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Behind The Mask

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Sansa had been going to the WinterFell University hockey games since she’d been hired in the small academic advising department two years ago, and if there was one thing consistent about the games that always drew her back, she’d never be able to say it was the team’s stellar performance or the liveliness of the audience.

No, it was the mascot.

A giant black dog named Stranger. Complete with lolling pink tongue, long, floppy ears, and round cartoon eyes.

It was utterly adorable.

The eight-foot puppet was nearly always the darling of the games, since it had been decades since WFU managed to recruit a decent team. People came from miles around to see what antics the mascot would get up to at the home games.

One time he donned a fairly large pair of white underwear and pretended to skate around the rink as though he were some kind of hockey streaker. The players from both teams ran him down and dragged him off the rink, only to have him angrily stalk around the outside of the plexiglass barrier, waving his hands at the players and pretending to include the audience in his outrage.

At another game between periods he drove the zamboni, only he did a horrible job, zigzagging all over the ice when he was supposed to be going in perfectly timed ovals to cover the entire surface. It wasn’t long before a zamboni driver came tumbling onto the ice, tearing off tied-together jerseys as though Stranger had abducted him, tied him up, and stolen the zamboni. Stranger was physically thrown off the zamboni and slunk away, shoulders slumped.

Then at the game last weekend, he had been wandering around the seats signing autographs before the game and had somehow stumbled upon Sansa and Brienne in the stands, just a couple rows in from the ice.

Brienne was a professor of medieval history, but she and Sansa had developed a friendship based on their love of hockey and often went to games together. When Stranger found them and they had dutifully held out their WFU hats for him to sign with his black marker, he’d paused and appeared to be looking at Sansa, though she only smiled at him. She had never been one to go nuts when the mascot was around. But this time he really hammed it up for the cameras.

After signing both of their hats he had pulled out of his jersey a huge, plush camera, had gotten down on Sansa’s level on the stairs next to her chair, and had taken a “selfie” with her, only standing when he’d pretended to look at the photo on the back of the fake camera and seemingly approving of what he saw.

Then he took Sansa’s hand and brought it to his big dog mouth, and pretended to lick it with his big dog tongue.

The audience had gone wild at this new personal interaction between Stranger and a member of the audience. There were quite a few murmurings surrounding her until the game finally got back under way and WFU was once again slaughtered by the opposing team.

But as usual, Stranger was back during any break to rouse the crowd, to get them to support their home team, and skate--over and over--to the glass in front of Sansa.

Every chance he got, he approached that glass and made it known that suddenly he only had eyes for her. One time he snuck his hand up his jersey and made it look like his heart was thumping beneath the fabric.

Then another time he bid her to come down to the glass--which she did, at the delighted urging of Brienne and the entire audience--and tossed her a fake rose in Winterfell University’s signature gray color.

Before the night was over he encouraged her with hand signs to finally bring her phone and for her to take a selfie with him through the glass, after which he acted completely bashful--paws on his big cheeks, hand to his heart, and pointing at Sansa while cupping his paws together to make a heart shape.

It was adorable, even Sansa had to admit. But it seemed silly that he had singled her out when there had literally been nearly a thousand other people he could have chosen. But, deciding it was nothing but a fluke occurrence during a single game, she laughed it off and left the arena once the game was done.

But at the game the following night he somehow once again found her, and this time the cameras were ready.

When it was time for the big kiss cam to go around, Sansa watched as couple after couple were filmed--first seeing themselves, then laughing, and finally sharing a kiss on that big screen. It was all so endearing, she found herself as always unable to look away from the delightful sight. She watched as a couple in their teens shared a chaste peck, a couple perhaps her age share a steamier french kiss, and finally a couple who looked to have been in their eighties, with a sign scrolling across the screen that read “Married 63 Years!” as the man brought the woman’s hand to his mouth and kissed her frail skin with love pouring from his eyes. It was nearly enough to make Sansa’s eyes water.

But then the picture on the screen changed and suddenly it was her on the screen. And crouching right beside her was Stranger, who, because she had been so distracted by the kiss cam, had managed to sneak down to her level without her even realizing it.

“Stranger!” she yelped, nearly jumping onto Brienne’s lap when she looked to her side and indeed saw the black hound sitting on the steps. He looked at her--or rather, turned that huge mask of his in her direction--and acted just as surprised to see her. The audience laughed and clapped around them, obviously enjoying the show.

From behind her she heard Brienne snort, and then the woman’s deeper voice in her ear saying, “You’re still on the kiss cam, Sansa. Oh my gods, he wants a kiss!”

And indeed it was true, because Stranger was pointing at the kiss cam screen and gesturing around to the people surrounding them, hands lifting again and again in a bid for support, as he leaned towards Sansa and patted his big, fluffy cheek.

Sansa was giddy, feeling slightly self conscious at once again being singled out by Stranger, but also caught up in the excitement of this increased personal interaction with the mascot. With a timid brush of her hand over her hair, knowing this was all going to be caught on video, she leaned over and kissed the very spot Stranger had been pointing at, just below his eye.

The crowd roared their approval, but Stranger made a big show of stumbling while attempting to stand, staggering, and covering his cheek. He made it seem like her kiss had addled his senses, shaking his head in an attempt to relieve himself of apparent dizziness because of it.

But then he slowly turned to her, paw once again over his heart, and gave her the most gallant bow she’d ever seen a man in a puppy suit execute.

“Sansa, do you know who he is?” Brienne was wiping tears away from her eyes, evidence of her shared laughter with everyone around them.

Sansa merely shook her head, though she too was calming down after all the excitement.

“No, I have no idea. And they don’t publicize who wears the suit. For all I know, it could be a different man each game.”

Though it did make her wonder, and later that night she found herself feeling ridiculous because she quite possibly, just a tiny bit, was beginning to have a schoolgirl crush on that mascot.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

“So tell me, what are you going to do with this newfound fame?”

Brienne and Sansa were walking across campus together, having gone to lunch in the cafeteria commons for their massive salad bar. It was the only redeeming quality of the otherwise outdated, unoriginal menu.

While it was still fairly warm out, the walk was a nice change from sitting in their offices, and with Brienne’s schedule set in stone for the school year but Sansa’s fairly negotiable, it was easy for the two friends to dine together every Wednesday. As long as Sansa didn’t have an appointment scheduled for when Brienne took lunch, they always found a way to see each other during that day.

There were other professors and staff with whom they shared space with, but none they got along so well with as each other. Sansa always seemed to have her nose in a book, while Brienne could talk all day about the fencing club she was a member of, so it was their discovery of the love of hockey that they shared that had cemented their friendship into something more than coworkers being polite to each other. Every Friday and Saturday night they would dress in Winterfell jerseys and baseball caps, and would show up with season tickets in hand early enough to get those good seats down by the plexiglass barrier.

It wasn’t just a show of support for the university at which they were both gainfully employed. It was true, they both ran into the players during the day, Brienne more so because she was a professor and many of them rotated through her classes each semester. But it was always nice to see these young men show up in her office, and to see them admire the posters Sansa had hung on the wall, and the thank you cards given to her by past players for helping them out with one thing or another.

The unfortunate downside of this was, now she had become somewhat of a celebrity, and everyone wanted to come in to see the framed photo she had printed of her and Stranger.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sansa replied to Brienne, thinking on that photo now. Stranger stood behind her with both paws up on the glass, and Sansa smiled into the camera looking, actually, quite happy.

Not that she was surprised to look happy, but rather she wasn’t exactly happy about the notoriety she was garnering.

“I guess I’ll just ignore it,” she murmured, though her soft voice said even to her that getting Stranger to stop paying attention to her wasn’t exactly what she wanted. She kind of liked the attention from him, just not from everyone else.

“Do you think he’ll do something again this Friday?”

Sansa’s answer was a shrug, because she really didn’t know.

Then, with a final smile to each other and the reminder to meet at the game early in two days, they parted.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

This was the last weekend of home games for two weeks, so Brienne and Sansa showed up decked out in their jerseys and caps, with their foam fingers and taxi money. When the break after the first period came, Brienne left to go get her beer, so Sansa would go after she did, to save their seats.

As soon as Brienne turned the corner to brave the concessions line, Stranger swooped in, camera trained on him.

“Well, hello,” said a shocked Sansa as Stranger sat in Brienne’s empty seat. He brushed up against her, and she could feel the soft fur of the costume. He received numerous pats on the shoulders from fans both in front of and behind them, but he sat as though it had always been his seat. She couldn’t help but smile widely as he sat with his paws on his thighs, just staring out over the ice and across the way at the fans on the other side.

Sansa didn’t know what to do, so she just sat, waiting for his antics. She didn’t have to wait long.

With a dramatic stretch, Stranger lifted his arms up over his head and let them fall again, one to his lap and one around the back of Sansa’s seat.

Around them there were cheers and jeers, until Stranger turned his head towards her and put his paw on her shoulder, pulling her into him.

Again, she didn’t know what to do, but she knew the arm inside that costume was long and heavy, the man playing the part obviously somewhat large. It gave her a certain thrill inside to know he was paying this kind of attention to her and only her. In all the games she had attended, he’d never singled out any other fan as he had done with her.

With his paw on her shoulder, she leaned into him, throwing up her hands in a “What am I supposed to do?” motion for the masses. Another cheer went up around her, and Stranger looked around and pumped his fist, as though he’d just won a prize.

He sat there, slightly interacting with the other fans for a few minutes but all the while keeping a strong hold on Sansa, pulling her into his side and fitting her there beneath his arm as though she belonged there.

That was, until Brienne returned.

“Sansa, you’ve got a friend,” she said with a smile, but then Stranger saw her and slowly brought his second arm around Sansa to hold her tighter. Then he shook his big puppy head and the audience around them roared with laughter.

“I think he likes me,” Sansa replied, laughing. But Stranger held out one finger and shook it at Brienne, indicating she was not welcome. Brienne, not known to have the greatest sense of humor, put her hand on her hip and tapped her toe.

“Out,” she demanded of the big dog, but he just turned away and ignored her for a moment.

But then he turned back and saw her still standing there, and he held up his whole paw, shoving it at her as though telling her to go away. Still, she remained.

“You’ve taken my friend’s seat, Stranger,” Sansa said with a smile, wishing the man inside the costume would talk back to her. But of course he was silent, putting his hand up to his chest as though to say, “Who, me?”

Sansa nodded, and then aloud said, “Yes, you.” She couldn’t help but smile as his arms slid away and he hung his head. He slowly stood and moved out into the aisle, holding out his arm in welcome to Brienne to once again resume her seat.

All around them were boo’s and aww’s from the fans, obviously not happy with either Sansa’s treatment of the mascot nor his sadness.

“God, that line was awful,” Brienne muttered, but Sansa’s attention was still on Stranger.

She knew it was fake. She knew it was an act, that the man inside the costume wasn’t really hurt that she had wanted her friend to sit down. But as he ambled away, arms and head hanging, beside the plexiglass barrier, she felt bad that he was acting that way. And, truth be told, she liked his antics and didn’t want them to end because she had appeared to hurt the mascot’s feelings.

So she smiled at Brienne.

“I’ll be right back!”

Then she hopped out of her seat and down the steps to the bottom, jogging back towards the mascot as the crowd cheered her on.

His head perked up, back still to her, as the cheering got louder, but he only turned when Sansa reached up to tap on his very high shoulder. He turned suddenly, putting his paws to his mouth when he saw exactly who it was.

Sansa moved to the side and went to pull his puppy face down so she could once again kiss his cheek, and he looked as though he was going to allow it.

But then suddenly his arms were around her, he turned them both to the side and, after knocking her hat off her head, dipped her low, much to the delight of the fans. Then he lowered his mask so that her entire face was inside his open dog mouth.

The fans loved it, although Sansa had a death grip on his shoulders, hoping that he wasn’t going to let her fall. She was bent fully backwards, probably just a couple feet from the floor, when her body tingled with the awareness of not only his size, but the strength of the man inside the costume. Inside the paws she could feel massive hands preventing her from falling, and beneath her own palms she could feel the solid muscles of broad shoulders.

Holy crap , she thought as he pulled his canine face away from her, I’m attracted to a mascot .

Shocked but also amused by this development, she didn’t fight to get out of his arms and even laughed as, still dipped, she was forced to endure the fake licks of the big velvety tongue of the costume.

The hoots and hollers from the fans just increased at the onslaught as they watched her being accosted by the black dog. When he finally pulled her up to standing and wandered a short distance away from her, strutting and pumping his fisted paw in the air as though he had just won a great victory, the roar of the crowd rivalled that of when their team scored a goal.

Sansa was once again giddy, feeling the fast beat of her heart and caught up in the fun of the moment. So much so, that when he walked back towards her and held out his arm, she gladly took it, being led back to her seat as though he was the most gallant of gentleman.

“He’s taken quite a liking to you,” Brienne observed, though her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes.

Sansa laughed at her as Stranger walked away, still egging on the crowd to cheer for him. She smoothed a hand down her hair, knowing that it was probably a mess from her assault.

“He’s just having a bit of fun,” she said, but she felt the slight quiver in her voice, hoping that Brienne didn’t.

“I’m not so sure,” said her tall friend, who now watched with narrowed eyes as the mascot return to the players. “I’d be careful of that one. He seems… familiar.”

“Familiar?” Sansa turned back to Brienne, a questioning expression on her face. “What do you mean?”

But Brienne shook her head, as though she too didn’t quite understand.

“I don’t know. Familiar in that I’m not sure his affection for you is entirely random. And, as well, familiar in that some of his… mannerisms… seem like familiar, as though I’ve seen him somewhere outside of that costume.

This piqued Sansa’s curiosity, because if she could puzzle out who was inside the costume, she might be inclined to approach the man outside of the game.

But no matter how many questions she asked, Brienne wasn’t able to come up with anyone who she thought was even a remote possibility. Either the shape of the man was wrong, or the personality was wrong, or it seemed as though sauntering around in a mascot uniform wasn’t something she thought any of the candidates would do. No, they were no closer to figuring out who it was than when Sansa first started thinking about it.

The final interaction with Stranger came later, after Sansa had already had one beer in her and was nursing a second one. The game was almost over, and she had her purse around her shoulder, Brienne having already picked up all her things and called a cab. It was often the case, that some fans would leave early to avoid the rush out of the parking lot. Brienne liked being one of the first ones out, so she often left Sansa alone, knowing her friend liked to see the very end of the games.

Stranger singled her out right after Brienne left, and swooped back into Brienne’s seat, causing Sansa to laugh at him. She was a bit dizzy from the beer but hadn’t called her cab yet, so when he reached down and slid his arms beneath her, picking her up to cradle her smaller body against his chest, she merely laughed, encouraged by the cheers from the fans who still sat around them.

Then he began walking, and she didn’t know what to do. The music was playing in the background as he easily trudged down the stairs to the lower level, both he and Sansa receiving pats on the shoulders the whole way. Down the hallway he walked, until she finally worked up the courage to explain to him that her car was not outside.

“I need to call a cab,” she said, and although he stopped, she laughed when he merely started walking again, jerking his head towards the end of the hallway.

She couldn’t hear a sound from within the costume, and marvelled that he could carry her such a great distance and not feel winded at all. But then she found herself being held in front of a wall that housed a phone used to call cabs, and she laughed, reaching for it.

Once one had been summoned for her, she quietly said, “You can put me down now.”

The mascot shook his head.

Then he moved towards where the doors had been propped open and carried her outside.

The whole way they were stared at, and she knew he was making a spectacle of them. But she also didn’t really care. The longer she was in his arms, the more heated she felt, certain that the man inside the costume was all things she was starting to find very attractive in a man--tall, strong, and as she and Brienne had discussed, obviously not a student. There were no students at WFU that matched the composite description they’d gleaned from Sansa’s observations.

He only put her down when he reached a bench outside, and then he sat beside her as they waited for the cab to come.

It seemed odd that an awkward silence descended on them, as she pulled her jacket closed around her and he folded his paws together on his lap. Sansa didn’t know what to say-- thank you for all the fun? Thank you for making me feel special? Thank you for giving my hands something alluring to touch?

“I wish you would tell me who you were,” was what came out, and she would have slapped her hand over her mouth if she’d known she was going to voice the thought aloud.

How embarrassing, that she actually said that to the mascot. But he simply shook his head, although it did drop a bit, as though he was slightly sad that he couldn’t.

“Is it a contract?” Sansa asked, now more curious than ever since he had not reacted awkwardly to her statement. But again, he shook his head.

“So you are allowed to tell me, but you won’t?”

A pause, and then a nod.

“Not even a name?”

At that, he turned his back to her and pointed to the back of his jersey, which displayed his mascot name, Stranger.

“Yes, I know that name,” she replied with a small laugh.

All around them people were talking, walking past, leaving for their cars, waiting for cabs. It had finally seemed as though they were no longer the center of attention, so Sansa felt free to ask more questions.

“Will you answer me yes or no if I try to guess?”

After a pause, he nodded slowly. Sansa knew what she wanted to ask first.

“Do you not want me to know who you are?”

The big head turned and she knew he was looking at her from behind the screen in the dog’s mouth. Apparently he hadn’t expected that question.

Then he turned away again and nodded, leaning forward so his elbows rested on his thighs.

“Is it because I know who you are?”

He shook his head.

“But do you work at the university?”

A nod.

“Does my friend know you?”

He paused, but held up his hand and waved it.

“Maybe?”

He nodded.

“Sooo… is there a reason why you don’t want me to figure it out?”

Pause. Nod.

“Hmm. You make me very curious.” Sansa watched the crowd dissipate, wondering if she had let her taxi come and go as she questioned the man in the dog costume. It didn’t matter, though. She was having a strange sort of fun with this.

“Are you going to stop coming to me at games?”

He looked over and pointed at her, then held his hand palm up, as though asking her the same question.

“Do I want you to stop? Well… no, not really.”

His hand dropped and he nodded.

“So you won’t? Stop, I mean?”

He shook his head, and Sansa had to smile. After all, she really did like that she was the only one he acted this way with.

“Why did you single me out?” She chuckled, realizing it wasn’t a yes or no question, and was going to reword it, but he turned to her and reached for her hair.

With a black paw, he lifted it from her shoulder and let it slide from his hand, then gave her the same palm-up gesture, as though saying This is why .

“My hair? You like my hair?” It was bright red, almost a dark carrot orange, and for a long time as a child she had been self conscious of it. It was the same hair her mother had had as a young girl, and she had always hoped that one day hers would darken the same way her mother’s had.

Stranger nodded, and Sansa laughed again.

“Why? Why do you like my hair?”

He seemed to think about it for a moment, before he used his paws to make waves as though they were coming from the ground. She didn’t understand, so he held his palms out towards where the waves were and then quickly drew them back, cradling them to his chest as though--

“Burn. Burned! Fire, you think my hair looks like fire!”

An emphatic nod accompanied her laughter.

“But dogs shouldn’t like fire.”

Stranger shook his head, pointing at his chest.

“Not…” Sansa tried to puzzle out what he was saying. He pointed to the mascot’s head, shaking it from side to side. “Not Stranger?” He nodded, and pointed to his chest. “Man? The man inside the costume likes fire?”

Again he nodded, and she blushed. Well, that was pretty forward of him.

“The man inside the costume likes my hair.”

His thumbs up made her chuckle.

Sansa was feeling slightly emboldened by the beer she had drank on an empty stomach, and found herself asking him, “Is there more about me that the man inside the costume likes?”

A cab pulled up in front of them as she asked, and the passenger window rolled down.

“Sansa?”

Brought out of her concentration, she turned to the cab and nodded, standing but turning back to Stranger. He was quiet, as usual, but also unmoving as he tilted his head up to look at her.

Then he nodded.

Sansa felt her heart trip inside her chest, as though it had skipped a beat when he moved. She backed up towards the cab, watching the man in the dog costume rise to his full height.

Judging by the height of his shoulders, he had to be well over six feet tall, perhaps closer to seven feet than six. Massive, really.

“I’ll see you at tomorrow’s game?” Sansa wanted to bite her tongue. She was flirting with the mascot. What the hell was wrong with her??

Again, he nodded, and she had to laugh as she got into the back of the cab. Stranger had slid his hand up his jersey again, mimicking the strong beat of the big dog’s heart.

Sansa almost-- almost --did the same thing back to him.

Chapter Text

“You did what?” Brienne’s words were hissed at Sansa, who had worn her hair down around her shoulders for today’s hockey game because, well… just because.

It had nothing to do with wanting to look her best for a certain big black dog. Nope.

“I tried to get him to tell me who he was,” Sansa repeated. She was watching the ice arena fill with spectators and trying not to fidget too much. Brienne would notice, she was certain. But with her friend staring at her now as though Sansa had suddenly developed a third eye on her forehead, it was hard to not squirm.

“But… why? You're not seriously, somehow, weirdly attracted to--" Brienne interrupted her own statement with a gasp, as she apparently saw something revealing on Sansa's very transparent face. It might have been the cringe that slipped out at the word attracted .

“You are!”  

Sansa looked around quickly and then leaned into Brienne, loudly shushing her friend while holding a finger against her own lips.

“Not so loud! Someone might hear…”

Brienne drew back, a look of disgusted shock on her face.

“They’ll hear what? That you have a crush on a guy you’ve never seen? On a man in a dog costume?” She shook her head but kept her eyes focused on Sansa’s. “You’re insane, you know that? I can’t believe it. I just can’t.”

Sansa sighed, blowing at wisps of hair that had fallen into her face.

“I don’t have a crush, per se. It’s more of a… curiosity.”

The look Brienne shot her said bullshit .

“You said it yourself,” the blonde said, now looking about the arena, probably in search of the animal in question. “He’s incredibly tall, muscular, and obviously strong. You don’t have any idea, however, if he has no nose, has a huge bald spot, or is completely covered in acne.” She held up her hand when Sansa went to interject. “No, hear me out. Is he an alcoholic? A drug addict? Does he even like women?”

“Well, now that’s ridiculous.”

“Why, because he told you he’s attracted to you?”

“Not in so many words,” Sansa hedged, but Brienne was not letting up. She stared at Sansa, clearly waiting for her to elaborate. “He told me he liked my hair.”

“Pfft. Hardly a singular feminine quality.”

Sansa laughed nervously, glancing around yet again to see if he was around. But she couldn’t see him--not in the section where they sat, nor across the rink in their normal seats.

Brienne seemed to drop the conversation just as music began to play on the loudspeakers.

When Sansa asked her if she’d like to sit on the opposite side of the rink, Brienne had been suspicious but she’d gone along with it. It wasn’t like they had assigned seats, or that this seat would be any worse than the one where they usually remained for the entirety of the game. It was just habit, and habits weren’t always set in stone, according to Sansa.

Soon the players all swept out onto the ice to practice, first one team and then the other, then finally splitting and sharing the ice, a half of the rink to each team. It was then that Stranger made an appearance and began to make the rounds.

Sansa knew Brienne was watching her, but she was powerless to do anything but stare at the mascot as he picked his way over to where they usually sat. Some of the audience was watching him, and they laughed when he pointed at the two men who sat in those seats.

He pointed angrily and shook his head, crossing his arms over his chest and tapping his foot.

Sansa was delighted.

There was only one reason why that would be his reaction.

The spectators laughed again when he stalked up to the only other woman in that section with red hair, and found that it wasn’t Sansa. He acted visibly upset, as though he were angry every time he walked up to a woman with red hair and saw that it was not her. He would dramatically throw up his paws in frustration, stomp off, and inspect the next section with his hands on his hips. When he exhausted that entire side of the rink, he finally moved down to the same side where Sansa and Brienne sat, though down at the end, far from them.

His routine continued, even going so far as to start to hug a woman who may have resembled Sansa a tiny bit, only to appear suddenly shocked when he got close enough and saw it was not her.

Sansa laughed, and even Brienne smiled a bit, as he turned in circle after circle on the concrete steps, searching for her.

Then suddenly his eyes--big circles with black pupils and huge brown irises; or maybe the man’s eyes that she couldn’t see inside the dog’s mouth--landed on hers, and he froze.

The entity who walked towards her, down the steps and along the edge of the rink, then up and around the player’s box, back down to the edge, and all the way to the flight of steps that led to her--was not a puppy. It was a man’s walk, a man’s stalking, his long, sure steps bringing him to her. Even the swing of his arms was masculine, and Sansa couldn’t help her heartbeat as it increased to the point where she was sure her jersey would vibrate from it.

He only stopped moving when he stood in front of her, and he stared down at her for a couple moments--perhaps a moment longer than what was proper for him to do--before turning and, intent on showing all of the audience, pointed a big, black finger down at Sansa.

A cheer went up through the crowd, and it was then when she realized exactly how many people had been watching his antics.

Then he held out that paw, and she only glanced hesitantly at Brienne before she took it. Her friend merely looked back with a slightly amused, her expression saying, You made your bed, now you lie in it .

Sansa was drawn to standing by the huge mascot, who put his hand again under his jersey, only this time he used his other hand to put hers on top, and he made it look like he was pressing her hand to his beating heart. She could only smile and shake her head, disbelief coloring her expression because he was making an utter fool out of himself over her.

When he released her he reached into the hidden slit between the paw mitten and and the sleeve of his costume and pulled out a fake black rose. In explanation, he held it up to his face and gestured between himself and the rose. Sansa took it, and with that smile still on her face, pretended to smell it.

Then with a pat to her hair, and a very conspicuous--at least to Brienne and Sansa--thumbs up, he sauntered off, ready to entertain the masses as the game was about to begin.

She didn’t see him again until after the game, and once again Brienne had left a few minutes early to beat the rush out of the parking lot.

