Chapter 1: He's here
He’s here. He’s alive and well and he’s here.
And he was looking at her with his dark, dark eyes and Sansa’s skin started to tingle. It felt good, like coming back to life after feeling numb for such a long time.
He wasn’t leering at her, wasn’t measuring her up, wasn’t taxing her value. He’d never done that. He was just looking at her from across the Great Hall, and Sansa brought her chin up some more and pulled her shoulders back, just a little, perfectly aware that she was the tallest woman here, taller even than some of the men. Well, except for Brienne of Tarth. But Brienne of Tarth towered over almost everybody. But she wasn’t towering over him. Not even Brienne was taller than Sandor Clegane.
He looked tired, travel- and battle-worn, his clothes little more than a motley assortment of rags. His hair hung in limp, matted strands and his beard looked more Wildling than Kingsguard.
My poor Hound.
How many times had she thought about him? How often had she wished for him to be by her side, watching over her like he had all these years before? Had he perhaps—
“Your Grace, may I present my sister, Lady Sansa Stark.”
The voice of her brother drew her attention away from her memories and idle daydreams and back into reality, and she turned to Jon with a smile, reminding herself of her duties. This was not the time to let her mind wander. Now was the time to be the Lady of Winterfell, meeting her guest of honour.
Next to Jon stood a slim young woman, radiating grace and regality despite her surprisingly short stature. She was dressed in a dark gown not unlike Sansa’s own and her hair was of the most striking colour Sansa had ever seen. It was white, but not the pale, faded white one saw on older people. Rather, her hair was of a rich, silvery white and she wore it in deceptively simple braids. There was no question as to who she was.
“Sansa, meet Daenerys Tagaryen, the First of her Name, The Unburnt…uh, Mother of Dragons—” Jon faltered and furrowed his brow like he always did when he was confused.
A slender, dark-skinned woman standing right behind the dragon queen came to his rescue.
“Queen of the Andals,” she continued in a soft, melodic voice, “the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons.”
The look of relief on Jon’s face nearly made Sansa laugh out loud. Her brother was a good man, strong, brave and gentle. A leader who had no difficulties inspiring loyalty in others. But learned, he was not.
“It is an honour to meet you, your Grace,” Sansa said. “On behalf of the North, I bid you welcome at Winterfell. I hope your journey was not too unpleasant?”
“Our passage was smooth, Lady Sansa, and your brother kept me good company. I am happy to make your acquaintance. Jon speaks of you often.”
Sansa did not miss the glance that passed between her brother and the dragon queen nor did she fail to notice they stood a bit closer than strictly necessary. So that’s how it was? Interesting. It would seem Petyr Baelish had predicted correctly, like he had so many times.
Too bad he can’t be here to see for himself.
“I’m pleased to hear it, your Grace. Our best chambers have been prepared to provide you with all the comfort Winterfell has to offer. I hope you will find them satisfactory.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
They exchanged a few more polite phrases and it was agreed that the guests would be shown to their quarters to rest and refresh before the feast to be held in the Dragon Queen’s honour. It would not be a grand banquet as the Boltons, and Theon Greyjoy before them, had done their best to run Winterfell down, but provide for their guests they still could, and would.
After Daenerys retired to her chambers—those of Eddard and Catelyn Stark, the chambers that Sansa had made her own—, Sansa made her rounds, doing her best to appear a good hostess and worthy Lady of Winterfell, shaking hands and exchanging greetings while names rained down on her. She repeated them all, hoping to be able to remember them later, until she finally reached the one she longed to greet most of all.
“Ser...Sandor,” she said to the tall man who stood with his shoulders against the wall, unsure how to properly address him. “I am happy to see you alive and in good health.”
“And I you,” the Hound rasped and pushed himself away from the wall, drawing up to his full height. Sansa still felt slightly intimidated by the sheer size of him although he no longer frightened her. “You’ve grown into your feathers very nicely, little bird. Ruling becomes you.”
