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The List

Chapter Text

The list they gave her was meant to insult her, Sansa knew.

Perhaps insult was too strong a word. It was a farce, certainly. A jape; a trap; a selection of alternatives so vile that how could she choose anyone other than Aegon? She could guess what Lord Varys had been whispering to Lord Blackfyre – a pretty child, but empty-headed, captivated by beauty and pageantry… she will run after the most handsome and gallant boy you lay before her, regardless of house or station… to avoid fostering resentment in that delicate breast, you might even offer her a choice…

It was no true choice, of course. An ancient, toothless Fossoway; a drunken, red-nosed Wode; a sly-eyed, lecherous Lannisport Lannister. There was Prince Aegon Blackfyre himself, of course, and there was Ser Calder, the indifferent, taciturn hedge knight whom Petyr urged her to accept, promising that it was the safest option, the best way for her to remain under his protection. She had almost thought to consent to it, even though Aegon seemed kind and gallant and brave – everything that would have made her sigh with delight just a few short years ago.

Petyr could well have had his way if it hadn’t been for the last name on the list.

Sansa was weighing up which would be more valuable – the power of a Queen, or the anonymity of a courtier? Defying the Blackfyres, or evading Petyr’s kisses? – when it came to her that the sixth name on the list was not an apparition. She had thought mayhaps that her mind had written it there, just as it had been conjuring him up in her dreams, night after night, ever since he had left her the night of the battle. Yet as much as she stared, the writing did not fade. They truly thought to offer up Sandor Clegane as a husband.

He had been Joffrey’s dog, presiding grimly over some of the blackest days of her life. Now they were calling him the Butcher of Saltpans, and he was just as fearsome and burnt as ever, though he refused to speak to anyone any more and never sought her out. Sansa knew that the inclusion of his name on the list was meant as the greatest jape of all. Offer her the Lannister Hound, my lord, just as a reminder… she will remember well how brutal life in King’s Landing can be without the proper protection…

They had no idea what they were giving her. Sansa rolled up the list, singing softly to herself.

Perhaps they would be allowed to marry in the Godswood.

~

‘Lady Sansa, I urge you to reconsider – this is highly irregular –’

‘I have considered at some length, my lord,’ said Sansa, ‘and my decision has been made.’

‘Well, mayhaps, but we little expected this. The Hound is hardly a suitable match!’

‘You clearly deemed him suitable when you wrote the list, Lord Blackfyre.’

‘And I begin to think I ought to write another one! Do you mean to insult House Blackfyre, Lady Sansa?’

‘Indeed not, my lord,’ said Sansa calmly. ‘No more than you meant to insult House Stark.’

‘I understand you are feeling somewhat unflattered by the options presented, Lady Sansa,’ said Lord Varys, casting a quelling look at the indignant Lord Blackfyre, ‘but may I suggest that you consider your own future? Do you really wish to bind yourself to a creature such as the Hound? Whatever slight the list may have caused was unintended, I can assure you. If this is how you seek to retaliate, I can promise that marrying the Hound will hurt you far more than it hurts us.’

‘Lord Varys speaks truly,’ said Lord Blackfyre. ‘Please allow us to present you with another list, Lady Sansa, with a more appropriate selection of suitors. And in the meanwhile, why not spend a little more time with Prince Aegon? It would be well to become more acquainted with him before you refuse him entirely.’

Sansa smiled.

‘You gave your word that my choice would be upheld, Lord Blackfyre,’ she said sweetly, ‘and I choose Sandor Clegane.’

One light curtsy, and she took her leave. Walking back to her chambers, she caught sight of the King sparring in the courtyard. He really was very handsome, and quite quick with a sword. When he saw Sansa watching, he smiled and waved her over. Pretending to misunderstand his gesture, she nodded demurely and continued on her way.

If he had wanted her, he would have been at the meeting.

~

Petyr was not best pleased.

‘Have you taken leave of your senses?’ he demanded. ‘You could have been Queen, Sansa. Failing that, you could have married a man who would have been your husband in name if not in deed, who would have treated you with perfect respect at all times, and who would have had me to deal with if he ever broke our agreement. Do you know what it took me to secure Ser Calder’s name on that list?’

‘No, my lord,’ said Sansa, ‘as I didn’t ask you to put it there.’

‘I was acting in your best interests, as I always have! Listen, sweetling –’

‘Apart from when we were last in King’s Landing,’ said Sansa.

Petyr frowned. ‘What do you mean? I arranged your escape, Sansa. I took you away from Joffrey and the Imp and brought you to the Eyrie. No place could have been safer for you.’

‘I was safe with Tyrion,’ said Sansa. ‘He didn’t hurt me. He did his best to protect me from Joffrey and stop him from beating me.’

Just like the Hound.

‘And the situation would have been much the same with Ser Calder!’ said Petyr. ‘Sansa, whatever game you think you’re playing, I advise you to let me in on it. By the gods, what do you think you’re going to get out of this?’

‘A husband,’ said Sansa innocently.

‘He’ll be no fit husband, I can tell you that. You would be safe with Ser Calder, I would make sure of it, but I cannot protect you from the Hound. He’s more beast than man, I thought you knew that. Mark my words, Sansa. He will hurt you.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Sansa, smiling. Petyr looked unnerved, uncertain. That was all to the good.

~

The Hound came to find her that same evening. Sansa had been quite expecting it; had in fact chosen to go for a lengthy evening stroll around the Godswood and the castle gardens to give him ample opportunity to stumble upon her in some dark corner. It was on the serpentine steps that he found her and, quite predictably, seized her around the upper arm and dragged her into an alcove. It seemed his manners were unchanged by his time as a penitent. Sansa’s heart was beating so quickly that she could scarcely find it in her to mind.

‘Good evening, my lord,’ she said, and looked him directly in the face.

It was nearly as difficult to meet his gaze as she remembered. His burns were as raw and ugly as ever, his height and bulk undiminished though Sansa knew she had grown taller. And, much like the last time he had been this close to her, Sandor Clegane was completely beside himself.

