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An Opportune Escape

Chapter Text

SANSA


Sansa followed Tyrion to their bedchamber, wishing that she could just melt into the cold stone floor. The wedding ceremony had seemed to drag on forever and the last thing she wanted was to poke through seventy-seven courses at the feast. But she must, she must, because tonight her Florian was taking her away from this place, taking her home. She stopped and fingered the silver hair net that the Queen of Thorns had just clucked over. That was the other reason she must go to the feast - Margaery had been so kind to her, too kind really, and it wouldn't do to upset the new Queen. Even if Sansa wasn't going to be here much longer.

After dawdling on the steps, by the time she entered the room Tyrion was nearly finished dressing. "I'm going to the kitchens for some wine," he announced. "I mean to be good and drunk at this damned feast. Change your gown and be quick about it." He was gone before she could do anything other than nod in reply.

Shutting the bedchamber door behind her, Sansa heaved a sigh and sat on the edge of her bed to remove her slippers. It was then that she heard a soft click, followed by the rumble of stone against stone. She looked to the door - though she knew that wasn't the sound it made - and when she saw it still closed the taste of fear rose in her throat.

"My lady," someone spoke up from behind her. The voice was breathy and familiar and she turned toward it with relief.

"Lord...Lord Varys?" she enquired, but the rest of her question caught in her throat. It was the eunuch, to be sure, but he wasn't alone - with him was a very large man, robed in black, his head bent as if to hide his face from her.

"Never mind him," Varys said kindly, stepping forward. "My lady, I've come to help you escape."

Escape? she thought. Dontos had told her nothing of those he worked for. Of course she had suspected Varys, but something told her that the eunuch would have admitted first thing that he was here as part of that particular plan. "But...the feast..." she replied weakly.

"Dear, the feast is the last place you should be. There is a plot about to poison the king, and I've heard whispers of hope that you will be blamed, though of course you have no part in it." Varys eyed her shrewdly, but Sansa was so shocked that surely no one could have seen her face and thought she truly was involved.

"Poison...poison Joffrey?" She was confused and scared and a thousand thousand other things she couldn't describe.

"Yes, yes, it's terrible I know..." Varys admitted, but she saw that he stifled a nervous giggle before continuing. "Really, my lady, you must hurry and come with me."

Sansa couldn't help but eye the tall robed stranger as she squeaked, "With you?"

It was if the man could sense her stares. "With us," he rasped, and though Varys tittered nervously and shushed the man, suddenly Sansa was transported to another time when that voice had asked her to go with him. Green fire in the sky and wine on his breath and tears on his cheeks; a stolen kiss...there was suddenly so much that she wanted to say, had to say, but she knew, of course, that there was no time. So she stood.

"Yes."

"Good girl," Varys smiled in relief. He took mincing steps around her bridal bed and threw a cloak over her shoulders. "Come."

"Wait!" she cried suddenly. "I need...my things..."

"There is no time, my lady! Have no fear, I have provided for you-"

Sansa raised a hand to cut off the eunuch's pleas. "No, just...one moment, please..." She fell to her knees and pulled a long slim dress box from under the bed. The robed man scoffed and she cut her eyes at him before prying open the box and removing just three things - a necklace, a present from her mother and father, something given to her in a different lifetime. A prayer book, battered and bent, that had once belonged to poor dead Septa Mordane. And a cloak, burnt and torn and stained with blood, which had kept her safe and warm as the Battle of Blackwater Bay raged around the city. She wrapped the cloak around the necklace and prayer book and stood. "I'm ready."

"You best hold my hand," Varys instructed. "Where we will be going the floors are not smooth and the steps are uneven." Sansa gently placed her thin hand in his plump one, and the eunuch pulled her behind the large standing wardrobe and through a low narrow door. She turned and saw the robed man duck and squeeze through behind her, his hand on the hilt of his sword.

And then the door slid closed and left them in blackness.

"Ah, yes," she heard Varys mutter. He bent, nearly pulling her down with him, and she heard the sound of wood striking stone before a torch flamed bright before her eyes.

"How did you...?" she said in awe.

"A spider never reveals all of his secrets, my lady," the eunuch winked, before turning away and leading her down a claustrophobic passage.

"Lord Varys?" she said after a long moment.

"Yes, dear?"

"Why are you helping me now? I...I thought there was another who would be..."

Varys turned and eyed her briefly, a sad look about his face. "No, my lady." His back was to her again as he sighed and said, "I know you have been meeting Dontos. You may have been careful about your trips to the godswood, but he was a drunk and bumbling fool in every sense of the word. I...I hate to admit that I do not know all of the players involved, but he was certainly one of them. My choice was to help you escape, or leave you to die...and the latter I simply could not do. You are an innocent child."

Sansa started in anger when she heard the man behind her snort, a sound that was half laughter and half anger. Her body tensed with the desire to turn and slap him across his presuming face, but she didn't think it would do to be so ungrateful when she was finally, finally leaving King's Landing for well and all...still, she turned toward him with a retort on the tip of her tongue - but he placed a large, steady hand on her shoulder and growled, "Watch your step, my lady." She felt Varys tug her hand and realized that they were about to descend a set of stairs. Narrow, rough-cut and steep, they disappeared into a black hole that chilled her with its depth.

One, she counted as she took the first step down. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. She made it all the way to one hundred and seventy three before she finally stopped bothering with the number of stairs, and it seemed that she must have taken at least three times that many steps before her feet finally came to rest on a small landing. Her knees trembled with exhaustion as she eyed her surroundings, but there were only three choices - back up the stairs, a path to the right that disappeared into more blackness, and to the left a very small door just big enough to crawl through. She started when she felt Varys remove his hand from hers and place it on her face.

"This is where I leave you, my dear, but you will be safe with our friend here. Won't she?" His question was directed at the robed man, who merely grunted his ascent.

Sansa placed her hand over Varys's and forced herself to smile through her fear. "I will be fine. It can't be much worse than staying here."

"True. True." The eunuch nodded as if to assure himself of his own words, but his eyes never left the other man. "There is a rowboat tied in the mouth of the cave. You know where to go." He finally turned back to Sansa. "Safe travels, my lady."

And just like that he was gone, disappearing down the path to her right and taking the light with him. "Through the door, now," the robed man insisted, and Sansa bent to crawl through it, almost slipping off the narrow ledge on the other side and gasping in fright before the strong hand was there again, holding her safe at first and then nudging her to the left as he squeezed through the doorway as well. "Careful," he warned, and she could hear something like mirth in his voice. This caused her to scowl.

"What's down there?" she forced herself to ask, though the stench rising from below was enough to tell her that deep down she knew what it was.

"Sewers. It's not a far drop, and the water isn't deep, but you don't want to fall in it."

"I wonder why," was her sarcastic response. Her companion chuckled darkly.

"Come, girl." He was walking to their right, and Sansa had no choice but to follow - to the left the cave was blacker than any night had a right to be, but they seemed to be heading toward a soft silvery light...

 

SANDOR


He stalked the ledge of the cave, not being nearly as careful as he should. The girl had spoken so little, at least to him, and it angered him. Of course he didn't know whether she had recognized him or not...not for sure. There had been a moment, when he first spoke...a flash of something in her eyes...but it had been quickly replaced by grim determination.

Or maybe there hadn't been anything at all. It was possible. He'd not been able to really look at her, or at anything in that room. His anger had been beating inside of him knowing that she shared her quarters, her bed, her body...with the damned Imp. Who, if the stories were true, was even more disfigured than he was nowadays...not to mention that he was half a man to begin with.

Gods only knew how Varys had found him. Since the fight with Beric Dondarrion he'd kept lower than low, though he'd followed those boys without banners (or whatever they called themselves) in hopes of taking back his gold, the chance stop he made at an inn had changed everything. He'd drunk deep and passed out in his cups, wondering how he was to pay for the ale in his belly - when he woke up, there was a heavyset innkeep hovering over him and shoving a letter in his face. "You've been asleep for half a day," she grunted. "I expect m'money for the ale now."

He'd torn the letter from her hand, but it was only addressed to "the Stranger". "How do you know this is for me?"

"No one else here," the woman shrugged, holding out her hand for her coin. Sandor shoved it away from him and tore open the note. He wasn't the best at reading but he caught the general gist - a plot to poison Joffrey that would likely lead to Sansa being implicated.

"You were kind to her at court," the letter said. "But not kind enough. Help me see her to safety."

It was signed by Varys and included a note for payment that Sandor scoffed at. He threw the letter in the fire and shoved the note at the innkeep. "This is all I have to give you. Take it or don't; no matter to me." His hand on the hilt of his sword seemed to convince the woman, and then he was out the door and on his way to King's Landing before he even knew that he'd made the decision to go at all.

The rowboat was there where Varys said it would be, tied to a ring and floating just inside the mouth of the sewer cave. Sandor turned and held his hand out to the girl, but she stopped short and he could almost see her stiffen in fear. "Take my hand. Or don't, but I can't guarantee you won't end up in the water if you go that route," he growled. She looked at him, her eyes wide and pale in the dim light, but finally she placed her hand in his and stepped forward, then down. He laid his free hand on the small of her back to steady her as she sat in the boat, and had to bite his tongue when he felt her shudder at his touch. He swung in neatly beside her, untied the rope and picked up the oars. Within moments the river's swift current was carrying them out to the bay, the blackened ruins of its banks sliding smoothly by in the bright moonlight.

"Wh-where are we going?" the girl whispered.

"Don't talk," he warned. "Sound carries on the water."

It was a warm night but she was shivering. Sandor forced himself not to look at her; if he did he wouldn't be able to quench his desire to smack some sense into her. Here he was risking life and limb to return to King's Landing and save her, yet she didn't even know who he was - and even then she was still afraid of him. He grunted his annoyance and picked up the oars again, putting all of his strength into rowing them toward a tiny dot on the horizon - the smuggler's vessel that would carry them north, though Varys had refused to reveal its exact destination. "Better not say," the eunuch had giggled. "If you're caught, the less you know the better."

Sandor knew Varys was right in that, but it still frustrated him. He had been charged with the girl's safety but knew no details of the eunuch's plan. When he'd asked Varys how long he'd be staying with the girl, the answer had been cryptic at best - "Through the sea voyage, at least. Once you've seen her safely to land again, you may stay with her...or not. That is of your choosing." At this point Varys had eyed Sandor with a look of sad understanding that brought forth a growl of anger. He'd stopped just short of backhanding the sniveling little man and only stopped at all because Varys was more of a woman than a man, really.

It was as if no time at all and yet far too much of it had passed before they finally reached the ship that awaited them. As Sandor pulled the rowboat next to it and shouted for a ladder, the distant sound of pealing bells drifted across the water. The girl turned back to the city with frightened eyes, but he reached forward and took her chin in his hand. "That is not your problem," he told her, as kindly as he could manage. "Now climb that ladder."

Chapter Text

SANSA

When the Hound touched her chin - for she knew it had been him from the moment he first spoke - Sansa felt a thrill rush through her. It felt like fear and excitement together and she froze for a moment when he told her to climb the flimsy rope ladder that had been tossed down by a deckhand. "Go!" he commanded, removing his hand from her face.

"Yes, ser," she capitulated, and turned her back on the nasty growl that rose in his throat. She heard the sound of steel punching through wood and vaguely realized that he was sinking the rowboat, and then she was at the edge of the rail and a swarthy kind-faced man helped her onto the deck of the boat. Moments later the Hound swung over the rail and landed beside her. She was surprised at how nimble he was, considering his size. The other man extended his hand to the Hound.

"Captain Dougan, at your command," he announced.

The Hound eyed the hand but didn't shake it. "We need to leave. Now."

The captain was obviously flustered as he looked over the Hound's shoulder at King's Landing, now blazing with light, the bells still clanging furiously. "Right," he agreed. "Quarters are below. Seems the eunuch wanted not a few people out of the city tonight; you two will need to share a cabin, the one at the end of the hall. Don't worry," he said in response to Sansa's sharp intake of breath, "there are two beds. And truthfully...men at sea are a wanton sort. It's likely best that you not have a room of your own. This man will protect you."

"Any ale or wine to be had?" interrupted the Hound. Captain Dougan frowned at him for a moment, then shrugged.

"Plenty, so long as you can pay for what you drink."

"Oh, I have the coin. The eunuch pays well."

"That he does," the captain agreed with a smile, and then he was gone.

"Come," the Hound insisted, placing a hand on her shoulder and leading her across the deck, down a short flight of steps and toward their cabin. Sansa breathed a sigh of relief when they entered it; they had the entire front of the ship to themselves, it seemed. She peered out the window and in the bright clear moonlight she could see the underside of the figurehead, a busty golden mermaid with her hands cupped over her breasts. She blushed fiercely and turned away from the window, nearly running into her tall robed companion.

"Excuse me, ser," she mumbled, staring at her feet. This time when she said the word, he took her chin in one hand again and used the other to push back his hood.

"Don't call me 'ser', little bird," he rasped.

And Sansa smiled.

 

SANDOR

He'd had to hold himself back the first time she called him 'ser', but there was no use bothering when she did it again. They were to be sharing a cabin, apparently - she'd know who he was sooner or later. But when he pushed back his hood to reveal himself, when he used that mocking name that he'd always called her...she merely smiled at him. It was then that he recalled that glimmer that had flashed in her eyes some hours before...a glimmer of recognition, of course.

She'd always known it was him.

Sandor felt his fingers pinch her chin and had to force himself to let go of her. He almost felt bad when she reached up to rub the place he touched; obviously he'd hurt her. "Sorry," he grunted, turning his back on her and stalking across the cabin to claim the bed near the door. He pulled off his robe and removed the breastplate that he'd worn just in case. Though he'd known he would be on the water that night, he'd taken the chance of wearing some armor. Better drowned than shot through with quarrels, he'd told himself.

He kept his back to Sansa as he changed his shirt, it being stiff with sweat and sea mist, and tightened his sword belt around his hips. "I need a drink. You stay here. If anyone bothers you let out a good scream, but you shouldn't have anything to worry about. They know who you're with." Sandor left the cabin without looking back at her.

Once on deck, he searched out Dougan and traded some of Varys's coin for two jugs of Dornish red. He kicked back on a bench and watched the moon, attempting to ignore the men sitting nearby. They were drinking something - likely cheap ale, he chuckled to himself - and having a boisterous conversation about the passengers their captain had picked up in King's Landing. It was only when they mentioned "the pretty young thing" that Sandor sat up and listened to them. Stupidly, he had assumed that they were alone with Captain Dougan when they'd boarded the ship - he should have known better. Sailors were a sneaky sort, always perching in the rigging above your head and seeing everything with their hawk eyes.

"Pretty all right. A maid, d'ye think?" a portly red-faced man wondered.

"With teats like that, I doubt it. Probably some whore being sent north as a lord's mistress," another replied.

"Nay," the third man spoke up. "She's too young for all that. And high-born, for sure."

"Well neither her birth or her maidenhead is going to protect her from the roving hands and eyes on this ship," the second man guffawed - and then he sputtered on his ale as Sandor grabbed him by his collar, dragging him to his feet.

"Saw plenty of the girl and none of her protector, did you?" Sandor growled as he pulled the man's face close to his own. The sailor was staring at Sandor's scars, eyes wide with fright and disgust. Sandor threw him down to the deck of the ship and stood menacingly over the trio. "Keep your words, your eyes and most especially your hands to yourselves," he warned them. He watched them tremble for a long moment before finally stalking back to his bench and his wine. He hadn't been drunk since the night before he received Varys's letter, but he meant to enjoy himself tonight.

Chapter Text

SANSA

Once the Hound left her alone in the room, Sansa put her head in her hands and cried - though she didn't quite know what she was crying over. The anger in his eyes, the painful pinch of his fingers on her chin, the utter exhaustion that flooded over her from having been up since dawn and then the stress of her escape...but what did it matter? As frightened as she was of the Hound, she knew he would keep her safe. She'd known it since he left her at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Probably she'd always known it. And anywhere, anywhere, was better than King's Landing and the Red Keep and Joffrey and Queen Cersei and yes, even Tyrion...as kind as he'd been to her, he was still a Lannister.

Sansa sighed and stood to remove her gown. Originally she'd though to sleep fully dressed, but the fabric was damp and smelled of the ocean. That was likely why the Hound had changed as well. Though his back had been to her she'd still been shocked to see him remove his shirt right then and there - she'd tried to look away but her curiosity got the better of her and from the corner of her eye she saw the chords of muscle tensed in his back. His skin was criscrossed with scars and something was wrong with one of his arms as well, but his broad shoulders tapered into a narrow waist and she could see how under his clothing and behind his walls he was a strong, fit man.

With a sigh, Sansa folded her dress neatly and placed it under her bed along with the Hound's Kingsguard cloak before climbing between the coverlets and falling into a fitful sleep.

And she dreamed. She dreamed of her family's heads, removed from their bodies and displayed at the Red Keep. She dreamed of Queen Cersei tearing at her face with perfect fingernails and screaming, "My son, my son, you've killed him, you little wolf bitch! I'll have your head!" And Tyrion pointed and laughed as her clothes were torn from her back and she was dragged into the middle of the hall screaming. Ser Ilyn Payne appeared at her side with Ice in his hand as all the court chanted for her to die, die, die and she knew that soon her head would be on a spike next to those of her honorable father and her lady mother, of Robb and Arya and Bran and Rickon. And though she was frightened of death it seemed that likely death was better than living afraid and silent in the Red Keep or tired and lonely and constantly on the run...

The door to the cabin swung open with a bang and Sansa woke with a start. She heard a thump and a curse as the Hound came stumbling inside, obviously drunk. She squeezed her eyes shut and forced herself to breathe deeply. He won't hurt you, he won't, he promised Varys he'd keep you safe, she told herself. She partly believed the words, but then there was that memory of the last time he came to her drunk and stole a song and a kiss...

The Hound had stopped just inside the door, standing still and breathing heavily for a long moment, but when he moved again Sansa knew immediately that he was coming to her bed. I'm asleep, I'm asleep, I'm asleep, was the chant inside her head. When he sat next to her on the narrow mattress, his weight caved it in and her body slid toward him, bumping against his hip and thigh. She kept breathing deeply and willing him to go away, leave her be, but instead he leaned over her. Sansa could smell the sea in his clothes and the sour wine on his breath and she was afraid, so afraid...

But nothing could have prepared her for what he did next.

 

SANDOR

He'd meant to be quiet when he returned to the cabin, so as not to wake the little bird - but instead he'd slammed the door, stubbed his foot, and swore. Loudly. Still, when he'd gathered himself enough to stand still for a moment, he saw that somehow she was still sleeping. He paused just inside the door, knowing he should go to bed, but there she was, so pretty and peaceful in the moonlight...all night she'd been pale and wan and frightened, but right now he could look at her and not see her cringe away from him.

Sandor walked unsteadily across the cabin and sat down heavily on her bed.

When Sansa's small form slid into him, he had to pause again. She was curled into a ball and the only parts of her that were resting against him were her knees and her left forearm, but in his drunken state he ached to take her in his arms and cradle her in a protective embrace.

Protective? That's not what you want, man, he realized as his manhood strained against his breeches. Some guard he was. But then, hardly realizing what he was doing, he leaned over Sansa and brushed a thick auburn lock from her forehead. "Little bird," he murmured, and his own voice sounded foreign to him. He kept his hand cupped around the back of her head for some time, watching her sleep, the moonlight highlighting her pale young beautiful face...and then he forced himself to stand, to go to his own bed, and to collapse on top of it fully clothed. Even as drunk as he was, Sandor stared at the ceiling for a long, long time until the rocking of the boat finally lulled him to sleep.

