Disclaimer: All recognizable characters and elements belong to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series. No copyright infringement is intended.

It has to be done. They have no food for him and he'll fill their bellies and keep them alive awhile longer. Still Sandor hesitates. His hand - the hand that's taken the lives of hundreds of men, and a few women and children, too - pause inches away from the stallion's throat. "Stranger," he croaks. He pets the big head bowed by the weight of starvation.

Sandor feels a hand on his back. "You don't have to," she says. He loves her and he hates her for her soft sentimentality that would put emotion above survival. He shrugs her hand off and quickly slits his horse's throat.

"It was a mercy to him," he says. "I ought to do the same to myself." But he won't, because he's promised her that he'll never leave her again. "I ought to cut your pretty little throat and put myself out of my misery."

There's no fear in her eyes, just sadness for Stranger and sympathy for him. Her face is gaunt and her hair is thin and dull, and still she's as lovely as the Maiden. Sandor doesn't remember when last she had proper food. It's been four days since the last of those dried berries and two days of nothing but melted snow. He dips a cup in the large pan into which Stranger's blood is draining, and holds it out to her. "Drink."

"It's blood," she says, her face scrunched up in disgust and horror. For a moment she's again the innocent little fool who expected everything to be clean and fair like in the songs. It doesn't annoy Sandor - rather he misses that girl sometimes.

"Better than mother's milk." Or so the maesters claim. Sandor hopes they're right. He drinks the blood in one long gulp, and refills the cup for Sansa. "Drink it while it's fresh. We can save the meat for later."

She takes it, and tears stream down her cheeks as she drinks. Whether she's crying for herself, or Stranger, or him, he doesn't know and it doesn't matter. There's no food, and no hope. There's nothing but cold and snow and monsters and the dead. Sandor butchers the horse quickly, hurrying to get the job done before the weak sunlight disappears and the animal rises as a wight.

Sansa busies herself with other tasks; gathering debris from the ruined towerhouse they're sheltering in to keep the fire going, melting snow so he'll have water to wash his hands. When Sandor hands her a strip of meat, a bite of his own strip already in his mouth, she impales it on a poker and holds it in the fire. He laughs at her. She's so determined to be a lady to the very end, even while slowly starving to death. It's absurd and stupid, yet he wouldn't want her to be anything but her true self.

Darkness falls fast, the sun disappearing almost in an instant. Ever since the Wall fell and the White Walkers invaded, the nights are blacker than Sandor remembers. Longer, too. His left arm around Sansa and his right hand clutching his sword, he tries to sleep. He used to dread sleep and dreams. Once upon a time he used to drink himself senseless so he'd not dream. But now that everyone lives the same nightmare, even his dreams are a refuge. It helps that he doesn't dream about his monstrous brother or poor dead sister anymore. With Sansa's hair tickling his nose and her sleepy sighs murmuring in his ear - the girl sleeps practically on top of him - his dreams are more pleasant now.

He dreams of summer. He dreams of warmth and plentiful sunshine, of green trees and fast rushing brooks. He dreams of her, sometimes as she was - the bright-eyed girl marveling at King's Landing - and sometimes as she would be if summer comes before it's too late, a Queen sitting the throne of her ancient kingly forefathers.

He awakes in the middle of a dream he immediately forgets. He clenches his sword tighter, though he knows steel cannot best the Others. But there's no danger. It's just Sansa stirring in her sleep and now he's woken her.

"I was dreaming of lemoncakes," she whispers. She always whispers in the dark.

He gives a grunt she can interpret anyhow she wants, and holds her more securely. Dreams aren't his only refuge; he has her. Holding her like this is a dream itself, the only good dream of his that ever happened. But of course it happened like this. Of course he only has her after everything's gone to hell and nothing matters anymore.

"We were feasting in Winterfell's hall. There were lemoncakes for me, mead for you, and apples for Stranger. My lord father didn't approve of having a horse at table but Arya spoke up for Stranger."

Sandor chuckled. "She liked that horse better than she liked me."

"In my dream she didn't mind having you with us. She even jested with you." She frowned and said petulantly, "The two of you even teamed up against me and teased me terribly. Why would I dream that?"

"How should I know?" Stranger's flesh and blood has given him more strength than Sandor has had in weeks. His manhood is straining the confines of his breeches. He flips Sansa onto her back and pulls up her skirts. She's not ready for him, so he sets to making her ready.

"It was a nice dream," she persists, even as he's suckling her teats. "Despite you and Arya teasing me. I hope I dream it again."

Feasting with the dead is an ill omen. Sandor is surprised that she, with her love of songs and stories, doesn't know this. But he doesn't tell her. "Sing, little bird," is all he tells her, and she sings until she loses her breath, and then she just moans his name.

Long after, when he's nearly asleep, she speaks again and it's the pragmatic woman speaking, not the romantic maiden. "When the meat is gone, before we lose our strength completely, you'll do me first, won't you?"

"Aye, I'll give you the gift of mercy before I give it to myself." His promise will be kept; he won't leave her.

"Good," she says. "I'm glad I'm with you. I'd rather endure this long night with you than anyone else."

He'd rather be back on the Quiet Isle, safe and warm and certain of his next meal - sometimes. Other times, he almost thinks having his little bird is worth the end of everything. He isn't sure which thought makes him hate himself more. So he doesn't reply. He just kisses her forehead and holds her tight and drifts into a sweeter dream.