A/N: This is it! Please, please, please, please, PLEASE don't forget to leave a review! KASHICANHAZ ALL THE FLUFF?!



Only her nose peeked out from under her tumble of hair, red again, as she slept against his chest. He ran his fingers through it thoughtfully as he silenced his alarm, hoping it hadn't roused her; she wouldn't wake for another couple of hours, at least. He'd be back home by then, making some vain attempt at cooking her breakfast again, the Saturday morning AA meeting he was responsible for proctoring over and done with. She might sleep longer, he thought; they'd pointedly exhausted one another the night before, their first night together in nearly two weeks, since midterms had robbed them of the weekend past. But now she was on spring break, and he was absurdly happy to have her back again. I should have gotten someone to swap this morning, he thought, cursing himself for having to steal away from her (even if only for a couple of hours) when he'd only just gotten her back.

But he consoled himself in knowing she didn't feel his absence quite as he felt it, asleep as she was. He gave her scalp a light scratching before attempting to lift her gingerly from his chest, but her arms tightened around him and she rubbed her face against his chest, whimpering something unintelligible.

"What was that, pretty bird?" he rasped, voice rough from disuse.

"Skip," she seemed to be insisting. "Stay."

"Would that I could, little bird. Would that I could."

She groaned, rolling off him a moment later and snatching the pillow out from under him to take the place of his chest. Chuckling, he sat up and pressed a lingering kiss on the crown of her head before sliding off the bed. "I'll be back before you get up."

She groaned again, somehow throwing the hair mostly away from her face. "...better be," and she collapsed back under the comforter.

Their comforter.

On their bed.

He shook his head, still occasionally struck dumb by his good fortune, and slipped into the bathroom to shave.

During the summertime, when she would accompany him to the parish, he liked to walk the six blocks, more than content to hold her hand and stroll through the seaside streets in the bright yellow sun of the early morning, but if he was alone he drove, coaxing Stranger into the same cracked parking lot he found him in when he first took off for Montana to chase after his little bird. The modest church was the same as it had always been, the smell of fresh coffee mixing with the underlying stench of bleach in a way that might have been unsettling if it hadn't been so familiar to him. He had a good twenty minutes before the meeting was due to start and he needed a cup of coffee (though the stuff Sansa kept at home was better, it felt wrong to drink it without her). The Elder Brother was within, making a fresh pot.

"Well, G'mornin' Brother Sandor! I have t' say, I's half-expectin' you t' stay home this mornin'," he greeted him with a sly grin, fetching another mismatched coffee cup down from the cupboard.

"I wanted to. She asked me to," he admitted, smiling to himself. "But I didn't get anyone to swap with me, so here I am. It's so good to have her back, though. That was a rough couple of weeks."

"I know. I had t' watch y' suffer on through 'em," the Elder Brother smirked, pouring Sandor his mug of coffee and handing it to him.

"Was I really that bad?"

The Elder Brother just crooked an eyebrow at him in response.

"Only two months left, though. Two months and then she's done."

"Don' she wanna go t' law school, I thought?" He asked, pouring the steaming coffee into the cups and handing the bigger one to Sandor.

"Soon," Sandor confirmed, "she wants to take some time off though, time for herself. Do a little work, study for the LSATs. I think she was dropping hints about a trip to Ireland when she gets her trust money."

The Elder Brother shrugged. "That th' only thing she droppin' hints 'bout?"

A jolt went through Sandor's chest, thinking of the little black and turquoise box he had hidden in his closet, ready for her when she asked. "So far," he rasped, the words almost sticking in his throat.

The older man gave a warm chuckle. "You a mo' patient man than I ever was."

Sandor certainly didn't feel patient, but he could understand how he appeared that way. He had been living with her more or less for going on three-and-a-half years now, the first spent in total, blissful cohabitation before she stole off to Loyola University in New Orleans, two hours northeast from the Grand Isle. It had been an adjustment to say the least that first semester, having to go between Monday mornings and Friday afternoons before seeing one another again when she would come home for the weekend, busting through the front door at quarter-to-six, both of them starved for one another's touch. Some semesters they'd gotten lucky with her schedule, graced with extra night a week she could sneak back home, back into their bed, back to him. Those had been sweet months, almost as sweet as the summers when their days belonged to each other, fixing the beach house in what ways they could, fixing themselves under each other's thoughtful guidance and support, spending near as much time in bed as they did out of it...but each summer ended, giving way to a new semester, a bigger hole in his life where she was supposed to be.

