Sandor saves Sansa’s number when he gets home, then scrolls through his contacts until he finds a number he hasn’t called in… well, a long while.
“Tarth,” a terse voice answers after two rings.
“Brienne,” Sandor greets.
Sandor sighs. “Yeah.”
“Gods, it’s been more than three years.” She pauses. “You’re not getting back in the game, are you?”
“Depends on how this conversation goes.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Were you still working in the North when two teenagers from the Stark family were kidnapped?”
Brienne sucks in a sharp breath.
“I take that as a yes.”
“It was the third major case I worked, after I transferred to the F.B.I. Clegane, that case was awful, but it was years ago. Why ask about it now?”
Sandor rests his head in his hand, debating on how much to say. The truth is, though, he’s learned that the full truth works best when it comes to Brienne Tarth. “I met Sansa,” he says quietly, more emotion running through him than he can mask.
Brienne laughs softly. “She has that effect.”
“Aye,” Sandor breathes out.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard that tone from you,” Brienne observes. “This is a bit more than the typical Sansa effect.”
“Sounds like something Arya would say.”
“Yes. She might have been the one I heard it from.”
Brienne laughs. “You like her.”
“You should see her with Gregor.”
“Adopted her a bit, did you?”
“I can’t see you shrugging Clegane.”
“The kidnapping,” Sandor shifts the conversation back.
Sandors huffs and leans back in his chair, covers his eyes with his free hand. “It haunts her enough already. I need to know she’s not going to feel like she has to spend the rest of her life looking over her shoulder for this cunt.”
“You care for her?”
“Gods. Yeah. Yes. Just… fucking tell me.”
He’s sure she rolls her eyes, but she finally answers. “His name was Ramsay Bolton. He took Sansa and her brother Theon to an old family farm. Locked them in the basement and tortured them for a week. He was a bit careless, one day, we think he may have been drunk, and didn’t secure the door. They managed to escape. They locked him in the kennel with his hunting dogs and managed to stumble out to the highway. By the time we got back out to the farm, his dogs had mauled him to death. Theon told us that he didn’t think Ramsay had been feeding them, and Sansa hit him over the head with a brick to get away, so he was bleeding, and…”
“Fucker deserved worse,” Sandor growls.
“I agree. You’ve seen the scars, I take it?”
“The one on her back,” Sandor sonfirms.
“I don’t… I’m not going to pry into your personal life, Clegane. But, there’s more. Be prepared for that.”
“He’s dead. Leave your guns and your past buried,” Brienne says softly.
“She’s a good woman. And she’s been through a lot, but she’s tough. She can take care of herself, but she deserves to have someone willing to protect her. I know you can and will do that. Be good to her, Sandor.”
The line clicks dead before Sandor can answer.
Sansa’s phone ringing incessantly wakes her up. She smacks her nightstand as she reaches for it and curses. She raises her head and glances at the clock on her nightstand. Noon. Gods, she’s only been asleep for like 4 hours. “What?” She snaps into her phone.
“Hello to you, too, sunshine,” Arys chirps.
Sansa drops her head on her arm and groans. “I’ve only been asleep like 4 hours, Arya.”
“What the seven hells were you doing?” Arya demands.
“Didn’t mean to let that bit slip?” Arya asks.
“I was with Sandor,” Sansa admits before she can stop herself.
Arya whoops. “Margaery, you owe me twenty bucks!”
Sansa drops her face into her pillow and groans.
“Seriously, though, what the fuck did you do all night? You couldn’t have possibly gotten a tattoo that took that long. Actually, maybe I don't want to know. Did-”
“Arya!” Sansa cuts her sister off. “We… we talked. And uh, went to an all night diner.”
Arya snorts. “Is he really that much of a sap?”
“Are you seeing him again?”
“Yeah,” Sansa admits softly.
“Good. Send me a picture of your tattoo.”
“In a bit,” Sansa promises. “I’m gonna brush my teeth, shower, and make coffee first.”
“Yeah, yeah, human yourself up.”
Sansa hangs up and crawls out of bed, wincing a bit at the pull in her back. She shuffles into the bathroom and turns the water on, lukewarm and stepping into the spray, letting it cascade gently down her back. She feels some of the stiffness easing as the blood and excess ink sluice away, swirling down the drain in a myriad of colors. She gently pats dry, like the after care instructions say, and frowns when it comes away stained.
She snags her phone from the counter and sends Sandor a picture.
SS: Ruined my favorite towel. :(
Her phone buzzes with a response a moment later.
SC: Told you to use a dark one.
