“Truth or dare?” Arya asks.
“Truth,” Sansa answers.
“Booo,” Margaery jeers.
“You’ve picked truth every time, San!” Arya complains.
Sansa rolls her eyes. “You say that like you’re surprised.”
Margaery grabs her arm and shakes. “Come on! Live a little!”
Sansa groans and lets her head thunk down on the table. “Fine!” She raises her head and takes a swig of her drink. “Dare.”
“Yes!” Margaery throws her fist in the air. “Okay, I dare you-”
“Wait!” Arya cuts her off. “She might not ever pick dare again! We have to make sure it’s a good one!”
“Right,” Margaery agrees solemnly.
Sansa drops her head back to the table as the other two lower their heads together to plot.
“I know that look,” Margaery smirks. “What are you thinking?”
Arya grins. “See the bloke at the corner table?”
Margaery glances up through her eyelashes. It’s a shadowy corner, but for a bar, this place is well lit. “Gods, he’s got to be close to seven feet tall!”
“He’s always here Thursday nights. About a month ago, some creep was hassling Sansa. Would not take no for an answer. That big fucker,” Arya subtly jabs her finger toward the corner, “literally picked the asshole up by the collar of his shirt and tossed him out onto the sidewalk. Sansa has been making cow eyes at him ever since.”
Margaery frowns, taking in the scars marring one side of the man’s face and the tattoos covering nearly every visible inch of skin. “Isn’t he a bit… rough for San?”
Arya scoffs. “Right, ‘cause the pretty boys have worked out so well.”
Margaery rolls her eyes. “Point. So, we dare her to make a move?”
Arya grins. “Not exactly. Sansa may not have talked to him, but I have.”
“And it’s 9:30. He goes to work at a tattoo shop up the street at 10.”
Margaery’s eyes sparkle. “Gods, you’re evil. I love it!”
Sansa shakes her head as her sister pushes her toward the door of a tattoo shop a block away from the bar. “I changed my mind. Truth. I don’t want a dare.”
Arya just pushes harder. “No take backs.”
“You let me take back the truth.”
“Because you were being boring. This is interesting.”
Margaery skips ahead of them to open the door.
“You’re going to break your neck skipping in those heels,” Sansa admonishes.
Margaery shrugs and follows them through the door.
“Didn’t expect you tonight, pup.” A deep voice greets from behind the counter.
“Gregor,” Arya nods. “I decided I wanted to do that sword after all. And my sister Sansa here,” Arya shoves her forward, “is gonna pop her ink cherry.”
“I am not drunk enough for this,” Sansa protests.
“Good thing,” Gregor drawls. “If you were that drunk, we wouldn’t tattoo you.”
Sansa’s finally looks up past her feet and her eyes widen. The man leaning against the wall behind the counter is, impossibly enough, even taller and wider than the man from the bar that she’s been drooling over for the better part of a month. Despite Arya’s arguments, she can admit, at least to herself, that she ogles the man almost unrepentantly. But she didn’t know a man even larger could exist.
“Come on, San,” Arya needles. “You said you liked the wolf on my back.”
Sansa stops fighting against her sister. “You got that done here?”
Arya nods and points to the giant behind the counter. “Gregor did it.”
“Thought you wanted that sword,” Gregor grunts.
“I do.” Arya shrugs. “I think Sandor is more Sansa’s speed anyway.”
Gregor eyes Sansa speculatively, then shrugs. “Whatever, neither of us has any appointments tonight. You know where to go.”
“Don’t let her run away,” Arya instructs before disappearing down a hall to the right.
Margaery winks and announces she’s going back to the bar to see how many free drinks she can wheedle out of Bronn, the bartender, then vanishes out the door.
The next few minutes are a blur of paperwork, then Gregor turns and yells down the hall to the left, “Got a virgin for you, asshole!” He gets a vague shout in response and waves Sansa down the hall. “Second door on the left, first door’s the bathroom if you need it.”
Sansa does, in fact, need the bathroom, and ducks in on her way down the hall. She makes a last minute decision to scrub her smudged makeup off her face in the little sink, then takes a deep breath and makes her way to the next door. The art on the wall catches her attention first. The sheer variety of styles amazes her - there’s everything from wide, tribal style bands to swirling watercolors to realistic animals to intricate landscapes. Her eyes land on a wolf sitting on its haunches in front of a weirwood tree. Her fingers drift over it almost reverently even as her mind goes to the scar that runs parallel to her spine.
“See something you like?” A gruff, vaguely familiar voice comes from behind her.
“How large could you make this?” She asks without turning.
“Big as you want.”
“Even if I wanted it to cover most of my back?”
Sansa nods. “Lovely.” She turns, finally looking at the other person in the room. She freezes when she sees the man from the bar. “Um…”
His eyebrows go up. “You’re the lass from the bar.”
Sansa mentally curses Arya in every language she knows, nodding dumbly. “Hello again. I’m Sansa.”
He nods. “Sandor.”
Sansa blushes. “I never did tell you thank you.”
Sandor frowns. “For what?”
“Saving me, that night.”
Sandor shrugs. “Kid was a cunt.”
Despite herself, Sansa snorts out an indelicate laugh. “Yes, I suppose so. All the same. Thank you for the rescue. I owe you a drink, at least, next time we’re both at the bar?”
Sandor shrugs again. “If you insist.”
Sansa nods. “I do.”
He tilts his head curiously. “You don’t seem the type for tattoos.”
This close, she can see his eyes are grey. “Honestly, I never thought about it one way or another.” She shrugs. “My sister dared me.”
“This is permanent. If you’re not sure you want-”
“I want this,” Sansa points to the wolf and weirwood determinedly.
Sandor nods. “If you’re sure.”
Sansa nods. “I am.”
“You said on your back?”
Sansa nods and shuffles her feet self-consciously, turning her back to him. She rests her hand near the base of her spine. “I’ve got this scar from here,” she raises her fingers to near the base of her shoulder blades, “to here.”
“It’ll take a while.”
Sansa sets her purse down on a chair in the corner of the room. “I don’t have anywhere to be.”
“What about tomorrow?”
Sansa raises a brow.
Sandor’s lips twist wryly. “A piece that big is going to take time. With the detail in that, we’re looking at four, maybe five hours. It’s already ten. So if you have anywhere to be early…”
Sansa shakes her head. “I don’t work on Fridays.”
“Good. Not to mention, you’ll be sore as all hells tomorrow.”
“I have a high pain tolerance.”
Something Sansa can’t read crosses Sandor’s face, but it passes quickly. “We can cut a bit of the time down if you trust me to freehand it.”
Sansa glances back at the drawing on the wall. “You drew this?”
