ladytp: (St Teresa)
ch19

Sandor

She is a maid still.

The thought had never even occurred to him – not after the Imp and Littlefinger. He had assumed she was experienced and knew what she was doing, and he had hoped…Aye, he had dared to hope, especially after she had started to sneak into his bed. But this changed everything. And he didn’t want to hurt her. Gods, if he did have her, there would be pain.

Yet Sandor’s resolution had been hard tested the previous night when she had beseeched him, no, begged him to take her. Never in his life had he fought as hard against a foe, the enemy being his own instincts and desires. But as always, he had won – a victory that tasted like ash in his mouth when he saw her that morning; her broad smile, blushing cheeks and sparkling blue eyes. And remembered the taste of her kisses, hesitant and awkward at first, and later, as they both gained more confidence, exploring and daring. That she had allowed him to touch her intimately had almost been his undoing, but he had controlled himself - mostly.

Later that day Sandor fled outdoors. He went to check the fish trap and found a plump, silvery fish, which he killed, gutted and scaled on a flat rock jutting out of the stream. Cold water made his skin tingle but that was good – it took his mind away from the only thing that had occupied his mind the whole day.

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ladytp: (St Teresa)
ch13

Sandor

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.

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ladytp: (St Teresa)
ch7

Sandor


Her hands were delicate with long fingers and smooth skin – not that he would have felt their touch often on him.

Actually, Sandor could count the times. Two times in King’s Landing; first when he had rescued her from the mob and she had clung to him, clutching his bare neck so desperately that her nails had made him bleed. The second time, when she had touched his face on the night of the green fire. The third time had been when he had sneaked into the Gates of the Moon. He had crept behind her and restrained her by covering her mouth with one bare hand and clasping her wrists with another. She had struggled at first, but hearing his voice she had stilled. Sandor had pressed her back against his chest and felt how frail she was, so small and delicate. Her fingers had twitched and when he had relaxed his grip, she had not pulled them away as he had expected but instead had held on tight, not letting go.

The Warrior Maid of Tarth had sent him there with words of valour and honour. The bag of gold dragons she had given him had clinked its own tale of the many things he could buy with it. Not that the Lannister gold had been his true motivation. Seeing the girl again had been its own reward, carefully considered in his calculations before he had accepted the mission.

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ladytp: (St Teresa)

This is my gift to [livejournal.com profile] irismoongarden, to fulfil her holiday-exchange prompt – happy holidays!

I gather this might be the one prompt you really want… The first hint was your original holiday-exchange post, although modestly only as the 3rd in your list (“would love it if someone would write a story where San/San leave the Vale and head to Winterfell, but get trapped in the snow and find a cabin and have to spend winter snowed in”.) There was “anything” and “Jaime and Brienne too” - but then I saw your wish again in sansaxsandor LJ (“I want a story where San/San get snowed in a little cozy cabin somewhere on their journey north post QI or something. Whatever could they do to pass the time”). Well, then I knew I simply couldn’t let this prompt pass…

I hope you enjoy it… I tried to avoid too much fluffiness, but may have succumbed to it in the end. *le sigh*

Ch1

Sandor

Sandor pushed the door open, the old gnarled wood giving in reluctantly as if wanting to hold on to the secrets it held behind it.

Damp smell, musty whiff. Coarse wooden furniture knocked over, dust settled on surfaces. That mattered not.

His feet felt leaden when he stepped across the threshold and collapsed on the floor, the girl in his arms almost crushing under him. Deep ragged breaths filled his lungs with stale air. Safe.

After gathering his breath for a moment he scrambled onto his knees by pure force of his iron will – the same will that had seen them through the snowstorm and never-ending wind and howl. Slowly he climbed to his full height, supporting himself against the wall. He felt too weak to lift the girl but he dragged her from shoulders just the same to the pallet at the back of the room. She looked like a broken doll lying there, face paler than snow. Sandor leaned in slightly and saw her lips quivering, her face screwed in pain or cold or both. Good. She is still alive.

A tired tug at the reins of the horse, pulling him too into the only room in the hut. With his last remaining strength Sandor released the saddle strap and let it fall. Then he let himself go and his tall body crumpled on the floor.

Darkness took over him.

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ladytp: (St Teresa)
I recall reading here a while back an interesting exercise about putting together a story from the first sentences of many fanfics. It stuck in my mind and I gave it go with one of my own finished stories - but this time putting a story together form the first sentences and also from the last sentences of each chapter.

The story is "The Prophecy" (http://archiveofourown.org/works/888167/chapters/1712585), and this is the story formed by its FIRST sentences. I am actually surprised, and it is kind of cool how much sense it really makes!
Ch 37
Image: ‘Aged Sandor’ by kallielefdrawward (http://kallielefdrawward.tumblr.com/)

Sandor sways to avoid grasping hands of the wizened old woman, but her gnarly fingers wind around his arm as roots of a tree. Sandor grunts and for a briefest moment radiant explosions from deep within his core transport him to another world filled with sensations, colours, smells and feels. For the longest time Sandor doesn’t even register the girl properly, nor her deep auburn head of hair.

A steady stream of travellers crowds the roads; fugitives from the battle, common people displaced from their homes and endless bands of soldiers travelling this way or that. Sandor sees the outlaws first, his instincts screaming alert as the caravan slowly trudges forward on a lonely stretch of road. The news trickle in steadily from other travellers, telling them that the War of Five Kings has finally and truly ended, the last nail on its coffin – literally – being the death of Balon Greyjoy.

Sansa laughs. Later that day Sandor sees the merchant’s daughters crowding around Sansa, and later his sons looking angrily at his direction. Part of Sandor wants to acknowledge the dizzying depths of his first love, letting it swallow him whole like a bottomless sea, not leaving even a ripple of his previous existence on its surface.

Sandor lies on the ground completely winded, with no air in his lungs, and when he tries to inhale he feels sharp pain in his side.  Young Ser Cley is as efficient in attending to his unexpected guests as he was in chasing the outlaws. Seeing Sansa finally being reunited with her family brings a bittersweet conclusion to the long journey he started on the day Stannis Baratheon’s troops conquered the Red Keep.

He swears himself a dullard, laughs derisively at his own antics, yet he can’t help himself. He stares at her, not absolutely convinced he understood her meaning correctly. The looks he receives when the new arrangement is announced publicly are mostly frosty; Ser Cley is heard to complain loudly how a worthy position such as this should have by rights been awarded to a Northerner rather than to a Westerner blown in by the wind.

Stranger snorts softly and his muzzle presses lightly on Sandor’s head as he crouches in front of the horse examining his front leg. Sansa’s voice is loud and clear, approaching from behind the direwolf. He always thought she would be sweet to kiss – but the feel of her soft lips, the taste of her, the way she pushes against him and yields to his touch overwhelms him in a way he couldn’t have anticipated.

Despite his qualms about whether all that happened was just a figment of his imagination, he taps on her door the next morning as normal. Suddenly many incidents from their past surface in his mind and take completely new meanings. Nothing in his life is as it was before. After understanding that she feels for him as strongly as he does for her, instead of life getting better and simpler, it becomes more complicated.

He sees no real harm in acceding to Sansa’s wish. He wishes he was anywhere but here.  The argument goes on and on, Lady Catelyn refusing to entertain the notion of marrying her eldest daughter to a landless non-lord, not even a knight.

Sandor wakes up, Sansa still curled against him in his arms, sleeping peacefully, her hand stretched across his chest and her legs entwined with his. Their reception back in Winterfell is subdued. What then? Sandor had asked Robb that, and the answer is still forthcoming.

The babe screams as the seven devils were sitting on his chest as he lies on his mother’s arms and wildly waves his little arms. Sandor eyes the man sitting on the other side of the table warily and with more than a hint of suspicion. The two men, leaders of their respected dominions, stay up late.

Years go by quickly. News from the rest of Westeros reaches Queenscrown quickly due to new trade routes and increased traffic between the North and the South. Sandor notices that the Red Keep has hardly changed, after having spent only a few days there. Their return trip is swift and they get back in plenty of time for Sansa to prepare for giving birth in Clegane’s Burrow once again.

Fira eventually marries. Sandor hears sounds of feet shuffling around his bed and knows them to be either Fira’s or Santina’s.

Lord Sandor Clegane, the First Warden of the Far-North, is buried in the little island in the shadow of the turret first built to honour the visit of a long past Targaryen Queen.
ladytp: (St Teresa)

The man was all hard angles and planes as he lied next to her in the bed, his bony hips and ribcage protruding against Ara’s soft body when she pressed it against him.

He had arrived earlier that day carrying a flaming sword, fire of which didn’t quench even in the scabbard. He was accompanied by a red-headed woman who carried a stone that shone bright and red as the evening sun about to disappear behind sandy dunes in a ribbon around her throat.

They were looking for a silver-haired former khaleesi among the dosh khaleen. The stern-eyed man had declared that they wanted to take her far, far away, to the North, to the man in black who needed her. This man - the Watcher on the Walls - needed her Fire for his Ice, and together they were to conquer the ancient enemy that threatened the whole world; Westeros, Essos and all the lands north and south, east and west.

Dothraki didn’t care about the enemies so far away, but the miracles this dark man and his companion had performed in front of their eyes had convinced even the most sceptical old crones. Hence they had been afforded all the help and support dosh khaleen could provide, including offering Ara to the man when it was seen that he didn’t share his bed with the woman he travelled with.

Ara veered even closer to the man, fascinated by his grimness, his noble features, his broad shoulders and sinewy form. That this man was destined to greatness was evident to her and she wanted to rub even a small part of that into herself. Yet the man only pushed her away, sighed and turned his back on her, leaving Ara to wonder what drove a man like that when not even the softest skin, the silkiest hair and the most voluptuous body could steer him away from his path.

========================================
This was inspired bythis thing )
doing rounds in Tumblr and other social media. I thought it might be a fun thing to write a one-sentence/ one- paragraph/ one-ficlet/ a full-blown 200K-word opus on the fate that fell on you on this one...

So how about you talented writing ladies, anyone willing to share theirs??
Carousel2

Titles?

Sep. 1st, 2013 12:46 pm
ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Snoopy

Hi all!

Moony's recent contemplation about the title of her fics made me wonder: How do you guys choose titles for the stories you write?

Is it a long and tedious process, going through multiple options, or is it whatever comes to mind first? Do you choose something that describes the story contents, or do you go with an abstract notion? I know many titles come from snippets of poems or songs - is that the way you go?

Just curious...

As I mentioned in my comment to Moony, I have deliberately named my stories as minimally as possible, using only one or two words (except the very first one, when I had no clue or idea or plan). I like the minimalist approach, although trying to come up with one word only that summarises the story is not always easy. Also, simple names are more common across the fandoms and can cause confusion, which I didn’t think at first. Who knows, eventually I may change tact and start choosing over-flowing, multi-sentence monsters that take half the page just by themselves!

Anyone?
ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)

Jaime

Jaime couldn’t sleep that night. He tossed and turned and covered his face with a blanket, despite the room already being pitch-black. It was all Sansa’s doing, he fumed, before acknowledging that Sansa was not at fault for the swirl of emotions drowning him. However, she was certainly not completely innocent either. She had, after all, burst into his room and stared at his semi-nakedness with the unnerving gaze of a woman who is familiar with the male form. She had, after all, initiated the kiss that Jaime had only by extreme willpower broken off. The desire surging in him had been a surprise; he wouldn’t have guessed he would respond to her so eagerly.

His session with Sandor tormented him as well. He had intended his clumsy admission as a way to lessen Sandor’s concerns. Only afterwards had he realised that it might also be taken as a rub and a reminder that his little bird could soon be expected to sleep with another man, and that her lover could do nothing about it.

Would he ever sleep with Sansa? Not bloody likely, the way things were between her and Sandor. Yet her visit and the incident it had triggered wouldn’t leave him alone. She might have started the kiss lightly, as a jape, or perhaps out of pity. Still, a jape wouldn’t have shortened her breath so, nor caused a red flush to spread across her face and neckline. Pity wouldn’t have made her tongue clash with his so forcefully, nor make her tremble under his touch as she had. He had reacted to her strongly and she had noticed it, yet hadn’t moved away in alarm. Jaime wondered had he put his hand under her dress and into her smallclothes, would she have been wet, because of him?

He pressed a pillow over his head and tried to suppress the thought. She is not mine to dream about, she is Sandor’s woman. However, that was an even worse idea, as next he found himself picturing her with Sandor, his big hands between her legs, his hard body pressed against her slight frame. The little glimpses Jaime had caught of Sansa’s loveliness made him sure she would be a sight to behold naked; so delicate, so soft, so feminine. The image of Sandor’s battle-hardened, dark and scarred body on hers made him hard again. He tried to fight against it, but inexorably his hand travelled lower over his body and he was soon panting and stroking himself as other visions of the two of them overtook him. This one time only – just to get it out of my system.

Afterwards he felt strangely guilty. Dreaming of Sandor was one thing, Sansa another – but of the two of them together…somehow that was even more exciting but also alarming. For a moment he deliberated on the depths of his degradation.

On top of everything else there was the looming threat of King Aegon, coming to snatch Sansa away. Any tensions between them would matter naught in the face of such a situation. Sansa may not accept Aegon’s proposal, but what would her refusal mean to her, to them, to the North?

At an early hour in the morning Jaime decided he had to take the lead in solving the most burning of their problems.

----------

Jaime sent a polite word to Sansa through his squire, asking for an audience with his lady and her sworn shield regarding the upcoming royal visit. Soon he received an equally polite reply telling him to join them in her rooms after the midday meal.

When Jaime entered he could see that something was amiss with Sansa and Sandor. They sat in different parts of the room and instead of the usual sexual tension something else was simmering between them. He looked inquiringly at Sansa, lifting his eyebrow, but Sansa only shook her head slightly as if to say don’t ask.

Sandor looked worse for wear. The bruise on his forehead showed clearly, it’s blue and purple colour mixing with the angry red of his scar. He glanced at Jaime when he arrived, but with no special hostility as far as Jaime could discern. They greeted each other, both aware that Jaime wouldn’t have called the meeting at the busiest time of the day unless he had a good reason.

Jaime’s gaze flitted between his companions and his thoughts from the previous night came to him. He still had the grace to feel ashamed, and when Lenore bustled about, offering him a goblet of watered wine and pointing him to a tray of cheese and dried fruit, he exchanged a few words with her. Jaime hadn’t really paid much attention to Lenore before, but after Sansa’s announcement of how she too was aware of her secret, he had started to view the maid with a new appreciation. Jaime had some insights about the shrouded world of women and he knew how much close relationships meant to most of them. A strong Northern woman supporting Sansa was just what she needed in a world full of challenges for a young woman as a ruler. After some pleasantries Lenore curtsied and withdrew discreetly, leaving the three of them alone.

Jaime didn’t know what had transpired between Sansa and Sandor since the previous day, but none of that made any difference to his task anyhow. He took a sip from his goblet, stood up and moved into the middle of the room. At that moment he was not the third wheel, not the object of pity or compassion, but a commander about to reveal his strategy to his troops. He knew he was right in what he was about to propose, knew it as surely as he had known so many times before in his war campaigns. Assessing weaknesses of the enemy, planning a cunning way to exploit them, seizing the opportunity to act first rather than waiting to react to the actions of others – he had been good at it. He coughed and started.

“We all agree that King Aegon’s marriage considerations are the last thing Sansa needs, and would lead to poor outcomes for the North.” He didn’t need to look at his audience to know that they were paying attention.

“We have to avoid them at any cost. As it happens, we have a chance and the knowledge to do just that.” He saw Sansa looking at him with a keen expression, her head slightly cocked to one side. Sandor was attentive as well, but his countenance was somewhat resentful. Jaime chose to ignore it.

“Firstly, we know what Aegon plans, but he doesn’t know that we know. I believe what Tyrion wrote to Sansa about it being just between him and her. Tyrion chose to warn us.” Jaime pointed his finger at his listeners. Sansa nodded in acquiescence.

“If Sansa and I announce our betrothal before the royals arrive, it is extremely unlikely that Aegon would challenge it.”

Sansa gasped, her face betraying how unprepared she was for the suggestion Jaime had just put forward. Sandor’s face was a closed mask, but from the rigid line of his jaw Jaime could see he was equally dismayed. Before either of them had a chance to voice their objections, Jaime continued.

“He could – but what I learned about him in King’s Landing tells me that he is not prepared to be seen as a selfish ruler. A king who breaks a noble betrothal only to marry the lady himself would not be viewed favourably by his subjects and he knows that. He may bristle at the situation, but he would accept his defeat, of that I am almost certain.” Sandor and Sansa stared at him and he moved along to alleviate the trepidation he knew they must be feeling.

“This is not the same as marriage. Some engagements stretch out for years, and the main purpose here is to thwart Aegon’s suit. When he finds a new bride and the threat of a royal proposal subsides, we can always end it.”

Sansa started to open her mouth. Jaime anticipated what she was going to say; once publicly announced, betrothals were sacred and rarely rescinded, and only for the gravest of reasons. He smiled and looked at Sansa during his next statement.

“I am sure you could find a reason for ending it - known oath-breaker and scoundrel that I am. If needed, I could provide you with a scandal so big that you’d have no other choice but to declare it over, and gain the sympathy of the realm in doing so. Always at your service, my lady.” He gave Sansa a bow, exaggerating its sweep.

“What could such a reason be?! That is not a matter to be taken lightly,” Sansa spluttered.

Jaime smirked, clasping his hand to his elbow and rocking on his heels. “I am sure I could think of something.”

He knew exactly what he could do; the most scandalous affair ever to be discovered in noble circles of Westeros. Mind you, not the most audacious thing done, but one to be found out. He would seduce a soldier or a lesser knight, some poor sod who would be flattered by his attentions and succumb to carnal temptation. Public discovery, the humiliation of it all…nobody could blame Sansa for wanting to rid herself of such a man.

As if reading his thoughts Sansa murmured, “I couldn’t let you dishonour yourself just for my sake.” Sandor had clearly caught his meaning as well, but didn’t say anything. He had crossed his arms across his chest and scrutinised Jaime from under his brow.

“Why so? Are you concerned that I couldn’t endure the whole realm hating me, calling me names and detesting me for the unscrupulous acts I have committed?” Jaime sneered, knowing he had nothing to lose should it come to that. The only thing he’d miss would be the respect of the North – he had worked hard to gain it. Yet it would be worth it to help Sansa. Besides, maybe there would be no need for it; maybe someday Sansa would agree to wed him after all…

Jaime knew his suggestion to be sound and the only way to solve the issue. He examined his audience and deduced that they had come to the same conclusion. Sandor shifted his formidable bulk, looking irritated but not arguing against the plan. Sansa wrung her hands and threw apprehensive glances in Sandor’s direction.

“How do you suggest we should go about this...betrothal?”

Jaime strolled straight in front of Sandor and despite addressing his words to Sansa, he stared pointedly at Sandor.

“First we tell your council. Remember Sansa, you are not seeking their approval, but only letting them know. There may be voices of objection but you can ignore them. I may not be a favourite of all the Stark bannermen, but they know the conditions of the Iron Throne, how in any case you are not allowed to marry a Northern lord.”

Sandor stared back at him, challenging, but behind his defiant stare Jaime could see a trace of uncertainty. He knew Sandor well by now and recognised him to be prepared for the worst; to see how all he cared about was taken away from him or trampled to dust. Not if I can help it!

“Next, you will make a public announcement during a special celebration in the Great Hall. The sooner the better. This being in next to no time after your annulment, we can say that we want to keep the celebrations to a minimum, avoiding the need to invite all the lords to the feast. Besides, it is not as if either of us have our families around us, making it a stately affair.”

Sansa nodded at Jaime, seemingly reconciled with his idea.

Leaving Sandor, Jaime sat down next to Sansa and put his goblet on the table. He smiled at her and the way she looked at him, so full of trust, made his heart leap.

“It might be a good idea if we pretend that we are in love. The king could be tempted to put aside a political engagement of convenience, compensating for it with an even better proposal, but breaking apart a loving couple is another thing altogether.” He leaned back on the couch and pulled a face at Sandor, who was glaring at him. It was just too easy to annoy Sandor, he sighed. When will he accept that I will never do anything to hurt him?

“Oh,” Sansa said, throwing another look in Sandor’s direction. “I see that it makes sense.” She looked thoughtful and Jaime could see she had already grasped the advantages of his proposal.

“It wouldn’t require too much; just holding hands every now and then, maybe a public kiss here or there. Certainly a proper betrothal kiss at the feast; after all, that is one of the few times when the couple are allowed to express their feelings openly before the wedding. It probably wouldn’t hurt if you were heard to gush to your woman friends about your happiness and how you can hardly wait to be joined with your handsome lord…” Jaime found himself enjoying the situation; the more he painted the picture of a couple in love, the gloomier Sandor’s expression got. Sansa only stared at him hesitantly. Oh, this is priceless!

“You may also have to endure a swarm of excited women around you wanting to plan your wedding, dressmakers circling you with their suggestions for your wedding dress and bridal cloak, endless prattling of ladies in your ears…women seem to get excited about these things. As for me, I would have to suffer envious looks from all the men in the keep and their forced congratulations when in reality they would rather punch me in the face… As a matter of fact, some of them might even do that.” Jaime rubbed his chin pensively, but couldn’t pretend to be serious for long.

Laughing, he reached for his goblet again and knocked back a greedy gulp. “Cheer up, Sandor, it would be only a mummers’ farce! It would make our scheme better though. The king and queen rely on my brother as their Hand, and I dare say they wouldn’t want to offend him by stealing his beloved brother’s beloved bride. It will all work in our favour; in Sansa’s favour, in yours, even mine. And it doesn’t have to change anything between the two of you.”

Jaime didn’t miss the glances exchanged between Sansa and Sandor. Whatever was going on between them, it was clearly not his business. Reluctantly he concluded that he had had his fun and it was a time to leave. He snatched up some cheese and raisins and stuffed them into his mouth as he went to collect his cloak from the hook. At the door he turned and saw that neither of them had moved. Shrugging his shoulders he turned the latch.

“I leave you to consider this plan. If you agree with it, there is a council meeting tomorrow where you can make your plans known, Sansa. Just let me know what you decide so I know to act appropriately.”

Still neither of them wasted a look in his direction or noticed as he left the room. He wondered what happened after he was gone; did they fall into each other’s arms or was something seriously wrong between them? He hoped it had nothing to do with what had happened between Sansa and him. One thing was sure; he swore that this night he wouldn’t think of them doing unspeakable things to each other, nor would he fuck himself into his hand.

He failed miserably on both accounts.

----------

The council meeting was easy. Its members stared open-mouthed at Sansa as she made her announcement in a steady voice, then turned their heads in one synchronised movement to look at Jaime. Jaime tried hard to maintain an appropriate expression on his face, smiling and nodding, looking over to his betrothed every now and then in a loving display of affection. They received the ensuing congratulations of the gathered group benevolently; the castellan Cellor, the master-builder Erwyth, the old lord of House Flint and Maester Weimar. The latter was hardly able to hide his excitement, spurting his sincerest wishes of happiness to them both. Sandor was there too, and Jaime noticed some of the men glancing at him warily. Do they suspect something?

The announcement for all and sundry took place only two days later. Sansa had cited her desire to announce the matter to her own people before the royal visit, and her reasons were well received. The feast was arranged; pigs slaughtered, casks of good ale brought into the hall, musicians from Winter Town arranged, all the people of the keep advised to attend the meal and told that there was going to be a special announcement.

The folk streamed into the hall at the allotted time, looking around and whispering to each other curiously: why the feast? What was the pronouncement they had heard about?

Jaime sat at the main table next to Sansa. They had agreed that from the outset he was to take the role of a consort, Sansa being the one talking on behalf of them both. That was unusual, and in other circumstances Jaime might have found it difficult to play second fiddle to a woman. With Sansa, he didn’t mind. Whether it was just a mummer’s play or – as he still dared to hope – someday a real thing, he didn’t mind Sansa taking the lead. The worst thing about being a follower was to be led by a fool, and with Sansa there was no danger of that.

