May. 19th, 2013

ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
The taunt

This is a story I started a few weeks back in the Comment Fic Meme No. 5 http://sansa-sandor.livejournal.com/181767.html?thread=3769351#t3769351
The prompt was from [livejournal.com profile] the_moonmoth “Sandor confesses his love to Sansa, but she turns him away as she thinks he's mocking her.”
I did the first part as Sansa’s POV then, and planned to continue with Sandor’s POV, but RL got in the way… I did finish it eventually, so here they are, both.
This hasn’t been betae’d, so any grammar and other mistakes are all my own…
Summary:    “Why did the fucking fool Florian follow his cunt Jonquil? Why did the buggering prince Aemon the Dragonknight cried when his lover and sister Queen Naerys married her other brother?”
Disclaimer:   Characters and the world of Westeros belong to GRRM and no-one else.
Rating:   G. / Warnings:   None.
Characters/Pairings:   Sansa Stark/Sandor Clegane
Word Count:   6,547
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The Taunt
Sansa

“Why do you always have to mock me?!” Sansa’s eyes blurred with tears as she shifted further away from the Hound, who was leaning close to her against the garden wall. They were in the winter garden of the Red Keep, where Sansa escaped whenever she had a chance to get away from the court and its suffocating atmosphere.

“I mean it, girl,” he growled, looming threateningly above her, clenching his fists on his sides.

“You say you mean it, when we both know how much you detest all those stories and what they represent! What you really want to do is to taunt me, when all I wanted to do was to thank you…” Sansa had had enough and turned around, wanting to get away from him and his ridicule.

She ran to the door leading to the keep, dimly aware that the Hound stayed where he stood. The guard who had been assigned to escort her hardly kept pace with her as she raced towards her rooms. She only wanted to reach its relative safety and finally be alone.

She threw herself on her bed and sobbed. I thought he was my friend…

As her tears eventually subsided, Sansa welled in her misery anew, but more calmly this time. She realised that her hurt rose not only from being taunted by someone she had thought as a friend… If she was completely honest to herself, she had thought he might even be something more, something special. It had taken a long time for her to come to think of the Hound that way, so ridiculous the notion had been at first. How truly preposterous it had been, had just been clearly demonstrated, she thought to herself.

Her mind went back to what had just happened. All she had wanted to do was to thank the Hound, and hence she had asked to see him.

----------

Since her incarceration as the Lannisters prisoner, she had noticed how Joffrey’s gruff sworn shield had seemed in some inexplicable way taken her under his protection. It was never anything glaringly obvious, but manifested itself in small ways. He treated her kinder than the other knights of the Kingsguard, was more patient with her when she wasn’t quick enough to do Joffrey’s bidding. He had also in a few occasions supported her stance against Joffrey – looking indifferent and bored when he did so, but helping her in any case. As she was never told about the events at court, spending most of her time in her rooms, she found the occasions when her presence was called for in the Great Hall confusing. The Hound had somehow understood that and started to inform her about what was happening both inside and outside of the castle. He was always restrained, telling her about the recent events in short, clipped sentences, while escorting her to or from her rooms, never expecting her to respond.

Once he had come to her while one of her maids had been insolent towards her. All the servants in the keep knew that the king didn’t afford her the courtesy due to a lady of her standing, and had taken their cues from him. The maids had grown lax and sullen and sometimes even outward refused to do what she asked from them. The Hound had stumbled into one of those occasions and observed it for a while from the door, scowling, before the maid had seen him and quickly fallen in line again. He didn’t comment on it to Sansa or even seemed to recognise it had happened. Nevertheless, after that day her maids suddenly started to behave as she was the queen herself, becoming helpful, trying to please her and doing everything in their power to make her life in captivity more bearable.

Sansa could never prove that the Hound had anything to do with that – but in her heart she knew he had.

All his actions had been so subtle and inconspicuous that she couldn’t really raise them with him directly. She had tried once, but he had only stared at her with his hard grey eyes, until her words had died on her lips.
But this day had been different.

----------

Robb had won another victory in the Riverlands and Joffrey had been furious. He had summoned Sansa into the throne room and commanded Ser Boros Blount to teach her a lesson. He was to strip her dress down and spank her back and shoulders until she would beg for mercy. Sansa had gasped and silently prepared herself for the inevitable blows. However, when Ser Blount had started to advance towards her, he had tripped and landed heavily on the floor.

