Perchance to Dream

How long he'd been traveling, Sandor didn't know. It could have been days, weeks, months, or maybe only hours. To him, the passing landscape seemed to be an endless blur of green and brown, nothing standing out to distinguish itself as a particular place. And after a time, even that muddy mix of color seemed to melt away from his vision; all that was left was Sansa Stark, the little bird he'd tried so hard to protect.

Just after saying his… farewells to the Imp and the King, Sandor's feet had carried him into the castle and straight to the cage where the future-queen was kept. He hadn't knocked before pushing the door open, knowing that Sansa would be with the other ladies of the court. But even though he had known she wouldn't be there, it had still felt so strange to step inside her chambers. It was her cage, but it was also her sanctuary, the only place where she could truly be herself. Stepping into her world felt strangely intimate and almost wrong. The room had been dark, but he'd still been able to make out the outlines of her bed and doll through the fiery light that had been shining through the window.

The objects, nothing special in and of their own right, had pulled his attention so fiercely that he'd had to stop himself from touching them. That, after all, really would have been wrong. Instead, he'd taken the seat by her bed, his back to the window in order to block out the flickering flames.

When she'd burst through the door not long after, he hadn't said a word, choosing instead to watch her. Even through the dark, he had been able to see that she was terrified. But then again… Sansa Stark had been living in a state of horrified anguish since her lord father's death. And Sandor couldn't blame her; she was just a child who had been hunted and picked at for sport. He'd tried to protect her, keep her as safe as possible, but watching her shoulders tremble as she stood by her dressing table made it all seem so pointless. He hadn't done enough, not nearly enough to try and protect her from Joffrey.

It had been then, watching her that Sandor had realized he had one last chance to try and save her.

One last chance to try and free her from her cage.

Not thinking about what it would mean, he'd offered to take her away from King's Landing and back to Winterfell where she belonged.

She hadn't even spoken, but he'd been able to read her answer in her eyes, eyes he'd seen filled with tears more often than not. And though it had killed him, he'd understood.

After all, what could he offer her?

The promise of salvation was one thing. But the terror of what that salvation might cost was another.

He could only imagine that to her, everything must look like a trap, a new source of pain and anguish.

So Sandor had turned his back and without another word, left the little bird to her chosen cage.

Now, what felt like an eternity and a thousand miles later, Sandor was trying to wash her beautiful face from his mind. He was a traitor, and she was beyond his reach. There was nothing he could do for her now.

Or ever again.

Sandor forced himself to take in the trees around him as he brought Stranger to a halt. There was no point in thinking about Sansa Stark, no point in dreaming about what would never be. All he could do now was hope that she managed to survive whatever horrors Joffrey would put her through.

Even as that flimsy, pointless hope passed through him, Sandor thought of the little bird's chirping voice when she'd said, "I shall pray…"

Pray.

He hadn't prayed to the gods old, new, or whatever else since the day he'd been burned. He hadn't seen it fit to pray for his face to heal, and he didn't see a reason to start now.

No, Joffrey would do to her whatever pleased him. Sandor knew, without a doubt, that he would beat her bloody and pluck the beautiful feathers from her tiny wings one by one until one day… there would be nothing left of her.

The thought of her body, tiny, broken, and bloody made him want to go back for her and take her away whether she wanted it or not. But the Hound knew that he could go back towards the burning water no more than she could spread her arms and fly to him.

He hadn't felt like a craven until that moment.

The burning water and smell of melting flesh had made his stomach turn. And he'd never felt better than when he'd ridden away from the fire and out of King's Landing for the last time.

But now, as he thought of heading back towards the blaze, Sandor realized that part of him was truly craven after all.

Slamming his palm against the trunk of a nearby tree, Sandor swore so loudly that it caused Stranger to start. He grabbed the reigns before the steed could take off and tethered the beast to the tree. It took a few minutes, but soon enough both he and Stranger had calmed down.

Unable to go on any longer, he pressed his back into a nearby tree and slid to the ground. Riding away from the battle, he'd felt invigorated as the blood and adrenaline thundered through his veins. Now, there was a bone deep weariness seeping so quickly into his body that Sandor though he might die then and there.

