’t even mind when he slipped from her room.

Several hours later, she woke to Shae entering into her chambers. The dusky handmaiden carried a cloth covered tray; food to break her fast. Sansa was delighted to see it; dining with Shae was always preferable to the Queen or Joffrey.

While Sansa shrugged her robe on, Shae quickly set out the morning meal.

“Shae,” Sansa giggled, watching the woman work, “You know by now to set yourself a place with me.”

“I wouldn’t want to impose, my Lady.”

“It’s not an imposition, it’s a pleasure. One of the few I get,” Sansa smiled, and was happy when the brunette smiled back.

The pair sat in front of a small fire in the marble hearth, quietly enjoying fruit with poached eggs and sliced ham. There was a warm, crusty loaf fresh from the oven as well. More than enough for the two of them.

“Do you remember,” Sansa spoke carefully, “A few days ago when we visited Myrcella?”

“I do, my Lady,” Shae replied simply.

“You said you knew more than what you told the princess. I was wondering, would you consider sharing that with me?”

The brunette set down her fork and looked Sansa in the eye. “Did I say something that intrigued you?”

All Sansa could do was blush.

Shae giggled before extending her hand to take Sansa’s, “That’s nothing to be shy about, my Lady. A woman has a right to find her own happiness, including in the marriage bed. I am happy to answer your questions, and you have my confidence.” The handmaiden poured Sansa and then herself more juice before turning back to her charge, “So what is it you want to know?”

For a few moments, Sansa considered her words. There was so much she wanted to ask, but caution was key. If she gave Shae the slightest cause to think she was asking for any other reason than to please Joffrey, it could spell disaster.

“I don’t know what I want to know,” she murmured, “I don’t think I will find happiness with Joffrey, least of all in the marriage bed.”

“Then let’s not think on Joffrey,” Shae’s tone was firm and enthused, “There are plenty of other handsome men in the city. We can choose one of them and pretend, yes? What about an honorable, handsome knight with a white steed?”

Sansa smiled at Shae, her blushes receding as they giggled together. It wasn’t exactly what Sansa would have chosen; she rather preferred strong, roguish warriors with blasphemously-named stallions black as midnight.

But Shae didn’t need to know that.

“Oh yes, that sounds a marvelous idea,” Sansa agreed, “Perhaps someone who gives tournament roses to ladies fair.”

That ought to do it. Every girl in King’s Landing swooned over Ser Loras Tyrell. His startling good looks and eloquent words were the stuff of legends and songs. Sansa knew her planted idea did the trick when Shae gave her a conspiratorial wink.

Feeling more confident, Sansa asked slowly, “So what might you do, with such a man?”

“There are many things you could do,” Shae replied casually, chewing a bite of fruit and swallowing before she said, “You could fuck him.”

When Sansa went as crimson as her hair, Shae chuckled and offered, “Or, you could do other things. Things that allow you to touch him, and him to touch you, without having to have him between your legs.”

“Other things. What sort of other things?”

The dark woman shrugged. “Some men, they like to be touched, and others, they like to do the touching. If he likes to touch, he might brush your hair, feed you grapes and strawberries with his own hands, or even bathe you.”

That pulled Sansa up short. “Bathe me?”

“Maybe, if he likes touching you.”

“What if he likes me touching him?”

Shae smiled before replying, “Then you could always bathe him.”

A prospect Sansa had never considered before, and one she had to admit she was very curious about. “How would I bathe him? I've never bathed anybody before.”

“Has anybody bathed you before, my Lady?”

“Only my mother,” Sansa spoke wistfully. What she wouldn't give to be safe at home in Winterfell with her mother scolding her and Arya over some squabble.

“It's not quite the same as that,” Shae said, “It will be slower. Every motion will be more deliberate. You want to take your time.”

When it was clear she didn't quite understand, Shae moved to the wash basin and scooped up the sponge. After she had wrung it out, she returned to Sansa.

“May I show you, my Lady?”

After Sansa had nodded her assent, the handmaiden knelt and rolled the fabric of the robe up to the redhead's shoulder. Once the skin was exposed, Shae took her hand and extended her arm. Placing the sponge almost on Sansa's shoulder, she slid it slowly down her flesh. The damp trail it left behind was cool, but Sansa was far too intrigued by the other woman's ministrations to pay the chill any mind.

When Shae reached Sansa's fingers, her deft hand rolled her arm to expose the sensitive inner skin. Looking up, her dark eyes locked with Sansa's pale, and she drew the sponge delicately along the inside of her arm. Sansa shivered, both the sensation of the sponge and the intimacy of looking into Shae's eyes while she was bathed nearly overwhelming.

“You see?” Shae spoke softly, “It is a very simple thing to express your interest without giving up your virtue, yes?”

Sansa could only nod while her handmaiden dried her arm with a towel and unrolled the robe’s sleeve. When Shae returned the sponge to the basin, Sansa finally found words.

“Would I bathe him like that?”

“If you like,” the dusky woman replied, “Men are built much the same as women when it comes to feeling good. Think on what you enjoy in your bath, and try it on him.”

“What if I do it wrong, or he doesn’t like it?”

Shae smiled indulgently. “My lady, it is impossible to do this wrong. He will like it. It’s not about becoming clean; it’s about you touching him. He will fall to his knees and give you all the tournament roses in the world for the hope of more,” she ended with a giggle, which made Sansa laugh herself.

When the mirth subsided and they returned to their meals, Sansa mulled over Shae’s advice. Would she be able to convince Sandor to allow her to touch him in such a way? Or would she have to resort to some sort of trickery to make him yield? Would Shae have ideas to aid her in her cause? And how would she discover such ideas without revealing too much?

“Shae, how do you know such things?”

The question surprised Sansa nearly as much as Shae. While it was true Sansa had started to wonder about that very question that fateful day they visited Myrcella, she’d never meant to ask in such a way.

“I’m sorry, it’s none of my business, I know.”

“No, it’s all right, my Lady. You are within your rights to ask.”

“I don’t mean to be rude.”

“I don’t think you are rude,” Shae smiled. “You are the perfect Lord’s daughter, Lady Sansa. Nobody could ever think you are anything to the contrary. I will tell you a little of my life, if it please you?”

“Oh, yes please. I would like to know you better,” Sansa grinned.

And so Sansa spent her morning captivated by the exciting adventures of Shae from Volantis.

Chapter Text

It had been another draining day. Raw recruits had poured into the city at the King’s call, as eager for the coin as they were a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. Most were nothing more than farmboys and better used to pitchforks than swords. It was up to Sandor, along with the Kingsguard and Goldcloaks, to make them into proficient soldiers.
If Sandor could keep any of them from stabbing himself or another recruit in the foot in all this, he’d consider it a success.

Weariness seemed a permanent part of him now; his bones felt twice their age as he climbed the stairs to Sansa’s rooms. It wasn’t that he was unused to long, grueling hours training. It was the godsforsaken green recruits that wore him down. Seven hells, he caught one of them shirking archery training to play the pipes!

No. He wasn’t going to focus on those sheep fuckers now. He’d arrived at Sansa’s door, and for the first time he didn’t wait to be invited in. He gave one quick knock, and opened her wooden door.

The Lady Stark was seated upon a velvet chair in front of the fire, a book open in her lap. Her auburn hair hung down her back in one thick braid, laid over the silk of her robe. She turned at his entrance, her lips curving into a wide smile and eyes shining brightly.

“Sandor,” her musical voice spoke his name like a caress as the door clicked shut behind him. She rose and came to him, going up on tiptoes to press a kiss to his cheek.

“Hello, little bird,” he greeted as her heels dropped back to the stone floor. Sandor reached up to run his fingers over her cheek. How could something so pure and beautiful look at his monstrous face and smile that sweetly?

He regarded her so long that it took him a minute to realize the room was quite bright for it being full darkness outside. More than candles could account for. Glancing to the fireplace, he saw bright, high flames dancing in the hearth. An iron pot hung over the fire, and a basket of fresh laundered towels sat close enough to the blaze to absorb the warmth.

“What’s this then?” He rasped.

Sansa looked down at her toes, a rosy tint suddenly coloring her ears. “I know you barely have time to eat, between training the recruits and your duties over me,” she spoke hesitantly at first, gaining momentum as she went on, “I know that when you’ve come to me the last several days, you’ve been hot and tired and coated with sweat. I thought, tonight, before you come to bed, you might like a bath.”

Sandor schooled his features, keeping them stoic to hide the surprise. She wanted him to bathe in her rooms, with her presumably in them? That went beyond improper! The longer she stood, looking down at her feet, the worse he knew he was making her feel. In his struggle to find the right words, he latched on to the first thing he could think to say.

“I don’t see a tub.”

Stupid! He chastised himself. Of all the things he could possibly say, he chose that little gem. But the way Sansa looked up at him, apparently she didn’t think the comment out of place.

“Bringing the tub was too much, and besides, the handmaidens would have thought to attend me if I wanted a bath. So instead, I...I thought to bathe...you.”

The way her big blue eyes looked up at him, so full of eager devotion to this plan, he found himself instantly hard. And when she said those words while looking at him? He stood no chance.

But part of him, some dumb part he wished would shut the ever loving fuck up, pushed more words from his mouth. “Are you certain, Sansa? I’m perfectly capable of washing myself.”

“I’m certain,” she practically sang at him, “You do so much to care for me, I want to care for you as well.”

Mother's mercy, he wanted to take her flawless face in his hands and kiss her until he drowned. Instead, she took his gloved hands in hers and led him to the fire. While she worked at his sword belt, he shucked off his leather gloves and boots.

As she laid the sword and belt reverently in a chair, he took the hem of his tunic and pulled it up and over his head. The leather-and-wool garment was flung carelessly over his sword, half falling out of the chair. Sandor stood, waiting for Sansa to finish straightening his discarded tunic and sword so everything sat in a neat pile.

When she turned and saw him bare-chested, he heard her gasp. The why of it wasn’t clear to him. Was she repulsed by all his scars? Dozens crisscrossed his pelt, causing the hair of his chest to take on strange swirling patterns. Was it his size? Armor did a fair job making a man look larger than he really was, but Sandor knew he’d surprised quite a few with his remarkable size out of armor as well. Heavy muscle roped up his arms and across his shoulders, then down his chest to ripple across his abdomen. The longer she stood staring at him, the more uneasy he became.

Just when he was about to say something, Sansa breathed in deeply. Her lungs expanded and forced the silk tight over her bosom. Through the fabric he could see hard little peaks tenting the fabric. His groin twinged.

Finally, she gestured towards his trousers and asked, “Are you sure you want to leave them on?”

Gods no! “Yes,” he replied, however reluctantly. It took every inch of discipline he had not to tear off her clothes along with his own. If his breeches came off and she even looked at him, much less washed, there’d be no hope for either of them.

Moving quickly to not get himself caught up in that line of thought, Sandor moved a stool in front of the fire to sit. He made sure he was close enough for the warmth, but well away from the open flames. Sansa handed him a towel, which he placed over his lap to help keep his trousers dry. Then she was scooping ladles of hot water into a stone crock. As she filled the basin, the sponge inside began to float.

The water was still steaming when she set the bowl beside him. Gray eyes watched her delicate hands wring excess water from the sponge. Sansa then took his bare hand in one of hers to stretch his arm to its full length and placed the sponge upon his shoulder. In a stroke almost impossibly light, she ran it down to his hand. A warm, wet path was left snaking down his arm.

He watched as the sponge returned to his shoulder and traced its way down his arm, leaving a trail alongside the first. The water felt good, but that it was Sansa bathing him made it so much more.

Sandor glanced to her porcelain face and saw her studying him. Her blue eyes were lidded, and she breathed through parted coral lips. He fought the urge to slide his thumb over her lower lip and feel the warmth of her breath flow over his skin. But the look in her eye stayed his hand. It was obvious she was enjoying herself. Her gaze wandered over his chest and followed the trail of black hair down to his abdomen. When the muscle in his chest swelled with his breath, she made a small sound. When he inhaled next, he held the breath for several moments, and her eyes grew round at the sight of his taut muscle.

Gods, but it was fun to be the source of that expression.

Simultaneously they realized the water had gone cold. Sandor watched appreciatively from his stool as she filled the crock, graceful even while performing such a mundane task.

Both his arms now clean, she walked around to tend to his back. He heard the sponge being wrung, and then felt warm water push through his hair to soak the back of his neck. It ran along his spine, making him shudder and his flesh pebble. Sansa was quick to chase it with the sponge before tracing the shape of the muscle in his back. There too his flesh bore the marks of a life hard-lived.

It felt as though she had been kneading his back for an hour before her ministrations moved over his shoulder. Sandor opened his eyes to watch her slender hands move the sponge down his chest. The further she went, the closer her body moved to his back. When her hands reached his navel, he felt her leaning over him. So close. So very close.

He tilted his head back, looking up at the tip of her nose and narrow jaw. For a moment he watched her quickened pulse thump in her throat, and heard the rise and fall of her breathing.

“Sansa,” he spoke her name in the barest whisper. But, unable to hear him, she didn’t look down.

Instead he reached up to cup the back of her head with his massive paw, gently encouraging her to look down. When she did, he leaned up to catch her lips with his own. He felt his heart pound when her lips eagerly parted. Sandor led the kiss, deepening it, his hand now cradling and caressing her while his tongue slid against her lip.

Sansa made a sound, a soft hum. As she did, her mouth opened more. Sandor took his chance, gently delving his tongue between her lips. A hundred flavors burst in his mouth. She tasted like sweet cakes and lemon punch, like cooling rain in the heart of summer. She tasted like coming home. She tasted like her.

So enthralled was he that it took him a moment to notice something was probing at his lips. When he realized it was the tip of her velvet tongue, he moaned. He retreated from her mouth, leaving his own open wide, welcoming her exploration.

Sandor felt her tongue cautiously dip between his lips. He held as still as he could make himself, his hand stroking through her soft hair for encouragement. Sansa lapped at the roof of his mouth and along his gums. It was inexpert, but it was eager, and when it came to her that counted for everything.

Finally Sandor allowed his own tongue to join, softly licking the edge of hers. She seemed to understand and happily followed his lead. Wetly they played, tongues sliding and lapping and dancing. Feeling her yield to him found him thrusting his tongue into her mouth. His hips were desperate to follow suit; they wanted to twist and roll with the pressure rising in his groin.
A slap against the floor made them jump, their lips tearing apart. Panting, they both looked to the stones in front of Sandor. The sponge sat in a puddle, droplets flung nearly a pace away from the force of the fall. He heard Sansa sigh in relief as he bent to pick up the sponge. Sandor wrung it out himself before giving his chest and abdomen a quick scrub. Standing, he turned to face Sansa.

She stood with her chin tilted up, her lips reddened from the kiss and parted in anticipation of more. He had every intention of giving it to her. Soon.
He reached for the silk belt holding her robe around her elegant figure. With a deft jerk, it fell free. His fingers peeled the fabric from her shoulders, and the silk fell to pool around her bare feet.

Sandor expected some nervousness or fear in her expression as he stripped her down to her last article of clothing. Instead, she peered up at him boldly, curious and intent. Without thought, his arms circled her and he dipped down, scooping her off her feet into his arms. He blew out the candles as he carried her to her feather bed, leaving only the fire to light the room. As he set her down upon her blankets, he dropped his head in to give her a full kiss, but pulled away before it became heated.

“What do you know of men, little bird?” He put to her softly, stroking the hair away from her smooth cheeks. She looked quizzically at him.

“Has a man ever kissed you before? Touched you?”

She shook her head. “Only you. Joffrey gave me a kiss once, but nothing more. Until you,” her voice was small, as though she expected his disapproval. He placed a gentle, chaste kiss on her lips, trying to reassure her. It made his chest fill to bursting to be the only one to share with her this bliss. Certainly Joffrey never had.

“Are you displeased?” She asked when they broke the kiss. He shook his head.

“No, little bird. You could never displease me.”

The smile that blossomed across her face affirmed his statement. She was nothing but pleasing.

“Do you want to stop?” She whispered.

“No,” he breathed. Sansa leaned up towards his lips, and he moved back.

“I don’t want to,” he said quickly, “Gods know nothing would please me more. But we should stop, else you won’t remain untouched.”

Her hands were suddenly on his cheeks, stroking rough and smooth alike. Her full lips glistened as she said, “Maybe I don’t want to remain untouched.”

Sandor groaned. “Don’t tempt this old dog, Sansa. It’s cruel.”

Her big blue eyes blinked up at him, and the hands on his face tugged his gaze down so she could look him in the eye.

“I’ll never be cruel to you.”

Then she was kissing him again, gentle and close-mouthed. When her lips released him, Sandor found himself talked into climbing under the blankets alongside her. He laid down with his arm around her and her head on his bare chest. It occurred to him this was possibly the most comfortable he’d ever been in his life.

All because of her.

Chapter Text

The entirety of the royal family stood on the cold, damp granite of the pier, watching a gilded boat shrink into the distance.  The High Septon was saying some words, and Prince Tommen was struggling with his tears.

Sansa fought the moisture collecting at the corners of her eyes as well.  Seeing off the Princess to Dorne was heartbreaking.  The girl had been nearly inconsolable for three days, and Sansa had only been permitted one brief visit to say goodbye.  Cersei had otherwise monopolized every moment of Myrcella’s time.  Not that Sansa could really blame her; Myrcella was her only daughter, after all.

It was almost unseemly, sending the Princess off to the Martells so soon after the announcement of the betrothal.  But the impending invasion made priorities that much more vivid and despite her reluctance, Cersei knew her daughter would be safest far away from King’s Landing.

I wish I could go as well , Sansa thought.  Even if it would take her further from home, accompanying the Princess as a Lady in Waiting was perfectly acceptable for a woman of her station.  She glanced at the Hound, standing near Joffrey and staring stoically towards the sea.  

Well, she’d have gone if she could take along her guard.

Unfortunately for her, it was not to be.  She was too valuable to send off to Dorne, where she could be used as a pawn in their political intrigues.  An alliance with the North would put enemies on both sides of King’s Landing, and the Martells would hold Myrcella to boot.  That was far too much for the Lannisters to risk, and from what Sansa could tell, the Martells had neither invited nor offered her guestright.  

Myrcella was still easily seen from the pier when Joffrey decided he was bored with the whole affair.  Barking at Sandor to follow, he ascended the stairs up into the city.  Sansa followed behind the royal family, Cersei’s handmaidens flanking her.  

The royal procession hiked up a narrow lane towards the horses and carriages.  People, mostly commoners, lined the streets.  Some shouted well wishes to their King.  Far more voiced complaints over the lack of food. Sansa steadied her nerves by looking straight ahead, beyond the Goldcloaks and nobles, to where Sandor’s broad shoulders towered over everybody else.  As long as she could see him, she could call out to him, and he would hear her.  He would come for her, no matter what.  She just had to keep her eyes on him, and ignore the hundreds of faces pressing in all around.

The crowd grew more restless the further from the Bay they went.  The Goldcloaks flexed fingers on sword pommels, trying to look everywhere at once.  Sansa saw them press in around the royal family, providing a barrier.  She overheard Lord Tyrion order the Septas to take Prince Tommen back to the Keep by a different route. The handmaidens inched closer to her, looking fearfully towards the Lady with them.  Sansa said nothing, but she tried to stand straighter, give them reassuring pats as they walked along.  She was a Lady, and it was her duty to give those around her strength in times of uncertainty.

Something dark sailed overhead, landing with a horrid squishing sound near Sandor.  Sansa fixed him in her gaze.  What was that?  He appeared unhurt, but it was difficult to tell from a distance.

Then she heard Joffrey’s indignant squawk.  

Chaos reigned about the party.  People lunged in from everywhere, fingers grabbing and clawing at her fine silks and hair.  The handmaidens screamed; the one to Sansa’s left suddenly vanished.  The pair of Goldcloaks drew their swords and began slicing at anybody nearby.  Blood from their swings splattered across her rose-colored skirts.  Her blue eyes darted, desperate to find Sandor, but in the upheaval she had lost him.

A blood curdling scream erupted just ahead of where she stood.  Even the crowd paused to take note.  A smaller grouping surrounded something, their backs to everybody else.  Before her horrified eyes, a dismembered and bleeding arm was raised triumphantly above the huddled mass.  And then there were more screams.

The Goldcloaks beside her turned craven and ran, abandoning her and the remaining two handmaidens.  As soon as they disappeared, the front of the younger handmaiden’s dress was torn, and her exposed chest was groped and pinched.  She tried to cry out, and then she was gone too.

Sansa grabbed the remaining woman’s hand, a plain girl a few years older than she herself.

“Run!” Sansa shouted, pulling the girl along in her wake.  The fool woman wouldn’t move her feet at first, but Sansa would not abandon her.  She was no coward like those Goldcloaks!

The handmaiden finally got moving, and the pair dashed down a narrow alleyway.  For a few moments, Sansa thought they might get away, but then she heard the raucous laughter of half a dozen men closing in behind them.

“You have to move faster,” she called over her shoulder to the other woman.  Tears streamed down the blonde’s face, and she choked on her sobs.

The woman tripped, falling to her knees and nearly taking Sansa with her.  Two of the men pounced, laughing as they ripped at her dress.  The girl screamed as she was stripped bare.  Sansa saw one of the men tug at his trousers while the other held the handmaiden by her arms, crudely shouting of their dreadful intentions.

There was nothing she could do. She had no weapon, no means to help the other woman. As her vision blurred with tears, Sansa fled.

Immediately she could tell she was moving faster by herself, but that didn’t deter her pursuers.  She heard their boots on the uneven cobblestones, so close behind. She knew, now, what they would do if they caught her.  If she was lucky, they’d kill her when it was all over and she was of no more use to them.

In desperation, she shouted for help.  Mocking cries came from the men behind her, laughing at her fear.  Sansa hiked her skirts up more and tried to lengthen her stride.  She hadn’t run since she was a child; Ladies did not run.

Another man appeared before her, and hope bloomed in her chest.  She sped towards him.  He had to be there to help!  

Hope turned to agony when he smiled, a menacing grin that never touched his eyes.  Blood drained from her face and she spun, seeking another way out.  Another, darker alley opened up just paces from her.  It was terribly narrow, maybe only wide enough for one person at a time.  It made her uneasy.  But she had no choice.

She bolted into the darkness.  It smelled musty and unused.  Something unpleasant squelched under her slippers, but she paid it no mind.  The men behind her were cursing, and sounded further away.  She was escaping!

Her feet were fiercely sore.  Slippers were not made for running.  She tried to ignore the pain, ignore the shouts from the men behind her.  She could only focus on getting away.

Sansa rounded a corner and wanted to scream.  She had run right into an old, abandoned stable.  Dusty hay was strewn about the floor, and the only pair of doors were shuttered and secured with a thick, heavy bar. Voices behind her made her whirl and back away.  The men were entering, eying her up and down like a prime cut of meat.  

Sansa straightened, her arms tightening.  The four fanned out before her, hunger and rage clear in their eyes.  She struggled to find strength.  What could she do, against four men?  What would Sandor do?

One of the men lunged, grabbing for her wrist.  She swung with everything she could muster, intending to sell her life dearly.  The resounding slap echoed through the stone building.  But it had no effect at all.  The gruesome figure before her merely snarled, and answered her slap with one of his own.  

Sansa tumbled to the ground. 

She made a feeble attempt to crawl away from them, kicking at them as they descended upon her.  Sansa heard her skirts ripping, and a weight pushed down upon her back.

“You ever been fucked, little girl?” A voice rasped in her ear.  A shriek burst from her throat, and suddenly she was turned over on her back.  

Two men took her legs, yanking them apart and holding her by the ankles.  Another dove for her arms.  She twisted in their grip, struggling to heave any of her limbs free.  A leg or arm, it didn’t matter.  The only thing that mattered was freeing herself!

The man who had growled in her ear stood between her jerking legs, untying the sash holding up his grimy trousers.

“No, please!” She shouted, tears streaming down her bruising cheek.  Her dress was torn again, exposing the swell of her breasts.  Skirts were bunched up to her hips, revealing all of her legs.  The man before her reached for her smallclothes, clawing them halfway off before he rose up on his knees to push down his trousers.

Cold gray steel burst through his belly.

Chapter Text

Seven buggering Hells!

Leave it to Joffrey fucking Baratheon to turn his little sister’s voyage into a bloody riot.  The pinch-faced boy screamed for the guard and his Dog to bring him the heads of his people, he wanted them all dead.  Sandor’s snarl that the people wanted the same for him seemed to shut the boy up long enough to hustle him into a guardhouse belonging to the Watch.

Once he had dumped the boy on the floor next to his little uncle, his gray eyes had immediately sought out Sansa.  Sandor spun when he heard women behind him, only to find Cersei and her Ladies in Waiting being ushered in by Trant and several Goldcloaks.

One of those Goldcloaks was supposed to be with Sansa.

He grabbed him and pinned him to the wall beside the door, unnoticed in the chaos.  Sandor lifted the man until his boots were a foot off the floor, and pushed his face into the other man’s so his vision was filled with the Hound’s snarling visage.

“Where is she?” He hissed.  The man went sheet white.

“Wh-who, my L-lord?”

“You bloody well know who, you craven whoreson! Where did you leave the Stark girl, your future queen?!”

The man stammered out more words, enough for Sandor to know where she was last seen.  He dropped the man in a heap on the stone floor and was out the door, heedless of the shouts of the nobles and their guards.

The crowd was still there, those trying to escape and others giving chase.  He ignored them, unless they got in his way.  He lost track of how many limbs he separated from their owners as he cut his way through.  The only thing that mattered was finding Sansa.

He arrived at the little square where they’d been attacked.  What remained of the High Septon was being fought over by mangy strays; almost everything identifying him as a man had been ravaged beyond recognition.  The sight turned his stomach, though he’d seen worse before.  If anything like that had befallen Sansa…

A fluttering bit of fabric at the mouth of an alley caught his eye.  For one who spent most of his time in the Red Keep, he instantly identified it as a bit of a dress handmaidens wore.  He had seen hide nor hair of the handmaidens, which meant they could be with Sansa.  Sandor took a few steps into the alley and heard shouting and running boots.  Breaking into a trot, he followed the source of the sound.

Sandor wasn’t far into the alley when a woman’s cry for help rang through the stone walls.  His head shot up.  He knew that voice.  Sansa!

Men’s laughter on the heels of her plea made bile rise in his throat.  No doubt now she was in danger.  His long legs carried him over the paving stones with more speed than seemed possible wearing so much plate.  Sword in hand, he felt his heart pumping harder than it ever had.  If he was too late, if anything happened to her, everybody would die.  The men pursuing her.  The Goldcloaks that abandoned her.  Joffrey.  

And so would he.

