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The Art of Seduction

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Art by the fabulous ruebella-b:  http://ruebella-b.tumblr.com/image/131225144979

 


 

“Would you like a bath before bed, milady?”

“What for?  I haven’t done anything today.”

Shae shook her head and continued to brush Sansa’s hair before moving to the dresser to get a sleep shift. 

“I take it you are feeling a little caged up?” the handmaid pressed.

Caged up.  Yes, she was feeling caged up.  She’d been in her room all day, with nothing to do but sew and read, and she was so ready to spread her wings.

“We could go down to the godswood,” the handmaid suggested.  “No one much cares if you go there, even after dark.”

Sansa shook her head.  She’d just about had her fill of the godswood.

Shae got a mischievous look on her face.  “We could sneak out.”

Sansa laughed.  She would love to sneak out, she’d been dreaming of getting out for almost as long as she’d been in.  But she couldn’t.  No, it would do no good to sneak out, because if she were caught….actually, what was the worst that could happen?  A beating?  She got those anyway.  Public humiliation?  Got that too.  Beheading?  She’d welcome the quick death. 

“Alright,” she said enthusiastically.  Shae laughed at her and shook her head.  “Where should we go?”

“Oh, you’re serious?”  The woman sighed.  “Well, I’ve been meaning to track down a friend somewhere in the city.  I have a good idea where he is, so we could go do that.”

“And we’ll keep each other safe,” Sansa said, confidently.  How bad could it be, right?

“Stay here.”  Shae left the room for a few minutes, but returned with fabric bunched up in her dress.  “Put this on,” she said, handing her the handmaiden’s standard uniform.  “No one will think anything about two handmaids wandering the streets.”

The dress was far more revealing than anything Sansa had ever even thought about wearing out in public and she reached instinctively for a cloak but Shae shook her head.  "You wear the dress, they see the dress; you wear a cloak, they see your face."  It was true- no one would pay any attention to who she was when they were focused on the dress.  And it was dark enough outside that no one would notice her hair color.     

When they reached the drawbridge of the keep, Sansa tensed to see Ser Meryn.  “Try to act naturally,” Shae instructed.  “Keep you face turned away from him but don’t drop your head, and don’t stop walking.”

Sansa followed the instructions perfectly, but Shae turned to look at the man and purred, “good evening, Ser Meryn.”  Hopefully, he was so focused on her that he didn’t notice the taller girl walking beside her.  Sansa was impressed that Shae thought of it, and stunned that it was all so easy.

As soon as they were out of sight, Sansa stopped and looked at Shae expectantly.  “Where now?”

“The Street of Silk,” the woman answered, continuing to walk.

The Street of Silk,” gasped Sansa.

“It’s not that bad,” Shae responded unperturbed.  “You’ll see.  Everyone is friendly, and anyone who isn’t is usually too drunk to defend themselves.”  She laughed at her jape, but Sansa didn’t think it was funny.

She clung to the woman as they made their way through darkened streets.  They definitely attracted far more attention than Sansa anticipated, with whistles and crude comments that brought on deep blushes.  Shae ignored them, and Sansa followed her lead.  And it wasn’t too bad, not really.  In a way, it was exciting.  After what felt like ages they finally reached a boisterous street lined with drunken men and scantily clad women.  There was perfume in the air, but Sansa thought it did little to mask the rank smell of garbage. 

Shae led the way to one of the many buildings but Sansa balked at entering.  “I can’t go in there.”

“It’s not as bad as you think,” Shae said gently, patiently.  “Everyone is nice and you’ll be safe.  Far safer than in the Red Keep.” 

Sansa was about to object when something caught her eye- a hulking figure in the shadows; a man, clearly, but a man bigger than most.  She took a step over to the man against Shae’s immediate protest, but Sansa ignored her, intent on finding out if her suspicions were accurate.  They were.  There, passed out in the shadows, was the monstrous form of the Hound.

“Is he dead?” she asked Shae when the woman joined her, only half a jape.

“I doubt it,” she replied.  “He gets like this all the time.”

Sansa shook her head in disgust.  “That’s awful,” she clucked.  “We need to get him back to his room.”

“We most certainly do NOT,” insisted the woman. 

“He’s Kingsguard,” spat Sansa.  “It’s dishonorable to leave him like this.”

“He dishonored himself.  I have business inside.  Stay here with your Kingsguard if you’re so concerned about him.”  With that, the handmaid walked away and into the building.

Sansa knelt down on the road so that she was at the same level as the Hound.  He seemed to be awake and not awake at the same time.  “My lord?”  He made no move to acknowledge her, so she put her hands on his massive shoulders and shook him gently.  “My lord?  Are you awake?”

“The fuck you want?” he growled without opening his eyes.

“You can’t sleep in the street, my lord, it’s improper.”

“I got something improper for you.”  Sansa rolled her eyes.  So awful when he’s drunk.  Then again, this was the Street of Silk.

“Someone could rob you or try to hurt you.”

“I’ll kill ‘em,” he said sleepily.

I doubt that.  “Come, now, I’ll take you to your room.”  

She grabbed one of his arms and pulled, and he stood up, cursing under his breath.  As soon as he was upright, though, he fell backwards against the wall, pulling Sansa between his splayed legs.  When his hand fell against her exposed back, his eyes fluttered open.  He peered down at her dress, confused, before taking her arms and holding them out to her side, looking her over completely before taking a deep breath and growling his approval.  “Perfect.”

She shook her head in annoyance.  He never once even looked at her face, he had no idea who he was talking to, yet he somehow decided it was proper to examine her as if he were buying a horse.  Then again, it was the Street of Silk.  He fell heavily against her and they made their way back to the barracks.  At least, she thought they were going to the barracks.  She really had no idea.

He stumbled terribly and it was all she could do to hold him up and keep him moving.  She had the uneasy feeling that he was going to fall on her, and if he did he’d probably break every bone in her body.  She’d just have to keep him upright.  To her absolute surprise, he never once tried to do anything inappropriate- unless you count falling into walls and tripping constantly.  But people kept looking at them curiously, and it made her nervous.

“You should try to act less drunk,” she told him.  “Someone might think this is a good time to fight you.”

“You smell like springtime,” he drawled into the top of her head.  “And flowers.  Fresh grass, morning dew, like love and sunshine, hope and happiness.”

What?” Was that a song?  It sure sounded like the syrupy words to a love song, though not one she’d ever heard.  And he hated love songs. 

“You’re so beautiful,” he slurred.  She peered up at him to see that his eyes were still closed, so she looked around quickly to see who he was talking to.  “How did I get soooooo lucky to have the most beautiful girl in allllll of Westeros *big breath* rescue me?”

Sansa started giggling.  Was this how the Hound tried to seduce women?  Is that what he was doing to her?  She looked up to see his head lolling around aimlessly and what appeared to be a smile playing at the corner of his burned mouth.  There was no way this worked on any self-respecting woman.

“We should run away together.  I would be so good to you.  I could make you happy if you would let me.”  Was this the same man who cheerfully admitted to loving to kill people? 

“You think so, do you?” she asked with a laugh.

“Yes, I think so.  I could be your husband and you could be my beautiful little wife, and we’d have lots of beautiful babies.  You’d be a perfect little mother.  The most beautiful perfect mother in allllll of Westeros.”  He paused to wave his arm in what was probably supposed to be some sort of grand gesture, but instead he smacked his hand on the wall.  Someone behind them started laughing.

She giggled some more.  So maybe his seduction technique wasn’t that horrible.  She could see how a woman would fall for these words, though he’d have to be significantly less drunk.  Of course, when he was less drunk he was just awful.  She could not wait until the next time she saw him in the Red Keep.  She’d tell him he smelled like hope and happiness and he’d glare at her in confusion, wondering how she could possibly have ever heard those words. 

“Don’t marry a little boy,” he continued.  “You need a man, a real man.  I could be that man.”

“My lord, are you asking me to marry you?” she asked playfully.  Who did he think he was talking to?   

They reached the door to his room- at least, she thought this was his room.  She had to take his word for it, she had no idea where they were. 

“Why not?” he slurred, his head resting against the wall while she opened his door.  Grabbing his arm, she shoved him in, but he pulled her with him and shut the door behind them.  Now standing in the darkness of what she assumed was the Hound’s bedroom, she felt him pull her gently to his chest.  “I could keep you safe,” he rasped.  “No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.”

It stopped her heart.  She’d heard those words before, but this time they sounded sweeter, like a promise.  “Do you use those honeyed words on every woman, my lord?”

“No, not every woman,” he whispered, fingers ghosting up over her naked arm, breath against her neck.  “Just you.  Only you.”

Oh.  Well.  She could definitely see why a woman would fall for these words; he was actually really good at this.  “Only me, huh?” she asked, surprised by how much she wanted to believe him.  “You don’t even know who I am.”

“Of course I do,” he murmured, a smile in his voice.  “You’re my little bird.”    

His little bird.  Sansa was still unconvinced- he never even looked at her, never could have expected to see her.  It was more likely that he used the name on many different people.  Many different women.  Somewhere in the darkness, his hands found hers and laced their fingers together.

“Come to my bed, little bird,” he said against her ear.  “I’ll be so good to you.”

She squeezed her eyes shut to stop the tears and shook her head.  It was stupid, really stupid, to think he’d ever saved the name for only her.  She never even really liked it that much, but now knowing he used it on any nameless faceless woman he found in the Street of Silk, used it to get women into his bed…somehow, it was destroyed.  And it bothered her, so much more than it should have.  Ignoring the pinch in her chest, she pushed him gently towards his bed.  “You should get some sleep.” 

He groaned in a way that sounded like he was pouting and moved his hands to his waist to undo his sword belt, dropping the thing to the ground with a loud thunk.  And then he promptly tripped over it as he made his way to the bed, stumbling around with a giggle.  Oh gods, he was giggling.  She had no idea he was even capable of such a thing.

He sat at the edge of the bed and reached for a boot, but he kept missing, making Sansa laugh at his pathetic attempts.  So she moved to kneel in front of him and began to tug at the laces.

“We should have left,” he said, sounding surprisingly sober, and she looked up at him in shock.  His eyes were on her, then, wide open and... honest.  “I didn’t mean to scare you; I wanted to save you.  I fucked it all up.  I fuck everything up.”  Oh gods... he did know who she was. 

The man had lost control, she realized, lost all power over his mind, his body, his tongue.  And he was not the monstrous nightmare she would have assumed him to be when he lost all control.  No, instead he was... kind.  And gentle, and loving, and so, so sweet.  She bit her lip and dropped her head before he could see the tears in her eyes, finishing up with his boots.

She leaned him back onto his pillow and covered him with his blankets, but before she could turn away he grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her gently down to sit beside him.  Just the easy way he held her hand was more romantic than anything she’d ever experienced.

“Don’t go,” he murmured with his eyes closed.  “Please…I stayed for you.  Stay for me.”

I stayed for you… 

“Do you do this often?” she asked gently.

“What?”

“Lure women back to your room with your lovely words.”

He lifted her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist.  So romantic.  “Little bird…” he whispered.  “You’re the only woman stupid enough to ever be nice to me.”

Well, that was a backwards compliment if ever she heard one, and she had to stifle a laugh.  But it was so like him, something he would say, something he would say to her, that it sounded more real than anything else he’d said all evening.  It made her think of a tale she heard once, of a peasant girl so in love with a prince she had a spell cast upon him to find out his true feelings.  The Hound- Sandor- was under that spell, and she didn’t want it to be broken.

It was highly inappropriate, she knew, for a girl like her to be in the room of a man like him- her honor would be destroyed, no one would ever want her. Not to mention what kind of punishment Joffrey would mete out if ever it was discovered. But sitting there with him in his darkened room, his words still whispering through her mind, she didn’t think it would be a problem. No, in truth, she wanted to stay, because... it was nothing, really, just sleeping.  There was nothing wrong with just sleeping.  Besides, she didn’t know if she would even be able to get back, and surely it was more dangerous out there alone than in here with him. So when she was certain that he was truly asleep, she laid down next to him and closed her eyes.  

Chapter Text

It was the dogs that woke him, the fucking dogs that let him know it was morning, barking so damn loud they may as well be in his room.  Sandor thought he just might kill every single one of them.  No, not the dogs, never the dogs.  The kennel master, though, was a dead man.  He’d draw and quarter the man himself, just as soon as the pounding in his brain subsided.

The kennel master must have finally got his shit together, because the dogs were suddenly silent and Sandor could get a little more rest.  Early morning light was just barely creeping into his room but it was still bright enough to make his eyes hurt, and he rubbed his hand over his face as if to ease the pain.  And that’s when he noticed the girl.

What the fuck happened last night?

The last thing he could remember was picking his way to Chataya’s, already well into his cups.  And he’d apparently found a girl he liked enough to actually bring back to his room for the entire night, which had never ever happened before.  Looking down at her, though, he could totally see why.

Even with her back to him he could tell she was pretty close to perfect.  The hair was right, which was always the hardest.  She smelled right.  And her skin was right, too, though the clothes she wore were completely wrong.  Why she wore clothes at all was a mystery.  Actually, why he was wearing clothes at all was an even bigger mystery.  Had he been so drunk that he’d passed out before he could get his money’s worth out of this girl?  Pfft, no matter.  He’d get his money’s worth now, even if he had to pay again.  It would be worth it.

Ignoring the pain in his head, he reached out and gently pushed her hair off her neck before slowly running his knuckles down the exposed skin of her back.  Perfect.  He slipped his hand over the curve of her hip before moving it to her stomach and pulling her flush to his body.  Burying his face at her neck, he moved his hand to her breasts, squeezing one and then the other, holding long enough to commit the feeling to memory.  With one hand on her breast, he bit at her neck, sucking gently and relishing the feel of her tender skin on his tongue.  The girl breathed deeply and sighed and seemed to be coming alive under his hand, and it was exactly how he would have imagined it.  So fucking perfect.

If this were any whore he’d take his release and be done with her, but this was no regular whore.  She was too damn close to the right thing, and he wanted to make the illusion last, to pretend as long as he could.  Reaching down to her skirt, he pulled the hem up to expose her long legs, watching as he rested his hand on her thigh.  I should keep this one, never give her back.  He continued his path up over her hip, sliding his hand under her dress and onto the smooth skin of her stomach.  Suddenly, the girl flinched and grabbed at his hand, silently urging him to stop, which he found amusing as much as he found it arousing.

“Awake now?” he rasped low in her ear.  He paused only a second to give her time to process what was going on, but then resumed his exploring, stroking the even plane of her stomach.  The girl had tensed up and would not respond to his attentions, keeping a steely grip on his hand.  And that was wrong, damn it, what the fuck was he paying for if she couldn’t even respond?  Maybe she’s new. Maybe she’s a maiden.  Was a maiden.  He smirked at the very thought- he’d never had a maiden before, and it would be just perfect if his first maiden was this girl, who was so very close to the right girl.  Too bad he couldn’t remember a fucking thing.

He slid up to her breasts, repeating the path his hand had taken earlier on top of her dress, and the girl pulled away from him and whispered “don’t.”  Had she seriously just told him not to touch her?  Where exactly was this girl’s professionalism?  Ignoring her insolence, he moved again to her stomach, but when he slipped his fingers into her small clothes, she wrenched away from him violently.

“Don’t!” she hissed.

Sandor had finally reached his limit on the girl’s sass.  “Go on then,” he snarled at her, pushing her roughly out of the bed.  “Fucking useless whore.”  He threw one arm over his eyes in disgust.

“I beg your pardon, ser.”    

“Not a…” he growled out, but something made him stop.  Something was wrong.  Pulling his arm away from his eyes, he peered up at the girl, who was standing on the other side of his bed, hands clenched into fists.  He squeezed his eyes shut tight and shook his head, trying to shake the fog out of his brain, before sitting up and really looking at her.

No…no, that’s wrong.  His mind was playing tricks on him, putting her face on this girl.  It wasn’t the first time it had happened, but it had never happened like this.  Ignoring the haze of his hangover, he climbed inelegantly out of his bed and focused on the girl again.  No, still wrong, so very wrong.  Her hair was tousled alluringly and her face was flushed in anger, but, bugger it all, that was her.  Fuck

“What are you doing here, girl?” he snarled at her and her face dropped in shock.  And then she started laughing, though not with any trace of amusement.

“You don’t remember,” she muttered bitterly with a shake of her head.  “Of course you don’t remember.  Isn’t that just perfect?”

“What the fuck does that mean?” he bellowed, walking around the bed to face her.  She was dressed like a buggering handmaiden but seven hells, at least she was dressed. 

“Nothing,” she spat, refusing to look at him.  This was bad, this was really really bad.  He had gotten so drunk last night he couldn’t remember anything, and somehow she wound up alone with him, and now she was angry and red-faced and refusing to meet his eyes... 

“Nothing happened,” she snapped at him as if reading his thoughts.

He glared at her in suspicion.  How many times had he dreamed of having her in his room, in his bed, completely defenseless and subject to his every whim?  It seemed incredibly unlikely that he finally had it all and he had done none of the things he always thought he’d do.  He took another quick assessment of the situation- their clothing, the bed, her answer…not to mention she was a piss-poor liar.  It certainly felt like the truth.  “If nothing happened, then why are you angry?” 

She laughed again, the same mirthless laugh.  It was obvious she was angry and probably embarrassed, but she looked like she was …disappointed?  “Why am I angry?” she asked mockingly.  “Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because you called me a whore, maybe it’s because you treated me like a whore.” 

“Maybe you shouldn’t have been dressed like a whore.  Maybe you shouldn’t have been in my bed like a whore,” he retorted.

*crack*

He saw the slap coming before she even moved, but he didn’t want to hurt her so he didn’t stop her.  And seven hells, it stung.  She’d hit her knuckles so hard against his good cheek there would no doubt be a mark, a thought that made him …oddly proud.

“Nothing.  Happened.  You took your boots and belt off and went right to sleep.” 

Good.  That was good.  Really, really good.  Nothing happened.  He glanced up at her, looking into her sad and angry eyes.  “Sorry to disappoint you,” he muttered and she shook her head in disgust.  “Why are you here?”

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.  “You were…passed out in the…Street of Silk.  I didn’t want anything to happen to you, so…I brought you back here.”

Didn’t want anything to happen to him?  What did that mean?  “Why did you stay?” he sneered.

Her face registered surprise, but then she pursed her lips and looked away blinking.  He could still see the pain in her eyes.  “You don’t remember anything?”

Fuck.  He didn’t remember anything.  “Little bird…”

“Don’t,” she hissed sharply.  She looked like she was going to cry, but instead she started laughing.  She rubbed her arms like she was trying to stay warm, and he took in her milky-white skin, her delicate hands, her slender arms…

Moving quickly to his dresser, he rummaged around till he found an old cloak, throwing it at her unceremoniously.  “Put this on,” he ordered.  “I can’t look at you when you’re dressed like that.”  She shot him a murderous look but did as she was told.  “Now, what were you doing on the Street of Silk?”