“Aye,” Sandor nods. “I drew all of them.”
Sansa’s eyes widen in surprise. “Oh.” She nods, a bit absentmindedly. “I trust you.”
Sandor smiles, a barely there thing, but a smile nonetheless. “Then we can start whenever you’re ready.”
Sansa nods. “Okay, should I, um?”
Sandor chuckles and gestures to a table in the middle of the room. “You can lay out on your stomach, or I can sit it up and you can straddle it.”
Sansa considers for a moment. “Sit it up,” she requests.
Sandor nods and adjusts. “You’ll have to take your shirt off. Bra too.”
Sansa blushes. “Er, right.”
Sandor offers a hand towel. “If you want to cover. I can, uh, turn away until you’re situated.”
Sansa takes the towel gratefully. “Thank you.”
Sandor turns his back and starts organizing inks and his various tools.
Sansa quickly strips her shirt and bra, tossing them on the chair with her purse, then tossing her leg over the table and adjusting the towel between her chest and the cool surface. “I’m ready.” She hears Sandor turn, then feels calloused fingers brush gently over her base of the scar at the small of her back and jumps.
He immediately draws his hand away. “Sorry. I’ll warn you next time.”
Sansa glances over her shoulder. “No, it’s okay. Just…” She exhales shakily. “It’s okay.”
He rests his hand gently on her hip. His hands are big enough that his fingers curl around her waist even as his thumb brushes gently over her spine. “I don’t mean to pry, and you don’t have to tell me anything specific, but… I need to know a bit about the scar. I don’t want to cause any extra pain.”
Sansa blinks away tears. “It doesn’t hurt. Not anymore. I, um, I went to a clinical massage therapist, after it healed. She managed to break up a lot of the scar tissue.”
Sandor hums noncommittally, fingers gently probing up and down the line of the scar. "Any nerve damage?"
"A bit," Sansa admits.
"Where? What kind of damage?"
"Right at the very base of the scar. It's sort of… numb. I can feel pressure, but that's about it."
"Here?" Sandor's fingers drop to the spot.
Sansa's breath catches, so just nods.
"We'll start there, then." Sandor pills back long enough to snap a pair of gloves on and pick up one of the various guns set out on his worktable. "Ready?"
Sansa nods again.
"If you need to stop, at any time, for any reason, you tell me."
Sandor rolls his still around enough to meet her eyes. "I mean it. Promise?"
Sansa nods. "I promise."
Sandor smiles, another barely there and gonna again thing. "Good girl." He rolls back around and flips the gun on, then sets it to her skin. "Alright?"
"Yes. Like I said, it's just pressure there. No actual feeling." Sandor grunts and continues.
Comfortable silence reigns until Sandor raises the gun higher. Sansa jerks at the quick needle bite.
Sandor pulls back. "Sansa?"
Sansa grimaces. "I'm sorry. I'm fine, I promise. It was just… a surprise. I expected it to feel differently. More like… a cut. A knife, you know? Just a very small one? Gods, I sound crazy."
Sandor shakes his head. "No you don’t. Do you want to keep going?"
Sansa settles comfortably again. "Yes."
Sandor sets back to work.
Sansa's eyes continually rove the artwork on the walls, catching new details with each pass of the room.
"Why'd you expect it to feel like a knife?" Sandor asks in a forced-casual tone.
Sansa, who has never once in her life told this voluntarily, finds herself opening her mouth without hesitation. "I had this boyfriend. Just after high school. He… gods, he was fucking derranged. I didn't realize until it was too late. He was pretty and charming and had a penchant for flaying knives."
Sandor's hand slows, but doesn't stop.
"He was mad. He decided I was cheating on him with my adopted brother. He…" Sansa swallows thickly. "He kidnapped us. Sliced my back open, then made me watch while he nearly cut off my brother's…" Sansa trails off, blinking away tears.
Sandor rests his free hand comfortingly on her shoulder. "You don't have to keep going."
Sansa nods and buries her head in her arms.
"I got my scars from my dad," Sandor muses quietly.
Sansa almost jerks again, having fallen into a near daze with nothing but the soft buzzing of the tattoo gun filling the room.
"I was ten and we were camping and he got really drunk one night. And just… I don't even know what set him off, but he picked me up and held my face over the fire until my brother heard me screaming and came running up from the river. My father was a big fucker, but Gregor's been bigger since he was 15. Hit our dad so hard it broke his neck, then left him there and drove me to the hospital…”
Sansa doesn't stop talking after that. The silence between them was comfortable, but in a way that feels loaded, like it's comfortable until it's not. She prattles on about growing up in the North, about her family, about her job in a boutique bakery downtown, about anything that comes to mind.
About an hour into the session, Sansa admits she has to pee again. Sandor chuckles and sets the gun aside, rolling back to give her space. She gingerly swings her legs to one side of the table, then grimaces.
"Legs asleep?" Sandor aks
"No, but I can't very well go out into the hall without a top on."
Sandor frowns. "You can't put a shirt on over that right now."
Sansa frowns back. "Then what do you propose?"
Sandor looks at her for a moment then shrugs and unbuttons the black and gray plaid he's got over some old band t-shirt and offers it to her backwards.
Sansa sticks her arms into it so the back hangs open then let's the towel drop through the bottom of the shirt. "Thank you."
Sandor grunts in response.
Sansa rolls her eyes and shuffles out into the hall. Okay, her legs might be a little asleep. She's washing her hands when her sister's voice drifts through the thin wall.
"Where the fuck is my sister, Clegane?" Arya demands.
"Taking a piss, Runt. Pipe down," Sandor answers.
Sansa can practically hear Arya roll her eyes. "Whatever. Is she done? We've still got two hours before The Forge closes, and I'm feeling lucky. That bartender is going home with me tonight."
A sudden terror seizes Sansa, wondering if Sandor is going to tell Arya exactly how far she's gone with this dare.
"Still got a bit to go," is all Sandor says, though.
"Gotta go slow on virgin skin or something?" Arya snarks.
"Fuck off, Runt. Your sister may be pretty, but she's tough."
"I know," Arya answers softly.
"Go see your boy toy. I promise I'll make sure your sister gets home safe."
"Fine," Arya sighs. "But if she gets hurt, I swear I'll gut you."
Sansa hears her footsteps disappear down the hall before Sandor has a chance to respond.
"Hitting the bar with the Runt!" Gregor calls down the hall.
"Lock the fucking door on your way out!" Sandor calls back.
Sansa splashes a bit of water on her face, then slips out of the bathroom and back onto Sandor's workroom."Thank you."
“For what?” Sandor asks.
