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The Gift of Mercy

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The Gift of Mercy Chapter One




It could have been a feast like any other.

Sansa’s eyes swept the hall, careful not to look too interested in anyone, or anything. The food was decadent, the guests all glittering and beautiful, the music soft and sweet – but she could not meet anyone's eyes, nor linger on any beauty for more than an instant. Any small move could draw attention to her, any sound would remind her betrothed that she was there. He always noticed where she looked, what she took interest in. If he noticed that something delighted her, he became irritated, and took pains to remove the source of her joy. If she seemed displeased, he would mock and cajole her about it, turning it into a joy of his own. So Sansa kept her expression empty, and her eyes dull. It was better if he could not read her eyes, her feelings. It was better not to be noticed at all - especially tonight.

Joffrey’s wicked cackle rang out over the hall, and Sansa held back a grimace. He was taking particular joy in tormenting his fool, Ser Dontos, tonight. There were greater entertainers than the disgraced knight in the hall – only the best for the king’s name day celebration – but Joffrey had been warned against damaging any of the expensive singers or musicians. The crown’s purse grew emptier by the day, and buying off injured and shamed mummers was as not as painless as it had once been. But cruelty was Joffrey’s favourite game, and he would not go with it on his special day, so once he grew tired of courtly jigs and pretty ditties, Ser Dontos had been dragged out before the high table. Tonight, it served the King’s pleasure to pelt the tired old man with table scraps while he attempted to guzzle wine while standing on his head. The fool was as agile as he was fit, of course, and the court howled at the dripping, tumbling figure before them. It pained Sansa to see him suffer so, but tonight, she needed to keep Joffrey’s attention as far from her as possible, and so she prayed the gods’ forgiveness for her silence.

Sansa took another heavy pull of wine from her cup. She had chosen a stronger red than usual, and between her resolute silence and the boisterous festivities, no one seemed to notice she was on her fourth cup. The drink was so strong it made her tongue curl and her throat itch to cough, but she swallowed it down noiselessly, again, and again. She had to be strong, tonight. Harder things were coming than sour wine, and she needed the seed of courage it would give her.

When she turned to beckon the wine server a fifth time, however, a large hand shot out to still the incomIng decanter – it was the Hound. He shook his head discreetly, but firmly, at the shaken server, who quickly stepped back away from the table. The Hound’s grey eyes met hers, then, before she could look away. They were unreadable, his features as schooled as she meant hers to be, but she knew he was suspicious of her, and she quickly turned back to look down at her plate.

He'd noticed. Of course he'd noticed. She'd been trying so hard not to look interested in anything, she'd failed to realize he'd been watching her. He was always catching her off guard like that, even when she was alone. It seemed she had only to think a treacherous thought, however small, and there he appeared, blocking her way, stopping her from acting on it. Like the day on the battlements. She spent all her days hiding, now, from everyone – but somehow, it felt like there was nothing she could hide from him. It frightened her, the way he seemed to know what she thought even before she herself did. But it also baffled her, because he never told. As loyal as the Hound was to his masters, he had never revealed to them the secrets she was sure he knew about her. The Hound had protected her many times, of course, as he had on the day of the bread riot. But that was different. It was his job to protect her physically, to save her for the King. Whereas the rest...She couldn't understand it. But somehow, after all this time, she knew she could count on it. She had to.

And four cups of wine would have to be enough.

Still feeling the Hound’s eyes on her, Sansa gently pushed her food around her plate, trying to look inconspicuous. This next part was tricky. Excusing oneself from the high table on the Kings name day was risky, and could not be done without drawing attention, and probably the King’s ire. She had to be convincing, without making him too angry. Sansa had been careful not to eat very much, and had felt the wine warming her belly for some time now. She could feel heat flushing to her cheeks, just as shed hoped it would. It piqued her nerves to know the Hound was watching her now, but there was nothing to be done about it, and as the servants came to clear away the course, she steeled her increasingly giddy mind for the task at hand. Be brave, she thought. Brave like a lady in a song.

Sansa reached for her wine goblet, as though to finish the last sip, and clumsily knocked it over, splashing the poor table servant with dark red stains. Joffrey, still enchanted with his half-drowned fool, did not turn his head, but the Queen, beside him, shot her a withering look.

“Oh, I'm so sorry, I-“ she reached for her napkin, letting her hand shake visibly as she tried to assist the man she had spilled her wine on, and felt more eyes on her. The man muttered courtesies and tried desperately to detach himself from her hands, but she followed him, swaying slightly as she leaned over the table, dabbing at his vest, as the Queen clucked her tongue, and Joffrey finally turned to see what the commotion was about.