Funny how the same words from Littlefinger had made her skin crawl. Coming from Sandor Clegane, they made her blush.
“Little bird,” she softly said. “I thought I’d never hear you call me that again.”
“And I thought I never would.”
She smiled at him, shyly, and his eyes softened. He moved as if to come closer but stopped in mid-motion.
“How have you fared, Lady Sansa?” he asked instead. “You look well enough but the girl I used to know is gone.” He cocked his head and studied her more closely. “No more dreams of knights and flowers then?”
“I’m at Winterfell, with what remains of my family. It’s all that counts.”
“Not for me, it’s not. There’s something about you that wasn’t there before. It’s in your eyes.” He squinted at her. “Aye, in your eyes. Are you hurting, little bird?”
Her heart plummeted and her hands turned cold. She blinked and forced a smile that she knew didn’t look real. The Hound narrowed his eyes.
“I see,” he said. “You should have come with me. I would have kept you safe.”
And I have regretted my choice every single day.
“I know,” she replied, cleared her throat and straightened. “Will you be at the feast tonight?”
He hesitated, and, fearing he would decline, she took an involuntary step forward.
“Please, will you join us?” she asked again.
“Would you like me to?”
At the surprise in his voice she almost reached for his hand.
“Yes,” she said instead. “I would like that very much.”
“Then I’ll be there.”
“Thank you.” Now she did reach for his hand and lightly pressed it. “Thank you,” she said again, not even trying to hide the overwhelming relief that made her voice tremble. “If you are tired from your journey, you may refresh and relax before the feast. It’s all been arranged. If you wish.”
He looked down, then raised their still joined hands to his lips and brushed a light kiss across her knuckles in a rare display of courtly manners. It made her heart jump.
“I will make myself presentable for you, Lady Sansa.”
Warmth spread in her chest, and warmth crept up her neck and settled on her cheeks.
“Just come,” she replied, trying for a firm voice. “Come and be here.”
He let go of her hand and nodded slowly.
She thought she felt his eyes on her until she retired, and she retired with her head held high and a smile on her face that made the heads of many men turn. But she hardly spared them a glance, much less a thought. There was only one who mattered.
Chapter 2: The feast
It was a good feast, Sansa thought. It wasn’t quite as opulent as the feasts she remembered from her childhood and certainly nowhere near as lavish as those at King’s Landing. But there was enough food and drink, there was cheer and laughter and after a few cups of wine and ale the people of Winterfell began to mix with those of Queen Daenerys’s court.
The Hound came in with the last group of visitors, and he came in the company of Brienne with whom he seemed on agreeable terms. He even laughed at something she said.
Jealousy shot through Sansa, and the sheer intensity of this ugly little emotion caught her unawares. Why should she feel jealous if the Hound was friendly with Brienne? There was no need for that. Then again…what if they were—no, it couldn’t be. Or could it? Why not? Brienne was a fighter, just like he was, and she was tall. And strong. No little bird in need of safe-keeping—
“Lady Sansa,” came a voice from behind. “A word, if I may.”
Gods, help me. Not him. Why is he here? Why didn’t anybody tell me he’s here, too?
She turned around slowly and looked down at the Imp. Time had changed him as well. Not only had he grown a beard, monstrously big for such a small man, but there was a big scar marring the right side of his face. He had aged, too, but he looked at her as kindly as he’d done back in King’s Landing, and he waited politely for her to speak.
It was not right to harbour unfriendly feelings towards him and as she remembered the courtesy he'd shown her back then, she felt guilty about thinking so badly of him. Tyrion Lannister had never been cruel to her, quite the contrary. He’d done his best to protect her from the less friendly members of his family and he didn’t deserve to be treated rudely.
“Lord Tyrion,” she replied and accepted the hand he held out to her. He sketched a bow but thankfully refrained from kissing her hand. “What an unexpected pleasure. I had no idea you were here. I did not see you before.”