She narrowed her eyes at him and shook her head. 

“Were you meeting someone?” he jeered. “Is that why you’re dressed like a …..like that?”

She crossed her arms and drew herself up taller, never letting her eyes leave his.  She didn’t say anything, but her answer was obvious:  she wasn’t going to tell him.  Great, of all the days for the bird to grow talons.

“Fine,” he rasped.  “We’ll just see what Joffrey has to say about your little exploration.”

It was an empty threat, and she knew it.  “You’re going to tell Joffrey that you woke up to find me in your bed, but you don’t know how or why or what happened?” she scoffed.  “Go ahead.  I’ll take my chances.”

Damn it, why in seven hells couldn’t she be scared of him again?  “I just want to make sure I understand.  You went out to the Street of Silk in the middle of the night, all by yourself, dressed like a….like that, and then you found the meanest, largest, drunkest man you could and took him back to his room.  Did I get that right?  Because that is really fucking stupid.  Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?  Someone could have hurt you.  I could have hurt you.”  He paused for a few moments, so overcome with anger he could hardly stand it.  “Do you know what I’m capable of?  Do you?  Why the fuck would you stay here?”

“You asked me to,” she said quietly. 

Well, that was enough to shut him up.  He could see the way her jaw was working, the way her eyes were narrowed.  She’d stayed with him because he asked her to.  She….no.  It wasn’t good enough.

“Is that all it takes?” he sneered at her.  “Some old dog asks you to stay with him and you say yes, thank you very much, that would be lovely?”

“It wasn’t some old dog, it was you,” she spat back.  “This is pointless.  You don’t remember anything so there’s nothing to argue about.  I need to get back to my room before I’m missed.”

“How exactly do you plan on doing that?”

For the first time that morning, she started to act like the little bird he’d always known.  “I…I don’t know,” she faltered.  “I hadn’t thought about getting back in.”

I should keep this one, never give her back.  It was the same thought he’d had this morning, before he knew who she was.  The memory of waking up next to her, seeing her, was fanning the flames that were already raging inside him, winding him up so tight he was nearly shaking.  She had felt so good under his hand, pressed against him, the way she smelled, the way she sighed, the way she …grabbed at his hand and told him to stop.  Fuck.  A flood of anger mixed with the lust; now he was shaking. 

“We have to get you out of here before everyone wakes up,” he said as calmly as possible.  “You go straight to the godswood and wait there.  I’ll try to figure out a way to get you back in to the holdfast.  I’m warning you, though, it won’t be easy.”  He put his boots and belt on and moved to the door to open it.

She nodded her consent and walked over to him, his hand still on the handle of the door, and bugger it all, he did not want to open it.  She was right there, in his room, wearing really close to nothing.  It wouldn’t be hard at all to take whatever he wanted from her.  I could do it- grab her, kiss her, fuck her.  She couldn't stop me. No one would know.  As soon as he opened that door, though, it would be over, his chance gone.  It was now or never.  The bird was lost in her own thoughts and didn’t seem to notice the long pause, but when she finally turned her wide-open eyes up to him he lost his resolve.

He reached under her cloak to grab at her, but his hand didn’t do what his mind told it to.  Instead, it found her hand and pulled it up to him so he could inspect her injury.  Her knuckles were red and already turning purple, and when he lightly pressed on each of them she flinched.  It had been one hell of a slap.  Briefly he thought about kissing her pain away, but he dropped her hand before he could do anything so stupid.  “You’ll want to put something cold on that, see Pycelle if it’s not better by tomorrow.”

She nodded without looking at him, and he grabbed her chin roughly to turn her head up to him.  To his utter surprise, she met his eyes before he could tell her to, and what he saw there was….not fear.  “Stay safe, little bird.”  It was the only thing he could think to say.  “Keep your hood up, don’t talk to anyone, and try not to pick up any drunk men.”

“Very funny,” she muttered. 

The knock at the door startled them both, and she gave him a look of horror.  He motioned for her to step back and he opened the door just a crack to see…a fucking handmaid. 

“Is she here?” the woman asked crisply.

Sandor leaned out into the hallway to see if anyone was around before opening the door wider to grant the woman entry.

“Shae, thank the gods,” the girl said in obvious relief, causing the woman to glare in his direction.  Right, this is all my fault.  He rolled his eyes in disgust.

The woman rustled around under her dress and pulled out Sansa’s light cloak and handed it to the girl, who quickly put it on under Sandor’s old cloak.  “We’ll wait in the godswood until the guard changes,” the handmaid told her.  “Then we’ll go back in.”  The girl nodded.

“Wait…wait a minute,” he started in irritation.  “You’re just going to walk back in?”

The women looked at him in surprise as if they had forgotten he was there.  “Yes,” Sansa said uncertainly.

“How did you get out?” 

“I just walked out,” she said with a shrug.  “No one even looked at me.”

Sandor cursed under his breath.  So much for the legendary security of the Red Keep.  “Go on, then,” he snarled.  “And good luck to you.” 

She didn’t look back at him as they left his room, and after a minute he left too.  He couldn’t just let her go off alone- what if something happened?  What if she needed him?  So even though it was his day off, Sandor donned his white cloak and made his way to the holdfast. 

“I thought you were off today,” Ser Meryn said when he approached.

“Just checking to be sure,” Sandor responded, walking past him.  He wandered the halls for only a minute, just enough to make it seem like he had talked to someone, then returned to the bridge.

“So are you off today?”

“Looks like,” Sandor replied.

“If you didn’t insist on sleeping in the barracks you wouldn’t have to walk all the way up here just to find out you’re not working.”  Meryn was turned to look at him, so focused on his taunts that he didn’t pay a lick of attention to his surroundings.  Fucking useless.  

“Easier walk from the brothels.”

Meryn laughed.  “I should have known.  Why they let you be Kingsguard when you wouldn’t take the vows is beyond me.  The vow of celibacy is the worst.”

Like you haven’t been in the brothels lately.  “If they’ll let you be Kingsguard, they clearly have no standards.  Fuck, I need a drink.”

The knight laughed again.  “Well, since you don’t have to work today, I guess you can go ahead and do that.”  The man had really been insufferable since the Battle of Blackwater, as if Sandor’s shame had somehow made Meryn a better man.  It didn’t.  Sandor was just about to remind him as much when they were greeted from behind by Ser Loras.

“Good morning, brothers,” he called cheerfully.  Sandor rolled his eyes.

“You taking over?” asked Meryn.

“I am.  Anything I should know about?”

“Not at all, it was a fairly routine night.”  Sandor had to bite back a laugh as Meryn left. 

“What are you doing here?” asked Loras pleasantly.  Bugger him, was he always pleasant? 

“I was just checking in, then Trant started talking shit.”

Loras nodded sympathetically and Sandor had to resist the urge to punch him square in his handsome face.  Before he could say anything, though, two figures emerged and headed for the holdfast.  They were unhurried and natural, as if they were simply out for a stroll, and he noticed that Sansa had lost his old cloak and pulled her own cloak tight around her to cover her dress.  Good girl.      

“Lady Sansa,” Loras called out to her.  “What a surprise to see you up already.” 

Sansa waited till they were closer before she answered.  “I woke early and couldn’t get back to sleep, I thought a walk in the godswood would be lovely.”  Well done, little bird.

“Couldn’t sleep?” Loras asked sensitively.  “I hope you weren’t woken by a nightmare.”  Sandor felt his body tense up and his hands clench into fists.  Woken by a nightmare indeed.

“No, nothing like that,” she responded sweetly.  “Excuse me.”

“Of course, my lady,” replied Loras, ever the gallant knight.  He watched the two women disappear into the holdfast before turning his attention back to Sandor.  “What are you doing today?” he asked brightly.

Sandor squinted his eyes and imagined the boy’s nose exploding under his fist.  It made him smile. 

“Drinking,” he growled.  He left before Loras could ask any more questions.

First to the kitchen for some wine, then back to his room for some sleep.  Seven hells, the sun was barely up and already the day was a disaster.  Well, not a complete disaster.  He did get himself a nice handful this morning.  She may not have liked it but fuck, it was more than enough to fuel his fantasies for a sennight or more. 

“Ser Florian,” slurred a voice from the shadows outside the barracks.  “I’m surprised to see you walking this morning.”

Sandor looked in the direction of the voice and saw the sprawled out body of the drunkard everyone called Old Black Dick.  And he was definitely talking to Sandor.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Me and Cain figured that girl’d wear you out.  Idn’t that right, Cain?” he asked the companion passed out next to him.  “Ugh, or is she the one who did that to yer face?  Better luck next time, dog.”

He absolutely did not want to have this conversation, so he left the two drunkards in the shadows. What a fucking day, barely started and already he wished it was over. No matter, he’d drink his wine, beat his cock into submission, and pass out till tomorrow. With any luck, he’d have some sweet dreams.      

Chapter Text

Shae hadn’t said anything at all since she retrieved her from the Hound’s room, but that didn’t stop her from shooting her angry glances.  Sansa ignored her.  It wasn’t her fault she wound up spending the night with the Hound, it was Shae’s fault, and Sansa wasn’t going to let her forget it.  It was Shae who took her out to the Street of Silk and it was Shae who left her there and it was Shae who really needed to learn to be more responsible.

When they got to the godswood, Sansa shed the Hound's old cloak then knelt and prayed.  Her mind was a jumble of thoughts, none of them coherent, and she didn’t know what to pray for, so she asked for peace and guidance and thanked the gods for keeping her safe during her ill-advised outing. 

Heading back to the holdfast, Shae stopped her and pulled her hair around her shoulders so it was covering her neck.  Why….oh, right.  There must be a mark where his mouth had been, and the memory caused her to blush furiously.  Shae took in her reaction and shook her head, but Sansa pursed her lips and glared back at the woman. 

Ser Loras was holding the bridge, and the Hound was with him, which she had not expected.  Ser Loras was handsome as ever, the Hound was as imposing as ever, and the disparity between the two men was amusingly absurd.  The young knight was gracious and pleasant and so very easy to look at, but when he asked her if she was awoken by a nightmare, she wondered if he knew more than he let on, wondered if the Hound had already told him exactly how she woke up.  If so, she had no intention of giving him the reaction he was looking for, so she told him no and excused herself, never once glancing in the Hound’s direction.  He hadn’t acknowledged her anyway, so why bother with courtesies. 

Once the men were behind them, Shae muttered, “if you were going to spend the night with someone, why couldn’t it be that other one?”  

Sansa hushed her quickly.  The sheer presumption of the woman was astonishing.  By the time they got to her room and closed the door behind them, she turned on the handmaid.

“How dare you try to shame me for anything, this is all your fault,” she hissed.

My fault?” the woman snorted.  “I told you to leave him there, you’re the one who insisted on taking him back to his room.”

“You were the reason I was there in the first place,” Sansa retorted.  This was not her fault, she was not taking the blame for this.

Shae crossed her arms and looked the girl over, and Sansa felt herself withering despite her absolute certainty that none of this was her own fault.  After a while, she threw her hands up and switched tactics.

“Whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong,” the girl said.  “I took him to his room, and he went right to sleep.  Nothing happened.”  Why was that so hard to believe?

“If nothing happened, then what is that mark on your neck?"

Sansa blushed and raised a hand to her neck defensively.  “A misunderstanding,” she snapped, but then she remembered something else.  “Oh, I need something for my hand.”   

Shae looked at the girl’s bruised knuckles and glared at her skeptically before shaking her head.  “He’s so ugly,” the woman finally said.  “And he is not good enough for you.”

Sansa opened her mouth to protest, offended on his behalf, but then she stopped.  Shae was not wrong- he wasn’t good enough for her, by any standards.  And he was ugly.  She was mostly used to his scars by now, but she could never pretend they were anything other than a complete horror- she could see bone for heavens’ sake.   Even if he wasn’t scarred he’d probably not be handsome, not in the traditional sense, and he was always scowling and angry, which only made it worse. 

“That’s unkind,” the girl responded.

Shae rolled her eyes.  “If you want to take a lover, why not take that other one?  He would be good for you.”  Gods, she was just the most awful, insolent handmaid ever, why should Sansa care at all what a handmaid thought.

“I don’t have any lovers, and I will not be taking any lovers,” she spat back.    “Besides, Ser Loras is Kingsguard, so that’s not even an option.”  How she wished it was.  Not as a lover, of course, she could never do such a thing.  But she still mourned the loss of him as a potential husband. 

Shae snorted.  “I assure you the Kingsguard are not as celibate as they vow to be.  Look at your Hound.”

“He never took any vows,” she waved dismissively.  “And he’s not my Hound.”  My little bird…  The memory came on so strong she could practically hear him in the room with her, and she gasped.  Shae raised a suspicious eyebrow.  “Besides, I’m more-or-less promised to Ser Loras’ brother.”

“More-or-less promised?” the woman asked.  “What does that mean?”

“It means that Olenna Tyrell has arranged for me to marry her grandson Willas.  He’s Margaery and Ser Loras’ brother and heir to Highgarden.”  It was none of Shae’s business, but at the same time… it was nice to have someone she could tell.  She’d spent so long bottling up all of her thoughts and feelings that finally being able to let them out felt like an enormous relief.

“That sounds perfect,” the woman said blandly.  “Why aren’t you happier?”

“Well, he’s a cripple…” Sansa started, but that wasn’t even really the reason.

“And he’s not Ser Loras,” finished the handmaid with conviction. 

“No, he’s not,” the girl said softly.  And that was the truth of it.  She still wanted it to be Ser Loras, who so perfectly matched every hero of every song and story she’d ever heard.  Handsome and gallant and good with a sword, high-born and charming… he was everything she’d ever wished for, and now he was unavailable, not claimed by a woman but claimed by the King.  It hardly seemed fair.  Being married to his brother felt less like an honor and more like some sort of cruel jape, as if the gods were saying ‘you came so close, but not close enough.’

Shae moved closer to her.  “You know, Margaery is soon to be queen,” she said conspiratorially. 

Sansa grimaced.  “Yes, I know.”  Of course she knew, how could she not know?

The woman smiled.  “Seems to me that if Ser Loras went to his sister and said that he was in love and didn’t want to be Kingsguard anymore, the Queen would be able to release him from his vows.”

Sansa thought for a moment.  That was probably true, except that Ser Loras would have to ask.  No, he would have to plead.  And the only way he would plead was if he truly was in love.

“He’s not in love,” she said sadly.  “At least, not in love with me.”

“You’re going to have to fix that.  You should make it your goal to have the man fall in love with you.”

“I’ve tried,” she insisted.  “I’ve done everything I know to do, and he’s not interested in me.”

Shae shook her head.  “You have to figure out what works with him, he’s clearly not like the others.  You can’t just get him drunk and take him back to his room.”  She laughed at her jape; Sansa didn’t think it was funny.  “Ser Loras is a confident man, almost too confident.  Some might even say conceited.”

“Shae, that is unkind,” Sansa said firmly.  Where was she going with this?

“I’m just trying to tell you that with a man like that, you have to learn to feed his ego.  Ask him questions about himself, get him talking.  If he loves talking, you have to make him love talking to you, then he’ll start loving to be around you.”

Sansa could see the sense in the woman’s advice, but doubted it would work.  “I’ve tried asking him questions before, and he only got upset with me.”  Quickly, Sansa told the handmaid what had happened when Ser Loras walked her to meet Margaery for lunch that one day, and Shae started laughing at her.  Laughing!

“You can’t ask those kinds of questions!” she said.  “They have to be simpler.  ‘Do you like to read?  What’s your favorite color?’  If he responds to those questions, you can move on to something flirtier.  ‘Do you like to dance?  Are you ticklish?’  You see?”

Now it was Sansa’s turn to laugh.  She never would have asked a man if he was ticklish, but now that it was suggested it seemed like the exact kind of question that was both innocent and titillating at the same time.  She might have to try it, if she ever got the chance.

“I can try that,” Sansa said hesitantly.

“There’s something else you could try, too,” continued the woman.  “Perhaps you could get Ser Loras’ attention by wearing the Highgarden style of dress.”

The Highgarden style of dress.  Oh heavens, she wasn’t sure she could do that.  The dress was rather revealing and tight in all the wrong places.  “I don’t think so.”

Shae shook her head, disappointed.  “I figured as much.  Even Cersei thinks it’s too revealing, she’s been whispering about how the girls all look like whores.”

“The Queen doesn’t like their dresses?” Sansa asked, feeling a sudden change of heart.  “I think they’re quite pretty.”  Hmmm.  If she could get Ser Loras’ attention and annoy Cersei at the same time then it would be worth it.  If she could annoy Joffrey, too, then it would be perfect.  It wasn’t like she didn’t have the skill to make a dress like that, and she definitely had the beauty to wear one…

“Alright, let’s do it,” she said, coy but confident.  “Let’s make Ser Loras mine.”

“Good,” Shae said.  “And you can forget about that other one.”

That other one?  It took a few seconds before Sansa realized what she was saying.  “There’s nothing to forget,” she insisted angrily. 

Later, though, when she was alone, her mind wandered to the previous night, and the things he had said.  The sweet things he had said.  And even though she told herself that it didn’t matter, she wondered if he meant them or if they were the idle words of a drunk man like she initially suspected. 

Come to my bed, little bird.  It was clear what he wanted, and clear who he was asking.  Yet he never pressed the issue, never did anything inappropriate.  He’d kissed her wrist and held her hand and asked her to stay.  All in all, not horrible, not even a little.  He called me beautiful.  She smirked at the remembered compliment, though she didn’t know why.  He probably said that to every woman.  No, not every woman.  Just you.  Only you.    

As much as she insisted to Shae that nothing had happened, she couldn’t hide the truth from herself:  he had put his hands on her, had touched her in a way no man ever had.  She had dreamed this morning of caresses from a lover and warm lips on her neck.  When she finally came fully awake, his hand was on her bare belly and moving upwards.  And…it wasn’t unpleasant.  Unwelcome, certainly, but not unpleasant, not entirely.  Until she told him to stop, and he shoved her away.

He thought she was a whore.  His touch had been soft and loving and warm and confusing, but he thought she was a whore the whole time.  She wasn’t sure if she was grateful he didn’t realize who she was or offended that he forgot she was there.  Maybe a little of both, but mostly the latter.  How could he forget?  He had been so very sweet to her- to her- and he completely forgot all of it.

Not that it mattered. She had a new goal she needed to work on, and couldn’t get distracted by immaterial things.  

Chapter Text

Sandor didn’t have to work until evening, so he was lying in his bed, drinking, and singing a song he had just made up, all on his own.

“Drunk drunk very drunk,
And also desperate for a fuck.”