He followed the sound of her pursuers into a darker, narrower alley.  Dust rose in puffs between squishing sounds as his boots pounded the cobblestones.  Sandor was grateful for it; the layer of dirt and filth made their tracks clear as a church bell.   Suddenly the alley opened up into an old stable.  Barrels and broken crates piled along the walls looked ready to tumble at any moment, and molding hay littered the floor.  Sandor noticed none of it.  His stomach had dropped at the scene before him.

They had her down and were turning her onto her back.  Her ripped skirts were being pushed up and exposing pale legs.  She cried out for them to stop.  

Her cries tore at him, and pure rage coursed through his veins.

The first one that had to go was that cunt kneeling between her legs.  He posed the most immediate threat to her, his hands working to get his trousers down.  Sandor ran him through without the slightest thought or hesitation.  

That made the others finally take notice of the giant man in their midst.  One and all they dropped her limbs.  A bald man holding Sansa’s right leg fled; Sandor was content to let him go, though he made note of the man’s face.  Another with missing teeth produced a small knife and lunged at him.  Sandor swept his sword across his throat before that knife got anywhere close.

Sandor turned, and the last man remaining in the stable dropped his knife and tried to run.  This one would not get away; he could see the bruises on Sansa’s wrists from where this man had held her.  As the would-be rapist darted past, Sandor grabbed him with a massive arm and ran his blade from neck to navel.  His entrails spilled wetly to the stones below.

The danger past, Sandor sheathed his sword.  It took him a moment to steady his breathing and calm his anger before he could turn to Sansa.  When he finally did, the sight made his heart wrench.

She lay in the old hay, the dirt on her face streaked with runnels from her tears.  Her blue eyes were round and darting, and her chest rose and fell with uneven panting.  Her very exposed chest.  If he’d been even a hair later…

But he hadn’t been, and from down in the dust and grime she reached for him.  That broke the last of his furor and he rushed to her, pulling her from the ground and into his arms.

“You’re safe now, little bird,” he tried his best to soothe her, stroking her disheveled hair while she trembled against him.  

He stood holding her in the dank of the abandoned stable while she cried.  Each tear stabbed him like so many knives, evidence of how close she’d come to probable death.  He wrapped his arms tighter around her, wanting to protect her, absorb her under his armor and keep her hidden and safe forever. 

Finally the tears subsided and her breathing steadied.  Sandor tilted his head, trying to look down into her eyes.  Her cheek was turning a faint purple, and he felt his rage boiling up inside again.  One of those shitstained fucks struck her!

Before he could ask, or look her over for further wounds, her arms were twined round his neck and she was kissing his beard and cheeks.

“Thank you, oh thank you Sandor.  I was so afraid!  They were going...going to...” she trailed off, and he gently laid a kiss on her forehead.

“Are you hurt, Sansa?  Did they cut you?  Are you bleeding?”

“No,” she breathed, tucking her face into his neck, “They hit me, but that was all.  They would have done more, but you arrived.  You saved me.”

Sandor plucked her from the ground, cradling her in his arms with the full weight of her against his body.  She was so small and fragile; she had no hope against those brutes.  A minute later...just the thought made him want to howl.  

“Do we have to go back, out there?” He heard her whisper to him.  He shut his gray eyes.

“Aye.  It’s safest in the Keep.”

Sansa shivered and clutched at him, tucking her face even more deeply into his neck.  

“Easy, little bird,” he murmured, “Nobody is going to touch you.  I’ll take you back myself, and kill any cunt who so much as looks at you.”

With a sigh and unsteady nod, she dropped back down to stand on her own two feet, brushing hair from her face with shaking fingers.  Sandor took her right hand with his left, leaving his sword arm free.

“Stay on this side Sansa, and watch my blade.  If you see something, call out.  I’ll keep you safe, but I need to know where you are.  Do you understand?”

Her red head bobbed in a nod.  “Good girl,” he praised, and gripping her hand tightly, he led her out into the narrow alleyway.  Sandor had his sword raised before himself, and twisted his face into a fearsome glower.

The expression was effective; those that might have tried to engage him darted away, avoiding the huge man with a broadsword and a face straight from their worst nightmares. When they had found their way back to the square, Sansa retched noisily behind him at the sight of the High Septon.  He tugged her along even as she emptied her stomach.  Stopping was dangerous.

When the pair reached the guardhouse, he saw to settling her down on a bench.  Handmaidens surrounded her almost instantly, making over her cheek and state of dress.  Sandor stared into her eyes, and she stared right back.  He wanted nothing more to take her in his arms again and keep her there.

But there stood the royal family and most of the Kingsguard, with handmaidens and watchmen darting all around.  Too many eyes.  It made him ache.

He turned away quickly, before he decided to cast everything aside, including both their lives, and wrap himself around her.  Then Sandor’s eyes fell on the Hand of the King. Tyrion stood a few feet away, his forehead knotted as he looked between Sandor and Sansa.

“Thank you, Clegane,” he said, and for all the world the Imp sounded as though he sincerely meant it.

Sandor puffed breath into his lungs, trying to rid himself of the need to comfort the little bird.

“I didn’t do it for you,” he rasped in return.  Tyrion gave him an odd look before striding away to ask after Sansa and what she needed.  Sandor took up a position on the opposite wall, leaning against it tiredly, but with his gray eyes always on Sansa.  It might be risky, watching her so boldly, but he just couldn’t bring himself to care if anybody noticed.

And given how her eyes never left his, she didn’t either.

Chapter Text

Running.  She was running as hard as she could, skirts hiked clear to her waist.  Behind her pursued a cacophony of sounds; screams and blood-curdling shrieks, cackling laughter laced with menace, a hundred voices hissing the horrifying things they would do to her.

The path she followed made no logical sense.  The gray stone alleys curved in impossible ways, leading in on themselves but never to a dead end.  On she ran, and on they twisted. She had no idea how long she had been running with sheer terror lashing her heels.  It had to have been a long time; her lungs ached from gasping for breath, blood soaked into her fine velvet slippers.  Moving caused pain.  But stopping would be much worse.

Somewhere, overhead, she heard the cries of a raven.  This strange city seemed an odd place to find a raven.  There was no time to ponder such things.  She reminded herself of what pursued her.  What was pursuing her?  She couldn’t remember.  It was only important that she ran, as hard and as fast as she possibly could.  Stopping was too dangerous.

The bird’s cries silenced suddenly.  Her heart skipped a beat.  What had happened to it?  She couldn’t say why it mattered.  But having that one other creature nearby had been a comfort.  And now it was gone.

A horrid, inhuman growling sent a shiver down her spine.  It shrieked and squealed, inching ever closer despite how hard she ran.  Terrified, she glanced over her shoulder.  There was nothing behind her except an indistinct grayness roiling in boiling clouds toward her.  Wind tugged at her cloak, colder the deepest freeze in Winterfell, clawing at her like gnarled fingers.  

She whirled to face forward, intent on fleeing.  And there was the raven, wings spread and talons aimed for her face, coming straight at her.

Sansa screamed and bolted upright in bed.  Every muscle in her body was taut and she flung her arms out in front of her face, trying vainly to stop the bird’s attack.  She writhed, panting and moaning in fear.

Huge arms enveloped her out of the darkness.  A scent she knew filled her head.  Calloused hands stroked her cheek and her hair, and a familiar voice whispered so gently.

“Easy, little bird, easy.  You’re safe.  I’m here.”

Muscles suddenly turned to jelly, and she melted against Sandor’s broad chest.  She couldn’t help the sobs that wracked her body; she could only cling to him as he held her.  He continued to whisper to her, reassure her of her safety and his presence.  

I’m safe.  Sandor is here.  He’s here.  He will always be here.  

Finally her tears subsided, her breathing steadied.  Sansa leaned back to look up at him.  He stared down at her, concern written across his face, his forehead knit in narrow runnels.

“Thank the Gods for you,” Sansa breathed softly.  Sandor’s mouth tightened, but before he could say a word she had buried her face into his neck.

“Will you stay with me? Please,” she murmured.  The wool of his tunic was twisted around her fingers. 

She felt his hand stroke her hair again.  “Aye, little bird.”

And then he was laying her back down upon the feather mattress.  He settled beside her, propped on one arm, his chest pressed to her right side.  The tunic was rough on the skin of her arm, but she didn’t request he remove it.  Sansa wasn’t sure she could stand to be parted from him long enough to remove it.

Sandor looked down at her, gray eyes more intense than she could recall seeing in some time.  His fingertips slid from the crown of her head through her red locks down to follow the line of her jaw.  

“Are you all right, Sansa?” He sounded reluctant to ask, as though afraid she would break again.  

“I am with you here,” she sighed, “I suppose with some time, I will be myself again.”

“That was no small thing today,” he muttered angrily, suddenly absorbed in watching her chin, “I should have stayed at your side, and to Seven Hells what those noble cunts would’ve thought.  The Stranger take Joffrey, he had his bloody Knights to protect him. I should have-”

“Stop,” she spoke gently, her slender fingers upon his lips.  Sandor ceased the flow of words, but his gray gaze remained fixed on her chin.

“Look at me.”

It was the softest of whispers, more an invitation than a command.  He struggled visibly before his gaze finally met hers.  It took her aback to see tears creeping in at the edges of his eyes.  

 “I wanted you with me too.  I always want you near me.  But if you had abandoned Joffrey for me, we’d both be dead.  You came from me, you saved me.  It doesn’t matter how.  It only matters that you did.”

Sandor opened his mouth to object, but Sansa rode over his protests.

“You did what you had to, Sandor, for us both.  I feel no differently for you than I did when I woke morning last, and I’ll feel the same when I wake on the morrow.”

“I don’t deserve it.” Emotion was thick in his deep rasp.

“Would you do me a favor?”

He blinked at the sudden change of topic.  “Anything, little bird.  If you want the moon, I’ll put it on a ribbon and tie it in your hair.”

Sansa smiled at that, and the somewhat strangled look that crossed Sandor’s face on the heels of his rather poetic statement.  It was so earnest and sincere.  She wondered where he’d heard it before.

“Can you teach me of how to protect myself?”

“If that is what you wish, I can.”

“I do wish it,” she replied as she turned to snuggle against his broad chest, “But tonight, will you just hold me?”

 It seemed he needed little encouragement.  His arm was quickly around her waist, pulling her flush against him while the other arm threaded underneath to cradle her head.  Sansa basked in his warmth, in the sure security of his embrace.  Nothing could possibly harm her here, with Sandor Clegane wrapped around her.  

But it was more than that too.  He was more than the safety he could provide, the raw brute strength he could exercise in her defense.  He was the man who’d been gentle with her after her nightmares, when he had no reason to be.  He was the man who had stolen her from the Keep to go riding for her nameday, who brought her a lemon cake in secret at great risk to himself.  He was the man who insisted he had no honor, yet showed just how honorable he was as he revered her virtue.  The Cleganes had a terrible, terrifying reputation as ferocious warriors and cold, unfeeling killers.

He was a ferocious warrior, certainly.  But unfeeling?  Assuredly not.

It was such a comforting thought that she found herself beginning to drift, Sandor’s presence soothing away the nightmare and horrid memories of the day.  Tomorrow, he would return to his duties preparing for Stannis; she would perform a Lady’s duties and discover what had become of the two handmaidens, and make sure they were provided for.  But for that night, there was just the two of them, safe and sound in a quiet tower within the Red Keep. 

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you want to do this Sansa?”  The big man asked for the third time as he shoved a heavy wooden chest against the wall of her chambers.  He thought her request prudent, even sensible after her encounter in Fleabottom days before, but he worried about accidentally hurting her.  It wasn’t that she was some porcelain figurine, though she looked the part.  His concern was that he was so much bigger and stronger than a slip of a girl just into womanhood.

When Sandor turned to her, she fixed him with her icy eyes and a chin thrust out, the very image of a Lady.

“I am certain.  I must know how to defend myself, and who better to teach me?”  She smiled.

Almost anyone , he thought ruefully.  Seven Hells, he’d rather have that dusky handmaiden of hers be Sansa Stark’s sparring partner.  Something told him that Shae could hold her own in a fight, and might even be able to teach them both a thing or two.  And the thought of sitting back to watch two beautiful women learn how to fight while under his tutelage did have its appeal.

Shaking away the image, he stood.  He wore a linen undershirt and his breeches, his tabard and sword belt in the chair.  Sansa was in a more simple gown than he had seen in some time.  After the riot, Joffrey had spent his days tormenting those peasants he declared guilty, too busy to call for his betrothed, hence her more relaxed attire.  She almost looked the daughter of a well-to-do merchant versus a Lady of one of the most ancient Houses in Westeros.   

The sun was just setting, so the room was still bright.  He stepped up to Sansa, his hands on her shoulders to square her up in front of him before leaning down slightly to speak.

“Your head probably is full of fool notions about fighting fair and honor and all that chivalrous shit they sing about in songs.  Well, I am going to tell you now, that’s a good way to die.  You don’t fight for honor, you don’t fight fair.  You fight to bloody survive.”

His cool gray eyes watched her, looking to see her shrink back from him, for her nerve to fail.  Sansa remained stiff, almost haughty and defiant.  Sandor didn’t miss her swallow, but dismissed it when she nodded.

“Good girl,” the corner of his lip crooked up in an approving expression.  He straightened to his full height, “You only need to know a few things to protect yourself.  The first one is deadly.  Remember that, little bird.  If you ever use this one, you need to mean it.”

She stared at him for a moment, his words rolling around in her mind before she finally replied, “I’ll remember.”

Sandor gave a quick nod and raised his hand level with his chest, palm facing her.

“Pretend this is a man’s face, a man who wants to steal you away and hurt you.  In the center is his nose, a big ugly beak coming right at you.  I want you to take the heel of your hand, and drive it into that snout as hard and quick as you can.”

Her arm lunged forward at his orders, and Sandor was surprised by her speed and strength.  Sansa’s palm made a sharp slapping sound when it met his.  The whole of her weight and force behind the thrust, he stumbled slightly back before he could catch himself.

“Well done!” He chuckled as he righted himself.  Sansa positively beamed up at him.

“Did I really do it right?”  Her hands came together under her chin.

“Aye, that you did,” he could feel the sting still in his palm.  Sandor could almost pity the man who thought to come at his little bird.  Almost.

“If you hit your attacker that hard, you’ll drive his nose clean up into his brain.  So use it as a last resort.”

That seemed to cool some of her mirth, and her big blue eyes blinked up at him. “Then why didn’t you teach it to me last?”

“So you’ll remember it.  Most people remember the first thing you tell them better than the last.  Come on, there’s more.”

Sansa seemed to consider his words for a moment before remembering she was in the middle of a defense lesson.  Once her mind had snapped back to the present, she squared her shoulders with an attentive expression.

“This will hurt a man, but unless you’re stronger than I am, it shouldn’t kill him.  If he has come too close for that trick with your hand, go for the eyes.”

Sandor drew close and hunched over her petite frame.  It was an intimidating pose, seeming to surround her with his ferocious strength and give her little space to move and no chance to flee.  He expected her to cower, to lean away; it would be only natural, no matter who was towering over her.  But she simply stared up at him, listening to him, accepting his closeness.

He tried to shake off her haunting look, trying not to let her unnerve him . “If he’s this close, you won’t have a chance to strike.  If he doesn’t yet have your hands, use them.  Grab his cheeks and plant your thumbs as hard as you can square in his eyes.  Hang on to him, and keep pressing.”

Quickly he took her slender hands and placed them on his cheeks, both scarred and smooth.  Sansa pressed her hands to his flesh, her skin deliciously warm.  Trying to ignore his body’s reaction to her touch, he placed her small thumbs over his closed eyes.

“You hold him like this and press hard with your thumbs.  You make sure he’s so hurt he can’t give chase.  It doesn’t take long, less than a minute of pressure and he will have a difficult time seeing for days, at least.”

He released her thumbs and she drew them away, leaving her hands in place on his cheeks.  Sandor opened his gray eyes and looked down at her.

“Do you understand, Sansa?”

“I do,” she replied softly.  He realized her fingers were stroking him softly, toying with the strands of his beard and tracing the ridges of his cheekbones.  Her lips were parted and inviting.  For a moment he considered dipping his head down to taste her sweetness.  But there was one last thing for her to learn, and it mattered more than feeling her lips with his own. 

“Good girl,” he murmured before he stepped away.  A smile curved his mouth as he heard her gasp into the empty space he had just occupied.  The girl was constantly a hair's breadth away from being utterly irresistible.  If he’d had even a tenth of same effect on her just now-

Sandor quashed that thought before it could bring trouble.  “The last,” he continued, “Causes the least amount of permanent damage, and it will make him angry.”

Sansa stared at him with her forehead knitted in a small frown.  “Why would I just want to make him angry?  I want to make him stop.”

The Hound nodded.  “Aye, you do.  But you can’t go around braining uncouth Knights, or squishing the eyes of visiting Princes who won’t respect your honor.  And given who you are, you’re more like to encounter them than angry mobs in the open streets.  This is enough to make them reconsider their treatment of you.”

He could see Sansa’s eyes light up at the idea.  It thrilled him.  Most women shied away from defending themselves with violence.  Except for whores, who often were forced to learn or die in their line of work.  But not Sansa.  She looked determined and even slightly eager.  Despite all the stupid songs she sang, she was intelligent.  The world was a hard place, but she was meeting it head-on.

“What do I do?” There was a hint of a smile in her tone.

“Only one way, little bird, and that’s by doing.  When he comes toward you, make sure to have one hand at level with your waist.  When he’s so close he’s nearly touching you, reach between his legs and grab for his balls.”

Sansa’s eyes popped at his language, and she asked half-strangled, “Mother’s mercy, why would I do such a thing?  How could that possibly hurt him?”

“Because you’re going to grab them as hard as you can and twist your hand, and then pull. It will bring him to his knees in an instant, and give you enough time to get away before he can recover.”

“Oh,” she replied breathlessly.  Her eyes were still wide and round, and had drifted down to his groin, “And you want me to do this? To you?  Now?”

“Aye, little bird,” Sandor said gently.  Sansa was clearly nervous, and he wasn’t exactly looking forward to the pain he was about to voluntarily experience.  But it was all to keep her safe.  Anything he could do to see her better able to defend herself was worth whatever cost to himself.

“Are you ready?”

She drew herself up, her chin lifting slightly. “Yes.”

Sandor gave her a nod before striding forward.  Sansa held her hand as he had directed, and he closed the space between them quickly.  Her blue eyes flicked over his face, shoulders, and chest, unsure where to look.

“Now little bird,” he said when there was only the width of a hand between them, “Grab and hold hard.”

Suddenly warmth bloomed between his legs as her hand surrounded him.  She held him hesitantly, fingers pressing his flesh but not causing him any pain.  He fought to resist the urge to grind himself into her grip.  The pressure of her grasp was enough to make him grow stiff.

“Harder. Grab harder,” the inner struggle made his voice rough.  Sansa was quick to obey, tightening her hold on him until the pleasure turned sharply uncomfortable.

“Good. Twist, but not too hard girl.”

The turning of her hand put him up on his toes with a wince.  She caught on fast.  The grip of her hand was like a vise and his balls thrummed in misery.  

“Do I pull now?”

“You would, but let’s not do that,” he answered quickly, “Your grip is perfect.  If you pulled, I might not be able to walk tomorrow.”

Her hand ripped away as though burned, and the sudden relief made him gasp.  Sandor slumped backward into the chair, his legs weak and a not insignificant amount of pain radiated from his middle.

Sansa was kneeling before him, hands on his cheeks and face filling his vision.

“Oh, Sandor, are you all right?  I am so sorry, I didn’t mean to cause you any pain,” she sounded on the verge of tears.  Sandor blinked at her, frowning at her glistening eyes.  His left hand raised to cup her cheek.

“You did exactly as you were supposed to, little bird, and you did it well.  Now you know something of defending yourself.  A few minutes will see me right.”

“Are you sure?”

“Aye, I’m sure.  I think that’s enough for tonight though.  It’s getting late,” he dropped his hand from her soft cheek to gesture at the bed, “I’ll see to the candles, you get yourself into bed.”

He stood and made his way around the room, blowing out each flame.  Sansa seemed to have found every candle in the tower to light her rooms.  When he was finished, he turned to find her sitting in her shift upon the bed with the blankets folded back, waiting for him.

Sitting in the chair, he shucked off his boots and marveled that somehow, spending nights in this startling woman’s bed had become routine.  She was a Lady, set to become a queen, the heiress to one of the oldest Houses in Westeros.  Maybe the oldest; he didn’t pay much attention to such things.  

But most importantly, she was intelligent and deft, strong and gentle.  Surely smart enough to not entertain the thought of him doing anything more than providing her comfort and keeping her safe.

Once his feet were free, he crossed the stone floor and slid under the blankets.  The maids had finally conceded the weather was turning; tonight there was thick blanket, brushed wool dyed golden to lie beneath.  As he settled himself, Sansa curled into his side.  Her pale hand whispered over his chest before it settled tentatively on his abdomen, ready to flutter away at the slightest provocation.  

He laid his large hand over hers.

Sandor felt her sigh and melt against himself.  For a moment he felt badly for her, her worry she had done him real harm.  But thinking of her hand on him made him remember just how glorious it had felt, that moment she simply cradled him in her palm.  She must have felt him stiffen, yet she hadn’t pulled away.  For a moment he wondered what she might have done if he’d simply pulled out his cock.  Would she have gasped and recoiled?  Somehow he didn’t think so.  She was made of sterner stuff.  Would she have touched it, let her fingertips explore him with that silken touch?  

He suddenly realized he was rock hard.  Quickly he glanced down, relieved that the thick blanket hid all but an indistinct bulge in his lap.  Silently, he scolded himself.  He shouldn’t be having such thoughts right after she was frightened half to death.  He shouldn’t be having such thoughts of her at any time, but especially not now.  

Chastising himself, he turned the scarred side of his face into her auburn hair to place a kiss on the crown of her head.

Sandor was rewarded with a contented mewl before he heard her slip into sleep. 

Chapter Text

Sansa waited impatiently before the fire in her rooms.  Her guard should be arriving any moment.  He had told her that morning there would be another lesson tonight, and that she should think on what she had learned and ask any questions she had so far.  She had most certainly spent the day considering the previous night’s training, but likely not in the way Sandor had intended.

What she couldn’t stop thinking about was what she’d felt in her slender hand toward the end of the lesson.  The faint pulse as it grew; the weight as it rested against her palm.  Sansa knew what it was she’d felt, she could have never imagined what it would be like.

Truth be told, she hadn’t ever really imagined touching a man.  Her Septa had made it sound as though it was best for her to simply follow her husband’s lead and maintain as much ladylike dignity as possible.  Shae...well, Shae had told her quite different things, including that Sansa’s Septa had been something called a cold fish.  The woman was free with information and openly explained certain techniques.  Sansa was glad for the knowledge, despite the fact that making the handmaiden open up about her own past was near impossible.  After several attempts, Sansa assumed she’d had a lover or husband that was now lost to her and stopped trying.  Let Shae have her space to grieve.

What Shae would talk about, however, delighted Sansa.  She had learned how to carefully elicit the knowledge she desired with a few well-placed questions that sounded innocent enough.  Just girlish curiosity about what to expect in her marriage bed.  She was certain Shae had not gleaned her true purpose, and Sansa intended to keep it that way.

That afternoon, while taking a turn about the gardens, she had idly speculated about what one might do when her husband requested she touch him.  Shae had given her several possible scenarios.  More than Sansa had expected, and one of which made her eyes pop.  The others, however…

Sansa’s attention was pulled back into the present when she heard boots approaching her door.  She stood, smoothing her silk robe over the linen shift beneath.  

There was a quick, hard knock on the wood before the door swung open.  It happened so quickly she had no time to issue an invitation to enter.  Not that it mattered; only one person entered her rooms in such a way. Her slipped feet made almost no sound as she moved across the stone floor to greet Sandor.  Resting hands on his forearms, she went up on her tiptoes to place her lips on his cheek in a chaste kiss.  She was pleased he no longer drew back or flinched when she kissed him.  It always sent a thrill through her core to know he was warming to her, trusting her.

“Are you ready for your next lesson, little bird?”  He asked as she drew away.

When she nodded her assent, Sandor shrugged out of his sword belt and set his tunic aside before pushing up the sleeves of his roughspun undershirt to start moving furniture out of the way.

“Did you think on what you learned last night?”  He asked while shoving aside a carved chest.  

“I did,” she replied casually.

When she said no more, Sandor grunted, “Well?  Have you got any questions?”

She waited to answer as he set aside her stand mirror.  Once he turned to face her, she began to saunter about her room, toying with candles and trinkets, making her way to him slowly.

“I had a thought,” Sansa spoke slowly, stopping halfway to him for a moment to wipe a speck of dust off the mantle.

When she said no more, he prompted her. “About?”

“That last technique, the one where you twist and pull.”

Again there was silence as he waited upon her to say more.  Instead she continued her leisurely pace, and he finally barked, “What of it?”

“I understand the twist part, and why you pull.  It’s brilliant, really,” she was within a pace of him, and moving closer, “But I was thinking.  What if you don’t do those things?  What if you don’t twist, don’t pull?  What happens if,” her body slid close to his, and her hand found its way to the front of his breeches, grasping the bulge and whispering, “you just grab?”

Despite her brave words, her touch was tentative.  The muscles in her arm were tensed, ready to jerk away if the explosion she half expected came.  He was not subtle, and his disdain for intrigues was well known.  It was bold.  Maybe too bold.

Sandor sucked in his breath.

Under her hand, Sansa felt him respond to her touch almost immediately.  The bulge grew larger, harder.  It pushed against her hand.  When she pushed back, the man groaned and caught her wrist with one of his big hands.

“What are you doing?” His voice was harsh in a whole new way, one that had nothing to do with fear or intimidation.  She met his gray eyes and almost pulled back from the heat within them.  Despite their ashen color, they burned fever bright.

Bucking up her courage, she tilted her chin up to hold his gaze steadily, “I am getting an answer to my question.”

“You don’t need to get the answer this way.  I could have just told you, girl,” his voice positively quivered.  It made a pressure warm her between her thighs, and she pressed her hand against his rigid length again. 

“I’m not a girl, Sandor,” she whispered low in her throat.  With her free hand, she opened the front of her robe.  The shift kept her decently covered, though the thin fabric clung to her curves in a way that would let him infer her shape easily.  

When she turned her round blue eyes to his face, she gasped at what she saw.  He stared down at her, his eyes taking in her body.  Something about them had changed.  There was something more, something so much more fierce.  It should terrify her.  

It intoxicated her.   

Shae’s advice came floating back to her, seeming so far away that she almost didn’t fully grasp it.  It tickled at her mind until the most basic bit of it coalesced, and Sansa gave the thickness in her hand an experimental squeeze. The sound that came from Sandor was like nothing she’d ever heard.  A deep, throaty rumble that stroked right down her spine and made her moist between her legs.  She trembled.  A need blossomed within her; she wasn’t sure for what.  But oh, how she needed it.  Whatever it was, it was connected to the broad man before her, and the hardness in her hand.