But Sandor could afford his patience—in the three years he'd spent with her he had discovered that forgiveness was a grace he had to gift himself with daily, sometimes more than once, and between his self-forgiveness and the little bird's love, he found himself in a profound state of peace. The future was always elusive and uncertain, but these things that mattered to him, that gave him his peace, were sure as sunrise.

Her peace was yet in fully coming, but they had been making steady progress towards it since the little fucker's blood had flaked dry off her hands. Secretly he was almost glad for what had happened, because while he hated that she would bear the burden her remorse would always be, there was more in her past than one righteous crime threatening to scar her soul and bind her will with terror. It was only due to the gravity of what she'd done that she made such an effort to accept it, heeding his warnings of what would happen to her if she didn't, and in her attempts at accepting what she'd done to Baelish, she got around to accepting the other things in her past that made her life a nightmare. Had things happened differently she might have slipped completely under the construction of Alayne, walking sleepingly through her life on Baelish's leash, her real captors working in the living warmth of her soul, but now, as she had cut the little fucker out of her life, she was cutting out her other captors too.

It started with the trial of Baratheon Power and the Ironthrone Conglomerate, just six months after they had moved into the beach house. The taskforce had kept up with them via Skype, occasionally flying them out to D.C. for proper meetings to prepare them for their testimonies. She hadn't had to tell him how much she was dreading the trial—he could practically smell it on her, the way she would lapse into a nervous quiet whenever she was reminded of it. She had tried to distract herself with the details of it all, shopping around for new clothes to wear for court, working with a hairstylist in New Orleans to get her hair back to her signature shade of red, spending hours in the bathroom grooming herself with face masks and nail polish and god-knows-what else, whispering the words of her testimony over and over under her breath like she was trying to void them of their meaning. Sometimes he would interrupt her, ignoring the stink of acetone in the small space of the bathroom to nudge her hair away from her shoulder and pepper her skin with little kisses, holding her close.

"You're going to do great, you know. Dave and Melissa made sure we know what we're doing, and you're not the one who's known for fucking things up anyway," he murmured into her neck once, as dusk darkened the room in soft blue shadow. She sighed rigidly, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"That's not what I'm worried about. I just..." she twisted around on the sink so she faced him, throwing her arms loosely around his neck, her feet swinging by his knees. "I've got to prove to Cersei that she didn't break me. I ran away from her, and running looks weak. I have to look strong."

He leaned his forehead on hers, placing a soft kiss on her lips. "You will, Sansa. You're so much stronger than you think you are."

"I hope so," she said into his kiss, winding her legs around his waist, holding tighter his neck. He slipped his hands under her thighs and picked her up off the sink.

"You are," he whispered in a tone that brooked no argument, carrying her back into their bedroom and taking care to make her forget all about the coming trial until morning broke again.

When the court date neared they flew direct from New Orleans to L.A., her perfect manicure digging into the meat of his hand in the force she clutched it with. He knew well what those nails were capable of, often enough taking a dip into the ocean only to surface and find his back stinging angrily where she'd marked it, and not for the reasons she was marking his hand then. Her manner in all else was carefully guarded, posture perfect, each expression schooled, chirping those courtesies he had once mocked her for right and left, not because her wits had abandoned her as he had once assumed, but as a means of defending herself. It was better to be polite and cold than obviously terrified, he figured—she saved her terror for their hands, clutching him tight as they walked off the plane, into the hotel, through dinner and breakfast and to court the next morning, releasing him only briefly while she emptied her stomach right before she testified, her fingers frozen and damp when he took them up again.

"Go get 'em, little bird," he whispered as she stood to take her oath, giving her hand one last squeeze before she departed. And he thought—but might have imagined it—that she gave him a smile before she turned, flipping her hair over her shoulder, and strode forward in an impossibly even, confident gait, despite the absurd height of the heels she wore.

He took a selfish moment to admire her as she walked, watching the slender, gentle curves of her calves and ankles, their contours familiar to him but thrilling still, kissed petal-pink by the Louisiana sun. The dress she wore was pink too, somehow modest and sexy at the same time, slim-fitting with a high neckline, hem hitting her knees. He didn't know how to describe it really, the way her makeup and jewellery and hair blended and put off an air of cool, collected strength and enviable femininity. As she flicked her gaze over Cersei Lannister-Baratheon he followed the course of her eyes, the ageing beauty queen wrapped in some tawny fur stole even in the heat of that Southern California June, hiding eyes that had to be green with envy behind a pair of wide black sunglasses, because Sansa was more beautiful in that moment than he'd ever seen her before. And she was his. All fucking his.