Sansa remained in her seat, happy for the team because they had almost tied, which was an improvement over most of their games, but also anxious to see whether or not Stranger was going to make an appearance.

When it seemed like he wasn’t, and the majority of spectators had already left the stadium or were on their way out, she finally decided to stand up and leave. Making sure she had everything she’d come with, she stood and walked down to the edge of the rink, making her way along the plexiglass barrier towards the front of the arena. As she stood behind the crowd of people trying to get through the bottleneck at the front doors, she couldn’t help but feel disappointed that Stranger hadn’t sought her out at the end of the game as he had done the night before.

But then, she supposed she really shouldn’t be too disappointed, because here she was thinking of him as Stranger when he was in fact a man inside a giant dog costume. And wouldn’t it be reasonable to chalk this up to a school girl crush and forget about him?

She had just about talked herself into it as she finally made it through the doors, when a large, black paw caught the crook of her arm and tugged her in the opposite direction of where she had been headed.

“Oh!” she cried out in shock, but was prevented from tripping by two soft paws cupping her elbows. “Stranger! You surprised me.”

The dog was looking down at her as he released her, but again didn’t say anything. It was as odd as ever, not being able to reconcile her attraction to the anonymous man inside the costume, while knowing she was a grown woman speaking to a mute mascot on friendly terms.

He gestured towards the same bench on which they had sat the previous night, but Sansa shook her head. She was ready to go home, already feeling tired enough that she knew she would fall asleep right away as soon as she got in bed.

“But walk me to my car?" she implored.

Stranger responded by holding out his elbow, around which Sansa wrapped her hand.

They began the trek across the parking lot, towards the edge of the back field where she had parked her car. The silence was comfortable, but Sansa still felt the burning curiosity to know who he was.

As they passed fans he would occasionally stop and step away to get photos with them, and Sansa would watch as men made tongue-out game faces while making peace symbols with their fingers. Girls would slide under his arms and wrap their own around him, making Sansa feel a twinge of something that surely couldn’t be jealousy--she had no claim over him, after all, and felt so ridiculous that she actually looked away when the women cuddled up to him.

But the kids--he was fantastic with them. He would get down on one knee and hold them close, or he’d set little girls on his knee and push his puppy face into their hair so it looked like he was licking them.

Sansa lost count of the photos that were taken of him while they walked towards her car, but her favorite was the last one.

A little boy approached them with what must have been his parents, and he walked right up to Stranger, not an ounce of shyness in his little kindergarten body.

“Excuthe me!”

His lisp was adorable. Sansa could see he was missing three of his front teeth--it was no wonder he couldn’t speak clearly.

She once again stepped away, releasing Stranger’s arm so he could bend down to the boy’s level. He waited, obviously playing the mute mascot, until the boy spoke again.

“Could you pick me up and take my picthure?”

“Aaron!” The boy’s surprised mom stepped forward, her hand going to her mouth at her son’s audacity. “I’m so sorry, Stranger, he said he just wanted a photo with you.”

But Stranger held up his hand and shook his head, then nodded at the little boy.

“Just quickly, Aaron,” said the father, who was already getting out his phone to take the photo. Sansa watched as Stranger picked up the boy with paws under his armpits, then settled him on his hip as though he’d been born to hold a child that way. Then he showed the kid as best he could how to hold up the two-finger peace symbol and the boy grinned for the camera.

As Stranger was about to put him down the boy said, “Now one with your girl-fran!”

All eyes turned to Sansa, who was still standing off to the side, her smile now sliding from her face. She felt herself blush as she stammered a reply.

“Oh, I’m not--we, um--”

But Stranger was waving her over. The gall of that man , she thought, amused. Still, she walked around and stood at the boy’s back, who was still perched on Stranger’s hip.

“We’re just friends, Aaron,” she said to him, but she was smiling widely, trying not to look at the screen inside Stranger’s open mouth.

“Nu-uh,” he said, shaking his tiny little head. “You were on the kith cam.”

And Stranger turned to her and waved his hand, as though saying, “Yeah. What do you have to say about that?”

Sansa glared into his mouth then, but her own lips were twisted into a grin she couldn’t quite suppress.

“We’re friends,” she said, once again looking back at Aaron. Much to her dismay, Stranger waved a dismissive hand at her and turned back to the parents, who were watching the interaction with obvious curiosity.

She turned to the parents to smile for the picture just as the boy said, “Friendth don’t kith.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

“You tricked me,” she said a few minutes later. They were nearing her car but she still had a hold of his arm. She really had parked quite far from the door, but mostly out of habit. She felt the longer walk was good for her body.

Stranger held up a palm, asking her something like, “How so?”

“You should have corrected Aaron, but instead you let him go on thinking I was your girlfriend.”

Stranger stepped away from her as they reached her car and leaned back against the side. The car dipped slightly beneath his weight, but he didn’t move to answer her--merely crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her. Sansa wondered what color his eyes were behind that screen.

But Sansa wanted him to answer for that situation, so she remained silent, standing a few feet from him with her own arms crossed over her chest.

The stalemate only lasted a few minutes before Stranger turned his head, looking off to the side for a moment. She wondered if he was trying to think of how to tell her something.

“You can talk, you know,” she tried, but he shook his head. He put a paw to his neck and then waved a finger at her, as though telling her he couldn’t. Smiling, Sansa just waited for him to reply.

Then he pointed at himself, and then to her, and then slowly shrugged his broad shoulders.

Sansa’s eyes widened, and she laughed, bending slightly at the waist at what he was implying.

“What? No way! You’re hidden! You won’t even talk to me. I don’t know anything about you, and you think--” she laughed out loud again, “You think I’d be interested in that? No thanks, I’ll get a real dog if I want that kind of companionship.”

Stranger crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his nose into the air and to the side, a position that would have looked miffed at her reaction had his mask not had giant cartoon eyes and a happy grin on its face. Then he waved between them again, pointing at himself, then at her, and then drawing his hands upward in front of her face as though drawing a matching happy grin.

“You… make me happy?” Sansa chuckled. “Of course you make me happy. You’re funny, and you ham it up for the audience. You make me laugh, but that’s not a basis for a relationship. You could be eighty years old or a teenager, for all I know.” With arms thrown up in frustration, she turned from him, muttering, “I’m arguing with a stuffed animal.”

It was time for her to go home. He wasn’t going to reveal himself to her, and she wasn’t in the mood for any more of his vagaries. If he wanted to continue this farce, he’d see her in three weeks at the next home game.

But a paw on her shoulder stopped her, and she only turned when it didn’t immediately drop. Once it did, he was standing just a couple feet from her by the side of her car. He reached over and, while looking at her, tapped the hood of the car three times.

“Three?”

Nine more taps, she counted.

“Nine?”

Stranger nodded. Then he waited, and it dawned on Sansa what he was saying.

“You’re thirty-nine?”

Another nod.

“Oh… well, that’s better.” Thirty-nine was a good age for her crush, she decided, although learning this one little detail did nothing to assuage her curiosity at what he looked like.

“I’m twenty-five,” she offered, and Stranger backed away a couple steps and held his hands out at his sides. He patted his chest a couple times, holding his hands out again and again, making Sansa laugh.

“Yes, yes, thank you for that one little concession .” She held up her fingers close together, showing him exactly how tiny she thought his admission was. Although it really had put some of her qualms to rest, knowing he was at least a decent age.

“Can we do another round of yes or no questions?”

Stranger’s arms dropped to his side, and she laughed as he leaned against her car again, nodding slowly.

Wanting to make the most out of this opportunity, Sansa thought about what she wanted to ask him, and guided her questions towards figuring out who he was.

“Are you married?”

He shook his head.

“Girlfriend?”

Another shake of his head.

“Do you want to see me again?”

A nod.

“Out of costume?”

A sad, slow shake. What? Now she was confused. Why would he continue with this--whatever it was between them--if he didn’t want to eventually end up revealing himself to her?

“You don’t want to see me out of costume, or you can’t ?”

This made him pause, and she knew he was thinking about his answer. It took him a minute before he finally held up both paws, palms up. He motioned with both of them in turn. Sansa pointed, thinking aloud as she labelled them.

“Don’t,” she said, pointing to his right paw, “And can’t?” She pointed to his left as he nodded, and then he brought both paws together in front of him. “Are you saying they’re the same thing?”

He nodded, but Sansa’s brow furrowed in puzzlement.

“I don’t understand. What would make it so you can’t let me see you outside of the costume? You’re not a woman, are you?”

He put his hands on his hips and dropped his head as he shook it, and she wondered if inside the dog, the man was laughing at her. When he brought his face back up, he ran a hand down his significantly flat, yet obviously muscled, chest.

Sansa smiled, suddenly relieved. It wouldn’t have been impossible for him to be a woman--Brienne was over six feet tall and very strong for a woman. But Sansa was still thankful she’d dispelled that theory quickly.

Thinking aloud, she wondered, “Then why wouldn’t you want me to know you? To see you? Do you think I wouldn’t like what I saw?”

She paused when he nodded slowly.

“Oh,” Sansa replied, her mouth making a small O at his answer.

But that didn’t make any sense. Everything she’d come to know about him, including his size, strength, and musculature, pointed to a very desirable man inside the costume. He must have been self conscious about himself for some reason, and she wished she understood why.

“Don’t you think that should be for me to decide?”

Much to her surprise, he shook his head. Then he stepped forward off the car, lifting a paw to grasp some of her hair and let it fall back against her shoulder.

“What about my hair?” Sansa watched as he held both paws close to his chest, cocking his head to the side. “It’s pretty?”

He nodded, and then used both paws to draw a circle in the air around her face, each paw starting at her forehead and drawing around to meet under her chin. Then he stepped back and motioned to her entire body, tossing up his paws in a gesture of frustration.

Frustrated? Why?

When he stepped forward again, he pointedly created a circle with his paws between them, and then lifted it--as though it were a crown--and set it on her head briefly.

He was saying she was some sort of princess or queen, and as she watched, he stepped back and gestured towards himself, his whole body from top to bottom.

Then he pointed one big furry finger into his mouth and made it look like Stranger was turning to the side and vomiting.

It was so unexpected that Sansa laughed before realizing how inappropriate it was to laugh. She stepped forward, finding herself feeling warm feelings for the man inside the costume despite having never seen him. And boy, it was frustrating!

“What? Surely it’s not as bad as all that. And,” she stepped closer still, until they were only a couple feet apart once again, “I’m not as great a catch as you might think.”

He shook his head emphatically, but Sansa held up a hand, looking up at that scrap of black fabric that prevented her from seeing anything.

“It’s true. I’m not very fun--this game is the only thing I do during the week for fun. And I love romance novels. And I can’t cook! It’s probably why I’m so skinny--”

He waved a paw in her face and gestured towards her again, then brought his paw to his mouth and pulled it away while spreading it like a flower in that universal “Top quality” gesture. It made Sansa laugh, and she looked back at that screen.

“Well, thank you, but still--no one’s perfect.”

The air was getting chilly and she hadn’t started her car like she should have to let it warm up. She held up a finger and bid him to wait while she rounded the other side and slid into the driver’s seat. After starting the car, she took a receipt from the console and wrote her name and number on the back of it.

“This,” she said as she came back to stand in front of him, “is for you.”

He took it from her, now more man than dog, as all humorous reactions had been left behind. He nodded, holding the paper in his paw since he probably didn’t have any pockets to put it in.

Sansa added, “I suppose you’re allowed to call me. But if you ever want to go on a date, the costume comes off.”

She backed away as he watched her, his slow nod his only response.

Sansa decided to leave him with something to think about, so as she pulled open her car door once again and prepared to get in, she called over the top, “Three weeks is a long time.”

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Sandor watched the small car drive away, noting how it took a left turn out of the parking lot towards the country roads instead of a right, which would have brought her into downtown Winterfell.

As the car rounded the corner and disappeared, he looked down at the paper in his paw, seeing her simple, all capital handwriting spelling out SANSA STARK (659) 555-6703 .

His heart was beating fast inside his chest and he took a moment to collect himself there on the far side of the parking lot. Then he made his way to the back of the arena, only taking off the mask when he was sure there was no one around to see him. 

When he was back in his truck, he pulled his phone out of the cubby beneath the console and turned it on, putting the receipt beside him on the bench seat. Then he brought up his friend’s face and pressed Call .

“Tormund, hey,” he said, putting the truck in gear and turning in the same direction Sansa had taken. Apparently they both appreciated the quieter side of town.

Without waiting for Tormund to answer the greeting, Sandor continued, “Man, I’m in trouble.”

Chapter Text

Sansa was making a sandwich for lunch the next day with her phone chirped, the forest sounds and nightingale song ringtone alerting her to an incoming call. She didn't recognize the number, so she tucked the phone between her cheek and her shoulder after answering the call.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Sansa, this is Sa--Stranger.”

She nearly dropped the phone, she was so shocked.

“Stranger! Hello, I didn’t expect you to call me.”

“You didn’t?”

His voice was different than she had expected--deeper, raspier than she would have thought.

“No, I, um… I thought you were so against telling me who you were that you would ignore my number.”

His chuckle came through the phone and tickled at her ear, and she realized if she had been attracted to him before when she had never heard or seen him, that attraction doubled at the inherent sexiness of his voice.

“Honestly? I wasn’t sure if I was going to call. But… I don’t want to meet you yet, if that’s okay.”

Sansa finished making her sandwich and took the phone with her to the living room, where she sat in the seat in front of the window.

“I mean, I did tell you to call.” She smiled, letting it show in her voice before she took a bite of the sandwich.

“I was thinking after the next game, maybe we could meet Saturday morning?”

She swallowed.

“Three weeks? You want to wait three weeks?”

He cleared his throat, sounding less and less confidant, and after a moment he answered.

“Yes. I’d like to… get to know you first.”

“You have me really curious. Will you tell me why you’re so hesitant?”

She could hear his breathing on the other end of the line and wondered what he was doing. This seemed so surreal, speaking to him after having spent weeks meeting him at games and only communicating non-verbally.

It didn’t take him long, and after a long sigh on the other end of the phone line, he spoke.

“I’ll tell you if you answer a question, first.”

Sansa had to laugh.

“You drive a hard bargain, Stranger.”

He chuckled for the second time and Sansa found herself grinning at the phone. She really liked that sound.

“Aye, I do, but it’s my stipulation.”

“You promise you’ll tell me?”

“I promise.”

“The truth?”

He chuckled again. “Aye, the truth.”

“Well, then, who am I to deny you?”

His laugh was followed by his question as Sansa took another bite of sandwich.

“Why did you sit on the other side of the rink last night?”

Well, she hadn’t expected that question.

Sansa sat back and sighed, holding the phone to her ear as she looked through the window. Outside the leaves had been turning for a while, and word from the Citadel was that winter was coming. Sansa was looking forward to seeing snow again.

“Okay,” she started, wondering exactly how much she should tell him. She didn’t know him, not really. But she wanted to. “At the games you’ve been singling me out from all the other spectators and I wanted to see if it was on purpose, or if I was just an easy target.”

“So you wanted me to find you.”

His voice was quiet, testing.

“Yes,” she replied, just as quietly.

“Because?”

Sansa paused in her chewing, cheek bulging with sandwich. She hadn’t expected him to ask her to explain. He was full of surprises. But she didn’t want to lie, either. She knew lying at the beginning of any friendship would only get someone into trouble later on down the line.

“Because I’m curious about you.”

“Curious about Stranger?”

She laughed at his use of the name.

“Yes,” she answered sarcastically, “I’m curious about a big, soft, black puppy.” His answering laugh was smooth as she continued, “Yes, I’m curious about the man inside the costume.”

“Last night you asked if I was a woman.”

It was Sansa’s turn to laugh, and she nodded before she remembered he couldn’t see her.

“I did, I did. But you weren’t speaking then, so I had to ask. And speaking of which, will you be speaking to me now when you’re in costume?”

Very seriously, he replied, “As a mascot, I am never allowed to speak.”

Okay, she’d give him that one.

“My turn then. Tell me, what’s your reason for the mascot suit? Why don’t you want to be seen?”

He was silent again, and when he answered there was little humor in his voice.

“This is harder than I thought.”

He suddenly sounded as unsure as a child talking about his feelings, and she wondered at what he was troubled with, and whether it was wise that she drag it out of him. Feeling that sometimes some things were better left unsaid, she decided to stop him before he started. Keeping her voice low, she nearly whispered her next words.

“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me.”

A sigh was his response, and she gave him a minute to figure out what he wanted to do.

“It’s alright,” he said softly, though he sounded like it really wasn’t. “I’m not very social.”

“Could have fooled me,” she joked gently, waiting for and being rewarded by that deep rasp he passed off as a laugh.

“Yes, well, hence the mascot uniform. Being social is a lot easier when your identity is hidden.”

Sansa heard the inflection in his voice and pounced on it.

“You really do want to keep your identity hidden?”

His pause was heavy with reluctance.

“Yes, I do. I have a… deformity, for lack of a better descriptor.”

“A deformity?” Sansa kept her voice carefully calm, wondering what he could be speaking about. “You seem able-bodied when you’re prancing around in that costume.”

“Men don’t prance, for one thing.”

She giggled at the sound of his wounded pride, but she could hear the smile in his voice. Returning to the subject at hand, he went on.

“My deformity is on my face.”

Oh .

“And it has kept me from being social my entire life. It’s not easy going through childhood with something like this.”

“I’m so sorry,” she murmured, feeling genuinely sad for him.

“It happened when I was a kid. I’ll tell you about it sometime. I was the football mascot in junior high when I started a new school because some of the kids teased me. I found that I liked it.” He stopped speaking and Sansa was going to start, when he added, “Most people pay attention to the mascot, not the person inside.”

“That’s so sad,” Sansa said, her hand coming up to her mouth.

She wanted to rant and yell at everyone in his past, but his seemingly cavalier attitude toward it was showing through in his voice.

“Eh. I’ve lived with it almost all my life.”

“How did you become WFU’s mascot?”

“I have a friend who knows my story, and he offered me the position. It’s not paid, I had the time, and I like the fans.”

Sansa shook her head, knowing he wouldn’t be able to see, but feeling it was warranted all the same. What he was telling her was so sad she wanted to cry for him.

“And no one knows who you are?”

“Only my friend."

Sansa paused her own replies, thinking about what he had said. It sounded so sad that a grown man would feel ostracised enough to turn to being a masked mascot in order to interact with other people. It broke her heart as she thought back to all the times he had interacted with her at games, now knowing that the man inside did it because he thought it was the only way he would be accepted into society.

“That’s just awful,” she whispered. He gave a short laugh but again, there was no humor in it.

“Such is life.”

“No, really! You shouldn’t feel like you have to hide.”

He didn’t respond, and it gave her a moment to solidify her resolve.

From what she’d heard and seen of him, he was a nice guy. He was just… misunderstood. And despite his claim that he had a facial deformity, she hadn’t felt her attraction for him waiver. On the contrary--knowing now what he’d gone through and how he had developed his penchant for mascot uniforms because he still desired to be part of a group, included in society, only endeared him to her more.

She wondered, would she enter into a relationship with a man who had a facial deformity? Could she love a man who didn’t look normal? Who was missing something, scarred, or with a face that society would deem hideous?

Hell. Yes. She heard with iron resolve the answer deep within her, and, paired with her attraction for him, felt even more drawn to helping him find a happier path in life.

“I want to meet you,” she said, then, “I know, I know, you want to wait, and that’s okay.”

“Curious?”

Because of everything he had told her, she knew exactly what he meant by that tone.

No . I want to meet you so you can know what it feels like to have another friend who doesn’t give a darn what you look like.”

She wanted to lighten the mood, so she recalled all the things he had done with her at the games while in costume, smiling as they filtered through her mind one by one. She felt silly bringing them up, because now she needed to separate Stranger the dog from the man inside.

Like the thumping heart--could she possibly make his heart thump inside his chest as he made hers do, or was that just antics for the audience? She knew she couldn’t ask him that, but she still thought about it as she spoke next, picturing the sheer size of him in her mind, topped by a blur where his face would be.

“So you’ve been a mascot since junior high?”

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

“You really told her all of that?”

Tormund had just taken a bite of his barbeque ribs when he asked the question, sauce caught in his beard and little bits of food flying out of his mouth.

“Would you use a damned napkin, wildling,” Sandor laughed, throwing half the stack at his friend. “And yes, I did. We’ve talked a lot over the last two weeks, and I’ve told her nearly everything about me.”

“Everything except how you got those,” Tormund gestured, waving a rib towards the right side of Sandor’s face. “And the other thing,” he said, sensible enough to keep his voice low when speaking of the subject but not necessarily needing to, seeing as how they were on Tormund’s back patio with nothing around them except trees.

His house sat on the lot next to Sandor’s, a fact that was lost on neither outgoing, outspoken Tormund, nor quiet, reserved Sandor. He relied on Tormund for more than just friendship, but it was an arrangement that suited both bachelors. Tormund had someone to hang out with, a friend who was just literally always around the corner. And Sandor had someone who accepted him for who he was, exactly as he was, with no ulterior motive.

It was Tormund who had told him about the land going up for sale, and who had helped him build the small house that now sat on the property. In return, Sandor had helped Tormund lay the bricks for the patio, which they ate on as much as they could. Today’s weather was bordering on too cold, but they decided to brave it anyway, knowing winter was coming.

“Fuck, no, I haven’t told her about that.” Sandor wiped his mouth with a napkin, wishing Tormund would do the same. The pile of napkins went untouched.

The big ginger tore off a chunk of dripping meat and chewed as he slowly sucked the too-big piece into his mouth. Sandor stared at him like Tormund was the freakshow instead of himself, but there was humor in his words when he spoke.

“You look like a fucking animal.”

“Yeah,” came Tormund’s reply around cheeks full of meat. “But chicks dig it.”

Sandor snorted a laugh, shaking his head as he dug back into his food.

“You mean female bears,” and he nearly choked on his food as Tormund threw his head back and guffawed.

“Sandor, my friend, how did you come about all these manners .” He said it like it was a bad word. “You’ve never even had a woman to teach you. Did you find them in a store? DId you order them online?”

Sandor smiled, feeling his scars pulling tight at his temple.

“Mine developed naturally, which means every fucker like you just ignores them.”

Another round of laughter went up, and they both took swigs from the bottles of beer in front of them.

“But seriously, you haven’t said a thing about… you know.”

Sandor shook his head, wiping his hands on his napkin and dropping it into the pile he’d amassed in front of his plate. Then he scooped up the entire pile, put it on his plate, and pushed it back from him towards the middle of the table.

“No, I haven’t.”

“It’s gonna come out sooner or later,” Tormund said almost gently. Then his eyes flicked to Sandor’s lap as Sandor watched, then back up to meet his face. “Literally.” The grin that spread across his face was downright leering.

Sandor should have been able to laugh at that, but it just didn’t happen. He was nervous just thinking about it.

How does one go about telling a woman, that he’s never been with a woman? Gods , he didn’t even like thinking the words, let alone considering saying them out loud.

“I know, I know,” he said, leaving out the it’s gonna come out part. For one thing, he’d have to tell her. He wasn’t sure when, but at some point… well, it was gonna come out. And secondly-- it was gonna come out! For fuck’s sake, what if they became intimate? What if--he cringed, looking across the lawn at the treeline as though he’d find the answer there--what if he screwed things up?

Tormund was watching him, and he too wiped his hands and mouth on a napkin before sitting back in his chair with his hands clasped over his stomach.

“Are you ready for something like that? Man, from what you’ve told me this woman seems pretty special.”

“She works at the same university, haven’t you ever met her?”

“Had you?”

No . Point taken.

Tormund spoke again, “We work in two entirely different departments. I’ve never even seen her before. I’m pretty sure I’d know who you were talking about--I never forget a fellow ginger.” His smile was again leering, but Sandor knew he wasn’t doing it about Sansa. Sandor would kill him, since he was already possessive enough about Sansa that it scared him, and Tormund wasn’t shy about his open attraction to just about every woman who crossed his path. There was something about him, though, that prevented him from being an actual pig about it. Somehow the women who encountered Tormund walked away feeling better about themselves, with how appreciative he was of the female form in general, and how complimentary he could be about their personalities. He was a smooth talker, but a respectful one.

“Why the fuck aren’t you married?” Sandor asked suddenly, wanting to know for the umpteenth time why Tormund hadn’t just chosen one to settle down with.

“Eh, haven’t found the right one,” he muttered, smiling.

Sandor laughed in response.

“I bet you’ve encountered a thousand Mrs. Right’s, but you like keeping your options open.”

Tormund’s bushy red eyebrow shot up as he looked at Sandor.

“And I bet I could say the same for you, brother.”

Sandor merely smiled and downed the rest of his beer.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Tonight was the night--the last night Stranger would be a faceless man with whom she had built up a growing friendship over the phone over the last three weeks. Tomorrow they were going to meet for brunch, and a chilly but scenic walk through the waterfowl refuge to watch the flocks of birds as they readied to fly south for the winter. It had been something Sansa had meant to do for the last couple of years but just never got around to doing.

But tonight… She was nervous about seeing Stranger for the first time in weeks, knowing that he would be in his mascot costume but still knowing that the dynamic in their hockey game acquaintance had changed. And she was going to ask him to tell her his name. She felt silly for still thinking of him as Stranger.

Brienne was already in her spot when Sansa arrived, having parked next to her friend’s car at the back of the lot. When she walked in she looked around, but knew she wouldn’t see Stranger until it was nearer to the start of the game.

She easily spotted Brienne in their usual spot, only this time her friend was speaking to a rather hairy redhead, a man who stood when Sansa approached.