“Little bird,” Sandor moaned.  His hands flexed at his sides, half reaching for her.  The thought of his hands on her, of his body pressed against her made a buzzing bloom in her lower abdomen.  The need she felt so deeply grew.

“Sandor,” she moaned.  It wasn’t ladylike, but for once she didn’t care.  He grunted when she spoke his name, his molten eyes closing as rapture passed through his features.

But he didn’t touch her.  

The need was demanding, desperate.  Sansa’s breath quickened.  She thrummed, the pressure spreading through her body and spurring her towards...towards...she didn’t know.  It made her tremble.  She had to do something to relieve it, or she would be lost.

Blue eyes looked to his big hands.  She was certain those hands were the only things that could ease the aching pressure.  How she wanted to reach for him, guide him to touch her somewhere.  Anywhere.  But she didn’t dare.  Sansa was certain if she moved an inch her knees would give way and send her tumbling to the floor.

In desperation, staring at his clenching fist, she whimpered, “Please.  I...touch me. Please.”

The words were barely out of her mouth when he growled, his hands upon her in a heartbeat. She gasped; they were so big, so strong .  One thick arm wrapped around her waist, dragging her to his body so her hand was trapped between them.  She couldn’t help but feel his girth, her hand lewdly wrapped halfway around him.  

Sandor didn’t seem to notice the way her hand was pinned against him.  He stared down at her, and she realized that fire in his eyes must be reflected in her own.  His free hand caught her chin, his calloused fingertips tracing her jawline up to her ear.  The touch drifted down her neck, making her shudder.  She felt weak at the new sensations he sent swirling within her.  When his hand drifted to the neckline of her shift, she mewled.  While his fingertips slid across the bare skin just above the laces, his palm grazed the flesh hidden by the linen.  

Sansa clung to his huge frame, unable to stand on her own as new sensations, new feelings, new awareness rolled through her.  The pressure still hummed, pushing harder against her.  He was touching her, but she needed more.  

Then his palm grazed the hardened peak of her teat, and she couldn’t hold back the cry.  Her flesh positively sang at his touch, feverish bolts of relief and frenzied desire ripping through her.   It was all so new, so overwhelming.  She collapsed against him, her lips still open, a soft whine coming from her throat.

Sandor’s mouth covered hers and she found herself moaning against him.  He pulled the sound into his body while his palm rolled over her hardened nipple.  With each stroke she shuddered, and felt a tightening between her legs.

Suddenly Sandor’s lips were gone, and she felt herself being lifted.  Her shoulders rested against his right bicep with her knees hooked over his left arm.  Sansa let her head lull into his neck.  Quickly he carried her across the room, pausing briefly to blow out a few of the candles along the way.  Upon reaching her bed, he laid her tenderly upon the feather mattress.

When he straightened above her, she frowned and reached to pull him back down.  It felt so much better when he was close to her.  

Sandor remained upright and caught her hands in a gentle grasp.  

“Sansa,” he intoned, his voice husky with restraint and his eyes deadly serious, “What do you want?”

She blinked at him.  “I...I’m not sure.  It just feels better when you’re close.  I need to touch you.  I need you to touch me.  I just need,” a soft sob escaped with the last.

He leaned down to kiss her lips gently.  Sansa’s body responded, arching up off the bed towards him.  She wanted to wrap her arms around him, but she held her hands still.  He made the kiss brief and pulled back far enough to look her in the face.

“I can make it better,” he breathed, eyes burning down to her, “But I’ll have to touch you more.  In other places.”

The unspoken question hung between them, and the only sound that could be heard was their heavy breathing.  After a few moments, she slowly nodded up to him.

“If you want to stop, tell me.  Promise me you will, little bird.”

“I will,” she whispered.  She felt every muscle tense in anticipation.  

He pressed a kiss to her forehead before sitting back.  Large fingers opened her robe and drew the silk down her arms, leaving her linen shift the only barrier to his touch.  Sandor was surprisingly nimble as he unlaced the simple bodice and pushed it apart.  She blushed as the bare flesh of her breasts was exposed, fighting the urge to cover herself.  Nervously she glanced to Sandor’s face, afraid he would dislike what he saw.

But what she saw in his eyes made her anxiety fall away.  It minded her of the way her brothers looked at the girls they liked, of the way her father looked at her mother when he returned from campaigns in the North.  Sandor stared at her as though he was starving, and she was a feast.

His hand approached her slowly, reaching for her breast.  Reverently his hand cupped the supple flesh.  Sansa’s back arched, pressing into his hand.  How could his flesh feel so hot against her?  

She felt his finger roll over her nipple and moaned.  Was every nerve in her body directly connected to his stroking thumb?   The way it made her twitch, it certainly seemed so.  Sansa clutched the sheets, unsure what to do and unable to think on anything else but the way his ministrations made her throb.

The bed shifted, and she realized he was moving down her body to between her legs.  With a reluctant glance at her rounded breast in his hand, he released her flesh to settle himself between her feet.  Sansa watched him curiously as he took the hem of her shift and drew it up her pale legs.

The fabric settled in a bunch at the flare of her hips, leaving her legs bare.  His hands came to rest against the insides of her ankles, running up her calf and gently nudging her legs further open.  She let her knees fall to the side, blushing at how wantonly it made her open herself to him.  His hands continued to slide over her thighs, bringing his touch closer to the aching pressure centered between her legs.

Sansa felt the heat of his hand warm her wetness, and her legs involuntarily jerked, snapping her thighs shut to the knees.  Sandor looked up to her, his hands retreating to rest on her calves, stroking her soothingly.

“Do you want me to stop, Sansa?”  He asked quietly.  

No. Yes. She didn’t know.  She needed his touch desperately, and now that it was so close she wanted to cry.  If he didn’t touch her, this pressure was never going to go away, would never be relieved.  And her legs closing had just been a reflex; she knew he wouldn’t hurt her.

Sansa breathed deeply, steadying herself before speaking.  “No, please don’t stop.”

Meeting his gaze, she parted her knees.  He gave her calf a last, gentle squeeze before his hands made their way back up her inner thighs, taking care to soothe each inch of her flesh.  Her creamy legs fell open and she closed her eyes, telling herself to relax.  You can trust him.  He won't hurt you. 

Then his hand was there, pressing to the juncture between her legs.  Her hips climbed and she sang out a wordless cry.  Gods, this was what she needed, what the ache spurred her toward!  Her ragged breath came in desperate panting.  She clawed at the sheets as her hips arched, pressing against his stilled hand, seeking more.

“How does this feel?” Sandor's voice was strained.  Sansa's blue eyes opened to meet his gray, still pushing herself against his palm.   

“It feels good,” her voice was small and shy as she continued, “I just wish you were closer to me.”

In a flash he was beside her, pulling her half-naked form against his chest.  The rough fabric of his tunic rubbed against her cheek as his left arm wound around her.  She kept her legs apart as he settled, gratified his hand remained firmly pressed to her smallclothes.

“Comfortable, little bird?” He whispered into her hair.  When she nodded, he continued, “This should make it even better.”

Sandor's fingers began to move, and she became a quivering puddle under his touch.  The lazy circles he rhythmically traced caused her legs to quake.  He seemed to know just where to press against her.  Within minutes, the fabric of her smallclothes began to stick wetly to her skin.

Sansa struggled to breathe between her sudden gasps and cries of “Oh!”  She had never felt anything like what he did with skillful diligence.  It was as though, through this huge man, she had discovered a new part of her body; familiar yet oddly foreign and wholly welcome.  Sandor breathed against her hair, sometimes murmuring her name and sometimes pressing his lips to her ear and neck.

It was almost too much.  Sansa felt every muscle, every nerve, every fiber in her being reaching toward something.  She didn’t much care to worry about what that something was.  Her body felt far too good to give any subject much thought.  

Sandor’s fingertips suddenly pressed against her, moving so rapidly against her sodden folds it caused her hips to jerk and arch.  Had she noticed the way she rolled her hips up into her fingers and ground her juncture against his touch, she might have been embarrassed.  It almost hurt, his ministrations, but the sensations were so just bloody good!

Suddenly the entirety of her being seized, squeezing everything and nothing incredibly tight.  A quiver began deep behind her navel, and a violent rush tore through her, racing to an explosion.  Sansa had no chance to hold back the cry that forced its way from her throat.  Sandor gently laid his free hand over her lips; she didn’t notice.  There was only this incredible feeling, the hot vibration in the wet core of her body.

The spasms subsided slowly, and it was some time before she found her breath again.  Dazed blue eyes fluttered up to find Sandor’s face.  He stared down at her, the hand that had muffled her screams now stroking her cheek gently.  

“What was that?” She asked weakly.  Muscles moved feebly as she turned slightly on her side to nestle her head against his chest.

“The most beautiful fucking thing I’ve ever laid eyes on,” Sandor’s voice may have been raw, but his tone was passionate. Sansa couldn’t keep the smile from her lips.  Not that she wanted to; it was perhaps the most romantic thing anybody had ever said to her before.  

As they lay in comfortable silence, it finally occurred to her that perhaps she should be doing something in return for his generosity.  Uncertain, she slowly reached toward his belt.  The thick leather was almost as wide as her hand.  When her fingers began to pry at the pewter buckle, Sandor’s hand caught her wrist.

“Stop little bird,” he spoke softly.

She turned to look up at him, her brow furrowed prettily.  “But is it not a woman’s obligation to give a man pleasure?”

Sandor blinked gray eyes at her for a moment, a look of puzzled astonishment on his face. 

“Never feel obligated, Sansa,” his rough voice was surprisingly tender when he finally spoke, “If you ever feel like you must do something, that you have no other choice, don’t do it for me. I don’t want it, and I won’t have it.  Do you understand, little bird?”

Sansa was unsure why he had stopped her, why he looked at her so seriously.  Did he really mean to bestow upon her such undeniable pleasure, and take absolutely none for himself?

His expression told her all she needed to know.  He meant it. Every word.  A dog will never lie to you, and he’ll look you straight in the face.

“I understand, Sandor.  I promise,” Sansa did her best to sound reassuring.

“Good girl,” he gathered her into his arms, pulling her so close she thought she might not be able to breathe.  Warm lips pressed to the top of her head.  She snuggled her body against his, not caring that her hem was pushed up to her hips and exposing her legs to the night.  If Sandor was there, she had nothing in the world to be afraid of. 

Chapter Text

Joffrey may have immediately started boasting of his imminent victory the moment he heard his uncle Stannis’ ships would arrive within days, but the edge to his voice and the way he squealed at his mother gave the lie.  The twat King was frightened.

He was right to be.

The King was no skilled fighter, despite having a Master at Arms and seven of some of the most skilled knights in Westeros protecting him and his father, a talented warrior himself.  Sandor knew for a fact Barristan Selmy had personally attempted to educate the boy, and there was no finer swordsman living. But Joffrey had shown as little interest in his lessons as his mother had for Robert Baratheon, insisting he had armies and Goldcloaks to do his fighting for him. Not to mention his loyal Dog. The Hound almost looked forward to seeing the boy reap what he had sown.  Except that doing so put himself in direct danger and, worse, risked Sansa’s life.

Sandor had never been nervous about a fight, be it a tavern brawl or a heated battle with a thousand foes.  He’d learned early in life that you had to depend on yourself, rely on your own strengths to survive in the world.  So he’d built and trained every skill he could, using his size and strength to his advantage, and by his fourteenth nameday few would risk rousing his temper.  

Men had avoided him in battle as well.  His first taste had been with Lord Tywin’s army years after Robert’s Rebellion, but he hadn’t come into his own on the battlefield until that business with the Greyjoys.  He’d felt nothing as he’d marched up the beach, following Jaime Lannister to confront the enemy.  Sandor had fallen into a rhythm, chopping at men as one might chop wood.  If it was in his way, he sliced and hacked until it was gone. 

Several skirmishes had ensued since, along with dozens of riots and hundreds of drunken brawls.  None of it ever bothered him one whit.  He might walk away bleeding and scarred, but he walked away.

And so he hardly recognized the restless man climbing marble steps.  

It was late; darkness had fallen hours before.  Sansa would likely be asleep, which he thought may be just as well.  Sandor wasn’t sure he could take her questioning, see the worry in her eyes when he told her what was to come.  She should be sent away, far away, as Myrcella had been.  Joffrey should keep her safe from harm, protect her as a good King and a grown man would.

But Joffrey was neither a good King despite his golden crown, nor a grown man despite his age.  When Lord Varys and Littlefinger had tried to counsel sending the Queen, Tommen, and Sansa away, the Hound had been ready to volunteer for their security detail.  The twat King had bristled at the idea the women needed any protection, and screeched at the pair for the slightest suggestion Joffrey might stand to lose against his uncle.  Wisely, his advisers had said no more on the matter.

As he approached Sansa’s door, Sandor wished the advisers had raged, overpowered Joffrey’s cruelty with a force that like none the pissant King had ever seen.  He could be packing for a journey west, or south to Storm’s End as Varys had suggested.  Seven Hells, he would cross the Narrow Sea if it meant keeping her safe.

So caught up in his thoughts was he that he failed to check for prying eyes when he opened her door, something that made him snap at himself when what he’d done dawned upon him.  Fool! Being that buggering careless will get you both killed.  

As he’d anticipated, Sansa’s rooms were dark when he crept in.  The little light there was came from embers casting a feeble glow in the hearth.  Sandor remained close to the door to remove his boots, and once his feet were bare he moved silently to her bedside.  There, he quickly shucked his cloak and leather tunic.  

He watched her while he worked, checking for the steady rise and fall of her sleeping breaths.  Sansa’s face was turned away from him, her hair cascading across the pillow like waves of gilded sorghum at sunset.  His gray eyes roved to her shoulder, the skin there exposed by an awkward twist in her sleeping shift.  As he pulled off his tunic, he leaned down to press his smooth cheek to the bared flesh, breathing in her warmth and scent.

Sandor hesitated before deciding he could rest comfortably dressed as he was, clad in loose breeches and a linen smock.  He’d considered removing the undershirt, but he knew despite her invitations, each stitch of clothing he removed increased the risk to Sansa.  

He wished he knew to which risk he referred; the discovery of the King’s betrothed abed with his fearsome Dog, or his own merciless hunger to make her sing such songs she never imagined.

So he left his clothes as they were and slid upon the feather mattress beside her.  The weight of his body made Sansa shift, her slender figure nudging against his muscular arm. Sandor stole a glance at her to see her eyes still closed, her lips slightly parted and damp with sleep. Her shoulder was still bared through the neck of her shift, and he reached out to run his fingertips against the silk of her skin. She made a soft little sound at his touch, a sleepy breath puffing out of her lungs with it.  He smiled, one of the few times he could recall doing so genuinely and unabashedly.  Even when they were alone and he smiled to her waking eyes, some part of him always held back.  Who would find a monster’s smile anything but vile?

Sansa hadn’t.  She met his eyes and returned his smiles.  She gave him her kisses, her sighs.  All freely.  He could hardly believe it for true.

The thought of her being in such proximity to the heat of battle made his stomach tie itself in  knots.  If Stannis’ armies were coming by sea, they’d make landing so close to the Keep the fighting could reach her doorstep.  The thought of sweet, innocent Sansa Stark taking an arrow to her porcelain breast made him clench his teeth.  He knew that was one of many atrocities that could be rained down upon her.

Most women discovered hiding near a battle were slaughtered, whether their own countrymen won or not.  Those who were lucky were murdered before being raped, but few were that lucky.  Sandor had seen it himself, been invited to take a poor wench first, and had always soundly rejected the notion.  It made him sick, violating someone who had no means of defending themselves.  He had turned his back to those scenes.  Though when he’d discovered the same attentions being visited upon children by his brothers at arms, he’d not hesitated to run through his fellows.

Sansa was a Lady, one of the highest born Ladies in the land and betrothed to the King.  The only thing that could make a man more eager was Cersei herself, though Sansa was younger with her maidenhead in-tact.  Ripe for the plucking like a sweet, juicy peach.  A whorehopping, flea-ridden common recruit would think it a dream come true to find her when his blood was up.

A nobleman might make it to her first.  Most of them had better self-control and would immediately recognize her value.  In that case, she’d be hauled before Stannis like an ornate offering from a conquered foe.  Stannis would likely marry her to some House sworn to him as a reward for their service.  He might even marry her himself; King Robert’s brother had no sons, his wife was ill and being Sansa’s husband would virtually hand him the North.  Sandor’s brow furrowed at that.  It would save her life and keep her from rape, but she’d be just as much a prisoner to her new husband as she was to the crown now.  

Neither choice pleased Sandor.  If Joffrey won, he’d take Sansa as his wife for her life, a life Sandor expected to be short in Joffrey’s hands.  If Stannis prevailed, Sansa would be sold like a horse to the Seven knew who, if not raped and murdered.  

None of the options would give her the smallest happiness.  Most of them would result in her early death.  All of them would mean her parted from him.

That he could not abide.  He had sworn a solemn vow, the only one he had ever willingly offered and the only one he intended to keep to his last breath.  He would protect her.  Now he only had to figure out how.

Stealing her away was the obvious answer.  The more distance he could put between her and King’s Landing, the better.  By the time they made it to Pinkmaiden, they’d be safe in her grandfather Holster Tully’s lands.  But the boundaries of the Westerlands were far from King’s Landing.  By road, they could make it in a little more than a week, and sleep at an Inn each night.  But roads were out of the question for fugitives, especially a pair so recognizable.  They’d better plan on at least a fortnight traveling, and sleeping rough the entire journey.  

Sandor had no doubt they could make it to the Westerlands, no matter how rough.  He knew how to make proper preparations.  But there were two immediate obstacles to his plan; firstly, he had to sneak the King’s future Queen out of his castle, and make his way with Sansa and his horse through a city crawling with Kingsguard and the Watch.  And if he could manage that little miracle, at best he would have an hour or two head start, and their pursuers would be on fresh horses numbering in the hundreds. The ravens would fly before the horses were saddled, and those who would ordinarily pay no mind to two more passing through would take a keen interest in any large, scarred men and beautiful redheaded maidens. 

He barely considered his fate if they were caught.  Sansa’s concerned him much more.  If they had to be captured, let it be the Kingsguard.  They would keep her a maiden.  An image, a memory of Trant’s fist colliding with Sansa’s stomach made him growl.  No, not the Kingsguard.

Sansa smacked her lips when his throat rumbled.  Cursing himself for disturbing her rest, he let his fingers run lightly up and down her back.  She sighed and almost immediately fell back into a deep sleep.  Sandor continued stroking her back, almost like he was petting a kitten.  Something about it seemed to soothe him as much as it did her.

Despite being tired, his thoughts wouldn’t let him be.  Riding out of the gates was a fool’s errand.  It might be easier, in a way, to escape under the cover of night.  But the small council had decided to bar the gates at night against any surprises from Stannis.  No, he couldn’t afford any plan that had the slightest chance of failure.

A distraction offered the best chance.  Something to draw Joffrey and every other person within the city.   Sandor scoured his mind, trying to recall if there were any religious festivities fast approaching, and cursed when he came up empty.  A tourney would do nicely, and have the added benefit of keeping most of the fighting men and nobility out of the Keep and away from the gates.  But it would be impossible to convince the small council to host one now, and from what he heard the coin was all but gone.  Most of it had been used to pay wages for the army amassing in King’s Landing, and every ounce of food that could be brought into the city against a potential siege. If Stannis had done nothing else, he’d nearly bankrupted the crown.

Stannis.

There was his distraction.  Every fighting man, solider and Knight pinned down by battle, the common people huddled in their homes and hovels. The roads would be clear, with no eyes to see.  The garrisons in charge of defending the gates would be stripped to the barest number necessary with no orders to keep people inside the walls.  He could take his time over the coming days to gather provisions and an assortment of things needed for their trip.  It was likely the little yellow mare she favored, Sundrop, would be in the stables during the battle.  She was small and a Lady’s horse, after all, and ill-suited for riding into battle.  But she’d be a fine mount for Sansa.

Sandor wanted to smile.  The very threat to her well-being was the greatest chance they had at escape.  He could whisk her out of the castle during the battle, and have hours of a head start before they were missed.  It was almost too good to be true.

He brushed a red lock out of her face, dragging his fingertips over her smooth cheek.

“I’ll keep you safe,” he whispered so softly he almost couldn’t hear the words himself, “I’m going to take you out of here, little bird. My little bird.”

Chapter Text

The heels of Sansa’s delicate slippers clicked almost sharply against the stone floors.  A few of the servants glanced at her cautiously.  It was unusual to see her out of her rooms alone; if she was allowed out, it always seemed she was in the company of a Kingsguard or handmaidens, if not Cersei or Joffrey himself.  But the look on her face kept them back, and all she was left to contend with were their silent glances.

She strode toward the small council chambers, fingers holding up her silks in a white knuckled grip to increase her stride.  Joffrey and Cersei and all of them would be in that chamber now.

It meant he would be outside, standing guard, keeping servants well back and unable to listen through the door.  Joffrey always had him or Trant standing guard, and she’d seen Meryn minutes before in the training yard drilling recruits. There was no question that he would be there.  

As she rounded a stone pillar, her blue eyes lit upon his huge frame.  The hallway was empty, likely out of fear for the lone man occupying it.  He was staring off into a fountained courtyard to his left when she marched toward him.  The sound of her shoes alerted him to her presence, and when he turned to face her his eyes bulged. Sansa said not a word as she drew closer to him.  Behind the heavy oak doors he guarded she could hear Joffrey shouting something.  Sandor was working his jaw when she laid a slender hand over his wrist and tugged him into a shadowy alcove partially hidden from the hallway.

“What in Seven bloody Hells are you doing here?” He hissed low, standing so her figure was mostly hidden behind his, gray eyes watching the hall and heavy doors like an eagle.

“To see you!” She barked back, a cool snap in her quiet tone. Her balled fists landed on his chest, not hard, but none too gently.  “How could you not tell me Stannis is coming so soon?  I had to learn of it from Shae.  You should have told me!”

He blinked down at her, his jaw hanging open.  She glared up at him until he finally gathered his wits and spoke.

“I would have told you last night, but you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you.  I would have gladly told you this evening when I came to guard your door.  But that’s no excuse,” his rasp increased in volume as she attempted to protest, his eyes hard until she stopped trying to interject.  Then he continued in a lower tone, “It’s no excuse for coming here , of all places.  Joffrey and Cersei and the lot of those cunts are in there arguing about strategy.  If they were to discover you’d come here, seeking me out...”

He trailed off, leaving the threat unspoken.  To his surprise, Sansa only lifted her chin, squaring her jaw as she locked her pale eyes with his gray.

“For all they or anybody else knows I came here to see Joffrey, or the Queen, and you intercepted me.  And you should have woken me,” her voice lost a little of its edge, and she continued on much more softly, “Stannis coming is dangerous for you.  It scares me, to think of men coming at you with swords and arrows and Gods know what.  You could be hurt. Or worse. I can’t bear it,” she swallowed hard with the last, “After my father, and my sister. My freedom.  You’re the last thing I have left. I couldn’t bear to lose you.”

Sansa pulled her gaze away from his, eyes on his chest.  Her hands had unclenched, and they spread over his cold steel plate.  For several moments, she fought the tears that threatened at the corners of her vision.  She would not cry!

The huge man’s stiff posture relaxed slightly.  He glanced into the hallway as she tried to collect herself, then turned and laid his gloved hands over hers.

“You won’t lose me, little bird,” he whispered gently.  When she didn’t respond, he said, “Sansa, look at me.”

Her eyes responded immediately, sliding up to look at his scarred visage.  How could she have ever thought that face so frightening?  It was so strong, his eyes so kind.  Even his scars were handsome to her now, speaking to his resilience.  Her heart ached at the thought of never seeing him look at her again.

“Good girl,” he whispered when her face turned up to him.  One large hand reached up to cup her cheek.  How she wished he didn’t have his gloves on as she nuzzled into his touch.

“How can you be so sure?”  Sansa felt shame at how small and fearful her voice sounded.  It quivered like a child, but his lips only crooked up in a knowing smile.

“Men have been trying to kill me for years.  None of them have managed the task yet.  I’m a big fucker, and I’m tough to kill.  You needn’t worry about a thing Sansa.  I’ll have a wall in front of me, an army around me, and the Imp has a surprisingly good head for strategy.  Stannis will not have an easy time taking the city.”

“That doesn’t mean an arrow won’t find you,” she put in.  Couldn’t he see the danger?  She had to find a way to keep him safe!

“That’s true, little bird.  But none have yet, and they’re not likely to,” one arm wrapped around her shoulders, pulling her smaller frame into his.  Sansa pressed her cheek to his breastplate, wishing the steel wasn’t there.  She wanted to bury her face into the muscled plane of his chest, hear his breathing and heartbeat while his arms snugged around her.

“I’ll come for you Sansa,” he continued, “If the battle looks to be turning, if men break through, if there’s even a moment’s doubt, I will find you.  I’ll protect you and keep you safe until my dying breath.  Do you understand?”

She nodded against him, the tears flowing freely down her pink cheeks.  When she spoke, her words were muffled against his chest.  “Do you promise?”

Without missing a beat, he replied, “On the old gods and the new.”  

Sansa felt herself smile, a sense of relief washing through her.  Lifting herself to her tiptoes, she tried to press her lips to his.  But his gauntlets were on her shoulders, gently pushing her away from his muscled frame.

“No, little bird.  It’s not safe here.”

Her lips pressed together in a hard line.  Sandor might be right, but that didn’t stop her from feeling irritated.  

As the not-a-Ser began to glance down the hallway, she realized he was about to send her back to her rooms like a petulant child.  She was no such thing.  She was a woman, the Lady of a noble House and the reluctant betrothed of the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. She had every right to go where she wanted and speak to whom she pleased!

“We haven’t talked since that night,” Sansa spoke the words with her chin lifted and eyes sparkling.

That brought him up short.  Sandor whipped back ‘round to face her as though he’d been goosed.  Gray eyes stared widely down at her.  She did her best to appear unruffled by the intensity of his gaze.

“Of all the things to speak of here, girl, that would be the very last,” Sandor growled down at her, closing the space between them with one stride.  His huge paws folded around her shoulders and his half-ruined face filled her vision.

“I am not a girl,” she whispered so softly she was sure he had to strain to hear her words, “I am a woman.  And you’ve shown me what I want.”

Breath hung between them, filling the silence as he stared into her eyes.  Sansa expected anger; whenever he was surprised or challenged, he would rage.  It seemed his default emotion, the shield he used against the rest of the world.  She was fiercely proud he hadn’t shown any anger towards her in weeks.

