He awakes to the feeling of fingers in his hair and the sweet sound of humming. For a moment Sandor allows himself to simply revel in it, knowing that it must be her and that she sits by his side to tend him. After coming back from the brink of death he believes that he has earned that much.
Yet more than that he wants to see her face, and so he opens his eyes.
She is looking down at him as she strokes her fingers through his hair, and so she immediately sees him awaken, letting out a gasp of happiness and reaching out her other hand to touch his cheek as if to confirm it.
"You're awake!" she exclaims happily, and he hears movement from nearby as somebody else moves towards him. Not knowing who else might be present with them he strives to keep himself calm when all he really wishes to do is gather her to him and kiss her senseless.
It is Arya's long face that appears above to look down at him, grinning as she does so. "See Sansa, I told you he would wake up." The little she-wolf exclaims, wriggling slightly in excitement.
"How do you feel?" Sansa asks him, a note of concern in her voice, but Sandor notices that she has not removed her hands from either his face or his hair despite her sister's presence. "Do you need anything?"
"Help me sit up." He finally rasps, his voice even rougher than usual due to days without use.
"I don't know whether…" Sansa begins to say, but he shakes his head at her and begins to sit up anyway, causing both girls to scramble to help him, Sansa's arm supporting his back while Arya pulls on one of his arms to help him. Sandor is suddenly conscious of the fact that he's naked beneath the furs except for his smallclothes, his chest bare and the air cold against him as he sits.
That itself is quite an effort at first, and for a moment he simply sits still, breathing heavily as he feels the strain in his side from the stitches. His fever has robbed him of most of his strength and he knows that it will be days until he is back in any sort of fighting condition.
"Give me something to drink." He rasps, and as Sansa supports him, her arm warm on his back, Arya scrambles to get a wineskin from the corner of the carriage, uncorking it and placing it in his hand. His arm trembles slightly as he raises it to his lips and he notices the wine is watered down, but he can feel some strength slowly returning to him.
As he drinks, he turns his eyes to look upon Sansa, at the happiness apparent in a face made weary by fear and grief. There are dark circles under her eyes and she appears to have become thinner since he left her. He is not certain whether to feel shame or pride that worry for him could have such an effect on her.
"You look unwell, little bird." He tells her softly, "You shouldn't have worried so much, I'm not so easy to kill."
Sansa suddenly bursts into tears, throwing her arms around his bare shoulders and burying her face against his neck as she sobs. She is so very warm and soft and alive against him and he cannot stop himself from wrapping his arms around her to draw her closer or placing a gentle kiss on her hair.
For the moments that he holds her he forgets everything, even that there is anybody else inside the wagon with them until Arya clears her throat pointedly.
Sansa raises her head from his shoulder, startled and seeming to have also forgotten her sister's presence.
"I'll go tell Robb that the Hound's awoken." Arya announces, before continuing pointedly. "It should be at least fifteen minutes before I arrive back with them."
With that she moves to the entrance of the wagon, easily untying her horse from where it is fastened to the back and jumping onto it even as the wagon keeps moving before she lets the curtain fall back down.
Alone at last, Sandor cannot stop himself from reaching out both hands to cup Sansa's face, bringing his own towards hers until their lips finally meet. He kisses her with a desperate passion, not wanting to release her when he finally has her in his arms again after such a long time. It is all that he has thought about on the journey back to her, even as he felt the fever overtake him towards the end. That he would kiss her like this, her breath warm against him, the softness of her lips. He could gladly die now if that was the price for this.
He feels her place one hand on his chest, just above his heart even as the other snakes around his neck, tangling in the hair at the base of his neck and pushing him closer. She is just as desperate to feel him as he is to meld himself into her. She is less hesitant this time, more confident of her actions as she matches him kiss for kiss.
She is such a small thing in his arms, almost fragile against him and he swears that he will do whatever is necessary to keep her safe, protect her from any harm.
He breaks from her finally, breathing hard and not wanting to but knowing that there's things that need to be said before her brother arrives.
"Gods, but I've fucking missed you." He breathes, looking down at her. There is such an expression of love on her face, that it almost steals the breath from him. Her pupils are dilated with what he recognizes as arousal, her hair is mussed from the simple style she's kept it in and she's never looked so beautiful to him. Unable to help himself he leans forward to kiss her once again, harder than he probably should, demanding. She gasps into his mouth and it is all he can do to stop himself but he releases her and casts around for something to wear, his present state of undress not helping his self-control.
