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Chapter 1 : Suffocating

At the best of times, guard duty to his grace - the biggest asshole in the whole of Westeros - was an unbelievably mind-numbing job. Being a man of action, standing in front of a closed door for hours on end, wearing full plate armour and being expected to look vigilant and alert while being bored out of his mind was its own form of torture for Sandor.

Still, those were the best of times. Worse were those when he had to drag in the boy king's victims like the good dog he was and stand there to witness them being tormented; with words sometimes, with bodily harm more often. He wouldn't be able to say how many tongues he had seen ripped out, how many beatings, cut-off and broken limbs and floggings.

There had been some hope that with Stannis beaten from the gates of King's Landing at the Blackwater, with the Starks all but obliterated and His Grace married to his new ally's daughter, Joff's need for cruelty would abate, but that might just have been foolish.

The worst times, however, were those when he had to get her. Every time the little fucker was especially riled up about something or other, it was for her he sent. For his personal whipping girl. For Sansa.

The king still took some care she was not permanently damaged or too visibly injured, still had not ordered anyone to defile her, and so far Sandor could always manage to stop things before anyone took his cock out of his breeches for other depravities, but that might only be a matter of time.

Mostly only Trant and Blount were ordered to beat her and with Tywin dead, the Kingslayer off gallivanting around in the Riverlands and the Imp gone gods knew where, there was no one to gainsay him.

Fortunately, so far, every time Sandor called a halt to the proceedings, Joffrey listened to him, for whatever reason. Sandor figured it was because the king still felt beholden to him for saving his worthless life during the Blackwater battle.

Today, he had to stand guard outside the chamber in which the small council was convening. Since his grandfather's death, Joff sometimes showed up there to make unreasonable demands and usually stormed out again once he was bored.

Predictably, only about a half hour after the meeting had started, the door flew open, but instead of seeing the king scowling and complaining as he usually did, Sandor was surprised to see him grin like the mad child he was. And a grin on Joffrey's face never boded well.

"Bring her to my private quarters, dog," he commanded, rubbing his hands with glee. "The Stark bitch."

Sandor nodded curtly and turned to drag his feet towards her room when Joffrey called after him.

"Tell her maids to pack the things she brought with her, nothing of which my family gave her, and have her wear a servant's clothes."

Again, Sandor nodded, a heavy feeling settling in his gut.

This didn't bode well at all.

He knocked on her door and when she opened, she looked at him with wide-eyed terror, as usual. By now he knew it wasn't fear of him that prompted this reaction, but the fact that he only came to her when he had to fetch her for the king.

How she must hate to see him, knowing what awaited her there.

As was her wont for some time now, she quickly schooled her features back to passiveness.

"His Grace sends for me?" she asked and he found himself admiring her bravery. Her voice had been almost steady.

"Yes," he said. "Ask a maid for her dress, you're to appear dressed in servant's clothes. And you have to do something about your hair."

She wore her hair dressed as always in an elaborate coiffure, but he had a feeling that today Joff wouldn't want to see her prettied up like this.

Knowing that it wouldn't do to make the king wait, Sandor started to unlace the back of her dress while hollering for a maid.

The frightened little thing scurried into the room a few moments later.

"Bring a servant' dress for Lady Sansa," he barked at her. "And pack her things, only those she brought from Winterfell, nothing of what was gifted to her here."

A startled gaze met his from the mirror they were standing in front of, a fearful question in her eyes.

"I've no idea what he intends, girl," he said quietly while pulling pins and ornaments from her hair. "I'd tell you if I had."

When his fingers unintentionally brushed her neck, she shivered a little and he took greater care not to come into direct contact with her skin. She had her features under control once more but was strung taut as a bowstring and he could sympathize. He wouldn't add to her agitation by making it seem as if he was touching her on purpose.

It was an impression he always took great care to avoid.

He never took part in her torment, but he was the one who brought her back afterwards. Often enough she had to lean on him, being too weak to walk on her own, and a time or two he had had to carry her.

His touch, to her, had to be inextricably linked with pain.

"Help me out of the dress, the maid is taking too long," she suddenly said. "I have a grey dress in the wardrobe that will serve."

He did as being asked, propriety between them being barely more than a word by now. He'd seen her in various states of undress already and none of those situations - like this one - had been remotely stirring or arousing.

The laces at the back he'd already opened and Sansa fumbled with her girdle and between them they managed in no time to get her down to her shift and into the drab grey dress she had mentioned.

The maid had meanwhile returned and busied herself with packing Sansa's belongings, while he eyed her critically.

The problem was, Lady Sansa Stark wouldn't look like a servant if her life depended on it and today he had an inkling it quite possibly might.

"You can't have your hair that way either," he grumbled. The shining auburn waves that - now free of their confines - reached down over her waist were a luxury no servant could afford.

"Turn," he ordered and ran his hand through the silky locks before quickly and haphazardly braiding them into a single thick rope down her back.

While she tied some ribbon around the end of the braid, he skimmed one hand over the ashes in the hearth and rubbed the soot between his hands. Understanding his intentions, Sansa held her face up to him and when he was done rubbing his hand over her face, she looked dirty and bedraggled enough to maybe pass for a servant if one didn't look too closely.

Joffrey laughed heartily when he saw them entering his private chambers.

"Ah, the proud Lady Sansa," he said in an oily tone, "looking like a kitchen wench."

Sansa - sensibly - said nothing.

"I have good news for you," Joffrey continued, all the while circling her like a hungry predator while she visibly gave her best to hold herself perfectly still. "Or bad ones, as it might turn out."