“For not saying anything,” Sansa answers quietly.
Sandor shrugs. "Seems personal. Wasn't sure how much you wanted her to know."
Sansa hugs her arms around her torso loosely. "She's never seen the scar. She doesn't know how bad everything really was."
Sandor nods in understanding. "You still good, or do you want to finish another time?"
Sansa smiles. "I'm good. Only… do you mind if I hold onto this?" She flaps the sleeve of his plaid a bit. "My arms were getting a bit cold."
Sandor chuckles. "Aye. Looks better on you than it does me anyway."
Sansa blushes, and tries to hide it by sitting herself back in her seat.
Sandor puts on a pair of fresh gloves. "Ready, Little Bird?"
Sansa glances over her shoulder. "'Little Bird'?"
Sandor grins at her. "Aye. Always chirping to fill the silence."
Sansa's blush deepens.
Sandor squeezes her hip, where his free hand rests. "I don't mind. Ready?”
Sansa starts to nod, then freezes.
“Uh, I just had a thought. You know how I just said Arya has never seen the scar?”
“There is absolutely no good reason she would know of for me to get something this… big, or detailed, and she’ll never believe I just picked this for no reason.”
“So, uh, maybe we could do another one? Something a bit smaller, somewhere else, that she would believe easier?”
“Whatever you want, Little Bird,” Sandor agrees.
“If we do two, will I have to come back another time to finish this one, or can we do them both?”
Sandor shrugs. “It depends on what else you want to do, and how long you’re comfortable sitting for.”
Sansa nods slowly. “Okay… let’s finish this one first.”
“Whatever you want,” Sandor repeats amicably. “Comfortable?”
Sansa rests her cheek against the back of the seat and clasps her hands around together loosely around the back. “Yeah.” She grimaces a bit at the first touch of the needle, but gradually relaxes into it again.
“You and your sister, you’re not much alike are you?” Sandor asks after a bit.
Sansa laughs lightly. “Gods, it’s like we’re from different planets. We fought horribly when we were young. I… I was a bit of a priss. I danced and sang and wore dresses and cooked and learned embroidery. Arya ran about in boys’ clothes like a Wildling and stole our brother’s bow and taught herself to shoot. I thought she should act more like a girl and she thought I should pull the stick out of my ass.”
Sandor snorts. “Her words?”
“Her words. It wasn’t until I left my parents house that I realized Arya had the right of it. I had spent my life so concerned about being my mother’s perfect little princess that I had never taken time to learn what I liked, or find out who I was. Arya graduated a year early and moved in with me. She actually lives with my friend Margaery now. I never would've guessed they'd get on well enough for that, but it works for all of us. We still fight, but… she’s my best friend. I don’t know what I would do without her.”
“She’s a good kid. I’ll deny it if you tell her I said so, though.”
“I still don’t admit I like her, either.” Sansa giggles into her shoulder. “Do you have any other siblings?”
“We had a sister,” Sandor answers quietly after a moment. “She got sick, when she was really young.”
“It was a long time ago.”
“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t still hurt.”
“You sound like you know.”
“My father died my freshman year of high school.”
Sansa’s lips curl up. “See?”
Sandor chuckles ruefully. “You win, Little Bird.”
“Can we talk about something not so depressing now?”
“Aye,” Sandor agrees.
They find a common ground with books, of all things, and spend the next several hours chatting about mutual favorites and debating a few minor differences of opinion.
“You’re easy to talk to,” Sansa mumbles sleepily, closing in on 3 in the morning.
“Most people don’t think so,” Sandor rumbles.
“Most people are dumb,” Sansa decides.
Sandor chuckles as he sets aside his tattoo gun and gently wipes away the excess blood and ink before smearing a salve over her back. “All done. You want mirrors or a picture?”
Sandor tugs his gloves off to dig his phone out and snaps a picture, handing his phone over before he stands to dig a mirror out of a drawer.
Sansa gasps softly. “Oh.”
He holds the mirror out in her line of vision, then jerks his thumb toward the wall. “Big mirror there.”
Sansa swings her legs over and stumbles when she stands.
Sandor catches her elbows when she falls into his chest. “Alright?”
“Legs are a little jelly.”
“Aye. You’ve been sittin’ for a long while.”
“I think I’m good.” Sandor releases her and she turns her back to the large mirror, holding the hand mirror at different angles to see all the details. “Sandor, it’s beautiful. It’s even better than the drawing.”
Sandor steps up to her side. “I took some liberties, since we made it so big.” He points to the skyline, just below her shoulder blades. “I added some ravens, here.” His fingers brush over the waistband of her jeans. “And snow, with some falling leaves, to fill in the space… Arya said once your family was from the North.”
Sansa blinks away tears. “Winterfell… Sandor, this is absolutely perfect.”
Sandor smiles softly. “It suits you.” He watches her a moment longer, then clears his throat. “We need to wrap it.”
Sansa tears her eyes from the mirror. “Right, of course.”
“Umm…” Sandor ducks his head and scratches the back of his neck.
“Er, with as high as this goes on your back, we’re gonna have to wrap, er…”
Sansa catches onto what he’s implying and flushes bright red. “Oh, right.” She thinks about it for a moment, then shrugs. “Is it odd that I don’t feel embarrassed at the thought of you seeing me mostly naked? I mean, I know I should feel embarrassed, but I don’t.”
“Good. That’ll make this easier,” Sandor snaps on a fresh pair of gloves and lifts a roll of plastic wrap. “Ready when you are.”
Sansa bites her lip and shrugs out of his shirt, tossing it on her seat, then holds her arms out to her sides.
Sandor fumbles the plastic wrap. “ Gods .” He blushes. “Fuck. Sorry. That’s… really fucking unprofessional.”
Sansa grins, feeling bold. “I don’t mind.”
Sandor groans. “You might be the death of me, Sansa Stark.”
Sansa waves her arms a little.
Sandor shakes his head. “Right.” He steps back into her space and carefully starts wrapping the plastic around her torso.
She bites her lip when his hand brushes the side of her breast.
Sansa shakes her head. “It’s fine.”
He finally wraps it a final time, and tapes it off in the back.
She frowns at her bra and shirt on the chair near the door.
Sansa shrugs. “The shirt I was wearing tonight is, um, really tight.”
Sandor grins and picks his plaid up from the table. “So keep wearing this.”
“Are you sure?”
Sansa shrugs it on gingerly, and does up most of the buttons. “Thank you. Help me roll the sleeves?” Sandor expertly rolls the sleeves up to her elbows. Sansa suppresses a shiver when his fingers brush her forearm.
“Still up for another?”
Sansa starts. “I’m sorry, what?”