But instead of succumbing to the sweet relief of death, Sandor slowly slipped away into a deep sleep. He didn't bother to try and fight it, instead welcoming a reprieve from thoughts of hair so red it looked like it was burning. As he slipped away, he had one last conscious thought, "A dreamless sleep is all I ask…"

The sun, a brilliant, fiery ball, was sinking down making way for the moon, washing the room in shades of orange, pink, and yellow as it did. The last remaining rays of sunlight warmed Sandor's face as he sat at the desk in his chamber.

Truth be told, he hated the desk with a passion. It was large and covered in scorch marks so deep that it looked as if it would crack into pieces at any moment. The first night he'd spent in the room he'd thought of chopping it up and using it as firewood. But as he'd raised his arms to wield the axe, Sansa, still so young, had come running into the room, begging him to stop.

The desk had been her father's.

It was one of the few remaining reminders of the man who had been Ned Stark.

In the many years since Greyjoy's men had set fire to Winterfell, it had been rebuilt. Not, perhaps, to the same grandeur it had once possessed. But the stone walls of the keep had survived for the most part. And Rickon, Lord of Winterfell, had worked tirelessly to rebuild it, holding onto only a few of his family's burnt memories.

One look into Sansa's shining blue eyes and Sandor had known it was a lost cause. Treasonous traitor or not, he no longer cared (if he ever had, for the matter) about Ned Stark. But his love for Sansa had stayed his hand, as he knew it always would.

So, despite his hatred of the thing, Sandor had taken to sitting at desk in the evenings, his face to the open window. He'd been at Winterfell for ten years now, and though it had come to be his home, there were only a few places that truly felt like his. Sitting at the ugly, old desk by the window was one of them.

Shutting his eyes, Sandor inhaled deeply, loving the feel of the sun on his face. Lost in thought, he didn't hear the sound of the chamber door being opened or the soft sound of Sansa's footsteps upon the floor. It wasn't until he felt a small hand sliding across his shoulder that he realized he wasn't alone.

With his eyes still closed, Sandor reached out and found his wife's waist and pulled her around. She came willingly, perching herself upon his leg.

Sansa was now twenty-and-eight, still so young, but yet so old. The damage that Joffrey's torment had caused aged her so quickly. And the haunted look that had seeped into her blue eyes when she was a child had never truly left.

Somehow, after so many years and worlds apart, they'd found one another. They'd both been worse off since the time they'd parted in King's Landing. But the moment they'd laid eyes on each other, Sandor had felt, down to his very soul, that they'd never be parted again.

Together, they'd made their way to Winterfell, Sansa promising that whoever was Lord now would welcome them both. Sandor hadn't believed that he'd be greeted with kindness by anyone, let alone a Stark, but he'd followed her, wanting nothing more than to protect her and see her smile.

And to his surprised, he had been welcomed.

Not only that, but Rickon had offered him a title to match Sansa's, as a reward for bringing her home. He'd rejected, and no one had argued. But even more shocking was that Sansa had come to loathe her own titles, whether it be lady or princess. And now she preferred to be known only as Sansa.

Shortly after settling in Winterfell, they were married without any fanfare. He knew that, at one time, she'd have expected a celebration fit for a would-be queen. But she was older and wiser now, and a simple ceremony in front of a maester and her family had been enough. After, they'd feasted on a boar he'd hunted and toasted their future.

It had been more than he'd thought he deserved.

Sansa's weight weighed on Sandor's thigh, anchoring him to reality. It was a sensation he was grateful for, especially when things felt too perfect to be believable. Much like right now, for instance. His wife slid both her arms around his neck, and he responded by wrapping his own more tightly around her waist. She still appeared to be so frail, but he could feel the strength of her muscles pressing into his arm. She was no longer the little bird he'd known in King's Landing. Somewhere along the way, she'd grown into the true wolf she was meant to be, a Stark through and through.