SS: Don’t have one.
SC: You’re up early.
SS: Arya called. So are you.
SC: Don’t sleep much.
Sansa braids her hair loosely and tosses it over her shoulder, away from her back, then rummages through her closet until she finds a summer dress with a wide back that scoops to the base of her spine. She turns her back to the floor length mirror in the corner and then winks over her shoulder, snapping a picture and sending that to Sandor as well.
SC: Gods, Little Bird. Warn a man. Almost drove off the fucking road.
SS: Don’t text and drive.
She switches message threads, and sends Arya a picture of the bird on her arm. Her phone buzzes rapid fire seconds later.
AS: Not bed. Half expected a flower.
SS: Don’t you dare ditch work. I know you’re scheduled all weekend.
SS: I’m not leaving my couch all day.
AS: Whatever. Be a shut in.
She sets her phone on the kitchen counter and starts a pot of coffee. Her phone rings as she takes the first sip. “Hello?”
“Are you trying to kill me?” Sandor rasps.
Sansa giggles. “Shouldn’t be looking at your phone while you’re driving.”
“Picture like that could kill a man sitting still.”
“Oh?” Sansa sips her coffee with a smirk.
“Aye. You’re fucking gorgeous, and that’s a lot of skin.”
“You saw more last night,” Sansa quips.
“Not that I mind hearing from you, but did you call for a reason other than your libido?”
“Gods, woman!” He sighs. “Have you eaten yet?”
“I’ve barely started in on coffee.”
“Let me treat you to lunch?”
“Careful making promises like that.”
“Anything,” Sandor repeats.
Sansa smiles. “Bring it here? I told Arya I’m not leaving my couch today and I would hate to make a liar of myself.”
Sandor laughs. “Aye. I can do that. Tacos?”
“Who can say no to tacos?”
“Be there in half an hour.”
Sansa tops her coffee off, unlocks the door on her way to the living room, then sprawls out on her stomach on the couch and flips the television onto the first baking channel she comes to. A knocks sounds at the door as she sets her empty coffee cup on the floor.
Sandor frowns as he comes in. “That’s not safe.”
Sansa shrugs and waves lazily toward the side table. “Handgun mounted under the side table.”
Sandor nods approvingly. “Still.”
Sansa shrugs. “It’s usually locked. I didn’t undo it after I got off the phone with you.”
“A lot can happen in thirty minutes, Little Bird.”
Sansa sits up and frowns back. “Alright, what’s going on?”
Sandor closes and locks the door. “Am I that transparent?”
Sansa shrugs. “A bit, yeah.”
He sets the bag of tacos on her coffee table and sits next to her on the couch. “I, uh, I might’ve. Shit, alright I’ve got a confession to make. I probably crossed a line.”
“I called an old acquaintance, this morning. With the F.B.I. She was stationed in the North for a while.”
Sansa closes her eyes. “You asked about Ramsay.”
Sandor shuffles back self-consciously. “Aye.”
“And what did your friend tell you?”
“She worked the case.”
Sansa opens her eyes and tilts her head. “There was only one female agent involved. You know Brienne?”
Sansa relaxes. “She wouldn’t have told you anything if she didn’t trust you. I trust her. And I told you last night I trust you. Why, though?”
Sandor sighs and lets his head drop to the back of the couch. “Wanted to make sure the fucker was dead.”
“He is,” Sansa nearly snarls.
Sandor tilts his gaze toward her. “Vicious for a birdy.”
Sansa snorts. “Wolf.”
“The Stark family sigil is a direwolf.”
Sandor chuckles. “Fitting.”
Sandor sits up straight. “Brienne said he was dead. Dogs.”
Sansa’s face hardens. “Aye. He hadn’t fed them in… I don’t know, seven or eight days.”
Sansa nods. “A fitting word for him… what were you going to do if he wasn’t dead?”
“Kill him,” Sandor answers honestly.
Sansa tilts her head. “You’re not kidding.”
Sandor shrugs. “Wasn’t always a tattoo artist.”
“What did you do before?”
“Gregor joined the Army, as soon as he was 18. Didn’t have anything else to do, so I followed at 17. When we got out… we did some pretty unsavory things after. Tattoo shop was a happy accident.”
“What if he’d been in jail?”
Sandor shrugs again. “I know people… it doesn’t bother you? That I would kill a man I’ve never met?”