Once everyone had taken their seats, Sansa stood up. Her household guards stomped the butts of their spears on the floor and soon all talk died, all eyes directed at her. Jaime saw her swallow, then square her shoulders and lift her chin in a familiar gesture which he had learned indicated that she was ready to proceed. The wolf is ready to leap.

“My dear bannermen, my people, folk of the North. You know you have been called to tonight’s festivities for a reason, although you don’t know what it is as yet.”

The crowd hollered its accord, but quieted at her raised hand.

“As you all know, my false marriage to the Hand of the King and Queen, Tyrion Lannister, was annulled a short while ago. It was never a real union, and not of my choosing. However, I am but a young woman and I need a companion by my side. I know that many of you expected my choice to fall upon a Northern lord, one of your own. However, for many reasons this is not possible. Besides, here in the North we also know how choosing a life’s companion is about more than political cunning or the dictates of expediency. We are free people, we make our own decisions!”

At that the feast-hall broke into cheers and whistles. Northern folk had always been proud of their free and independent ways, and liked to be reminded of that.

Sansa smiled broadly and Jaime felt a surge of pride looking at her. After the cheers had settled down, she continued.

“That is why we are here tonight; I am to be betrothed, and I want to share this joyous news first with you, my own people.” She glanced at Jaime and gestured for him to get up.

“My chosen is one of my most loyal companions and one of the noblest knights in the realm, Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock. Not only did he secure my return to my ancestral home when I was but a fugitive on the run, he also recently secured peace and an accord with the Iron Throne, and their help to defeat our foes beyond the Wall.”

Jaime knew his role and that was to look adoringly at Sansa – not so hard to do – and bow at her words. Sansa extended her hand to him and he took it into his, pressing a chaste kiss on her wrist before grabbing her by the waist and pressing his lips fully against hers as the official kiss of betrothal.

The crowd stared at them for a moment before breaking into boisterous applause. Sansa blushed and let her gaze sweep across the room. Jaime held his smile and felt the love directed at Sansa brushing over him as well. Is this what it feels like to be loved by people?

What followed were a few speeches by respected figures of the keep, congratulating their lady and her chosen consort. Ser Jorah stood up as well, raising his cup and toasting the happy couple. Jaime wondered if he was aware of King Aegon’s plans and what he thought of them, or the engagement.  He looked sincere, but sometimes Jaime had an uneasy feeling that Ser Jorah saw more of what was going on between Sansa and Sandor than others. Maybe being in the same situation himself he was more attuned to subtle signs. Sure enough, his eyes rested on Sandor after he had finished, but if anything, his expression was slightly sad. That left Jaime questioning silently what his position would be should matters escalate with the royals.

The toasts were interspersed by food being brought into the hall: steaming fresh bread and yellow butter, whole roasted pigs and their blood made into sausages; turnips, potatoes and steamed greens, all accompanied with healthy helpings of ale and wine. The mood in the hall was jovial and merry, sweeping Jaime along with it. He ate heartily, fed the best morsels of his meal to Sansa and laughed at lewd japes some of the most daring guests ventured to make.

Sandor too was seated on the dais, and despite both Jaime and Sansa’s warnings not to show his irritation too clearly, Jaime could see that he was brooding.

Jaime stood up and lifted his goblet. The hall fell silent, only the sound of dogs growling at each other under the tables over scraps of meat penetrating the hushed reverence. People strained to listen to what the man of the hour, the betrothed of their beloved lady, would say.

“Dear Northerners! I don’t have to remind you about one of my darkest sins, that of not being born here. Nonetheless, since I have joined you and given my allegiance to House Stark, I have learned to love this land, its people, and especially one of them – the most beautiful flower in the North.” He turned and raised his goblet to Sansa, who looked at him with a bright smile on her face. The crowd cheered and howled and showed its approval.

“I am indeed the luckiest man alive. Not only has this lovely lady accepted my suit, but I am also surrounded by people I can call my friends. One of them especially is not only my friend, but also a man into whose hands I can entrust the most precious thing in my life, my lady love.” Jaime turned towards Sandor and raised his goblet in his direction.

“Sandor Clegane, the sworn shield of my betrothed! I commend her into your continuing protection, knowing you will take as good care of her safety, or better, as I could myself. Our thoughts and our gratitude are with you now, as always.” He lifted his drink and gulped it down, only marginally ashamed of the way he had put Sandor in focus. Yet he had his reasons; he wanted to show everyone how he had no intention of relieving his intended’s protector of duty, as some might expect. No, with his words he ensured that Sandor could continue to stay at Sansa’s side at all times.

Sandor glared at him but had no choice but to accept his toast and the clapping of the crowd. Jaime lifted his eyebrow and smirked at him, knowing he would pay for his words dearly come the next time they sparred in the training yard.

The rest of the evening descended into a blurry, hazy cavalcade of congratulatory drinks, back-slapping, blurred speeches and rousing tunes played by a rag-tag band of musicians. Jaime couldn’t remember when last he had had such a good time, just as he couldn’t remember how he ended up in his room in the wee hours of the morning.

He didn’t seem to be the only one, and overall everyone agreed afterwards that it had been the best betrothal feast in the North for a long, long time.

ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Sansa

Sansa knew it was only a matter of time before Sandor brought up Jaime’s proposal – or was it Tyrion’s? – with the man himself. Yet it had been days since she had told him about it, and to her knowledge it had not happened.

Sandor had stayed away from her rooms for two nights in a row, and during the day Sansa sensed him withdrawing inside his barriers once again. Part of Sansa understood him; if he was to lose her, he wanted to be prepared. Nonetheless, she protested against it in her mind. If they were to be parted, shouldn’t they be together as much as possible, imprint each other onto their minds and bodies for the rest of their lives?

Sansa’s own thoughts ran around in circles; surprise that she hadn’t thought of the solution Jaime might provide, guilt for even thinking about the suggestion and a niggling sensation that by doing so she was somehow betraying Sandor. The memory of Jaime’s sad expression when he had brushed his suit aside haunted her. Anger at King Aegon bubbled to the surface and at times she cursed the occupants of the Iron Throne, who simply couldn’t leave her alone. She had learned quite a few colourful expressions from Sandor, and although she would have been horrified at being caught using such language in public, in the privacy of her chambers she had no such qualms. Somehow uttering a strong word directed against the faceless, shapeless adversary made her feel better.

Sansa was in the courtyard, conversing with the castellan about the state of Winterfell’s food stores when she saw Jaime and Sandor returning from the practice yard. That was not an uncommon sight. On the contrary, since Jaime had come back it had been an almost daily occurrence. However, this time something alerted her as she watched them getting closer. The way they avoided looking at each other, the silence between them, the slump of Sandor’s shoulders.

Sansa had to know; had Sandor confronted Jaime? Had he done something rash and ill-advised? She dismissed the castellan and rushed after her companions. She had to refrain from running, walking briskly instead, as was fitting for the lady of the keep.  She lifted her skirts slightly so she could take longer strides, avoiding animal droppings and piles of muck not yet cleaned from the yard. However, before she reached them, Jaime turned towards the bathhouse, curtly nodding at Sandor before walking away. Sandor stopped and stared at Jaime’s retreating back, his face strained with an emotion Sansa couldn’t decipher.

“Sandor.” He whisked around and seeing Sansa, schooled his face into an expressionless mask.

“My lady.” He lowered his head. Sansa could see that they had been practicing hard – or have they been fighting for true? Sandor’s attire was dirty and dishevelled, indicating that he had spent more time on the ground than he might have liked. The good side of his face was abraded and a nasty bruise had started to form on his forehead.

“Please walk with me to the Great Hall.” Sansa turned towards the other side of the yard, Sandor falling in step slightly behind her. She wanted to talk to him freely, but they were in public and she had to be careful. Yet she couldn’t wait until the evening to hear what had transpired.

“What happened?” she muttered in a low voice. “Did you and Jaime discuss the proposal?”

Sandor walked on as if he hadn’t heard her question. Sansa glanced at him.

“Tell me, Sandor, I can’t wait until the evening! At least tell me if anything bad happened.”

Sansa smiled and greeted a small group of women from Winter Town as they approached. They returned her greetings with hasty curtsies, peeping cautiously at Sandor, but luckily bypassed them without further words.

Still Sandor was quiet. Sansa’s impatience got the better of her and she stopped fully and turned to him.

“Sandor, I have to know! What did you tell Jaime? What did he say to you?” Sansa wanted to grasp his hand to emphasise her words but again was prevented from doing so because of the rules of propriety. Normally she could cope with them, knowing she would have her time with him come evening. Now she felt frustration growing inside her. All she could do was glower at him with her most regal expression, hoping it would indicate how badly she needed him to respond.

Sandor looked at her and in his grey eyes she saw a trapped animal, blinking at its captor.

“Ask the lion,” he finally grunted, then bowed and turned around, leaving Sansa standing alone in the middle of the yard.

----------

“Jaime, I need to talk to you!” Sansa knocked on the door of his room. She knew it was almost as inappropriate as holding the hand of her sworn shield in the middle of the yard, but her nerves were frayed and she didn’t care anymore. What has happened, what have they done?

She heard steps approaching and then Jaime’s voice through the door.

“Apologies, my lady, but I can’t open the door just now. May I attend you in a short while?”

Sansa’s frustration grew. Both of them seemed determined to brush her aside. She tapped her foot on the floor and swayed indecisively on the spot. She stared at the door, its old timber and gnarled grains, shrivelled and shrunken from countless years of wear and tear. It stood in the way of her finding out what had made the two men, who meant more to her than anything in this world, so evasive. Blast! She made her decision and pushed the door open.

She stepped into the room and surprised Jaime, who had already returned to his trunk and was crouched over it, digging through its contents, apparently in search of clothes. He wore only his breeches, which hadn’t been properly laced, hanging low on his hips. That he had just been bathing was clear from the dampness of his hair and the ruddy tinge on the bare skin of his upper body.

He startled and stood up, staring in astonishment at Sansa. He bore the marks of the scuffle as well, fresh grazes on his arms and on his cheek. He also had a nasty bruise just under his collarbone and that purplish welt drew Sansa’s eyes inexorably towards it. Or maybe it was not the bruise, but the outline of the well-defined muscles under his skin, the flat of his stomach and how the slight folds on it as he had been crouching had smoothed out as he stood up, leaving behind only hard planes without an inch of excess fat. Sansa had established a new appreciation for the male form since she had started to study Sandor, and she couldn’t avert her eyes from the distinct valleys of muscle and the indentations that curved from Jaime’s sides towards his front, disappearing under his breeches on their way to his groin…

Sansa snapped out of her trance.  Muttering apologies she turned around, focussing on a spot on the stone wall while she tried to gather her wits. She heard a rustle as Jaime pulled a tunic over his head, then heard him approaching. Her heart thumped at the memory of the unexpected sight, something in it affecting her profoundly. Oh yes, she was well aware what a handsome man Jaime was, but seeing him in such an exposed state of undress, seeing his body so clearly… Her eyes were accustomed to Sandor’s nakedness and his raw sexuality, but she hadn’t seen other men as she had just observed Jaime. He was a tall, strong man, muscled and well-proportioned.  Sandor was by all accounts taller, stronger and bigger than Jaime. Still, it was not Jaime’s raw strength or power that caught her eye, but something else…He was breathtaking and dangerous, oozing sensuality that Sansa felt directed at her, intentionally or not. She closed her eyes and let her gaze wander down Jaime’s body in her mind once again.

Sansa sensed Jaime standing right behind her and heard his voice.

“I am dressed now, you can turn around. I am sorry that you had to see that, although I did warn you. Or was this payback for the time when I so unforgivably forced my way into your room while you were – let’s say - less than ready to receive visitors?”

Sansa whirled around and indeed, Jaime was clothed in a fine brown tunic, his breeches up and fully laced. His feet were still bare and there was something vulnerable in that. Sansa stared at them and refused to lift her gaze, knowing that if she did so she wouldn’t be able to help following his form even under the clothes. She was not ready to let Jaime know how profoundly he had affected her.

She looked towards the window, then at the wall again, then finally at Jaime. He watched Sansa intently, a small tug at the corner of his mouth indicating that he was not quite as sorry as his words conveyed.

“I…I didn’t mean it like that. I should apologise – but I really needed to talk to you!” The reason for her visit flooded back into Sansa’s mind and she moved to sit down on the second bed in the room. Not the one where Jaime slept, she surmised, from the way how neat and flat it was. That little bit of propriety on her part made her feel more in control. She looked up at Jaime.

“What did you and Sandor do or talk about? I asked him but he refused to answer me, only telling me to ask you. Did you quarrel?”

Jaime ran his hand across his brow, swiping a few unruly locks of hair away from his face. Sansa could see small droplets of sweat on his forehead, remnants from the heat of the baths. He sighed and sat down opposite to Sansa.

“No, we didn’t. These,” he pointed at his cheek and generally to the direction of his chest, “are just the normal consequences of a hard practice.” He grimaced, touching the spot on the right side of his chest, where Sansa had seen the bruise.

“Although it seems Sandor took it particularly hard this time, no, we didn’t quarrel.” He directed his gaze to Sansa, who found herself staring at Jaime’s chest once again.

“You discussed your proposal? Tyrion’s proposal,” Sansa corrected her words immediately, lifting her head and feeling a blush spread across her face.

“Yes, I guess we did. He let me know you had told him about it, we acknowledged it all came down to the need for heirs, and that Aegon was the real threat.”

Jaime leaned his elbows on his thighs and looked at the floor. Sansa was relieved but something still didn’t make sense. If they had not quarrelled, if they agreed with each other, why had Sandor looked so unsettled? Why was Jaime now avoiding looking at her? She reached across the gap and placed her hand on Jaime’s knee. She had done it a hundred times; to catch his attention, to swat at him when he was being stupid, a few times for support – yet never had it felt so awkward as it did now. She removed her hand quickly and withdrew, Jaime’s attention having turned back to her.

“That is not all. I can sense there is more to this than what you just said. Jaime, tell me, whatever it is.”

Jaime straightened and stood up abruptly, walking to the other side of the room. His back turned to Sansa, he fiddled with pieces of his armour, hanging on the pegs on the wall.

“I wanted to let him know that should it come to pass, I wouldn’t presume to demand that you put an end to your…relationship.”

Sansa was surprised. She hadn’t truly thought that far ahead yet; what it would mean in practice to be married to Jaime, or how they would conduct their marital life. She had always assumed that once she wed, her lord husband would naturally expect her to perform her wifely duties as required. Further than that she had refused to speculate, especially after Sandor had started to visit her bed. How to reconcile a husband and a lover was such an impossible quandary that she had preferred to close her mind to it. Not now, I will think about it later, had become her mantra. Why she should be so deterred, she didn’t know. She was a woman wedded and bedded, after all. That it had been with two different men should have made her even more at ease with the topic.

What does he mean? Sansa was intrigued. Did Jaime mean to tell her that he wouldn’t demand her to be a wife to him in truth? To her surprise a small part of her was disappointed, even affronted. Yet if that was what he meant, why would Sandor be so upset about it?

“What are you saying, Jaime? Do you mean that…you wouldn’t want me?” Oh my! That came out all wrong, Sansa realised and hastily tried to make herself clearer.

“I mean, should we marry, you wouldn’t…” Why is this so difficult?

Jaime turned to face her and smiled again, that small sardonic smile of his, with only a hint of sadness.

“Wouldn’t want you? I doubt there is a red-blooded man in the realm who could say that. Your charms are way too abundant and obvious.” His appreciative gaze travelled down Sansa’s form, making Sansa blush, but at the same kick herself internally. What on earth was she doing, talking of such matters with Jaime? This was just too embarrassing!

Jaime walked back to the bed, seemingly determined to speak his mind. He sat next to Sansa, who could smell him; soap, herbs and the clean linen of his fresh tunic.

“Sansa, listen to me. It doesn’t matter what I think, or what Sandor thinks, or even what King Aegon thinks. You are the one who decides what you will do and with whom. Whatever you decide, both Sandor and I will support you and respect your wishes. He may grumble a bit but he will follow your lead. So if he and I discuss these things, it is only to clarify matters between ourselves. You are the one who has the last word.”

Sansa was even more confused now. Last word about what? Jaime took her hand and took a deep breath.

“I might have told Sandor that when it came to heirs, wolves, lions and hounds can be happy if brought up together.”

Wolves, lions and hounds? It took only a moment before Sansa grasped his meaning, and her eyes widened. He can’t mean…I couldn’t…surely Sandor wouldn’t agree? Thoughts chased each other inside her head and she snatched her hand away from Jaime’s grasp.

Jaime smiled again, a bit sadder this time. “I am sorry, Sansa, I didn’t mean to insult you. I know you are a lady.” He leaned across, taking Sansa’s hand again and placing a courtly kiss on it. He had done it plenty of times, both in public and in private – yet again Sansa felt unusually self-conscious.
“Believe me when I say that I do understand you not wanting me in your bed after…” Jaime shook his head in a way Sansa had learned meant he was unsure of something.

Him. Sansa knew Jaime was comparing himself to Sandor and had found himself wanting. Suddenly she had a flash of a memory of sneaking into Jaime’s bed. That had been before she had given herself to Sandor, but that had also been the first time she had sensed Jaime’s feline sensuality… That he thought so little of his own appeal made Sansa sad.

Without stopping to think whether it was a good idea to remind Jaime of that night, she blurted.

“At Greywater Watch, when I came to you – I hadn’t really thought of you as a man before that, but I felt it then. I didn’t intend to, and I meant what I said - how you didn’t seem to react to me like other men did.”

Jaime looked up and smirked, his sadness evaporating. “I remember it well. As a matter of fact, it is one of my most cherished memories. Especially as, quite contrary to what you were saying to me at the time, I did find myself in an extremely uncomfortable and hard position. With you playing with me so innocently in your flimsy shift, so awfully close to me.”

Sansa blushed even more, taking his meaning. Wanting to move away from such a sensitive topic, she continued.

“I even thought I might consider marrying you. That it might be a real option for me. Then Sandor came back and I…” She didn’t finish her sentence. Jaime knew Sandor came first for her, no need to try to hide it. No point in rubbing it in his face either.

“I know, I know.” Jaime patted her hand. Up close, Sansa could see the straight profile of his nose, the curve of his lips. He looked thoughtful and after a while, grimaced. He lifted his shoulders and looked directly at Sansa’s eyes.

“In King’s Landing I met a man. Nobody you know, and I saw him only a couple of times. He taught me things I hadn’t known before. Different things.” He moved his gaze and was lost in thought for a while, somewhere Sansa couldn’t see.

Sansa was captivated. A man? Not just any man from the sound of it. Understanding dawned on her. Oh…

She squeezed Jaime’s hand encouragingly. Neither of them spoke for a while. Suddenly Sansa saw the amusing side of the situation. So many desires, so many emotions, all jumbled up. Without intending to, she felt her mouth curving into a smile. Jaime noticed it and looked at her uncertainly.

“Oh Jaime! Maybe all this is just speculation, what might or might not happen between us, should we marry?! Would you really even want me; maybe it would be you who would turn away from your husbandly duties!” She laughed now, relieved to have found some lightness in the situation that could have become even more awkward had the two of them not been so close.

Jaime took her meaning and grinned back at her.

“Indeed, maybe I would be a disappointment to you and to the whole North!”

Sansa pointed her finger at him and pressed it against his nose. “I am sure you wouldn’t! But if you are so unsure, maybe we should try if you still have it in you?” She leaned towards him and pressed a playful kiss to his lips. She had meant it as a jape, as a tease, but before she realised what had happened, the kiss had deepened. Which one of them instigated that, she didn’t know. Just as she didn’t know which one of them opened their mouth first; she only felt Jaime’s tongue sliding against hers, and couldn’t prevent her own exploration of his mouth. The passion such a kiss elicited in her came unbidden and her breathing changed. Her body reacted to that primal stimulation without her conscious participation, a familiar heat emerging at the core of her body. Without noticing, her hand landed on Jaime’s thigh and she heard him muffle a groan.

Jaime withdrew suddenly, his hand, which had mysteriously appeared at the back of her head, dropping down. Sansa saw traces of her saliva on his lips, the flick of his tongue as he swiped it away and comported himself. The spell was broken and Sansa lowered her head, dazed by what had just happened. Her gaze fell to Jaime’s lap and she saw the outline of his hardness, clearly discernible in the folds of his breeches. Abruptly, she turned her head away and stared at the bedspread. The simple northern patterns of the weave were suddenly the most interesting thing she had seen for a long, long time.

She sensed Jaime shifting beside her, moving his hand to cover his lap and the indecent sight it offered.

“Sansa.”

“Jaime.”

“I am sorry, I didn’t mean to…”

“Me too. I started it, I am the one who…”

“No, I was in the wrong.”

Sansa gathered herself. Yes, the situation had gotten out of hand, but no lasting damage had occurred. She was embarrassed though, and Jaime seemed to share her feelings.

“It was just a kiss.”

“Yes, just a kiss. We have kissed before. A kiss is not a big thing, and nothing to make a big fuss about, just as I told Sandor.”

Sansa’s head shot up at that. Had she heard him correctly? Sandor?

“What do you mean? Sandor?”

Jaime looked at her, baffled. “You know, the few times we…Hells, do you mean to say he hasn’t told you?” He looked sheepish and the embarrassment of their situation fell away, to be replaced with another level of discomfort. Jaime glanced away, searching his room as if trying to locate an escape from Sansa’s penetrating scrutiny.

“Have you and Sandor kissed? When? Why?” Sansa’s heart missed a beat. She knew Jaime longed for Sandor, but had Sandor ever…?

Jaime returned his attention to Sansa. His smile was just a little less sure, the lightness in his tone just a little more forced.

“Twice, only two times. The first time just before I left for the South. I asked it of him, I presented him with a challenge. I thought I might never come back and… I was probably more surprised than him when he agreed to it. That was not much of a kiss anyway, just a quick peck.”

Sansa stared at him, trying to work out why Sandor wouldn’t have mentioned it. If it was so innocent and just a peck.

“And the second time?” It obviously had happened since his return – after she and Sandor had become lovers!

“The day I walked in on the two of you. Sandor came to see me afterwards and I made a jape to him about how much more experienced he must be in kissing by then, not having had much experience of it before. He…he must have thought that I was such a pathetic failure that I needed proof of it, or something…” Jaime’s tone was resigned.

Sansa’s heart fluttered and she strained to make sense of what Jaime was saying. The day when he discovered us… Suddenly she realised what it must have been; Sandor’s way of telling him that he had not been ejected from their pack. She remembered Sandor had told her about letting Jaime know that he still had a place with them, despite the new state of affairs. Had he actually told her that he had said it? Sansa wrinkled her brow trying to remember. Her head started to hurt. Why didn’t he tell me? What does it mean?

As if reading her thoughts Jaime sighed, moving further away from her but catching her attention just the same.

“Don’t read too much into it, Sansa. Whatever you may think, I know he only wants you. He doesn’t care about me, except as a friend – I hope.” He snorted. “He feels sorry for me, and pets me as one would a faithful dog. Or should I say a cat? I haven’t been a lion for a long time.”

Sansa turned her attention to him, once again disconcerted by the cynicism she sensed in him.

“Oh Jaime. I don’t know what to think anymore. All this is just so confusing. You and me and Sandor… It shouldn’t be this complicated, should it?”

“No, it shouldn’t be, but we are only human beings, carried away by our wants and desires. Maybe we have been spoiled and have it too easy, to concern ourselves with all this. Were we simply peasants or still bound by the rules of the society and our houses, we would do as we were told and wouldn’t worry about any of this.” He shrugged his shoulders and spread his hands to indicate the width of their depravity.

Sansa understood what he meant. She had lived that life once; done as her parents and society expected, hadn’t asked questions, hadn’t wondered what if. And that life had let her down. No, it was better to have too many choices than too few, no matter if they brought with them their own dilemmas.

She stood up. She had to go to her rooms and think about all this. Jaime, Sandor, her kiss with Jaime, Sandor’s kiss with him, the talk about hounds and lions and wolves… Jaime looked up at her expectantly. She smiled at him and it was not a forced smile but one of genuine affection.