The next morning, the skin under Sansa's eyes was bruised with exhaustion as she sat beside him on the deck, staring at the horizon, sadness stamped on her face like a shield. He handed her a hunk of bread and some bits of cheese, but even when she took a bite and chewed it was methodical, no enjoyment in it at all. Though the sun was glaring at him, making his pounding head hurt even worse, Sandor couldn't leave her. He still didn't trust the other men on the ship, and besides that something wasn't right about her. When she finally spoke - still without looking at him, which brought a flash of anger that he quickly tried to stamp out - she merely asked, "Where are we going?"

"North," he said, because it was the only thing he knew for sure.

"Thank you, but that's obvious," Sansa snapped, looking up at the sun. "I meant where, specifically."

This time Sandor didn't hold back. "You know as well as I. Varys kept our destination a secret. You could ask the captain where the ship will put in, but he likely won't tell you. And even if he does, my guess is that it won't be our final destination...and that the people who know where that is are waiting for us wherever we're to land."

Sansa said nothing in reply, only looked down at her hands. He tried to ignore her, but from the corner of his eye he saw her shoulders trembling, and when she sniffled he knew she was crying. He stiffened, unsure how he should respond, but finally he couldn't bear her sad noises any longer and knelt before her, once again taking her chin in his hand - but gently this time.

"Little bird. Look at me."

He felt her tense at his words, which brought the usual rise of anger, like bile in the back of his throat. He didn't allow his fingers to pinch her as they'd done yesterday, but when he spoke again it was a command - "Look at me" - and she did. Her wide blue eyes were shining and red-rimmed from her tears, and she set her jaw and kept her eyes on the smooth, unscarred half of his face.

"I told you once that if you came with me, I'd keep you safe. That no one would ever hurt you again. But I couldn't take you against your will. I didn't take you against your will. And this time you chose to come. I will not hurt you, little bird. And neither will anyone else."

Chapter Text

SANSA

She knew that he was telling the truth. She also knew that she was being difficult. When he had touched her last night, touched her with a gentleness that surprised her, she had felt his fingertips tremble and she'd almost taken his hand in hers. But then he'd whispered "Little bird" and his voice had such a pained tenderness to it that she felt like an intruder, though she was the one he was touching and speaking of. No one had seemed to care for her so much in the months since her family had died, yet still this man frightened her. But when she looked at him now, focusing on the side of his face that was untouched by flames, she realized that he should have been quite normal-looking. Not homely, not handsome, but he had good strong features, and when he wasn't angry his gray eyes weren't so different from those of her father and her sister Arya...only a bit darker, mayhaps.

Sansa tried to speak, but she was afraid her voice would betray her fear - so she merely nodded. The Hound continued to stare at her for a long moment before releasing her chin with a grunt and standing up. "I've had enough sun for today," he said. "I think you should come below with me." Glancing around her, Sansa knew he was right. The Captain was nearby but not paying any attention to them; his sailors were a different story. Though they kept their distance and a few shot nasty looks at the Hound, most seemed very interested in her. Too interested. She nodded again and followed the Hound to their cabin, where he stretched out on his bed and she sat at the window and continued to watch the horizon.

Many days passed, a sennight stretching into a fortnight; days upon days. Too many of them were calm ones without wind and more than once Dougan made complaints about taking "the long way 'round". More oft than not the Hound was drunk, and sometimes he would sit beside her on her bed on those nights while she feigned sleep and wondered if he would touch her again. But he never did, and Sansa was left wondering whether she waited for his touch because she feared it...or desired it. Other than the times he snuck off to drink, the Hound was always there beside her - when she sometimes shared meals with the kind and humorous Captain Dougan, when she took some sun on the deck, even when she sat quietly by the window in their cabin and tried to guess where they were going.

One morning she awoke and the sky was a heavy leaden gray. The ship rocked more than usual and Captain Dougan knocked on the door and told them they best stay inside. "A storm is brewing and I don't like the looks of it," he warned, his nose and forehead wrinkled with worry. Sansa knew she must look frightened, because the Captain then forced a smile and said, "Don't worry, child - we'll sail through it. We always do. But it will be rough going, best prepare yourself for that." He gave the Hound a careful look and left them alone again.

Sansa turned back to the window and watched the whitecaps for some time, until she suddenly realized that the Hound was standing quite close. She turned to see him watching her, a pinched look about his face. "Are we going to be okay? You look funny," she said. He grimaced at her.

"Everything is fine, child."

She couldn't help but pout her lips petulantly. "I'm no child, ser," she replied coldly, simply because she knew it would anger him. He glared at her for a moment, his eyes smoldering with barely contained rage, but then he stepped closer and leaned over her, brushing the tips of his fingers along her jaw line. She was scared and enraptured at the same time, and her lips parted of their own accord when he said, "That's the truth of it, little bird. You're certainly no child." The way he was looking at her sent a shiver down her spine, though she didn't think it was a shiver of fear. Is he going to kiss me? she wondered. Would he dare? Would I let him? At the mere prospect of another kiss from the Hound, her eyes began to drift shut...

"What are you doing?" he suddenly growled, and when she opened her eyes again his face was twisted in disgust, the burnt corner of his lip twitching madly.

"I...I thought..."

"You thought what? I'm no Joffrey, girl, you don't have to pretend to care for me. And I'm not sure what that Imp did to you, but you best not expect the same from me."

Sansa was confused. She'd been nothing short of polite with him for most of the voyage...did he still think of himself as a Lannister dog? At the same time, it angered her that he would be so disgusted at being compared to Joffrey and the Imp when he himself had forced a kiss on her and then made her sing for her life, only to leave her alone in Maegor's Holdfast with just a cloak to keep her safe. "I'm sorry," she finally snapped. "I suppose I just assumed that if you would take a kiss from me once, you'd have no qualms about doing so again."

The Hound stepped back, and for once there was no anger in his eyes - just sheer bewilderment. "What do you mean by this?"

She stood and glared up at him, her hands clenched into fists at her sides. "Were you so drunk that you've forgotten? The Battle of the Blackwater, the wildfire? You kissed me, you waited in my room and you grabbed hold of me and kissed me. Then you held a dagger to my throat and made me sing, and - and -"

But she couldn't bring up the tears. Somehow she knew that she would get nothing from him, no apology or explanation at all, if she accused him of crying. He was still staring at her like she was some sort of warg, but after a long moment his mouth twisted into a mean little grin. "Are you deranged, girl?" he laughed darkly. "I was drunk that night, yes, but I had my wits about me. Enough to escape King's Landing, which you didn't have the courage to do. I won't say that what I did was right. I shouldn't have been in your bedchamber, I shouldn't have grabbed you or threatened you. Seven bloody hells, if I'd approached you as one of your 'honorable knights' would, maybe you would have actually come with me that night. But I did not kiss you" - and then one of his hands was cupping the base of her head, the other pressing against the small of her back, and he pulled her into him, bending until the tips of their noses were nearly touching - "though if you want me to, I will."

She thought about struggling against his strong grip, but her body had gone limp as a sack of potatoes. Had she really misremembered that night? And if so, had she truly done it because she wished he had kissed her? Sansa opened her mouth to protest, to call him a liar, something, anything, but when she tried to speak nothing came out. He's right, she suddenly realized. I was quaking with fear that night. He was drunk but he escaped...he wouldn't have been able to do so if he was so in his cups that he wouldn't remember kissing me. And then something else came back to her, the Hound's own words, words from another lifetime - "A hound will die for you, but never lie to you," he'd said. He was telling the truth. She'd been wrong.

"N...no. Thank you," she finally whispered.

 

SANDOR

He'd known better than to believe that she wanted to kiss him, yet it still took every ounce of self control that he had to let her go.

He could only hope that she hadn't felt him go hard inside his breeches when he'd pulled her close.

"Always the polite little bird," he said mockingly as he dropped his arms and backed away from her. She opened her mouth as if to respond, but shut it again just as quickly. He snorted in derision and turned to leave the cabin - at which point she did speak.

"Where are you going? The captain told us to stay inside!" she squeaked. Sandor paused long enough to eye her over his shoulder.

"You are going to stay here," he replied. "I am going to get some fresh air." It was only half a lie; he really needed some wine, but the fresh air would hopefully chill him and take care of the uncomfortable stiffness in his pants.

Sailors were scurrying around the deck, readying the ship for the inevitable storm, as Sandor searched for the captain. He found Dougan standing at the bow, a worried look on his usually placid face. When Sandor approached, the captain turned. "Wine?" he asked, presenting the wineskin that he held in his hand. Sandor took it and drank deeply.

"I'll need more of that to weather this day," he laughed darkly as he handed the skin back to Dougan. The captain nodded and walked away, returning some time later with two jugs. Sandor handed him some coin in return and hoped the man would know to leave him alone.

"You best go below," Dougan hinted. Sandor turned away to face the sea.

"I will. Soon." He heard the captain sigh and shuffle off, but Sandor kept his eyes on the dark sky and churning water. He sipped from one of the jugs and considered Sansa's incorrect memory from the night of the battle. He certainly couldn't deny that he'd ended up in her bedchamber with something more than a song in mind, but did he really seem so much of a monster to her that she thought he would kiss her against her will?

Unfortunately he knew the answer to that question.

Sandor wasn't sure how long he stayed at the bow of the ship, but soon enough fat raindrops started to pelt his head and the wind was cutting through his roughspun tunic with strong icy fingers. He knew that he needed to return to the cabin, but it was with much hesitation that he picked up the wine jugs and made his way down into the ship. When he entered the cabin Sansa glanced at him for but a moment, then quickly went back to reading the prayer book she'd brought with her. Sandor sat on the bed and gulped down the last of the wine from the first jug, then popped open the second jug as well. Seeing the prayer book brought to mind another item that she'd brought from King's Landing - a large old piece of cloth, once white but now torn and stained - and suddenly he realized that it wasn't just cloth, wasn't a blanket. He hadn't paid much mind to it at the time, and she'd hidden it away once they boarded the ship, but the realization hit him about the same time the wine did.

It was his Kingsguard cloak. The one he'd torn off and left in her room the night of the battle. Whatever had possessed her to keep that troublesome thing, he didn't know, but it suddenly seemed to him that the little bird harbored...what? She certainly didn't care for him; he frightened her half to death every time he looked at her, he could tell. Sandor sat on his bed and stared at nothing, drinking his wine and replaying her song, the feel of her hand on his cheek, the press of her body against his when he had pulled her into him earlier. From the corner of his eye he saw that she looked up from her prayer book quite often, and always at him, but he was too wary to really look her in the eye and attempt to discern her thoughts. It was still afternoon when everything went black outside and the low rumbles of thunder began. Sansa set her book aside and tucked her knees to her chest, staring out the window at nothing but blackness.

Far too soon the second wine jug was empty as well, and at some point Sandor must have drifted off to sleep because he was suddenly startled awake as the ship lurched to its starboard side and the jugs rolled across the floor to shatter against the wall. Sansa squealed in fright, but the sound was quickly drowned out by the boom of thunder. It was but a moment before lightning cracked and washed the cabin in its bright light, and Sandor saw the girl's face, pinched and white with terror. She was fumbling with a lantern, but he leaped up and snatched it from her hand. "No fire," he snarled. "It's not safe. Come here." He took her hand and pulled her from her bed. "You should stay way from the window," he instructed. He let go of her and sank back onto his own bed, but she just stood in the center of the room, pale and shaking in her nightshift. For a moment Sandor was at a loss, but finally he beckoned her toward him. "Sit with me, if you want," he offered. When she continued to stand there he grunted in annoyance, but his sound was muffled by another clap of thunder and then suddenly she was rushing toward him and the only thing he knew to do was take her in his arms and pull her onto his lap. She was trembling as she laid the side of her head against his chest and he had no idea what to do or say.

The ship rolled to port side next, a hard roll that almost toppled Sandor over on the bed. He clutched tight to his little bird and when he felt dampness through his tunic realized that she was weeping - so he asked for the only thing he could think of.

"Why don't you sing us a song, little bird."

"A...a song?" she whimpered.

"I'll not force you this time, but it may make you feel better."

Sansa continued to cry softly into his chest for some moments, and he tensed with frustration before reminding himself that she was, after all, a very young girl. No, some buried, angry part of him insisted, she's a maid flowered, and bedded by the Imp. And maybe by Joffrey too, knowing the damned Lannisters. His thoughts were only quieted when he realized that she'd finally begun to sing.

The Mother's song.

"Not that one," Sandor hissed through clenched teeth. Sansa immediately stopped singing, and he forced himself to take a deep breath before saying, in a far kinder tone, "Something sweet. Florian and Jonquil, maybe, or The Bear and the Maiden Fair."

She squeaked. "The Bear and the Maiden Fair? But...but that's a bawdy song..."

He grimaced. "Florian and Jonquil, then."

She finally began to sing again, her voice high and tremulous. Sandor closed his eyes and willed himself to listen, to not think about the feel of her in his lap or the sweet smell of her hair so close to his nose. Sitting the way she was, there would be no hiding it from her if he became stiff as he had in the morning. When her voice finally trailed off, he pushed her from his lap as gently as he could. "I'm going to lay down now," he told her as he removed his tunic, still damp from her tears. "You really shouldn't sleep so close to the window. If you stay here, you have nothing to fear. You understand, right?"

Another bolt of lightning lit the cabin and he saw that though her face had relaxed, her eyes were still wide with fear. The burnt corner of his mouth twitched, but it was the only part of him that showed his frustration and annoyance as he curled his legs up onto the too-small bed and lay on his left side, facing her back. He waited, and waited, and was just about to drift off to sleep when he felt the bed shift beneath him and opened his eyes to see that she had finally laid down with her back to him, so far away that she was almost falling off the edge of the mattress. Sandor grimaced and considered just letting her lay there and probably fall to the floor the next time the boat hit a sizable wave, but then he thought She's slept against a man before, or a halfman at least. She can sleep against me, as well. He reached out and placed his right hand on the curve of her waist, felt her freeze at his touch, but he just chuckled darkly and wrapped his arm about her, pulling her into him. She didn't resist, so he relaxed his hold on her and closed his eyes.

As Sandor drifted off to sleep, his last thought was that he'd never before slept like this with a woman.

Chapter Text

SANSA

It ought to have been the harsh sunlight streaming through the window that woke her...but that was not the case. At first, Sansa awoke slowly, with the realization that she was warm and comfortable and not at all scared.

Nor was she in her own bed.

At this her eyes snapped open. Gods, she thought, panic rising like bile in the back of her throat, I'm with him. Not only that, but she was wrapped around the Hound like a wanton. Her head was resting on his chest, her upper body and right leg pressed against the length of his person. His left arm was tucked under her and her right breast was pressing into his bicep. She knew she'd gone to bed with his arm around her, which was unladylike, but with him on his back and her pressed against him things seemed much worse. Her left arm was draped across his strong, scarred chest; her left leg hooked around his hips.

Sansa had brothers, and she'd shared a bed - if not her maidenhood - with Tyrion Lannister. She knew what was between a man's legs, but never, never had she felt one pressed against her. Even through her nightshift and the Hound's breeches, which he had thankfully not removed, she knew that he was stiff. It brought a hot flush to her face, but that was not all...she felt a similar warmth deep inside, below her belly...in fact, somewhat closer to the "V" between her legs where a soft covering of reddish-brown hair had recently cropped up...

Suddenly she realized that her heart was pounding, thumping in her chest, and how it didn't wake the Hound she'd never know. She slowly withdrew her arm and leg from atop his body and rolled over, hoping to slip out of the bed unnoticed - but with a quickness that surprised her, considering she'd thought him fast asleep, the Hound rolled onto his right side and wrapped his free arm around her the way he had the night before, pulling her back into him. "Stay," he rasped, but his tone was...soft. Sleepy. Sansa lay very still. She thought that if she tried again, he would let her go, but now she wasn't sure if she wanted to go at all. When he'd grabbed her she'd felt a sudden tautness in her breasts, her nipples went hard and brushed almost painfully against her nightshift. What is wrong with me? she wondered helplessly as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath, willing her body to stop betraying things she wasn't even sure she wanted to feel.

Sandor's breathing had slowed again; he was obviously asleep. Just as Sansa had worked up enough courage to attempt to slip out of bed again, though, he curled his right knee up. Before she even knew what was happening his leg was between her thighs and the only thing she could think was I never should have removed my smallclothes! She hadn't slept in them since leaving the chill of Winterfell...it made her feel free, it made her feel older. Only now his manhood was hard on her back and his leg was pressing into her woman's place with just the thin fabric of his breeches separating skin from skin...she took another deep breath and tried to ignore the fact that the warmth below her belly had become a sort of fire, but when she squeezed her eyes shut even tighter she imagined the Hound cupping her breasts in his large, strong hands and suddenly there was an even stranger feeling between her legs.

A dampness.

She could almost hear the Hound's eyes pop open, boring into the back of her head. His grip on her tightened and he whispered "Little bird?" in her ear, and it was a question, a question that she didn't know the answer to. Sansa rolled over as quickly as his hold would allow and his face was close to hers, so close, and she knew that her eyes were wide and confused. He reached up to brush at her hair again, the way he had their first night on the ship when he was drunk and thought her asleep, but now that she was facing him she could smell the sour wine on his breath and she wrinkled her nose at the smell as she tried to wiggle out of his embrace.

"Let me go," she pleaded.

"What, no 'please' this time?" the Hound scoffed. "Fine." And just like that, he withdrew his arms from around her and shoved her unceremoniously onto the floor. Sansa landed with a thump, but truth be told her pride was more wounded than her arse. She was more upset with herself than she was with him; she'd made a botch of everything, she'd angered him again. As usual. She turned and grabbed a gown that had fallen from its hook during the storm, yanking it over her head as fast as she could. The nearest cloak was the white one, his white one, but she could still feel the burning in her cheeks and the warmth below her belly - so she grabbed it and rushed for the cabin door.

She paused just long enough to turn and see that the Hound was sitting up in the bed and watching her with a frustrated, curious look on his face. The words "Thank you" spilled out of her mouth, and then she flung the door open and raced up to the deck. Air, air, she needed air! So much that she didn't care if the sailors would be up there gawking at her - but thankfully the first person she ran into was Captain Dougan. He could obviously see how flustered she was, and he put an arm about her shoulders and led her to the bow of the ship.

"Did the storm scare you, m'lady?" he asked. Sansa nodded, and he squeezed her shoulder in a very fatherly way. "We should make landfall tomorrow, and right now the skies are clear. You stay up here as long as you like - I'll watch out for you while your guard sleeps off his wine."

She smiled at him, as sweet a smile as she could manage, and thankfully he left her alone. She stood at the bow and took deep breaths of the salty air, letting the chill sea wind blow her hair back and flutter the white cape. Sometimes she swore it still smelled of smoke and wine and blood. Sometimes she brought it to her face to breathe in its scent, and when it brushed across her lips she remembered the kiss that had never happened.

 

SANDOR

When Sansa first pulled away from him and rolled over as if to leave, in his half-sleep he somehow thought it would be a good idea to take hold of her again and tell her to stay. Within moments he had drifted back to sleep, only to be wakened quite suddenly by the feel of something warm and damp seeping through his breeches. His first thought was that he'd drunk too much and pissed himself, which had happened a time or two before thanks to a particularly bad night - but then he realized that he had pushed his leg up between Sansa's thighs, and his panicked mind ran through options such as it being her urine, or her moon blood, and he felt something akin to pity for her. He tried to say her name, her real name, but it somehow came out "Little bird?" instead, and then she rolled over and her face was close to his and he saw her wrinkle her nose in disgust. Not that he wasn't used to it by now, but when she told him to let her go his anger got the better of him and he pushed her away. Hard.

