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.

ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sansa

Sansa found Sandor by the pool as she had hoped. He was crouching on his haunches, head bowed, eyes closed and hands on his thighs. He was absolutely motionless, and but for the heave of his chest, he could have been taken for a statue. Sansa observed him cautiously from a distance, for a moment feeling a flicker of doubt about approaching him. Then she noticed that his knuckles were raw and covered with dried blood, as if he had hit them against a hard surface. The wolf inside her asserted itself and she pursed her lips and stepped forward.

A twig broke under her foot and Sandor lifted his face towards her. The expression on it caught her; it was not angry as she had expected, but tortured, anguish sketched into each line.

Neither of them said a word. Sansa took another step, then another, and all the while Sandor followed her with his gaze. She stopped in front of him and looked at his upturned face, his eyes still not having left hers.

“Only you,” was all she said. She extended her hand to his good cheek and felt the bristles of his beard against it. Then something in him crumbled right in front of her; the pain in his eyes was replaced by submission, his shoulders sagged and he sighed deeply from the very core of him. Then she knew she had won.

“Little bird, I…” Sansa hushed him before he continued, pressing a finger to his lips.

“Sssshhhh,” she whispered and pulled him towards her. Sandor allowed it, pressing his head against Sansa’s chest and lifting his hands to rest on her hips. He breathed heavily against her body and she twined her fingers in his hair, humming softly. There was no need for words.

They stood like that for a long time, Sandor’s arms encircling her body, Sansa’s hands moving in his hair, brushing, touching, soothing. Eventually Sansa pulled away, but only to kneel down opposite him. Once again she felt herself sinking into those grave grey eyes.

“Only you,” she repeated. “If you don’t want me, I accept it, but I have to hear you say so. And first you must tell me that you believe me.”

“Why me?” Sandor’s shoulders were slouched, rare uncertainty enveloping him.

Sansa traced her hand along the scarred side of his face. Her fingertips remembered the texture from before, but she took her time and examined him in the fading light.

“Do you trust me, Sandor? Do you truly trust me, know that I will tell you the truth?”

He nodded.

“All I can say is that I know my heart. You have been there for a long time now, although it took me a while to realise it. What you have to do now is to examine your own and tell me what you see. Do remember, it is not in you to lie.”

Sansa watched in fascination the string of emotions showing on Sandor’s face in the wake of her words; anguish, surrender, then serenity and acceptance. Finally he spoke, his voice hardly more than a coarse whisper.

“Hells, I have no right to anything it holds. Still, you are correct. I can’t lie, not to you.” Sandor brushed his fingers against Sansa’s cheek, leaving a trail of crumbling flakes of blood in the wake of his touch.

Sansa saw him struggle to continue and felt a pang in her heart. Words, once said, could be more powerful than deeds, and she knew him well enough to realise how difficult it was for him to reveal his vulnerability. She knew now what she needed to, and that was enough – for the present.

“So you will accept what I offer?” The anxiety she had felt earlier was gone. She felt calm.

“I will, little bird. Why, I can’t fathom for all the buggering seven hells. But if you truly want a scarred dog like me, I am yours,” Sandor sighed. He lowered his hand and his arms hung awkwardly at his sides. Even in his crouched position he was huge and Sansa felt dwarfed next to him.

She allowed a small smile to form on her lips; not the victorious grin of a winner, but a minute expression of happiness to show him how pleased she was by his words. Sandor’s uneasiness seemed to diminish at that and he looked at her expectantly.

Sansa leaned closer, offering her lips to him and he took them. The kiss was soft and hesitant at first, both of them uncertain of that new uncharted territory. Sansa’s experiences of kissing were negligible, but feeling Sandor’s mouth against hers was…just right. Nonetheless, as Sansa opened her mouth to taste him fully, its tone changed.

The shyness was gone, replaced by a ferocity she had not experienced before. Sandor’s tongue darted into her mouth, demanding and exploring, and she returned his forays with fervour she didn’t know she possessed.

Sandor grasped her harder and pulled her into him so that her knees lifted from the ground and she was flush against his body. Sansa was crushed under the harshness of his grip, his fingers pressing painfully against her ribs as he curled his right arm around her back. His left hand travelled lower, grabbing her buttocks and holding her even harder against him. She was aware of the tautness of his muscles, the musky smell of his sweat and the scratch of his beard against her chin.

At that moment Sansa was reminded of how strong he was and she so utterly powerless. She had just blatantly propositioned him; was he now going to take what was offered?

Sansa had witnessed Sandor in the heat of a fight, seen him unleash the violence and savagery he was capable of. Had love been just another battlefield for him before, rough tumblings to quench his lust, seeking nothing more than his own release? Would he recognise the difference between such encounters and what was ahead them now? Would he realise how fragile she was compared to the women he had had?

For a second – only for a second – Sansa felt fear.

Then she remembered that the man grasping her so tightly was him; her protector, the harsh warrior who was her unlikely source of comfort. The man who had always sought to help her, never asking anything in return. The man who had touched her tenderly and by doing so had lit a fire in her that could not be slaked.

Although reassured, Sansa couldn’t prevent a small whimper from escaping her lips. Sandor stopped immediately and opened his eyes, blinking as if recovering from a deep sleep. His hold on her softened and with it, Sansa became aware of his stiff manhood against her belly. A jolt of excitement radiated through her body and she had to resist an urge to lie on the ground with him then and there… but somewhere at the back of her mind the remaining shreds of common sense nagged at her. Not here, not now. Someone might see us.

Sansa pushed him away, gently. Although initially Sandor resisted her attempts to disentangle herself from his arms, finally he understood what she meant and let her go.

She pulled herself to her feet, hating it as she did it.

“Sandor, now is not a good time. Someone could come. Please.”

“Aye, I am sorry. I should have thought of that myself, before….”

Having recovered her bearings, Sansa looked at him and smiled.

“Come to my rooms tonight. After dinner. I’ll be waiting for you.” Sandor’s breath hitched and he regarded her hungrily, raising her hand to his lips.

Sansa closed her eyes for a moment to feel the heat of his scarred mouth on her wrist. Soon.

“I will leave the Godswood first, it is better if you follow after a while.”

“I will take a different route, returning via the Hunter’s Gate. Better we are not seen together now.” Sandor rose and loomed over her once again.

They collected themselves quietly, rearranging the clothes that had been rumpled by their embrace. Sansa glanced at Sandor as he turned his back to her and adjusted his breeches. She blushed and busied herself with her own gown, rubbing at the green tint the moss had left on it.

Soon she was ready to go. She leaned towards Sandor once again and touched his elbow.

“Tonight.” She wanted to add an endearment, but judged it better not to overwhelm him. Sandor looked back at her and nodded solemnly.

“Tonight, little bird.”

Her feet danced all the way to her rooms.

----------

Sansa could have sworn that time had stopped and was standing still. The dinner was an uninterrupted agony, food being carried from the kitchens at a snail’s pace, people not appearing to have even touched their plates by the time Sansa was almost finished with her meal. All she could do was to fidget in her seat, waiting for the dinner to be over.

She was nodding and adding a polite little ‘hmm’ and ‘aha’ to the comments made by her neighbour, the deputy leader of the Northern guard. He was a member of House Dustin, who had distinguished himself in training and been raised to his position by Sandor. Sansa had revived her father’s old tradition of seating members of her household at the high table on a rotation, and usually enjoyed interacting with different people. Yet tonight the poor young man was left completely stranded, and she couldn’t even feel sorry for him.

She caught Sandor’s eye every now and then from across the room. He was sitting at one of the lower tables with other soldiers of the guard. Sansa was momentarily grateful for that, being unsure if she would survive him being seated close to her. Even from that distance she felt his gaze burning, slowly melting her into a puddle.

The anticipation pooled in her belly and she wondered how she could endure the waiting any longer. Still, despite her frustrations she felt more alive than she could remember being for a long, long time. It was as if the colours were been brighter, the air fresher, the people around her happier. The only thing that was not improved by her condition was the food. It was tasteless in her mouth and she pushed it around the plate with her fork, forcing herself to eat as much as she could. I will need my strength tonight. Her cheeks reddened and a quick darting glance in Sandor’s direction showed her that he was looking at her. Again.

Finally the meal was over. Sansa blamed a headache and retired to her rooms, assuring Lenore that all she needed was a good lie-down.

She changed into her green nightshift, hoping it would not distract Sandor by reminding him of the time he had held on to it. One day she would ask him about it – but not now. She slipped on a light morning dress as well, laced all the way at the front. She often wore it over her nightshift when she relaxed in her own solar. She felt vulnerable in that intimate clothing, without the security of a lady’s armour such as a courtly dress or the practicality of rough-spun clothing.

Sansa had asked for a flagon of wine and dried fruit to be brought to her rooms, and had smuggled an extra goblet from the hall. She set it next to the flagon and looked at the composition; a flagon and two goblets. She was doing this for real; she was about to entertain a man in her chambers. The thought made her giddy.

After what seemed like another eternity, she heard a light tap on the door. Sandor was standing behind it, solemn and serious. As she smiled at him and moved aside to allow him in, he stared at her as if he was seeing her for the first time. He didn’t move for a moment and only looked at her, almost as if he were asking if she was sure, and Sansa had to summon him again before he finally entered. The point of no return. Whatever happened after tonight, they couldn’t go back to what had been.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sandor

Sandor wasn’t too surprised to get the invitation for a late supper in his lady’s rooms. He had heard the news the raven had brought, but Sansa had shared the contents in front of all her councillors. She might have other tidings she wanted to reveal only to him; perhaps something concerning Jaime or Jon.

He wasn’t sure if he welcomed or dreaded the opportunity to be alone with her. It could be his chance: if Lenore had done as she had promised, Sansa would have received a lecture on how to behave in front of men, and why restraint was important. Sandor only needed to expand on that and somehow make it clear that it applied to all men equally. He shook his head, wondering how in the bloody hells was he going to do that. He couldn’t implicate himself, of course, but he might use Jaime as an example. Surely Sansa didn’t know what was truly in Jaime’s mind, and the lion – well, he wasn’t there and couldn’t protest against being used as a case in point. He snorted. The little bird will have no trouble on that front.

Sandor was in his room, changing his usual rough homespun attire to more formal clothes for the audience with the Lady of Winterfell. Even as he was smirking, a new thought suddenly made him pause. He froze, clutching a finely woven tunic in his hands, feeling a cold draft on his bare upper body but not knowing if that was what made him shudder.

Has Jaime ever desired her?

That Jaime had other inclinations was abundantly clear, but after all, he had fucked his sister for years. That meant that he could get it up for a woman. Jaime had been almost as close to Sansa on their journey as he had been. Had the lion ever lusted after the little bird?