He laughed at his own cleverness.  See little bird, I can sing love songs.  Maybe he’d sing it for her next time he saw her, though he doubted she’d be impressed; he didn’t have a very good voice, after all.

The song was only half true anyway- he wasn’t that drunk.  He was desperate for a fuck, though, and knew a brothel was the easy fix.  He had the coin, the time, and the desire, but…no, he couldn’t.  The last girl he had touched was her, and he had the unreasonable fear that touching anyone else would somehow erase the memory of how she felt, how she smelled and sounded.  He wouldn’t take the risk.  So he was forced, as usual, to take the problem in hand.

It had been three... two?... definitely two days since he woke to find her in his room.  She said he hadn’t done anything inappropriate, and he believed her, mostly, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something happened.  Something terrible

She acted differently, which was the major clue.  She wasn’t scared of him so much as she was angry with him.  Really angry; she’d slapped him.  He huffed softly and raised a hand to his face.  Hardly anyone had commented on the bruise across his cheek- probably because no one dared comment on his face in the first place- but he knew it was there.  She’d marked him, just like he had marked her with a dash of purple against her milky white skin.  Wonder if it’s still there…

The last time he saw her was at the bridge, two… three?... no, two days ago, smiling up at Ser Loras like he was some sort of god.  She’d been half in love with the boy since the tournament when she first came to King’s Landing.  Now she wasn’t betrothed anymore, she seemed even more enamored with the young knight.  Sandor did not approve, not because he was a bad man, but because he was so… pretty.  Oh, and also, he didn’t really like girls.  Sandor snorted loudly.  How women could be so oblivious to something so obvious he would never understand.

He could still remember the tourney when he saved the boy from Gregor’s fury.  Ser Loras had looked up at him to express his gratitude then flicked his eyes quickly from his face.  That wasn’t surprising- everyone looked away from his face- but the boy hadn’t looked away, he’d looked down his body with a faint glint of interest.  Sandor had found it amusing at the time- no woman had ever looked at him like that- but now the situation was quite different.  He himself was deep in love with Sansa, and she was in love with Ser Loras, who wouldn’t even be alive if Sandor hadn’t saved him.  From Gregor, no less.  The irony wasn’t lost on him.

irony irony irony irony irony irony irony that’s a funny word irony eye roe neeeeeeeee      

Huh.  Taking a deep breath, he tried to refocus.  Was he in love with Sansa?  Had he really gotten himself so fucked up that he could believe something so stupid?  If ever he wanted to torture himself to the point of madness then falling in love with a girl like her would be the perfect way to do it.  Because there was simply zero chance that she’d ever think of him in any way similar. 

Of course… she had spent the night with him.   

He stood abruptly and shook his head, trying to collect his thoughts.  She found me on the Street of Silk, she brought me back here, I went to sleep, nothing happened.  He’d been pondering this for days, but as more time passed he found the story less and less likely.  Any time he saw her after drinking to excess he wound up doing something colossally stupid, so why would this time be any different?  Unless he didn’t know it was her.  Unless he couldn’t do anything stupid.

Bugger it all, I’ve got to stop drinking so much.  As much as he thoroughly enjoyed getting sloppy drunk, it was starting to become a problem, even he knew that.  And now he’d gone an entire night where he couldn’t remember a damn thing.  Worse, it was a night he had spent with her.  Why couldn’t he remember and what could he do about it?  Only one solution presented itself, but not one he liked.

Less wine, less wine, less wine, oh, fuck it, where’s my wine?

Sandor stepped out of the barracks, wineskin in hand, mind focused on the task he’d given himself.  And he really did not want to do it. 

“Ser Florian,” called Cain, and Old Black Dick echoed the greeting before they both erupted in lazy laughter.  Two days the drunkards had been taunting him, calling him Ser Florian and making reference to “that girl.”  Under any other circumstances he would have simply ignored them- he was not one to give in quickly to insults, after all.  But there was nothing normal about these circumstances- they’d seen Sansa wandering the streets, with him, and he had to know what they knew.  And so, even though he really didn’t want to, he found himself approaching the men in the shadows.

He knelt down in front of them and glared.  “Why are you calling me that?”

“We saw you with your Jonquil,” slurred Cain.

“I’m no knight and I’m no fool,” Sandor retorted.

“You were both to your Jonquil,” teased Dick and Cain laughed.  “You were all over her.  All the way from the Street of Silk back here.”

“You followed me?” he sneered.  “Why?”

“Why did we do that?” asked Dick to Cain.

“Oh, oh…I remember,” Cain said eagerly.  “He asked her to marry him.”  Fuck.

“That’s right!” agreed Old Black Dick.  “Wait, no.  That was at the end.  It started when you said she smelled good.  Only you said it nicer, and prettier, I just can’t remember all the words, but they were nice.”

“Really nice,” piped in Cain.  “And you said you should run away together.”

“And you’d make her happy,” added Dick.

“And give her babies,” shouted Cain, snapping his fingers excitedly.  “That was the best one, you told her you’d give her lots of babies and she just laughed like she thought it was a great idea.”

“You told her not to marry a boy cause she needed a man like you.  That was good, she seemed to really like that.”

“Oh, and you called her beautiful, a lot.”

“The most beautiful girl…”

“...in allllll of Westeros,” they finished in unison, then they both hit their hands on the wall and erupted in laughter.

Sandor eyed the two drunkards in front of him, then looked up and down the street nonchalantly.  Too many witnesses; he couldn’t kill the men.  He’d have to silence them another way.

He pulled his dagger from its sheath and started nonchalantly inspecting it, then gave the men a pointed look.  Their laughter died quickly and they stared at the knife in his hand with wide, fearful eyes.  Good.    “A man doesn’t like to hear about his private affairs out in the streets.  Much prefer to keep that kind of shit…private.  Think you two can keep your cunt mouths shut?” 

The men nodded vigorously.  Sandor stood up and gave them a wicked grin before walking away; they wouldn’t talk, of that much he was certain.  Yes, he really needed to stop drinking so much; he didn’t want to wind up like those two assholes.

Alright, so… now he knew.  He had found her on the Street of Silk, blind to her true identity, said a few nice things to her, and she willingly went with him to his room.  He never thought she would fall for such a thing, much less from him, but there it was.  The thought made him….nervous.  If she was willing to go with him, she would be willing to go with anyone.  What did she think a man meant when he asked a woman to go to his room?  That was so unbelievably naïve!

She said nothing happened and he believed her, but she didn’t seem to understand that something could have happened.  If he hadn’t been too drunk to function things could have gone terribly wrong.  And then where would she be?  Destroyed.  Where would he be?  Dead. 

If she couldn’t keep herself out of trouble, she’d have to learn to fight.  And he knew just the person to teach her.

Chapter Text

Three days had passed since Sansa had decided on seducing Ser Loras, three days she had waited for the chance to talk to him, but he had never escorted her, not once.  So Sansa had decided to take matters into her own hands and was going down to the training yard today.  Shae helped her pick out an appropriately pretty dress and did her hair to look casually beautiful. 

She was nervous about going by herself, but Shae insisted, said men were more likely to approach women when they were alone.  And she most certainly wanted to be approached.  So when she was finally ready, she headed down to the training yard intent on earning a husband.

Ser Loras was sparring with Ser Osney, and he was amazing, graceful and beautiful even while fighting.  When they were done, he pulled his helm off and sweaty curls tumbled around his face.  He may have been filthy but he was still perfect.  Really, no one could hope to compete with the man, he was exactly what a knight should be.

“Good day, Lady Sansa.”  Sansa turned to see Ser Deckard passing by, a smile on his lips. 

“Good day, Ser Deckard,” she responded politely as he made his way to the training yard, and Sansa looked him over as if seeing him for the first time.  The man wasn’t awful to look at, she thought, and he always used his courtesies.  He’d probably make a good husband as well.  Actually, now that she thought about it, there were a number of knights who would make good husbands- one of the Kettleblacks, for example- if only they were a little more high-born.  No, Ser Loras was still the best choice for her, and if not him it would have to be Willas.

“Shopping?” a familiar voice rasped behind her, and her back straightened in defense. 

She glared over her shoulder at him.  “Certainly not,” she snapped.   

He took a few steps till he was standing beside her.  “May I escort you to the godswood, Lady Sansa?”

“I wasn’t going to the…” she started, confused, but then she saw his face, his expression that said don’t-be- stupid, and she pursed her lips in annoyance and turned away.  “No, thank you.”

There was a moment of quiet before he spoke again.  “I need to talk to you,” he growled low. 

“My lady mother advised that I should never be alone with a strange man,” she responded sanctimoniously.

“Too late for that,” he muttered.  “Now get your arse to the godswood.”  Her only answer was stony silence- surely he would leave if she ignored him.  But instead he raised his voice and turned to face the training yard.  “Do you still have my mark on your neck, Lady Sansa?”

Her eyes went wide and she cast them about quickly to see if anyone was around.  Why would he bring that up now?  And why was he talking so loud?

“Do you remember when I gave it to you?  You were in my bed…”  Oh, gods, what was he doing?  Could people hear him?  Were people watching?

“I had a hand on your teat,” he continued.  “That was on top of your dress, I didn’t get under your dress till later.  Remember?”

She tried to stay calm, not wanting to give in to his juvenile taunts.  Was it her imagination or were some of the knights looking at them?

“You have the smoothest skin…”

“I would love an escort to the godswood,” she hissed sarcastically, and gave him the fakest smile she could muster.

She turned on her heel towards the godswood, him right behind her, and she couldn’t help but wonder if he was intentionally trying to interfere with her and Ser Loras. 

“You’ve made a lot of bad decisions lately, little bird.”

She rolled her eyes.  Why did he have to be so awful all the time?

“You can’t follow a man back to his room just because he says nice things to you.”

What?  She peeked back at him but couldn’t see his eyes.  He was being so unbelievably dreadful- how dare he bring up the mistakes she made in front of everyone then lecture her on them.  And to lecture her on the parts he didn’t even remember?  After behaving so horribly?  That was so uncalled for.  He didn’t say another word the rest of the time, so when they got to the godswood she turned on him angrily.

“You don’t remember.”

He took a deep breath.  “I know what I’m talking about,” he responded cryptically.

“But you don’t remember,” she insisted.  “Don’t pretend you remember when you clearly don’t.”

He narrowed his eyes at her in challenge but she wouldn’t look away.  “It doesn’t matter if I remember, you never should have been there.  Surely you know that.”  He was annoyed with her, which was absurd, because she hadn’t done anything wrong- he was the one who made the bad decisions and he was the one who just announced them out in the open.  After a moment he cleared his throat and continued.  “You need to learn to defend yourself.”  He looked down nervously and mumbled, “I have something for you.”

That got her attention.  Something for her?  “Really?” 

He still looked nervous when he reached to his belt, pulled out a dagger, and handed it to her.  She took it cautiously, curiously, and pulled the dagger from its sheath, turning it over to see it from every angle.

“It’s pretty,” she said with a smile.

He snorted.  “It’s not pretty, it’s deadly.  I’m going to teach you how to use it.”

She looked at him sharply.  “Right now?”  Surely he didn’t mean right now.  She was trying to get a husband right now!

“Why not?” he responded.  “Once you know the basics you can practice when no one is around.”

She did not like this one bit, just the thought of having to use a dagger in self-defense was an affront to her senses.  She was a high-born lady, surrounded by knights; she should be safe at all times, not worried at all times.  But she didn’t really want to argue with him anymore, so when he sat on one of the benches she reluctantly moved to stand in front of him with an exaggerated sigh.  Now that he was sitting they were nearly eye-to-eye, though he was still taller than her.

He made her draw it, repeatedly, and hold it in different ways, complaining constantly about her 'soft hands' and 'delicate fingers' as if those were insults.  In truth, she was barely trying.  The dagger was simple enough, just a shiny blade sharpened on both edges and a plain hilt wrapped in leather.  Not like the ornate one her father had, or Robb or Jon.  It was bigger, too.  Nothing fancy, but it had an understated elegance to it that made it rather beautiful.  Or so she would have thought, if it was in someone else’s hands.

“No, your thumb is in the wrong place again, you’ll drop it before you can even break skin.”

“I don’t want to break skin,” she protested, but he just snorted at her and moved her thumb.  “I don’t see why this is necessary.”

“After everything you’ve been through, you still don’t see why this is necessary,” he mocked her.  “Don’t be stupid.”  She bristled at that, but didn’t fight him when he moved her hand- again- into the correct position.  “Surely you’ve seen the way men look at you.”

“The way men look at me?”

“Like they want to fuck you,” he growled.  “Tell me you’re not so daft that you never noticed.  Meryn, Boros, Littlefinger…”

“Yes, I’ve noticed the way they look at me,” she said quietly.  “You look at me that way, too.”

If she thought he would respond to her challenge, she was quickly proven wrong.  There were no confirmations, no denials; he was so silent and so still that she could almost forget he was there.  She stared down at the shiny metal in her hand and made the decision to change the subject.

“What do I do if I’m attacked?”

He sounded almost relieved to get back to the blade.  “You’re only going to get one chance to do it right, cause as soon he knows you’re armed you’ll be done for.  Best place to kill a man is through the heart.  Right here.”  He patted himself in the chest where his heart was.

“What if he’s wearing armor?”

“Go for the neck.  Almost as good as the heart.  Probably even better for you.”

“What if he’s wearing a gorget?”

“Eyes.”

“What if she’s a girl lying helplessly in her bed?”

She had no idea why she was picking fights with him, but she supposed she wanted him to know that she had not forgotten.  She also wanted him to know she wasn’t afraid of him, not any more.  Something had shifted between them during their night together- she couldn’t say exactly what it was or even what caused it, but something was different.  Besides- he had picked a fight to begin with; it wasn’t her fault he was no longer fighting back. 

“Is this the same knife?”  The blade lay uselessly in her hand; she wasn’t even bothering to hold it correctly.  And still there was no answer.  “Did you mean it?”  Again, the only sounds were the rustling leaves.  “I just don’t understand.  I don’t know how you could say the things you said, then threaten to kill me.” 

Her voice was steady and strong, and didn’t betray any of the pain she was feeling.  And still, she had the sensation that she was completely alone.  She didn’t have to look at him to know that he wasn’t looking at her, that she had shamed him, that he would never answer her questions. 

The lesson now officially over, she sheathed the dagger and held it stupidly in both hands.  “Can I go back to my room now?” she asked quietly.

“Back to the training yard, you mean?”  Great, now he wants to fight.

“I’d like to go back to my room,” she said firmly.  “But even if I did want to go to the training yard, I don’t see how that’s any concern of yours.”

At first he didn’t respond, and she nearly turned and left on her own.  But after several heartbeats he took a deep breath and spoke.  “You need to have that on you at all times.”

“At all times?” she echoed, confused.  “How?” 

He shook his head.  “You need to attach it to some part of your body.”

“How?” she asked again, starting to get annoyed.  “Which part?”

He shook his head again.  “You’re going to have to figure it out on your own.”

What?” she hissed, completely baffled.  “I can’t figure that out, why can’t you just tell me?”

But still he shook his head.  What was wrong with him? 

Tell me,” she insisted.

“I can’t!” he practically yelled.  “It has to be a surprise.  No one can know where it’s coming from or they can expect it and block it.  I can’t tell you where to put it because I can’t know.  Do you understand what I’m saying?”

She did.  He was always telling her not to trust anyone, not to trust him, but now she knew he didn’t trust himself.  And he was giving her the means to protect herself from any would-be assailants.  Including him. 

“I understand,” she said quietly before raising her voice.  “I understand you’re being ridiculous!”

The look he gave her was pure fury but she did not look away.  He was so very wrong and there was no way she was letting him win this argument.

“Nothing happened,” she told him, for what felt like the hundredth time.  “I don’t know why you won’t believe me.”

“Just because I was too drunk to do anything doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have,” he snarled at her.  “I didn’t even know who you were.”

“You did know who I was, and you weren’t too drunk to do anything, you just chose not to.”  Because I wouldn’t let you, she added silently, but she didn’t really need to bring that up, did she?  “And even in the morning when you weren’t drunk anymore and you thought I was a…a whore, you still stopped when I told you to.”

“Well, that’s because you were a terrible a whore,” he sneered.

Her mouth dropped open in indignation but then his words replayed in her mind and she snapped it shut, confused.  And then she started laughing, which he didn’t seem to appreciate.

“A terrible whore?” she repeated.  “I don’t know if I should feel offended or flattered.”

He laughed then, a loud bark followed by a deep chuckle, and she laughed along with him, glad to have broken the terrible mood he’d been in.  When their laughter finally died down she noticed that his expression had softened.  “A terrible whore…” he murmured, almost affectionately.  His eyes were wandering over her, and she wondered if he was thinking about that morning like she was.

“I don’t know why you’re so insistent that I shouldn’t trust you, you’ve never done anything to hurt me.”

“That’s a lie and you know it,” he growled angrily.

It was a lie, and she did know it, but heavens’ help her she was not going to let him win.  Not when he was so very wrong. 

“I’m still here, though, aren’t I?” she said.  “Still alive, still a maiden, still unbroken.  None of that would be true if it wasn’t for you.”

She hadn’t meant to say that, the words had simply slipped out when she opened her mouth.  But now that it was said she was surprised to realize it was true.  And yes, it was also true that he had said and done some pretty awful things to her, but when she had needed an ally, a hero, a true knight to save her, he had always been the one.  The only one.      

Her head was suddenly swimming with memories, memories of him.  When he stopped her from pushing Joffrey off the battlement, when he saved her from the mob, when he lied to the king about that stupid nameday superstition.  It was his voice that spoke up when she was stripped and beaten, and it was his cloak that covered her.  He found her out of her room in the middle of the night but never told anyone, and he’d offered to take her home and to keep her safe.  And so many other times, little times, when just his presence had made things a little easier.  How had she never seen it before? 

“I’d like to go back to my room now,” she blurted.  He stood up as she turned to walk away.

She made her way back to her room, the dagger tucked up under one sleeve, and she started to think about the tourney so long ago, when he had walked her back to her room and told her about his brother.  She was the only one he had ever told, the only one who knew.  He had trusted her, and she had not betrayed that trust.  Surely she could trust him, too, and believe that he would not betray her.      

When they reached her room he opened the door for her and she slipped inside with a soft “thank you.”  She caught his eye before he left, and he gave her a small nod as he shut the door.

She’d almost forgotten why she’d ever left her room earlier, until she turned to see Shae’s hopeful expression.  “How’d it go?” the woman asked.

“Not well,” Sansa replied.  “He never even looked at me.”  She said no more.  What could she say?  That she’d left the training yard and spent the rest of the afternoon with the Hound?  Shae would never understand.  She barely understood it herself. 

Chapter Text

Seducing Ser Loras was starting to feel impossible, not just because of his profound lack of interest in her but because she never saw him.  How was she supposed to get him talking to her if she never ever saw him?   

