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Into My Arms

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Sansa sat alone in her solar, one finger tracing the rim of her half-full goblet as she stared pensively into the fire. She could hear the sounds of revelry below her, becoming louder by the hour as those left alive grew drunker. She had enjoyed the feast for a time, but she didn’t feel much like celebrating any more. There weren’t many opportunities to be alone these days, to pause and reflect; not since the Dragon Queen had arrived at Winterfell. Sansa sighed and took a sip of wine. She didn’t trust the pretty Targaryen woman; she’d seen her kind before. Power hungry and demanding in a way that was almost petulant at times – believing that she deserved the Iron Throne merely because her father had once sat on it. She knew that Daenerys had a good heart, had heard the stories of what she did in Essos – but that was half a world away, and since Jon’s new queen couldn’t accept the North’s independence, Sansa had no reason to place her confidence in the woman, or even like her.

 

Sansa pushed Daenerys from her mind. She had spent far too much time and energy thinking about the Dragon Queen lately, and this precious moment of solitude was not for her. No; just now, Sansa Stark was reflecting on Sandor Clegane.

 

Her conversation with the man she had once known as The Hound at the feast had shaken Sansa to her core, consumed her even as she grieved for Theon, Lyanna and all the other fallen Northmen. She felt some guilt at that; but they were gone, and she and Sandor were alive. She had known he was here, of course, from the moment he rode through the gates, and had watched him from a distance every chance she got. At first, this was out of a strange kind of fear; during her time in the Vale, Sansa had thought of him often, and she had a terrible feeling that perhaps her mind had made something of him that he was not. But then one day she had seen him striding out of the forge carrying a huge axe as if it weighed nothing, and felt that long-forgotten ache in her lower belly return – that pulsing need that she had experienced during the lonely nights in her room at the Eyrie as she replayed, over and over, a memory that was stained green with the glow of wildfire.

 

On that day, she stopped fearing what she would think of him and began to fear what he would think of her. She wasn’t the girl he had known in King’s Landing – the girl he had covered with his cloak, had carried to safety on the day of the Bread Riots. She had never truly mourned the loss of that frightened, fragile former self before; it had been a skin she had shed, like a snake, or one of those strange flying insects she had seen singing on the trees in the heat of King’s Landing. It was an old dress that she had cast aside because it was too small, and she had put on a suit of armour instead. But now she wondered if Sandor Clegane would look at her the same – if he would still call her little bird and stare at her in that strange way he once had, as if he wanted to swathe her in cotton and shake her until she fell apart all at once. And so, she avoided him some more. It was easy, really – he never came to the Great Hall to eat, didn’t attend the war council – it was as if the years that had passed since she last saw him had made him more solitary and unsociable than ever. But when Sansa had watched him pass through the gates before the battle and push his way to the front lines, ready to kill, or else to die, the regret she felt had been almost crippling.

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Tonight, as Sansa had watched the dark-haired girl put her hand on him suggestively, something had reared up inside her – some kind of animal, primal and hungry, clawing at the inside of her ribs as it howled its jealousy. But Sandor Clegane had seen her off with a growl that sounded so familiar to her, and that had made the wild creature purr.

She thought about their conversation there at the table.

Hounds,’ she had said, and at that he actually laughed. Was that the first time she had seen Sandor Clegane smile? Not smirk or sneer, but really smile. She decided that it suited him. It made him look handsome, even with the deep purple bruise beneath his eye.

 

Heard you got broken in rough.’

His words then had made her flinch, just a little – it was that same old hateful language he always used when he had her baled up in some corridor or other of Maegor’s. But really, Sansa had found it refreshing. She was sick to death of all the pity, the tip-toeing around what had been done to her, Jon’s doleful eyes as he looked at her whenever Ramsay’s name came up. Finally, here was someone who could acknowledge it, and who could understand, having been betrayed, hurt and scarred himself. Sansa had never thought she would see echoes of herself in Sandor Clegane.

 

Sansa thought about how his hand had felt under her own – warm and rough, calloused with years of swinging weapons, years of killing. He had aged since King’s Landing; his beard fuller and his brow heavier, but somehow Sansa thought he seemed healthier, more at peace. She remembered a tightness around his eyes that didn’t seem to be there anymore. He was much older than her – by twenty years, maybe – but what did that matter? Sansa’s face and hands might still be smooth with youth, but inside she felt old. Centuries old, sometimes. As old as the weirwoods in the Godswood, and just as bent and gnarled. Life had not been kind to her, nor to Sandor Clegane.

 

Sansa rose and walked to the fire, warming her hands there. She thought about all that Arya had told her, about travelling with him through the Riverlands and into the Mountains of the Moon. How he had kept her safe, had taught her to survive, just as he had once done for Sansa. She knew that he had saved Arya again during the battle, and that he had fought with Jon beyond the Wall. Again and again, he had put himself on the line for her family, despite being raised and trained as a Lannister dog. The image of him sitting alone at the table while everyone around him celebrated swam before her mind’s eye, and it made her sad. He deserved better; better than the sadness that burned low behind his eyes, better than the bitterness he wore like a cloak.

 

There’s only one thing that’ll make me happy.

 

Sansa couldn’t give him his brother’s head, couldn’t help him exact the revenge he craved so desperately. But perhaps there was something else she could do for him.