Sansa was sure she had seen the Hound shifting his position, moving his leg in front of him just as Ser Blount was passing, causing the fall.

After that things had escalated quickly, Ser Blount accusing the Hound for deliberately tripping him, the Hound harking back how it was not his problem if the blasted knight couldn’t walk straight, Ser Blount retorting to his taunts heatedly. The Hound seemed to pick at the other man for the fun of it, cursing and mocking him until steel was drawn, and the two men engaged in a swordfight right then and there. Joffrey had laughed, urging his dog to show the knight a lesson, and imploring Ser Blount to show his worth as the knight of the Kingsguard.

Sansa had stood there, forgotten, hoping it would stay that way. The fight had been stopped only when Queen Cersei had arrived, irritated to see the dignity of the crown so degraded. She had icily admonished her son and the court, and reluctantly Joffrey had called the fighters off. As a punishment for starting the fight, the Hound had been given extra week of night guard duty. As the court had adjourned, Joffrey had waived Sansa away, muttering that he would deal with her later.

Two days later nothing had happened, and Sansa had surmised that the king had forgotten all about it. She knew that she had been saved from a severe beating – by none other but the Hound. Hence she had organised to go the gardens that day. She had asked him to meet her there the previous day, when he had escorted her to her door.

And then the events had unravelled as they had, leading her to her rooms, tears streaking down her face.

----------

Sandor had been already waiting her near the withering bushes of summer flowers, standing in the shadows of the wall. Sansa had approached him slowly, feeling her throat to be dry as a parchment as she croaked.

“I…want to thank you for your kindness. What you did for me, the other day.”

“Hmmmppph,” was all he had said, scanning her under his brow. He hadn’t moved and Sansa had become once again aware how tall and wide he was. She had had to crane her neck to look at his face.

“I know it was you; you did it on purpose. What I don’t understand is why. Why do you do these kindnesses for me?” She had grimaced. “If your king doesn’t care for my wellbeing, why should you?”

“Who says I do?” the Hound had growled, turning his face away, seemingly determined not to look at her.

For a second Sansa had been taken aback, wondering if she had been wrong after all. Yet she knew she hadn’t. She had been so certain of it that she had pressed further, wanting to understand why the bad-tempered warrior would do such a thing, so at odds with his role as the king’s dog.

She had shifted closer, so close that they had almost touched.

“I know you do. You treat me kinder than anyone in this keep. Why would you do such a thing? I am but a daughter and a sister of traitors; I have no influence, no coin nor favours to bestow on those who do well by me. What could you possible benefit from helping me?”

As he hadn’t answered, she had continued.

“You told me once that a hound will die for you, but never lie to you. Was it just empty words?”

Still the Hound hadn’t moved – but she had seen him shifting his position, swallowing hard and undergoing some kind of internal struggle. Sansa had watched with fascination the changing expressions on his face; anger, frustration, then hardness and determination. After a longest time he had turned his gaze at her.

“Why did the fucking fool Florian follow his cunt Jonquil? Why did the buggering prince Aemon the Dragonknight cried when his lover and sister Queen Naerys married her other brother?”

Sansa had startled, not understanding what he meant. What did the characters of knightly tales and ballads have anything to do with her questions?

He had laughed at her face then, but it had been a hollow laugh, coarse and short-lived.

“For love! Or fucking whatever they call it, the surest poison that makes all men fools! Makes them snivelling gutless creatures who pant and beg for even a smallest favour from the cunt who has bewitched them.”

It was then that Sansa had realised that he had been taunting her, using his knowledge of her affection of knightly tales as means to let her know how completely inconsequential she was, and how all she could ever be to him was a target of ridicule.

------------

Over the next few weeks their paths crossed intermittently, albeit not as often as before. Whenever they met, the Hound was his usual sullen self, quiet and menacing. Initially Sansa felt defiant, still smarting of the way he had made fun of her earlier. He didn’t seem to be perturbed though, his behaviour being the same as it had been before: brooding, respectful, his touch gentle at times when he needed to support her. He helped her when she descended the steep stairs from the turret, or once, lifted her onto horseback when Joffrey wanted to parade his court in the fields outside the castle.