“Unexpected I believe. Pleasure, not so much,” he mused. “I decided to stay behind for the moment and tend to matters of a more organisational nature.”
It was then that she noticed the emblem on his chest.
“The Queen’s Hand,” she said. “Congratulations. But shouldn’t you be by your Queen’s side at all times?”
“Not at all times, no. I wished to speak to you alone for a moment, Lady Sansa.” He cleared his throat and looked around. “Although this is neither the time nor the place to discuss this in full detail, I want you to know that I have arranged for all necessary documents to be prepared to formally annul our marriage. A mere formality as it’s never been consummated, as you may recall, but the fact remains that we are still legally married.”
“The fact that I am legally married to you has not stopped Ramsay Bolton,” she said. "Why would it stop anyone else?"
The Imp visibly shuddered. “I will not insult you with phrases that are all but empty in view of what’s happened. Instead, I offer to relieve you of my name so you are free of the burden of our sham marriage, and if you should choose to marry again, nothing will stand in your way.”
“Thank you, my lord. Your offer is very generous.”
“Do you accept?”
The look of relief on his face made her smile and she held out her hand to him.
“I’m glad you’ve chosen paperwork as your weapon of choice to rid yourself of an unwanted wife,” she said. “You’ve always been kind to me, my lord, and I thank you for that. It would seem that House Stark and House Targaryen will enter into a close relationship in the near future and I would be glad to be able to call the Queen’s Hand a friend of Winterfell.”
This time, he did kiss her hand, lightly, and pressed it.
“I would be honoured to have your friendship, Lady Sansa,” he said. “If you arrange for a maester and a witness we can sign the documents whenever it pleases you.”
“I will,” she promised. “Thank you.”
He bowed and she looked after him as he made his way to where his queen was. And now for—
“Lady Sansa, a minute of your time, please.”
“Yes, Lady Brienne?”
“You may recall that I mentioned the discussion I had with your sister.”
“You’ve had many discussions with my sister lately. To which one are you referring now?”
“The one regarding the need of a personal bodyguard.”
“A bodyguard, my lady.”
“What makes you think I’m in need of a bodyguard? Do you no longer think yourself able to watch over me?”
Brienne flinched and Sansa immediately regretted her words.
“Forgive me,” she said. “That did not come out the way I wanted. I had no intention to question your loyalty or your abilities. But do tell me, why do you think I need anybody other than you? Or in addition to you?”
“Because of how things are progressing, my lady. I’ve seen things that are too horrible—” she stopped and looked to the side, took a deep breath and continued, “I’ve seen things that exceeded my worst nightmares and I’m concerned about your safety. When war comes, and it will come, there is no way of talking around it, my sword alone may not suffice any longer. Your sister’s safety is my concern as well.”
“I believe Arya is very well able to look after herself,” Sansa dryly said and a reluctant half-grin shot across Brienne’s face.
“She is,” she agreed, “and yet, I am honour-bound to her, too.”
“And do you already have somebody in mind?”
“I do, and much to my relief you already know him and seem comfortable enough in his presence.”
Sansa’s eyes automatically searched for and found the Hound. Brienne’s gaze must have followed hers because she nodded.
“That’s right, my lady. It’s Sandor Clegane I’m thinking of. What he lacks in courtly manners, he makes up for in strength and courage.”
“After all I’ve been through, do you really think I put much weight on courtly manners, Lady Brienne?” It came out more bitterly than Sansa had intended. “Petyr Baelish was the very definition of courtly manners and yet it didn’t stop him from plotting and planning behind my back. Very well, let’s speak to Ser Sandor if you think him a suitable candidate.”
“Now, my lady? But your guests—”
“— are flocking around the dragon queen.”
Sansa didn’t wait for Brienne’s reply and made her way to where the Hound sat, talking to a wiry man with a somewhat flat nose and an entirely untrustworthy face. Ser Davos? No, Ser Davos was the grizzled one over there, in deep conversation with a young man who looked vaguely familiar. Bronn, yes, Ser Bronn was his name.