 

‘Guard,’ she called, and the Northman who stood outside the open door popped his head into the room. ‘Bring me Sandor Clegane.’

 

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The guard took so long to return with Sandor that Sansa almost began to lose her nerve. But then, she reminded herself, he wouldn’t be easy to find. She imagined he’d slipped away from the feast not long after she did, off to find some quiet corner to drink and brood in, alone. She smiled to herself. Some things never changed.

 

At last, the sound of heavy footfalls coming down the corridor reached her ears, and Sansa barely had time to smooth her skirts and take a deep breath for composure before her guard entered the room, with Sandor trailing behind him.

‘Sandor Clegane, my Lady,’ the Northman announced, bowing before stepping aside.

‘Thank you,’ she smiled at him as kindly as she could manage. ‘You may finish for the evening. Go and enjoy the feast, I’ll be quite safe.’

‘As you command, my Lady.’

Sansa didn’t miss the look the Northman gave Sandor as he edged passed the taller man, and it rankled her. The men still didn’t trust him, even after he had fought alongside them; but that was not to be helped. The Northmen were a hard, wary lot, and it took time to earn their good graces.

 

Sandor stood in the doorway, one knee bent slightly as he rested his weight on his left leg. Sansa wondered if there was an old injury there that pained him. She always remembered him standing straight as a board behind the king; but that was many years ago. Even without his armour, he looked imposing – the crown of his head just reached the top of the doorframe, and his shoulders and chest looked broad and solid in the plain quilted doublet he wore. He gazed back at her, saying nothing, and Sansa eventually broke the silence as she bent to pour him a cup of wine.

 

‘Arya told me you saved her,’ she said evenly. ‘During the battle.’

Sandor gave a snort, and at last he moved from the doorway, walking towards her to take the cup she offered him. His fingers brushed hers momentarily as he said, ‘Dondarrion’s the dumb cunt that gave his nineteenth bloody life for her. I did fuck all.’

Sansa took a sip from her own goblet. ‘I doubt that’s true.’

More silence. He was looking at her again, and in the low light of the fire Sansa drank in his features. He had nice eyes, she thought suddenly. Or he would, if they didn’t look quite so desolate. The lashes were long and thick, his irises the colour of a stormy afternoon sky. She liked his nose, too; and his mouth. It surprised her that she hadn’t remembered these things more clearly – but the girl she once was hadn’t been able to look past the terrifying map of scarring and the burning anger that had always been so evident in his stare and the grit of his jaw.

‘It must have been awful for you,’ she said suddenly, as the thought came to her. ‘The battle, I mean. All that fire.’

Sandor sneered at her. ‘Thought I’d turn tail and run again, did you?’

‘No. You’re no coward.’

Something flickered in his face then, like a shadow passing over, and he turned away from her. She watched him pace slowly across the room, running his fingers along the length of her desk until suddenly he slammed his fist down onto the polished wood and bowed his head.

‘I am,’ he rasped so softly she barely caught the words. ‘A worthless, craven cunt.’

 

Sansa’s heart wrenched. She wanted so desperately to go to him, to press herself to his wide back and wrap her arms around him, to let him feel some kindness for once in his miserable life. But she forced herself to be still, waiting for him to speak again.

 

‘I gave up. Did you know that, little bird? I was ready to die. Shitting myself with all those blue-eyed cunts and all that fire. I would have, if not for…’

His voice broke, and he trailed off before taking a deep swig of wine. It seemed to return him to his former self, all traces of vulnerability gone as he squared his shoulders and turned to face her again.

 

‘Why did you bring me here?’

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Sansa took another drink from her goblet, to fortify her courage. The way that Sandor Clegane was looking at her now was so different to the way he had once terrified her in King’s Landing – no angry blazing eyes, no bared teeth, no physical intimidation – and yet, she felt more scared than she had in a long time. Why was this so hard? Showing her soul to him was more difficult than bearing the attentions of Littlefinger, more difficult than pretending to be Alayne Stone, even more difficult than leaping from the walls of Winterfell into the snowdrifts below. Because in all that time, across all those years – and even now, when she was surrounded by the remnants of her family – no one had really known her, not truly. But she wanted him to, and she wanted to know him. She couldn’t imagine that there would ever be another man in her life whom she could say that for; and she had thought him lost, once, so now seemed like a second chance. Sansa couldn’t let it slip through her fingers.

 

‘I thought of you, often,’ she told him, sending a quick prayer to the Old Gods when her voice remained steady. ‘When I was in the Vale.’

He said nothing, so she went on. ‘I kept your cloak. It’s lost to me now; I had to leave it behind when I fled from Ramsay. But I kept it, for a long time.’

Again, Sandor made no move to speak, but she saw once more the same raw glimmer of emotion that he had shown her at the table earlier that evening when he told her how she would have been spared all her horrors if she had only come away with him. Remorse, perhaps? It was enough to spur Sansa on.

‘What you did for me, in King’s Landing… and what you’ve done for my family since… I want to repay you. Name anything you wish for, and I’ll give it to you, if it’s in my power.’

Sandor’s hand flattened out on her desk, almost absentmindedly. Sansa’s gaze flickered to it, took in the breadth of his palm, the negative space between his fingers. The creature in her stirred.