Sansa noticed though that something was different. He seemed to observe her more than before, fixing his eyes on her whenever she was in his presence and not letting go. She felt conscious under his gaze, especially when it wandered up and down her body, sweeping across her bosom and hips and long legs. She blushed then and stared at the floor, unsure of whether she wanted him to stop looking – or not.

He never taunted her, didn’t mock her or spew derision on anything she said. That was also a change from when she had first met him, when he had seemed to enjoy scaring her.

Actually, when Sansa thought about it, it had been a long, long time since he had last insulted her. Except that time in the gardens…

Then it hit her. He hadn’t been mocking her at all! Sansa stopped on her tracks, put down the hair brush she had just used to stroke her hair, and forced herself to think that over. Carefully.

I challenged him to tell me why he did these things to me. I reminded him about how he claimed he would never lie.

Oh dear Mother and Maiden and Crone!

As she gasped, realisation truly struck her. The Hound told me that he…loved me!

The Confession

Sandor

Bloody buggering seven hells! Sandor felt anger simmering inside him, looking for an outlet.

He regretted his decision to agree to the little birds chirping, when she had asked him to come to the gardens. He should have known better, and had he thought with his head rather than his cock, he would have declined. Still, what was he to do when she looked at him with those wide blue eyes and touched his elbow ever so softly?

He should have realised she wanted to discuss about the other day. Just when he had shifted his leg to trip that whoreson Blount, Sandor had noticed her eyes on him, terrified and pleading. He had been annoyed – she didn’t need to ask him to protect her. It bothered him to be caught though. She knows I did it on purpose.

And just as he had feared, Sansa had started to ask difficult questions.

----------

In truth, Sandor had tried to look after her for a long while, seeking to soften the blows coming her way. There was not much he was able to do, but whatever he could, he did.

He had sought to be the one escorting her whenever the king wanted his betrothed to be paraded around like the prized possession she was. It hadn’t been difficult, Joffrey finding twisted satisfaction in sending his ferocious, ugly dog to attend to his dainty, beautiful bride. Sandor had also pointed to the boy-king that his plans of sending Sansa to the black cells to learn her lesson might backfire, should she contract pestilence and die in those dreary premises, leaving Joffrey without a punching bag into which he could direct his frustrations. The girl never knew about that one, or many of the other things he did to her - and Sandor preferred to keep it that way.

Why he did that, he would have been hard-pressed to explain in words. All he knew was that his life had changed when the slip of a girl had pressed her hand on his shoulder after he had tried to frighten her. Since then, for the first time in his miserable life, he had started to care about somebody else’s well-being more than that of his own.

Why did he care, was even more difficult to fathom. All he knew was that sometimes when he looked at Sansa, his heart constricted and he found it difficult to breathe. As she started to grow out of her girlish dresses, other parts of his body started to react to her presence as well. His cock hardened from the sight of her teats squeezed into too small bodice, and his fingers twitched helplessly despite the fact that he knew that he would never be able to actually touch her.

Brooding over Dornish sour in a winesink, forced to endure the tortured sounds of a traveling bard praising the mysteries of knightly love, a chilling thought had first hit him. Is that what this is?

Sandor had always despised fools whose lady loves steered them by their cocks, the pathetic idiots who had completely lost their balls and were led into a merry dance by a woman. Hells, no cunt was worth the shame! Yet suddenly a terrible suspicion had raised its head in his mind. Was he now heading in the same direction – led by a lithe girl who probably didn’t have any idea of the power she had over the fiercest warrior in the whole Westeros?

Seven hells! Surely he couldn’t be… Oh fuck it! He had called for more wine, wanting to drown that absolutely ridiculous notion until it would be gone and forgotten.

----------

Sandor sensed Sansa’s eyes on him and felt her presence just inches away from him. He could smell her; the slight fragrance of herbs and flowers and something clean.

To be so close to her and have her full attention directed at him made him nervous in a way he hadn’t experienced before. There was nowhere he could hide, no way to defend himself from the assault to his senses. All he could do was to stand there and endure. Sandor shifted his stance, wishing he was somewhere else, far, far away from her intoxicating company. His helplessness angered him.