His breathing was heavy, his eyes wide and furious. The hand that wasn’t clenched tight around her arm was grabbing alarmingly at his hair. His entire body vibrated with a tension Sansa knew not how to soothe, any more than she had known when she last spoke with him six years ago.

‘Have you lost your bloody wits, girl?’ he snarled, and his harsh voice was all at once familiar and jarring. She was twelve years old all over again, her fragile bird bones pinned to the palm of his hand, and she had to trust that he wouldn’t clench his fist and crush her.

‘I don’t believe so, my lord,’ said Sansa.

‘I’ll be the judge of that. What in the seven hells do you think you’re doing?’

‘Merely as I was bid, my lord. It is good to speak with you again.’

‘Is it! The little bird wanted some attention from the ugly dog, did she? Well, now that you’ve made me break my vow of silence you had better have good cause.’

Sansa narrowed her eyes at him. ‘I don’t believe that you took a vow of silence.’ You like talking too much.

‘So you remember that much, do you? What else is hidden away in that pretty little head of yours? But you have the right of it. I’m as like to take a vow of silence as I am to go along with whatever scheme you and Littlefinger have cooked up together.’

‘Scheme?’ echoed Sansa.

‘Yes, scheme,’ he rasped, gripping her tighter, almost shaking her. ‘I’ve had the eunuch slink into my rooms, whispering in my ear that you are to be my bloody wife. So tell me now what Littlefinger’s planning for you, little bird, and tell it true. I’ll know if you don’t.’

‘Petyr isn’t planning anything,’ said Sansa. ‘Except perhaps to wed me to Ser Calder, I suppose, but I shouldn’t like that.’ Her gaze was drawn to his broad, muscled shoulders, wrapped in an ugly brown cloak. ‘Would you like a new cloak for the wedding, my lord? I could embroider your house sigil. It would look very handsome.’

‘What wedding?’ roared the Hound. He shoved her roughly backwards until she was flush against the wall, his trembling hands tight about her arms, his eyes livid and wild. ‘I’ll have some sense from you if I have to bleed it out drip by drip! Where in the seven hells has this bloody fool idea come from?’

‘The list, of course!’ retorted Sansa, trying to pull her arms free from his painful grasp. ‘Your name is on there, my lord, clear as day, so I don’t know why you’re so surprised. You must have known this was possible.’

‘What list?’

Finally freeing one arm, Sansa reached into her sleeve to produce the offending document.

‘There,’ she said. ‘They offered me my choice of husband, and I took it.’

The Hound snatched the list from her hand and glared at it. Sansa watched him. It had always been easier to look on him when his gaze wasn’t directed at her. She decided he was more handsome than she had given him credit for. The burns were as gruesome as ever, but she rather liked the hook of his nose and the sharp cheekbones. His lips were harsh and thin, but she remembered the way they had pressed down against hers, and a rosy warmth bloomed in her cheeks.

He crumpled the paper in his fist.

‘They mean to trap you,’ he muttered. ‘They could have warned me they planned to make me a part of this bloody buggering game.’

Sansa’s heart fell. ‘You – you didn’t know?’

‘Of course I bloody didn’t. You think I’d agree to torture you like this? My name is there to insult you, little bird. A jape. The pretty little Stark girl, highborn as they come, wed to the worthless dog who stood by and watched while they beat her? You’d be best off marrying Fossoway. At least he’ll be dead soon. His cock is like to be dead already. Or why not the pretty young prince? I’ve watched you walking with him. You could be Queen, just as you were meant to be. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?’

‘No, I wouldn’t,’ said Sansa quietly. She pressed her lips together and dropped her gaze to the floor, unable to face him any longer. Everything was ruined, and just when it had all been so lovely.

‘No,’ rasped the Hound. ‘The little bird decided she wanted to be married to me, when she still can’t look me in the eye. You tell me now what in the seven hells you’re doing, girl. You think to mock me?’ He was shaking worse than ever. ‘You never used to be cruel.’

‘I’m not cruel!’ said Sansa. She forced herself to meet his eye once more. ‘My lord, this is no jape. I beg you to believe me.’

‘It’s a jape all right. You think I would make a fit husband? You want to share your rooms with me? Your bed? If we were wed, little bird, you would have to look into my face every morning and night until the end of your days. You’d give me your body, too. I’d fuck you proper, if you were my wife. What do you think of that?’

‘I…’ Her stomach was fizzing and she felt hot all over. The Hound sneered, seemingly ready to leave her. Sansa lifted a hand to cup his cheek, and stopped him in his tracks.

‘I thought you wanted me,’ she whispered, and watched his eyes widen. ‘I know you care nothing for my claim, but you have always helped me anyway. I have thought of you often. I thought you would keep me safe, and kiss me, and I would sing for you whenever you wished it. I thought I could finally be free of Petyr, and that perhaps someday we could go back to see Winterfell. I would… I would be a good wife, my lord.’

Sandor Clegane stared at her, his expression utterly unreadable.

‘Little bird,’ he murmured at long last, ‘I know you would.’

These gentle words were so unexpected that Sansa could not help but smile. Unbidden, her fingers stroked his cheek, and he drew closer.

‘You thought of kissing me?’ he said hoarsely. His gaze was flickering rapidly between her eyes and her lips. She nodded. He smelled much better than last time; cleaner, and without a trace of wine on him. He came nearer still. Sansa did not quite know what to do with herself. He had kissed her before, of course he had, and yet somehow it hadn’t prepared her for the overwhelming closeness of him, the furious fixation of his eyes upon her face. The sheer size of him, walling her in. The painful red burns, and the bone of his jaw. He is only flesh and blood and bone, just like me, she told herself, and yet it hardly seemed possible that the two of them could be made from the same material. At least this time there is no dagger.

A shaky breath fluttered from her mouth and kissed at his; he closed his eyes, looking angry even now. Sansa became suddenly aware of light footsteps heading down the steps. It seemed the Hound heard it at the same time, and the two of them fumbled apart.