Sandor had to sit down on his pallet to consider. There had been that night in Greywater Watch when they had believed him dead. Jaime had told him about Sansa’s nightly visit…had anything happened between them? Had Sansa pressed her slender body next to Jaime like she had pushed herself against him? Had Jaime touched her, had he slid his long fingers against her soft skin? A low growl emitted from Sandor’s throat as unsettling images of Jaime embracing Sansa flittered in his head. Fuck!

There, in the twilight of the setting northern sun, as Sandor sat on his bed and stared at the wall, a never before experienced emotion swept over him. A hollow sensation deep in his guts, a slow constricting pain inside of him that made him cringe and curse. He didn’t know where the agony came from, but it hurt like hells. He couldn’t have articulated what he felt - and would have disdainfully laughed off any suggestions of what he was truly feeling.

Yet there it was nevertheless; something strange evoked by the thought of Jaime and Sansa together. Whether it was because of the girl or the lion or both, he couldn’t have distinguished any better than he could the feeling itself.

----------

The supper had been pleasant enough. Sandor had sensed Sansa’s nervousness and noticed with amusement how she had topped up her wine goblet more often than he had his own. He had hardly been better, feeling slightly uneasy despite his attempts to fight it off. Although he had almost succeeded in assuring himself that Sansa wouldn’t violate the sanctity of their pack, he couldn’t completely silence the doubts that had entered his mind. Mayhap the supper was just a ruse and he would be told in private that his services were not needed anymore? Aye, the little bird would be kind and courteous, but in the end he could be dropped on his arse just the same.

When there had been no sign of that as the evening progressed, he had started to relax. Sansa’s assured responses to his questions had eased his mind further. He might have worried for nothing after all. It was possible that Sansa’s nervousness was because of some strange women’s business that he didn’t need to know about. As they moved to the couch, he started to practice in his mind what to say next; inviting a man to sit next to her was exactly one of those things she should be warned against.

And then everything had gone to all seven hells.

Sandor spent the night walking restlessly around and around his room, cursing and muttering and trying to still his racing heart, hitting the stone wall until his knuckles bled. After only a few hours of fitful sleep, he went to the stables at first light and escaped to the woods with his first true companion. Yet even riding as fast as he could, as fast as Stranger’s powerful legs could carry him, he couldn’t outride the memory of Sansa’s big blue eyes or her red lips that had spewed bizarre and strange words. Or the sight of her blushing skin and round breasts, which he hadn’t been able to stop staring at despite his shock. Hells, she was just as beautiful and fucking desirable as he had imagined.

Bloody buggering fucking hells! Had he been played again? Had the woman of his dreams, the one who had given purpose to his useless life, turned out to be as false as the whore queen Cersei? Screw that. Sandor remembered his earlier fleeting deliberations on whether Sansa was practising her skills of seduction. As he had then, he dismissed that possibility. Not his little bird, not the strong girl of the North with the blood of wolves in her veins.

The black horse and its brooding rider rode on without a plan or aim, through the woods, across a stream, further and further. Sandor was only vaguely aware of his direction and surroundings, allowing Stranger to pick the route. The cold wind pricked his face but he didn’t care.

If Sansa hadn’t thrown herself at him as part of some game, why in the seven hells had she done it? Was her blood up, was the she-wolf inside her in heat? Highborn ladies were raised to suppress such base desires, but Sansa had seen more than a maiden of noble birth was supposed to. Had that made her bolder?

Sandor knew that Sansa had to maintain her reputation if she wanted to rule in the traditional domain of men. She couldn’t openly take a lover like a lord in her position could without anyone batting an eyelid. He was also well aware that there were no other men she trusted as absolutely as she did her companions. Was that the reason she had turned to him?

And there was the matter that stung Sandor’s soul most harshly. Had Jaime been here, she would have asked him. The realisation hurt him more than even his festering wound at the Quiet Isle had done.

At the same time he scolded himself. Of course she would have asked Jaime – who wouldn’t choose the handsome blonde warrior with his good looks and worldly manners over the uncouth scarred warrior?

Sandor had slowed down after Stranger had started to snort and throw his head, and by mid-morning he halted to a stop, both of them hot and sweaty from their exertions. He threw himself on the ground, panting and wishing that he was facing an enemy right now, someone he could attack, hack and splice, and forget all of…this.

He lay on the cold hard earth staring at the sky with unseeing eyes for a long, long time. As his breathing steadied, he tried to force cool contemplation to take over the foolish emotions he had allowed to run wild so far.

So, the little bird wanted a man in her bed. Since he was the only man around she could trust, she had turned to him.

I could have her. I could take her to bed, I could thrust my cock in her tight pink cunt and see her squirm under me, mayhap even hear her sing me a song.

Sandor hardened at the thought. He would finally be able to live out the dream that had haunted him for so long, and lay with his little bird. He could help her scratch her itch, and he could be discreet. He was no fool and knew it could only continue until such time as she was wedded and bedded and didn’t need the services of her stud hound anymore. Or until the lion comes back. He cursed again, impotently.

Even as Sandor was thinking of what a rational man in his circumstances should do, he couldn’t help the bile rising in his throat. If he did this, he would be used almost as badly as he had been in his previous life. He would once again be just a tool for a purpose.

If she would sing beneath me, the song wouldn’t be for me but only for my cock.

Still, if he turned her down, what then? Would he see her some morning, her lips swollen and bruised, her expression that of a sated woman… Sandor’s fists clenched. The prospect of Sansa being embraced by some sodden lord - or by some buggering soldier or stablehand she had resorted to in her desperation - made his anger rise until he couldn’t take it anymore and hit his fist against the ground in a thwarted fury.

Or she could decide to wait for Jaime’s return. The lion might not have the same scruples as he did about serving his lady. Thinking of Jaime and Sansa together, how his caresses would be reserved for her and her alone, how the little bird would wrap her long arms around Jaime’s broad shoulders… The agony he had first encountered just a day before returned with a renewed force.  Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Which would be worse, some anonymous tosser or the lion in her bed, Sandor didn’t know. He felt bitterness sweeping over him like the sea washing over a rocky outcrop, drowning him in its cold swell. Whichever way he looked, there was only pain to endure.

----------

Late in the day he whistled to Stranger, who had been grazing the scanty grass growing in the clearing where they had stopped. The horse raised his head towards its master and came to him readily, and they started their long way back.

Sandor’s energy had been spent and he felt exhaustion hitting him. Lifelong practice kept him straight in the saddle despite his tiredness, and all he needed to do was to give Stranger subtle signs and the horse picked his way surely towards the place they had started to call home. The evening shadows fell long and he could see his breath misting in the cold air.

He refused to think about what he would do when he got back, or what he would say to Sansa when he saw her again. As he rode towards Winterfell, Sandor started to go through the events of the previous evening once again, in every extraordinary detail.

His fatigue had quenched the raging sentiments that had overtaken him earlier and he started to remember the words and nuances he had overlooked before.

    “This is not a game and I won’t be asking this of anyone but you. Haven’t you felt anything…between us?”
    “You can’t deny what we share, and have shared ever since King’s Landing. Something other than the usual
      bond between a sworn shield and his lady.”

    “Please don’t go! This is not a game; you must know what I mean! It is only you…for me…”

He also saw in his mind’s eye Sansa’s face as he had thrown his harsh words at her; tears that had flowed down her cheeks and her desperate expression as she had pleaded with him, clumsily holding onto the front of her dress.

Seven hells! What did she mean, why would she say such things?

Without realising it, Sandor’s grip on the reins tightened until his nails dug deeply into his flesh.

When the walls of Winterfell finally greeted them, he knew he wasn’t ready to see her yet. He took Stranger to the stables and remembering the place where he had found an odd quiet peace many times before, he directed his weary steps towards the Godswood.

Sandor still didn’t keep any gods, but the old gods of the North were the ones he endured the best. The ability to feel their presence in nature, without the interference of the buggering septons, appealed to him.

Without a specific aim in mind, he soon found himself by the pool where he had been so tempted by Sansa just a short time ago. He sank to his knees, closed his eyes and forced himself to think. To forget about the frustration, the doubts, the hurt.

“…only you…”

A tiny flicker of light appeared inside him then, a flame so fragile and yet so dangerous that he wasn’t sure whether he should protect it to let it grow, or quench it before it consumed him in the burning inferno it had the potential to create.

Hope.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Jaime

Jaime was restless. It had been weeks since the Northern delegation had arrived in King’s Landing, and still there hadn’t been any real progress in their cause. He told Tyrion as much, getting in return only his commiserations on how there was no hurrying kings and queens.

Whether Jaime’s complaints had expedited matters or not, he never knew, but the following evening he was invited to the Hand’s solar once again. Tyrion met him at his desk and in a dry and official manner promised to tell him what was going to happen next. However, before he did so, he extracted a promise from Jaime to maintain the secrecy for a while longer and to act surprised when he heard the same news from the queen and king in a few days’ time.

All the news Jaime heard from Tyrion was good. Most importantly for himself, he was to be pardoned for his grievous sin of killing the last Targaryen king. Jaime sighed in relief. He had anticipated as much, but hearing it said out loud was better than hoping.

He knew Tyrion had had a big role in the decision, and felt his affection towards his little brother surge anew. Before he could talk or act on it, Tyrion moved forward, possibly intentionally. They had always been close, but the events of when they had last parted were still raw, and some things were yet too delicate to be voiced.

There was good news for the delegation as well; the North and Stormlands were to be readily accepted back into the Seven Kingdoms. The only requirement was for both Lady Sansa and Lord Stannis to bend the knee and promise their allegiance and support to the central rule.

To Jaime’s protestations of how it could be difficult to get Sansa to travel all the way back to the place of her torment for the ceremony, Tyrion had only smiled cryptically and ignored him.

The next news did surprise Jaime; the acceptance of Jon Snow as Rhaegar Targaryen’s son and the third head of the dragon. The announcement was to be made in an illustrious ceremony a few days hence, before the Northerners were to hear the answers to the matters they had raised.  Jaime couldn’t help smiling. He had learned to appreciate and like the young man, and the thought of the overlooked Stark bastard suddenly becoming one of the highest ranked men in the realm had a delicious irony that resonated with him.

Even better news followed. It seemed that the sovereigns – and the Hand – had accepted the threat beyond the Wall to be serious and had decided to take action. The issue was to be handled with urgency and decisiveness. The Oldtown maesters had already been tasked with locating information about how to conquer such old woes from their vast collection of accumulated wisdom of Westeros. Daenerys, Aegon and Jon were to take to the skies with the dragons and fly to the Wall to fight the Others with dragonfire. Also, a vast army was going to be sent to the North, first traveling with the Northern delegation to Winterfell, and from there to the Wall.

At that point Tyrion leaned forward and announced that the dragons’ first landing was to be in Winterfell, and Lady Sansa could bend the knee to her new sovereigns in her own keep. Again, relief flooded Jaime. He realised he wanted to save Sansa from suffering and hardship just as he had once wanted to protect Cersei. He had failed her miserably when she had been forced into a loveless marriage with Robert, and he had no intention of letting Sansa down if he could help it.

