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“Hold on, girl. I need to sit a moment.”

 

With a groan, he lowered himself to the ground, facing away from her. Given little choice, Sansa chose a low log close to him and sat. Her eyes adjusted to the dark at their leisure, darting about. With the torch snuffed out, the field seemed to hide a monster behind every blade of grass.  She felt foolish; she needn't be afraid of anything with the Hound so near. The thought should have afforded her some comfort, but she was still unsettled. I wish we could just hurry back.  She studied the massive form next to her. His head rested atop his knees, arms wrapped loosely around his shinsIt would not do to disturb him; she did her best not to fidget. 

 

Bug song raged all around them and some creature shrieked in the distance. Her heart fluttered weakly in the bottom of her throat. She wouldn't be able to speak without stumbling over it. How long does he intend to sit here? It was unseemly to be out alone with a man for so long, even if he was the Queen's sworn shield. She stole another glance at the quiet figure hunched in the dark. Perhaps he’s fallen asleep there. She was reluctant to bother him, but her nerves were fraying rapidly. I’ve been gone for too long; someone will come looking. I should insist that he take me back now. Before she could pull a breath to speak, he grunted.

 

“What’s that I hear?” He grumbled in a near whisper. For a moment, she thought he meant to frighten her as Robb or Theon sometimes did. But he went on, “Not a chirp, nor a peep. Has the little bird forgotten her songs? It’s rude to let conversation lapse or weren't you taught?” Shocked, her mouth gaped in a way that would’ve made Septa Mordane tut. Why does he mock me so? He laughed with bite, twisting to look over his shoulder at her. When he caught a glimpse of her expression his laughter resumed, louder and deeper. The moon lit the good side of his face and stole the anger from his eyes, leaving him young and aglow.

 

Sansa was mesmerized by the sudden and strange moon-glamour cast over the fearsome man. She nearly forgot that she had been insulted. After some time, he settled again. “Damn me, but that was funny.” His eyes radiated their amusement, giving his ruined face a merry lift. The smile was still disturbing, twisted and gaping as it was on the burned side. Even so, Sansa could not help but return it. 

 

The Hound stared at her for a long moment before pushing himself off the ground, swaying. “We’ve tarried enough.” 

 

We? 

 

It hadn't been her decision to stop and sit, she wanted to retort, but held her tongue. Sometimes, courtesy was a well placed silence.

 

"Come, little one." His voice was kinder than she'd ever heard it and his hand swallowed her wrist as he tugged her to her feet. The field fell behind them quickly. A small part of her felt like Arya, traipsing about in the dark with a fellow adventurer. She let the thrill of it sing up her spine for a brief moment but didn't revel in it long. It was silly to consider being escorted to the castle, to go to bed, an adventure. Ladies did not go on meandering quests, and certainly not with men like the Hound. Though, if I were to go on an adventure, I think I would prefer to have the Hound along. Nobody would be fool enough to attack the Hound. Her thoughts were interrupted by a subtle squeeze. He still had hold of her wrist, she realized. He should let go and offer his arm. Or walk a few steps behind as is proper. He seemed attuned to her thoughts this evening; he let go carefully before she could decide how best to extricate herself.

 

He did not speak again until they were nearing her door. “In with you, bird. Your nest awaits.” Was all he said before turning to walk back the way they’d come. “Sleep well…” She trailed off remembering his vehement rejection of the title ser. He slowed, turning only slightly to nod his acknowledgement before continuing on. Playful defiance flared in her chest, from where, she did not know. “…My lord.” she added in a whisper. A ways down the hall, he barked a laugh without looking back. Sansa waited until he'd turned out of sight before slipping into her room. 

 

Tucked in bed and awaiting sleep, her mind wandered back to the field. Had the moon bespelled her somehow? A ridiculous thought to entertain, certainly. Yet, the butterflies in her stomach had been stolen away from her prince and now danced for his scarred dog. Man. She amended. He may snarl and snap, but he is only a man. She recalled the uneven, open-mouthed smile on Sandor Clegane’s face as he laughed and laughed. At my expense. She reminded herself, but her pouting was short-lived. His laughter hadn't been harsh or cruel like before. It had come from somewhere else, hidden and genuine. Deep in her belly, the butterflies danced in earnest. 

 

That night, and for several nights after, she dreamt of a mirthful moon and a bird that tried in vain to reach it.