Too hard.

She slid off the bed and hit the floor and he was cowed. He almost apologized, almost, but so quickly she was dressed and gone and he barely had time to register the fact that she thanked him before the door slammed shut behind her. Fine, he thought. Let her run away, your only mistake was being so damned ugly and you can't apologize for that. He pulled the coverlet back and eyed the small spot on his breeches before pulling them off and digging for a new pair. They were a bit wet, all right, but his pants had the pale brown tint of dried hide and there was no color to the spot - it wasn't moon blood. He couldn't help himself - he brought them to his nose and sniffed.

It wasn't urine, either.

It really had no smell at all, but as it dried he could see that there was a white film.

"Seven hells," he cussed. What was he going to do with her? Gods, what was he going to do with himself? He had no idea what had gone on between Sansa and Tyrion Lannister, but if the girl was wet just from having his leg between her thighs...

...and then there was the cloak.

And she thought he'd kissed her.

Had the whole damned world turned upside down?

At least they would be off the ship in a day or two, and he could make his decision about where he could go that was nowhere near the little bird. Because at this point, it seemed as if he most of all needed to keep her safe from himself.

"The Gods blessed us with a smooth passage," Captain Dougan was telling Sandor later that day. Sansa had yet to return to the cabin and after some time he'd known he needed to make sure that she was all right. When he reached the deck he saw that she was standing at the bow, the same place he himself had stood just the day before, and the captain was not far off and keeping an eye on her.

"Other than last night's storm," Sandor replied, a sarcastic bite in his voice. The air was colder today, far colder than it had been in years. Colder even then when he'd visited Winterfell with King Robert, and then there had been summer snow on the ground. Sansa must be freezing, but he knew he could not go to her. Not now that he saw her there with her beautiful windblown hair, her face red from the cold and his old cloak wrapped about her.

"Where will you go when we've docked, ser?" he heard the captain ask.

"I'm no ser," Sandor answered automatically. "And I don't know. I don't even know where we're going." At this he cut his eyes at Dougan, and finally, finally the man quailed.

"Well. As we should arrive tomorrow I can safely tell you that we're to land at Eastwatch-by-the-sea."

"Eastwatch? The Night Watch post?" Sandor was incredulous. "What good will that do her?" he inclined his chin to where Sansa stood.

Dougan cocked his head. "That's not for you to know. Not unless you choose to continue on with her." He nodded curtly and took his leave, forcing Sandor to take up the watch over the little bird.

The fact that they were to put in at Eastwatch left him an interesting choice. He could leave Sansa to the black cloaks and return south to spend his days avoiding lions and wolves and outlaws alike.

Or he could take the black.

The idea didn't much appeal to him, but the fact of the matter was that he was a fighting man. The lions would behead him for treason if he went back to them. The wolves and the outlaws would never have him and would probably kill him just out of spite. But if the stories he'd been hearing were true, there was still a war to be fought with the Night's Watch - and they took bastards, thieves, rapists and gods knew whom else. They would take him too, he was sure of it.

Of course, if the little bird was being taken to Castle Black it would mean staying with her for a bit longer, but the Night's Watch seemed to be his only legitimate option.

Chapter Text

SANSA

Though she could feel the Hound's eyes boring into her back, she did her best to ignore him. She was ashamed and embarrassed and she wanted - no, needed - to be off this ship. He thought she was a stupid silly little bird and he hated her for it; that much was certain. One more night in the same cabin as him was one more night too many.

She stood at the bow until she couldn't stand the cold any longer. By then it was probably late afternoon, judging by the position of the sun, and she was weak with hunger. When she turned and made her way across the deck she bowed her head to avoid the Hound's fierce gaze, but still she felt him watching her. She wondered when - or if - he would come to their room tonight.

Thankfully the cabin boy had left a plate of hard biscuits, cheeses and jams for her. There was wine as well, half a dozen jugs of it, and she knew the Hound must have purchased it in expectation of their disembarkation. She took a bit of nasty glee in stealing one of the jugs for herself and sipping from it directly as she forced down her dinner. She was eating with her hands and drinking from a wine jug, and why not? She'd spent last night in the arms of a man who was not her husband and could anything really be worse than that?

A good portion of the wine was gone and the light outside had dimmed significantly before the Hound finally came to the room. Despite her hours in the cold wind on deck, Sansa's entire body felt warm and pleasant. She didn't even try to hide the fact that she was drinking his wine, but rather took a defiant swig of it as soon as she heard him enter the room behind her.

"You could've asked," he growled, and made as if to take the jug away. She hugged it to her chest possessively, her face flushed with drink and nerves, and the Hound threw up his hands in frustration. "Keep it then." There was a long pause, but he didn't move away and instead continued to watch her, his head cocked to the side like...like a dog, Sansa thought, and she giggled. He narrowed his eyes at her. "I think I liked you better as a sweet little bird, spouting courtly courtesies and scared to look at my face."

She couldn't help herself, then. "And I've liked you better every time you showed me a bit of kindness, a touch of patience. But I can count those moments on one hand, and they were always fleeting. You're angry, spiteful, and rude. No wonder Joffrey liked you so much."

Sansa knew she'd said too much the moment the words left her mouth, but there was no taking them back now. The Hound reached for her and snatched the wine away. For a moment she swore he was going to fling the half-empty jug across the cabin, shatter it and make a mess - but instead he took a long drink and slammed it down on the sideboard. Suddenly his hand was wrapped around her upper arm and he was pulling her off the bed, forcing her to stand, and then she was pressed against him, they were chest to chest and the breath had gone out of her. Her heart was in her throat and there was a thrumming in her head that she'd never felt before. "What are you doing?" she cried, but the wine had made her limp and she couldn't take her eyes from his face, which was set in a sort of grim determination.

"I made a decision today, and if things go as planned I may never get to do this again," he said, and then his lips were on hers and Sansa was frozen and melting all at once. It was worse than she dreamed it to be, that time it didn't happen, but it was better, too, and when he gently parted her lips with his tongue she found herself following his lead and kissing him back and she knew that in all her courtly songs of love no lady had ever kissed her knight this way.

 

SANDOR

Seven hells, when had he decided to kiss her? Not that he'd never considered it, of course, but thinking about the action and actually doing it were very, very different. He supposed it was when she'd snapped at him, because in that moment his first thought had been to hit her, and he knew he couldn't very well do that.

In a fleeting moment, the vows of the Night's Watch ran through his head. They were infamous, every man in the Seven Kingdoms knew them, and the part about keeping no wives and siring no sons - though he'd only been with whores - seemed to reverberate in his brain. He'd grabbed her and pulled her close and her eyes were drowsy with wine and as soon as she asked what he was doing, he knew.

Of course, Sandor had never expected her to kiss him back. He figured she would struggle a bit and he would let her go and laugh off her ladylike protestations...but she didn't struggle or push him away, and when he found the courage to open her mouth with his tongue she tentatively moved her own against it. He groaned involuntarily and suddenly she had his face in her hands and something in him snapped.

"No," he growled, roughly breaking away from her and taking a step back. His entire body was aflame and how he'd stopped himself from pushing her onto the bed and taking her like the dog he was, he'd never know. Sansa was breathing heavily, a pretty flush to her cheeks, her bosom heaving as she started to reach for him.

Sandor turned away, steeling himself against what he wanted, wanted so much that he could taste it. "I'm sorry," he said, so quietly that she likely didn't even hear him. He picked up one of the wine jugs and left Sansa in the cabin. Though it was cold on the deck - that being why he'd abandoned it in the first place - he could not be in that enclosed space with her just now. Her marriage to Tyrion Lannister aside, she was a child. Thirteen, last he recalled, and a great lady with both the Stark and Lannister houses behind her. He was more than twice her age and though his brute brother was a landed knight, he had nothing. No keep, not even a small one, and no "Ser" tacked onto his name. The little bird had no idea what she was playing at, but he did. And none of it was good.

The moon rose and the sun set, and still Sandor sat on deck. He'd known extremes of weather many, many times before and he withstood the icy bite of the wind off the water until he was sure Sansa must be asleep. When he finally returned to their cabin she was laying with her back to the door and didn't move as he entered, set down the wine jug and ate a few bits of bread and cheese. Just to be safe, he remained fully clothed and lay on top of the coverlets on his bed. Tomorrow they would finally be off this ship and even if he wasn't rid of her right away, they would surely be traveling in the open and with a number of other people in attendance. The little bird was out of danger...at least from him.

Chapter Text

SANSA

He had kissed her, and tomorrow he would leave her. Again. She knew now that he'd never meant to stay, because he obviously could not stand her. Wanting someone physically and actually caring for that person were two very different things - Sansa knew that now, as well.

When the Hound had pushed her away and left the cabin, Sansa laid down. Her head was still swimming from the wine and the only thing she wanted was to fall asleep. But sleep eluded her, and she stared at the cabin ceiling until her head stopped swimming and started aching. It was dark when she heard the cabin door click open, and she quickly turned her back to it. She did not want him to know that she was still awake, or that she was thinking about him and about their kiss and about what she could have possibly done to make him hate her so.

It was a long night. Sansa was fairly certain that the Hound did not sleep either, but she refused to turn over and look at him, refused to say a word. When morning dawned the captain came knocking on their door. "We'll make landfall in a few hours. Best gather your things." The Hound nodded stiffly and Sansa thanked the captain quietly. Then the door was shut and they were alone again, but still not a word or a look passed between them. Avoiding each other's gazes in the close confines was next to impossible, but once they had gathered up their meager belongings they headed to the deck.

And Sansa saw the Wall. "Oh!" she gasped, her face lighting up. Could it be that she was returning to Winterfell?

Captain Dougan gave her a sad smile, as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. "We're to put in at Eastwatch-by-the-sea, m'lady. You'll be going to Castle Black."

Jon, she thought. Jon is at Castle Black! Though she'd had a bit of a chilly attitude toward her bastard half-brother in the past, he was just now the only family she was sure she had left. Her father beheaded, her brother Robb and her lady mother betrayed and killed as guests of the Freys, Bran and Rickon brutally murdered by the turncloak Theon Greyjoy...but Jon lived, Jon of the Night's Watch, Jon at Castle Black...and she was going to him!

The Hound had whipped around at Captain Dougan's words. "She's going to Castle Black?" he snapped.

The captain seemed confused. "Why...yes. I...well, she likely won't stay there, you know, very dangerous place...but that is all I know of the eunuch's plans for her."

"Brilliant," the Hound replied, but Sansa heard the sarcastic bite to his tone. She attempted to ignore him still.

"Captain, who will be taking me to Castle Black?" she inquired. Last she had heard the Night's Watch did not even have enough men to guard the Wall, let alone escort a lady from one keep to another.

Captain Dougan did not hide his concern. "Varys admitted that he had some trouble on that front," he said. "Thankfully, two days past I had a raven - though how it found us out at sea...regardless, Stannis agreed to send a woman and some men to escort you."

"Stannis Baratheon?" Now Sansa was very confused. What in the world was King Robert's brother doing at the Wall? Had he taken the black? That seemed unlikely considering how recently he had been trying to claim the Iron Throne. Where would they find this woman to escort her, and how would she keep the men from stealing or raping Sansa?

"Yes, m'lady, the very one. He begrudges you this help, I promise. But they say he has a red woman with him, some sort of priest or prophetess, and she insisted that he help you. That is all I know."

Sansa nodded and Dougan excused himself. As soon as he was gone she asked coldly, "Why do you care whether I go to Castle Black?"

The Hound's barking laugh startled her. "You haven't figured it out, little bird? Why, I mean to take the black. And that means that I have to go with you."

"You don't have to act so upset about it. I'm sure I've been pleasant enough company."

A long moment passed, and then another, and suddenly Sansa felt his fingertips, cold and calloused, on the side of her neck. The Hound brushed a lock of hair over her shoulder and said quietly, "Pleasant, maybe. But not enough."

When she turned around, he was gone.

 

SANDOR

What a farce it all was. He decides to join the Night's Watch, and as it turns out the little bird is going to Castle Black as well? The Seven were surely making a mockery of him right now. Sandor Clegane, beset with an evil brother, a scarred face, a thirst for blood and wine and a desire for a helpless little girl. The Night's Watch would require him to renounce his brother, his scarred face would not matter, and the blood and wine...well, surely there were both to be had at the Wall. But apparently nothing could tear him apart from Sansa Stark.

No matter how hard he tried.

The ship docked late in the morning and the captain beckoned Sandor and Sansa to follow. He led them to a small group of men-at-arms nearby, and it was then that Sandor saw Stannis Baratheon's Red Woman. She glided forward, the men parting like the sea to let her pass - and at her heels, docile as a pony, was Sandor's huge black destrier.

"Stranger?" He could scarcely believe his eyes. Varys had insisted that he give the stallion up before entering King's Landing, but how the eunuch had gotten him here...and the woman, with her flaming hair and strange red eyes, leading the usually nasty horse as if he was a favored pet! The woman had eyes for no one but him, and as she handed Sandor the reins her small smile was all-knowing.

"Heat to heat, Sandor Clegane. Fire to fire. You mean to come with us, and that shall come to pass. But the other thing you consider should not, I think."

He knew immediately that he would not like this woman, though he wasn't sure which "other thing" she spoke of. If it was regarding the little bird, well, of course nothing he'd ever thought to do to her would actually happen.

Except that kiss, a niggling little voice told him. He curled his lip at it and at the red woman, but did not say a word - until she turned from him and approached Sansa.

"Lady Sansa," the woman purred. "King Stannis will be glad to see you. As will your brother Jon Snow, I warrant. I have seen you in my fires and would offer you good counsel." She reached for Sansa, but Sandor placed one hand on the little bird's shoulder and pulled her back.

"Leave her," he ordered the red woman, then eyed the men-at-arms who were scowling down at him from their horses. "No one touches the girl. Do so, and you'll be less a hand."

"The Lady Melisandre means her no harm," a gruff middle-aged knight said. The red woman - Lady Melisandre, apparently - waved him off.

"No, I do not mean her harm…but Sandor Clegane is her sworn shield. We listen to him where the Lady Sansa is concerned," she purred, the ruby at her throat pulsing madly.

"Sworn shield?" piped the little bird. Sandor screwed his eyes shut in frustration. "You are mistaken. He...he is nothing of the sort!"

Lady Melisandre smiled that smile again, looking first to Sansa and then up at Sandor. "Forgive me, Lady Sansa, but I believe that in this case you are the one who is mistaken."

He could barely keep the growl that rose in his throat at bay, and he knew that the burnt corner of his mouth - the side he simply could not control - was twitching. Sansa shrugged his hand from her shoulder as a man led a horse forward for her, but when Sandor glared at the other man he shrugged and walked away. Sandor was left to wrap his hands around Sansa's waist and lift her onto the horse. He collected their things from Captain Dougan and mounted Stranger, glad to be off the ship and back on horseback where he belonged.

"We've never seen each other," Dougan insisted. Sandor nodded curtly, but Sansa reached down and took the captain's hand in her own, squeezing it for a long moment before letting go.

"Castle Black awaits," Lady Melisandre called from atop a horse of her own. "And we should take advantage of the daylight."

As cold as it had been at Winterfell when he'd visited with King Robert, nothing compared to the bitter weather they faced as they rode for Castle Black. Sandor rode behind Sansa and could not help but think that if he was freezing, she was likely feeling the cold even more. If he had her age right, the last winter had waned around the time she was born. Though it was far colder in the north, of course, she'd likely never felt cold such as this. And like it or not they would have to camp for at least one night - it had to be nearly 50 leagues from Eastwatch to Castle Black, and the sun would be gone before the dinner hour. Somehow the little bird would need to be kept warm, and he had a grim feeling about what he knew was the best course of action. This Melisandre was no lady, not really, and he trusted these soldiers less than he trusted himself.

It was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

MELISANDRE

They had been a long time coming, these two.

She had seen them in her fires not long after Davos convinced Stannis that they must go to the Wall; rather, she had seen a beautiful young woman with hair of flames escorted by a dark man with the face of the god they called the Stranger. No sooner had they arrived at Castle Black and defeated the Wildlings than she'd had to turn back for Eastwatch. Stannis had not cared for the idea, but she told him she must go - there had already been trouble with the timing and delays, and there was only R'hllor to thank that Varys's original letter to Jon Snow had not fallen into the wrong hands.

And now they had a Stark to send to Winterfell. Not immediately of course - the Boltons were making their way to Winterfell now, and the place was a ruin anyway. Jon Snow would have to find a safe place to store Sansa Stark until the time was ripe.

Sandor Clegane, however, may prove a problem. His all too obvious attachment to the girl aside, she could see by his face that he had been touched by fire. And not in a kind way. He was fearful of the flames now, as those badly burnt so often were. Could that be why I saw him with the Stranger's face? she pondered, glancing over her shoulder at the pair of them. They rode close beside each other, Clegane straight and stiff in his saddle and Sansa Stark hunched and miserable in the cold. Just last night she had looked into the fire and seen the dark man with the Stranger's face donning the black, yet today when she first saw Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark together she had known immediately that it would be difficult, maybe even impossible, to tear these two apart. Sandor Clegane would never take the black so long as Sansa Stark lived.

Unless the Stark girl weds. And she must wed. A wildling leader, of course, and who would not want a girl of such beauty? There was of course the matter of her marriage to Tyrion Lannister, but he was being blamed for the death of the bastard king Joffrey and Melisandre looked at Sansa and saw a pure, untouched maid. The girl surviving both the Lannisters and Sandor Clegane unscathed was certainly a miracle only the Lord of Light could provide.

The hours stretched on and the sun began to wane. The night is dark and full of terrors. "We must make camp. And a fire. A very large fire," Melisandre ordered. They were not quite halfway to Castle Black, but it would not do to travel in the dark - not even on this side of the Wall.

Her men built a roaring fire and Melisandre led them in the evening prayers to R'hllor. She could see Sandor Clegane standing far from the heat of the flames, but the girl was closer, soaking in the warmth and watching the followers of the Lord of Light with guarded yet curious eyes. A good sign, Melisandre mused with a smile. When her ministrations were finished, she requested some mulled wine and bread and beckoned for Sansa Stark to join her near the fire. The girl was hesitant and even looked to Clegane as if awaiting his approval, but he was busy watching the men ready the wine and with one last unsure glance at her protector she approached Melisandre.

"Your man does not care for me, but I mean you no harm, Lady Stark," she said, attempting a reassuring smile.

"He is not my man," the girl protested again. Her face was flushed, but Melisandre did not think that it was from the heat of the flames.

"As you say," Melisandre allowed. "I was hoping to ask if you had heard news of the North recently." In reality she needed to ascertain how much Sansa knew before she revealed anything unsettling.

"No, my lady. I...I know that all of my family but Jon is gone." The word dead hung unspoken between them, but Melisandre continued to stare into the fire, waiting for the girl to continue. "I know that my home is ash and rubble. And of course...Winter is Coming."

"Wise words, those," Melisandre smiled. "Winter is always coming eventually, and now...now it is almost upon us. Did you know that King Stannis helped save the Night's Watch from an attack by the wildlings? I would think not...you would have been at sea these past few weeks."

"Near two months, I think, my lady. It was a long voyage."

"Longer than it should have been, yes. But R'hllor stalled your captain and kept you safe; had you arrived as scheduled...well, these things do not bear thinking."

"The Hound would have kept me safe," Sansa Stark said fiercely.

"The Hound? Do you mean..."