Then the meeting took a new, unexpected turn.

“As a matter of course, there is something more I need to discuss with you concerning Lady Sansa.” Tyrion pressed his fingers together to form an arc and coughed to clear his throat. “When she is officially released from our not-so-sacred wedlock, she is ready to marry again. And she needs to wed, of that I am sure we all agree.”

Jaime nodded, knowing the reality of it. He knew Sansa was aware of the situation as well, and they had often discussed the matter.

“The Iron Throne is not keen to see her join with another powerful house in the North. It wouldn’t take more than a few overexcited, bone-headed Northern lords to make the kingdoms rise again if something agitates them.”

“I appreciate your concerns, but I’m afraid it is not up to you or me or anybody else to tell Lady Sansa whom she is to marry. Besides, she plans to rule in her own right, her husband not being the Lord of Winterfell, but only her consort,” Jaime replied, wondering what Tyrion had in mind.

“I understand, but unfortunately she may not be quite as free as she thinks. Our spies – yes, all the little birds didn’t disappear with Lord Varys – have reported credible threats against her. It wouldn’t be the first time that a lady with a powerful claim would be forcibly wedded and bedded. Afterwards there would be no way to annul the marriage, irrespective of the way it came about.”

Jaime was stunned by what he heard. Someone planning to abduct Sansa? The thought of Sandor protecting her comforted him, but soon he realised that even a formidable warrior like him might not be enough against a well-orchestrated attack.

“In addition, there is the question of the continuation of the Stark bloodline,” Tyrion continued. “A young woman on her own is not much of an assurance for the future; she could be easily swept away by sickness or accident. With her gone there would be no Starks left, so should she marry and carry an heir or two, the contentment of her bannermen would increase considerably.”

“Who would you suggest as her husband then? It appears you have given the matter extensive consideration,” Jaime muttered sullenly.

“He can’t be anyone too high, but not too lowborn either. He must have no political ambitions of his own and agree to a role as her consort. He has to be someone the Iron Throne – and that includes me - can trust. And lastly, it seems that he has to be accepted by Lady Sansa as well. It is a big ask - but I think I have exactly the right candidate in mind.” Tyrion rose to his full height behind his desk, and although it wasn’t much, it lent more gravity to what he was saying.

“Who would be such a paragon of virtues and advantages, brother?” Jaime was still sceptical about Tyrion’s speech. He might have a point, but it didn’t mean that Sansa would agree.

“I thought you would have figured it out by now. Tsk tsk, Jaime, you are not as astute as I thought you were,” smiled Tyrion. “You of course – who else?!”

Jaime looked at him, shocked.

“Me? You mean to suggest I should wed Sansa?”

“That’s exactly what I have been leading you towards for a last little while. I am elated you finally caught my drift,” Tyrion replied dryly. “I suspect she would accept you gladly. From what you have told me, you two get on famously. You have saved her and she trusts you as one of her closest confidantes. You would make a perfect couple.”

Jaime was speechless. Marry Sansa? The thought had never crossed his mind.

Before he could gather his thoughts, Tyrion walked to him and patted his shoulder. “Let’s keep this discussion amongst ourselves for now. The queen and king know, but let’s not hurry ahead of ourselves. When they meet in Winterfell, we’ll see what Lady Sansa thinks about this plan – which, even though I say so myself, is a brilliant one.”

Tyrion turned to waddle out of the room, gesturing Jaime to follow.

“Enough serious talk, let’s enjoy some food and wine! Have you ever tried a stew of minted lentils, heavily spiced and served with fried salty cheese? They eat it all the time in the Free Cities. Delicious!”

----------

Jaime couldn’t shake Tyrion’s suggestion out of his mind. The next day he walked around King’s Landing, wandering aimlessly back and forth in its narrow streets, eventually finding himself in an anonymous winesink near the harbour.

While clutching a tankard of piss-poor ale he contemplated the notion. If he was totally honest, there had been times when he had felt drawn towards Sansa and wondered what if… That night in Greywater Watch when she had stolen into his bed, Jaime had been aroused in a way he hadn’t been for a long time. He had however refused to permit such thoughts to take root in his mind, afraid that they might upset the carefully wrought new state of affairs between them if allowed to flourish.

Would Sansa even consider such proposal? Jaime knew she appreciated and respected him – and there was the kiss she had given him on his departure. It had been so soft and tender, but not entirely innocent or dispassionate. Yet just like Sandor’s hesitant kiss, it had most likely been only a gesture of kindness at a time of farewells, he had concluded.

Sandor... How would he take the news in the unlikely event that Sansa would agree? Despite his measured denials of having any feelings towards her, Jaime had every now and then caught his gaze when it had been directed towards Sansa. It had held in it an unspoken longing and vulnerability that touched Jaime. He cares more than he is willing to admit.

The two of them had often laughed at hapless suitors of the Lady of Winterfell, placing bets on who would win the privilege of sitting next to Sansa at the dais, or who would be allowed to escort her in the keep. They had given them nicknames; “Skinny”, Slobber”, “Puppy” and many others besides. Nonetheless, behind all their laughs had been the uneasiness of knowing that one day one of those pathetic admirers would wrap his cloak around the shoulders of their lady. She had to marry, there was nothing to be done about it.

Would Sandor find it easier if his little bird married within their pack? Jaime would honour their special relationship and wouldn’t mind Sandor staying on as her sworn shield even after her marriage, as he knew he would. Or would he detest Jaime for breaking the agreement they had made, about neither of them disgracing Sansa? Yet if Jaime wed her, it wouldn’t be a disgrace.

My wife.

Jaime tasted the word in his mouth. Taking a wife had never been part of his plan. First, because the only woman he wanted, he couldn’t marry, and later the vows of the Kingsguard had rendered other desires moot.

Then another thought took form at the back of his mind. We could have children. Without realising, his grip on the tankard tightened until he sensed its thin metal giving in and the vessel being crushed in his hand.

When Cersei had given birth to Joffrey, Jaime had rushed in, ignoring scandalised midwives and servants. He had stayed, holding her hand and cursing the agony painted on her beautiful face, until the new life had been pushed into the world. As the midwife had returned the babe, tightly swaddled and mewling faintly, to Cersei’s lap, Jaime had reached to take him into his arms – my son, my firstborn.

Cersei’s touch and voice had stayed his hands. “Thank you, dear brother. As you can see, the ordeal is now over and you can go. When you see the king, could you let him know that he has a son?”

And so it had been ever since. The surge of emotion Jaime had felt had never found its true outlet, and the feelings he had for his son had to be pushed far, far into the deep recesses of his mind. With Myrcella and Tommen he hadn’t even been allowed into the birthing chamber, and seeing their chubby faces later only served as a bitter reminder of what he couldn’t have.

Things had changed between him and Cersei after the children. The fervent love Cersei had felt towards him had somehow diminished and been redirected to her children. It was natural and to be expected, Jaime suspected. He couldn’t help thinking that had he been allowed to be a father to his children, instead of them driving a wedge between them, a shared parenthood might have heightened their love. If only…

My sons. My daughters.

Suddenly he realised that once again Tyrion had found a perfect solution; for the realm, for himself, for Jaime, possibly even for Sansa. Jaime knew she wasn’t keen to marry any of her suitors, hating the idea of being beholden to a stranger who couldn’t understand what she had gone through. Her experiences at the hands of Littlefinger, although seldom mentioned, had also left their mark on her. She wasn’t an innocent maiden any more, but nor was she a hardened woman. She could still hurt, and an insensitive husband could break her just as Jaime had crushed his tankard. Sansa was strong, she had steel in her, but she was also fragile as a winter rose and Jaime hated the idea of seeing her wither in the hands of some thoughtless lord.

Jaime winced. If they should marry, they would share a bed as a husband and wife. For a moment he felt himself stir at the memory of Sansa’s breasts pressing against his chest and the curve of her hip against his hand. He would have to be gentle, he would need to give her time… he would have to do his best to banish the dark shadows of Littlefinger from her life.

Curiously Jaime felt as if the thoughts he had previously pushed out of his mind were now free to roam. Reflections of Sansa’s red hair spread on the pillow, her lips parted in expectation of a kiss, her beautiful body revealed to his gaze… Jaime closed his eyes and felt a surge of desire.

Idly he wondered why he felt so aroused by imagining Sansa, when only a few days ago he had been thrilled by the touch of a man. He knew it was not usually so, those drawn to other men rarely being interested in women. Everyone knew Renly hadn’t consummated his marriage with Lady Margaery, who was a strikingly beautiful woman.

Jaime’s thoughts flickered back to Sandor. He had accepted that Sandor didn’t look upon him that way. Nonetheless, he had allowed Jaime to touch him, yielding to his thinly disguised caresses. He had even agreed to kiss him, seven hells!  Jaime couldn’t imagine any other red-blooded, hardened fighter doing so. What did it mean?

As he had hundreds of times before, Jaime tried to solve the riddle that was Sandor Clegane, wishing he had a key to his mind. Would Jaime marrying Sansa break their fragile relationship apart? Would Sandor feel himself to be an outsider, banished from their pack?

By the time Jaime returned to the Keep, he had made up his mind. Come hells or high water, after his return to Winterfell he would discuss the matter first with Sandor. If Sandor accepted the plan, he would offer Sansa his cloak of protection and ask her to marry him. And he would make sure they would remain a pack, Sandor staying as close to both of them as he was now.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sansa

Sansa and Sandor ate in silence. The food was modest but tasty; cold chicken and carrots in herb butter. Sandor ate as he did everything else, with economy of motion and with a purpose, only what he needed. When he had had his fill, he stopped. They shared a flagon of Arbor gold and in her nervousness Sansa filled her goblet more often than she normally would have. Sandor drank sparingly, but at Sansa’s insistence accepted more. If Sansa wouldn’t have known better, she might have thought that he looked anxious.  But no, it could not be. He was always in control of a situation.

“So what is it that you wanted to discuss?” Sandor leaned back in his chair, fingering the goblet in his hand. “It sounds like things are progressing as well as can be expected. The Targaryens are still taking their time to announce their decisions, but the Imp seems to think they can be made to see reason.”

He examined Sansa under his brow. “You will have that annulment as well, just as you wanted. You had better prepare yourself after that, all the buggering lords will be rushing to you with their proposals.”

“I think I will wait until Jaime and the party have returned before I announce the news. I am in no hurry to make it public any sooner than necessary,” Sansa replied distractedly.

“Is that what you wanted to talk about?” Sandor leaned forward, his grey eyes peering into Sansa’s. “I am not blind. I have seen how you have fretted lately. You seem preoccupied with something – so you better just cough up what it is. Whatever it is, I can handle it.”

Sansa didn’t know what to say so she stayed quiet.

