Sansa hated him. Hated him with all the hate she dared muster. Not that it helped her much, she reflected as she lightly tried to hide the big, blue bruise that one of Joffrey's White Cloaks had given her an hour ago. Or two. Maybe it was a day ago? Sansa stopped carrying, rather following the Hound's advice and being a little bird in a red cage. A very little bird, knowing better than to peck the lion but still wishing she had the courage. Long ago she was a wolf, a strong one like her Lady. She was proud and she knew to stand up for herself. Not anymore. Now, she was a bird, always pretty, always saying what needed to be said, taking the punishment that was meant for someone else. She had flowered a week ago, that being a shock to her and she thought Joffrey would bed her the next day, just as he had promised, putting a son into her. Thankfully, that seemed to be the farthest thing from his mind, with Stannis marching and less than 4 days away. Life is so unfair sometimes, Sansa reflected.
There was a knock on the door. Shuddering, Sansa checked her reflection and stood up, straightening the crimson red dress. The knock repeated, more forceful, louder, more aggressive. Actually, this surprised the lady; usually the King's men just barged in after the first knock. Sighing and slightly nervous, she opened the door and was surprised to see the Hound there; fist raised for another strike of the door, his black hair covering most of his burned side. Sansa had gotten over the deformity; sometimes it even made him look nobler than any knight in the King's guard. He looked somewhat sad, angry even but when he saw her, he just smirked sadly.
"Little bird took a while to prim her feathers," his husky voice was gentle and rough at the same time. Sansa looked at her hands which were twisting a handkerchief.
"Little bird has started to try and keep her feathers intact Hound," she replied. "I love the King and it would disgrace me if I showed up at court looking like I was hurt." Sandor laughed, throwing back his head, his voice booming down the hall. Sansa wanted to walk past him but he was blocking the door, the white cloak around him seeming to be made of stone.
"The little bird sings pretty verses, like usual," he stepped forward, making Sansa back away. "And she's still scared of the dog."
"I'm not scared!" Sansa replied taking a step back once again when the Hound advanced. "I...I..."
"You're frightened bird, terrified even," the Hound looked cheerless, something that Sansa had seen only when he talked about his past but then he was also angry, overwhelmed by a deep dark anger coming from within.
"I'm not terrified!" Sansa snapped back, desperate.
"Prove it," the Hound grinned, his face twisting in something of a wolf grin, rather than man. "Or will you go running to the Queen? Joffrey maybe? Or Ser Dontos, your Florien?"
"You knew?" she asked appalled, momentarily frightened. The Hound laughed.
"I'm not blind girl. I have eyes and I can pick up a scent. Why else would you suddenly decide to be so loyal to the Old Gods unless there was some other purpose? I followed you a few times," he looked away. "Funny how some of us don't ever notice anything when we are looking for everything. You thought you were alone with the fool? You though the dark would hide you from the curious eyes? You should have been afraid of the darkness, stayed away from it."
"But if you knew..." Sansa's eyes widened.
"I never told," the Hound looked tiered. "I kept others from following you. Why do you think you managed to come and go unnoticed? Why do you think you met me on the stairs those times you came back?"
"I...I thought it was coincidence," Sansa mumbled. "But if you knew, why didn't you tell?"
"There was no threat in that," Clegane scowled. "Dontos is the greatest fool and drunk that walked the castle. You really though he could steal you away? He's drunk all the time, day and night, even when he's sober, he's still drunk on one thing or another."
"More drunk than you Dog?" Sansa asked before thinking. Instantly she cringed and waited for an impact, a slap or punch, a hand to pull her down and a foot to kick her. She tried to block out the pain that never came. Neither did the impact of fist, foot or arm.
"Little bird is getting too brave," Clegane's voice sounded. "But she still fears. You're still too scared to prove me wrong."
"No, I'm not," Sansa whispered, and taking a few steps forward ended up right in front of the man, a step away from his boiled leather armour that he donned that day. She hesitated then summoning all her courage stood up on her tippy toes and planted a light kiss on his burned cheek. And just as suddenly as she caught that courage, it deserted her. She flushed a deep red, unable to look at the man's face, burned and unburned sides alike. She felt ashamed, frightened. No, terrified.
