As soon as Sandor returned to dry land, a gnawing emptiness clawed at his gut, fueling his rage towards Joffrey further still while melding with Sansa's own heartache. No matter how hard he tried, Sandor could not escape the emptiness in his heart. Needing release, Sandor had gone to the training yard, which was his preferred way of sorting out his troubles.

There he cut down every opponent mercilessly, reserving the most brutal blows for the members of the Kingsguard. Jaime Lannister was not there, much to his surprise, but Sandor would not have cared if he was-it was his shit of a son than started this whole mess. His bloodlust unsated by the exercise, Sandor then proceeded to hack the practice dummies to pieces until Tywin called him off.

Next Sandor went to Baelish's brothel, where he gambled and drank himself into a stupor. Upon seeing his winnings, Mary tried to coax him into buying her, lifting her shirts and batting her lashes at him in the way that had proven most effective in the past, but Sandor brusquely brushed her aside.

"Plan on killing yourself while Lady Sansa is away?" The golden lion's mocking tone rang in his ears as Sandor eased himself into a chair. Tutting, Jaime sat down across from him and helped himself to the wine Mary set before them.

"Fuck off," Sandor snarled, jerking the flask away from him. "Go find a whore and leave me be." Jabbing his finger at Mary, he slurred, "This one's looking for business."

Averting her eyes, Mary moved toward Bronn, who had just entered the room. The sellsword knew Sandor favored her, and so he eagerly allowed her to sit on his lap. Scowling, Sandor shouted, "She's all yours, little man."

Bronn looked ready for a comeback but thought better of it when Sandor rose to his full height. Sighing as he glanced between the men, Jaime shook his head. "Sit down, the both of you." Once Sandor was seated, he leaned in close, "I know about Varys, Clegane, and I know about Sansa."

His thoughts muddled, Sandor wasn't sure what the Lannister lion thought he knew but he sure as hells wasn't going to offer any information. Hoping he would just go away, Sandor remained silent and drained his flagon.

"If you'd stop being such a stubborn jackass, I could help you." Jaime fingered a golden stag thoughtfully while waiting for his reply.

When he saw Jaime was in no hurry to leave, Sandor sullenly raised his eyes to him. "And just how do you think you can help me?"

"I know the king means to bring you with him to King's Landing and in so doing, will effectively remove you from Sansa permanently."

"Aye, then you can have her for yourself," he slurred, jerking toward the golden knight. "I seen the way you leer at her. You're probably the shit who put it in his mind in the first place to send me away."

"No, it was Joffrey's," Jaime carefully answered, resting his hand on the hilt of his sword. "Look, you have held a few secrets of mine and I'm willing to do the same."

"Bugger off." Sandor waved him away.

"Listen to me now," Jaime leaned in. "Do you love her?"

Sandor snorted at drew a long drink. "What do you think?"

"Then marry her. Do it before the king returns. She is a highborn lady and once she's bedded, fat Robert will have to let her go with you or else risk the ire of the north."

Wiping his mouth on his shirt, Sandor glared at him. "Don't I need his royal worship's permission to wed?"

"No, you belong to Casterly Rock. I'll give the consent. My father will not contest it, and before anyone can complain the thing will be done." Jaime grinned mischievously. "What say you?"

Even through his drunken haze Sandor had to admit that was the best option he had going, but would the little bird want to marry him? "Aye," Sandor finally nodded, "I'll do it."

"Good man," Jaime slapped him hard on the back. "Now get out of here before you do something truly stupid."

After the second quarter of the moon, Sandor awoke with the same sinking feeling he carried in his gut when he left Sansa at sea. Wincing at the dying firelight, he groaned loudly and gingerly stretched out on his bed; the copious amounts of Dornish sour Sandor consumed had left his tongue furred and his temples pounding relentlessly.

Sansa was his first thought as his senses slowly returned to him. The man had hoped that upon awaking from his drunken stupor he would find her there and the previous day just a dream. Sandor's hand groped for her in the darkness, and upon finding only emptiness, the black rage that colored his life before her seeped out of the depths of his soul, souring his already bleak mood.

Experience had taught him not to move too quickly after such indulgence but even his most careful effort proved too much. Turning his head, the contents of his stomach violently lurched forward at the movement, and after he emptied himself into a nearby basin, Sandor decided he would go back to the brothel in search of more wine.

Shades of Sansa's emotions stopped him cold, however; even from far away, the intensity of her misery echoed in his heart and cast a further shadow of wretchedness over him. Sandor could not bear for his emotions to hurt his little bird, and the thought caused the man to stem the bilious rage boiling up in his gut. His anger would do her no good. Before long he would have to return to the sea and hopefully Sansa would be there, waiting for him. It would not do for her to see him in such a condition.