It was Lord Varys.

‘Good evening, Lady Sansa,’ he said, bowing to her. He cast the Hound an arch look. ‘Clegane.’

‘Varys,’ muttered the Hound.

‘Good evening, my lord,’ said Sansa demurely, though she could feel that her cheeks were pink. She had never been able to hear Lord Varys approach before, particularly from such a distance, and wondered if he had been louder on purpose. Perhaps he hadn’t wanted to witness what had been about to happen. It was probably all to the good that they had been stopped, although the Hound seemed more agitated than ever.

‘You look to have made your decision then, Clegane,’ said Lord Varys. ‘I admit, when you requested time to think, I had thought that you might want longer than two hours… but I suppose the Lady Sansa’s powers of persuasion are more compelling than my own.’

‘The girl did no persuading,’ said the Hound. ‘It’s a pretty little offer. I had to make sure she meant it.’

‘Does she?’ asked Lord Varys, watching her.

‘Seems to,’ said the Hound darkly.

‘And do you accept?’  

Sandor Clegane glared, first at Lord Varys and then at her. Sansa met his gaze, trying her best to look appealing as her heart pounded hard in her chest. She knew he was itching to grab her, interrogate her, threaten her, perhaps kiss her – all the things he couldn’t do while anyone else looked on. Please say yes. She didn’t know what she would do if he refused her.

Eventually the tension in his body seemed to give out, and he sagged against the wall, fists finally unclenched.

‘Seven bloody hells,’ he said, shaking his head in disbelief. ‘Why not? I accept. Bugger me if I know why.’

He stalked off down the steps, laughing harshly. Sansa hoped that meant he was happy. Trying to compose her features into their usual neutral mask, she looked at Lord Varys. The expression on his face was quite plain in its meaning.

Rather you than me.

Chapter Text

The wedding was to be in two weeks. Sansa spent much of her time making garments for the occasion, starting with a cloak for the Hound. She decided bright yellow was too garish, and found a much more appropriate bolt of cloth in a fine golden ochre – just the colour of autumn grass, like in the story he had told her. She embroidered the three black dogs of his house onto it, and was extremely pleased with her efforts.

The Hound had been very gruff when she had shown it to him, but from the way his fingers traced the outline of the dogs she could tell that he liked it.

She sewed her own maiden cloak in the grey and white of House Stark, a great direwolf across the back, not caring to wear the Lannister colours as tradition dictated. Petyr accompanied her to a dress fitting and divided his time between suggesting overly revealing gown designs and whispering vile stories about the Hound into her ear. Sansa didn’t believe for one moment that he had done those awful things in Saltpans, and not just because he had a letter from a holy brother clearing his name. The atrocities committed there certainly sounded like the work of a Clegane, but it wasn’t Sandor.

She didn’t say as much to Petyr, however. She simply nodded along, quietly saying ‘Yes, my lord’ whenever he seemed to expect a response. Multiple times he entreated her to reveal her plans to him – couldn’t she see that he was only trying to help her, and that he could not advise her unless she explained what she was doing? She was making a grave mistake, he was sure, and could not possibly have thought the matter through.

Sansa, who had been thinking the matter through for at least five years, met everything he said with the same small smile, even the stories of pain and screaming from rooms in his own brothels. She knew he was lying. Maids and wenches talked, and Sansa had always listened. As far as she could tell, Sandor Clegane had not bedded anyone since his return from the Quiet Isle, any more than he had allowed a drop of wine to pass his lips.

Six years ago, however, this had not been the case. Sansa remembered how the women's chatter at the well had taught her that while usually rough and invariably drunk, the Hound was not cruel, and was sometimes even sought after due to his size and strength. All of the details that Sansa had gleaned seemed to match up perfectly with everything she knew of Sandor Clegane, save for one thing. Every wench who had bedded the Hound had done so on her hands and knees, and had been spared from looking on his face.

Sansa knew he wouldn’t do that with her. She would look him in the eye. He would kiss her and tell her that she was beautiful and take her as a true knight takes his lady wife, and then she would sing for him. It was going to be very romantic.

~

The afternoon before the wedding, Prince Aegon came to speak with her. He asked her if she was sure she wouldn’t rather marry him instead. He claimed to be begging her, but Sansa thought he seemed quite remarkably calm if that was the case. He told her he was prostrating himself before her, but he remained upright on his two feet, and his grasp on her hand was really very light. He didn’t even cry.

Sansa apologised and told him that her mind was made up, and that he would make a wonderful husband to a more deserving lady.

She thought he left in quite high spirits.

~

The Hound came to find her that night. Sansa had been about to summon her maids to undress her when she heard the hammering at her door. She had stayed up later than usual in anticipation of something like this, and was utterly unsurprised to find her betrothed at her door, swaying and clutching a wineskin.

‘Good evening, my lord,’ she said. ‘I hope you are well. I thought you didn’t drink wine any more.’

‘I didn’t,’ rasped the Hound, ‘but this is to be my last night of peace. May as well enjoy it.’

‘Peace, my lord?’

‘Yes, peace. No little bird peeping in my ear. Reminding me of my courtesies. Scolding me for drinking.’

‘I wasn’t scolding you,’ said Sansa. ‘I just thought it strange.’

‘Strange?’ the Hound snorted. ‘This jape of a wedding is what’s strange. Pretty little bird, shackling herself to me. They’re not even forcing you. You’ve lost your wits for true. Littlefinger said.’

‘Oh, if Petyr said it then it must be true, my lord.’

The Hound squinted at her, then barked out a laugh.

‘He’s taught you well. Tell me, girl. Are you going to be a dutiful wife? Will you lay back and endure your husband?’

Endure? Sansa frowned at him. ‘You said I would be a good wife. I hoped I would please you, my lord.’

‘Oh, you’ll do that. You’ll sing me a little song. Just as you promised.’