"The bird became the wolf," the Hound laughed and forced Sansa to look into his grey eyes. "But not for long. Little bird, all the kisses in the world wouldn't make me loyal or you brave. Now come, His Majesty was waiting longer than usual."
"He'll tell them to beat me," Sansa sniffed following the man out. "He hates when I'm late and if he called me to court, that means..."
"Means nothing yet," Sandor warned her, "unless there is some dire news. Perhaps of your sister."
"They found her?" Sansa was glad the Hound was walking in front of her now, for she was sure her face betrayed her. No matter how much she disliked her sister, she was always praying that Arya was far off from Cersei and Joffrey and safe besides. If they found her, if Robb found out...
"Maybe they did, maybe they didn't," the Hound shrugged. "If they did, King Joffrey will be lenient today. If they didn't, well, try not to chirp out of tune birdie."
"I never do," Sansa replied, straightening her hair. Clegane let out a short bark of laughter.
"Shall I remind you?" he asked. Sansa bit her lip, a habit that she adapted. She was caught, that was true. Many times she had gotten a beating for her mouth, for saying something before thinking, for wanting to hurt her captives in the only way she could – through words and disbelieve. So, instead of answering her companion, the young lady simply raised her chin and continued on down the corridor towards the throne room.
"May I present Lady Sansa Stark of Winterfell?" the herald boomed as Sansa, now followed by the Hound, entered and walked towards the throne to pay her curtsies. As she dipped into a curtsy, her eyes averted to the floor, she could sense the Hound disappear into the crowd, leaving her alone to face her beloved groom-to-be.
"You're late," Joffrey snapped impatiently, the golden crown resting atop his golden hair, making him look like a wanna-be son who put on his father's hat then the king he proclaimed himself to be. "Why is that, Sansa?"
"Your Grace, I..." Sansa straightened and found her voice. "I wanted to look nice for your Grace but misplaced my comb. It took a while to find it and I feared that I would disgrace you more for being untidy than by being late."
"Maybe," Joffrey shifted his weight, leaning on his elbow, "yet you're still late! Ser Malcolm, do the honour. My mother says a King should never," there was a slap and Sansa's cheek burned, "ever," another slap, "hit his lady. That should teach you never to be tardy."
"Yes your grace," Sansa dipped into another curtsy. She could taste blood on her lip, probably a cut from the knight's armour.
"And clean that cut," Joffrey wrinkled his nose. "It makes you look ugly and it's ruining that dress that I sent you." Sansa quickly took out the handkerchief and wiped away the blood. She vaguely remembered that once it was the Hound's possession before he gave it to her after a beating when Joffrey was showing Sansa her father's head, spiked on the wall. Thankfully, Cersei sent it back to Robb and her mother. "I haven't seen you much at court recently," Joffrey continued ignoring the girl's glare at the marble floor. "I have missed you at court though Mother said not to disturb you. Why haven't you come and why must the Hound fetch you?"
"I'm sorry your Grace," Sansa looked up at him with her blue eyes, "I didn't think that I would be needed, especially with Lord Stannis so near. I'm not a warrior and couldn't offer you any ideas."
"You're right there," Joffrey smirked, "Woman are too kind and gentle to do a man's work. In a war, all you're good at is waiting at the window with a handkerchief in hand, embroidering some pattern or other. Doesn't matter," Joffrey hopped off the throne and two of his white cloaks including Ser Malcolm stood up, "Walk with me."
Sansa knew it was a command rather than an offer and solemnly threaded her arm through his, though in her mind, she felt disgusted. And one I would have melted inside when he showed me so much attention, she thought, looking at her toes. Clegane and the two others followed as the young pair walked towards the kennels.
"You know, I have a surprise for you," Joffrey was saying, ignoring her discomfort and resting his left hand on the hilt of his sword. "I know how much you adore wolves, your sigil was a direwolf wasn't it? Well, I think you'll enjoy this."
"Another head on a pike except a wolf one?" Sansa asked. Joffrey stopped and looked her in the eyes.