As if guessing what he wants she moves to the side of the wagon to pick up a tunic, helping him to wear it so that he does not strain his stitches. It is black, with simple embroidery at the sleeves and hem and he does not recognize it yet it fits him perfectly.
"This isn't mine." He comments, surprised that there is anything available for a man of his size.
Sansa bites her lip, suddenly nervous. "I made it for you, while I waited for you to return." She admits, looking shyly at him as if to judge his reaction. He cannot help the pride that he feels rise within him, the fierce rush of love for her.
"I'll still be kissing you when your Kingly brother arrives at this rate," he mutters, gathering her to him once again. There is a part of him that still cannot quite believe that she is his, even as she marks him as hers in a myriad of ways.
When he is once again done he draws back from her, and raises a hand to stroke her cheek. She sighs as she leans into it, giving him a shy smile.
"You've worried too much over me." He comments, "I wouldn't have had you put yourself in such a state."
"I was so scared," she admits, reaching out to take his other hand in hers, lacing their fingers together. "When you did not return for so long I worried that he may have beaten you. If he had…"
She is unable to finish her sentence, tears returning to her eyes and Sandor shakes his head.
"But he did not." he states with a finality, "And it is over now. Gregor is dead and I will not think on him again. There's no more need to worry over me either, there's not another man in all the seven kingdoms who's my match."
She nods, accepting his reassurance, and reaches out to take both of his hands. He folds his fingers around hers, holding them tightly.
"I wanted to tell you something before you left, so that you might know it as you went to fight." Sansa begins, her voice soft as she looks up at him earnestly. "You told me once that I didn't know what it was that I wanted but in truth I have known for some time now, there is no denying it. It is you that I love, it shall only ever be you that I love. I am yours whether you will have me or not, and I wish to bind myself to you."
"Oh Sansa," Sandor breathes, an intense ache within his chest. "Oh my precious little bird."
He had known, even as he had stopped her from telling him. He had known, even as he had fought against it in the weeks before he left. He had known and yet to hear it from her own lips is a different revelation entirely.
He kisses her gently this time, almost chastely, a soft lingering touch upon her lips.
"I do love you, little bird." He tells her solemnly, "More than I thought possible. More than I knew myself capable of. I love you and I will not give you up." He strokes her cheek once more, his eyes fixed upon hers. "I am your man, whether for better or worse, and whether your Kingly brother likes it or not. I'll take you for my own when the time comes."
She gives a happy sob and hugs him tightly, pressing a kiss upon his neck where her face rests.
"I knew that you would eventually accept it, Sandor." She tells him, "I knew that you must."
He wishes to kiss her again but he can hear an approaching commotion outside that must signal the arrival of the King and so he moves away from her, straightening his tunic and pulling at the furs while Sansa moves to sit slightly away from him, adjusting her hair and her skirts before she busies herself with the task of pouring some honeyed water into a cup to give him.
They both feel it when the wagon is called to a halt, Arya is the first to climb inside, peering in as if to check that they are both presentable.
She gives her sister a grin as if she guesses exactly what must have occurred, leaving Sandor to wonder exactly what it is that the little she-wolf knows about how things stand between them.
As Arya moves to sit next to Sansa on the side bench, Robb enters the wagon, crouched over so that he might not hit his head before he takes his own seat, slightly in front of where Sandor sits so that he may see him properly.
Sandor forces himself to sit up straighter despite the strain, nodding his thanks when Sansa passes him the cup of honeyed water.
"Your Grace," Sandor acknowledges Robb after taking a sip to fortify himself, trying to repress the thought that just moments before he had had his King's sister in his arms.
"I am relieved to see you awake, we had almost despaired of your recovery until your fever broke." Robb tells him, "Talisa said that you were very close to death."
"If my brother couldn't kill then no simple fever could either." Sandor announces, "I'll have a proper meal tonight and be ready to ride by tomorrow."
Robb frowns at that, "Are you certain?" he asks Sandor, "There is no shame in resting for a day or two more and regaining your strength."
"I've never been one to rest overly long," Sandor rasps, "Doesn't need much strength to sit a horse though I won't be in fighting condition for some days yet. Will do me good to get myself up, before I start to feel like an invalid."
"As you wish," Robb acquiesces, "We are some days from Moat Cailin and as yet the Freys have shown no signs of wanting to attack so I expect that you should be recovered by the time your skills are needed."
Sandor nods gruffly, wondering what else there is that his king wishes to talk to him about, that he has called a halt and come here personally. From the dying light outside, Sandor can see that it is evening and supposes that a halt would've been called soon regardless, but he cannot imagine any of the Lannisters ever coming personally to see one of their sworn swords like this.
