Author's Note: special thanks to CaroH99 for the inspiration a particular scene in her story How Fragile is the Heart provided. This is the last of the chapters I have ready-written, and so the next update will not be anywhere near as quick. I kindly ask for your patience :)

Warnings: mention of past rape and sexual abuse


This time when Sansa wakes, he is still beside her. She had fallen asleep propped upright against his solid chest, but at some point in the night he has dragged the bedding from his birth, straw mattress and rough blankets and all, and made a bed for them on the floor. Still half in sleep, she is nonetheless pleased that he came back to share it with her. And now he lies all along her back, one big hand warm across her belly and holding her tightly to him.

It feels wonderful, but now that she is stirring, she feels how hard the floor still is beneath the makeshift mattress, how her shoulder aches. Sleepily, she stretches out her limbs before twisting round in his embrace. It does not escape her notice that his manhood has hardened and now presses again her bottom and her hip as she turns onto her back and then her other side.

Now lying face to face with her bed mate, Sansa tries to keep a little gap between their bodies, so as not to inflame him further, but Sandor, still asleep, drags her closer with a grunt until she is flush up against him, face buried in his chest. His manhood presses hard against her belly, and the heat of yesterday's new sensation builds in her once again and pools low and compelling. Not only that, however – she does not know how he expects her to breath like this! Trying not to shake him with her silent laughter at her predicament, Sansa gently presses her hands against his chest, attempting to pry herself loose.

"You choose to sleep with a man, you should be prepared for the consequences," Sandor's deep voice rumbles above her head. She feels the vibration through his chest before he loosens his grip and lets her back away. She does not go too far, pleased by the brief look of surprise he gives her. He thought I would leave him completely, she realises, and smiles at him in reassurance, though she too is a little surprised that he released her at all. She waits for a moment, to see if he will act on his arousal after all. When he does nothing but yawn and rub the grit from his eyes, Sansa is unsure if her own reaction is disappointment or relief.

"Good morning," she says. It is surprisingly warm in the cabin, given there is no fire, but Sansa draws their blanket closer around her shoulders, trying to show him she does not want to get up yet.

"Good morning," he replies, something faintly mocking in his tone, before he reaches out to take a strand of her hair that has fallen over her shoulder between his finger and thumb, stroking the length of it before tucking it behind her ear. The light tug as he does it feels… very agreeable.

"Thank you for letting me stay with you," she says, then cannot help the small grin that pulls at the corner of her mouth, "despite the consequences."

He snorts in surprise, rubbing a hand down his face as he rolls onto his back. "This is a fine time to turn your charm on me, little bird."

Sansa props herself up on her elbow so that she may still look at his face. A smart reply has occurred to her, and she attempts to divine from his expression how it would be received. Yes, I can see you have already had enough of my charms for one morning. She tests the retort out in her head. Does she sound too much like Randa? Or worse, Cersei? She does not want him to think her bawdy. Though I have spent the last two nights abed with him. The hypocrisy makes her laugh again, and Sandor frowns at the ceiling.

"Something funny?"

"No," she says, the laughter settling down into a smile. "No, I am just happy. It has been a somewhat foreign emotion these last few years." She reaches out almost absently and runs her forefinger along his profile, forehead to chin, and asks, "What do you think of me staying here with you, Sandor?"

She still isn't sure whether she wants to know how much the real Sansa Stark differs from the clay-man-Sansa. Yet now she has asked, she feels a strange desperation for his answer. Does he think her brash and brazen? Alayne could be thus, at times. Or is she sad, pathetic little Sansa in his eyes, so desperate for his protection she will throw caution to the wind? She does not feel like either of those people in his company, but she realises she would very much like him to tell her who he sees.

He turns to look at her, her finger sliding from his chin to the blanket between them. "I'm yours to command," he replies, his eyes serious now, intent. "I'll do whatever it is you want of me. Be to you whatever it is you want of me."

It is not the answer she expected. It is not really an answer at all. At least, not to the question she thought she had asked.

"Should you not have your sword at hand if you mean to pledge it to me?" she asks lightly, but the atmosphere in the room has gone heavy, and her words fall flat.

"Not just my sword," he replies, serious.

Sansa's chest constricts. "Why?" she whispers. "You have no obligation to me, I told you that."

"I never said I agreed with you, Sansa." His voice is low and sounds rougher than usual. His grey eyes glitter at her, almost angrily. Or perhaps that is merely the emotion she is most used to seeing in them. She feels suddenly small in the face of his unbounded loyalty. She remembers thinking, that night in the lichyard, how queer it felt to need someone so much, so abruptly. The same feeling coalesces around her heart now. It is frightening and thrilling all at once, the same feeling of standing at the edge of a cliff and leaning forwards to look down.

And then there is also the flash of power, that he so clearly desires her but will not act on it without her say so. That he will put himself in her hands entirely. It occurs to Sansa that he has bared himself to her more completely than if he laid here by her side as naked as his nameday. She could do anything with that power. She has seen it done before.

Petyr wanted to make me in his image, but I won't. Her own words ring in her ears. Her skin prickles in disgust at the direction in which her thoughts have turned.

"What if this is what I need of you?" she asks quietly. "Only this, and nothing more?"

Sandor lifts a hand and strokes her cheek with the backs of his fingers, surprisingly gentle, given what he says next. "Then you'll wake every morning to my hard cock up against your arse, little bird, nothing I can do about that. But I'll keep it in my breeches, you have my word."

Sansa quickly covers her mouth with her hand in an attempt to stifle a shocked giggle. This should be a solemn moment, despite his vulgar words. Then she sees that he is grinning at her, and realises her reaction was exactly as he intended.