"Not yet, but soon," his tone became cold, too cold for something that promised no trouble. They continued on in silence. Sansa tried to keep her eyes down and away from the young monarch, watching instead, from the corner of her eye the boots of Ser Malcolm. In this manner, hiking through the mud that was left after the recent rain, the group reached the kennels where the master-of-hound waited, a smile plastered onto his face. Joffrey led the way to a large fenced off area in the back, where a soldier dressed in the crimson and gold of Lannister handed him his crossbow. "And now my dear Sansa, you shall see my gift."
"Don't interfere with it girl," the Hound whispered into her ear as she tried to understand what was happening. The blond haired youth nodded to the kennel master and loaded the weapon. Sansa paled as one of the servants half dragged, half carried a struggling young wolf cub into the arena, let go and raced out of the way. Joffrey smirked and levelled the arrow onto the animal. The first bolt hit the ground before the paws, nearly piercing one of them. The animal yapped in surprise and fright then started to run. Laughing, the young king shot a few more bolts, hitting the poor creature in the side, the tail and finally a shot in his throat. The wolf dropped down and rasped, kicking out wildly with his paws. Sansa swallowed her words as the man who brought him in raced up and ended the animal's agony.
"Next!" Joffrey called and the event started again. This wolfling was larger than the one before, more vicious, his fur having a reddish tinge to it, reminding Sansa so much of her brother Robb. She couldn't say why. As Joffrey murdered this one, she felt tears drip down her face and keeping quite was growing more difficult with every moment. As she sniffed silently, Joffrey laughed and called in for the third pup. The next one in was smaller, a feisty female with the same fur color as Arya's hair. Sansa gasped each time when Joffrey bolt hit its mark and involuntarily closed her eyes.
"Are you not enjoying this?" the boy turned towards her, smirk plastered firmly onto his face, his eyes glowing with pride and superiority. She blinked back tears and raised her face. He glanced at his white cloaks and his eyes had a mischievous light. "Here," he said handing her the crossbow. "The next one is yours."
"No," she took a step back, "please, my Lord, have mercy on me. No!" she bumped into the Hound and spun around. Clegane raised an eyebrow and shook his head. She turned back. Joffrey's smile was gone.
"You will do as I command wench while I am king!" he growled.
"You might not be king much longer," Sansa breathed. Joffrey turned red then white then red again. Spinning towards the Hound, he cried, "Why are you still standing there Dog while your master is being threatened? Hit her! Destroy her!"
"No," Sandor's voice was calm. "A dog doesn't bite unless his master is physically threatened."
"You idiot! She did threaten me! You know what? You're in love, stupid Mutt!" Joffrey bristled, breathing hard, standing on his toes to match the Hound's height. Then swearing, he turned to the two others. "Well, are you any better than the useless dog? Hurt her, the Others take you!" Sansa felt one of the men roughly grab her so that her hands were behind her. She gasped out loud in protest as pain throbbed through both limbs, her auburn hair hanging down, hiding her face. The other, Ser Malcolm as Sansa perceived, landed a punch on her stomach making her double over as her breath went out of her. Joffrey stood to the side, glaring at her, his hands crossed on his chest. The second hit was to her face, another mark – another bruise. Sansa felt hot tears roll down her face as she struggled to breathe. Someone pulled back her head by her hair, so that the third hit made her slam to the ground onto her knees, stars flying from her eyes. A few slaps followed, the pressure on her hair never subsiding. Finally, as she was bruised and dirty from dirt and blood, the knight let her fall to the ground.
"Remember this wench," Joffrey squatted near her head and gave her a few slaps as she choked on pain, anger, humiliation, betrayal. "Next time you even dare think against me, I'll deal with you the very same way as I did with your direwolf, your father and how I'll destroy your stinking brother. Don't get in my way." He stood up. "Dog! Get her back to her quarters and make sure she stays there! I don't care what you do to her or with her, fuck her for all I care but she must stay there. Am. I. Clear?"