‘There’s nothing that I want from you, little bird,’ he sighed, looking away from her and squinting slightly at the darkened window, as if admiring a view that wasn’t there.

 

Sansa’s shoulders fell, just a little. He was impregnable, immovable. She longed to scale the walls that he had built around himself, or else to tear them down – to see them fall and reveal his very core. But she knew all too well that Sandor would not let her in that easily; for she had walls of her own, and knew their strength and height. She settled into one of the high, winged armchairs by the fire, and gestured to its twin, wordlessly inviting him to sit. Sandor stared at the chair for a long time, and for a moment she thought that he would deny her; but he seemed to eventually decide that the request was reasonable enough, and crossed the room to sit opposite her. His knees cocked out to each side, thighs broad and strong in his rough spun breeches, and his hands curled around the ends of the armrests. The beast inside Sansa was unfurling slowly now as if from sleep – she felt its animal heat, and it was unfamiliar but not unwelcome.

 

‘Are you…’ Sansa took a deep breath before continuing. This was so hard. ‘Disappointed? With me?’

Sandor made a disbelieving noise in his throat. ‘What the fuck is that supposed to mean?’

‘You said it yourself. I’ve changed.’

Their eyes met. Sansa knew that he was truly seeing her now, and she wanted to let him. Sandor leaned forward slightly, his low brow casting shadows across his face in the firelight and accentuating the lines at the corners of his eyes and mouth. Sansa felt her breath catch in her throat.

‘Do you know why I tried to help you in King’s Landing?’ he asked her, voice a low rumble reminiscent of distant thunder, or a wheel on gravel. ‘And a fucking shite job I did of it, too,’ he added bitterly.

Sansa shook her head.

‘It’s because you were me,’ he told her, fists tightening almost imperceptibly. ‘I saw myself in you. I used to dream of shining knights and pretty princesses, just like you, once. Until my fucking brother did this,’ he hissed the last word as he jabbed a thick finger towards the burned side of his face. ‘And showed me that the world isn’t a song; just a shitheap full of cunts.’

Sansa’s heartbeat was so loud in her ears that she felt sure he could hear it too. Sandor fell back in his chair, eyes still fixed on hers.

‘I wanted you to see that, too. Maybe I was trying to spare you some pain,’ his left hand raised slightly in a half-hearted gesture, then fell back to its armrest in a tight fist. ‘Or maybe I just wanted to crush you, like Gregor crushed me.’

 

He looked away then, at last – his eyes turned towards the fire, and they shone in the amber light. Sansa’s throat felt tight with emotion. ‘No, you didn’t,’ she whispered. ‘You think you’re so mean that you’d hurt an innocent child like that? You’re not. You helped me. You saved me,’ she added.

‘I could have hurt you,’ he muttered. ‘Didn’t your sister tell you? The night of the Blackwater… don’t act like you don’t know why I was there. I could have fucked you bloody and left you for dead.’

Sansa laughed mirthlessly – a cold chuckle that made Sandor’s hooded eyes snap back to hers. ‘Now who’s the liar? You would never have hurt me, Sandor Clegane. Even if you did want me.’

At that, Sandor’s one good eyebrow raised ever so slightly. Sansa felt a smug satisfaction in the knowledge that she had managed to shock this irritable, foul-mouthed bear of a man. Emboldened, she crossed her legs, and saw his eyes flicker to her lap for the briefest of moments. The creature in her belly tossed its head. ‘I’m no stranger to desire these days. At least, in other people. My own needs have long remained a mystery to me.’

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Silence stretched between them, broken only by distant laughter and the crackle of the flames in the hearth. Sansa felt the animal inside her begin to pace, fanning the embers of a low, sweet ache that burned between her thighs and became steadily hotter the longer she stared at Sandor.

 

‘What does it feel like?’ She asked softly, the timbre of her voice half an octave lower than usual. ‘To want someone who wants you back?’

Sandor swallowed; the firelight played off the apple in his throat as it bobbed, and the creature in Sansa longed to sink its teeth there and taste the salt of him.

‘Wouldn’t know,’ he said hoarsely. ‘I’ve been fucking whores all my life.’

Sansa understood, and though their paths had been different in this respect she saw her own loneliness and longing reflected back at her when she gazed at him. Perhaps they really were one and the same; two faces of a coin, twin blades of an axe.

‘I felt something, when I saw you here at Winterfell. Something I didn’t think my body capable of, anymore.’ She looked down at her hands, her courage suddenly flagging. This was dangerous ground. ‘I dreamed of you, before… I even thought you’d kissed me, for a time. It was a girlish fantasy, I know that now, but a fantasy none the less. And I allow myself so few of those.’

She wished he would say something, anything, so that she might know where she stood with him, but he remained silent, and as still as a statue. Sansa tried again.

 

‘I watch them,’ her arms went to the supports of the chair in a reflection of his own posture – her hands needed to feel purchase on something. ‘Arya and Gendry, Jaime and Brienne, Gilly and Sam… I see the way they look at each other, and it’s foreign to me. I’ve never felt warmth like that. My only pleasure these many years has come from watching Ramsay and Littlefinger die.’

A flicker of a sad smile played across Sandor’s face. ‘You’re cold as ice, little bird.’