“Sansa!” Brienne stood as well with her back to him, embracing Sansa before pulling back to give her a rather comical cringe face. “This is Tormund,” she began loudly, gesturing behind her. The man waved. “He works in the engineering department, but we’ve just met.”

“This stunning woman was kind enough to allow me to sit next to her,” he cooed--which sounded funny coming from someone as big as him. He was fairly broad, with beefy shoulders and arms, about the same height as Brienne. He hardly spared Sansa a glance, he was having so much trouble keeping his eyes off of Brienne.

“Yes, well, that’s exactly why she is my best friend. She’s so… stunning.”

He hadn’t heard a single word she had said, she realized as they sat back down, and Brienne noticeably leaned closer to Sansa.

Although Tormund was saying something about how funny it was that they had never met despite working for the same university, Brienne leaned closer and whispered out of the corner of her mouth to Sansa, “He hasn’t stopped talking since he sat down. I think he might not be complete… in the head…” She raised her eyebrows at Sansa, obviously hoping she would understand.

Sansa hid a giggle behind her hand.

“You have an admirer,” she whispered back. “You should enjoy it, he’s obviously quite--” She glanced around the leaning blonde to see Tormund keeping up a one-sided string of conversation, “--smitten,” she announced.

“Yes, well, if by the end of the game I haven’t punched him in the balls you have my permission to not call the authorities.”

Sansa’s hand came back up, though she did notice from there that her friend at least attempted to say a few words to the man who wouldn’t stop talking.

It was hard for her to concentrate on anything but waiting for Stranger to appear, and when he finally did, the expected roar from the crowd was deafening. As he waved his hands from where he stood just inside the edge of the rink, he encouraged them to just get louder and louder, until even Sansa and Brienne were hollering and waving at the big black hound.

They watched as he skated around the ice, his skating skills up there with those of the players he had previously shared the ice with, and he participated in some crowd-pleasing games. The one where fans get to try to hit the puck from the center line into the net was a favorite, with a cacophony of cheers ringing throughout the arena whenever someone did in fact manage to sink the puck accurately. Today it happened twice, and both times, Stranger’s antics had whipped the crowd into a frenzy, especially for the teenage girl who happened to be one of the winners. He raised her hand into the air as though she’d just won a boxing championship, and she hugged him before leaving the ice.

The game started and Stranger began to wander, but Sansa found herself unable to concentrate on the game. She watched him as he meandered through the crowd, interacting, pumping his big paws in the air when their team scored a goal, and acting as though he had been personally insulted when it was the opposing team’s goal.

But through it all, he kept an eye on Sansa, much to her delight. She found herself vaguely wondering what she would find beneath that mask, but also feeling that the connection she felt to him made it so that she could handle anything. She wanted to see it, yes, but more than that she wanted to meet the man--the human beneath all that soft, black fur. She wanted to make him happy, and to show him that even if the world shunned him, she would not.

It wasn’t until after the first period that he wandered close to their seats but not quite to their level. He stood at the bottom of the seating rows near the plexiglass barrier allowing parents to take photos of him with their kids in front of the rink. He was a hit, and he had kids clamoring all over him for several minutes as Sansa watched.

She tried and failed to not add father material to the list of things she liked about him.

“Oh, Sansa! The kiss cam!” Brienne tapped her on the shoulder, laughing as Sansa’s attention was drawn to the big screen. They both liked to watch to see what kinds of people the cameras landed on, and to see if anyone did anything funny.

There was another older couple who gave a chaste kiss, and a younger couple who ended up looking totally disgusted at the idea that they were supposed to kiss--teenagers who were perhaps cousins?

Then the camera landed on two young women, the big red heart on the screen glowing and pulsing as they looked at each other and back at the screen--at themselves. The crowd cheered, and finally one of them turned and took the hand of the other. As the crowd watched, these two girls faced each other and gave a completely unexpectedly soft, loving kiss that had most of the stadium spouting Awww ’s. When they pulled apart, a great cheer went up.

After them, it came to rest on two young men with much the same result--a loving kiss amidst an approving murmur from the crowd that was peppered by just a few boos.

Two of the louder boos were from a pair of men who found themselves the target of the next kiss cam, and Sansa and Brienne--along with quite a few other spectators--had a good laugh over the mutual outrage and how one of the men stormed out of the arena, obviously quite embarrassed to have been caught booing the young gay couples.

When the kiss cam found its next couple, much to Sansa’s surprise--and Brienne’s mortification--it isolated Brienne and Tormund; two professors who were obviously fairly well known, if the common shouts of their names and hoots of encouragement from the crowd was any indication.

But to everyone else, on the screen Brienne looked absolutely resistant to the idea. She wasn’t going to participate, and that was that. She even crossed her arms over her chest and turned her back towards Tormund, who simply responded with an shameless wink at the kiss cam. Sansa only caught Brienne’s utter shock and gasp before he suddenly wrapped one large arm around her upper body and hauled her backwards, catching her with his other arm.

As she grabbed his arm out of fright for falling backwards, he used the opportunity to gently clasp the back of her head as he twisted and lowered himself to her already open mouth.

The crowd went wild all around them, with people within the first few seats leaning in to get a look at the show. Brienne would have been completely clueless, Sansa knew, to what was going on around her because her view of anything would be obscured by Tormund’s wild red hair. But it was quite the display, and the way Tormund was kissing her, Sansa couldn’t quite tell if Brienne was in shock or participating.

But it was over in just a few seconds, and Tormund lifted a thoroughly rumpled Brienne back into sitting position, facing Sansa.

Tormund, for his part, was doing something that resembled a victorious caveman chest-pounding as he stood and turned towards the people on the stands behind them, veritably crowing with male pride as Brienne chose a more subdued reaction.

The look in her eyes as she glanced at Sansa said “I’m gonna kill him.”

And her body language said the same thing--chest heaving, legs tightly held together, hands fisted against her thighs after sending her fingers through her short blonde hair to attempt to tame it once again.

But when she looked away from Sansa and focused on what was going on in the rink, Sansa watched as Brienne’s tongue came out, tasting the wetness of the kiss before she pursed her lips and flared her nostrils.

She liked it , Sansa marvelled, stunned. It was the first time she had seen Brienne positively affected in any way by the opposite sex. The large woman tended to be unimpressed by all men, and Sansa had attributed it to never having found one who could appreciate every facet of her wonderful friend. But now, with Tormund…

Interesting .

“Your turn, Sansa,” came Tormund’s rough voice, and she looked up to find Stranger standing beside her and the kiss cam now showing the top of her head and Stranger’s upper body. He stood there, arms outstretched, waiting for her.

Still in shock by what had just transpired between Brienne and Tormund, Sansa merely allowed Stranger to take her hand with his extended paw and pull her to standing.

When she looked up at him, expecting him to lean down so she could kiss his cheek again, he surprised her by tugging at her hand and motioning for her to stand on her seat.

“Up here?” she asked, laughing lightly as she realized this brought her to nearly eye level with the giant mascot. Gods, is he tall , she thought.

Stranger nodded, and then reached behind him and, from underneath the jersey, he pulled out a third rose.

“Another!” she exclaimed, and the big dog nodded. She would add it to the vase she now kept on her desk in her office, only this one was an odd orange color, almost red.

She looked at him--at his dog eyes, before she glanced lower to the screen inside his mouth.

“Orange?” she inquired, and as the camera watched and the arena settled, waiting, he lifted his paw to her hair and cupped a locke, letting it drift over his fur as he held it up to the rose.

The color was a perfect match.

When she looked up at him her shock must have registered on her face because another chorus of Awww ’s went up around them and around the arena. She felt like he was looking at her, but of course she couldn’t see anything but black fabric. But it was there--his gaze, and she could feel it on her, penetrating that barrier all the same.

The moment was over quickly, and Stranger turned his head to the side, allowing Sansa to give her dutiful kiss on his big, furry cheek, before he wrapped a heavy arm around her waist and pulled her into him, turning them both towards the rink so he could pump his fist in the air as though he’d just won a prize. Then he gave her waist the slightest squeeze--a weighted gesture that she returned to his shoulder where her hand rested--before slipping away, moving on to make more spectators happy.

But that squeeze… Sansa dwelt on it for the rest of the game, the heat of his hand through the thickness of the costume and her own clothing not dissipating for a long while.

Chapter Text

The drunk happened towards the end of the third and final period, when Brienne had already told Tormund she was going to the restroom--so he wouldn’t follow her--but after she’d whispered to Sansa that she was in fact leaving. It worked for her, although when she hadn’t been back for a while and Tormund asked if she knew where Brienne was, a shrug was sufficient to send him off on a search.

There had been quite a bit of drinking going on around them that night, with many of the spectators glad to have an excuse to drink in public after a three week hiatus while the team was out of town. Across the rink two fights had already been broken up, and even Stranger was getting more people grabbing at him than normal. Sansa knew, because she watched him nearly everywhere he went.

The game was tied, and nearly everyone thought that this was Winterfell’s chance to finally win a game, finally breaking through their losing streak. Tensions were high in the crowd when a man several seats down from Sansa on the same row became rowdy.

She saw Stranger sending glances in her direction, but he was occupied with some fans, signing autographs and pretending to take a little kid’s can of soda, much to the kid’s delight. But his big cartoon head kept swinging over in Sansa’s direction as the noise level around her rose.

When the last play finally began and everyone watched as the opposing team stole the puck out from between a Winterfell player’s legs, then somehow managed to skate all the way to the other side of the rink without being checked against the plexiglass, the more inebriated Winterfell fans became enraged. It all happened so fast that Sansa didn’t even see the punch coming before it grazed her temple.

But she did see Stranger--all eight feet of him--break into a run in her direction as the opposing team’s player sent the puck into Winterfell’s net.

Later that night, news video played on most of the local channels, of the game and that final brouhaha wherein Stranger the mascot picked up grown men and tossed them aside to rescue the bloodied redhead who had collapsed onto her seat--and who had somehow managed to escape any further harm by remaining below the levels of the fight going on above her. He was touted as a hero, and despite having to throw some black-pawed punches himself when fists were suddenly turned on him--by both Winterfell spectators as well as the visiting team’s supporters--it was understood that he would not be charged with a crime or punished in any way. Because when he broke through the group of men who had risen to blows, he also walked away carrying the redhead in his arms.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

“It’s just a cut, I’ll be fine,” Sansa said to the medics as they fussed over her in the hallway of the mezzanine level. Stranger had carried her there to get out of the crush of people who had descended on the doors, anticipating the rush of vehicles wanting to leave the parking lot.

I won’t have to wait , Sansa mused silently as a woman poked and prodded at her temple, figuring that by the time they released her the parking lot was likely to be empty.

“I don’t think you need stitches, but I’m going to put some butterfly bandages on, and I want you to keep them on for a few days.” As she spoke, the woman rooted through her medic kit and found the right size, then set about unwrapping them and laying them out on her clean towel, ready to use.

Sansa turned to Stranger, who had received quite a few odd looks from both the female and male medic when he stayed at Sansa’s side, but without taking off his mask. He remained, studying what the medic was doing, making her wish she could see his face so she knew what he was feeling.

But, does he have enough face to make that possible? Sansa was still curious about what he looked like, and wondered at this now, when it would have been beneficial to read his expressions.

“I’ll be fine,” she said again, though this time her words were aimed directly at him.

To emphasize her point and perhaps to comfort him as best she could, she drew her thumb across the smooth, hairless skin on the underside of his wrist.

When he’d initially crouched down beside her, letting the medics know with his sheer size that he would not be moved from her side, he had kept the paw gloves on, holding Sansa’s hand while the medic cleaned the shallow cut on her temple. But when she’d grimaced, feeling the pain now that the adrenaline of the moment had all but worn off, she saw his body flinch and he’d dragged the gloves off, revealing to her the first time any measure of his skin.

When he’d taken her hand within his two much larger ones, Sansa had trouble concentrating on anything the medic was saying to her. It seemed surreal, that his skin was in contact with hers, and she realized that it was the nicest thing she had felt in a long time.

His palms were rough, but warm and soothing against her smooth skin. The backs were speckled with black hairs, making her wonder exactly how much hair he had on his body. The thought made her blush, causing her to be immediately questioned by the medic if she was feeling alright.

With a quick glance in Stranger’s direction but suddenly reminded that she would have no idea if he’d sensed her reaction, she nodded affirmatively.

Now that the bandages were on and the woman was wrapping a long strip of gauze around Sansa’s head, she could finally think about how the rest of the night was going to go.

She felt well enough to drive home, and of course Stranger would walk her to her car--she was certain he wouldn’t want to let her out of his sight until he absolutely had no choice. And she would be calling Brienne, not only to let her know about what had happened after her friend had left, but also because she wanted to question her on what exactly Tormund’s kiss had done. And no, she wasn’t going to take blatant disgust as an explanation. There had been something on Brienne’s face that spoke of a type of interest, one Sansa had never before seen on Brienne.

“Okay, we’re all finished here. You need to follow up with your primary care provider on Monday, but otherwise, go to the Emergency Room if you experience any of these symptoms.” The female medic handed Sansa a piece of paper and went through the list of possible symptoms of infection and concussion, but Sansa hardly heard any of it. She was too focused on the way Stranger’s thumbs were stroking her palm and her wrist, sending tingling sensations up her arm and straight to her heart.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

He led her out to her car a short while later, still not having uttered a single word. But he was still in costume, and he’d already explained that while in costume, he would not speak.

She didn’t mind that he took it so seriously, because from what he’d told her, being a mascot had helped him overcome a lot in life, and for that she was thankful for the mask. If it helped him turn into this mix of sensitive, quiet man, and boisterous, fun-loving crowd pleaser, than she would respect all that he did for the position.

“Thank you again, Stranger--”

“Sandor.”

Sansa froze, standing in the middle of the nearly empty parking lot. She turned up to look at him quickly, realizing that he had very nearly interrupted her thoughts on his silence with quite the opposite.

“Sandor?” she questioned quietly, part of her even wondering if it was indeed him who had spoken. She hadn’t yet heard him speak in person, and his voice was very similar to what it was over the phone, and yet different somehow. Smoother. Resonating more deeply within her.

He simply nodded, waiting for her to speak again.

“Your name is… Sandor?”

Another nod. Sansa was reminded that her mouth was hanging open, and she closed it then, smiling slightly up at him.

“It’s been a while since we began talking.” She laughed self consciously. “I’m surprised we hadn’t crossed that bridge yet.”

He remained unmoving, and again she wished she could see his face. When she turned to resume walking towards her car, he held her hand in his. It was the only part of her that was warm on this dark, chilly evening.

“Yes, well, thank you, Sandor,” she glanced up at him as she said his name, sounding so strange on her lips now that she had known him as nothing but Stranger for weeks. “For getting me out of that situation, for your fast response--” she paused, remembering the moment he had sprung into action, and wondering how a man of his size had been able to move that fast. The quick glance she’d gotten of him was something that would be burned into her mind forever. He had been the only person to come to her rescue.

“And thank you for sitting with me while, well…” She waved at her forehead, drawing his mask upwards, and she knew he was looking through the screen at the bandage on her forehead.

He lifted his hand partway to the spot but then paused, letting it fall a bit as though he hesitated to touch her. Then he lifted it truly, and rested his fingers on her head behind her ear as his thumb skated over the bandage covering her brow, just below the actual spot of the cut.

It was such a gentle touch and so unexpected that Sansa closed her eyes and leaned into it, having not known this sensation for such a long time. When was the last time someone cared for her the way Stran--Sandor, she had to remember now--. When was the last time someone had cared for her as much as Sandor seemed to? When would someone else have jumped to her rescue? Childhood? Yes, her father would have. And she supposed her brothers would have, as well, had they been with her at the time. But certainly none of the men she’d dated. No, she figured most of them would have been the ones to leap into the fray, having already downed multiple beers and thoroughly been taken over by the heat of the moment.

Her cheekbone brushed the warmth of his palm just as he dropped his hand, and she opened her eyes again, only then feeling the awkwardness of what she had done. She cleared her throat lightly and looked away, scuffing the pavement with her toe and disturbing the small pebbles there.

When he began speaking again, his voice low and… angry, she realized with a start, she visibly shivered.

“You’ll have a scar.”

Pushing aside the urge to close her eyes and listen to his voice, she looked up at him and smiled.

“Just a small one. It doesn’t matter.”

He took a moment to answer her again, and she saw his body tremble. She couldn’t stop her eyes from narrowing in concern.

“It’s on your face,” he replied, his voice nearly a whisper.

Lips still stretched into a smile, although now one that felt a bit forced, she plowed through the pity she felt for him at the words to reply, “It’s just a face, Sandor. I hope you like me for what’s in my heart.”

She meant it as it sounded, but she also needed him to know that what lay beneath his mask didn’t bother her--that she would not be fazed by what she found when he removed it.

Sansa reached up then, feeling the tenderness beneath the bandage as she smiled up at him again, stepping closer to emphasize her words.

“It’s just a small cut, but it could have been much worse had you not been there.”

“Yes, but it’s on your face, Sansa--you can’t know…” His voice trailed off as he took a step back, shaking his big mascot head, the floppy ears swaying at the movement.

“Sandor, it doesn’t matter if it’s a small cut or if it covers a face--that is not what matters.”

“Not what matters? You don’t know what you’re saying.” He was angry, though she was sure it wasn’t directed specifically at her. But his words were, and it irritated her that he might be lumping her in with everyone in his past who had judged him poorly for what he looked like.

“Yes, it’s not what matters.” She stepped towards him again, putting a hand to his chest before he could step back again. “Here, inside. This is what matters. Not a pretty face, not a pure face--the heart, and I like yours. I want to know you, Sandor.”

She left her palm over his heart, willing him to hear the truth in her words. Everything he told her over the last three weeks, and everything they had shared, all the experiences they’d had at the hockey games--she treasured all of it, now that she had accepted the fact that she was more than just physically attracted to him.

He shook his head and turned away, both of them knowing that to anyone who might be seeing their interaction, it would look as though she was arguing with the mascot. Which, she realized, she was, but that wasn’t the point. She needed him to know that she would accept him, no matter what was beneath that mask--a faceless man, a disfigured man, a deformity. None of it mattered.

But before she could say any of that, she watched as he reached up and pulled the flap of extra fabric out of the collar of the mascot uniform where it had been tucked, and then fiddled with what must have been the chin strap of the mask, because suddenly he was lifting it off his head and Sansa was stepping back, so stunned was she that there, in the middle of the arena parking lot, he was exposing the part of him that he kept hidden from the world.

And he was… stunning .

There was no deformity at all. Well, except for the mass of horrible scarring that covered the front and side portion of his skull. It spread over his right eye where there was no eyebrow and completely wiped out what would have been his hairline, extending back towards the crown of his skull. Under the bright parking lot lights she could clearly see the irregular bumpiness of the shell of his ear, and the way the pitted, uneven skin descended down into the collar of the costume.

His hair was pulled back into a ponytail, she realized, so it must have been long, but from what she could see it was dark brown, as was the brow over his left eye, his lashes, and the thick beard and mustache that covered all of his jaw and cheeks except for the bare patch in front of his right ear.

His nose was slightly bent in the middle, as though it had been broken at some point, but overall he was--she swallowed, looking up at this giant of a man. He was so handsome .

And gray --his eyes were gray, and clear, and so very unsure of himself as he looked down at her.

Oh gods, she was staring and she hadn’t said anything to him for quite some time.

An unnatural laugh bubbled up from within her, and it was out before she could stop it behind her hand. She gave a small shake of her head as his eyes widened, and then hardened.

“Oh, no, Sandor, no--you don’t understand.” But he was already backing up, his big, slippered dog feet bringing him one step away, and then another. She held out a hand to stop him, and then used that hand to prevent him from bringing the mascot head back up to cover his head. “No! Please!”

She had to get a hold of herself, but… but… He just wasn’t what she had expected!

“Sandor, no,” she said again, following him until he stopped a short distance from her car. His eyes were hard, a line having deepened between his left brow and where the right one would have been.

“Don’t you see?” She needed him to understand! “You told me you were deformed!”

“I am,” he fairly growled, and she found herself watching his lips form the words, watching the way his mustache moved as he spoke. Gods , the combination of his raspy voice and the striking masculinity of his appearance--even with the scars--was making it hard for her to think. Her heart was beating double time, and she fought to control her breathing while her mind searched for the right words to diffuse this situation.

“No, you’re not!”

But he shook his head once, looking away from her. When he turned the scars away from her she could see the full thickness of his beard and how the hair lessened a bit before travelling down his neck. The question of whether it would be coarse or soft beneath her fingers flitted through her mind, making her blush.

“Sandor,” she began again, “You made me think you might… that you might not have--” Gods, what did he make her think? “A face! That you were eyes and a mouth because I knew you could see and speak! But you’re--you’re…”

She stepped closer, and when he didn’t back away she stepped even closer still, forcing him to tuck the large dog’s head mask beneath his arm. They stood but a foot apart, and he looked down at her now as she looked up into his eyes.

“Sandor, you’re not . You need to believe me when I say… when I say that I like what I see.” She looked down at the hand that hung at his side, and she reached for it, twining her fingers with his before lifting her eyes back up. “Don’t you understand?”

“Aye,” he all but muttered, looking away. “You’re saying my scars are bad but not that bad.” His response was faintly sarcastic, and his tone almost sounded like a child who had been just been told he couldn’t have what he wanted.

Sansa laughed again, not bothering to hide it this time as she looked him full on in the face, eyes unwavering when he finally brought his back to hers. She pushed aside the irritation that threatened, and how it irked her that he didn’t believe her. She infused her voice with lightheartedness when she replied.

“Well, sort of, but not the way you’re saying it,” she paused, watching him watch her with disbelieving eyes. “Are you saying these are what has kept you in this costume all these years?”

His nod was terse, quick. He blinked, and she saw sadness flash through his eyes before it was replaced with the hardness from before.

“I can’t pretend to not see them,” she said softly, “Just as you won’t be able to pretend that I don’t have mine.” Again, she gestured to her forehead. “But would you at least believe me when I say they don’t bother me the way you think they should?”

When he remained silent, Sansa sighed, looking off in the distance as the last of the cars pulled out of the visitor parking lot. She didn’t want to mess this up, but was aware that Sandor already had a foot out the door where their acquaintance was concerned.

She looked back up at him, knowing there was only one thing to do.

“Will you please just give me a chance? Tomorrow, I still want to go for our walk. Please, Sandor. You asked me to do that with you, and I still want to.” She gave him what she hoped was an inviting look, smiling up at him, still holding onto his big hand. She looked at it now, drawing her palm over the back and down to his wrist. The hairs tickled her skin, and again, it made her wonder what he looked like without the costume.

“Tomorrow then,” he said quietly, and she beamed at him.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Sansa got ready for their outing the following morning, talking to Brienne whose voice piped into the small bathroom from the phone that rested on the counter.

“He must have thought it would scare me off, but Brienne--oh my gods, he’s…”

“Everything you could have hoped for?”

They both laughed, Sansa more loudly than Brienne. Her friend knew her so well.

“And the scars,” Brienne said, “They’re really not that bad?”

“Well, no, they are , and they must have been truly horrible when he received them. I can’t imagine the amount of pain they would have caused, and he has told me before that he got them when he was a child.” She checked her appearance in the mirror, nodding approvingly at herself. “But they’re nothing compared to what I thought he might have.”

“And you told him,” Brienne repeated, dropping off the last word because she obviously wanted to hear it again.

“Yes, yes,” Sansa laughed, embarrassed now. “I actually told him I wondered if he had a face at all.”

“Oh gods, Sansa, that’s so horrible.” But Brienne was laughing on the other end of the call, and Sansa smoothed her hand over the front of her sweater.

She had chosen the color because it matched the gray rose he’d given her, and pairing it with jeans and sensible hiking boots seemed like a good idea for their walk at the reserve. A wool coat and a scarf would complete her ensemble, one that Brienne had helped her pick out over the phone.

“So he's a shy guy that hides behind a mascot mask because he has scars, and you're pretty sure he has the body of the Warrior, and… Where are we going with this? Where are you going with this?”

Sansa took the phone with her when she left the bathroom, grabbing her keys on the way out the door.

“To tell you the truth, I have no idea. But we've gotten somewhat close through talking on the phone and I really want to see where it goes.” She turned the key to lock the door and listened to Brienne’s sigh.

“Sansa, I know you--you're going to get attached because of what might be, and then when you find out how he really is you'll get your heart broken again. Maybe you should slow down and look at this objectively. I mean, how well can you really know this guy? He just told you his name.”

“Yes, but that's because I never asked.” Sansa slid into the driver’s seat of her car, already warm since she had started it ten minutes ago. “But listen, I have to go--"

“Please tell me you'll think about what I've said,” Brienne interjected, her voice steady but concerned.

“I will, I promise. And I'll call you later to tell you how it went.” Sansa grinned, checking her mirrors and putting her seatbelt on. “And you can tell me all about that kiss cam with Tormund.”

Brienne’s sputtering, stunted reply came through the phone as Sansa hung up, pulling out of her driveway as she chuckled and mulled over what Brienne had said.

The physical attraction to Sandor she had felt for quite some time had in no way been lessened by his revealing his face to her last night. On the contrary, it had heightened. That may or may not have something to do with her two years of celibacy, but she wasn't going to dwell on that. She was going to welcome any advance he made towards her, though.

Because her attraction to him went deeper than the physical. He had shown her many times what his character was like, and she could find nothing concerning. From the way he played with kids at games, wooing old ladies and high-fiving men, to how gentle he was with Sansa, how charming he was on the phone, how open with his conversations, and the way he had jumped in to protect her at the game when no one else had.