"What His Majesty commands," the Hound bowed. Without a backward glance, the King and his escort of two departed. Sansa watched them leave and slumped back down to the ground, weeping. Sandor stood there awkwardly, not daring to comfort her and not wanting to appear gruesome. As some lazy dwellers of the kennels started to gather, he softly grabbed the girl's arm and pulled her to her feet. Sansa nearly fell when he let go. Sighing at his luck, Sandor looped his arm around her waist and started to guide her back to her chambers. The young woman didn't stop crying even when he led her to the room and shooed away the startled maids that probably immediately went to report to the Queen herself.
"Sansa," Sandor shook her shoulders, she continued weeping. "Sansa! Sansa, listen to me!" He was going nuts, unable to decide what to do with this sobbing, crying girl that was too hurt and weak to even stand up. Cursing and silently blaming the king, the Dog carried, for Sansa couldn't even stand, his unwilling charge to the bed, lying her down. The girl continued sobbing. He couldn't get her to go under the blankets, not with her lying on top of the sheets and them so tightly made. Glancing around, wide eyed and at loss, growled and unclipping his white cloak, wrapped it around her. Standing up briskly, he started to pace, back and forth, resembling a caged animal before catching one of the maids in the hall and ordering wine, lots of it, red as blood. This was to be a long wait. When he entered back, Sansa was already silent, passed out from the stress of the previous events.
Sansa blinked her eyes open, feeling how her face was numb from something cold. Her ribs, her stomach, her face. Everything hurt. Closing her eyes, she let one tear escape before looking in what she was wrapped. A white cloak, one that the King's Guard wore. She sat up, her eyes darting all over the room that was half covered in shadows. She tried to figure out what happened. All that she remembered was Joffrey glaring at her, his words as she lay there. And then? What happened? She shuddered as her mind slowly went through all the possibilities.
"So the little bird finally came around," the Hound's voice made her heart jump in fright and relief at the same time. She managed to contain her scream and sat there counting to five as the man appeared from one of the corners, coming to stand in the moonlight that came through the window, the burned part of his face twitching every few seconds involuntarily. Sansa looked at him and hastily looked away. Why was he in her room, so late a night? Why was she sleeping under his cloak? Why, why, why? "Took you long enough." Composing herself, Sansa stood up and lightly disengaged from the pallid fabric.
"Good evening Ser," she did a shaky curtsy, all her muscles protesting as she did. The Hound barked laughter and took another sip from a flagon.
"I'm no Ser girl," he grimaced, "You know perfectly well that I don't believe in true knights! There are no such things! I'm loyal only to myself and my master!"
"I...I'm sorry," Sansa averted her gaze and instead held out the wrap. "Thank you for your kindness."
"Kindness? I don't see kindness in this!" Sandor ripped the cloth out of her hands and waved it before her. "'A gift' he said 'worthy of a knight!' To hell with it and all his knights and the Iron throne! I want no part of it! Yet, here I am. Should have given my sword to Lord Stark, that I should."
"I'm sorry," Sansa didn't know how to react. The Hound just sniggered and turned away. Suddenly she felt scared, like before. And filthy when she took notice of what she was dressed in. "May I go change?"
"Your room," the Hound shrugged, "may as well. You know where your stuff is or shall I fetch it for you?"
"Won't you leave me to the privacy of changing? Are you mocking my modesty?" Sansa asked. In an instant the Hound was before her, his face inches from her own. The girl's eyes widened as she stared into his grey ones, the half wild ones.
"The king has ordered I remain with you," he grinned as she paled, "and that includes even when you change. You wouldn't want to be upsetting the King now, would you?"
"No," Sansa took a step back. "Will you at least be kind enough to look away while I change?" The Hound smirked and with a mock bow turned to look outside the window. Swallowing her fears, she quickly started to dig through the drawers and chests that were in her room, pulling out a simple dress of soft, white material. As she dressed it flowed around her instead of hanging down like all the other dresses. Reaching for her comb, she started to brush out her long hair, cringing when she hit a knot and having to slowly work it out. Slowly, she ended up beside the Hound at the window.