“Sansa, what have you-“

“I'm so sorry, I just-“ suddenly, she heaved forward, bringing a hand over her mouth to complete the effect. “I…oh, I don't feel well…” she let her heavy tongue slur her words, just a little, and grabbed the edge of the table as if to steady herself. Those within earshot had all stopped talking and laughing to look at her, some with thinly-veiled disgust.

“She's drunk!” Joffrey crowed suddenly, his face lighting up. “Mother, do you see?”

His delight was tangible, and Sansa did not have to work to make her face go pale as he laughed. She had prepared for anger, or disgust, but not joy. She held a hand to her belly, trying to settle a rising panic, as nearby lords and ladies slowly joined the King in his laughter. A strong hand grabbed at her shoulder as she swayed again, perhaps not entirely on purpose, and she felt bile climbing in the back of her throat. He's amused by it. He won't let me leave, now, he thinks it's funny.

The Queen leaned close to his ear, then, and Sansa held her breath, praying for mercy. Perhaps someone heard her, for the King’s smile fell, and he petulantly wrenched himself away and muttered an “oh, all right” beneath his breath.

Dog,” he snapped. “My betrothed has made a fool of herself. Take her back to her chambers before she embarrasses me further.”

Gods be good. The Hound wrapped a heavy arm around her shoulders and swung her away from the table, and Sansa had to stifle a scoff of disbelief as he led her off the dais. She had done it. She was free. Behind her, the Imp said something droll that set the whole room to laughing again, but between the fog of the wine and the euphoria of her relief, she could not hear it.

She was in a daze as the Hound guided her through the halls, empty of anyone but themselves because of the feast. Since that awful day in the throne room when Joffrey had had her stripped before the court, the Queen and Lord Tyrion had taken a great deal of care to rein in Joffrey’s appetites for cruelty towards his bride-to-be – at least in front of the court – but she had scarcely dreamed she would get away so easily. She would pay for his frustration later, of course, but she was prepared for that. Hopefully Joffrey would count it as a small slight, and no one else would need to be punished. She had heard whispering from the maids about the women who were brought to his room on the nights when his fury could not be contained, and Sansa was whisked away from him before his bloodlust could be slaked on her. Mercifully, she had never seen the results of these rumours herself, but the thought made her heart twist in her chest. I can't think about that now, though. Her first battle had been won, but Sansa’s night was far from over.

She was shaken from her reverie as the Hound stopped short before her chamber door. He released her for a moment to unlatch it, and Sansa felt the hall spin around her. Perhaps it was too much wine after all, she thought, reaching for his arm again to steady herself. But then, she had never tried to make herself intoxicated before. Sansa only ever drank sweet, watered-down wines with her supper. It is well he stopped me before my fifth cup. Once again, the Hound had seen her intentions, and stopped her before she'd gone too far.

He pulled Sansa through the door, and latched it behind them. He helped settle her carefully into a chair beside the fire, gentle as if she were a new born babe. She was so light-headed, the thought almost made her giggle; but when she looked up she saw that his arms were crossed, and his look was stormy.

“What are you playing at?”

His hard, raspy tone was sobering. She swallowed, and tried to look contrite.

“I only wanted to be away.” It was not quite a lie.

“That's no reason to get piss-drunk at the high table, little bird. What was all that wine for? Thinking of a more permanent sort of escape, are you?” He sneered, teeth flashing in the low light. “There are faster ways to leave this world, girl.”

The firelight flickered over the ruined side of his face, deepening the shadows there, making him look fierce and angry. He was not shouting, but Sansa felt cowed by his words all the same. She clutched the arm of her chair, wishing she could feel as solid as the oak beneath her.

“I needed it to look sick,” she finally said. It was no use lying to his face. He always saw through her lies. We're all liars here, and every one better than you. The Hound looked at her with hard eyes, unmoved.

“A high price to pay for some time alone.” He narrowed his eyes, leaning towards her slightly. “Why do you need it so badly?”

He was clever. No one else ever seemed to notice, but the Hound was sharper than most, and it made him unsettlingly perceptive. She wondered if he already knew what she was after. The thought made her nervous, but it was too late to reconsider. There will not be another chance. Sansa took a deep breath.