Sandor grins. “You wanted something to show your sister.”
Sansa blinks. “Right. Yeah, yeah. I’m game if you are.”
Sansa shakes her head. “I’m drawing a blank.”
Sandor tilts his head thoughtfully. “Still trust me?”
Sandor grins. “Alright, where?”
Sansa glances backward toward the mirror. “Forearm?”
Sandor nods. “Try to sit sideways, so your back doesn’t rest against the table. No peeking.”
Sansa hops back up on the table, then lays her left arm on the table he pulls in front of her. “I don’t know if I trust you that much.”
Sandor raises a brow.
Sansa heaves a dramatic sigh. “Fine.” She pointedly looks at the wall, and lets him work in silence.
About an hour later, he gently wipes her arm down and squeezes her wrist. “All done.”
Sansa looks down, and her jaw drops. A red-breasted robin is perched on the branch of a lemon tree. She blinks away tears.
“That bad?” Sandor asks.
Sansa furiously and swipes at her eyes. “Happy tears. Or, well, maybe a bit confused.”
“When you were talking about the bakery, you said lemon cakes were your favorite. And the bird… well, that was maybe a bit self-indulgent.”
Sansa shakes her head. “Sandor, it’s perfect. I just… I’m trying to figure out how you know me so much better than anyone else has ever seemed to after only a few hours.”
Sandor shrugs and picks up the plastic wrap again.
Sansa lifts her arm obligingly, then stands to stretch when he finishes. She glances at the clock on the wall. “Gods, is it really 4:30?”
Sandor chuckles. “Yeah… you’re a trooper, Little Bird, especially for an ink virgin. That's the longest session I’ve done in a while. Usually can’t stand to be in the same room with one person for that long.”
“‘Cause some grumpy, scarred, old fucker likes you?”
“Yes,” Sansa answers seriously.
Sandor shakes his head. “Ready to get home?”
Sansa nods. “I’m exhausted. Oh, shit. There’s not gonna be any cabs at this time.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sandor waves her concern off. “I promised the Runt I’d get you home safe. Give me a couple minutes to clean up, and I’ll give you a ride.”
"You spend a lot of time with my sister?"
Sandor shrugs. "Damned if I know why, but she's been a constant around here for about a month."
Sansa smiles. "Since the night you saved me."
"Aye, around then."
“Are you sure it’s not too much trouble, taking me home?”
“Sure as hell not letting you walk home at this time in this neighborhood.”
“Thanks.” Sansa moves over to the chair and shoves her shirt and bra into her purse.
True to his word, Sandor is leading her up front a few minutes later. He hands her a sheet of paper with care instructions and a tin of salve, then leads her out the door to a pristine old black truck.
Sansa smiles. “Your truck is gorgeous. What year is it?”
Sandor looks proud. “‘54. Gregor and I restored it together my senior year of high school.”
Sansa’s stomach growls as Sandor opens the passenger side door for her.
Sandor chuckles. “There’s a decent twenty-four hour diner about five minutes up the road.”
Sansa tilts her head. “Are you asking me out?”
Sandor swallows. “Yeah?”
Sansa beams. “Then absolutely.”
Sandor lets out a shaky breath, then gently closes the door before going around and climbing behind the wheel. Sansa scoots across the bench seat and rests her head on his shoulder.
Sandor lifts his arm across the back of her seat. “Don’t go falling asleep, now.”
Sansa shakes her head. “Not until I get food.”
He rolls his eyes and fires the truck up.
When they reach the diner, Sansa slides out of the driver’s side behind him, and doesn’t let go of his hand until she slides into the old vinyl booth.
Sansa indulges and orders a stack of pancakes, eggs, bacon, coffee, and a chocolate milkshake.
Sandor raises an eyebrow.
Sansa sticks her tongue out at him. “Don’t judge me. I have been awake for,” she glances at her phone, “twenty-five hours now. And I haven’t eaten since like 6 last night.”
“Not judging, Little Bird. Impressed, actually. Be even more impressed if you actually eat it all.”
The waitress rolls her eyes at them. “What about you, sugar?”
“Same,” Sandor grunts, “but add a side of hashbrowns.”
The waitress nods and turns back to the kitchen, coming back a moment later with two mugs and a pot of coffee.
Sansa practically inhales her first cup before the waitress has even poured Sandor’s. The waitress chuckles and refills Sansa’s cup before leaving the table.
Sandor raises a brow again.
“Now what?” Sansa demands.
Sandor shrugs. “With your sweet tooth, I expected a gob of creamer and sugar with a dash of coffee.”
“Black as my sister’s soul,” Sansa quips.
Sandor shakes his head. “Full of surprises.”
The waitress arrives with their food a few minutes later, and Sansa finishes every bite, just to prove a point. Sandor simply laughs at her.
Sansa pays for their meal before Sandor can protest.
“I also owe you for,” Sansa waves vaguely over her shoulder as they exit the diner.
Sandor shakes his head. “‘M not letting you pay for that.”
“No, Sansa. I mean it. My scars… they’re not something I can cover, not something I can turn into something better, but if I can help you do that with yours…”
Sansa blinks away tears as Sandor opens the door to his truck. When he turns to help her step into the truck, she goes up on her toes and presses a kiss to his scarred cheek. “Thank you, Sandor.”
Sansa manages to mumble her address before she falls asleep on his shoulder.
“Little Bird,” Sandor’s chest rumbles under her ear.
“Hmm?” Sansa blinks blearily.
Sansa sits up. “Oh, right.”
Sandor grins down at her, then opens his door and hands her out.
Sansa steps out and rolls her neck. “Gods, I can’t remember the last time I was awake for so long. I’m too old for it now, I think. Oh! Can you send me the picture you took? Of my back.”
Sandor nods. “Sure. Number?”
Sansa rattles it off on autopilot, and her phone dings a moment later. “Thank you.”
“Think you can make it up the stairs by yourself?”
Sansa swats at his arm playfully. “Hilarious.” She reaches down and takes his hand. “Thank you, Sandor, again. Tonight… last night, whatever you want to call it… I…”
“Aye, me too.”
“Can I see you again?” Sansa asks in a moment of sleep-deprivation fueled bravery.
“Aye,” Sandor tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. “Get some sleep, and text me tonight.”
Sansa smiles and raises up to kiss his cheek. “Good night, Sandor.”
“Sweet dreams, Sansa.”
Sansa has enough frame of mind to unwrap herself and set an alarm for the afternoon before she falls face first into bed in nothing but her underwear.
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."
Hope all my U.S. readers had a fantastic Thanksgiving!
"Okay, what gives?" Margaery demands, swanning into work fifteen minutes late Monday morning.
