Feb. 27th, 2013

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Sansa

All of a sudden Sansa heard steps from outside approaching the kitchen door. She jerked, knowing the picture they presented would look compromising at the least, alarming at the worst. Either her reputation or Sandor’s would be besmirched; hers for allowing him to hold her, his for forcing her, whichever way the scene was interpreted.

She jumped to her feet, taking Sandor’s arm and dragging him to follow her as she dove into a corridor leading to a door opening to the kennels. Sandor followed, slowly and unsteadily.

The passageway was narrow but deep enough for them to hide completely. Sansa pushed Sandor against the wall and leaned her back against him, shushing him to be quiet. Despite his condition he seemed to understand her intention and stayed still, swaying slightly on his feet.

She heard the door opening and light footsteps entering the room. “Anyone here? If it’s you, Rondar, sneaking in again to steal beer, I swear this will be the last time as I shall spank your bottom so black and blue you won’t sit for a whole moon!”

Sansa recognised the voice as belonging to one of the older maids, a nice but gossipy woman who had arrived at Winterfell with the Boltons. She cringed thinking about the consequences of her catching them – there would be no possibility of it staying a secret.

Suddenly she became aware of big hands curling around her waist, having slithered under her cloak from the wide splits meant for her arms. They started to move cautiously, sliding against her sides, her belly, one hand hitching higher just below her breast, almost touching it. They moved slowly and tenderly, sometimes just the fingertips touching her, sometimes the whole palm and fingers splaying against her body.

Although her nightshift was made of sturdy linen, she could feel the warmth of those touches radiating to her skin through the fabric. Sansa’s breathing hitched and she closed her eyes. She couldn’t move nor tell him to stop, so she stayed still, absorbing the sensations the caresses sparked in her. She felt hot and stirred, and as Sandor stroked her hips and languidly moved his hands lower, on top of her thighs, she sensed jolts of heat radiating into her core. She could hear his breathing becoming faster against the top of her head. Instinctively she pressed herself even closer to him so that her whole back was flush against his body.

She felt his hardened manhood against the small of her back, bringing to her mind memories of the nights spent under the stars. He had tried to hide his arousal from Sansa but she had noticed it, and later learned to recognise the signs from the way he tensed, breathed deeply and shifted away from her. She had lain awake, unsure if she should be offended or insulted, in the end being neither. The notion of her sheer presence being enough to cause such a reaction in him had been bewildering – but also oddly exciting.

Sansa hardly heard the woman moving around in the kitchen, mumbling to herself about careless idiots who left flames unattended. Apparently seeing the flasks on the floor, she tut-tutted and scooped them up, dropping them to the other side of the room. She extinguished the fire, straightened the chairs and finally left, still muttering about how she would find out who had been drinking in the kitchen and make sure they suffered for it. The door closed behind her with a loud bang.

The corridor was now almost dark bar the silvery light of the full moon peering through the window. Sansa was relieved as the shadows hid the colour of her cheeks, which she knew to be bright red. She removed herself from Sandor’s grip and turned around to face him. She could hardly see his form, but when he started to slide down against the wall, she was alarmed. What is he doing?! He fell first into a seated position, then onto his side, finally lying on the floor. She knelt down next to him, shaking him earnestly.

“Sandor, what is it? Can’t you get up?” She shook him for a few moments longer, and as his head only lolled in her grip, she realised he had simply passed out. Frustrated, she tried to rouse him and get him to his room, but to no avail. After a while she had to give up.

As she was sitting there she realised that it was the first time she’d been in Sandor’s presence without him being alert and observing her. Even on their nights on the road he had always been a light sleeper, woken by her lightest movement.

Sansa looked at him as he laid there, eyes closed, breathing steadily. She brushed a dark strand of hair away from his brow and contemplated his face, for once being able to stare at it as long as she wanted without him looking back. She couldn’t see his eyes, but she examined his gaunt features and sharp cheekbones. He looked surprisingly peaceful in his wine-fuelled sleep, his forehead smooth and expression relaxed. She traced her finger along his cheek to his hooked nose and down to his jaw. She traced the scars on his side, her fingers sliding over the rough scar tissue. His ear was just a hole where his earlobe had burned off, but that didn’t repel her in the least. She had a good look at him and all she saw was a man who had suffered.