The girl chewed on her lip for a moment before finally whispering, "S...Sandor." Melisandre wondered if it was possible that Sansa had never spoken his name until now, but before she could ask the man himself was there beside them, as quickly as if the girl had called for him. Sandor Clegane placed his large hand on Sansa Stark's delicate shoulder as he had earlier that day and glared at Melisandre with a fury that would have melted a lesser person.

"I thought I told you to leave her alone," he growled. Melisandre stared up at him, calm and unafraid.

"No. You told me not to touch her, and so I have not. We were merely conversing."

"She's the first woman I've seen since before we fled King's Landing," Sansa retorted, wrenching her shoulder out of Sandor Clegane's grip. "If I want to talk to her, I will."

Dissension? With all she had seen and all she knew, it was surprising that the girl was balking Sandor Clegane's hold on her. True, he was twice her age at least, and his hideous scars certainly kept him from being handsome...yet there was a palpable feeling of intimacy between these two. Melisandre decided to go with her first impression and leave any intimate conversations with Sansa Stark for a later time. "It is fine," she told the girl. "He only wishes to..." Have you for himself. "Protect you. The night is dark and full of terrors, Lady Stark. It may well be time you found a tent and a bed. Sandor Clegane will escort you and keep you safe, I am sure." She locked eyes with the man for a moment, just long enough to register his confusion - and then Sansa sighed.

"I suppose." Sandor turned and stalked off and Sansa followed meekly. There was a bit of an uproar regarding sleeping arrangements, but when the pair entered the same tent Melisandre was not surprised. She turned back to her fire, stepping closer to the flames, willing it to show her again what she'd seen while talking with Sansa Stark.

"Is this the way of things, beloved R'hllor?" she murmured, for once hoping she had been mistaken.

Yet there it was again, and thanks to the girl she understood it better this time.

Stannis would not be pleased.

Chapter Text

SANSA

Stannis Baratheon's red woman was both frightening and fascinating. Sansa had been glad when the Hound kept Lady Melisandre from touching her, yet after that long cold day of riding the heat from both the fire and the woman had drawn her in. That, and the matter-of-fact comment Lady Melisandre had made about the Hound being her sworn shield. How silly, Sansa kept telling herself. He has never knelt before me and pledged to be anything of the sort. Yet even as she thought this she recalled their first morning on Captain Dougan's ship, when the Hound had in fact knelt before her and promised that he would not allow anyone to harm her.

Still, he seemed to be taking his promise just a bit too seriously. Though Lady Melisandre was obviously powerful, what harm could she possibly mean to inflict on little Sansa Stark? I am nothing, now, Sansa reminded herself. My home is burned, my family dead. I was wed against my will to the uncle of the king, and now the king is dead as well. Where does that leave me?

Cold, for one, she couldn't help but think as she waited for the Hound to return to their tent. After he'd insisted on interrupting her conversation with Lady Melisandre he had also insisted that they share a tent. Tents being much smaller than ship cabins, Sansa had tried to argue against doing so...but then the Hound had wrapped her small, cold hands in his large warm ones and said, "You are already freezing. Do you know what it will be like tonight? I have brought you this far and I won't have you dying of exposure now." For a moment she had expected that he would say something kind, but no; his idea of how to convince her to sleep close to him was by threatening her with freezing to death.

Sansa wrenched her hands away. "As you like, ser," she snapped, ducking into the tent before he could retort. A long moment passed before she heard him growl, "I'm going to find some blankets." His heavy steps receded and she crouched in the corner. Sansa refused to sit on the cold, hard, dirty ground, but she'd grown so tall this past year that there would be no standing in such a small space. How will we both fit in here?she wondered nervously. She was also afraid that the Hound would be gone a long time, would disappear to drink with the men-at-arms or argue with the Lady Melisandre...but thankfully he came back quite soon, crawling inside awkwardly with an armful of woolen blankets and heavy furs. He spread some of the more questionable furs on the ground and gestured for her to take the far end of the "bed". He then handed her most of the woolen blankets, keeping just a single blanket and fur for himself. Sansa felt her mouth open and close like that of a fish, wanting to thank him but afraid of what his response would be. She finally removed her shoes and cloak and lay down fully clothed, pulling the blankets over herself. She heard the Hound remove his boots and cloak as well, but when he lay down he was as far away from her as he could possibly get, with his own blanket and fur to warm him.

The firelight was flickering through the thin cloth of the tent, but the flames were too far away to give any warmth. It wasn't long before Sansa realized that even a half-dozen blankets and furs would not warm her enough to lull her to sleep, and though she was curled in a ball with just her eyes and nose peeking out from the covers she was shivering violently. She listened to the Hound's breathing and made sure to determine that he wasn't asleep before she spoke. "S...Sandor?" she murmured, his name a foreign thing on her tongue. Before she had spoken it to Lady Melisandre earlier in the evening, Sansa was sure she had not said it out loud in a very, very long time. It was so very familiar to call a grown man by his first name, yet he was not a knight and his surname rang like a bell in her head, reminding her of his brother Gregor slicing the neck of his stallion at the Hand's Tourney so long ago.

The Hound grunted in reply. Sansa took a deep breath and forced herself to ask, "Are...are you warm?"

A low chuckle came from a few feet away. "No, little bird. And you?"

"This cold is unnatural...even for the North..." Sansa whispered, barely able to keep her teeth from chattering. There was a pregnant pause; she could not bring herself to say what needed to be said. To ask what needed to be asked.

"What would you have of me, girl?" he rasped.

A brief thought passed through Sansa's mind - your blankets- but she stamped it down. She knew what she needed - she was a Stark, a direwolf, a child of the North where even the summers brought snows sometimes. How often had she and Arya huddled together in a shared bed to keep the chill night air at bay? Hundreds of times, probably. She even had vague memories of sharing a bed with Robb and Jon when they were all very, very young and such things weren't yet inappropriate.

When the Hound spoke again, his voice was softer, kinder, almost...almost pleading. "Little bird...you need only ask, you know."

Sansa turned toward his voice and mustered all of her courage. "We...we should lie closer together. Under the same blankets. It will help ward off the cold of the night."

This time when the Hound laughed, it was a more brazen sound than his previous chuckle. "Right you are, girl," he finally replied, and before she knew it his hands had reached under her blankets and pulled her into him. She gasped when he began to rearrange the blankets and the cold fingers of the night air snuck in to assault her, but soon enough they were both buried under a half dozen coverlets and she was curled against his chest, breathing his musky scent and feeling his heat pass from his skin to hers. How is he always so warm?she wondered. One of his hands was rubbing her back, gently and methodically, the way her lady mother used to do when Sansa was sick. It felt...nice. The Hound's other arm was trapped beneath her, and though it was a large, hard arm for once his muscles were not tense with anger. His chin rested on the top of her head and she could feel his breath caressing her hair.

And then suddenly his chin was gone and his hand stopped rubbing and he was crooking a finger under her chin and tilting her face up to look at him. His eyes were gleaming in the darkness and Sansa's heart fluttered in her chest when he pulled his hand away and used it to run his fingers through her hair, watching the locks fall back over her shoulder. She was enraptured, a bit frightened and very expectant, her lips parted and her breath ragged. Without knowing why, she felt herself unbending her knees and placing one tentative arm on his waist to pull herself even closer so that they were chest to chest, hip to hip, thigh to thigh. She felt the hard length of his manhood pressing into her lower belly, felt him trembling and clutching at a handful of her hair...

But when his eyes found hers again he growled, "Go to sleep" and forced her to turn around. He kept his arms around her and his head tucked just behind hers, but he pulled his hips back just enough so that she could no longer feel him. Sansa fought to stay awake, trying not to cry as she wondered why he wanted her but wouldn't take her...but she was warm now, and eventually her eyes drifted shut and she slept.

 

SANDOR

Somehow he was getting better at refusing to succumb to his desires. He'd known that they would need to sleep close for warmth, but he had let the little bird come to him. And when she had pressed herself against him - for the heat, of course, he reminded himself - when he had wanted to put his mouth on hers again, to yank up her skirts and show her how adults shared heat - he had resisted. Just like that.

He listened as her breathing slowed and deepened. She called me by my name, he thought fondly, then grimaced when he immediately imagined her under him and against him and saying his name breathlessly rather than with a frightened little moue. Just like that he was hard again, and he had to screw his eyes shut against the uncomfortable feeling. It was a long time before he fell asleep.

The sounds of the men packing up camp woke Sandor. He slipped out from under the pile of blankets and furs and pulled on his boots before crawling out into the dim light of early morning. A film of snow had fallen during the night and the ground and trees glittered with it. He heard a rustling noise from behind him and turned to see the little bird crawling out of the tent, rubbing her sleep-blurred eyes. "Put your cloak on before you catch a chill," he ordered, then stalked off to find someone to gather their tent, furs and blankets.

It was another long day of riding. They hadn't even made it halfway the day before due to their late start, and it seemed that the red woman was intent on returning to her king by dinner. Sandor glanced at the little bird as often as he dared; her face was red from the cold wind and she kept wiping delicately at her nose, but her eyes were bright with excitement. He had to remind himself that she had a brother at the wall - a bastard half-brother, maybe, but blood nonetheless and the last living member of her Northern kin. Possibly soon to be the last living member of any of her kin, what with Edmure Tully captive at the Twins, Brynden Tully besieged at Riverrun, and Lysa Arryn and her ailing son hiding in the Eyrie, ignoring the approaching winter.

The morning passed, the afternoon waned, the light dimmed, but Lady Melisandre insisted on just a short stop so that she could light a torch to carry. "In case it should get dark before we reach Castle Black," she assured Sansa. Sandor eyed her warily and reined Stranger in next to Sansa's horse, as close as he dared allow the stallion to get.

"How much farther?" Sansa asked softly. She was shivering again. Sandor felt a rush of something akin to sympathy, but he unfortunately did not know the answer to her question and could only shrug in response.

It was another hour at least before they finally saw the flickering lights of the main Night Watch post. A group of men in black met them not far from Castle Black - among them a young man who took one look at Sansa and stopped short. "Jon!" she cried, scrambling to dismount and running to her brother. Half brother. Bastard half brother,Sandor reminded himself as the little bird threw her arms around Jon Snow. Jon hesitated for a moment, apparently from shock, but he finally wrapped his arms around the little bird, clasping the back of her head and staring into the dark with wide eyes that seemed empty of feeling. And then he saw Sandor.

"You!" the boy exclaimed, pulling away from Sansa and striding toward Sandor and Stranger. The destrier snorted and took a step back, tossing his head and baring his teeth. Jon Snow paused for just a moment and then the little bird was hanging on his arm, pleading with him.

"Jon, it's fine. He is with me. He helped me," she insisted, but the bastard continued to glare up at him with malevolence.

"You should go," Jon Snow stated.

Sandor laughed harshly. "Go? Truly? I was under the impression that the Night's Watch needed good, strong men. Is that not the case?"

"We don't need men of your ilk," the boy spat.

Another man in black stepped forward, eying Sandor curiously. "When men join the Night's Watch, their pasts are forgotten. Forgiven, even. This is a strong man, Snow. We absolutely need his kind around here...especially now."

Jon glared at the other man before taking his sister's hand and leading her toward the towers. Sandor could have sworn he heard the bastard mumble, "Not if I have anything to say about it."

"Where is he taking her?" Sandor asked the man who had stepped forward and spoken for him, nodding in the direction of Snow and the little bird.

"He will find her a room, I'm sure," the man replied. "I am Cotter Pyke. You came from Eastwatch?"

This man is almost as ugly as I am, Sandor thought with a grim smile. "Yes."

Pyke nodded. "I command there...usually. Stuck here for the moment, thanks to the damn wildlings. But we'll need to elect a new Lord Commander soon, and I mean to stay for that."

"There is no Lord Commander? Who do I speak to, then, about joining you lot?"

"Bowen Marsh will arrive any day. For now you best stay close to the girl. There are far too many men at Castle Black, men who've not had a woman in a very, very long time. And we do not have the numbers to assign her a personal guard."

Sandor growled. "I've been guarding the girl for far too long as it is. Take me into training and assign one of your brothers to deal with her."

Pyke cocked his head, his close-set eyes narrowed at Sandor. "I'm sure you can watch her for a few more days at least. Think of it as your first assignment, if you truly mean to join us. Your name?"

"Sandor Clegane." He reached for Sansa's horse, pulling the small pack of her things down and throwing it over his shoulder with his own pack before dismounting. "Take me to Jon Snow, then."

Chapter Text

SANSA

She was surprised at how little Jon Snow had changed.

He was older, of course, and sadder as well. There were scars on his face that had not been there when he'd lived at Winterfell, and he was quite lean. But he was still quiet and brooding and he still had her father's eyes.

Our father's eyes, she reminded herself.

Sansa and Jon had never been close. Her lady mother had not cared for the boy, him being proof of her husband's indiscretions, so Sansa had been polite but not warm with her half-brother. That would change now. It had to. They only had each other left.

"Jon..." she said softly. The hand that had hold of her arm twitched in response. "Will you be returning me to Winterfell?"

He looked at her with sad curiosity, and when he spoke his voice was dead, defeated. "Winterfell is burned to the ground, Sansa."

"I...I know...I suppose I thought..."

"I'm not sure what they will do with you," Jon admitted.

"They?"

"King Stannis and Lady Melisandre. You must take your lot up with them."

"But...but Jon...you are my brother...I thought..."

"I'm a bastard, Sansa. I'm a Snow, not a Stark. The men of the Night's Watch are my brothers; I have no sisters. The king and his red woman will decide what to do with you. For now I can give you a room, a fire, and food...maybe a few other comforts, but not much. Have you need of anything?"

Sansa bit her lip to hold back her tears. She wanted to rage at this pathetic boy, to scream and hit him and knock some sense into him. You're all I have! Everyone I've loved is dead, I am alone, and you would toss me to this false king as if I were only a piece of meat! But when she spoke, the only thing she could say was, "A hot bath...if such a thing is possible." Jon gave a brusque nod, and then led her into a tower that seemed closer to ruin than she would have liked. The room he showed her to was up a set of stairs and had a thick wooden door that bolted from the inside. Jon busied himself with building a fire in the small hearth and Sansa sat on the straw pallet that would apparently serve as her bed. Once the flames were licking merrily at the logs, Jon stood and eyed her sadly.

"I'll find one of the stewards to bring you a tub and some hot water. It may take a while, but you'll have your bath. Food as well - it's probably not best for you to dine in the Common Hall with the men."

She merely nodded in reply, afraid that if she spoke the words that came out of her mouth would be the angry ones that needed to stay locked in her head. When her brother - half brother, bastard, she reminded herself haughtily - was gone, Sansa stood and warmed her hands by the fire while she waited. It was quite some time before there was a knock at the door. "Come in," she called. A boy entered - a handsome boy, all dark eyes and smooth skin and black curls - and Sansa gave him a sweet smile.

"I'm Satin, if it please m'lady," the boy grunted as he carried in a large tub that seemed far too big for him to be hoisting by himself.

"Hello, Satin," she replied courteously, wondering what in the world a boy like this was doing in the Night's Watch. Some may have thought that about Jon Snow, once, she told herself. The boy was silent as he brought in some buckets of water, dumping them into the tub for her. Lastly he pulled a loaf of bread, a chunk of cold capon, a jug of something that could only be ale, and a circle of hard cheese from the pouch hanging across his chest. He then bowed himself out of the room before she could speak to him again, but once the door was shut Sansa had eyes only for the tub. Though she had been able to wash on the ship, she hadn't bathed properly since the morning of Joffrey's wedding. The morning of his death, she thought, her lip curling at the memory.

Though it was still cool in the room, the fire had helped things along and the bath water would not be getting any warmer. Sansa stripped off her clothes and slid quickly into the tub, sighing as the water enveloped her. It was more warm than hot, to be sure, but it was a bath. Finally. She pulled her hair up over the edge of the tub and sank down until the water was lapping at her chin, her eyes closing involuntarily.

She could not have laid there for long; the water was still quite warm when the door to her chamber suddenly swung open. Sansa only had time to sit up, startled, when she heard the Hound call out, "Little bird, I've brought your things," and then stop short as he saw her. Sansa gasped, her hand moving instinctively to cover her breasts. She expected him to immediately turn around, to leave, but he did nothing of the sort - he just stood there staring at her, his face registering first shock and then amusement as she struggled to find words.

"What are you doing?" Sansa finally hissed. She could feel her cheeks burning with embarrassment. She wanted to leap out of the tub and clothe herself, but if she did so there would be no hiding, well, anything.

"You weren't so shy last night," the Hound chuckled. "But if you want me to leave, I will." He strode past her and dropped the small pack containing the few items she'd brought from King's Landing and the extra clothing Varys had had waiting for her on Captain Dougan's ship onto the straw pallet. Sansa eased herself back down into the water and thought for a moment. When she glanced over her shoulder he was still behind her but no longer staring at her, at least.

"If you will wait outside I'll dress," she finally said, softly. He gave a curt nod and made for the door, but just before he left the room she heard herself ask, "Will you sup with me?"

The Hound stopped with his back to her. "If you want me to do so," he rasped.

"Yes," she said decisively. And then he was out the door and it closed behind him and Sansa was leaping out of the tub and drying herself with a blanket and thinking This is it, my last chance, he must not join the Watch and leave me as Jon has done.


SANDOR

When Cotter Pyke had brought him to Jon Snow, the bastard had continued to eye Sandor with contempt - but contempt, he could stomach. For now. What he would not stand for was Snow's attitude upon hearing that Pyke wanted Sandor to continue guarding his little sister. Half sister. "No. I'll do it if I have to. Not him."

Sandor scoffed at Snow. "No one else has taken issue with my guarding her. Not Varys, not the ship's captain, not the red woman, not even your own brother here. Why should you?"

"She is a girl. And you, ser, are a monster."

"Your little sister is a woman flowered, else they could not have wed her to Tyrion Lannister. She is as much a 'girl' as you are a Stark," sneered Sandor. "As for me, I'm a dog, not a ser or a monster, and so far no harm has come to Sansa while she has been in my care."

Jon's lip curled in distaste. Sandor could see the anger in his eyes, but somehow the bastard kept his calm. "None that we know of."

"Enough. Snow, we do not have men to spare to guard the girl. Not even you. No, especially not you. At least until Marsh arrives. This man will continue to watch over her, is that understood?" snapped Pyke.

"Yes, my lord."

"I'm no lord, Snow, you know that. Where is the girl?"

"Hardin's Tower. My old chambers. I didn't know where else to put her."

"King's Tower would have been better, but I suppose that's right filled up with Stannis and his men," Pyke replied thoughtfully. Jon nodded in reply. "The door bars from within?" Pyke asked. Another nod. "Good. Take Clegane to her."

Sandor followed Jon Snow to Hardin's Tower. The bastard did not say one word to him; just left him at the tower door and pointed up the stairs. When he reached the small landing the door to Sansa's room was closed, but all was quiet. Assuming she must be sleeping or eating, Sandor pushed on the door. It opened for him and his first thought was how silly the little bird was for not locking herself in; he kept that thought to himself and instead called out, "Little bird, I've brought your things"...but then he saw her and his mind simply went blank.

The only light in the room came from the fire, which was new-made and flickering madly. Sansa was reclined, head bent back and eyes closed, in a steaming tub of water, naked as her name day. Her eyes popped open and she sat up and for one blessed moment Sandor could see the slim curve of her waist rising into two perfect teats, the sweet pink nipples suddenly hard in the chill air. Even when she gasped and covered herself, he could not stop staring, could not think, could not speak. Several long moments passed before she finally whispered angrily, "What are you doing?" She was flushed, either from the hot water or her embarrassment, and he could not help but laugh when he thought of how she had pressed herself against him the night before. Gods, if he had known what he was truly missing...

