DISCLAIMER: This story is entirely based on character[s] from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire
EVERYTHING TO LOSE
Sandor climbed the stairs with the laughter of the Blackfish ringing in his ears as it echoed through the Great Hall of Winterfell.
"Seven bloody buggering hells," he cursed angrily. "Lord Clegane: you must have been half-mad, dog."
The Cleganes had never been lords; only an up-jumped kennel-master whose son was made squire who then in turn fathered two hugely strong and fierce sons who were loyal as the dogs on their sigil to their lion masters.
Gregor, the eldest and known as the Mountain for being the biggest man in Westeros, brought honour to the family in being knighted by Prince Rhaegar himself, then later brought infamy for raping and strangling the prince's widowed princess and murdering her infant son during the sack of King's Landing. Sandor, the younger and known as the Hound for his unquestioning loyalty and ferocity, was sworn shield to Queen Cersei and then her son Joffrey before turning deserter and then traitor when he joined the cause of the North and the Stark family, helping to restore them to their rightful place in Winterfell and defeat their enemies. For this service, he was raised to lordship by the youngest son, heir to his father's lands and title, not just in gratitude but so that he would be a fit consort for the eldest Stark daughter.
He slowed in his angry march to his chambers, his frustration abating as he remembered why he had taken on this life or respectability and responsibility, a life he had never thought he had wanted or deserved.
He paused before the heavy wooden doors now and opened one quietly as he peered in. The large chamber glowed dimly from the fire in the hearth, and a maid stood brushing his wife's deep, coppery auburn hair as she sat with her eyes closed, and Sandor knew she was recalling the memory of her mother who had often dismissed the maid to brush her daughter's hair herself. He knew because she had told him years ago when he had brushed her hair for her, when there were no maids or luxuries at Winterfell, only cold and hunger and hard work and battles to be fought. Yet still he made time when he could to do that little for her as they would prepare for bed and as awkward as he was at it: his huge hands were for holding a sword and not a lady's hairbrush but he did it to make her feel loved and safe again, the daughter of Winterfell.
"Lord Clegane, my lady," her maid murmured to her when she realized he was standing in the doorway, watching them.
"My lord," Sansa spoke with a soft smile even before she opened her eyes to look to him. She dismissed her maid with a kind nod and rose to walk to him. Ever courteous, she used his title whenever servants or commons or his men were present, giving him the respect she believed he had earned and merited. Even now, there were those who still thought him an upstart, like his grandfather before him. Mayhaps they were right, he thought resignedly; but this made it all worth it.
She stood before him with a gentle smile, deep blue eyes holding his gaze lovingly. He took in the white skin, the full lips and soft curve of her cheek, framed on one side by the heavy fall of her auburn hair over one shoulder that reached almost to her waist. His eyes followed down her tall, willowy body covered by her robe and bedgown but beneath he knew intimately every part of her creamy warm skin and beautiful womanly figure and had to remind himself to breathe; sometimes his heart filled so suddenly when he looked at her that he forgot he needed air almost as much as he needed his little bird.
She held her slender white hands out to him now and he took them in his own callused grip.
"I heard you coming up the stairs," she told him, referring to what must have been his angry stomping. "Is there something troubling you, my love?"
Sandor lifted one of her hands to his half-scarred lips and kissed it in gratitude.
"Not anymore," he rasped in reply.
Sansa curled up closer to her husband. Their lovemaking had been slow and gentle and she had felt the deep trembling in his bones that meant he was holding back his lust out of tender love for her, as he had done the first time they lay together and for some time after until her maiden's shyness dissipated and her passions matched his.
She luxuriated in the warm closeness of his strong naked body under the furs of their bed, twining one long leg between his and reaching her arm across his broad chest. She sighed as she settled her head on his shoulder and felt his arm hold her closer.
"Will you tell me now," she whispered and glanced up at him when he stirred. "I know a raven came before the evening meal, my love: will you not tell me what is troubling you?"
He grunted grudgingly. "Aye, a raven: from the Reach…" he began.
Sansa lifted her head suddenly. "Robb?" She breathed, fearful for the son they had named for her elder brother.
"He's fine, little bird; don't worry," he rasped but stroked her cheek gently. Their second son had traveled to the Reach after Garlan Tyrell's son left their care following his years as their ward at Winterfell. The boys had become loyal friends and so the Tyrells had invited Robb back with Willam when he returned to his father's castle where both boys had been made squires to household knights. He was the first of their children to leave the North and though Sansa trusted Garlan Tyrell she still held painful memories of her life in the South and worried for him so far from his family.
"He is planning to return now the maesters of the Citadel have declared summer ended, before travel becomes impossible and he is unable to return for years."
"Robb is coming home to Winterfell?" She spoke tremulously and Sandor knew her eyes were filling with tears of happiness.
"Yes, little b-" But Sansa hugged him so suddenly and tightly that he huffed a short laugh.
"Oh, Sandor," she whispered happily.
"Do not celebrate too soon, little bird: the return of one of our children may well mean the loss of another," he told her almost bitterly. "The eldest boy of your Garlan the Gallant, the one named for that Knight of the Flowers, has requested the honour of Catya's hand."
Sansa was quiet as she listened and remained quiet another moment.
"Young Loras Tyrell?" She repeated and Sandor grunted his affirmation.
"He is heir to his father's title and lands," she spoke almost absently.
"Aye, and been knighted as well, like his uncle Ser Daisy," he rasped dismissively.
"Hush, Sandor: being knighted does not make him bad, any more than it would make him good. His father was kind to me in…" She hesitated and swallowed. Sansa did not like to speak of her years in King's Landing as the Lannisters' hostage, nor think of her marriage to Tyrion Lannister though Garlan Tyrell had been the only one to offer her comfort that day at her wedding feast, proving himself truly gallant; and she had never forgotten.
"And you liked Garlan yourself when he brought Willam to Winterfell, did you not? You certainly behaved well, my love: not your usual gruff and grudging tolerance at all," she teased him.
"I played by lordly role well, did I, little bird? Well, I'll be damned to seven hells if I know how to do that now: I'm no high lord looking for alliances. I'm not selling off my girl like a bloody brood mare to the first ser with lands and a fancy name-"
He was growing angry. Sansa pressed the palm of her hand over his heart, stilling him.
"My love," she whispered, "our Catya is a woman grown, near two years flowered. She must marry someday. We have always known we could not keep her forever."
She lay next to him in the dark, listening to his heavy breathing as he struggled with the truth he did not want to hear. Their daughter was their first-born babe and his truest love: Catya adored her Papa, from the moment she had set eyes on him, and had gentled him in ways even Sansa had not. He was not going to give her up without a fight; and no one in Westeros fought more fiercely than Sandor Clegane.