“I leave you now. I have much to think about. Besides, I am afraid of what might happen if I stayed any longer!” She smiled broadly as she said so, intending to put Jaime at ease. Yet part of her was serious; she didn’t want to contemplate what might happen should she stay. She was afraid – not of Jaime but of herself.

Jaime chuckled at her, but soon turned thoughtful.

“I am not in favour of keeping secrets, Sansa, but maybe it would be better if you didn’t mention the kiss to Sandor. The one between him and I, I mean. I leave it up to you what you tell him about us.” He brushed his hand across his chest and grimaced, exaggerating his pain.

“Next time we practice I might wear my full armour anyway, just in case.”

Sansa leaned down and squeezed his shoulder. “I will not tell him. About you two. And if he chooses not to share with me who he kisses, maybe I will do the same.” She straightened, swiped her hands over her dress and then her head, checking that her hair was in place and that she could step out, the image of respectability once again.

She turned at the door and smiled once more at Jaime, who still sat on the bed, looking after her.

“I think we can call it even now. You compromised my modesty once, I did the same to you. Maybe from now on we both should knock on each other’s doors and wait for an invitation before entering.” Jaime grinned back at her and with his open smile the last thing she saw, she started towards her rooms.

----------

That night Sansa asked Lenore to pass a message to Sandor that she wasn’t able to see him. She couldn’t be sure if he had intended to come to her anyway, but nonetheless, she was not ready to see him just yet. She instructed Lenore to tell Sandor that she was tired and had many things to think over, but that she looked forward to seeing him the next evening. To make it clearer that she wasn’t turning him away in retaliation for his absence over the last few nights, she passed him a little note, a hastily scribbled little bird on a piece of parchment from her desk. She didn’t want him to think that she wanted to punish him in any way.

No, she only needed some time to sort her thoughts, so completely thrown into disarray by the day’s events.
could do nothing about it.
ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Sandor


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.

ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)

Sansa

Sansa sighed and pulled away from Sandor, sweat gluing strands of hair to her forehead. Sandor’s chest moved up and down as he breathed heavily, spent by the passion that had overtaken them. The sheets lay tangled and forgotten at the foot of the bed.

As much as Sansa cherished their lovemaking, she also enjoyed the moments afterwards. She murmured sweet nothings into Sandor’s ear, while he let his warm touch to do his talking. Sometimes they spoke about intimate matters; those that were too sensitive to be addressed in the light of day. This night Sansa had one such topic in mind.

“I have received yet another proposal of marriage, of which I haven’t told you until now. It was a roundabout offer, not made directly by the man in question.” Sansa wanted to make sure Sandor understood it had not been Jaime’s own initiative.

“By some pathetic gnat, not brave enough to make his own bid? Did his mother ask for your assent on his behalf?” grumbled Sandor, pulling Sansa closer. He turned onto his left side so that Sansa was completely trapped under his right arm and leg, her head resting against his left shoulder. The lingering sweat on her body caught the chill of the room and she shivered.

Initially Sandor had become sullen and withdrawn whenever talk turned to Sansa’s suitors, but gradually he had softened his stance. He didn’t like it and he hated the lords, near or far, who approached Sansa with their proposals. Yet Sansa knew him to be far too pragmatic to pretend that the matter would disappear if he ignored it.

“Everyone expects me to get married sooner rather than later. My annulment has opened the floodgates; you know that as well as I do.”

“I do, little bird. If they come from all across the realm, why couldn’t you marry some buggering old lord from across the sea, whom you would never have to even meet?”

“And if I carried a babe, wouldn’t that be just a bit too unbelievable? A babe is what this all comes down to. An heir for House Stark.”

“A babe…” Sandor’s voice sounded muffled. He never approached the subject, but the way he sometimes slid his palm across Sansa’s belly and stared at it told her that the subject was not new to him.

Sansa braced herself for what she needed to say by tensing slightly.

“Tyrion suggested the marriage. He and the king and queen think they might have found me a good match. A nobleman who is not from the North and has no ambition to pursue his own agenda through my claim.”

“Aye, and who’s that? The old cripple, Prince Doran?” Sandor spoke against the crown of her head, his right hand travelling down Sansa’s side, across her stomach and hip. His was not a touch meant to provoke her desire - this time - but one for his enjoyment. For him to feel Sansa’s soft skin, her womanly curves and her warmth. Sansa loved the heavy press of his palm on her body and sometimes wondered how a hard man like Sandor could enjoy such an unassuming thing so greatly.

Sometimes Sansa felt as if she was trying to tame a beast; one driven by instincts and focussing on survival. Unpredictable and cruel when needed, but without guile or treachery, like nature itself. A beast who had been kicked too many times and distrusted everyone, but still had the dignity that only wild animals possess, knowing its own true worth. That such a creature allowed her to pet him made her grateful in the strangest way.

Sansa drew her breath. “Jaime,” she exhaled, then stilled, waiting for Sandor’s reaction. He lifted his head and peered at Sansa with poorly hidden disbelief on his face.

“The lion?”

“Yes, our Jaime.”

“Did you hear this from Tyrion, or from Jaime?”

“Tyrion wrote about it in his letter, assuming Jaime had already proposed. He hadn’t, after finding out about us…” Sansa’s voice trailed away. She knew Sandor would never unleash his anger on her as he had done a long, long time ago. Still she didn’t want to see him withdraw into his own world again and shut her out, as he was prone to do if something troubled him. Not that it happened often – but if ever there was a situation that might trigger it, this must be it.

To her surprise Sandor only looked at her, his expression betraying nothing but silent contemplation. Sansa wondered how long it would take for her to truly know him. How could he sometimes be so tender, the next moment ruthless, the next pragmatic? She swore she would never stop trying to understand, or being fascinated by this complex man resting next to her.

Finally Sandor spoke. “What did he say; does he want to marry you?”

Sansa raised her hand to touch his face. Scarred or unblemished skin, it mattered naught to her now.

“He said he was not going to even mention it, not after he learned what there is between you and me. Nonetheless, I have to give my answer to the king and queen when they arrive.”

“That was not the answer to my question, little bird.” His voice was flat, with just a hint of irritation in it.

“He said that he would have cherished and respected me, and not lorded over me. That it might have worked. That he might not be what I deserve in a husband, but he might be better than some others.”

Sandor turned on his back, releasing Sansa from his grip. He stared at the ceiling and Sansa saw his brow furrow.

“What about the Dragons, do they insist on this?”

“Jaime advised I should tell them that I am not ready to marry another Lannister. He thought I could still have some more time before I have to make my decision.” Sansa snuggled against him, wanting to dispel the frown on his face. Yet she knew she had to tell him everything.

“There is more,” she whispered.

“Hells, what next? Tyrion changed his mind and wants you back?” Sandor barked.

“No…and you are wrong in judging him so harshly. He has been nothing but good to us; to me, to Jaime and to the North. He doesn’t deserve your dislike.”

Sandor harrumphed, but didn’t interrupt her.

“King Aegon is in need of a bride. He wants to marry a Westerosi lady of high birth to forge new alliances. Tyrion wrote that he is considering me as his betrothed and has that in mind for his visit.”

There was no mistaking it now; Sandor was angry. Not at her, but at the whole world which seemed intent on disturbing and destroying their little world.

King Aegon? You to become queen? I thought that was no longer your wish!”

“It is not! I would never accede to that and leave the North again, but this complicates things. If he takes a liking to me and proposes, turning him down could be politically risky.”

“What do you mean, if he takes a liking? Bloody hells, woman, any man only has to glance at you and they will be trapped; hook, line and stone. Why can’t that dragonspawn marry his aunt, isn’t that what Targaryens are so good at?”

Sansa wasn’t deterred by Sandor’s ranting. “She is apparently barren, and their house needs an heir even more than mine. Forming bonds of kinship between noble houses is important as well. I will never accept his proposal, should it come to that. I would rather face a war again.” Sansa knew she couldn’t contemplate that prospect, but surely there was something she could do to avoid Aegon’s attentions? 

Her mind calmed as she thought of the challenge ahead. She had found a way out of worse, and with her two companions by her side, they’d find a solution.

“We can think about this later. Let’s talk about something else. Or better still, let’s not talk.” Sansa shimmied closer to Sandor, who had closed his eyes and exhaled a ragged breath, seemingly accepting Sansa’s suggestion.

Since Jaime had returned, Sandor had continued to come to her rooms as before, as often as possible. Only on some nights did his duties or the expectations of others keep him away. Yet the last few evenings Sansa had seen him restless in a way he hadn’t been before. A few times she caught him distracted, contemplating something only he knew. He could be holding her, next to her in body, but the faraway look on his face revealed his mind was somewhere else.

She urged Sandor to turn onto his stomach and started to stroke his back with her hands, determined to banish the unsettling thoughts from his mind. She tried to press as hard as she could, in the way Sandor had showed her, but her feeble attempts didn’t do much against the solid mass of his muscles. Sansa saw him close his eyes in response to her touch and felt him relax under her hands.

This is how Jaime must have touched him, she realised. Does he miss it? On a whim she leaned into his ear and whispered, “You can go to him. I don’t mind.”

Sandor opened his eyes and turned to stare at her. “What the hells are you talking about, little bird?”

Sansa felt hesitant, but the flash of insight she had just gained forced her to continue. Her words came out as a whisper.

“You can go to Jaime, I don’t mind. I know you miss his company.”

Sandor scooped her into his arms and pressed his face against her hair. “I miss only your company. Why would I want to waste time in the presence of the Kingslayer when I can have you?”

Sansa accepted his words and pulled him closer, all the while knowing that she had seen it true.

----------

The next day Sandor asked her if she would mind if he came to her later. Sansa agreed readily, guessing where – to whom - he would go. A tiny flicker of doubt entered her mind, but she admonished herself soon enough. After all, she had suggested that. Knowing that besides her, Jaime was the only person who had gotten through Sandor’s defences, she accepted that if she truly loved him, she would let him go.

When Sandor came to her later, she didn’t ask him questions. She didn’t have to; she was confident of his love for her, however undeclared it was, and nothing else mattered.

----------

Of all the visitors from the South, Sansa found Ser Jorah Mormont the most intriguing. He had stayed behind when the southern army departed, planning to visit his old home of Bear Island with Queen Daenerys once she arrived.

Excluding Sandor he was the most unusual man Sansa had met. He treated her as an equal to any man, and a leader, unlike most lords. Oh, the others acknowledged her claim, respected her as the daughter of Lord Eddard Stark and spoke of her beauty and her capabilities as a woman. Ser Jorah made no issue of her gender and treated her no differently to any other noble ruler. He was courteous and knightly, but when Sansa talked, he actually listened to her, instead of only feigning interest. Sansa could only conclude that to be due to his long association with Daenerys Targaryen, the woman who had risen from a penniless exile to the queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Jaime had told Sansa about his widely known and seemingly accepted association with the queen. Although Sansa had no reason to doubt Jaime, the first time she saw Ser Jorah she found it difficult to believe. He was a balding, middle-aged man whose face was terribly marked with a crude demon tattoo. He is so ugly! As soon as the thought entered her head, she saw Sandor, on guard in the background as a sworn shield should be, and felt a twinge of shame. The realisation that the young queen could love a man like Ser Jorah made Sansa consider her in a completely new light.

So far she had seen the pending royal visit only as the final hurdle on the road towards peace in the North. Now she found herself curious about her sovereigns. What was the young queen really like? Would they have anything in common – besides kin killed in a cruel war, youth spent under the control of others and a difficult journey to be acknowledged as the head of their houses? And a hideously marred lover?

To her delight, even Sandor seemed to approve of Ser Jorah, and the two were often seen discussing different weapons and practices of war in the foreign kingdoms.
Sansa spent several afternoons with her new friend, who told her about exotic lands across the sea and answered her questions about the queen and king. When Ser Jorah spoke of his queen, his features softened and Sansa caught a glimpse of what Daenerys might see in him.

Sansa had specific reasons for her queries, wanting to get insight into what kind of a man Aegon was. Was he the type to take offense if rejected; was he known to bear grudges? Sansa didn’t want to think of him as a man she may have to marry – only as a threat to be thwarted. To her relief all Ser Jorah told her painted a picture of a reasonable young man, wise beyond his years. Not a spoiled brat like Joffrey had been, raised to privilege without ever having to earn it, but another exile making his way back to his heritage through patience, cunning and the support of those still loyal to his house.

Sansa started to feel better about her chances of avoiding another cursed betrothal with the royal house.

----------

Ser Jorah also knew about Brienne’s quest in Braavos and had worked with Jaime in King’s Landing to expand her search with the help of the Iron Throne.

Jaime related to Sansa and Sandor what they had done, laughing that although he recognised his limitations in political strategies, he knew a thing or two about hunting and battle tactics. If a hunter had difficulties locating his quarry, rather than wasting time and effort in trying to rush after elusive beasts, it was better to trap them. Likewise, wars were lost if spent in wandering the countryside in search of an enemy. That was foolish – it was much better to entice a foe to exactly where you wanted them to be.
With that in mind he had come up with a plan for Brienne. Assisted by some local contacts, supplied by Ser Jorah, Brienne was to lure Arya to find her, rather than the other way around.

Jaime had sent drawings of the Stark direwolf sigil to Braavos, and Brienne was to turn them into a stamp in a workshop specialising in printing colours and shapes on fabric. The stamp was to contain a direwolf silhouette and the word NYMERIA, another stamp bearing a simple arrow alone. Brienne was then to go around in Braavos and paint those images on the walls of buildings, fences and rock-faces, arrows pointing to where she wanted Arya to come.

The direwolf itself had been slightly modified, but still clearly recognisable to anyone familiar with the Stark sigil. Jaime had chosen NYMERIA, as anything directly related to the Starks or Arya might alert undesired interest. For most people Nymeria meant the legendary warrior queen of the Rhoyne, but Jaime knew the word to have a special meaning to Arya, evoking memories of her lost direwolf. A wall drawing of a wolf and the name of a legendary figure from the past was unlikely to raise suspicions, being dismissed only as the idle scribblings of restless youths, common in such a big city.

Soon after Jaime’s return to Winterfell he had received a message from Brienne confirming she had done as planned. She had established her headquarters at an inn near the harbour and painted hundreds of signs all over the city; in poorer areas and in palatial neighbourhoods, in the markets, near training yards, whorehouses, religious buildings…everywhere. All of them pointed an arrow towards her inn. She had instructed the innkeeper and his staff to send anyone coming to ask about the signs to her.

Then Brienne had settled down to wait, while still continuing to follow any promising leads she heard. Yet she always returned to the inn to see if her trap had worked.

She wrote to Jaime in astonishment that the Braavosi seemed to be strangely fascinated by her. They approached her in the streets, followed her around, and when she was sitting in the common room, tried to join her. Her blond hair, freckles and bright blue eyes seemed to captivate men as they had never done in Westeros. To add to her puzzlement, her admirers didn’t seem to mind her size, her manly manners or even her habit of dressing in men’s clothes and carrying a sword. If anything, that seemed to turn them on even more.

In an aside she mentioned that some women seemed to behave in the same bizarre fashion, following her and seeking her company. As Jaime related that part of her letter to Sansa and Sandor, he laughed so hard that he had tears in his eyes. Sansa giggled as well, slightly embarrassed, but clearly grasping the joke as well as Jaime. Only Sandor was left frowning, looking at his companions with a perplexed expression. After that, there was no end to Jaime’s mirth, and he only stopped when he was hoarse and wheezing from lack of breath.

To Sandor’s indignant curses of how he didn’t see anything particularly funny about the situation, both Jaime and Sansa only shook their heads, trying to soothe Sandor’s flaring temper.

Later, in the privacy of their bed, Sansa told Sandor how there were women who were drawn to members of their own sex, just like men. She had heard whispers of such in the Vale, the ears of bastard daughters hearing more than those of a highborn girl.

Sandor was dumbfounded. What in the seven hells did women do? he asked. He understood men, as a man could be used as a woman, but it didn’t make any sense to him how a woman could act like a man. Gently Sansa had to remind him how often he had satisfied her by means other than using his manhood; with his hands, his mouth, his tongue… For some women that was enough, she told him breathlessly, thrilled to be able to tell him something of the ways of the world for once.

Sandor considered that for a long time, but eventually acknowledged that it might be so. Then they laughed together at poor Brienne, unlikely to have any knowledge of such matters. They didn’t laugh with malice, but with affection. Sansa felt true warmth towards the large warrior woman whom she had met only for a brief time. She sincerely hoped Brienne would be successful in her quest and come to Winterfell soon, so she could learn to know her better.

ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Jaime

Not a week after Jaime’s return to Winterfell Sansa requested that he join her in her solar, alone. When Jaime arrived, he saw Sansa behind a small writing table, her fingers stained with ink and a piece of parchment in her hand. Sansa had a room for receiving petitioners and attending to her official correspondence near the Great Hall, but she managed her private letters in her own rooms. Jaime liked to think that she had written the messages to him in King’s Landing here, sitting in a high-backed chair behind a messy table. Writing utensils, loose pieces of paper, maps, scrolls, books, abandoned needlework and scraps of clothing covered the desk.

Sansa smiled at Jaime and without further ado pointed at him to sit down next to her.

“I have received a new message from King’s Landing.” She waved the parchment in her hand. “Tyrion writes that Jon, the king and the queen expect to be here in less than a fortnight. After they receive my oath of allegiance, they will continue to the Wall to mount a decisive attack against the Others.”

“So you shall be truly recognised as the Warden of the North. That is what you wanted, isn’t it?” Jaime sat down, pleased about the opportunity to meet her alone.

Although he had tried to adapt to the new situation, he still sometimes felt uneasy about the strong undercurrents between Sansa and Sandor, too obvious to avoid. He felt it particularly when he left Sansa’s rooms at the conclusion of a late-night meeting, Sandor staying behind. As Jaime walked away he could imagine the two of them reaching for each other as soon as he had closed the door. He grimaced then, trying to push the picture out of his mind, resigning himself to what couldn’t be changed.

Especially during those evenings when his mind returned to Sandor’s kiss, which neither of them had brought up afterwards, Jaime realised it had been Sandor’s way of letting him know that he still cared about him. Jaime wanted to read more into it, but he was too realistic to allow such self-delusion. Yet nothing could take the memories away from him; the harshness of Sandor’s grip, the feel of his mouth on his… Jaime knew them to be only crumbs dropped from the feasting table but he was ready to accept what little he was given.

Despite that, he bore no ill feelings towards Sansa, and cherished the rare opportunities to spend time with her. The knowledge of their shared appreciation brought them closer, and since neither could talk about Sandor with anyone else, they often found themselves exchanging their memories and stories about him. Jaime told Sansa about Sandor’s time in Casterly Rock and how the lonely, scarred boy grew up to be an accomplished fighter even the mighty Lord Tywin trusted enough to ask him to guard his only daughter. Sansa told him about the angry, broken man in King’s Landing, tested to the limits of his endurance on the night of the Blackwater. Jaime was aware how extraordinary those shared confidences were, in given circumstances. Yet it felt natural, and instead of their affection for Sandor driving a wedge between them, it bound them closer together. 

Jaime stretched his legs in front of him and yawned. His head felt somewhat heavy after the previous night’s drinking. Since the return of the delegation all members of it had been feted many times over, he being forced to down many cups of ale and goblets of wine to respond to well-wishers and congratulators. He enjoyed it, yet on mornings like this he suffered the consequences. He rubbed his eyes and wished the thumping inside his skull would soon vanish.

Sansa glanced at him, smirking knowingly. She was dressed in a light blue morning dress and was picking at the last pieces of dried fruit from her morning platter. Jaime leaned over her to grasp a handful of nuts, only laughing when Sansa swatted his hand away, pretending to be appalled by his brazenness. Then Sansa returned her gaze to the message in her hand.

“That is true, and I look forward to it. Nonetheless, that is not what I asked you here for. You see, Tyrion writes something I don’t quite understand. Please listen to what he says.” She held the parchment higher and read from it:

“I hope you have had time to consider Jaime’s proposal, and have come up with an answer to him and to our esteemed king and queen. It may seem an ironic twist even to you, who have already experienced so much, but alas, this topsy-turvy world has a funny way of making the impossible possible, and the other way around again… Imagine my humble self, descending from the Hand of the King to a slave, then to a traveling entertainer and – who would have guessed? – coming back to being the Hand again. Likewise your association with our much-maligned family (for good reason, I admit) has gone through many unfortunate detours, but may perhaps end up in a good place after all.

Nevertheless, though I sincerely wish you will accept the offer, I hear that you are a woman determined to make your own choices; an option you regrettably were not granted before. I am truly sorry that I ended up being one of the decisions foisted upon you, but I hope you will not let that influence your opinion. I am quite convinced that my proposal is a perfect answer to your situation.

I might also add (and this shall be just between you and me) that our beloved King Aegon is on a quest for a bride, a noble Westerosi lady. He is a comely lad and a passable marriage proposition for anyone not burned by previous experiences of royal betrothals, as you may be (which notion Jaime confirmed to me). Aegon has heard of your beauty and your many other good qualities and is keen to see them with his own eyes. Should he lose his heart on this trip, he and Queen Daenerys might be less inclined to allow my suggestion to proceed. I could advise you to dress in sack-cloth and ashes, but alas my lady, I suspect that wouldn’t do much to disguise your loveliness.

Should you, however, find this second arrangement more to your liking, far be it for me to stand in your way. In that case I will look forward to seeing you in our capital soon again, finally in the position you aspired to all those years ago; as the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. And wouldn’t that be just another wonderful example of the topsy-turvy world?”

Sansa turned her questioning gaze on Jaime. “What is he talking about? What proposal? Why would King Aegon be interested in me?”

Jaime didn’t know what to say. He had buried the idea of even bringing up Tyrion’s suggestion with Sansa as soon as he had realised what had happened while he had been away. It was bad enough to feel an outsider, a different thing to be unequivocally confirmed as one. He shifted on his seat.

“Oh, it was just something Tyrion thought a good idea, a plan to suggest to you. I told him you are no more the acquiescent young girl you once were, and that you wouldn’t accept his proposition as readily as he might hope. Tyrion was good about it; I think he understood your position. So don’t worry about what he writes. As long as you stay true to the Targaryen rule, I think that is all that is needed.”

“Yet I have to know what he is referring to, or how will I be able to address it with the royals when they arrive?” Sansa’s blue eyes bored unremittingly into Jaime. He realised he had to tell her, or face the Dragons bringing the matter up, unaware of the sensitivities of the current situation. He scratched his beard for a moment to gather his thoughts before he continued.

“The Iron Throne thinks you need to marry. Nothing new in that, we have discussed it enough to know that it is what everyone expects. The threat of your abduction, the risk of the bloodline of House Stark resting on only one person, the need to secure the faith of your bannermen in the continuity of your house…”

Sansa nodded impatiently. Jaime knew that none of this was new to her, and that she didn’t like it.

“What have they come up with then? I understood that by accepting the annulment Tyrion gave up his claim on me.”

“Tyrion thinks he may have a good candidate in mind for your hand. Someone of noble birth but no ambitions to raise the spectre of the Kingdom in the North again. Someone who would be content to be your consort, and whom you might consider favourable. After everything I told him about you, he was astute enough to realise that you wouldn’t accept just any candidate the throne may put forward. You need to make the decision.”

“So who is his candidate? Anyone I know?” Sansa sighed as if to indicate that whatever name was put forward, she would view it with utmost scepticism. Her smile had faded and Jaime saw her lips pursed together into a thin line.

Jaime cursed quietly. This was not the way he had imagined proposing to a woman – not that he had ever expected to at all. His throat felt dry when he tried to speak.

“Me,” he finally croaked.

Sansa’s eyes flashed at him. “You?” For a moment the mask of the ruler crumbled, revealing behind it a wide-eyed girl, taken by surprise.

“I told Tyrion it was a foolish notion but he insisted on me asking you anyway. I promised to do that and now I have done it. Maybe it is better that they hear your refusal from you directly; I am sure they will respect it.” Jaime knew he was blabbering, but the whole discussion made him extremely uncomfortable.

Sansa stared at him, her eyes unreadable. She was quiet for a long time. Jaime wished she would do something; laugh, cry, tell him what a terrible idea it was, even be angry at him for allowing the farce to have gone on this long. Finally she spoke, her voice soft.