“If it is those bloody suitors, don’t trouble yourself over them. You don’t have to marry if you don’t want to – you are the lady of the keep and no lord can tell you what to do. Hells, if anyone argues that you can’t rule on your own, you can even form a council of all the high and mighty lords who think the sun shines out of their asses – as if you needed any advice from them.”

Sansa winced. How could he think she cared about such matters when there was a matter of so much more importance occupying her mind? Sandor leaned closer, his fists clenched on the table and Sansa found herself staring at them. His hands were so big and strong and yet so gentle at times when they had touched her.

“Have any of those buggering lordlings bothered you? And you not wanting to tell me because you know I wouldn’t let them get away with it?”

Sansa wondered for a moment why he would suspect such a thing – all her suitors were nothing but courteous and respectful towards their liege lady.

“It is…neither of those things. I have been giving a lot of thought to my future happiness and the companionship I need, that much is true. That is why I asked you here tonight.”

Sandor leaned back again, a questioning look on his face. Sansa had learned to read his expressions over time and knew him to be curious, although he did his best to hide it. Yet there was also a hint of uncertainty she hadn’t seen in him before. It did nothing to ease her nerves.

Wanting to break the formality of the situation Sansa stood up and gestured for Sandor to follow her as she sat on the couch at the other end of her solar. The couch was meant for three people, but Sandor filled it so that there was not much room between the two of them. Sansa braced herself.

“Sandor, do you care about me?”

He stiffened and straightened his posture. “What do you mean, little bird? Of course I do. I am your sworn shield and would lay down my life to save yours. Isn’t that caring?”

“I didn’t mean it that way. Do you…” Sansa shifted imperceptibly closer to him “…care about me as a woman?”

Sandor swallowed and she could see his expression changing from bewildered to uncomfortable.

“What silliness is this? Why are you asking me this? Aren’t all those young fools enough for you; is this some kind of a game? Because if it is, it is a dangerous one, and you had better hear me when I warn you against playing that with me or anyone else.”

His features hardened further and Sansa felt her mouth drying as she pressed on.

“This is not a game and I won’t be asking this of anyone but you. Haven’t you felt anything…between us?” Sansa wasn’t sure if she could describe in words what she felt. Surely he knew what she was talking about?

Sandor’s eyes narrowed as he scrutinised her.

“Bloody hells! How could it be anything but what I have already told you; that I owe you my protection?”

Since Sandor had not flinched or moved away, it gave Sansa courage to continue. She moved her hand and placed it cautiously on his thigh. He winced at that, as she had expected, but she ignored it. Once again she felt herself woefully out of her depth. If Randa was here, she would surely know what to say and how to make a man respond to her. She wouldn’t be just a stupid little bird who didn’t know what to do.

Sandor didn’t make it any easier for her. Sansa knew that with her other suitors, no matter how considerate they were towards her, she would only have to give them the slightest hint and they would press their suit. But Sandor – he only recoiled from her.

“You can’t deny what we share, and have shared ever since King’s Landing. Something other than the usual bond between a sworn shield and his lady.”

Sandor’s eyes had not left hers and Sansa felt herself drowning in their intensity. “Little bird…” he growled cautiously.

Then Sansa made her mistake.

Thinking that maybe she was wrong in trying to explain to him something that couldn’t be put to words, she decided to act. Sandor was a man of action and maybe deeds would speak to him louder than her halting sentences. Maybe he would let down his guard if she showed him that she was serious?

Sansa started to open the laces in the front of her dress. She felt her cheeks redden, but was determined to prove to him that she was not only teasing him, not only playing games.

Her laces undone, she hesitated for a moment, then tugged at her bodice. It fell, revealing her breasts and the crimson creeping across her skin. She felt exposed in a way she had never felt before, revealing not only her body but also her heart to his scrutiny. She raised her eyes to meet his, waiting breathlessly for his reaction.

Sandor was quiet for a long time. Sansa could hear his ragged breathing and sense his tension, like a coiled spring ready to bounce. However, what he said next was nothing she had expected to hear.

“So that’s what this is. The little bird has realised she is a woman and needs a man. And since you can’t give yourself to any those fools without staining your reputation, nor want to marry anyone, you turn to your trusted servant, expecting him to do your bidding in this as well.”

Sandor’s voice was full of contained anger and he stood up abruptly.

“I am not your fool, my lady. I may be your dog but I am not your plaything!”

Sansa gasped, shocked, and covered herself hastily with the bodice. Her hands shook too much for her to lace it close again, so she just held it against her breasts while trying to comprehend Sandor’s words.

“Sandor, no! It isn’t like that at all! I am not playing with you, I only…” She felt the arrival of tears and couldn’t prevent them from flowing down her cheeks.

Sandor walked to the door and grasped his cloak from the hook he had hung it upon earlier. Sansa got up and rushed after him, awkwardly holding on to her dress and the shreds of her dignity.

“Please don’t go! This is not a game; you must know what I mean! It is only you…for me…”

Sandor turned to look at her from the door and she could see the hurt on his face as clearly as on the day she had called him ugly.

“It is cruel to taunt a man like this, my lady. You must be bloody desperate to fling yourself at someone like me.” He threw one more glance at her dishevelled state. “I thought you knew me better than that.”

Then he was gone.

----------

Sansa cried herself to sleep that evening, overwhelmed by her despair. In her wildest dreams she had not imagined that reaction from Sandor. She had conceived of him possibly declining her coolly and courteously, maybe even showing some contempt towards her inappropriateness. She had envisaged him resisting her on account of his unworthiness or because of some notion pertaining to her reputation. She had most of all hoped he would welcome her in the spirit that she offered herself; with recognition of the deep connection that existed between them.

To have been accused of playing with him, seeking him only for her carnal pleasures – never!

The next morning found her with a thudding headache. She examined her image in the mirror and saw a girl with red-rimmed, puffy eyes, hair in disarray and a wild expression on her face. She sniffled and felt tears spilling again. How could he want me? I have destroyed what we had. He will never look upon me the same way as before!

As she stared at her expression, a change gradually took over and she felt grim determination returning. If Sandor had mistaken her for something she was not, she had to make him see how wrong he was. She would not be beaten. If he truly didn’t want her – well, she would accept that and bury her feelings for him. Yet if that was the case, she wanted him to say that to her face, eye to eye, seriously and honestly, and only after he first accepted that she did want him, and only him.

Invigorated, Sansa got dressed and went to find Sandor. She went by his room first, knocking on the door but hearing no answer she continued to the Great Hall. He was not there, nor in the training yard or in the stables. There she noticed Stranger was missing and enquired after him from one of the squires.

“Clegane took him out at first light, my lady.”

“Do you know where they went?”

“No, my lady. He rode as if demons were after him though, and looked the same. I gathered he went on some important mission for you as he muttered something about the ‘Lady of Winterfell’ as he was saddling Stranger.” The squire was looking at her curiously.

“That is true, I sent him on an important task, I just didn’t know he planned to leave that early,” Sansa replied, thinking quickly on her feet. “Thank you for telling me, I am content to wait for his return.”

The boy bowed to her and she returned to her rooms, worried. Where could Sandor have gone? Looking as if demons were after him? It must mean something, it must mean that the previous night had affected him more than just hurting his pride.

The day went by in a daze. Sansa attended to her duties, discoursed with her people, but pleading a headache retired to her rooms early in the day. She asked Lenore to tell her as soon as Sandor and Stranger were back, using the same pretext of an important mission he was performing for her.

No announcement came by midday, nor in the afternoon. Finally Lenore came and told her the news a stable boy had passed to her about Sandor’s return. Sansa thanked her graciously and waved her away.

Then she waited. She waited for his knock on her door, to hear his footsteps in the corridor on his way to his own room… but heard neither. After enough time had passed she conceded that he was not coming and she had to find him herself.

Stranger was still lathered with dried sweat as she passed by the stables. She didn’t dare to enquire after Sandor but went looking for him in the keep, visiting all the places she could think he could be, starting from the kitchens and especially the wine stores.

After a futile search covering most of Winterfell, Sansa had to admit defeat. Sandor was nowhere to be found. Then inspiration struck, and she scolded herself for not thinking of it earlier. New strength imbued her steps as she ducked into the Godswood. The pools. That’s where he will be. Where he has to be.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Jaime

Once again Jaime was waiting in the Hand’s solar, but this time his nervousness was gone and he felt at ease. Tyrion had invited him for a late meal and Jaime was comfortable and confident.

“Brother, I trust you have been well?” Tyrion stormed in, carrying a stack of scrolls.

“Couldn’t be better. I never realised King’s Landing could be so entertaining without a white cloak and a golden chain.”

“I suspect you refer to the yoke of a particular golden ball and chain that used to trap you. Oh yes, dear brother, we both always knew who had the real balls in our family,” Tyrion quipped, dropping the scrolls on a table and turning towards Jaime.

“A drink? Some food? Both, I hope, I am starving!”

Over a meal of stewed mussels in garlic and cream and fried peppers filled with cheese they discussed assimilation of other kingdoms into the realm. Stannis’s case was being considered together with Sansa’s, the North and Stormlands having declared their alliance. The Riverlands had submitted, Edmure Tully bending the knee. Petyr Baelish had lost all of his lofty appointments, and although still remaining in the Vale, holding the sickly Lord Robert practically as his hostage, it was only a matter of time before he would be made to yield.

Jaime listed Littlefinger’s crimes to Tyrion, urging him to act sooner rather than later. Tyrion listened politely and after hearing about Petyr’s role in Joffrey’s murder, jested that he should not be punished but on the contrary, rewarded. However, he soon became serious, as that particular crime had been framed as his doing, and he didn’t take that lightly.

When Jaime told him about Littlefinger’s transgressions towards Sansa, Tyrion’s face contorted in anger.

“As much as it pains me that my lovely wife is hells-bent on annulling our blessed union, I can’t say I blame her. I acted honourably towards her, although to be honest, I can’t remember what possessed me to be so gallant. And to hear what that vile Littlefinger did to her!” Tyrion boomed, before turning thoughtful.

“This means, of course, that Lady Sansa is not a maiden after all, as her declaration of annulment states. If I wanted, I could demand a re-examination and claim her as my wife.”

Jaime was startled. He knew Sansa would rather die than return to King’s Landing as Tyrion’s wife. He cursed himself for revealing that small but ever so important detail to Tyrion.

“It wouldn’t be very honourable of you, brother. Why would you want it anyway? You can’t say that you have fallen hopelessly in love with her. What good would you gain from a personal alliance with the North?”

Tyrion sighed. “You are right. As much as I liked the girl, I have no specific attachment. As for alliances, I suspect we will get much better terms and a warmer relationship with that stubborn, cold kingdom by treating them with kindness rather than coercion.”

“True. As you know, Lady Sansa is stronger than any of us suspected, and she wouldn’t yield to your wishes meekly. You might even find yourself with another Northern rebellion on your hands.”