Today was going to be different, though, she could just feel it.  She had another lunch date with Margaery, and with any luck he’d be escorting her.  She had her mental list of conversation topics, she had a beautiful gown, and she had her pretty face; he didn’t stand a chance.

She heard a knock at her door and waited a few moments before opening it.  It was him.

“Oh, sorry Ser Loras, I was so caught up in my book I hardly noticed you knocking,” she said politely, holding up her book of poetry.  To her relief, he smiled at her- a genuine smile, she noticed.  Quickly she dropped the book on the table and left her room, taking the arm he offered to lead her to Margaery.

“Do you like to read, Ser Loras?” she asked casually.

“Why yes, I love to read,” he responded amicably.  “I’ve been reading a book on hedge knights from the turn of the century.  It’s amazing what some men must endure to succeed.”

For the rest of the walk to lunch he regaled her with stories of hedge knights, landed knights, the trials of peasants and other low-borns seeking glory.  Or something like that, in truth she was barely listening.  Instead she focused on his beautiful features, the timbre of his voice, the way his lips moved when he spoke.  He was walking slower than usual, she noticed, which she took as a good sign.  When they reached their destination she thanked him for his pleasant company and he had replied in kind.

She hardly paid attention to the conversation at lunch, letting the women around her carry on while she lost herself in the memory of her walk with Loras.  It had worked!  He loved talking to her!  She tried to think of what she could ask him for their return walk, and then her mind skipped ahead to imagining their wedding, their children, their home together.  Oh dear, she was blushing.  And getting way too ahead of herself, it was only one conversation!

When lunch was over, she moved quickly to the door and came face to face with the angry eyes of the Hound and she looked around the hallway, puzzled.  It took her a few seconds to realize that he was there for her, and that Ser Loras would not be escorting her.  She couldn’t help her look of disappointment.

“Expecting someone else?” he rasped bitterly.

She looked at him with open exasperation- not only was he interfering with her wooing of Ser Loras he was mocking her for it, too.  She breezed past him, not even trying to hide her irritation, and he fell in behind her.  I thought we were beyond this.  But then she thought about it a bit more, and she realized they were beyond this- she had offended him with her reaction; he wasn’t the one being mean, she was.  Where are your courtesies, Sansa?

Slowly she came to a halt, then turned and stepped towards him till she was standing next to him and took his arm.  He did not offer- in fact, he had never offered his arm- but she took it anyway and dared him to stop her.  He glared down at her suspiciously, but she only smiled and tugged at his arm to urge him to walk.

The silence was unbearable.  It’s not that silence was unusual with him, but normally he was behind her and she could forget he was even there.  Now they were side by side, and worse, she had taken his left arm and had to look up to see the ruined side of his face.  And it was so terribly awkward; she had to do something!

“Do you like to read?” she asked timidly, peering up at him.

He looked around a bit before squinting at her.  “Is that your way of asking if I know how to read?”

She was surprised.  “It wasn’t, but now that you mention it…”

He breathed deeply before deciding to answer her question, clearly annoyed.  “Yes, I know how to read.   No, I don’t really like it that much.”

“Do you know how to dance?”

“Not a step.”

“Are you ticklish?”

“I doubt it.”

“What’s your favorite color?”

“What the fuck are you doing?” he growled at her.

“Just…talking,” she grumbled.  It didn’t seem like such a terrible idea but apparently he disagreed.  They lapsed back into silence and she started regretting ever taking his arm in the first place.

“I like brown,” he offered after a while, and her heart leapt at the tiny victory.

“Brown?” she wrinkled her nose.  “That’s barely a color.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.  Again.”

He looked down at her then, and she was surprised to see the smile in his eyes, and all she could do was blink in wonder.  She remembered the first time she saw those eyes, the anger that boiled in them and never seemed to cease.  She used to hate looking at him back then, not because of his scars but because she could see the hatred glinting back at her and she couldn’t bear it.  He had been more relaxed lately, and gradually the anger seeped out of him, but still he only ever looked at her with annoyance, eyes narrowed into slits.  And now his eyes were wide open to her, his gray looking deep into her blue, and she didn’t know what to think about it. 

“How about you?”

“What?” she asked, snapping back from her thoughts.

“Your favorite color?” he asked, almost mocking.

Gray.  Steel.  Silver.  Slate.  Smoke.

“I… don’t have one.”

He snorted and rolled his eyes, up and away from her, and she dropped her own gaze down to the ground in front of them.

Completely unbidden, she wondered which color eyes their children would have; he had promised her lots of beautiful babies, after all.  Don’t be stupid, her brain shrieked at her, but it was too late; she’d already imagined a keep full of kids, black hair and auburn, silver eyes and Tully blue.  The boys would be big, like him, and strong, and the girls would all have milk-white skin and slender frames, like her. 

With our luck we’d have boys that looked like me and girls that looked like him.  She laughed at her own little jape.

“What’s funny?”

She looked up and took a breath to tell him but choked on the words.  Talking about babies was too close to talking about…making babies.  And she didn’t want to talk about that with him, not now, not ever.  She shook her head and looked away.

“You won’t find it so funny.”

“Tell me anyway.”

She looked up at him again.  “Maybe if you remembered I would tell you.  But you don’t, so there’s no point.  You won’t understand.”

“So explain it to me.”  The corner of his mouth twitched and she could tell he was amused.

She laughed a little.  “No, I don’t think so.” 

“Come now,” he teased.  “Tell me something… anything that happened.  Maybe it’ll help me remember the rest.”  She thought about it, really thought, but nearly all of it was too embarrassing to bring up.  And then she remembered...

“I told you that you couldn’t sleep in the street because that would be improper and you said ‘I got something improper for you.’”

She covered her mouth with her free hand and started giggling, feeling the blush in her ears and neck, startled by her own daring in saying such a thing.  He looked down at her with a smirk.  “That’s not even funny.”

“I know!” she agreed, but couldn’t stop giggling. 

They had reached her room by then and she dropped her hand from his arm.  “What else?” he pressed, moving to stand in front of her.

What else?  So much else, but what could she say?

“I had to take your boots off for you because you couldn’t figure out how to work them.”

He chuckled softly, his mouth raised in what might have been a smile, and she wondered briefly if the burned side of his lips felt the same as the unburned side.  She dropped her eyes quickly before he could see her blush. 

This is …different.  He hadn’t made a move to open the door for her, and she hadn’t even thought about asking him to, though she couldn’t say why, any more than she could say why she felt so nervous.  They just stood in the hallway facing each other until she finally broke the silence.  “I’m sure you could learn to dance if you wanted to.”

“I don’t want to learn how to dance,” he said quietly with a shake of his head.

“I didn’t want to learn how to use a dagger,” she countered, meeting his eyes with a sly smile.

He raised his one good eyebrow at her.  “Do you have it on you, little bird?”

She didn’t have it on her, but hated to admit it, hated to admit that the softness of his voice was making her skin tingle.  Like his breath on my neck.  She smiled without looking at him.  “I’m not supposed to tell you, remember?” she answered, perhaps a little too breathlessly.

“Good girl,” he rasped and reached out to open her door. 

For the second time in a sennight he was leaving her in her room baffled and distracted, and for the second time Shae was waiting to ask how things had gone with Ser Loras.  This time, though, she had some good news for her.

“I asked him if he likes to read, and it worked!” she announced triumphantly.  She told Shae all about her successful walk to lunch, the return walk almost forgotten. 

Chapter Text

Shae was already late when she breezed into her room with not one but two flagons of wine.  “Would you like a drink, milady?”

“Um…no.”  Sansa was not in the habit of drinking wine, and Shae knew that, so the question was odd.

Shae shrugged and moved to start getting Sansa ready for bed.  After she’d changed into her sleep shift, the handmaid dutifully brushed out her long auburn hair, but Sansa could tell something was amiss.  Watching the woman in the mirror, she noticed her eyes were red and her face was pale and drawn.

“Shae…” Sansa started quietly.  “What’s wrong?”

The woman slowed her movements briefly but then started again.  “Nothing.”

Sansa turned to her quickly.  “Shae, what’s wrong?”

The woman dropped the hairbrush to her side and looked away with a quivering lip.  Then she moved to Sansa’s bed and sat down, opening her mouth a few times as if she wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. 

“I know a lot of your secrets, my lady.”

Sansa recoiled.  What did that mean?  Had she told someone?

“I know you worry that I will betray you, so …perhaps I can tell you one of my secrets and that will make you feel better.” 

Sansa stood up and moved to sit by the woman on the bed, taking her hand.  “Alright.”

Shae took a shaky breath and exhaled slowly.  “Tyrion.”  Not ‘Tyrion Lannister’, not ‘Lord Tyrion’, not even ‘the Imp.’  Just... 'Tyrion.'  And then she knew.

“Oh Shae…” she said softly and pulled the woman in for a hug.  “I’m so sorry.”

Tyrion had been gravely injured during the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and had languished in bed since then, never waking.  This afternoon he had passed away.  No one seemed to be mourning him- not the Queen, not the King, certainly not any of the Tyrells.  No one but Shae.

“He said no one could know,” she cried.  “He said if Cersei found out she’d have me raped or beaten or killed.  Probably all three.  He was such a good man.  So smart, so funny, so honorable.” 

Sansa could hardly argue with that.  As far as Lannisters went, Tyrion was by far her favorite.  He’d always spoken kindly to her, and seemed to genuinely have her best interests at heart; losing him was definitely losing an ally.  She rubbed Shae’s back until the woman calmed down, then she went to her table and poured them each some wine before returning to the bed.

“To Tyrion,” Sansa said, raising her cup.

“To Tyrion,” the woman echoed.  “My lion.” 

The wine was strong and sweet and Sansa really didn’t like it, but she drank it down anyway.  When it was gone, Shae took her cup and refilled it.  “Tonight we honor Tyrion Lannister in the only way he would approve of,” she said, raising her cup again.  “By getting drunk.”

Sansa laughed and raised her cup to hers.  “To Tyrion,” she giggled.

And so they sat on Sansa’s bed, sipping at the wine while Shae told her the story of how she met Tyrion and how she came to King’s Landing.  It really wasn’t a surprise to find out that Shae had never been a handmaid before, now that it was pointed out to her.  But she was glad she was her handmaid now and told her so. 

Sansa’s wine was gone so she stood to get more but the room spun and she nearly fell over.  The flagon was empty and she reached for the other one, but it was also empty.  “We’re out of wine,” she complained.

“We should go get more,” Shae responded and Sansa giggled.

“You mean we should sneak out again?”  If she had been sober she would know that was a bad idea.  But she wasn’t sober, and she really wanted to leave.

“Just to get wine,” the woman answered.  “Or…I guess we could wander again.  That was fun, right?”

“Right!” Sansa shrieked and Shae shushed her.

“But I don’t have a dress for you, and if I go get one this late someone will notice.”

“So give me that one,” Sansa said logically, pointing at the dress the woman wore.

Shae squinted.  “But what will I wear?”

“You can wear one of my dresses,” Sansa suggested.  “You can be me and I’ll be you.”

“Right!” the woman yelled, and they erupted in giggles and shushed each other.

So Shae shrugged out of her uniform and Sansa shrugged out of her sleep shift as they executed their ill-conceived plan.  The handmaid picked a simple rough-spun dress that tied in the front but Sansa shook her head and insisted that she wear something regal.  So she picked an elaborate velvet dress that had been a gift from Cersei and Sansa helped her get into it.  Then she sat at the mirror while Sansa did her hair; she was terrible at it, but Shae just laughed and told her she was doing wonderfully

When she was done, the two women stood and pointed at each other, laughing madly while trying to keep the noise to a minimum.

“You look beautiful, milady,” Sansa slurred.

“Why, thank you kindly,” Shae curtseyed grandly and batted her eyelashes.

They grabbed at each other for support and giggled like a couple of little girls, then slowly stumbled over to the door.  “Who holds the bridge?” Sansa asked.

“Your Hound.”

Sansa gasped excitedly.  “He’ll let us out!”

“You think so?”  Shae wasn’t so sure.

“Of course,” the girl insisted, eyes wide and twinkling.  “And he won’t tell anyone.”

They looked each other over one more time and held each other’s hands as they threw open the door, then giggling and whispering, they fumbled their way out of the holdfast.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

He heard the whispering first, then the shuffling of feet.  Whoever it was, they were moving slowly and noisily.  Emerging from the shadows was a lady he’d never seen before, a little too over-dressed for a midnight walk, and holding tightly to the young handmaiden she had with her.  When they noticed him, they shushed each other- loudly- and started giggling.  It wasn’t until they got closer that he figured out what was going on.

“What the fuck are you two doing?” he asked blandly.

The two women giggled and grabbed at each other, but finally pulled themselves together enough to answer.  “We’re going to the godswood,” the older woman began, but broke into laughter.  “To pray for our king.”  They both started giggling then, still shushing each other, still stumbling. 

He sighed in annoyance at their merriment and rolled his eyes skywardSansa was dressed like a handmaiden again, and her handmaid- Shae?- was dressed like a lady.  He shook his head and gave Sansa a stern look.  “You need to get back to your room, little bird.”

“Oh, no no no no no…” she said, waving her hand and shaking her head so hard he thought she might shake it off her body.  “I am not your little bird.  She is,” she insisted, pointing to Shae who curtseyed badly.  “Now if you’ll excuuuuuuse me, I need to take my lady to get more wine.  I mean…to the godswood.”  

“I’m not letting you leave.” 

“Why not?” she whined.  “We’re just trying to honor Tyrion.”  Shae laughed at her and she laughed back, but Sandor just shook his head, trying hard to hide his amusement.

“What does that mean?” 

“Lord Tyrion Lannister,” Sansa announced dramatically.  “We’re honoring him in the only way he would approve of:  by getting drunk.”

“If you wanted to honor him properly you’d get fucked,” he muttered.

Sansa gasped in horror at his response but Shae nodded in agreement.  “That’s true, the man did enjoy a good fuck,” she said wistfully.

“Shae,” Sansa hissed and swatted at her.  “I mean…Lady Sansa, that is inappropriate.”

“Everything about that man was inappropriate,” the woman retorted; Sandor raised an eyebrow.  “You know, I think I would like to honor him properly.”  Sansa’s mouth opened in shock, scandalized, but Shae pulled at her.  “Come.”

Sandor held up a hand.  “She’s not leaving,” he said to the handmaid- the real handmaid.  

“Fine,” she clipped, dropping Sansa’s arm and walking past him.

“Shae,” Sansa protested.

“Sorry,” the woman said, looking back.  “But I’m in mourning.”  Then she turned and hurried away.

Sansa watched her go before snapping her head towards him and glaring.  “You ruined my fun,” she pouted.

“You go wandering out there drunk and defenseless, you won’t be having any fun.”

She was stumbling around in circles as if she couldn’t hold herself still.  “Pffft.  You always say I’m in danger,” she slurred.  “But the only time I ever get hurt is when I’m surrounded by Kingsguard.” 

That was a fair point, actually, but no way in all seven hells could he let her know it.  “You can’t get drunk and wander the streets dressed like that.  Honestly, girl, what are you thinking?”

“What are you thinking?” she shot back petulantly. 

He looked her over completely.  “I’m thinking I have a drunk little bird on my hands and can’t even take her back to my room to enjoy her properly.”   

She gasped in mock indignation.  “I know what that means, you dirty man.  Is this what you do?”  She whirled around, looking wildly to her left and right.  “You just stand here?  For hours?  It’s so boring!”

“Sure is,” he replied.  “Now get back to your room.”

“But I just got out,” she whined.

“And now you’ll go back in,” he said with forced patience. 

She pouted a little more but made no move to leave, then she flashed him a wide smile.  “How about instead, I teach you to dance?”

“I don’t want to learn to dance,” he grumbled.  “How about instead, you tell me all about that night I forgot?”

“No, I don’t think so,” she sang up to him with glassy eyes.  “If you still don’t remember, then I’m not telling you.”

“Alright, how about if you tell me while we dance?” 

So he took her hand and dropped his other to her waist and held her like they were dancing and she hesitantly set her hand on his shoulder.  He didn’t actually move, but apparently it was enough to fool her because she started talking.

“Do you call everyone little bird?” she asked quietly, turning sparkling eyes up to meet his.  And she was so sweet and so earnest that he almost felt bad about looking down her dress.  Almost.

“You’re the only little bird I know,” he mumbled, mesmerized by the curves he could see dipping below her neckline.

She nodded and looked away.  “When I found you, and I walked you back to your room, you were being so nice to me I thought you must not know who I was.  But you kept calling me little bird, so then I thought …you must call everyone that.”  She laughed to herself and took a deep breath, her chest swelling temptingly, and Sandor was so glad she wasn’t looking at him.  “And it’s funny, really, because you were so sure you’d done something bad, but the truth is- that was the nicest you’ve ever been to me.”  She pressed her lips together and absent-mindedly tilted her head back, and he tilted his head forward to see more.

“I guess that’s why you’re not afraid of me now,” he murmured, his eyes glancing over her jaw, down the smooth pale skin of her neck, over her collar bones, down down down...

“How could I be after you said so many nice things?  Am I going to remember this tomorrow?”

He huffed at her abrupt change of subject.  “Probably.”

She nodded her head a little, and they stood in silence for a few moments before she pulled away.  “There.  I told you you could learn to dance if you wanted to,” she said softly even though he hadn’t actually danced a single step.  “I didn’t even mind that you were looking down my dress.”

He froze for just a heartbeat, startled by her words, and she giggled at his stunned expression.  And after a few seconds he started laughing, too.  “If I’d known that was part of it, I would have agreed to dance a long time ago.”  She had one hand at her mouth and was probably blushing, but she was still laughing like she was proud of herself.  “When’s the next lesson?”

“I think one lesson is all you can handle,” she answered playfully, eyes twinkling.  “Were you even listening to me?”

“Yes, I was listening,” he mumbled.  He couldn’t look at her anymore, not with her looking at him like that.  “So… your handmaid and the Imp?”

She sighed deeply and nodded.  “I didn’t know.  She told me just a little while ago.  She was pretty upset, and then we started drinking.”  Her brow furrowed and she wrinkled her nose.  “I was alright with getting drunk to honor his memory, but I will not be getting fucked to honor his memory.  I didn’t like him that much.”

His bark of laughter rang out in the quiet of the night and she slapped a hand over her mouth and giggled.  That was probably the first time in her entire life she had ever cursed, and her reaction was beyond adorable.

“If getting drunk and getting fucked is how you honor the Imp then I’ve been honoring the man most of my life,” he muttered, and she dropped her head and looked away with a shy smile.  “Now fly back to your cage, little bird, before you get into trouble.”

“How much trouble could I get in standing on a bridge?” she protested.