Both men stood up when she approached and all thoughts of Ser Bronn and his untrustworthy face disappeared when the Hound’s eyes lit up.
Stop thinking of him as the Hound, she reminded herself. He’s no-one’s dog anymore.
“Ser Sandor,” she greeted him, and, much cooler and with the merest nod, “Ser Bronn.”
“Lady Sansa,” both men said at the same time.
“Ser Bronn, if you will excuse us for a moment.”
“Of course, my lady.”
She met Bronn’s appraising look with a dismissive one of her own and waited until he was out of earshot.
“Ser Sandor, Lady Brienne tells me of the need for a personal guard. What are your thoughts on that?”
He shot her a surprised look, then looked across her shoulder to where Brienne stood and slowly nodded.
“Aye, my lady. I agree with her. It’s rough times, and with your father and your oldest brother dead and your bastard brother pre-occupied elsewhere, you will sooner or later need someone to have your back at all times.”
She bit her lip, suddenly nervous. Gods, he stood so close she could almost feel his body heat. He had cleaned up and had made himself presentable, just as he had promised. He was wearing a dark leather jerkin over a rough tunic and had tucked his brown breeches into knee-high leather boots. He had cleaned his teeth and scrubbed his hands, had trimmed his beard and his hair was washed and parted to cover the burnt half of his scalp and face.
He looked just the way she remembered him. Only better, because he was no longer a memory. He was standing right there before her, tall and strong as ever, silent and powerful, ready to shield her from all evil, and it would be all right. Everything would finally be all right. He would see to it.
“Are you free?” she blurted out and nearly winced at her clumsiness. Spoken like the silly girl she used to be. Not at all like the Lady of Winterfell. Not at all like any lady, or a grown woman for that matter. Still a silly little girl.
But he didn’t laugh at her. He had never laughed at her, had he?
“Are you suggesting I should be the one to be watching over you?”
“Unless you’ve pledged your service to someone else. I wouldn’t want to compromise your loyalty.”
“My sword is mine. I’ve not pledged anything to anyone since I’ve left the Kingsguard.”
“Oh, good,” she said, relieved. “Will you see me in my chambers after the main course to speak about the terms?”
Behind her, Brienne gave a discreet cough.
“I mean,” Sansa hastily corrected herself, “will you allow Lady Brienne to escort you to my study so we may talk about the possibility of you, uhm—” She faltered. “Of course, if you’d rather speak to me after the feast, maybe tomorrow? I don’t want to keep you from relaxing after what must have been a tiring journey.”
“I’ve had plenty of time to relax on the way here and before the feast. I will see you after the main course, if you wish.”
“I do. Lady Brienne will let you know—”
“No need. I have my eyes on you, little bird.”
Chapter 3: Not afraid any longer
She didn’t have to wait long. And a good thing it was, too, for she was well on the way of convincing herself she was about to make a mistake, a bad, horrible mistake.
Oh Mother, watch over me. Help me do it right. Please don’t let him hurt me. He once promised he wouldn’t but so have others. Please let him be true to his word. Please don’t let him—
The knock on the door almost made her jump out of her skin.
A strand of hair had come loose and she nervously tucked it behind her ear. She didn’t look untidy, did she? Why, oh why hadn’t she checked her appearance in a mirror? Were her teeth clean, or was there something stuck between her front teeth? Were her skirts wrinkled? She’d not chosen a dress with too low a neckline, had she? Was—
“Sandor Clegane for you, my lady.”
Brienne walked through the door first, the Hound directly behind her. The chamber that would serve as her study and reading room during the stay of Daenerys and her court suddenly seemed too small but she’d given the bigger chambers to her guests. It would have to do.
“Thank you, Lady Brienne. You may return to the feast. I wish to speak to Ser Sandor alone.”