“And what is that, my Lady ?”  He rasped the question at her, voice laden with condescension.  Ahh, there it is. His temper.

“I want what you did to me,” Sansa felt the color rise in her cheeks.  What a thing to say out loud!  In a hallway, where any passing servant could hear!  But the look in his eye, as though he was witnessing the impossible, spurred her on, “I want to feel all those things I felt when you touched me, I want to kiss you until I can’t feel my lips any longer.  I want to feel you next to me, against me, the warmth we create between us.  I want to be so caught up in you the rest of the world disappears.  And I want you to feel all the things I do when you’re with me.”

She reached for his cheek with the last, hesitant she had revealed too much.  His eyes are so wide.

Sandor’s hand flew to hers, closing in a gentle fist around her wrist.  Her palm was within a breath of his scarred flesh, and his cold eyes stared wildly into hers.

Fighting the urge to swallow, she steadied her voice and sighed, “Sandor, please.”

Her hand was immediately released, and her palm cupped his ruined cheek.  Blue eyes keeping him fixed in her gaze, she slid her thumb across his flesh and whispered. 

“That is why you must come back to me.  Not because I need you. Or, not just because of that.  I want you, Sandor of House Clegane. I want to know that you’re there every night I fall asleep, I want to smell you on my sheets every morning.  I want the strength you give me by just being in the same room, the freedom you give me to be myself when we’re alone.  Most of all I want the good man I know you to be, the one you let me see, in here,” the flat of her palm pressed to the plate on his chest.

Suddenly she was walking backward, the bulk of his weight smothering her until her back was pressed against cold stone.  Glancing around, she saw it was a little cubby off a servant corridor; probably a waiting space for those attending the Hand.  At that moment it was an empty, shadowed place. 

In the dim, she barely had time to register Sandor’s hand clasping her chin before his lips were crushing hers.  A small sound of surprise bubbled in her throat, and then her arms were twined around his neck.  She breathed deeply, pulling his scent into herself.  His arms were around her, pressing her lithe form into his much larger.  When his tongue joined the dance, her toes curled in their slippers.

Just as suddenly he pulled away, his lips tearing wetly from hers and leaving her panting for breath.  Sandor’s face was pressed to the top of her head, and it took a moment for her to realize he was speaking.

“I’ll come for you, Sansa,” he was whispering roughly against her hair.  His breath was so hot, his quiet words so strained; it was the finest song her ears had ever heard, “If I think for one moment the battle is lost, I’ll come.  Even if I have to walk through fucking fire and rip the Stranger himself from navel to neck, I’ll find you.”

She sagged against him, knees suddenly weak from the force of his words.  Sansa struggled against the tears that tried to come.  He had only spoken that way in her hearing once, in the deep darkness of night within her chambers when he thought she was asleep.  

“Thank you, Sandor,” she whispered against his shoulder before leaning back to catch his face within her hands, “Thank you.”

But when she leaned up to press her lips to his, he pulled his head away.

“No, little bird. No more, not here,” his gray eyes bore into hers with an intensity his quiet tone had not carried.  Sansa understood.  The place was too public, the risk too great.  Part of her did not care.

The part that did care saw her place her fingers lightly into the crook of his arm, and in silence he led her back through the narrow hallway to his post.  Standing to one side of the door to the Hand’s chambers, Sandor stopped to face her.  

“Best not to come here again, little bird.  Best not to seek me out ever.  Don’t give them reason to suspect you,” he reached for her cheek, his fingers stopping just short as he issued his warning and his hand dropped.

Sansa straightened and thrust out her chin, “I am not afraid of them, Sandor.”

Even the corners of his eyes crinkled as he looked down at what she hoped was a fierce expression.  His smile made her determination waver, but she clenched her teeth and continued her haughty stare.

“No, I don’t believe you are.  So I’ll have to keep you safe.  Don’t do anything foolish; just sing your songs and make them think you’ve submitted to your cage.  When the battle comes and the time is right, I’ll find you.”

Something he hadn’t said in that sentence made her ears prick and a jolt run down her spine.  When the time is right?   A sensation she hadn’t felt in so long surged within her, and a lump rose in her throat.

“Will...will you take me away? From here?”  She asked breathlessly.

Sansa barely had time to register the startled expression on his face when there was a sound behind her.  She stepped away from the fearsome Hound, adopting her mask of simpering submission to face whoever it was that had happened upon them.  To her surprise, it wasn’t a member of the Kingsguard or a servant, but the Hand himself. 

“Lord Tyrion,” she said unsteadily, dropping into a low curtsy to hide her fear.  She heard Sandor shift behind her.

“Lady Sansa,” he inclined his head, startlement clear on his face, “I am surprised to see you here.”

Frantically she wracked her brain for a suitable response, something he would believe.  Tyrion’s eyebrow arched at her slack mouth and the stuttered syllables as she desperately grasped at anything that might do.

“The girl was looking for the Queen,” Sandor rasped behind her.  Her eyes widened as he continued in a bored tone, “She’s looking for rags.  Women’s business, or some such.”

Sansa felt the flames roll up her cheeks to her hairline.  That he would speak such things in public, much less to Tyrion Lannister!

“Oh,” Tyrion replied uncertainly, before his eyes bulged and he continued, “ Oh!   My dear Lady Stark, forgive my intrusion into your private affairs.  I will see a handmaiden attend you in your chambers at once.  You have my sincere apologies.”

The dwarf bowed low.  Face still red as fire, Sansa dipped again.

“I thank you for your help, my Lord Hand,” Straightening, she offered Tyrion a ladylike smile before doing her best to float down the hall.  She dared not look back to Sandor and ruin the escape his quick thinking had bought her.  As she glided away, the smallest of furtive smiles crossed her lips.  She had his promise.  And dogs don’t lie.

Chapter Text

That very evening Stannis Baratheons’ fleet arrived, rolling into Blackwater Bay to the beat of a hundred drums.  A larger fleet than had been anticipated.  As Tyrion surveyed the oncoming armies, the brat King began to panic, and Sandor was forced to be a mouthpeice when it was clear Joffrey refused to address his uncle directly.  Tyrion, for his part, played along frustratingly well until the boy lost his temper. 

Sandor was more than happy to stop repeating the King’s commands, and settled in to scrutinize the scene before him.

It was clear the Imp was up to something, the way that up-jumped sellsword darted off with a determined look to his face.  Sandor just wished he knew what.  Tyrion was crafty, and had likely come up with some unexpected surprise for Stannis and his forces.  While he could appreciate unexpected moves in battle, he would have liked to know what to expect.  Especially now that he was facing a few dozen ships, and likely a few thousand men, more than he had anticipated.

The knowledge alone nearly had him turn on his heel and seek out Sansa, but such a move so early would be noticed, and they’d be intercepted before he could steal her out of the Keep.  Grinding his teeth in irritation, he snarled at the man who bumped into him.

Then emerald Hell burst in the bay, exploding dozens of ships in verdant flames.  

Sandor’s forearm flew to his face, shielding against the heat of the sudden fire.  Gaping at the sight his arm only partially hid him from, he glanced to Tyrion.  The smaller man stared out at the water, his brow furrowed and jaw set.  He didn’t like what he was seeing.  Well, he could understand that; Sandor knew firsthand what it was like to be swallowed in flames. 

It became apparent quickly that the Imp’s trick, while frighteningly impressive, had not initially destroyed more than perhaps a quarter of the fleet.  The first wave reached the shore under a hail of arrows.  Sandor looked to Tyrion and the brat King.  At a nod from the Hand, Sandor led his men to the gate and met Stannis’ force.

Like a true Clegane, Sandor was content to hack his way through every would-be combatant.  In every one of their faces he saw the men who had attacked Sansa in Fleabottom.  None of them were any better than those whore-hopping rioters; all of them would savage his sweet little bird given the chance.  His swings gained ferocity with each man he cut down.  They would die by his steel before they could reach her. As a man fell before him with a face half-cleaved, Sandor saw another man running blindly toward him.  The soldier was glowing green, burning from the wildfire the Imp had unleashed.  Sandor’s breath caught and his feet rooted him in the sand.  Fire. Fucking fire!

The man hit the ground hard, sliding to a burning stop just a few feet from Sandor.  Two arrows pierced the dead man’s back.  Glancing up, Sandor saw Bronn lowering his bow.  He had no love for the new Captain of the Watch, but gave the man a nod of respect. 

Behind Bronn, more ships were making landfall.  It was time.

Sandor turned and marched into the Keep, ignoring the shouts from Tyrion.  Sandor had no idea where the King was; he didn’t care.  The city would be in flames soon if that wildfire kept burning.  He had to get Sansa out.

The women had been gathered in Maegor’s Holdfast to be “guarded” by Payne, the King’s executioner.  Frightened little highborn cunts and their attendants would be crammed in along with Sansa and Queen Cersei herself.  The Queen posed a problem; even had she been in the wine, she was still sharp enough to ask exactly the wrong questions about why he was there and what he wanted with Sansa.  The other Ladies would be easily cowed into minding their own business by a few well-placed words.  He’d rather not have to kill Cersei and Ser Ilyn to get Sansa out.  It would mean they’d be hunted much more quickly than if they snuck out quietly.

First he went to his room in the barracks.  Hidden beneath his bed was a pack with bedrolls and rations, along with full feedbags for the horses.  Quickly he shucked off the gold and white Kingsguard cloak and threw on a nondescript gray before slinging the heavy pack over his shoulder.  

Next he went to the stables.  He slipped into one of the stablerows unnoticed; any man old enough was down on the bay.  The few young stableboys left behind were watching from the barn rooftops.

By the eerie green light he saddled his big black stallion Stranger before leading him to the little mare Sundrop.  After tying Stranger to a post, he hid the pack in the golden mare’s stall before fetching a saddle and bridle to tack her up.  After a moment’s contemplation, he fixed the pack to her saddle.  Stranger could better bear the additional weight, but he would see Sansa have what was needed to survive if they were separated.  Or worse.

He shook the despairing thought off.  Now wasn’t the time to be distracted by fear, and he would get her out and find someplace she could be safe.  Wherever that might be.  

Gathering the delicate mare’s leather reins, he took her and Stranger to the abandoned stable block, stashing them each in stalls with hay and water until he returned.  Then he turned towards Maegor’s.

Sandor was still trying to figure out how he’d slip Sansa out of the Holdfast when he saw several Ladies hurrying down the corridor.  Ladies he knew should be with Sansa and the Queen.  Suddenly uneasy, he grabbed a handmaiden trailing after them by her wrist.

“Why are you out here?” He growled at the woman.  She trembled in fear, turning her dark eyes away from his glower before answering.

“The Queen she...left.  My Lady felt we would be safer in her own apartments. We were going there.”

“Where did Cersei go?  Why did she leave the Holdfast?”  When the handmaiden just trembled and looked down the hallway, he barked, “Speak woman!”

“I don’t know!” She cried out in a rush, “Her cousin Lord Lancel came with news from the field, and she demanded the King be brought to her at once.  Lord Lancel, he disagreed with the Queen’s command.  Her Grace struck him before leaving without a word.  I swear to the old gods and the new, that’s all I know my Lord!”

Sandor ground his teeth.  Without the Queen to keep them there, the Ladies had probably slipped out in every direction.  No telling where Sansa might be.  Payne may have kept her in the Holdfast.  It wouldn’t be hard for him to do.  While Joffrey posed the most threat to her, Ilyn had taken off her father’s head.  It wasn’t hard to see how much the wordless man terrified her.

A small sound brought his attention back to what was in front of him, and he realized the handmaiden he still held was crying.  Disgusted with her for not being more useful, and disgusted with himself for frightening her so, he released her arm.

“Go. Hide in your Lady’s rooms. Bar the doors with whatever you can,” he ordered her in a more moderate tone.  The handmaiden dropped a quick curtsy and fled, running down the hallway to wherever her Lady was residing in the castle.  

Sandor wanted to slam his fist into something.  Sansa could be anywhere in the Red Keep, and searching by himself would take hours.  The city could be lost by then, and leaving impossible.  Stannis would certainly take his head, and his little bird would find herself in a new cage, with a new man in her bed.

A passing servant jumped when Sandor snatched a bottle of wine from the boy’s satchel.  He was clearly stealing anything he could carry, and wasn’t about to challenge the Hound over a bottle.  Even if it was Dornish Red.  Thief has taste.

Taking a drink, he considered his options.  There was a not-small chance she was still within Maegor’s.  Cersei would not risk her; the loss of Sansa almost certainly meant the loss of Jaime, and the Queen would not abide any danger to her favorite brother’s life.  Ser Ilyn knew what he was about and was far more reliable to leave alone with the girl than any of the Kingsguard.  Ilyn wouldn’t rape her.  But he could be trusted to kill her, lest she fall into Stannis’s hands.

Or, she could have fled the Holdfast at the first moment she could.  She was bold and foolish enough to leave one of the safest places in the Keep.  But where would she go?  Sansa could have gone to pray, believing her imaginary gods would protect her.  As though they’d answered any of her prayers before.  But he thought her better than that.  In the last few months she’d grown and learned.  She had shed the silly girl who believed all the songs and started to see the world for what it was, and that she’d have to rely upon herself to survive.  The expression she wore when she asked him to teach her how to fight was so determined, it still made him swell with pride.

Whatever had brought her around, he was grateful for it.  Now she was better equipped for the world.  But still not learned enough.

So the godswood was an unlikely hiding spot.  Her rooms seemed far more likely.  It was familiar ground with one way in, out of the way in a high tower.  It was also an impasse; one way in also meant one way out.  She was backed into a corner up there, trapped and ultimately captured.

Maegor’s Holdfast or her rooms then?  Sandor took a swig from the crystalline decanter. More likely she was still in Maegor’s, but Maegor’s surely meant a fight.  That way was dangerous.  Sansa would be alone in her rooms, if she was there, and her tower less watched than the Holdfast.  Much better chance of getting her out unseen.  And if she had stayed in Maegor’s, well, he could always go down there and get her.  He’d made it out of much more difficult predicaments.

Clutching the bottle in one fist while he drew his sword with the other, he made his way deeper into the Keep.  Servants and handmaidens and pages leapt out of his path.  At one point his shoulder collided with that of a nobleman.  The highborn man began to shout before he saw it was the Hound and swallowed his protests.  Whenever he passed a window or archway, the halls were alight with a sickly green hue.

With the path largely cleared for him, it didn’t take long to arrive at Sansa’s tower.  Quickly he climbed the dozens of stone steps before arriving at her door.  He knocked, loudly, and called her name.  

There was no answer.

Sandor lifted the latch and the door swung open.  That worried him.  Sansa wouldn’t leave her door unbarred, were she there.  Of course, maybe she hadn’t had the chance to bolt it.

Her apartments were mostly dark, several candles having burned out and the fire hardly more than embers.  He hoped it meant wherever she was, she was safe.

For a few minutes Sandor considered the best course of action.  If he had to fight his way in and out of the Keep, there would be no time to return to get her things.  She’d ride with no cloak or change of clothes or sturdy shoes for the weeks of hard living ahead.  Coin wasn’t a problem, but finding what she needed would be difficult.  Their descriptions would be carried with every peddler and raven, and all of the Crownlands would be looking for them within a day.  They couldn’t risk stopping at inns or markets, much less staying in one place while clothes were tailored or shoes cobbled. 

Quickly he stoked the fire and used an ember to light more candles.  Her silk robe laid over the chair he’d sat in so many nights; it would do.  He tied it up like a sack and began to rifle through her wardrobe, stuffing in anything he thought she might need.  Sansa’s riding boots were the hardiest shoes he could find, and in the robe they went.  Her thickest dresses were still thin and light, but he chose the heaviest he could find and stuffed them in with the shoes.  Sandor was more pleased to find several woolen shifts and stockings to add to his inventory.

As he left the wardrobe he went to her bedside stand to fetch the hairbrush he knew she kept there.  She took great pride in caring for her hair, and he knew she’d be unfit to live with if she couldn’t brush it regularly. 

He stopped as he came alongside her bed.  It was perfectly made, ready for her.  And him.  This room had become a sort of paradise for him, and this bed his favorite place within it.  She had been in this bed the first time she’d reached for him.  The first time he’d felt her skin with his own, she had been in this bed.  And the first time she’d invited him into her bed, the only woman who had ever asked him to join her in her own sheets, it had been here.

And the only time he’d ever explored her sweet body and brought that heavenly song from her lips, just a few nights before, they’d been in this bed. Together.

Sandor glanced at the wine bottle in his hand.  It had been a long time since he’d last had a drink, he realized.  Gods be damned, he’d lost his head for the stuff.  It had to be what was making him a fucking bard over a simple bed.

But he felt himself sinking down onto her mattress, his back to the rest of the room.  Pulling a glove off one hand, he slid his bare fingertips over the linen.  Only her skin was softer than these fine sheets.  And he’d never feel it again.  The sheets or her skin; as of tomorrow, both would be lost to him.  She would be a Lady in truth again, even if a fugitive, and he would have to remember who he was.  And who she was.  There would be no more smiles, no more laughter, no more sighs, no more kisses.  Only seeing her to safety, where she’d return to her castle and her high-born family to be married to a wealthy lord of the north, and he’d be sent on his way with his horse and maybe a little gold.  If he was lucky.  Once she was safe, he’d become just a memory.  Maybe one she looked back on with some fondness, but a memory just the same. 

He could spare a moment for what he was about to lose.

Chapter Text

Sansa rushed through the hallways, skirts hiked to her knees in a very unladylike fashion.  Her handmaiden’s advice rang in her ears. Shae was right. Stannis wouldn’t hurt her; she was far too valuable.  Ser Ilyn though…

And so she ran through the corridors, servants paying no mind to who she was or where she was going.  They themselves ran, hurrying toward where they thought to find safety or fleeing the castle with whatever they could carry.  She didn’t care what they did, so long as they stayed out of her way.

Not for the first time she wished her dark handmaiden had accompanied her.  Sansa would have felt safer with Shae’s ferocity by her side.  But the woman wouldn’t be swayed.  When Sansa had asked her to come, Shae had flashed a broad smile along with a narrow blade strapped to her leg, and had said she must see somebody before chivvying Sansa out of Maegor’s Holdfast. And away from the King’s headsman. 

Ascending the stone stairs toward her apartments, Sansa wondered and worried over Sandor.  Where was he?  Was he safe behind the walls?  Had he been injured?

So caught up in her thoughts was she that Sansa barely noticed the eerily green hue accompanied by a faint acrid stench that surrounded her.  Outside, the Blackwater burned verdantly, flames dancing impossibly upon the water. Instead she climbed, and hoped Sandor would find her soon.  Without any arrows in him. Throwing open her iron-bound door, Sansa paid no mind to the surprising brightness of her quarters.  Quickly she threw the bolt and listened for footsteps.  None came. She sighed and rested her forehead against the door before turning.  Her heart leapt into her throat when a voice came from across the room.

“The Lady’s starting to panic.”

Her breath left her in a rush, and her feet were carrying her to her bed before she knew it.  There he sat, an odd bundle in his lap, staring through the archways toward the courtyard.  Sansa’s nose wrinkled at the sight of the wine, but she still spoke in a breathless rush.

“Sandor, you came,” she sunk down upon the bed with him, burying her face into his neck.  His cheek pressed to the top of her head, and she heard him inhale deeply.

“I’ll always come for you, little bird,” he whispered.  Somehow, strangely, he sounded far away.

Leaning up, Sansa looked at his face quizzically.  Glancing at the heap of fabric in his hands, she asked, “What is this?”

“I was thinking of going.  North, might be.  Could be.”

He looked down to her, an unasked question in his eye.  She swallowed.  All day, she’d considered the thought of escaping, for the first time since her father’s head was taken. Maybe if they could avoid any prying eyes, and if nobody noticed they were missing until daybreak, and if the hunters sent after them were tired from the battle…

Too many ifs.  And too great a chance Sandor would pay for those ifs with his life.  So Sansa turned her blue eyes to him, and prayed to the Gods he would understand.

“If we leave, they’ll hunt us.  I’ll be Joffrey’s prisoner again, and you’ll die.”

For long moments he said nothing, just stared at her with his gray eyes a swirling storm.  Finally he raised his hand and wove his fingers through her copper hair.

“If we stay, you’ll die.  And I won’t survive you.”

To this Sansa shook her head violently.  “No, Sandor.  I see now what must happen.  Stannis has a bigger army than the Lannisters thought; I heard Lancel say so tonight.  They’ll be overwhelmed, and Stannis will take the city.  You can get close to Joffrey and present him to Stannis.  I can tell him how you protected me from the Lannisters.  Stannis will give you your freedom, and even make you the Lord of your House.”

Her eyes sparkled as she spoke.  Couldn’t he see what it would mean?  If Stannis took the crown, her brother would lay down his arms.  There would be peace, she would be free of Joffrey’s wretched clutches, Sandor would be a Lord with holdings, and her brother must find him worthy.

But Sandor snorted, and she blinked up at him.

“A pretty song, little bird, but not any more real than those ones you used to sing about Florian and Jonquil.”

She shook her head, “I am eldest sister to a King, a princess of the North.  My blood carries weight.  Long have the Stark and Baratheon Houses been aligned.  My brother only wants justice for the North; he won’t oppose Stannis on the Iron Throne.  Stannis needs my family to hold the throne and keep the peace.  He has no choice but to listen to me.  If you bring him Joffrey, you’ll be hailed a hero.”

His jaw worked, trying to find fault with her logic, she was certain.  Instead she rolled over him, divulged more of her plans.

“Stannis will be grateful to you for protecting me and handing him an alliance with the North, and serving him the imposter Joffrey. He will have no choice but to reward such valor.  He’ll make you a Lord.  Maybe a Great Lord.  Of Harrenhal, or Casterly Rock, since the Lannisters won’t have need of it.  Mayhaps even Dragonstone.  Such holdings would make you a powerful noble, one who would be worthy of a high-born Lady.”

Sansa stared up at him, hoping he heard what she wanted him to hear.  Please let him understand.  And Gods, please don’t let it frighten him. 

He looked into her eyes, and she held her breath.  Suddenly realization dawned.  Sansa tensed, preparing herself for the anger he’d shown that afternoon.  But disbelief filled his vision.

“You can’t be implying...Sansa, I’m the second son of a House so minor we might as well be kennelmasters again.  No matter what accolades Stannis heaps upon me, and I expect there will be none, your brother won’t forget where I come from.  And he has his own allies to reward with marriage to a beautiful red-haired princess.”

“My mother won’t have it.  Not once she understands.  And she will make Robb see as well. You know what I say is wise and true. Please. Trust me.”

The moment of silence that passed was the longest of Sansa’s life.  

“Aye, little bird.  We’ll do it your way.”

With a giggle she couldn’t possibly contain, Sansa leaned up to press her lips to his smooth cheek.  As she settled back, she considered how to tell him what she wanted to say next.  There was more to her plan, but the second part would be much more difficult to broach than the first.

“Sandor,” she spoke slowly, softly, “Would it bother you terribly if I didn’t have my maidenhead-” 

“What?!” He bellowed, leaping to his feet and tumbling her back on the bed.  He began to pace, fingers clutching his sword hilt and face twisted with fury.  “Joffrey! Seven Hells, I’ll strangle that fucking cunt with his own entrails!  When, Sansa? When did he lay a hand on you?”

“He didn’t!” Sansa said quickly, “Nobody has!  Nobody but you.  I am sorry, I’ve gone about this all wrong.”

Sandor stopped, turning to stare at her before barking, “What do you bloody mean?”

“Please,” she said, gesturing for him to calm himself.  He removed his hands from his sword’s pommel, and she began.

“Those men, in the riots, they were going to rape me.  Tonight, Cersei said Stannis’ soldiers would rape us, maybe kill us.  For months Joffrey’s threatened me with rape or death; one’s as fun to him as the other.”

Sansa paused to look at Sandor.  His jaw twitched, but he held his tongue.  She could see his patience was thin, so she continued quickly.

“I am a prisoner of the Lannisters.  I sleep where they let me, eat what they feed me, do what they tell me, and have no choice in the matter.  The next man who walks through those doors could decide to rape or kill me.  There’s only one thing I possess that I have a choice in, and that’s who I give my maidenhead.  But that choice could be stolen from me at any moment.  I want to give my maidenhead to someone I choose, because they’re good and brave and kind and honorable.  Because I care about them.  Because I want them.”

Sandor’s face had gone slack; disbelief painted his features.  He looked utterly stunned.  It gave her strength.

“Sansa,” he finally gasped, “I can’t...you don’t mean...”

“You can, and I do, Sandor Clegane.  There is no one I could possibly want more.”

“I’m not worthy of such a gift, Sansa.  It wouldn’t be right.”

“That you haven’t taken it from me already tells me you are more than worthy.”

He appeared stunned at her reasoning.  Deep down, she’d surprised herself at the level tone of her voice, like silk whispering across steel.  She wanted him, only him; just the thought brought that delicious pressure between her legs.  But she was afraid of it, too.

Shae had told her a little of what to expect, answering Sansa’s carefully framed questions with a blunt honesty the noblewoman found strangely endearing.  The more she had learned, the more she was curious and afraid.  She wanted to know the pleasures her handmaiden spoke of so freely; she knew she would find nothing but pain in Joffrey’s marriage bed.  The more she had discovered, the more she had grown certain she would rather die than give Joffrey the greatest gift her Septa said she had to offer.  

Turning her blue eyes to him, she dug deep down, trying to find that cool, stubborn part that was strong and so utterly Northern.

“I ask you again, Sandor Clegane,” her voice barely a whisper, she pushed out the words, “Would it bring you dishonor if I had no maidenhead to give you upon marriage?”

One of the most fearsome men in Westeros, if not the world, stared at her.  A brute, a killer.  The King’s Dog.  Knights avoided him, hardened soldiers were afraid of him.  Sansa met his eyes and saw only tenderness in their gray depths.  He’d been so good to her, protected her, given her strength and reminded her who she really was. 

Sansa felt as though needles were piercing every inch of her skin.  Each silent moment that passed without his answer was agony.

“Sansa,” he spoke even more softly than she had.  She strained to listen above the low din outside, “You could never bring me dishonor.”

The sob that escaped her throat would have shamed her if she wasn’t so relieved, so thrilled.  Before she knew it, the bundle in his hands was a forgotten heap on the floor.  Huge arms encircled her, and she was heaved into his broad chest.  Fingers tangled in her hair, pulling her head back.  Sandor stared down at her, and she saw the heat and passion barely restrained.  It was startling, she had never seen such intensity in his gaze before.  A thrill shot through her, making her toes curl in her slippers.

She arched up and caught his lips with hers.  