“What about you? How do you feel about this…proposal?”

Again Jaime shifted uneasily. What of his thoughts? He had never imagined getting married, having a wife, children… If he had for a moment looked forward to having Sansa as his bride, that had been before he had found out about Sandor. It was impossible, so who cared what he thought? Besides, he had his pride. Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock, the eldest son of Lord Tywin, the youngest knight in the Kingsguard, the brother of the Hand – he was a good match for any high-born lady in the realm. The fact that the only lady he had ever considered didn’t want him didn’t mean that he wouldn’t be able to marry anyone else of his choosing. If he wanted to, that is.

“What does it matter what I feel? I know it is not to be, not when you have formed attachments to another,” he challenged Sansa.

“It matters to me.”

Jaime closed his eyes and sighed. He accepted that he had to honour the honesty that had always been a cornerstone of their relationship. He remembered the trust and affection that had grown between them since the Vale, and reflected on how Sansa knew all that there was to know about him, more than he could ever reveal to another woman. His mind flashed back to the night in Greywater Watch; Sansa in her flimsy nightshift next to him, her fingers playing on his chest, and to the farewell kiss they had shared.

Resigned, he opened his eyes, looking back at Sansa. She was still gazing at him with her mouth slightly open, hanging on his next words.

“If things were different, if you hadn’t formed the alliance you have…it might have worked. We know and respect each other, and there are feelings between us. I would have never tried to rule over you as your lord husband. I would have cherished and treasured you. I am not sure if I could have been what you deserve as a husband – but I might have been better than some others.”

A small smile formed on his lips.

“Don’t feel bad about rejecting this suit. I am not an idiot. I understand that there will be no room for me by your side. We shall tell Tyrion and the royals that you are not yet ready, and that you simply can’t contemplate marrying a Lannister again.”

Then he stood up, pushing his own selfish concerns aside. From what Tyrion had written, Aegon had formed designs of his own. He might indeed view the upcoming trip as a good opportunity to assess Sansa as a possible bride. It made perfect sense, after all, to join the royal house with the oldest house in the realm. Should that proceed, Sansa would have to leave for King’s Landing, but they could install a trusted deputy to look after the North. Once they had children, one of the younger sons would rule in the North… Jaime understood the logic of it, but he didn’t like it a bit.

“As for Aegon, Tyrion brought it up with me once, but was easily dissuaded from suggesting it to the king. He understood very well that it was not what you would want. Yet if the king is seriously looking for a bride… you are a logical suggestion by anyone’s measure. Undoubtedly he has indeed heard rumours of your great beauty and loveliness. And how much political sense marrying you would make.” Jaime stared at the letter Sansa was still holding in her hand. He could almost imagine flickering flames shooting from the parchment; the dragon’s hot breath reaching into their secure Northern stronghold. He jumped up and started to pace the room. This is not good.

Sansa reached towards him, dropping the letter and clasping his maimed arm as he passed. She was one of the few people who were not self-conscious about his missing hand, and Jaime loved her for that. He stopped and turned towards Sansa, whose grip just above his wrist was strong as she spoke to him.

“I am a fool for not thinking of this before. Tyrion’s suggestion, that is. You are right; it has many things in its favour. Just now…things are complicated.” She pulled back, letting go of Jaime and straightening her skirts. She lowered her head and Jaime could see her biting her lower lip.

Jaime leaned down and lifted her chin, forcing her to look at him.

“Just as you said you wouldn’t want to come between me and Sandor, I do not wish to do the same to you. The time for your marriage will come eventually, but if we are clever, we can delay it for a few more years. Although, Aegon’s suit is a worry. We can’t allow him to simply come here and whisk you off – as I am sure he is wont to do once he sees you. No, we have to think of a way to hold him off.”

He started to pace again, back and forth, Sansa watching him with increasing concern on her face. The more Jaime thought about Tyrion’s words, the more worried he became. It didn’t take a master strategist to see the advantages of Aegon’s marriage to Sansa. In one swoop he would secure the loyalty of the North and obtain the most eligible noble lady in the Seven Kingdoms as his queen. Jaime’s headache came back with a vengeance and he cursed inwardly.

If this came to pass, would he follow Sansa to the capital? Would Sandor? Even while posing the question Jaime knew the answer. Sandor would follow his little bird as a dog follows its master. He might be forced to leave her bed, but follow his mistress he would. And the court would be full of dangers for both of them. Hells, this can’t come to pass!

Jaime knelt in front of Sansa and grasped her hand in his. Her fingers curled encouragingly around Jaime’s and she met his eyes unwaveringly.

“Thanks to Tyrion’s warning we have time to think about how to avoid this. There has to be a way. I will not let him take you back to King’s Landing – and I don’t imagine Sandor will let that happen either.” As an afterthought he added, “Please tell Sandor what we have discussed. I dare not think what he might say should he hear that I have proposed you – after all that has happened.”

Jaime winced, imagining Sandor’s rage. As confident as he was about the strength of their bond, he was sure there were limits to how much Sandor could bear from him.

Sansa met his gaze unwaveringly and promised to do so. They talked a while longer about the preparations needed in order to receive the royals in a manner befitting the oldest and largest of the Seven Kingdoms. Sansa concentrated on the task at hand, but every now and then Jaime could see her glancing at him from the corner of his eye, an odd expression on her face.

Jaime left Sansa’s solar quietly musing on the vagaries of life; how his first marriage proposal had crashed and burned so badly. The shadowy images of laughing children riding on his knee disappeared into morning mists, leaving a familiar void behind them. 
ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)
Sandor

The blow hit Sandor on the back of his head and for a moment he was stunned, almost toppling over. He hadn’t been prepared for it, strolling peacefully across the courtyard on his way to the stables, his mind occupied by the upcoming drill in horsemanship with the Winterfell troops.

He recovered quickly though, years of training and battle experience coming to the fore as he dodged to avoid the unseen assailant, then whipped around to face him, his dagger suddenly materialising into his hand. He growled as he saw a young man, face contorted in rage, curses pouring from his lips. He was still holding a wooden plank, which apparently had just made its acquaintance with Sandor’s head. His adversary was shorter than him – hells, everyone was – but wiry and strong, and there was something familiar in his appearance.

“Bloody Hound! Where did you take her?! What in seven hells are you doing here, how dare you show your ugly face in her home?”

Sandor took the measure of his opponent while circling him. He knew he would have no difficulties in taking him down. Yet he was curious. What the fuck is he going on about? Winterfell was generally a safe place and despite the flood of newcomers, discipline had been tight, so such a blatant show of aggression was unexpected.

His attacker charged towards him again – quite recklessly, Sandor’s professional mind judged. He lifted the plank again and tried a sideway swipe aimed at Sandor’s head. Almost nonchalantly Sandor stepped aside and decided that this was just some madman, not to be taken seriously. He couldn’t let him continue his crazy antics, of course. Sandor ducked to one side, lifted his arm and delivered a mighty blow to the fool’s temple with his fist. He heard a sickening sound and felt a shooting pain in his bare knuckles. Without another sound the man swirled around and hit the ground hard. He was out cold before he landed.

Men in the yard had seen and heard the commotion and soon a curious throng surrounded them as Sandor peeked at the unconscious form. He had jet black hair and Sandor had caught a flash of piercing blue eyes when he had charged. Everything in him suggested he was a commoner. Not a soldier, as he carried no signs of a sigil, but someone who was more used to toiling with his hands than parading around holding a sword. His shoulders and neck were thick and heavily muscled, and Sandor could see that had he not been blinded by whatever rage had consumed him, he could have offered him a fair challenge.

As he stared at the features of his foe, he felt a flicker of recognition. I have seen him before. After I left King’s Landing, but before the Quiet Isle… Then it came to him; he had seen him with that ragtag bunch of misfits, the Brothers of the Banner or whatever the fuck they had called themselves. From whom he had stolen Arya Stark. Suddenly the pieces fell into place and he understood what the lunatic had been spewing.

Somebody told Sandor the man had arrived in Winterfell with Ser Jaime, and soon enough Jaime entered the yard after one of his men had alerted him. He strode towards Sandor confidently, a sardonic look on his face when he saw the situation.

“An old friend, Clegane? Or just someone whose face you didn’t like – or who didn’t like yours?”

When Jaime got closer and saw the still knocked-out form on the ground, he became serious, flicking a sideway glance at Sandor.

“Ah, I see it now. Look, there is a bit more to this. Let’s move him inside and I’ll fill you in – and maybe you can also tell me more about him.”

Sandor rubbed the back of his head gingerly and cursed, protesting that he would have appreciated being told about murderous maniacs before they had a chance to assault him.

----------

After the young man – Gendry Waters was his name – had recovered his senses, Jaime judged it to be as good a time as any to introduce him to Sansa. The lady of the keep was called to the ante-chamber where the three of them had retired.

Gendry had a huge bruise on the side of his head, which had already started to swell and would soon go through the usual range of rainbow colours before eventually subsiding. To his credit he didn’t cringe or complain although it must have hurt like hells, Sandor acknowledged. When he had come to and seen Sandor, he had attempted to get up and fling himself at him again. Jaime had pinned him down and told him in no uncertain terms how his hatred was misplaced, and how futile it was for him to lay Lady Arya’s fate at Sandor’s door.

Sansa arrived, worried after being told about a fight in the yards. Sandor saw her attention being mostly directed at him, undoubtedly having heard that he had been involved. To her silent query he responded by nodding his head reassuringly and grinning faintly to indicate that he was fine. That she should be so concerned about his well-being was still something he hadn’t truly gotten used to.

Jaime took Sansa and Sandor aside and related to them the story of Gendry joining their forces, warning Sansa not to get too excited. The young man clearly didn’t have any more knowledge of Arya’s whereabouts than they did, but maybe he could shed some light on events during her journey across the war-ravaged realm.

The meeting that followed was tense, but eventually Gendry ceased glaring daggers in Sandor’s direction. He told Sansa about his time with Arya; first haltingly, but as Sansa listened to him intently and encouraged him to continue when he got too tongue-tied, he eventually became more confident. His story finished at Arya’s disappearance and then Sansa cried, out of relief or from sorrow, Sandor couldn’t tell.

Her tears made Sandor’s chest constrict and for a moment he was transported to that dark night when he had stolen the little wolf-bitch. Had he known then what he knew now, he would have taken better care of her. He would have made sure that she reached safety, somewhere, wherever… He shook his head, his gaze fixed on the tears glistening on Sansa’s face. Why her pain affected him so deeply was a mystery to him.

Eventually Sansa dabbed her eyes dry with the hem of her sleeve and squeezed the young man’s calloused hands, thanking him for being a friend to her sister. Gendry shifted uncomfortably, visibly embarrassed by the attention she gave to him.

“If you were in the Riverlands at the time of the war, did you ever hear about Lady Stoneheart?” Jaime asked. He had followed Gendry’s story as raptly as the others, his concern over Sansa’s sorrow visible on his face. They all knew the late Lady Catelyn had been associated with the Brotherhood Without Banners, but Jaime clearly wanted to hear what Gendry had to say about the matter.

“Yes, my lord. She was our leader for a while. I know she used to be Lady Catelyn of Winterfell,” Gendry glanced at Sansa, “but she really wasn’t Lady Stark anymore, if you know what I mean. She had been dead for too long and her mind had been affected.”

Sansa raised her hands to her throat, and Sandor shifted closer to her, throwing murderous looks at both Jaime and Gendry. What the fuck? Next they’ll be dragging old Ned into the discussion and make the little bird fret even more.

“Do you know what happened to her? If she is still there…” Sansa’s voice was timid and trailed off, as if she really didn’t want to know, but had to ask. She was sitting in the most comfortable chair in the room, Gendry on a bench opposite her. Jaime stood next to Gendry, shifting on his feet. Sandor had positioned himself next to Sansa, close enough to touch - but of course he couldn’t do that. Yet just being near her was better than nothing.

“I do, my lady. She is dead now, dead for true. She is not coming back.” Gendry’s expression was sympathetic.

“What happened to her? And tell it true, boy,” Sandor grunted.

“After the Targaryens came to power and the war ceased, we were left directionless. Lady Stoneheart didn’t want us to settle down and help in rebuilding the lands, so gradually more and more of us just…left. I didn’t; I stayed with her. I felt I owed it to Arry – apologies, my lady, to Lady Arya.” Gendry looked straight into Sansa’s eyes, ignoring Sandor.

“We heard about your return, my lady. The travellers told us that young Lady Stark had returned to Winterfell and was ruling over the lands of her house. Lady Stoneheart was badly affected by the news. I don’t know whether she was happy or relieved or what, she wasn’t easy to understand… Yet she calmed down after that, and stopped demanding that the few of us who remained pursue the enemies of the North. For a while life was almost peaceful. We stayed in a settlement near Oldstone, tending to farmland and helping the locals to get their lives together.”

Sansa stared at the ground, but she listened intently as Gendry continued his tale with a hoarse voice.

“Then we heard more news. The Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, the one who had always been believed to be the bastard of late Lord Eddark Stark, had been revealed to be the son of his sister and Rhaegar Targaryen. And he had been declared a true Dragon.”

Sansa shifted and Sandor realised she was thinking back to all those years when Lady Catelyn had hated Jon for simply being a symbol of her husband’s indiscretion. Why Ned had never revealed the truth to his wife, Sandor couldn’t understand for the life of him. The honourable, righteous Lord Eddard. He had honoured his promise to his dying sister, but at the same time condemned his wife and his nephew to a life of misery. Sandor shook his head. Bugger these high lords and their principles.

“That news hit our lady hard. She wailed as she heard it, the most pitiful howl a man can hear. She went a bit mad is the truth of it. For a day and night she whined, dragging her long nails across her face…” Gendry stared at an invisible point ahead of him, carried back to those chilling days.

Sansa silently started to cry again. Both Sandor and Jaime moved closer, but neither could comfort her as they wished due to Gendry’s presence. Sandor’s fists clenched helplessly against his sides. Gendry noticed none of it, caught up in the story he was telling.

“On the third day she walked to the river. I saw her going in, and although it was unusual, it was not for me to prevent her. I thought she only wanted to wash or cool down, or something, I don’t really know what. She just kept on walking, until the water reached her waist, her neck and eventually, over her head. Then another lad and I got worried and jumped in after her. But the river was too wide and the current too swift.” Gendry came back to the present and looked around him. He appeared apologetic, as if it had been his fault that Lady Stoneheart had walked into the river. The river, where all members of the house of her birth were laid to rest after their deaths, and where she herself had already been consigned once.

“You never found her?” Jaime asked, apparently not convinced that a simple drowning might be enough to kill the undead.

“We searched for her for two days, and eventually we found her miles away downstream. She was truly and utterly dead then. Not even the Lord of Light himself would have been able to resuscitate her. My mate and I buried her by the riverside so she could be close to water. We left a marker on her grave. Nothing fancy, just a simply scratched engraving of a wolf and a fish on a small boulder. If we ever go back there, I could show you where it is if you wish, Lady Sansa.” Gendry watched Sansa hesitantly, possibly regretting making the kind lady cry.

“I would like that. One day,” sobbed Sansa. “I am grateful for you, Gendry, for telling me these things about my sister and my late mother. Rest assured that you have a place at my hearth and in my home for as long as you should wish.”

Sandor judged Sansa had had as much as she was likely to endure and nodded at Jaime to indicate that he should take care of Gendry. His drill forgotten, he took Sansa to her rooms and simply held her while she grieved for her lost family once again.

They rested on her bed, fully clothed and chaste. Sandor stroked Sansa’s back, feeling her frail body shake under his hands. Flecks of dust swirled in the beam of sunlight peeking through the window, the voices in the yard and stables filtering through the walls, distant and muffled. He held her, consoled her little heart as it poured out its sorrow. He held her, and would have held her for a thousand lifetimes.

__________


Since that stormy morning of revelations their lives had settled back into a semblance of routine. Jaime had conducted several meetings with Sansa and Sandor in the privacy of Sansa’s solar to give them his rendition of all that had transpired in the capital. The stability and trustworthiness of the new Targaryen rulers and their Hand were the main focus of their discussions, and on that front Jaime had only positive impressions to share.

When they met, Sansa and Sandor went to great lengths to sit far away from each other, not betraying their association by look or touch. Jaime seemed to appreciate it, although Sandor knew he was as aware as they that it was only for show.

Yet he felt he owed Jaime at least that much. When Jaime had walked in on them, his distress had pained Sandor more than he had anticipated. He had known Jaime would not be happy, had guessed that he would be angry. After all their conversations on the topic, and his own assurances of how he knew his place…Though that had been before, when he couldn’t have imagined Sansa ever considering him worthy of her.

In Jaime’s room he had seen how Jaime had first tried to pretend that his objections were for Sansa’s sake alone. His anger had been real, but underneath all his bluster Sandor had detected the hurt of rejection.

The memory of the moment when he had stopped to wonder what, if anything, had happened that night in Greywater Watch between Sansa and Jaime flooded into his mind. The horrible feeling of hollowness, like a dull knife twisted deep into his gut… Physical pain was easier to endure than that kind of soul-wrenching torture. Sandor had used the agony of his past wounds as fodder to feed his anger, turning a throbbing knife wound into cold hate, gaining twisted satisfaction from the thought that he had survived, and more often than not, killed the one who had inflicted the injury.

Yet this new kind of pain did nothing but weaken a man and drain his strength. On that day, Sandor had seen that in Jaime’s eyes and recognised it as clearly as if he had shouted it out loud.

Why should he care so much, when he had never encouraged the lion in his foolish obsession, Sandor couldn’t reckon. It didn’t really matter. All he knew was that he had deeply hurt the person who had first shown him that not all people in his life were mere shadowy figures, there to be hated, despised – or revered from a distance. That he could be with another person on an equal level, honestly and without hidden agendas on either side. Jaime had been the first person to show him what a human touch could be…never pushing him into anything he wasn’t ready for. The first person who had been there truly for him.

Sandor had wanted to tell Jaime that he had not been forgotten or cast-off. He had done it the best way he knew; by actions rather than words. So he had kissed him.

Sandor had kissed his little bird hundreds of times, in hundreds of different ways; tenderly, passionately, affectionately, fervently... Her lips were familiar, and the way her tongue swept over his. None of that could be compared to what he experienced with Jaime. With Sansa the balance was such a delicate, ever-moving thing; he was her slave, her conqueror, her worshipper, her vanquisher. With Jaime the kiss embodied none of those things, the press of their lips being a challenge equally met.

Sandor didn’t have words to follow, so he had left, hoping that Jaime realised that he was not going to be overlooked, despite the new situation.

As before, they had not discussed it afterwards. They didn’t need to. That was another reason why Sandor felt so at ease with Jaime, despite a situation that could have been fraught with complications. They didn’t need to dissect their relationship into a thousand pieces, or force words and descriptions of what was.

Nevertheless, Sandor didn’t tell Sansa about the kiss, although he related to her Jaime’s anger and the resignation that followed. He let her know that he had told Jaime that he still had a place with him and with her – he only kept how he had done it to himself. It made him slightly apprehensive, but he figured he hadn’t really done anything the little bird should be concerned about. Had he kissed another woman, aye, he would have been deeply ashamed and conscious of how he had wronged her. Jaime….that was different.

Sansa was only glad to hear that he and Jaime had made their truce and so they continued, old friends adapting to their closeness again after being apart so long.
ladytp: (by Giovanni de Campo)

Sansa

Sansa stared wide-eyed at Sandor. “We have to find him and explain!”

Sandor pushed away from the wall and came to her.

“Aye, we will. Just give him some time.” He pulled her against his chest, soothing her. His big hands stroked her hair, but for once Sansa was not comforted by his attentions and she gently pushed him away. As she did so, she caught sight of Sandor’s face and saw grief stamped on it. For me…or for Jaime? This was not the way they had imagined breaking the news to their companion.

Sansa’s mind raced. She wasn’t worried about their secret; she trusted Jaime’s discretion. What troubled her was Jaime’s stunned expression, changing into anguished in front of her eyes. She could guess how hurt Jaime had felt at that moment. Not because of any perceived betrayal - as no promises had been made or received - but for breaking their pack.

Sansa sighed. She and Sandor had concluded that they had to be honest and tell Jaime about their relationship. The man who had flouted customs and broken conventional rules of society in his own quest for love would surely understand. Or would he?

She knew it was not only a matter of Jaime feeling like an outsider, but also about the feelings he clearly had for Sandor…and she had taken him away. She appreciated how important it was to maintain even an illusion that something good could happen, despite all indications to the contrary. Whether it was the hope of seeing a loved family member again, or a wish that the object of one’s affection returned those feelings… If even the possibility was taken away, that was a harsh blow indeed.

Sandor left for his duties as Sansa got ready to enter the role of a gracious hostess for the army that was to save the realm. She dressed more finely than usual, donning the dove-grey dress with hound and bird motifs. The commanders from the South and across the sea had been curious to see the Warden of the North, the famous Stark who had escaped. Well, she’d show them.

She stared at her image in the looking glass. What she saw was a slender face, high cheekbones and a straight nose. Dark eyebrows arched gracefully above her bright blue eyes, the expression in them having lost the innocence of youth a long, long time ago. She knew that her luscious long hair had always been considered one of her best assets. She was proud of it and the way it shone and cascaded all the way down to her waist. Yet as much as Sandor loved to bury his face in it and stroke it, he often told her that her eyes were what he treasured the most. “There is wisdom in them beyond your years, little bird,” he said. The wisdom I will need now, if I am to truly rule.

She took a deep breath and got up. The day was going to be busy, meeting the army commanders and the men of the Night’s Watch, sorting out what provisions Winterfell could supply to the troops, showing the new Maester Weimar what precious little Maester Luwin had left behind…

After Sansa entered the Great Hall, she sent enquiries after Jaime and heard that he had been seen riding out. She requested to be informed as soon as he was back and went on with her day. There was so much to do, after all.

----------

It was several hours later when word came in the form of a snotty-nosed squire that Ser Jaime had returned. She requested Jaime be asked to attend her in her rooms for a private audience and hurried back herself. Suddenly she found herself anxious. What can I tell him? He knows, but does he understand why?

Jaime arrived, still sweaty from the ride. He was fully composed and there was real warmth in his voice as he greeted Sansa. The wind had blown his hair into a mess, the golden curls tangled and pasted against his forehead. He looked older, Sansa realised. Not necessarily aged, but more…settled. The long trip back had exposed his handsome face to the sun and it was bronzed, the straw-coloured stubble of his beard pale against his skin. His eyes were as bright as before, shining brilliant green in the late morning light flooding through her windows.

The way he was looking at Sansa made her conscious of the compromising situation he had seen her in that morning. She blushed when she thought about it; she semi-naked, Jaime staring at her in shock. I am surely glad that at least I was under the covers! She counted her blessings that the morning had been chilly. Then another realisation startled her. Had Jaime burst through that door only a short while earlier, he would have witnessed something even more indecent. Gods! The thought of Jaime beholding her naked in Sandor’s arms was altogether too disconcerting to contemplate.

“Sansa, I am so sorry for my inexcusable behaviour this morning. You must think me a wildling, barging into your bedchamber like that!” Jaime’s smile was open, but there was an undercurrent of uneasiness in his demeanour.

Sansa gestured for him to sit next to her. She bit her lip, nervous about how to approach the subject. Jaime was not supposed to have seen her that way, and she was not supposed to think of his reaction, had he seen more… Eventually she concluded that the best way was to get straight to the heart of the matter.

“Jaime, we were going to tell you today. Yesterday was too difficult, with so many things happening, too many people, all the chaos…”

“So it is true then? You have taken Sandor into your bed?” Jaime’s expression changed to serious.

“That is one way to describe it. Oh Jaime, you must have known there was always something between us!”

“I did, I only thought it would stay as it was. That it would manifest itself in more traditional ways, in some other form than…this.” Jaime gestured towards her bedchamber, a faint smile returning to his face. “I remember you saying you were going to take care of him, but I never imagined you meant this.”

Despite Jaime’s amicable countenance, Sansa sensed he didn’t feel quite as light-hearted about the situation as he made it sound.