The only aspect of his personality that she could see anyone finding fault with would be his shyness.

But she didn’t find fault with it. It was just something else she found intriguing about him.

As Sansa pulled into the parking lot she saw several vehicles, but Sandor only climbed out of the truck parked on the end when she left the confines of her car and stood at the trunk.

And it was then that she realized exactly how much worse her nervousness had gotten since she’d pulled in.

It was the first time she had seen him without the costume, and she was blown away at how a man who looked like a tall glass of cool water could be so self conscious about his appearance that he would sequester himself away from society unless he was covered from head to toe in fake black fur.

He was tall--at least six and a half feet--with narrow hips, broad shoulders, and a chest that stretched the North Wall windbreaker he wore. His jeans were on the snug side, and today his hair was down, flowing across his shoulders in loose brown waves. It fell to one side of his face, combed over slightly to cover the scars, but it did nothing to detract from how handsome he appeared in the full light of day. Sansa fought to keep her breath even as he approached, hands in the pockets of his jeans, his steps small and unsure.

“Sandor,” she breathed when he finally stood in front of her, and she looked up into warm gray eyes that sought in hers acceptance and sanctuary.

Chapter Text

That morning Sandor had called Tormund in a panic, though outwardly he made sure to sound completely fine.

“I’m going to call her and cancel,” he said over the phone.

The string of expletives that spewed forth from Tormund’s mouth caused him to have to hold the phone away from his ear. It was loud, and he realized his friend might have been more mentally invested in this friendship than he had let on.

When he finally brought the phone back to his ear it was to hear Tormund now speaking, though heatedly.

“--And if you screw this up, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. You can bet on that. She seems like a nice girl with her head on straight, and she fucking likes you! She likes you, brother!”

With his words came more doubts, though not for what could be between he and Sansa. They were doubts that calling her to cancel today’s walk was the right idea.

“I’m telling you, man, this is your chance.”

Sandor balked at that.

“Fuck, Tormund, I’m not interested in her just to… to…”

Tormund laughed, but Sandor could hear that his friend wasn’t doing it to be mean.

“Sandor, I’m not saying that. Although now that you mention it, she’s pretty fucking hot--”

“Fuck you, Tormund--”

“Hey! Hey, I’m just kidding. She’s more than that, Sandor, she’s gorgeous, and for some reason she likes you. But what I meant was this is your chance at happiness, bro. She could be what you need to bring you out of your fucking man cave.”

“Hey, I get out.”

Tormund laughed harshly, before saying, “Yeah, in a fucking dog costume.”

“Tormund, you got me that job.” He wondered if calling Tormund had been the best idea, because it seemed like he was only going to get flack from his one and only friend.

“Calm down, man, I know I got you that job. Stop taking everything I say like criticism, because it's not. I love you, bro, and I want you to be happy.” He cleared his throat and paused, so Sandor waited for him to go on. “Sansa might be what brings you back into the world without the costume. She might be what brings you out of your house and into the social scene. You told me yourself what she said last night--that the scars don’t bother her, and you believed her. So now you need to give her a chance, because chances like this--like her --don’t just show up at your doorstep every fucking day.”

Sandor knew he was right, but it didn’t stop his heart from threatening to beat out of his chest at the thought of screwing this up. He opted for humor to cover his nerves.

“You just want to bang her friend--”

Outrageous laughter on the other end of the line interrupted him and he had to smile. Tormund was always so fucking positive, so quick to laugh at life. If Sandor ever screwed up that friendship, he’d never forgive himself.

“Uh, true. Very true, my friend, but it’s more than that. I’m going to marry that girl.”

Sandor coughed to cover up his shock. He had known Sansa, in a way, for only just over a month, and he was worried about going for a walk with her. Tormund had met Sansa’s friend last night and was already sure he was going to marry her--the big blonde woman somehow sparking some marital instincts in his friend that in himself, still lay dormant. Or non-existent. He wasn’t sure marriage was the right path for him.

But Sansa? He wanted her to be the right path. He wanted to see what she was like on a… this wasn’t really a date, but whatever it was, Sandor wanted to get to know her better outside the hockey rink, outside of phone calls, and in the realm of fresh air and physical togetherness.

“Marriage, huh?” he asked, attempting to change the subject by focusing on the blonde woman again.

“Oh man, did you see her during that kiss cam? Fuuuck ,” Tormund nearly moaned, making Sandor laugh.

“You mean how she looked like she wanted you to burn up in hellfire while sitting next to you after you pulled that stunt?”

“Yeah,” came Tormund’s quiet, thoughtful agreement. When he spoke his voice was full of wonderment. “But the way she kissed--”

“You kissed her. From what I saw, she wanted no part of it.”

“You’re right, about the first part,” Tormund agreed. “But she warmed up to me, and the way she held my arm was like she was waiting for the kiss to go on forever. Fuck, man, that’s a real woman there.”

Sandor laughed, pulling on his jacket. Talking with Tormund made him feel better, made his heart calm and helped him to control his breathing when he thought of Sansa’s face--her smile, her eyes, her expression when she’d looked up at him last night in the parking lot. Encouraging. Hopeful.

Tormund was still talking about Sansa’s friend but Sandor had moved on in his mind, unable to focus on anything else than the woman he was about to meet for a walk through the wildlife preserve. His friend must have caught on, because soon his voice tapered off and he was wishing Sandor a good date.

“It’s not a date,” he insisted, turning the key in his car.

“Fuck that,” Tormund said with a friendly laugh. “Treat it like it is and maybe she’ll give you a second one.”

His words stuck with Sandor until he saw Sansa get out of her car in his rearview mirror.

She was gorgeous--red hair pulled back into a low ponytail that was slung over her shoulder, black coat and blue jeans. And she was there because she wanted to spend time with him , not some other guy, not her girlfriends. She wasn’t there to meet him to buy a dresser, nor was she there because she hit his truck while backing up. She was meeting him to go for a walk and to talk and be together.

It blew his damned mind that that was the way it was.

She stayed by her car and he approached, but he expected her to bolt at any moment. She was seeing him in daylight for the first time, and had only seen his face for the first time last night under the glaring parking lot lights of the ice arena. This meant that surely she was going to have a change of heart and decide that this--he--suddenly wasn’t worth the trouble.

But she stood there smiling at him, and he watched her hands fidget, her fingers twisting against each other, as the light in her eyes shone hopeful and expectant.

She wasn’t running, and it blew his damned mind.

“Sandor,” she said, and even to his ears her voice sounded breathless, as though she was as nervous as he was. But, could that really be possible?

“Sansa,” he said, and he thought he saw her tremble.

“It’s good to see you.” Her voice was soft, but he couldn’t look away from her eyes. They were so blue, rimmed in lashes a few shades darker than her hair. Gorgeous.

But he realized he didn’t know what to say. “ It’s good to see you too” sounded lame. He heard Tormund’s voice in his head remind him that if he treated this like a date, that maybe she would give him a second date. With that in mind, he chose his words carefully, keeping his fists balled tightly inside the pockets of his jeans.

“You look nice.”

And damn him--she beamed at him like the fucking sun.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Not twenty minutes later Sansa was standing on a slight rise facing Sandor, and she was smiling at him, more sure of this than anything she’d ever thought she had been sure of. And as he leaned into her she closed her eyes, tilting her face up because even though the mound of dirt she was standing on gave her another five or so inches of height, it still wasn’t enough to be tall enough to simply kiss him.

In her hand she clenched a fistful of his windbreaker, her other hand hanging at her side, waiting for the right moment to touch him--to touch his scars, and to show him once and for all that she wasn’t bothered by them. Not in the least, in fact. And she aimed to prove it to him.

All around them a breeze stirred the air, no sounds of civilization could be heard, and all that was carried to them on the wind was the calls of birds big and small, landing and leaving en route to their migration destinations. And it was all drowned out by the sound of Sansa’s own rushing blood pounding in her ears.

She felt his hands come up to grasp her elbows and leaned further into him, sandwiching her hand between their chests as their lips came into contact with each other.

At first all she felt was warmth--his soft skin against hers, and the way his breath dusted over the skin of her face. The prickle of mustache against her upper lip tickled and made her smile against his mouth, unable to stop herself.

But then he smiled as well, and the hand that had gripped his windbreaker now wrapped around the back of his neck to draw him down and to increase the pressure of her mouth against his.

Sansa gasped as his arm slid around her waist, but there was a hesitation in his mouth, a lack of ardor that she attributed to him wanting to take things slow. But they didn’t need to--she didn’t require that he slow things down on her account. The thrum of arousal low in her belly was growing by the minute, and she wondered how amenable to sex on the first date he would be. This man, this enormous, handsome, sexy man was changing the way she thought about her interaction with the opposite sex. With him .

But when she tilted her head and parted her lips slightly, he didn’t respond, and it became slightly awkward between them. So, not wanting to skimp on encouragement, Sansa drew her tongue across the seam of his lips, hinting boldly that she wanted him to open, and he responded by…

Tightening his hand on her elbow?

Something wasn’t right. She tried again, this time licking at his soft lower lip and centering her kiss there, thinking it a sensual spot on his body that she wouldn’t mind exploring more--and still, nothing.

She pressed her lips to his one last time before drawing back, though not releasing her arm from behind his neck. He kept his arm behind her as well, and the hand on her arm rubbed up to her shoulder and down again.

His eyes were troubled, though, and her own brow furrowed in concern.

“Sandor, hey--what’s going on?” She knew the man to be incredibly complicated, and she didn’t want to scare him off--

Oh gods , she thought, maybe I already did.

She moved to release him but his arm squeezed her to him, and he closed his eyes, letting his forehead drift down to hers. Well, that was something. He wasn’t scared away, but he still wasn’t participating at the level she would have expected from such a virile, strong man.

“Sansa, there… there’s something else,” he started, his voice breaking as he spoke with eyes closed. “Something else about me you should know.”

And there --that was the moment, Sansa felt it deep in her bones. She lifted her hand then and placed it on his scarred face, and it caused such a jolt in his body that when he brought his face up to look down at her she would have fallen had she not already been leaning into him.

But she kept her hand there, and his shocked eyes bored into hers, flicking down to her raised arm and back to her face. His mouth closed and opened, then closed again as he swallowed, the skin of his neck moving with the motion. Sansa only dropped her eyes to his adam’s apple briefly, noting the hair that she wanted to touch, but not yet .

She focused on the feel of him beneath her hand--the smoothness and the surprising warmth of the scars, and yet their unevenness against her palm and the way her fingers ghosted over the even, smooth skin that bordered his hairline. Then her thumb moved, and she watched his mouth open as his breath hitched inside his throat, rubbing the pad of her thumb over the hairless brow, bringing her hand lower to skate it over the soft skin below his eye.

“There is nothing,” she said, focusing her eyes on his so that he knew to not look away, “that you could say, that would chase me away.” She said it because she felt it, knew it to be true.

But she saw a flash of doubt in his eyes, and she shook her head as she smiled, drawing his face down sideways so she could kiss the line on his cheek--pitted scar and thick beard pressed to her lips at the same time.

When he didn’t pull away--though neither did he lean into her--she turned him to kiss the corner of his mouth, and then firmly kissed him square on the lips before pulling away again.

“Nothing,” she reiterated, still aware of the uncertainty in his gaze.

“You may think differently--”

“No,” she interrupted.

He had moved into her heart and had created a home there, one that she wasn’t willing to let him leave any time soon. She wanted to see where this would go, where they could let it go, and even if he was willing to let his insecurities interfere with it, she was not.

He sighed heavily before he spoke, his hands moving to connect behind her back. It was a sweet posture--holding each other like this, and Sansa smiled encouragingly up at him.

“Sansa, I’ve never--” He paused, swallowing again and glancing away, those beautiful gray eyes looking troubled as he took in their surroundings. The path they were on was littered with fallen leaves, though many still rustled in the trees above their heads.

He once again closed his eyes before turning them back to her, his voice hoarse as he spoke again.

“I’ve never done this before,” he admitted, unmoving. His entire body was frozen, as though figuring out if he needed to wait for her to react, or retreat himself. It seemed he chose the former, as he watched her face go from smiling to confused.

“Sandor, I--I don’t understand. You’ve never dated anyone?”

“Aye, never dated anyone,” he agreed with a terse nod, but his voice was low and quiet, and she knew there was more.

“It’s okay,” she soothed, hand still on his face. And just as she had done the other night, he leaned slightly into her touch, eyes remaining locked on hers. She waited for him to continue.

He did after a moment, biting at his lower lip before saying, “I’ve never--” but he stopped, and he closed his eyes. “You know,” he prompted, refusing to look at her as he said it.

“Never…” Sansa tilted her head slightly, puzzling out what exactly he was telling her. He’d never dated anyone, and they were standing on the edge of the path kissing--well, not kissing, because she was sure that wasn’t what he was doing, but she had been . She wanted to kiss him and he had just--

She froze.

He had just stood there, not moving.

Not moving at all. Not even his mouth.

He’d never…

Oh .

“Oh my,” she whispered, and his nod sent a jolt of electricity through her hand where his beard rubbed at her palm.

They stood for a minute, still holding each other, and Sansa found that she wanted to batter him with questions. But at the same time she also wanted to just think , and to comfort whichever part of him it was that had struggled with telling her that. So with the hand that had been wrapped around his neck, she slid her fingers into his hair and lightly massaged the tense muscles beneath them.

The silence was good, she thought, because she was touching him and soothing him with her hand, but it gave her a moment to think on what he had just told her and affirmed with his nod.

He was a virgin. A thirty-nine year old virgin. And she knew without a doubt that it had happened because he kept himself out of social situations, feeling himself deformed--his own words--due to the scars on his face.

He had never had sex, and he was nearly forty years old.

Sansa didn’t know what to think, and she kept her mouth firmly closed lest she say anything that didn’t help the situation. But she knew how to feel , and that was fortunate to have had the gods drop this treasure of a man in her life.

So she stroked and soothed, watching his face for any signs of a fight or flight response that would either send him running or bring him out fighting--because how was he to know she didn’t think there was anything wrong with his celibate state?

“Sandor,” she whispered then, feeling the need to tell him this. His eyes opened and he sighed again, looking sad and worried at the same time, as though she would indeed find fault with him and decide against continuing what they had found together.

Sansa smiled at him, nothing big, nothing he would perceive as fake, but enough to let him know she wasn’t going anywhere.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said, bringing both hands back to his cheeks now, giving him her undivided attention as she spoke her next words. Because they needed to be said, even if a small part of her wanted to laugh at the possibility that she might never have sex again. “If you don’t want to, you know… have sex, then I’m okay with that. I mean, lots of couples don’t have intimate relations and they still have strong, meaningful--”

“What?”

Sandor straightened, and he did back away then, though only a few inches, enough to break all contact between their lower bodies. Sansa stared up at his face, still bracketed by her hands but now displaying a face as confused as hers had been just minutes ago.

“I mean,” she started, unsure of herself now. What was going through his head? She wished she knew! “If you’ve gone this long without--you know, being with a woman--but you still want to be with me, I think--”

“Sansa, no, you don’t understand.” His words were echoes of the ones she had uttered just the night before, after she had laughed at his glaring lack of a massive facial deformity. Only this time it was Sansa who was apparently not grasping what was going on between them. Sandor shook his head, but he wasn’t smiling. He was completely serious, and she stilled her hands, letting them drop down past his jaw to rest on his shoulders.

He had put space between them, but she felt that it might have been to better look at her as they sorted through this. Good , she thought, because I’m gonna need some help here.

“It’s not that I don’t want to--to be-- fuck , this is hard.” He pursed his lips together for a moment, his facial hair reflecting the movements and drawing her eye, the thickness of his beard and mustache a tantalizing destination for her fingertips.

But no, she had to hold back. She had to hear him out, so she returned her eyes to his and waited.

After a beat his spoke again, “I want to be with you, Sansa.”

She nodded, more emphatically than perhaps was necessary.

“I do too, Sandor--I mean, I want to be with you. I think there’s a connection between us, and we could be very happy together--”

He smiled lightly then, just the corner of his mouth, and it shocked her so much--that it was happening in the midst of such a serious discussion--that she found herself back at square one, as confused as ever as to what was going on.

“I mean, I want to be with you.” He drew his lip beneath his teeth, as though he was trying to fight the embarrassed smile that threatened to spill over his lips. “Intimately,” he finished in a whisper, and Sansa felt her eyes go round like saucers.

Oh .”

“Aye.”

Sansa’s eyebrows rose as she repeated his word.

“Intimately.”

“Aye,” he responded again.

“You want to be intimate with… me.” She had almost said a woman but realized that wasn’t what he was saying at all. He wanted to be intimate with her --Sansa--not just any woman.

“I mean,” he hesitated, “Not today, really. I think we could--you know.” He paused, swallowed. He was nervous, and as understanding dawned on her, Sansa felt the warmth spread from her belly up to her heart, encircling it as she watched him search for the right words to say to her.

“Date?”

He smiled genuinely then, grateful that she had supplied the right word.

“Aye,” he whispered, looking down at her lips and then back up.

Oh . She knew what that meant.

“Aye,” she breathed, mimicking him with a small nod.

This time, when he stepped close and pulled her body up against his, and lowered his mouth so that it hovered over hers, he kept his eyes open until the last moment when his lips finally descended, and he participated.

Chapter Text

There on the bird sanctuary path with Sansa was the moment Sandor Clegane finally learned how to properly kiss a woman. By the time they were finished, her ponytail was a mess, he was in danger of making a complete mess of himself inside his jeans, and they were both thoroughly out of breath. If her flushed cheeks, red lips and glazed eyes were any indication, she was a damned good teacher.

“So,” Sansa said, her voice whisper soft as she held onto the front of Sandor’s windbreaker, “Is this our first date?”

He watched her tongue dart out to lick her lips, and wondered at the wisdom of kissing her here, in what amounted to a public place. The press of his erection in his jeans was uncomfortable, and it wasn’t like he had anywhere to relieve himself, as was his usual habit on the rare occasion he was turned on enough to warrant it.

“Aye,” he murmured, unable to take his eyes off her. She was magnificent, with her lips flush from their kisses, her breath coming in short puffs.

“So can I kiss you again?” Her voice was nothing more than a whisper, but she raised a bit on her toes, her eagerness to continue showing in her eyes and the way they looked to his lips and back.

He felt like a teenager, leaning down to rest his forehead against hers as her face fell, probably guessing from his motion what his answer would be.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea right now,” he admitted, and because she had done so multiple times while they kissed, he pulled at her hips so they came into contact with his, the evidence of his arousal pushing into her, an obvious reminder of why exactly they should not kiss again.

And damn him, if she didn’t grin salaciously up at him.

They spent the remainder of their walk holding hands, talking about their lives and their jobs. He finally told Sansa about his chosen profession of making wood furniture, and how he had a friend who helped him sell it. It was only when he let slip Tormund’s name that she spun on him, mouth agape.

Tormund?

She laughed at first, and he wondered why, but then she narrowed her eyes at him.

“Big guy, red hair and red beard?”

Sandor nodded in response.

“He sat next to you during the game, and even flirted with--” Realization dawned on him at Sansa’s hooded expression. Fucking Tormund .

“He never told you he was my friend,” he said quietly. Even if she hadn’t answered, he would have known by her expression that he was right.

But Sansa laughed, covering her mouth with her free hand as she turned twinkling eyes up at him.

“No, he didn’t say. And Brienne is going to go nuts when she finds out.”

Sandor nodded, asking, “The blonde woman you always sit with?” At Sansa’s own nod he continued, “Yes, Tormund has taken a liking to her. And that’s surprising, because he has never been one to settle down.”

Sansa looked away at the path they were on, her face suddenly serious.

“Should Brienne be… wary, of him?”

Her tone said she already was, and it made him laugh--that Sansa had misread Tormund’s intentions simply because she didn’t know the man, and based on what Sandor had just said to her.

“No, absolutely not. The opposite, in fact. Tormund is as loyal as they come, and if he has attached himself to Brienne, she’ll have a hard time shaking him off.”

Finally Sansa laughed with him, and as they came back to the parking lot, Sandor found that he was reluctant to let go of her hand. Attempting to express this to her, he drew her to the side of her car and held her small hand between both of his.

“Sansa, I… I really had--”

Seeming to sense his struggle with getting the right words, Sansa smiled a soft, knowing smile and put a finger to his lips, effectively cutting him off. She gave a small shake of her head and reached up to draw him down for another kiss. This one started off tame, just softly pressed lips, tasting and touching, before it mutually grew heated and she had her arms wrapped around him.

For the second time that day, Sandor was close to making a mess in his jeans, and he found himself unable to process what was going on. He wanted her, and knew Sansa was the one woman with whom he finally wanted to make love. But he also didn’t know what to do (or even what he was doing right now), or how to go about making that a reality.

Before long she drew away, looking as though he had just ravished her there in the parking lot. Lips red, cheeks flushed, and chest heaving, he wanted nothing more than to bring her back to his house and rid himself of this status that had followed him around his entire life. He wanted to experience what he’d only seen on television, read about in magazines, or heard about from other men he happened to be around.

But Sansa was already pulling away, smiling in a way that told him he was in fact good at what they had been doing, and that she was looking forward to doing it again. He heard himself promise to find her at the next game, and he growled that she better not hide from him again, to which she only laughed as she climbed into the front seat of her car.

With one last small wave he shut her door and stood back so she could pull out and drive away.

Fucking hells . As he walked back to his truck he grinned like a fool at the turn his life had taken, and he could have lept for joy had he not been in the semi public setting.

Getting in, he turned the key in the ignition, smiling as he back out of his spot.

Sandor Clegane was a wanted man, and damn --it felt good.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

Sansa smiled and shook her head, having known that Brienne would not take the news of Tormund’s identity lightly. Her friend took another drink from her glass of wine, looking away and staring at nothing in particular before bringing her eyes back to Sansa.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” she said again, and Sansa finally laughed.

“No, I’m not. They’re good friends, and apparently Tormund was supposed to tell us that but he got… distracted.”

Brienne sputtered at that, nearly knocking over her glass of wine in her rush to put it down on Sansa’s coffee table.

“Distracted? He--at the-- distracted? Sansa, the man assaulted me in front of thousands of people!” Apparently the wine was necessary because she picked it up and took a swig of it as though it was whiskey and not a thirty dollar bottle of red. “Distracted ,” she repeated with a sneer and a shake of her head.

Sansa thought Brienne was cute when she was upset, but this was different. Her six-foot friend was now red in the face, when before the wine hadn’t been able to accomplish that. And there was a certain look in her eye that she recognized, despite having never seen it on Brienne’s face--interest. Curiosity.

“You like him,” Sansa mused aloud softly, and Brienne’s short blonde curls flew out to the sides when she whipped her face back to Sansa’s.

“I do not!”

“Do too! I saw it that night and I see it now--”

Brienne was worked up now, and Sansa thought it was nearly humorous that her friend was so vehemently denying her attraction to the other ginger.

“That night? What do you mean, that night? He grabbed me and he kissed me on the kiss cam!”

“Yes,” Sansa agreed, taking a slow sip of her wine. Then she turned her eyes towards her friend and raised a single eyebrow. “But you enjoyed it.”

Brienne made a very unladylike snort and scoffed at Sansa’s words, and then she abruptly sat up and focused on her friend in a way Sansa had learned to dread. It was an expression that said Brienne was about to change the subject.

“Speaking of enjoying it,” said the blonde woman, taking a slow, smirking sip of her wine, “tell me about those kisses you mentioned the other day?”

It was Sansa’s turn to blush; just the mention of them brought back to mind the way Sandor had pressed into her, how capably his hands had held her to him, and how he had very quickly picked up on the nuances of damned sexy kissing.

It was enough to make her go warm in the belly even now.

“What is there to tell?” she placated, smiling into her glass. But Brienne wasn’t going to back down, probably because Sansa had called her out on her reactions to Tormund.

“I don’t think so, missy. Spill it. You said he’s a… virgin?” She whispered the last word, as though there was someone else in Sansa’s home who might hear the big secret.

But Sansa could do nothing other than grin, because along with that revelation from Sandor had come the other--that it was a status he wanted to change with Sansa’s help. And she had so many emotions swirling in her mind that it was hard to do anything other than grin like a fool when she thought of it.

She must have been doing it now because Brienne’s mouth dropped open in shock, her voice a squeak as she asked, “You didn’t somehow find time to alter that between now and when you called me, did you?”

Sansa laughed, but she shook her head, gnawing at her lower lip as she imagined what it was going to be like to see him at the next game coming up on Friday.

“No, we did not ,” she assured her friend. “But yes, he is a virgin, and at some point--when he’s ready, I suppose--we are going to… you know.” She waggled her eyebrows and both women laughed into their glasses. Brienne took the bottle and gave them both refills before putting the cork back in and setting it aside.

“You don’t think there’s anything wrong with him, do you? Like, anything other than those scars being the reason why he’s a virgin?”

Sansa shook her head, knowing Sandor’s extremely self conscious nature would remain just that.

“He has reasons for being such a reclusive person, but I haven’t found it to be a hindrance to starting a relationship with him.” And it was the truth. He had been willing to walk through the bird sanctuary with her, where there had been several other people, so maybe one day he’d want to do more things in public. But for now Sansa was more than content exploring what it was that connected her to him, and this damned strong attraction she felt towards him--whether he had the mask on or not.

They spoke for a while longer, Sansa describing the few mind blowing kisses she and Sandor had shared, before Brienne announced it was time for her to go, just as Sansa had decided it was time to turn the conversation back to Tormund. But she let it go, and saw her friend out before returning to get ready for bed.