He drank down the remaining contents of his wineskin and tossed it aside. Sansa watched a thin trickle of wine run down the ruined side of his jaw and onto his neck. He didn’t seem to feel it through the burns. When she was his lady wife, mayhaps she would kiss it off. He would like that. He cannot bear for me to flinch from his scars.

‘You could go back on your promise,’ muttered the Hound.

Instantly Sansa was alert. ‘My lord?’

‘Wouldn’t blame you. Damn me if I know what’s got into you. Run crying to your little prince, tell him I’m a raper. He’ll have me sent away. Marry you himself, long as you tell him you got away before I could spoil you.’

‘But…’ Sansa didn’t understand. ‘The wedding pie is made, my lord. Our cloaks are sewn. All is agreed. Don’t you want to marry me?’

‘Yes,’ he said snappishly, his eyes roving all over her. ‘Don’t matter though, does it? Not if my pretty little bride wants to back out.’

Back out? He was behaving very strangely. Sansa stepped forward, took his huge hands in hers.

‘I want us to be wed,’ she said, and gently pulled him closer. Seemingly stunned, Sandor Clegane lunged towards her and buried his face in her hair, her throat. It lasted only a moment before he was violently wrenching himself away.

‘Ah, forget it,’ he rasped. ‘If it’s some plot of Littlefinger’s, it’s no hair off my arse. He can kill me however he likes. Long as I’ve wedded and bedded you.’

‘He can’t kill you,’ said Sansa. ‘You’re so much stronger than he is, or any champion he could name. No one can best you in combat. And he won’t poison your food as long as you share it with me. You will simply have to be careful what you drink, my lord.’

The Hound laughed bitterly and kicked at his discarded wineskin.

‘I won’t need wine when I’ve got you in my bed. I’ll drink from you instead. Would you like that?’

Sansa blushed and averted her gaze, but he took her chin in his hand and lifted it until she was looking him in the eye.

‘Tomorrow night, little bird,’ he told her, steel on stone. ‘I’ll have that song from you. Believe that.’

~

The wedding was not, as Sansa had hoped, in the Godswood, but in one of the smaller septs. She supposed it was of little matter really. Better that they let her have her pick of husband and choose the rest for her than the other way around. Whenever anything disappointed her, she simply reminded herself of the other wedding she had been forced to endure.

Her dress was a simple and modest white gown with a silver-grey sash, and the Stark cloak over the top made her feel strong. The guests were whispering, worried for her sanity, but true ladies did not concern themselves with whatever base rumours might be circulating about them. Sansa moved gracefully through the crowds, like a queen.

It was a shame Petyr was the one to escort her down the aisle, but she supposed that he was more of a father to her than anyone else in King’s Landing. His hand lingered on her waist as he kissed her on the cheek, too close to her mouth. Sansa was glad when he let go of her.

She turned to face Sandor Clegane, and was happy to see that his cloak fit him perfectly. She had been sure it would, having mapped his old Kingsguard cloak so many times with her hands as she wondered where he could be. His tunic, breeches and boots were dark grey and black, and much newer and finer than any she had ever seen him wear before. It brought a smile to her face that he would make an effort like this just to please her, and she reached out to take his hand.

The corner of the Hound’s mouth was twitching madly. His countenance was as grim and angry as ever, and he looked as though he might bolt at any moment. He won’t leave me. Not again. She stroked her fingers along his tense white knuckles and wondered why he wouldn’t look at her. Her maids had brushed her hair until it shone and woven it with pearls.

They walked up to the altar together where the septon was waiting. As he began to intone a prayer, Sansa watched the Hound. His eyes were shut tight, and he seemed to be truly listening to the septon, as though the holy words being spoken were of some personal significance to him. Not for the first time, Sansa wondered what had happened to him on the Quiet Isle. Continuing to stroke his hand gently with her fingertips, she closed her eyes and prayed that Sandor Clegane might know some peace.

Although the ceremony was brief, presumably due to the Blackfyres’ embarrassment at their misstep, Sansa thought it was very fine. She saw the Hound looking up at the statue of the Mother a few times, and wondered if he was thinking about the night of the battle. Perhaps he really had been gentled since then. He did seem to be listening to the septon in earnest, which she had never known him to do before. And he had only threatened to kill her once, and they had been betrothed for two whole weeks.

He wouldn’t look at her until the time came for him to take off her maiden’s cloak. His face was set in grim lines, but Sansa could see how he had combed his hair over his burns more carefully than usual. She smiled up at him, and his hands fumbled at her throat. He tossed her Stark cloak to an attendant, and then unclasped his own cloak to drape around her shoulders. Sansa sighed happily. He was so much bigger and taller than her, and she knew he would protect her. This was the third time he had given her his cloak, after all.

His hands remained on her shoulders, squeezing them tight, as though he was lost at sea and she was the rope to safety. Sansa could see the fear and anger in his eyes, desperately clawing to get out. She could feel the eyes of all the guests upon her – Lord Blackfyre’s disgust, Aegon’s indifference, Littlefinger’s jealousy, the court’s pity and confusion, and the inscrutable gaze of Lord Varys. Perhaps there had never been a song about a wedding like this one, but Sansa knew she would be safe. The Hound was kind to her, in his way.

‘With this kiss I pledge my love,’ she said clearly, looking him straight in the eye, ‘and take you for my lord and husband.’

‘With this kiss I pledge my love,’ the Hound muttered, his face taut with emotion, though she could not say whether it was true rage or he was simply overwhelmed, ‘and take you for my lady and wife.’

Sandor Clegane lowered his face towards her, staring at the floor and refusing to soften the severe downturn of his mouth. Sansa closed her eyes, waiting for her kiss, but his lips barely brushed hers before he pulled away again.

As the septon raised his crystal to proclaim them man and wife, the Hound’s hand gripped her upper arm. He was hurting her, but Sansa refused to let it show on her face. The second the septon finished talking, the Hound marched her back down the aisle and out of the sept. For a moment Sansa wondered if he was taking her to the Godswood to say their vows in the northern way, but of course that was too good to be true.

