He still woke in cold sweats from nightmares of green wildfire, and he was beginning to wonder if he in fact uttered the screams he heard as he tossed and turned in his sleep.
I should have left when I had the chance.
Knowing this didn't do Sandor any good, though. He'd thought about well and truly deserting, but then...
Then Sansa fucking Stark happened.
Thank the seven buggering gods no one else knew what he'd done. How he'd drunk himself into a stupor and stumbled to her room. How he'd found it empty and collapsed into her bed, breathing in the sweet feminine scent of her and gulping down Dornish Red until he passed out...only to be woken when she returned and tore open the drapes to reveal the glowing greens and oranges of the fires blazing in and around King's Landing.
He'd offered to take her with him, though he knew she'd refuse, and then he'd hated himself for offering at all and held a dagger to her throat and demanded a song. She'd complied, the pretty little singing bird, always doing what was expected of her...but it wasn't Florian and Jonquil or some other drivel as he'd expected. Instead she'd sung the Mother's Hymn, and her quavering voice and the memories of the wildfire burning around him and the wine had all mixed together and gone to his head and then...
Sandor was certain he'd been a child the last time he'd cried; he'd learned at a very young age that crying was not welcome in the Clegane household, especially if Gregor was around to beat the feeling out of you.
Beat it, burn it...what's the difference?
What he'd not expected that night was for Sansa fucking Stark to reach up and caress his cheek. But she had, she had, she'd touched him of her own free will, and he'd pressed his cheek into her small soft palm and murmured, "Little bird."
When Sandor had opened his eyes that night, he saw Sansa Stark, pale with fright, staring directly at him.
Of her own free will.
They looked at each other for a moment, two, three. "I can't go with you," she said, and she sounded almost...sad.
"I know," he admitted.
"Please stay," she'd requested.
And he had. He had let that girl take his hand and show him to his chambers, his bare little room. She'd watched him collapse into bed - his own, this time - and then she was gone, and at times he wondered if she'd ever accompanied him in the first place.
Surprisingly, not much had changed after that night. Sandor had feared that he would be labeled a deserter and face the required punishment - but then, the only ones who'd seen him leave the battle were a handful of sell swords, Ser Mandon Moore, and Tyrion Lannister and his squire Podrick Payne. Most of the sellswords were dead or missing; Ser Mandon Moore certainly wasn't coming back. Podrick Payne was a stammering idiot and Tyrion lay dying in the Red Keep. When the Imp awoke and found that Sandor was still there, still alive, still a member of the Kingsguard, he'd pitched a buggering fit...but Joff had merely laughed.
"My uncle says you ran from the fire, dog," Joffrey accused, the look in his eyes gleeful, no menace to it at all. "He says you should be labeled a deserter," the little bastard pushed.
"If it please you," Sandor said with a shrug.
"Even if you did run, it pleases me more to keep you around just to vex him," Joffrey said.
Despite his calm demeanor, Sandor was seething inside. He'd never liked Tyrion Lannister and hated him even more for making him feel a coward for running from the wildfire, but the fact that the buggering dwarf - the Seven take him- woke from a fortnight of fevered dreaming to immediately accuse Sandor of desertion...
If he only knew. I should have left, should have left and taken the little bird with me. Or should have raped her bloody, ruined her for Joffrey, and left on my own.
If it was going to be put about that Sandor Clegane was a deserter, his only regret was that he hadn't done the deserting properly.
What he could do properly, however, was avoid Sansa Stark. He felt her watching him whenever they were in the same space, and he remembered the feel of her hand on his unscarred cheek, how her bed had smelled as pretty as she did, how she'd lingered in the doorway to his chamber for several moments after he'd fallen into his bed.
She will be the death of you, dog.
If he was to keep his senses, he must keep away from her. Sansa fucking Stark.
She ought to have known that the Battle of the Blackwater would give her nightmares; what she did not understand was why they so often focused on her finding the Hound in her bed. In her dreams she sometimes agreed to go with him, or if she didn't he would often pin her to the bed and press his ruined lips to her own, silencing her cries with a cruel kiss.
He seemed to be avoiding her. Whereas before the battle she had often had the impression that the Hound sought her out, now she only ever saw him at Joffrey's side. She found she almost missed him being the one sent to fetch her for Joffrey, even almost missed stumbling upon his drunken self in the passages of the Red Keep. When Sansa had asked him to stay, she'd thought he would understand that she meant for her...and she had been so worried that he would flee anyway that she had taken him back to his chambers herself, watched as he lay down in his bed, and even when she left the room and shut the door behind her she had stayed just outside in the passage until she heard his drunken snoring. Proof that he was asleep, and she'd hoped as she went back to her own bedchamber that when the Hound woke in the morning - sober, alive, still in King's Landing - he would not think about leaving again.
And he'd been there the next day, and the day after that, and the one after that. Never looking at her, though. Never speaking to her. But there, nonetheless.
When Margaery arrived and Sansa met the new future queen, her ladies in waiting and her snippy little grandmother, Sansa found herself thinking I need the Hound's brutal honesty right now. He would probably tell her not to trust these people. Maybe he'd known Willas, and if he had he'd tell her how that man was, tell her the harsh truths she needed to hear.
But he was never there, never around, and then Cersei came to Sansa's chambers one morning with a new gown and a maiden's cloak and told her that she was to marry the Imp. For some reason the Hound's face flashed before her, but she had to tell herself He can't help you now. He wouldn't help you now. He's the Lannister dog, and the Imp is a Lannister.
Tyrion had been kind to her, after all. He wasn't so bad as the rest of them. But then she was at the door to the sept and Joffrey was there and he was wearing Lannister red and gold and saying he would act the part of her father and though Sansa felt she would be sick she heard herself begging the king to not force this marriage on her, though she knew even then that it was the wrong thing to say.
She was trapped.
A lone wolf surrounded by a pride of lions.