“I wanted to talk to you,” she said, rising carefully from the chair. She tried to imagine her legs were rooted to the floor, calm and steady, strong and tall. Though her head still spun a little, Sansa made herself look up and meet his eyes. Stoic though the Hound may be, she could tell he was taken aback at her words. So this was not the answer he expected, after all.

He was still and silent for a long moment, as only the Hound could be, appraising her with his eyes. Could he tell what she was thinking now? Did he know what she was about to ask? The arms crossed over his chest seem barely to move with his breath, and for a moment she envied his unwavering reserve. And then the rumble of his voice came again.


Sansa’s stomach flipped, in spite of herself. Do it. She took a step toward him, though the floor seemed to tilt beneath her.

“I wanted…to ask you for a favour.” Another step forward. She was so close, now, surely he could hear her heart crashing against her chest? Do it. Another step. There will be no other chance.

The Hound stood motionless, not one twitch of a muscle revealing his state of mind. She was a hand’s breadth away, could smell the touch of wine on his breath. Still, he was frozen. Do it now!

Biting her lip, Sansa lifted a hand to cup his cheek, and, when he did not flinch away from her, raised herself up on her tip-toes to place a kiss on his hard lips.

There was an instant, with her breath caught in her throat, that Sansa felt his lips begin to soften against hers, and she almost smiled. But then he stiffened, and it was over.

His big hands suddenly gripped her shoulders so hard it hurt, and he wrenched her off of him, shoving Sansa away with such force that she stumbled and fell backwards onto the hard floor. Tears sprang up to her eyes from the shame, but through the blur she could see something like confusion creasing the Hound’s ruined face.

Sansa hastened to her feet, though her vision swam, and he took a step back from her, his arms held out before him as though warding off some wild creature. Her mind was racing now, and her throat felt tight as she scrambled for something to say. I can't let him leave. A second of silence hung between them, agonizing, before she could speak.

“Please, I-“

Please?” He finally rasped at her. A cloud seemed to pass over his face, darkening, twisting it into a sneer. “Oh, I see. The pretty little bird has finally broken. Can't take your gilded cage anymore, eh? Thought you'd trade a few kisses to an ugly old hound for your freedom?” In a flash, the uncertainty was gone, and he was cloaked in the Hound’s callous aura once again. The shadows deepened around his eyes, and he barked an ugly laugh.

“You don’t know what you're playing with, girl. Teasing a wicked old dog like that.” He angled his face at her, burned side first. “Don't you know what dogs do to wolves?” He moved even closer, backing her towards the wall. He'd found his anger again, and it rolled off of him in waves, like heat.

“Come on then, girl. Show me what you've got!”

Months ago, his display would have made her cower. The face he showed her now was a terror, awful to behold. But she'd seen it before. He'd often tried to scare her like this, to paint himself a monster. But by now, Sansa knew the worst monsters did not wear their ugliness on the outside, for all to see. The deepest evil she'd yet seen lay behind shining eyes and golden curls. What had she to fear from a marked, twisted face? Besides, she thought. The scars aren't the worst part.

Sansa lifted her chin and looked him in the eye, calling whatever fierceness she could to meet his gaze.

“I don't want you to help me escape.”

He paused a moment, then scoffed.

“What do you want, then?” He rasped. “What is it the pretty little bird wants to trade her sweet little kisses for?”

Sansa set her jaw. She had hoped it would be simple. That she wouldn't have to explain herself. The jeer on his face spoke otherwise. She'd been raised to believe a kiss between a man and a woman meant something, something powerful. Even dangerous. But it had been foolish to think the man before her would simply fall to its promise. The Hound was not like other men. He was wiser, and stronger than that.

But that was why she chose him, wasn't it?

“Joffrey has come of age.” She had to work not to clench her teeth. An unladylike habit, Septa Mordane had told her.

“Aye. That's what a nameday’s for,” he sneered. His breath fell hot on her face. She wondered if he could smell the wine on hers.

“In one month’s time, the Queen will have us married. There's nothing I can do to change that.”

“Nor I,” he grunted. “Get to the point, girl.”

“You stopped me from taking my revenge, once,” she said, in a steadier voice than she had thought possible. He frowned at her, creasing his brow in a way that somehow made his scars even more appalling.

“What, the day on the battlements?”

Sansa nodded. She thought of her rage, that day. Her certainty. How simple it all had been.

He gave a dry chuckle in response. “I saved your life, girl.”

“You did,” she replied. “And now I have to live it. With him.”