He was dragging her to the banquet, so that he could drink the wine.

The rest of the guests had barely begun to filter into the hall in the time it took Sandor Clegane to down three goblets of wine. Sansa took her seat at the dais and tried not to look at her new husband. She gripped his cloak tighter around her. It shouldn’t matter to me if he drinks. He always used to drink. She accepted a cup of Arbor gold from a server, and the Hound settled heavily down into his seat next to hers.

‘Seven bloody buggering hells,’ he mumbled. Sansa sipped delicately from her cup. She hoped there would be lemoncakes later, and perhaps even dancing.

‘You’ve done for me, little bird,’ said the Hound.

‘I don’t know what you mean, my lord,’ said Sansa.

‘No, and you don’t want to look at me either,’ rasped the Hound, and he took her chin in one huge hand and turned her head to face him. ‘You knew I was ugly when you agreed to marry me. Did you think a cloak and a vow would turn me into the pretty knight of your dreams?’

A vow. Sansa’s heart quickened. Somehow she hadn’t quite realised just what she had asked of him. Sandor Clegane had sworn himself to her before a crowd and a septon. A sudden warmth rushed through her, and she set down her cup and tried to look contrite.

‘I am sorry you had to make a vow, my lord. I know you would not have wished it.’

‘I’m not sorry,’ said Sandor Clegane. ‘I’d swear anything for you, little bird. Thought I might be your sworn shield. Wasn’t expecting this.’

‘Oh,’ Sansa breathed. He is so gallant. She reached up and stroked the hand that held her chin.

‘Whatever you ask of me, I’ll do,’ he went on, ‘I’ll kill anyone who hurts you. How about Littlefinger? No one would mourn him. The Blackfyres have been looking to get rid of him. I know what he wants to do with you, girl, so take that pretty smile off your face.’

‘I know what he wants to do with me too, and as long as you’re my husband he can’t do it,’ said Sansa. ‘If you kill him, they will send you to the Wall and marry me to whomever they please. Do you think there will be dancing tonight, my lord?’

‘Don’t matter to me if there is. I’m sure you’ll find plenty of pretty knights to dance with, won’t you?’ He let go of her face and downed another cup of wine.

‘I will have to, if my lord husband won’t dance with me.’

The Hound snorted into his goblet.

The feast was more modest than that of her previous wedding, but Sansa thought it much finer, although she found she couldn’t manage too much to eat. She made sure to have a piece of the pie, and to help herself to several lemon cakes. She offered one to the Hound, but he was being very disagreeable with her and claimed not to want one. Sansa hoped he wasn’t regretting marrying her. She planned to be a most attentive and dutiful wife.

When the music commenced she gazed hopefully at the Hound. ‘Might we dance, my lord?’

‘If you think I’m going to get up there and prance about like one of your poxy pretty knights, then you’ve never listened to a buggering word I’ve said to you and we ought to annul this bloody charade before it’s too late.’

‘Now now, Clegane.’ Petyr’s voice, and Sansa felt his hand on her shoulder. ‘Is that any way to speak to the Lady Sansa?’

‘Can’t tell a man how to treat his own wife,’ grunted the Hound. ‘I’ll speak to her the same I always have. She can’t have minded me too much or we wouldn’t be married. I suppose you want to dance with her, do you? Well, you can’t have her just yet.’

He pulled her into his lap. Blushing, Sansa attempted to sit in the most ladylike fashion she could. His huge arms felt very nice around her and she still had to look up to see his face. This was much better than when Petyr had made her perch on his knee.

‘Perhaps later, my lord,’ she suggested lightly to an aggrieved Littlefinger, and he turned and stalked off.

‘There,’ rasped Sandor Clegane. ‘I can’t say you’ll ever truly be free of him, little bird. You can be damned sure he never gave up on your mother. But I’ll keep him away as best I can.’

Sansa beamed. She drew him towards her and kissed him on the cheek. His arms tightened around her and she rested her head on his shoulder. He was so warm and strong and he smelled very comforting. He downed another cup of wine but did not push her away.

When Prince Aegon came to ask her to dance, Sansa had to oblige, and she enjoyed sharing her first wedded dance with such a handsome and well-mannered partner. When the music finished, others came to take his place, including the Wode and Lannister men whose names had been offered to her. Sansa courteously accepted their requests, all the while thanking the Seven that this time she had been allowed to choose her husband.

Petyr returned to claim her for a dance, and Sansa let him. The Hound had already sent him on his way once today, and he would not take kindly to being rebuffed a second time. It would be best if she drifted away from him gradually. His power over her may have waned, but she would be most unwise to shun him completely.

‘Your beauty as a bride is matchless, sweetling,’ he murmured in her ear. ‘It is to be hoped your husband won’t give you the usual treatment Clegane men give their wives.’

‘Sandor Clegane is not his brother, my lord.’ 

‘For your sake, I hope not. But please let me remind you, Sansa, that my door will ever be open to you. Marriage is not an insurmountable obstacle. If you ever find yourself in need of escape, I hope you will remember how well I have helped you with such things in the past, and come to me. I will always be a friend to you, just as I was to your mother.’

‘I thank you, my lord,’ said Sansa. ‘Now, might we not speak of other things? It is my wedding day, after all. How did you enjoy the feast?’

Petyr’s mouth thinned but he allowed her to change the subject. However, as the music drew to a close his grip remained tight about her waist, and somewhere behind her Sansa heard Ser Calder’s voice cry out, ‘A bedding! I want to see a bedding!’

Chapter Text

Other voices joined in and formed a chorus. Sansa steeled herself. Here was the part she had been dreading. Hands were crawling all over her, grasping at her hair and neck and her pretty dress. She could see the glint in Littlefinger’s eyes as he ripped her gown at the neck. The men were laughing, drunken, pawing at her breasts and skirts. How to make it end? She knew she should laugh and play along, but she couldn’t, couldn’t. They would stop if she wept, perhaps, but Sansa Stark had endured far worse without shedding a tear and she refused to cry over this.