Sansa raises an eyebrow.
"I haven't seen you since Thursday night! And Arya said she hasn't either!"
Sansa focuses far more intently than necessary on the dough she's kneading.
Sansa sighs. "I spent most of the weekend with Sandor."
"Who the hells is… wait! The guy from the bar? The tattoo artist?"
Margaery stamps her foot. "Damn it, I really do owe Arya twenty bucks! Details, woman! I mean, all weekend?! Gods!"
Sansa rolls her eyes. "It wasn't like that, Marg."
"I mean it. We… we talked. About books and movies and our families and childhoods. We watched Star Trek while we ate tacos, and we walked through the park and got ice cream cones. Yesterday he took me to a little brewhouse outside the city to see a local folk band play."
Margaery gapes at her. "Gods, did your sister’s forced meet-cute actually net you your perfect guy?!"
Sansa shrugs and avoids her friend's eyes.
Margaery squeals. "It did! You would be able to look me in the eye without blushing if you were going to deny it!"
SS: Why didn’t you warn me about the itching?!
SC: Didn’t I?
SC: Could have sworn I did. *shrug*
SS: … don’t you know how to use emojis?
SC: the fuck is an emoji?
SS: another time.
SS: right now…
SS: the itching!
SS: i am going to crawl out of my skin.
SS: is that a thing that can be done? Crawling out of ones skin?
SC: and don’t you dare. It’s such lovely skin.
SS: I hate you.
SC: no you don’t.
SS: no, I don’t, but GODS you could have warned me
SS: Liar! I knew you knew what an emoji was
SC: that’s a face
SS: you’re impossible.
SS: Diner when you get off?
SC: should be done around 2
SS: I don’t have to be at the bakery until 4, see you then
Two months ago, Sandor saved Sansa in the bar. A month and a half ago, Arya dragged her into the tattoo shop. Somethow, they’ve fallen into a routine, and there have only been two days in the last six weeks that she hasn’t seen him. Tonight, he’s coming over for their weekly tacos and Star Trek marathon.
Strong and gentle and brave, her father’s voice echoes in the back of her mind. She’s not sure what her father would think of Sandor - she’s fairly certain her mother is going to hate him - but she’s happy, in a way she hasn’t been in a long time, even if Arya is terribly smug about it.
A knock on the door drags her out of her own head.
“Be right there!” She calls. She tugs a flowy floral dress over her panties as she makes her way to the door, smiling up at Sandor on the other side.
He smiles back, a soft, barely there expression that she’s noticed he only aims at her, and leans down to brush his lips over hers.
She presses up against him and kisses back. “Hello.”
His lips twitch against hers. “Hey.”
She steps back, using her grip on his shirt to tug him into the apartment.
“What, Little Bird?” Sandor sighs fondly several hours later.
Sansa startles. “Sorry, what?”
Sandor rolls his eyes. “You’ve been looking out the window every five minutes since it started getting dark.”
Sansa blushes. “Oh. Um… actually, I have a favor to ask.”
Sandor’s lips twist. “Anything. You know that.”
Sansa smiles at him, more than a bit sappy. “Um, will you take a picture for me?”
Sansa nods. “My back is healed up quite nicely. But I, uh, I can’t really get the right angle myself for the picture I have in mind.”
Sandor shrugs. “Alright.”
Sansa beams and leans across the couch to kiss him on the cheek, then bounces up off the couch.
Sandor tries, but doesn’t quite succeed, to suppress a groan.
Sansa, very aware she’s not wearing a bra, is gracious enough to ignore it. She drags one of the distressed looking wooden chairs from her table over to the open space in front of the window, situates it where she wants it, then tugs her dress off and tosses it toward the couch and Sandor, who’s simply gaping at her. She bites back her grin and turns, straddling the chair. She flips her loose hair over the front of her right shoulder, then lifts her left arm, resting her elbow on the back of the chair and tilting her head to rest on her hand, angling her arm so that both of her tattoos will be visible in the photo.
“Sandor?” Sansa prompts quietly, almost teasingly.
Sandor clears his throat, then she hears a bit of shuffling, and the faux-shutter of a phone camera. A bit more shuffling and a few more shutters, then Sandor rests a hand on her shoulder, leaning over her to display his phone screen. “What you had in mind?” He asks, voice lower and raspier than usual.
“Oh,” Sansa’s jaw drops. “Sandor, that’s beautiful. It’s perfect.”
Sandor’s nose nudges behind her ear. “What exactly are you planning on doing with it, Little Bird?”
Sansa leans back into his chest. “Nothing,” she sighs as he mouths at her neck. “It’s for you.”
Sandor groans and drops his head to her shoulder. “Death of me, woman.”
“Mm-mm, nope,” Sansa shakes her head. “Not allowed. I intend to keep you around for a long time.”
Sansa stands, kicking the chair away as she turns to face him, and nods. “Promise. I do believe I’ve quite fallen in love with you, Sandor Clegane.”
Sandor’s hands drift down to her lace-clad hips. “Fucking hells, Sansa. Only the gods know why you’d want a fucker like me, but who am I to argue?”
Sansa presses up against him, brushes a kiss against his jaw. “Do you have any appointments tonight?”
Sandor shakes his head.
“Are you sure?”
Sansa nods. “Stay.”
“Anything you want.”
Sansa goes up on her toes, kisses him properly. “Everything.”
Sansa is just setting the last of her specialty lemon muffins in the display cabinet when the bell above the door dings. “Good morning, welcome to Wild Rose!” She looks up, and her breath catches in her throat. “Sandor!”
Her boyfriend - in beat up boots, stained jeans, rock band shirt, and flannel rolled up revealing ink covering every bit of available space - looks decidedly uncomfortable standing in the fancy uptown bakery.
Sansa darts around the counter and practically throws herself into his arms. She feels the tension drain out of him with her close. He lifts her clean off the ground and she squeals and giggles, playfully swatting his shoulder before lowering her face enough to kiss him. She shoots a glare at a middle-aged business woman watching them with judgy eyes, then kisses him again for good measure as he sets her back on the ground. “I thought you weren’t getting back from that conference until Saturday.”
Sandor runs a hand through his hair, throwing his curls into a bit of disarray, and shrugs. “We got kicked out.”
Sansa’s jaw drops. “What did you do?”
Sandor pulls a face. “Why is it automatically my fault?”
Sansa rolls her eyes. “Fine, then what did Gregor do?”
Sandor’s lips twitch. “He got in a fight with one of the vendors.”
Sansa rolls her eyes even harder. “Gods, I don’t even want to know.”
Sandor grimaces. “Aye, probably not.”