The Hound had no answer for that. Sansa stood up straighter, unflinching, her confidence gaining.

“They've taken everything form me. They have everything. And a month from now, Joffrey will have me,” she spat, the words like venom in her mouth. She had not felt so fierce in months, in ages. It felt good to stoke the fire in her belly again.

“I want him to find on our wedding night that there is one thing he can't have.”

There it was. The whole, ugly truth of it. The Hound raised his head slowly as the understanding came over him. Sansa felt her own eyes shining with defiance, as they had not been since the Lannisters had put her father’s head on a pike. There may be wolfs blood in me yet.

The Hound shook his head at her, disbelief on his face. When he spoke, his voice lost the frightening edge he'd laid on it before.

“That's high treason, little bird. They'll beat you half to death. Kill you, may be.”

“It doesn't matter,” she answered immediately. “I don't care.” His eyes searched her face, looking for a lie. She held his gaze without falter. There was a beat, and then he scowled.

“Find you some green kitchen boy, then. Or chase down your sweet knight of the flowers. I'll have no part in it. I’m the King’s dog, remember?” He growled, turning away.

“No, it has to be you,” she implored, catching at his arm. It has to. She had not near the strength to hold him, but he stopped all the same. “Anyone else would be too afraid of the king, or else…”

“Or else what?”

She pleaded at him with her eyes, don't make me say it. But if she didn't answer him, he would leave.

“…or else they'll hurt me.” She knew saying it made her sound like a child, but it was true. The reason she wanted him, and no one else.

“You think I won't hurt you?” He rasped, incredulous. Sansa thought of the battlements again, how he'd wiped her bloody lip with his own cloth. She thought of the day of the bread riots, when he came out of the crowd, alone, to save her from the mob. She thought of how he was never the one to beat her, how he covered her with his own cloak when Joffrey had her stripped before the court. The Hound was harsh and crude, and many other things. But he was not a monster. Not like the rest.


He snorted at her.

“Did your bloody Septa not teach you what happens in a marriage bed?” He spat cruelly.

“I know there is pain, but - you're not like them. You don't want to hurt me. Not like Ser Meryn, and the others.” She shuddered at the thought. “Not like Joffrey.”

He shifted his weight, and broke her gaze, scoffing.

“I'd hurt you well enough.” His voice was quieter now.

“Please,” she said again, laying her hand on his upper arm. “You know it would be worse, with him.”

For a second, he looked pained, but he turned his head away, his voice falling to a murmur.

“You don't know what you're asking.”

“All I'm asking,” she said, trying to mask her desperation, “is mercy.”

The Hound threw his head back and closed his eyes. There was a beat. Then two. Sansa steeled her resolve and reached for his cheek again.

When she touched him, a growl started in his throat, and he looked down at her with bright, wild eyes. She made as if to kiss him again, but he ducked away from her lips, pushing her against the wall and burying his face in her neck. Yes.

He inhaled deeply, and with his body pressed against hers, she felt the breath deep in his chest. His lips were on her then, hot and wet, tickling and massaging the skin of her neck and shoulder. His massive hands slid down her arms to stop at her waist, squeezing her there roughly, urgently. It all happened so quickly, his rough hands on her body, his hot mouth working up to her jaw and down across her collar bone. Heat pooled in her belly in a way she had not felt before, and her breath came hard and fast, as did his. His skin was rough on hers everywhere he touched, his calloused hands, his scars, his beard – he was by no means gentle, but this was what she wanted. Defiance. Rebellion. Taking control, for once. She tingled all over, and a sound like a moan escaped her lips. She thought she heard him growl in response, and somehow the sound of it sent a thrill through her body.

Suddenly his mouth left her skin, and the Hound’s great hands grabbed her by the hips and pushed her up the wall so her eyes were level with his, the pressure of his body holding her off the ground. He wore only leather and maille tonight, but still, his armour pressed sharply into her, and she gasped at the harshness. His hands, too, gripped her hips too hard, and the pressure of him made it difficult to breathe.

Look at me,” he snarled at her. He was so close their noses almost touched, and little firelight could reach his face. Even in the dark, she could read the fury on his face.

“Is this what you want?”

She could feel the words rumble out of his chest, and she knew he meant more than his scars. He ground his body into hers, and she felt the hardness against her leg. She knew he was trying to scare her with his anger, with his vulgarity. But her mind was made up, and she would not back down.