Perhaps endure was all she could do now. They were well on their way to her chambers. Her skirts were torn from her entirely, her shoes and stockings gone, but they would have to get through her bodice next – the bodice with unusually thick and complex lacing that she had donned like armour for this very reason. She saw Prince Aegon looking at her cleavage, heard her shift rip, felt Littlefinger’s hands slide up underneath it and clamped her legs shut. Hands yanked at her bodice to no avail until someone’s knife slashed through the laces, and then that was gone too, and she fought to clutch her shift to herself as Littlefinger yanked down her smallclothes –

And then the Hound was there, his doublet and shirt gone and his breeches unlaced, and he was swearing at the men around her and lifting her into his arms. Weak with relief, Sansa leaned into him and tried to calm her breathing. She could hear the protests – Come on, Clegane, we were enjoying that… it was just a bit of fun… we didn’t even get to see anything good…

‘I’m the one who’s going to be having fun with her tonight,’ rasped the Hound, ‘as she’s my bloody wife. Bugger off and find your own.’

There were protests, but Prince Aegon was gracious – ‘Come along, men, he wants to enjoy his new bride. Let’s leave him to it’ – and finally the men began to leave. Littlefinger lingered the longest, watching her, but Sansa avoided his eye. She was sure she could see the lace of her smallclothes sticking out of his breast pocket.

The Hound carried her into their chambers, kicked the door shut behind him, crossed the room and laid her gently on the bed, just as if he were a true knight in a song. Sansa watched him go back to the door and bar it, her heart fluttering madly in her chest. He somehow looked even bigger without armour or a shirt to cover him. His shoulders were so broad, his arms and torso hugely muscled. There was a light smatter of dark hair on his chest, and a thin trail leading down his navel into his breeches. Somehow she had never truly pictured him unclothed, but now she found herself unable to look away.

He came halfway back to the bed and stood awkwardly, his eyes darting around the room, never quite looking at her. He’s as nervous as I am.

‘Are you well, my lord?’ asked Sansa.

He took a breath and let it out again. His fists clenched and unclenched, over and over.

‘I won’t force you,’ he said at last. ‘I won’t have you opening your legs out of duty, either. None of your courtesies, not when it comes to this. So if all you want is my protection, then tell me now, and tell it true. I’ll have you wet and willing, or not at all.’

Sansa blushed, and felt a twinge low in her stomach. She pressed her thighs together and scrunched the bedsheets tight in her fingers.

‘You are my husband,’ she said. ‘Won’t you kiss me, my lord?’

Sandor Clegane stilled. He was staring at her as though he would quite like to slap her. Sansa squirmed under his furious gaze. She wet her lips.

‘Please?’

Her husband walked up to the bed.

He climbed on top of her, seemingly surrounding her entirely though no part of him touched her. He brought his face very close to hers.

‘Is this what you wanted, little bird?’ he hissed, showing her his burned side.

‘Yes,’ said Sansa, softer than a breath, and she reached up, turned his head to face her, and pulled him down until his lips were pressed to hers.

At first he was rigid, unresponsive, but Sansa coaxed him with kisses, softly stroking his face until he began to reciprocate. His movements were slow and jerky, his body near vibrating with tension. Sansa ran her hands through his hair and pressed them into his neck and shoulders, kneading him with her fingers in hopes that he might relax. He groaned into her mouth and began to stroke her hair. His weight was on her now, his chest pressing her down into the bed, and Sansa sighed happily. This was what she remembered. Strange that it took him so long to remember it too. She could feel where his lips had been burned away on one side, and it made her hot all over to think that it really was the Hound who was kissing her, not Petyr or Harry or Sweetrobin but really truly him. Her husband.

Sansa felt so happy she could fly. When Sandor Clegane’s lips broke away from hers, she kissed him all over his face, good side and burned side both, and all down his neck. She felt his hands grip her tight about the waist, and he buried his face in her hair as his skin erupted in gooseflesh.

‘Sansa,’ he groaned in her ear, and she shivered all over to hear him say her name, to see how undone she had made him, ‘I dreamed of this on the Quiet Isle.’

‘I dreamed of it in the Eyrie,’ she whispered. The Hound kissed her again, starting at her lips and then trailing down her throat, biting and sucking as he went. His enormous hands were her all over, drawing shivers from her as he stroked her hips and stomach before moving up to her chest. Sansa gasped as he squeezed her breasts roughly and pinched her nipples, and felt the heat between her legs turn to liquid.

‘Let me see you,’ rasped the Hound, and pushed the torn hem of her shift up her thighs.

Shaking, Sansa moved to let him pull her shift over her head. She was supposed to be naked; it was her wedding night after all. She had been naked before Tyrion, and she was a world away from that now with the husband she had chosen, so she ought not to be so nervous.

The Hound looked to be eating her up with his eyes. Sansa had never seen him so enthralled. It was startlingly intimate to be with him like this, totally unclothed while his gaze raked all over her. He was trembling a little, utterly fixated, his hands mapping her body, his obvious efforts to be gentle occasionally forgotten. She had never been touched like this before, never been looked at in such a way. The brush of his rough fingertips across her belly and thighs, the scrape of his half-stubble as he kissed at her breasts, the clench of her nipple between his lips – all were new and strange and almost unbearably tantalising. Little gasps and whimpers were emerging from her lips unbidden, and she could feel a flood of wetness between her legs.

‘Never thought I’d have you like this,’ he muttered into her ear, his voice hoarse, the tickle of his breath making her wriggle. ‘Your pretty little mound, your fine white teats… you weren’t made for the likes of me, little bird.’ He drew back and stared at her, his hand resting on her waist and near spanning it. Sansa realised that her breathing had become loud and erratic, and attempted to calm it. He was as far from anger as she’d ever known him to be, and yet the intensity of his eyes still made it quite uncomfortable for her to meet his gaze.