"What news does his grace have for me?" She asked quietly and Sandor once again had to admire the spine it took to ask that question without a waver in her voice. He'd seen grown men being shaking messes at this point.

"Your sister Arya, the one who had evaded us so sneakily, has - as you might know - married Ramsay Bolton, the son of a man whom we are indebted to for your brother's death."

Sansa nodded. "I knew that, your grace."

"Today we received a raven with the message that Lady Arya has been delivered of a healthy babe... a son. The long awaited, true-blooded heir to Winterfell."

A flicker of dread went through his stomach at those words. He knew what that meant.

"Congratulations, you're an aunt!" Joff enthused with cloyingly sweet cheerfulness.

"Tha... thank you, your grace."

She knew, too, he could tell.

"Now, the bad news," Joffrey said, taking a step closer to her until he almost touched his nose to hers.

"That means, Lady Sansa, that you have now become undeniably... utterly... and completely worthless."

He turned away from his prey again and took measured steps through the room. This was his favourite part, Sandor knew, dragging out the announcement what he intended to do.

"So what is a merciful monarch to do with you?" Joff mused idly. "No one will marry you anymore now, that's a given."

Sandor bit back a snort at that. He knew plenty of men who would give an arm to be wed to a woman like her. Claim or no claim.

"And I wouldn't advise it to anyone, seeing as you have been such a trial to my patience for all those years."

He tapped his fingers against his lips as if deep in thought.

"I have it," he said after a while. "Mother tells me the kitchens are woefully understaffed, I think you find working there... educational. And seeing as you are already dressed for it..."

Her shoulders slumped for a fraction, but Sandor knew it might be too early to be relieved. This was not the sort of punishment Joff would have made such a fuss over, degrading and demeaning though it had to be for her. There was something far worse to come yet.

"But first," he went on, thrusting his face into Sansa's once again. "I want to make sure no sentimental fool will want to marry you anyway, so I want to do away with your spotless reputation and your precious maidenhead."

She flinched. Too visibly. While she had her reactions admirably under control most of the time, Joffrey still managed to get under her skin sometimes and he pounced mercilessly on the slightest sign that she wasn't as dead inside as she seemed.

A slap cracked across her face so hard her head snapped to the side.

"Did you think," the boy screeched, "that I - a married man, no less - would sully myself on the likes of you?"

"No... no, your grace, I am sorry, your grace."

"I'll have my dog drag you to the barracks," he hissed into her face, "and strip you naked, and I will stand up on this balcony and watch as my soldiers have their way with you. Every... single... one of them."

Sandor's stomach clenched. This was worse than everything he could have imagined. His mind worked quickly through the options he had. Maybe if he appealed to Kevan Lannister - again - or to the small council, they might be able to talk sense into the boy. Maybe even Cersei wouldn't stand for this atrocity.

Then again, when had any of them ever been able to sway Joffrey in a decision he had made?

Before he knew what he was doing, he had taken the three long strides that took him to her side.

"Give her to me."

Joffrey gaped at him, his mouth hanging open in a way that made him look completely dim-witted.

"I meant, please, sire, let me have her."

The boy's eyes narrowed in displeasure.

"Why the fuck would I do that?"

A drop of sweat ran down Sandor's temple as he contemplated his answer. He had one ready, but in Joffrey's current mood, there was a good chance that answer could quickly get him acquainted with the business end of Illyn Payne's sword. But there was no help for it.

"After the Blackwater, you told me I can ask of you whatever I wanted. I couldn't come up with something back then..."

Green eyes glittered at him suspiciously and Sandor knew full well he had to offer more than that. It wouldn't do to make Joff feel as if Sansa got away unpunished.

"She'd be ruined just as thoroughly if you put it about that she's your Hound's bitch now and I can fuck her bloody just as well or even better than those limp pricks at the barracks."

Delighted malice glittered briefly in the boy's eyes, but died again. He had to do better.

"None of them can match my size," he said, gesturing into the general direction of his crotch for the boy to catch his meaning. "If you want her hurt, no one can hurt her as I can."

A thoughtful look came over Joffrey's face.

"You could have had a lordship and lands," he said slowly, "gold enough to buy every whore in King's Landing. Why her?"

Sandor shrugged carelessly.

"I like it here well enough," he lied smoothly. "And I can afford whores enough already, but the chance to plough a highborn girl's virgin cunt won't be coming to me that easily again."

As had been his aim, Joffrey cackled at that.

Beside him, he could feel her trembling.

"You're right, I guess," Joffrey said. "Who else would want you?" Then he sighed dramatically. "I've really looked forward to giving her as a treat to my soldiers," and with a look in Sansa's direction he added, "I still think I should."

Next to him, there was only stillness now, as if she had even stopped breathing. To him it felt as if she had turned to a thing of glass that could be shattered by as much as a careless touch.

He would've liked to tell her that she needn't fear, that he wouldn't let her suffer the fate Joff was envisioning. He'd slit her throat personally before he let that happen.

"Fine," Joffrey finally said with an impatient wave of his hand. "A king's word shouldn't be broken, so yes, you might as well have her."

"Tha..."

Only half a life's worth of instincts had him react as quickly as he did when next to him, Sansa sank to the ground in a dead faint. He caught her just before she hit the floor.

Joffrey sneered.

"Don't thank me yet, dog. See what a pathetic thing she is? You'll have no joy of her, I tell you. Don't come to me complaining when she bores you."

"I won't," he assured him, inclining his head while slowly backing away from him. "Thank you, your grace."

Then he turned and walked out of the chamber, the King of Westeros's gift hanging all but lifeless in his arms.