When Sandor reached the hut and dropped the rope of the sleigh on the ground, he had hardly time to straighten himself when the door burst open and the girl rushed out.
“Sandor!” She jumped at him and as surprised as he was, he extended his arms and caught her.
“Sandor, you came back!” He could hardly hear the words she mumbled against his shoulder, her face buried in his new furs.
Sandor? She had never called him thus and hearing it woke something in him. Not many people had, and even fewer of them had been women.
“Of course I came back…Sansa,” he rumbled, savouring the sound of her name as it came out of his mouth. He felt equally strange saying it, almost guilty, as if it was something forbidden. “The village was further than I thought, and the return trip slower going because of this.” He gestured at the sleigh piled full of supplies.
Carefully he lowered her on the ground but she didn’t let go, clutching at him. It took more soothing words, the same he had always used with his horses, to make her release her grip.
The evening went by quickly as they unloaded his cargo and the girl – Sansa – marvelled at everything he had brought. All and more he had set out to get. Sandor was weary though, exhausted from long days, short nights and the heavy pulling. He crashed onto his pallet soon after the meal and fell into a bottomless pit of deep sleep.
He woke up in the middle of the night as something soft brushed his side, his soldier’s instincts warning him of possible danger. He turned his head and saw that the girl had sneaked into his bed and rested against him, her left hand across his chest and her head in the crook of his arm. How she had been able to wiggle herself there he didn’t know.
Sandor knew he should push her away, tell her to go to her own bed, but he was too tired, too exhausted to rouse her. Besides, she was warm and soft and he still felt a ghost of the bone-crushing chill that had accompanied him for most of his journey – so he let her be and closed his eyes.
He had tried to deny those dreams, had cursed them and pushed them at the back of his mind, but always they returned. Sandor refused to think of them when awake; heated visions of writhing naked bodies, dishevelled red hair and sounds of rutting as she gave him her maiden’s song…
Sansa. To think of her by her given name somehow seemed to disintegrate the wall of propriety between them, the barricade separating those who serve and those who were served. It was too intimate and disconcerting – just as her presence under his covers had been. Sansa.
Sandor heard her humming to herself that day, saw her glancing at him every now and then and smiling; an open, broad smile, pure happiness expressed on her face. Sandor chose to think that it was because of all the food, furs, clothes and other supplies he had brought that made her so, but a small part of him wanted to hang on to the illusion that it was because of him.
That night she came to him again, sneaking across the floor as they both had settled on their pallets, quietly stealing under his blanket. Sandor sensed her coming and turned abruptly to face her, grasping her wrist and squeezing it hard.
“What the fuck do you think you are doing, girl?” Why is she doing this? Unless…”Did you think I was tempted to leave you, and now seek to buy my loyalty and service with your favours, is that it?” He spoke harsher than he had intended and in the orange glow emitted by the dying embers in the fireplace he saw her mouth open and heard her loud intake of breath.
“Leave me? No, I didn’t think you would. You are a man of honour although you may wish to deny it,” she whispered. “To buy you? I have nothing with which to do that. I only…” She didn’t finish her sentence, but neither did she try to squirm herself loose of his firm hold.
Sandor felt her closeness acutely, and it was different from the previous night. Then he had been worn out and too exhausted to properly register her long limbs next to his, the curve of her breast and hip as they pressed against his flank, or the softness of her hair that flowed free of restraints and covered the coarse mattress with its silken veil. Now he was rested and noticed all those things too bloody clearly.
“Aye, I did come back. You don’t have to try to ensnare me to look after you. Haven’t I promised you more than once that I will keep you safe and that I will take you to the North - haven’t I!?” His grip tightened but she didn’t flinch or try to pull her hand away – on the contrary, she pressed herself closer.
“You have promised me that and I believe you. Still, why couldn’t I stay? Why don’t you want me near?” Her warm breath caressed his cheek, so close she was.
Sandor closed his eyes and cursed under his breath. Why? Seven hells! Her manner was not seductive and her actions lacked purposefulness of a woman who was keen on bedsports. She must have been experienced with those though, having married the Imp and lived with Littlefinger. Yet there was something innocent in the way she clung to him, almost as if she truly didn’t know what it did to a red-blooded man. Why not?
Sighing he acquiesced and turned on his back. This too, he had to endure. Gods, the girl was going to be the death of him, he cursed.
Sansa fell asleep easily judged by the sounds of her steady breathing, but Sandor stayed up late. Having accepted his new burden he was determined to enjoy the sensation of her next to him, and to memorise the experience to the deep recesses of his mind in case it never happened again. Her fingers splayed across his chest, her left thigh resting partly on top of his and her tresses tickling his nose. Sandor suffered the agonies of seven hells but stayed perfectly still as not to wake her.
It was a longest night of his life.