‘Open those pretty thighs,’ he whispered. ‘I want to see your cunt.’

‘My lord!’ said Sansa, scandalised, but he laughed harshly and began to part her legs himself. Her stomach was doing somersaults. His hands were so big and coarse and dark against her pale skin, and it was almost unbearably erotic that he should make her spread herself wide open just so he could look on her. A light shudder racked her body and he continued to push her thighs apart. Sansa felt a dribble of wetness escape her and heard herself make a little moan – she was so exposed, and this was so utterly unladylike – but the Hound did not stop until her lady’s place was fully revealed and the sides of her knees were pressed into the bedcovers, her crotch near aching with the strain.

‘Oh, please –’ Sansa begged, writhing desperately as the Hound’s head gradually descended. He let out a shaking breath, and she felt the warmth of it. He was so impertinently close.

‘You’re wet, little bird,’ he murmured, stroking her gently and drawing shivers from her. ‘Did this happen when you dreamt of me?’

Sansa’s mouth fell open. ‘How did you know?’

His pupils dilated. He lowered his face and kissed her there between her thighs, and Sansa almost wailed. She felt so hot and wet and excruciatingly sensitive. The Hound was suckling at her there in the same way he had at her lips, and it was a mercy he was holding her down because she felt as though she could burst out of her skin.

‘Sansa,’ he rasped into her, making her moan helplessly, ‘you taste like Arbor Gold.’

He began to lick at some part of her that near made her vision blur, and her hands gripped the sheets so hard her knuckles went white.  

‘Oh – my lord, please –’ she gasped, but his only response was to let go of her legs. Of their own accord entirely they closed around his head, but he didn’t seem to care. One large finger was probing at her entrance, and began to slowly push its way inside. Sansa fidgeted uncomfortably at the invasion until he crooked his finger and rubbed. It felt almost as if she had to make water, but somehow good, and little pants began to emit from her lips. Perhaps this was why Aunt Lysa had screamed so during her bedding – although the Hound’s finger wasn’t what one would call little. Still, the sensation was odd, but not painful. Perhaps the bedding wouldn’t be so –

‘Oh!’

‘Relax,’ rasped the Hound. ‘Deep breaths. It’ll go easier if I ready you now.’

Sansa did her best to obey, but it was difficult. Two of his long, thick fingers were inside her now, moving back and forth, stretching her open to the point of pain.

‘Don’t suppose the Imp ever did this,’ muttered her husband.

‘Lord Tyrion was kind,’ said Sansa, her voice constricted. ‘He did not touch me.’

The Hound looked up at her sharply, his hand stilling its movements. ‘What about his men? Did they touch you?’ Sansa shook her head. ‘And Littlefinger?’

‘He said I must remain a maiden to protect my claim.’ Sansa shifted uncomfortably, his fingers increasingly tight and painful within her without the touch of his lips to distract her. ‘Please, my lord, can’t you –’

The Hound curled his fingers and began to press at that same queer-feeling place, and Sansa sighed and was able to relax a little. ‘I’ve never had a maid before,’ he murmured, and lowered his head to lick at her once more.

Something was building within her, something new and good that she could feel low in her stomach. Her nipples ached and she wished that the Hound would pinch them, but she was sure she couldn’t bear it if he took his hands away from where they stroked her down there. Her fingers curled and uncurled, clutching at the air and bedcovers, and whenever she exhaled it came out shaky and loud. His tongue was quick and soft, tickling at her so relentlessly she was becoming overwhelmed with it. Her blood pounded in her ears, her toes curled – surely something had to happen soon, this was too much, this was –

‘Ahhh!’

A stretching, a widening, burning, and a sharp sting – a third thick finger and Sansa invaded and blood at the Hound’s lips. She couldn’t find the air she needed and gasped endlessly, her body pinned and splayed. Her husband’s eyes were on her, alert, and he crooked his fingers, pressed, but still she was overcome by the pain of it. Sandor Clegane ducked his head, still watching her face avidly, and began to suck. Hard.

Sansa’s breath left her body so rapidly it was as though he had sucked that out of her too. She still felt split open, compromised, not her own, but somehow that wasn’t so bad, not when every tiny pinprick of pain was matched by a rolling burst of something that felt good. His tongue danced, flickering rapidly as he sucked, his lips firm and soft on her hot wet sore skin, his fingertips rubbing her, opening her up like a flower – she tightened, drawing in on herself, every muscle tensed as he took her closer towards something, something, something –

Oh. 

Her groan was loud, undignified, ripped from somewhere deep in her chest. Her entire body convulsed violently, thighs crushing the Hound’s head as her fingers clenched tight in his hair. She was squeezing his fingers inside her, hard and hard and hard, bearing down over and over and somehow revelling in the pain as he continued to suck at her, eliciting a stream of moans she dimly registered as her own. Every muscle taut, every sensation of pleasure vast and all-encompassing, her body lavish and wonderful and giving of infinite bounty. The feeling seemed to last an age, receding in tiny increments, like waves in the sea as high tide draws to a close.

Gradually Sansa regained control of her limbs. Wobbly and out of breath, she relaxed her legs, unwound her hands from her husband’s hair, and laid back. She supposed she hadn’t been particularly ladylike, and perhaps she might have apologised if she hadn’t been feeling so warm and languid and happy. As it was, she did the only thing she was able to do at that precise moment, and burst into a fit of giggles.

‘Seven hells,’ the Hound muttered from somewhere between her thighs, his breath hot against her. Sansa giggled harder, covering her face as he withdrew his fingers and sat up. ‘You liked that, did you? I thought you would. I told you I’d have a song from you, and now damn near everyone in the castle knows I’ve had it.’

‘What was that?’ asked Sansa, blushing as she moved her hands away from her face. She didn’t want to upset him, especially not when he was being so agreeable.

‘I said I’d drink from you. Just like wine. Did it hurt?’

Sansa nodded. In a nice way.

