Sandor couldn’t shake Sansa’s proposed marriage to Jaime out of his mind, no matter how hard he tried. It persisted, popping up whenever he wasn’t careful. At first he resisted it, fighting against the disturbing images of seeing his little bird wed to another. Yet gradually his hesitation gave way to contemplation as he forced himself to face the reality of his – and Sansa’s - life.
Said life was busy enough to keep him occupied; luckily he didn’t have too many idle moments to brood over things. Filling the gaps left by the vast army which had robbed Winterfell of many men, training all the new men who had arrived with Jaime, and many other tasks besides required his attention.
Not all new recruits were soldiers. Gendry, as a capable tradesman, had been assigned to help the old smith of the keep. Sandor saw him often when he visited the smithy about the requirements of the troops. After the swelling on Sandor’s head and Gendry’s forehead had subsided, they had established a grudging truce and since then could often be found sharing a flagon or two of ale in the Great Hall, Jaime sometimes joining them. Their time spent in King’s Landing and their experiences with the Starks served as an opening to shared stories.
It didn’t take long for Sandor to realise the real reason why Gendry had arrived. Despite his amused curses and bewilderment that any man could be interested in the little wolf-bitch, he felt a twinge of sympathy. Poor bastard, alone in the world living a hard life, forming a bond with a girl almost as lost as him. It must have been a strong connection indeed to make him continue to search for her, especially knowing how impassable the gap was between their positions in the world. All he could hope for – should the feisty little sister be found – was a few kind words and a chance to see the object of his affections gliding past every now and then.
Sandor threw his drink back in a couple of big gulps, seeing himself in that same position not that long ago. He also knew that he would have stayed there, but for some fucking miracle – or weakness in the head on Sansa’s side. He closed his eyes momentarily and felt the familiar sense of utter satisfaction when he thought of what awaited him at the end of the evening; his little bird’s soft arms around his shoulders, her long legs wrapped around his waist, her sweet cunt wet for him… For a moment he wondered what Gendry would say if he told him that sometimes, just sometimes, the dreams of a madman can come true.
Sandor took any bond between the young man and Arya to have been rather innocent, as the wolf-bitch had been much too young for anything else at the time, and Gendry didn’t strike him as a molester of young girls. Hells, he didn’t even pay attention to the wenches who kept on throwing dove-eyed looks at him, handsome and strong lad that he was, and a man with a good profession as well. He had had his share of women, Sandor surmised from what he gleaned from him, and he liked him better for that. Nothing as suspicious as overly pious men, he had always reasoned. Those must hide bigger sins in their coffers instead.
Despite Gendry’s debatable motives for being there, Sandor recognised a skilled craftsperson when he saw one. And Gendry was clearly good at his trade. Sandor told him about his hound-shaped helm - long gone - and Gendry described his bull-horned creation to him. He asked if Sandor wanted him to forge a new hound-helm, but Sandor declined. He might still carry three dogs as his house sigil, but the Hound was gone.
To Sandor’s surprise Jaime joined that particular discussion with poorly hidden interest, asking Gendry about his time in the Street of Steel, whether he knew all the master smiths there and what he thought of them. He threw in a few questions about a particular member of the trade he had met on his last visit, someone called Meryn, and asked Gendry’s impressions of the man.
Sandor knew members of the Kingsguard were amply serviced by the Red Keep’s own armourers, and was curious as to why Jaime was interested in a common tradesman from the city. Gendry spoke highly of the man in question though, confessing to them that following in his footsteps had been one of the ambitions of his youth. To become skilled at his trade, to establish his own business, settle down as a respected professional and find a wife. By that stage both Sandor and Jaime felt free to mock him mercilessly about his unrequited love and didn’t let the delicious opportunity slip by, japing to each other about the first smith in King’s Landing with a real lady as his wife. Seeing Gendry turning redder than his forge amused them both, and only when Gendry tried to deflect their teasing by wondering aloud why Meryn had not taken a bride, although all the young ladies in the street had been keen to marry him, did Jaime change the topic and leave the smiths of the world alone.
Despite this, Sandor could detect that Gendry itched to do something more challenging than forging blades, arrows and horseshoes. One evening, over a plate of greasy pork knuckles and copious amounts of ale, Gendry started to draw outlines of animal motifs for a clasp or a belt buckle, using coal and scraps of parchment. At first he drew an outline of a growling hound, but at Sandor’s suggestion he sketched an image of a bird, tilting its head sideways. Initially it was a big, noble crow, but Sandor didn’t like it. “Make it smaller,” he urged, and after repeated urgings and attempts Gendry finally drew something Sandor liked; a diminutive bird sitting on a perch, its tail jutting upwards.