Tyrion raised his arms in surrender. “Don’t worry, she will get her annulment. What would I do with a wife thousands of leagues away anyway? I couldn’t imagine anyone else being able to hold the North together, and I have no interest in spending any more time there than necessary.”

After they finished eating, they retired to the couch with wine goblets in hand.

“So tell me, how are the Queen and King taking the news of the recent surprise addition to House Targaryen? Do you believe Lord Reed?” Jaime leaned back in his chair, lifting his long legs onto the stool in front of it.

“As much it goes against my general scepticism, it appears that I must. Jon Connington attested that Lyanna and Rhaegar were married; in secret and in haste, but married nonetheless. Although why is beyond me - one wife surely provides enough grief. He also testified that Lyanna was pregnant, but as her time was at least a month after the battle at the Tower of Joy, he always assumed the babe perished with her.”

Tyrion took a sip of wine and continued.

“Daenerys is confused. She thought she was the last dragon, and suddenly new dragons are popping out left, right and centre. Yet she can’t deny it; just by looking at all of them together it is rather obvious. Despite different colouring, they all share the same features, especially Aegon and Jon.”

“’The dragon has three heads’, goes the House Targaryen saying. What does it mean for our solemn Lord Commander?” Jaime queried.

“It hasn’t been decided yet. You know that Daenerys is barren, due to a curse placed on her? Might be true as well, as she is still not carrying a bear cub and that’s not for want of trying.”

At Jaime’s questioning look, Tyrion snorted, “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed? Ser Jorah always by her side? Come on, brother, everybody knows that! Stranger still is that nobody seems to mind. Presumably everyone accepts it as just one of the strange foreign customs they have brought with them from across the sea.”

Jaime wasn’t truly surprised. He had seen the swarthy warrior with a distinguishable demon’s face tattoo on his cheek constantly at Daenerys’ side. Alysanne Mormont had been profoundly shocked at seeing him, but the two had soon reconnected and Ser Jorah was apparently keen to visit his old home at Bear Island as soon as possible. Jaime was glad; another Northerner near the throne couldn’t be a bad thing. He made a mental note to tell Sansa about Ser Jorah in his next regular dispatch to Winterfell.

“She and Aegon will not marry as is the tradition, so Aegon can take a fertile wife from amongst the nobility of Westeros. Should he, however, turn out to be incapable of siring offspring, it will be up to our Lord Commander to make sure that the dragon’s blood is not extinguished.”

Jaime wondered how big an ask that would be for Jon. He was a serious young man, but during their travels his tongue had slipped a few times, revealing that he was not completely inexperienced.  A wildling girl, Jaime had surmised. The vows we make… Whether it was the Kingsguard or the Night’s Watch, men could not be expected to deny their true nature forever. For a moment he wondered idly if men found their pleasures in other ways when women were not easily available, as in King’s Landing. Maybe I should have joined the Black Brothers instead?

“To whom do you plan to marry Aegon? You must have somebody in mind already, if I know you.”

“Well, there is a tradition of all kings of Westeros marrying that Tyrell girl, Margaery… but with House Tyrell stripped of power, she may have lost her charm. If I didn’t know that Lady Sansa has had enough of marriage proposals from the Iron Throne, I might have suggested her.” Tyrion smiled as he said so, putting Jaime at ease despite his heart skipping a few beats at Tyrion’s words.

“The same arguments you stated about why it is better to leave her to rule the North apply here, obviously,” he ventured nonetheless.

“Yes, yes, quite so. If her fiery little sister could be found, that would be another thing, of course.” Tyrion made his words sound casual, but Jaime saw how his eyes narrowed as he preened at Jaime.

Jaime had shared Brienne’s quest with Tyrion, and he had promised her the support of the Iron Throne as soon as she could be located. They had sent messages to Braavos and were waiting for replies.

They continued a while longer, pondering different strategies and options. As interesting as it was to plan the fates of kingdoms, and as well as Jaime understood the appeal it had for Tyrion, personally he couldn’t wait to get out of King’s Landing and leave all those schemes and plans behind.

----------

When Jaime returned to the new lodgings he shared with Jon Snow since their upgrade from a common hall to guest rooms, his mind trailed back to the previous night.

He stayed at the inn much later than he had intended, finally leaving with his new friend Meryn the smith. During the evening his attraction towards the strong man, who weighed his words with the same care as he applied to his trade, increased. Neither of them said a word as they walked down the street, but at the junction where it turned towards the Keep, they stopped. Jaime wasn’t sure what he wanted or expected, but Meryn leaned towards him, took his head between his large smith’s hands and pressed a kiss to Jaime’s lips. It was dark and they had retreated into a gloomy recess against one of the houses, but Jaime was nonetheless shocked by his brazenness.

Nobody seemed to pay heed to two shadows in the night and Meryn’s kiss was so soft, so sweet… Jaime couldn’t have imagined a solid man like him possessing such tenderness of touch.  He gave in and allowed himself to be swept away by the other man’s gentleness and his own slowly waking arousal. They kissed for a long time, Jaime marvelling at how different the mouth against his own felt compared to Cersei’s lips. With Cersei he had been the conqueror, claiming her mouth as his prize. With Meryn it was his turn to yield to a possessive mouth and tongue as it swept inside his own, challenging and demanding. Jaime felt the smith’s beard tickling his own cheeks and the unusual feeling excited him beyond measure.

As Meryn moved to pull Jaime closer to him, Jaime felt his hardened member against his lower belly. For a moment it was as if he were back on the road, on their shared bedrolls, leaning against Sandor’s morning arousal. Sometimes Jaime had been awake for a long time, pretending to sleep, hoping the warrior next to him wouldn’t move or wake up.

How queer it was to feel such an outward declaration of another’s passion, and how refreshing and honest! With women it was much more difficult, their arousal buried in the mystery of their hidden depths. Even with Cersei, who had been as close to him as his own mind and body, he had never been able to be exactly sure when she was in the mood for passionate lovemaking.

Jaime’s own cock was just as hard as Meryn’s and he was equally unable to hide his arousal. The other man whispered into his ear, “I know a place we could go. It is in my smithy, not far from here. Just a small room, but it is clean and it has a bed.”

For a moment Jaime was tempted, sorely tempted indeed. He liked the man. Meryn was strong and masculine and reminded him of Sandor. They were in a big city where nobody was likely to find out – and even if they did, it wouldn’t be such a big thing. He wanted him, his body called for release and his mind yearned to discover what mysterious union he was so drawn to. This is my chance. Cersei is gone, so is Brienne. Sandor…if he wanted me, he would have expressed it by now.

Yet despite all that he declined, whispering apologetically in the smith’s ear how he could not, and how he was sorry that he had led him on. Even though Jaime knew nothing could ever happen between him and Sandor, part of him felt bound to the man who had first woken this new side of him. The same twisted ties of loyalty, which had bound him to Cersei.

Meryn withdrew, looking at him earnestly, Jaime more sensing than seeing his solemn eyes in the darkness. Finally he sighed that he understood, but wished he didn’t have to.

Jaime felt terrible and fumbled for a dragon in his pouch and tried to offer it to him. Meryn turned it down almost angrily, telling Jaime it was not why he had wanted him to come. Jaime assured him he was aware of that, having come to the conclusion that unlike possibly Emmon, Meryn had been at the inn not for reasons of trade but simply because he had been looking for someone. Jaime pressed the dragon into his hand nonetheless, urging him to consider it as a payment for his advice on weaponry, or to share it with his friend Emmon. Eventually Meryn grunted but accepted it.

As they departed, Meryn swiped his hand across Jaime’s breeches and caused him to nearly faint from the sensations it aroused in him. His still hard cock twitched and he had to resist the urge to buck his hips against Meryn’s hand. Gods, if this is just from him touching me… Suddenly his refusal and the complicated reasons behind it seemed plain stupid. Before he could change his mind, Meryn sighed. “You have to use your weapons or they go rusty and unusable. I’d rather it would be with me, but if it is not to be, I wish you happiness just the same.” Then he turned and walked away, leaving Jaime gasping for air and staring at his retreating form.

Jaime was grateful that Jon had gone to spend the evening with the innermost royal court, as it allowed him to stroke his persistent hardness and imagine it was Meryn, that it was Sandor… He cried out as he felt his seed spurt over his belly and the tension of the evening left him – but only momentarily. As his dazed mind tried to gather itself together, he wasn’t sure whether to curse or bless the desires he still felt raging in him. When he finally fell asleep he saw visions of Cersei, her golden hair turning into a shock of auburn tresses, and of the smith’s broad hands turning into Sandor’s long fingers.
ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)

Sansa


Myranda Royce had been Alayne Stone’s best friend in the Vale, and although her unconventional and unladylike behaviour had sometimes scandalised Sansa, she had also admired her. As a daughter of a noble house, Randa’s path was expected to be the same as that of any highborn lady’s: defined by life choices dictated by others and demure submission. Despite that, she had risen above those expectations and taken lovers, snubbed the convention and lived her life as she wanted. 

Sansa found herself thinking of Randa more and more as she pondered her new situation. As if she had been granted permission, all the thoughts about Sandor she had previously pushed out of her mind flooded back. A slow realisation came over her that Sandor’s presence was what she had craved during their travel; his acceptance, his rare smiles and his touches. How thrilling it had been to ride with him and feel his muscles tensing against her, or to examine the criss-cross pattern of scars and veins on the backs of his big hands as they held the reins. To sense the warmth of his breath against the crown of her head. To bait him with inconsequential questions just to hear his rasping voice when he responded to her.

Sansa was realistic enough to know that part of her yearning could be physical. She was a young woman and women had needs as much as men did, according to Randa. Yet her experiences had scarred her to the point she had thought she could never willingly yield herself to a man. All the same, those concerns seemed to have faded from her mind as she imagined herself in Sandor’s arms.

It was more than that - he had always had such a strange effect on her. It was almost as if she had known him in an earlier life; the simmering recognition only temporarily obscured by their diverging paths. That he had asked her to come with him that fiery night, and she hadn’t, had always been her one true regret. 

Sansa considered her options as rationally as she could. She admitted to herself that she wanted to be with Sandor, in all ways a woman can be with a man. How could she do it? She couldn’t marry him – his status as the second son of a minor house, his well-known association with the enemies of her house and his personal reputation as a man without honour or conscience would severely affront the nobility of the North and might even cost her their support. As little as she cared about the rules of propriety, she had to be realistic. Her bannermen would never accept Sandor as their liege lord nor their liege lady’s consort. Besides, would he even want to marry me?