“But my lady—”
“Alone,” she repeated in a firm voice. “There is no need to worry.”
Brienne opened her mouth as if to argue but closed it again and nodded stiffly.
When the door closed behind her, the Hound frowned at Sansa.
“Is that wise?”
“I don’t care,” she said and smoothed the fabric of her skirt. It didn’t need smoothing but she hoped it would disguise the trembling of her hands. “You’re here, and that makes this room the safest place in all of the Seven Kingdoms.”
“That’s not what I meant. People will talk.”
“People do little else. Gossip does not concern me any longer.”
“What does concern you?”
“Rebuilding Winterfell and making it a home once more.” It came out without hesitation. “Defend it against what’s coming. Never again let another take it and violate it.”
“As you were taken and violated.”
It wasn’t spoken as a question, and the Hound’s gruff voice held no pity, open or concealed. He was stating the truth, as was his custom, and Sansa didn’t lower her eyes at hearing him say it. Instead, she raised her chin and met his gaze openly.
“As I was taken and violated. Never again.”
“Little bird,” he said and moved as if to reach out for her but stopped himself as he had earlier.
Only this time, she wouldn’t have it. Giving in to a mad, desperate urge, she flung herself at him, threw her arms around his neck and held on, just for a moment, just one short, stolen moment, please hold me and keep me safe and never ever leave me again.
He stood stock-still for a moment, then his arms moved up and he cradled her against his chest.
“It’s all right now, little bird, it’s all right.”
She felt rather than heard his words and blinked the tears away that welled up. This was what she had longed to hear for so long and it came from the very one she’d longed to hear it from, and she tightened her grip and held on to him as if her life depended on it.
They stood like this for what seemed like a small eternity, neither of them moving, pressed flush against one another. He was so wonderfully warm and solid, his chest was so broad and his arms encircled her in a ring of safety that no-one would be able to break through. He wouldn’t allow it.
Behind her, the fire in the small hearth crackled, providing warmth and a feeling of comfort, and she closed her eyes and relaxed against the Hound—no, his name is Sandor Clegane—, inhaled his scent, a mix of wine, food, his leather jerkin, the soap with which he’d scrubbed himself clean, and she felt his chest move against hers with his deep, steady breaths.
He started rubbing her back in small circles, carefully, hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure she would allow it. Then, when she didn’t shy away, he stroked her hair and murmured something she didn’t understand.
Sansa pulled away just enough to look up into his face. His eyes seemed darker than usual and he parted his lips, but didn’t say anything. She let go of his neck and reached up with her left, hesitated for a moment, then gently touched her fingers to the scarred side of his face. He winced but didn’t flinch, and thus encouraged, she brushed his hair back and laid her palm against the destroyed flesh.
“Sandor,” she whispered.
With his right hand, he circled her wrist, turned his face and kissed the palm of her hand.
“You’re not afraid of me any longer?”
His gaze dropped to her lips. Her breath hitched.
Once, she’d had a dream that he had kissed her, back in King’s Landing, when he had come to her chambers with the offer of taking her home. The dream had felt so real that she had clung to it for months to follow until it had become so interwoven with reality that she couldn’t have said for sure whether she’d dreamt it or whether it had been true. Then, when Ramsay Bolton had taken everything from her once and for all, her virginity, her hopes, her dreams…only then had she acknowledged the truth—it had been nothing but a little girl’s dream. The Hound had never kissed her.
Would he now?
He lowered his head and she raised her face to meet him. His eyes searched her face and when she made no attempts to pull back, he pressed his mouth on hers. It was a surprisingly chaste, careful kiss for such a fierce, big man and she parted her lips to show him he was welcome to her mouth.
With a noise that was half moan, half growl, he cupped her face and tilted her head back, traced the softness of her lips with his tongue. It sent a shockwave through her and everything inside her flared to life. It felt like her whole body was singing.
It’s him, it sang. It’s always been him.