It wasn’t very late, and when she climbed into bed she glanced at her phone sitting on the nightstand.

Should I call? She wanted to, because as soon as the thought entered her mind it was replaced by the sound of his voice and she found that she missed it. The thought startled her, as so many before it had.

How did this progress so fast, from silly flirtations with a mascot to her growing yearnings for a man scarred by life, determined to hide from the world? It baffled her that somehow, without her knowing, her feelings had grown for him. It was as though every little thing she learned about him--starting from what he sounded like, to what he looked like, to what it was like to walk with him, to what it was like to kiss him, and even the fact that he was a virgin--just stacked on top of each other until the scales were tipping in favor of falling head over heels in love with him.

But was that possible? That what she felt in her heart was love, even now; late at night after thinking about him for much of the day and wondering all evening what he was up to? Could she possibly be falling in love with him after having known him for such a very short time?

Resolving to ignore any reservations she had about that, she picked up her phone and dialed his number before she could talk herself out of it.

The voice that answered was like the soft purr of a motorcycle engine in the distance.

“Hello?” He sounded like he hadn’t checked the caller ID, so Sansa laid back against her pillows, nervous but smiling.

“Hey, it’s… it’s Sansa.”

She heard his deep breathing and after a moment, he seemed to clear some of the fog from his brain.

“Hey, what’s up? Are you okay?”

Warmed that he was immediately concerned, Sansa couldn’t wipe the grin off her face even if she tried.

“Yeah, everything’s okay. Were you sleeping?” She could hear her voice and it sounded so… sappy. So in love . “I can let you go. I’m sorry for calling--”

“No, no, it’s okay. I fell asleep not too long ago but I’d rather talk to you.”

She could hear the sleepy smile in his voice and wondered what his bed looked like, what color his bedding was. She wondered if he slept naked. If he missed her.

“Okay,” she said, unsure of what to say. He chuckled huskily at her silence, and she thought she heard him wipe a hand over his face.

“Did you call for a reason?”

When he asked it so directly, she decided to just be honest, even though she felt a bit like she was putting all of her eggs in one basket. If she had a phone cord like the phone her mom said she used to have in her room, Sansa would have been twirling it around her finger.

“I just missed you, is all… And I wanted to call you.”

It was his turn to pause, and his sleepy, confused voice answered repeating her.

“You missed me?” He sounded like a thirty-nine year old teenager on the phone, his voice almost as confused as her emotions.

“Mm-hm,” she murmured, wondering how he was going to reply.

But then he sighed, “I miss you too, little bird.”

Sansa laughed, her voice sounding husky and turned on. She had to get ahold of herself!

“Little bird, is it? You have a nickname for me now?”

“Aye, because of where we went to meet. The bird sanctuary.”

They both chuckled, and Sansa felt emboldened to at least say, “I had a really great time that day.” She could picture them walking hand in hand, the scenery and the breeze and the birds--it was all so perfect.

“I did too,” came his voice, and she wondered if he was thinking about the same things.

“Really? What was your favorite part?”

As soon as she said it, she wanted to take it back. It hadn’t been intended as a leading question but it sure sounded like one. He answered almost immediately after giving an incredulous snort.

“Aside from just being there with you, and finding that you’re amazing, and beautiful, and you have a big heart, and you’re fun to be around?”

He paused, and Sansa laughed, saying, “Yes, besides all that.”

Sandor let out a long sigh and a groan on the other end of the line.

“Sansa, I am going to remember those kisses for the rest of my life.” The way he said it made it sound like he was still thinking of them--which made Sansa think of them, and she herself sighed.

“Yeah, they were really nice, weren’t they.”

“Really nice? I’ve never been kissed like that, little bird,” he paused, and started to say something but stopped himself, but instead remained silent as though waiting for her to just move on with the conversation. Sansa was curious, and she wanted to know what he was about to say.

“What?”

“What?” he repeated, making her laugh.

“What were you about to say, Sandor?”

“Nothing,” he said, but she could hear uncertainty in his voice.

So with a gentle smile she spoke softly into the phone, “You can tell me, Sandor. You can tell me anything.” And she meant it. She wanted to know this man inside and out, and she felt that every time they interacted, they learned something else about the other.

“Well, I was just…” Again he stopped, but she waited for him this time, letting him get the words out that he needed to get out. “I was just wondering, did you really like it?”

Sansa almost coughed in surprise. Her mouth fell open at his question.

“Liked what? Your…” Oh dear gods, this wonderful man. “Your kisses?”

He answered with an affirmative grunt.

“I’ve had a hard time thinking about anything else for the last couple of days,” she admitted, knowing that it was both the truth and intended to build him up. He had zero confidence in this arena, but he needed to know he didn’t have anything to worry about.

“You too, huh?”

Sansa laughed, surprised at his offhand comment.

“You’ve been thinking about… my kisses?”

“Little bird, I’ve been having trouble concentrating for days, and the next time I see you, I very much want to do it again.”

Well, that sent a shot of pleasure straight to her groin. Beneath her blankets she rubbed her feet together, suddenly feeling restless.

“Oh my,” she whispered, feeling her face flush with heat.

“Yeah, me too,” he muttered, his breath a bit heavier than it had been a moment before.

“I, um--I’d really like that too, Sandor,” she admitted, thinking of the way his mouth had moved over hers; soft, supple lips beneath his facial hair. They were the hottest, sexiest kisses she’d ever participated in, and thinking about them even now was making her more flustered than she had expected.

“I should… I should get off the phone.” It sounded like they were both slowly losing the ability to speak in coherent sentences, but Sansa was immediately alarmed by Sandor's words. Had she said something wrong? Did he regret telling her how much he enjoyed kissing her? She didn't understand his abrupt desire to end the call.

“But why? What's wrong?”

“Sansa, I'm--it's not you, it's just that--thinking about kissing you is--I should really go.”

He was stammering so badly she feared he would hang up without saying goodbye. But just as she was pushing back the panic that was rising at his abrupt departure from their conversation, she realized his words were all she needed to hear to know why.

“Thinking about my kisses?” She pressed her fingertips lightly against her lips, speaking into them. “Sandor, I don't understand. Are you--" She paused, squeezing her legs together at the thought that speaking of their shared kisses was… turning him on?

She spoke again, “Sandor?...” But she clammed up, freezing when she'd been about to tell him that she felt the same way.

But he must have guessed that she knew, and his next words confirmed her suspicions.

“Well, what did you expect?” His laugh wasn't exactly humorous, but rather embarrassed. “Sansa, you're fucking gorgeous, pardon my language.” She could hear he wasn't really sorry, though. He really did think she was fucking gorgeous.

“You kiss like a siren and that day at the sanctuary I was--I was so hard, Sansa, and you were just amazing, and I can't think about that day without--”

“Me too.”

There was silence from the other end when she interrupted him. Silence, and breathing, like he was holding his phone too close to his mouth. Sansa focused on that--on the shape of his mouth, and how it had felt over hers, his breath fanning her skin and the taste of him.

Gods, the man was amazing.

“What?” he asked, voice full of wary confusion.

Sansa pinched her eyes shut and inhaled deeply, holding her breath until hushed words burst out of her mouth.

“Right now,” she whispered, probably confirming his suspicions. She waited for him to react, even as the sinfully exciting idea of touching herself began to take root in her mind.

“Sansa…”

He spoke her name softly, almost reverently, and waited, the sound of his breaths coming more rapidly. Her heart was beating fast and her palms were warm, but that ache between her legs was building as she pictured Sandor laying in bed, perhaps covered by a blanket, not knowing what he was wearing but fully aware he was getting hard thinking about her--or maybe he was completely hard, because she knew he wanted to get off the phone so he could bring himself to release.

Sansa bit her lip to stop the moan that grew in her throat. Gods , this was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

After waiting for Sandor’s response for what felt like an eternity, though in reality it was only about a minute, Sansa opened her mouth to speak. Sandor beat her to it, his words merely hushed whispers that she could barely hear over the whooshing sound in her ears.

“I've never done this, Sansa.”

It made her smile, and as she replied she let the smile show in her voice.

“Neither have I, Sandor, but I'd like to… with you.”

It must have been exactly what he needed to hear because he moaned softly into the phone. The sound made Sansa's toes curl. She had no idea what to do and obviously he didn't either, so she ignored the rapid pace of her heart and took charge, starting with the first thing she wanted to know.

“What are you wearing?”

Silence, and then he responded quietly.

“Boxers... You?”

Good, he was working with her.

“My nightgown.” Sansa looked down at herself, noting the quick rise and fall of her chest, breasts pushing against the soft, velvety material. “It's yellow with blue flowers, and thin straps. What color are your boxers?”

He chuckled, but again it sounded more embarrassed that anything.

“Black and blue camo.”

He stopped and she wondered if he was waiting to hear her laugh. She was just starting to imagine him in them so she went on, “Are they boxer briefs or boxers?” Because it makes a difference .

“Boxer briefs,” he confirmed, and she liked what she was picturing. Long, muscular legs; what she suspected would be a toned stomach and chest covered in hair the same color as what covered his neck; and tight shorts, leaving nothing to the imagination except that which she had not yet seen.

“And your nightgown--is it soft?”

Sansa smiled as she ran her hand down her front--from the edge just above her breasts, over her hardened nipple and down her stomach.

“Very soft, Sandor,” she whispered. “Its short, too. Falls above my knees.”

She could hear him breathing.

“I'd like to see that someday.”

He sounded so bothered by the image of her in her nightgown that Sansa felt emboldened.

I'd like you to see it; you could touch it.... touch me , Sandor.”

His breathy, “Yeah?” came through just barely.

“Mm-hm,” she murmured. “Everywhere.”

He groaned again and Sansa wondered how she was going to get through this without demanding he drive to her house immediately. But then, how did anyone survive phone sex? It was called sex for a reason--the end result being that both parties found release before they hung up. Perhaps that's how?

“Gods, Sansa,” he rasped, his scratchy voice floating over her like a caress.

“I want your hands on my breasts, on my nipples--"

“Are you touching them now?”

“Through my nightgown. They're… hard… and sensitive.”

She cupped one hand over herself and sighed, closing her eyes to imagine they were his hands on her skin, his hand tugging at her nipple, feeling her shape.

“I want you to touch yourself, Sandor.”

Just the thought was making her pant, the idea that he was picturing her touch herself, touching his cock while thinking of her.

“I don't know, Sansa. Not yet. I'm not--just not yet, okay?”

He was almost pleading, but it didn't bother her because she knew what was going on, and felt her excitement rise despite his refusal, when he spoke next.

“I want to touch you. I want to touch your breasts, your stomach, and lower. Would you do that for me now?”

Sansa nodded before remembering they had to rely solely on voices to do this, to describe to each other what was going on.

“Yes… What does your bed look like?” She asked suddenly, and he replied in a rush.

“King size, green comforter, white sheets--"

“I want you to close your eyes and imagine me there with you, okay?”

She heard him swallow audibly, before he whispered, “Okay.”

But she was torn between two possibilities, so she had one more question for him-- “Do you want me to picture you touching me, or do you want to imagine me touching myself?”

She thought perhaps he choked a bit but he coughed to cover it up.

“I want to watch you touch yourself.”

It was Sansa's turn to swallow audibly--did he realize what he just said? That he voiced not what he wanted to happen right now, between them on the phone, but something that could very possibly happen between them one day when they were together in the same bed...

It didn't matter, because she was already sliding her hand down her stomach.

“Sandor, I'm so turned on right now.”

Fuck --me too, little bird.”

“I'm sliding my hand over my nightgown--are you picturing me on your bed?”

A breathless, “Aye,” was his reply.

“Good, because I want to be there, in bed with you.”

This was so hot. There was no doubt in her mind she was going to climax hard tonight. Her heart was hammering in her chest when she spoke into the phone.

“I don't have the blanket on, so I'm pulling my nightgown up my thighs, and you're watching me. You're watching me, and you like what you see?”

Again he murmured, “Yes,” and she wished so badly that he was there with her now.

“I'm pulling it higher--you can see my panties now.”

She had never known saying these things out loud could turn her on so much. She could feel it, between her legs--she was going to make a mess with as turned on as she was.

“What do they look like?”

Sansa had to open her eyes to jog her memory, but she looked down and smiled.

“Light blue.”

“Take them off, little bird.”

She slipped them off somewhat awkwardly with one hand, still holding onto the phone with the other, and resettled against the pillows.

Then he spoke again, and his voice was hoarse.

“What do you look like, Sansa?”

Sansa’s mouth was watering so she swallowed--she knew what he was asking but it didn't stop her from blushing when she began to tell him.

“My hair is… red. Just a bit darker than the hair on my head.”

His groan helped soothe her embarrassment some, aware that he was as uncomfortable as she was. This felt like torture, knowing that he wanted her and she wanted him but going slow for his sake. Thinking of him there in nothing but his boxers, hard for her but with Sansa unable to do anything about it except describe to him what she was doing to herself, meant she was determined to do a really great job at being descriptive.

“So as you watch,” she started again, picturing him sitting beside her on a king sized bed with a green comforter and white sheets, “I'm sliding my hand into the curls,” she swallowed again, nervous but excited, “And over my clit. And it feels good, Sandor--so sensitive. I want to feel your fingers there, but you're watching me. I slide them lower, and I'm so wet, Sandor.”

“Sansa--"

“I'm so wet for you, Sandor, so turned on for you.” As mortified as she was to say the words out loud, it was the truth. “I’m sliding a finger inside--" She heard him groan at that, “--and now two, and I want them to be your fingers. I want you inside me, your fingers, your--your cock, Sandor.” It was a little embarrassing saying that out loud but again, it was nothing short of the truth. “Gods, Sandor, are you as turned on as I am?”

“More, little bird,” and his chuckle was low and sexy, and the smile in his voice was helpful in soothing her frayed nerves.

It was so erotic, thinking of his hand on her, his fingers in her, him watching her while she did it; and even giving him a blow by blow account of what she was doing--she trembled as she pulled her fingers out and plunged them back in.

“I'm moving them in and out, Sandor--I’m fucking myself with my fingers as you watch, and it feels so good. My legs are spread and you can see--you can see everything, Sandor.”

“Gods, little bird, you’re amazing.”

His breathing came through the phone and she pictured his chest heaving as he watched her touch herself, her wet fingers sliding easily into her warmth and out again. She wanted him here, wanted him to be seeing her in person, and she wondered what he would think of her --what she looked like down there, her smell, her taste.

At that thought she imagined him taking her fingers into his mouth and she whimpered as she curled her fingers, finding the spot deep within her that always made her breath hitch when she touched herself.

Sandor heard, because he groaned on the other end of the line and asked, “What are you thinking, little bird?”

“I’m thinking…” Sansa paused, embarrassed again, and it was his turn to be reassuring, to show her they didn’t need barriers between them.

“Sansa, you can tell me anything.” He swallowed into the phone and added, “Nothing you do to your body or in bed would ever turn me off, okay?”

His voice was soft and soothing, but turned on and breathless at the same time, so she squeezed her eyes shut, as though telling him the truth would not in fact make her heart flutter inside her chest.

“I was picturing taking my fingers out and--and--putting them in your mouth--”

“Fucking hells, Sansa--”

“So you could taste me. I want to know if you’d like it--”

“I love it, Sansa, all of it. I’ll love all of it, because it’s you.”

At his words, her body cried out for release, and she sighed heavily into the phone.

“I want to come, Sandor,” she said softly, and his reply came amidst his own noises of arousal. “I want to come while you touch yourself. I want--mmm--I want to touch my clit while you stroke yourself.”

Sansa could picture it so clearly. She was amazed that, although she wasn’t a virgin and had had sex with a handful of guys, she had never been this turned on, and Sandor wasn’t even in the same room--in the same house as her. But gods , she wanted him to be.

“I want to watch you, Sansa,” he spoke on the other end of the line. “I want to sit on the bed while you touch yourself, and I want to watch you make yourself come.”

She pictured him sitting at the foot of the bed again, maybe on his knees, and--

“Sandor, take off your boxers,” she whispered, remembering that he wasn’t naked. Neither was she, so she opted to remedy that, telling him she was putting the phone down only long enough to pull the nightgown up and off with her free hand.

Once settled again, she instructed him, “I want you to touch yourself now, because I’m not going to last long.” And with that she drew her wet fingers up to her clit and began rubbing it in small, gentle circles.

“Tell me what you’re doing, little bird. I’m touching myself, stroking the length, thinking of you naked and touching yourself…” He ended his sentence with a groan, and Sansa’s toes once again curled at the sound.

“I’m circling my clit with my fingers, thinking of you touching your cock while watching me, and I’m not going to last very long, Sandor,” because she wasn’t, and as she felt the pressure building, like an electrical current running inwards from her chest and her legs, all centered around what she was doing to herself, she began to pant heavily into the phone. On the other end she heard his breathing become labored.

“I’m not going to last either, little bird. Come for me--come, Sansa,” was his order, and she increased her speed.

“I’m going faster, Sandor, side to side now and… and… oh gods!” she cried out, and she came as her mouth fell open, throwing her head back as bolts of lightning shattered her body and radiated outward. It felt like her orgasm electrified her skin, rippling through her like a rock thrown into a pond, until she was seeing flashes of light behind her eyelids and struggling to breathe around a heart that was beating madly within her.

Just when she was beginning to quiet she heard his own cry, and she knew he’d stroked himself to completion--that he was coming just as she had, because he’d listened to her, pictured her, and spoken to her about all the things she’d done to her body while on the phone with him.

Embarrassment still lingered, but it wasn’t as bad as she thought it might have been, and as her breathing quieted back to normal, she knew they both lay on their beds, recovering from what had just been the best orgasm of her life.

“That was…” he began, but his voice trailed off. Sansa understood completely.

“Yeah,” she said, her voice barely a breathy whisper, and they both chuckled softly.

“Amazing.” His word said it all--covered exactly every emotion she could have thought of to describe what they had just done.

So she said again, “Yeah,” causing them both to laugh again. But then silence descended, and she knew this would be the time when she would want to snuggle up to him, maybe nuzzle her nose into the hair on his chest, to feel his arms wrapped around her as they fell asleep, completely relaxed and sated.

“That’s going to be hard to top,” she admitted, and Sandor made a sound of assent.

Then he said, “I wish I could hold you right now.” And it made Sansa smile.

“I was just thinking the exact same thing, actually.”

He waited, but soon his voice came over the phone line again, a single word that, spoken as a question, made him sound at once so very male and so very vulnerable at the same time.

“Soon?”

Sansa’s smile just widened, and she nodded to her empty room.

“I hope so, Sandor,” she whispered, thinking, That’s entirely up to you.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Sandor’s nerves were running high. He had seen Sansa tonight for the first time in two days--the first time since they’d had phone sex, and since she had completely blown every preconceived notion about love out of the water.

When once he thought love was built over time and that you had to know a person really well in order to love them--hence why he had never fallen in love; because women didn’t give him the time of day to get to know him, and then later in life he didn’t try to get close to any women--now he knew none of it was true.

Because he loved Sansa. He wasn’t sure when it started, but he knew the conversation they’d had on the phone cemented it for him.

She was, just… everything. Considerate of his feelings, thoughtful in that she did things the way she thought he would appreciate, and her heart and the way she gave of herself without reservation--he never stood a chance against her. And to top all of that off, she was hands down the sexiest woman he’d ever met, both in how she looked and in how she acted. He would remember everything they did together on that phone call for the rest of his life.

Not only that, but all he could think about now was tasting her.

She’d spoken of putting her fingers in his mouth and it was all he could do at that point during their call to not grasp a hold of his hard cock then and there. He was just a few pumps away from release, but he wanted to hear her come first.

If there was one thing he’d learned from Tormund over the years that he aimed to heed in his relationship with Sansa, it was that the woman always came first, in every way.

But he didn’t care how they went about giving him that first taste of her--whether it be off her fingers, off his , or… He wanted to put his mouth on her. He wanted to hold her legs open, to see her spread for him, and run his tongue up her very center. And he knew it would make her cry out. And that spot on women that he’d only ever seen in photos, the nub that Tormund said was the key to a woman’s heart--jokingly, but, “I’m also kind of serious,” he’d say--Sandor wanted to see what it would do to Sansa to touch it with his tongue. His fingers, yes, and his cock, hells yes. But with his tongue?

Fucking hells .

He knew early in the evening that if he didn’t take himself in hand during his shower before he left for the game that he wouldn’t be able to control his thoughts and that he was never going to make it through the game without getting a boner, embarrassing himself in front of a thousand spectators. The thick fabric of the costume just wasn’t thick enough to hide that.

So he brought himself to release with the image of Sansa’s fingers in his mouth as he made her come with his own hand. When he was done he was shaking and out of breath, having given himself the second best handjob he’d ever experienced.

For a first timer, Tormund had also said, it would also be good to use this technique before having sex, because otherwise the show’s over before it even got started.

Sound advice , Sandor had thought, knowing exactly how fast he’d become aroused just talking to Sansa on the phone, which had led to that incredible, erotic, life changing phone call.

Their strange foreplay dance began when he found her in the stands before the game.

“Hello, Stranger,” Sansa said softly, as Sandor reached into the back of his jersey. Everyone around them watched as he held up the single yellow rose, and Sansa’s eyes widened when she looked up at him. That knowing smile spread across her face, and she held the flower to her nose, which puzzled Sandor, because the rose was fake. It wouldn’t have a scent.

But then she spoke again, saying, “I love that smell,” her words directed so quietly at him that he was sure not many heard her speak.

But he heard. And he began to grow hard. He knew exactly what she was talking about.

He coughed silently inside the costume, and then made a show of Stranger having a coughing fit, pounding at his chest and reaching for the back of a chair on which to brace himself. Sansa merely laughed, telling him she would see him later as he backed away, hand beneath his jersey mimicking the steady beat of his heart.

Then he saw her again after the first period had ended. After playing a game with some random ticket holders in which they had to hit the pucks into the goals from the center line, he found her again when she was standing in line for a beer. He waited until she was done and she was carrying her beer back through the mezzanine section and down to the lower level before making himself known.

Sandor walked up behind her and tapped her on the back, watching her shoulders tense beneath her long ponytail. When she turned to see him, at first surprised and then happy, she smiled up into the screen, narrowing her eyes as though she could see him in there.

“Hello, Stranger,” she said for the second time that night.

She shot him another secretive, playful smile. The yellow rose had stood for her nightgown, and the only time she had ever said anything about her nightgown was while she was describing herself to him--her body, what she was doing, what color her nightgown was.

Sandor, who didn’t want to risk being heard, leaned in close to whisper to her, “So, you like that smell?”

A flash of arousal crossed her face, and he knew he’d gotten through to her. The smile spread on her lips and she leaned right back into him.

He continued, “I want to smell that smell,” watching as she drew her lip between her teeth at her words. She managed to somehow look both shy and sexually aroused at the same time.

After a quick look around to check if they were close to anyone, Sansa leaned in and whispered, “Meet me at your truck after the game.”

Then she turned abruptly and walked away, returning to her seat where Brienne was waiting for her.

How long was a game, again? Suddenly he couldn't remember.

The last time he saw her before the game ended was just after the second period,

He made a big show of handing out pink roses to every red headed woman he came across on his way to Sansa--and one very surprised, very good humored redheaded man--before finally finding her and showing the audience that his heart was about to beat out of his chest. He even fell to his knees at her side and put his massive mascot head in her lap, liking the spectator’s laughter as he heard Sansa petting the head. More laughter resounded when he motioned to his ears, and when she began scratching, he started to shake his leg, as though really enjoying that particular spot, much to the audience’s delight.

He ended the interaction with giving her the final rose--a light blue one that she again held to her nose, but this time her smile shot straight to his groin and he knew he was in danger of making a fool out of himself. So with a kiss blown off his big cartoon paw, he turned to finish out the game’s mascot duties.

But by the looks of Sansa’s blush, she understood the color reference as though he had shouted it out into the crowded ice rink. “Light blue,” she had said that night when he’d asked what her panties looked like. He hoped it was a similar shade to the flower he just gave her.

When he finally made it out to his truck, he found Sansa leaning on it, her purse slung over her shoulder. She looked adorable--WFU jersey, tight jeans, and a smile just for him. But as he walked closer she seemed to draw into herself, looking more shy the closer his steps brought him.

“Hey,” he said in greeting, slinging his duffel bag in the back of the truck. He still held the big Stranger head under his arm, so he opened the door and stuck it on the seat.

Sansa was smiling at him, leaning against the side of the hood with that shy smile, and Sandor felt absolutely on top of the world. Using all the self control he could muster, he walked up to her and put a hand on the hood beside her, but didn’t touch her. He just looked down into her eyes as she looked up into his.

“Hi,” was her quiet reply, and she bit at her lip, hands fidgeting in front of her stomach.

Sandor wasn’t sure what she would want. Did she want to talk? Did she want him to lean down to kiss her? Or would she want what he wanted--which was to haul her up against him and to press himself to her core, to show her that everything about her turned him on, and that he was ready, so ready, to take things to the next level?

But she wasn’t giving him any clues, so he simply stood there, smiling his own goofy, lovesick smile down at her, waiting for her to do something.

“So,” she said slowly, reaching up to tuck some strands of hair behind her ear. She was gorgeous when she was nervous. “Do you want to do something? Get a bite to eat? Or something?”

Those last two words triggered all the memories of their phone call, and Sandor found himself once again getting hard. As exasperating as his body was being, he didn’t think this was anything he’d be able to control anytime soon. His body knew what it wanted, and she was standing right in front of him, tempting and beautiful and looking up at his mouth like she really wanted him to do something with it.