She could send him away to resolve the situation that was starting to exasperate her. She could ask him to follow Brienne on a quest to find Arya…and when he eventually came back, maybe she would have outgrown her emotions. By then she might have married for political convenience and would not be disturbed by his presence anymore.  Yet the thought of him departing left her hollow and aching. She also suspected her feelings could not be so easily dismissed. They had already been apart for years, she alternating between thinking him to be lost or dead, and all it had taken to flare them up had been for her to travel in his company for a while. She knew she had been his long before she had finally admitted it to herself. Sandor had captured her mind and soul and she couldn’t free herself any more than she could push him away.

The only solution Sansa could see was to take him as her lover. No, she immediately corrected herself; he was not a man to be taken. Maybe she could become his lover instead, be his secret lady love? He was her sworn shield after all, and they already spent a lot of time with each other. She had neither father nor brother to guard her honour, nobody to prevent her from doing what she wished.

The idea took hold of her and she allowed it, familiarising herself with the concept that had initially scandalised her. She was the head of her house, had lost all respect for the conventions she had been taught as a child, so she would be the one to decide what was appropriate. Besides, she would be discreet – nobody had to know. The more Sansa allowed her thoughts to linger on that new notion, the more she started to relish the prospect. To have him, to be allowed to touch him and tell him how much she cared …to banish the ghosts of his past and prove to him that he was valued because of who he was, not only as a tool for a purpose.

Soon the doubts started to circle her. What if he doesn’t want me after all, what if it is just an enormous misunderstanding? What if he wants me, but his honour doesn’t allow him to take me? It was clear Sandor had taken his pleasure with his own hands while thinking of her, and he didn’t have a woman as far as she knew. Could she read something into it? Despite Randa’s entertaining stories about how men in general lusted after any woman, Sansa had seen how love could twist men as badly as women. Petyr could have had any woman in his employ and undoubtedly many others besides, but he had pursued only Sansa in the name of his misguided love for her mother.

Sansa went even as far as to make subtle enquiries about Sandor from Lenore one evening, when she was in her rooms organising her clothes. Using Lenore’s brother’s new baby as a starting point, Sansa told her how happy she was to see new babies born, and how a keep was not a happy place without the voices of children. She had then proceeded to ask if she knew of other new babies, marriages or relationships amongst Winterfell residents. After listening for a long time to Lenore’s account of which man was seeing which woman, who had honourable intentions and who was only after a secret tryst, she threw in the question she had been itching to ask the whole night.

“What of my sworn shield? I believe some wildling women have expressed interest in him. Should we be expecting little pups any time soon?” she asked as nonchalantly as she could.

“No my lady, not from him, I believe. At least he is never seen with anyone.” Lenore leaned closer to Sansa and continued in a conspiratorial tone, “There are some who say that he is not even interested in women, and that he spends far too much time with Ser Jaime. You know, that it is not normal that both of them are never seen to entertain female company, being such strong and manly men as they are …” Lenore shrugged her shoulders.

“Really, is that what some say? Have they been…seen together?” Sansa continued in a casual tone although her heart skipped a beat.

“No my lady, nothing like that. Just…they even shared the room and all. But I am sure that was all idle chatter. He may just not care about women, or women may not care about him. He is, after all, quite ugly. Pardon me, my lady, I shouldn’t be saying such things of your trusted man,” Lenore added quickly.

“Don’t worry, Lenore, I am very well aware of his looks. I have been spending quite a bit of time in his company after all, as you know,” Sansa made light of it, secretly relieved to hear that Sandor didn’t seem to have a paramour. The comment about Jaime interested her though – had others noticed it as well?

After Lenore left, Sansa remained seated on her chair and continued brushing her hair. With satisfaction she saw that all remaining traces of the dull brown colour had faded, and it glowed as fire in the candlelight. Her mind wandered back to their evenings on the road, when she used to sit on her bedroll and brush it, silently observed by her traveling companions.

Initially she had done it out of necessity to prevent her tresses tangling into an unmanageable mess. She had seen that happening to Arya back in Winterfell, and how in the end the only way to defeat the twisted knots was to cut her hair short. Arya had loved it, of course, delighted by her boyish and practical new hair-do. Still, Sansa was not Arya and she had but few things left of her past – and she wanted to keep her long hair.

At first both men had tried to hide their stares, but as time went by and the trust between them deepened, it had become one of their unspoken nightly rituals. Sansa had been painfully aware how useless she was on their mission, Sandor and Jaime carrying all the burdens. So she had reasoned that if her companions enjoyed observing her, the least she could do was to allow them that. Without first daring to admit it to herself, she had also started to relish the intimacy of the ceremony, and the way both Sandor and Jaime’s eyes had followed her, light grey and emerald green shining in the darkness.

Warmed by pleasant memories Sansa smiled, laid the brush down and went to her bed. She didn’t want to go to sleep yet, so she sat down, folded her knees against her chest and wrapped her arms around them, staring at the candle flame flickering in the draft circulating her room.

She wondered what Jaime would think of the situation. Could she – could they – keep a secret from him, should anything actually happen between her and Sandor? Would they want to?

Her mind went back to the kiss she had bestowed on the golden lion at their parting. She had meant it as one from a close friend to another, but to her surprise it had raised in her sensations she had not expected.

With a shudder Sansa realised that had Jaime persisted beyond the tender and compassionate kiss they had shared, she would not have stopped him. The touch of Jaime’s lips against hers had reminded her of what she had only glimpsed in Greywater Watch. There she had laid her hand on his bare chest, sensed the tension in him and for the first time wondered how it would feel to know him as a man, not only as a companion.

Sansa shook her head, bewildered. Thinking of Jaime like this, with her emerging awareness of her feelings towards Sandor still so new, only confused her. How could she be so wicked as to think of both of her companions in such worldly manner - when in reality she should not think of such matters at all?

She recognised she didn’t have the same connection with Jaime as she had with Sandor, just as she knew that Jaime’s true desires resided elsewhere. Nonetheless, she was equally sure that they did share something. Something very special.

Sansa sighed. Whatever happened, she hoped that she would be able to keep her pack together.

----------

Even Sandor seemed to notice something odd in her behaviour.

“What is it, little bird? Is something amiss?” Sandor asked her one day as they were in the Godswood. Sansa had wanted to visit the pools again, and sitting in the same spot where he had found his release while breathing in her scent like the dog he used to be, made her unusually contemplative.  She closed her eyelids and saw it again in her mind’s eye; the rhythmic movement of his hand on his shaft… To hear him so close to her brought the same butterflies into her belly she had felt the last time when peeking at him from behind the bushes. Her cheeks reddened and she opened her eyes, avoiding his gaze.

“No Sandor, nothing is wrong,” she replied, too quickly.

“You are still worried about the lack of news from King’s Landing? Or is it those building works in the Maester’s Turret? I will have words with the builders, make sure they’ll be quick about it. We need it done for the new maester Jaime will bring from the South.”

“Yes, quite so, but I am satisfied about the pace of the works. We’ll be ready when it is needed.”

“What is it then? Have those young fools made inappropriate passes at you?” Sandor’s face became grim and his jaw clenched.

“No, not at all!” Sansa tried to think of how to reassure him that she was fine and nothing was bothering her. Except that wasn’t exactly true. And he could smell a lie.

“I do have something on my mind and I promise I will discuss it with you later. Just…not quite yet.” Sandor grunted but let her be.

Sansa’s resolve hardened. I have to tell him. Soon.

Sandor


Sandor could see that something was bothering his lady and it irritated the hells out of him. Sansa was more restrained than before, and to his surprise Sandor found himself missing her chattering. Hells, who would have guessed that one day I might miss the little bird’s chirping?

Over time Sandor had started to teach Sansa how the strength of a noble house was built and maintained, having observed those matters for most of his life. In turn Sansa had told him about the intricacies of running a lordly household. Sandor had never known or cared for such things before, and although he would have been hard-pressed to admit it, he had actually started to enjoy their discussions. None of that, however, seemed to interest Sansa anymore. 

Instead Sandor noticed Sansa was pale and uneasy as they went about their business. She also had the unnerving habit of observing him, glancing in his direction under her long eyelashes when she thought he wouldn’t notice. That made Sandor self-conscious and annoyed. Hells, if something was amiss, why didn’t she just blurt it out? He itched to do something about it; to punish anyone who might have done her wrong, to set things straight for her - anything. Yet there was nothing he could do as long as Sansa only sighed and fidgeted without telling him why, and it was driving him mad.  All he could do was to follow her in quiet frustration and feel as useless as teats on a septa.

Was it because of those bloody lordlings? Sandor’s mood darkened. As much as he wanted to guard her at all times, he had other duties to take care of and Sansa often spent time with one or another young noble on her own. Had she thoughtlessly flaunted herself to them… and had some fucking fool dared to act on it?

Sandor gritted his teeth. He was aware of how much store Sansa set on good relationships with her bannermen. He also knew that if any of them as much as glanced impudently in her direction, he would geld the offender and stuff his manhood down his throat. Mayhap Sansa knew that too and hence kept her silence.

Silently cursing, Sandor went to find Sansa’s maid. He didn’t mind the woman, who had a sensible head on her shoulders and seemed to genuinely care for her lady.

He headed towards the kitchens, scanning the crowded rooms. Servants and kitchen staff made way for him as he approached, slinking away like a school of fish in a shallow stream from the approaching fisherman. He was accustomed to it. In King’s Landing he had always been given a wide berth, nobody wanting to stand in the way of the vicious Hound. Yet unlike there, the eyes that trailed him in Winterfell were not filled with hostility but with only a degree of wariness, mingled with respect.

He saw Sansa’s maid in a quiet corner, putting a tray of food together. Good. The little bird will be supping in her rooms tonight. One less thing to worry about.

“Anything amiss with our lady? Any of those buggering scoundrels giving her a hard time?” he grunted to Lenore without preamble. He loomed large over the short but wiry woman, but she cared nothing for that, looking up at him boldly without the slightest sign of intimidation.

Initially Lenore, like most people, had been perturbed by Sandor. Gradually, after much suspicion on both sides, they had reached an unspoken understanding, recognising that their lady’s welfare was the cause they both shared.

“You mean the young suitors? Not as far as I know. Oh, they try to charm her but don’t seem to be making much progress,” she chortled.

“She is so bloody naive in the ways of the world that she might give those snotty-nosed idiots the wrong idea simply by being too kind,” Sandor continued, helping Lenore to fill a pitcher from a heavy barrel of beer. He didn’t do it out of politeness, but he simply preferred activity over inactivity whenever possible. When he felt the exertion of his muscles and exhaustion of physical strain, he felt most alive.

Sandor had concluded that he simply couldn’t approach Sansa directly about restraining her behaviour in his company. Just talking about it would indicate that he had had inappropriate thoughts of her, and he didn’t want Sansa to look at him with revulsion. They still shared some of the closeness of the road, but as the lion had correctly predicted, in Winterfell his position had irrevocably reverted back to that of a man in her service and hers to that of a high lady. He knew his place and for once in his life, he cared about keeping it. And since Sansa didn’t have a mother or other female relative to tell her such things, the next best thing was her trusted maid.