Robb is looking at him closely as if deciding what it would be best to say and Sandor waits for him to speak.
"I have already heard the tale of the battle from the men who accompanied you," Robb finally says, "I do not require you to retell it for my benefit. They have told me of the leadership that you showed on the journey, and of your strength and courage during the battle. They respect you, all of them, and would be happy to serve under you at any time."
Sandor glances towards Sansa to see that she is looking at Robb expectantly, happily, almost as if she had hoped for this conversation. He realizes that she still has hopes of her family accepting him as her choice, and unlikely as the possibility is he wishes that she may be right, for her sake at least.
"I have let it be known around the camp that nobody is to refer to you as kinslayer for your actions, lest they seek to incur my wrath." Robb continues, "What was done was done upon my orders and for honourable reasons, Sansa is right and you should not be censored for it."
And there it is again, his little bird has taken to defending him, chirping to his honour whenever she can.
"I thank you for that." Sandor states simply, not knowing what more to say. He bears no shame over his brother's death and yet he would not have Sansa's name muddied from her connection to him.
Robb nods once, and then unexpectedly reaches out to lay a hand on Sandor's shoulder. "Since entering my service you have proved your worth many times over." He tells him, "When you have recovered, I would have you take a larger role within the host than merely that of my sister's sworn shield."
All that Sandor can do is nod, surprised by King Robb's statement. He shall have men to command now he supposes, and a role in the war councils. So much the better if he is to prove himself in her family's eyes, though it may take him from his little bird's side. He'll see her protected if he's to be reassigned, the best knights tasked with guarding her. Perhaps in the end it is better that he is further removed from temptation until the time to act finally comes.
Robb nods back firmly at him, claps him on the back and turns to his sisters. "I shall see you at dinner later," he tells them. "We have halted for the night now, and I'm sure that when the morrow comes, Arya will be happy to be back to riding again." He winks at his little sister before he exits the wagon, closing the flap behind him.
Sandor slouches, exhausted from the effort and turns to look at the two girls. There is a hesitant smile on Sansa's face while Arya is regarding him somberly.
Sandor reaches out a hand to Sansa, placing it upon her knee whether in an attempt to reassure himself or her, he's not really sure.
"Seems as if your brother has some tasks in mind for me." He rasps, "I might be riding with you for only a few days more until he judges me well enough."
"It is alright," Sansa tells him softly, "I shall know where you are at least and we shall see each other whenever we make camp."
He nods at that, knowing she is right. He cannot deny the attraction of having men of his own to command, an extra responsibility for the battles ahead.
There is a slight clearing of a throat and he shifts his head to look at Arya, noticing that she's grasping the sword he brought back for her. Knowing the little hellion, she's probably not let it out of her sight from the moment she got it back.
"I need to thank you, Hound." Arya tells him almost hesitatingly. "You killed those men and brought Needle back for me. It was given by my brother you know… Jon, my best brother. He's far away at the Wall now and when I thought I had lost it…"
He does not need for her to say more, and he knows that it is awkward for her to thank him, so instead he reaches out and ruffles her hair. "Just make sure you keep it sharp, brat." He tells her, "You never know when there might be some Lannisters or Ironborn to kill and you'll need the extra protection if I'm to be away fighting."
Arya nods, a small smile on her face now and when he turns to Sansa her eyes are shining.
"The healers will be here soon to check on you," she announces, "I will have some food sent to you here and Stranger and your belongings sent also. You should rest now, you will need to regain your strength if you will ride tomorrow."
Strength, he will need, not only for the ride tomorrow but also to keep himself away from her now that he has finally made up his mind to have her.
"That I will, little bird." He murmurs. "That I will."
A/N: I've been trying to keep to a schedule of posting once a week, but I would ask you to bear with me if it takes slightly longer over the next month! I've got 3 assessment items due before the 19th, all of them requiring a great deal of work and I might end up falling behind.
On a happier note, this story now has over 150 followers which makes me insanely pleased. If you are following but have yet to say hello, then please do think about it, nothing makes me happier than reviews and it does inspire me to write faster ;)
TresOrleans - He's not quite made for softly sighing, is he? :) He is capable of tenderness though, and attempting to please his little bird, which I hope went well in this part! Quite a few things foreshadowed in the last part, so I'm glad that you caught them! Good luck with handling your teaching partner's work as well, I can only hope that they assign you a replacement partner soon so that things are back to normal!
Guest - Glad you enjoy their interaction :)