“Get a bite to eat?” he repeated, but it wasn’t an affirmation. She nodded, but her eyes slid up to his and connected, her smile fading slightly from her face. Those blue eyes were so intense, her cheeks so wonderfully pink, that the last thing Sandor wanted to do was eat.

Sansa paused and nodded again slowly, but her eyes dropped to his mouth again, and her hands stilled, the fidgeting forgotten. Then as he watched, the smile completely disappeared and she shook her head just as slowly.

“Sansa,” he whispered, but she was already reaching for him, twining her arms up and around his neck as his mouth lowered to hers.

It wasn’t slow, it wasn’t hesitant, and there was nothing shy about their kiss. Sansa whimpered against his mouth and immediately opened for him, tongues clashing and bodies melding together, as he pressed into her and sandwiched her between his body and his truck.

“I can’t,” he whispered hoarsely, “get you out of my head. You’re everywhere.”

It was the truth. She occupied his thoughts nearly every minute of the day, and even came to him in his dreams.

“The phone call, Sandor,” she breathed against his mouth, his kisses trailing backwards towards her cheek, her ear. “It’s all I can think about. What have you done to me,” she said with a sexy chuckle as he kissed down her neck.

He knew he wasn’t suave, knew his movements were jerky and not at all romantic, but he seemed incapable of slowing down and being more seductive. If he were really a hound and she his little bird, he wanted to consume her, to saturate his life with her, and to never be apart from her. Even now with his arms wrapped tightly around her, hers holding his head close to her body, he didn’t feel they were close enough.

And as though hearing his thoughts, Sansa murmured into his ear, “Take me home.”

Sandor stopped kissing her neck abruptly, pulling back to look into her eyes once again. He looked for uncertainty, for shyness, but found none. But she must have thought she saw it in his, because she swallowed, the desire washing from her face.

“I mean, we can do whatever you want, Sandor. We don’t have to, you know… go all the way. But--but I don’t want our only experience to be what we did the other night. I want...” she paused, eyes falling to his chest when he didn’t answer her. “I just thought we could move on, move this , to the next level--whatever that might be.”

She looked up at him again, and this time he saw such tenderness in her eyes that he was moved to speechlessness when her hand came up to cup his scarred face, her fingers ghosting over the bumps and crevices at his temple, moving up so her thumb could stroke the skin where his eyebrow should have been.

“But only if you want to,” she assured him, smiling now, as though touching him gave her confidence; as though using her hands on him in a loving way reminded her that what they had extended beyond the physical.

What would happen if he brought her home? To his home? To the green comforter and white sheets? He didn’t want to mess this up, and he really wasn’t quite confident that that wouldn’t happen if they jumped into making love.

But… there were other things he wanted to do. Parts of her he wanted to experience. Areas of her body that he was looking forward to being just many of his firsts .

And they could slowly build up to making love, even if she ended up staying the night. Tormund was a wealth of knowledge, and he said the ways to make a woman orgasm were as numerous as the ways to make love to them. And Sandor didn’t want to go into the one without knowing quite a bit about the other.

Sansa was willing, he was sure of it. His body was willing. And so, with excitement building deep in his mind and in his heart, he decided he was ready.

Chapter Text

It took exactly twelve minutes to get from the ice rink to Sandor’s house. Sansa knew, because she watched the clock for most of the trip, knowing that if she didn’t focus on something, she would focus on him. And he needed to concentrate to drive.

So they held hands the entire way, with Sandor’s thumb stroking her sensitive palm, the backs of her knuckles--anywhere he could reach while he kept his eyes on the road.

She didn’t know what was going to happen when they arrived at the small house, but her heart wouldn’t let her forget that this was her idea, and that the man next to her was the biggest, sexiest, most virile man she’d ever seen. She very nearly laughed out loud when she decided that being turned on one hundred percent of the time she was with him would have to be okay, because it was turning into some weird medical condition for which she hadn’t found a cure.

Sandor’s house was a small cottage with two floors--dark stained wood and, from what she could see in the glow of the driveway light, a dark green roof. The yard was plain with a small but manicured yard off to both sides and what looked like the back yard. It was quaint, and utterly endearing. Sansa loved it on sight.

When he came around to let her out, Sansa thought they might ease into a night of sexiness--perhaps have a drink, talk some, pretend like getting each other out of their clothes was not the number one priority. Maybe they would discuss his decor, she would tell him about her small home, and talk about their plans for the coming week. Sandor would be the perfect gentleman as he always was, and he would sit on a couch--if he had one--on the opposite end, giving her space until she was ready to make the first move.

But that’s not what happened. When he rounded the hood of the truck, Sansa watching him at every step of the way; she thought he moved like a stalking predator--dark eyes, long, mysterious hair, powerful body that she found herself itching to touch.

So when he pulled open her door she reached out and hauled him into her, sliding sideways on the edge of the bench seat and pulling him in for a bruising kiss.

His hands were on her thighs, holding firmly but in a way that spoke to his holding back--and it made Sansa’s blood run hot. His kiss was sexy and passionate, but still he was reserved, as though he was unsure of himself, or that he didn’t want to scare her. It broke her heart for the thousandth time that he was so scarred by society that this beautiful specimen of a man was skeptical of his own allure.

Sansa purposefully kissed the corner of his mouth on the scarred side, her lips traveling over his beard to the jagged line where hair met scar, and further back, until they were pressed against the ruined shell of his ear.

“Sandor, I’m okay,” she reassured him hoarsely, darting her tongue out to taste and feel the textured edge. She sensed he had needed to hear it, and when his forehead momentarily dropped to her shoulder, his back heaving with his labored breaths, she pulled at the strong muscles she found there, pulling him into her until his body was pressed up against hers between her legs and she had to look up to him, bracketing his face with her hands to get him to focus on her.

“Don’t stop,” she whispered, and then, “Don’t hold back. I want you, Sandor. You .” And to prove it to him she pulled one of his hands up, bringing it to her mouth and kissing the back, feeling the way the hairs on the back of his hand tickled her lips. He remained motionless, and although her face was downturned, she could feel his eyes on her. So she lifted his hand higher as she licked the skin of his knuckles, and higher when she moved to the pads of his fingers, eyes connecting with his when she drew his index finger into her mouth.

It was the boldest, most brazen thing she’d ever done, and nothing had ever felt more right--convincing this man that she was turned on because of him, and that she wasn’t going anywhere. And he watched her, pupils dilated with undisguised lust, his entire body trembling as she swirled her tongue around the tip of his finger.

She knew what she wanted, and now she was pretty sure he did as well.

“Fuck, Sansa,” he groaned, watching her mouth as she gave the digit a good suck before popping it out. Then she nodded, shyness melting away when his eyes reconnected with hers.

When she tucked a finger through his belt loop and pulled him closer, she leaned up and whispered against his beard-covered jaw, “Inside.”

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

His house was nice, and he did have nice decor, sparse though it was. But Sansa saw none of it, as she only had eyes for Sandor. He only stopped kissing her when he had to let go of her with one hand, so she held onto him tighter--arms around his head and shoulders as she kissed and sucked at his neck, legs gripping his hips so tightly she could feel his hardness through his jeans, pressed intimately against her.

Sandor made quick work of unlocking the door, and then kicked it shut behind them while cradling her in his arms. He strode forward several steps before lowering her down, and Sansa realized the surface beneath her was a hardwood dining table, small but sturdy. And the smell --Sandor’s house smelled like him. She realized this place could easily become her favorite place.

But she had no time to think about her surroundings other than the form of him hovering over her, hands braced on the table at her sides as he slowly leaned into her and she slowly leaned back, both of them lowering until her legs were still wrapped around his waist but her back was flat against the table. Mouths fused, bodies pressed together, Sansa was feeling yearnings deep inside her body that she knew only Sandor could satisfy--whether it be with his mouth, his hands, his body; it didn’t matter. What did was that he was here with her now, present mind and body, and they were going to proceed to a new level and she could not have been happier.

“Sansa,” he rasped against her neck, resting on his forearms as he ground himself against her, pushing his erection into the heat between her thighs. Her answer was an unintelligible moan, but it was all she was capable of with that delicious pressure rubbing against her.

She thought she heard a chuckle against her neck but it could also have been his own groan of arousal, as his hands moved to cup her shoulders and he held her still while he kissed and sucked at her neck. Sansa merely let her head fall to the side, giving him full access to the exposed column of her throat.

He paused to draw his tongue through the dip between her collarbones, and then reached up to move her head to the other side so he could repeat the ravishing on the other side of her neck.

“I want,” he murmured between kisses, “to see you.”

He had moved lower and was nuzzling at the collar of her shirt beneath the heavy fabric of the WFU jersey. Sansa got the message, and moved to oblige him. She reached down to pull at the hem of both shirts, lifting them higher and exposing her breasts as Sandor lifted enough to allow her to shift so he could drag them over her head.

When her back hit the table she arched, hissing. Sandor paused, but laughed when she ground out, “Cold!” Then his face turned serious when he looked down at the light blue lace that covered her breasts.

The expression on his face was… Sansa couldn’t describe it as anything other than precious. She wanted to remember all of this--all of his reactions to her. Because every reaction seemed better than the previous, and the way he was looking at her now spoke volumes about the way he felt about her.

Lifting gray eyes to hers, Sandor swallowed thickly when she raised both hands to cup his face.

“You’re so beautiful,” he whispered, and then he smiled at her.

Sansa blushed, but the compliment felt good, knowing it wasn’t just flowery words to get in her pants. He was looking at her body as though it was a work of art, so she lifted enough to reach up behind her for her bra--

“No--” Sandor said, stilling her arms and bringing them back around to her front. Sansa looked up at him inquisitively, wondering why on earth he stopped her. He seemed to sense her curiosity, because he lowered himself to her, looking at her chest and breasts as though it was the first time he’d ever seen a woman’s body.

“I want to enjoy you,” he said quietly, looking up from where his chin rested just above her sternum. His smile was small but sweet, and she knew before he said anything else he was also doing it for her.

She watched him return to his task, slowly kissing and tasting a path down her neck, pausing every so often to say something--quiet murmurings that seemed to be said as much for her as for him; as though he needed to speak his thoughts or they would plague him while he worked.

“I’ve never done this before,” he whispered in awe, as he stroked his nose side to side between the cups of her bra.

Sansa thought she might feel self conscious at his slow perusal of her body, but instead it was like she had been given a gift--seeing him do these things, discovering her as though he had received a gift as well. She found her ardor cooling, but her love growing, even as he continued to speak.

“You’re so soft here.” He drew his tongue up her breastbone, just a long, tickling lick that gave her shivers. “And here,” he added, tasting the exposed swells of her breasts.

Sansa felt her nipples tighten beneath the concealing fabric. But then he looked up at her, a smile on his lips before he dipped his head and inhaled deeply against her skin.

With a gentle touch, he traced the lower curve of her ribs, tickling her at her sides, and then followed the paths with his mouth, first on her right and then her left. When he finally slid his hands beneath her to lift, allowing her room to get her arms back there and to unhook her bra, Sansa let out a breath, relieved that she would be getting one of the things she’d wanted all evening.

But when Sandor pulled her bra down, helping her to slide it off her arms and dropping it to the table beside them, he didn’t immediately put his mouth on her breasts like she’d expected.

“Sandor?”

Sansa was puzzled, until both of his hands moved to cup them, so gentle that she ached for a firmer touch. But she chose not to rush him, not to ruin this for him when what he really wanted, what he really needed, was to explore and discover and taste and sample. Like he did with his hands--thumbs gliding over erect nipples nearly sending her off the table.

She had no idea his explorations could turn her on so much!

He ghosted his fingers over the small pink buds, traced the wider circles with the pads of his fingers, watched them react to his touch--her nipples tightening and firming where before they’d been soft and pliant. She watched him lick his lips before moving to take one into his mouth, and Sansa had to fight back the urge to slide her hands into his hair and pull him to her.

It was the sweetest, slowest torture she had ever endured, and it made her want to scream. Sandor’s mouth was warm, soft, seeking every surface as he swirled his tongue around her nipple before moving to the other, using a hand to caress the breast he was currently not arousing with his mouth. Sansa wanted to let him lead, but found she couldn’t keep silent any longer, wanting to guide him and show him what she liked so that he would do more .

“Suck on them, Sandor.”

Her whisper was an erotic rasp, but he did as he was told and her hands did come up then to card into his hair. At her reaction he sucked harder, nearly to the point of discomfort, so she tugged on the brown strands woven about her fingers, saying, “Easy,” as though he were a dog to be taught. But in a way that was exactly what she was doing since he had no idea what would please a woman--what would please her .

“You can use your teeth, also very gently,” she said then, and he did, nipping at her nipples in a way that shot curls of desire straight to her womb. Sandor trailed gentle bites across her skin, moving from one breast to the other as she began to lose control of her body beneath him.

When the writhing threatened to dislodge his mouth he lifted, looking at her with a big smile on his face. He seemed hesitant to speak, so Sansa lifted a hand to his face, reminding him, “You can tell me anything.”

He swallowed visibly, glancing down at her naked chest before back up at her. She fell in love with him all over again when he opened his mouth.

“How am I doing?”

Sansa laughed harshly, but in a way that she hoped said, Do you really have to ask?

“Sandor, I’ve never been this turned on before,” she answered honestly. She was surprised when he chuckled, a husky sound that he accompanied with wiping his beard across her chest.

“That’s what you said the other night.”

“True. But it’s still true, Sandor--I want you so badly--”

When Sansa realized what she’d said she bit her lip and closed her eyes, chiding herself for forgetting that the goal of this evening was to let him move at his own pace. Don’t rush him , she prompted herself.

He was looking at her when she opened her eyes, pools of silver flecked with charcoal staring down at her from within the curtain of his hair. Sansa felt bare compared to his fully clothed body.

“I want you too, Sansa.”

His voice was hushed, with emotions behind it that she saw mirrored in his eyes. And if she had wanted to she would have seen it for what it was--deeper than desire, more acute than attraction, emotions that matched hers more than she wanted to admit. But she ignored it now, and pushed at his chest so he would let her come to stand before him.

It was a dance of sorts as she walked backwards, slowly divesting him of each article of clothing as he led her up the steps that took them to his bedroom. They managed to only stop once on the stairs, her two steps above him so that he could again take her breasts into his mouth and savor the feel of her skin. Somewhere along the way he kicked off his boots, having already stepped on her toes once.

By the time Sansa’s legs were pressed against the edge of his mattress Sandor was standing before her in the boxers she had been imagining for two days, and she couldn’t keep her hands off of him, no matter how many times she told herself to let him take the lead. But his sighs and groans as she kissed his furry chest and swirled her own tongue around his nipples were too enticing to resist.

She ran her hands over his shoulders, neck, chest and stomach. The impressive bulge in his boxers was also tempting but she managed to resist, not wanting to bring this evening to an end before it had even begun. But when she tucked her index fingers into the waistband of his underwear and ran them back towards his sides, pulling him in close by his hips and pressing her naked breasts against his torso, she felt the shift in energy within his body. The darkening of his eyes was a telltale sign, just moments before he had picked her up and dropped her backwards on the bed.

Oof!” she landed, but was reduced to a giggling mess when he landed on top of her, perched between her legs when his mouth lowered to hers.

“There’s one more thing I want to do,” he whispered against her mouth, and Sansa couldn’t stop the smile that spread across her mouth. She didn’t have to ask what he was referring to. When he looked at her imploringly all she had to do was nod, and a wicked gleam appeared in his shy eyes before he began to kiss a trail down her neck and chest.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Sandor had never known a time in his life when he felt more fulfilled than he did now with Sansa. He was pushing forty, yes, and as such had lived a full life with a strong work ethic, a great friend in Tormund, and he had a nice home to come back to at the end of the day that served as his refuge from the world.

But with Sansa, all of it paled in comparison. She made him happy with everything she did, everything she said, and now she was with him here in his sanctuary, giving him free reign of her body and accepting his love with open arms.

What started as a simple trail of kisses down her gloriously bare breasts, soon turned into touching and tasting--her ribs, belly button, and the soft skin above the waistband of her jeans. He once again glanced up at her to make sure she was still smiling before he opened the button and unzipped the fly. Then he paused, seeing for the first time the light blue fabric he hadn’t been able to get out of his mind for days.

“Are these--” he asked, but Sansa’s nod cut him off. The same panties she was wearing the night of the phone call. Sandor had to swallow as his mouth began to water.

They matched her bra in color, and had a thin strip of lace circling the waist. The rest was opaque fabric, but they were small, showing the curve of her hips above the fabric and covering that which was underneath, beckoning to him.

It was simply a matter of urging her to raise her hips before he had slid the panties down and off her ankles, revealing to him exactly what she had described the other night--a small thatch of auburn curls, already wet with her desire.

Sandor had never been so overcome by a scent than he was then, and he moved on instinct alone when she spread for him and he descended, ghosting lips and beard over curls until his mouth made contact with the skin hidden beneath. There were a couple “Softer” and “Gentle” commands from her, but he felt he’d gotten the rhythm down when he drew that small bud between his lips and sucked, swirling his tongue over her as her legs trembled and she tossed her head against his sheets.

He struggled to watch her and to maintain what he was doing, but found it difficult when she reached down and grabbed hold of his hair, his name a chant on her lips--”Sandor, Sandor, Sandor!” Then, when he dipped lower to slide his tongue over her arousal, feeling the opening to her core and causing his erection to strain against his tight boxers, she moaned as he brought his tongue back up to lick and caress her sensitive flesh.

By then her cries were unintelligible, and he knew he’d learned exactly what Tormund meant when he said this part of a woman’s body was key. Because suddenly Sansa’s cry turned to a shout, and as he held her hips steady, immobile against his mouth, her upper body came clear off the bed before falling back, convulsing under the onslaught.

He didn’t know what he was doing, so instead of backing off and watching her he merely continued, swiping the flat of his tongue over her until he remembered she had put her fingers inside her.

Gods , did he dare? He took one hand away from her hips and found her opening beneath his mouth, wetting his finger before pushing slowly into her. When before she had begun to lay still, her chest rising and falling with her panting breaths, this new sensation brought her back to the brink and he could feel now the way her muscles convulsed around his finger.

The last thing he expected to remember at that moment, when his mouth was on her, tasting her, and his finger was buried deep inside, was some long ago tidbit of information Tormund had given him.

So he waited, slowly pumping his finger in and out of her heat, as he bent it upwards towards her front wall.

The way she came apart for him the second time was the new best moment of his life, and he had cause to smile when he questioned silently how many of those best moments he was going to have before the night was through. Sansa’s hands had fallen from his hair but she was now gripping her own, one hand flat between her breasts as though in an attempt to calm her heartbeat

He gentled his tongue, slowly pulling his finger out of her as she mewled at the loss, and watched her slowly open her eyes. When he was certain she was focused on him, her lips parted and her tongue darting out to wet them, he pulled his entire finger into his mouth and then pulled it out, sucking her off his finger while she watched.

Her throat pumped with an audible swallow, and her eyes rolled back into her head before she collapsed onto the bed.

“Sandor,” she panted, looking back down at him again. He couldn’t help but smile, and she smiled back. “That was… oh my gods, Sandor, where did you learn that?”

Still smiling, he crawled up her body, wiping a hand over his beard but noticing it didn’t completely rid him of her scent. He didn’t mind at all.

“Tormund,” he said simply, and it made her laugh which confused him.

“Oh dear, Brienne is in for a wild time with him, isn’t she?”

Chapter Text

The look on his face was one she had never seen before. Sansa knew this, even as his warm eyes and barely curved smile did funny things to her heart. She knew for a fact he was feeling the same things she was--profound, unexpected things, making her wonder who was going to say it out loud first.

Her body was coming down from that orgasmic high, finding it almost hard to believe that he had never done anything like that to a woman before.

And yet, she did believe it, because he had moved over her body, discovering it inch by inch, with the same wonderment and awe as a child would have when presented with a new toy. She didn’t mind at all being Sandor’s first, especially if he was going to take it as seriously as he had taken that --going down on her in a way that quickly sent him from student to master. And master her body, he did. No man had ever given her two orgasms in one go.

But now it was his turn, and she wondered if he minded--would he want her to stop before he came? Did he want to end the night by making love, or hold off? Then again, would he know to tell her if he wanted her to stop, and since this was his first time receiving oral sex, she was sure he wouldn’t know how to stop even if he wanted to.

He was on his back and looking up at her a moment later, Sansa climbing atop him and straddling his stomach, feeling the dusting of hair on his skin teasing the skin of her inner thighs and her core. More stimulation down there wasn’t what she needed, but she enjoyed it all the same.

She knew what he would be seeing--bare breasts, smooth stomach, Sansa looking down at him on the bed to gauge his reactions. She wanted him to like what he saw, and when she leaned down to kiss him and he instead guided her higher so her breasts were brought to his mouth, she felt desire spike within her once again.

Braced above him, she let him suck at first one breast and then the other, palming one while he used his tongue and teeth gently against her skin. When she finally pulled away and leaned down to kiss him she could still smell herself there, his mustache and beard tickling her lips as his tongue toyed with hers.

She loved how his hands swept up her sides, feeling the strength of her thighs and the curve of her hips, that feminine dip of her waist and up to her back and shoulders. It was as though they couldn’t stay still, and he wanted to touch her everywhere. Even as they kissed his hands came around to touch and explore her breasts, plucking at her nipples and rolling the sensitive buds between his fingers. It was enough to make her hips rock, feeling the bulge of his erection pressing against her bottom.

Breaking the kiss, she lowered herself until she was straddling his thighs, raking her fingernails through chest hair and across sensitive skin, watching his abdominal muscles twitch under her touch.

When her fingers reached the waistband of his boxers he opened his mouth.

“Sansa, you don’t--”

But she shushed him, and lowered further, sitting to the side so he could help her pull the boxers down off his hips, over his erection and down his legs.

When at last that barrier was removed Sansa settled back over one of his legs, watching him when she took his cock in hand. It was big, bigger than any of her previous boyfriends, but the most intoxicating thing about it was watching the expressions on his face change as she moved her hand--up and down the shaft, over the head, gasping breaths coming from his mouth when she used her thumb and spread the small bead of liquid around the very tip.

His hands fisted in the white sheets at his sides as she bent and swirled her tongue just around the tip, watching his eyes close and his head fall back into the pillows. But just as quickly as it fell, so too did it rise, one of his hands going up behind his head so he could watch everything she did.

Sansa knew it wasn’t going to take long, so she did everything she could think of aside from actually taking him in her mouth at first. She drew her tongue up the length of him, ending with a lick to the very tip, all the while keeping her eyes on him as he watched her. Then she teased him just a little, dropping kisses to his upper thighs, his belly, making him groan while she avoided the part of him that ached for her.

But beneath her hand she could feel how hard he was, and she decided she couldn’t hold off forever. So when she finally took him into her mouth she made it count, and she took as much of him in as she could, sinking down until he touched the back of her throat before pulling back up, repeating the process several times while he muttered curses into the charged air between them.

“Oh, fuck , Sansa-- gods be damned , I--I can’t--” He lifted his hips once so she braced a hand on him, where leg met torso, and she pushed, letting him know who was in control. He wanted to thrust, she knew, and there would be plenty of time for that on another date. But for tonight she wanted him to know what it felt like to have someone completely devoted to pleasing him .

She slid down again, this time creating a strong suction when she rose up, pausing with the tip of him still in her mouth to rub her tongue against the sensitive spot underneath. With one hand wrapped around his base, she did this two more times when suddenly she felt his entire body tense. Bracing for what was going to happen, she watched him grimace, his fist clenching the sheet as his eyes closed and he spilled himself into her mouth. Sansa worked at his cock gently, feeling him twitch and tremble beneath her until she was certain he was done, and she swallowed before letting him pop out of her mouth. With a hand still wrapped around him, she inelegantly wiped the corner of her mouth and waited for him to calm before releasing him and curling into his side.

His arm immediately came around her and held her close, his breathing ragged as he kept one hand over his eyes. With her head resting on his shoulder, she reached up and stroked at his bearded cheek, drawing her fingertips over his knuckles, then from his scarred temple downwards over the thick hairs on his face. When he still didn’t look at her, she moved her hand to his neck and then his chest, allowing him this time to relax.

He finally looked over at her, an embarrassed little smile on his face. Sansa couldn’t help but smile back, waiting for him to speak.

When at last he did, it wasn’t at all what she had expected to hear.

“What did I do to deserve you?”

It was said so lovingly, so reverently, that she leaned up, not even thinking about what she had just done and that he might not want to kiss her. He didn’t seem to care at all, because he reached over to cup her cheek, kissing her deeply and thoroughly as he rolled them so she was again on her back.

“Stay with me tonight,” he asked, voice so quiet she wouldn’t have understood him if she hadn’t been looking at his mouth when he said it.

“But… are you sure? I mean, would that be a good idea?” Sansa smile was shy when she imagined how wonderful that could be, but she didn’t want to rush him. He seemed to understand what she was talking about, because he smiled as well.

“Aye, I’m sure. We don’t have to do anything, but I would love to sleep next to you tonight.”

A big hand came up to brush hair away from her forehead, and he smiled down at her as she nodded, bending once again to kiss her softly.

Although they rose to put on some clothes--underwear for both of them, and he took out a t-shirt for Sansa to sleep in--and to get something to eat, when they got back in bed she couldn’t help but feel that what was happening between them was perfect in every way.

Looking back on how they got to this point, she marveled at how it started with a simple crush on a mascot, who eventually developed his own sort of crush on her.