There wasn’t much she could do to ease his situation, him being too heavy for her to move. She couldn’t call for help, obviously, so in the end she only shifted him to a slightly better position, covered him with his cloak, which she found in the kitchen, and left him sleeping on the floor. Her visit to the Maester’s Turret forgotten, she retraced her steps back to her rooms.

Sleep didn’t come to her for a long time, but it was not the ghosts of the past which kept her awake. It was the ghost of his touch on her body, and the unsettling thoughts it provoked in her.

----------

The next day Sansa was feeling nervous about seeing Sandor again. For no particular reason her steps led to the tiltyard where she knew him to be training. On her way she practiced her expressions and what she would say. She would be gracious, but stern. Sandor had behaved inappropriately and she would tell him so. She wondered if he would be sorry, or still angry. Would he meet her boldly or would he be embarrassed? Would the previous night’s encounter change things between them?

As soon as Sandor saw her approaching, he interrupted his bout with a trainee guard and walked towards her with steady strides. His heavy drinking hadn’t left any visible signs on his appearance and he looked as calm as always. Sansa blushed as he greeted her with a gesture halfway between a nod and a bow.

“Lady Sansa.” He stopped then, seemingly not knowing how to continue. Sweat was trickling down his brow, leaving a clear trail amongst the dust and dirt in its wake. Sansa could hardly imagine she had been caressing that face last night while it had been peaceful and tranquil, so hard and unyielding as it appeared now.

Sansa rushed to fill the awkward silence. “I trust you are well recovered this morning.”

“I have not drunk that much for a bloody long time. It is a disgrace how badly I took the wine,” Sandor muttered. He appeared uncomfortable and continued, “I do recall I might have met you last night. If I said anything untoward, I apologise. Just ignore it as drunkard’s ramblings.”

“Already forgotten. You didn’t say anything untoward, only told some truths as is your habit. Yet I hope you also heard what I said to you, about the only family I have left.” As she looked into his eyes, she saw only incomprehension.

“Family? You have no kin left here,” Sandor growled, not unkindly.

Sansa stared at him blankly. Surely he realised she was referring to him and Jaime - her pack. As Sandor met her gaze unwavering, realisation hit her. He doesn’t remember! Sandor had no recollection of the previous night; of what she had said to him, of how he had held her and how his hands had explored her body… She was strangely upset, although her common sense told that was for the best. There would be no need for uneasiness between them and they could behave as if last night never happened.

She exchanged a few more words with him and turned to return to her duties. As she walked away from him, her shoulders sagged under the weight of odd disappointment. Sandor may have erased last night from his mind, but she knew she could not.

Jaime

One by one the Northern lords started to arrive; the Umbers, the Reeds, the Hornwoods, the Lockes, the Mormonts, the Ryswells, the Manderlys – even the Karstarks. Jaime and Sandor greeted them at Sansa’s side as she wanted all her bannermen to see how much she valued her new companions. The lords and their attendants observed them warily, confused about how to reconcile the hated Lannister men with their Lady Stark. Jaime didn’t enjoy the ordeal, but knew it to be necessary and hence was on his best behaviour.

Sansa welcomed the lords graciously, receiving their expressions of joy and declarations of loyalty. Greatjon Umber almost cried as he engulfed Sansa in his powerful embrace, swearing he would not fail the last Stark. Losing herself in his mighty grip, Sansa tried to assure the old man that he could not be held responsible for the fate of the Young Wolf, and he finally let her go. Jaime observed the scene, wondering if the Lannister bannermen had ever shown such devotion to his lord father or his family. Even as he considered it, he knew the answer – never. The Lannisters were feared and respected, but not loved.

