The water was cool on her finger tips. Sansa was sitting on the side of a fountain, offering her face to the midday sun like a flower. The garden was blessedly silent at this time of day. She had trouble breathing deeply with the heat, but more so because of her too small dress. And this one was her newest, the one Joffrey had had made for her, the ones from Winterfell were even worse. She stayed like that a little while longer, sighed and opened her eyes.
"O to be truly alone!", Sansa thought. Joffrey had a guard follow her around all the time these days. Ladies had maids, but Sansa had guards. It was so tiring to feel so out of place and so bound up all the time. This knight was in full armour and stood a few paces away. She didn't know his name nor his face. Sansa sighed again and minding her fair complexion, she retreated to a shadowed alcove near a patch of irises.
She missed having a friend. She felt so alone. Impulsively, she decided to snatch a few irises to braid them in a crown. It was silly but silly was better than desperate. Sansa knew her craft and was soon braiding the canvas with long leaves. Next weaving the flowers around it, using buttercups to fix the long stems. She was so absorbed that she didn't notice the loud steps approaching.
She startled when she heard a growling voice dismiss the knight. "Go run along Oldcastle, I'm taking it from here."
It was the Hound! What was he doing here? If Ser Oldcastle found it curious to be relieved by a member of the King's Guard he didn't show it and clanged away. The Hound turned towards the bench she was sitting. Sansa was embarrassed to be found braiding a flower crown and she looked shyly up at him. His expression was undecipherable.
"I am nearly finished," she informed him foolishly.
"The little bird's making a nest." He was almost smiling.
"It's a crown," crowning herself fluidly under his scrutiny. She stood up and walked past him.
The Hound's presence always felt stronger than that of the other guards. She did not know why, nor did she did know what to think of him. She could not forget his predatory stalk when he found her storming the Hand's Tower, she could not forget how near and comforting his face had been when he had wiped the blood off her lip a few days later. He had saved her and derailed her so many times since then, her reaction to him ranged from reassured to terrified each time.
Now she was almost tingling by the sheer knowledge of his being on her right. They went up an alley in silence. When she chanced a glance on her right she found him looking. She wanted to pat her crown to make sure it everything fell right but Sansa was a lady and ladies kept poise. They reached the shade of a peach tree. The Hound was still looking at her.
Trying to find something to ease the tension, Sansa looked up and said "Those peaches look delicious." She reached for one of velvety fruit but Sandor Clegane reached for the same and his warm hand brushed the back of hers. She brought it down immediately, feeling dismayed. She took the fruit with a thank and brought it to her lips, but she was soon starting to feel dizzy. Her dress was constricting, the was not a breeze stirring, there was a ringing in her ears and she would have liked to sit down, only her vision darkened.
Thus Sansa Stark lost consciousness in the Hounds arms.
* * *
Sandor Clegane looked away mentally berating himself for having plucked a peach for the bird. He heard the peach thud and all of a sudden Seven Hells! Lady Sansa was swaying and dropping. He reacted on instinct and she was in his arms before she hit the ground. Her face was pale and her breathing difficult. Sandor did not think. Else she would be on the stone bench and not still in his arms when he noticed her heaving breasts in her too-small dress. He bit back a curse. Then he cursed noticing he hadn't wanted to curse before her. Over her. Around her. Buggering hells, Dog, do something.
He snatched the bruised peach with one hand and resolutely gathered her up in his arms. He was taking her back to the Keep. Have the maids look after her. But he could steal her away. It would be easy. He had plucked a peach but he could pluck the bird too. The Hound had an image of depositing Lady Sansa on his bed with her flower crown and all, soon followed by a trail of flashing fantasies, fueled by sweet feel of her in arms.