Some strength must have possessed her then, the shade of her sister perhaps, as she gave the older woman a ghost of a smile like a threat, flipping her hair back over her shoulder as she sat, casting her eyes back to him. He gave her a wink and a nod of encouragement, and Sansa, his little bird, broke into a smile in earnest.

Months later, after Sansa had started school, the Elder Brother turned up on the porch one morning with news from the trial. Their Monday morning ritual was already in full swing, Sansa sitting at the breakfast bar with her nose in a textbook, stylishly clothed in tight-fitting jeans and the shirt he'd tried to wear to bed the night before, while he stood at the stove trying to make them something like breakfast, his pancakes misshapen, but the bacon and eggs accomplished well enough. The Brother knocked on the window, earning waves from both of them before he let himself in, humming at the smell on the air.

"When you done bein' a grave-digga' you could have yo'self a job as a line-cook, brother Sandor!"

"I wouldn't speak so soon, Brother."

"Why don' we ask th' lady? Sansa, whachoo think o' Sandor's cookin'?"

Having just taken a bite of food, the little bird sat up straight, squared her shoulders, flipped her hair back and covered her mouth while she chewed, eventually peeping, "he can cook breakfast."

"Jus' breakfast?" the Elder Brother asked. Sandor chuckled to himself, tucking the spatula under another amoeba-shaped pancake to check if it was done.

"He's allowed to grill too, I guess," she giggled.

"Hey, now, I'll have you both know that I make a mean can of Chef Boyardee," he said, dropping the fresh pancake onto Sansa's plate. "You want any, Brother?"

"If it th' only meal y' can cook, I guess I give it a try," the Elder Brother affirmed, sliding onto a stool at the breakfast bar as Sansa closed her textbook.

"Coffee?" She asked him.

"If you be so kind."

Sandor opened the cupboard overhead and fetched a mug to Sansa's waiting hand. "Cream?" she asked over her shoulder, "sugar?"

"Jus' cream, m'dear."

"As lovely as it is to see you, Brother, what brings you here this fine morning?" She asked, sliding the cup over the bar in front of him before dancing back up to her seat.

"I glad you aksed. Melissa jus' called t' tell me th' jury reached their decision, they comin' t' deliver it t' court in 'bout 'n hour o' so. Y' might wanna play hookie today, m'dear. We be hearin' about them findin's soon enough."

"Whoa. So soon?" Sansa said after a moment. Sandor could hear the guarded quality of her voice, the care she took to make it sound the way it did. He turned, looking over his shoulder at the little bird's expression, careful also, and blank. "I thought the proceedings just finished at the end of last week."

"Well 'f it was me on that jury, wouldn' take me very long t' come t' my decision, either." He took a sip. "Mm, now that's a cup o' coffee. You get yo' grounds on th' mainland, d'you, darlin'?"

The tension in Sansa seemed to melt as the subject changed to her coffee, something she was proud of and put a lot of thought into. His little bird, raised to have the most exquisite taste, could easily tell the difference between something fine and something expensive, and while those qualities seemed to be as often exclusive as not, she had a surprising talent for finding hidden gems, fine things that fit their budget.

Once the Elder Brother's plate and cup were empty he left, promising to call them when the news came in, always seeming to sense when Sansa needed Sandor's support instead of his own. She slid down from her barstool, bringing the empty plates to the sink as Sandor ate his own breakfast next to it. He put a hand on the small of her back as she rinsed the plates for the dishwasher, rubbing reassuring circles with his fingertips.

"Almost over, little bird. There's only one decision they could make with all the evidence stacked against them," he hummed after a moment. She sighed, setting the plates down and closing her eyes as he continued to stroke her back, watching as she let her guard down, hanging her head and biting her lip.

"There'd better be," she snarled, sounding almost like him as she tucked her head into his chest. "I just want this to go away."

He twisted, leaning against the counter, and took her waist to pull her into a loose embrace, drawing back so he could look at her face. "You know it isn't going to go away, little bird. It'll always be a part of you. What you want to go away is that stupid feeling you have in your gut that you can't handle it," he took her chin in his fingers, tilting her face up to his. "I saw you smile at Cersei right before your testimony. You are the victor here, Sansa, no matter how this pans out. Even if somehow she walks, she didn't beat you. You made it out. You're happy now. You won."

"I won," she repeated reverently, listening to the words in her voice. "Yeah, okay. Okay," she swallowed, snaking her arms around his chest.

Once the news was in—guilty on all counts that mattered—he kept his eyes on her, watching her try to keep her posture straight as relief wracked her in waves. What money Cersei and company would be left with wouldn't be enough to cover appeals, and her cirrhosis of the liver wasn't going to get her anything more than being cuffed to the hospital bed she would die in.