“So, not that I’m not thrilled you’re here, but you came straight here?”
“He’s kidnapping you,” Margaery calls from the kitchen.
Sansa turns to find Margaery and Olenna - the shop’s owner and Marg’s grandmother - blatantly ogling them from the kitchen door.
Marg grins. “He called the shop about an hour ago to see if you could get the rest of the day off. You should have heard him sputter when I told him you’d never taken so much as a sick day. Gran’s covering your shifts herself.”
“Olenna!” Sansa protests.
Olenna holds a hnd up. “Already done, my girl.”
She spins on Sandor and raises an eyebrow.
He shuffles his feet and stares at the ground. “I, uh… shop’s closed the rest of the weekend anyway. Thought you might like to get out of the city for a couple days. If it’s too much, or too soon, or-”
Sansa shuts him up with a kiss. “Just let me get my purse.”
Sandor’s smile, that soft one that’s just for her, is relieved. “Alright.”
“That’s who you’ve been seeing?” Olenna demands as soon as the kitchen door closes behind her.
Sansa blushes and nods.
Olenna laughs delightedly. “Good for you, my girl. I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Sansa shrugs a bit self consciously.
Olenna rolls her eyes. “Get out of here.”
Sansa smiles. “Yes, ma’am.”
Margaery winks and passes her a bag and two coffee cups as she walks back through the main dining area. “Two of your lemon blueberry muffins and two black coffees. Have fun!”
"'lo?" Sansa answers her phone sleepily.
Sansa sits up, immediately wide awake. "Theon?"
"Yeah.. Sorry to wake you up. I know you probably just made it to bed."
Sansa glances at the clock. 11. "It's fine, Theon. You know you can call whenever. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. Just, uh… fuck. San, I don't know who else to ask."
"Theon, you're scaring me."
"Sorry." He takes a deep breath. "I, uh, I'm being released tomorrow, and I don't wanna go home. I can't go home. Last time, Mom tried to make everyone think I was okay. Tried to give me a position in the company and kept setting me up on dates, and I just… I can't do it this time, San."
"No," Sansa agrees immediately. "I, gods,I remember last time and you can't do that again. You're coming to stay with me."
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. What time will you be released?"
"I'll be there."
"San, you'd have to drive all night to get here. I know you just had to work all day. And I can-"
"Theon, shut up. I'm coming."
"Love you, San."
"Love you too. See you in the morning."
Sansa calls a cab, hops out of bed, tugs on the first pair of jeans she finds, shoves her feet into the UGGs by the bed, and snags her keys and purse on the way out the door.
The cab pulls up about two minutes after she steps it off her building. "Where to?"
"Three Hounds, downtown," Sansa answers. Her mind spins the whole drive. She snaps to some kind of awareness when they pull up outside the tattoo shop. She pays quickly before letting herself in.
Gregor is at the counter with a customer. He grins at the sight of her and jerks his head over her shoulder. "No one's with him right now. Go on back."
Sansa smiles gratefully. "Thank you, Gregor." She makes her way down the hall and knocks lightly, letting herself in believe Sandor can answer.
He shoves to his feet and crowds into her space. "Sansa! I thought you went to bed. What's wrong?"
Sansa blinks rapidly, willing away the tears that have been threatening since she heard Theon's voice on the other end of her phone. "I have a really huge favor to ask."
Her lips twist wryly. "You've really got to stop promising that."
Sandor shakes his head. "Anything," he repeats.
"My brother, Theon, called me."
"Is he okay?"
Sansa shrugs. "Ever since… well, he developed a bit of a drug habit, after. He's been in an intensive rehab facility for the last six months or so. He gets out tomorrow. He can't go home. We've tried it before. Mom's coping mechanisms aren't healthy for him. So I'm gonna have him come stay with me for a while. He gets released at nine, and the drive to the facility is about eight and half hours, and normally I would just borrow Marg's car, but she's out of town until next week and I can't-"
Sandor leans down and kisses her.
She blinks up at him.
"You were rambling. Let's go."
Sandor grins and shakes his head, shuffling her out the door and shutting off the lights to his workroom. "You treat my truck with the proper respect, so normally I wouldn't have an issue letting you borrow it. But you worked all day and got maybe half an hour of sleep. I'm not letting you drive all night by yourself." He stops by the front desk. "Gregor, Blackwater's comin' in later tonight. Take him yourself or tell him I'll have to get him another night. I've gotta go."
Sansa shrugs. "Family emergency, sort of. Sandor's helping me out."
Gregor shrugs. "Call if you guys need anything." He smirks. "Nice shirt."
Sansa glances down and flushes bright red. She's wearing the black and gray plaid Sandor lent her that very first night.
Sandor shuffles her out the door. "Still looks better on you," he whispers in her ear as he opens the driver's side door.
Sansa slides into the middle seat. "I've been sleeping in it," she admits.
"Death of me," Sandor groans.
Sandor climbs in and fires the truck up. "Text me the address. I'll drive there, you sleep. You can drive back."
Sansa is asleep on his shoulder in moments.
He gently shakes her awake in the morning.
She blinks awake blearily. “Hm?”
Sandor chuckles down at her. “We’re here.”
Sansa bolts upright. She peers out the window as he parks the truck. As soon as the truck stops moving, she’s barrelling out the passenger side door and toward a skinny guy with dirty blonde hair, who catches her easily, burying his face in her shoulder, when she throws herself at him.
Sandor looks away, letting them have their moment as he turns the truck off and steps out of the cab to stretch.
“Sandor!” Sansa calls.
Sandor looks up and finds her halfway back to the truck, tugging her brother along by the arm.
Sansa smiles as she reaches him. “Sandor, this is my brother Theon. Theon, Sandor.”
Theon looks Sandor up and down, clearly judging, then raises an eyebrow at Sansa.
Sansa gets a mulish expression she usually only employs when Arya is around. “My boyfriend.”
“Not your usual type,” Theon observes mildly.
“‘Cause my usual type has worked out so well,” Sansa snaps back.
Theon winces. “Right. Er…”
“Not to mention, he left work and drove all night so I could come get you. So don’t be an ass.”
Theon flinches. “Sorry, San.”
Sansa kisses his cheek. “You’re forgiven.” She winks up at Sandor. “He’s always grumpy when he gets out of the hospital. Says bad food for that long wears on him.”
“It does!” Theon defends himself vehemently, then holds out the hand Sansa’s not clutching to Sandor. “Sorry, man, just… Nice to meet you.”
Sandor shakes the kids hand. “You too.” He turns his gaze to Sansa. “We good?”
“I have to go in and talk to his doctor before he’s officially free to leave,” Sansa explains.