‘And you are hard as stone,’ Sansa retorted, and didn’t miss the way the corner of his mouth twitched infinitesimally at her words. ‘Are you not tired of it?’

A moment – the briefest of flashes – and Sansa saw the shutters open behind Sandor Clegane’s eyes. Behind the liquid smoke of his irises was the ghost of his broken, tender heart, so like her own, and if Sansa could reach out and hold it in her hands, she would. An instant later he was shutting her out again, a cloud of bitterness descending over his visage, but she had seen enough.

‘You once told me,’ Sansa said as she rose and stepped slowly towards him. ‘That killing is the sweetest thing there is. I want to know if that’s true.’

 

Sandor craned his neck to look up at her as she stood over him, his hair falling back from the twisted scarring that had once been so petrifying to her. Sansa knew better now; she had scars of her own to bear, though perhaps not so obvious. Slowly, so slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Sansa raised her skirts and planted one knee, then the other, on either side of Sandor’s hips. He remained motionless, eyes fixed on her face as she settled herself onto him, her rump coming to rest on his thighs just before his kneecaps. Beneath her, he was warm and solid, and the beast inside was growling with want, dragging its claws down Sansa’s spine in a hot shiver of arousal. She reached a hand out to touch his face, but in a lightning quick movement one of Sandor’s shot up and closed around her wrist, his grip firm but not ungentle.

 

‘Little bird,’ it came out so choked it was almost a sob. ‘The fuck do you think you’re doing?’

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‘You may not want anything from me, Sandor Clegane,’ Sansa whispered, her free hand rising slowly to curl around his upper arm, feeling its sheer size and the shift and tighten of lean muscle beneath the fabric of his doublet. ‘But there is something that I want from you.’

‘You’re drunk,’ he spat bitterly, and looked away from her. Sansa felt a sudden urge to slap him, but it passed as quickly as it had come. His barbs were only a defensive reflex.

‘I’m not,’ she told him, rocking unconsciously against him in an effort to soothe the strange hot tingle she felt in her loins. ‘And neither are you, this time.’

Sandor shot her a wry look that gave way to a sharp intake of breath when she rolled her hips again. Sansa felt his grip on her loosen, enough that she was able to reach out and brush the hair back from his face. It felt oddly soft to the touch, and she combed her fingers through its length gently. Sandor exhaled shakily – she watched the slow fall of his chest, and moved her hand from his bicep to rest where she knew his heart to be.

‘I was just a girl, in King’s Landing,’ Sansa murmured, cupping his burnt cheek and feeling the tight, leathery texture of it. Miraculously, Sandor did not pull away; his eyes were burning into hers, and she thought perhaps she saw unshed tears there, harkening her back to that distant memory of wildfire and cold steel against her throat. ‘But I’m a woman now, and you’re the only man I’ve ever wanted. Please, show me-‘

 

Sandor Clegane cut her off when his hand grasped her by the nape of her neck and brought her mouth crashing down on his. Their lips met in a desperate crush of desire, clumsy yet searing in their passion. She felt rather than heard the low growl that rolled through Sandor’s chest as he pulled her to him, and the wanton creature inside keened in response. In that moment, Sansa felt that she was no longer the cold, composed Lady of Winterfell; she was just an animal, a wolf who had finally found her mate. She was dimly aware that the door to her solar stood ajar, but couldn’t bring herself to care. No one would come this way, and if they did… well. Stranger things were surely happening in Winterfell this night.

 

Sandor’s hands were in her hair now, pulling at the pins and roughly dismantling the elaborate style until he was burying his fingers in her tresses and pressing her mouth harder to his, tilting her head until her lips opened and he pushed his tongue into her. Sansa gasped, stealing the very air from his lungs. She had never been kissed like this, didn’t know it could feel so good, so stimulating. She pushed back, rocking her hips harder against him even as their tongues met in an erotic dance. His right hand went to the base of her spine and he pulled her forward, sliding her along his legs until her centre was pressed against him, and she felt his hardness even through the folds of her skirts. Sansa froze for a moment, waiting for the familiar bubble of panic to rise in her throat and choke her, for chilling memories of soft hands and a softer voice to force their way into her consciousness – but then Sandor sighed her name against her lips, her real name, and it was the first time she had heard him use it. The warmth that spread through Sansa then was enough to chase away those demons, to banish them at least for tonight.

 

Sandor wrapped one arm around her waist, pressing every inch of her body against him. Sansa was aching all over – her skin felt too small, her heart too big. She had no experience at all, nothing to guide her actions but the primal need she felt for him. The animal inside was struggling for control, and so she let it take her, let those instincts drive her to grind herself against him and moan at the sensation of her sex sliding against his. She felt a wetness there at her core, and that was new – there had been some when she tentatively explored herself a lifetime ago in the Vale, but never so much. Never like this. Sansa lost herself in the smell of him, the leather-and-sweat musk that was so masculine. Sandor’s beard was a rough rub against her face as he kissed her, but she loved the sensation. She was hypersensitive and alive with her own desire.

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Just as Sansa was beginning to lose touch with all rational thought, Sandor’s hands came up to her face and he pulled her head back so suddenly that she gasped.