Get a grip Dog, he berated himself, concentrating on the weight of her and the steadiness of his pace. People were scattering away at his appearance. At last, in the corridor leading to her room, a flock of handmaids squealed around and he barked orders at the lot of them. He laid her down on her bed. He straightened swiftly not wanting to stay any longer than necessary. A loud rip echoed. A fold of her dress had caught in his armour, and a slip of it was still caught in a buckle. The pink thing was ruined, much like he had wanted it to. Hells. The sight of her hair on the pillow, her ripped dress, her pink lips, the fabric in his hand. He had to get out of there.
Sandor knew his job well. He went to report to the queen. Once that was done and only then did he eat the damned fruit.
* * *
Sansa remembered though a dream-like haze strong arms carrying her as she ducked in and out of consciousness, even as she awoke in her bed. She felt feverish and cold. Her moonblood combined with the heat and the sun had been too much. She wanted to be back against that solid chest as she shivered on her bed cover. A maid placed a cool cloth on her forehead and her whole body constricted.
* * *
The next morning she was awoken by a knocking at her door. She darted out of her bed, grabbed a robe, and giving her ripped pink gown a mournful look in passing, went for the door.
"My lady, please forgive me for imposing on your presence such. I was given express instruction to get to you as soon as possible."
It was a tailor, Pentoshi by his look most like though his accent was impeccable. He looked slightly nervous, and peering around his back were two assistants carrying measures of silk and brocade.
"Please come in."
"I know it's an inopportune time, but Ser Hound gave specific instructions to be by you at the earliest."
"Ser Hound, yes, he called on me yesterday." the tailor said uncomfortably, "I believe he is responsible for the rip in your gown and was ordered by Her Grace to replace it at his expense. As your gown was a royal gift, the Hound paid for two."
As pleased as Sansa was to have new gowns cut for her, she felt absolutely mortified to prove such a source of inconvenience for the Hound. First he carried her all the way from the garden to her chamber, then he had to pay for it too, for two gowns no less! O how was she ever going to repay him? How was she ever going to face him?
"My lady? Are you still unwell?"
"I thank you, I am well," Sansa said turning towards the brocades now laid out on the bed. So many beautiful colours. Letting her hand run over the hues and texture, she felt a thrill of happiness at the touch of a particularly bright brocade. This was something that filled her with joy.
"This one my lady?"
* * *
She didn't go to court at all in the next five days. She ventured out to the library twice, not even minding her gards, but otherwise stayed in her room or on her balcony. For the first time in so many months, Sansa felt something akin to happiness.
She and the tailor who had introduced himself as Marton had gotten on increasingly good terms with each fitting. It was nice to speak to a person who did not regard her coolly. It was nice too to invest herself in the creation. Sansa felt she could express herself through her choices of dress for the first time. Marton and Sansa had agreed to incorporate the simplicity of Northern style to impeccable royal cut. They both agreed that the colours should enhance Sansa's complexion rather than follow blindly the royal trend. Aided by his Pentoshi flair, Sansa's new friend had made miracles happen.
The first gown was a beauty. They had dubbed it "Winter Rose" because it was the lightest shade of rose, a subtle reminder of her origins without it being the Stark colours. The shade was pale and pure but her skin was lighter and purer still, and she felt that in this gown she could forget her worries and feel light-hearted.
The simplicity of the garment had left gold enough not for one, but two more dresses, or so the tailor had deemed. Sansa thought that maybe he liked working with her as much as she did, and had stretched the budget for her. Thus the second dress was made, this one powder blue and peach, two colours that would look bizarre on anyone but Sansa. The garment's colours radiated out of her auburn hair and her clear eyes. She felt herself in it.
But it was the last one that thrilled Sansa the most. She could not wait to see it. Marton would be there for the final fitting any time. Soon there was a knock on her door and she flew to open it. "Good morrow to my lady." Sansa greeted him with a laugh.
A maid helped her change behind a screen. Relishing the feel of the fabric, Sansa swept around towards the tailor and the full-lenght mirror he had had moved to her room.
"Oh Marton, it's perfect."
"Beautiful!" he said with pride, grinning ear-to-ear.