"You weren't so shy last night," he heard himself say, though he knew he shouldn't. He attempted a save by telling her he would leave if she wished it, then finally tore his eyes from her nakedness and moved to put her things down. He turned and waited for a moment, forcing himself to look anywhere but at her, and finally she told him to leave the room so that she could dress. Of course he obeyed, but he was still surprised when she asked him to eat with her. After all that, the girl wants to have dinner together, he thought, shaking his head at her naïveté. He left the room and closed the door behind him, but only needed to wait a minute or two before she was opening it and inviting him back inside. She would not look him in the eye, but that wasn't surprising...she so rarely looked at him, period.

"They brought me some food," she offered. "And ale." She eyed the jug with repugnance. "You can take that."

"Don't mind if I do," Sandor replied, his mouth twitching with amusement. He popped open the jug and took a long drink, then set it back on the table when he saw that Sansa was still standing some ways from him and wringing her hands. "Speak up, girl," he insisted.

"Sandor," she spoke his name quietly, and if he was not mistaken...with a touch of affection? "I...I would ask a favor of you."

He waited, but she did not continue. "Go on," he encouraged, but there was a frustrated growl beneath his words that he could not hold back.

And then she stepped forward and reached for his hands, twining her fingers through his and lifting her eyes to his face. "Do not join the Night's Watch," she whispered, and then she tucked her head into his chest and guided his arms around her before releasing his hands and wrapping her own arms around his waist, clutching at him as she said, "Please. Stay with me."

Chapter Text

SANSA

Begging was not becoming for a lady, but just now she had no other choice. Jon would not help her, but maybe the Hound would. As she leaned into him, breathing in the scents of sweat and horse and cold and beneath it all the musky essence that was his and his alone, she suddenly understood how very much she needed the Hound. It was likely that no words she could ever speak would convince him of this certain truth, and so she lifted her head from his chest and looked at him again, looked straight into his face without flinching, and kissed him. A closed-mouth kiss, but a kiss nonetheless.

The Hound was apparently surprised; he moved to take a step backward, but his heel caught on the edge of the straw pallet and he fell heavily, his bottom hitting the flimsy mattress with a thump. Sansa's arms were still wrapped about his waist and she fell with him, into his lap, and when he tried again to pull away, to push her away, she blinked back her tears and asked "Why do you no longer want to kiss me?"

He laughed darkly. "Little bird, I want to do much more than kiss you. You have to know that; why do you keep tempting me so? I could place my hand over your mouth and rape you right now, then get on my horse and be gone before these pathetic men in black even knew what happened. Is that what you'd like? Even if I don't do it now, if I stay with you it will happen eventually. Especially if you keep acting like this. I know you think you are living some courtly song or tale; I've rescued you and you want to repay me with a kiss. I've told you before, child, that is not how the real world works."

Sansa pulled away from him of her own accord, then, and tried to keep her chin from trembling. "I may have been a child when you first met me at Winterfell. I may have been one in King's Landing, at least in the beginning. I may have been one when they struck off my father's head, and when Joffrey had his men beat me. But I've had my moon blood for some time now. I've seen wildfire burn on the Blackwater and I've seen a mean, angry grown man cry from fear of it. I've had my life threatened and threatened again. I fled from the Red Keep with barely more than the clothes on my back, bore your insolence for weeks at sea, and slept in your arms. Lady Melisandre called you my sworn shield and I denied it, but on the first morning on the ship you knelt in front of me and touched my face and swore to protect me. If that is not an oath I do not know what is, so now I must ask - will you break it?"

The look on the Hound's face seemed to fluctuate between annoyed and amused. "Is that the way of it, then?" he said, and for once his rasping voice sounded more soft and unsure than angry and spiteful. Sansa forced herself to nod and hoped that he could not feel her trembling. When he pushed a hand up through her hair to cup the back of her head she instinctively jerked away from him, but his hold kept her close as he murmured, "None of that" and covered her mouth with his. She could taste the ale on his breath and feel the rough ridges of the scarred side of his lips and she was drowning in him, so when he wrapped his free arm around her waist and lifted her and laid her underneath him on the straw pallet she knew that it was just right. He pulled his arm out from under her to reach up and cup one of her teats; his touch sent a jolt through her and she sighed into his mouth. His body was hot and heavy on top of her and Sansa wanted nothing more than to melt into him and be warm and safe and wanted forever and ever.

The Hound would laugh at me if I told him that, she found herself thinking, and then, no, his name is Sandor, Sandor, I must learn to call him by his name, and when he suddenly pressed himself into her and she felt his stiff member against her stomach she heard herself whisper - as if automatically - "Sandor..." and she knew that if he tried she would let him have her, all of her, no matter what the cost.

 

SANDOR

This girl will be the death of me, he thought when she looked into his eyes and repeated his own actions and words back to him, calling them an oath...but she truly seemed deranged enough to want him as her sworn shield. And more, Sandor mused. Looking at her now, he could see something like desire in her eyes. At least it better be, he thought as he made up his mind to kiss her.

And once he did, and she was kissing him back, suddenly there was nothing else but him and his little bird and all of the things he had ever wanted to do to her. At first he had only meant to kiss her, but when she fervently kissed him back he found himself maneuvering her off his lap and onto the bed and then there was nothing else for it as he grasped at her chest and pressed into her and she whispered his name and he moaned, his desire so potent, so painful that he knew he had to have her...

There was a loud rap at the door and they both froze. "Seven hells," Sandor cursed. The little bird - Sansa, Sansa, her name is Sansa and I need to be able to call her such - was wide-eyed and pale as she shot a glance at the door and then turned back to him, obviously unsure about what to do. Sandor leapt up and moved to lean against the wall, as far from the hearth as he could get. In the shadows. Sansa followed his lead, standing and smoothing her hair before stepping forward and opening the door. Her bastard half brother was on the other side, and when she stepped aside for him to enter the room his eyes immediately found Sandor and leveled a piercing gaze at him.

"You weren't at dinner," Snow stated, and Sandor did not miss the accusing tone in his voice. He shrugged.

"The girl wanted me to eat with her."

The bastard looked to Sansa, who nodded her agreement - a bit too fervently, Sandor thought. "Sansa, I must ask whether...whether you feel safe with this man. We have few and less brothers to spare to guard you, and you do need a guard here. It has been suggested that Clegane continue watching over you until King Stannis decides where to send you, but if you are not comfortable with that arrangement I will do my best to find you a more...proper situation."

Sandor did not miss the pleased look that flitted over the little bird's face, but her brother apparently did. She stepped forward and clasped Snow's hands in her own, then said softly, "He will do just fine, Jon. He is no Lannister dog anymore, I promise you. If he is anyone's dog he is mine own, else he would never have helped rescue me in the first place."

Jon Snow narrowed his eyes at his sister, then leveled them once again on Sandor. "If you say so. Clegane, you may remain as my sister's guard for now...but I swear to you, if any harm should befall her..." Sandor chuckled and shrugged.

"You've nothing to fear, bastard. I told you, I've kept her safe this long. Your threats aren't going to change anything."

Sansa was obviously frustrated. "Enough," she insisted. "Sandor, leave us for a moment. Please." He did not want to obey, but the pleading look in her eyes cowed him. He shrugged again and made for the door.

"I'll be just outside," he sneered at Jon Snow, and after shutting them into the room he leaned against the wall across from the entrance and crossed his arms over his chest, determined to wait out this conversation and get his little bird alone again.

She had some clarifications to make.

Chapter Text

JON

He did not like this - any of it.

Better that she's here. The last surviving Stark, most likely...better here than King's Landing, he kept telling himself...yet he had concerns about what King Stannis would want from Sansa, and her being with Sandor Clegane of all people seemed to be an awful sort of jape...though the man's comments about joining the Night's Watch were an even worse one, for sure. Cotter Pyke was right - they needed big, strong men. And of course all past crimes were forgotten once a man said his vows...but Jon could not forget that Clegane had long belonged to the Lannisters. The same family who had crippled Bran and murdered Eddard...and likely had a hand or three in the Red Wedding as well. Sansa may have placed her trust in this "Hound", but Jon would do nothing of the sort. When Pyke had him show Clegane to Sansa's room he could not help but hate the idea of leaving the man alone with her in Hardin's Tower.

Then Sandor did not show himself in the Common Hall for dinner, and that was something else and Jon knew that he could not leave it be. He dashed down his food and made his way to Hardin's Tower, wondering if he would have to go against Pyke's wishes and take over guarding Sansa himself. He knocked on the door and waited several long moments, cocking his head at the scuffling he heard in the room, but when Sansa let him in Clegane was leaning against the far wall, completely at ease, and Sansa herself, though obviously startled and a bit breathless, seemed perfectly fine. Still, he had to question this situation...at least one more time. Jon wasn't sure if he truly believed that this scarred and brutal man was his sister's dog rather than that of the Lannisters, no matter what she said. Sansa had always been something of a lamb, dutifully doing what she was told while sighing over her silly songs of love. So different from Arya, who would never be silly enough to trust this man. Jon could not abandon his brothers to take care of Sansa for good and all, but he would - he must- do all that he was able to make sure that her fate was nothing like that of her parents and siblings.

He could not hide how pleased he was when Sansa asked Sandor to leave the room. As soon as the man had closed the door Jon placed a hand on his half-sister's shoulder and forced her to look him in the eye. "Sansa, you must tell the truth. He cannot hear you right now."

"The...the truth?" Sansa seemed confused.

Jon sighed. "That man is dangerous, Sansa. You know this. You need only say the word and King Stannis will have him taken care of, I swear it. How Lady Melisandre and her men allowed him to come with you from Eastwatch..." he trailed off, shaking his head in frustration.

"Jon," Sansa's tone was firm. "I was not lying. I am not a fool, and I amtired of reminding people that I am no longer a child. Sandor is...difficult, I know. And dangerous, yes, but not to me. Never to me. When Joffrey ordered his men to beat me in King's Landing, Sandor refused to do so. He...he was kind to me, in his own way. He wanted to save me once and I refused to go with him, but when he came back for me...I know it is difficult to understand, but you must trust me. He means me no...no harm."

Her slight hesitation was enough. "I cannot believe that. If you persist in saying such, you must understand that King Stannis will likely insist that Clegane remain with you. I would rather that he stay here and join the watch than continue on by your side, wherever you should go."

Sansa set her chin stubbornly, a very Arya-like look about her face just then. "And if I said that would please me?"

"Truly?" Jon was incredulous. Sansa shrugged, another unladylike gesture that she never would have made were she the same girl he'd known back at Winterfell, and Jon could not help but think What has happened to her? "If that is your wish..."

"It is."

"The King may not care for it."

"Who is Stannis to me?" Sansa asked, the flickering flames in the hearth revealing the anger in her eyes. "The closest I've ever been to the man was the Battle of the Blackwater, and that was one of the most terrifying nights of my life. Joffrey is dead and that's likely for the best, monster that he was. I suppose Tommen will be placed on the Iron Throne now, though his awful mother and grandfather will surely take him by the hand and rule the kingdom through him. I am done with wanting jewels and silks and thrones. I just want a home. I want Winterfell."

Jon almost smiled. Stannis will have his hands full with her. "You may want Winterfell, Sansa, but you will not have it without help."

"I will do what I must," Sansa replied with a toss of her auburn locks. Kissed by fire. Lucky.

"And if that involves bending the knee to Stannis? Taking his 'Lord of Light' as your own god? Marrying a man of his choosing, in return for the use of his men to win back Winterfell?" Jon could see that he had caught her with that last question - Sansa had opened her mouth to respond to the idea of bending her knee, but the mention of marriage made her snap it shut again. Suddenly she was the girl he remembered, wide-eyed and petulant.

"I am already married," she finally whispered.

"To Tyrion Lannister, I know. But...Sansa, forgive me, I must ask if the tales are true."

"Tales?" she asked. "What...?"

Jon felt suddenly awkward. How to word this? "It...it is said that the Imp never consummated the marriage. That...that he was unable to do so?" Sansa's abrupt laugh, harsh and angry, shocked him. You know nothing, Jon Snow.

"Able? That was not the issue."

"So your marriage was...you did..."

There was a long pause as Sansa formulated her answer, but finally she stated, with some ferocity, "No."

"No?"

"Jon...I do not care for Tyrion. I was forced to marry him and of course he did nothing to stop it, though he could see I did not want to marry him. Yet...he was kind to me, in his own way. We never...nothing..." Sansa was blushing fiercely, unable to look him in the eye, and Jon closed his eyes for a brief moment, relishing the relief that he felt.

"I understand. As luck would have it, they think the Imp had something to do with Joffrey's death. He may well be dead sooner rather than later. If not...the war still rages, and you can always be promised to someone in secret if that is necessary...until such a time as the Imp does die, or until your marriage can be annulled."

Sansa looked at him then. "To whom will Stannis promise me? I have been betrothed to an evil boy and wed to half a man. Shouldn't I be able to choose my next husband for myself, if I ever have one at all?"

This is just beyond everything, Jon mused. Sansa of all people thinking she could ever choose the man she marries. "That is not usually how things are done..." he reminded her.

"It is now. I am Lady of Winterfell, Jon. Even if it is in ruins."

"And do you have someone in mind, then? Loras Tyrell, maybe?" He was mocking her a bit, though not unkindly. What young girl wouldn't want to marry the handsome Knight of Flowers?

"No," she squeaked. "I...have no one in mind just...just yet. I simply don't want to be toldwho to marry."

Jon could not help but give her a sad smile. "You may not have a choice, Sansa. But it is worth trying to convince King Stannis that you should. I'll leave you now, if you're sure that Clegane can - will - keep you safe. We can talk more tomorrow." Sansa merely nodded in response, and Jon squeezed her hand one last time before leaving the room. The man himself was leaning against the wall across from the door, his arms crossed menacingly over his broad chest. Jon eyed him warily. "She wants to keep you around, apparently, but watch yourself, Clegane." Sandor merely grunted in reply, a nasty smirk on his face, the burned corner of his mouth twitching. His lip curled in disgust, Jon made his way to the stairwell, wondering what in Westeros could be going on in Sansa's head for her to think this man trustworthy, even good. He supposed it didn't bear thinking - Castle Black was a dangerous place, more so now than every before, yet at the moment she was sadly far safer than she'd been in a very, very long time.

Chapter Text

SANSA

How had she just had an entire conversation with Jon and kept a straight face? Not only was their discussion an awkward and frustrating one, but mere moments before she had been pinned under Sandor, his lips on hers and his hand on her breast and she'd wanted him. There was nothing else for it. The hot ache that she kept feeling in her lower stomach and between her legs could only be described as longing. But then Jon had come knocking and forced her to reiterate her trust in Sandor, and then he insisted on discussing her marriage to Tyrion Lannister as well as the idea of future arranged marriages. Sansa almost wished that she were back on Captain Dougan's ship where Jon and Stannis and Melisandre had not factored into her life or her interactions with Sandor Clegane. There is no going back, she told herself as Jon left the room and Sandor entered it again. But now there was something in his eyes that had not been there before. Was he truly that angry with her for asking him to leave the room?

Sansa stepped forward and reached for him as she said, "I am sorry I made you leave...but Jon needed to know that I trust you, needed to hear me say the words when you could not hear them..."

Sandor held his hands out in front of him to ward her off. "I heard what you said," he snarled. She could not understand why he was so upset. She ran through her conversation with Jon in her head, but so far as she remembered she had said nothing that should have angered him so.

"I...I don't understand..." she admitted, moving toward him again. This time he grabbed her wrists and held them in an iron grip as he glared down at her. He seemed to be searching for something in her face, her eyes, but he was hurting her and she could not stop the tears from welling up. "That hurts," she gasped as she tried to wrench away from him. "What is wrong with you?"

He made a sound of disgust, a growl deep in his throat. "What is wrong with me, little bird? Me? What are you playing at, telling your bastard brother that the Imp...that he...that you..." He made that sound again, his lip twitching madly.

"Playing at?" she snapped, suddenly grasping the situation. "I was telling him the truth!"

"Really? Because I've known the Imp for quite a long time and he never shied away from bedding a pretty wench. I find it hard to believe - "

"I don't care what you find 'hard to believe'. Tyrion is a Lannister, and not to be trusted, I'll grant you that...but he knew I did not want him and for some reason he would not force himself on me. I am not sure why you are so angry that I am still a maid!" Sansa cried.

This seemed to render Sandor speechless for a moment. Finally his shoulders fell and he pressed the fingertips of his hands to his temples, closing his eyes. Gathering himself, Sansa realized. She'd never seen him do such a thing before but for some reason it made things seem even worse. She wanted to kiss him, she wanted to hit him, she wanted...she wanted...

"Little bird," he finally sighed. "Go to bed." He reached for the jug of ale and left her, shutting the door behind him. She heard him drop heavily to the floor and knew somehow that he was sitting against her door. Guarding her.

For now.

 

SANDOR

He hadn't meant to listen to Sansa's conversation with Snow, but they weren't exactly quiet about it. Still, it was not until the bastard brought up Tyrion that Sandor really tried to hear what they were saying...and even when he did he could scarce believe that it was true. The Imp was as good as dead if they thought he had a hand in Joffrey's death; why was Sansa lying about giving him her maidenhead? Because she must be lying...gods only knew how many whores Tyrion had bedded...and there was that tale about his first wife...

Sandor could not hold himself back when Snow finally left. He could see that his anger scared the little bird, but for the first time in a long time he almost did not care - until she said the words "I am still a maid!" and he suddenly wondered What have I been doing? He had tried to keep his distance from the girl and failed miserably at times, but in the end, when she'd begged him to stay with her, when she'd kissed him, allowed him to lie her down on the bed, he'd thought that if this happened, if he had her, it would be because she had asked for it. He had never thought that she might not know what she was asking for, and that assumption piggybacked on her marriage to Tyrion Lannister. Her consummated marriage to Tyrion Lannister.

Sansa Stark the maid was an entirely different animal from Sansa Stark the wedded and bedded.

Sandor did not sleep much at all that night. At one point he was sure he heard Sansa sobbing in the room; the sound tugged at him but he refused to open the door and check on her. He must re-learn to deny himself, apparently.

When morning came and Sansa opened the door to her room, her eyes were red-rimmed and she looked exhausted. He knew he likely did not look much better, and when she softly told him "Good morning" he merely grunted in acknowledgement. She stared at him for a long moment as if trying to disarm him; Sandor looked away. Finally she said, "I am going to speak with Stannis and Lady Melisandre. Would you accompany me...as my guard and protector, of course?"

Her reference was pointed; he could not miss it. "Lead the way," he said, stepping aside to let her pass. Sandor followed Sansa down the stairs and out of Hardin's Tower, taking note of the men who stopped to watch or even gape as they passed by on their way to King's Tower. Jon Snow was training some of them in the yard and when Sandor saw their pathetic attempts at swordplay he snorted in derision. The sound carried and caused Snow to stop practically mid-swing as he watched his sister speak with the guards at the door to King's Tower. Sandor noticed that Snow was pointedly ignoring him and had he not been in such a foul mood he would have laughed at the wolf boy's self-righteous attitude.

Suddenly he realized that Sansa was arguing with the guards. He caught the words "alone, he's not allowed" from one and immediately after that the other guard spat out, "Lannister dog." Sandor did laugh at that.