The evening before the big gathering Sansa invited Jaime and Sandor to her solar. Jaime observed her as they entered, noticing she had lost the gaunt appearance from weeks on the road and blossomed into a full-bodied, beautiful woman. Thanks to the gods that there was enough food in Winterfell. The delay in the onset of winter had allowed new harvests, and newly established animal pens and well-organised hunting parties ensured that nobody went hungry.

Jaime and Sansa had not discussed the night in Greywater Watch. Sometimes Jaime wondered if it had happened at all. Yet it had left him with memories he would have rather forgotten, shadows of sensations he had not felt for a long time, not since Cersei… He forced his mind away from such dangerous paths. Besides, since Sandor’s return, he had occupied Jaime’s thoughts once again.

“Sandor, what do you think about the meeting on the morrow?” Sansa asked, moving across the room to sit next to him.
Sandor turned to her, his face thoughtful. “The lords certainly have welcomed you back with open arms. The lot of them are like hungry puppies running back to their mother’s teats.”

Jaime saw Sansa smiling mischievously. “By that you mean to refer to me as a bitch, do you?” Jaime chuckled and the burned corner of Sandor’s mouth twisted.

“Wouldn’t dream of it. Only stating that no matter what you plan to propose to them, they’ll be likely to accept. So you’d better think carefully about what it’ll be,” Sandor grunted.

“Latest news from the South bears well for the North. Small pockets of resistance to the Targaryens still exist. Nothing they couldn’t manage with their dragons, but enough to keep them unsettled,” Jaime volunteered. He had visited the rookery most days for ravens’ messages and tirelessly interviewed all the newcomers.  “Most of the resistance is based in the Riverlands and the Stormlands, the Vale not declaring either way yet. That is not a surprise. Littlefinger is likely biding his time to ensure the best possible outcome for himself.”

“This means the North is still an unknown entity – and it makes our position stronger for the deal we have been planning,” Sansa concluded. “We just have to open discussions with the Targaryens first, although the North is much more important than the Vale in any case.”

“Who do you suggest to negotiate the deal?” Sandor queried. Jaime looked at him sharply, wondering if he had something in mind. Although Sandor was often silent in their meetings, when he talked, Jaime had learned to respect his opinions.

“Who would you suggest?” he returned Sandor’s question. He scratched his beard and considered for a moment.

“Daenerys Targaryen’s closest advisor is someone we know – some of us better than others.” He turned to Jaime. “The Imp is still your brother. He might listen to you and explain our position to the Dragon Queen.”

Jaime startled, straightening himself. “Me? Tyrion hates me with a passion for what I did to him and his little wife. He would never listen to me.”

“He would and you know it. No matter how you parted, you are still brothers and you always shared a strong bond,” Sansa told him firmly. “I know it is a long way to King’s Landing and I couldn’t ask it of you after all you have already done. But if you are intent on staying in Westeros, you have to secure a pardon for yourself sooner or later for killing King Aerys. Tyrion might be your best chance.”

Sansa stood up and walked to Jaime, taking his one hand in hers. He squeezed her fingers absent-mindedly, his thoughts well occupied. He had considered his future lately, wondering what the new regime meant for him personally. Would the Dragon Queen demand his head as revenge for killing her father? Would he be thrown into the black cells if he dared to return? After his departure from the Kingsguard he might even be considered as the lord of Casterly Rock, should he claim his inheritance.  Did he want to go back there even if he could?

Jaime had pondered these questions over and over again, voicing some of them to Sandor. He had mumbled that if Jaime wanted to go south he could go by himself as he sure as hells would not leave Winterfell. Now Jaime was facing a situation where he had to decide. Stay in the North and hope his existence would be forgotten? Unlikely, he concluded. Join the Night’s Watch and gain exoneration that way? He had had enough of lifetime commitments. Face the danger head-on, maybe helping Sansa’s cause in the process?

They stayed up late that evening, going through different options and possibilities, discussing their strategy for the next day. Jaime retired late at night still trying to sort out what he should do, all the while knowing he would do whatever Sansa asked of him.

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