Sandor knew he had to be careful with her too. Lenore was a clever woman and should she detect the real reason behind his suggestion, she would either laugh at him or feel sorry for him – and he couldn’t decide which option was worse. No, nobody must know what a bloody fool he was; it was bad enough that Jaime was aware of it. Oh yes, the Kingslayer had detected his conflicted feelings towards their charge on their journey and had prodded him mercilessly as one would pick at a sore wound. ‘She can’t be seen disgraced by the likes of us…’ Fucking hells! Yet Jaime had also been oddly sympathetic. And with him it was different anyway – sharing things with the lion didn’t irk Sandor anymore.

“What do you mean ‘too kind’?” Lenore was cutting loaf of dark bread into chunks and arranging them on the tray.

“Someone should tell her how a maiden must guard her behaviour in the company of men, lest they get the wrong idea. You and I know that the only thing in any man’s mind is to get into a woman’s smallclothes, no matter how much they prance and preen and pretend otherwise. Makes no difference if they are lowborn or highborn, they’re all as bad as each other,” Sandor grumbled.

“With Lady Catelyn gone and the crazy bitch of Arryn being a bloody lunatic, she has not had mother nor other kin to advise her, and she sorely needs that,” he finished, trying to act nonchalant as he heaved the barrel into a corner.

“And what is it to you; why are you suddenly so concerned?” Lenore’s sharp eyes studied him.

“Nothing much – I just wouldn’t care to run one of those lordlings through with my sword should they get any ideas in their thick heads. Wouldn’t do much good for the peace in the North our lady is trying so hard to build.” The last argument was the best he had come up with, and that seemed to be the one that convinced Lenore. She wrinkled her brow and considered for a moment.

“True words. She is so young and innocent after all. It is of course not my place, but since she has no living kin, maybe it wouldn’t be amiss for me to talk to her about these things.”

Sandor shrugged his wide shoulders as if he couldn’t care less, but internally he smirked. If Lenore should succeed in making Sansa correct the foolishness of her ways, he might finally be able to restore his peace of mind.

Only much later, as he was sitting in the Great Hall brooding over a goblet of Dornish sour, another notion hit him. With it came a gut-wrenching feeling and tightness in his chest that left him short of breath. What if I am the problem? What if she wants to get rid of me but is too bloody courteous to say it to my face?

At first he refused to consider it. Not after all they had gone through together, not after what they had shared. Buggering hells, he had been ready to die for her! Yet all that was in the past and she didn’t need him to lay down his life for her anymore. Not now that she had the pick of bloody Northerners to do her bidding. And especially not after the way he had reprimanded her …It would be no wonder if she thought it was time to put her rabid dog away. Yes, they had resolved their quarrel and she had said genteel words to him…but when Sandor thought about it, he realised it was after that incident that Sansa had started to behave oddly.

He cursed, finished the drink and called for more. The serving wench poured it obediently, Sandor’s thirsty eyes following the stream of blood red liquid filling his goblet to the brim. Seven bleeding hells, stop it! You are only imagining things. You are a pack now, and she would not dismiss her pack. That made him feel somewhat better, as did the drink he gulped down in a few keen mouthfuls. Still he couldn’t shake the doubt that had crept into his soul. He wondered what he would do if Sansa truly wanted to let him go. Would he slink back to Quite Isle with his tail between his legs, or would he stay in Winterfell and serve her from afar, training guards and looking after its defences? Was this the way his wish of not being tempted by her was being thrown back in his face?

Suddenly the price he might have to pay for his peace of mind seemed too bloody high.



Sansa

Sansa planned her moment carefully. She sent Lenore to visit her brother’s family, demanding that she stay the night. She requested that the servants set up a meal for her and her sworn shield in her solar, as they had important matters to discuss. She had received a raven’s message from King’s Landing earlier, and although she had already shared the news it had carried with Sandor, she could use it as an excuse for a private meeting. None of that was unusual, and neither Lenore nor the other servants thought it odd. Sandor accepted her invitation curtly but without suspicion – they had had private meetings before to discuss issues of the keep.


Sansa’s nervousness increased as the evening approached. She felt at a loss; she had no experience in seduction and didn’t know what she should do. She couldn’t simply say it out loud - just the thought horrified her - but she didn’t want to play any games with him either. She didn’t want anything from him, or him to do something for her. She only wanted him.

Sansa decided against dressing more finely than usually. She glanced longingly at her newest dress; a dove grey with flowing skirts and a tight bodice. The sewing women had made it for her in preparation for stately occasions, and she had embroidered the bodice herself. It contained finely stitched birds and wolves, which she had intended as symbols of her two incarnations; the wolf for her people and the little bird for him. She sighed and put it away. No, if he desired her he would want her in a simple woollen dress just the same.

She combed her hair until it shone and let it hang loose around her shoulders. She took a quick look at her bed and blushed, wondering if he would come into it tonight. Or maybe they would just hold each other? She chided herself for being childish. Dreams of holding hands and gazing into the eyes of one’s beloved were for silly young girls who didn’t know better, for courtly stories of knights and fair maidens. For a moment she hesitated. Was she really ready? If he did take her, would it hurt? What if all she could feel was the same cold detachment she had experienced with Petyr? What if he was brutal, what if he only sought his own pleasure?

Yet soon after these thoughts started to race in her mind, Sansa felt calm descending on her. He will be kind, he will not hurt me. That much she was sure of.

When the time for Sandor to arrive drew near, she started to panic for other reasons. What she was going to do would change the situation between them irrevocably. If she was wrong and he did not desire her, how would he take her proposal? Would he laugh at her, scorn her for her wantonness and stupidity? Even if he behaved civilly, would he think less of her? Could he even refuse to serve her any more, after she had shown herself to be as bad as Cersei, using her womanly charms against men in her service? She knew that what she was planning was a point of no return. Things would change between them – but how?

A knock on the door interrupted Sansa’s thoughts and she startled. It is not too late. I can just have a meal with him, talk about the news from King’s Landing and bid him good night. Nothing has to change. The thought gave her momentary relief before she realised she was only fooling herself. There was no going back to the way things were - she was already in too deep.

Sansa squared her shoulders, took a deep breath and went to the door.

ladytp: (Anne of Cleves)
Sandor

Sandor’s leg hurt again. It didn’t bother him often, but every now and then after hard exertion the old wound reminded him of its existence.

Sometimes he felt it was one of the few things that still tied him to his previous reality. That and his face, but that had been his burden for most of his life. Besides, at least the pain was gone. The numbness of the scarred side, lack of his earlobe, the rigidity of his mouth – and how his appearance had shut him out of the company of his fellow men - he had thoroughly gotten used to. Not that he would have had much choice in the matter.

Yet much had changed since he had lain dying on the banks of the Trident. The Hound was no more, cast aside at the Quiet Isle…although not entirely. He could still bring it back if needed. He had done it when fighting the Painted Dog, awakening his battle-rage. The familiar fury and the inability to feel cuts and blows in the heat of the battle had returned to him like long-lost friends; his only friends in the past. And he hadn’t been sorry for that. Even months after the combat he growled when he thought of the mongrel who had dared to try claiming the little bird. He still relished with grim satisfaction the sight of his guts hanging out, felt the glee over a fallen enemy.

Likewise, when waiting for the Vale men at the bridge, the customary clarity of mind and cold determination of a soldier preparing for battle had kept him company. What he had lost was the fatalistic acceptance of his own death; that day, the following day, any day. The Hound of old had possessed it. The Hound had had nothing and no-one worth living for, and had accepted early on that a blade would take his life eventually. One day was not so different from another, so he hadn’t cared. He had fought like a man who had nothing to lose - because he hadn’t.

Until lately.

For the first time in his life he had something to live for, even people to care for. The little bird and the Kingslayer. Bugger me with a hot poker – how did that happen?

Sandor sat by the table in his room, twirling a green ribbon into loops and knots in his big hands. He felt its unfamiliar softness against his hardened fingertips, saw the way the candlelight was reflected in the sheen of its fabric. It was late and he should be in bed, resting his sore leg and getting ready for the next day’s duties. Yet there he sat, frowning, as he stared at the frilly strip of cloth.

The little bird.

She had always been different. He had known that from the moment she had laid her small hand on his shoulder after the Tourney of the Hand. The gesture had startled him, as he had expected her to flinch in fear or start crying – anything but to reach towards him like that. Oh yes, she had drawn away from him later, staring at him with fright in those big blue eyes. Yet she had never ended up as he had expected her to; she had not broken under the Lannisters, nor had she lost her compassion.

On the night of the green fire she had touched him again. He had been blindingly drunk, shattered on the inside by the burning inferno, and had found his way to her room without a plan or solid intentions. When he had pressed her supple body against the bed, foul thoughts had flashed through his mind of taking her, forcing himself on her. Whether he would have truly gone through with it, he doubted. Rape had never been his weapon, although many assumed differently.

When she had sung to him and cupped his face, it had broken him, finishing what the wildfire had started. Yet the memory of it had stayed with him. It had urged him to follow her trail after hearing that Sansa was alive and on her way to the North with the Kingslayer.

The notion of her with a Lannister had filled him with fury. He had ridden as if the seven devils had been on his trail, cursing all the way. Had the son-of-a-bitch touched even a single hair on Sansa’s head, he would strangle him with his own guts, after cutting his other hand off, the Hound in him had fumed. Yet to his surprise he had found the man much changed. Gone was the cocky warrior, the indestructible son of Lord Tywin, who had believed his shit didn’t stink like that of lesser men. He had been replaced with a man who had learned humility, and who had cast off the lions just as the Hound had done. Sandor snorted. Something we have in common!

Jaime had always been the best of a bad lot anyway. Sandor had sometimes even felt sorry for him, being so utterly dominated by his twin, the cruel bitch. He had observed Cersei in Casterly Rock and later in King’s Landing, and had seen how she had practiced the art of manipulation upon gullible young lords. She had been like an alley cat toying with field mice, honing her skills in seduction, evoking blind obedience in those conquered by her practiced charms. She hadn’t gone all the way with her victims then, he knew. The time for that had arrived later, when she had started to play the bloodiest game of all: the game of thrones.

Sandor winced. He had been one of those poor sods once, for a brief moment falling under Cersei’s spell. A stupid fool, believing she would actually look past his horrid appearance. Well, he had soon felt the sharp sting of humiliation when she had laughed in his face. To have been tied to a cunt like that…no wonder Jaime had been thoroughly fucked, in more ways than one.

He got up and went to the coffer at the foot of his bed. He opened it and found a small crudely decorated box and tucked the ribbon inside it. He closed both the box and the coffer resolutely and went to his bed, removing his tunic in one effortless move as he walked. He flexed his powerful arms and shoulders before leaning down and pushing his breeches down, stepping out of them. He stroked his aching thigh for a moment in order to chase away the pangs of pain, before he lowered himself onto his mattress, cursing silently.