But she’d been too young then, too frightened, too much in love with Joffrey, her handsome, blond prince who had kissed her and given her pretty trinkets and polished compliments and had offered everything her young, foolish heart had dreamt of.
There was nothing polished about Sandor Clegane and he wasn’t even remotely handsome. He was a hardened, coarse man with crude manners, harsh speech, a disfigured face and far too much facial hair that crept all the way down his throat to disappear in his tunic. His hands were rough and calloused with splintered nails and scarred palms, his voice a mix between a rumble and a bark. In short, everything about him was brutish.
But his kisses weren’t, and neither was his touch. His beard tickled rather than scratched her and his big hands were sure and gentle, and while he cursed under his breath when he fumbled with the countless tiny buttons of her dress, he kept his temper in check and undressed her slowly and with much more care and attention than any of the smooth, handsome young men she’d been unlucky enough to cross paths with.
There was only one moment when the old Hound came snarling back to life, when she saw the rage and hatred on his face that had made him the fearsome warrior he was. But it didn’t frighten her because she knew it was not directed at her.
“Who did this to you?”
She had just pushed her chemise down to her waist and was about to rid herself of it altogether when he stopped her.
“Ramsay Bolton did. It was his idea of wooing his wife into bed.”
He took a deep breath and balled his fists by his side. “Lucky for him he’s dead.”
“Eaten by his dogs. I saw to it myself.”
Her voice was flat as she said it, and she let her chemise fall to the ground. She stepped out of it to stand naked before him, all of her skilfully applied scars there for him to see, and she had to fight the impulse to cover herself, to hide her ugliness from him. Instead, she reached for his fists and kissed his knuckles. His hands opened and she twined their fingers together.
“Your scars are deeper than mine, and more.”
There were plenty of them on his big body, some raised and of a still angry red, some indented, some faded to zigzag across his skin in white lines. There was a particularly nasty one on his thigh and another one, just as ugly, on his left shoulder.
He gave a dismissive shrug.
“I’m a warrior. I kill and strike people, and sometimes, before they die, they strike back. It’s what happens in my line of work. But no woman should bear scars such as yours. It’s not right.”
“Lots of things happen that aren’t right, and they still happen.”
She let go of his hands and reached up to loosen her braids. His eyes followed her movements but kept returning to her breasts. He liked what he saw, despite her scars. His physical reaction was unmistakable and she felt her nipples pucker up in response.
“Put your hands on me, Sandor,” she said and shook her hair free. “Touch me and make it all go away.”
And he did. And it was nothing like Sansa had ever imagined and yet, it was everything she had dreamt of, back then, when she’d still had dreams.
Such a good thing it was that this was not her regular study, for it was smaller and cosier, and the distance Sandor kept between them and the flames dancing in the hearth did not take them far away from their warmth; and it was tucked away in a remote corner of the main house so nobody would have heard her cry out his name when his fingers slipped between her legs and dipped into the wetness he found there.
No-one had ever touched her like this, oh gods please, she’d had no idea it would feel so good, so good…yes, right there! Her hands flew up to cover her mouth when a throaty, shameless moan escaped her but his low chuckle told her it had pleased him.
“Sing for me, little bird,” he encouraged her and kissed the underside of her breast. His breath and beard tickled and excited her and her legs opened a bit more, as if they had a will of their own. “It’s the most beautiful song I've ever heard.”
She pulled impatiently at his shoulders, urging him to slide up. She had a burning desire for another kiss and ached for his body to join with hers, and yet she gasped when he lowered himself over her. He took her mouth with a near savage intensity that told her more than anything that this was not how he usually mated with the women who caught his fancy. He was holding himself back for her.
He promised he wouldn’t hurt me and he won’t.
Heat surged through her and she arched up, drawing herself closer to him. Her legs opened even more and he sank in between them. She felt his length against her belly, hot and heavy, as ready for her as she was ready for him and he gave a growl, shifted and positioned himself at her opening, waiting.