Fuck this! If the girl was determined to extort an answer from him, even throwing his own words back at him – very well. He would tell her the truth. Then he would see her recoil from hearing that the king’s rabid dog dared to have feelings for her! That should teach her a lesson about how better not to pose questions, if not prepared to accept the answers.

“Why did the fucking fool Florian follow his cunt Jonquil? Why did the buggering prince Aemon the Dragonknight cried when his lover and sister Queen Naerys married her other brother?” Sandor spat at her.

He saw bewilderment crossing her face. Clearly she didn’t get his meaning, so he clarified it to her, gaining grim satisfaction from the way her features contorted and tears started to flow from her eyes.

Nonetheless, as Sansa run away it was his turn to stare at her back, puzzled. Yes, she had turned away from him in disgust, as he had known she would. Had she truly gotten his meaning, he was less sure of.

----------

Sansa was still clearly upset with him when he saw her next. Somewhere deep inside Sandor felt a twinge of something akin to…shame? Regret? However, he hardened his heart and took comfort from knowing that all had gone as he had planned, after all. She wouldn’t be approaching him in a hurry, that much was sure.

The events had not changed the way he felt about her, though. He continued to protect her interests in subtle ways as before, relieved to be able to slink back into the shadows once again. More than once he turned Joffrey’s head when he had devised new ways to torment the girl, whom he had started to see as a symbol of Stark resistance to his rule.

Sandor noticed himself emboldened to look at the little bird in a way he had been reluctant to do before, lest she would notice. He didn’t care anymore if she did. If it reminded her about what he had told her, scaring her anew, even better. Resting his eyes on her delicate features in the Great Hall from his position behind the king became his favourite way to pass the time during the long hours of courtly ceremonies. Whenever Sansa noticed it, she lowered her face and stared at the ground. Sometimes she even blushed, the red on her cheeks luring him to imagine her in bed, the auburn hair dishevelled and her face and neck heated in the throes of passion…Sandor allowed his gaze to sweep across her womanly figure, enjoying the sight it presented, full of promises to the lucky bastard who eventually got to explore her. That it should be the spoiled brat he had the dubious honour to guard, galled him the most.

The Lannisters had taken him in when he had needed a refuge, and in return he had served them faithfully for years, never questioning his allegiance. However, recently doubts had started to surface. Did the idiot boy, who enjoyed torturing the only human being in the whole fucking city worth of anything, deserve his loyalty?

----------

Then suddenly things changed. The little bird got bolder, even daring. Instead of looking away from him, she started to look back. Worse, she started to smile at him!

She also took the annoying habit of wanting to talk to him. They had conversed before, but only about necessary issues; the comings and goings of the court, how she could best avert Joffrey’s attentions and alike. Yet that didn’t seem to be enough anymore, Sansa showering him with questions about his life, his likings, his experiences. Initially Sandor tried to rebuff her with short, grunting answers, but she was not deterred. Over time to his surprise he found himself gradually starting to answer back. For the first time ever he revealed something of his past or his thoughts to someone. The little bird always listened raptly, nodding and agreeing, sometimes elaborating on an issue.

Her changed behaviour was not something he could address directly. What could he say? She would know he had noticed. There were no laws against smiling, after all. Nonetheless, as time passed, Sandor’s discomfort grew under those observing eyes. His only response was to direct menacing glances at her direction, but little good they did, she seemingly only getting bolder by them.

Sandor’s troubles were not restricted to her stares. Not only did she return his gaze, smile at him and talk to him, she also started to touch him whenever she had a chance. Once when Sandor came to escort her, she had brazenly placed her hand in the crook of his arm. Startled, he had looked at her, but she had only continued walking as if nothing was amiss. He would have pushed her away, except the feel of her delicate arm encircling his own just felt so…good, he didn’t have a heart to put an end to it.

So it became a habit, two of them walking arm in arm across the keep, always to break apart just before entering the king’s presence as if by unspoken mutual understanding.

Another time Sandor had to lift her on a horse, to follow the king’s hunt with other ladies. Sansa had held onto his arms tightly, then fiddled with her saddle and asked his help to locate the stirrups. He had to place her feet into them and in doing so, was forced to hold her ankles. They had been so delicate, the tops of her soft calfskin boots leading to silken stockings covering her shapely calves. With trembling hands he had pushed her feet to those damned stirrups rougher than he had intended. All that time the girl had dared to look down at him, smiling and tilting her head.