"Lannister dog, am I? Yet I've rescued Lady Stark here and brought her to her bastard half brother - and to your lord - without any harm befalling her. If I'm a dog I'm her dog, and the girl will not go into this tower without me at her heels." Seven hells, he thought. He hadn't meant to say that thing about being Sansa's dog...knowing his luck it would put ideas in her head. The guards eyed him maliciously but both he and Sansa stood their ground, and finally they stepped aside and directed Sansa to Stannis's rooms.

A boy not much younger than Sansa opened the door, but once they were inside the chambers Stannis - who with Melisandre had his back to the door, facing the fire in the hearth - ordered, "Leave us, Devan." A look of annoyance flitted over the boy's face, but he did as he was told, shutting the door behind him.

And then Sandor and Sansa were alone with the self-styled king and his sorceress.

Chapter Text

MELISANDRE

It had been far too difficult to convince Stannis that he must wait for the Stark girl to come to him. "She will approach you tomorrow, I swear it," Melisandre had insisted, yet still he had paced angrily and muttered about how he ought to order the girl to come to him immediately. "And surely she would obey," Melisandre smiled, "but it is not necessary. She will come to us tomorrow and that is for the best, Your Grace."

"Did you see it in the fires, then?" he had asked, and she knew that he was frustrated, even annoyed. Her ruby pulsed angrily at her throat and when she did not immediately respond, Stannis had uttered a low growl and flung himself into a chair. He had been silent for the remainder of the evening.

Of course she had been right. First thing the following morning they heard the raised voices of Sansa and the guards, then the sounds of the girl and her shield ascending the staircase. Melisandre had warned Stannis that the girl would bring Clegane with her; though the king was not pleased he bore the news better than she expected. This part of it, at least, Melisandre mused.

When Devan left the four of them alone, Stannis leveled his eyes on Sandor Clegane for a long moment. His jaw was tense and for a moment Melisandre wondered if she had been wrong, if he would put forth some sort of protest about Sandor's being there - but then the king seemed to think better of it and gestured for Sansa to sit by the fire with him. "You are the lady of Winterfell now," he said bluntly, tall and stiff in his chair. The Stark girl merely nodded, but Melisandre could see that she was taking stock of Stannis as she looked at him. The King asked, "How do you plan to take it?"

"I...I was hoping that you would help me with that, my lo - I mean, Your Grace." Melisandre cocked an eyebrow - so the Stark girl was that brave, that forward. Stannis grumbled under his breath for a moment before looking to Melisandre. She inclined her head just slightly. She had not yet told him what she had seen in her fires; futures seen in flames could sometimes be changed, after all.

"I would require your allegiance, at the very least. You will bow the knee to me, renounce Cersei Lannister's bastard children. As for your marriage to Tyrion Lannister...Lady Melisandre has told me that she is sure you are a maid. If this is true you must prove it, immediately. There are no septas here; Septon Cellador and Melisandre can see to it. Once we are sure we will annul your marriage in the sept, in front of witnesses and by right of the Seven and the Lord of Light...just to be sure that all understand it is a void contract."

Too blunt, Melisandre thought. Even she knew not to speak of a woman's maidenhead so. But Sansa Stark seemed eager enough to deal with the humiliation of having her virginity ascertained - and why not, if it meant having her marriage to that monster annulled? "I will gladly bow the knee to you, Your Grace. The Lannisters - all of them - have been nothing but a bane on my existence. And I have nothing to hide in regards to my forced and unconsummated marriage to Tyrion."

"Good. For if you are to have Winterfell, I mean for you to take a wildling king or prince as your lord husband. We have pardoned these people and they are to be allowed to live on this side of the Wall, but a marriage between a Stark of Winterfell and a leader of the wildlings will do much toward setting the people of the North at ease in regards to this pact." Melisandre watched the Stark girl carefully; she visibly blanched at the mention of her marrying, but Melisandre did not think it had much to do with the idea of the man being a wildling. Sandor Clegane's face remained impassive, but his shoulders had tensed perceptibly.

The girl's voice was quiet but firm when she finally spoke. "I apologize, my lord, but that I cannot do."

Melisandre saw Stannis set his jaw and narrow his eyes at Sansa Stark, but before he could speak she placed a hand on his shoulder. "Lady Stark," she said, "the use of King Stannis's troops is likely the only way you will be able to return to your ancestral home. This is not a small thing he asks of you, I know, but I assure you we will find a man who pleases you. We will not force you to marry a wildling of our choosing."

But when Sansa looked up at her Melisandre knew that this argument had already been lost. Despite the courteous mask the girl had drawn down over her face, her blue eyes were cold as ice as she replied, "I thank you for that consideration, my lady, but my answer is still no. I was betrothed to Joffrey Baratheon and for a time that made me the happiest girl in the world. Only he turned out to be horrible, and until Margaery Tyrell came along I thought I would be stuck with him forever. And then his family forced the Imp on me. Though thankfully that did not go as badly as it could have, I am done with having my husbands chosen for me. If I ever marry, I will choose the man myself - and as Lady of Winterfell, I should have no problem finding plenty of suitors, I'm sure."

Curious, speculated Melisandre. Though the girl was balking the idea of wedding a wildling merely to please Stannis, she was also not specifying whom she might marry instead. Yet what the Lord of Light had shown her in the flames was burned into her mind...

"We are done here - for now," Stannis barked. "Melisandre, take the girl to her chambers and send for Septon Cellador. We will determine her status-" he spat that word out as if it left a bad taste in his mouth "- and give her time to ruminate over my terms." When he stood Sansa stood as well, bending in a curtsy before hurrying out the door with Clegane at her heels. Melisandre hastened to follow, pausing only to reassure Stannis.

"This will all end as R'hllor wills, my king. I swear to you."

"And if the Lord of Light and I do not wish for the same outcome?" Stannis challenged. Melisandre held his eyes for a long moment, feeling the ruby at her throat go hot as it pulsed faster and faster. Stannis broke his gaze first and Melisandre swept from the room, catching up with Sansa Stark and Sandor Clegane just in time to hear him speak to her.

"You've not broken your fast, girl. Should you not eat before letting these buggering fools poke and prod at you?"

"What does it matter? Or do you just not want to be proven wrong?" the girl snapped, without even looking at Clegane. Melisandre stepped up beside them.

"If you do not mind, ser, you could find Septon Cellador and bring him to your lady's chambers. And some food and mulled wine as well, I think."

Clegane glared down at Melisandre, but before he could say anything the girl said, "Yes, Sandor, please bring us some food and wine and the Septon. I would prefer to finish this business as soon as possible." The man looked from Melisandre to Sansa Stark and back again, but finally stomped off toward the sept. The girl continued walking toward Hardin's Tower, a determined expression settling over her features. "I would have Sandor in the room with us while the examination is being performed," she stated.

"My lady, do you really think that is best? Perhaps Jon Snow would be the proper choice; he is your relation, after all."

"I do not care for what is proper. Sandor is my sworn shield and I will have him present. Though if Jon were there as well, as my brother, there should be even less reason for anyone to argue the results."

Ah, so that discussion has occurred, then, Melisandre realized. Just two days ago Sansa Stark had insisted that Sandor Clegane was nothing but a temporary protector or guard, yet now he was officially her sworn shield? Still, it seemed a bit much to have him in the room while she was examined. Unless...

No, that could not be. The Septon would - he must - find the girl's maidenhead still intact. If he did not, an immediate annulment of her marriage to the Lannister dwarf would be impossible - Winterfell would be as much his as it was hers. And yet, Melisandre told herself, what I saw in the flames could still come to be...

Chapter Text

SANSA

She hated that she was nervous, but apparently she was hiding it well. Though the Lady Melisandre kept giving her thoughtful looks, she did not seem to sense how terrified Sansa was to be poked at down there. What if her seal had been broken, as it were? She had heard that sometimes it happened when girls were riding, though she had never cared much for doing so and had certainly never gone on any wild sort of horseback ride.

And she was not sure what had possessed her to insist that Sandor be allowed to stay in the room. Part of her knew that she would feel safer with him there, but the idea of being so exposed in front of him made her face go hot.

It seemed as if half the morning had passed before Sandor finally returned, dragging Septon Cellador by his cowl. Jon was just behind them, carrying a jug of wine and some food and looking none too happy about it. "Where have you been?" Sansa asked. She was frustrated at having been kept waiting so long, the entire time having to think about what she would soon endure for the sake of ending her marriage to Tyrion Lannister. Sandor's shrugged response was maddening.

"I sought out the septon here and told him what was needed, but when I left him to find your food he ran off to your bastard brother to cry about how this is not the way things are done."

"It's not, it's not," cried Septon Cellador. "The high septon will never recognize an annulment performed under these circumstances, it is a septa'sjob to ascertain a maid's purity. I have never-"

"That is quite enough, septon," Melisandre interrupted. "You and I will do this together, so that there can be no doubt that Lady Stark was untouched by Tyrion the Imp. And then you will go to your sept and perform her annulment in front of your seven-" she spat out the word with distaste "-and tonight the fires of R'hllor will witness it as well. Lady Stark has agreed to this, is most eager for it in fact. Is that not the case, my lady?"

"It is," Sansa said firmly. She stepped forward and placed a hand on Septon Cellador's arm. "Please, septon, do me this one favor. Do it, and when I am again the lady of Winterfell I will not forget the help that the Night's Watch - and you- gave me."

"Sansa," Jon spoke up, and his voice was strained. "I am not sure that this is wise-"

"It is the only choice I have, Jon. If anything we must make sure this marriage is annulled as soon as possible, in order to ensure that should something happen to me there is no way Tyrion Lannister can lay claim to Winterfell. The septon here and Lady Melisandre will perform the examination; as a woman she will prevent any harm from coming to me. You as my brother and Sandor as my sworn shield will also remain in this room as witnesses. By the end of the day it will be ascertained that the Imp never bedded me and it will be as if our jape of a marriage never existed."

Jon's face had gone bright red - likely with embarrassment - when Sansa mentioned his staying in the room. But it was Sandor's reaction in which she was truly interested. A shadow had fallen over his face and she could almost hear him clenching his jaw and grinding his teeth, his burnt mouth twitching. He did not speak but she could practically feel the anger radiating from him. Jon finally replied, "Truly, Sansa, you cannot expect us to watch this...this..." He shook his head, as if he did not know how to finish his own sentence. "I am only your half brother, and a man at that, and Clegane-"

"A man of the Night's Watch. You swore vows to remain chaste, not so different from those vows a septon makes, I'd wager. And Sandorbent his knee and swore to protect me. I can think of no two people alive that I would rather have with me."

The septon was still wringing his hands, and Sansa had had enough. She moved to her pallet and sat down on its edge. Lady Melisandre kneeled beside her. "You may keep your gown on, but you must remove your small clothes. Pull your skirts up around your waist. I will be here beside you. This will be uncomfortable, but is the work of a moment. Do you understand, Lady Stark?"

Sansa nodded, wishing that she could still her trembling as she pulled her skirts up and peeled off her smallclothes. Lady Melisandre beckoned for the septon and as Sansa leaned back on her elbows they bent between her legs. She breathed deeply, willing herself not to cry. From the corner of her eye she saw Jon, his face still red, staring at the ceiling. She then looked to Sandor, who was obviously trying to avoid seeing her as well - and failing miserably. Sansa focused on him as she felt the soft warm fingers of another woman pushing aside her folds. Her intake of breath brought Sandor's eyes to her, finally, and she saw him shudder as he looked upon her naked woman's place.

Then the hand pressed up into her, gently, and met with resistance. Immediately Lady Melisandre withdrew and as she and the septon backed away Sandor finally locked eyes with Sansa. They stared into each others' faces as Lady Melisandre stated, "She is intact, septon. Do you need examine her yourself?"

Please, no, no, I want no man's hands there, no man but...

"No need, no need," the septon babbled nervously. He had turned away from her. "You may all meet me in the sept at your convenience. We will go before the Seven to pronounce the end of Lady Stark's marriage to Tyrion Lannister, by dint of the union never having been consummated." He hurried from the room, and Sansa stood, straightening her skirts, smoothing them over and over again as if doing so would make her feel less open, less bared, less violated. Jon was still avoiding her gaze as she approached him, but before Sansa could speak Lady Melisandre was there between them.

"Jon Snow. I think it is time we considered moving Lady Sansa from Castle Black. Somewhere safe, of course, and not too far from here. Can you think of a place?"

Jon seemed relieved to not have to speak of what he had just witnessed. "It depends on how soon you would have her moved, my lady."

"Tomorrow, I think. I am sure your sister understands that she may have to live in questionable lodgings for a while, but she should have her own place while the king decides what to do about Winterfell."

"Then...there is Queenscrown. A day's ride at most; not quite the ruin that many of our forts are. The only way to the tower is by rowboat, or to pick your way across stepstones hidden in the water...a single archer with plenty of quarrels could hold it for quite some time. If King Stannis would station some men in the ruins of the nearby village, she would be quite safe."

Sansa watched as Melisandre leveled her eyes at Sandor. "Do you arch, Sandor Clegane?"

 

SANDOR

The little bird was apparently intent on torturing him. Oh, he had tried to keep himself from looking at her, to be sure - even when he felt her eyes boring into him as the red woman and the septon bent between her legs. But then she had sucked in her breath and he couldn't stop himself. Standing as tall as he did he could see over the heads of Cellador and Melisandre, could see...everything. Her sweet pink cunt, the soft covering of hair on her mound, more the color of chestnut than auburn. And the way she was lookingat him...he felt himself going hard and he both wanted to look away and didn't want to look away. His baser instincts won and he continued watching her even after she had stood and let her skirts fall back into place, continued watching her as the bastard and the red woman discussed them leaving Castle Black. When Melisandre asked him about arching, he could only shrug and mumble, "Passably."

"It is settled, then," Melisandre was saying. "Tomorrow we will dispatch the Lady Stark and her sworn shield to Queenscrown. King Stannis can spare a small guard. Jon Snow, if you would find her a woman of the wildlings to accompany her as a maidservant-"

"That will not be easy. Wildlings aren't anyone's servants," Jon reminded her.

"Tell them that whoever goes with the Lady Sansa will have shelter and food and safety. I believe you will not have a problem convincing one of them to attend her," Melisandre said firmly. Snow stared at the red woman for a long moment, then gave a curt nod and strode from the room. "Break your fast, my lady, and meet me in the sept within the hour," the red woman finished, and then she was gone as well. Sandor quickly made to leave the room, but suddenly Sansa was by his side, resting her hand on his arm in that maddeningly sweet way she had.

"Won't you eat with me?" she asked. Her hand was trembling and he somehow knew that it had little and less to do with him - Cellador and Melisandre's little examination had obviously shaken her. And as much as he wanted to say no, he could not deny her.

"Since you asked so courteously," he shrugged, and reached for the jug of mulled wine. But Sansa grabbed it first and took a long pull, coughing as the spices hit the back of her throat. Sandor scoffed at her and moved to take the jug away, but as he wrapped his hand around it Sansa grabbed at him and used her hold on his arm to pull herself against him. Her eyes were fixed on his and he could not look away.

"You know it is true now. That I am a maid," she stated fiercely. "They are sending us to Queenscrown to play house, Sandor, but I'll not have you come with me if you will merely sit outside my bed chamber with a jug of wine or ale in hand every night. You will keep me safe by staying close - as close as I want you to stay."

Before he could respond Sansa released him, relinquishing the wine jug and picking up a bowl of sliced apples. She watched him as she ate and Sandor had never before felt so exposed.

Chapter Text

SANSA

I will not hide away in Queenscrown, lonely and miserable and worrying every day whether the wildling woman they send with me will cut my throat, she told herself. She remembered the cabin on the ship, the tent on the road to Castle Black, how safe she had felt knowing that Sandor was right there. She'd not felt that way the previous night, though she knew that he was just outside her door; she needed him withher, whether he wanted to be or not.

Sansa stared him down as she ate her apples, waiting for Sandor to argue or disagree with her, but many long moments passed and he did neither. She washed down her apples with more wine, to fortify herself for what was to come. The worst of this annulment ordeal may be over, but between the requirements of the faith of the Seven and Melisandre's insistence that they involve her Lord of Light, Sansa knew it would be a very long day. "It is time for me to go to the sept," she announced to Sandor, who had not spoken a word since she had grabbed his arm and told him he would be sharing her chambers at Queenscrown. That's not exactly what you said, a little voice insisted, but she ignored it. He would understand soon enough.

Sandor remained silent, but followed her to the sept where Cellador and Jon Snow awaited her. Melisandre was not present but Jon had dragged along Satin as another witness. Sansa smiled sweetly at the attractive young man and forced herself to say cheerfully, "Hello again, Satin." The youth smiled brightly at her in return and Sansa pretended to ignore Sandor's jealous grumble. The five of them approached the altars of the Seven and it was like entering a dream, a wonderful dream in which the weight of Tyrion Lannister and Sansa's marriage to him was lifted from her shoulders. He may be but half a man, but his existence as her husband had been crushing her since the moment he draped his Lannister cloak over her shoulders.

There was some time before Melisandre would light the nightfire and pronounce Sansa a free maiden once again, and now Sansa asked Jon if she could see Ghost. "If I can find him," Jon grimaced. "Though you may want to send your dog away; Ghost doesn't take to those I don't trust."

Sansa rolled her eyes. "I'm sure he will be just fine. Are you a threat to my brother, Sandor?"

"Literally or figuratively?" he shrugged. Sansa narrowed her eyes at him.

"It will be fine, Jon. I would so love to see a direwolf again..."

Her brother acquiesced and bid them wait for him in the yard. "This could take a while," he admitted, but as Sansa was bundled in a woolen gown and an old Night's Watch brother's cloak she was warm enough and happy to wait. She could feel Sandor standing just behind her, and when she spoke she knew he was listening.

"I thought about something in the sept just now. I was recalling my wedding to Tyrion and the act of him placing his cloak over my shoulders to claim me as his own." She let her words hang heavily in the air, wondering if he would understand what she was really saying. When he merely grunted in response, she knew he must and she turned to face him. "Could Tyrion have ever really claimed me, Sandor?"

 

SANDOR

The apparent necessity of being constantly alone with Sansa Stark frightened him more than the idea of being mauled by a direwolf. It seemed that every time he turned around the girl was more and more bold, and of course now every time he looked at her all he could think about was that sweet pink slit between her legs. When she started babbling about weddings and cloaks he experienced a moment of confusion, but then it hit him like a ton of bricks. Though he didn't think it worked quite like she seemed to want it to, when she asked him some vague question about Tyrion claiming her he decided it would be best to pretend that he did not understand at all.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're getting at, little bird," he lied. Sansa's face went pale and for a moment he thought she might cry, but then she composed herself and turned away from him again.

"You know what I speak of," she insisted, but she did not sound so sure of herself anymore. "Twice you gave me a cloak, Sandor. Twice. I know that it was your Kingsguard cloak, not the Clegane colors, but it was yours."

He had no words, but just then Jon Snow appeared at the edge of the yard with a beast right out of the seven hells at his side. The direwolf was huge, thrice at least the size of the last ones he had seen - the little wolf girl's pet that had run off after attacking Joffrey, and his little bird's obedient Lady that died in the other's stead. And this one, Snow's animal, was as white as the newfallen snow with eyes of blood red. Maybe the bastard was right; maybe I should have made myself scarce. As Jon Snow approached them the direwolf moved off to the side, circling Sandor and Sansa silently, sniffing the air. Jon motioned for Sansa to crouch down with him and whispered something to her, and the little bird held out her hand , palm up, and called, "Here, Ghost. To me."