Sandor looked at the draft longingly. He wanted to give something like that to Sansa; a real gift. Mayhap with a yellow stone of some kind as its eyes; his own colours… Swearing aloud he pulled himself out of the foolish dream, feeling vaguely ashamed of behaving like a fucking love-sick youth. Yet as the evening ended, he swiped the delicate drawing from the table, rolled it up and hid it in his sleeve. One day, someday, perhaps…
Besides the notion of Jaime’s proposal that bothered him, there was also the ominous spectre of King Aegon’s suit.
Sandor had no doubt that the king would propose. Any man who had a chance for Sansa Stark’s hand and didn’t take it was a buggering fool as far as he was concerned. Of course he would want her. But where would it leave Sansa? Or him?
The idea of Sansa with any other man was still as painful as the first time it had hit him, but there were different degrees of pain. Sansa had told him it had been jealousy he had felt, after he had haltingly told her about the day when he had first experienced it. Sansa had also assured him that he had no reason for that, as nothing had happened between her and Jaime. Vague notions of a marriage had entered her mind but soon been abandoned when Sandor had returned. A farewell kiss, as well, but as Sandor had still not shared with her what had transpired between him and Jaime, he felt he was not in a position to judge.
Sandor tried to imagine what he would feel should the two of them wed. Hells, it wasn’t pleasant, but the more he allowed his mind to brood over it, the less it hurt. Less than what he would suffer to see Sansa as a queen, surrounded and protected by the fucking Kingsguard!
He started to observe Sansa and Jaime when they were together, playing cyvasse or going over preparations for the arrival of the royals. They looked just as comfortable in each other’s company as before, so nothing had changed in that respect. Jaime still made Sansa laugh, and Sansa showed her confidence in him, trusting his opinion and guidance in many matters. The best part of all was that when Sandor made his presence known - made a comment, asked a question, or even just coughed to get their attention - both of them readily turned to him, showered him with their attention and made room for him in their midst. Hells…could that work after all?
Besides, who knew; considering Jaime’s newly discovered traits maybe they wouldn’t even lie together? As for an heir for the North…somebody needed to father the babe. Fuck!
Sandor had to stop his train of thought right there. He was not a complete idiot and sticking rusty spikes under his fingernails was not his idea of fun. It would be just as well if he didn’t allow his mind to dwell on impossibilities.
He knew Jaime wanted children of his own, children he could actually be a father to. That had been obvious from the time they had first started to share confidences in the bleak forest camps of the Vale. He and Jaime had sometimes even japed that he should get a wench to push out a couple of cubs for him in Winterfell. If Jaime acknowledged the bastards and looked after them, they could have a good life and rise high in society. Never to become nobles, but sons could become respected professionals, maybe distinguished soldiers or maesters, and daughters could marry well into minor houses and rule over a keep of their own.
Should he marry Sansa, for the explicit purpose of begetting an heir… of course he would fuck her! And if he did so, Sandor’s time with Sansa would be over. No husband accepted his wife fucking another man, and besides, who was to say whose pup she would be carrying if she still allowed him into her bed?
At that point Sandor’s otherwise cool contemplations degenerated into seething curses, clenched fists and angry scowls, directed at whoever happened to be around. Like a starving man allowed to feast at a banqueting table with the succulent meats and sweetest wines, only to be turned away with a piece of hard bread in his hand, Sandor saw his days of contentment slipping out of his reach. Something in him started to toughen in preparation for the inevitable, and many a night he refused to go to Sansa despite her invitations. He saw her bewilderment, but hardened his heart. The fantasy had been sweet and beyond his wildest fucking dreams – but soon it would be time to face the harsh reality.
Sandor avoided Jaime’s forward thrust and swung his own sword towards him, but Jaime managed to duck out of its reach. Steel clashed against steel in the otherwise quiet training yard as the two of them practiced. Since Jaime had returned, they had fallen into their old habit of training together, Jaime forever striving to improve his left-handed battle skills.
Another habit they had fallen back into was the massages they gave to each other after such heavy bouts. It had started again the evening after Sansa had urged Sandor return to Jaime, and had soon become a routine.
Not much had changed from the times before, except Sandor himself. Human touch was not a mystery to him anymore, and although Jaime had initially appeared hesitant, Sandor never gave him any indication that he would have compared his touch to that of his little bird. As a matter of fact, he sometimes deliberately muttered how good it felt to have some force applied to his sore muscles, and how women simply didn’t have the required strength – which happened to be true, of course. Sandor however stayed quiet about all the things Sansa managed to do right, out of consideration for Jaime, and he appeared to be grateful for it.
“I heard you are ready to forsake yet another oath you have sworn,” gritted Sandor through his teeth as he examined Jaime, ready to swipe the second he saw the other man’s guard down.
“You did? And what oath would that be? There are so many.” Jaime had regained his stance and the two men circled each other warily.