Even worse had followed at the end of the hunt, when he had lifted her off the horse. Sansa had extended her arms on his shoulders, grabbing tight and not letting go, even as she landed on the ground. For some reason he couldn’t let go his hold on her waist either, and for an indeterminable time they had just stood there, holding each other. Again she had smiled at him. That blasted smile!

Sandor couldn’t figure out what had happened. As the little bird got bolder, he found himself increasingly outdone. Often when he was escorting the king or training in the yard, when he looked about he saw her looking at him intently. Even when he tried to direct his most threatening stare at her – the one that made squires piss on their breeches and knights to dive for cover - that blasted girl only squinted her eyes and beamed at him!

----------

Sandor was escorting the little bird to her rooms once again, telling her about the latest events as they walked. The news about the approaching army of Stannis Baratheon was not good, but he never sugar-coated the things he told. The girl was old enough to deserve to know the truth, no matter how dire it might be.

“What happens if his army takes the city…and the keep?” Sansa asked, visible disturbed. Her hold on him tightened, and Sandor felt her bump into him every now and then as they walked.

“If he takes the city but the keep holds on, it will be a protracted siege until either the keep surrenders, or Stannis has had enough and gives up. Which one, would depend on his losses at that stage. If they storm the keep in the first battle, he will kill or arrest our beloved king and his family, set his own arse on the Iron Thorne and start ruling as the King of the Seven Kingdoms,” Sandor replied dryly.

“What will happen to me?” Sansa’s voice was timid, but something in the way she trusted him enough to ask these questions, touched Sandor.

“You have nothing to worry. Stannis knows your value as a hostage and the heir to the North. He will keep you safe in your gilded cage until such time as he finds you a suitable husband.” The thought irritated Sandor. Almost any man would be better for her than Joffrey, but the idea of her being passed on from one jailor to another, from one forced marriage to another, blistered his nerves.

“Oh.” For a long time she stayed silent, absorbing his words, before continuing. “What will happen to you if Stannis wins?”

Sandor laughed, but it was a mirthless laugh.

“To me? Hells, if I don’t die in defending the keep, no doubt my head will be chopped off by the victorious troops at the first opportunity!”

Sansa gasped and turned to look at him. Her face bore an expression of horror.

“Die?! In defending the Lannisters? Are they worth it?”

When she said it that way, it sounded odd even to Sandor’s ears.

“Worth it or not, that is my duty. What else could I do anyway? So I hope as hells that it doesn’t come to that,“ Sandor muttered, uncomfortable to be questioned about things that could not be changed.

They walked in silence for a while. Their steps echoed in the otherwise soundless keep, every man-at-arms and servant being away in setting up the defences.

“When the battle starts, is it going to be…confusing? People coming and going about?” Sansa’s voice didn’t betray anything but detached interest. Sandor realised that she had never seen war before, probably not even a skirmish.

“Aye, it will be bloody chaos – especially if the attackers are seen to prevail. Hells, it has already started. Haven’t you noticed the panic seeping in, the cowards leaving their positions and men-at-arms sneaking into the city to say goodbye to their kin. When the fighting starts in earnest it gets worse. You better stay in the safety of your rooms; a castle during a battle is not a place for a maiden.” He stopped to put more emphasis into his words. “You hear me, you stay safe!”

She looked at him with those searching eyes, not flinching even though he had grabbed her hard around the shoulders.

“Why? Why would you care? I will never be safe here, and you know that.”

Sandor’s throat dried and he had no answer to her. He tried.

“Because…” his voice trailed off. Before he could collect his thoughts, they heard hasty footsteps behind them and a squire calling Sandor’s name. Stannis’s army had been seen and the Hound was wanted in the yard.

Cursing, Sandor let go off Sansa, telling the squire to see her to her rooms, safe and sound, on pain of death. As he turned to return to his duties, Sansa’s hand gripped his, forcing him to look at her.

“Is this it? Are you going to the battle now?” She looked anxious. For me? Sandor’s heart lurched into his throat. He retorted, softer than he had intended.