Chapter Text

Sandor gave serious consideration to pinching himself.  Or perhaps punching himself.  This could not be real, could not be happening.  His little bird, Sansa bloody Stark, a princess to every man north of the Neck, was sitting prettily on her bed and asking him , of all people, to make her a bride.  More than that, she was asking him to take her maidenhead.  That very night.

The emerald cast to her rooms from the wildfire blazing green outside proved it was no dream.  Fire was only present in his nightmares.  And even his wildest of dreams had never been so generous to offer him Sansa pleading that he take her as his own. 

She looked at him, with those impossibly blue eyes and coral lips and her brow knitted in such a way he ached.

“Sansa,” he struggled to get the words out; his throat was so tight he could barely hear himself. “You could never bring me dishonor.”

He had her in his arms almost before he realized what he was doing.  Deep down he knew he shouldn’t be touching her, shouldn’t be agreeing to her fool notion.  Even if Stannis took the city, the idea that he would reward a Clegane with lands and Sansa Stark for a wife was almost laughable. If it hadn’t been his little bird speaking it, he might very well have laughed.  

But she was absolutely right that she could be sold off to some other lord, or worse, made to follow through with her betrothal to Joffrey.  Little chance she’d find happiness with one, and zero with the other.  And assailants were always a hidden threat.  

He tried to tell himself he did this for her, that he would do it because her reasoning was sound and, at least, he could make her first time as gentle as she deserved.  Sandor told himself he could spare her pain, spare her the horror of being unwilling her first time.  After all, she had asked. As he looked down in her eyes, he knew that was a load of pig shit.  Of course he never wanted to see her hurt, and he’d die to protect her from any pains he could, but underneath it all he knew he wanted her.  He wanted her sighs and moans and trembling shudders.  He had desired her for months, since the Lannisters had ordered him guard her door at night.  

A part of him refused to believe, refused to give in.  So he simply held her gaze, staring at her as his desire for her warred with his need to do right by her.  He had no right to the beautiful woman, this brave and clever creature who beamed unflinching up at him.  He must have misheard her, must have misunderstood.  She couldn’t possibly desire a snarling, scarred old dog.

Then she leaned up, and her lips pressed to his.  So warm, so wet.  So willing .

Something inside him caved away.  All his second guessing, his self-doubts, his disbelief that she could want him as he did her, crumbled and blew away when her lips pressed to him.  He would have felt lost, adrift, but were it for her.  Heavy arms were tightening around her slender frame before he knew it, squeezing Sansa against his whole body.  

Her arms wound around his neck, and she eagerly pressed against him. He cursed the armor that prevented him from feeling her soft curves against his planes of muscle. But then her lips were upon his, and all thought evaporated. Sandor worked his mouth against hers, suckling at her soft flesh and tracing her lips with his tongue. Sansa sighed, her lips parting to join her own tongue in the dance. They lapped at one another, delving and tasting, and fell deeper into their embrace.

Finally they came up for air, breathing hard while still clinging together. But she nearly made him laugh when she knocked her fist gently against the steel covering his chest and spoke.

“Might we take this off?”

Sandor grinned down at her sparkling eyes. He was happy to oblige her request, but perhaps not in the way she expected. He rose to his feet, turning to face her as she remained seated on the blankets. Gloves were quickly shucked so his fingers could release the myriad of fasteners and buckles that kept his armor in place. Before long there was a pile of stacked steel next to her bed. But instead of continuing his own undressing, he reached down to pull Sansa up. Brushing a kiss against her lips, he whispered, “Your turn now, little bird.”

He felt her sigh against his mouth before replying, “You’ll have to help me.”

Sansa turned, pulling her fiery hair over her shoulder and presenting him with a row of tiny pearls that ran down her spine. Sandor raised his hands and began to tug at them, trying as much as he could to be careful with his paws to not damage the fabric or pop free one of the precious buttons. It took more work than he expected, and he nearly just tore the silk to be done with it. Schooling himself to patience, he reminded himself that ripping her fine dress would not endear him to her, and continued his painstaking work. When the last button popped free, he huffed a breath in relief.

She then turned back to him, her eyes peering up through long lashes at his face. Reaching up, she slid one arm free of the dress followed by the other, her gaze never wavering. He watched, utterly captivated by the beauty before him. Never had he seen a woman disrobe before, and he knew he was the luckiest man alive to watch her undress.

When her arms were free of the silks, they fell to pool at her feet, leaving her in a pale shift that clung to her skin. He reached forward, running his fingertips along her collarbone and down to her chest, tracing the swell of each silk-covered breast. When he saw two firm peaks form through the thin fabric, Sandor bent his head to offer each a kiss. The sound she made deep in her throat was the most seductive thing he’d heard in his life. Teasing her hard nipples with his mouth, his hands reached for his tunic and undershirt both, and he pulled them over his head in one swift motion. Tossing the garments aside, his hands quickly reached for her again, sliding down her sides and over her hips, stroking her thighs until he reached the hem at her knee. 

Sandor glanced up to her, the unspoken question in his eye as he gripped the fabric. Sansa gave him a nod and raised her hands, and he drug the silk up her body, casting it to the side. 

His eyes devoured her. He’d seen most of her body before, but never completely bare. Narrow shoulders, full breasts, smooth stomach, long legs. The finest artisans in the world could not create anything to compete with the perfection standing before him. When Sansa heaved in a deep, steadying breath he nearly fell to his knees in worship. 

And he did go to his knees, pressing her back down on the bed, stroking his hands across her flesh. Sansa’s skin was pebbled against his touch. For an instant he was concerned she was cold. Fortunately, he had a good idea how to warm her.

Sandor’s lips pressed to her knee, planting several kisses to it before inching his way up her thigh. His tongue licked here, his nose nuzzled there, all the while working his way towards her juncture. The scent of her was maddening, serving to whip him on. He fought to keep control of himself, to go slow, to drive her to the same dizzying heights he felt himself approaching. When he arrived at his goal, he couldn't help but snake his tongue out and stroke up the pink, wet flesh before him. Sansa’s thighs quivered and he heard her gasp. Holding back a devious grin, he lashed her with his tongue again, and delighted in the moan that escaped her. 

Under his tongue, she grew wetter and wetter. Her hips rose of their own accord, meeting his mouth and pressing herself to him. As he lapped at her flesh, he felt his cock straining against the confines of his trousers, begging for its own freedom and attention. Keeping his focus on Sansa, his hands yanked at the laces of his breeches. Freed from its confines, his cock throbbed in the cool air of her room. He ignored his demanding organ and instead caught the bundle of nerves atop her folds, pulling the swollen kernel between his lips. Sansa bucked into him, and when he rolled his tongue over her flesh he felt a flood of moisture against his chin. His own moan joined her cry of pleasure, and he thought he could die truly happy then and there.

But she had her own plans, it seemed. Slender fingers tangled in his hair, and she tugged gently. Sandor raised his head, his eyes meeting hers, and was startled to see the heat within those blue pools. Sansa pulled and he obeyed, lifting himself up and over her. She was so delicate, unblemished, he felt cumbersome and ungainly by comparison. Yet here she was, bared in all her elegant glory to him, waiting for him to take her.

The tip of his cock brushed her juncture, and he felt the heat coming off her flesh and seeping into his length. For a moment his eyes closed and he luxuriated in the sensations between them. When he looked down at her again, he saw her eyes big with wonder and her chest rising and falling with quickened breaths. If he moved his hips just a little, her virtue would be forever lost. 

And something in him, some godsforsaken part he wished he could ignore, forced words from his lips.

“Tell me to stop, Sansa. Tell me to leave your bed. Tell me to get the fuck out of your rooms. Tell me you want some bloody fancy Lord with the titles and lands and wealth you deserve. Tell me I’m not good enough. Seven fucking hells, tell me now little bird,” he groaned the last, his voice more pleading than demanding.  Sandor hovered at the precipice, his cockhead pressed to those soft, pink little folds that were oh so wet .  But she deserved this last chance to refuse, to withdraw her invitation.  It might kill him if she pushed him away now, but damn it all, he’d give her the choice. 

As he stared down at her flushed cheeks and crystalline eyes, her hands rose to cup his face.  Her thumbs stroked against his skin, caressing rough and smooth with equal tenderness.

“I want the man I’m looking at,” she whispered, gaze unwavering, “I want the man who is a second son of a minor House, who has the fiercest reputation and kindest heart in all of Westeros. I want the man with more honor than any Knight in the seven kingdoms and beyond. I want you , Sandor Clegane.”

It was all he needed to hear.  His little bird wanted him.  And to punctuate her words, he felt her hips arch and the hot flesh between her thighs slide against him.

His knees widened of their own accord as he pressed forward.  The head of his cock nudged against her cleft, pushing between the lips.  When he felt the center of her wetness, he knew he’d finally reached what he sought.  Slowly he worked the tip into her, paying more mind to being gentle and watching her reaction than the sensations slowly surrounding his cock.

Sansa’s mouth was open, her lips forming a delicate little ‘o’ as he pressed in.  He’d pause each time he gave her more of himself, allowing her the chance to feel him.  She would shift and squeeze each time he stopped.  And Sandor watched her the entire time. There was nothing he wanted more than to have her enjoy this with him, and he would cut through the Gods above and Hells below to see it so.    

Suddenly he felt the tip of his cock brush against something.  When her eyes widened, he realized what it was.  Her maidenhead.

“Easy, little bird,” he whispered, trying harder than he ever had in his life to be tender and gentle. One of his huge paws stroked through her red hair, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.  Relax.”

She inhaled deeply, squaring her jaw.  The determination made him want to smile at her.  Sansa fixed him with her eyes and said, “You won’t hurt me.”

Sandor wished he could tell her he wouldn’t, but he’d given his word he would never lie to her.  This would hurt, though only for a few moments.  Although he’d never claimed a maidenhead before, every lad knew a girl’s first time often came with blood. He hated that he would cause her this little pain, and made a promise to himself to spend the rest of his days pleasing her in every way he could.

A deep breath, and he withdrew slightly.  Better to be done quickly. Then his hips snapped forward, and he buried himself into Sansa Stark.

He heard her cry and felt her tear, and it wrenched his heart.  But he also felt how hot and tight she was wrapped around him; the way her body clamped down and shuddered was rapturous.  He stilled his hips, forcing himself to patience while the discomfort passed and she grew used to accommodating his length.  Sweat trickled down his brow from the effort. All he wanted to do was thrust.

After what felt like an eternity, Sansa’s rapid breathing slowed.  Her fingers lessened their grip on his shoulders, and he felt her thighs relax. 

“That’s it, Sansa,” he whispered to her.  Speaking distracted him from the need building in his belly, “It’s done now.  Are you all right?”

She considered for a moment before responding.  “I’m well, I think.  It...it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would,” she flushed at that, but he couldn’t fathom why. “Will it hurt any more now?”

Sandor shook his head. “I’m not sure, little bird. But I don’t think so.”

Sansa nodded.  Her smooth thighs shifted, changing the feel of her.  The velvet grip around his length rolled, pressing in on him.  Sandor grunted and closed his eyes, willing himself to stay still.

Then her voice came to him, small and shy, “Will...will you...move...just a little?”

He was more than happy to oblige her any request at the moment, but especially that request.  Maintaining as rigid control of himself as he could, he drew back slowly.  The heat pulled at him, her juices dripped down him, and his head spun.  Nothing in his life had ever felt so incredible.

When his cock was about to slip from her, he shifted and tilted his hips forward. Sansa accepted each inch as he gently gave her his entire length.  It was agony to push into her so slowly; the only thing that cooled his blood was the thought of causing her any suffering.

Finally he was buried to the hilt inside of her.  To his surprise, she breathed a contented little sigh.  It was him, and his cock, she was feeling, and he reeled from the knowledge that she liked it.

His discipline wavered, and he couldn’t stop himself from giving her a quick, shallow thrust.  Sandor groaned, and Sansa moaned beneath him.

“What...that felt...” Sansa’s pretty words failed her; instead she stared up at him with wonder in her blue eyes.

“Did it hurt, little bird?” He asked.  When she shook her head, he continued, “Would you like more?”

The quick nod of her head made him grin down at her.  He knew it must disfigure his face something horrible, but she offered him a dazzling smile in return.  

Sandor pulled back several inches and dipped in.  Seven hells, the girl was perfect. She clung to him with almost wanton eagerness.  And when his cock withdrew, she pulled at him, trying to coax him back inside.  He had no idea if she realized what her body was doing.  The more he moved, the more she clutched at him, and the harder he grew.  Before he knew it, he’d fallen into an easy rhythm, and he marveled. It seemed as though she was made for him.  It made him want to give her more.

It was dangerous, following that line of thinking.  He had to be gentle, as foreign a concept as it was. He had to think of Sansa.

Gray eyes looked down, watching her expression.  She fluttered from one to another; sometimes her lips were slack and she sighed, and at others she focused on him and gave a moan that shot straight to his cock.

But then her face changed.  Her porcelain forehead furrowed above tight eyes, and her breathing grew uneven.  Smooth thighs gripped and released his hips in an unsteady, ragged cadence.  Each time he drove inside of her, the breath seemed to push out of her lungs.  And Sandor realized she was struggling under his sheer bulk, but her manners forbade her complaining.

He didn’t want this for her.  He wanted her to speak her mind, to tell him what she enjoyed and what she didn’t.  Most of all he wanted to please her, and continuing on would do no such thing.

So Sandor raised himself up, his hips retreating from those creamy thighs.  Her eyes popped open, staring up at his. Before she could say a word, he pulled himself free of her.  It was agony to leave that warm caress, so he was quick with the rest.

Moving next to Sansa’s glistening prone form, he settled on his backside and reached for the Lady beside him.  He pulled her into his lap, an arm around her back and his left hand on her backside.  His cock pressed up and into her, and he felt Sansa gasp as her weight pushed her body down upon his shaft.  Her full soft breasts pressed to his chest, and he rested his forehead against hers.

Sansa shifted, her body trying to comfortably accommodate him.  He let her, and struggled not to grunt each time she moved.  Her wiggling stroked like the finest velvet against his cock, and he fought to stay still.

Once she settled in his lap, he placed his lips gently upon hers before speaking softly, “It’s up to you now, little bird.”

Her blue eyes looked to his gray, clearly not understanding what to do next.  The hand on her backside gripped and gently lifted her, bringing her body up a hairsbreadth before drawing her back down.  Sansa keened at the sensation, and Sandor thought he might too.

He used his hand to guide Sansa, strictly controlling his hips while she discovered this new way her body could move.  Before long he removed his hand.  For a moment she struggled without his support, and then her legs squeezed around him and she began gliding up and down his length in a smooth rhythm.

“That’s it, Sansa,” he groaned, both arms wrapping around her as she worked atop him, “Find it.”

Find it she did.  

Sandor leaned back to watch Sansa Stark discover her pleasure for the very first time.  And her very first time was with him.  It was still unbelievable.  At that moment she belonged to him.  He staked his claim to her with each thrust of his cock, filling her and pushing the moans from her lips.  It thrilled him to his core that he was the cause of those sweet little sounds, the reason she trembled and tightened her thighs. 

Watching his beautiful redhead, feeling the weight of her overtop him and the way she stroked herself upon his length, it didn’t take long before he felt a familiar ache in his belly. If he let himself, he’d be emptying into her within moments.  He’d never thought of it twice before; if he was inside a woman, it was for one reason. But this was Sansa, and she deserved all he could give her. So he struggled to keep hold of himself, and reached a thick hand between her pale legs.

Every boy eventually learned about that little kernel of pleasure hidden in a woman’s folds. Sandor had never cared to pay it any mind before, but for her, he would try. Heavy fingers fumbled to match her rhythm at first, but when Sansa’s blue eyes popped open and she gasped, he knew he’d found what he sought.

He swept his thumb across that pearl, and each time he did she whimpered and clenched around him.  She was so wet as his fingers toyed with her, sometimes rubbing, sometimes tugging the sensitive flesh. And Gods, she was growing so hot .  

Sansa’s climax hit her like the most violent summer storm. Her body dropped against his as she spasmed around his throbbing cock. The pink folds against his fingers shuddered while her cries echoed in his ear. And Sandor could take no more. As the waves of pleasure rolled through her, his free hand gripped her hip and he stroked hard and fast up into her. A rumbling groan escaped him while he emptied himself into her heat.  He’d never come so hard, or so much. Each muscle in his body was so tense he thought his skin should rip while he poured himself into her.

Arms like posts folded around Sansa’s slender form as he spent inside her, finishing in a long, satisfied moan. He felt her sink into him, panting against the skin of his chest. Evidence of their tryst dripped down from their joining to the linens below. Sandor leaned back against her headboard, cradling his little bird in his arms.

His little bird.

Chapter Text

Sansa approached the Great Hall with Shae a half step behind her. The battle was over, and by some miracle straight from the Seven Hells, Joffrey had prevailed over his paternal uncle. 

Her mind couldn’t focus on that, though. All she could think on was Sandor Clegane. She had learned so much the night before, bathed in the verdant hue of the burning bay. The trepidation had been difficult to move past, at first; the pain she’d been told to expect her first time had been something she was taught to fear. It didn’t help that Sandor was a big man everywhere.  But she was convinced he would be gentle and kind to her, as he had always been. And she had been right.

But now she worried. Shortly after they had finished, when he was still holding her and kissing the top of her head tenderly, she’d hurried him from her rooms.  Sansa had encouraged him to return to the battle and find Joffrey, setting their plan into motion.  

Only Stannis didn’t win.

She hadn’t seen the fearsome Hound since he had given her a parting kiss while the battle still raged.  Sansa had carefully put questions to Shae regarding the rumors of the castle and who had lived and died. Shae had told her all she knew; Lord Tywin had arrived with the Tyrells and their army to save them all. Lord Tyrion had been badly injured but had lived. Of course Joffrey had survived, though one of his Kingsguard had met his end at the Mud Gate. But Shae had never mentioned Sandor, and while Sansa was still considering whether to ask Shae to find out if the man lived, she had been summoned to a gathering in the Throne Room.

The heavy doors stood open, the threshold framing the empty throne upon its raised dais. Most of the nobles were already assembled, milling on the glossy marble while a hushed mumbling filled the air.  Sansa felt eyes turn toward her as she entered; she had become adept at ignoring their stares. Her slippered feet made almost no sound as she climbed the stairs to a gallery where she could get a better view. Lesser Ladies gave way for the King’s betrothed, so she took up a position where she might see the entire crowd.

Sansa only had the opportunity for a cursory scan of the nobles when the Kingsguard entered, leading Joffrey and the Queen Mother. Everyone in the room dipped low, including she herself, until the King was seated. The assemblage barely had the chance to rise when hoofbeats sounded on the stone.

She had never seen Lord Tywin Lannister, but what she knew was enough to tell her the horseman riding into the throne room was the man himself. Even up in the Gallery surrounded by other women, she was afraid of him. The exchange between the King and his grandfather interested her not at all. The imposing presence of the older but straight-backed man took her entire focus. 

As Lord Tywin turned and exited the room on his horse, her attention was brought back to the moment.  And then she heard a name that nearly stopped her heart.

“Sandor Clegane,” the King spoke.

Blue eyes swept to the large man stepping out from the crowd near a pillar.  He was still dressed in armor from the night before, though it was more battered than it had been when she last saw him. Quickly she looked him over for any injury or hurt, and nearly sagged with relief when her eyes saw none.

The Hound bowed low before the two royals.

“You left your post last night, dog,” the King said quietly. Sansa recognized that tone. It was just the same as the one he used just before he forced her to bear some new pain. Her fingers tightened on the stone balustrade.

Sandor said nothing, his gray eyes staring up at the King. He appeared bored.

“Ordinarily, I would have you beheaded,” the blonde brat sneered toward the huge man, “To be afraid of such a thing as fire! It’s the sort of cowardice I’d expect from a woman, dog, but not you. Had you not returned to your post and rallied the men, I would have had you hunted down like the mongrel you are.”

The King paused and Sansa held her breath. She didn’t understand how Sandor appeared like he couldn’t care less!

“But you did return, and you helped to hold the Mud Gate, and protected your King from Baratheon assassins. For that, you will live,” Joffrey frowned. It was clear he wanted to kill Sandor, and he had the power and right to do just that. Why was he not?

When Joffrey said no more, Sandor bowed and melted back into the crowd. She ignored what the King was doing now. Heaping honors upon Lord Baelish, by the sound. Sandor was leaning against a stone column, a little apart from the crowd. She tried to catch his eye by straightening her hair, hoping he might smile her way. But though she thought perhaps his eyes flickered her direction once, he didn’t seem to notice.

Sansa heard her name, and suddenly she realized something very important was happening in front of her. An exotically beautiful young woman close to her own age stood before the King beside Ser Loras. It was quickly apparent the woman must be his sister.  The brunette girl stared worshipfully at Joffrey, who practically preened under the attention.  But Sansa was far more interested in what the Queen and Small Council were debating. It seemed the girl, one Margaery Tyrell, was a far more suitable consort for the King. The daughter of an executed traitor whose brother was in open rebellion against the throne would be a disgrace for a future Queen. And the beautiful southern Lady from a loyal and powerful House smiled sweetly to the King.

 With mock seriousness, Joffrey announced his intention to set aside Sansa Stark and take Margaery Tyrell as his future Queen. The nobles erupted, cheering more for the House that had arrived just in time to save them more than for their King’s pronouncement.

Quickly Sansa turned from the crowd, shock painting her face.  The Ladies around her parted to let her through; most of the faces she saw looking to her seemed filled with pity.  She put a hand over her mouth to keep from laughing. Didn’t they know this meant she was free?  

She had a chance now! She could live the life she wanted, and she wanted none of the life in King’s Landing. Perhaps she and Sandor could leave tonight, take Shae with them. They could ride for her brother’s camp in the Westerlands. There she could be reunited with her family.  They’d balk at Sandor at first, of course, but once they saw how kind and gentlemanly he could be, and heard of how he had protected her, they would-

“My Lady,” a smooth male voice interrupted her thoughts, and she jumped slightly, stopping in her tracks to look toward the speaker. Baelish. “My sincerest condolences.”

It took her a moment to realize Littlefinger was referring to her broken betrothal to Joffrey. In an instant she had affected the innocent, mild way of speaking that came to her almost innately when dealing with anyone in the Red Keep.

“They’re right,” she offered, “I’m not good enough for him.”

“You shouldn’t say that,” the new High Lord replied, staring down at Sansa in a way that made her feel weighed to the ounce and measured to the inch. “You’ll be good enough for many things. He’ll still enjoy beating you. And now that you’re a woman,” he reached out and almost touched her hair, but she shied away and his hand dropped. “Well, he’ll be able to enjoy you in other ways, as well.”

“But, if he’s not marrying me-”

“He’ll let you go home?” Baelish interrupted. “Joffrey’s not the sort of boy who gives away his toys.”  The Lord chuckled when she reddened to her hair.

“You have a tender heart, just like your mother did at your age. I can see so much of her in you. She was like a sister to me. For her sake, I’ll help you get home.”

Sansa’s eyes moved from Baelish’s pinched face to her skirts. Better to give the impression of fear and defeat than make him think she might indulge his whims.

“King’s Landing is my home now.”

Her eyes snapped shut when Littlefinger moved near. His face was so close to the top of her head that she could feel his breath rustle her hair. 

“Look around you,” he whispered, “We’re all liars here. And every one of us is better than you.”

Then he was striding away with a casual grace, a smug expression painting his features as to allude he was patronizingly amused by the nobles around him. Sansa swallowed, glancing to her side to see Shae silently glaring at Littlefinger’s retreating back. The dark-eyed woman glanced to her Lady, and Shae followed Sansa into the corridor and back to her rooms.

Chapter Text

The heavy thud of Sandor’s footfalls echoed as he reached the landing. He strode across the stone, making his way down the dim corridor to Sansa Stark’s chambers. Exhaustion tugged at his limbs. He suspected he’d been denied the opportunity to catch a little sleep as punishment.  All day he’d been sent on one useless errand or another, or was forced to dance attendance on the King as he met with advisors. Tywin had been present at several of those meetings. It had almost been worth the discomfort of the sharp man’s glower to watch the brat King vainly try to best the immovable force of Lord Tywin Lannister.

Now his tasks were done, and he was aching for bed. He’d sleep soon enough, but there were more important matters. He found the heavy carved door unbolted and pushed it quietly open. As it shut behind him, his eyes adjusted to the candlelight in the room. 

Sansa seemed to materialize out of thin air a few paces before him in a linen shift with a satin robe. Her hair fell in loose crimson waves about her slender shoulders. She’d stood from a chair as he entered and was still smoothing the fabric over her figure.

The two regarded one another for a moment. Her eyes were wide and lips were parted, excited and anxious at the same time. Sandor crossed the empty space, gathered her in his arms and placed his lips on her forehead. Sansa’s arms wrapped around his waist, and he heard her sigh contentedly against him.

"I'm free," she murmured into his tunic, "I'm free Sandor. We can be together, like we wanted. In every way we want." Coral lips curled into a cheshire smile. "Imagine it. We can run, go North, we can be married."

Sweeter words had never been uttered, but while the girl’s plan for the battle had been clever, she was not as free as it seemed.

"Little bird," he whispered against the crimson hair atop her head, "You're not home yet. And not like to be. Tywin knows you're too valuable to let go wandering away, even if Joffrey were to order it. And Joffrey won't order it, Sansa. I can't tell you how pleased I am that you won’t be married to that golden-maned cunt, but that doesn't mean the Lannisters are done."

He stopped before he could tell her, in a way, Joffrey was now free to do worse. He was afraid he'd said too much already, and would be forced to watch the horrible truth crush the hope within her. To his surprise, her bright eyes turned up to him unfazed.

"Lord Baelish said something similar," she sighed.

Sandor straightened immediately, hands engulfing Sansa's narrow shoulders. "What do you mean? What did Littlefinger say to you about it, exactly?"

Sansa blinked. “Who remembers what somebody says exactly as they said it?” When he didn’t relent, she sighed and continued, “He gave me his sympathies for my broken betrothal. And that Joffrey, he will still beat me. And there would be...other things Joffrey might like to do.”

Lank hair fluttered as Sandor shook his head. “Unlikely, with his grandfather here. The old man knows what you’re worth, and whatever he pretends, that bastard King and his cunt mother are too afraid of Tywin to make any real moves. What else did he say?”

“That I remind him of my mother. Lord Baelish, I mean. And that he would try to help take me home.”

Sandor snorted. A likely story. Littlefinger had never moved an inch to help anybody but Littlefinger. No matter what he claimed to feel for Catelyn Stark or Sansa, he had done nothing but bring her family pain and misery. There were things about Littlefinger Sansa didn’t know. Nor did she need to, for now.

“Stay away from him as much as you can, Little Bird,” he said gently, stroking a copper lock behind her ear, “Littlefucker can’t be trusted.”

She gasped. “Why do you call him such a thing?”

“Because he’s little, and he’s a fucker.”