"I think a swim would be nice," she announced, a non-sequitur after a moment of silence, standing and drifting off towards the bedroom. "You coming?"

He followed her in lieu of answering, stopping her before she could start to change by taking her chin in his hand. "You alright, little bird?"

She gave a wan smile, laying her fingertips on his chest. "Of course," she choked, "I won."

And as he watched her dive under the water, swimming out far beyond where she could stand even in the nadir of the waves, the smiles that broke on her face made her look like she believed it.

A relieved near-peace descended on her after that; she had conquered the greatest sources of turmoil in her life, yet she was not immune to the innate apprehension in facing the responsibility of her own future. Though she would never have to face anything half so disquieting as what she had already laboured to accept about herself, it did not negate the stresses she now knew—having to learn to manage all her family's assets and then some, passed to her after those involved in the extensive Ironthrone Scam (as it was now known) had been found guilty, on top of the basic stress of going to college, getting degrees, aspiring to careers. His job was to support her—a job he did happily, mind—not to add to that stress. And what could be more stressful than proposing a change to their dependable and stable relationship?

Well, it probably wouldn't stress her out if she wanted it...But what if she didn't? What if he asked, and she said no? He'd ruin everything, then. Sandor knew when things were too good for him, and Sansa Stark was definitely too good, yet she stayed with him, year after year, and even seemed happy about it. More than happy.

And he really did love her—more than anything, he did. There was no one else on earth for him; he knew it as well as he knew his own name, but how could she feel the same way about him? He believed she loved him, sure—very, very much, but her radiance, her vibrancy, the goodness of her soul all were boundless, heavenly. How could there not be a fairer match for her than him?

She had chosen him though, that much was clear; he didn't understand her choice, but knew better than to look it in the mouth—he had always taken what she had given him, even (especially) when it was more than he deserved, and though he knew he didn't deserve her, every day he made the effort to rise to the occasion. Maybe today, I'll be good enough. He was never satisfied with his preformances, but (when he was being kind to himself) he allowed that she might be.

As a rule Sandor Clegane did not believe in marriage, but if Sansa ever revealed that she wanted to be married (to him or anyone) why, he'd marry her so fast she wouldn't know what had hit her. With his scars and attitude, "married" was not something he ever thought he would be, but like all good things in the world that he had forgotten, Sansa brought back that dream, that expectation from early childhood, remembering mock-ceremonies with his "girlfriend" on the kindergarten playground, before. Sansa made him forget that he was a scarred old dog, made him feel handsome, and good, and...and fucking worth marrying...

But what if he wasn't; what if he had it all wrong? What if he asked her before she was ready, adding to her stresses? What if she rejected him, like she rejected his offer of protection that night Joffrey burned down the Blackwater? He'd lose her, and, weak as his rational brain knew it was, he couldn't see his life being anything liveable if that ever happened. And plus, there was nothing he was missing by not being married to her—he already lived with her, ate her cooking, shared her bed and kissed her goodnight. There was no foreseeable end to their relationship, and that was good enough for him.

But if she ever did hint at marriage, if she ever made it clear to him that she wanted it, he was ready: stashed on his side of the closet inside his old boxing duffel bag was a box from Tiffany & Co. (she deserved only the best, after all) holding a two-karat diamond on a simple gold band. Classic and fine, just like the girl he hoped would agree to wear it.

Might even be finished paying for it by the time you grow the balls to give it to her, dog...

"I'm in no rush," he said to the Elder Brother, "and neither is she. We're not going anywhere, either of us," he blew on his coffee before taking a sip.

"I jus' don' want y'all forgettin' me when y' get t' yo' rushin', whe'ever y'all might be. Ain' nobody got the right t' marry y'all 's much 's I do."

"I can't imagine she would have it any other way, brother," Sandor said, sipping his coffee carefully.

"Damn straight," the Elder Brother barked, letting a beat of silence fall before the two men broke out into laughter.

The AA meeting was pretty standard, no new members, no unusual catastrophes to report. He drank his coffee, listened well and returned home to his little bird, who still had her face tucked into his pillow, though she had dressed herself in his discarded clothes by the time he returned, kicking off his shoes to crawl back into bed with her.

She responded to the mattress sagging under his weight, tossing the pillow behind her and rolling forward to meet him sleepily. "You're back," she observed.

"I told you I would be."

"Doesn't make me any less happy 'bout it."

Little bird...