He tightened his hand on her waist as he buried his face in her damp hair. She'd just taken a bath, and her fiery locks fell to her elbows, soaking into the thin silk dressing gown she was wearing. "Hmmm…," he sighed into the crook of her neck.

Contentment coursing through him, Sandor placed his scared cheek against her shoulder. He could feel, even through her robe, that her skin was still warm from the water she'd bathed herself in. However, she didn't seem to smell of the oils or soaps he'd spent so much on for her last name day. They'd cost him two gold dragons, a stag, and a trip away from Winterfell, but the look on her face had been worth it.

He'd expected her to use them daily, pampering herself and doing her hair up in intricate braids. Instead, she'd taken to using them sparingly, only allowing herself to indulge on occasion. But Sandor didn't care about that. In fact, he preferred it when she refrained from using the heavily perfumed oils. The heady smells of lavender and lemon masked her natural scent so much that he could no longer smell the sun in her hair or the wolf in her veins, and he hated that - hated losing his wife to rich liquids that came in small delicate bottles.

When Sandor inhaled her scent, he was pleased to find that she smelled only of herself. Nothing more.

Turning his head ever so slightly, Sandor pressed his face into Sansa's neck, her damp hair cool against his skin. As he did, she sighed softly and laid her cheek on his head.

For a few blissful moments neither spoke, both content to bask in the comfort and contentment of the moment. He knew that if it were possible, he'd happily stay in that embrace forever. It seemed impossible that he should be allowed such happiness, and he was always, always terrified of losing it. If he believed in any of the gods, he would have thanked them at that moment.

Instead, he pulled Sansa closer to his body, deeply breathing in her intoxicating scent once again.

"Hmmm?" Sansa's voice was dreamy, almost as if she was waking up from some peaceful sleep. The soft sound caused a small smile to tug at Sandor's lips.

"Nothing." He spoke the word into her hair, and she sighed again. Letting his eyes fall shut, Sandor found the part in the yellow silk dressing gown she was wearing. Tentatively, he slid his hand inside, pressing his palm against the gentle swell of her belly. This time, when she sighed, he could hear the smile in it.

Sansa pulled one of her hands from around his neck and pressed it against his, only the silk separating them. "He'll have your heart." Her voice was a gentle caress, and it caused every muscle in his body to tense up instantly.

He hadn't wanted children – not ever.

Even before Sansa, even before he was given this unimaginable happiness. And after they'd wed, he'd found he'd wanted them even less.

The first time she'd mentioned the idea of wanting to hear a child, their child, call her mother, he'd flashed back to the night, so many lifetimes ago, when they'd first parted. Sandor had forced her to look into his eyes, and he'd told her that someday her sons would be killers.

At the time, drunk and frightened by the fire, he hadn't spared a thought for who the father of those sons might be.

But when Sansa had looked at him, her blue eyes sparkling with anticipation and hope, he realized that he couldn't give her what she wanted.

He couldn't do that to her.

Though he'd given up fighting men in favor of hunting in the woods, the blood lust still ran in his veins, humming with anticipation. And he could not put that into her belly; he could not defile her womb in such a way. Sansa was the only thing right in his world, and he was not about to ruin her.

He'd told her no and that he didn't want to be called lord father, just like he hadn't wanted to be called ser.

The tears he'd known would come had been instant. Seeing them slide down her flushed cheeks had never hurt him more.

Sandor had thought, had hoped that that would be the end of it. But it wasn't. Now, more wolf than little bird, Sansa had continued to ask and beg and plead, much like a dog worrying a bone.

They'd fought, screamed, and yelled until their throats were raw. She'd tried to persuade him, and she'd even sent King Robb to try and convince him to have children.

In the end though, it was her tears that had changed his mind.

After a year of telling her no, of breaking her heart over and over, she'd asked him once more.

He'd awoken in the early hours of the morning to the sound of Sansa's voice near his ear. She had been pressed against him, her bare skin warm against his own. Her hand had been on his chest, and her slender fingers had been worrying the hairs there. He had wanted to reach out and pull her even closer still, but her words had held him hostage. "Have I done something wrong? Is that the reason why you're denying me the thing I desire most?" Her voice had broken on the last word, and a moment later he'd felt hot tears splash against his skin.