“But you can’t call him that. He’s a Lord!” Sansa protested.

“I just did, and the headsman hasn’t come for me. Besides, it’s more than just me calls him that.”

Sansa blinked, and Sandor almost thought he could see her mulling this new information around in her head. He stood patiently, waiting for her to decide what would come next. Any fears he had that she would be angry with him for the night of the battle had been washed away by her joyful greeting, but he knew very well that didn’t mean she wanted to take him to her bed again. 

She surprised him when she spoke, bright blue eyes shining up at his. “Sandor, I enjoyed last night very much. I didn’t know it was possible. My Septa just taught me to endure it, that it was my duty to allow a man to fulfill his needs. With you, I felt such such bliss. And I want to again. But I...right now, I’m not sure I can…” 

A flush rose in her cheeks as she trailed off, and Sandor immediately understood. “It’s all right, Sansa. Seven Hells, we never have to do anything you don’t want to, if you tell me. I can sit in the chair while you sleep.” His hand raised to cup her cheek, stroking her with his thumb as he had done so many times before. Of course she would be sore, and need time to heal. It thrilled him just to know she wanted to lie with him again.

“Not the chair,” she breathed, pressing her mouth to his skin. “Get in the bed with me. Sleep, if you can.”

Bed sounded like the finest thing in the world, and he was sure with Sansa in his arms lying on her good feather mattress, he’d be instantly asleep. And that posed a problem.

“I’d like nothing more Sansa,” he spoke gently, “But if your handmaiden or someone else came to check you, at first light we’d both be visiting the headsman.”

But she was already shaking her head, brilliant locks glossy in the dim. “My maids know not to disturb me until mid-morning, and we’ll be awake far before then. I’m always up an hour before they arrive.”

He knew he shouldn’t count on something so flimsy to shield them from prying eyes, yet he found himself too tired and too ready to agree to her suggestion. Before long, he had stripped down to his breeches and was climbing under the blankets beside her. The fog of exhaustion lifted a little when Sansa curled into his chest, her slender leg half-exposed by her thin shift when she slid it against his thigh. But the pillow was so soft and she was so close. Reason fled him, and Sandor quickly succumbed to sleep. 

Chapter Text

Sansa’s fingertips rested lightly on the silk covering Ser Loras Tyrell’s arm, their footfalls soft on the stone. She was surprised to find that she didn’t want to stare at the youthful Knight as she once had. Oh he was handsome, to be sure, but he seemed so boyish despite being a few years older than she herself. The way Loras carried himself gave every appearance of being honorable and gallant, but something in his eye said to her he thought himself better than those surrounding them. She did not like that one bit, and in no small part because that was the way she used to think herself. 

When she’d arrived at King’s Landing, she was the eldest daughter of Eddard Stark, Warden of the North and Hand of King Robert, and was betrothed to the future King Joffrey. The status that came with the titles heaped upon her and her family had also instilled an arrogance, and she’d begun to treat those around her abominably. Even her own sister. To her core, Sansa wished she could take it all back. Thank her father for the beautiful doll. Be proud of how hard Arya was trying to learn to dance. Heeded her Septa’s wisdom. 

Sansa kept the melancholy from her expression, her face a carefully schooled portrait of vapid smiles. Her captors seemed pleased when they saw nothing behind her eyes, just an empty-headed, foolish girl. She might have once thought Loras would be honor-bound to help and protect her, but he and his family were firmly in the grip of the Lannisters now, and she knew he wouldn’t lift a finger to come to her aid.

She kept reminding herself that with every step. It seemed an especially important reminder now. After all, the King’s new bride and her grandmother were waiting at the end of their stroll. 

“I believe you grow more beautiful every day, Lady Sansa,” Loras’s crystalline voice came from her side. She looked up to see his dazzling smile directed at her, one that used to leave her breathless.

“You are too kind, Ser Loras,” she replied softly, offering him a smile in return. It was the polite response he would anticipate from a Lady who’d been on the receiving end of his compliments. But something made her say more than just the insipid words he expected.

“You probably don’t remember the first time we met.”

Loras’s saccharine smile slipped ever so slightly, but she pressed on. “At the Hand’s tourney. You gave me a rose. A red rose.”

“Ah,” his smile returned, “Of course I did.”

Sansa turned her eyes back to the gardens, trying to supress the laughter that wanted to bubble up. Clearly he hadn’t been expecting her to say such things, and catch him so off guard.

She couldn’t be quite sure why she teased him, pointed out his empty platitudes for what they were. Perhaps it was simply exercising the little bit of freedom she now had. Maybe she wanted to see if he really would remember, or if he’d squirm and struggle to find a response that was inoffensive. Or, it could very well be she was just happy.

For the first time in ages, Sansa remembered what it was like to feel genuine joy. There was a lightness in her step the last several days, and not only because Joffrey had discarded her and she remained largely left alone. Sandor came every night, sometimes exhausted from training with the Tyrell forces. But he came to her just the same, and though they hadn’t made love again since the battle, neither of them seemed to feel the rush. The soreness had just subsided, and even though she knew she should have control over her baser instincts, Sansa dearly wanted to feel Sandor inside her again soon.

It was so lovely to have him wake her with a kiss in the pale predawn. He always let her know when he was leaving so she wouldn’t be startled awake by his going. Sandor toyed with her hair as she woke, sliding the soft strands between his fingers as she blinked her way to consciousness. He’d ask if she needed anything of him before he left. She would decline. Then he would place his lips gently on her forehead, both smooth and scarred flesh caressing her skin equally. And when the door was nearly shut, he would pause for one more look at her in the dim.

Strange that they fell into this simple routine so quickly, and a surprise it seemed to bolster them both throughout their days. Sansa felt infinitely more calm since Sandor began to sleep beside her, and her fearsome warrior appeared slower to anger. Nothing could rattle them, as long as they had each other. Of that, she was certain.

Ser Loras led her through a gated corridor that opened into one of the resplendent private gardens dotted throughout the castle grounds. The soft strum of instruments accompanied by the light tinkling of ladies laughter floated to Sansa with each step. 

Margaery Tyrell seemed to materialize before them, brown eyes large and shining with her bright smile. Sansa still had yet to get used to the Tyrell way of dressing. Margaery’s slender arms were exposed to the shoulder, and the front of her dress dipped down so low that Catelyn Stark’s eyes would have bulged. She reached towards both Sansa and her brother as she greeted them.

“Thank you Loras, you’re such a dear,” the brunette beauty smiled. 

“I’ll take my leave,” Loras replied smoothly, ducking his head to both women and bestowing a dazzling grin before he turned on his heel.

Before Sansa had an opportunity to reply to his going, Margaery’s arm was about her shoulders. “Come, I have someone I’d like you to meet.”

The two women followed a stone path through the lush greenery. Margaery talked with her just as companionably as she had the few times they’d spoken before. Sansa was still surprised by the familiarity the other woman offered her freely. While it was very welcome, it had been wholly unexpected. She was relieved the Tyrells didn’t seem to view her as competition.

Turning a corner, Sansa’s eyes fell across an older woman seated with a gaggle of handmaidens surrounding her. Quite the opposite of Margaery, every inch of her was concealed beneath golden brocades and blue silks, her lined face and hands the only bit of skin that showed. She shooed away one of her servants as Sansa approached.

“Lady Sansa,” Margaery intoned with warmth, “It is my honor to present my grandmother Lady Olenna of House Tyrell.”

Margaery’s grandmother smiled just as brightly as her grandchildren, extending a hand to take one of Sansa’s own. “So good of you to visit me and my foolish flock of hens. I’m very sorry for your losses.”

Sansa’s smile slipped slightly at the sudden reminder of her father and sister. Glancing between Lady Olenna and Margaery, she tried to come up with the appropriate response but only managed, “And I was sorry when I heard of Lord Renly’s death, Lady Margaery. He was very elegant.”

“Elegant, yes, and charming and very clean,” Lady Olenna lamented, “He knew how to dress and smile and somehow this gave him the notion he was fit to be King.”

“Renly was brave and gentle, grandmother. Father liked him and so did Loras,” Margaery replied, though it lacked any force.

Her Lady grandmother snorted at that. “ Loras is young and very good at knocking men off horses with a stick. That does not make him wise. As to your fathead father-”

“Grandmother!” Margaery burst out, “What will Sansa think of us?”

“She might think we have some wits about us. One of us, at any rate. It was treason. I warned them. Robert has two sons and Renly has an older brother. How could he possibly have any claim to that ugly iron chair? We should have stayed well out of all this if you ask me. But once the cow's been milked, there's no squirting the cream back up her udders. So here we are to see things through.”

Sansa grinned. The matriarch of House Tyrell had a way of speaking that minded her of some of the Northern Lords. And Shae. No honeyed words with this one, oh no. Simply unvarnished truth.

Lady Olenna directed them to join her at table, where she sent servants scurrying to get what she wanted right that instant while they were still settling into the high-backed carved chairs underneath a shady pavillion. Sansa was pleasantly surprised when the elder woman demanded lemoncakes for her guest.

The Tyrells chatted quite amiably, speaking of their families and what Highgarden was like compared to the capital. It sounded a beautiful place, by the way the two Ladies spoke of it. Perhaps even more so than the palace, which Sansa found easy to believe. Her own experiences had left King’s Landing permanently stained.

Platters of food were placed before them in no time, piled high with fruits and sweets. As a silver plate with a fat slice of lemon cake was placed in front of Sansa, Lady Olenna spoke.

“Now... I want you to tell me the truth about this royal boy, this Joffrey.”

Sansa’s eyes darted up, meeting the older woman’s steely blue. She swallowed, the cake before her completely forgotten. “I...I…”

“Yes, you my dear. Who else would know better? We've heard some troubling tales. Is there any truth to them? Has this boy mistreated you?”

Mouth drier than a Dornish desert, she struggled to find an answer. Any answer would be dangerous, though some were more dangerous than others. “Joff- King Joffrey, he--,” she spluttered, “His Grace is very fair and handsome and as brave as a lion.”

“Yes, all Lannisters are lions. And when a Tyrell farts, it smells like a rose. But how kind is he? How clever? Has he a good heart, a gentle hand?”

“I’m to be his wife,” Margaery put in gently, big dark eyes so trusting and sincere, “I only want to know what that means.”

Sansa remained silent while Lady Olenna sent a servant scurrying for something else. Once they were alone again, she spoke, “Are you frightened, child? No need for that. We're only women here. Tell us the truth. No harm will come to you.”

“My father always told the truth,” Sansa whispered to herself. But Lady Olenna’s ears were sharper than she thought.

Yes, he had that reputation. And they named him traitor and took his head,” she replied before popping an olive into her mouth.

“Joffrey,” Sansa said. She didn’t pay any mind to the heat in her tone, “Joffrey did that. He promised he would be merciful and he cut my father's head off. And he said that was mercy. Then he took me up on the walls and made me look at it.”

Realizing what she said while the two women gazed at her, she shrunk in on herself. Too much! How to retrieve it? How to make it better, so it would never reach Joffrey’s ears? Or Cersei?

“I- I can't. I never meant- my father was a traitor. My brother as well. I have traitor's blood. Please don't make me say any more.”

Blue eyes darting between the older woman and younger, Sansa prayed they would let it go at that. They had every reason to give her up to the Queen, tell her what Sansa had foolishly said when her guard was down. Stupid. Stupid!

But when she looked for the triumph in their faces, the gloating that they had her just where they wanted her, she found nothing. Well, not nothing. To her surprise, she found sympathy.

“She's terrified, grandmother. Just look at her,” Margaery’s voice was full of compassion.

Speak freely, child,” Lady Olenna reassured, “We would never betray your confidence, I swear it.”

Sansa’s jaw worked. She was so tired of the games, so exhausted by the intrigues and subterfuge, of hiding her feelings from everyone but Sandor and Shae. Margaery had been so kind to her, and deserved to know what the man she was to marry was truly like. It didn’t feel right, leaving her naive of Joffrey’s abuse and cruelty. She wished somebody had told her, back in Winterfell. 

“He's a monster,” she whispered, slumping into her chair. Her lips compressed in a thin line. It was all out, now.

“Ah,” Lady Olenna sighed, “That is a pity. But the Lord Oaf of Highgarden is determined that Margaery shall be queen. Even so, we thank you for the truth. Oh, here comes my cheese.”

Servants bustled about them, setting down a large porcelain plinth decorated with wedges and cubes of cheese. Sansa raised a bite of lemon cake to her mouth, grateful the women weren’t asking for more. Now she only hoped she could truly trust them as much as she already had. 

Chapter Text

It was late afternoon when Sandor found himself climbing the stairs in the Hand’s Tower. This time though, it wasn’t to ask Tyrion any favors. No, this time it was at the request of Lord Tywin Lannister.

Request might have been a poor choice of words. Order, more like. He’d known the patriarch of the infamous House for close on twenty years, and never once had he seen the man ask for something. Unless it was rhetorical. Tywin might have been in his sixties, but the years had not lessened his mind. If anything he’d gained wisdom with his age, and that made him all the more dangerous. 

At least he could be relatively certain this could have nothing to do with Sansa. If any of the Lannisters suspected even a breath of impropriety there, he’d have found himself in the deepest dungeons in the Keep before a word was uttered. Which meant there were only a few reasons for Lord Hand Tywin to demand his presence. If Sandor was a betting man, he’d put his coin on the Battle of Blackwater.

It didn’t surprise Sandor that Tywin wanted a word over that skirmish. It was well known that Tyrion’s strategy and bravery during the battle was rewarded with a demotion. As far as most everyone was concerned, Sandor had turned craven and fled the field. Tywin must have words to say about that.

Heaving a resigned sigh, he thumped his fist against the intricately carved door.

“Come,” barked a cool, confident voice.

Sandor stepped into the Hand’s apartments, latching the door behind himself. The man had different tastes than Tyrion, though both were lavish. Gone were golden vessels usually filled with wine, replaced with more restrained, and expensive, porcelain. The tapestries of battles and hunting scenes must have earned their weaver a small fortune.

The Lord Hand Tywin Lannister was seated behind a large mahogany desk piled high with papers. The man himself glanced up from the ledger in front of him.

“Clegane,” Lord Tywin spoke in a tone no more friendly than it had been in the hallway, “Please sit. Will you take a goblet of wine?”

Without thinking about it, Sandor replied, “Thank you, no, My Lord.”

He cursed himself as soon as the words left his mouth. From the time he was fifteen and he’d been first offered wine, he’d never declined the chance for a drink. This was especially true whenever he’d been offered any from the Lannisters. The richest family in Westeros had both expensive taste and could afford it. 

His stomach sank when he saw Tywin’s eye twitch as he poured himself some Arbor Gold. The man might have been more than sixty, but nothing escaped his notice. 

“Very well,” he set down the jeweled ivory decanter and took his seat behind the desk, leaning back in his chair and studying Sandor with pale eyes. Wisely, Sandor decided his best option was to keep silent and see what the Lord had to say.

It was several long moments before Tywin began to speak.

“I am to understand from my grandson that you fled the field of battle when the flames reached the shore. Joffrey was quite adamant that anyone who turned craven be executed. He and Cersei saw several men beheaded before I discovered it and put an end to the fool notion.”

Tywin raised his cup to drink. So that was what the man wanted to see him about. Sandor was certain he was expecting some sort of reaction, outrage or protestations of innocence, but Sandor was resolved to stay silent. Especially after his slip with the wine. When Sandor said nothing, the Hand continued, “Joffrey’s performance in the throne room, calling you out for cowardice, was supposed to end in your beheading at the foot of the dais while the court watched. I nearly agreed to it. Until Tyrion spoke in your defense.”

That caught his attention. The Imp had been there, when he ignored orders and stormed off the field. Tyrion knew better than anybody that Joffrey’s claims were true. Sandor schooled his face to stillness, following the little bird’s example, and waited for what was to come.

“Tyrion claims he’d secretly ordered you to protect the Queen, Prince Tommen, and the Stark girl should wildfire reach the shore. If it did, your orders were to return to the Keep and remove the royal Ladies and children. Where were you to take them?”

A gamble. Tyrion had clearly told his father where Sandor was to have gone, but since this plan was fictitious, he had no clue what answer Tyrion had given. Maidenpool? Too far away and most recently sacked by the Wolves. Tyrion would know that. Haystack Hall? South was better, but the Stormlands would be loyal to Stannis. And it was still too far, even if it were in the right direction.

“Tumbleton,” Sandor spoke dryly, trying to sound as bored as he could manage. A merchant’s town of no great importance, it laid a two day ride southeast of King’s Landing. Close enough to the capital to know any goings-on, while also giving them a good head start should the news be grim. It was well out of Highgarden’s immediate reach and, at present, was of little strategic value. And it was virtually on the way to Casterly Rock without taking the Gold Road itself, the route Stannis would have expected Cersei to use when fleeing. 

It seemed the Imp saw its value as well, for Tywin nodded sagely. “Good. That settles that.”

Outwardly, Sandor maintained his disinterested appearance, but inside he sagged with relief. Had he given the wrong answer, the headsman would not have been far off. Likely for both himself and Tywin’s youngest son.

“Now, we need to address another matter. The Lady Sansa,” Tywin shuffled some papers on the desk, apparently looking for something, which kept him from seeing the twitch in the Hound’s jaw at the mention of her name. When the right paper was found, he slid it across the desk to Sandor. Picking it up in gloved hands, he carefully read the missive while Tywin sat back in his chair, fingers steepled under his chin.

“This is from Lady Stark. She says she would trade Jaime for her daughters,” Sandor couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice. 

No matter how much Catelyn Stark loved her daughters, it was a terrible trade to make. Jaime was one of the best fighters in the land, and had a good head for strategy besides. Such a move would give the crown its full strength and no reason to hold back.

“Lord Baelish brought me that at Harrenhal. She’s desperate.”

“It would be wise, my Lord, to get Ser Jaime back from northern captivity.”

Tywin tipped his cup for another drink before placing it on the polished mahogany. “It would, if I didn’t already have it on good authority that Jaime is no longer in the possession of Robb Stark. However, it’s clear the Starks are desperate for the girls, and believe we still hold Arya. Such knowledge will temper them, if their army gets anywhere close to the Capital. But it won’t stop kidnappers or assassins. I’d say it makes either more likely.”

Again Sandor waited for the older man to continue.

“Access to Lady Sansa must be restricted,” Tywin said, “And close eyes must be kept at all times. When my son returns, there will be nothing to stop us, and we’ll have what the Starks value most.” He ended with a snort, clearly amused the Northerners would put such value on their girls. It didn’t come as a surprise; Tywin had always treated his only daughter much like a prize broodmare. But Sandor disliked anyone, even the great and powerful Tywin Lannister, disregarding Sansa in such a way.

“Additionally, Joffrey has made jests about what he’d like to do to Sansa.” Rage flashed white hot in Sandor. Those weren’t jests . Tywin continued, “If my grandson is making boasts, there are those that might be considering taking more serious action against her person now that she is no longer betrothed to the King. And still others might think to use her in some way to advance their position. She needs continued protection, Clegane. Your protection.”

Sandor’s jaw worked. It seemed like a gift, but Tywin never gave gifts. Had he and the Imp hatched some plan? Did they know he cared for Sansa, and they were setting him up to fall? Worse, were they setting her up in some way he couldn’t see? The crease in his forehead deepened.

Fortunately, the Hand took his expression the wrong way completely. “It’s no secret you’ve disliked watching over her. It’s also no secret you went back to rescue her during the Bread Riots in Fleabottom, as was your duty. I believe I can trust you with her, Clegane. Give you an unpleasant task, and you’ll carry it out because it’s your duty.”

There it was. He’d follow through orders. Any orders. Whether it was protecting Sansa, killing her rescuers, or Seven Hells, killing her too. That’s what Cleganes were for. He bristled and found himself wanting to throw his dirk through the hard, pale face holding him in a steady gaze. 

“As you say, my Lord Hand,” he replied gruffly. Tywin didn’t acknowledge, nor did he seem to care, that Sandor had agreed to the task. It was clear he had expected the Hound to do as told from the beginning.

Sandor was dismissed after being informed his quarters would be moved to the foot of Sansa’s tower, to aid him in his new duties. A dog to guard the gates. Outside the Hand’s chambers, his feelings roiled and his face showed it. Apprehension and fear tried to override the joy, and then was the surprise he could feel joy after any meeting with Tywin Lannister. Moving so close to Sansa, spending some of his days with her, thrilled him from head to toes. And suspicion did its best to creep in along the edges.

He had to see her. Night couldn’t come soon enough.

Chapter Text

Sansa had barely bid Shae goodnight when there was a frantic tapping at her door. Her hands curled to wrap her dressing robe tightly around her. Who would be knocking at such an hour? Had Margaery or her grandmother told the Queen of their conversation? Had they sent the Kingsguard for her? No, their knocks would have been much harder and just announced their immediate entry. This soft rapping was too gentle to be them, however urgent. 

Who then? Tying the sash in a knot, she approached the thick wood. It could be a handmaiden, though they would usually announce themselves after a few short knocks. Drawing in her breath, she tried to remember all the things Sandor had taught her, and she cracked open the door.

“Sandor?” she squeaked, “Mother’s Mercy, you frightened me. What are you doing here so early? And why,” she paused to glance either direction down the corridor; nobody could be seen, “Why in the Seven Kingdoms did you knock?”

“I wasn’t sure if you’d be alone, Little Bird. I saw that handmaiden of yours go, but that didn’t mean a Lannister spy wasn’t in there still,” Sandor brushed past her and she quickly bolted the door behind him.

After casting his steely gaze around the room, he turned to face her, pulling her into his arms. Glad he was only in his leather tunic tonight, Sansa nestled against the warm breadth of his chest. The hard slabs of muscle yielded when his arms folded around her, and she couldn’t imagine feeling more surrounded or secure. 

“There’s news,” he murmured against her hair, “Joffrey meant to take my head in the throne room, for abandoning the battle. Tyrion stopped it by saying I was ordered back to protect the royal family. And you. Tywin told me himself.”

Sansa blinked. “But, why? What would Lord Tyrion have to gain in protecting you?”

Sandor shook his head. “I’m not sure. Tywin’s taken advantage though. He’s set me to watching you. I’m to be your guard and responsible for your welfare. I’m not to let anyone near you, and if someone tries, I’m to kill him. And you, if it were necessary,” he growled. “A hidden knife to your throat under the guise of protection.”

Wide eyes stared up at him. Sandor was likely right. Everyone still thought her afraid of him, that the sight of his scarred face filled her with dread. Tywin would want her cowed to avoid any chance of her involving herself in any plots to escape or further the Northern cause, and Sandor’s constant presence would keep many well away from her. It was a little too simple though. There was more to Tywin’s actions, she was sure. Else Tywin wouldn’t have bothered telling Sandor Joffrey wanted his head. That thought made her shiver, but she shoved it aside. The clue was there, she knew it!

“He means to separate you from the royal family,” when she finally spoke, Sansa’s words were slow and heavy, “Joffrey wants you dead for what you did, and Tywin means to use this to appease him. Joffrey will think you’re being punished and embarrassed, encumbered with watching me, and I’m meant to be terrified constantly by your presence. And it’s easier to keep an eye on both of us if we’re always in the same place. That is why the Lannisters do this.”

Sandor’s mouth was slightly agape. “Clever little bird. All the years spent watching the Lannisters plot and maneuver, and I’d never have thought of that.”

She smiled, color flooding her cheeks, and she looked down at his chest. Fingers pressed against her chin, tilting it up so she was looking him in the face. Leaning down, Sandor’s lips met hers gently for a fleeting moment before pulling away.

“So we be as careful as we have been,” Sandor’s words were whispered; Sansa trembled as his breath caressed her lips. “Act as captor and captive, guard never down.”

“Until it is dark, and we’re alone,” Sansa breathed against his lips as he had her own. She felt a bloom of pride in her chest when he moaned and his arms pulled her close. 

“I’ve no right, Sansa,” his rumbling tone rippled through her body, pressed so tight to his, “I shouldn’t be here, or hold you this way. But Seven Hells, I can’t help myself. Tell me to let you go. Tell me to leave your rooms. Or I’ll never stop.”

The bloom in Sansa’s chest changed, and she felt golden fire rush through her veins. Her hands slid up his chest and neck to cup his cheeks. Gray eyes stared down at her, full of desperation and need. It was a feeling she understood all too well. Could he see the same reflected in her own?

“I don’t want you to stop,” came the tender words, “I want you with me always. I want to hold you too. And so much more.”

The look of Sandor’s eyes changed, softened. “Little bird,” escaped him, and then his mouth was crushing hers. 

Sansa met his kiss eagerly, her lips parting to flick her tongue against his flesh. A deep sound welled up from his throat when her tongue stroked his lip, sending a thrill through her. To elicit such a response from such a man! She felt a stirring between her thighs, caused just as much by her new discovery as Sandor’s expert mouth.

Suddenly he scooped her up, making her squeal as the kiss was broken. Sansa slung her arms around his neck, grinning widely at him before he deposited her on the feather mattress. As Sandor straightened, she reached for the sash on the robe and quickly loosened the knot. While she shrugged out of the dressing gown, Sandor had freed himself from his tunic and undershirt. The sight of him, in far brighter light than before, made her breath catch. 

But before she could reach for his trousers, Sandor was already moving. Gripping the hem of her shift, he tugged it up her legs to bunch around her hips. He moved his big body over her, kissing along her jaw and neck, forcing her to lie back against her blankets. Sansa sighed, arching her neck against his kisses, tangling her fingers in his hair.

Sandor’s fingers explored, crawling over her hip to caress her thigh, moving between her long legs in looping strokes. When his touch finally brushed her smallclothes she gasped. Her body rose towards the delicious pressure of his hand, and he did not disappoint her. That same circular stroking was applied to the juncture between her thighs and she groaned, unable to keep the sound back. Diligently he worked, lapping at her neck while his fingers danced. And before long, her smallclothes were soaked through.

Sansa made a sound of protest when he withdrew, feeling cool without his bulk overtop her. He sat on his heels next to her leg and chuckled, “Don’t you worry, Sansa. I’m not going anywhere.”

Deftly his paws untied her smallclothes and they were gone from her body in the blink of an eye. She tore off the flimsy shift and reached for him, trying to pull him back over herself. But he gave her a smirk and didn’t move to cover her. Instead, his hands pulled her legs apart and he knelt between them. His palms pressed to the insides of her thighs, holding her open to him. Sansa felt the color rise in her cheeks. Despite having given him her maidenhead, she still felt the urge to cover herself from being so exposed. But when his head ducked down, every shred of modesty fled her.