The direwolf - Ghost - looked to its master and the pretty girl but did not heed her call. Instead it turned and stalked toward Sandor, who immediately understood that the beast meant him no harm. Ghost simply sniffed at Sandor's hand, which was hanging loosely by his side, and sat down. Some fierce direwolf, Sandor thought, chuckling to himself as he reached out and scratched Ghost behind the ear. "Seems your wolf likes me better than he likes you, Snow," he said. The bastard glared at him.

"Ghost, to me," he called firmly. The direwolf nudged at Sandor with his nose but obeyed its master. Sandor watched Sansa reach for the animal, and though Ghost first looked to Jon Snow, when Snow gave a barely perceptible nod the beast let the little bird touch him.

"Lady," Sansa whimpered, so softly that Sandor could barely hear her. He was reminded of how she had lost her own direwolf on the kingsroad all those years ago, and looking at her now, sweet and beautiful and innocent yet sad and lost and even alone, in a way…he felt something that he had never before experienced.

Remorse.

Chapter Text

JON

When Septon Cellador had come running for him that morning, he had assumed that the man was in his cups. Or exaggerating. Hopefully both. Yet Sansa had not only actually wanted the examination; she had gone through with it as well. Unfortunately Jon had a vague notion that if the Lannisters ever caught up with Sansa they would not appreciate her setting aside her marriage to Tyrion, nor believe that the annulment was valid in the first place.

Not unless she remains a maiden for as long as any Lannister is alive and in power, he pondered. Though if Stannis had his way, the chances of that were slim as well. The King had called Jon to his chambers just after Sansa's examination, wanting to hear the results immediately, and wanting Jon to understand that were he to help her win back Winterfell, Sansa must marry a man - preferably a wildling - loyal to King Stannis.

"Your sister balked at my terms," Stannis said with disgust, "but when she grows tired of this Queenscrown tower you send her to, when she becomes impatient to return to her true home, she will change her mind."

Jon knew that Sansa wanted Winterfell, and badly, but he did not - could not - truly believe that Stannis was right. He merely nodded in acquiescence and excused himself. It was time to meet Sansa at the sept and witness the annulment of her marriage to Tyrion Lannister - or at least the most official annulment they could provide for her, under the circumstances. Along the way he met Satin, who fell into step beside him and seemed about to ask a question when Jon said, "Would you come with me to the sept?"

"I...yes, if you wish it. Why...?"

"My sister is about to have her Lannister marriage annulled. I feel that the more witnesses she has, the better. As you can read and write..."

A slight blush rose in Satin's cheeks. "Of course." He paused for a long moment as they continued walking together, and then blushed again as he admitted, "Lady Sansa is quite beautiful." Jon cocked an eyebrow at the lad. He knew where Satin had come from and for that he had assumed that the pretty little boy must prefer other men, but maybe...

"Yes...she is. And her beauty and her claim to Winterfell will land her a far better husband than Tyrion Lannister some day, I hope."

The ceremony in the sept was simple and to the point. Septon Cellador had been drinking already and stumbled over his words several times, but otherwise the whole thing went quite smoothly. Sansa looked radiant as they left the sept, though Jon had noted a slightly bewildered look about Sandor Clegane's face. When his sister begged to see Ghost Jon wandered off without much hope, but the direwolf was nearby for the first time in a long time. Jon couldn't help but smile when he pictured Ghost snapping at Clegane; it was sure to happen, like most animals Ghost sensed when those around him were dangerous. But the direwolf surprised him, first by not making any threatening moves toward the Hound and then by outright ignoring Sansa's call to sit at Sandor Clegane's feet. You know nothing, Jon Snow.

Having had enough, Jon commanded the wolf to come to him...but once Sansa petted Ghost and whimpered something that sounded suspiciously like "Lady" he wondered whether this had been a smart idea after all. Before he could speak, though, Sansa stood and muttered, "Thank you," her voice strained and distant. She swept off toward Hardin's Tower, and after just a moment's hesitation Clegane followed at her heels.

Jon watched them go, but soon his attention was drawn to the group of queen's men who were laying out the trappings of a bonfire. Melisandre had her fires every night, but this one would apparently be quite larger than those of past evenings. The red woman herself had come out to over see the preparations, and Jon could see Val watching from the window in her tower room. There had been little and less talk of the "wildling princess" since Sansa's arrival. Sansa may be but a girl, but she was as beautiful as Val and far more striking with her auburn locks and Tully blue eyes. Val was fierce and strong but Sansa was courteous and sweet and had the ice of the North running in her blood.

Val was a false princess and Sansa was a true queen.

It was good that Sansa would be moving to Queenscrown on the morrow, though Jon could not pretend to be happy that Sandor Clegane would go with her. Following the ceremony of Sansa's annulment in the sept he had sent Satin to inquire about a wildling woman to serve Sansa, though he thought he might have been better off going himself when Satin returned just as the fire was being stoked, just as the blue twilight was fading to a leaden gray that felt like it may soon bring snow. The boy looked cowed, and the woman stalking behind him had a babe at her breast and a skinny, dirty young boy clinging to her leg. Jon tried to hide his grimace but the wildling surely saw him, for she narrowed her eyes, turned her head and spat on the ground.

"I...I asked after as many women as I could find, sir, but she's the only one who would come. On account of the children, she said, and she won't be going without them," Satin mumbled miserably. There was a red mark on his left cheek where someone had slapped him.

"You were clear that whomever came would not be required to do anything against their will? That they will have a warm place to sleep, a comfortable bed, plentiful food? That Lady Sansa is young, sweet, kind?"

"Well, sir, I tried, but...most of them would not listen long enough for me to get that far."

"'Cept me," the woman stated, shifting the baby to her hip. "My man has been missing since your little attack on the other side o' the Wall, and I got two mouths to feed 'sides my own. I'll not bend no knee nor play pretty with or for some Lady...but giv'n the supplies I'll keep a hot fire and cook a warm meal and so long as my own don't want for nothin' neither will this...what was 'er name agin?"

"Sansa," Jon sighed, closing his eyes against the woman's coarse words. And she will not like you very much, I'd wager. "Lady Sansa Stark, heir to Winterfell."

The woman grinned. It was not a pretty grin - more than one tooth was gone from her mouth - but it seemed some sort of genuine. "Tell Lady Sansa that Hildred of the wildlings is at her service, then," she said sarcastically.

"I will, thank you. We depart tomorrow, soon after dawn. Can you ride?"

"If I must."

"You will have to share a garron with your children."

The woman shrugged in response.

"Right. Well. Satin here will show you where you are to sleep tonight, and I will come for you on the morrow." Jon nodded to the boy and turned back to Melisandre's fire. Night gathers, and now my watch begins.

Chapter Text

SANSA

This fire-loving god of the Lady Melisandre frightened Sansa a bit, but in general the red woman had been kind to her and if Melisandre insisted that her marriage be pronounced void in front of R'hllor as well as the Seven, the courteous thing to do was to play along. The sight of Ghost earlier had upset Sansa, reminding her of her lost Lady, but she reminded herself that Lady had been killed a very, very long time ago. And you have a new dog now.

She hadn't wanted to cry in front of Sandor, so she had shut and locked herself in her room, forcing him to wait outside the door until she could shed a few tears, wipe her face, don his old cloak and prepare to spend the evening politely listening to Melisandre's prayers. When she looked out the window of her tower room and saw that the sky had darkened to a heavy, clouded black she opened the door. As she had expected he was there waiting, leaning against the wall, one knee bent and his foot placed against the stones to balance himself.

"You may remain here, if you would like," she offered, trying to be kind. "Jon will be there to watch me, and the fire...I know you do not care for it."

"Bugger that, little bird. If I'm to be your sworn shield I must 'keep you safe by staying close', no?" he rasped, reciting Sansa's own words back to her. She stared up at his face for a long moment, but it seemed impassive.

"Thank you," she finally whispered, and when she commenced stepping down the stairs with him close behind her a thrill started in her stomach and rushed up into her throat, nearly choking her, the strangest and sweetest feeling she had ever experienced.

Sansa took her place beside her brother and from the corner of her eye saw Sandor stop at the edge of the ring of heat caused by the fire. The Lady Melisandre began her ministrations and eventually moved on to speak of Sansa's forced marriage, the many false claims of the Lannisters and the fact that Sansa was a maid untouched. Sansa felt her face go red knowing that the many others surrounding the fire were hearing such things about her, but then, she had experienced so much worse. She clutched Sandor's kingsguard cloak around her shoulders and for the second time that day heard herself pronounced an unwed maiden. She could not help it then; she glanced over her shoulder and her eyes met Sandor's. She smiled at him, and he inclined his head toward her just slightly. She felt that thrill again, only this time it was more a fluttering that settled in her stomach. She quickly turned back to the flames and reached for her brother's hand, squeezing it tight as she whispered, "For Winterfell."

When Jon looked at her the flames were reflected in his eyes and she could not read his expression, but though the smile he gave her was a sad one it was a smile nonetheless. He has always been far too serious, she reminded herself, and she refused to let go of his hand for a long time. When Lady Melisandre finally stopped calling to her Lord of Light, Jon said, "Sansa."

"Yes?"

"Do you mind if I..." he seemed to steel himself. "Do you know anything of Arya?"

Of course. Arya, his favorite. If Arya would hear she would steal a horse and storm Winterfell all by herself, and probably win it back, too.

"I...I am sorry, but no. I had hoped she had boarded the boat father scheduled for us, but...that could not have happened. I do know that Cersei was never able to find her, but Jon...I can't imagine..."

He clenched his jaw. "This is Arya we speak of. If no one has seen her dead, there is always a chance that she is alive."

Sansa finally withdrew her hand from his. "Yes. I suppose you are right." She continued staring into the fire, telling herself that the tears welling in her eyes were caused by the flames and the smoke. "If we are to leave early tomorrow, I should try to sleep," she finally sighed. "Thank you again for all you've done today. Goodnight, Jon." Before he could answer her she swept off toward Hardin's Tower, stopped briefly by Sandor when he touched her shoulder as she passed.

"I'm to have a word with Snow," he told her. " I shan't be long, but lock your door behind you if you feel the need." The night and his heavy brow obscured his eyes, but Sansa was flustered anyway, flustered by thoughts of Arya and by Sandor's touch.

"As you will," she allowed, and focused her eyes on the ground as she rushed back to her chamber.

 

SANDOR

She smiled at him, and then she looked away and took the hand of her bastard half-brother.

It was almost more than he could bear.

The little bird was an enigma, spouting her courtesies one moment and snapping at him like a she-wolf the next. Frightened and crying one moment and as strong and icy as these Northern winds the next. Yet somehow she had made his originally logical-seeming decision to join the Night's Watch a moot point. He could not leave her now any more than he could have two days ago, two weeks ago. Anymore than he should have over four months ago when the wildfire raged on the Blackwater and he held a dagger to her throat and demanded a song when he should have whispered kind reassuring words and swept her into his arms and taken her far, far away from all those who meant her harm.

But he was not a man of kind reassuring words – he was a harsh man of scars and steel. And yet Sansa Stark, sweet innocent beautiful courteous ladylike Sansa Stark, trusted him. Wanted him close to her. Wanted to believe that his cloak over her shoulders meant something more than him helping her to hide her nakedness from the greedy eyes of the court, more than him simply discarding the lies that his being a member of the Kingsguard had perpetuated.

For the first time in his life, Sandor had met someone who wanted only good things from him...and as he watched his little bird gazing sadly into Melisandre's flames, he realized that he wanted to give those things to her.

Sansa seemed distracted and upset when he reached out to stop her, to tell her that he must speak with Jon Snow. She recoiled from his touch and avoided his gaze and again Sandor found himself thinking You are dreaming, dog. The only thing she wants of you is your sword. Still he approached Snow and waited for the boy to acknowledge him.

"Yes, Clegane?" the bastard finally asked, his tone weary.

"I've still been thinking about the Night's Watch, Snow. About joining it."

"Yes, I know. And I still feel you should not do so."

"I thought as much. Your opinion means little and less to me, but I'm sure it will please you to hear that your sister requested that I remain her sworn shield and stay with her at Queenscrown. I assume I will accompany her to Winterfell as well, when the time comes."

When Jon Snow looked up at Sandor then, his eyes seemed to know all. "I'm not sure if I'd rather have you here on the Night's Watch than guarding my sister - "

"Half sister, bastard," Sandor reminded him.

" - but I suppose Sansa could have picked a worse sworn shield." A long moment of silence passed between them, and then Sandor grunted his acknowledgement of Jon Snow's opinion. To which Snow said, "If any harm comes to her, Clegane, rest assured that I will find you and kill you myself. She is likely the last living blood relative I have, and she has had enough trouble for her days."

Sandor turned away, but before he left he announced, "If any harm comes to her, Snow, you will not have to find me and kill me, because I will be dead either by the hand of the one who means to hurt her, or by my own should I lose her again."

With that he made his way to Hardin's Tower. He tried the door to the little bird's chambers and, finding it locked, felt a surge of disappointment. But he did not wish to disturb her and so he took his place on the landing and began his vigil.

Chapter Text

SANSA

She had barred the door at Sandor's suggestion, but she could not sleep. She heard him marching up the stairs not so long after she settled on her pallet and she thought for a moment about opening the door to let him in, but she decided that she was not ready to do so. Not here.

Sleep did not come easily to Sansa that night, and when it came at all it was filled with flashing visions that were something between dreams and memories. She dreamed that Sandor had the face of a wolf, a wolf that looked suspiciously like Lady; she dreamed of Ghost looking at her with Jon's eyes; she dreamed of Arya tossing and turning in a strange place and growling in her sleep.

Sansa awoke in that gray period before dawn when the world is still quiet. Her eyes itched with exhaustion and her extremities were numb, the fire having gone out sometime during the night. She stumbled to the door and opened it, finding Sandor dozing on the landing, facing the stairwell. He jerked awake as soon as he heard the door creak and mumbled, "Little bird?"

"It is morning," she told him. "We must be on our way to Queenscrown soon."

Sandor nodded and pushed himself to his feet, surprisingly quick considering he did not seem to have truly slept during the night. Sansa remembered her dream just then and reached for him, cupping his cheek the way she had the night of the Battle of the Blackwater and staring intently into his intense gray eyes. She could no longer remember the color of Lady's eyes, but she thought she would have liked them to be gray. As she stood there Sandor reached up and placed one of his large and calloused hands over her own, stroking her knuckles gently with his fingertips for a moment - a moment that was broken when there was a shout from below.

"Oy! Lady Sansa! I been sent t' collect you; your crow brother wants to be on the way." Sansa's heart skipped a beat as she broke her contact with Sandor and rushed back into the bedchamber for her little pack of belongings. The woman who had called for her was still waiting at the base of Hardin's Tower; she was filthy and missing several teeth, but there was something strong and kind about her eyes that Sansa liked.

Jon appeared just then and grimaced at the wildling. "Sansa, this is Hildred. She's to accompany you to Queenscrown with her children."

"Children?" Sansa asked.

"M'boy Grigg and a babe," the woman announced.

"The baby has no name?"

"Not for another year or two yet," Jon advised. "Wildlings don't name their babies." The fact "too many of them die" hung in the air, unspoken but understood.

"I am pleased to meet you, Hildred," Sansa said, dropping a curtsy. Not something she would normally do for someone meant to be a servant or maid, but growing up in the North had left her with enough information about the wildlings to know that though this woman was choosing to accompany Sansa to Queenscrown, she was doing so for her own sake and that of her children and not to serve Sansa as, say, her maid Shae in King's Landing had done.

"We should be going," Jon insisted. They were in luck; it seemed that the sun would rise that morning. But at any moment it could be concealed by clouds and snow could fall - the idea was to reach Queenscrown before that happened. Unfortunately they had to travel quite slow, as King Stannis had ordered several carts to be filled with some straw pallets, blankets, and plenty of food, wine and ale - for Sansa, Sandor, and the wildling Hildred to stock the tower with, but also for the handful of men who would be making camp in the lakeside village and rebuilding some of the cottages there. The king himself did not show himself before they left, but the Lady Melisandre appeared at her tower window and raised her hand to Sansa in farewell. Sansa inclined her head to the red woman, even smiled at her, but Melisandre's face remained merely pensive.

It was a long, cold day but Sansa had finally begun reveling in the Northern weather. How she had once desired the warmth of the south suddenly seemed unfathomable to her, and no matter how many times she glanced back at Sandor he seemed completely comfortable in the thin sunlight and biting winds. He was made for the North, she thought, and smiled to herself. He was made for me. Made for me as Lady was, but now that Lady is gone he must take her place.


SANDOR

Damn that wildling woman, he found himself thinking more than once during their long ride to Queenscrown. The little bird kept glancing at him shyly and every time she did so he felt the burn of her palm on his cheek and wanted to grab her, hold her, take her.

There you go again, he thought, a growl rumbling in his chest.

Though they only stopped near midday to water the horses and dash down some hard bread and cheese, they still had to light torches and travel in near darkness - relying on those and the moon - for some hours before the Queenscrown tower finally loomed in the distance against a blue-black sky. Jon Snow was shifting in his saddle, obviously nervous and uncomfortable, but everything appeared quite fine to Sandor as they approached the little crowd of ruins near the lake and began dismounting and setting up camp for the night. Sandor led Stranger close to the remaining walls of an old cottage and poked around, finally deciding that it was better than nothing for him and his little bird. She was by Jon's side now and he took the liberty of setting up a tent and stocking it with blankets. Now that he had made the decision to stay with her, his mind was jumbled with all that had happened between them. He had mercifully been able to block out the reminders of King's Landing; it was as if their history had begun on Captain Dougan's ship and though he had made plenty of mistakes since then it was her actions and reactions that truly mattered.

And she had touched him this morning, touched him as he imagined one lover would touch another, not in compassion or courtesy but in tenderness and affection, her blue eyes locked on his gray ones and he'd felt as if he was home.

Sandor approached Sansa and Jon, standing off to the side and waiting for her to come to him. Snow eyed Sandor as Sansa left his side but Sandor feigned ignorance and announced, "I've readied your tent, little bird."

"My tent?" she asked pointedly. Sandor glanced at Jon Snow and knew that he would not be as accommodating as the Lady Melisandre had been on their journey to Castle Black just three nights prior.

"Yes, little bird, your tent," he answered reluctantly, but he leaned close to say, "I will be close by, I swear it." She smiled at him - it was a tense, almost forced smile, but what else could he do? Snow finally seemed convinced that Sandor at least did not mean Sansa any immediate harm, but if the bastard had any idea that they had twice shared a bed, twice shared kisses, and once he had cupped her breast in his hand and knew that he must have her...until Jon Snow himself came banging on her door, of course. Thrice a bastard, Sandor cursed to himself as Sansa sighed and made her way to the tent he had set up. Apparently for good measure, Snow sent Hildred and her children in with his sister, and Sandor was left to drag out another tent and set it up nearby, knowing that this would be seven hells of a long cold night.

Chapter Text

SANSA

Silly little bird, she mocked herself. Did you truly think he would be able to share your tent with your brother hanging around? Jon Snow was not the Lady Melisandre, and she imagined that he would expect her purity to be guarded even more fervently now that her maidenhood had been ascertained and her marriage annulled. But tomorrow he will be gone, she knew. And Hildred is a wildling with no cares for my virtue. Sandor stole me fair and square. She allowed herself a smug smile as she slipped off her boots and burrowed into the blankets. Soon the tent flap was pushed aside and Hildred came trundling in with Grigg and the baby. Their smell was quite pungent but Sansa hid her face while she wrinkled her nose, not wanting to offend the woman quite so soon. At the same time she almost giggled at the thought that she, a lady of Winterfell, once betrothed to a king, once married to a Lannister, would be sharing a small, on-the-verge-of-ruin tower with a family of wildlings that likely hadn't bathed in months and a hideously scarred man who was lord of nothing and refused to even be dubbed a knight.