“No, we are not there yet. They just want all commanders there to make final assignments of defence positions and alike. The real fight is unlikely to start before tomorrow.”

The squire muttered to them that his orders had been urgent, forcing Sandor to release Sansa’s grip. As he turned away, the last thing he saw was Sansa staring at him. The expression in her eyes haunted him for the rest of that damned night, despite the impending threat.

----------

Sandor had been correct; it had only been a meeting of the war-council. The approaching army was expected at the gates sometimes the next day, and all the commanders and fighters who were not needed in the immediate preparations, were sent to have some rest before the inevitable battle. Knowing that the night could be their last, many men chose to go to brothels and winesinks instead to enjoy the last dubious pleasures of the living.

He didn’t care about any of that, retiring to his room. He wished he could see the little bird one more time - possible the very last time – but he had no business with her and couldn’t be seen loitering around her rooms without raising suspicions. So Sandor laid himself to his pallet, dreaming of her instead, all the while mocking his own weakness.

He woke up in darkness, not sure of what had alerted him. He didn’t usually keep his door barred, as who would dare to disturb the Hound?

He lied awake, not moving, but alert, prepared to bounce if he could detect an intruder. After a while he heard rustling sounds from the direction of the door, then heard a familiar melodious voice.

“Why did Jonquil join her fate with Florian, although he was just a landless fool dressed in motley? Why did Queen Naerys cry herself to sleep for months after she left Aemon the Dragonknight?”

Sandor shoot up in his bed, startled.

“What the hells!?”

“You heard me.” It was Sansa, but due to darkness he couldn’t see her.

His heart pounded hard in his chest while he tried to collect his thoughts.

“What are you doing here, girl? How did you get out of your rooms?”

“I learned to pick my lock a long time ago. I am quite accomplished in needlework after all, and there is much and more a lady can achieve with scissors and needles.” Her voice was strangely unembodied coming seemingly out of nowhere.

“Until now I had no need to get away. Where would I have gone? But now…” Again Sandor heard the rustle, knowing now it came from her dress as she approached. Her steps were tentative as she made her way towards his bed, and soon Sandor felt an indentation on his pallet as she sank on it, next to him.

Little bird, in my bed! Despite his confusion, he couldn’t help registering it with alarm. He raised himself, leaned against the wall and crossed his arms.

“You didn’t answer my first question. What in the seven hells are you doing in my room this time of night?”

He more sensed than saw her leaning towards him, and to his further consternation soon felt her soft hand fumbling against his chest.

“If there is a battle tomorrow…and you could be killed… You said yourself there is going to be chaos. We could make our escape and leave this godsforsaken place.”

Her hand had found him and stayed firmly right under his collarbone, pressing softly against him.

“Escape where?” Sandor blurted out before he could properly digest what she was saying.

“Anywhere. North, perhaps. Riverlands, maybe. Across the sea, even. I don’t care, as long as we leave now.”

What was she going about. We? She wanted to escape and needed his help? Before he could answer, Sansa continued.

“The Lannisters don’t deserve your loyalty. You should not fight for them, perhaps even die for them…” she faltered. “If you don’t want to take me with you, at least you go. I will go back to my rooms and as you said, I will not be harmed. I either will marry the victorious King Joffrey, or wait until Stannis betroths me to another. Nobody is likely to be as bad as my current betrothed.”

Sandor couldn’t believe his ears. The little bird pleading for him to save his own life? She talking about us leaving, together? All the while her body next to his and that soft, insistent hand touching him, distracted him so he had difficulties to concentrate.

“Why…why do you say these things? You want to escape, that’s what this is? Aye, I can help you. Mayhap I can get you to your kin. You speak the truth about the Lannisters too; I might as well leave that piece of shit king and find my own luck.”

The practical part of his mind started to plan how they could accomplish their escape. Sansa would have to go back to her rooms and pack all the warm clothes and any coin or jewellery she had, he would pack his own meagre belongings, they would sneak into the stables to get Stranger, mayhap steal another horse for Sansa… He was woken from his thoughts by Sansa shifting closer to him, placing her both hands on his body. Fuck!

“I don’t want you to save me, I want you to save us. Didn’t you hear what I told you about Jonquil and Queen Naerys?”