“Fly away before I show you,” he threatened.  She pressed her lips together and gave him a wounded look, then turned to stumble away into the shadows.

What the fuck is wrong with me?  He wasn’t supposed to be distracted at his job, stomach tied up into knots and heart aching that she had to go; and yet here he was, with his mind swirling around like some sort of love-sick little girl.

But …she’d been so different lately.  She wasn’t scared of him, which was new- sweet girl like her should be scared witless, but she wasn’t, not anymore.  Instead she acted annoyed with him, which he figured was fair since he always acted annoyed with her, too.  And she was quick to argue with him, which was actually rather fun, more fun than scaring her, because she would look right in his eyes instead of looking away.  But then, when they weren’t arguing she would just talk to him, chirping up at his ugly face as if there were nothing remarkable about his appearance at all, and that was... confusing. 

Of course, he’d been different lately, too- biting his tongue instead of lashing out, drinking less, avoiding the brothels...  It hadn’t been that long ago that he could barely find satisfaction in the frantic rutting of a whore, but now?  Now the only things that excited him were hushed conversations in deserted hallways, plotting ways to see her, stealing peeks down her dress.  No, not stealing- she had let him look, but what did that mean?  She was drunk, for probably her first time ever, and feeling a little bold.  It could have been anyone looking down her dress and she still would have let him.  Did that bother him?  It shouldn’t, he knew, he should take whatever he could get and not question it. 

She was just lucky that he was on the bridge, he told himself, cause if he’d come across her drunk in a dark and secluded hallway then he would not be sending her away.  She might be an innocent girl, but he was not an honorable man; he’d make use of her inebriated state and take whatever he could from her, whether she willed it or not.

Liar.  He shook the thoughts from his head and tried to think about something else.          

Chapter Text

There was to be a ball to celebrate Joffrey’s latest betrothal, and Sansa was elated.  It seemed nothing exciting ever happened to her, nothing she could look forward to, and now there would be a ball- a chance to dress up and eat delicious food, dance with handsome men and giggle with other ladies. 

She decided on a blue velvet gown, the same brilliant blue as her eyes and studded with silver thread all over, cut so it fell off her shoulders.  Shae curled her hair for her so that it cascaded down her back in large auburn waves, then added gemstones throughout so that her hair sparkled as much as her dress did.  After powdering and adding a smear of color to her lips and cheeks, she smudged a tiny bit of dark gray shadow right along her lash line.  Shae told her she looked stunning.

The knights of the keep must have agreed, because she received a lot of attention that night.  Not only were men constantly offering to bring her wine or small treats, she was also never short a dance partner.  Ser Loras asked her to dance- three times- and she was so proud and happy that she’d managed to get so much of his time.  He was a wonderful dancer, and he moved her easily around the floor, and yet… it seemed that each time she found herself in his arms her mind would wander to almost anything else.  She still felt the thrill of victory, but past that she really didn’t feel anything at all.

After her final dance with Ser Osmund, she had to beg off another dance from Ser Deckard, insisting that she was exhausted and ready to turn in for the night.  “I understand, Lady Sansa,” he’d said with a gentle smile.  “Perhaps I could escort you back to your room?”

“That would be lovely,” she replied, taking his arm.  Ser Deckard was always nice to her, always used his courtesies, and was quite handsome in his own way.  A true knight, she thought wistfully.  And the Hound said they didn’t exist.           

He led her towards the holdfast as they chatted about the ball, but when he turned off the path her hair stood on end.  “Ser Deckard, this is not the way to my room,” she said with a teasing laugh.

“I thought we could walk through the gardens first, I can’t bear to part from your sparkling eyes.  You look so beautiful tonight.”

“Thank you, my lord,” she said uneasily as he continued leading her to the gardens.  You can’t follow a man just because he says nice things to you.  But Ser Deckard smiled down at her with kind eyes and she pushed the thought aside…she couldn’t be worried about every man, that simply wasn’t practical.

“Are you cold, my lady,” he asked.

“No, I’m fine, thank you for asking.”

He pulled her closer as if she hadn’t said anything, wrapping his arm around her waist.  “Don’t worry, I’ll keep you warm.”

Sansa felt…nervous.  There was something she couldn’t quite put her finger on, something that didn’t seem right, but…he was being so charming.  And he was smiling at her, and saying sweet things, and he was a knight of the Red Keep, and…  nervousness was to be expected around an attractive man, right?  Although, she never really felt nervous around Loras; she felt nervous around the Hound, but even that was different than this.  

Ser Deckard looked down at her again and she felt her heart skip a beat.  Surely you’ve seen the way men look at you.  Is that how he was looking at her right then?  But he was still smiling with those same kind eyes and she thought…maybe she just didn’t understand what was going on.  Maybe the Hound had scared her into believing that all men were terrible and dishonorable when really all they wanted was a walk through the garden.

Her pulse increased dramatically when he led her off the garden path and behind a hedge.  “There’s a vine on this wall over here that I want to show you,” he said simply.  Alright, a vine he wanted to show her- that was perfectly reasonable, right?  “There it is,” he said, gesturing to a sad little vine on the wall covered in pale white flowers.  “It’s called a moon flower, because it only blooms at night.”

A moon flower?  Gods, she’d seen plenty of moon flowers before, why would he think she’d be interested in this one?  Truth be told, it was a rather unimpressive specimen, but Sansa feigned interest and moved away from him as if she wanted to touch it.  But he held her tight against him and wouldn’t let her move.  She cast nervous eyes in his direction, unsure if she should protest, and after a moment he placed both hands on her hips and turned her to face him.  And that’s when she finally started to panic.

“Have you ever been kissed, Lady Sansa?”  He had pulled her flush against him and she tried to twist away.  “No, of course you haven’t- you’re a proper little lady, aren’t you?”

“You misunderstand, ser,” she said feebly, pushing gently against his chest. 

“Do I?” he asked mockingly.  “I don’t think so.”  He leaned in as if to kiss her and she turned her head away from him, pushing harder as he laughed.  “You highborns are all the same- your mouths say no but your bodies say yes.”

“No,” she said firmly with a calm she didn’t feel.  “Please, I want to go back to my room.”  His hands were everywhere, then, pressing her closer to him despite her efforts to push him away. 

“Don’t fight me, Sansa.  I know you want it as much as I want to give it to you.”  She had a suspicion as to what “it” was, but couldn’t understand why he thought she would want it, why she would want him, when she had done nothing but accept his offer to walk her to her room. 

“Stop, please,” she said softly, still wriggling to get away, but he was too strong for her, and too insistent, and she knew she would lose this battle despite her efforts. 

Suddenly she was knocked sideways, turned with such a force that she was facing the wall and that damned moon flower vine just in time to see Ser Deckard slide against it and land in a heap.  A hand grabbed at her elbow and shoved her roughly towards the exit.  “Walk.”

And she did.  Or at least, she tried…but her mind was still trying to process everything that had just happened, her energy was practically gone, and after only a few steps she came to a stop.  She couldn’t focus on making her feet move when she was too focused on keeping her tears in check.  And she would keep her tears in check- she would not shed a single tear over the man currently knocked senseless on the ground. 

The Hound grabbed her firmly by her arm, lifting and carrying her forward, definitely harsher than he needed to be.  But she was too rattled to care, really, and didn’t object.

“I didn’t even see you,” she said softly, nonsensically.

“I know.”  He sounded angry.  He looked angry.  She examined his expression- jaw clenched, eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring.  Was he angry on her behalf?  He’d saved her-again- just in time, and she was grateful and wanted to tell him so, but as soon as she opened her mouth he cut her off.    

“What the fuck were you doing with him?” he ground out.  “Did you not get enough attention tonight?  Didn’t have enough hands on you, had to go looking for more?”

“You were at the ball?” she asked weakly.

“Of course I was,” he sneered back. 

“I didn’t know you were there.”

“I know,” he spat.

“I didn’t see you.”

“I know.”

What…?  Why was he acting so…?  “Are you angry with me?”

”No,” he jeered.

“Then why are you…”

“Do you have your knife on you?” he asked as if he didn’t hear her.

“Yes,” she squeaked out.

“Did you even try to get it?”

“You wanted me to stab him?”

“You’d rather be raped?”

Sansa gasped.  “He wouldn’t.”

“Don’t be stupid, of course he would!”

“Don’t…please, don’t lecture me,” she pleaded.  “You've no right.  You’re not my father.  You’re not my brother.  You’re…”

“Nothing,” he finished for her.  “I know.”

She stopped and pulled away from him, wriggling in his grasp until he let go.  This evening had turned into a nightmare- her revelations about Loras, her run-in with Deckard, and now this…whatever this was; it was too much to deal with and she felt overwhelmed.  She turned her back on the man in a futile effort to find some peace and solitude.

“You need to get back to your room, Lady Sansa.”  It was odd how that title was supposed to show respect, but never sounded like it when it came from his mouth.  She knew people were supposed to call her that- it was her birthright- but somehow, when he said it, he made her feel …dismissed.

“Why are you acting like this?”

“Like what?”

“Like…this.  Have I done something to make you angry?”

“Everything about you makes me angry,” he muttered, so quietly she wasn’t sure if he meant for her to hear.      

“What?” she asked, incredulous. 

“You’re a nuisance,” he growled out, and now there was no doubt he meant to be heard.  “Been nothing but trouble since the moment I met you.”

“Then why have you always been so kind to me?”

He threw his head back and laughed so loud that Sansa thought maybe he was laughing harder than he really felt.  “Kind?” he sneered at her.  “Gods, you really are a stupid little bird.”

She looked at the man in front of her, the huge beast of a man she first laid eyes on back in Winterfell, the one who used to scare her all the time.  He was glaring at her, as if daring her to contradict him, and she wondered…was she wrong?  He had certainly been cruel to her on many occasions, but there were other times, too, where he had been…kind, damn him, she was right and he was wrong.

“You gave me a knife and taught me to use it.  You saved me during the riots when everyone else left me.  You came for me during the battle when the entire city was on fire.  You came for me.  Why?”

“Why do you think a man goes to a woman’s room in the middle of the night?”

It was not the answer she thought she’d hear, and his words knocked the breath out of her.  Had she misunderstood his motivations the whole time?  It was just like her to take something like that and twist it into something sweet and romantic, but still…  She raised her eyes to his, knowing he would be able to see her anguish, but she needed to see him, too.  And she did see him- the flicker of uncertainty in his eyes, the twitch of his mouth, the exaggerated calmness in his manner.  And she knew, she knew.      

“You’re lying.” He blinked and snapped his head away as if he’d been hit before steeling himself and meeting her eyes.

“I’m not lying.”

Sansa looked him over again- the way he glared at her, the way he held himself, the way he unclenched his hands- it all seemed so forced

“Yes, you are,” she scoffed, lip curling in disgust.  “You’re telling me you came to my room to rape me and then… what, you forgot?  Cause I can’t help but notice it didn’t happen.”  The words sounded horrible on her tongue, but she was far too upset to worry about whether or not her vocabulary was proper.  “Were you planning to do it before you said you’d keep me safe?  Or after you said you’d never let anyone hurt me?”  His face was twisted in rage and his nostrils flaring, he looked …beastly.  She shook her head at him, but wouldn’t look away from his eyes.  “Why would you lie about something like that?  You hate liars.” 

He stepped towards her slowly, seething, but she turned to leave before he could reach her and they walked in silence till they reached the bridge.

“What’s wrong with her?” Ser Osney asked when he saw her pained expression.

“Unhappy with her escort.” 

Ser Osney laughed as they passed, and Sansa didn’t bother to acknowledge the knight.  As soon as they entered the holdfast she turned to the Hound again.  She felt like she needed to say something- anything- but no one had ever told her how to handle this specific situation.  And truthfully, she just wanted to be done with him.

“Thank you for your escort, but I’ll be fine from here.”  Her words were carefully polite, but her tone was unmistakably and intentionally harsh.

“Is that the way of it, then?” he sneered, glaring down at her with pure fury.  “Now that you’re safe and sound you’ve had enough of the dog’s ugly face?”

“Stop it,” she clipped.  “You know that’s not it.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No, it isn’t,” she hissed at him.  “I like your face just fine.” 

“You like my face just fine?” he mocked her, voice dripping with disdain. 

“I do!” she snapped back.

“Do you?” he taunted, chilling her to the bone.  “Do you find me…comely?  Do you like to gaze upon my beautiful features?”

“No,” she sneered back at him, not at all certain what the right answer was but not risking a lie. 

He leaned over till they were face to face, glaring at her through slit eyes.  “So tell my whyWhy would you like my face?”

Why did she like his face?  Gods, even she barely understood why, but she searched her mind desperately for a way to explain it.  “Because it’s yours.”

She wanted to take it back immediately, knew it was somehow the wrong thing to say, even though it was the truth.  He blinked, once, and shook his head before fixing her with a skeptical look, and she was …afraid.  She hadn’t been scared of him since he was in her room, the night he meant to leave, the night he held a knife to her throat, but that was nothing like this.  This was a different kind of fear, a strange panicky nervousness that she couldn’t comprehend and couldn’t bear.  So she did the only thing she could think to do, the thing she probably should have always done when it came to him.

She ran.

Her skirts were far too full to grasp, her slippers far too useless on the stone steps, but still she ran, as fast as her weak legs could carry her.  She didn’t know if he would follow her, but she knew if he tried he would most likely catch her, and that was enough to spur her on.  Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry.  Her hands were shaking on the handle when she finally reached her door and threw it open, slamming it quickly behind her.   

That’s where Shae found her, standing rooted to the floor in the middle of her room, shocked, rattled, disturbed. 

“Shae?” she gasped as the woman reached her, concern plain on her pretty face. “I’m so confused.” And as the handmaid wrapped her arms around her, Sansa finally allowed herself to cry.

Chapter Text

Sansa lay sprawled across her bed, on top of the covers, trying to will herself to sleep. It was late- how late, she wasn't sure, but late enough that the keep was completely silent.  Given the sheer amount of mental and physical activity she'd endured since the day before, it really should have been easier to slip into dreams.  But between the weight of her thoughts and the bright light of the full moon, sleep continued to evade her.

It had been such a long day.  With the wedding approaching and the court swelling with Tyrells, Joffrey had been puffed up with self-importance even more than usual, demanding full attendance for every single one of his activities.  So she had been part of the large procession that watched him as he broke his fast, listened as he held court, followed him as he inspected the sept… it was ridiculous and oh so tiring.  The Hound was there, too, but she never looked at him, and the best she could tell he never looked at her either.  And after their last conversation, that was ...good.

She shook her head at the memory of the previous night.   Poor Shae; the woman had been so worried about Sansa’s emotional state, a concern that never faded as the girl explained why she was so upset.  Which was understandable, since she only told her about Ser Loras and Ser Deckard.  She had NOT told her about her fight with the Hound.  She wasn’t ready to share that yet, maybe she never would be. 

To her credit, Shae said everything Sansa needed to hear.  When she told her about her newly realized disinterest in Ser Loras, Shae had shrugged indifferently as if to say “oh well.”  And when she told her about Ser Deckard’s aggressive advances, the woman offered to geld the man.  And then she reached a hand out to her and asked if there was anything else that had happened, but Sansa said no.  If she had told Shae about the rest then maybe the woman would have better understood why she was so upset, because the two things she did tell her didn’t really warrant such a strong reaction.

Her mind wandered to the Hound again, the way he had treated her, the things he had said.  She hadn’t really thought about it at the time, but eventually it had occurred to her that he must have been following her- how else would he have been able to find her so easily?  She wasn’t really sure how she felt about that.  Had he known something bad would happen?  Or was it another reason?  And why had he been so angry with her, yelling at her and calling her stupid?  Was he just frustrated at her carelessness or...

A sudden noise swallowed her thoughts.  It sounded as if it might have come from the door, but as the seconds passed she began to think that she imagined it.  Even if she hadn't it was probably nothing to worry about; the holdfast was a creaky old thing, after all, and being frightened by every noise in the night was childish.  And she was no longer a child.

But then she heard it again, another thud at the door, and she gave herself the freedom to be scared.  The noise again, definitely coming from her door, and she scrambled out of bed.  The door was barred, so she knew she was safe and no one could get her, which gave her the courage to investigate.

Thud...thud...thud... It was coming faster now and sounded like someone was…knocking?  She pressed her ear to the heavy oak but couldn’t discern anything from the other side.  And after another knock, she finally spoke up.

“Who’s there?”  Her voice sounded tiny and frightened, though she had meant to sound strong.

“It’s me, little bird. Let me in.”

Why do you think a man goes to a woman's room in the middle of the night?  

She hesitated only a moment at the memory of his words.  She knew he hadn't meant it, he was just trying to scare her, but now he was knocking on her door and she couldn't help the tiny spark of concern that ignited somewhere within her.  He shouldn't be here, she knew that, but she pushed the thought away and opened the door.

“Shhhhh….” she whispered, stepping aside.  “Someone could hear you.”  He had brushed by her quickly without even a glance, then whirled on her as she closed and barred the door.  By the time she turned to face him he was glaring at her with an incredulous expression.  “What is it?  What’s wrong?”

“Why did you open the door?” he hissed.

Sansa’s jaw dropped in shock.  “You told me to.”

“And that’s all it takes for you to open your door to a man twice your size?  In the middle of the night?”

Why do you think a man goes to a woman's room in the middle of the night?

Was he drunk?  His illogical lecture would seem to indicate it but no, she could see clearly that he was sober.  She supposed this was in keeping with his never-ending quest to ensure she keep herself safe, but to knock on her door in the middle of the night just to scold her was odd even for him.

She crossed her arms and regarded him coolly.  “Are you testing me?”

His hands kept opening and closing as if itching for a fight, his jaw was clenched and his body tense.  “What if I had been Trant, huh?  Or Deckard?  Or one of those Kettleblacks?”

“Then I wouldn’t have opened the door,” she insisted.

He grabbed her roughly by the arm and shook her.  “You should never open your door in the middle of the night.  Have you learned nothing?

I trust you she wanted to tell him, but she knew better than to say it right then.  He was really wound up, almost as bad as the previous night, and admitting that she trusted him would only make him angry.  Uh, angrier.

As if reading her thoughts, he grabbed her other arm and squared her in front of him.  “You can’t trust anyone.”

Sansa wriggled from his grasp and stepped away.  “You are a very confusing man,” she muttered breathlessly, running a hand across her face before crossing her arms again.  They stood like that for a few moments, him glaring down at her while she looked away.  It slowly dawned on her that she was wearing close to nothing, just smallclothes and a flimsy sleeping gown, and she had let this huge man into her room without even a thought of covering up.  He was right- she had no sense of keeping herself safe.  She shook her head at her own stupidity, but when she looked back at him she was surprised to find his eyes raking over her body. 

Why do you think a man goes to a woman's room in the middle of the night?

"Why are you here?" she blurted without thinking.