She marvelled how easy it had been to make him accept her presence in his bed. Without either of them formulating it into words, from that time forward she slipped into his bed at the quiet of the night every evening - and he lifted his cover and let her.
Part of her knew that she was playing with fire. Men could be animals in such matters and she was still a maid, despite knowing what went on between men and women. Bastard daughter’s ears were not as sacred as those of a noble maid and she had heard her share of ribald tales and innuendos. Yet she couldn’t believe that Sandor could do anything to harm her. He has promised to take care of me.
Sandor was not the only one to sometimes stay awake. Sansa, too, stared into the darkness many a night, comforted and thrilled by his hard body next to her. It unnerved and excited her, made her breath quicken and flooded her mind with vague thoughts and longing. What do I truly want of him? Is it as he says, am I only seeing him as my way out and without realising it, trying to bend him to my will?
Sansa had heard Cersei talking about ‘woman’s weapons’ and later she had learned that it was not only idle talk. Surely she was not doing it? It was not that she actually laid with him… She never got further than that in her thoughts, two sides of her warring with each other; one simply desiring to be near him and take and give comfort, the other condemning her behaviour as wanton and worse than that; deceitful. If she was not willing to lay with him, why did she share his bed? Was she giving promises she had no intentions to keep? Was she a liar? Those Sandor hated more than anything, she knew. And yet here she was, not intentionally lying to him but possibly leading him on just the same. Oh, why this is so difficult?
The days were different as well. She was so happy that he was back that she felt like laughing or humming or just gazing at him all the time. Sandor, in turn, oscillated between being affable, even funny sometimes, to being morose and moody, sometimes even argumentative. Sansa found herself tiptoeing around him, trying to judge his moods and how receptive he would be to her approaches.
Yet when the night came and she laid on her bed, wondering whether she should stay or go, every time her desire to be near him – no talking, no moodiness, no arguments – won and she found herself making her way across the floor.
And every time he lifted his covers inviting her to join him.
And every time she sank down next to him, enveloped him with her limbs and pressed her head against his shoulder.
And every time she found solace in his arms and cared not to delve deeper on the why and why nots.
Their life was settled now. The goods he had bought from the village would see them through a long time; grain, root vegetables, bitter jams made of forest berries, salt and even some more exotic spices. Furs, blankets, clothes. Oil for lamps. Thread and fine cloth – apparently the last piece in the whole fucking village - for the little bird for her sewing. Some skins of sour red, to be saved for special occasions such as Sevenmas. Not that he cared, but the girl had been chirping about it.
And a special treat: an apple.
It was wrinkled and withered but it was real and still red. The day after his return Sansa cut it with great ceremony into several pieces and plated them on the only decent platter they had. She placed the platter between them on the table and gestured him to take his due.
“You have it, I have no need for treats.” Sandor pushed the plate towards her, wanting her to have this special taste of summer in the middle of winter.
“No, I can’t. You brought it all the way here through the snow. You take the first piece.” She pushed the plate back towards him.
Sandor didn’t have to stop to think; it was she who he had had in his mind when he had spotted the fruit, the last in the innkeeper‘s stores. He pushed it towards her again.
He saw her sigh, then pick one of the quarters delicately between her fingers. She put the piece between her lips and without intending to, Sandor followed how it disappeared between her plump, pink lips. He took a bite and chewed the little piece slowly, meticulously. The she extended her hand and brought the rest of it in front of his mouth, her eyebrows arching questioningly.
Sandor stared at the bite-marks clearly visible in the flesh of the apple, matching her small, straight teeth. He leaned forward and took the piece between his teeth, his lips closing around it. The girl didn’t let go at first and for a brief moment his lips touched her forefinger and thumb.
Without breaking their eye contact they ate the whole apple that way; she taking a small bite, then handing the piece to him and he eating the rest of it from her hand.
That apple was the sweetest thing he had ever tasted.
The first time he touched her they both had lain awake for a long time after the last of the fire had died down. He knew she was still awake, just as well he knew that she was equally aware about his state of wakefulness.
Sandor had still not been able to gather what her game was. If she trusted that he wouldn’t leave her, why come into his bed?
Why come to him for any other reason than persuasion? Did she want to fuck or not? Had the Imp – and this was where he always felt bile rising in his throat – trained her well, awakened her desires? Or worse, had Littlefinger trained her in the ways of whores?
If so, why didn’t she make her move? Gods be his witnesses he was willing – his cock was aching from his desire, no matter how much he tried to shut it and her out of his mind.
Sandor had tried to imagine her as she had been when he had first laid his eyes on her; a young girl, hardly more than a child. The surge of protectiveness he had felt towards her in King’s Landing had been an odd mix of trying to shield a child from cruelty, and possessiveness a man might feel about a woman who had caught his attention.