“The one that forbids members of the Kingsguard to take wives.”
Jaime startled and dropped his defence, but rather than attack Sandor only approached him warily, studying the other man’s expression intensely.
“Sansa told you about it?” Jaime replied, watching attentively as Sandor came closer, but didn’t move.
“Aye, she did. Now, are you going to surrender without a fight like some pox-ridden whoreson or are you going to defend yourself?!”
Jaime responded by raising his sword to block the downward swing he had anticipated Sandor would throw at him. Hells! He may have lost his hand but none of his fighting instincts, Sandor had to acknowledge that.
“Did she also tell you that I don’t plan to press the suit, not with you and her playing house?”
Jaime was in attack mode now and pressed on Sandor, raining blow after blow on him as he swung his blade. Some of them went through Sandor’s defences and although they fought with blunted swords, Sandor felt stinging pain on the side of his face as the blade grazed it. He grunted and threw his weight against the shield he raised in front of him and used that as a battle ram to push Jaime back. At the same time he attempted a side-swipe with his sword – but suddenly the counter-pressure of Jaime’s resistance was gone and he found himself stumbling into something, which turned out to be Jaime’s foot. He fell heavily on the ground, but the memory ingrained in his muscles from the years of training helped him to just roll around, quick as a flash, and regain his footing some distance away from where he had fallen.
“Fuck! Was that something you picked up from those dastardly Unsullied?” Sandor couldn’t help croaking. Jaime only flashed a smile at him and approached again.
“Did Sansa make it clear that it was not my idea, but something Tyrion put forward, thinking it would solve all our problems?”
“Aye. She also said that you thought it might have worked. And that if you were not quick about it, the dragonspawn might come to whisk her away to the fucking capital again,” Sandor rumbled, swinging his sword savagely downward once more, straight towards Jaime’s armoured legs.
“Aegon is the real danger, not me. Yet even kings don’t always get what they want. Look what happened to Aerys - he wanted to burn everyone and got a blade across his throat instead. Robert wanted to fuck every pretty wench in the land – and oh well, he got pretty close to achieving that.” Jaime’s words came in rapid spurts as he danced around Sandor. He had avoided Sandor’s latest two attacks, but was panting heavily, his breath coming in shallow gasps.
“What everyone wants in this whole bloody business is a babe, an heir to House Stark and Winterfell.” Sandor couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice, caused by people seeing Sansa as a brood mare, there only for pushing out sons and daughters to keep the bloody northerners and Iron Throne happy. “Several heirs, if they have their way.” His resentment spurred him on and he put all his strength and weight into his next blow. It hit home; Jaime stumbled and fell to the ground with a curse. Sandor withdrew, granting his opponent a chance to get up again.
“You have the right of it there. The more the better,” Jaime gasped at him.
“Winterfell needs heirs that stay in the North and become proper Northerners, not some dandy Southrons,” rasped Sandor at his fallen companion.
Suddenly, out of the blue, Jaime’s voice changed and he sounded dead serious and in control, contradicting his semi-prone position on the ground.
“Did you know, Sandor, that dogs, wolves and lions can learn to live with each other if raised together from a young age? Put a cub and a pup together and they don’t know any different.”
Sandor lowered his blade.
“Cubs and pups?”
Jaime looked straight into his eyes, still not rising from the kneeling position he had pulled himself into.
“Yes, hounds and lions.” Jaime’s voice was soft. “If the wolf agrees,” he added a heartbeat later.
For a while the only sound in the yard was that of their heavy breathing. Sandor had lowered his shield as well, stunned by what he had just heard. Jaime saw his chance and charged.
He rushed headlong towards Sandor, straight up from his squatting position, bombarding him with sword strikes, one after another. He had always been quick with his blade, and hadn’t lost that advantage with his hand. Sandor had a hard time defending against his attack, Jaime’s blows seemingly coming from all directions at once as Jaime made a full circle around him, dancing like a fucking dancing master. As Sandor turned to follow Jaime’s movements, Jaime did something – for the life of him he didn’t know what – and Sandor found himself on the ground once more. He hit the earth hard, head first, and felt his teeth clatter together painfully. He was dazed and just lay there, on his back like a whore on the army’s payday. He groaned as Jaime laughed at him from above.
“Fuck! You win, lion. I yield.”
“I accept your surrender. Now, let me help you up. I take no delight in gloating over a defeated challenger.”
Sandor cursed again and extended his gauntleted hand towards Jaime, who pulled him up. After collecting their weapons they started their weary walk towards the keep, each nursing their injuries. Sandor’s ribs hurt, his old leg-wound burned like hell and his head was pounding from his latest fall. Yet none of that could be compared to the punch Jaime had delivered with his words. The silence stretched between them as they trudged forward.
They both knew their last exchange hadn’t been about the fight.