The man behind the mask turned out to be so much more than she ever expected--more complicated, more endearing, with more depth than she would have attributed to anyone willing to make a fool of himself in front of a thousand people. But he was all of that and more--caring, nice to a fault, loyal and loving. When he wrapped his arm around her and held her to his side, she had never felt so appreciated in her entire life. He held her as though she was the best thing that ever happened to him, a feeling that she found was mutual.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Sandor woke to hips softly moving within the cradle of his own, and to an erection that was bordering on painful. It took a few moments for his senses to return and for him to remember that he held a woman in his arms, and that woman was Sansa.

Visions of her from last night--her body, what he did to her, what she did to him --assailed his tired mind and he was instantly awake, conscious of his hand on her bare stomach.

Sometime during the night it had moved from her shirt-covered hip to beneath the fabric, fingers tucked between her body and the mattress as though caging her to him. But she didn’t seem to mind, as she was moving in such a way that he couldn’t figure out of she was awake or asleep.

“Sansa?”

He whispered her name and she immediately stopped, the delicious feeling of his hardness rubbing against her butt coming to an abrupt end.

“Oh gods,” she murmured, and she turned her head into the pillow. “I’m sorry,” came her muffled voice, and he pushed his face into the hair at the back of her neck, inhaling the fragrance of her shampoo as he held her.

“It’s okay.”

And it was, because that was an extremely pleasant way to wake up. With a stroke of this thumb, he caressed the smooth skin of her stomach beneath her shirt, feeling at the same time her breath catch in her throat and the muscles of her abdomen tighten.

“I was dreaming,” she explained into the pillow, then added, “About you.”

Sandor’s hand stilled at that revelation, and he smiled. About him? It must have been a… sex dream . Gods, he felt like a teenage boy with as pleased as that made him feel.

“About me?” he teased, nuzzling her neck through her thick hair. In the dark of the room he couldn’t see her, but he imagined the pink of her cheeks as embarrassment washed over her features.

When she didn’t answer he shifted, the friction between his erection and her bottom reminding him of the situation they found themselves in. Without really thinking about it, he tugged his fingers out from beneath her and slid lower, the tips gliding beneath the waistband of her panties. Again her breath faltered, as though his touch robbed her of her breath, but when she didn’t stop him he moved his hand lower, and lower--until he felt the soft curls tickling his fingers.

“May I?” he asked softly, knowing if she said no that he’d have to go spend a few minutes in the bathroom relieving this pressure building inside him. This woman’s mere presence was intoxicating, and he stopped breathing, waiting for her answer.

Instead of voicing one, she merely lifted her leg, moving it so he had access to her core, and he sighed into her hair, pushing his face into her neck. She turned her face from the pillow as he slid down, cupping the outside of her sex and feeling the heat of her against his palm.

Just knowing what he was doing was nearly enough to send him over the edge. Her breathing quickened as did his own, and he dipped his middle finger deep into her warmth, finding her already wet for him.

“Sansa,” he said softly, her name barely a growl against her neck, but she simply whimpered as he slid his finger in and out, feeling the way her muscles clamped down around his finger.

Her hand finally found his, and she pressed against it, rocking her hips in a way he instantly recognized. She was aiding his movements--making love to his hand as it made love to her--and he shifted his hips, rubbing his erection against her, aching for release and yet attempting to focus on helping her find hers.

Sansa’s somewhat dissatisfied groan broke through his fog of arousal and he shifted, bringing his hand higher so he could softly stroke her there, circling the sensitive bundle as her sighs became gasps and her gasps became moans. She whispered his name, still shifting her hips, but now her movements were erratic, her panting faster.

“Oh. Oh, oh ,” she murmured, and he knew she was close. With her leg pressed back against him he moved lower, sliding his fingers deeply into her and pressing against her clit with the heel of his hand. It finally sent her over the edge, as she cried out, her body jerking back into his while he kept his face buried in her neck, letting her ride it out on his hand, his movements slowing after she’d reached the crescendo of her release.

He kept his hand where it was, drawing his fingers out of her and sliding them back in as her cries softened and became whimpers once again. He did this until she put her hand on his, stilling him with her fingers wrapped around his.

“Sandor, that was…” She fell silent as she sighed, the end of her breath becoming a soft moan that sounded relaxed and satisfied. “That was wonderful.”

When she turned to face him he couldn’t see her in the shadows but imagined she was smiling as she touched his face, stroking down his nose and across his lips with a tip of her finger.

“I’d like to return the favor,” came her whisper as she cupped his jaw and her finger was replaced by her thumb. Then she shifted and he felt her breath sweep across his mouth an instant before her lips pressed against his in a sweet, gentle kiss.

Slow, easy movements was how he greeted her, keeping his own hands to himself as she nibbled lightly at his lips, but then she smiled and he felt her skin tighten as lips spread over teeth.

“In the shower, perhaps?”

Showering with Sansa… He didn’t know if it sounded more like sensual torture or a dream come true, but either way, there was no chance he was going to turn that offer down.

After he accepted her offer and held her hand as he led her from the bed to the dark bathroom. He released her to turn on a dim light and to start the shower, turning to find her leaning against the door jam still wearing his t-shirt. His erection pressed uncomfortably against his boxers, the evidence of his arousal being so blatantly on display only embarrassing until she walked forward and pressed her body into it. As they waited for the water to warm--he not understanding what was going to happen next but not really caring so long as Sansa was wrapped in his arms--she tilted her face up to his and kissed him sweetly, her hands framing his face.

It didn’t even bother him that she freely touched his scars, as though she completely accepted them as being part of him. Sansa had a strange power about her that made him forget, just while he was with her, that he was a scarred, reclusive man. She made him forget that he was flawed and broken, because in her arms he felt whole.

So when she kissed him, he kissed her back, pouring his heart out into his movements, holding her close. He leaned back against the vanity and drew her between his legs, knowing his erection was still present but feeling the embarrassment melting away.

He wanted her to know what she did to him, and with it on display like that, the effect was undeniable.

What he didn’t expect was for her to draw his borrowed t-shirt over her head and to slip out of her panties, and for her to help him out of his boxers before sliding hands over his chest and pressing her mouth to his breastbone. It was nearly impossible for Sandor to keep his hands off her, so he finally gave up and watched as his hands touched her--shoulders, neck, chest, breasts, seeing the stark contrast between the dark skin of his hands and the pale skin of her cheeks. He loved it all, the dichotomy of light and perfect with dark and scarred, because that was what she was--the light in his darkness, the woman who brought him out from behind the mask.

With her he could be himself, so he didn’t hold back the moans and sighs when she took him in hand in the shower--breasts pressed against his back, her soapy skin sliding over his. With both of his hands braced against the wall beside the shower head, he let her slide her small hands over his skin, up and down his shaft as he watched her through the stream of water. One hand stroking his chest and stomach, occasionally drawing down the front of his hip and back up, teasing the skin of his inner thigh; while her other hand worked him until he was tight with need, ready to burst.

Her small hand explored every inch of him, cupping the swollen head of his cock before gliding back down to the base, pressing against the thatch of dark hair that covered his skin. Then she drew it back out, concentrating on the tip as though she knew exactly what would drive him wild.

And did it drive him wild, until her other hand slid to the back of his thigh as he moaned, her fingernails scratching a path up his skin and over the cheek to his lower back as he came with a groan, unable to stop himself from pumping his hips against her hand. Was there no end to the best orgasms with this woman? Was every orgasm going to feel better than the last?

He wanted to find out--to do more things with her, to make love to her, to love her.

When they had dried off and they fell back into bed--her without panties since they had made a mess of them right after waking--they both fell into an exhausted sleep, cuddled close face to face, sharing a pillow.

Chapter Text

“Um, so… yeah. Tormund.”

Brienne took a long pull on her beer, avoiding Sansa’s eyes as she put off her explanation of why his name had just appeared on the screen of her phone, a moment before she’d suddenly risen to take the call.

Sansa smiled at her friend, seeing how the pale blush spread across her cheeks, in glaring contrast to the light color of her hair.

Something fishy was going on.

“Seriously, Brienne, it’s been a week. You’ve known this guy for a week, and swore up and down that he was annoying as the seven hells. What gives?”

She made her voice sound completely appalled, but couldn’t stop the grin that spread across her face. She liked to see Flustered Brienne, because usually the towering blonde was cool as a cucumber.

“Well,” Brienne started, hedging, setting the bottle down, “he’s been calling me.”

“Been? Like, how many times?”

Brienne looked around, as though someone might overhear her tell a secret.

“After our date, it’s been every couple of hours.”

Sansa’s jaw dropped, and her bottle spilled a little when she set it down harshly against the table top.

What? You--wait… what? What?” This was news! She tucked her hair behind her ear and leaned forward, positively hissing, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”

Brienne’s eyes flashed as she too pushed her hair back from her face, meeting Sansa’s above the table when she leaned forward as well.

“What do you mean, you can’t believe I didn’t tell you. You didn’t tell me you were shagging Sandor!”

Sansa gasped softly, now looking around to make sure there was no one eavesdropping.

“We are not shagging, for your information.”

Brienne smiled, having somewhat regained the upper hand.

“Sandor tells Tormund a lot, and apparently--although I don’t know specifics--you’ve been quite the sexual adventure for him. You are all he talks about when they’re together.”

Sansa blushed. Sexual adventure? He told Tormund?

“Still, we haven’t had sex yet. Just… lots of foreplay. And--wait, he said that? Tormund? That I’m all Sandor talks about?” This was also news, and she stared at her friend to make sure she was being told the truth.

Brienne nodded, taking another swig of beer.

“Yes, that and how he can’t wait to see you. Seriously, Sansa, what did you do to the poor man. You turned him from a hound into a puppy. A lovesick puppy, by the sound of Tormund’s description.”

Sansa smiled softly at that, having felt for several days now that Sandor was indeed falling in love with her. She liked the idea, even more so now that she was aware her own feelings mirrored his.

They had spent their evenings together for the last few days, although she wasn’t staying the night anymore. That seemed to be a recipe for a fast track to sex, so in the spirit of taking things slow, they’d agreed to evenings apart.

But that didn’t stop them from calling, and repeating--several times--the hot phone sex from the other day.

Then last night they had finally acted out the scene from their first phone call, and it was the hottest thing Sansa had ever done. After getting over her self consciousness and laying on Sandor’s bed, legs spread wide as he sat at the foot between them, she had reclined against the pillows and touched herself while watching him--watching him watch her --until they both came nearly simultaneously.

After a quick shower--something they also seemed to enjoy together--they spent the remainder of their evening cuddled on his couch watching a movie and eating ice cream out of a shared bowl. It was absolutely perfect.

“You love him, don’t you?”

Brienne’s words could have sounded accusing, or even disappointed, but instead they were filled with wonder, her blue eyes soft and understanding as she looked at Sansa.

Without reservation, Sansa merely smiled back and nodded, though her eyes shifted to the neck of her beer bottle as her mind conjured up images of Sandor’s smile, and his beautiful gray eyes looking at her like she was the most important thing in his life. She felt so special when she was with him--she was totally, completely, utterly in love.

“Yeah,” she responded dreamily, smiling at the memory of his laugh.

She was going to see him again tomorrow after the game, but first she planned on cornering him in that damned costume in a cleaning closet or somewhere she could get the mask off, and she was going to kiss him in a way that left no question as to how she felt about him. And maybe… maybe she would even say it to him.

That thought made her heart trip in her chest.

“But that’s besides the point. Stop distracting me!”

She laughed when Brienne’s smile faltered, tilting her beer in her friend’s direction. “Are things more serious between you and Tormund than what you let on?”

It was indeed Brienne’s turn to blush, and she lowered a somber face, only to raise a completely different one--one grinning like an idiot, her big teeth white under the light hanging over their table.

“You--” Sansa stared, slack jawed at the doe eyed look her friend had now. Incredulous, she coughed, then coughed again, and then finally laughed, a high pitch giggle that turned heads in the bar. “You brat, what have you done?” The last word was a hiss, but Brienne took no notice of it. Instead she looked down at her beer and around at the people turning back to their own conversations, before finally looking back at Sansa.

“Well, he did kiss me--”

“--You wretch!” Sansa had no qualms over interrupting with a laugh, since Brienne hadn’t stopped giving her grief over Sandor since the whole affair started. “You were hiding this from me!”

The blonde laughed, and she nodded unabashedly.

“Of course I was hiding it from you, but you know me--I can’t lie, so you might as well know.”

“So he kissed you? When? How was it? Was that it? Oh gods, I need details, Brienne. Details!”

They both took another drink from their beers and leaned in close as Brienne told her about the phone calls and how, although they hadn’t reached the full on phone sex level that Sansa and Sandor had, Tormund had hinted enough that he wouldn’t mind if they did. And, Brienne added, she was thinking about it.

Suddenly caught up in the conversation, it all came spilling from Brienne’s mouth--the instant attraction at the hockey game and that ridiculous kiss cam, how the man both infuriated her but did funny things to her insides, and how she found herself thinking about him while she was at work or driving or at home. And so, with some texting and a few phone calls, they had shared a single date, at the end of which Tormund had kissed her as though she was the last woman in Westeros he would ever want. And somehow, Brienne didn’t feel as ungainly tall, as awkward and ugly as she had since she was a child.

“Brienne, you’re gorgeous and someday you’ll realize it,” Sansa said earnestly, taking her friend’s hand in hers. The size difference was obvious, Sansa’s hand much smaller within Brienne’s, but Brienne’s was merely a larger version--skin still as soft and supple, nails short but tended with a sapphire blue manicure, unadorned by jewelry.

Brienne smiled, thanking Sansa with a look for her kind words. And with a squeeze to Sansa’s hand she let go, returning her hands back to the bottle of beer.

“Tormund pretty much said the same thing, and when I’m with him…” Brienne’s eyes drifted away and they glazed over, though the smile spread across her generous lips spoke volumes as to where her thoughts were. “I don’t know. I feel like I’m a different person. Or not different, really, but… just appreciated, for who I am instead of what I can bring to the table.”

Sansa’s eyes misted at the emotions in Brienne’s voice and on her face. If anyone deserved happiness, it was this woman in front of her, who had spent an entire lifetime beating herself down over the body the gods had seen fit to give her.

And if Tormund hurt her, Sansa happened to know his best friend.

She lifted her beer bottle and caught Brienne’s eye with a soft smile that slowly turned into a lecherous gleam. “To our sexy, mismatched, wonderful men,” she cooed, and Brienne’s loud laugh turned every head in the bar towards their table as they both drank deeply.

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

The previous night’s phone call between Sansa and Sandor had been different, the tone all wrong for anything other than conversation. Sandor hadn’t minded, since it meant he had spent an hour talking to her about things she liked, their shared tastes in music, their different tastes in food, and anything and everything they hadn’t spoken about before.

And beneath all the words was an underlying tone of relationship--love, acceptance, appreciation. He found himself speaking quietly, his voice not his own when he spoke of how much he missed her and his eyes closing at the sweetness of her returning the sentiment. He would catch himself questioning silently how life had sent him this stunning, wonderful curveball, and then thought better about it--best not question it or it might disappear.

When he arrived at the ice arena before the game he saw her car already in the parking lot, but couldn’t find her when he gave a cursory inspection of the slowly filling stands. So he made his way back to the small staff locker room and dressed in his costume, pulling on the paw gloves after locking his belongings in the locker.

Helmet and mask situated, he opened the door and started to head out to the ice, along the way nodding or waving at various players or staff who happened to be milling about. Many of them knew him by sight but not by face, as there were very few from whom he hadn’t bothered to hide his identity.

But as he got to the hallway that would lead back to where the zamboni was parked, a flurry of red suddenly came into view.

Sansa . Sandor’s heart skipped a beat as she turned and saw him, the expression on her face going from worried to happy in the span of a second.

“Stranger!” she called with a smile, as she rushed towards him. Behind her a security guard eyed Sandor, silently asking if this was merely an obsessed fan who needed to be dealt with. Sandor would have laughed at the thought of Sansa being carried out by the big guard, if not for the urgent look in her expression, her intent clearly visible in her purposeful steps.

Sandor waved the guard away just as Sansa approached him, her lips spread over white teeth as she grinned, but her smile faltered just a bit when she asked, “Is there somewhere we can talk?”

If his heart skipped a beat before, it dropped into his stomach now.

The talk. He could only imagine what she was going to say, despite her happy expression.

This isn’t working, maybe. Or You’re a great guy, but not the right one for me. He didn’t think she would go so far as to be mean about it, but he held himself rigid as he led her back the way he’d come, holding the door to the quiet locker room so she could go before him.

Sansa was wringing her hands together, which Sandor felt didn’t bode well for the conversation they were about to have. Not a conversation, really, he thought, since she was likely the one to do all the talking. But he’d listen, incurably polite, and he would deal with this as he had dealt with every disappointment in his life--stoically, with dignity. He had a job to do, although tonight there would be no joy in it.

The mask couldn’t help him this time.

Sansa’s expression slipped further when she took in the space between him, and his stance--straight spine, hands hanging limply at his sides. She took a step towards him and those hands fisted, big black paws curling into balls. Sansa saw this and stopped.

“I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here,” she began. Sandor remained silent, waiting. She was darkened slightly by the screen in Stranger’s mouth, but he could see clearly enough to see her unease.

Get it out , he thought. Don’t make both of us wait. The churning in his stomach turned into a roiling boil, and he wondered if he was going to vomit in the mascot mask.

Sansa spoke again, and Sandor braced himself for the worst.

“I’ve been thinking about us a lot lately--you, rather. I’ve been thinking a lot about you, and I wanted to come here because there are some things I’d like to say.”

She didn’t look wholly unhappy, which irked him. But of course--if she was the one doing the breaking up, she wouldn’t be the unhappy party, now, would she?

“You see, I had given up on dating, just about, when I met you. A couple bad relationships will do that to a person.” She swallowed, still fidgeting with her hands. “But I suppose you know that--Sandor, could you please take the mask off? I would like to see you.”

He didn’t want to, but slowly he reached up and unbuckled the chin strap, and lifted the mask off. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail, leaving his emotionless eyes and horrific scarring on display for her to see.

Her smile completely slipped when she saw his face, and he wanted to yell at her. Get a good look! It’s not going to change anytime soon!

But he didn’t. He stood still, mask tucked under his arm, large and round at his side. He wanted to fidget as well--to scratch at his beard, his chest, or to get his hands out of the gloves, where they were now sweating. Anything besides standing here in the warm locker room, feeling the drop of sweat roll down his spine like disappointment off his shoulders.

She was back to smiling, though only slightly. Good. If he was scaring her with his face, even better.

“And I think you felt the same,” she went on, “Thinking that you were going to spend the rest of your life alone. Sandor, I... “ She paused, and he began to wonder where the hells she was going with this. “I needed to come see you today because I wanted you to know that I’ve changed my mind.”

There it was. You’ve changed your mind and want to find someone who isn’t old, broken and scarred.

She took another step towards him and Sandor stiffened. What was she doing?

“I don’t think what we’ve been doing is going to work for me, you see.” Her face dropped and he lost sight of her expression, hearing her words from behind a veil of red hair. She was going to deliver the final blow, he was sure of it. He ground his teeth, waiting for it to come, wondering how he was going to get through the coming game with this shit hanging over his head. He’d put in a call to Tormund if he knew he had the time. Tormund would know what to do, would say the right things.

Although he knew Tormund, and the right thing wasn’t what Sandor wanted to hear.

“Sandor, this going slow stuff--”

Wait, what?

“--I don’t know. In the beginning it sounded good.”

She was closer now, and she lifted her face just enough that he could see her eyes beneath those auburn lashes--looking straight ahead at his stomach. He didn’t understand, and felt anger tugging at his brain even as confusion threatened to override the red clouding his vision.

But as she reached out and scratched his stomach with just the very tip of her finger, he figured he was going insane. She was breaking up with him. Right? She was going to follow that with it wasn’t working and she wanted to try again with someone else , and that that would leave him open to find someone who loved him . Someone who could appreciate him for who he was, since she couldn’t.

But then she lifted her eyes to look at his chest, her hand flattening over the furry costume, and he knew she’d be able to feel the beat of his heart through the thick wall of his chest.

“In the beginning I wanted to respect you, and I wanted everything to go at your pace, so you would feel comfortable.”

Her hand slid up, past the collar of the costume until her palm was cupping the side of his neck, her eyes now trained on his.

But what he saw there wasn’t rejection, or sorrow, or self righteousness. It was… dilated pupils? Heavy lids, a soft smile, and perfect white teeth worrying her soft lower lip?

“Sandor, I love you, and I want you, and I think you want me, too.”

He felt as though someone had just kicked him in the chest. A horse. Yes, that was the feeling. A horse had just kicked him in the chest and he sat heavily on the wooden bench behind him, leaning back against the bare wall between two sets of lockers.

“What?” was all he could come up with. She wasn’t breaking up with him?

“Are you okay?” Sansa was looking down at him with a concerned look, and she brought both hands up now to cup his cheeks. “Sandor? What’s wrong?”

“You love me?” he mumbled, dropping the mascot head to the floor beside them. Sansa smiled gently, but it slipped away as the concern returned.

“Of course I do, Sandor. What--what did you think I was going to say?”

He swallowed, leaning his head back against the wall, feeling the softness of her hands cup over his beard and stroke the skin of his face. It felt so good--he knew he could get lost in her touch alone. He closed his eyes to savor the feeling for a moment before he swallowed again, his mouth dry after the rush of panic, anger and sorrow had fled.

Sandor sighed heavily out his nose as he opened his eyes, taking another deep breath to spill his misunderstanding at her feet.

“I thought you were breaking up with me.”

Sansa’s eyes immediately widened. Her lips parted and for a moment she looked as confused as he was.

“Breaking up with you? Sandor, how in the world could you think that?”

The ridiculous expression on her face told him exactly how absurd she thought his answer was. He sighed again, willing his heart to calm as he felt a bone deep relief wash over him.

“You said it wasn’t working out--”

“No,” she interrupted, batting his chest with one hand now before they both dropped to his chest. “I said going slow wasn’t working, Sandor. I know we have been having fun but--but…” She looked around, as though searching the room for the right words to say. When she looked back at him, she was finally smiling again.

“Sandor, I want you. Not just now, but for always. I just said I love you--don’t you get it?” She abruptly crawled onto his lap, straddling him with her knees on either side of his hips. His arms naturally came around her to hold her upright but instead he felt himself crush her to his chest, tucking her face into his neck and he slowed his breathing and blinked a few times.

“Sansa, I love you too,” he whispered, so overcome with relief that he couldn’t put his voice to the words. But suddenly her mouth made it impossible anyway because she had pulled back and kissed him, pulling at his face until he was as fully invested in the kiss as she was.

It was hot and heated, even more so in the warm locker room, and before long he was pushing her shirt up and running his hand over her skin, palming her breast as he kept one hand splayed over her back to keep her upright.

“Sandor, tonight, please,” she begged, her moan sounding from beside his ear as he kissed her cheek, her neck, and down into the loose collar of her knit shirt.

“Yes,” he agreed, even as he lifted the shirt to her neck so he could kiss her chest while she leaned back. Raising onto her knees, she grasped his hair, his panting breaths and her own mewls of pleasure filling the small room when he released one of her breasts from the confines of her bra and drew the hardened peak into his mouth.

“Or now,” she choked out, her pelvis grinding down into him.

Gods , it was tempting. But he couldn’t, and just as soon as he’d drawn the soft flesh into his mouth, he let it go with a pop and pulled her bra back into place, burying his face into the center of her chest as he breathed deeply of the scent of her skin. He needed to calm, knowing it was bad enough he was going to be working through this entire game of hockey with an erection mere thoughts away. There would be no visiting Sansa in the stands tonight, because he was likely to just pick her up and carry her away.

“Not now,” he groaned, bringing his mouth up to accept her fevered kisses, her tongue running over his lips before she caught one of them between her teeth. Sandor grunted, lowering his hand to spread it over the curve of her ass. He was so close to where he wanted to be--to touch, to taste, to be inside. So fucking close .

“Sansa, we need to stop,” he growled, feeling a sort of anger rise up at the injustice of having this woman throw herself at him and not being able to do a damned thing about it.

She whined as well, her chest heaving even as he used his other hand to right her shirt. Her cheeks were red, her eyes dark and sexy as he looked up at her. With his head resting again on the wall behind them, he shook it as he smiled at her.

It took a moment for her to calm enough that she could finally stop and just look back at him, smiling as well now before she leaned into him and kissed him softly.

“I love you,” she repeated, and it was the sweetest thing he had ever heard.

“And I love you.” He took a deep breath, kissing her neck a couple times before pulling her in for a hug. “For quite some time,” he added, and was gratified to feel her nod.

“Me as well,” came her muted admission from against his neck. He felt her chest expand and retract on a sigh, her fingers scratching lightly at the other side of his neck.

After a few moments they began to hear more sounds outside the room and she pulled back just as he asked, “So what do we do now?”

The wicked smile she sent him made his cock jump inside his pants, and she gasped at the feeling, biting her lip when she moved slightly--just enough that he would feel it.

“What do we do?” she repeated, and she leaned in to bump his nose with her own. “We go to your house after the game, and we make love as many times as we want, until the point finally comes when we are both too exhausted to care and we fall asleep in each other’s arms.”

Fucking hells .

“I like that idea,” was what he said, his own grin matching hers. This day had taken quite the unexpected turn. But her face fell at the same time he was reminded of what he had originally thought she was here for, and he saw she too was remembering.