‘Sansa, look at me,’ he said, breathing ragged and voice tight with emotion. They were the same words he had used once before, but they sounded so different to her now. ‘You could never disappoint me. Not then, not now, not ever. Are you listening to me?’ He shook her slightly, making her teeth chatter before pressing his forehead to hers.

Sansa nodded, feeling the friction of his scars against her own smooth skin and relishing in it. She felt as if her heart were throwing itself against her ribcage, trying desperately to get closer to him.

‘You’re fucking perfect. You’ve always been perfect,’ he clenched his jaw as he spoke, as if he was angry about it. ‘Too perfect for a dog like me. But if you’re throwing me a bone, Gods know I’ll take it.’

The hungry wolf inside howled low with yearning, and Sansa thought dimly through the fog of arousal that really she was the one who was asking for a bone. Asking for Sandor to give her a gift she had given up all hope of receiving. She raised her fingers to his, gently pulling them down along her throat until they pressed against her breasts, and she gasped at the feeling of his hands on her there even as he gave a hiss of arousal.

 

This time it was Sansa who kissed Sandor, seeking out that delicious warm slide of his tongue against hers as he began to knead her sensitive flesh. She rocked against him and he cursed under his breath. One hand left her breast and dropped to grip her flank hard, before gathering the fabric of her skirts and pulling until they were bunched around her hips. She felt a rush of cool air against the bare skin of her thighs, that tender expanse of skin between her stockings and her small clothes, and then it was replaced by the warmth of his palms as he began to stroke her there, up and down in a motion that was both soothing and incredibly arousing. His hands were so rough, the leathery callouses catching against her sensitive skin and soft hair, but it felt so good and so right and Sansa couldn’t stop the low keen that escaped her lips.

‘So soft,’ he whispered to her, landing a light smack just below the hem of her smallclothes that was almost playful. ‘You say you dreamed of me, girl? Well, I dreamed of you, too. I dreamed of these,’ he gently pinched the soft flesh of her inner thigh, eliciting another moan from her. ‘Wrapped around my head while I drank from your cunt like a cup of wine.’

Sansa shuddered, burying her face in his neck as the intensity of the moment washed over her. He was overwhelming; his touch, the low rumble of his voice, his words… she didn’t quite understand what he was referring to, but it sounded like something she would enjoy. His hands slid under her, cupping the globes of her ass with a possessive strength and spreading her, so that when he pushed his hardness against her again she felt every inch of it and bit down on the stubbled skin of his throat, desperate for something, though she didn’t know what.

Fuck,’ he swore as she nipped him, though it sounded more appreciative than angry. ‘She-wolf,’ Sandor grunted, fumbling with her smallclothes until they were pushed aside and he slid the pad of his middle finger against her sex.

 

This time they both exclaimed, and Sansa drew back to look at him. Sandor was grimacing as if pained, but his blown pupils belied that. He stroked her gently, all the while searching her face with his eyes. His finger brushed against that little bundle of nerves Miranda Royce had once told her about, and a bolt of pleasure shot through Sansa, mouth falling open as she ground herself against his hand, seeking more of whatever he had just given her.

‘Does that feel good, little bird?’ he asked her, repeating the action. Sansa was struck by the look on his face – the softness of his mouth, the crinkle at the corner of his eyes – it was almost affectionate. She nodded her head, incapable of forming words just now. Sansa pushed herself against him again, and Sandor pressed his forehead to hers as he rasped, ‘Yes. Take what you need, girl. Gods know you earned it.’

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Sansa felt sweat beginning to bead on her brow and along the curve of her spine as she moved against Sandor, chasing down something that was just out of reach. She still didn’t quite know what she wanted, only that there was something beautiful on the horizon, an answer to all her wondering; but no matter how hard she tried to catch it in her hands it slipped between her fingers like water. She gave a cry of frustration, and Sandor responded immediately, one large hand going to her hip to still her frantic movements before beginning to guide her in a slow, deliberate rhythm, as if she were riding a horse, moving his fingers in firm circles against her as he did so.

‘Easy,’ he told her gruffly, and she realised then that he was sweating too – her skin slid against his as she dropped her mouth to his neck again, this time to taste him with her tongue, drawing a ragged moan from him. ‘Concentrate. I’ll have that song from you, Sansa. I don’t care if it takes all fucking night.’

She let herself be calmed by his words and guided by his hands, beginning the long climb once again. She closed her eyes and let the feeling wash over her, let the rest of the world fall away until it was just him and her in the firelight, alone in a great expanse of perfect nothingness.

 

 

Sansa focussed on the warmth of his breath on her neck, his smell, his thick fingers that were slipping with growing ease across her wet sex. She felt tightly wound, the way she imagined a soldier might before a fight. That fire between her thighs was burning her alive now; Sandor was stoking it to an almost unbearable intensity. She held her breath – and then, Sansa exploded. She muffled her ecstatic sobs against his shoulder, terrified and relieved at the same time. She hadn’t known her body was capable of feeling something like this, a pleasure so strong it curled her toes and blurred her vision. Sandor whispered something to her that she didn’t quite catch over the rush of blood and the howl of her wolf in her ears, and when the storm passed over and she finally raised her head to look at him, he was smiling. Gods, he was beautiful.

 

‘Was that…’ Sansa began, then trailed off, unsure.

‘Aye,’ he chuckled, pushing back the hair from her forehead. ‘That’s what all the fuss is about.’