“Jaime, I love him. It is as simple as that.” Sansa realised only after the words had left her lips that she hadn’t even said them to Sandor yet. She had avoided sentimental words, fearing Sandor would feel obliged to say something similar back, and find it hard. Sansa tasted the words in her mouth. Yes, that’s it. I love him.

Then she glanced at Jaime and saw the pain behind his façade. Without being able to stop herself she said, “You love him too.” It was not a question, simply a statement.

Jaime’s eyes widened, but he didn’t say anything.

Sansa reached for his good hand and clasped it between her fingers.

“Jaime, this doesn’t have to change anything! We are still a pack, we will still be together. We both care so much about you. Jaime, I love you too. It is just… a different type of love.”

Jaime scrutinised her with his emerald eyes.

“I thought you had outgrown the notion of love. Tell me at least that you are… taking precautions?”

“What precautions?” Sansa blushed when she realised what Jaime was talking about. “Yes, I am taking moon tea. Lenore gives it to me.”

“Lenore? Your maid, Lenore? Who else knows?”

“Nobody. We are very careful.”

“Really? It took me less than half a day to find out.” The corner of Jaime’s mouth twitched and Sansa was relieved to see his sense of humour returning.

“Only because you have no shame and walk into the bedchamber of the lady at dawn. Who else would dare to do that?” she teased him back.

Jaime became serious again. “Tell me at least that you haven’t married him? In some quaint northern ceremony, in front of a tree or something?”

“No, I haven’t. I am not stupid, I know it is not that simple. Yet I can’t deny that it is a matter I don’t know how to solve. I can’t imagine being apart from him, nor can I imagine us being able to continue if – when – I am wedded. Or him being able to accept seeing me with another man as my lord husband,” Sansa lamented.

She noticed Jaime hesitating. It was almost as if he wanted to say something, but then thought better of it.

“Just talk to him, I know he wants to clear this up with you.” Sansa patted his hand in an attempt to encourage him. Jaime’s hand was so strong and graceful, his fingers long and elegant. Unlike Sandor’s, his knuckles were not covered with hair, but it didn’t make them appear any less masculine.

“You know, he cares about you, much more than he may ever say. He’d do things for you he would never do to anyone else.”

Jaime’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? What kind of things? What has he said?”

Sansa was slightly taken aback by the intensity of his questioning. She wavered and withdrew from him slightly.

“Nothing… much. He speaks favourably of you and gives high praise whenever your name is mentioned.”

“Is that so? Has he said anything else?”

“He once applied a treatment to my sore shoulders and told me you taught it to him. Some new maester’s cure. He said you and he healed each other in that way. I am sure he wouldn’t have done that to anyone else,” Sansa continued, more confident. If they were going to be honest with each other, Jaime had to understand that she knew, and didn’t judge.

Jaime exhaled. Sansa noticed it and pressed on.

“Jaime, I know there is something special between you and Sandor, but please believe that I don’t view it badly, nor would I ever want to come between you two!”

“Is it that obvious?” Jaime rubbed his brow wearily.

“Not to everyone. Remember, I shared a long journey with you, and I couldn’t help noticing,” Sansa said softly while stroking his golden mane. “I am also not quite as naïve as you two may think. I did live as a bastard for a while, you may recall. Bastard daughters get to hear things noble maidens may not.” At that Jaime lifted his head. The look he gave her was uncertain.

“Go and talk to him. He thought it better that I speak with you first. He is not always that good with words.” Sansa smiled at him reassuringly.

They stared at each other for a moment and Sansa felt an irresistible urge to laugh, when she saw Jaime’s uncertainty changing to amusement. He must have detected that, as he slowly lifted his eyebrow mockingly, making Sansa giggle helplessly. Soon they both burst out laughing. Sansa’s heart swelled with joy for being able to laugh with him like that. She hated the secrecy that was forced upon them, and sharing her feelings for Sandor with someone who knew him well was as enjoyable as it was liberating.

“I will. And when I do, I will let him know how fortunate he is to have won your favour. Much more than he deserves, mangy dog that he is. But I am sure he is very well aware of that himself, so maybe I don’t need to shove it in his face after all.” Jaime stood up, kissed Sansa’s hand and left.

For a long time afterwards Sansa sat in her solar and wondered what was going to happen to her pack. She knew that the delicate structure of their relationships had been irreversibly changed, but into what? Had they been shattered beyond repair or would they be able to glue the pieces together? Or could they perhaps forge something even stronger together?

Jaime

Jaime couldn’t help but wonder what Sandor had told Sansa. The story about the maester’s treatment sounded harmless enough – but had Sandor mentioned the kiss?

How could he have expressed to her things they had never articulated even to themselves?

In a strange way Jaime felt better knowing that Sansa was aware of what was between them. How much exactly she knew of such matters, he still couldn’t be sure. Noble ladies or bastards, women were not supposed to know about those things.

Jaime didn’t have to go searching for Sandor as he was already waiting in his room. He was standing next to the window, surprising Jaime when he opened the door. Hearing Jaime enter, Sandor slowly turned around, a dark silhouette against the window-frame. He was garbed in his half-armour wearing the colours of House Stark, undoubtedly to impress the visitors.

“Sandor.” Jaime knew he couldn’t jape at him about the morning as he had done with Sansa. In other circumstances, a commander of the guard who saw a lady’s sworn shield in said lady’s bedchamber would be within his rights - even obliged - to raise the alarm. Yet he couldn’t make fun of it, as delicious as the opportunity otherwise would have been.

Besides, Sandor could smell a lie and would know immediately if Jaime tried to hide the ire he felt under his smooth exterior. It had unnerved Jaime before; the way Sandor could see right through his polished act and snort about it to his face.

“I gather you have spoken with Sansa?” Sandor grunted and moved to sit on a chair next to a small table.

“I have. I have also apologised to her for entering her rooms and her bedchamber unannounced and without invitation.”

“She told you we planned to tell you today?” Sandor peered at him. Jaime couldn’t read his expression. It didn’t appear angry, nor was it ashamed. If anything, he thought it was sad – but that didn’t make any sense. Jaime sat down opposite him and they glared at each other across the bare table.

“I thought we agreed that her position is too delicate to be threatened with impropriety. You said yourself she is too high above you and that you know your place! Why are you now risking all she has fought for?” Jaime felt the anger that had been growing inside him the whole morning starting to rise. We agreed. Neither of us was supposed to fall for her. For a moment he almost convinced himself that he was outraged only because of Sansa.

Sandor averted his eyes from his gaze. “I didn’t plan it. I know I should have been stronger and not allowed it to happen, but…” He didn’t finish his sentence and there was an unusual meekness in his demeanour, the way he hung his head, his dark hair falling down over his face.   

Jaime stared at him, fuming. Part of him understood Sandor; he had encountered a situation none of his previous experiences had prepared him for. Yet another part of Jaime wanted to rage at him, at how stupid he had been, how careless and selfish. He wanted to curse and shout at Sandor, tell him that his inability to control himself might cost the woman they both loved in their own ways everything. Still, the way Sandor accepted his rebuke, not even trying to defend himself, made harsh words die on his lips. After all, he knew what love could do to a man, no matter how tough and strong. Jaime’s rage left him and he found himself empty and deflated.

“I suppose you didn’t have much chance of resisting when your little bird started chirping,” he eventually muttered.

Sandor glanced at him sharply, scowling. “She didn’t ‘chirp’. Fuck, Jaime, you can rant at me all you want, but don’t go insulting Sansa. To tell you the truth, I can’t understand any of this myself – why settle for a scarred dog like me, when she could have any lord of her choosing? That doesn’t make any buggering sense!”

“Women seldom make sense, in these matters anyway.” Jaime shook his head wearily.

“What are you going to do? Tell someone, demand we put an end to it?” Sandor’s eyes glittered in a way that made Jaime doubt it would matter even if he made such an ultimatum.

“Are you mad? Of course I am not going to tell! Do you think I care so little about her…or you? As for the latter, what good would it do? I realise that as long she accepts you into her bed, you are not going to stay away. And for good or ill, she wants you. Hells, you are absolutely correct: it doesn’t make any sense. Despite that, and for reasons only she knows, she does seem to care about you.”

They sat in silence for a long time. Subtly, Jaime felt the balance between them shifting. He mocked himself quietly, ridiculing his earlier fears of making Sandor an outsider in the unlikely case of Sansa accepting his proposal. He was the odd one out now, and it was a bitter feeling that engulfed him.

There was nothing he could do about it. The best he could manage was to maintain his dignity and not let either of them know how deeply he had been hurt.

Eventually he scoffed, “I suppose you have had much more practice in kissing, at least. It is a shame, I was looking forward to being received in the manner I was farewelled.” His intention had been to jape about it, make light of the whole situation and hide his pain. Yet even to his own ears his voice sounded a bit too sad, a bit too bitter.

Sandor stared at him and as his hard grey eyes bored right through Jaime, he knew that his attempts to hide his feelings from Sandor had failed. Then Sandor moved, and before Jaime had time to react, he grasped the front of Jaime’s tunic and brought him forward across the narrow table. One moment Jaime had been sitting on his chair, the next he was pulled against Sandor. He felt Sandor’s other hand pressing against the back of his head while he pressed his mouth against Jaime’s lips, hard and demanding. It was not gentle, as their farewell kiss had been. It was harsh and remorseless, challenging them both.

In his surprise Jaime allowed his mouth to open slightly. The kiss was unlike any he had experienced, as far away from Cersei’s fiery kisses or Meryn’s tender lips as possible. This time it was Sandor’s tongue which swept against his own, his boldness worlds away from the impassiveness of the previous time. Their teeth clashed.

As suddenly as Sandor had grabbed him, he abruptly let him go. Jaime hit his chair hard, gasping for air. They stared each other wordlessly, Jaime stunned, Sandor solemn. Jaime realised it had not been an impulse, Sandor hadn’t lost his control. No, he had been fully in charge of himself, and had given Jaime only as much or as little as he had wanted to give.

“Welcome back, lion,” Sandor simply said, his expression closed while his eyes studied Jaime. Then he stood up and left. No goodbyes, no explanations as to what had just transpired.

Jaime stared at the door he closed behind him for a long time, the image of his broad shoulders and back printed in his mind. He swept his tongue across his lips and tasted blood. His heart thumped in his chest like a battle drum beaten in fury. Why the hells did he do that?

ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Jaime

The voyage back to the North was slow, the large warhost reducing their speed considerably. Often Jaime thought enviously of the trip Daenerys, Aegon and Jon would take on the backs of the mighty dragons. Yet on further consideration, he had to admit he preferred horseback after all. The few times he had seen the dragons up close they had petrified him with their huge size, piercing eyes and shimmering scales, as well as the heat they emanated even without opening their fiery jaws.

The army crossed the Riverlands, bypassed Harrenhal and the Twins. Everywhere Jaime saw signs of recovery, although many homesteads and burned-out ruins still stood as a silent testimony to the madness of the last few years.

Howland Reed left the company near Greywater Watch, promising to come to Winterfell soon. Jaime stopped for a few days in Moat Cailin to examine local conditions and discuss the region’s specific needs on behalf of Lady Sansa. He was eager to move quicker, but he had to curb his impatience and once he caught up with the main army, adjust to its pace once again. Nobody knew the real reason why he was so keen to be back in Winterfell, although his closest traveling companions, Ser Jorah and the two young maesters, seemed to be in as much of a hurry as he was. Jaime wanted to be back with Sandor and Sansa, the only people who mattered to him – the others had their own reasons.

After the night he had shared with Meryn, Jaime had half-expected to be more observant of the men in the war host. He still couldn’t shake the raw passion of being so consumed, so wholly used and enjoying it… He had assumed that after experiencing what it was to yield to another man, he might want to do that again.

Yet none of the soldiers or knights he travelled with provoked his desire. Yes, the camp was filled with men radiating easily discernible masculinity, and Jaime knew there were bound to be also those who preferred the company of other men over that of the camp followers. Still he wasn’t stirred by any of them. What he needed was a connection. He had had that first with Cersei, and later with Sandor – and also with Meryn, no matter how fleeting it had been.

So Jaime was content to keep his cravings to himself, permitting small allowances in the darkness of the night when he let his hand make its way to his cock. When he stroked its hardness and his mind filled with images of objects of his desires, he wasn’t quite sure who he was truly longing for; Meryn, Sandor or Sansa. None of that mattered though; after the shudders of his release had subsided, he was still alone. A lonely figure in the middle of a heaving pit of humanity, where even the lowliest squire was assured of human company - but not the leader of the Northern forces, the Lion of Lannister.

Jaime wasn’t any more certain about the prospects of his proposal than he had been when Tyrion had first suggested it. During the weeks of travel he had become ever more captivated by the idea. A wife. Children of my own. Sansa. He could imagine having Sansa by his side, and the sons and daughters he could sire with her. If that was to be…he could hold them in his arms and love them as their father, openly. Would he be able to guarantee Sansa the happiness she deserved, when his own desires were elsewhere? Even so, if not him, who could? None of her known suitors impressed Jaime as a suitable husband for her. Jaime knew Sansa well enough to realise that she would not meekly settle for a political marriage of convenience; no, she wanted more.

As usual, Jaime concluded his considerations by shrugging his shoulders and recognising that whatever he wished didn’t matter a jot, as the decision was ultimately Sansa’s. He hoped he might be acceptable to her – but he didn’t count on it. He snorted at the thought, appreciating the irony. Ser Jaime Lannister, the jewel of an ancient house, the lion who roars, not good enough for the she-wolf of the North?

----------

Finally the plains near Winterfell came into sight. Jaime recalled the last time he had approached them, when it had been just the three of them. Would their pack be affected should Sansa agree to his proposal? Sandor was bound to stay as her sworn shield, as he had indicated when promising his services to her rather than to her house. Yet he might turn away in disgust, offended by Jaime breaking the agreement they had made concerning Sansa. If so, what was to happen to their companionship?

He had sent outriders ahead of the troops to alert the folk in Winterfell of their imminent arrival. When they were still a good distance away, Jaime saw riders approaching. As the distant moving specks got closer, Jaime recognised the unmistakable figure of Sandor on Stranger. Next to him he saw a smaller, red-headed figure; Sansa with her hair streaming behind her in the wind, her cheeks flushed from the ride and her eyes sparkling in excitement.

Sandor’s cloak flapped in the breeze as he rode alongside her, subtly holding Stranger to prevent him charging ahead of Sansa’s mare. He looked like one of the First Men personified; dark, strong, dignified and damn it, so manly. Seeing him again felt like a punch to Jaime’s gut. His thoughts of a pleasant life with a wife and children vanished from his head at that moment, replaced by his raw need of him.

Jaime urged Honor on to reach them.

“Dog!”

“Lion!”

“Sansa!”

“Jaime!”

They stopped and rushed down from their mounts and embraced each other laughing. The pure happiness and joy of reunion was palpable to them all.

“Jaime, finally you are back! And you accomplished all you set to achieve! How can I ever thank you enough?” gushed Sansa, hanging on to Jaime’s neck. He had forgotten how slight she was, yet so strong. Her grip on him was informal and Jaime hugged her tightly, ignoring her status as his lady and the head of her house. Sansa didn’t seem to mind, returning his embrace willingly.

“Please don’t think I did it all. Your ex-husband did most of it, and Jon and his new connections took care of the rest!” Jaime held Sansa and squeezed her tight, beaming down at her.

“Well done, lion. Who would have believed that the Dragons had it in them to be sensible?” grunted Sandor. Jaime could see that he strived to be serious, but couldn’t help the grin on his face. He looked exactly as Jaime remembered, his misshapen features softened by the welcoming glow on his face. Jaime couldn’t take his eyes away from him. Gods, he looks like the Warrior himself…Seven take me!

When Jaime turned to Sansa, suggesting he introduce her to Ser Jorah and the new maester of Winterfell, who were some distance away, she looked at him guiltily.

“Can we leave that for later? I am happy to receive them in Winterfell, I truly am, but for now I would just like us to ride back together! Only the three of us.” She looked at him pleadingly and it wasn’t difficult for Jaime to accede to her wishes. He readied himself to help Sansa mount her horse, but Sandor already had her in his grip, lifting her up as if she weighed nothing at all. Sansa beamed at him but didn’t thank him formally. Jaime thought it odd, Sansa usually being mindful of her manners and matters of courtesy.

They left the main host behind and rode together all the way to Winterfell. For that brief time, as they cantered towards the keep, side by side, Jaime felt as if they were back on their journey to the North. Things had been simpler then; no reputations to be guarded, no passions awakened, or future prospects to be considered.

----------

As Jaime was led to his old room, he was slightly disappointed to see that Sandor had moved. He understood it, of course; Sandor had to be where his lady was. In light of the disturbing news from Tyrion, the more protection Sansa received, the better.

That evening there was a big reception in the Great Hall. For most of the troops this was not the end of their travels, as they were expected to continue on to the Wall in a day or two. However, it was a welcome break from a monotonous trek, and everybody enjoyed the northern hospitality and allowed themselves to relax for a moment.

Jaime sat on the dais with Sansa and Sandor, but the continuous stream of congratulators and well-wishers didn’t give them opportunities to exchange more than the most superficial news. The bread on the table was dark and coarse as opposed to the white and fluffy Southern style, the beer was strong and the meat lacked the exotic spices so abundant in the capital. Yet the fare tasted sweeter in his mouth than any at the court. Jaime scanned the room, looking at the sharp faces of the Northern people and felt right at home. 

As the evening progressed and people started to nod off and leave, Jaime caught Sandor’s eye. He lifted his flagon and raised his eyebrow questioningly, pointing his head in the direction of his room. Sandor caught his meaning and nodded.

They bade goodnight to Sansa and the remaining revellers.

“Come and see me in the morning, we will talk then. Just you and me.” Sansa smiled to Jaime as he bowed to her.

“I will, at first light, and tell you everything that didn’t fit into my dispatches.” Jaime kissed her hand. “Especially I will update you on what an excellent husband you have just left. He is doing such a good job as the Hand, and you would have made a fine Lady of the Hand!” Sansa laughed at that and playfully swatted Jaime’s hand.

Jaime was still chortling as he and Sandor reached their – his – room. They took comfortable positions on opposite pallets and started to share the flagon of wine and their recent experiences. Jaime filled Sandor in with the news of the people he had known in King’s Landing, and how the city had changed. Sandor updated Jaime about the progress of Winterfell’s men-at-arms and about small skirmishes they had had with the remaining dregs of Ironborn and Bolton men. They didn’t discuss anything too serious or too personal – time for that would come later. For the moment they were just two companions who had been long apart and were now catching up.

Jaime shot glances at Sandor as they talked, trying not to be too obvious. Every now and then Sandor lifted the flagon they shared to his lips and drank deep. After, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Once Jaime saw some wine spill over when he was laughing at some witty comment Jaime made about the knights in King’s Landing. It trickled down his chin, disappearing  into his dark beard. Jaime wanted to reach over and wipe it away, but held himself in check.

They laughed a bit, japed a bit; too tired for rowdy bantering, but comfortable in each other’s company. Sandor seemed less serious than before. Somehow there was a lightness in him that hadn’t been there before. He smiled easily, and although it still twisted his burned features into anything but jolly, his eyes were warm. As Jaime took the measure of him, he recognised he hadn’t seen anyone of his strength and size in the capital, nor anyone so well-muscled. Even Meryn, who had been powerfully built, came second in comparison. 

There was no awkwardness between them, and if Sandor remembered with disquiet how they had parted, he showed none of it. Eventually he stirred and muttered something about having to get up early. Jaime was also pleasantly tired, so they wished each other a good sleep and Sandor stood up, heading towards the door. A curt nod, a muttered “See you on the morrow, lion,” and Jaime saw Sandor’s wide back disappearing into the corridor.

Despite the pleasantness of the evening, something had been different, and Jaime couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was. What was that about having to get up early? They had stayed up many a night sharing stories and drinking. Duties waiting the next morning had never slowed them down, and after all, this was Jaime’s first evening back. Jaime shrugged his shoulders. The next day was bound to be busy with the visitors. That was all, surely.

He fell back into his bed and burrowed inside the furs, content with finally being back where he wanted to be.

----------

Jaime woke up early in the morning, feeling refreshed despite having had only a few hours of rest. He got up, dressed, and stepped outside his room, moving about the keep quietly.

He directed his steps to the kitchens, the household around him only starting to wake. On a whim he asked the servants to prepare him a platter of bread, cheese and fruit. He took it and started towards the rooms of the Lady of the Keep. He wanted to surprise Sansa; wanted to be there to see her first thing in the morning. He knew how busy she would be during the day with all the guests, and wanted to steal a few quiet moments with her first. Besides, she had asked him to come to her.

Jaime tapped softly on the door and not hearing an answer wondered what he should do. They had done this before, he and Sandor. Especially when they had first settled in Winterfell, they had often met Sansa in her rooms to discuss the actions of the day before facing the rest of the keep. Jaime pressed the doorknob cautiously and it opened. Well then! He stepped into the solar and placed the platter on the side table, taking a comfortable position on the couch. He might as well wait for a while and see if Sansa was getting up anytime soon.

Under any other circumstances he would not have dreamt of entering a lady’s solar without an invitation, but matters between the three of them had been less informal since their journey, at least in private. In public it was a different matter, both Jaime and Sandor deferring to Sansa as Lady Sansa, and not taking any liberties in their behaviour towards her.

Jaime was chewing a piece of bread when he heard noises behind the door leading to Sansa’s bedchamber. He froze, trying to discern them; was Sansa awake? Maybe he should make some noise of his own to let her know he was here?

He heard shuffling and then something that sounded like voices. Was she talking to herself, or was that maid of hers already there, Jaime wondered. Emboldened, he stood up and was just about to call out his greetings through the door when it opened.

Sandor stepped into the solar.

He stiffened when he saw Jaime and pulled the door closed behind him. Jaime greeted him in good cheer.

“Up this early as well? Your lady does keep you on a tight leash!” he chuckled to himself, amused at how domesticated the dog seemed to have become in his absence. Sandor didn’t respond in kind and something in his eyes caught Jaime. As he took a better look at the tall figure facing him, Jaime realised that something was not quite right.

He took in Sandor’s attire; he was dressed merely in his homespun breeches and a light brown tunic that was only partially laced, with no boots. His hair looked dishevelled, not combed to cover his burns as it usually was. He was certainly not adhering to the standards one would expect from a guard for a noble lady. As Jaime grasped these details, something in Sandor’s expression alerted him further. He didn’t return Jaime’s greeting but just looked at him warily.

A tight knot formed in Jaime’s stomach. There must be a good rationale for this. Sansa must have had an emergency of sorts and called for him. Even as his mind scrambled for an explanation, he registered that Sandor carried no weapons; no broad sword in his hand, not even a dagger. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even wear a swordbelt. In truth he looked remarkable as he had done in the mornings when they still had shared the room – not quite ready to face the world.

Jaime felt his heart pause for a moment. Words died on his lips before he could utter them, not that he had known what to say anyway. As a terrible suspicion raised its head in his mind, he knew he had to find out the truth. Before Sandor had time to react, Jaime dashed to the door, threw it open and stepped inside. He knew that to be an unforgivable lapse of protocol, but for once he set his polished nobleman’s manners aside and simply didn’t care.

Sansa was still sprawled on the bed with her hair spread around her face, tousled. Her bare shoulders were visible above the covers, suggesting she was not wearing a shift. The bed was a tangled mess of knotted sheets, and as Jaime’s eyes darted across the room, he noticed Sandor’s boots at the end of the bed and his jerkin hanging from the bedpost. No, please, no!

Sansa startled at the sight of him. Her eyes widened and she opened her mouth, then closed it without emitting a sound. Her face turned pink, but eventually she recovered her composure and smiled at Jaime. She looked tantalizing, having risen slightly and leaning on her elbow. In other circumstances Jaime would have been arrested by the sight of her; her eyes heavy-lidded, hair ruffled and surrounding her delicate face in wanton disarray. What he could see of her body was all soft and delicate; the rounded shoulders, slender collarbones and the graceful line of her neck. Her pale, soft skin was in stark contrast with the rough-hewn cover.

“Jaime! You really meant at first light, didn’t you?”