“Yes,” she whispered and lifted her legs, wrapped them around his hips to welcome him into her body. “Come into me, my love.”
With a hoarse, desperate groan he pushed inside and she cried out at the sudden intrusion. Nothing had prepared her for that. He’d got her wet and wanting and yet, part of her had remained afraid. Afraid it would hurt like it always had hurt because although her heart knew this was different, her body didn't.
But it did now, for this was pleasure, pure, explosive pleasure. The feel of his rough skin against hers thrilled her and the degree to which she responded to his lust stunned her. She abandoned herself to his strength and met him stroke for stroke, thrust for thrust, until a tremor inside of her heated her thighs and her groin, and she clung to him and cried for her release which came to her like waves, crashing over her and devouring her completely until she knew not where she ended and he began.
Later, in her bedchamber, he claimed her again, but this time they went slower and sweeter, and he was as gentle and patient as she’d always imagined her one true love to be. His murmured words of praise and encouragement warmed her from inside out, and she soon grew bold enough to explore his body as he had explored hers. As she traced the lines of his scars with her hands and lips and found his big, powerful body to be wonderfully responsive to her touches and caresses, she wondered how she’d ever been so afraid of him.
“Will you stay?” she asked when they lay together, drowsy and sated, under the thick blankets that kept the chill away.
“Yes, little bird, I will stay with you. I will be your bodyguard, your Hound, your muscle, your watchdog. Anything you want me to be.”
She closed her eyes and felt for his hand. His hands were huge, so much bigger than hers, but when she wove their fingers together, they were a perfect fit.
“Will you stay as my husband?” she asked into the near-darkness.
Behind her, he stiffened.
“What did you just say?” It came out as a hoarse whisper.
She opened her eyes and twisted her upper body to look at him.
“I said,” she slowly repeated, “will you stay as my husband?”
“Don’t be daft. Haven’t you learnt that life has no room for childish dreams?”
“I’ve learnt exactly that.” She freed her hand and turned around to face him. “There’s no room for childish dreams of noble knights and handsome princes. Life has taught me to open my eyes and see the things that are right before me.”
He scoffed. “And what is it you think you see?”
“I see a man who is no true knight but has more heart and more honour than all of the Kingsguard put together, and he is the only man I want.”
“I’m too old for you, Sansa, and I'm not of noble enough birth to be a good match for the Lady of Winterfell.”
“You are not too old. And if half of what Jon says is true, we may not live long enough to watch this moon grow full. It could very well end tomorrow, and names and ranks won't matter anymore.”
“Your brothers will not approve.”
“I don’t need my brothers’ approval. Bran has abdicated his right to the title. Jon has pledged himself to Daenerys Tagaryen. This makes me Lady of Winterfell and I will not let anyone make my decisions for me. Never again. I will choose my own husband.” She placed a hand on his chest, felt his heart beat strong and steadily. “And I have made my choice.”
“Your people won’t accept me.”
“They will if my sister and my brothers do.”
“I’m not worried about your brothers. Arya, on the other hand…” He made a face and she laughed.
“Arya has taken you off her list. That’s as good an approval as anything.”
His heart began to beat faster. She reached for his hand that lay on her hip and put it on her belly.
“Have you not considered the possibility that this night may have consequences?”
His eyes widened and he nodded.
“Aye, I have. I should have pulled back but I couldn’t.”
“And I wouldn’t have let you. The Mother has seen to it that Ramsay Bolton has not planted his seed in me. But something tells me she will not deny us.”
He looked down between them and slowly spread his hand over her belly.
“A son,” he softly said.
“Or a daughter.”
“As beautiful as her mother.”
“But she will not grow up to be a useless little bird. She will be trained by her aunt Arya so she learns how to look after herself.” She covered his hand with hers. “Will you be my husband, Sandor?”
Crushing her to him, he covered her mouth with his. It was all the reply she needed.
Winter was here all right. But spring lay waiting.