He gently withdrew his hand from her smallclothes and brought it to his mouth, sucking each of the fingers clean in turn, and as Sansa watched wide-eyed her desire began to build anew. Was there no limit to what she could feel?

‘Mm,’ he hummed approvingly. ‘Better than any wine I’ve ever tasted.’

Sansa shivered, a little aftershock of pleasure coursing through her. He watched her with steely eyes, hands curling around her waist.

‘You ever had one of those before?’ he asked her.

She shook her head. ‘I didn’t know I could.’

Sandor looked pained, and Sansa couldn’t help but marvel at how open his expressions had become. ‘A crying fucking shame. You sing so sweet.’

He rocked himself against her almost absentmindedly, still as hard as ever. ‘You can do it for yourself, now that you know how. No shame in it.’

 

His words served as a reminder to Sansa that he was not hers, not really – would never be. Sandor Clegane was not that type of man, and although she had called him here with the intention of getting what she wanted, just once, there had been a tiny part of her that had dared to hope that he would want to stay, that she could bring him to heel. What a fool she’d been. She turned away from him, staring into the fire as she gathered herself.

‘You’re going, then,’ she said, more of a statement than a question.

‘Got an axe to grind.’

‘Your brother.’

‘Aye.’

‘And after that? What will you do?’ she met his eyes again, and was disappointed to see that his features had clouded over once more, that blissful moment of vulnerability gone. Let me in, she thought desperately, but instead she said, ‘You will always be welcome at Winterfell.’

‘He won’t go down that easy,’ he told her, a little sadness in the way he looked at her. Perhaps he wasn’t quite lost after all.

‘You’ve survived a thousand dead men,’ Sansa took his face in her hands. ‘What’s one more?’

The corner of his mouth twitched. ‘It’s not the fucking same.’

‘So I’ll just give you up for dead, shall I?’ exasperation made her voice sound high and petulant, but Sansa didn’t care. She needed him to hear this. ‘I can’t do that. Not again.’

‘You’re better off without a mean old dog sniffing after you.’

Sansa’s hands went to his hair and gripped it hard. ‘You could help me rule the North.’

‘You don’t need any bloody help,’ he growled at her, hands fisting in her dress. ‘You’re going to rule this frozen shitheap for the rest of your life and do a fucking good job of it. And it won’t be because Joffrey had you beaten and Littlefinger sold you and Ramsay raped you, it will be because you’re a fucking Stark and you’re strong and you were born to do it.’

And with that, Sandor pushed her from his lap onto the hearthrug and climbed on top of her, silencing her protestations with a scorching kiss.  

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Sandor ripped at the laces of Sansa’s bodice, thick fingers made clumsy in his haste to have her naked. She helped him, and soon she felt the blessedly cool air on her fevered skin as he undressed her. They made short work of his doublet, but before Sansa could unlace his breeches he drew away from her to sit back on his heels, one huge, warm hand wrapping around her calf as he drank her in with his eyes.

‘Fuck me,’ he whispered, extending his free arm to trail his fingertips down her throat, between her breasts and across the pale expanse of her belly. She shivered beneath his feather-light touch, and committed the sight before her to memory.

 

Sandor Clegane was hairier than any man had a right to be; a dark pelt covered his chest and forearms, trailing down across his stomach and disappearing beneath the waistband of his trousers, interrupted here and there by pink and silver scars. That feature alone could have inspired his old moniker, Sansa thought bemusedly, but she found that she liked it very much – wanted to feel all that coarse hair against her skin. His arms and shoulders were heavily muscled; she could see the thick ropes shifting in the low firelight, and it made her ache to be wrapped up in his embrace, warm and protected.

 

I could keep you safe.’

 

She heard the ghost of his memory rasp the words across the great yawning rift of time, so long ago but still so clear. She might have held him to that promise, once, when she was just a girl, scared and alone. Sansa wondered, for a brief moment, if she could use those words to make him stay, now; if he would honour them, though he had sworn no vows to her or any other. But she understood the need for vengeance that drove him, and as much as she wanted him beside her, he had the right of it; she didn’t need him. She’d survived without Sandor once, through much worse things than loneliness, and she’d do it again, because she was a Stark, and there must always be a Stark in Winterfell.

 

And so if this was to be her only night with Sandor Clegane, Sansa was going to make it count.

 

She reached for him with a desperate yearning, pulling him back down atop her and rolling with him until she straddled his hips, her breasts pressing against the wiry hair and hot, hard flesh of his chest as she kissed him deeply, her long hair falling around them in a thick curtain. The wolf in her knew what she needed – to bond with him, to become one flesh just as they were one soul, and though a part of her was still terrified of that kind of physical invasion she wanted him too desperately to hesitate. She raised herself up onto her knees to reach between them and unlace him, fingers brushing against his erection as she did so.

‘Fucking hells,’ he swore into her mouth. Another second and his cock was free, springing up to rest against his belly. There was a thatch of dark hair there, too – it tickled the inside of her thighs as she lowered herself back down to press her sex against the base of his shaft, marvelling at how his manhood could be at once smooth as silk and hard as iron. She was still wet from her earlier release, and when she rolled her hips against his she felt fresh evidence of her arousal gather between them.