Jaime stared at her and although his mind registered with utter certainty what he was witnessing, his heart refused to believe it. There has to be another reason for this, Sansa couldn’t have, Sandor wouldn’t …

Sandor had entered the room and was standing in the corner, leaning on the wall. He had folded his arms across his chest and seemed content to allow Sansa to handle the situation. His expression was inscrutable, but the corner of his mouth twitched in a manner familiar to Jaime. He was perturbed, despite his apparent nonchalance.

Jaime was speechless and his gaze shot from Sansa to Sandor, and back to Sansa again. He closed his eyes and willed the situation to go away. Once he opened his eyes again, he would see Sandor in full gear, an exemplary sworn shield attending to his lady - and Sansa, sitting by her dresser, fully clothed and dignified. All this would have been only a creation of his tired mind…Yet when he did that, all he could see was Sansa’s questioning look and how she had pulled the covers further up to better protect her modesty. Her expression had changed from pleased to something akin to embarrassed. Sandor hadn’t bothered to adjust his attire, rocking on his bare feet and watching Jaime with narrowed eyes. Jaime’s throat felt horribly dry and he had an unalloyed urge to escape.

“I…I am sorry, I should have waited for your invitation,” he muttered. Although he felt something inside him shatter, he did all he could to pull himself together and attempted a faint smile.

“How terribly ungallant of me. I do apologise, my lady.” He turned and, not waiting for a dismissal, hastened out of the room, walking briskly and stiffly straight into the corridor. He heard Sansa calling after him but didn’t stop. He continued all the way to his room, not registering how he got there. Finally alone, he let go of the iron control that had kept him upright and sank onto his bed.

There was only one explanation for what he had seen. There could be no other reason why Sandor would have stepped out of Sansa’s bedchamber at this time of morning, with Sansa in the state she had been. As much as Jaime wanted to reject the evidence of his own eyes, he knew he couldn’t. He felt a throbbing pain deep inside him, a hurt so intense that soon he had to get up again and pace around the room just to distract himself from it. They have each other, was all his mind could register as he strode back and forth, helplessly clenching his fists.

Why it hurt so much, he couldn’t fathom - all he knew was that it did. One by one he felt pieces of his heart breaking and crumbling into dust. Sandor…and Sansa…

Eventually Jaime started to settle down. The man of the world took over; the part of him that had seen everything the human condition could conjure. He forced himself to think about what he had faced, ignoring his anguish. So. What he had seen meant that Sansa had taken Sandor into her bed. Not completely unheard of, although unusual for a single young highborn lady. Jaime had written in his dispatches from King’s Landing about Queen Daenerys and Ser Jorah, and without going into too many details had make sarcastic comments about new customs sweeping across the realm. Had that encouraged Sansa?

It didn’t even occur to him that the situation was not Sansa’s doing. No, he knew both of them better.

Yet Sandor had vowed not to disgrace her. An irrational thought formed in Jaime’s head. Could they be married? He almost laughed out loud at that, bitterly. That would surely show both the Iron Throne and Northern lords that their lady had a mind of her own. At the same time he couldn’t believe Sansa being so irrational and not taking into consideration political realities.

Jaime guessed that Sansa or Sandor - or both - wanted to talk with him, but he wasn’t ready to face them just yet. His pain was too raw. He needed more time to reconstruct his veneer of sophistication, that of a trusted companion who didn’t flinch from an encounter such as he had just witnessed. No need for either or them to see how deeply he was wounded. It had all been in his head anyway; his foolish dreams of reaching for something that clearly had never been his to attain.

Jaime went to the stables, saddled Honor and went for a long ride into the woods to clear his head.

Suddenly the long awaited homecoming had turned to ashes in his mouth.
 
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sandor

Sandor’s world had been turned so completely on its head that sometimes he thought he didn’t know which way was up and which way was down. Among the many things that had changed, his life now had a new order. In King’s Landing his existence had been all about his days on duty, his evenings being an unbearable time when his nightmares and the numbness brought about by wine had been his only company. Even in Winterfell the daylight hours had been when he had felt most alive, attending to his new tasks, bantering with Jaime and watching over his lady. Now the situation was quite the opposite. He went about his days in a haze, his whole being focussed on what happened after the keep had retired for the night. When he was with his little bird.

He had given up trying to understand what was going on, as none of it made any buggering sense. Instead he strived to take the good in his life as he had endured the bad, with stoic acceptance. Except it was bloody hard to act indifferent, when all he wanted to do was to grin and smirk and roar his joy from the rooftops.

Like so many times since he had united with Sansa and Jaime, he couldn’t have described what he was feeling. The utter sensation of satisfaction assaulting him when he woke, staying with him all throughout the day, was as novel as it was pleasing. All Sandor knew was that the darkness of his past existence was retreating, and that he actually looked forward to his days and nights. He also found new contentment every day in small things he had never even noticed before. A belly full of good food, a group of trainees who for once did as they were told, the softness of his bed when he laid his tired body down.

And Sansa.

Sandor never tired of looking at her, touching her, fucking her. He also discovered - to his own surprise - how entirely fulfilling it was just to talk with her. How difficult it had been at first to share his dark secrets with her, taking all his iron will to force the words out of his mouth, only because she had asked! That she had listened to him as if she cared, didn’t judge his deeds or thoughts, and in turn told him things she hadn’t revealed to anyone else, mystified him.

They settled into a routine, where after the activities of the keep ceased for the night, Sandor slipped from his room into Sansa’s chambers across the quiet corridor. Luckily for them that section of the keep was suitably isolated. Besides the two of them, only Lenore was a frequent caller in those parts.

Sansa waited for him, always affectionate, always eager. After the first heady weeks of passion had passed, when it had seemed they never got enough of each other, on some nights they only slept in each other’s arms. Once again the difference between his past and present was glaring; the notion of wanting to lie with a woman without fucking her would have been absurd before, but now it was only natural. Sandor gradually started to get comfortable about another human being so close to him when he was most vulnerable, in his sleep. Previously that had meant dire danger, and there had been a few nights in the beginning when he had woken up and before fully realising where he was, had jumped up in full alert and scared Sansa witless.

Initially Sandor had wanted to serve Sansa in her bedchamber as much as he did outside it, but she would have none of that. She could be bloody stubborn when she wanted, Sandor had to admit. No, as they grew bolder in bed, his little bird wanted to please him. Sandor shook his head at the absurdity of it. Hells, she wanted him to just lie there while she serviced him – seemingly enjoying it as much as he did. And she seemed to delight in his body as well, that being just one more piece of a puzzle that was simply too bloody big for him to comprehend.

Life was good for the old dog.

----------

One evening Sansa complained about her stiff shoulders after spending most of the day working on new handlooms, not being used to them as yet. Sandor knew exactly what she needed, and moved to her from his chair by the fire, where he had been sitting and sharpening his dagger. He had a squire to do those sorts of jobs, but he still preferred to attend to his personal weapons himself. Sansa had teased him about it, but had shut up pretty quickly after he had pointed out that the lady of the keep still participated in weaving the new wall hangings for the Great Hall.

Sandor stood behind her as she sat on her chair and pressed his hands on her shoulders. Gently he started to ply her tense muscles, his lessons from Jaime flooding back into his mind. Sansa’s shoulders were slender and delicate, nothing like the lion’s heavy muscles. His big hands wrapped around them easily, and he had to be extra careful not to crush her in his grip.

Sansa seemed to assume his actions to be a new way for him to start their lovemaking, judging from the way she relaxed and leaned against him. She lifted her hand to reach behind her, squeezing his hip and caressing it boldly.

“Take off your shift, girl,” Sandor murmured. Sansa obeyed, and he had to swallow hard at the sight of her pink nipples hardening in anticipation. He winced and averted his gaze from that pleasing sight and focussed on swiping her long hair out of his way. It twirled around his fingers and felt like the purest, softest silk. Sandor knew he couldn’t concentrate if Sansa continued touching him, so he swatted her hand away making her squeak in surprise, and continued kneading her neck. As she started to rise, he pressed her back.

“Sit there, you will feel better for it tomorrow.”

After he had finished, they both got their reward as Sandor descended on her hungrily, as aroused as Sansa from their interaction.

----------

The next evening Sansa announced to him that she did feel better. To Sandor’s exclamations of ‘told you so’, she curiously asked how he had known to treat her thus. They had retired to bed, its soothing familiarity surrounding them. Sandor had pulled Sansa’s back against his chest, enveloping her small frame within his bulk.

“The lion showed me,” Sandor grunted, trying to lift her shift to place his hand on her bare belly to feel its softness and warmth. 

“Jaime? Really, how did he know?” It was Sansa‘s turn to swat his hand away as she turned to face Sandor, clearly intrigued about their companion’s hidden talents.

“Learned from a maester’s apprentice in King’s Landing.”

“Is that one of the new ways for our northern guards, then?” Sansa had grown used to the way she had to milk answers from him, one by one, and was not deterred by it. Sometimes it galled Sandor, but mostly it made him realise how well she had started to know him. That in turn made something inside him shiver; the realisation of how good, but also terrifying, it felt to be so utterly bonded with another person.

“No… although maybe we should introduce it to them. Once we get the maester.”

“Did he show this only to you? Did he treat you, or you him?”

“Both – although I was never as good with my hands as Jaime was with only his one.”

Sansa appeared captivated by what she heard. Her eyes darted to his inquiringly, and she cocked her head. Only then did Sandor realise how a touch like that could be considered very intimate, as they had attested the previous night. Bloody hells! He cursed his slip of the tongue. Yet there was no way around it; Sansa knew now that he and Jaime had laid their hands on each other.

Sandor shifted uncomfortably, regretting what he had inadvertently revealed. She can’t suspect anything; she is a lady and wouldn’t know about shieldmates or the ways of men. Still Sansa’s gaze stayed on him, challenging him in a way that suggested she placed much more emphasis on Sandor’s admission than a simple discussion about the ways of healing might have warranted.

They had talked about Jaime often enough, both hopeful that he would soon finish his business in King’s Landing and return to the North. When a raven had delivered the message about his exoneration, they had breathed a collective sigh of relief and toasted the impending homecoming of their companion.

Sansa had extracted from him a promise that they wouldn’t hide their relationship from Jaime once he was back. Sandor knew how much the lion meant to her, but instead of being threatened by it, his growing confidence allowed him to acknowledge the bonds of affection they all shared.

Privately Sandor doubted how well Jaime would take the news. He had always been determined to protect Sansa’s reputation, repeatedly warning them both about not allowing any insinuations of impropriety between her and her sworn men. For him to find Sandor as her bloody paramour…he wouldn’t be happy. For some inexplicable reason Sandor also wondered how his and Jaime’s relationship would be affected by the new situation.

Hells, he had all the intimacy he wanted with Sansa! Still… there were times when he felt Jaime’s absence acutely. The little bird was more than he deserved, but there were things a man could share only with another man; with someone who was part of the world women rarely glimpsed.

“Did it mean something special, the way it was only you two…who did it?” Sansa asked cautiously.

Sandor changed his position, turning onto his back and pulling Sansa’s head to rest on his chest. He sighed. Bloody hells, she knew most of what there was to know about him. What was one more thing? You are in deep with her, dog. No secrets.

“That was the first time anyone touched me, since I can remember.  That is, not in a fight, and not with aggression. I didn’t really even know how it could feel. It wasn’t something that wenches in King’s Landing cared for.”

Sansa pursed her lips, and again Sandor swore quietly. Had he fallen from a frying pan into the fire, blabbering about the women of his past? He was still unaccustomed to such open discussions and blundered more often that he wanted. He eyed Sansa cautiously, but to his relief soon saw her expression changing, becoming soft and sympathetic.

“I am sorry none of those women touched you before… although I can’t say I wouldn’t be jealous of them if they had,” she whispered softly.

Jealous? About me? Sandor was startled by the emotions her admission raised in him. Nobody had ever cared whether he lived or died, or what he did. She does. Bugger me with a hot poker, but she does.

“Maybe to him it meant more,” Sandor continued after a while. He had an uneasy feeling that Sansa was not going to let the matter go, so he might as well tell her the rest.

“But not to you?”

“Sansa, if you saw a man dying of starvation and you had provisions with which to sate his hunger, wouldn’t you give him some? If it wouldn’t take food out of your own mouth? Even if you knew that it wouldn’t feed him for his lifetime?”

Sandor glanced at her. Sansa was staring at him breathlessly, her expression sympathetic.

“Jaime’s hunger… I think I can guess what it is for,” she said in a silent voice. “I have seen him looking at you.”

“Poor bastard,” Sandor cursed, but not angrily. He stroked Sansa’s shoulder absentmindedly and pulled the blanket higher to protect her from the chill that crept across the room as the fire in the hearth started to peter out.

Sansa trailed her fingers across his chest. Her touch was light as a feather, but Sandor felt the weight of her acceptance and comforting understanding. .

“He probably never had a chance to find his own way. Cersei was always dominant, although she was a woman and he was the oldest son and the renowned warrior. He may be confused… and lost. Thank you for being his friend.”

“He sure as hell is lost if he comes to my door,” mumbled Sandor, turning onto his side and pulling Sansa towards him. He meant it as a sign to let the matter go.

Later, as Sansa’s steady breathing next to him indicated she was already asleep, Sandor lay awake and let his mind wander over the discussion they had had. For some reason he felt better about Sansa knowing, and that she didn’t seem to mind. Jaime was still part of their pack and they both missed him.

----------

They rarely discussed the future. It was as if both of them deliberately didn’t want to think about it, but one evening Sandor brought the subject up. He hated doing it, but he hadn’t gone through life deceiving himself and imagining things that couldn’t be. Better to face the reality and take it by the horns, as it sure as hells was going to face them, sooner or later.

“What about when you marry, little bird? We can’t continue like this, you know.”

Sansa buried her face in his chest, nibbling at his skin, tracing her tongue from his left nipple to his right. Sandor allowed himself to be pulled into her game, her teasing bites and pulling of hair only tickling him. Gods, when she was playful with him…!

“Why do you say such things? I am not going to marry for years. Who knows, maybe I will marry you. Then we could go on together forever.”

Sandor pushed her away, but not ungently. “You know we can’t marry. The dog and the lady. You may think you want it now, but when your bannermen start talking about the foolish girl who let the enemy’s dog conquer her you will realise how impossible that is. They may accept me now, aye, but only as your sworn shield. Anything more and I would be chopped down, and so would you, little bird.” He kissed her brow gently. “I will not let that happen to you, even if it means going against your wishes. As much as I promise to obey and serve you in everything else.”

Sansa pouted. “Then I will never marry.”

“Now, that is as foolish as the notion of marrying me. Winterfell needs heirs to continue the bloodline. Or would you prefer that the Targaryens grant the North to one of their supporters?  To someone who doesn’t understand its people and only wants to fill his coffers with fur and timber and crops? No, I know you wouldn’t wish that. This land and these people are who you are.”

Sansa looked as if she wanted to cry, but Sandor knew she couldn’t deny the truths he was stating. He felt sorry for her though. Once he too had believed that life was fair. Hells, he had learned the error of that soon enough, the reality forced down his throat by those who did what they wanted and cared naught for right and wrong.

“Maybe I will marry an old man and only lay with him once or twice to get me with a child…and then come back to you,” she tried as her last attempt to push away the unpleasant spectre of the duty that awaited her.

“Aye, and maybe your old husband wouldn’t mind you sleeping with your sworn shield. Or maybe I wouldn’t mind sharing you with some old fool,” Sandor replied matter-of-factly. He turned his face away, hating the fact that he didn’t have any choice in the matter. One day his little bird would marry, her husband would put a stop to their affair and he would be gutted for the rest of his miserable life. Just thinking about it made his stomach wrench.

Sansa appeared annoyed and moved towards him with a determined look on her face. As she traced her lips down his abdomen and purred against his groin, Sandor finally let go of the subject.

Yet he knew the matter wouldn’t go away.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sansa

Lenore’s support was crucial for them during the weeks that followed. She was the last person to see the Lady of Winterfell in her chambers in the evening, and the first to wake her up in the morning. If more often than not she walked in to see Sansa in the arms of her sworn shield, nobody was the wiser about it.  Lenore was also true to her word and procured the moon tea she needed. As much as Sansa longed to carry Sandor’s babe, she knew that to be political madness. So she drank the bitter brew obediently, receiving her next monthly flowering with mixed feelings. Sandor never questioned the matter, accepting it like so many other things; knowing his place and the limits of what he could reach for.

Besides the matter of moon tea, Sansa was happier than she had ever been. All her early life she had been embraced by her family and their loving care. After the War of Five Kings saw them all dead or lost, she had thought she could never be as content again. Yet when she was with Sandor, she realised that what she had had so far had been but a pale imitation of true happiness.

Sandor fulfilled all her needs and was all she could have hoped for in a man. The trust and respect built between them over time were still there, as was her appreciation of him as an astute confidant and advisor. On top of that, as her lover he elicited in her new, all-consuming passions. The combination of it all overwhelmed Sansa and she felt swept away in a current of high emotions, carried in its swell.

Sandor seemed content as well. Sansa loved to tease him and make him forget his habitual seriousness, and she
succeeded in that more often than ever before. He responded to her entreaties with rasping, untroubled laughter that transformed him from a sombre warrior into a carefree man. Sometimes Sansa imagined him as he could have been without Gregor’s interference; a principled man growing up to follow his ideals. It pained her, and there were times when all she wanted to do was to cry for his lost childhood and his years as the Lannister dog. Then she looked at him and marvelled at how the patterns of fate, initially woven so differently for each of them, had finally brought them together.

----------

The hardest thing for Sansa was to avoid betraying their secret in public. She would have loved to defiantly declare her feelings to the world and be with Sandor openly. Instead, she had to hide her emotions by forcing herself into the same hard discipline she had learned in King’s Landing, masking her expressions when she was with him. Sandor’s years as a Lannister shield had given him ample practice in schooling his countenance, and so they persevered. In everyone’s eyes they were the perfect lady and her loyal sworn shield, despite the invisible undercurrents that threatened to break free unless they were careful.

Nonetheless, they couldn’t help a few sideway glances when they were sure nobody was looking, or the brush of a hand against a thigh under the cover of darkness. Such small incidents were enough to heat their blood so that when they eventually reached the safety of her rooms, they fell on each other eagerly, ripping off each other’s clothes with shaking, impatient hands.

As time went by, Sansa felt her hunger for Sandor only growing, no matter how often and how thoroughly they satisfied their appetites. She adored the way he touched her; patiently and reverently. Sandor was keen to learn what she enjoyed most and never got tired of her body, worshipping it with his touch and gaze. Yet sometimes, when she was overtaken by shameless desires and begged him to lay his hands on her harder, he took her brusquely and forcefully.

Sansa never had enough of him; she loved his strong arms and the way his muscles flexed when he used them, the wiry dark hair on his chest, the flat plane of his hard abdomen. And his manhood, which had so intimidated her when she first had laid her eyes on it… It fascinated her endlessly, especially the way it could grow from a flaccid state, resting harmlessly against his thigh, to a fully erect, throbbing pole just from the touch of her nimble fingers. Sansa’s initial coyness gradually gave way to confident wantonness as she discovered the pleasures of the flesh with her man.

For a long time Sandor refused to accept that Sansa found him beautiful, telling her that she was a fool and clearly didn’t know a thing about men if she thought that he was comely. Sansa persisted, telling him time and time again how much she loved every part of him. She cherished even his scars, as they were signs of his life experiences, which had made him what he was. To Sansa’s eyes he was perfect.

Although Sandor had a hard time in believing her, gradually he started to feel more comfortable in her presence, and Sansa loved to see the subtle changes taking place in him as his confidence increased. The first time he truly let his guard down and leaned back on the bed at Sansa’s insistence, closed his eyes and sighed deeply as Sansa’s hands and mouth travelled along his magnificent body, she felt as if she had achieved a significant victory.

----------

“Did you despise everyone in King’s Landing? And in Casterly Rock before that?” Sansa asked him one evening, as they rested in each other’s arms, spent and languidly enjoying the afterglow of their lovemaking.

Sandor frowned. “Why do you ask? What does it matter?”

“I only try to understand the man you were,” Sansa muttered. She had spent a long time trying to decipher the mystery of him; first back in King’s Landing, later on their way to the North. Finally she felt she was in a position to try to find answers to the many questions that had plagued her.

“I never felt contempt towards those who didn’t deserve it,” Sandor grumbled, then sighed, “So yes, I loathed the lot of them. Liars, players, frauds and pretenders, all as bad as each other.”

“Did you detest me too? If you did, I truly understand. I earned it. I was such a fool, just a silly girl who didn’t know a thing about real life. I was so naive and stupid.” Sansa’s voice rose, the frustration of years gone by hitting her anew.

Sandor turned onto his side, pushing Sansa from him in order to better see her. His gaze was serious and somewhat puzzled. He answered slowly, his words coming out haltingly, as if after careful consideration.

“I didn’t despise you, little bird. I felt sorry for you. I knew you were only a child drawn into their sphere, fluttering like a butterfly in their net.”

He pulled Sansa closer and wrapped his arms around her shoulders and waist. Sansa felt secure and sheltered in his embrace. When she had been young, she had dreamt of a knight or a prince who would protect and cherish her. In her dreams he had been young and handsome – like Joffrey. She smiled sadly to herself. The man next to her, the dark, brooding warrior with a hideous face and short temper was as far from her dreams as possible. Yet he was the only person who had made her feel safe and happy and complete.

Sansa knew that Sandor viewed himself as beneath her and undeserving of her affections. Curiously, she felt the same. She was bewildered by his strong feelings towards her; she was after all just a simple girl who had truly done nothing to warrant his care and admiration. Was it love? She was afraid to dwell on that, still unsure of whether what Sandor felt was only a mixture of lust and protectiveness. I will prove myself to him. I will be worthy of his love.

Sandor breathed into her ear. “I wanted to despise you. For me you were just another highborn’s get, and I wanted to scorn you like the other simpering girls at the court. I was also curious to see how you were going to manage in that treacherous sea full of bloody snakes and puffed-up flesh-eating beasts. As I saw it, there were only two options for you; either you got destroyed and sank, or learned to play the game and swam – like that Tyrell girl.”

Sandor brushed his lips across Sansa’s brow, tenderly.

“Yet you did neither. You just floated, letting the waves wash over you. They tried to drown you, break you apart, teach you to become one of them, but you didn’t budge. Then I knew you were different. Different to anyone else I had ever met.”

Sansa skimmed her lips over his throat, feeling the thrum of his heartbeat. A dog who has been defeated in a fight offers his throat to his conqueror, the gesture being the ultimate sign of submission. Dogs have honour, the victor leaving the vanquished foe alone, both accepting the outcome of the fight. She sensed that Sandor had submitted to her, even though she knew applying that to humans was ridiculous. The thought was sobering but also reassuring. I will yield myself to him in return.

“I was none of that. All I did was to try to survive,” she muttered against his chest.

“Hells. you may think so, but it was much more than that. Never put yourself down, girl. There are enough arrogant bastards in this world ready to do that for you. You know, that last night when I came to you…” Sandor halted before continuing gingerly, “…I wasn’t trying to save you. I wanted to be saved by you. I held on to you to avoid sinking into that fiery pit of hell.” His voice had changed and was full of anger.

“So I came to you and almost dragged you down into those flaming depths with me. How do you fancy that? Bloody knightly behaviour, wasn’t it? No songs made for such acts of valour.”

Sansa was taken aback by the rawness of his outburst. She squeezed Sandor’s arm reassuringly

“You came to me and offered to take me home. That was a worthy thing to do, wasn’t it?”

“Hmmphh!” Sandor grunted. For a while they were silent, each in their thoughts. Early in their journey Sansa had made it clear that she didn’t harbour any hard feelings towards him. They hadn’t dwelled on it though, letting bygones be bygones.

”For a long time I remembered that you kissed me then,” Sansa finally sighed.

Sandor startled. “What do you mean, kissed?”

Sansa was embarrassed to let him know how nonsensical she had been, but she wanted him to understand what she had taken with her from that night. “I truly thought that you took a kiss from me. I even compared other kisses I received with the one you stole.”

