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Vertigo

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All it would take was a shove, she told herself. He was standing right there, right there, smirking at her with those fat wormlips. You could do it, she told herself. You could. Do it right now. It wouldn't even matter if she went over with him. It wouldn't matter at all...

*

Sansa felt a terrible lightness as she stepped along the walk towards Joffrey. One, two, three quick steps and she had her hands upon his chest before he even knew what she was doing. She felt something brush her shoulder but her momentum carried her beyond it, whatever it was – carried her into Joffrey, carried them both to the edge.

They teetered there, a moment that stretched taut in which Joffrey's eyes seemed to slowly widen in understanding come too late, before time snapped back with a shock and they fell.

Except Sansa didn't fall. She felt the moment her balance went beyond the point of righting. She saw Joffrey fall away from her, mouth open in a silent scream of horror. She heard her own breath coming raw and gasping. And she felt the hands like iron claws around her upper arms, hauling her away from the abyss.

"What have you done, girl?" Sandor Clegane growled. Sansa stared up at him uncomprehendingly, too bewildered to remember she was frightened of his face. She hadn't fallen. But I meant to die. The Hound did not oblige, pushing her behind him at the sound of steel unsheathing.

"No," she tried to tell him, "it wasn't meant to be this way." But her voice was lost in what followed.

Afterwards, with the scent of blood and horse and sweat in her nostrils, she could hardly remember how she came to be riding with her arms wrapped tight around the chest of Sandor Clegane. He had removed his cloak to wrap around her shoulders, and with night draping its heavy purples across the sky, she was almost grateful.

She dared not speak – indeed, did not care to – until he drew their mount from the road to make camp for the night.

"What have you done, girl?" he said once more, glowering at her from across the fire he had made, his expression disorientated and angry.

Sansa stared at the ground. "I did not mean for you to save me," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"Aye? Just thought I'd let you fall, did you?"

"You are Joffrey's dog."

The Hound stared at her, a hard look, seemingly interminable, before breaking into a bark of laughter. "Was, little traitor," he said. "Little Kingslayer."

Sansa recoiled at the name. To think she could have anything in common with a Lannister... and yet, she had killed the king. She had not quite thought of it in those terms. She hugged herself, though it brought little comfort.

"Where are you taking me?" she asked.

The Hound got up and walked around the fire. She was distantly surprised when he sat beside her, though the way he held her chin too hard and forced her eyes to his face was strangely familiar.

He leaned close. "Do you care?" he asked.

Sansa blinked slowly, thinking it over. "No," she said.

His expression soured, hardening into a scowl and the next thing she knew the cold pricking of metal was at her neck.

"Maybe I should kill you now, then," he rasped. "Might be I can buy myself back into Cersei's favour with your bloodless corpse."

That would not be very gallant, Sansa thought, ridiculously – the Hound cared nothing for gallantry.

Yet it was him she had to thank for her rescue. She thought she remembered a man in a gold cloak cut near in half. My ungallant non-knight, Sansa thought, a laugh bubbling up her throat. She could feel a drop of warm blood meandering down her neck.

She tilted her head to the side, baring her throat to him.

With a growl of fury the Hound pushed her away from him so hard she nearly toppled over. But later he knelt before her and dabbed at the small wound he had made in her skin with a delicacy surprising in such a big man. It was only with his strong hand on her shoulder that she realised she was shaking, tremors so fine they ran together. It was only with his warm hand on her shoulder that she realised how cold she was.

"You don't want to die, girl," he said, his voice as gentle as it ever got, harsh and rasping as it was. He sounded sure enough that Sansa thought she might even believe him. She thought of her mother, waiting for her. Of her brother Robb marching south to destroy the Lannister army.

“Will you take me home?” she asked, looking up at him tentatively.

His face was always hard lines, brutal scars, angry eyes, and yet now, for once, she thought she could read his expression. He looked relieved. How queer, Sansa thought.

When he said, “Yes,” she wept.

He did not comfort her – she would hardly have expected him to. Instead he stayed where he was, kneeling by her side, and watched her intently until she had done.

“I thank you, ser,” she said when she had dried her eyes, forgetting for a moment his distaste for that title. “My brother will reward you richly for your valour, I am certain.”

“Fuck your valour,” said the Hound, “and fuck your sers, too.” He rose stiffly and returned to the other side of the fire. Sansa stared after him, eyes wide from the coarseness of his words, empty from his sudden absence. She heard a soft pop and the sloshing of wine in a skin, and then he said, “Sing for me, little bird.”

As she opened her mouth and lifted a song into the cool night air, Sansa looked across the fire at the most unexpected of companions and felt a terrible lightness.