“I meant what I said, Sandor,” she said softly, pecking a soft kiss to his lips while keeping her face close to his. “I want you now, and I will want you next year, and every year after that. You can’t hide from me any longer--I’ve seen what’s under the mask.” She kissed him once more, softly as her mouth opened over his, the taste of her enough to set his desire aflame once more. “And,” she added, darting her tongue out to taste the corner of his mouth, “I like what I see.”

Chapter Text

Sandor was more nervous now than he had ever been in this short relationship with Sansa. She was driving behind him, her headlights never leaving his rear view mirror once they pulled out of the arena parking lot. Her presence there solidified his resolve with every mile, though, so by the time they pulled into his driveway and each exited their vehicles, the last thing he wanted to do was make small talk.

“Oh, Sandor,” she exclaimed when he strode up to her, not wasting any time before wrapping his arms around her middle as she startled, threatening to lose her footing on his gravel driveway.

Lowering his mouth to hers, he instantly felt that he was as ready as she was. Part of him wanted to jump for joy, to yell and shout and exclaim his love for this woman to the heavens. But the other part of him--the only other part that had anything to say at the moment--was pressing against her urgently. Sandor wanted her, and he wasn’t certain he’d be able to go slow, or to make it last.

When he said as much to her in between kisses, Sansa merely smiled against his lips as they stumbled towards his front door.

“We have all night,” she gasped when he nipped at her neck with his teeth, scraping along the edge of her collar. He fished his keys out and only broke the contact between her body and his mouth long enough to shove the key into the hole and open the door.

The keys flew onto the couch across the room as he kicked the door shut, Sansa’s breathless repeat of, “All night,” only fueling his passion while his hands tore at her clothes.

The jersey came off, and then the shirt, and the bra, at the same time his own jacket and shirt hit the floor. Then it was a mad, laughing fumbling for each other’s belts and buttons and zippers in an attempt to see who could get the clothes off the other first.

Sandor won, of course, but only because there was no way Sansa would be able to toss him onto the bed and be fast about dragging his jeans off his ankles, as he did to her.

But she put up a struggle, scrambling away from him as jeans hit the floor, standing on the other side of the bed looking like a woman who was about to be ravished.

He was so hard he could barely contain himself.

Her breasts were heaving with her panting, her hands clenching and unclenching as she tried to satisfy her eyes with a perusal of his body while at the same time bracing for his pounce. He used the time to distract her by pushing his jeans lower on his hips, watching her eyes go wide and her tongue come out to wet her lips as she watched their torturously slow descent.

Inch by inch, until they passed the bulge of his erection, and all of Sansa’s movements stopped--her breathing, her hands, her trembling body.

Sandor saw his opportunity and he took it, lunging around the bed and catching her completely off guard as she screeched, laughing and grasping and fighting and pulling. Sandor’s heart was going to beat out of his chest but he didn’t care. All that mattered was this wanton woman, red hair fanning out behind her when he tossed her for the second time back onto the bed, watching as she ceased all fighting to lift her hips, allowing him to drag the panties down and off her legs.

But she didn’t let him rise again, and he found himself pulled down onto the bed, right on top of her, by small hands around his forearms.

“Sandor, I need you,” she hissed, and he shook his head as she nodded frantically, biting at her own lip as she reached for any part of him she could get a grasp on--shoulders, sides, finally settling on his hair as she dragged him down for a bruising kiss. With her panties still clenched in his fist he braced his hands on either side of her head and kissed her deeply, finding the melding of their mouths to be perfectly harmonious--the student now seducing the teacher. Sansa’s moans were captured by his mouth, her hands scratching at the skin of his back while her legs wrapped around his waist.

“You don’t need me,” he teasingly whispered against her jaw, and was amused when she whimpered and tried to pull his mouth back to hers. He winced at her hands in his hair but ignored it, instead trailing wet kisses down the column of her throat, scraping teeth along collarbone, tongue against skin, until he found a breast with his mouth and suckled deeply.

Sansa cried out, arching her back while her hands now held his mouth to her chest. But her lower body was squirming beneath him, calling out to him in a way he knew he’d never be able to ignore.

“I’m keeping these,” he ground out against the sensitive skin of her belly, waving the panties in her face before tossing them into the corner of the room. Sansa laughed, but it turned into a sob when she willingly spread her thighs for him and he descended on her like a man starved, licking in one long movement up the center of her slit--just enough to let her think she was getting what she wanted.

Then he rose and looked at her, his own breaths coming heavy and shallow, watching while her chest rose and fell, her head tossing and turned from side to side in frustration.

“I thought you said we had all night, little bird,” he teased, tasting her arousal on his tongue and savoring it, knowing that more waited for him if only he would give into what they both desperately wanted.

“Yes, but Sandor--I need you-- now ,” she cried, attempting to draw him upwards with her legs even as he lowered himself once again between her legs.

“We have all night, love,” he whispered again, pressing small, wet kisses to her inner thighs, drawing closer and closer to her center. Her mewls of frustration--or was it pleasure?-- grew louder in the small bedroom, and her hands once again found themselves entangled with his hair.

Sandor didn’t want to rush this, though, and he looked at her soft flesh, his tongue tingling with want. Instead of returning for another taste he blew on her, and Sansa’s cry of arousal was exactly what he had wanted to hear. Knowing that he turned her on this much was the headiest aphrodisiac, one he would never tire of.

Just as she moved to sit up--likely to force his head exactly where she wanted it--he returned his mouth to her core, directly onto her clit, swiping across the bundle of nerves in the way he knew she liked. Over and over, swirling, stroking, occasionally dipping into her sex for a taste of her. He was drunk, his brain nothing but a fog of seduction and arousal, and the sounds she was making above him on the bed were his alcohol.

“Sandor, I can’t wait--” she cried, but he shook his head, making her legs tremble as his mouth rubbed against her. Beard, mustache--he knew it would drive her wild feeling them rub against her sensitive flesh.

“This first,” he growled, knowing she would fight him, and he returned to his ministrations, wrapping an arm around her leg as her heel when into his back. He pushed on her belly to keep her stationary.

“No, no, no!” She was shaking her head again from side to side, but he wasn’t going to relent. He wouldn’t last long once he was inside her, and he needed to know she was going to have her release before he found his. Copper hair a messy halo beneath her, he watched her bring her hands up to cover her face, just as he increased the pressure with his tongue.

Then her sounds began to change, her hand lowered to rest gently on his head and her body stilled.

Her “Oh, oh,” turned into, “Yes! Yes!” and suddenly her pelvis jerked beneath his mouth and he felt all of her muscles clenching beneath his mouth as her fists grabbed at his bedspread. She cried out with every breath as he wrought from her the release from her body, listened to her whimpers and sighs fill the room while the scent of her infiltrated all of his senses. Over and over he licked and caressed, her copper curls tickling his nose while he gentled the grip of his hands.

Her release did things to him that none of their kisses ever could. It brought his arousal to new heights, made him feel as though he had been put on this world to wait his entire life until the exact right moment--to find Sansa, to learn her, to fall in love with her, and to experience all of these things for the first time with her, only with her, and forever with her.

Breathless though she was, she still welcomed him with open arms when he had dragged his jeans and boxers off, pulling a condom out of the drawer. Sansa released a sated sigh as she took it from him with a smile, reaching down to roll it over his erection. Then he lowered himself to her embrace and positioned himself at her entrance, where he had just been with his mouth. He could still smell her there, taste her on his lips, and when he kissed her, he marveled as he always did that she didn’t mind--that it seemed to fan the flames of desire within her. She fairly devoured his mouth when he kissed her after doing that--after giving them both pleasure by greedily tasting and licking and doing sinful things to her most feminine place.

She did that now--kissing him with a fervor that he matched equally, easily, before pulling back to whisper hoarsely, “I need you, Sansa.”

Her eyes were glazed over but her lips spread into a smile. She brought her hands up to cup his face and kissed him sweetly, tenderly, returning, “I need you too, Sandor--always.”

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

It was over fast, but then, both of them knew it would be. But, was it wonderful .

Sansa had never felt so full, so perfectly completed during the act than she did when Sandor was inside her. And although he rested his face against her shoulder, his entire body drawn tight like a bow string as he attempted to keep his movements slow and even, she could tell he was under considerable strain.

“Sandor,” she whispered, having to find her own voice somewhere in the midst of the fog of arousal and sensation she found herself in. His strong back, muscular shoulders, hair covered neck--she touched anything and everything she could reach. But as she felt his body struggling, she slid her hands into his hair and drew him up so she could see his face.

He was indeed straining, his face red with the effort. She thought she could see a vein coming out from beneath his scarring, but inside the curtain of dark hair it was hard to tell what was shadow and what was imagined.

But she could see the intensity of his gaze, and she smiled as he paused his movements, his breaths shallow, his elbows braced beside her shoulders.

“Sandor, let go,” she whispered, and he shook his head, wanting to drop his face but she forced him to look at her. Softly stroking down the unscarred side of his face, she brought the other side to her mouth and kissed the creviced, bumpy skin. Then she spoke into his damaged ear, keeping her words steady and strong as she wrapped her arms around him.

“We have the rest of our lives.”

He stilled again for a moment, but when he began to move again, she felt a noticeable loosening in his muscles, his thrusts becoming more fluid and less forced. Sansa, too, relaxed beneath him, enjoying the feel of him inside her, over her, on top of her. All these last few months, this is what had been building between them, and she wanted to give him the moment he’d been waiting nearly forty years for.

So when she felt him begin to tighten once again, not long after her words released him from that ridiculous, self-imposed restraint--when his pants turned into groans and he pressed his lips to the side of her neck, unable to kiss but desiring the contact all the same--she held onto him as though her life depended on it, wrapping her arms around him even as his long, sure strokes became short and unsteady. And when he finally lost his rhythm and his guttural cry spoke of his release, she waited until he’d lowered his body, bracing above her just enough that he wouldn’t crush her.

His breathing was heavy, his body slick with sweat, but Sansa’s heart was full and she didn’t mind at all. There was a familiar shower off to the side in his bathroom that would be there when they were ready. But for now she was content with the feel of him softening inside her, her legs lowering beside his.

With sweeping caresses to his back with her fingertips and calming strokes of his hair with her other hand, she soothed him, she loved him, and she showed him what it meant to be the man who owned her heart.

It was a intoxicating feeling, this emotion that crawled up from her heart and entered her mouth.

“I love you,” she whispered into his ear, not the first time she’d acknowledged it out loud. But being so overcome with the cloud of warmth that covered them, Sansa could do no other than be honest with him in that moment.

At her words Sandor finally lifted his head, bringing one large hand up to stroke her hair back from her face, though he hadn’t needed to. She was shining with her own sweat, and her hair fell back against the bed limply. She figured he needed to touch her in the same way she needed to touch him, so they sat there for a few moments staring at each other, each comforting and caressing the other until Sandor finally spoke. When he did, his voice was hoarse with emotion.

“I’ve been waiting for you my whole life, Sansa Stark.”

She smiled, tracing his lips with the tip of her finger.

“I might have found you sooner, had you not hidden yourself behind that adorable mask.”

Sandor chuckled, but he shook his head.

“You’d not give this old dog an ounce of your time. It was Stranger who reeled you in.”

He traced her cheekbone with the pad of his index finger, then her brow, and then her lower lip. Sansa let her tongue dart out to touch his finger.

“No, it was Stranger who hooked me, but it was you who reeled me in.”

She swallowed, her own voice thickening with emotion as she rose up to press a chaste kiss to his lips.

“I love you, Sandor Clegane,” she added, then she raised an eyebrow, daring him to object to her next words-- “Without the mask.”

His laugh was a deep rumble, but he nodded, watching her gasp as he pulled out of her. He slid the used condom off and dropped it in the trash can next to the wall. Then he helped her off the bed, his massive hand holding onto hers before he pulled her into his body. With arms banded around her middle, he bent to nuzzle at her neck, and when he drew his tongue across her collarbone she knew he would taste sweat there.

“I love you too, Sansa Stark,” he whispered into her skin, just below her jaw. Then he pressed a kiss there, and then one to her mouth. He looked into her eyes, his grays looking like pools of silver--intense, straightforward. “Always.”

Chapter Text

It was the night of the big game--WFUs last game of the season against King’s Landing that would either send them into the first round of the playoffs, or would finish their season with one of many defeats.

Sansa was the third wheel tonight, with Brienne hardly paying any attention to her, what with Tormund sitting beside the tall blonde. He had her complete attention, and it was rather disgusting seeing the way the two of them looked at each other--doe eyes, the both of them. As though they’d never expected to find each other, and here they were, deliriously happy.

She couldn’t blame them, though--not really. She knew if Sandor were sitting next to her, she’d be doing the same thing to him.

He had come into the stands earlier, acting the besotted puppy when he finally found her. He’d even stood her up and danced with her for a few seconds while the announcer crooned some oldies love ballad over the loudspeaker, saying something about how Stranger had a girlfriend. The big black hound had dramatically fallen to the stairs on his back, his paw going up beneath his jersey to mimic the pounding of his heart after receiving a kiss on the cheek from Sansa.

She loved it, and she loved him. Just knowing that behind that mask was the man she had been dating steadily for two months, and who she had been waiting her whole life to find--it was enough to make her heart trip in her chest.

Not to mention the hands beneath those paw-shaped gloves, and the chest that needed no aid in stretching that costume to the max, nor the legs that could easily carry both of them if he cradled her in his arms--no, those things made desire pool between her legs, palms tingling as she thought about the last time they’d locked the door to that small locker room so they could have a before-game quickie.

Sandor was likely thinking about today, before the game--when she’d locked the door, showing him that beneath the jersey and t-shirt she wore, and beneath the jeans he’d slid down her legs, she was wearing that powder blue lingerie set he’d come to love so much. He was probably thinking about it, because at the moment he was staring in her direction from down by the glass divider, and he was ignoring the fan who stood beside him attempting to get a photo.

Sansa laughed, breaking the eye contact with the man behind that privacy screen so he would go back to work. Fan now happy, he turned to watch the final play on the ice, as the WFU left wing hit the puck to the right wing, the right wing to the center, and the center brazenly slapping the puck so it flew through the air and hit the inside of the King’s Landing University net just below the top bar of the goal.

The score was no longer tied, with WFU leading by one point, and the crowd went ballistic. The roar was so loud that Sansa felt as though her eardrums were going to pop, even as she watched Sandor quickly go to the ice to congratulate the players. They played out the last few seconds of the game but there was no way any WFU players were going to allow KLU to get the puck anywhere near their goal.

Sansa turned to Brienne to celebrate and was brought up short, seeing Tormund down on one knee, his bushy red beard moving with words that she doubted Brienne could completely understand. But she watched the love in his eyes and she knew Brienne wouldn’t have found someone who adored her more than Tormund did.

Looking back at the ice, she couldn’t see Sandor but knew it didn’t matter. They had their own celebrating to do tonight, and Sansa planned on showing him exactly how fun sex in the shower could be.

After the game, when photo-ops had been taken and the mascot uniform completely put away, Sandor and Sansa had joined Brienne and Tormund for a congratulatory drink at a local bar. When it was time for the newly engaged couple to continue their celebration without an audience, Sandor called a cab and they waited outside the bar, off to the side where they wouldn’t bother anyone if they decided to indulge in some steamy kisses in the shadows.

It wasn’t lost on Sansa that, because of their interactions together, Sandor was becoming more and more open in public. He was more willing to be seen; more willing to go to restaurants, bars, even grocery shopping; more willing to allow people to see him when for years he had hidden as much as possible.

But it all seemed possible because Sansa was there holding his hand, which didn’t faze her one bit. She’d sent more than a handful of Don’t even think about it glances to women looking him up and down like he was a piece of meat. Those looks were always followed by a possessive hand in his back pocket, which delighted him to no end. He seemed to appreciate her possessiveness, just as much as she enjoyed his.

He’d discovered he liked to take control in the bedroom, and Sansa was happy to hand over those reigns--most of the time. After all, he needed lots of practice-- lots, and lots, and lots --to build up his stamina in the bedroom; to the point where he could now have her begging for release when he was nowhere near finished. The way he could work her into an aroused frenzy was nothing short of masterful. He was often the one waking her up in the middle of the night, having not been satisfied enough before they fell asleep.

Not that she minded, because he also liked it when she would crawl on top of him and make slow, sexy love to him, sometimes, in the early hours of the morning. And she had to admit that it was always a treat to see him come undone beneath her.

It was that image that she had in her mind when she kissed Sandor now, outside the bar in downtown Winterfell. Tonight was a night worth celebrating--it wasn’t often that WFU won a hockey game, after all--and Sansa had a new negligee she’d purchased a couple weeks ago that she had a feeling would fit right in with their celebratory attitude.

But it was hard to think through the steps that they would need to take in order to travel home and make that an eventuality because Sandor’s hands were sliding under her shirt and spanning her waist, skin against skin, driving all coherent thought from her mind.

“Sandor, we’re in public,” she reminded him, her lips ghosting over his as she spoke. Then she kissed him, and found herself kissing teeth as he grinned lasciviously down at her.

“No one can see,” he whispered back, now sloppily kissing her through her giggle, the whole situation turning humorous as they kissed and smiled, smiled and kissed, while his hands travelled upwards beneath the thick jersey material.

Sansa mirrored his actions, her hands finding their way beneath his shirt to the hairy skin of his stomach, scratching lightly before they trailed around his sides. She felt his muscles clench at a certain spot--ticklish there; a spot she tended to wander to with her mouth--before she tucked her fingertips beneath the waistband of his jeans. Under the fabric of his boxers they went, and down, down, managing to force one whole hand past the tight belt and down to his cheek. Soft hairs tickled her palm while her other hand moved upwards along his spine.

He groaned into their kiss, swooping his tongue into her mouth as she squeezed his butt, pulling his lower body against hers so she could feel that he was getting hard inside his jeans.

But it was at that moment their cab drove up, and Sandor groaned for a different reason, holding Sansa in front of him with one hand as he broke the kiss so he could adjust himself inside his jeans with the other.

Sandor gave the driver instructions, and before long they were pulling up in front of his house.

After paying, they walked up the path to his front porch, hands held and smiles shy. Sansa couldn’t explain why she felt the need to be bashful now, although it was still a default for Sandor to revert to when he was being introspective. But she just felt so free, so full of life, and so indescribably happy. So when they stood at the door and he paused, sliding his key back in his pocket, she looked up at him and smiled. The gray eyes that smiled back were bright even in the pale porchlight, just as happy to have her there as she was him.

“I love you,” she said, keeping anything sexual out of the statement.

And she did--love him, that is. She loved how happy he made her, she loved his heart, and the man he was. She loved that somehow their paths had led them to each other. She wanted to make plans for their future, but that could come in due time. No need to scare him off at the first feelings of happily ever after.

Sandor stared down at her with such a look of wonder on his face that she had to look away, blushing under his scrutiny.

“I love you too, Sansa,” he returned, drawing the back of a finger down her cheek. Sansa leaned into his touch, but she realized his expression had changed--from blissfully happy to… anxious?

Without giving her any time to puzzle it out, he turned and opened the door, motioning for her to precede him into the house. When she did she reached over to flip on the light switch beside the door and stopped short at the massive bouquet of roses that sat on the center of his large dining table.

“Sandor, oh my goodness,” she whispered, walking over to them with barely a glance back in his direction. She was mesmerized by the arrangement, two dozen of the lavender roses, the most gorgeous roses she had ever seen. “These are so beautiful. Sandor, why--”

Before she could turn around to ask him she saw a note sticking out of the top, and she plucked it out, only then seeing the glint of shiny metal and precious stones hanging from a thin ribbon strung through the corner of the card.

Sansa gasped and turned towards Sandor, who remained by the door. He looked unsure of himself, as though he was keeping distance between them for a reason. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets and he had one leg cocked out to the side, looking for all the world as though he was observing the scene objectively. But Sansa could see the rigidness of his posture, the way his hands were fisted in his pockets, and that the cocky stance was in fact a ruse for the tension radiating off his body.

“Read it,” he rasped, his voice broken and gravelly. His eyes were intense as he looked at her face, waiting for a reaction from her.

Sansa was so stunned that she simply held the note with the ring cupped in her palm, as though the ribbon could come undone at any moment and fall to the floor.

Inside was his scratchy handwriting, as bold and as unique as he. He had written:

Sansa,

The first time I saw you I was mesmerized by your smile. It’s the very first thing I noticed, and one of my favorite things about you, still. Then you played along with my antics at the games, and it wasn’t long before I fell hard and fast for you. But when you showed interest in me, and when we met at the bird sanctuary and you saw past my reservations, my anxiety and my scars, I knew I wanted to be with you forever. I have been thinking of how this night would go, since that day.

You have given me more than you could ever imagine. I want to be close to you, to share my life with you, and to overcome my fears with you by my side. I want to make you happy, to fill your life with joy, and to give you someone to grow old with, who will never leave you lonely. Your generosity and loving heart make me want to be a better man than what I have been up until this point. I’m not even sure how I survived thirty-nine years without you.

Please look at me.

Sansa looked up, only now realizing that while she was engrossed in the words he had written on the small notecard, the man had sunk down to one knee just behind her, and was waiting for her to finish. She let her hand fall to her side as he began to speak.

“Will you marry me, and let me spend the rest of my days doing everything in my power to make you happy? I promise I’ll never wear a mask with you, I’ll never hide from you, and all that I have--all that I am--is yours for this day and the rest of my days.”

He held out his open palm and she handed over the note, where he made quick work of untying the ribbon and setting the note on the table. Then, with the ring held in the air between them, he looked back up at her and said words that sent tingles of electricity clear down to her toes.

“Sansa, will you be my wife?”

<•> <•> <•> <•> <•>

Sandor watched Sansa’s face for any signs that she didn’t like what was happening, but all he saw was disbelief, perhaps a bit of anxiety, and shock. Gods , the shock.

No revulsion, so that was a plus, but neither was there exuberance, excitement, or joy.

His hands began to feel clammy, and his body started to shake with nervousness.

Sansa stood before him with her hands clasped in front of her chest, looking from the ring to his eyes, to the ring and back to his eyes. He wished he could read her mind.

The note had been an effort to write. His burn barrel out back was full of balled up notebook pages where he had scratched out sentence after sentence that just didn't sound exactly right. And this was something that needed to be perfect. Hence why he had enlisted Tormund’s help. His friend had been completely supportive and helpful, and had shown an uncanny talent for editing that seemed to come from nowhere. Though he supposed being an engineer required the big redhead have at least a small measure of intellect. Still, the man’s ability to spot grammatical errors had been nothing short of a godsend. He was the only thing that had prevented Sandor from handing over a note that looked like it was written by a six year old.

But Sandor meant every word in it, even if some of them had been suggestions from Tormund. Sansa might never know to what extent she was his dream come true, but he really meant what he’d said about spending the rest of his life proving it to her.

Now, if only she would react to his proposal.

With everything to lose, Sandor swallowed what little pride he had left and beseeched her, his voice cracking, “Say something, please.”

It was apparently the urging that Sansa needed, because at the sound of his voice, even before he had said all three words, she shoved her hand out palm down, with her ring finger slightly raised. Sandor was so shocked that he looked at it and then up to her face a couple times before realizing exactly what it was she was doing.

Smiling then, he watched himself slide the dainty gold ring onto her finger, as she tucked a knuckle of her other hand between her teeth.

“So,” he whispered, holding onto her hand for a moment while he waited, “Is that a yes?”

Sansa pulled her hand away only long enough to look at the ring on her finger and she nodded, finding her voice after a minute and crying, “Yes, yes, yes!”

Then she launched herself at him, and they went tumbling backwards onto the floor, the relief washing over Sandor like a bucket of water over a flame. He recognized a sensation he was only just beginning to feel when he was around Sansa enfold his heart in its embrace as she did the same to him with her arms. It was joy--pure, intense, unspeakable joy. On his back on the floor with Sansa draped over him, he wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly as their mouths met, her hands coming up to bracket his face.

“Oh my gods, Sandor, oh my gods ohmygodsohmygods,” she stammered, kissing him deeply while squeezing his hips with her thighs. She dropped kisses to his cheeks, his temples, scars, eyebrow, and nose, all the while whispering, “Yes, yes!” between kisses.

Then she reconnected with his mouth and he was completely, utterly lost in love, and wrapped up in her unbridled passion, her hands soon moving into his hair as her body subconsciously ground itself against him.

Feeling arousal wash over his body, Sandor wanted to slow down and absorb exactly what was happening. He paused Sansa’s assault on his senses by pushing himself up to sitting and curling his arms around her, effectively trapping her in his embrace.

She got the message, and just as tightly, her arms wrapped around his neck. With her knees cradling his hips he held onto her, feeling emotion after emotion settle over him like a warm fog until all that could be seen was a man who held in his arms the answer to every one of his dreams.

Sansa nuzzled into his neck, one hand drifting lazily up and down his spine as she returned the embrace. Sandor had never felt so content in his entire life, here in his home with this amazing woman.

“Sansa, I didn’t think I would ever be this happy.”

Even to his own ears his voice was hoarse with emotion, but he felt her nod against his skin, felt her lips brush across his pulse as she pressed a tender kiss there.

“I know what you mean.” There was a smile in her reply, so he squeezed her briefly before setting her away from him. She looked deeply into his eyes, that small smile playing out across her lips as she cupped his jaw, stroking his beard with her thumb. “I’ll make you so happy, Sandor,” she said softly, tears pooling in her eyes. Sandor blinked at a similar feeling in his own, and nodded, drawing her in for a sweet kiss, gentle and loving and unhurried. They had the rest of their lives to explore each other, to be with each other. Right now he just wanted to love her, and to be loved.

“You already do, Sansa.”