Sandor cursed. “Bloody hells, girl! Had I kissed you, the worse it might have gone for you! I was a fucking brute, all blood and gore and drink. I had vile thoughts in my head, and they didn’t end with just a kiss.”

“Maybe so, but you did none of that. Yes, you pulled your dagger on me and I was afraid of you then. Yet the memory of that faded. Your offer to take me home, and you leaving me your cloak…and the kiss…they stayed with me.” Sansa wanted to assure him that he didn’t need to punish himself anymore for what he had done. She had forgiven him.

“Maybe I remembered it wrong because I really thought that you were going to kiss me. I was sure you were going to,” she continued, not wanting to sound completely silly.

“And you didn’t scream or cry?” Sandor studied her in the semi-darkness that surrounded them. Only the light of a single candle flickered in the room, casting shadows on the walls.

“No… I must have known you wouldn’t harm me. Somehow I was sure of it, even though it probably didn’t make any sense at the time.”

“Crazy girl,” Sandor muttered, but Sansa heard his tone had changed and was softer, even relieved.

----------

They shared more of their pasts during the long hours they spent together, bit by bit, in whispers in the darkness. It took many nights to make Sandor open up to her, but Sansa was patient, letting him tell his stories at his own pace. That there was a need inside him to lay his life bare in front of her, she recognised early on. His every confession made her heart grow fonder as she started to unravel the complex man he was, and finally began to understand him better.

They also discussed their current situation and their new life in the North. Sansa teased him about becoming a Northerner in truth, and Sandor admitted feeling more at home there than ever in the South. He told Sansa about his grandmother, who the family tradition held to be of the blood of the first men. Sansa traced his sharp cheekbones and his hooked nose and conceded that to be more likely than not. The thought filled her with satisfaction she couldn’t explain. During her years away, she had finally learned to understand and appreciate her cold homeland and the strong, silent people it bred.

Sansa wanted to ask him about Jaime, but never found the right moment. He was often mentioned in their conversations, but in general terms and in relation to their past or recent experiences. The respect and appreciation Sandor felt for him came through clearly enough for Sansa to see that there was a strong bond between them. When she casually asked if he was aware of Jaime’s affections after Cersei, Sandor only grumbled how he doubted if Jaime would ever care for another woman again, and left it at that. 
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Jaime

The official ceremony in the Great Hall was every bit as illustrious as Tyrion had predicted. The hall was adorned with the red and black of the Targaryens, and a third throne, made of grey hardwood, had been built on the dais to join the other two. It too was clad in red and black, but its back and armrests were decorated with engravings of wolves.

The Northern delegation embraced Jon for the last time as their equal just before the proceedings started. When they next met, he would be part of the royal family. Howland Reed had tears in his eyes when he clasped Jon, murmuring how happy Lyanna would be to see her son finally recognised by his father’s kin. Jon played down the significance of the event, but Jaime knew him to be pleased. He had confessed as much to him, and although Jon still had a great deal to learn about his new family, he already liked young Aegon and was in awe of Daenerys.

The whole court witnessed the recognition of Jon Targaryen, and to his amusement Jaime saw several dropped jaws when the courtiers tried to decipher the latest turn of events. Jon was solemn and handsome in his new garb – it had been easy enough to add red trimmings to the black brother’s clothing he refused to yield.

Jaime had told Jon earlier about Tyrion’s proposal regarding Sansa. Although slightly taken back, Jon had conceded all Tyrion’s points to be valid ones.

“It is ultimately Sansa’s decision, and whatever she decides, I will accept it. Should it be you, I would welcome you into our family,” he told Jaime.

“You reckon she would really consider tying herself to another Lannister, just after ridding herself of one?” Jaime looked at him doubtfully.

“Had you asked that a while ago, I suspect the answer would have been a definite no. Yet things have changed. You are a different man than you were before and even Tyrion may redeem himself in her eyes with his acts of good will towards the North. Sansa has also grown up to be a strong and sensible leader. Nothing is impossible, I suppose. Just look at me!” Jon grinned at him, splendid in his new royal outfit.

Sansa had sent Jon her congratulations and lamentations of losing her brother just as she had found him again, yet she welcomed her new cousin with all her heart. She also wrote how sorry she was that Lady Catelyn was not there to witness the event.

Tyrion had made enquiries about Lady Stoneheart on Jaime’s behalf, but she and her group of outlaws seemed to have disappeared from the Riverlands. House Frey was scattered and broken and the lordship of the Twins had been given to a descendant of a Riverlands noble house from the Golden Company. Whether the ghost of Catelyn Stark still lived her gruesome existence somewhere in Westeros, nobody knew.

The day after the official celebrations in honour of the new Dragon, a smaller ceremony took place in the Great Hall to provide a response to the Northerners. As Tyrion had informed him, Jaime was pardoned on the condition that he kneel in front of the thrones and give his sworn oath of allegiance. The Stormlands and the North were received back into the Seven Kingdoms, and ravens were sent to Lord Stannis and Lady Sansa regarding their expected pledges. Aegon declared a war campaign against the Others, the details of which were to be sorted over the next few days.

In the course of a surprisingly brief formal procedure, all their wishes had been granted and they were finally free to head back to the North.

----------

It didn’t take long for Jaime to feel at home at the head of a war host once again. A spacious tent for a commander, squires looking after his armour and weapons, cooks with their big cauldrons doling out hot broth to start the day. The biggest difference between this army and the others he had led was the large presence of fighters from across the sea. The Unsullied, they called themselves, although some whispered that these troops were different to the ones back in Astapor. These soldiers had names and their discipline was not as cruel. Yet they were stoic warriors and better organised than any armed force Jaime had seen before.

During the long days of riding Jaime sometimes missed Jon’s company. They had said their goodbyes at the dragon pits, where Jon had been taking lessons from Daenerys on how to handle Viserion. Jon had embraced him in front of the cream-coloured beast and wished him good journey until they met again in Winterfell.

Instead of him as a companion, Jaime shared the tribulations of travel with new fellows, with whom he passed the long days and evenings. Ser Jorah Mormont had volunteered to join the party with an intention to visit Bear Island before continuing to the Wall. Two young maesters were on their way to their new posts; Jon’s friend Samwell Tarly, earmarked for Castle Black, and his fellow student Weimar Hey, assigned to Winterfell. The newly-minted maesters were youthful and eager, but nothing could hide the wisdom behind Sam’s chubby face or the streak of intelligence shining through Weimar’s eyes. Jaime had hand-picked him from the group of maesters that had arrived from Oldtown, bringing with them carefully guarded secrets from the musty libraries of the Citadel on how to conquer the mysterious Others. Weimar was witty, eager and as an added advantage, originally from the North, near Hornwood.

As a commander, Jaime had the luxury of a tent of his own. One evening as he was poring through the scrolls and plans spread across a small table, Artus came to him, coughing discreetly at the tent entrance.

“There is a lad here who wants to see the commander of Winterfell.”

“What does he want? Can’t you or one of the other officers take care of him?” Jaime continued his reading, not really interested in hearing what the stranger wanted. The troops had attracted a steady stream of followers, men and boys eager to make their mark in the service of their queen and king.

“He insists he wants to talk with somebody from Winterfell. Says he knows someone from House Stark,” Artus explained patiently. He was a good lad and Jaime liked him. Knowing that he wouldn’t bother him if he didn’t think it truly necessary, he sighed and waved wearily.

“Bring him in then.” Must be someone from the Young Wolf’s troops, wanting to get back home.

The tent flap was pushed aside and a man stepped in. As Jaime glanced at him, he startled. Renly? Then he looked again and saw that the newcomer was younger and stockier. Still, his piercing blue eyes, black hair and his general demeanour certainly reminded him of the late Baratheon contender.

The youth stared at him defiantly, unlike most smallfolk. Jaime gathered his thoughts.

“You wanted to see me? I am Ser Jaime Lannister, the commander of the Northern Guard of Winterfell.”

“I know who you are, and I thank you kindly for seeing me, Ser. My name is Gendry Waters, and I would like to join your troops and follow you to Winterfell.”

Jaime looked at him sharply. “You could have sorted that matter with Artus, but he said you insisted on seeing me. And that you said you knew someone of House Stark. Was it the King in the North, Robb Stark?”

The man returned his stare steadily, then shifted his stance. Something cautious entered his features.

“No, haven’t met the Young Wolf. But I heard that the eldest of the young Stark ladies has returned to Winterfell. I wonder…” his eyes were searching but he seemed to hold himself in check. “…whether Lady Arya has returned as well, that’s all.”

Now Jaime was truly interested. How could a bastard from the Crownlands know Sansa’s feisty little sister?

“You expect me to believe that you have met Lady Arya?” He beckoned the youth to step forward.

“I did meet her, during the War of the Five Kings. We travelled together for a time, before she was stolen.”

Jaime actually had an easier time in believing him than he let on, having heard from Sandor how Arya had spent time in the company of Night’s Watch recruits, in Bolton-occupied Harrenhal and with the Brotherhood Without Banners. He wondered where in her adventures this fellow featured. And why was he here asking about her?

“Why do you want to know? What is it to you?” Jaime leaned back, piercing Gendry with his gaze. He didn’t flinch, though.

“Is she back, then?”

Jaime wasn’t stupid. Nothing but most unusual circumstances would make a man step out and reveal himself, whether he was a deserter Black Brother recruit, from the wrong side of the lost war or part of the notorious group of outlaws. He knew only one reason for such behaviour, and he tried hard to hide his smile.

“No, not Lady Arya, but only her older sister Lady Sansa has returned to the North.” He saw the disappointment in the other man’s eyes and momentarily felt sorry for him. He knew Arya had been but a child, but obviously she had made an impression. By now – if she was still alive – she would be the same age Sansa had been when betrothed to Joffrey.

“Is there any news of her then? She was stolen from the Brotherhood Without Banners by that vicious Lannister dog, the Hound, and I have feared for her ever since.”

Well well, he is certainly very protective – and possessive of her! Jaime wasn’t sure how much he should reveal before knowing more about this young man. Yet he was one more link to Sansa’s little sister, and he knew Sansa would want to talk to him and find out everything she could about Arya. He made his decision.

“Hear me, Gendry, and hear me well. We don’t know where Lady Arya is - yet. If you still want to join us and come to Winterfell, you may do that. Before that, however, we need to have a serious talk about you and your role in recent events. Understand that I will accept nothing but the truth from you and neither will Lady Sansa.”

The stare he received was almost unnerving. Wherever Gendry had been, he had learned to hold his ground. Nonetheless, there was no outright defiance in him but only the self-confidence of someone who knew who he was.

Jaime called for Artur, who had withdrawn discreetly but would be just outside, within shouting distance. True enough, soon he emerged.

“Artur, take Gendry with you and show him where to sleep. He is one of us now.”

Artur nodded, and Gendry stood up. Before leaving he turned to Jaime once more.

“I will tell you and Lady Sansa all you want to know. I may be a bastard but I am not without honour.”

As Jaime looked at his retreating back, he was left wondering once again about the power of emotions, those irrational troublesome feelings that could not be curbed. Why would they drive people to do foolish things, act irresponsibly and rashly? His own life had been driven by them, and he wasn’t proud of it.

Yet he knew he couldn’t have chosen another path. Not before, nor now. As he settled for the night, Jaime thought of all that had happened since he had ridden to King’s Landing: Tyrion’s forgiveness, the annulment of Sansa’s marriage, the acknowledgment of Jon as a Targaryen, his own royal pardon, the proposal for him to marry the Lady of Winterfell – and then something more.

----------

Since the evening at the Dragon Knight, Jaime had many times had an urge to go back and find the smith with soft lips. If he was not there, he could search every shop in the Street of Steel and surely find him. Yet he had resisted, for the same reasons he had not followed him that night.

As the date of their departure was determined and preparations were underway, Jaime’s thoughts returned to him more often than not. On his very last evening in the city he finally gave in and made his way to the inn. He made a pact with himself; if Meryn wasn’t there, that would be it; he wouldn’t try to find him. If he was there…well, he would see what would happen.

He was there, sitting in the same window seat Jaime had first seen him. As he noticed Jaime, his eyes locked on his, but only when Jaime walked straight towards him did a smile form on his broad, comely face.

His smithy was close-by, the room was clean, and it had a bed. Meryn needed no words to understand that it was Jaime’s first time, and he was slow, tender and just as gentle as Jaime remembered. There was only one moment of hesitation as Jaime removed his golden hand. At their previous meeting he had worn a glove over it and kept it mostly under the table.

Meryn’s eyes widened. “You are the Kingslayer?”

“Jaime, my name is Jaime,” he murmured, wondering if the revelation would change things between them. It didn’t, and after getting over his initial surprise, Meryn continued his soft attentions, removing Jaime’s clothes one after another in the flickering light of many candles. The experience was strange to Jaime. He was accustomed to being attended to by a squire, but their hands were swift and professional, sure and pragmatic, whereas Meryn’s hands lingered on his skin, brushed him in intimate places and took their time in undressing him. Every now and then he kissed Jaime at the nape of his neck, on his lips and at the hollow point between his collarbones, the intensity of his kisses increasing as Jaime’s clothes fell on the floor, one by one.

Recovering from his initial uneasiness, Jaime soon started to feel a different kind of tension. When he finally stood naked in front of the other man, his skin tingled and the hair on his arms stood up in premonition of a new and mysterious experience. Impatiently, Meryn tore away his own clothes and stepped closer. He was every bit as solid and muscled as Jaime had known him to be; shorter and stouter than Sandor, but emanating the masculinity, vigour and grace of someone whose profession requires both strength and skill.

Jaime’s cock stirred, blood rushing to his groin. He trembled in anticipation, and had he been his normal self, he would have laughed mockingly at himself; the Kingslayer quaking in front of a common smith!  Alas, he was consumed by a need that called for its release; being concerned about his dignity was the furthest thing from his mind.

For a moment he had a flashing recollection of another time, many, many years ago. He had been a young boy then and Cersei had descended on him with an alluring combination of the naivety of a young girl and maturity beyond her years. Jaime had soon realised what she had wanted and had been instantly aroused, but at the same time also both exhilarated and horrified of the prospect. Then, like now, he knew what was about to happen was abhorred by society – and then, like now, he didn’t care. All he had was this moment, this man, this opportunity.

He studied Meryn, seeing his eyes darken with desire and meeting Jaime’s unwaveringly, his naked body straining with the effort of controlling himself. Gradually Jaime felt some of his usual confidence returning, together with a sharp pang of lust and a burning ache to feel him. He extended his trembling fingers to touch Meryn’s broad shoulder, closing the distance between them.

It hurt, at first. Yet if Jaime had thought that being used as a woman would feel degrading, it had been anything but. On the contrary, he loved relinquishing control to someone else, to be held tightly and so utterly conquered and invaded. Meryn’s expert hands on his cock knew exactly what to do; how to make Jaime pant and grunt and eventually come more powerfully than ever before. Gods!

Afterwards they lay on the bed, Jaime’s back against Meryn’s chest while his large smith’s hands stroked Jaime’s sides. Jaime was dazed and sated and slightly melancholy, feeling filled and empty at the same time. The hollowness arose from the knowledge that he had to go, his contentment from finally having fulfilled his quest, the one he hadn’t fully admitted even to himself.

Meryn reached for Jaime’s stump and lifted it, pressing gentle kisses on it. Jaime shut his eyelids and sighed; the sight of his maimed hand still made most people shudder or look away awkwardly. He felt good lying there, but at the same time he knew he had to leave. Leave to go back to the North.

After Jaime had dressed he gave Meryn an arakh he had purchased from one of the Dothraki warriors. The armourer appraised it with a professional air, then turned to look at Jaime.

“You are leaving tomorrow? The whole city knows about the army marching to the North to fight the enemy beyond the Wall.”

Jaime admitted that to be true.

“You are not coming back,” Meryn’s eyes didn’t leave Jaime’s, but instead of being discomfited, Jaime met his gaze calmly.

“No, I suspect not.”

The smith rose from the bed and walked to Jaime, glorious in his nakedness, and kissed him softly on the lips.

“Goodbye, Jaime. Goodbye, Kingslayer. It has been an honour to have met you.”

“Same to you, Meryn the Smith. And… thank you.”

That night and his lover returned to Jaime’s mind repeatedly in the following days and weeks, but he didn’t regret it or him, or the fact that he had to depart. He was patient and possessed self-sufficiency that had helped him to endure long periods of separation from Cersei and physical affection. He had his needs, but he was not a slave to them. 
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sansa

Their joining as a man and a woman was intense, passionate - and soon over. Their mutual longing for each other had built to such an uncontainable level of pressure that when unshackled, it was as powerful as a swollen stream bursting open the floodgates.

Any concerns Sansa had harboured about whether she would be able to respond to Sandor as she wished, instead of being paralysed by her past experiences, were swept away from his first touch. She felt his caresses and absorbed them with a keenness that was new to her. Each and every kiss, every single stroke of his hand, every lick of his tongue; Sansa returned his urgency with an urgency of her own.

When he entered her, it didn’t hurt as she had feared, although she winced trying to adjust to his size. Sandor sensed her reaction and halted, a concerned look on his face when he scrutinised her. Sansa realised that even now - as far as they had gone - all she had to do was to utter a word and he would stop.

Yet nothing could have been further away from her mind, as she couldn’t wait to feel more of him inside her. She urged him on, pushing her hips towards his so he could push deeper, filling her to the brim. Sandor resumed his thrusts, a low growl emanating from his throat as he did so.

It was clear that he was close to coming undone from the moment their bodies joined. Sansa had barely started to absorb the new sensations his movements generated before Sandor had reached his limit. He tried not to lose his control; he truly tried, squeezing his eyes shut and pulling himself away, his whole body going taut and hard as iron under her grip. A fine sheen of sweat glistened on his face and Sansa had an irresistible need to run her lips over it.

She felt for him and pulled him back against her, telling him with soft whispers to let go. She wasn’t concerned about her own pleasure, as she found it from being so wholly engulfed by his arms and his body, from the feeling of him so deep inside her and from the sights and sounds of the union of their bodies. Sansa opened herself to him with abandon; she wanted to please him and offer herself as a vessel for his satisfaction.

That was her pleasure – for now.

As Sandor grunted his release, Sansa responded to it by pressing her lips against his neck, corded and strained and slick with sweat. She savoured the taste of him on her tongue and held him tight as she felt him shudder, then go absolutely still. After an indeterminable time, Sandor relaxed, his body settling on top of hers. It didn’t feel suffocating as she might have imagined, but as if she was made to mould into the contours of his form. The sensation of his skin against hers made her shiver and with sudden alarm Sansa realised that she couldn’t let him go. Not now, not ever.

“I am sorry, little bird,” Sandor muttered as he finally slid over to lay beside her, smoothing tangles of her hair with his fingers.

“For what?” she whispered, nestling against him.

“For being such a brute. I didn’t want to, but oh gods, woman!” He buried his face against Sansa’s neck and she felt his hot breath against her skin.

“Shush, no more talk like that! This was your first time, after all. You did as could be expected,” Sansa teased. Sandor lifted his eyes, stared at her for a moment and threw his head back, laughing hoarsely. Sansa loved the sound of it; so genuine, so carefree – and she had heard it so rarely.

“You are a crazy little bird, do you know that?”

“I may be so, but I am your crazy little bird,” Sansa murmured, thrilled to see him so happy.

Sandor sobered, pulling her closer. He twirled his index finger over her shoulder in ever-increasing circles. Sansa closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling of his rough fingertip on her sensitive skin. She sighed contentedly.

“Are you mine? How could you be? This is not a flaming fairy-tale and the lady doesn’t end up with the knight who swore to protect her. ” His voice was harsh but at the same time heartbreakingly raw. Sansa lifted herself up, leaned on her elbows and stared at him.

“I am. I will. We will make it so. Just stay with me.” Sandor glanced at her quickly, then stared at an invisible spot in front of him. Sansa realised she had never noticed how long his eyelashes were; long and dark and framing his grey eyes like dark shadows. Finally Sandor exhaled, fixed his gaze on her and raised his eyebrow.

“And where the bloody hells do you think I would go, from a soft bed and a willing wench?”

Sansa laughed and kissed him on the mouth, biting his lower lip playfully. He responded by grasping her shoulders, turning her over and nuzzling his face between her breasts.

Eventually sleep overtook them, but even that didn’t break their embrace.

----------

By the first light of morning they loved each other again.

Their touches were still fumbling and inexperienced, befitting the make-believe of a first time. Yet tentative strokes and timid caresses gradually gave way to confident ones as they explored each other’s bodies and discovered what made them sing. Sandor took his time, careful not to be swept away as he had been the previous evening.  If he laid his hands sometimes a bit too roughly on her body, making Sansa gasp, she didn’t mind. She discovered that the control he had bestowed on her earlier was still hers; he took his lead from her and she was the one to dictate their pace.

At a more leisurely tempo Sansa experienced how Sandor’s movements inside her, and his lips and teeth on her sensitive nipples, started to build up a tension that grew and grew and focussed on the centre of her womanhood in a way that made her squirm and writhe. Something elusive seemed to be almost within her grasp – what, she wasn’t sure of, but something worth chasing… And then she felt it, her first release, waves of intense pleasure emanating from her core like ripples in a pond. She whimpered, a small cry of surprise, and clutched Sandor’s firm biceps tightly with both hands. She held on to him as if she were drowning, throwing her head from side to side while her contractions around Sandor’s manhood gradually subsided. She felt dizzy, excited and slightly embarrassed. 

Sandor followed her soon after, losing his control once more and spending himself deep inside her. This time he didn’t lower himself on top of her but stayed up, supporting his formidable weight on his arms. Once he regained his control, his eyes raked Sansa’s flushed countenance with satisfaction.

“I told you once I’d have a song from you, whether you willed it or not,” he murmured.

“And I told you I would sing it for you gladly. Although had I known what song you meant, I would have been horrified, no doubt!” Sansa pulled him down to her side and kissed his brow, his cheeks and nibbled on his intact earlobe. Finally she understood her aunt Lysa on her wedding night and why she had made herself such a fool for love. That it had been because of Petyr still made her shudder, but even for him she could concede some sympathy. Love surely made slaves of people who were tangled in its webs.

They rested again for a while, not talking much but not being able to stop touching each other. As morning progressed Sandor was the sensible one, getting up before he was expected at his duties. He dressed quickly as Sansa leant on the pillow, studying him, still hardly believing the pleasures his honed body had given her.

“When will I see you again?” she asked as he was pulling on his boots. Sandor glanced at her.

“Midday, in the meeting with the builders. And in the evening in the Great Hall for dinner, as usual.”

“That is not what I mean and you know it.”

“I know what you mean, Sansa. But how can I give you an answer? Only you can.”

“Then I shall see you in my rooms again tonight, after the meal.”

Sandor had finished and stood up, ready to go. Sansa gestured for him to come over and as he did, she pulled him closer and reached for his lips. He kissed her gently, lingering long, brushing his tongue against hers, and across her lips. Then he withdrew and heaved a deep sigh.

“This will be the death of me, I know. Call me a buggering sheep led to slaughter, but I can’t help it. Aye, I will see you here tonight.”

----------

They saw each other that night, and the next and the next. Eventually Sansa found it increasingly difficult to accommodate Sandor in her well-set routine and she realised there was one more important discussion she had to have.

She had brushed Lenore aside with many excuses; blaming feeling poorly or urging her to spend more time with her family, but over time her justifications for needing time on her own became increasingly feeble. Lenore was, after all, her closest attendant in Winterfell, used to serving her and being by her side. Hence one evening when Lenore was helping her to settle down for the night, brushing her long hair in sure strokes that always brought reminiscences of her mother to Sansa, she collected her courage.

“Lenore, you do know that I am the head of my house now? And that I alone decide what I shall do, not having a father, a brother or a husband to rule over me?”

“Yes my lady, I know that. You are the Warden of the North, and you handle it so well.” Lenore had never been a flatterer, but in her mind Sansa was the rightful and wise ruler of her dominions and she was not shy about expressing it.

