She started watching his hands because they were easier to look at than his face.

It wasn't because they were pristine and whole.

They weren't.

They were broad and his fingers thick and wide; the flesh ridged in a hard latticework of scars that told the dark tale of his every sin. His hands were weapons the same as his sword—instruments of death.

Yet, they'd never stung her with the poison of his tongue, burned her as did the cold fire in his eyes, or cut her with the disdain that twisted his features more than his burns.

In fact, his hands were a banner for everything he didn't want to be. They were noble and honorable. They were the hands of a true knight.

They raised his blade to his brother not for the sheer joy of battling him, but for the life of another. They dropped that blade when commanded to do so by his lord king. They sliced through an ocean of tearing claws and greedy beasts who would have raped her and they soothed away her hurts and silently assured her when she thought her whole world had crumbled away.

His hands were always there, always safe—an incongruity with the man they belonged to.

His hands had done other things too.

They'd wrought feelings in her sharp and bright, like the first bite of snow on warm lips. No, like lightning because it was a jolt that sang in her veins. Or maybe they were like lava because sometimes the heat of them bloomed through her clothes and scorched her in a way that left her wanting more.

The way they fit around her waist when he lifted her and even the casual brutality with which he disposed of those who would hurt her—that wove its own spell around her like a brightly bejeweled net.

Sometimes when she watched them, she wondered what they would feel like on her bare skin and nothing so innocuous as her arm or her own hand, but skin. The tender globes of her breasts, his calloused palms on her stiff nipples, the soft roundness of her thigh, or even the secret place between them that ignited when she thought of his touch—his hands.

She knew if he ever touched her, it would be no gentle claiming. But Sansa didn't want a gentle claiming. She wanted those hands to stake their claim irrevocably. To mark her; to brand her his.

Sansa sometimes wondered what he'd do if she just covered his hand with hers—what he would say, what he would do? Anything?

Would he instinctively know what she wanted and kiss her hard? Or would he even want her at all, a silly little bird that could only repeat what it was told?

Watching him again today, sliding his sword over that whetstone she envied the way he held it, the way he stroked it like a lady fair.

She'd let him have her there in the stables amongst the hay like a tavern whore if only he'd take her. If only he wanted her.

Sansa had watched him do that before too—bend some slattern over a table and fuck her face down. He didn't even ask them to look at him, didn't want them too. He used his body to vent his frustration and spill it all into whatever woman he'd paid to be with.

And they liked it. One had liked it so much, he'd put a hand over her mouth as she screamed how very much she loved it.

He'd made no sound, no moans of pleasure. She knew that for him, it was just another training exercise, something else to keep his body honed.

When her mother and her septa had been alive both would have died of shame to know she'd watched a man so. They'd both probably felt the fires of the seven hells when she'd rubbed her little nubbin almost raw thinking about him doing those things to those whores—to her.

Perhaps she herself would feel those same flames when there was more than thinking, when she was spread out beneath him giving him her virgin's gift.

There were benefits to being mad. She could go where she would, say what she would, and choose to give her body where she would. And people would frown and shake their heads and say, "Poor little mite. After all that's happened."

Yes, after all that's happened. Her mouth had been used for more depravity than the most jaded of whores. Her eyes had seen more death than many a knight and she'd bled for something she didn't understand more times than she cared to count.

And through all of it, there was one who never lied to her. One who never wanted anything from her but a song.

Sansa had decided she'd give him his song and anything else he wanted.

Rickon lay in his sick bed—his death bed—the Fever had come to Winterfell and when it left, it would take Rickon with it. She would lose him too. But Sansa would not lose Winterfell. Not with the Hound to hold it for her. The Hound and Winterfell were all she had left and by the Gods old and new, she would keep them both.

She approached him carefully, drawing ever nearer to the hard man in front of her. When she was close enough to touch him, he stilled and looked up at her.

Sansa's first instinct was to flinch and look away, but she held her resolve. And it wasn't the burns on his face, but the pain in his eyes. They were so haunted, but so empty at the same time. So much death and darkness that bored through flesh and bone.

His heart beat a little faster, she could see it on the side of his neck and he seemed every bit a caged animal—a cornered dog.

Sansa leaned her head on his powerful shoulder in a delicate motion and he inhaled the scent of her hair. And like any wild animal that was shy of human touch, she knew now was the time to reach for him.

She drew his scarred, deadly hand into her own. Her small fingers barely closed around his palm.

He set down his sword and the whetstone tumbled forgotten from his hand to make way for her touch.

Inhaling the sweet smell of the hay, of bay soap and another scent that was strictly Sandor Clegane, her eyes fluttered closed. This was where she felt safe, where she felt that all the horror in her head made some kind of sense.

"Shall I sing for you?" she offered quietly, hoping he understood she was offering so much more than a song.

Sandor didn't speak, didn't move. Almost as if he were afraid that if he took a wrong breath she'd shatter. But she knew that to be her own fancy because Sandor Clegane feared nothing but fire. And Sansa Stark was too cold, too frozen to burn anything.

Sansa pulled his hand up to her cheek and she turned her face into his broad palm and she pressed her lips there.

He tugged away from her half-heartedly, but she wouldn't let go.

"My hands are dirty, Sansa." He sounded as scandalized as any maiden aunt. The sound another incongruity.

She straightened so she could look into his eyes with his dirty, calloused hand on the smooth, alabaster of her cheek, and said, "And yet they are the hands I want on me nonetheless, Sandor Clegane."

He narrowed his eyes at her, they were like steel. "If you taunt a hound, he will bite."

"What about claiming what he already knows belongs to him? Will he do that too?"

He angled her chin and waited for her reaction and she gave him none, only wet her lips in anticipation.

"Close your eyes, Sansa."

She shook her head slowly. No, she wouldn't close her eyes. He was her choice, this moment was what she wanted. She watched his face descend to hers and only when he closed his did her lashes flutter down to brush her cheeks.

When his hard mouth crashed into hers, the world caught fire and she knew she'd never had any other choice than the man who held her.