Gently Sandor eased himself back into bed and closed his eyes while thinking over the events of the previous day. When Sansa learned of her father's death, her face took on a haunted expression, and even glancing at her sent a corresponding shiver through Sandor's body. True to the strong woman she was, Sansa managed to play her role until they reached his quarters.

Though her tight embrace was borne out of desperation, the man could not help but enjoy the feel of her warm softness. Sansa removed her sleeping shift as soon as she climbed into bed (which that in of itself was enough to make sleeping difficult) and paired with her whimpering, Sandor had been unable to rest.

Having never offered comfort to another person, he felt helpless in the wake of her heartache. With Sansa, Sandor not only witnessed her suffering but shared it too, an overwhelming sensation both powerful and yet tender. Some instinct made Sandor hold her close while stroking her naked back and shoulders. Immediately he felt she was comforted; Sansa quieted and soon her body relaxed against him.

For the first time in memory, he made a conscious effort for her sake, willing himself calm down. The idea came that perhaps he would be able to transmit the feeling to her. It was more foolishness than Sandor had ever dared allow himself, but it was worth it for Sansa's sake. So he decided to offer a quiet prayer, submitting to the so-called old gods as he continued comforting her as she gave free reign to her anguish.

Feeling more a fool than ever before, Sandor was about to give up when it soon became apparent that Sansa gained the benefit of his efforts, for her breathing slowed and fell heavy against his neck, her weeping subsided, and not long after the little bird finally found peace in sleep.

Sandor held her all through the night, for Sansa had clung to him, her small hands gripping his back for purchase. The bonding made the experience intimate in a way Sandor had never before known, joined in both mind and body as they were, and the sharing of Sansa's grief was the most powerful encounter of Sandor's young life.

Stroking her hair, Sandor reveled in the honeyed scent of Sansa's velvety soft skin, the lushness of her full breasts pressed alluringly against his naked chest, the silken strands of red hair surrounding his body. He committed them all to memory, tucking their last few precious moments together away to savor during the time she returned to her family.

The following morning, a loud clap of thunder rolled in the distance, suddenly awakening Sandor. His head still pounded, though not so fiercely as before. After taking a cold bath, Sandor dressed while contemplating whether or not Sansa would even be there, and the thought sent a fresh wave of nausea through him.

Delicately he ran his large calloused hands over the soft material of her green gown. If the little bird did return to him, she would need something to wear on land, so he bundled the garment along with stockings and shoes into a duffle and then made for the docks.

It was only natural for her to desire to return to the sea, Sandor thought as he untied the moorings. Ever since they were reunited, he could not imagine his life without her, nor did he want to, and the fear of her leaving overshadowed the happiness Sandor found with her. The look on Sansa's face when saw her father and sister confirmed his worry but as much as he dreaded the idea of going on without Sansa in his life, Sandor would not hold it against her if she never wanted to return to Casterly Rock.

A woman as beautiful and perfect as Sansa was never meant for the likes of him anyway, of that he was certain. He was just a dog after all, taking what belonged to his betters, and the way people looked at him with Sansa on his arm proved he was not the only man who thought so. But Sandor didn't care about anyone or anything but Sansa; just having her affection was more good than Sandor ever expected to receive in life, and for that alone he would be forever grateful to who or whatever saw fit to bring them together in the first place. With a heavy heart, Sandor cast off the vessel.

At first light Sansa was ready to leave Winterfell. She had said her goodbyes to her family the night before and so had not expected to see them so early, but when she reached the great hall all of them were there, waiting to send her off. Jory stood there as well, a solemn expression clouding his face. Sansa ignored him.

"I cannot bear to leave," she cried into her mother's arms. "Not like this."

"Jon will come to you in a fortnight, Sansa. You must be strong, like your lady mother," Maester Luwin offered softly while anointing her head and shoulders with holy oils. "You must have faith in the gods, lass."

Catelyn stroked her hair while the master said the blessing. "He is right, my little lemoncake. Go to Sandor. The gods will help you understand their will for you."

Nodding obediently, Sansa hugged her family one last time and then made for the surface. The journey to the location where Sandor left her felt markedly shorter than when she swam out to sea with Arya, Varys and her father. Finally his boat appeared in the distance, bringing a great wave of relief over her. Eagerly Sansa swam toward Sandor, all the while calling his name.

The sun shone directly in her face, but Sansa squinted until she was able to make out Sandor's huge form waving her toward the bow of the vessel. As she swam up beside him, he knelt down and smirked at her. "So you decided to return after all. I half thought you'd stay with your kin."

"No, San-dor, I cannot bear to live without you." Sansa earnestly stared up at him, suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of her bonded mate. "You must feel it in your heart."

He eyed her suspiciously until Sandor's mouth curled into a grin, the man unable to hold up the ruse while staring into her beautiful eyes. Kneeling down, he held his arms out to her. "I do, lass. Come, let's go home."