She is just a child. She lost all her family, she is only looking for a father-figure. That thought alone had been unexpectedly reassuring. As far as he could remember, nobody had ever looked at him as someone to seek comfort from. For a reason, Sandor had to admit, knowing that had anyone else tried he wouldn’t have cared. Not about anyone else but her.
Still she came, night after night, settling next to him, always dressed in a loose dress as had been her habit all along. The trust she placed on him… some nights Sandor ground his teeth in frustration.
Yet he was not blind to her reactions. He noticed how the pace of her breathing changed at times, felt the slight trembling of her limbs. No, she could not be completely naïve.
That very night had been especially excruciating. The day had been a good one. He had captured fresh fish from the stream and tried to help her to gut it, she had gotten mock-annoyed by his good intentions and had shovelled him aside in jest; he had not given in and in the end she had dipped her fingers in a bucket of ice-cold water and splattered him with that. They had laughed out loud, hers chiming clear as bells, his low and rumbling, but genuine laughter just the same.
Sandor had felt more at ease with the little bird than he had ever with anyone - and here she was now, breathing in tune with him. Could he just close his eyes and fall asleep?
Slowly, very slowly he turned onto his side, facing her. He could hardly see her face in the dim light but from the tension in her body he was well aware that she was paying attention to his movements. He lifted his hand and placed in on top of her shoulder.
There was no mistaking it, she trembled – in fear? Sandor let his palm rest there for a while, but as she made no move to brush it aside or withdraw from him, he let it slide down her arm. Where it bent in the elbow, instead of following the arm he dropped his hand on her hip, and after only a short break, during which he stilled to see if her reactions changed, he continued further down still.
By the time he reached the soft inside of her thighs and still she didn’t resist, Sandor knew that he couldn’t stop.
Sansa stretched on the pallet, curling her toes and covering her eyes with her forearms. The events of the previous night flooded her mind and she felt embarrassed – and thrilled.
When Sandor had first laid his hand upon her she had suddenly realised that this was what she had been waiting, even hoping. Comfort and security she felt in his arms were one thing, and although they had satisfied her, she had known that there was more, there had to be more – and she wanted it.
“Let me have you, little bird,” he had panted against her chest, the coarseness of his beard rubbing her sensitive skin, his hands roaming all over her body touching places no man ever had – places even she felt shy about. Despite the hardly concealed force in his voice and the intensity of his caresses, there had been a hint of pleading in his demeanour. Sansa had understood that if she denied him, he would let her be. Yet refusing him hadn’t even crossed her mind. Yes, a fleeting thought about her maidenhood had come to her but what of it? Finally the choice was hers, and finally here was a man whom she wanted… and for whom she was ready to let go of her mother’s teachings and the deep-rooted values of her upbringing. Just be gentle with me.
“I may not be as fine and fancy as the others, but by gods, I will not hurt you.” The words had rolled from his mouth in between her breasts, where he had buried his face. But there has been no others. Please.
Things had ground to a halt then, Sandor lifting his head and staring at her incredulously. His eyes had gleamed in darkness and surprise had been etched on his face. “Gods, are you telling me you are still a maid?”
Sansa sighed. She didn’t understand why it mattered to him, if it was of no importance to her. It was hers to bestow, after all. Yet he had declined her gift.
She lifted her arm and peeked at Sandor, sleeping soundly next to her. His features were relaxed and he snored slightly. It was little things like that which made him dear to her; signs that he was just a man and not a hound. The small grunting noises he let from his throat when he placed his full weight on his injured leg in a bad position. How he still combed his black hair over his scars – as if that mattered to her! An old jape about birds and winter he had told her ten times but still repeated – and she laughed at it every time, having no heart to tell him that it had gone stale.
One of his hands was resting on his chest, the other raised above his head. Sansa looked at his fingers; thick, calloused, covered with dark hair up to the first digits – yet surprisingly long and elegant compared to the overall size of his hand. She blushed remembering where those fingers had touched her and how it had felt. She wondered how he had sensed it, caressing her in all her womanly places. She blushed further when she recalled what a surprise she herself had experienced when she had curled her fingers against the soft, smooth skin of his manhood, so contradictory to its hardness.
He had declined her gift, freely offered to him, but he had pleased her with his kisses and his hands. Please, let me touch you, she had pleaded and finally he had guided her hand down to his member and showed her what he liked. Sansa had been thrilled not only because of the sensations coursing through her body, but also from seeing him so completely undone – by her!
She traced her forefinger from Sandor’s brow to his hooked nose, hardly coming into contact with the skin but hovering just above it – yet he seemed to sense it as he shifted, opened his eyes and slowly, turned his head to look at her. Suddenly Sansa felt shy. What would he say? What would he do…after all they had done?
He smiled, the crooked smile as always, but his grey eyes were warm.