It had broken his heart.

When the sun had fully risen, its rays igniting the crimson locks of Sansa's hair, Sandor had pressed his lips against his wife's. It had taken only a few seconds for her to stir, but in that time his mind had filled with fear – fear of what he was going to do what was surely to come.

As her lips had responded hungrily to his, Sandor had known there was no going back. He had made love to her gently, and when she'd clung to him after, he'd known that Sansa had understood what it meant.

They never spoke of it again, but that morning things had changed between them. And miraculously, he'd caught tiny glimpses of the little bird who'd longed for nothing more than to marry her beloved Prince Joffrey and bear him sons with beautiful blonde hair. Now though, it was hissons she was chirping about, and their hair color was never mentioned.

The sight of his little wife so painfully happy had changed something within Sandor. It wasn't that he'd changed his mind about children. No, that still terrified him. But seeing Sansa so confident about it calmed him, steadied his nerves. Like it could all be ok so long as…

"She'll -," the child growing within her womb had to be a girl. That was the only way Sandor would be able to live with what he'd done to her. That way their child wouldn't be a killer; she'd be as soft and gentle as her mother. He was positive of that. "She'll have your strength." He held his breath, waiting to see what she'd say.

Instead of speaking right away, Sansa lifted her cheek off of his head. The loss of contact caused a chill to run up his spine. He wanted to pull her back down, join their skin again, but he resisted the urge. When Sansa took her hand off of his though, he wished he hadn't. He neededher then, and he could barely stand to have their skin parted.

"Sandor…" She slipped her hand under his chin and gently urged his face up. He followed willingly but refused to meet her gaze. It wasn't until her fingertips slid softly over his burns that he looked at her. Sansa's eyes, as blue as the sky, bore into his soul. When she was sure he had his attention, Sansa pressed her forehead into his and said, "She really will be the best of both of us." She pressed her palm into his cheek reassuringly. "I can feel it."

Sandor felt his throat tighten with some unknown emotion. His heart was thundering so painfully in his chest that he thought it would break. He wanted to say something to her, but there were no words. And even if there had been, he didn't think he could trust himself to say them. So he did the only thing he could do.

He kissed her.

His lips pressed against her soft mouth, saying all the things that he could not. Each caress was a confession, a promise, an apology, a prayer, and a thank you. He laid himself bare for her, heart and soul, giving up everything he had and was, hoping that Sansa, his Sansa, would understand.

All too soon, she pulled away. Sandor felt himself gasp involuntarily as the cool air hit his mouth. Had she misunderstood? He searched her face frantically for any sign of why she'd broken the kiss. Her lips were parted slightly, and her chest was rising and falling so rapidly he thought of a butterfly beating its wings. Unable to take it any longer, Sandor was about to ask her what was wrong when she finally looked at him.

Her bright blue eyes were sparkling with unshed tears and were full of understanding. She finally knew about his fears and his doubts, and instead of hating him for it, she seemed…

Stronger.

For the first time since they'd met, she was protecting him. It seemed impossible, but there Sansa was, the wolf flashing in her gaze, and he'd never felt safer. His breath hitching in his chest painfully, he leaned forward to press his lips against hers in silent thanks.

When their mouths touched again, Sandor felt a painful surge in his chest, almost as if someone had shot an arrow into his back. His eyes snapped open instantly, looking for an explanation from his wife.

But Sansa was gone, as was the scorched desk and his chamber, the weight of her body on his leg and the dampness of her hair. The sun was still there, warming his face. Instead of shining through a little window though, it beat down on him from overhead.

It was gone, all gone.

And in its place, The Hound was left with nothing but the forest around him and Stranger. The life he'd gained in his dreams, the peace of it all, Sansa and their daughter, all just desperate desires of his withered heart.

All that was left now was a deep ache that settled instantly into his chest that he knew he'd carry with him for the rest of his life.

Squeeka Cuomo's Notes
- Quack: Thank you so much for the beta. It means a lot. :)
- Reviews are love.