He hesitated, still, so she leaned forward and kissed him again. It was different, this time. His lips were rough, as before, and she could feel where the scars began on them. But this time, he kissed her back. It was nothing like the soft, sweet kisses she'd seen before. It was hard, and hot, and deep, and wiped every thought from her mind. The Hound grabbed her hair, crushing his lips harder and harder against hers, the back of her head rubbing painfully against the cold stone behind her. She felt his tongue, and all the breath went out of her as though he'd taken it all for himself. Finally, she broke away from him, gasping for air, and he buried his face in the crook of her neck again, still holding her up against the wall, panting. A keening sound escaped his throat, and he turned to whisper in her ear.

“I'm not your bloody Florian, little bird. I won't be gentle.” His tone was raw. But she was sure. Sansa reached up and stroked a hand through his hair, and whispered back.

“You don't have to be.”

She felt his groan against her throat, and then suddenly he heaved her away from the stone, releasing the ache in her back. He carried her across to the bed, and dropped her onto the mattress. He towered over her, and she thought he looked like a man starved as he watched her in the firelight. She couldn't help but shiver under such a gaze. Then he reached for a clasp at his shoulder, and started removing his armour. As the heavy maille fell to the floor, Sansa realized she had never once seen him without it. Even in his tunic and breeches, though, the Hound was still the biggest man she had ever seen. He removed his tunic, too, but stopped there, looking at her expectantly. She could see the bulge in his breeches, and only vaguely knew what it meant. Swallowing hard, she brought her hands to the laces at the front of her dress, and pulled the heavy silks aside to reveal the thin shift underneath. She met his eyes, but found them hazy, and unreadable. Unsure, she reached for the hem of her shift, too, but he moved forward, forcing her down into the sheets as he crawled over her.

His hair fell over her face as he looked at her, a curtain she could not see beyond. Their clothes prevented much contact, but did not stop the heat that radiated between them, and she fairly gasped at the intimacy. Every part of her felt hot and tingly, and she could not seem to catch her breath. One of his hands found her waist again, and slid down the outside of her leg. The movement caused his groin to brush her upper thigh, and she could not help jumping slightly. He growled, and bent to kiss her neck again, hard, like he meant to devour her.

She felt him move his hand up along her rib cage, stopping to rub his thumb back and forth, just below her breast. As he kissed her more fervently, moving down across her collarbone, his chest pressed and moved against hers, and she felt the twinge of her nipples hardening. The Hound had been right, so far – nothing about his onslaught had been gentle. But neither were his attentions altogether unpleasant, and she felt other twinges, lower down, as him thumb brushed up and across her nipple. She was flush with warmth as he began to move his lips down her body, kissing the space between her breasts, then down her belly, all through her shift. Then, he moved his hand from her breast, down along her side, and paused at the top of her thigh. He pushed her leg aside, leaving the join of her legs exposed, and she braced herself for what would come next.

She gasped when, against all her expectations, he placed his hand on her woman’s place, sending a jolt straight to her core. Gently, more gently than she could have hoped, he pressed the heel of his hand into her, and massaged her in slow circles through the fabric of her shift and small clothes. Sansa’s eyes were open, looking down, but she saw only the top the Hound’s head as he moved his lips back up her body again. Something sweet and good was happening, though she could not have described it. A moan escaped her lips, and as his hot mouth reached the top of her breasts at the neckline of her shift, she thought she could feel him smile against her skin. The moments that followed were strange and agonizing, but the sounds she made were not of displeasure, and she did not tell him to stop. The flesh beneath his hand began to feel swollen and wet. A kind of pressure seemed to be building up inside her, and it became harder to breathe, and then suddenly her whole body tensed, and she was awash in pleasure as the tension left her body with a breathy sigh.

“What was that?” She murmured a moment later, feeling foggy and calm. She felt a rumble against her skin that might have been a chuckle, be he made no effort to meet her eyes.

“The part the Septas don't tell you about,” he muttered.

“Thank you,” she blurted, feeling ridiculous even as it came out. He pulled away from her, resting on his knees at the bottom of the bed, his face in shadows.

“Don't thank me, girl,” he rasped, serious again. “We're not done yet.” She could not see his eyes in the dark, but his hulking shape was unmistakable, and she felt he was challenging her again. His shirt had come all out of the waistband of his breeches, and his hair was mussed and messy. The ties at the neck of his shirt had come loose, and she could just make out the thick, dark hair that grew on his chest. The firelight betrayed a sheen of sweat on his skin, and his breath was ragged. She had never seen a man so wild. Sansa knew she should be afraid, and scandalized, and a hundred other things, but her certainty left her calm and sure. If anything lurked beneath, she might have called it excitement. She realized there was a dull ache inside her, and knew there could be no other way to soothe it. She licked her lips and tried to keep her voice even.