It was just warm enough to go swimming that day, so he took her out, letting her lead him to the breakers and chatting idly as they jumped the waves. Eventually chatting turned to holding, turned to kissing, and when he could take no more he hauled her back onto the beach and into the house, their passion reignited and burning bright; once they simmered down to a smoulder he followed her into the shower and washed her hair, kneeling carefully on the slippery tile when she wanted to return the favour. It was only upon emerging, bathroom clouded thick with steam, that she discovered she had left her good hair dryer back in New Orleans and that Sandor had, in an attempt to clean the house for her arrival, put her spare one away somewhere that didn't make sense.

"Maybe in the closet?" she asked, going up on her tiptoes to move things around on the wire shelves while he knelt to dig through the new storage bin he put under the bed. He only let himself admire her legs, bare under the t-shirt and underwear she wore, for a moment before answering.

"I know it's somewhere, I swear I saw it. I can't believe I don't fucking remember..."

"Don't be too hard on yourself," she chided, giving him a little smile over her shoulder, resting her wrists on the shelf. "I'm sure we'll find it. And if we don't, it was a crappy one anyway, I can just get a new...shit!" she swore, pulling on something and bringing a whole pile of his shit down on her.

Including his boxing duffel bag.

Which his idiot self had left open.

With the motherfucking Tiffany & Co. box on top, all to ready to bounce out and roll right onto her fucking feet.


"I'm so sorry," she was saying, kneeling to gather the things that had fallen, oblivious to the seismic little box she was practically fucking sitting on.

"Don't be, just let me handle it," he barked, coming off harsh and angry as he rounded the bed with dangerous speed. She was still apologizing though, digging through the stuff, too fucking close to it. How had she not noticed? "Sansa, move."

"I'm really sorry, I hope I didn't break anyth—" she whimpered, nearly breaking his heart with how hurt she sounded as she shuffled backward and stood, but he had to keep her away from it.

"It's okay, just...look under the bed, would you?" He knelt down, sweeping his arms through the pile of stuff she left behind—he felt the familiar leather of his boxing gloves, the heavy fabric of some old hoodies, a pair of shoes...no box. No box. No—

He whipped around when he heard her breath hitch.


She was perched on the edge of their bed, cupping the open box in her hand, wide-eyed and staring, mouth agape. In that moment he was frozen—his heart, his blood, everything—her shocked expression otherwise unreadable, equally frozen.

When she met his eyes he managed a gulp. "Oh my God, Sandor..."


"Is...did you...oh my God...have I ruined everything?"

Fuck. "That depends," he choked. "Do you like it?" What kind of a fucking question is that? Motherfuck. Fuck.

She bit her quivering lip, eyes starting to glisten as she stared at it, the corners of her lips pulling into a smile around her teeth, a laugh escaping her. "Oh my God...here, I'm sorry..." she said, tears falling to her cheeks now, smiling as she handed him back the box.

Fuck no. No no no no no.

But then she said, "I'm sure you wanted to ask me."

The box felt like lead in his hands. His voice cut at his throat, thudding dead in his chest. "Only when I was sure you wanted it, little bird."

She threw back her head and laughed. Is she laughing at me? He'd imagined a million terrible ways this could go, but never in his wildest nightmares had she laughed at him.

But she reached out to cup his scarred cheek, and suddenly her laughter rang benevolent in his ears, her fingers the cool soft marble they'd always been. "I knew I wanted to marry you when you winked at me when I stood up to testify in court," she confessed in a whisper, eyes starting to redden with her tears now. "I just...I mean, we never talked about it...I didn't want to pressure you..."

"Pressure me?" he rasped, pulling her forward to lean his forehead on hers. "Fuck, little bird, you know I'd do anything for you—"

"—You're just so cynical, I didn't think you would ever want to get m—"

"—you change everything for me," he said, shaking her for emphasis. "Everything. I didn't believe in marriage before, but because of you, I do. I didn't believe I was worth loving before, but because of you, I do. I didn't believe I could ever be good before, but because of you, I do." Running out of words for her, he kissed the girl, wide-eyed and stunned before him, kissed her with all he had, pausing to fumble with the box for a moment before he took her hands in his, fumbling with her left until he broke the kiss hesitantly, feeling her lurch forward, searching for more, whimpering something that sounded suspiciously like "yes" over and over into the space between them. He twisted the band on her finger until the diamond pointed up, and she pulled back, biting her lip again and looking down at it, a fresh wave of tears falling from her eyes.

"Sansa," he breathed, heart kicking in his chest, flooding with happiness so pure he thought himself incapable of it. "Look at me."