"Listen little bird," he grinned, looking at the moon. She frowned but tried to hear. Faintly, in the distance, she could hear laughter and music, sweet music like the one she heard at home. "One day I will be there, dancing with a beautiful girl, laughing with my friends," Sandor whispered, "One day I'll be free from this prejudice."
"Have you ever danced?" Sansa asked carefully. The Hound laughed.
"Look at me girl and think," he shook his head, "what kind of self respecting girl would dance with a monster, a beast, a half-burned Mutt?"
"One sick with love?" Sansa suggested. The Hound grinned.
"And I see wagons of those Birdie," his mouth on the burned side twitched. "The great thing about wishes is that they come true...in your head!"
"Not only," Sansa whispered.
"What?" Sandor turned to face her. She inhaled but didn't step back. "Not only...in your head. Any dream can come true if you believe in it...if you don't lose hope."
"What do you know?" the Hound spat. "You had a wish to see your father spared. You got it...spared he was from freezing to death on that stinking Wall where his bastard is sniffing around with his damn white wolf!"
"Keep Jon out of it!" Sansa shook her head, "It's not his fault he can't fit in anywhere else!"
"I'd rather be with a rope around my neck than on the lookout for direwolves and giants, old nurse tales! Wishes don't come true girl and the sooner you learn, the better!" Both man and girl glared at each other before the later dropped her gaze.
"Do you want to dance?" she asked suddenly. Sandor stared. Sansa dipped into a curtsy, her eyes never leaving his. "It is a white dance, the ladies invite the men. I know you don't believe in wishes but I want to prove you wrong. Dreams come true, sometimes in the weirdest ways. I begged for my father to be released and he was. Released from his pain, his humiliation, the people who betrayed him, the burden of the truth he carried. I didn't understand that before but now I do. I believe that dreams come true. So, Sandor Clegane, would you like to dance?"
"Did the Others take you?" the Hound demanded. The girl blushed.
"No," she whispered, "but I want to prove you wrong."
"Damn you," he turned away. "I don't know."
"Don't know what?"
"How to dance girl!" Sansa blinked. The Hound shook, his hands gripping the window sill. "I never learned! Thanks to my brother, I knew I'd never dance so why bother learning! So how do you expect me to fucking accept your offer?"
"You can learn now," the girl replied, pale with fright but determined as ever.
"Can I?" The Hound growled. "Can I?"
"I believe that to be true," Sansa breathed out, unable to look into his eyes.
"You believe it then? Then teach me!" Shuddering from his change of emotions, scared and hardly daring to breath, Sansa curtsied.
"I invited you to a dance," she whispered. "You must offer me your hand if you agree." The Hound extended his rough hand into which Sansa laid her small, pale one. Breathing lightly, she took a step towards him so that she was only 30 or so centimetres away. "Your other hand..." she paused, then continued. "It goes onto my waist." The man obliged, his warmth reaching the girl through the material. "Usually the man would lead but I shall this time," she put her second hand on his shoulder and took a step back, forcing him to follow. Slowly, painfully, they made their way across the room, Sansa looking just past his shoulder, the Hound trying not to trip.
"It'll never work," Sandor cursed stopping. "You won't teach me bird. A bird doesn't teach a Hound."
"A bird maybe not," Sansa agreed quietly, "But a wolf mayhap will. What are you so afraid of?"
"Not having enough wine," muttered Clegane, taking another sip from the flask. Then he passed it to her. "Might as well drink away your impossibility of being a dancing teacher. Drink girl," he watched as gingerly, Sansa took a sip and coughed as the spicy, strong wine burned down her throat and into her stomach.
"We should try again," she whispered. The Hound bared his teeth in a mean smile.
"Why? So I can make a fool of myself?"
"No," Sansa replied quietly than looked into his eyes, a sudden spark in them, "So I can prove the Hound wrong and be a wolf again if only for a moment."