“Go on, then.”

The Hound did not have to be told twice. His hands moved to his breeches and she heard the sound of laces pulling, and he leaned over her again. He reached out and played at the hem of her shift, now ridden halfway up her thighs, and when she did not protest, pulled it up to reveal her small clothes. Slowly, he undid the laces, and looked up at her, waiting. She almost smiled at the gesture. Then, finally, he pulled them away, and she was bare to him. The cold air made her shudder, and she fought the strong desire to pull her legs back together. He stared at her, and she could not help feeling embarrassed, thankful that her reddening cheeks would be difficult to see in the dark. Slowly, he ran his hands up her calves, hooking them under her knees to pull her toward him. He paused for a moment, then met her eyes one more time.

Go on,” she hissed, frustrated now, the ache inside her growing sharper. He let out a heavy breath, then pulled her hips closer to him. He bent over her, and watched her face as he reached between them to position himself. She felt something smooth and soft probing at her, parting her curls, touching her most sensitive place. She bit her lip as she felt it move through her slickness to press against her opening. Then the push came, sharp and stinging, and his hand clapped over her mouth to muffle the cry she could not hold in. He didn't move at first, and the sting faded somewhat, only to reignite when he withdrew. She felt her body was taught as a bow string, but so was he, hovering over her. His brow was drawn, and she could see him struggling to stay still. It hurt, of course it did, but she hadn't come all this way for nothing, so she locked eyes with him and nodded. He pushed at her entrance again, and Sansa turned her face away to try to hide the tears welling at the corners of her eyes.

He thrust into her slowly, grunting. The strength of him moved her bodily along the bed, but still she knew he was holding back. As prepared as her mind has been, Sansa’s body objected greatly to the intrusion. She was relieved to find that each thrust brought less and less discomfort, and before long, it became rather bearable. There was another feeling, too, one that was hard to describe. It was almost like...satisfaction. Like an itch being scratched.

Just as she thought it might not be so bad, the thrusting stopped, and the Hound pulled out of her. He groaned, and she felt a wetness creep over the sheets beneath them as he collapsed to the mattress beside her.

They lay there in the dark without touching, each catching their breath. There was an ache between her legs, and Sansa was conscious of each of her muscled as they uncurled, and the tension slowly left her body. She began to feel cold, and pulled her shift back down around her. She wondered where her small clothes had got to.

Suddenly, the Hound rolled up and out of the bed in one motion, then turned to briskly tug the sheet out from under her. His harsh voice broke the silence.

"Clean yourself with this, then burn it."

She did as she was bid while he put himself to rights and replaced his armour. He stood still for a minute when he finished, facing away from her.

“I have to get back,” he muttered, then stalked out of the room without looking at her, shutting the door with a bang.

Sansa still clutched the sheet in her hands, dismayed at his brusque departure. She hoped she had not made him too angry. But then, what did it matter now?

Sansa hopped out of bed and hurried to the fire. Before disposing of it, she unfurled the sheet in the light. Three small smears of blood were visible in the middle. She could easily cover it with the palm of her hand. I thought there would be more. She thought of other injuries that had hurt as much, and knew she had drawn more blood than this before. But it didn't matter. It was done. She balled up the sheet and tossed it into the flames. Then she found her small clothes on the floor beside the bed, and burned them, too, just to be safe. She fumbled around in her clothes chest for a fresh pair to don before crawling back into the bed. The blanket smelled of him. She hoped the maids wouldn't notice, but at the same time, Sansa found herself rather unconcerned about it.

She had succeeded. She had planned, and bided her time, and taken a great risk – and she had won. She curled her legs up, around a dull sort of pain that she began to think of as a badge of honour. And yet there were the echoes of her pleasure, there, too. She wondered again what the Hound had done to make her feel so…so strange. I should think of a way to thank him, she thought lazily. He has given me a gift.

Sansa closed her eyes and gathered the blankets around her. Everything would be different now. In some small way, she had won a measure of freedom this night. They all thought she was such a frail, stupid little thing, that they controlled her every move - but they were wrong. A part of her was still her own. They could not have everything.

As Sansa drifted off to sleep, she could not keep a victorious grin from creeping across her face.