The question seemed to bring him out of whatever spell he was under because his eyes finally left her body to focus on her face.  As soon as he met her eyes, though, he snapped his head away, looking towards the ceiling as he turned from her with a huff.  After several moments he dropped his eyes to the floor, then slyly looked back over at her like he couldn't help himself, but when he met her eyes again he pressed his lips together and looked away.  Sansa just watched, and waited; what was he doing?  She heard him take three hard breaths, then "fuck it," he closed the distance between them, grabbed the back of her head with both hands, and pulled her in for a kiss.

It was exactly how she imagined it should be- firm, but gentle, just his lips pressed to hers in a sweet but completely chaste kiss.  Instantly, her mind exploded in a swirling cacophony of thoughts: ‘my first kiss!’ and ‘this is nicer than I thought it would be’ and ‘am I doing it right?’ and ‘his lips are soft’ and ‘what do I do with my arms?!?!’ and…

He broke the kiss and pulled away slowly to look in her eyes, and all thoughts evaporated.  She'd seen that look before- the night she found him drunk on the street and took him back to his room.  He'd told her he wanted to save her, and he'd looked at her exactly the way he was looking at her now.  She remembered thinking how sweet and honest he was, and wishing he could stay that way forever because...she liked it, really liked it, so much that now, when he leaned down to kiss her again, her nervousness disappeared and her instincts took over.

The second kiss was much like the first but longer, and then deeper when he ran his tongue over her lips and she opened her mouth as if to catch it, and his hands moved from her head to her back to pull her closer.  She knew precious little about kissing- the giggly discussions with Jeyne Poole had not prepared her for the feel of his tongue against hers- but her mouth seemed to know what it wanted to do, and her arms, which only seconds ago hung uselessly at her side, had sprung to life to snake up around his neck.

And it was nice.  She wasn’t scared or nervous or anything, really, just happy to be with him, kissing him, holding him while he held her.  She was so caught up in the feeling that she didn’t notice how he’d walked her backwards to her bed until she fell on it, and she exhaled sharply as his body landed heavily on top of her.

“Sorry” he murmured into her mouth, and it was so adorable she actually smiled.  But then he was kissing and biting at her ear, and the smile quickly faded into a sigh, and she slid a hand up the nape of his neck and around to caress his ruined cheek.  She felt him shift on top of her so as not to crush her, and glide a hand down her ribcage and around the curve of her hip.

“Sansa...  gods, Sansa...”  

Her name on his lips was like a fuel to the fire that was already burning, sending warmth all over her body and lighting something new deep in her stomach.  She was shaking...no…no, that was him...he was shaking when his hand drifted up under her sleeping gown- she could feel it trembling on her stomach before it slipped over a breast. 

He shifted back over her so he could bring his other hand up under her gown, all the while kissing down her neck to her collar bone, and when he slid both thumbs over her nipples she arched up into him with a gasp.  Things were moving so fast and somehow not fast enough, so she lifted her hands to the front of her gown to unlace it, and he paused when he noticed what she was doing before glancing up at her in surprise.  The look in his eyes…gods, she didn’t know what it was, but she liked it.  When she was done with the laces he began tugging the gown upwards and she knew he meant to remove it, and even though she really should know better, she helped him get it off.

For a while, he didn’t do anything but look down at her, eyes wandering everywhere his hands had just been.  Even with her eyes on him she could see her own chest heaving, her nipples rigid, and she wanted him to touch her again and stop staring.  After what felt like an eternity, he swallowed hard and melted back onto her, his hands returning to her breasts and his mouth to her ear.  “Don’t say no,” he whispered, kissing her neck.  “Sansa, please...don’t say no.”   He was so earnest and so sweet she almost laughed because really, why would she say no?  

She hadn’t known it could be like this, this feeling of being so close to someone and the desire to be even closer.   He’d left a trail of tiny kisses down her neck and chest, nipping and sucking, then his mouth was open at her breast, his tongue caressing one nipple while his thumb worked the other one.  She couldn’t stop the breathless moans he was coaxing from her, didn’t want to fight it any more than she wanted to fight him.  He slid a hand under her smallclothes then, his fingers slipping easily in her folds, and even though she tried her very hardest to stay quiet, tried not to be surprised, she moaned his name with a sigh and arched up into him.  She could feel his groan more than she could hear it, vibrating through her body, so deep and mournful she would have thought him in pain. 

She lifted her hips so he could get her smallclothes off, then watched him as he sat up to remove his tunic, and …oh…ohhhh, gods, he was gorgeous.  She only briefly saw him, scars criss-crossing his hairy chest, before he lay across her again, whispering her name and kissing her neck, hands trailing over her breasts and down her sides.  And she understood then why he couldn’t stop touching her, because she couldn’t stop touching him, either, and dug her fingers into his back to pull him closer. 

This was not how men treated whores or tavern wenches, she was certain of it, just as certain as she was that no other man could ever touch her the way he was touching her right then.  Oh gods, the way he said her name was sweeter than any song she had ever heard, sweeter than any declarations of love.  How could she listen to something so sweet then tell him to stop?    

He sat up again and tugged at the laces of his breeches, trembling and panting and moving quickly.  Sansa never let her eyes leave his, even when he finally pulled the clothing away before falling over her again, shifting to get it off completely.  He kissed her hard then, and she could feel every bit of him, the entire length of his body pressed fully against her, his skin on hers like it belonged there. 

It was beautiful; he was beautiful.  She felt warm and happy and loved, every part of her, inside and out, and she wanted more than anything to stay this way, to let this warm, golden wave completely overtake her; she would happily drown in this feeling, with him.  How could she ever say no?  How can I say yes?

“NO!”

The room came into focus, warm feeling replaced with the grey chill of her chamber and she could hear her voice echoing off the walls.  He was still shaking when he pulled away from her, but she couldn’t look at him, couldn’t bear to see his expression, and pressed her lips together to fight back a sob.  Gods, what had she done?  She closed her eyes as he sat up, not wanting to meet his eyes, not wanting to know what he thought of her right then. 

His hand clamped over her mouth suddenly and her eyes flew open in surprise.  His other hand was at her hip, gripping it firmly and painfully, and she felt him nudging her legs open with his knees.  NoNo, not like this!  She cried against his hand and tried to clamp her legs together but he was too strong.  She began thrashing in protest, but between the hand at her hip and the one over her mouth, her movements were highly limited and she had to settle for feebly hitting at his chest.

She could feel him pressing against her and knew it was a matter of seconds before he would claim her, the thought of which caused her to panic.  She screamed against his hand, tears streaming down her face, and tried to pull her hips away from him.  Please no. 

For what felt like ages he just held her like this, pinned underneath him, the pressure between her legs leaving no doubt as to what would happen next.  But then he released her, and she covered her face with her hands to stifle her cries and shield her vision from him.  The bed shook violently as he got off of it, and she could hear him hastily getting dressed. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered through sobs. Out of the corner of her eye she could see that he stopped moving but she still couldn’t look at him. “I’m sorry,” she said again, and hoped he understood. He finished dressing and left without a word, the only sounds coming from the click of the latch and her quiet weeping.

Chapter Text

Morning came too early; if she thought it was hard to sleep before her nighttime visitor, it was impossible now.  She tried, but her mind and body were in far too much turmoil to relax, and she spent the entire night staring at the ceiling.  The steadily growing light was starting to hurt her eyes but she couldn’t make herself close them.  Before too long, she heard a door open.

“Wake up sleepy head.”  Shae, thank the seven.  Shae was easily the most incompetent handmaid Sansa ever had, but she had gotten used to the woman and now appreciated her for exactly who she was. 

The covers were yanked off of her, but Sansa didn’t move, and Shae seemed surprised to find her lady awake and staring, unbothered by the intrusion. 

“What’s wrong?” she asked urgently, concern obvious in her hushed voice.  Sansa ignored her, though, just continued to stare at the ceiling, wishing she could be alone for a while longer, just a little while longer.  “Did you have a bad dream?”

Sansa huffed a small laugh.  A bad dream.  Yes, it certainly did seem like a bad dream, something that happened in the dark of night while she was supposed to be sleeping.  Maybe she had been dreaming.  Wouldn’t that be a nice surprise to find out it never actually happened?

Shae’s concerned face came into Sansa’s view, interrupting her thoughts.  “Something happened,” she said with conviction, not at all pleased.  Sansa could understand why the woman would be confused- the last she had seen her she was tucked safely in bed.  The only thing that should have happened was sleep, yet here she lay, traumatized.  Shae grabbed Sansa by the arms and sat her up.  “What happened?”

Sansa sat blinking stupidly.  Shae had always been good to her, had always helped her, and proven on more than one occasion that she could be trusted.  And she also knew Shae’s secret, too, because they had gotten to a point where they simply trusted each other.  She was almost like an older sister, someone who watched over her but didn’t take her too seriously.  And Sansa could really use an older sister right now.  Swallowing hard, she decided tell her everything.

“You can’t tell anyone,” she said firmly to the waiting handmaid, who gave her a look that said you know I won’t tell anyone.  Sansa took a deep breath.  “I saw someone last night.”

Shae’s eyes widened and Sansa knew what she was thinking.  “No, it wasn’t like that,” she said quickly, but then she thought about it again.  “Well, it wasn’t quite like that.”

The handmaid narrowed her eyes.  “Who?” she asked, but when Sansa wouldn’t answer she just started guessing.  “Joffrey?  Loras?  Deckard?  Osney?  Meryn?  Bronn?  Balon?  Osfryd?  Osmund?  Tywin?  WHO?”  

Sansa took a deep breath.  “The Hound.”  Shae raised one judgmental eyebrow at her, and the girl blushed. 

“Here?” the woman pressed and Sansa nodded.  “You should have locked your door.”  When Sansa didn’t say anything, Shae guessed, “you let him in,” and Sansa blushed again.  “Why?”

“He knocked,” she said with a shrug, realizing how incredibly stupid she sounded.  She cast a quick glance at Shae, who seemed to agree.

“That was very foolish,” the brunette sniffed before sarcastically adding “...my lady.”

“Yes, that’s what he said,” Sansa snapped.

Shae scowled at her.  “What did you do?”  Sansa squirmed under the woman’s intense gaze.  “Did you fuck him?”

“No!” Sansa answered quickly, horrified by the woman’s language.  “It…didn’t get that far.”

Shae’s eyes went wide then narrowed before she growled, “How far did it get?”  Sansa screwed her face up and blushed but couldn’t answer.  “Were you naked?” the woman pressed and Sansa reluctantly nodded.  “Was he?”

“I... wasn’t really…paying attention,” she stammered, knowing full well that was a lie.  “Um…I don’t remember him taking his boots off.”  She looked up cautiously to see Shae’s amused expression.  “What?”

“He took everything off except for his boots?”

Well, when she said it like that it sure seemed unlikely, and she couldn’t stop the laugh that escaped her.  “Alright then, yes, he must have been…um, fully… disrobed.”

Shae shook her head, either at the detail itself or Sansa’s reluctance to name it.  “What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t thinking, it just happened,” Sansa tried to explain, but she knew once again that she sounded like a complete fool. 

“So...you were completely naked, and he was completely naked…and nothing happened.”  Disbelief was obvious on Shae’s pretty face.

“He kissed me,” Sansa offered with a shrug, as if that explained everything.  The woman continued to look at her, so she finally added, “I told him to stop.”

“And he did?”  Shae asked, incredulous.  “How close did he get?”

Sansa grimaced.  “Close.”  She remembered the pressure between her legs and the certainty that he would soon be inside her.  “Very, very close,” she groaned.

Shae pressed her lips together and shook her head.  “And he just stopped.  Because you told him to.”

Sansa closed her eyes to avoid the woman’s scrutiny.  “I think he’s mad at me,” she said helplessly.

She heard a huff and opened her eyes to see Shae sneer.  “Why?  Because you stopped him?  He has no right to expect that of you, if he’s mad, let him be mad.”  But then her face twisted in confusion.

“What?” Sansa asked at the woman’s expression.

The handmaid shook her head.  “It’s just…I’m surprised he stopped.  A man like him… if you got as far as I think you did, then I’d think...he’d just keep going.”  Sansa closed her eyes again and remembered the feel of his hand over her mouth, his hand on her hip.  She pushed the memory away and opened her eyes, only to find that Shae’s demeanor had changed to mischievous amusement.

“So….” the woman began, eyes twinkling.  “What was it like?”

Sansa blushed and giggled.  “What… do you mean?” she said slowly, even though she knew.

“You know full well what I mean.  What did he do?  Did you like it?”

“Oh gods, Shae, really?” 

They both started giggling then, and Sansa was happy she decided to confide in the older woman.  So she told her, the best she could, everything that had happened.  Shae had to guess a few times what Sansa was trying to tell her, but other times she seemed to be suggesting things that Sansa couldn’t understand. 

Shae wrinkled her nose.  “What was it like to kiss him?” she asked with thinly-veiled revulsion.

Sansa knew the reason she was asking was because his lips were so burned, but the truth was she really hardly noticed.  There were too many other things that surprised her about kissing him. 

“It was…not what I expected.”

“How so?”

She blurted out the very first thing she thought of:  “He put his tongue in my mouth!”  At the time it had seemed perfectly normal and somehow right, but looking back she wondered what had possessed him to do such a thing.

Shae laughed herself silly at Sansa’s shocked expression.  “Yes, I can see how that would surprise you,” she said after she finally calmed down.  “How does he look naked?”

Sansa gasped, scandalized, then answered anyway with a giggle.  “Really nice.”

“Is his cock huge?”

“I didn’t look!” she squealed, but then stopped.  Huge?  “How …big is normal?”

Shae shrugged and held up her hands to show her and Sansa’s eyes went wide in surprise, but the woman just laughed.  “Yes, it fits,” she said, as if reading her mind.  “It doesn’t seem like it will, especially the first time.  But it does.”  Sansa just blushed and blinked at her in disbelief.  “You do know that the first time will hurt, right?”

Sansa nodded.  Yes, she had heard that.  “How much?”

“A lot, usually, but it’s different for everyone.  It gets better, though…you’ll see.  It’s fun.”

“Fun…” muttered the girl, not at all convinced.  It certainly wasn’t anything her septa had taught her.  In fact…none of this was anything her septa had even hinted at.  What would her mother say if she knew Sansa had been …unclothed… with a man not her husband, then sat giggling in the aftermath?

Shae leaned in to her.  “You know, there are other things you can do with a man besides laying with him.”

The girl squinted in confusion.  “You mean…kissing?”

Shae laughed loudly.  “Yes, I mean kissing,” she said in a way that made Sansa think that she did not mean kissing.  “I can tell you some things that maybe you might like to try.”

Sansa glanced at her uncertainly- she really didn’t like where this conversation was going.  “You’re supposed to be talking me out of doing inappropriate things, not encouraging me to do more.  And… I don’t think he’ll be coming back, anyway.”  

The handmaid snorted as if to mock her ignorance.  “Yes, I'm so sure he won't come sniffing around for more," she said sarcastically.  "Please- you’re too easy a target.  No family to protect you, no one to advise you, and too young to know better.”  Sansa opened her mouth to protest but Shae cut her off.  “I’m glad you had a nice time, truly, but he took advantage of you.  You have to be more careful.  Men will say anything to get a girl into bed with them- they’ll talk your ear off about love and marriage, tell you you’re beautiful and that no other could compare to you.  But it’s a ruse- as soon as they get what they want they move on.  Don’t fall for their lies.” 

Sansa shifted uneasily, unsure of what to say.  Shae made it sound like the only way a man could entice a girl was by plying her for hours or even days with honeyed words and soon-to-be-broken promises.  But there had been no honeyed words for Sansa- the Hound had stormed into her room and yelled at her, and she had promptly removed her clothes and tumbled into bed with him.  An easy target, indeed.  She didn’t know which bothered her more- the fact that her handmaid was so wrong in her assumptions, or the fact that the truth was so much worse.  She rather suspected it was the latter.  She could never ever admit to something so shameful, so she swallowed hard and nodded her assent. 

“Good,” Shae said, rising from the bed.  “Now, I’m going to Grand Maester Pycelle to get something for your stomach.”

“My stomach?” Sansa asked, confused.

“Yes, your stomach is upset, and you need to rest,” the woman told her firmly.  “You will not be leaving your room today.”

Sansa smiled and nodded, grateful to have a handmaid willing to take care of her like this.  And now she would have the day to herself.  Which was good- she had a dress that she was making, she could work on that.  Remembering the dress made her smile mischievously, but it also made her think of him, and her stomach clenched.  Had he taken advantage of her?  Would he move on now?  Did she want him to?      

When Grand Maester Pycelle arrived, she didn’t even have to pretend that she was sick.  

Chapter Text

Bugger it, he missed her.  He’d been trading shifts and balking at assignments, ducking into hallways, eating in his room…anything to stay away from her, anything to spare her his ugly face.  But even if he didn’t see her in truth, he saw her constantly whenever he closed his eyes- her warm soft body, the things she let him do, the way she had looked at him…

Gods, that was the worst.  He could never try to convince himself that she didn’t know what was happening, what he wanted, who he was, because she never stopped watching him.  Somehow, it would have been easier if he could believe he had tricked her.  Instead, he was left with the idea that she had wanted him, too, and he had fucked it up, pushed her too hard, made her cry.   

And that was the worst- seeing her sobbing, naked on her bed, apologizing like she had done something wrong.  And he let her do it, let her believe that it was all her fault.  He had no business being there, never should have gone to her room in the first place, never should have knocked on her door, never should have kissed her or pushed her on the bed, never should have pinned her down... 

He had known with absolute certainty that she would say no, had fully expected her to stop him.  Even before he kissed her he knew that she would push him away, slap him, maybe even yell for help, but he accepted all of that and did it anyway.  Except she hadn’t pushed him away; she’d let him kiss her again.  Even then, he knew she would stop him.  But at every passing second, every kiss, every caress, that certainty faded away, so much that by the time she did say no, it took him completely by surprise.  And he’d come undone.  And then he let her apologize, because he was too big a craven to admit his mistakes.  Stupid arse.    

He dreamed of her, always, but the dreams didn’t excite him like they used to.  Now when he woke in the morning he’d find himself sick with shame more than anything else.  Just like this morning.  Dragging himself out of bed, he began to get dressed for the day. 

He left his room and headed towards the keep when Shae stepped in front of him as if trying to block his way.  He looked down at her, confused.

“The fuck you want?”

The woman ignored his discourteous greeting and tilted her head to the side.  “Do you know who I am?”

“A handmaid?” he sneered.  What kind of stupid fucking question was that?

She tilted her head the other way and squinted at him, her eyes angry little slits.  “Do you know whose handmaid I am?”