Even with three others in the tent it was quite a cold night. And Hildred had placed Grigg and the baby - a little girl - in between herself and Sansa, and the boy would not stop squirming. Still, Sansa could not help but be relieved at the fact that so little sleep meant no dreams, and the fast approach of morning meant that they would pick their way across the lake to the Queenscrown tower and she would set up something like a home. It may be weeks, months, even years before she could take back Winterfell...but at least this time was hers, in a way that her years in King's Landing had never been.

When she crawled out of the tent she realized that the air smelled of snow. Sandor had already repacked his things and was standing a ways off with Jon, the two of them eying the lake warily. As she approached she heard Sandor grunt, "That water is going to be like ice."

"We'd best get it over with, then," Jon grimaced. "It will snow today, I can feel it."

Sansa walked up beside her brother and snaked her arm through his. "I can feel it, too," she whispered. "The snow."

"This will not be like the summer snows you remember, Sansa," Jon warned. She felt herself shiver, though she did not think it was merely because of the chill in the air.

"I know."

The strongest of King Stannis's men were loaded with straw pallets, while the rest burdened themselves with barrels of dried fruit, giant wheels of cheese, and slings stuffed full of bread. There were sacks of flour and meal and oats as well, and Sandor himself carried a cask of ale and as many jugs of wine as he could fit in his arms. They made a quite a sight, picking their way across the water, but there had only been one tiny rowboat provided, found buried in a storeroom at Castle Black. Jon took Sansa across the lake in the little boat, where it was to be left in the base of the tower. "You will be able to use it to row back across the lake, but anyone who wants to come to you will either have to take their time on the hidden bridge or build their own boat. Either way you will have plenty of warning and time to defend yourself or escape."

Sansa merely nodded. She felt that her brother was being maybe a bit too cautious - so few people even knew that she was here, and those who did know were as loyal as one could be in these times. And she had Sandor.

Jon rowed much faster than the column of men could walk, as they had to measure every step to be sure that they did not fall in the water. When they reached the little island he helped Sansa out of the boat and she stared up at her new home in awe. Queenscrown was the stuff of legends, the holdfast where Queen Alysanne had once slept. Even in the grey leaden light of a cloudy early morning Sansa could see the chipped and faded golden paint adorning the merlons atop the tower. Jon saw her looking at them and gave her one of his sad smiles.

"A tower that befits the Queen in the North," he said softly. She shook her head emphatically.

"No, Jon. Robb was named King in the North by his men, and where are they all now? At the most I aim to be Sansa, Lady of Winterfell."

"And if there are others who would have you Queen?"

This rendered Sansa silent, for she did not know how to answer. Still, she also did not think that any man of the North would stand behind her and call her Queen if she continued on the path she meant to travel. "Shall we go inside?" she finally said. Jon gave her a strange look, but he nodded and they made for the main door, a heavy thing of oak planks that stood slightly open.

"Something isn't right," Jon said slowly.

"What do you mean?" she asked, her heart fluttering in her chest. They had come so far... She glanced back to the lake where Sandor, the first in the line of men crossing it, was still naught but halfway across.

"This door...it's ajar. Someone has been here." Something in Jon's face said that he was recalling a specific memory.

"Should we wait for the men?" Sansa squeaked.

"No." Jon patted the hilt of his sword. "I'll go in. You stay here." From behind Sansa Hildred let out a huff and plopped down onto the ground with her children.

Jon was gone for quite some time, long enough for Sandor to almost make his way entirely across the stone bridge. When Jon returned he looked confused, but he pronounced the holdfast empty and safe. "Right now, anyway. Someone was here. One of the grates is destroyed, there's a pile of stones beneath the murder hole...and the bones of some small bird scattered on the floor of the highest level."

"But they are gone?" Sansa asked. Her brother nodded, so she placed a hand on his arm and said, "Show me inside."

 

SANDOR

By the time he had picked his way to the little island, he was wet past his waist and angry with the number of times he had slipped and nearly fell. Though after one fierce look at the man directly behind him, who had chuckled the first time it happened, their crossing had been blissfully silent.

When he climbed the steps to the holdfast he could hear Sansa and Jon's voices echoing inside. He entered a strongroom that was lit only by a dim light from the murder hole above and the gray glare from the open door behind him. The gate to the stairs was shut tight and locked - he shook at it but it didn't budge. He turned to the man behind him and said, "Gather a few others and get this gate open. Destroy it if you have to." The man set down the foodstuffs he had been carrying and hastened to obey.

Sandor used the pile of rocks beneath the murder hole as a jumping off point and was able to hoist himself through the murder hole. He listened for Sansa's voice, but it had grown even more muffled and he had to wander through a handful of small cells before finding the stairwell and climbing upwards. The light was better higher up; on the third level he found Hildred sitting against a wall and nursing her babe while Grigg traced lines in the grime on the floor with his fingers. The wildling woman caught his eye and tilted her head upward, so he kept going, past the fourth level - which had actual windows - to the fifth level where Jon and Sansa stood on a balcony admiring the view. They were no longer talking and Sansa had her head on Snow's shoulder, which sent a jealous pang through Sandor. He stomped toward them and when Sansa turned her face lit up, causing him to nearly stop in his tracks. You're the one she looks for, dog. The one she waits for. The gods only know why, but you best remember it.

"I gave the men leave to break down the gate on the first floor," Sandor rasped. Jon nodded.

"I suppose it could not be avoided."

"This is to be my room, Sandor!" Sansa cried then, sweeping her arm out. "Just look at the view..."

He grunted. "It'll be cold."

"I think not," she replied, cocking an eyebrow at him before she continued. "I will hang furs over the balcony entrances for now, and Jon says he will have Stannis's men build doors for them as soon as possible, anyway. The fourth level will be our common area and Hildred and the children will sleep on the third level."

"You can take one of the cells on the second level," Jon stated. Bugger that, Sandor thought when he saw a sly look flit over the little bird's face.

From below there came the sounds of pounding, rattling, steel on iron and finally a great clang that told of the gate's fate. "We'd best go help the men with the supplies," said Jon. Sandor threw one last glance at Sansa, but she was standing out on the balcony again, her back to him, staring out at the rolling plains of the Gift. He watched her for a moment and then followed Jon Snow back down to the base of the tower.

Chapter Text

SANSA

She could not tear her eyes away from the wild beauty of the Northern plains. Why did I ever wish to leave this place? How could I have thought to prefer the heavy heat of the south and the filth of King's Landing to this? Sansa wondered.

Eventually she forced herself to head back down into the tower, knowing that she ought to speak with Hildred, to make sure they were leaving the supplies in the right places, to be there to say goodbye to Jon. By the time she made her way down the stairs, some of the food had already been brought to the common area on the fourth level, Hildred had a straw pallet for herself and her children on the third level, and a few of the cells on the second level were stocked with the longer-lasting rations. The only thing left to be done was to stock the fifth level with her own necessities.

"It is getting late already," Jon said when she approached him. "I for one need to get back across the lake and make for Castle Black. The voting for the new Lord Commander will begin soon - if it hasn't already - and I mean to be there for it."

"Go if you must," Sansa insisted. "We will be fine here. I will return to the village ruins with you, though, to see you off." She said this knowing that Sandor would have to go back to the village as well, knowing that she did not want to remain in the tower if he was not there with her. A ghost of a smile flitted across Jon's face, and then he offered her his arm and they took to the rowboat again. By then many of Stannis's men had already started back across the bridge, and at Jon's word Sandor followed them.

Back on the other side of the lake, Jon pulled Sansa aside and said, "I've had the men leave a raven in the holdfast. It will only go to Castle Black, but if you ever have need to write keep your message cryptic. Sign it 'A Lady' and I will know it is you."

"I will hope to have no need of the raven, but thank you, Jon. Thank you for everything." Sansa reached up and cupped his face in her hand; the same gesture she had used with Sandor, only this time she felt she must be looking into the face of her father and the tears welled in her eyes and ran unbidden down her cheeks. "Be careful."

"You as well." And then Jon reached up, removed her hand from his face, gave it a quick squeeze and was gone.

Sansa went to find Sandor; he was with his destrier Stranger, a couple of Stannis's men standing nearby. "Take care of this horse," Sandor growled, the "or else" left unsaid but certainly understood. "I'll be checking on him, but you'll never know when." The men were looking at Stranger with trepidation. One reached for the destrier's lead rope and Stranger snapped at him; the man immediately backed away and Sandor laughed. "And watch his teeth. And hooves," he added for good measure. He turned and saw Sansa standing there. She was shivering and the sky had somehow become even grayer within the past hour.

"It will snow soon," she told him. "We should..."

"Yes," he simply said. He handed Stranger's lead to the closest of Stannis's men and came to her; she put her hand in the crook of his arm and they walked back to the rowboat in silence.

"Will Stranger be okay?" she asked as they got into the boat and Sandor started rowing them across the lake. The burnt corner of his mouth twitched; in amusement this time.

"Oh yes. I'm more worried about those fools who think they can take care of him," he admitted with a chuckle.

They fell silent again. When they reached the little island, Sansa entered the tower and Sandor dragged the boat up into it behind them. It barely fit through the door and took up nearly all of the space in the strongroom, but Sansa knew that it was best for the boat to remain hidden.

Hildred had built fires in the hearths in her own chamber, the common area, and Sansa's room on the top level. While Sandor spent the rest of the morning and a good portion of the afternoon lugging two straw pallets, furs, blankets, and a few other accoutrements to her room, Sansa sat with Hildred and the children in front of the fire on the fourth level. She played with Grigg and remembered how small Rickon had been when she left Winterfell. How old would he be now, if not for Theon? she asked herself.

As the daylight waned and snow began to fall, Sandor finally came to sit with them and Hildred toasted slices of hard bread over the fire. She spread each piece with a bit of lard and Sansa gave her leave to mull a jug of wine over the fire. Though there was not much conversation, Sansa realized how wonderful it was to feel warm and safe and to not have to make inane conversation with people she despised, as she had been required to do in King's Landing. Finally she stood and stretched and announced that she was going upstairs; Hildred nodded to her, the children ignored her, and she felt Sandor's eyes on her back as she crossed the room and ascended the steps. It had been snowing for several hours now and the world was blanketed in white, white that somehow reflected off of itself and made the night near as bright as day. Sandor had yet to hang the furs over the doors to the balconies and Sansa moved out onto the closest one, stepping carefully on the wet stones. She stopped and tilted her head toward the sky, closing her eyes and just feeling the snowflakes dust her eyelashes, the tip of her nose, her lips.

When she felt his hands wrap around her waist, she smiled.

 

SANDOR

There was a brief moment, when Sansa began ascending the stairs, where he wondered whether she truly meant for him to follow her. He glanced at the wildling woman, but she was tending to her children, pointedly averting her eyes from him, an amused little smile playing on her lips. Bugger her, then, he surmised as he heaved himself to his feet and started up the stairs after his little bird.

She was on the balcony, her back to him again, and as he approached her he thought Gods, she is beautiful. For a moment Sandor watched her as she tilted her face up and the snowflakes started to catch in her hair, but then something in him drove him forward. He hesitated for just a moment before placing his hands on either side of her waist, but he did not even have to turn her - she spun around to face him, and she was smiling, and then he bent and kissed her, crushing her little body to his. She was perfect, perfect, and she was not struggling or pushing him away but kissing him back. He took her in his arms, lifting her feet from the floor of the balcony and carrying her into the room. He set her back down next to one of the pallets and broke the kiss. Her face was flushed prettily, her lips swollen, her eyes bright. Sandor reached up and gently brushed a tendril of auburn hair from her forehead.

"Little bird..." he murmured. He wanted to say so many things, wanted to ask if she was sure, but he was afraid that even if she said no he would not be able to listen - not now with her chest heaving and her skin hot on his.

"Yes," she said, though he had never even asked the question. She turned and lifted up her hair for him; he ran his calloused fingertips over the soft skin above the neck of her gown and then took the laces in his hands, fumbling like a boy as he untied them. When he was done he reached up and gently tugged at the sleeves; the dress crumpled to the floor, pooling around Sansa's ankles, and she was standing in just a shift, a sad wisp of a thing that had no place in this Northern cold. When she turned back around he could see the curve of her teats beneath the thin fabric, her nipples hard little buds and he did not care if it was from the chill or because of him as he reached up and cupped his right hand around her left breast, in awe at the sheer perfection of her. Sansa gave a slight shudder and he pulled her to him again, clutching at her chest as he kissed her ferociously and lowered her onto the pallet.

Chapter Text

SANSA

He was the only man who had ever truly kissed her, and his kisses were like nothing she had ever felt before. They were maddening and amazing, hot and hard, and she wondered if all real men kissed like this...or just him. When he clutched her against him she could feel that he was stiff and gods, he must be near as long as my forearm.

She would have giggled to herself had she not been so nervous.

Sandor rumbled his special name for her, "Little bird", and his face was a cacophony of feelings - lust was prevalent, but also concern. She knew then that she could say no, but even if she had wanted to do so, there was a chance he would not listen. So she simply said, "Yes," and he unlaced her gown, brushing it from her shoulders, and she turned to him and when he touched her breast it was as if her stomach dropped out and a fierce tremble ran up her spine. He covered her mouth with his again, easing her lips apart with his tongue as he placed his free hand at the small of her back and laid her on the pallet beneath him. She felt her body arching to meet his; her mouth had a mind of its own and when he tried to pull away it went searching for him, her hands clutching to his back, feeling the smooth skin that was broken by a map of scars. Finally he had to gently push her away as he kneeled over her and unlaced his breeches. Without thinking she reached up and through the folds to take him in her hand and he gasped, "Sansa!" and was on her again, pushing her shift away with his hands so that he could suckle at her teats. She gasped when he nipped at one of her nipples, the tension centered under her soft mound building until she thought she would burst.

Her shift was bunched around her neck now and she tore at it with her hands until Sandor helped her to pull it over her head, and then all that was left were her smallclothes and with a few tugs they were gone as well. "Sansa...I must...my breeches..." he breathed, and she nodded reluctantly, releasing her hold on him so that he could stand and remove them. In the firelight she caught a glimpse of his manhood, large and smooth and erect, before he eased himself onto the pallet next to her and kissed her yet again, softer this time, one hand brushing at her knee, up her thigh, until her legs fell apart for him and he was touching her soft folds and there it was again, that feeling like she was about to explode from within.

Sansa burrowed her head against Sandor's chest and gasped when he began nuzzling her neck, the ridges of the burned side of his face rough on her soft skin as he gently slid one finger inside of her, his thumb pressing on the little pearl above her slit until she felt as if she could not stand it any longer and dug her fingernails into his back. By way of answering he slipped a second finger inside of her, and she felt herself clench automatically as she straightened, flush against him, and searched for his mouth again.


SANDOR

He was trying, gods he was trying, but he was not sure how much longer he could wait. His stiff cock was beginning to feel nearly painful as he slipped his hand between Sansa's legs and touched her cunt, already hot and wet for him, for him, for him. A part of him wanted to be gentle, be slow, be what he knew she needed, but then he slipped a second finger inside of her and she pressed the entire length of her body to his and this time it was her tongue parting his lips and he knew that it must happen now, now.

Sandor pulled his hand away and Sansa sighed into his mouth. She was still something of a girl and there was no way she could know exactly what to do, so he placed a hand on her shoulder and eased her onto her back again, burying his face in her teats for a moment before lowering his face to hers and whispering, "Sansa..."

Her eyes were wide and she looked a bit frightened, but she nodded just the same, her mouth set in a brave, determined little frown. Sandor took himself in his hand and rubbed the bit of wet from his tip up his shaft before teasting at her entrance. "Mmmph," Sansa half-moaned, half-muttered, and he took that moment to ease himself into her.

There was a sharp intake of breath on Sansa's part, and she dug her fingernails into him again, so he stopped, backed off a bit, and waited for her to relax. This time he pushed in faster, further, and she moued in pain and he thought Stop, dog, you must stop, you're doing nothing but hurting her, only he couldn't stop and as soon as the little bird's body began to relax again he grunted and moved over her until he was fully enveloped. He paused again, feeling her quick, shallow breathing against the top of his shoulder, and then he began to move. Gently, slowly at first, just a bit at a time, but she was so buggering tight that he could barely control himself.

And then her fingers were no longer digging into his back and Sansa brought her hands up and cupped his face in them and made him look at her for a long moment. He almost finished right then, but instead forced himself to look at her as his pushing became deeper, faster, and suddenly her eyes closed and her head fell back, exposing her pretty white throat and he nipped at her there, he had to, and Sansa exclaimed, "Oh...oh!" and he reached up and wrapped a hand in her beautiful hair and felt her cunt clench and spasm around him, her back arching until her hard little nipples were pressing into his chest, and he knew that he ought to move, to spill his seed somewhere, anywhere else, but then she gasped, "Sandor!" and seven hells, what's the point, she is mine, she wants to be mine, and his body fairly trembled with pleasure as he finished inside of her.

 

SANSA

Gods, but it hurt.

She'd known it would, of course - that was the one common thing she had always heard - but she wanted him, that had to be what this feeling was. She could tell that he was straining against his own will and so she took his face in her hands, willing him to understand that it was okay. When his eyes met hers and he changed his movements it seemed as if the sharp, almost fiery pain inside of her dulled into something like an ache that wasn't completely unpleasant. She kept her blue eyes focused on his stormy gray ones and found herself thinking I love him, I know this, I love him, and just like that a wave of bliss washed over and through her and she closed her eyes and tilted her head back and let it take her.

Sansa felt Sandor's lips at her neck, part smooth soft lips and part rough hard ridges, and then he nibbled at her skin with his teeth and the heavens seemed to open before her. She cried out, thrust herself against him, and as her body took over and she convulsed around him the only thing she could think to do was call out his name. For a moment, two, three he was wild on top of her, until his entire body shuddered and she felt him fairly burst inside of her and she clung to him while he rode out his pleasure.

They were still for quite some time, clinging to each other, Sansa feeling little trembling fits every few moments until Sandor gently eased himself out of her and rolled onto his back, pulling her to him. She draped her body against his, her arm and leg thrown over him much like they had been the morning after the storm on Captain Dougan's ship. They were slick with sweat now, and Sandor was petting her hair, and soon his breathing deepened until she thought he was asleep.

"I love you," she whispered against his chest.

He did not say anything in return, but he squeezed her shoulder and pressed her into him and she knew what he meant, knew that if he could not say it now he would someday.

Maybe even someday soon.

Chapter Text

MELISANDRE

The fires were active this night. R'hllor sent her vision after vision and though her eyes were fairly burning from staring into the flames, she could not look away. She saw a white wolf running hard for Castle Black, nearly there in fact. Jon Snow returning, she thought. A woman with green skin falling through the sky. A knight in pure white armor slaying a fool.

Ah. There.

A woman of great beauty, terrible to behold, with eyes of ice and hair of flames, and a man with the face of the Stranger. And then they were gone, and in their place a she-wolf, red of fur, and a large fierce hound, sitting in a high tower and gazing over the plains of the Gift. Has it changed? she wondered, as the vision flickered before her and she waited, waited to see if she would be able to tell Stannis what he wanted to hear...or if she would have to tell him the other thing, the thing she had not bothered trying to change, its importance seeming negligible in regards to their goals.

And then the fire leapt and sparked and there with the she-wolf and the hound was a single pup.