He knew he would have difficulties in falling asleep. Not only because of the leg, but also because of the green ribbon and what it represented. What the seven hells had Sansa been thinking, asking him to deliver her laundry? It was almost as if she had wanted to pass him something of hers, just as she done with her stockings. But that was impossible, of course. She knew her faithful dog would do her bidding, so it was easy enough for her to leave him to collect her belongings and run her errands. Had she known how he had fucked himself whilst holding her stockings and breathed in her scent like the dog he had been - and still was, when the mood took him - she would have been horrified and disgusted.

Aye, he had done that odd task, but couldn’t have resisted keeping the shift for a few days – and nights. He had held it in the darkness, pretending it was her. He had stroked himself hard, swept away by images of his little bird squirming under him, singing him the sweetest song… He had released growling, angry at himself for such thoughts. They were futile, and he was a damned fool letting his mind wander in such dangerous directions.

He had also stolen one of its many ribbons, hoping its loss wouldn’t be noticed. He had felt like an ass for doing it, but had done it just the same.

Sandor scowled, thinking about the times during their travels when she had pressed her pert little behind against his groin, oblivious to the effect it had on him. Or when they had ridden together on Stranger, she leaning against him. He had felt tendrils of her hair tickling his nose, just as the sensation of her round bottom had tickled his cock. And that night in Greywater Watch… Sandor had been woken by the sensation of her soft curves against him, only a flimsy shift separating her from his semi-naked body. Gods, how hard it had been. Gods, how hard he had been. Sometimes he still dreamt of it, although as of late, he had started to indulge another fantasy. In that she was standing with her back against him, flush against his body, and his hands were stroking her; her breasts, hips and thighs, and she was so soft and inviting and perfect under his hands…

Sandor hated himself for allowing his mind to dwell on those troubling fantasies, even hated Sansa a little for offering him opportunities. That’s why he had snapped at her in the Godswood. The glimpse of her wantonly lifted skirts and the velvety skin of her thighs had been too much for him. Bloody hells, when would the little bird learn that he was not a fucking septon! If he was to be led along by his cock, wouldn’t he need some kind of reward for it?

Even as Sandor fumed over his frustrations, he knew that he couldn’t really be angry at her. Yet he had to let Sansa know that things had changed, and that there needed to be some distance between them. Although he was relieved that he could continue escorting her, there had to be limits. He wasn’t her maid, and bloody hells, he didn’t want to witness her being “rightly herself” if it meant she was brazenly flaunting herself at him! Even if it meant quenching the fragile feeling of intimacy that had grown between them ever since their paths had crossed again. Sometimes on the road he had thought…Fuck, what I might have thought doesn’t matter! That was then and things are different now.

As he tossed on his mattress, unable to sleep, tense as a bowstring, his determination hardened. Aye, he would make sure that Sansa got the message and heeded it. Mayhap he would start addressing her as ‘Lady Sansa’ and let go of the pet name that had started as a slight but ended up almost as an… endearment. Then he would be able to push any inappropriate thoughts of his liege lady somewhere in the far, far back of his mind, never to visit them again.

Sandor knew his little bird would always remain an unattainable ideal for him; a paragon of beauty and kindness, but with more common sense and wisdom than any of the buggering nobles he had served. That a woman like her could exist and he could serve her was enough for him, as anything else was utterly impossible.

For a moment he wondered if the little bird was starting to sharpen her talons as Cersei had done. He had snorted at all the young lordlings falling over themselves in their attempts to please Sansa, but he had also seen how she had responded to them with courtesy and something akin to fumbling attempts at flirtation.

Sandor remembered how Cersei had started her seduction with a smile that seemed to have been directed only at him, a hand that had lingered a moment too long on his arm… When he had finally gathered his courage and uttered his words to her, entirely unfamiliar and fragile as they had risen from the depths of his tormented soul, Cersei had looked at him with a glint of triumph in her beautiful emerald eyes and laughed at him. Laughed - and crushed the ugly young man who had dared to dream more surely than if she had beaten him. The humiliation still made him bristle, after all these years. That had been but one of the many incidences that had been blocks and mortar for the wall he had eventually built around himself. A barricade which had stood strong and impermeable until…the hand of a lithe girl had landed on his shoulder.

Hence Sandor refused to believe that Sansa could follow in Cersei’s footsteps. She was too good, too lacking in malice even after all she had gone through. She wanted to make all her bannermen loyal to her cause, and part of her strategy was to treat them courteously. Her behaviour was driven only by political expediency. Or was that all there was?

Suddenly he remembered how Sansa had leaned close to one of her suitors just the other day, smiled at him and touched his arm lightly. The sight had made Sandor want to crush the young fool’s skull and break that offending arm. If not for a game, had Sansa realised that she was a grown woman now, physically as well as mentally?  She was not a maiden, and although it had not been her choice, it might have evoked things in her that young maidens were usually blissfully unaware of. The concept made Sandor uncomfortable and he brooded on it until late into the night.

----------

The next day he escorted Sansa to Winter Town on her errands. When she almost fell so that Sandor had to grab her to prevent it, he again felt the same disturbing sensations her touch always brought up in him. Seven hells!

That night Sandor was determined to force the trail of his thoughts onto safer grounds. Before retiring to his room he randomly grabbed a book from Winterfell’s small collection, with an aim to use that for distraction. Once in his room, he threw himself into the chair and glanced at the book; it was one on swordsmanship that Jaime had purchased from a travelling merchant.

The Kingslayer.

Aye, the Kingslayer had indeed changed. To learn about his new… inclinations… had been a small surprise, but nothing he couldn’t handle. Sandor knew that to be much more common than openly admitted, especially amongst soldiers. Men buggering each other had never concerned him as long as they kept it to themselves. What had dumbfounded him had been realising that Jaime’s attentions were directed at him. Fucking hells! He had never been the focus of anyone’s interest, and noticing it had been as unusual as it had been unexpected.

Initially he hadn’t been sure what to think of it, whether to hit him or curse him. Yet Jaime had not acted on it, never tried anything. And gradually, as the bonds between the three of them had started to grow, to his amazement Sandor had realised that he didn’t mind. Not that he had any plans to reciprocate - but the feeling of being wanted had been so extraordinary that he had allowed himself to savour that for just a while longer…

Even when out of impulse he had let Jaime into his bed in Greywater Watch, nothing had happened, as he knew it wouldn’t. No, Jaime had his own kind of honour and wouldn’t do anything without a clear invitation.

What had also surprised Sandor was how much he had started to like the sodding Kingslayer. After letting go of his arrogance and learning some humility, Jaime’s self-depreciating wit and his way of thinking appealed to him more than he would have imagined. Besides, they had a lot in common, much more than just the act of leaving the Lannisters.

Tribulations on the road and challenges in Winterfell had only deepened their connection. How it had evolved into the physical, he wasn’t quite sure. He certainly hadn’t planned it that way. Yet what had started as a small concession on his part to someone who along with Sansa had become part of his ‘pack’, as Sansa called them, had developed into something else altogether.

When Sandor closed his eyes, he could almost feel Jaime’s touch on his skin. Its warmth and the way his fingers slid along his body were different to anything he had ever experienced. Whores in King’s Landing hadn’t cared about such things, only wanting their customers in and out as soon as possible, both literally and figuratively. Even his regulars, who had gotten used to his appearance and didn’t recoil from him, were practical women who knew what was essential for their business and what was not. Touching was not, except for a few fumbling strokes of his cock to get him ready – not that he had needed it often.

After feeling obliged to massage Jaime in return, he had been taken aback by how much he had enjoyed it. Jaime’s skin had been soft, only crisscrossed here and there by the pale white webbing of scars, and his body had responded unexpectedly to Sandor’s ministrations. Goosebumps on his arms and neck, powerful muscles twitching – all that because of his touch! It had been a new and strange thing for Sandor, who had always considered his hands to be weapons rather than instruments of…pleasure. He wondered idly why he hadn’t tried to explore human touch before, if it felt so bloody good. Surely whores would have agreed to that for sufficient coin, as they were known to comply with much more unusual requests if the client had enough gold?

Had he ever been roused? In complete honesty, there had been times when he had reacted. It had been nothing compared to how the little bird stirred him, just the thought of her charms making him uncomfortably stiff. Yet whatever had caused it when Jaime had stroked his shoulders and sides - whether his semi-nakedness, the proximity of another human being or something else altogether - he didn’t care to analyse. He hadn’t done anything about it, of course, but hadn’t felt uneasy either. The whole thing between him and the lion had just felt natural, even comfortable. Hells, it was not like there would have been many times in his life he could have said that, so he had let it slide. Just another in the string of events shaping his new life in the North.

Sandor had acted on his stirrings later though, finding and fucking the wildling girl who had approached him once. It had been his first time with a woman since his journey with the little wolf-bitch. He had had a wench in the village near the Eyrie, a tavern lass earning extra coin by selling herself. There had been no women in the Quiet Isle, but he hadn’t minded much. He had gotten used to living without, never seeing them as more than a passable distraction and a way to fulfil his body’s needs.

Fucking the wildling hadn’t been unpleasant; he had found his release and it had been different to taking himself in hand. Yet it hadn’t offered him the sensations he had expected, not even when he had slid his large hands across the girl’s waist and breasts in the way he had learned. He had stroked her skin and examined its softness, and the way the curve of her hip had felt under his touch. It had been passably nice, and yet…something had been missing. He had shrugged his shoulders, vaguely puzzled by the difference between what he had expected – and received.

The book forgotten, Sandor made his way to a clothes rack at the back of the room. From it hung several tunics; some of them his, some belonging to Jaime. Tentatively he lifted the sleeve of one of them and sniffed it cautiously. Despite it having been several weeks since Jaime had worn it, the clothing still smelled of him. He cursed quietly. Bloody buggering hells! The lion had slowly but surely crawled under his skin, there was no denying it.

He didn’t want to think about the kiss, but it came to him unbidden. He had agreed to it in order to shock Jaime, secretly amused to see him completely off balance for once. And yet… again he had experienced something unexpected, new and utterly unfamiliar.  Even more so, he had found out that he…hadn’t minded. The kiss, as faltering as it had been, had left an imprint on his lips and his mind that he couldn’t shake off no matter how hard he tried.

Sandor suspected he couldn’t give the lion what he wanted, but remembering that it was a real possibility that Jaime would never come back made his heart churn nonetheless. The Dragons could decide to chop his handsome head off his shoulders, abandon him in the black cells - or even send him to Casterly Rock as its new lord. The buggering Targaryens, one crazier than the other – who can predict what they will do?

Suddenly the thought of never seeing the sardonic rise of Jaime’s eyebrow again or hear his open laugh once more made cold shivers travel down Sandor’s spine.

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