“That means that I alone make decisions on what is right and proper. My main consideration in this is what is good for my people, for my bannermen, for my house, but ultimately, also for myself.” Sansa had rehearsed her speech, but now that the time to deliver it had arrived, she felt hesitant. What if Lenore disapproved? She could always dismiss her from her service, but she had grown fond of her and relied on her in so many matters. She would hate to see her go.

Lenore nodded and focussed on the tangles in Sansa’s hair.

“My responsibilities are vast, but I am only a young woman on my own. I have come to realise that I need support; someone in my life with whom I can share my burdens, unwind and achieve some contentment. That is usually the role of a husband, but I don’t feel ready to wed again so soon,” Sansa continued, eyeing the other woman via the looking glass. She caught a faint smile on Lenore’s angular face, and for some reason it irritated her.

“Do you disapprove? Do you think I am not entitled to see to my own well-being?”

Lenore became serious and was hasty with her reply.

“Of course not, my lady, I wouldn’t dream of criticising your judgment.”

Sansa drew breath in preparation to continue with her well-practiced speech. Yet she caught sight of Lenore in the glass again, and this time there was no mistaking it; Lenore’s lips twitched in an unsuccessful attempt to thwart a smile. Sansa turned around, grasping her maid’s hand to halt her.

“Is there something you want to say, Lenore?”

Lenore stopped and viewed Sansa with apprehension.

“Apologies, my lady, I wouldn’t dare to question you. But…” her face broke into an engaging grin “…are you trying to tell me that you have taken a lover?”

Sansa exhaled loudly. “Why would you think so?” she managed to utter.

Lenore regarded her with abashed curiosity.

“I have observed you, and for several days now you have been so happy, so content…and not many things cause such happiness in a woman. You hum to yourself when you think nobody sees you, and some mornings you look like a cat that has just licked up a whole bowl of cream.”

She leaned closer to Sansa, a conspiratorial smirk on her face.

“If that is the case, I am truly pleased for you, my lady. You deserve happiness!”

Sansa was relieved to have been spared from the embarrassment of lengthy explanations, Lenore having understood her meaning so swiftly. She smiled shyly at the older woman.

“It is true that I have found someone who can offer me the comfort I need. Yet I can’t reveal it openly without losing my reputation.”

“Don’t you worry about that, my lady. Only those who are very close to you can see the signs – and even then only those who have lived through the first waves of passion themselves.” Lenore’s face softened and suddenly Sansa remembered that she and her kennelmaster husband had married because of their genuine feelings towards each other. Thus she undoubtedly had experienced the heady days of a new love herself.

“Is it very obvious?” Sansa was suddenly worried that others had noticed changes in her behaviour.

“No, not at all. In truth, you actually seem a bit more aloof than before. Especially with your sworn shield; you don’t seem to be as familiar with him as before.” Lenore leaned towards her again and her voice dropped.

“It would probably be better not to let him on this secret. He might be likely to do something terrible to that poor man. Oh my, he came to me a while ago and huffed and puffed about you perchance giving wrong signals to your suitors, and how he may have to run his sword through one of them if they got indecent ideas in their heads from your kindness.”

Sansa frowned. “He said so, did he?”

“Yes, my lady. On that account I raised the subject with you, as you may remember. There was truth in what he said; how some men may read a woman’s behaviour wrong and that can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings. It was not my place of course, but I only wanted what is best for you. And I know that he also has your best interests at heart, so please don’t hold it against him - even if he spoke out of line.”

Sansa had to think about it. They had had that discussion a while ago, before she and Sandor had become lovers. Had Sandor really been worried about her behaviour with her suitors – or with himself?

Lenore continued her ministrations with a determined expression.

“We in the North have never been too far removed from the wildling ways. It is not only men who have a say in what they want; women too have their options.”

Sansa was pleased to have her own views validated by someone she had learned to appreciate and respect. The women in the North were strong, and she was one of them. Of course she was entitled to her own choices!

“I understand it is not for me to know about your private matters, but should I be aware of who the lucky man is? I might be of more help to you. I could pass messages, cover for you both, or do any other service you may need,” Lenore gushed.

Before Sansa could reply, she continued.

“I don’t mean to pry, my lady, but is it Hetwyl Umber? He is a strapping lad, ripe for picking for sure, and so much in love with you!”

Sansa shook her head emphatically. “No, it is not Hetwyl. He is a sweet boy, but not someone I could imagine by my side.”

“Is it any of the young Umbers? They are strong and comely, all three of them. I bet they would know how to comfort a lady!” Lenore’s eyes twinkled and Sansa felt herself drawn to the familiar grounds of girlish exchanges, like old times in the Vale with Randa and Mya.

“Please, you are mistaken; he is not any of my suitors.”

A knowing expression crossed Lenore’s face. “Ah, but you are so clever, my lady! All these young bucks can’t be trusted; they might not be able to hold their tongue and thus could reveal your indiscretion to unwanted ears. Somebody more mature, mayhap even one already wed – they would hold their silence. An older man is also better comfort to a young woman, and can bring lots of experience to the union. He’d know a thing or two about how to please a lady, unlike these young lordlings!” She was beaming now, clearly excited by the game of trying to guess who Sansa’s lover was.

“Of course it ain’t proper to break the sanctity of marriage, but we all know that happens. Especially if the wife is far away, like Ser Garett’s from Deepwood Motte. He is a handsome fellow for sure, so strong and capable!” Lenore leered openly and Sansa wondered if she had some designs on the man herself.

“No, no and no! He is none of those you are proposing!” Sansa couldn’t help the smile spreading on her face. It had been so long since she had had this kind of confidential discussion with a woman friend, and she realised she had missed it. Then she turned serious.

“Lenore, I don’t have to keep this a secret from my sworn shield. He already knows.” She studied her maid and saw comprehension slowly dawning on her. Lenore let the brush drop and opened and closed her mouth a few times, but no words came out.

The Hound? Apologies my lady, but Clegane?”

Sansa knew many in the keep still called Sandor by his old name, although more and more had shifted to using ‘Clegane’ – at least in front of him. Sansa nodded.

Lenore sat down on a bench and stared at her with wide eyes. This was clearly not what she had expected. She recovered quickly though, stood up and continued her work. Sansa’s hair was as smooth as silk, but Lenore kept on brushing it.

“I know it sounds unlikely, but he is my true companion, and I am his. He is…so very good to me.” For some reason it seemed important for Sansa to make the other woman understand how marvellous Sandor was in her eyes, and how worthy of her affections.

“He certainly is loyal and only wants the best for you. And he is true, a man of his word. He is also strong and able. Yet I would have thought him to be a bit too…rough for you, my lady.”

“He is not rough with me at all, I shall have you know. He is very kind and gentle, and caring.”

Suddenly Lenore placed her hand on Sansa’s shoulder, gripping it gently.

“Tell me, my lady, did he force himself upon you? Did he threaten you in any manner? He can be quite intimidating, for a fair lady such as yourself.”

Sansa tapped her hand lightly, touched by her concern.

“Nothing of the sort. If anything, I forced myself upon him.” She blushed. “He resisted at first, but I insisted.”
Lenore slackened her grip and looked at her again, long and hard. Then she smiled.

“Aye, I can see that you know what you are doing and have made your choice. That is all that matters. I have no objections to the man and if you deem him worthy, so shall I.”

They continued their conversation a while longer, although Sansa was still shy of sharing too much of her new love with Lenore. There was a matter of great importance, however, that she had to bring up. Embarrassed and flushing she asked if Lenore could secure some moon tea. The woman nodded sagely, asked her a few questions about when she had first invited Sandor into her bed and whether he had finished inside her, ignoring Sansa’s bashfulness on the matter. Already knowing about her lady’s latest monthly flowering, as a maid does, she concluded that Sansa had nothing to worry about - yet. She also assured her that she would get her a supply of the bitter brew, and advise her how to use it.

To Sansa’s concerned queries about whether it could damage her reputation should she be seen seeking the concoction, she answered cheerfully that it didn’t matter, that she knew a reliable and discreet source, and for her to ask it would not raise any suspicions. Sansa grinned, realising that her maid had obviously found her own pleasures in the keep. The knowledge of that added to the fondness she felt towards Lenore. They both were women of the North, making their own decisions and determining their own lives.

At the end of the evening they embraced warmly, and as Sansa laid herself on her bed, she marvelled at how well her life was turning out. She had a gentle lover and a caring woman friend. There was only one more thing that would have made her life even better, and that was her close friend and companion Jaime returning to her. Thinking of him, Sansa closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)

Sandor

This is just a bloody dream. I will wake up any moment and find myself in bed, holding my cock and drooling on my pillow.

Sandor was in the baths, soaking himself in a big tub filled to the brim. He was alone, thankfully, as in his current state he couldn’t have put up with anyone staring at him, asking stupid questions or even breathing in his presence. He needed to be by himself.

He sank slowly under the surface, floating weightlessly in the warm water. He stayed submerged as long as he could, until his lungs started to protest and he shot up gasping for breath.

The little bird wants me. Me!

He had returned from the Godswood as if in a dream, sleepwalked to his room, and with an unexpected flash of common sense, to the bathhouse. He had to wash the sweat and grime away, he owed Sansa that much.

He scrubbed himself with a simple brush and tallow-soap, observing his body with disdain as he did so. His hands were big and calloused, his thick forearms latticed with a network of prominent veins and ribbed scars, his every limb big and bulky. As if that was not enough, he was for the most part covered in dark hair, most notably on the chest and groin. The signs of many past hurts didn’t improve his overall appearance, he was sure. The gnarled indented tissue on his thigh, the burned skin on his shield arm and countless other cuts and wounds, some old, some new… Not to mention his face. At least Sansa had already become accustomed to that, he brooded. The hideousness of the rest of him would be new to her. Suddenly Sandor felt discomfited by the notion of exposing himself to Sansa, who was so delicate, beautiful and flawless.

He wasn’t used to judging himself this way. The only thing that had mattered was how well his body functioned. And it did all he asked of it, was strong and fit and capable. He could lift heavier loads than any man in the keep, could outrun and outfight all the men-at-arms, could face ten opponents in a row in the practice yard without his stamina or skills diminishing. He lifted his arms and stared at the bulging muscles. Gods, will I hurt her?

If they even got that far. Hells, he knew little and less about courting high-born ladies or what a man was supposed to do with them. Behaving as he did with whores or wenches was out of the bloody question, even he understood that much.

The little bird wants…me?

He submerged himself in the water once more, rinsing his long hair and wishing he could wash his old self away and miraculously transform into one of those sodding handsome knights, as that was what Sansa deserved.

Back in his room Sandor fucked himself into his hand, wanting to release the pressure that had been building ever since Sansa had come to him in the Godswood. For once he didn’t have to resort only to his imagination, the press of her body against his still fresh in his mind. He had kissed her and she had kissed him back. Chagrined, he remembered how he had grabbed her tighter than he had intended, allowing his broiling emotions to get the better of him. In the end Sansa had cried out, because he had been a fucking monster and nearly squeezed the life out of her. Sandor cursed and swore never to lose control with her again. Whatever happened this evening, he would hold himself in check.  Yet she hadn’t resisted, at least at first. Even now he savoured her lingering sweet taste, felt the ghost of her tongue, first shy and probing, then more daring… Fuck! Sandor grunted, welcome release overtaking him.

Afterwards he wiped himself clean and allowed his thoughts to drift to the planned assignation once more. He hoped like hells that he would have a chance to hold her again. He had dreamed of her for so long, hoped against hope, and just a thought of tasting her for true fired him up again.

In truth, Sandor didn’t expect too much. She was a lady after all, and although she was not a maiden, she might as well be one. They had never discussed in depth what she had endured at the hands of Littlefinger, but he remembered how averse to any kind of closeness she had been at the beginning of their journey. No matter how inadvertent a passing contact had been, she had startled and shifted away in a way she hadn’t done even in King’s Landing, where she had been a maid beyond a doubt. As so many times before, Sandor felt his blood boil. He wanted that pile of shit mockingbird dead, clear and simple. If there hadn’t been tasks more important for him to do for Sansa, he would have already left Winterfell on a mission with one aim, and one aim alone: to kill the bastard.

----------

Sandor entered the Great Hall and only then realised how ravenous he was, not having eaten the whole day. He deliberately sat far away from Sansa, only glancing at her hungrily every so often when he thought he could get away with it. She sat on the dais, eating daintily, cocking her head towards the Dustin whelp beside her. Sandor contemplated him and the other lordlings and knights across the room, pouring silent scorn on them and their notions of gallantry. He gained grim satisfaction from the knowledge that he, not them, had kissed their lady this day; that she had invited him, not any of the other men, to her rooms. He demolished his meal quickly but held his wine. Not tonight. Don’t fuck this up, dog.

By the time Sandor finally tapped on Sansa’s door, he had decided he wouldn’t enter if he could detect even a hint of hesitation on her face. She might already regret the things she had said and done. Should it be so, he would retreat. Just the knowledge that she considered him worthy of her affections was enough for him. For now, at least.

However, the sight of her as she opened her door for him stopped him: his little bird, her luscious hair cascading freely down her shoulders, a shy smile spreading across her face. Her eyes sparkled like clear blue diamonds, and she was looking at him!

For a moment Sandor just stood there, stunned, before she beckoned and he stepped over the threshold.

Sansa

With Sandor’s arrival Sansa felt her nervousness return. He was looming over her in the doorway and she felt so small, so unprepared. Oh, she knew what could happen physically, but she still had difficulties in reconciling her memories of the repulsive and disagreeable act she had been subjected to, with the dizzying sensations Sandor had awakened in her.  

In order to gain some time she offered him wine, turning to the side-table to pour strong red liquid into the goblets. She more sensed than saw Sandor move to stand right behind her. He didn’t say anything, didn’t touch her, but simply his presence made her heart pound in her chest so hard she was sure he could hear it. When she turned around, he was standing so close that she bumped the other goblet against his taut stomach, spilling wine on his tunic.

Sandor reached to take the drink, curling his large hand over hers, covering it completely. For a moment they stood as they were, looking at each other. Then Sansa cleared her throat.

“I am…sorry about last night. The way I behaved was not proper.”

Sandor stared at her as if not believing his ears. Then he cursed.

“Buggering hells! Why are you chirping apologies when I am the bloody beast who nearly bit your head off! You didn’t deserve that.” His voice trailed off and Sansa realised that was as close to an apology as she could get – and more than he probably had ever uttered.

Sansa released her hand and gestured him towards the couch. As they settled down, her discomfort increased. Once again she chastised herself. If Randa was here, she would know what to do, instead of just sitting there. Sandor didn’t seem to want to take the lead, only leaning back and watching her. His face had lost its usual scowl but his eyes were unreadable as he scrutinised her.

Suddenly Sansa realised he was probably as uneasy as she was, and the awareness soothed her. She also had a flash of insight; how unfamiliar the experience must be to him. His previous encounters with women had probably been much…simpler.

Sansa wondered if she should take the initiative. Could the most feared warrior in Westeros, the famed Hound, really be waiting for her move? She recognised with relief how important it was for her not to be rushed or made to feel powerless, as she had been so many times before. A feeling of immense tenderness flooded over her. He is waiting for my signal. He is ready to do that for me.

She extended her arm to Sandor, cupping his good cheek with her hand. He closed his eyes and Sansa rubbed her thumb against his beard, watching in fascination how his features relaxed, detecting how heavily he rested his head on her hand. Then he opened his eyes and looked straight at her, the intensity of his grey eyes taking Sansa’s breath away. Apparently taking her gesture, and what he saw in her eyes, as the sign he needed, Sandor leaned towards her.

The next thing Sansa knew she was yanked towards him. Sandor’s large hands gripped her shoulders and pulled her closer, straight onto his lap. Unlike in the Godswood, he initiated the kiss, searching her mouth with his own. This time it was gentler and Sansa experienced a completely new range of sensations; instead of being devoured, she was being relished, their kiss being one of sharing, tasting, giving and receiving. She drank from his lips but wasn’t sated, wanting more.

Sansa hooked her arms around his neck, wanting to bury herself in his embrace. As Sandor’s grip tightened, their kiss intensified, Sansa’s tongue yielding under the invasion of his. She could feel his manhood stirring, and it roused in her wanton desires she had only secretly conjured up before.

Eventually Sansa ran out of breath and she had to withdraw, dizzy and heaving. She rested her head against his Sandor’s broad chest, too shy to look him in the eye. She could hear his ragged breath and feel how his muscles tensed, and the fast beat of his heart against her cheek. The knowledge that Sandor couldn’t control his any better than she could her own reassured her.

“Little bird,” Sandor whispered hoarsely. His hand moved from her waist almost of its own accord, gliding across her hips and down her thigh. Sansa’s dress had hitched up to her calf, and slowly, ever so slowly, he made his way to the hem, stroking and caressing. He scrunched the fabric for a moment before slipping his hand under it. Sansa held her breath, concentrating on the graze of his fingers travelling back up again, only the thin weave of her stockings separating his calloused fingertips from her bare skin. She felt heat pooling in her belly, and without realising, she gripped her arms tighter around Sandor’s neck and sighed.

Sandor’s mouth curled into a twisted smile and his movements became bolder. His strokes became increasingly confident, climbing higher and higher until he reached the top of her stocking and her bare flesh. Sansa jolted at the sensation. A fleeting moment of anxiety washed over her, turning into a thrill when once again she reminded herself that she was being touched so intimately by the man who had occupied her thoughts for so many weeks.

Sansa wriggled on his lap, causing Sandor to curse softly as her bottom rubbed against his groin. Abruptly he freed his hand from under her skirts and stood up, still clutching her in his arms.

“Others take me! Do you know what you are doing to me, girl?” he growled and carried her towards her bedchamber. Sansa’s head swirled and she held on to him for dear life. Am I ready? Will he stop if I am not?

----------

Sandor laid her down on her bed, a huge monstrosity that had belonged to her parents, and before that to Lord Rickard Stark and his wife, and before that to who knew how many generations of lords and ladies of Winterfell. He was surprisingly gentle, but when Sansa lay on her back, half-expecting him to lie next to her, still trying to decide if she was ready for that, he only knelt on the floor next to her.

Sansa shivered and closed her eyes. He is going to touch me again… Relief that Sandor was not rushing things was soon replaced by anticipation of his hands on her skin. Yet nothing happened. She peeked at him from under her eyelashes and saw him watching her intently. His grey eyes were stark with desire, but he seemed to hold himself in check.

Sansa scrutinized him, a bit unsure. Doesn’t he want me after all? Should I say something? Do I want his hands on me? Even while contemplating those thoughts, the fire he had awakened in her consumed her, and she knew she wanted more.

She rose on her elbows and whispered softly, “Sandor…please…” She couldn’t specify what she wanted – all she knew was that she didn’t want him to stop.

“Might be I would like to take now what was offered before,” Sandor said in a hushed voice, bending over her and reclaiming her mouth again. As his lips travelled lower along her jawline towards the crook of her neck, Sansa realised there was something else she wanted to say.

“Sandor,” she breathed, “you know I am no maiden. Yet it feels like the first time for me, for all intents and purposes.” Please don’t hurt me.

Sandor stopped, his lips pressing against her collarbone. He raised his head and seemingly understood her meaning immediately, showing it in the way he looked deep into her eyes and nodded slightly. “Sansa, I have done… things before, I can’t claim otherwise. Yet all this is as new to me as it is to you.” The burned corner of his mouth twitched. “I have no knowledge of maidens but I know you have suffered. If you wish me to stop, just utter the word and I will, you have my oath,” he rumbled in a voice so low she could hardly hear him.

“I trust you – as I have always done,” Sansa whispered, relieved, and pressed his head back against her. Sandor inhaled sharply and continued traveling down her body with his lips; between her breasts to her stomach, then across her hips until he halted on the top of her thigh. She could feel his hot breath through the fabric of dress, and it made her dizzy. Sandor hitched the hem of her dress up to reveal the tops of her stockings, making quick work of their ribbons, his rough thumbs brushing against her thighs. A rush of wetness between her legs made Sansa squirm.

The next thing she felt was Sandor lifting her knees and peeling the stockings away with his long fingers, turning the fabric slowly and carefully around itself until they were pooled down around her ankles. As he removed them, he placed a soft kiss on her bare calves.

Sansa’s chest heaved up and down as she trembled under his gentle assault, feeling so bare and vulnerable and aroused. Many nights of feverish dreams and imagined encounters, getting bolder and bolder as time went by, caught up with her and she felt herself burning. I want him. I want to see him – as in the Godswood, but all of him.

She became aware of how she didn’t want to be only a passive recipient of his desire, no matter how kind and gentle he would be. No, she wanted to touch him, see him, satisfy her curiosity and longing.

Sansa raised herself up so suddenly that Sandor startled, dropping his arms. She turned towards him and reached for his clothes.

“I want to see you, Sandor. Let me undress you,” she whispered.   

Sandor stilled and stopped her hand with his own. “Are you sure, little bird?”

“I am sure,” Sansa breathed, tugging at the hem of his tunic again. Sandor stared at her for a moment and ignoring her feeble attempts, lifted his arms and tore his tunic away. He wore nothing underneath and once again she almost choked at the sight of his bare upper body, and the strength and power that emanated from him.

He stood up then, towering over her for a moment before bending down to remove his boots, kicking them to the other side of the room. As he straightened, Sansa could see a prominent bulge in the front of his breeches. She bit her lip, wondering what she should do next. Sandor solved her dilemma by pulling Sansa to her feet.

“My turn, girl,” he growled, reaching for the front of her morning dress. Sansa tried to help him unlace it, their fingers competing with each other, clumsily pulling and tugging the same ribbons. As her dress fell apart, suddenly Sandor grasped her and turned her around so that her back was against him. Sansa gasped as he pressed her hard against him. The contours of his body against hers felt at the same time familiar and strange. His manhood pushed against the small of her back and she was both thrilled and alarmed by it.

Sandor murmured into her ear, “Do you know how many nights I laid next to you in agony? I wanted you so bad…knowing I would never have you.”

Sansa turned her head to look at him over her shoulder, panting, her hair framing her face. “I know – I could feel it. Many mornings I was lying against you and felt it, pretending I didn’t.”

Sandor let out a strangled sound and pressed his lips to her bare shoulders, moving his mouth across her neck and lower back. Sansa groaned and rotated her hips against his hardness. All those times she had been frozen on the spot, not wanting to move away lest it indicated to him that she had noticed, much less being able to push against him… She could do that now and she did, with abandon, enjoying Sandor’s low grumbling as he continued kissing her.

As abruptly as before, he turned her around again and Sansa found herself facing him. At the sight of her nightshift she saw his expression change; he stared at it with wonderment and brushed his fingers against its sheer creases. He only halted for a moment, soon pulling the thin shift above Sansa’s head. All she had on were her smallclothes, the last defence of her decency being conquered by the snapping of delicate lacing in Sandor’s impatient fingers. She was now as naked as on her nameday, and despite the fire in the hearth, she felt her skin rising in goosebumps.

Sansa was conscious of his gaze on her body, but her mind was occupied by her desire to see him as he was seeing her. She reached for the laces of his breeches and Sandor let her, but when she glanced up she saw him stare ahead unflinchingly, grinding his teeth together. Her hands were unsteady and she felt a deep blush on her face, but she was determined. With one final tug she pulled his breeches and smallclothes down, and finally he was fully naked in front of her. His manhood jutted proudly out of the dark hair in his groin, free of its restraint, making Sansa gulp. It is so big!

She wanted to touch it, but couldn’t move. They just stood there, taking each other in, letting their eyes rake across each other’s bodies. Sansa was conscious of Sandor’s eyes flickering over her breasts, her hips, the triangle of auburn hair between her long legs, then returning to her face. She almost felt as if he had fondled her, so intense was the feeling.

She allowed herself a similar examination, past his broad chest with its dark hair trailing towards his erect member, his abdomen with its distinct musculature, his powerful legs and back to his strong shoulders and finally, to his face. Sandor shifted under her scrutiny and Sansa marvelled at how the contours of his body changed. His thighs were thick as tree trunks, flexing and relaxing. 

“You are beautiful,” they said almost at the same time. Then smiled. Even Sandor didn’t protest against her words, seemingly accepting that whatever madness had possessed her, she could not be persuaded from it.

Then Sandor lifted her into his arms and carried her towards the bed.

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