"You are a very wicked man," she laughs, poking him hard in the arm.

"Aye, you've said before. Though I'm still not afraid of the gods sending me down to some terrible hell."

Sansa sobers a little at that. He is referring to the night before Lord Stannis attacked King's Landing, of course. It reminds her sharply of just how long they have known each other, how many things they have shared. "But do you know the best way to avoid such a fate?"

He gives her a scornful look in reply. "You know I don't believe in the gods."

"Either way, it is better to be safe than sorry," she replies. "And besides, what I am going to recommend to you suits my own purposes as well: with a past such as yours, Sandor, the best way to avoid being sent to the deepest of the seven hells is to live a long and healthy life."

He roars in laughter, and Sansa feels her heart swell at the simple and uncensored expression of mirth on his face. She remembers that night, on the battlements of Maegor's, he told her: There are no true knights, no more than there are gods. Sansa no longer believes in her mother's seven gods either, but perhaps she will get her true knight after all.

"Sandor," she says suddenly, realising now what it is that she wants of him. "You said you were mine to command…"

"I did," he agrees, still chuckling over her jape.

Of all the strange and intimate moments that have passed between them since waking, it is only now that Sansa blushes pink, attempting to find the right words to ask for what it is she wants. She feels desire for him, but there is also fear – despite his loyalty, despite the trust she has in him, the thought of willingly giving everything she is over to him is scary. She does not feel ready. But that does not meant she doesn't want.

"I command…" she licks her lips and lowers her eyes. "I would look on you."

There is a pause in the room. Then Sandor sits up and reaches over to lift her chin.

"Only if you look at me and say it," he rasps.

Sansa swallows before she, too, sits up. "I would look on you," she repeats, "without… without clothes."

She has never seen a man unclothed in daylight before. After the first time, Petyr always took her from behind, the easier to ignore her pain and fear, and imagine himself with Lady Catelyn. Sansa does not fear Sandor, not any more, but still she needs to see.

To her relief, Sandor says nothing in retort, but after half a heartbeat's hesitation, pulls his tunic over his head in one fluid motion. When he reaches for the laces of his breeches, Sansa stops him – this is enough.

"Will you… will you lie down again?" she asks tentatively. He is so big, seeing him at her eye level is a little daunting. He does, again without protest or comment, bending his arms so that his hands are tucked behind his head as he watches her. "May I touch you?" she murmurs. Her voice sounds trembly to her own ears. She reminds herself that she trusts him.

"Yes," he replies simply. He looks relaxed, at his ease, except for his eyes, which burn into her, and the bulge in the front of his breeches, now clearly visible where before it was only felt.

That gives her pause. How much provocation might a man be able to take before losing his self-control? Petyr had often complained that she made him lose his head around her, after all.

"Sansa, look at me."

She jumps at the familiar rasping voice, realising she had drifted away for a moment.

"I gave you my word," Sandor says when she meets his eyes. Sansa remembers how he refused to take knight's vows, or the oaths of the kingsguard. Yet he has sworn himself to me. I should not take that lightly.

She nods a little jerkily, before carefully lowering one clammy hand to the centre of his belly. His skin is warm, and surprisingly smooth between scars. She traces the shape of the hard ridges of muscle lightly with her fingers before putting her other hand on him as well.

Getting to her knees, she brushes both hands further up his body, to the hard, flat planes of his chest and from there she lets her fingers wander everywhere: the softer hair under his arms, the smooth, hard muscles of his arms and shoulders, the chords of his neck. Touching him is strangely reassuring, the dark, coarse hair and scars and smooth skin, and though there is arousal too, it is somewhat distant, a candle down the corridor. His arousal does not abate, but he is true to his word, and does not touch her in return. Even when she brushes her fingertips over each of his small nipples, watching them draw tight. Even when she follows the line of hair leading down from his chest to his navel, fingering the inch or so of hair visible below before it disappears into his breeches. Where his manhood is; engorged because of her.

Something blooms deep within her, an aching heat. Putting her hands on his shoulders, she leans over him, making a curtain either side of his face with her hair. It feels intimate and she likes that. His eyes glint at her, grey and intent, and she wonders how close she would need to come to make him break his word and kiss her; grab her arms and hold her down and take his pleasure in her. Instead of revulsion, as she had feared, the thought brings sudden hot waves of desire.

She lowers her face almost until their noses touch. He does not look away from her, a steady gaze, hot with his need but honest, too. Sansa sees then all that she needs to see, the steely resolve in the face of how deeply he wants her. He has already proved himself to her: this is unnecessary, and unfair. She touches the tip of his nose gently with her own before drawing back and lifting her hands from his body.

For a moment, they merely look at one another.

"You should leave, now, little bird," he rasps, lowering a hand to begin unhurriedly loosening the laces of his breeches. "Unless you intend to watch this as well."

Sansa wants to say yes. She wants to stay and see him fully naked, wants to watch a man take his pleasure and feel no fear from it. But she is damp between her legs and burning with want, and she does not trust herself merely to watch; she is not yet ready for the consequences.

She cannot just leave him, though.

"Think of me," she tells him before rising and going to the door.

When she turns to look back at him, lying with one hand behind his head and the other resting over the bulge in his breeches, she hesitates. The heart skein tightens painfully and for a moment she does not think she can leave.

"Always," he rasps, smirking a little too much to be truly earnest, and Sansa finds herself smiling back. It is enough to slacken the hold, and she slips carefully through the door, back across the narrow corridor to the cabin she should have shared with Brienne.