Sansa bites her lip. “This might sound awful, but it’s for me, so, no. And I, uh…” Sansa blows out a breath. “When we escaped. We didn’t leave until after Ramsay woke up. I waited an hour for him to come to, waited to watch the dogs attack him. If we would have gone toward the highway as soon as we locked him up, he would probably have still been alive when the cops got out there. The dogs were in individual kennels. I let them out.”
In a move Sansa doesn’t quite track, Sandor reaches out and lifts her by the waist, settling in her lap and cradling him against his chest. Sansa sniffles as she buries her face in his chest. She hadn’t even realized she was crying. She cries herself out, snuggled against his chest.
“I’ve never told anyone that,” she admits quietly.
“Secret’s safe with me.”
Sansa wraps her arms around his shoulders and squeezes, briefly, then pulls back. “Our tacos are getting cold.”
Sandor sets her on her feet, but turns her with a hand on her hip to observe her tattoo. “Looks a little dry in spots.”
Sansa blushes. “I can’t reach it all.”
Sandor rolls his eyes. “Go get the salve I gave you last night. We’ll sort this out, then you can have your tacos.”
Sansa salutes sarcastically, but retrieves the salve. She can’t help but shudder a bit and sigh in relief as he works the salve over her tender skin.
“Death of me,” Sandor mutters. “You’re gonna be the death of me.”
“What a way to go,” Sansa grins at him over her shoulder.
Sandor twists the lid back onto the tin and grins back. “You’ve got me there.”
Sansa steps away and points toward the kitchen. “Wash your hands. No medicine on my tacos.”
Sandor rolls his eyes, but obliges. “I’m not watching the fucking cooking channel all afternoon,” he calls as he flips the tap on.
Sansa rolls her eyes, but grabs the remote and starts flipping through channels. She hits paydirt on a Star Trek marathon. “There’s beers in the fridge! Sci-fi acceptable?” she asks.
“Aye. Bottle opener?”
“Drawer next to the sink!”
Sandor rejoins her a moment later, and they divvy up tacos, then spend the afternoon debating the merits of various Star Trek franchises. Somehow, Sandor ends up sprawled across the couch on his back, with Sansa draped across him, his arm resting across her ass to avoid pressure on her back. She extricates herself from his grasp around six, realizing he’s snoring lightly. She smiles softly and covers him with a blanket before making her way into the kitchen.
She has a decent stir fry sizzling on the stove when Sandor shuffles in.
"Sorry," he mumbles.
Sansa shakes her head. "No need. You looked like you needed it. Do you like stir fry?"
"I like food," he deadpans.
Sansa rolls her eyes. "Plates are in the cabinet next to the sink. Silverware in the drawer directly underneath."
Sandor groans appreciatively around his first bite.
Sansa laughs delightedly. "Good?"
"I can't remember the last time I had a home cooked meal."
Sansa frowns. "Well, that's just unacceptable. I'll simply have to start feeding you."
"Don't threaten me with a good time."
Sandor's response is cut off by his phone trilling. He digs it out of his pocket with a curse. "Shit. Is it already 9:30? I've got an appointment right at 10. I've gotta get to the shop."
Sansa reaches across her small table and rests a hand on his arm. "It's only a ten minute drive, Sandor. Finish your food."
Sandor grins wryly, and tucks back in, finishing the plate off quickly. "I have time to either help you clean up dinner, or wash your back and apply a new layer of salve."
Sansa blushes. "Um, back, please. As previously addressed, I can’t quite reach it all myself. And I don't mind cleaning up."
Sandor nods and snags the tin of salve from the coffee table on the way into Sansa's little bathroom. He gently dabs the area clean and pats it dry before smearing the whole thing with the salve. "Try not to roll into your back while you're sleeping," he admonishes as he washes his hands.
Sansa nods. "I didn't this morning. I think I'll be alright."
She walks him back to the front door, and before she can overthink it, pulls him down by the collar and kisses him. Sandor freezes for the briefest moment, then rests one hand on her hip, using it to reel her in closer, and curls his other hand around the back of her neck, thumb gently brushing along the nape of her neck as he kisses her back. Sansa melts into him. Sandor's phone trills again.
Sandor pulls away, breathing raggedly. "Fuck."
Sansa smiles ruefully up at him. "Appointment, I know."
He trails his hand away from her neck to caress her cheek.
Sansa leans into the touch, then yawns.
Sandor chuckles. "Finish your dinner, then get some sleep, Little Bird."
Sansa nods."Right. Call me tomorrow when you wake up?"
"If you want."
Sansa nods again.
Sandor leans down and brushes his lips over hers again, softly, chastely. "Good night, Sansa."
She smiles against his lips. "Good night, Sandor."