Sansa swished side to side, loving the way her waist enhanced by the cut and how tall she could stand in that dress. It was of a rich yellow, which would pas for Baratheon-coloured in front of the court but that she could only think of as, well, there was no need to hide it in the secrecy of her mind, she thought of it as Clegane-field-of-gold.
She had dared admit it to her own stream of thoughts. She blushed at her own secret daring.
* * *
Her gait was royal when she ventured out again. It seemed to Sansa that nobility of King's Landing saluted her with more respect. Her walk was certainly more assured now that she could breathe properly and stand tall. How strange that looking the part of the future queen will make people act like you are.
She met King Joffrey in a covered alley leading to a wide view of the Blackwater. Behind him, ever intimidating, ever so prompt at making her nerves tinge, was Sandor Clegane.
"Your Grace," Sansa bowed.
"I like it. You look pretty."
"Thank you," she looked over the King's shoulder to lock eyes with the fierce warrior, "I am proud to wear your house colours", she added sincerely. Joffrey, as was his habit, was not looking at her face. She could only have said it for Clegane. There was the tiniest glint in the large guard's eyes, Sansa noted with elation.
"What do you think, Dog?"
"Dear nephew!" Sansa turned around to see Tyrion Lannister approaching.
"Lady Sansa, is this a flower I see before me? You look radiant."
"Uncle, what do you want?" Joffrey cut in before Sansa could thank him.
Tyrion, still addressing Sansa replied "Will you forgive me my Lady if I remove you from my nephew's company? As he well knows, there is a small council mournfully awaiting his presence, though now I understand why he has everyone waiting."
Joffrey let out a sigh like a child. Eventually he stormed off all the same. The Imp followed and shot behind his shoulder "Hound, try not to rip Lady Sansa's gown when you escort her back."
Sansa blushed of embarrassment. Now that she had opportunity to thank him, she didn't know how to go about it. She kept silent for as long as they stayed on the busy alley. They reached the empty belvedere.
"I don't know how to thank you enough. When I learnt you had to cover the expenses for the gown, I was mortified," she chanced to look up at him.
His face was set. "It's nothing," he said.
"It's not just about courtesy, you know. I am completely abashed my lack of foresight cost you. You get blamed for my carelessness, and then pay for it too, I could never repay you" She inhaled and turned towards him "I am grateful too."
She blushed and stammered "Do you like it?"
"The King's colours aye. It doesn't matter shit whether I like it as long as Joff does." She winced. He scoffed again. "The little bird's still afraid to look a dog in the eye even when she chirps her thanks." He pinched her chin.
"It's not your scars," she blurted. His face closed off. "It's your eyes. Your anger." And louder before he could retort anything "It's not Baratheon yellow either. Field-of-gold. Autumn field-of-gold." she offered him a small smile while his intense gaze soaked up her very being. She felt alight. Alive.
"What do you think you're doing little bird?"
"Thanking you." She put her hand on the back of his large one that was still holding her chin.
"Take me for a knight?" he growled.
"Not so. Most knights would have left me there lying on the garden or hit me awake" she said with a voice too sweet for such words. "You make me feel light."
He dropped his hand. "Don't tempt an old dog, little bird, you don't know when he'll bite. Seven hells you're a sweet morsel."
"I know I am not for you." she didn't know what possessed her to be so candid with him. "Only cowards and liars for the little bird. You are honest. You are strong." after a while she added "Mock me all you want, wearing your house colour gives me strength. And hope." There was a fresh breeze playing with the hem of her skirts and her free flowing hair. She realized she was glad to be there and she smiled.
"Yes," he said out of the blue.
"I like your dress, little bird."
She smiled. Their hand touched. Then their fingers entwined. They were both looking out to the Black Water with their attention was completely absorbed by that single touch of warmth. They were standing still and their hearts felt like molten lava and wildfire.
Years later, Sansa would recount how Sandor had kept her hand in his, and Sandor would say she hadn't taken her hand away from his. No matter, both knew it was this modest touch that allowed Sandor to whisk his little bird out of King's Landing, and to give her his colours, his cloak and his heart.