Sandor nods, and leans back against the front of his truck. “Take your time.”
Sansa listens attentively to everything the doctor says, and he promises to e-mail her a list of Narcotics Anonymous groups and recommended therapists in King’s Landing. Sansa shakes his hand as she stands to leave. “Thank you.”
The doctor smiles and glances at Theon, still silently by Sansa’s side. “A good support system is one of the best things, Theon.”
“We know,” Sansa answers. “That’s why he’s coming to stay with me instead of going home.”
The doctor nods. “I didn’t mean to imply-”
“If there’s nothing else, Doctor,” Sansa interrupts. “We have a long drive.”
“Of course,” he glances at the folder in front of him. “I believe we’ve covered everything.”
Sansa nods. “Thank you, again.”
Theon hefts his duffel bag over his shoulder and lets Sansa herd him out the door.
“He’s kind of a prick, isn’t he?” Sansa mutters as they exit the facility.
Theon seemingly chokes on an almost laugh. “Who are you and what have you done with my sister?”
Sansa rolls her eyes. “I see Arya all the time and Sandor has no filter. Mine has maybe loosened a bit.”
Theon snorts. “I might actually like this guy.”
Sansa reaches out and snags his hand, squeezing tightly. “He’s a good man, Theon.”
Theon grunts noncommittally. “We’ll see.”
“Anything breakable in your bag?”
“Good. You’ll have to toss it in the bed.”
Theon shrugs and tosses the bag as instructed.
Sansa smiles up at Sandor. “Ready?”
Sandor nods. “Whenever you are. Saw a diner a few miles back.”
As if on queue, Sansa’s stomach rumbles.
Sandor rolls his eyes. “C’mon, let’s get you some food.”
“Need me to drive?”
Sandor shrugs. “After breakfast.”
They ride to the diner in silence, Sansa leaning against Sandor, but not releasing Theon’s hand until they slide into the booth, Sansa staying tucked into Sandor’s side, then they eat in silence. Sandor barely manages to stifle a yawn as they head back outside. Sansa stops in front of the truck and holds her hand out.
Sandor stares down at her.
Sansa rolls her eyes. “Keys.”
“Oh,” Sandor nods slowly. “Right.” He digs them out of his pocket and hands them over.
Sansa kisses him on the cheek and lightly shoves him toward the passenger side. “Theon, you’re gonna have to sit in the middle.”
Theon shrugs. “Whatever.”
Sandor is leaned up against the window, arms crossed and snoring lightly, by the time Sansa guides the truck onto the highway.
Another ten minutes down the road, Theon nods off against her shoulder. Sansa turns the radio on low and focuses on the road.
“How long have you known him?” Theon asks quietly, when he wakes up a couple hours later.
“We sort of met about four months ago,” Sansa answers, just as quietly.
Sansa shrugs. “He saved me from some creep in a bar we both go to. We didn’t officially meet until about a month later when Arya dragged me into the tattoo shop he owns with his brother. We’ve been together, well, pretty much since that night.”
Theon raises a brow. “Tattoo shop?”
Sansa blushes. “Mhm. Truth or dare.”
Theon chuckles. “You have a tattoo?”
“Two,” Sansa admits.
“Show me,” Theon demands.
Sansa rolls her eyes, but shoves her left sleeve up enough to bare the cardinal.
“Alright… and the other?”
Sansa bites her lip. “Um, I can’t really show you while I’m driving. I think there’s a couple pictures on my phone.”
“None of those pictures are appropriate to show your brother,” Sandor rumbles, voice sleep heavy.
Sansa blushes furiously. “Gods, Sandor, how are you even awake right now?”
“Right, uh, should be a gas station at the next exit, according to the sign.”
“Show me,” Theon demands as soon as they’re out of the truck at the gas station.
Sansa takes a deep breath, and turns, lifting the back of her shirt.
Theon gasps and reaches out to lift it higher. “San…” His thumb brushes over the very base of the scar. It’s not visible anymore, Sandor did an excellent job, but Theon knows where it is. “He,” Theon chokes on the emotion in his voice. “He did this?”
Sansa nods. “And he knows how I got it.”
“You told him?”
“Theon, I told him everything,” Sansa confesses.
“The… the dogs?” Theon asks, barely a whisper.
Sansa nods. “Everything.”
Sansa shrugs. “I’m gonna use the bathroom and grab a tea before we start out again. Want anything?”
“Theon is working where?” Catelyn demands.
Sansa resists the urge to roll her eyes, then gives in because she remembers it’s a phone call, and her mother can’t see her. “A tattoo shop downtown. The owners saw his sketchbooks and offered him an apprenticeship. He’s doing very well. You should be proud of him.”
Catelyn mutters something incoherent, but Sansa can guess.
“Tattoos don’t make people degenerates, Mom. I’m pretty sure Bran is the only one of your children who doesn’t have at least one.”
Catelyn gasps. “Sansa!”
“Yes, Mom, me included.”
“Don’t overthink it. Can’t you just be happy Theon is doing well?”
“Of course I am, but… tattoos, really?”
“Yeah, Mom, really. Were we actually going to talk about the holidays or are we going to keep circling around this?”
“Right,” Catelyn takes a deep breath. “You’re sure you can’t make it for Thanksgiving?”
“I’m sure,” Sansa says. “The bakery got hired for a wedding that weekend, and if I come home, there just won’t be enough time to get everything done.”
Catelyn sighs. “Very well. But Sevenmas…”
“Don’t worry, we will all be home for Sevenmas.”
“Good. And Arya and Theon will come up with you?”
“Yeah. And… uh…”
“What is it, Sansa?”
“We’re bringing some people home with us for Sevenmas, Mom.”
“Men?” Catelyn asks, barely containing the excitement in her voice.
Sansa rolls her eyes again - her mother is going to be in for quite a surprise. “Yes. Arya’s been seeing someone, and she asked me to tell you that she’d be bringing him. I’ll be bringing someone as well. And my someone’s brother, because he’ll be alone if we don’t.”
“No one should be alone on the holidays.”
Sansa smiles. “No. You taught me that.”
“You’re being evasive about who these young men are, dear.”
Sansa sighs. “I just don’t want you to judge them before you know them, Mom.”
Arya’s jaw drops when she meets them at the airport. “Gods, you’re actually bringing them.”
Sansa glances at the Clegane brothers over her shoulder. “I said I was.”
“Well yeah,” Arya shakes her head, “but I didn’t believe you’d actually do it.”
Sansa shrugs. “Mom has to meet him eventually. Where’s Gendry?”
“Parking his truck.” Arya looks past Sansa’s bizarre little trio to Theon. “Am I the only one who thinks she’s lost it?”