He rolled his eyes at the woman.  Of course he knew:  she was Shae, Sansa’s handmaid from the deepest of hells.  She was the one who snuck Sansa out of the keep in the middle of the night, the one who got her drunk, the one who knew her secrets.  And now she was standing there with her hands on her hips, glaring up at him like she was angry.  Seven hells, little bird, please tell me you did not…

“She told me everything.”

Fuck.  Sandor wore his most bored expression and looked down his nose at her.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, even though he knew exactly what she was talking about.

“Did you forget already?” the woman shot back.  Gods, someone needed to teach this handmaid that she was supposed to be seen and not heard.  “Why are you avoiding her?”

Briefly, the image of the girl below him- screaming under his hand, tiny fists hitting his chest- flashed into his mind.  He leaned down to look the woman in the eye, not even trying to pretend anymore.  “If she told you everything, you wouldn’t have to ask that question.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she said indifferently, “but you hurt her, and now you won’t see her, and that hurts her more.”

“Are you sure she even wants to see me?”

The woman looked him over completely before rolling her eyes.  “She shouldn’t want to see you,” she agreed.  “You’re ugly, and mean, and she’s too good for you.  And you hurt her.  You need to apologize, and then you need to leave her alone.  Or I’ll cut your balls off while you sleep.”  With that, she turned and rushed away, and he huffed at her insolence before continuing his way to the keep.

The day was promising to be another dull affair, except that Joffrey had apparently summoned Sansa to the throne room.  Sandor tensed at the thought of seeing her here, now, and even though he missed her something awful he couldn’t bear the thought of her eyes on him.  He was more nervous than he wanted to admit.

When Trant announced her no one much cared- until she entered the room, that is, and then there was a murmur throughout the crowd.  It wasn’t the girl herself that caused the commotion, but what she was wearing.  Evidently, she’d decided to adopt the Highgarden style, and was wearing a dress cut deep and wide in the front, with her arms and back exposed.  The bodice hugged her tiny waist tightly and squeezed her breasts forward, and the color was a rich golden yellow embroidered all over with black accents.    

Sandor distinctly remembered when the Highgarden girls first came to court, how the women had tittered about their inappropriate dress and the men had made lewd comments.  But now the little bird was wearing the same thing, and she looked more beautiful than any of those other girls.  And judging by the way she held herself, she knew it. 

Sansa finally arrived to the throne in a swirl of skirts and knelt before the king, eyes cast down in deference.  When Joffrey signaled for her to stand, she rose gracefully, clasping her hands in front of her.

“Grand Maester Pycelle tells me you haven’t been feeling well.” 

“Yes, your Grace,” she answered. 

“Are you feeling better now?”  Sandor had to hide a wince- it was just like Joffrey to haul a sick girl out of bed to ask her if she was better yet.

“Yes, much better, your Grace.  Thank you for asking.”

For several moments there was complete silence.  Sandor wondered why Joff was being so… friendly… but suspected it had something to do with the girl’s appearance. 

The king stood up suddenly, causing his guards to flinch into action, but the girl stood motionless, eyes blank.  The boy sauntered down the steps until he stood in front of her, then slowly walked around her, shamelessly looking her up and down.  She stood still, eyes straight ahead, her face a mask of calm.  When Joffrey was finally standing in front of her again, she looked him directly in the eyes.

“Is that a new dress?” he asked, almost mockingly.

“Yes, your Grace,” was her only reply.

“Interesting colors,” the boy continued.  “How did you decide on them?”

Sandor was wondering the exact same thing, to be honest, but wasn’t happy the king had asked.  The girl only blinked before answering.  “I thought they looked nice together, your Grace.”

“Those are the colors of House Clegane,” the boy announced loudly.  “You dressed like you belong to my dog.”  He started laughing bitterly then, and there were a few nervous titters from the crowd. 

“I didn’t know, your Grace,” Sansa replied, blandly.

“You didn’t know?” the boy mimicked, and Sandor had the feeling things were about to get bad; Joffrey was trying to embarrass her, and he wouldn’t stop until he got the reaction he wanted.  The king took a step towards her, tilting his head from side to side, looking her over in an exaggerated manner.  “Maybe you and the Hound should spend more time together till you know what you’re doing.”

That did it.  The girl’s carefully blank expression slipped, exposing the worry and fear beneath.  “No… please…”

“No, I think it would be good for you,” Joffrey said smugly.  “If you want to dress like you belong to him, maybe he should just be yours.”

The poor girl was hyperventilating by then, her pretty features twisted up as if she were fighting back tears.  “Please, your Grace.  It’s just a dress.”

Sandor was disappointed in her reaction.  Not because of the sentiment- he fully expected her to hate the idea of spending time with him- but because she reacted at all.  She should know not to show Joffrey a weakness, because as soon as he saw it he’d use it against her.  Just like he was doing now.  After two years in this court, Sansa really should know better. 

“On second thought,” Joffrey continued.  “I don’t think I want to give my dog to someone as stupid and traitorous as you.  You’re not good enough.”  Sansa hung her head, her hands wrung together so tightly that her fingers were turning white.

Returning to the throne, the king looked the girl over again, clearly happy to see her uncomfortable.  “You can go now,” he waved at her, his fun done.  “Dog, see her back to her room.”

She didn’t wait for him like she was supposed to, just hurried off, but it wasn’t hard to catch her.  She refused to look at him, no doubt still embarrassed by her choice of dress, so he fell in behind her, watching her exposed back as she glided down the hall.

Tell her you’re sorry.  He knew he should, knew she deserved it.  He certainly felt sorry, but apologies were not an easy thing for him.  Kiss her.  Hold her.  Tell her you’re sorry.  Tell her she deserves better.  Say you miss her.  Say it say it say it. 

“Nice dress,” he said sarcastically, but inwardly he wanted to smack himself.  Stop being an arse.

“Thank you.”  

“Shows a little more than necessary, though I’ve certainly seen more, haven’t I?”  Shut up shut up shut up!  He grimaced and shook his head in self-loathing, and steeled himself to try again.  “You should probably pay more attention to your color choices.”

“You think I picked these colors on accident?” she sneered.  Well… yes… actually, he did think she picked those colors on accident.  Hadn’t she just said as much to the king?  If he was being completely honest, he really liked seeing her in his colors, intentionally or not, but if it wasn’t an accident… 

She didn’t say anything for a while, just continued walking as if he weren’t there, so he moved to walk beside her.  From this angle he could see her teats jiggling with every step, and he was reminded that this was why he couldn’t be around her.  She had just been taunted in front of the whole court, was clearly upset, and here he was thinking about getting her dress off of her.  And kissing her.  Seven hells, he wanted to kiss her.

“You’re not being fair,” she said suddenly, and he could see the pained expression on her face.

“Are we still talking about the dress?”

“What do you think?” she hissed, and he knew she was most certainly not talking about the dress.  After a few more moments, she continued.  “You know that I can’t.  You know that.  It’s not fair to expect it.”

“I never expected anything,” he growled at her. 

“You can’t be angry with me.  Not about that.”  She took a few more steps before she glanced up at him, then rolled her eyes in exaggerated frustration.  “I’m sorry, I forgot who I was talking to.  Of course you can be angry with me- you always are, usually about things I have no control over.  Just like Joffrey.”

Sandor came to a complete stop, anger seeping into him.  Of all the horrible things she could have said or done to him, that had to be one of the worst.  Had she really just compared him to the little shit sitting on the throne?  The boy who publicly humiliated her, had her beaten, threatened to rape her?  Alright, so, he hadn’t exactly been honorable himself, but… ‘just like Joffrey?’  Did she really think he was as bad as Joffrey?  

She should have waited, but she didn’t, instead continuing alone down the corridor.  When she reached the end she stopped and looked at him.  “I can find my way from here.  Thank you.”  Then she turned her naked back on him to walk away, and all he could do was watch her go. 

Chapter Text

When she had received the summons to appear before Joffrey yesterday, she had a feeling it was about her “illness.”  She’d hoped that’s all it was, that Robb hadn’t done anything to get her in trouble, and decided that it was time to debut her new dress.  Ser Meryn’s expression when she opened her door had been something closer to need than want; maybe it should have made her uncomfortable, but instead it had made her feel… powerful.  She was ready.

The Highgarden dress had been a spectacular success, even better than she ever imagined- Cersei had looked annoyed, the crowd had murmured their surprise, and the king had reacted exactly how she hoped he would.  Originally, she’d only planned to irritate Joffrey by wearing Clegane colors, imagining him going mad as he got increasingly desperate to shame her while she just stood there, calm and proud.  But yesterday, she really wanted to talk to the Hound, and she knew the best way to do it was to make Joffrey think she hated the idea.  It had been almost too easy to get what she wanted after that.  Of course, her conversation with Sandor hadn’t gone particularly well, making her feel even worse than before, but she took small consolation in knowing that she had said what she needed to say. 

Very small consolation.

Gods, she missed Shae, missed having someone to talk to, someone who could guide her.  She had been gone for two days, now, and had missed Sansa’s victory with the dress.  At first when she disappeared Sansa had been afraid that the Queen found out her secrets, that Shae had cracked under some awful torture.  But now, two days later, she realized it was probably just another way for Cersei to punish her.  And it had worked- without her old handmaid, she felt all alone.  Well, all alone except for these new handmaids.

Meena and Myra were a couple of giggling simpletons.  They had been friends for so long that their personalities were almost exactly the same, even if their looks were completely different.  Where Myra was short with shiny brown hair and a curvy figure, Meena was tall and thin with wavy blonde hair.  Neither was particularly comely, but their smiles were infectious.  Most of the time. 

Usually they would go about their tasks while keeping up a steady stream of castle gossip.  Which wasn’t horrible, truly- it made her feel like the young girl she was.  They spent more time chittering to each other than to her, which she didn’t mind, either, as she didn’t want to bond with these girls at all.

Right now, they were remarkably silent, though just as cheerful.  Myra kept stealing glances at her in the mirror, a knowing smile on her face, and Meena kept stealing glances at Myra.  They both seemed like they were about to burst with something.  By the time her hair was done and Meena was applying her powder, Myra could no longer contain herself.

“I think the Hound is in love,” she said with a giggle, and Meena gasped and hit Myra’s arm playfully.

Her dress was suddenly too hot and too binding, and a chill ran down her spine despite the warmth growing on her skin.  What does that mean?  Do they know?  Or… is it someone else?  He had been avoiding her, and last she saw him he wasn’t exactly gallant.  Maybe she was nothing to him after all.  Careful not to reveal her thoughts, she looked blankly in the mirror at her own reflection.

“We were down at the training yard yesterday,” Myra started.  “We go down there sometimes when we’re free, to watch the men.  Meena fancies Ser Loras.”

Everyone fancies Ser Loras,” Meena protested.  “He wasn’t there yesterday, though, and the men were mostly just talking.  The way men talk…you know, the things they talk about.”

“Don’t let it bother you, milady, they all do it.”  Myra again.  “It reminds them they are men.”

The two girls were smiling and nodding in unison, and Sansa nodded back at them in agreement of their sage words, even though she didn’t know what they were talking about.  “What were they saying?”

Myra looked at Meena and Meena looked away.  Finally, Myra cleared her throat to answer.  “Forgive me, milady, you shouldn’t be hearing such a thing.  I shouldn’t have started.”

“What were they saying?” Sansa asked again, insistent. 

“Ser Deckard…he said he wondered what you …taste like,” Meena responded hesitantly.   

Taste like?” 

“Between your legs,” clarified Myra, and Meena gasped and swatted at her.   “Anyway,” she continued, oblivious to Sansa’s horrified expression, “Ser Osney said you probably tasted like honey, but Ser Deckard said it was probably more like lemon cakes because that’s what your kiss tasted like.”

Sansa’s mouth dropped with a gasp.  “I never!  Oh, gods, how dare he!”  The two girls just nodded at her sympathetically.

“Don’t let it bother you, milady,” Myra said.  “They all do it, you can’t stop them.”

“Do what?” Sansa asked.  She did not understand what they were trying to tell her.

“Brag.  That’s what men do when they get together, talk about their conquests, even the ones that never happened.  Especially the ones that never happened.  Even other men don’t believe the stories they hear about women in the training yard, it’s just talk.  They all do it.”

“That’s disgusting,” Sansa spat.

“Yes, it is,” Meena agreed blithely.  “So the Hound told them they should show more respect for a lady, and Ser Deckard said it made no difference, that once the king…um, had you…they would all get a chance whether you willed it or not.”

Sansa was stunned.  She hadn’t seen Ser Deckard since he’d walked her through the garden, and couldn’t believe that he would sit and brag about raping her and….and….whatever else he was talking about- to a group of men.  To a group of knights.  And they all just laughed. 

Not all of them. 

Meena continued the tale.  “So they were all sitting there, laughing, polishing their swords talking about this, when suddenly the Hound drops his sword on top of Ser Deckard’s sword and says…”

“’Wanna spar?’” the girls said in unison before devolving into giggles.  Well, at least someone was enjoying this story.

“You should have seen Ser Deckard’s face,” Myra said.  “He tried to act like he was more than happy to spar with the Hound, but you could tell plainly that he would really rather not.”

“And everyone was silent, they stopped laughing and just looked like they were going to piss themselves,” laughed Meena.

“The Hound wasn’t even wearing armor, he wasn’t even training at the time, but gods, if you had seen his face….he was like a dog gone mad.”

“And it didn’t take long,” continued Meena.  “They each grabbed tourney swords, and Ser Deckard circled around the Hound for a few seconds, then raised his sword to hit him, but the Hound hit him once across the chest and he went down immediately.”

“Three broken ribs, Pycelle says.  He won’t be ‘tasting’ anything for a while.”  Myra giggled at her jape, and Meena joined in.

Sansa sat in silence, trying to understand what they were telling her.  The handmaids noticed her expression and took it for something other than pensiveness.  “Don’t let it bother you, milady,” said Meena reassuringly.  “The way men talk…they all do it.  They don’t do it around ladies, because that would be disrespectful, but they do all do it.  It’s nothing to be worried about, it’s just talk.” 

“Just talk,” echoed Myra, nodding.  “And don’t worry about the Hound, either.  I was just japing about him being in love.”

Sansa looked at each of the girls and nodded mutely.  She was ready for them to leave, ready to be alone so she could think uninterrupted, so she thanked them for their kind words and sent them on their way. 

The Hound… Sandor… he’d stood up for her, broken the man who threatened to hurt her, and hadn’t said anything at all about their night together.  Their nights together.  It had to mean something. 

He told her about Gregor.  He saved her on the battlement.  He saved her at Joffrey’s nameday tournament.  He saved her during the riot.  He came for her during the battle, he offered to take her home.  He promised to protect her.  He stayed for her.  He gave her a knife and taught her to use it.  He followed her when she was with Ser Deckard.  He came to her room and kissed her.  What did it mean?

Why did she take him back to his room the night she found him drunk on the Street of Silk?  Why did she stay when he asked her to?  Why did she still have his cloak tucked away in the bottom of her trunk?  Why did she have his dagger strapped dutifully to her body?  Why did she let him look down her dress?  Why did she like his face?  Why did she pray for him?  Why did she kiss him?  What did it mean?

It was all right there, she knew, all right in front of her, all the little pieces of a puzzle that she had never bothered to try to put together.  She just needed time to think

There was a light tapping before her door opened, and Cersei came sweeping in.  “Let’s try your new clothes on, little dove,” the Queen purred. 

Sansa was more than happy to oblige.  The dress she stepped into was more beautiful than any she had ever owned, more beautiful than most she had ever seen on the Queen herself.  The cinched waist and accents around the bust line made her look more woman than girl.  More wolf than bird, she smirked at her reflection.  I can wear this to Joffrey’s wedding.  The idea of wearing something so lovely to that monster’s wedding lifted her spirits.

“It’s beautiful, dear.  You look lovely in it.  Oh, but I forgot the cloak.”

When Cersei held up the maiden’s cloak, Sansa went cold in horror.    

Chapter Text

So as it turned out, the Tyrells had been plotting to marry Sansa to Willas Tyrell almost since the day they’d met her.  When Tywin found out, he recognized the political ramifications of such a union and knew the best way to thwart it was to marry her off themselves.   Immediately.  But when they cast about for suitable options they found there weren’t many.  Tyrion was dead, Jaime was missing, Lancel said he’d rather go to prison.  Most of the knights in King’s Landing had only recently arrived, which made their loyalties questionable, and the ones with a history of loyalty were members of the Kingsguard. 

They had just begun debating the merits of one distant cousin over the other when Cersei spoke up- why not marry her to a man born into Lannister service, who had proven his loyalty time and time again, a man already living in King’s Landing and required to remain, a man worthy of wearing the cloak of the Kingsguard but not burdened by the oaths of the Kingsguard.  And if that man just happened to be the second son a minor house, ugly as fuck, and with a reputation as black as night… well, wouldn’t that really be a just ending for a traitor’s daughter? 

Joffrey hated the idea- he really didn’t want to give up his dog- but then people tried to convince him how inappropriate a union it would be, and the wheels started turning.  Tywin mentioned that such a slight would only aggravate Robb and might make him more aggressive.  Pycelle quipped that a man that size would give her children so large it might rip her in half.  Varys reported that his spies always saw her distressed whenever she had to walk with the Hound- when he approached her at the training yard, when he picked her up from lunch with Margaery, when he escorted her after the ball.  Add all that to the girl’s reaction in the throne room and Joffrey was suddenly convinced that this was the perfect match for Lady Sansa Stark.

Sandor was pretty sure this was the second worst day of his life, and even then it was a close second to the day Gregor held his face in the fire.  She had shown up to the ceremony red-eyed and shivering and had to be dragged into the sept to meet him.  She cried aloud when he covered her in his cloak, and flinched when he leaned in for their first kiss.  At the modest feast afterwards she pushed food around her plate and waved away the wine, shaking and whimpering the whole time.  She never even looked in his direction.  Not once.

I’d rather stick my own head in a brazier than deal with this buggering nonsense. He had hoped that the little bird had been trained enough to at least pretend this wasn’t a nightmare come true, hoped that maybe she’d warmed up to him enough that she could learn to accept this, but apparently that was too much to hope for.  Instead he was getting this very public humiliation, and he was fucking miserable.

Joffrey, on the other hand, was enormously pleased with the entire event.  He called for song after song to prolong his joy, and made several toasts- taunts, really- to the new bride.  Every sneer in their direction was another chance for her to tense up and sniffle.  Cersei smiled wickedly, clearly proud of herself for having the idea in the first place.  Evil woman with her evil punishment.  But it wasn’t him they were trying to punish, it was Sansa.  And it worked, damn them.  They probably thought they were doing him a favor by gifting him the girl, but the thought of spending his life with this weeping woman completely eliminated any gratitude he may have otherwise felt.  He glared in her direction, trying to will her to relax, but she leaned away from him as if on instinct.  Damn her.