‘Yes, that’s right,’ he gasped, fisting her hair with one hand while the other gripped her thigh. ‘Rub that pretty cunt on my cock, Sansa.’

Sansa whimpered and did as she was told, feeling another great wave beginning to build already as she tilted her hips just so. She knew it would take time before she was ready for him – he was huge, much bigger than she had experienced before, and though she was no stranger to pain something told her it didn’t have to be that way. Thankfully, Sandor didn’t seem to be in any hurry; he was looking at her, heavy-lidded eyes dark with wonder, like he couldn’t quite believe that it was all real; and, truth be told, neither could she. She ran her hands across his chest, adoring the dichotomy of soft skin and firm muscle, the thick hair between her fingers.

‘I’m going to think about this every night,’ she whispered to him as she arched her back, twisting and grinding that sweet spot against the hardness of him. ‘Until you come back and give it to me again.’

Before he could protest, Sansa dragged herself up along his length one last time and let him push into her. It felt so easy, a magnetic pull of slick, sensitive flesh, and though she felt a delicious tension as Sandor stretched her there was no pain. He hissed through clenched teeth as she sank down on him, sheathing him inside her until he bottomed out. He reached parts of her she had never felt before, didn’t even know existed.

‘Sansa,’ he croaked, his hands smoothing their way up her thighs in the gentlest of caresses, though she felt the tremor of self-control in his fingers and knew he was holding back. ‘I can’t…’

She knew what he was going to say, and she didn’t want to hear it – not now. ‘Shut up,’ she breathed, leaning down to kiss him as she began to fuck him slowly. In this moment, they could be anywhere, anyone; he could be her lover, her sworn shield, her husband. Sandor let her steal the words from his mouth, pushing his tongue against hers as she ground down on him, an animal in heat. He brought her to climax there again in front of the fire, letting her take the reins and find her pleasure in his body – and when she fell against his chest, exhausted, he gathered her to him and pounded into her, taking his own release with a curse and a groan.

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Sandor Clegane and Sansa Stark made love a hundred times that night – or perhaps it was only a handful. She couldn’t quite be sure. They poured themselves into one another, filling the hollow spaces left by two lifetimes of pain and loneliness. They spoke no more about him leaving, or of him coming back to her; but when they at last tumbled into her bed to sleep, Sansa allowed herself one last look at him before she blew out the candle. She traced a finger across his heavy brow, along the ridges of his nose and over his lips, surprisingly soft and tender as she knew them to be now. She pressed her body against him, one thigh thrown across both of his, and put her arms around his abdomen, as if measuring the space he occupied so that she could conjure him up from memory in all the lonely nights to come. Sansa wasn’t really religious anymore, not in the way she had been as a girl when she worshipped the Seven and prayed to the Maiden and the Mother and all the rest. She believed in the Old Gods of her father, but as far as she was concerned their red, watchful eyes were just that; they were observers as old as time, mere witnesses now to the petty squabbles and fighting of mortal men. And so she didn’t think there was much point in asking them to protect him.

 

But, as she watched sleep take him and make him peaceful, erasing the years and the bitterness from his face, she thought that she may as well try. She asked the Old Gods to watch over him, to keep him safe in the battles to come; to not change him, to leave him as he was, for though she had once asked the Mother to quiet his rage she wanted that task to be hers alone now. And she asked them to guide him safely, to light the way for him to come back to the North, back to her, back into her arms.

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Sandor Clegane was going to Winterfell, for the third and final time. He had lost the sight in his left eye, and the irony wasn’t lost on him; how many times had he called Beric Dondarrion a one-eyed cunt, and mocked him for his eyepatch? He wore one of his own now – a crude, ineffective thing that was really just a bandage stretched around his head at an angle. Perhaps Sansa could sew him one; she was good at needlepoint, he remembered that from those hot, long-ago days in King’s Landing.

He hated that place. Watching that shit city burn would have been glorious, if it hadn’t been coming down around his own ugly head – even after he’d survived his monster of a brother, planting his boot in that rotting belly and shoving the dead thing into the flames below, he’d been sure he was done for as the Red Keep crumbled around him. Somehow, blind with the blood in his eyes and body bruised and broken, he’d crawled to the foot of the stairs and laid there, waiting to die as the sky caught fire above him. If Sandor believed in the Gods, he might even have thought they were smiling on him as the rubble rained down and missed his prone form. He waited out the storm there, thinking about the Stark girls. He hoped Arya was alive, that she’d made it out. He hoped she’d go back North, to be with that blacksmith who was sniffing after her. And he hoped she'd forget about her little list. There was more to life than killing.

Aye, much more. He’d realised that far too late. He cast his mind back to that one perfect, tender night he’d spent with Sansa before he left Winterfell, and cursed himself for a fucking fool for leaving her – what was revenge, compared to the love of a woman like that? He’d closed his eyes, the pain in his skull and body a living thing roaring as loud as that fucking dragon swooping overhead. It came as no surprise to Sandor that the Targaryen woman had turned mad; if his time standing behind Lannisters had taught him anything, it was the ability of power to corrupt the mind. He wanted none of it – the Iron Throne could fall into the sea for all he cared. The whole fucking country south of the Neck could crumble away and he wouldn’t give two shits, as long as Sansa had the North, and people to love her and watch over her.