"Feisty creature," surrendered Sandor as he took his spot once again before her. The girl closed her eyes and took a step back again, the man following with more confidence than before. Again, she took a step back, slightly angling so that the pair moved in a different pattern all around the room. Sandor grinned and followed but the next step was his. Surprised Sansa opened her eyes and looked up into his grey ones, her breathing slightly more ragged but she let him take control. Slowly, slightly awkwardly but gently, Sandor twirled her around the room, their eye contact never breaking. He felt, no, saw a connection between them, his dream come true. Not just dancing with a pretty girl, but he was dancing with the pretty girl of his dreams.
Unexpectedly, Sansa started to fall back and, without letting go, pulled her partner down with her. They ended up on the bed, her eyes wild and startled, almost knowing his desire and disturbed by it. Her breathing became quick and shallow, her skin turned white and her cheeks flamed. In all truth, Sansa was now frightened for, being under the weight of as huge a man as the Hound, there was no way she could push him off or control what happened next. It was shameful and shameless at the same time. She wanted to run but for some reason also wanted to trust Sandor to do the right thing. She wished for her brothers, Jon and Robb, and wished for her dad. She wanted her mom's advice and support. She wanted so much and yet she dared not do anything but look with a startled gaze into the grey eyes, that bewildered and bewildering stare.
Slowly, Sandor disentangled himself from the girl and stood up, brushed off imaginary dust. A somewhat hurt and confused expression passed Sansa but scolding her features into order, she simply thought better to be thankful that the Hound, unlike some "Ser Knights" had enough dignity and control not to ruin her in everyone's eyes. Backing up until his back was against the wall, Clegane abruptly turned on his heels and bounded out of the room. As soon as the door behind him closed and Sansa could no longer detect his footsteps, she buried her face into the pillows, crying for all her humiliation, shame and fright. She was so very alone in this keep and even the Hound had told her that Ser Dontos would never help her escape and as much as she didn't want to believe that, she knew it to be true. Why was the Hound always right? Right about Joffrey, about the real knights like Ser Malcolm and about her future and her 'Florien'. He scared her and yet he protected her from Joffrey. Even now, when she was helpless and he was riled up by the drinks he took, he left her alone!
Sansa couldn't understand his behaviour, couldn't understand her own for she didn't know why she wished so unexpectedly to prove him wrong. Now, she only wished to forget everything; forget his hand on her waist, forget the moonlight transforming his face into that of an angel, forget his grey, deep, pain filled eyes. She couldn't come up with any other explanation as to why he acted so honourably than that he didn't like her. He had enough wine to be willing to follow her sudden idea yet, in that drunk state, he refused her, saved her and destroyed her all at once. She hated him, she was more afraid of him than ever before. She was, once again, a little bird that was in a cage and unable to escape. A little bird singing for the lion. And unlike the wolf pups that died and were dying, she was scared and couldn't find it in herself to be strong before anyone but the Hound.
But he was gruff, he was loyal only to the Lannisters, he wasn't Sansa's Florien no matter how much she could pretend. He was an enemy, a danger that was, perhaps, even bigger than Joffrey, his mother and the Imp combined. When Sansa had still been a naive girl, she had believed in knights – men in shining armour that followed the code of chivalry and protected the weak and the helpless – and where were those knights now? Laughing at her! She has grown up too quickly under Joffrey watchful eye and knew now that the only knights to be found were in grotesque dogs and drunken jesters, those who were the farthest from knighthood – detested it really – those were in fact the real knights from the tales and ballads of the singers. But, as Sansa reflected, even those who seemed most knightly, those who weren't knights could become her end. Closing her eyes, she saw the end that could happen if she ever trusted the Hound. He could take her away, if he ever decided to leave the Lannisters, but then, who was to say that he should stay royal? Would he demand she married him? Would she, could she love him? Would she ever be happy?
Unable to answer such questions, Sansa hid under the covers and when the Hound returned, her name gentle and soft on his lips, she simply let a tear go down her cheek and pretended to be asleep, letting her one chance of possible freedom disappear like her Lady with one simple stroke. He would never know how much she wanted at that moment to escape. And so, as she hid under her blanket, Sandor drank more and more, forgetting whatever had happened this evening, until in his mind all he saw, was a tiny golden bird in a red cage, guarded by a huge ugly dog, with a lion cub sitting nearby, licking his lips.