“What about them?” Hells, if she doesn’t soon stop touching me, bugger the Lannisters, bugger the North, bugger everything!

“Sandor, I know what you have done to help me. The servants know more than what their masters think, and after my suspicions were raised, I only had to threaten that I will unleash you on them unless they tell me everything they know… So I heard how you have thwarted many evil plans for my punishment. I have seen with my own eyes how you have looked after me. And I have heard with my own ears what you feel for me…”

Sansa’s head had miraculously landed on his chest, her long hair tickling his skin. Her cheek was so soft, so warm… She whispered so softly that he hardly heard her, but disconcertingly felt her lips almost touching his skin.

“The same feeling that drove Florian, spurred Jonquil as well. Whatever Aemon felt towards Naerys, she returned it, despite having to wed another.”

Sandor’s arms enclosed around her shoulders almost of their own accord.

“I was only mocking you when I said those things,” he growled, not believing what he had just heard.

“I don’t believe you; you are a terrible liar. You told me you cared about me, and now I am telling you the same.”

Gods! Before Sandor’s clouded mind cleared, he sensed Sansa lifting her head, felt her hot breath on his face as her mouth searched for his. Next thing he knew was her soft lips pressed against his. It was really just a peck, and soon over, Sansa clearly being unexperienced in the act. Despite its innocence, it was a kiss just the same, and she had bestowed it on him!

Sandor’s head spun but he knew he had to wake up from the daze that had muddled his senses. He pushed himself fully up, careful not to shove Sansa away.

“We…have to start packing. You better go to your rooms and collect some sensible, warm clothes, and…”

“Done. I wear two woollen skirts, a thick bodice and a tunic, and I have another warm dress in the bag. I also have some other…necessary items there. I wear thick boots and the wool and fur cloak I brought with me from the North. I am ready.”

Sandor stopped, surprised by what he heard. “Ah, good. Well, you still better go back, as although I still have most of my tourney winnings, any extra jewellery you can take with you might become useful, so…”

“Done. I have all my jewels sown into the lining of my dress; everything I and Arya brought from Winterfell, and some that Joffrey gave to me. Those we can sell at first opportunity. I also have some coin that my father gave me. He always said women should have some coin of their own in case of emergencies. I guess this could be counted as one.” Sansa’s voice was steady and matter-of-fact as she listed her preparations.

Sandor had succeeded in lighting a candle and saw Sansa sitting calmly on his bed, indeed in a full travel gear. He dressed quickly and started to gather his own belongings into a saddle bag. He frowned, trying to think what else they would need.

“Very good, girl. Then you may just wait here while I make a trip to the kitchens. We need to get some food, as we won’t have a chance to stop for it for the first few days at least, if we want to get as far as possible…”

“Done. I asked my maids to bring me durable food to last days. I told them I was advised to be prepared in case if there is a long battle or a siege, and I have to stay in my rooms for several days. I have dark bread, hard cheese, salted ham and dried fruit. I asked this from two different maids, who I know don’t talk to each other, so I have double rations. These should last us at least a week.” She pointed to a collection of hessian sacks on the floor. As Sandor glared at them incredulously, she continued. “I even have some skins of wine. I am not sure if that is the red you like, but it is wine and it is strong.”

Sandor was stunned. What the hells? For a moment he wondered who was saving who.

“I suppose you also have our horses saddled and ready to go outside the keep?” he snarled. He had an unnerving feeling that for once in his life he had been outmanoeuvred. More so, by just a lithe girl!

“No, I couldn’t do that without raising suspicions,” Sansa blushed under his gaze and Sandor realised she had taken his words at face value.

“Bloody hells, you have done all and more than could be expected, girl. You have done well. Let me do something for a change and I’ll get those horses,” he growled, softening his tone. Sansa looked at him and blushed again, and Sandor had an irresistible urge to scoop her in his arms and kiss her again. Properly this time. Yet he knew that it had to wait.

Well then dog, time to go. North, perhaps. Riverlands, maybe. Across the sea. Doesn’t matter. We go to whatever damned place the little bird wants to go!

----------

As they rode out from the keep at the darkest hour of that dreary night, neither of them turned to look back.

Their future lay ahead of them.

THE END

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