If ever he needed a drink it was now.  Fuck it all, he’d earned a drink for dealing with this.  But in truth, he was afraid to drink, afraid to drink too much and lose control.  It had been hard enough keeping his desires in check when the threat of a beheading loomed over him; now that he was actually supposed to bed her he wasn’t sure he’d be able to hold himself back, whether she was willing or not.  It would be one long miserable marriage if he fucked everything up the very first night, and he just couldn’t take the chance.  Besides… she deserved better.

“Every wedding needs a bedding,” the boy king shouted, and a cheer rose in the room.  “Come Lady Sansa, let’s get you out of those pretty clothes, see what the dog has waiting for him tonight.”

“Bugger that,” Sandor stated flatly and stood.  “I don’t need any help with the bedding, keep your hands off her.”  He grabbed her roughly by the arm and hauled her from her seat. 

“Oh come, now, it’s a tradition…” called the king after them as they rushed down the hall.  A crowd was following them, shouting out bawdy “suggestions” and cheering them on.  She was openly weeping by then, barely able to walk as if fear had stolen her strength.  Any illusion he had of a willing wife was completely obliterated at that point.  Damn her.  Damn them all.         

When they finally got to his new chamber- their new chamber- she froze at the door.  He pushed her roughly inside and she let out one final cry before he turned on the crowd.  “Stay the fuck away from my door!” he bellowed and slammed it as a cheer erupted in the hallway.  Cursing, he dropped the bar and turned to face his little wife.

She was standing quietly in the middle of the room, calmly taking in her surroundings.  She seemed…relaxed…somehow, as she slowly turned and looked at each item.  Finally, she removed her cloak- his cloak- and placed it on a chair before working her way to the wash basin.  He eyed her suspiciously and moved to sit on the bed.

She started removing pins from her elaborate hairstyle, letting each piece fall one by one before moving on to the next.  And she was…beautiful.  I could get used to this.  She may never let me touch her, but as long as I can watch her undo her hair, I could be happy.  But then she shook out her mane and sighed so contentedly that he knew he would want more.  Much more.  Damn.

Hair hanging freely now, she carefully poured water into the basin and rinsed her face, then reached for a small towel to dab her skin dry.

“I hope our dear king enjoyed the show,” she said simply.  “Do you think he believed it?” 

It was several heartbeats before he understood what she was saying.

I believed it,” he growled.     

She turned suddenly on him as if surprised, then gave him an apologetic look.  “Sorry.”

“That was an act?” he asked, still incredulous.

“I had to,” she explained.  ”It’s what he wanted.  If I hadn’t acted so upset he would be out there right now trying to think of something else.  Maybe he’ll leave me alone for a while.”

She had crossed the room and was now standing directly in front of him, hands folded daintily before her.  They were almost face to face, even though he was sitting, and she was smiling sweetly, looking him directly in the eye.  “You understand, don’t you?”

All he could do was grunt and eye her warily, but she just smiled and took his hands.  “You’re still angry?”

“A little,” he grumbled.

She sighed deeply and pulled his arms around her.  “I promise to make it up to you.”

Huh.  That was unexpected.  He was searching her eyes, something to tell him she didn’t mean it, but he could tell she did, because he knew she couldn’t lie to him.  “So….you’re alright with this?”

“Yes, my lord,” she replied gently, playfully.

“But… I can’t have been your first choice.”

“No,” she agreed.  “Joffrey was my first choice.” 

“What about Loras?”

“Not a prize worth having,” she shrugged indifferently, and he could tell she meant that, too. 

Was this really happening?  He never ever imagined himself married, to anyone, and now he had the most beautiful girl in Westeros, the princess of the North, and he would bed her and she would bear his children.  And she wasn’t opposed to it, he knew, not with that look in her eyes.  No one had ever looked at him like that.  No one but her.

“You’re in for a long night, little wife,” he said with a small laugh.  Slowly, carefully, he pulled her onto his lap, and even though she didn’t resist, he saw her smile falter and he stopped.

“It’ll hurt,” she said hesitantly.  Not really a question, but he nodded anyway.  “A lot?”

“I don’t know,” he murmured, waiting for her to change her mind.  She seemed to think for a moment, then smiled shyly at him and leaned in to wrap her arms around his shoulders and he pulled her in for a kiss.

Fucking hells, his heart felt like it was trying to beat its way out of his chest, his breath felt almost the same.  She was his, all his, his beautiful little wife, and he could lay claim to her because there was nothing stopping him now.  It was allowed; it was expected; it was…wait, what was…

“What’s this?” he asked curiously, fingering a hard lump on her leg.

“Gift from my husband,” she purred, and he lifted her skirt to find…the dagger he’d given her, strapped high on her thigh. 

“You wore that to our wedding?

“I’m supposed to wear it at all times,” she said, obedient little bird that she was.

“That’s not very practical.  You’d never be able to reach it if you needed it.”

She ran her nose over his chin, up his jawline and kissed him on the cheek.  “I like it there,” she whispered.

There was something about her voice, the words she said and the huskiness in them, murmured against his ear… and his hand on her thigh, and the knife on her thigh, and the knowledge of what came next, what he would do, and… he was going to hurt her.  He was going to hurt her!  He didn’t want to hurt her, but he was going to hurt her!  Seven hells… maybe they should skip it.

He must have hesitated, because she pulled away from him and looked in his eyes, concern plain on her face.  “Is something wrong?”

“No,” he answered, maybe a little too quickly, but he couldn’t look at her, couldn’t let her see just how fucking nervous he was.  Maybe they should skip it.  “What will you have me tell the boy king in the morning?”

“Ugh,” she groaned, most unladylike.  “Tell him…I cried.  Tell him I begged you not to but you just laughed at me.  Tell him anything you want.”  She kissed him gently then, a whisper of lips against his.  “Do whatever you have to out there.  Whatever you think is best, and I’ll support you.  But in here, you’re mine.”

“I’m yours,” he agreed.  “And you’re mine.”

And she was.

Chapter Text

It had been a long night, he had the right of that. 

He seemed even more nervous than she was, and she thought she could lighten the mood by teasing him about his clumsy fingers working her laces.  Which ultimately proved to be a bad idea, because he drew his dagger and simply sliced the dress clean off her.  And she had really liked that dress, too.  She’d given him a look of open exasperation but before she could utter a protest, he covered her mouth with his own and the dress was quickly forgotten.  And then it was a tumult of clothing and kissing as they hastily finished undressing each other.  Only briefly did she wonder about the appropriateness of her actions but she pushed the thought aside- they were married now, and knowing that he was her husband and she his wife gave her the freedom to do as she pleased.  And it pleased her to undress him, to look at him, to touch him.

He wanted to keep touching her, too, of course, but it was her turn and she let him know it, pushing him till he was on his back and she was kneeling over him.  He seemed both amused and aroused by her enthusiasm and didn’t fight her, just watched her, one hand resting on her hip.  She let her fingers wander everywhere her eyes went- over the dense muscle on his shoulders, the coarse hair on his chest, his flat stomach, and finally, anxiously reaching down to the area between his legs.  She ran both her hands down the flesh she found there, one over the other, repeatedly, marveling at how hard it was, how incredibly long it was, how very heavy it was.  It was all so unexpected.  Was this what men had to deal with constantly?  How did they wear breeches?  How did they ride horses?  How did they make water?

She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she almost forgot what it was they were doing, until he reached down and placed one of his enormous hands over hers.  And that was unexpected, too.  For a part of the body that was clearly very sensitive, he sure did want her to squeeze hard.  She tried to follow his unspoken instructions but she was truthfully worried that she might break it.  He must have been worried about that, too, because after a while he yanked her hand away and pulled her up to him for a kiss.

And gods, what a kiss.  This was nothing like his other kisses, but fierce and desperate and so like him, and she met it with a hunger she'd never known.  He held her tightly and rolled over her, pulling her underneath him as he nudged her legs open with his knees.  It was so soon, and she was scared, truly scared, because now that she knew exactly what was coming she knew it was definitely going to hurt.  A lot.  But she couldn’t think about that anymore, because he took her hands and whispered he was sorry for hurting her and pushed into her with one sure movement.

Maiden Mother and Crone it was terrible, the pain so intense she felt like her breath was knocked out of her while her fingernails dug helplessly into his hands.  She knew it was supposed to hurt, had always just accepted it was supposed to hurt, but at that moment she was cursing whichever god had decided such a thing.  Why, why was it supposed to hurt?  It seemed so unfair!    

He asked her if she wanted to stop.  Or maybe he asked her if she was alright.  She wasn’t entirely certain what he had asked, so she kissed his neck and hoped he’d know what she meant.  He must have, because he kissed her quickly on the forehead and began moving.  It was bizarre, the feel of him inside her, his hardness dragging against her tender skin, her own body clenching around him.  And the pain, still the pain, but she closed her mind to it, focusing on his warm body and his whispered words as he told her how much he wanted her, how he’d wanted her for so long, and how she felt so good.  And after a while it seemed that the motion was soothing her as much as his words were. 

His slower movements soon yielded to faster, stronger thrusts, his words became incoherent, the pain became sharper.  Just as she was wondering if she could ever get used to this he pushed hard against her with a shudder and a groan, and somewhere beneath the pain she could feel the intense pulsing heat of him and knew it was over.

And she was glad, at first, but when he withdrew she rather missed having him there.

The second time came soon after the first, and took Sansa completely by surprise.  She had never even thought a second time was possible, always imagined that it would happen once and then they would go to sleep; but then, given the option, she felt that sleep was overrated.  Things progressed slowly and sweetly from there, and though it still hurt, the pain was somehow secondary to the pleasure.  She didn’t know there were so many different things a husband could do with his wife, and spent the evening gasping and giggling at every new discovery.  Each successive coupling was less painful, and while her body didn’t react in the same way his did, she felt that her desire for him was just as strong as his desire for her.     

At one point he found the bruise still visible on her hip and she saw the clouds rolling into his eyes.  And then he apologized- for hurting her, for scaring her, for all of it- and her heart jumped.  She had told herself that she didn’t need to hear it, that she knew he was sorry and that was good enough; but hearing it anyway made the night complete, somehow, and she thanked him for his apology because she knew it was hard for him.  He just laughed and said if he was going to be married to her he would have to get used to apologizing.  Then he kissed her bruised hip bone, her belly, her breast, her neck… by the time he reached her mouth, all was forgiven.

He left for his shift that morning even before the sun came up, and she had sent him off with a proper goodbye then slunk back under the blankets for some much-needed sleep.  It seemed her eyes were closed for only a moment when there was a sharp knock at the door.

“Lady Sansa!”  Ser Meryn.  Sighing, she wrapped a dressing gown around her and opened the door.

“The king requests your presence in the throne room.  I’m to escort you.”  He gave her a knowing smirk and she blushed madly.

“I need a few minutes to get dressed,” she said quietly and closed the door at his nod.  She knew what he was thinking, knew what all of them were thinking, and for the first time she felt a stab of regret.  She’d accepted that the smartest course of action was to let Joffrey believe she was mistreated.  She knew that.  But at the same time, it bothered her that the king would think so little of her husband, that everyone thought so little of him, when in truth he was as loyal and gentle a man as she had ever met.  If only they knew how happy she was, if only she could tell them…

Not bothering to call for a handmaid, she washed her face and brushed out her hair before getting dressed in something simple but pretty.  She knew the king was hoping to see her looking distraught; she wanted to be the exact opposite.  Fifteen minutes later she was entering the throne room.      

As much as she had pretended to be upset last night, she didn’t have to pretend to be embarrassed this morning.  She knew everyone was looking at her and imagining her with her husband, wondering if she cried, wondering if she bled, wondering if they should pity her.  She could feel the familiar blush on her cheeks and ears, but held her head high as she knelt before the king.

Sandor was standing behind Joffrey’s left shoulder, his usual spot, looking almost bored, although she didn’t dare look at him directly.  Ser Meryn took his place behind Joffrey on his right.

Joffrey was eying her like a cat eying a trapped mouse, a mean glint in his eye.  He waved at her to arise, so she did.

“Lady Sansa.  I hope you enjoyed your wedding last night.”  Stupid little boy with a stupid little smirk on his face.

“Yes, Your Grace.  It was a lovely wedding.”

“Yes, it was.  Really, more than you deserved, but I was feeling generous with my dog.”

She willed her voice to remain emotionless.   “Thank you, Your Grace.  It was most generous.” 

“My dog says he had you howling like a bitch last night.”  He said it loudly, and she could hear snickering behind her and saw Ser Meryn smirk.

Was that a question?  He seemed to be waiting for a response, so she took a breath.  “Yes, Your Grace.”

The king was really enjoying himself and leaned in with a sneer.  “So you found the bedding to be satisfactory?” he pressed.

“Yes, Your Grace,” she said as blandly as she could.  But then she cocked her head to the side and gave him a sly smirk.  “I was… very satisfied.”  And she arched an eyebrow and smiled wider, even though she didn’t mean to.

Ser Meryn snorted, Joffrey spluttered, and she bit her lip to hide her laugh. 

“Dog, get her out of here!  I don’t want to see her again until there’s a litter of pups in her belly!”

Wordlessly, Sandor grabbed her by the arm and hauled her out of the throne room and down the hall while she did her best to look abashed.  They were heading back to his chamber- their chamber- and she was relieved.  When he was sure no one could see them anymore he dropped her arm and scowled at her.

“That mouth is going to get you in trouble, little bird.”

“I thought you liked my mouth.”

He chuckled softly and leaned in for a kiss, but she put her hand on his chest and fixed him with a reproachful look.

“’Howling like a bitch?’”

“You said I could tell him anything I wanted,” he laughed.

“And that was the best you could do?”

He growled at her and scooped her up, and she shrieked as he carried her the rest of the way to his- their- chamber.  Soon enough they were laughing and rolling over each other, kissing and holding each other as if nothing else mattered in the world before settling into contented silence. 

She thought it was odd that he’d had her nearly half a dozen times already, and still her heart pitter pattered like a maiden just from laying so close to him.  Will it always be this way?  She sure hoped so.  “You must be exhausted,” she murmured, running a finger down his nose, over his lips, his chin…

“Been worse,” he answered, pulling her hand from his face and kissing it gently.  “You know, you shouldn’t antagonize him.  He doesn’t need much of a reason to punish you.”

“I know,” she admitted reluctantly.  She had been wondering if Joffrey would use him against her, was hoping he wouldn’t be so evil.  But she knew deep down that he would, would find it particularly amusing, and wondered how it would affect them.  She shook her head slowly and gave him a sad look.  “I guess things will be worse, now.”

“No, I think things will be better.”

She looked at him dubiously and waited for him to explain.

“Their ties to you are dependent on my loyalty to them.  Joffrey may be stupid enough to abuse it, but Tywin and Cersei aren’t, and they’ll keep him in line.”  He was playing with her hands and pulled her closer for a kiss.  “And… I convinced Joffrey that the worst punishment for you would be to bear my children.  Which you couldn’t do, if you were getting beat all the time.”  He looked apologetic, as if he thought she would be angry at the suggestion, but she only laughed. 

“Well, you did promise me lots of beautiful babies.”

“Did I?” he asked, one eyebrow raised in amusement.

“Mmmhmm,” she sighed.  “It was part of your plan, luring me in with all your sweet words and promises.  You’re very good at it, you know.”

“At what?”

“The art of seduction,” she purred.  “You cleverly concealed it behind threats and insults but I figured it out.  Luckily for you, I don’t scare so easy.  What are you doing?”

“What do you think I’m doing?”

"But it’s daytime!” 

Sandor sighed in mock annoyance.  “Wait, let me guess- you thought it only happened at night.”

Actually… she did think it only happened at night, but there was no way she would ever admit it, so she hit him with a pillow and rolled away to tie her laces back up.  Sandor scooted over to her on the bed and wrapped an arm around her waist, pulling her close till she lay across him, her head against his chest. 

“Do you think there’s a chance we’ll ever see my mother and brother?” she asked.  “I really want them to meet you.”

“A chance.  Yes.  We’ll see how the war goes.”  He took a deep breath and let it out completely.  “I’ve met them before, though; pretty sure they hated me.  They’re really going to hate me, now.”

She couldn’t help but laugh- he was right, after all, her family was going to hate him.  “My mother will not be pleased, that’s true,” she began.  “But she’ll come around when she sees how happy we are.  Robb, on the other hand… yes, he’s going to hate you.”

“Then I will be on my very best behavior around him,” he promised.  “Don’t want to make your brother uncomfortable.”

“Why not?” she asked, turning mischievous eyes up at him.  “He’s my brother; I’m supposed to make him uncomfortable.  I’m going to wear my new Highgarden dress in front of him, he’ll love that.  Ooo, and maybe we can have a room next to him so he can hear the headboard banging against the wall every night.”

She laughed loudly at her own jape, and even louder when Sandor’s jaw dropped in horrified awe.  “What the fuck happened to you?” he demanded, clearly amused.

You did,” she answered sweetly, kissing him on the chin.  “You’ve been a terrible influence on me.”

“I should have known,” he grumbled.  “You’ve been a terrible influence on me, too.”

“I have been a wonderful influence on you,” she countered.  “Look at all the wonderful things that have happened to you since you met me.”  As if to emphasize her point, she kissed his neck and ran her hand down his stomach and between his legs, even though it was daytime.      

“Careful, little wife.  You’ll give your husband ideas.”

“Maybe that’s what I was trying to do,” she murmured, but quickly became serious and turned her gaze up to him.  “I’ll be a good wife, you know.  You won’t ever regret marrying me, I promise.”

He seemed momentarily surprised by her sudden confession, then shook his head and looked away.  “I can’t promise the same, little bird.  I know nothing about being a husband.”

“That’s the wrong answer,” she pouted.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he responded.  “I won’t be a good husband.  But I promise to try.  Isn’t that good enough?”

It was not good enough.  In fact, it wasn’t even good enough that he would be a good husband.  She wanted more than that.  She needed more than that. 

“My parents didn’t even know each other when they got married,” she told him.  “They were complete strangers.”

“That’s pretty normal with highborns,” he said matter-of-factly.

Sansa paused, trying to find the right words for her question.  She knew what she wanted to ask; she didn’t know WHY she wanted to ask it, why she still clung to the idea even in the midst of all the tragedy she’d experienced.  And he was a warrior, a man hardened by battle and heartache, who didn’t believe in songs and happy endings.  Or love.  Trying to talk with him about these things was just setting herself up for disappointment.

“They had to learn to love each other.  But they did love each other.  Eventually.”  She took a deep breath to calm herself before continuing.  “Do you think you'll learn to love me?”

The question hung between them for only a moment.

“No, I won’t learn to love you.”  He lifted her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist.  So romantic.  “I already do.”   

Her heart felt like it was soaring.  “I love you too,” she said breathlessly, and unlaced his breeches, daytime be damned.