That could have been you, you dumb dog , a little voice whispered through the nightmarish sounds of the siege below. He’d known she wanted him to stay, and it had been the hardest decision he’d ever made to ride south; but his bloodlust had won out in the end. A lifetime of hating his brother had convinced Sandor that running his sword through the man who ruined his face and his House would be the greatest moment of his life, but now that it had happened, he knew he had been wrong. The greatest moment of his miserable, shitting life had been when Sansa Stark climbed onto his lap and told him that she wanted him.

When the firestorm ended, and an eerie silence descended on the ruin of King’s Landing, Sandor Clegane had used the last of his strength to push himself to his feet and stagger through the streets, unrecognisable now beneath a thick blanket of ash. There were bodies everywhere, and rubble. Sandor ground out a bitter laugh as he considered how the painfully honourable Jon Snow would be feeling right now, if the doe-eyed bastard was still alive. Should have listened to his sisters, the cunt-struck fool , he thought, and held his broken ribs.

He made it through the gates – or what was left of them – to the Northern lines before he collapsed into blackness. They patched him up, and though they couldn’t do much for his eye there was a healer there who said he might get his sight back, one day. Sandor didn’t set too much store by that. As far as he was concerned, he was lucky Gregor hadn’t squeezed the brains from his skull like wine from a grape. Not wasting any time waiting to heal, Sandor had called for a horse and ridden out of the camp before anyone even knew he was there; he had somewhere he needed to be.

In the weeks that followed on the road, in which he was always keeping his eyes peeled for any sign of Arya, Sandor must have almost lost his nerve a thousand times. Travel was slow going with broken ribs, even for a tough old dog, and a few times he’d caught sight of his own reflection in streams and lakes and balked. Surely Sansa wouldn’t want him like this. If he’d been ugly before, now he was positively frightening. It was the cruellest mockery of all that Gregor, even in his mindless state, had fucked up his good side. But when his courage started to flag, Sandor thought of Sansa’s lips kissing him, the slick glide of her perfect skin against his in the firelight, and of the way she had sighed his name in pleasure and longing, a whispered prayer for his ears only; and he kept going.

The North was just as he remembered, and it felt odd to him that this place could remain unchanged while the south was a smouldering ruin. Although he was born in the Westerlands, Sandor felt an odd affinity for this place; he liked the quiet, the wildness of it, the way the mountains seemed to go on forever, undulating peaks folding in on themselves like rumpled sheets on a bed. It was fucking freezing when he approached the walls of Winterfell, but after the heat of the flames and smoke in King’s Landing, Sandor thought he would be quite happy to be cold for the rest of his life. His heart was in his mouth as the call went up from the sentries, ringing out across the snowdrifts. He was so close to Sansa now and he felt overwhelmed by that knowledge, her name rising up in his throat and choking him and hot tears gathering unshed behind his one good eye.

She met him in the courtyard. He barely made it a few feet past the gates before he saw her running towards him, hair streaming behind her, all propriety and decorum forgotten, and as he eased his weary bones down from the saddle and turned to look at her he felt the rest of the world fall away. There might have been a hundred onlookers, but to him they were nothing; there was only her, her face so pale against the dark auburn of her hair, her eyes so bright and rimmed with pink as tears fell like rain and froze on her cheeks. Sansa . The space between them fell away as he strode to meet her, and she wrapped her arms around him as if she, too, had forgotten they were being watched. His heart burst inside his ribcage, forcing its way out of the hard shell he had been building around it all his life to beat frantically with love for her. He whispered her name, quiet enough that only she could hear.

Sandor felt great sobs wrack Sansa’s body as he held her, barely registering the pain in his ribs as she squeezed him tight, so tight it was as if she was trying to push herself into him, to burrow into his chest.

‘I thought you were dead,’ she choked out, voice muffled in his collar.

‘No, little bird. Not quite,’ he answered gruffly, smoothing a hand along the river of her hair. ‘Your sister?’

‘Alive,’ Sansa told him, and relief flooded Sandor so suddenly he almost felt his knees buckle. He hadn’t realised how concerned he’d been for the little wolf. Sansa drew back to gaze up at him, her hands leaving his shoulders to cup his ruined face.

‘Your eye,’ she murmured, her own blue eyes wide with concern as her fingers brushed the bandage. Sandor nodded.

‘Not quite the handsome face you remember, little bird?’ his mouth twitched as he said it, and he wondered briefly who the fuck he thought he was, making japes like this. Perhaps Gregor had hit his head harder than he thought. Sansa laughed softly, and he liked the little crease that formed beneath her eyes when she did. She fixed him with a look that was so warm it made his blood sing, and raised herself onto her toes to bring her face closer to his.

‘Did you kill him?’ she asked. There was an edge to her voice that made him stir with want.

‘Aye.’

‘Good,’ she murmured, leaning into him and closing the distance between their lips. ‘Now you are all mine.’

Sansa Stark kissed Sandor Clegane right there, in front of all the lords and soldiers and washer women of Winterfell, as snow began to fall around them. Let them look; she was done pretending, done hiding her heart and letting her fate be decided for her. She wanted to show the whole North, the whole world , that this man was hers as much as she was his, and that she would love him, scars, swearing and all, from this day until the end of their days.