What he could do with his mouth! A lick here, a nibble there, and suckling kisses in between. She wasn’t sure what it was that he did, exactly, just that she wanted more and more of it. And he didn’t disappoint. His tongue delved her folds, sliding between and tickling her until she felt herself start to throb. Sansa squirmed, angling for greater contact with his tongue. Sandor groaned as she ground herself against his face, and his mouth latched onto the pearl at the apex of her womanhood.

Sansa’s cry pierced the air. Mother’s Mercy! He sucked the sensitive flesh like a starving animal, drawing deeply upon her. His tongue rolled over the nub and made her legs quake. Deep in her belly, she felt herself tighten and a flood of warmth suffused her body. In a quick rhythm his tongue lapped at its quarry, causing her to swell and whimper.

When one of Sandor’s fingers gently probed inside of her, she lost control of her senses. He slid in the digit slowly, still licking at the flesh caught between his lips, gently opening her. Sansa felt a dull twinge, but when his finger curled to touch a spot left vulnerable by the absence of her maidenhead, the little discomfort was forgotten. Replacing it was a new ache, a building towards something she thought she knew from the night of the battle. But this, oh! This was so focused, pinpointed on two of her most intimate parts. The pleasure that shot through her was heady, and soon she knew nothing of the world other than what this man was doing to her. 

And it burst, a delicious explosion of grasping sensation, pulsing from the juncture of her thighs out to the tips of her fingers and toes. Sansa rode it, writhing as each nerve of her body ecstatically throbbed. 

As she regained control of her breath and the shuddering began to subside, Sandor raised himself up on his knees and tugged at the laces of his trousers. She watched as he was freed from the confines, his organ thick and hard and bobbing with anticipation. Once the offending clothing had been tossed carelessly to the floor, he crawled his way up her flushed body, ducking his head to offer a kiss to her navel, a tongue stroke to her nipple. Sansa cooed at the delightful teasing he offered while he moved himself into position. 

She felt the tip of him nudging against her folds and he sucked in his breath, bringing his forehead to rest against hers. Sandor’s hand reached down to grip her leg and move it around his waist. Sansa felt his knees spread, his thighs against her backside. Arching her own body, she brushed a soft kiss against his lips, silent encouragement to proceed. She felt him suck in his breath, and then he was pushing against her. Her body did what it seemed to be made to do and welcomed him, opening up to his length. Sansa’s eyes fluttered shut. He sank into her tenderly, perhaps going a touch slower than she herself would have liked. She wanted to feel him, all of him, and she wanted it right now.

But she was not made to wait long. His hips met hers when he buried himself completely, and she felt deliciously stretched. Sandor’s length was hard and hot, smooth and yielding, touching her everywhere at once.

“Are you well, little bird?” He whispered against her lips. Her eyes opened to meet his gray. They were filled with concern for her, but the way his shoulders and jaw tensed said he was restraining himself for her benefit. Leaning up, she kissed him again and tightened the leg around his hips, pulling him into her. A deep grunt escaped Sandor, and he gave a quick shallow thrust that ground his shaft against the sweet spot he had discovered with his finger minutes before.

Sansa moaned, “More.”

Her request was instantly answered with another thrust, and another, until he was pumping into her with a quick rhythm. Every stroke made her shiver and tighten, which only made Sandor gasp. He dropped to his elbows, keeping his full weight off her frame. Sansa took advantage, running her hands up his bulging arms and shoulders. He was so big . All of him. The sensations, his size, the way he moved, it was overwhelming. Her head rolled back with a quiet keening and she wrapped her other leg around him. Sansa wasn’t sure what she was doing, only that it felt so right to cling to him. She was rewarded with lips on her neck and a hand on her hip, holding her steady as his plunging grew more fierce. It was all she could do to hang on, and as she did, she slipped deeper into the world of breathless rapture his body bestowed. 

When she felt Sandor begin to throb, his thick arm moved down between her legs to stroke the swollen nub there. Sansa’s legs tensed and her back bridged. Between his shaft and his fingers she felt her body flush and her skin pebble. He worked her higher and higher, winding her tighter and tighter.

And then she broke, collapsing back against the bed with a cry muffled by his lips meeting hers. Gasping and shuddering, she rode each wave of pleasure as it crashed through her writhing body. Sandor groaned against her mouth, and Sansa felt a flood of warmth in her core barely distinguishable from her own.

Sandor remained buried in her for several moments before rolling to the side. She made an attempt to reach for him, and was flustered when watery muscles didn’t work as they should. A chuckle rumbled in Sandor’s sweaty chest, and one of his heavy arms reached to pull her close. Nestling her face against his neck, Sansa closed her eyes. It no longer came as a surprise that nothing in the world made her feel more content than being held in Sandor Clegane’s arms. 

Chapter Text

The late afternoon sun beat down upon the training yard, and a sheen of sweat popped out of Sandor’s pores in response to the early autumn heat. Layers of muscle flexed as he snatched up a rag to wipe his face. His opponent, little more than a boy but with haunted features that spoke of seeing the Blackwater carnage firsthand weeks before, limped away rubbing his arm where Sandor had struck a bruising blow. He’d be right again in a day or two, and that mark would serve as a reminder to guard his left side. 

Sandor tossed the rag away. It was good to be back in the yard, honing his skills to sharpness again. Recuperating after a battle was always a welcome respite, but he’d allowed himself too many days idle, following Sansa around as her guard and enjoying nights in her bed. He didn’t regret a moment of it, but if he truly wanted to protect her, he needed to stay in fighting form. Setting his training sword down next to his discarded tunic, he scooped water from a bucket and drank from his cupped palm. The yard was filled with the sound of wooden lathes meeting, crisp snaps as their handlers rained blows. 

It had not escaped his notice that quite a number of those in the yard bore the sigil of House Tyrell upon their breast. It seemed that Lord Mace had determined to bring every able-bodied man in the Reach to the capital. Sandor wasn’t sure what to make of it. Clearly men had been desperately needed to turn the tide of battle, and the Tyrells had known they were coming to fight. But something didn’t fit. He just couldn’t put his finger on what that thing was. With a sigh, he splashed water over his hair and decided to ask Sansa her thoughts on the matter later. His head was meant for strategy and war. She was the one who understood politics and courtly intrigues. 

Tinkling laughter reached his ears at the same time as half the other men in the yard. Sandor turned to see the object of his thoughts halfway across the dusty open space, flanked by Joffrey’s new betrothed and her curly-haired brother. He’d heard men call Margaery the Flower of Highgarden, and it was her giggles that had drawn his attention. She was pretty, there was no denying that, but to his mind Sansa outshone the other woman in every possible way.

Margaery had dark curls reaching to her waist with eyes the same shade as her locks. Sansa’s radiant hair only seemed to be outmatched by her flawless sky-blue irises.  Where the Lady Tyrell wore gowns that left little to the imagination, Lady Stark’s more conservative attire had him itching to remove every stitch and reveal the porcelain beneath. Margaery’s boisterous nature drew every eye to her, while Sansa’s demure demeanor invited one in while offering space. He could breathe around Sansa.

Just then her pale eyes turned and met his ever so briefly before roving his chest. The faintest blush colored her cheeks. He felt every muscle tense, standing out for her gaze. Sandor realized it might be the first time she had seen him half-dressed in full sunlight. It made his itch to undress her become an ache.

Unfortunately her noble companions seemed to notice her reaction. Margaery turned to appraise him, her thumb pressed to a pouty lip as she looked him up and down. Loras turned as well, but his reaction was quite different.

The curly-haired Ser made soothing gestures to the Ladies as he took several steps back.  Spinning on his heel, he then approached Sandor.

“Seven Hells, Hound,” the boy barked loudly enough for the entire yard to hear. The training swords that hadn’t already stopped at the appearance of the nobles abruptly ceased at Loras’ shout, “Have some decorum and put on a tunic. The Ladies are present.”

Sandor sighed and leaned casually against a rack of blunted spears before starting to clean the dirt out from under his nails. He gave a pointed look at the other half-dressed and sweaty men in the dust, still breathing hard from exertion.

“This is a training yard,” he replied nonchalantly, trying not to let his desire to throttle the younger man show too obviously, “Seems if the Ladies wished to see men fully attired, they should have stayed within the Keep. The yard is for training, and if you were unaware, training is hot work.”

The chance to barb the boy couldn’t be resisted, and it had the desired effect. Loras straightened, his face going red. Before he could form a retort though, Sandor snatched up one of the practice swords and threw it at the younger man before picking up his own.

“There’s only one reason someone comes to the training yard, and that’s to train.”

Perhaps unfortunately for Loras, he was an intelligent man. His face paled and he swallowed before responding, “It wouldn’t be proper, Ser. You saved my life in the Hand’s Tournament. I could not raise a weapon against you.”

“I’m no Ser,” he snapped. Sandor’s gray eyes slid past Loras’ shoulder to Sansa and Margaery. The latter was watching with clear fascination, but Sansa’s forehead creased as she worried her lower lip. Moderating his tone, he continued, “I’m not asking you to raise a weapon, my Lord. I’m asking you to train with a practice sword. Simple sparring.”

The young Lord was backed into a corner now. Oh he could press for some excuse, claim duty to the Ladies and leave, but not without looking craven in front of his Queen-to-be sister and a Northern Princess. Not to mention so many of his own men. Loras seemed to know it and looked regretfully at the Ladies before giving Sandor a quick nod. He then shucked off his fine silk coat but instead of hanging it from the nearest post, he approached Sansa.

“My Lady Stark,” he gently intoned. It made bile bubble in Sandor’s throat. “Would you be so kind to look after my coat?”

“I...of course, Ser Loras,” she replied just as softly, inclining her head as she took the garment from him. The approving grin Margaery gave her brother made Sandor’s hackles rise. He’d seen the same expression on Cersei’s face before, when one of her schemes was going according to plan.

Loras turned back to Sandor, his bundle of lathes raised in a defensive position. Sandor couldn’t help but roll his eyes. Striking a defensive position. From ten paces away. It was laughable, and he did snort at the foolishness. He knew he was a big man and had considerable reach with a sword, but not even his monstrous brother could strike a man from that distance.

“These are swords, not spears,” Sandor chuckled. A number of men had started to gather, taking breaks from their own mock battles to see the young Knight test his mettle against the fearsome Hound. Loras scowled and took several steps forward, closing the space to something more reasonable for swordplay.

“Better,” Sandor said. And then he lunged forward.

Ser Loras had not become a Knight just for his pretty face and ability to sit a horse. Sandor attempted a strike at the Lord’s side, which Loras adeptly deflected. He whirled gracefully, the wooden blade dipping low for Sandor’s knee. The Hound pivoted, moving his knee out of the Knight’s reach just in time. Off balance, Sandor took several steps away to regain his footing. A smirk crossed the younger man’s features and he readied himself to attack again.

Loras stepped forward, setting a marching pace as his lathes danced. Sandor blocked a series of rapid swings between his belly and head, deflecting them skillfully each time. When his last swing went a little wild, Sandor took the opportunity to launch his own attack. He aimed for the boy’s shoulder, and Loras moved to meet the lathes, only to have Sandor redirect at the last moment and connect with his wrist. The snap made the Knight wince. It stung, to be sure. But now Loras knew the trick. When Sandor took a swing at the boy’s head, intending to land the blow on his chest, Loras reached out and poked Sandor hard in the belly, making him stumble to the side as the wind left him.

As Sandor recovered, the Knight took another swing, dancing by and managing to glance Sandor’s thigh. But though he was big, Sandor was also quick, and he whirled his sword around to strike Loras across his backside. From nearby, they heard Margaery burst out laughing. 

“Are you going to take being spanked by the Hound, dear brother?” 

The young Lord Tyrell’s face turned dark at his sister’s laughter, and he spun and began to charge Sandor. A surprising move, and foolish. Sandor readied his practice blade before him, allowing Loras to approach at speed. When the lathes were raised to strike, Sandor dropped to a knee and swung his own at the boy’s ankles. His feet flew into the air, and Loras fell to his back upon the ground. Hard. Sandor quickly had the tip of his lathes pressed to the Ser’s throat.

“Do you yield?” Sandor asked gruffly.

For a moment, Sandor thought the Knight of Flowers was ready to take a very un-Knightly swing at his face or balls. The men watching seemed to stay his hand though, not to mention the two women, and after a moment Loras grudgingly nodded.

Sandor straightened, pulling the boy to his feet. Loras was covered head to toe in a fine layer of dust that would be difficult to clean from his silks. His dark eyes glared up at Sandor, clearly displeased at being so embarassed in front of his men and the Ladies. When Sandor glanced to Sansa, he saw concern written all over her face, while chagrined amusement painted Margaery’s expression. With a sigh, he decided it would be best if he offered some sort of excuse for the younger man’s poor performance.

“Too many fine clothes,” Sandor poked at the layers of lace nearly covering the boy’s hands, “You can’t fight properly wearing silks. Next time come dressed for the work. It will be a fair fight that way.”

Loras peered up at him, and Sandor could see the surprise in his eyes that the Hound, of all people, would cover his arse. He gave the larger man a nod and a wordless bow before returning to the Ladies. Sansa quickly handed over the coat, seemingly glad to be free of it, and gave Sandor a smile that made his blood run hot. He held her gaze with burning eyes for a long moment, speaking in short breaths through parted lips, before she turned to leave with the Tyrells.

Chapter Text

Catelyn Stark had always instilled ladylike behavior in her daughters. Despite being in the North, where there was less adherence to courtly courtesies, the Southern-bred woman knew her daughters could be married to Southerners as she had been a Northman, which in turn meant they ought to know how to behave. Polite, intelligent conversation. Graceful dancing and singing. Fine needlework. Be poised, never fidget.

Sansa couldn’t help herself. She fidgeted.

More accurately, she paced. Distantly she wondered if she would wear down the stones beneath her slippers, but the thought was gone almost as soon as it came. There were other things for her to consider, ones far more serious than the floor of her rooms. 

Her relentless walking stopped when she heard boots in the hallway. Sansa smoothed her rose-colored silks, taking a deep breath as the door unlatched and opened. Sandor entered, fixing her in his gaze much like he had that afternoon, the heat in his eyes palpable. The door clicked shut, completely forgotten as Sandor’s long legs carried him to her.

“Little Bird,” he sighed, folding his arms around her and burying his face in her hair, “I’ve been thinking of you all day.”

“As have I,” she replied. But instead of luxuriating in his arms, she pressed her slender hands to his thick shoulders, “We must speak.”

“I don’t need any words,” he murmured, kissing the shell of her ear.

Sansa shivered, her knees wobbled, but she held fast to her resolve, “Sandor, please, I mean it. I must speak with you.”

The warrior straightened, keeping his arms around her while he looked her in the eye. She swallowed, attempting to keep a straight face while anxiety clawed at her stomach. Her expression must have given something away though, for Sandor’s forehead creased.

“What is it Sansa?”

The tender concern in his tone weakened her, and her face crumpled. 

“I don’t know how to say it,” she whispered. Sandor removed a hand from her back to brush strands of her hair behind her ear.

“Just say it. Whatever it is, we’ll figure a way out.”

Sansa’s shoulders slumped. No, we won’t.

“The Tyrells,” she breathed, voice quivering in her tight throat. Bracing herself, she continued, “The Tyrells have determined I shall marry Ser Loras.”

The expected explosion did not come. Nor did the rage or string of profanities. Sandor’s gray eyes were stormy, but the anger wasn’t there. He studied her, his gaze now sharp instead of burning. He was ruminating, she knew, and no wonder with such news to be had.

“They want you to marry Ser Loras Tyrell? The Knight of bloody Flowers?”

Sansa swallowed, “Yes. It is a sensible match for his House and mine.”

The noise that erupted from Sandor’s throat startled her. It wasn’t a shout or vile cursing; it was laughter!

“Renly’s Rose married to Sansa Stark. A fine match, indeed!”

Eyebrows drawing down, Sansa straightened. “Why do you laugh? If they force me to marry him, what will happen to us?”

“What will happen to us? I doubt much,” Sandor chuckled, “Little Bird, have you never stopped to wonder why Loras Tyrell isn’t already married? He’s twenty-and-four. Men of Great Houses are married with whelps by his age.”

“I-I thought the right Lady hadn’t been found..,” she trailed off when he shook his head.

“There are Ladies enough. The Martells have a few, the Freys have a dozen or more, and there was always Myrcella. Even their own liege Lords have daughters. I hear the eldest Tarly girl is a beauty in her own right. Finding a Lady isn’t a problem.”

“Then...why?” Sansa couldn’t keep the edge of annoyance from her tone. It felt like she was about to discover some great secret known to everyone else but her , yet again. And she did not like that. 

But instead of making her feel a fool, Sandor kissed her forehead with a smile. “Sweet Sansa,” he spoke tenderly, “You would have ignored the rumors even if you were to hear them. Come sit.”

He took her hand and led her to the bed. Sandor leaned his back against the carved headboard, pulling her into his lap. Sansa settled between his legs, her shoulder tucked against his chest so she could see his face while they talked.

“Sandor, this isn’t making any sense to me.”

“Then let me enlighten you, Little Bird. There’s a reason Loras is referred to as Renly’s Rose.”

“Isn’t that because his sigil is a flower and he was Lord Renly’s squire as a boy?” She asked.

“In part, yes,” Sandor agreed, “But he was called Renly’s Rose because he and Renly Baratheon were lovers for years.”

Sansa sat straight up, her mouth dropping open before she gasped, “You cannot be serious. Lord Renly, he married Ser Loras’ own sister just before he died. You must be mistaken.”

But Sandor was already shaking his head. “I’m quite serious. They tried to be discreet, but were never entirely successful. I happened upon them once myself.”

At that, Sansa’s eyes bulged. It seemed completely unbelievable, a rumor started to hurt Renly’s claim to the Iron Throne. But Sandor did not lie to her. She cast her mind back to the few times she had interacted with Loras and Renly. At the tournament held for her father’s elevation to Hand, the two had passed many glances. At feasts they had always sat near to each other, and often had been deep in conversation till late in the evenings at such events. She had heard King Robert’s annoyance when Renly, his Master of Laws, had gone gallivanting off with Ser Loras. Blue eyes widened as the puzzle pieces fit themselves together.

“Poor Renly. And Loras,” she sighed. The world was not kind to men who loved other men, and she had never been able to fully understand why that was so.

“You see, Little Bird? If you marry Loras, you’ll remain as untouched as they claim Margaery to be. And unlike some, Loras isn’t cruel. He won’t beat you, and he’ll be as attentive as duty requires, dancing with you at feasts and handing you roses at tourneys, but I don’t believe he will warm your bed. This arrangement is perhaps the best we could hope for.”

“But I don’t want to marry him, and given what you’ve told me, I don’t believe he would want to marry me either,” she closed her eyes and leaned into the breadth of his chest, “You’re the only one I want to marry.”

Sandor raised his hand to her cheek, tracing her features with gentle fingertips. “Aye, I want that too Sansa. Seven Hells, I never thought to marry anybody before you. But given the circumstances, this may work out well. Loras has an elder brother who is the heir to Highgarden, which means Loras will likely stay in the capital with his sister when she becomes Joffrey’s Queen. You won’t have to leave me, and I won’t have to leave you.”

The thought was a comfort. It hadn’t even occurred to her that marriage to a Lord might take her to distant lands and away from Sandor. She was glad to have that idea struck down before it began to take root in her head. Still, it did not quell all her worries.

“How will we see each other though? If I share rooms with Ser Loras, I’ll rarely ever be alone,” Sansa moped. But Sandor had an answer for that, too.

“Things down South aren’t like your North, Little Bird. You sleep like your sigil, a pack nested together against the cold. Lord and Ladies in the South often keep separate quarters. It might be more difficult, but we shall be together. Nothing in all the Heavens or Hells can stop me from seeking you out,” he leaned forward to kiss her forehead. Sansa curled into him with a contented sigh, her fingers splayed over his chest. They stayed that way for several long moments before Sansa posed a question.

“Would you want separate chambers, if we were to marry?”

“Bugger that,” Sandor growled, “I’d be your husband, and you’d be my wife. I’d not leave your side for a moment. Unless you wished for your own privacy, which would mean sending me to bed gravely wounded every night.”

Sansa giggled at the ferocious way he spoke. She could just imagine his forlorn expression were she to deny him, but it would be a poor jape. It was also very easy to envision the ravishing he would give her for teasing him so. Maybe it was worth trying, just once.

But while her thoughts were preoccupied with some very unladylike imaginings, it seemed Sandor had questions of his own.

“When will they announce the betrothal?” There was significant reluctance in his tone, and his eyes were carefully studying her shoulder. 

Sansa shook her head, “I’m not sure. The Tyrells don’t want anything to compete with Margaery becoming Queen. I expect the wedding won’t occur until after she is wedded and crowned.”

“So we have a year. Good,” Sandor smirked. Sansa blinked, and leaned back from his shoulder to look him in the eye.

“Why ‘good’?”

“Because it means I get to spend the next year doing this,” and he caught her lips with his own. His strong arms pulled her body into his chest, and she whimpered against his mouth. Sansa’s own arms snaked up and around his neck, and she pressed her chest firmly to his. It was such a relief, to know he wasn’t angry, and that she would not have to give him up as she had feared. If anything, it had just created an air of urgency between them, to get their fill of one another as often as possible. Sansa found herself tugging at his tunic while he tore at the laces running down her breast, their tongues joining the fray and lapping at one another. When Sandor gave the laces a sharp yank, Sansa couldn’t help but giggle.

“Let me,” she whispered against his mouth. Her own nimble fingers were accustomed to unlacing her gowns, and she could do it without popping seams and raising suspicion. While she worked, Sandor took the opportunity to shed his tunic and undershirt. As her dress opened and the skin beneath was exposed, he leaned forward to kiss her neck and shoulders, laving her flesh with his tongue. His own hands were not idle, and they moved to open his breeches.

Despite having lain with him many times since the Battle of Blackwater, Sansa had never before got a good look at his manhood. So when his length was freed of his clothing, she took a moment to lean back and examine the shaft that brought her so many pleasurable evenings. For a moment, Sandor seemed confused as to why she would pull away, but once he understood what she was looking at he offered her a grin and leaned back.

“Get your fill while you can, Little Bird,” he advised, “My hunger for you won’t be patient for long.”

So she did as he said, and using her hands and eyes she examined him. His cock. It was a profane word, she had been taught, but that was what it was. It stood hard and proud, longer than her hand and as thick as her clenched fist. The bulbous tip was a violet color, and up the shaft ran fat, dark veins. Sansa reached out and wrapped her fingers around the middle. A smile blossomed on her face when she felt his heartbeat throbbing against her palm. A bead of fluid had collected at the tip, and she used her other hand to run a finger over it. Sandor grunted as she did, and Sansa could feel him grow harder in her grasp. The thrill of his reaction shot straight to her core, and she knew her smallclothes were growing damp. It seemed that her hunger for him had little patience as well.

Wondering what other responses her touch could induce, her hand experimentally slid up his shaft to squeeze his purple head. He sucked in a shuddering breath. She held him for a moment, feeling more liquid seep against her fingers, and then she allowed her hand to glide down to the root of his length. Before she could bring her hand back up again, Sandor’s paws were gripping her hips and pulling her towards his chest, then one hand was pushing up her silken skirts.

“Enough, Sansa,” he panted, his voice strained, “This old dog can’t take it anymore. I need you.”

“Yes,” she sighed, her lips kissing his neck as he ripped her smallclothes from her body and brought her onto his lap. Despite the layers of her skirts, his cock quickly found what he sought. The tip brushed her wetness, trailing it up to her swollen nub and making her tremble. Her lips parted and let out a low breath.

Then he was inside her, pushing up and into her hard and fast until he was buried to the hilt in her heat. They both moaned. Sansa felt deliciously stretched, a sensation she knew she would never tire of. Sandor paused, his head dropping back as he sucked air into his lungs. She remembered riding him that first night, how he had guided her movements and taught her how to please herself. She wondered, though. If her hand could make him struggle, what could her womanhood do?

Before he could take the lead with his thrusting, Sansa rose just a little before easing herself back down upon him. The grip on her hip tightened and his eyes squeezed shut, but he didn’t otherwise move. Curious, she rose up a little higher and dropped herself down more quickly. She felt him flex within her, hard and unyielding. It made her shiver when she realized his throbbing was more intense, more rapid, than it had been in her hand. 

This time when she lifted herself up, she squeezed. She wasn’t sure how she did it, or what exactly worked to make her grip him from the inside. But the results were instantaneous. Not only did it make her shiver as each nerve stroked against him, but every one of his muscles stood out and he gasped.

“Gods, Sansa. Fuck!” 

That made her smile, and she covered his mouth with her own. His exclamation hadn’t been so loud to be heard through the door, but she wanted to take no risks. Besides, kissing him was too much fun.

His mouth met her like a starving animal, drawing upon her lips and sliding his tongue against hers. One of his paws tangled in her hair, crushing them together and serving to deepen the kiss. Sansa was pleased to let him feed upon her mouth in any way he liked while she discovered what she could do to his body. 

And discover she did, much like the night of the battle. Only this time, she wasn’t the one being shown what her body could do. She rode him hard, stroking his shaft with rolling hips. Sandor groaned against her mouth each time he was buried completely within her. Oh, and how hot and thick he became! Every illicit response made her tense and grow wetter, soaking them both and making her glide easily around him. Her bared breasts brushed his chest, forming her nipples into stiff peaks that raked against his skin. Their breathing was ragged and they clung to one another, thrusting and grinding into ecstasy.

Suddenly Sandor roared into her mouth, a sound that reverberated through his entire body. His hands engulfed both her hips, pressing her down upon him as he thrust his cock deep within her. Sansa felt him flare and spasm, and smiled with the knowledge that she had brought him release on her own, with little effort on his part. 

Sandor fell back against her headboard, breaking the kiss with a gasping breath. His chest heaved as he drew air. He remained inside her, and his fingers loosened their grip to stoke her sides tenderly.

“Seven Hells, Little Bird,” he panted, “You’ve gone and made me into a green boy.”

Sansa smiled. “You liked it then?”

One gray eye popped open and he gave her a look filled with incredulity. “Like it? Never has a greater understatement been made.”

That caused a giggle and she began to extract herself from his lap. But his hands were suddenly back at her waist, forcing her to stillness. 

“And just where do you think you’re going?” 

“I thought, since you were done-”

“Aye, I might be done,” he replied as one of his hands tunneled its way under her skirts, “But you’re not yet.”

She opened her mouth to ask what he meant, but the words died in her throat when his thumb brushed their joining. In moments she was leaning against Sandor, her forehead upon his shoulder while his fingers rolled over her swollen nub. His lips attacked her neck and shoulder, peppering her flesh with kisses while he whispered soft encouragement to her.

“That’s it, Little Bird. My beautiful Sansa. Sing me your sweetest song.”