Theon grins and shakes his head. “I’ve been telling her she’s fucking nuts for the last two weeks.”
“Really feeling the love, guys,” Sansa gripes.
Sandor reaches out and tugs her back against his chest. “Don’t listen to them, Little Bird. We’ll be fine.”
“You haven’t met our mother,” Arya tells him.
“You’re bringing someone home too, you realize?” Sansa points out.
Arya snorts. “Yeah, but he doesn’t look like these fuckers.”
“Watch it, Runt,” Gregor growls.
Arya rolls her eyes.
Gendry walks in before the conversation can devolve any further, and Sansa browbeats everyone through check-in and security.
Sansa maintains her calm until they land in Wintertown. She looks out the window at the tarmac and sees Robb leaning against the fifteen passenger van their parents broke down and bought when they were teenagers, and it hits her. “Oh gods.”
Sandor nudges her shoulder. “Sansa?”
Sansa blinks up at him. “Promise me you’re not going to leave me?”
Sandor frowns. “Never.”
Sansa shakes her head, panic setting in. “No. Sandor, you don’t understand. My family… gods, my family. I can’t believe I thought it would be a good idea to put you through this. We can go home. Let’s just-”
Sandor silences her with a kiss. “Anything, Little Bird. How many times do I have to tell you?”
Sansa buries her face in his chest, breathing deeply before straightening. “Okay. Let’s… yeah. We can do this.”
Wintertown Airport always feels like stepping back in time - unloading directly onto the tarmac and scrambling for your suitcase as it’s tossed down an inflated chute. Sandor and Gregor shamelessly use their size to wade through the crowd and snag everyone’s bags.
Theon drops his duffel in his mad dash toward Robb, who meets him halfway, in an obviously emotional back-slapping hug.
Sansa squeezes Sandor’s arm. “Ready?”
Sandor leans down to kiss her temple. “Anything for you.”
Sansa shakes her head. “One of these days you’re going to stop promising that.”
“No, I’m not.”
When Robb and Theon separate, arms still slung around each other's shoulders, and Robb looks to the rest of them, his jaw drops. Then, he starts laughing. “I thought it was bad when I brought Talisa home. This… oh, gods.”
Sansa rolls her eyes. “Gentlemen, this asshole is my older brother Robb. Robb, meet Sandor and Gregor Clegane.”
“Asshole?” Robb shakes his head. “Since when does Sansa curse? What have you done with Miss Prim and Proper?”
“She started dating a mercenary,” Arya snarks.
Sandor goes very still next to Sansa.
Arya notices and rolls her eyes. “Wait, you thought I didn’t know?”
“How do you know?” Sansa asks.
“How do you know?” Arya fires back.
“I told her,” Sandor says.
“But really, Runt,” Gregor chimes in, “how do you know?”
Arya gives him an ‘are you stupid?’ look. “You morons do realize I work for Jaqen H’ghar, right?”
“Fucking hells, Runt,” Sandor sighs.
“Riiiight,” Theon drawls. “So, we’ll not be telling Mom about shady pasts,” he points at Sandor and Gregor, “or shady futures,” he points at Arya.
“Agreed,” Robb nods. “No one wants the holidays to be that interesting.”
Sansa’s grip on Sandor’s hands tightens by increments the closer they get to Winterfell until that’s not enough and she grabs for Gregor with her free hand. She only lets them go long enough to climb out of the van when they arrive. When she sees Theon shuffling nervously, she releases Gregor and tugs her brother over to her side, linking her arms through his. He stills, mostly, at the proximity.
Everyone seems to collectively hold their breath when Catelyn appears in the courtyard. Catelyn stumbles and her eyes go wide before she schools her expression.
Catelyn recovers well, facade of hostess firmly in place. She opens her arms, and Sansa releases Sandor, dragging Theon with her into their mother’s embrace.
“Welcome home,” Catelyn whispers between them.
When they step back, Arya darts in for her own quick hug.
“Well,” Catelyn straightens, “introduce your guests.”
Sansa releases Theon at the safety of Robb’s side and moves back to Sandor, twining her fingers in his. “Mom, I’d like to introduce my boyfriend, Sandor, and his brother Gregor. Sandor, Gregor, meet my mother, Catelyn.”
Catelyn looks at Arya expectantly.
Arya raises her chin defiantly. “Gendry.”
Catelyn’s eyes widen in recognition. “Gods, you’re the spitting image of your father.”
“So I’ve heard,” Gendry’s lips quirk wryly.
“He’s not as fat,” Arya snarks, patting Gendry’s abs fondly.
Catelyn blushes and clears her throat. “Welcome to Winterfell. I can show everyone to their rooms, if you’d all like to refresh yourselves before lunch.”
Sansa barely refrains from rolling her eyes. “Mom.”
Catelyn’s eyes, nearly as blue as her daughter’s, sweep her way.
Sansa takes a deep breath, carefully keeping her tone gentle. “Mom, Gregor is the only one who will be needing a room.”
Catelyn’s blush returns. “Sansa-”
Sansa holds up a hand. “Mom. We’re adults. I’ve been living with Sandor for a moon, and Arya and Gendry moved in together several moons ago.”
“You were raised with stronger morals,” Catelyn laments.
“Mom,” Robb says gently.
Catelyn closes her eyes, visibly collecting herself. “I’m going to see to lunch. Sansa, if you would show Gregor to one of the spare rooms in the west wing?”
Sansa nods. “Of course.”
Sansa shows Sandor to her room and Gregor to a spare down the hall, leaving them to rest before making her way to the kitchen. She leans against the doorjamb. “Mom.”
Catelyn’s shoulders tense. “You could have warned me, Sansa.”
Sansa bites her lip. “I didn’t know how… I mean… gods, how do you tell your mother the first man in your life to ever treat you decently looks like he just stumbled out of a drunken brawl in a biker bar?”
Catelyn barks out the most unladylike laugh Sansa has ever heard from her mother before she manages to slap a hand over her mouth. Catelyn finally turns around, eyes wide. Sansa presses her lips together to refrain from laughing. Catelyn breaks first, and before Sansa can really process it, they’re clinging to each other on the kitchen floor, wiping away tears of laughter.
Catelyn smooths Sansa’s hair back from her face. “You’re happy?”
Sansa smiles. “I am.”
“He’s good to you?”
“He’s too good to me,” Sansa huffs.
A shuffling at the door draws their attention. Sansa smiles when she sees Sandor’s broad frame blocking the doorway. Catelyn’s expression softens.
“I have to tell him nearly every day to stop promising me anything I ask,” Sansa says softly.
Sandor grins down at her. “Never.”