‘Did for your maidenhead,’ he said, sucking loudly at wet, rust-coloured knuckles. ‘Sweetest blood I ever tasted.’

There was no doubt he was being dreadfully uncouth, but Sansa thought few other ladies had been lucky enough to experience anything like what he had just done. He kissed away my maidenhead. It’s like a song. She sighed happily and held out her arms for her husband, wanting to show her appreciation yet far too boneless to move. He stalked over her like a shadowcat, eyes glinting, her blood on his tongue as he kissed her.

Presently she felt him fumbling with his breeches, and knew he was taking them off. Recalling her other wedding night, Sansa tried not to look, but eventually her curiosity got the better of her, and she could not stifle a gasp.

‘Oh, you can take it, girl,’ rasped the Hound. ‘It’s what that pretty little cunt was made for.’

Sansa wasn’t so sure. It’s like my forearm. It looked strange, almost alien; thick and dark and pulsing. In all her dreams of her wedding night, she had never considered that this could be a problem – had in truth never dwelt in great detail upon anything that might happen below the waist. Her mind’s eye had always tastefully wreathed any less than romantic body parts in a fine silvery mist, although this was of little help to her now. Her husband was braced on one huge hand, his eyes darting feverishly between her face and breasts and her open legs as he stroked himself. Nothing was hidden from her. She could see the curls of black hair in his armpits and at the base of where he squeezed, the slick moisture coating his clenched fist. She could feel, too, the abundant wetness between her own thighs, the sweat on her back and in the hocks of her knees, the bedcovers rucked up uncomfortably beneath her. So messy. And then he lunged closer, his length sliding hard against that sensitive place he had sucked and kissed, and Sansa ceased to care.

It was too intense, too much, the sensation near painful, but it did not last; Sansa’s eyes fluttered open to see her husband fumbling at the juncture of their legs, aligning their bodies together. Could he truly fit? Sansa had doubts, but the Hound didn’t seem to share them; with gritted teeth and fevered eyes, he lifted her legs and pushed in.

Whatever measures he had taken to prepare her, they had not been enough. He was huge, some sort of freak; he was splitting her in two. She moaned helplessly as the weight of him pressed her into the mattress, a hot dull ache pinching at her lady’s place. With one long, tortuously slow thrust, her husband entered her –

‘Not quite to the hilt, my lady,’ he said, laughing breathlessly. He pressed two thick fingers to her split mound and rubbed. Sansa groaned and squirmed, her every involuntary movement leaving her shockingly aware of him deeper and deeper within her. By the time he let her alone, their hipbones were flush, black hair curling against auburn. She let out tiny choking gasps, desperate for air. She had impaled herself upon him.

Sansa looked to her husband, on the verge of begging him to withdraw, but his face halted her. A sweat had broken out across his brow, though he had hardly exerted himself, and his eyes were glassy and unfocused. She saw that he was trembling. Her belly swooped, and something deep within her clenched tight around him. The Hound groaned, his entire body contracting. Sansa gazed at him in wonder. To all at court, he was proud, taciturn, immovable as the walls of the keep. He had never been so with her, but now more than ever before she was entranced by the way this huge impassive soldier seemed to crumble at her touch. And this was something different to his rage, his violence, his tears; this was something new, something secret and warm and good belonging only to them. Their bed seemed to Sansa to be a little kingdom, and they could map its mountains and rivers on each other’s bodies.

Sighing, she relaxed her grip on the bedcovers and placed her arms around Sandor Clegane. Her palms skimmed over his powerful shoulder blades, feeling little nicks and scars, the dampness of his perspiration, the heat and smoothness of his skin. He felt good, she realised, and stroked his arms, his chest, his flat hard stomach. He even felt good within her despite the pain, big and hard and hot, as though her body had been wanting him without her even knowing it. Her maidenhead had been obliterated, but it was her own choosing. She smiled up at Sandor, feeling as though the warmth and contentment she felt was radiating out through her skin.

He was staring down at her, the corner of his mouth twitching madly. Abruptly, he collapsed on top of her as though she had stabbed him in the gut, and buried his face in her hair. He was shuddering, and Sansa felt a familiar wetness at her throat. She stroked the back of her husband’s head, achingly fond of him.

‘Sansa,’ he rasped desperately. ‘I’ve wanted you ever since I first saw you, and I hated myself, hated… the prettiest… the most beautiful maid I’ve ever seen, sweet and kind and good… I never dreamed I’d have you… I’m your dog, my lady fair…’

Something fluttered deep in Sansa’s belly; her mouth fell open, her eyes fell shut, and there it was – a gentle, whispering echo of the intense spasms she had experienced earlier at the Hound’s lips. She rippled and clenched around him, sighing sweetly, feeling as though she was being enveloped by the warm night sky. He was absurdly thick within her, but he had made her so ready that the sting had all but vanished. Every squeeze of her walls around him tore a grunt from his mouth as he began to thrust frantically, until he ground against her hard, groaning long and loud, and she felt a kind of wet release burst deep inside.

Her husband fell heavily on top of her and buried his face in her throat once more. He was making a rumbling sound so low that she could feel it rather than hear it, and when he wrapped his arms around her and rolled them over, Sansa realised it was a noise of contentment. He is happy. I made him happy. She cuddled up to him, rubbing her cheek on his damp, hairy chest, and pressing a kiss to where she knew his heart to be.

‘Seven bloody buggering hells,’ mumbled Sandor Clegane. ‘I knew you’d have a cunt like a vice, little bird. Didn’t know my cock would trigger it. Don’t you go telling any of your little friends how quick it was. You’ve no cause for complaint. I had you singing twice.’

He was still inside her, twitching and softening, his seed dribbling slowly out of her body where they were joined. Somehow she didn’t mind the mess just now, with his arms around her and his fingers gently stroking her hair. He could be as vulgar as he liked, especially after all the beautiful gallantries he had said to her moments before; she was rosy, sated, sore, and safe in her husband’s arms.

She would sing for him gladly, whenever he wished it. He loved her. She knew he did.