Mewling softly against his skin, her hips rocked in rhythm with his hand. Sandor pressed his fingers and his half-hard cock into her, strumming her in every way he could. Sansa felt herself building towards release, her body so wanton and eager for what he could bestow. When she finally cried out, and her body seized and shuddered, it was his name she gasped. He watched her greedily, a crooked smile she was only half aware of as she trembled and rode out each wave of pleasure. When she finally collapsed against him, sweaty and pleasantly exhausted, he caressed her arms and kissed the top of her head.

“I’ll never get enough of you,” he murmured into her hair, “The Tyrells, the Lannisters, all of them be damned. Nothing, not even the Stranger himself, will keep me from you.”

Sansa smiled, though he couldn’t see the pleased expression. “I like the sound of that,” she spoke between lungfuls of air, “And because you said it, I know it for true.”

Sandor wrapped his arms around her, her body nestled to his. Their breathing slowed, steadied, and grew shallow. Half-dressed, they held each other close as sleep took them both.

Chapter Text

It was a beautiful day for a walk along the seawall. A few high clouds did nothing to detract from the sweeping views upon the ramparts. Waves crashed against the rocks scattered about Blackwater Bay, throwing white froth up in relief against the deep blue of the sea. The beauty was only surpassed by Sansa, who was leaning against the wall to watch the water ebb and flow. Sandor could stand for hours and watch her be idle. And most days, he did. She smiled at the scenery before her, and he found himself wanting to smile at her.

That was until Ser Loras Tyrell stepped beside her to watch the waves as well. 

Sandor’s lips tightened as the boy showered her with flattery, something Sandor had seen numerous times in the week since Sansa had anxiously told him of the betrothal. This time, it was comparing her eyes to the ocean and sky. He sighed. Even though their planned union had not yet been announced, Ser Loras had taken a number of turns about the grounds of the Keep to court Sansa. And since Sandor was her guard, he always accompanied them on their strolls. Though the boy did a fine job at playing the chivalrous Knight wooing a fair Lady and had never put a toe out of line, Sandor still hated it. Each bow and saccharine phrase and gleaming smile Loras offered her was a reminder that he would have what Sandor never could.

The worst part was they made a beautiful image together. They were each attractive in their own rights, models an artist would employ to paint visual representations of Florian and Jonquil. Servants they passed turned to follow the pair with their eyes, approving little smiles on their faces. Beautiful Ladies should be with handsome Lords. All the stories said so. And if Sandor were to feature? Well, of course he’d be the villain, a scarred monster to strike fear in the heart of the reader.

Sansa turned from the balustrade to continue her walk, and gave Sandor a secretive smile before Loras saw. That was something not featured in any story, the Lady fair falling for the monster and willingly taking him into her bed. And he hoped that part of the tale would last the rest of his days.

The path they followed wound back into one of the blessedly shady gardens. From his vantage point, Sandor could see the demure smile Sansa wore as Loras named the different blooms. It figured the boy would know, being from Highgarden. But he didn’t know Sansa, and Sandor could tell by her fixed expression that she was finding this all a little boring. No wonder. Loras seemed to think she was as empty-headed as the youngest Stokeworth girl. 

They were not far into the cool of the foliage when a figure appeared a little up the path, walking briskly towards them. Sandor’s hand instinctively went to his sword hilt, and remained there once he recognized the approaching man.

“Lord Baelish,” the Tyrell boy greeted, inclining his head slightly. Sansa said nothing, though she did dip just slightly in polite recognition. Sandor, for his part, glared daggers, though Baelish appeared not to notice.

“My Lord, my Lady,” Littlefinger replied, giving a shallow bow that was only just deep enough to avoid causing offense, “A lovely day for a turn about the gardens.”

“I was just telling Lady Sansa that very same thing,” Loras smiled at her, “We should take advantage before the autumn rains arrive.”

“How right you are, Ser,” Baelish also smiled, but the expression never touched his eyes, “Might I speak with Lady Sansa alone for a moment, my Lord?”

Sandor’s hackles rose, but it appeared Loras did not share his apprehension. He looked to Sansa, who gave him a short nod. The Tyrell boy released her arm and she took a step towards Littlefinger. A step which Sandor followed. Lord Baelish’s features darkened.

“No need for you to follow, Hound. We won’t be more than a few moments.”

“Protection of the Lady Sansa is my duty,” he growled. A muscle in Baelish’s jaw twitched at the lack of any honorific, and Sandor tightened the grasp on his hilt, ready to draw and gut the smaller man and damn the consequences. Sansa, however, was as perceptible as ever. 

“I would not wish to cause Lord Clegane difficulties performing his duties,” she spoke to Baelish before turning to Sandor, “We will be just up the path there, by the fountain. I’ll stay within sight. Lord Baelish is a friend, he will not hurt me.”

As much as he disliked it, Sandor couldn’t argue with her or point out Littlefinger’s many failings in front of so many eyes. He gave her a nod, and only bristled to himself when that smarmy grin reappeared on Baelish’s face and they continued down the path. It gave only a small amount of satisfaction to see Sansa refuse to take his offered arm.

So Sandor was left standing alone with Loras Tyrell, his eyes glued to Sansa’s red hair. She and Baelish may have only been a dozen paces away, but that was a dozen too many if someone put a knife to her throat. And then there was Baelish to consider as well. Sandor had watched the greasy man maneuver at court for too many years to be blind to his ambitions. He had no misgivings about who was ground to pieces in his schemes. If the man thought to catch Sansa up in some plan-

“I would speak to you myself, Lord Clegane.”

Sandor turned his head slightly towards Loras, never taking his eyes off Sansa. If the boy had something to say, he could tell it to Sandor’s scars.

Realizing he wasn’t going to get the Hound’s undivided attention, Ser Loras continued. “I want to thank you. At the training yard last week. You could have made it much worse on me, but you acted with honor in front of my sister and my men. Not to mention Lady Sansa. It seems I owe you a second debt for your gallantry.”

Glad that he had spent many years perfecting his expression of passive disinterest, Sandor kept his face fixed though he reeled in surprise. Nobody ever thanked him, except for the Little Bird. One eye slid towards the boy. What was he at? He didn’t seem to be angling for anything, or digging for information. No, the Knight of Flowers seemed to truly mean to thank him.

Several quiet minutes passed before Sandor could think of how to respond.

“I meant what I said. You weren’t dressed to fight. And you acted on impulse. The next time you’ve got a clear head and are dressed for it, we will spar properly. You owe me nothing.”

The way the Tyrell boy’s eyes popped was nearly enough to make Sandor laugh. He supposed most people would not rebuff a Tyrell, however politely. But Baelish was growing more animated in his conversation with Sansa, so Sandor put his focus back where it belonged and eased his sword in its scabbard. While she didn’t look troubled in the least, he knew she would not let anything show in the presence of Littlefinger or Lord Loras. It was the same mask she used around Joffrey and Cersei, one of strategic indifference. If he knew what he was looking for, the boy would have seen it too.

“She is lovely, isn’t she?” The young Ser murmured, proving to Sandor that he was as blind as Sandor presumed. Keeping his eyes on her, Sandor simply grunted. More lovely than you, or him, or your sister, or this godsforsaken place. And more importantly she’s clever, and kind, and worth a hundred of you and a thousand of me. 

Ser Loras seemed to understand he would get no more answer than that. Sandor watched out of the corner of his eye as the boy stood straighter and took a breath. Now what does he want to fucking say?

“I know you are sworn to the Lannisters; you have been Tywin’s man for years,” he was speaking very quietly now, even though the closest ears were a dozen paces away, “I also know you protect Lady Sansa, as is your duty. I expect that means you see her more than anyone, perhaps even her handmaidens.”

Ser Loras paused, looking up at him for confirmation. Sandor was not adept at intrigues, and this certainly smelled of one. What was he getting at? What was Sandor supposed to say? Tell him of everything he watched her do throughout the day? What she ate for breakfast, or when she retired each evening? If the man thought to get information out of him, he’d find it was difficult to squeeze knowledge from a stone.

But it appeared Loras did not require an answer. “Even though no announcement has been made, I am sure you’re aware by now that she and I are betrothed.  I am to be her husband. And so, if she were to need something, anything, I would have you come to me instead of the Lannisters. Honor demands her welfare be my responsibility.”

Sandor’s gray eyes swung towards him, Sansa and Baelish only momentarily forgotten. He studied the Lordling’s face, turning so his body loomed over the Knight. If he could not tell what game Loras was playing, perhaps he could intimidate him into not playing it at all. But Loras simply stood his ground, dark eyes serious. Sincere. That shocked Sandor most of all. The boy genuinely meant to look after her. Could he be the one man in the entire bloody capital that was honorable?

A noise up ahead. Sansa was bidding Littlefinger farewell and returning to them, the practiced, serene smile giving her a completely unruffled appearance. Sandor glanced back to Loras. Not enough time to ask him questions, determine his intent. With a deep breath, Sandor gave him a quick nod.

“My Lady,” Loras spoke smoothly as Sansa took his arm. Baelish was already out of sight. As they resumed their relaxed pace, he asked, “What did Lord Baelish wish to speak with you about? If it is not an intrusion to inquire.”

“It is not an intrusion,” Sansa assured, “He simply wanted to tell me that he is to be married to my aunt Lysa, and offered to take a letter to her if I wished to write one.”

“Lord Baelish is kind, to make such an offer.”

Sandor barely kept the snort to himself. Lord Littlefucker had never been kind to anyone but Lord Littlefucker. The boy was an idiot, perhaps an honorable one, if he thought for one second Baelish’s offer didn’t come with strings attached. And he was sure that Littlefinger had offered more than to simply carry a letter, but he wasn’t about to share that insight with any of the Tyrells.

Eventually they made their way back inside the Keep, Sandor always two steps behind the pair. At the foot of Sansa’s tower, Ser Loras made a great show of bowing deeply to his betrothed, offering her flowery words as he gallantly excused himself to see to his duties, and promised her another turn about the gardens very soon. Sansa, for her part, curtsied prettily and thanked him as a Lady should before bidding him a good day. She and Sandor stood in silence as the boy strode down the hall, and turned to each other once he was out of sight.

“Are you all right, Little Bird?”

Sansa breathed deeply and nodded before taking his arm and ascending the steps towards her apartments. “I dislike speaking with Lord Baelish. It always leaves me feeling the need to bathe.”

“What did Littlefinger have to say?”

“He did give me the news he is going to wed my aunt in the Vale,” a frown creased her forehead, “But he made no mention of carrying a letter. I didn’t want Ser Loras to know what he really said, so I told him that.”

Sandor blinked. He knew she had kept something back, but she was growing more adept at subterfuge to so easily fool those around her. So he prompted, “What did he really want, then?”

They had reached the top of the stairs. Sansa stopped and turned to face him, her hands sliding up to caress his cheeks. “He offered to take me with him to the Vale. Smuggle me aboard his ship and take me to my aunt. He departs in a few days' time. I declined, and told him my place is here. I left out I would not leave you.”

Relief flooded Sandor. He knew Sansa was no fool, and would look at Baelish’s supposed offer with the same amount of skepticism as he himself. But he also knew escape had to be tempting, even from such a source. 

“I am pleased you refused him,” he spoke as he pulled her into his arms, “But your place is not here. You’re worthy of far better. And my place is beside you, keeping you safe and seeing you happy.”

Sansa leaned her head into his chest, a soft sound bubbling up from her throat as she squeezed his middle with slender arms. For his part, Sandor was content to enjoy a moment holding her, his thick fingers stroking her silky crimson strands. The weight of her against him was a sensation he would never tire of. The best parts of his day were the moments he could touch her, however briefly.

The nights were another story entirely.

Chapter Text

Sansa studied her reflection in the mirror as Shae finished knotting the delicate binding to hold the dress in place. It was a stunning garment, and a generous gift from Lady Margaery. A pretty lavender brocade made up the sleeveless bodice with multiple layers of glossy, filmy fabric for the skirts. Fine embroidered scrollwork in gold cascaded from the shoulders to waist. The only drawback, in Sansa’s eyes, was the deep neckline that revealed the swell of her breasts. In Winterfell, such a dress would be the next thing to scandalous, but Margaery had assured her with both words and examples from her own trunks that it was the most fashionable style in Highgarden. 

Loras likes this sort of gown , Margaery had told her with a wink, He will positively drool when he sees you in this.

Sansa wasn’t sure she agreed. Mayhaps he would drool, but she thought he would far rather see someone like Renly revealing so much skin. If he wore anything at all. But it was beautiful, and Sansa was sure it was expensive, making it a generous gift from her would-be sister-by-law. 

Shae stepped back, her handiwork completed, and joined Sansa in examining her reflection.

“It is lovely,” Sansa breathed, her eyes widening at the swelling of her bosom with each breath.

“It is,” Shae agreed, quickly averting her eyes from her Lady’s chest, “Is it comfortable, my Lady?”

At that, Sansa smiled. “Do I look so uneasy with this style, Shae?”

“The cut is very different from your other gowns, my Lady. But it does become you,” Shae answered slowly. When her dark eyes flitted across the gown’s plunging neckline, Sansa couldn’t help but redden. Never one to miss the smallest expression or gesture, Shae arched an eyebrow at her flush.

Sansa giggled, and her eyes nearly popped right out of her head when she saw how that made her chest move. Even Shae laughed.

“If the neckline were more modest, perhaps I would wear it to court,” Sansa said, using her fingers to draw the brocade closer together, “If I cannot alter it, I am sure one of the seamstresses can. I know Margaery and Lady Olenna brought several from Highgarden.”

“I am sure they can do what you require, Lady Sansa,” Shae smiled at her before turning to the cask that held Sansa’s meager stock of jewelry. Selecting a strand of pearls accented with teardrop amethysts, she held it up for approval.

“That will do nicely, but it won’t hide anything,” Sansa gestured at the expanse of her flesh on display.

“Perhaps not,” Shae replied, “But Ser Loras might be amenable to gifting you a brooch, if he had a hint it was what you would like, yes?”

On that count, Sansa was sure Shae was right. Unlike most men, Loras seemed to never tire of discussions pertaining to fabrics and jewels and styles. He had a good eye, she had to admit, but he hardly seemed to need her thoughts. Loras was happy enough to tell her of what he found appealing with little input from her. Which worked fine for Sansa. 

“He may,” Sansa agreed, “But I would not ask. Besides, a brooch to cover this much would need to be the size of a saucer.” Both girls dissolved into laughter at the thought.

A tapping at the door quieted their giggles. 

“It’s probably the Hound, back from his training,” Shae spoke through tight lips. Sansa knew her handmaiden disliked Sandor, but she seemed to dislike everyone in the Keep. She only accepted Loras because he was betrothed to Sansa and, thus far, had been a perfect gentleman to both her and Shae.

“Then we shouldn’t keep him waiting,” Sansa sighed. Though she hated pretending to find Sandor’s company uncomfortable, she knew it was necessary to keep up the ruse. 

Shae went to the door as Sansa straightened the bodice, smiling to herself with eagerness to see Sandor’s reaction to so much of her skin on display. Perhaps she could create an errand to send Shae on, so Sandor could truly enjoy her new gown.

But when the door opened, it wasn’t her tall, fearsome warrior on the other side. Instead it was a man of much shorter stature, and far higher rank.

“Good afternoon, Lord Tyrion,” Sansa inclined her head, using the gesture to quickly adopt her mask of serenity. While the former Hand had been nothing but amenable to her, he was still a Lannister, and she must remain cautious. “I was just trying on a gown Lady Margaery has gifted to me.”

Tyrion had not failed to notice her attire. His eyes swept over her before quickly dropping to the stone floor. He cleared his throat as Shae latched the door and returned to stand demurely at Sansa’s side. 

“Yes, it looks to be quite the dress,” his normally jovial tone was replaced by something more hesitant, “I need to speak with you, Lady Sansa.”

“Of course,” she clasped her hands at her navel, her meek gaze locked on his face. His scar was virulent despite two months of healing, an angry red streak crossing his face. But his eyes were still kind and he made no move towards her. Instead, those kind eyes flickered to Shae before sliding back to the stone floor.

“Alone, if I may.”

The request was surprising to Sansa, but it hardly approached improper. It seemed, however, that Shae was not so easy with the suggestion he be alone with Sansa in her rooms.

“Why do you need to speak with her alone?” The handmaiden snapped at Tyrion, arms folded across her chest and her lips pressed together in a thin line.

“Shae!” Sansa exclaimed. She shot the woman a hard look. Tyrion may be toeing the line of propriety, but for Shae to speak in such a way to him was unseemly! Turning back to him, Sansa attempted to smooth over Shae’s misstep, “Please excuse her, Lord Tyrion. She’s not from here. But I trust her, and you may speak freely before her.”

Lord Tyrion did not appear mollified. If anything it looked like he’d bitten on a sour raspberry, his features creased and his lips pursed. Sansa hoped he was not too greatly offended; Shae was dear to her, and she did not want to have to discipline one of her only friends in the Red Keep. They stood in silence for a few moments, before Tyrion began to speak haltingly.

“Sometimes, we think we want to hear something, and it’s only afterwards, when it’s too late, that we realize we wish we’d heard it under entirely different circumstances.” 

Sansa couldn’t stop her eyebrows raising, though she quickly schooled her face back to passivity. He was making no sense. Clearly whatever he had to tell her was important, but after Shae’s inappropriate outburst, he was uneasy.

“It’s all right, really,” Sansa reassured, giving the small man as friendly a smile as she could while butterflies began to flutter in her own stomach.

“Where to begin,” he muttered, absently drumming his fingers against his thigh. 

In a bid to make him more comfortable, Sansa gestured to the small table where she and Shae had luncheoned, “Would you prefer to sit, my Lord?”

Tyrion graciously accepted, settling in one of the high backed chairs while Sansa took the one across from him. Shae kept near to Sansa’s side, making her mistress sigh when she saw the darkly suspicious glances directed at Lord Tyrion. While she did not want Shae to cause her any more grief with the Lannisters, that she was so protective did endear her to Sansa.

“What do we need speak of, my Lord?”

Finally his eyes lifted, meeting hers before glancing briefly to Shae. Tyrion took a deep breath, his fingers gripped the table edge.

“This is awkward…”

Chapter Text

Training had run long that afternoon, leaving Sandor tired but unexpectedly pleased. Worn muscles protested as he climbed the steps in Sansa’s tower. But even with the exhaustion, a crooked smile curled the good side of his lips.

Ser Loras had come to the training yard, dressed in linen and wool without a stitch of lace, and sought Sandor out to spar. It had surprised him, to see the younger man dressed so plainly and eager to work. Sandor had only made the offer to spar half-seriously; the Tyrells had plenty of their own men, several of whom were better than average swordsmen, to put their Lord through his paces. 

But never one to go back on his word, Sandor had readily agreed. He’d started by going easy, testing Tyrell’s mettle, and nearly regretted it. The man was smaller, but quick and fought in a slashing-style that kept the lathes whirling. Sandor had been on the defensive the first few minutes of their mock-battle, a position he was unused to finding himself. By the end of the hour they were both breathless and sweat-soaked, and agreed with an amenable handshake it had been a draw. They had spent some time after discussing the strengths and weaknesses they saw in one another’s fighting abilities, and agreed to meet in a week’s time for a second round. 

When Sandor had left the yard, he’d actually found himself respecting Loras. He had worked hard, listened to Sandor’s advice, and the feedback he’d offered had been insightful. There was no animosity between them when either landed a stinging blow. He’d even spoken to Sandor as an equal, not as a High Lord to the second son of a minor House with a dubious reputation.

As Sandor’s boot came down upon the marble landing outside Sansa’s apartments, he felt confident that things would work out for himself and Sansa. Loras was respectful and lacked the cruelty Joffrey had in spades. It would be a fine future, if not the one he had envisioned.

The latch lifted easily and Sansa’s heavy door swung open. The grin quirking up Sandor’s mouth vanished the instant he saw inside her rooms.

Several silk gowns and their accoutrements lay strewn about the floor. The vanity mirror slanted at an odd angle, a crack spreading across the glass from a lower corner. Sansa’s small table was overturned, and one of the accompanying chairs was laying quite close to the flames of the hearth. But what drew his attention most was the figure of Sansa, clad in only her shift, lying still in the middle of a bed that looked like it had received a severe thrashing.

“Sansa,” he breathed, the door shut forgotten behind him. Sandor rushed to her. He saw no obvious injuries, her breathing was steady and unhindered. But something was clearly wrong for her room to be in such shambles. 

Gently, he took her in his arms, fingers lacing through red hair to support her head. “Sansa,” he spoke urgently, stroking her cheek with his thumb, “Sansa, wake up.”

Finally she stirred, her lips smacking as she woke. Blue eyes opened, dim with the haze of sleep. As she came to, his eyes darted about the room, trying to find any evidence or reason why her things were in such a state. When his gaze finally returned to her, he asked, “What happened in here? Was it Joffrey? Seven Hells, did he touch you?”

Sansa blinked in confusion, then whatever happened seemed to come back to her. Her eyes widened before her face crumpled, and fat tears rolled down her porcelain cheeks.

“Sandor,” she gasped, flinging her arms around his neck to cling to him with her whole body. Carefully he held her, worried for injuries he could not see. The brat polishing the Iron Throne with his arse would find no mercy in his Hound this time. If that fucking cunt had one of his Kingsguard beat her again, I’ll rip him apart and feed him to the dogs!

For the barest moment Sandor revelled in the thought of cutting Joffrey into a thousand pieces, but Sansa’s sobbing quickly drew his attention back to her. He pulled her head back slightly to look down at her reddened and tear-stained face. The urge to lash out surged inside him at the torment painting her features, but it didn’t last. Instead his heart was torn asunder.

“Little Bird,” he spoke tenderly, “What happened?”

She swallowed, and for the first time in forever her eyes left his face, instead staring as his good ear. “Tyrion,” she whispered.

“Tyrion? Tyrion Lannister did this to your rooms?”

“No,” she spoke quickly before taking a deep breath, “I did this.”

“What? I don’t understand, Sansa. What do you mean? Why did you do this? What did the Imp do to you?”

“He did nothing,” the tears started again, sliding down her cheeks as she continued in a quivering tone, “The Lannisters have determined my betrothal to Ser Loras shall be broken, and I am to marry Lord Tyrion instead.”

Sandor felt the blood freeze solid in his veins. His head spun. Married...to the Lannister Imp? It couldn’t be true, there had to be some misunderstanding. But looking down at her beautiful face, damp and blotchy, he knew. It was true. Sansa Stark would be married to Tyrion Lannister. 

He wanted to run his sword through something. He wanted to howl. Damn the Lannisters! Loras would have treated her well; he had already begun with turns about the gardens, kind words and respectful gestures. Now that future was torn away just when he had begun to accept it. Tyrion may not be cruel, but there was no way she’d maintain her own apartments. Sansa would be expected to be a wife to him, in every way. The thought made his stomach lurch. 

Sansa’s sobs brought him out of his thoughts and he held her tighter. Sandor had little experience comforting others, but he knew he needed to give her something to hold on to, something to calm her so they could put their minds together and figure a way out of this disaster. She was far smarter than he was, and right now they needed her clever mind. Remembering when she told him of her betrothal to Loras, he made an attempt to assuage her.

“We have time, Little Bird,” he stroked her hair in a soothing motion, “If they won’t marry you until after Joffrey’s wed to the Tyrell girl, that gives us months to find a way out. We can make a plan.”

But she was already shaking her head. “They’re announcing it tomorrow. Tyrion says the wedding will happen before the next moon.”

Sandor’s jaw flexed. A month. A little less than a month, in reality. It was indecent to marry so soon after the announcement, but since when did Tywin care about his youngest son’s reputation? Not to mention her own. Marrying them so soon would thwart any would-be escape plans, keep Sansa firmly in Lannister control and potentially hand the Lannisters the North through her children. Children Tyrion would sire. He swallowed the bile that bubbled in his throat. 

Sansa’s head was against his chest, her arms wrapped tightly around him. Ordinarily having her cling to him in such a way while wearing so little made his blood run hot. Now, his body was leaden, and no matter how tightly he held her in his strong arms it felt as though something was tearing loose, a force working to wedge itself between them.

“You must regret ever laying eyes on me,” she whimpered against his wool tunic. Sandor blinked. How in the Seven Hells could she feel that way? His hands were suddenly on her shoulders, and he was pushing her away from his chest.

“Look at me, Sansa” he spoke softly yet firmly, leaning down so his face filled her vision, “I regret many things in my life. Carrying out atrocities in the name of my liege lord. Killing the butcher’s boy on the road at Cersei’s behest. Not putting my blade through that fucking cunt Joffrey years ago. I cannot begin to count how many things I wish I had done differently, or not at all. Not once, ever, have I regretted you. And I never will no matter what happens, Little Bird. Believe it.”

His thick hands left her shoulders to cup her face, lips meeting hers in a kiss more gentle and earnest than passionate and demanding. Sansa gave a little cry when their lips touched, then her hands were holding his jaw and her mouth was pressing back to his. He kissed her thoroughly, attempting to drive his point home. It didn't matter who she was forced to wed or what pains it might cause for them, he would never spend a single minute remorseful over her.

When the kiss was broken, Sansa returned her head to his chest, her tears subsiding into short, sniffling breaths. For his part, Sandor continued to stroke her hair and stared at the wall behind her intricately carved headboard. His mind kept returning to Tyrion. The Imp prided himself on his wit and intellect, but was also known for his drinking and whoring. During his time in Casterly Rock, Sandor had very nearly grown up alongside Tyrion, there only being five years between them. He’d watched the younger and smaller man soak up every book and outwit his own father’s strict domination over his children on multiple occasions, particularly Tywin’s forbiddance of whores being within the castle. Tyrion was sneaking girls in one way or another by the time he was thirteen, sometimes resorting to disguising them as maids or kitchen wenches. His appetite, by every account, was insatiable. But never vicious. 

Careful to keep his breathing calm and steady, Sandor closed his eyes with the realization this could mean the end of his affair with Sansa Stark. She would be forced to share quarters with the Imp, a bed, and her body. It gave him some peace of mind, for her sake, that Tyrion wasn’t like to abuse her, but he would keep her occupied for most of her days and every night. If Sandor was lucky, he might catch an hour here and there with her, but the intimacy they shared would fade into nothingness with watchful eyes always surrounding them. 

The more he thought on it, the more he was certain that with the exchange of vows, he and Sansa would be no more.

For the first time in his life, anger wasn’t his immediate reaction. He had learned a long time ago to avoid attachments and think only of his own survival. Anything that was a threat to that was to be cut down and destroyed, deserving of his violence and rage. 

Now, he felt something he couldn’t put into words. A gaping, endless void where there had once been something so filling and complete. Instead of his heart, a bottomless pit of darkness. An aching no maester could heal. Bleakness crowded his mind and his soul, with no hope to be found.

As he held Sansa, Sandor Clegane felt only loss.