A/N: Some quotes pulled directly from ACoK. All characters and settings belong to George R. R. Martin.

I'm imagining Sansa is aged up in this fic to roughly 16 for the sake and functionality of her empathy. Don't forget to leave a review!


Sansa wondered if Cersei noticed that she was tipping her wine into the ficus.

The Queen was slipping into carelessness on account of it, her posture slackening, her careful expression screwing up into a scowl.

"More wine for Lady Stark," she ordered. Sansa held out her cup obediently, spine straight as her goblet grew heavier in her hand. She mimed a sip, pressing the lip of the cup to hers, splashing some of the lukewarm red onto her mouth so she might wipe it away more convincingly. Cersei would turn away soon, to regard someone else in the room, and she'd tip this cup into the pot of the plant too, just like the others. Absently, Sansa wondered if it was treason, lying to the Queen. Probably, she thought, and tipped the goblet bottom-up.


She was glad to have her wits about her after Cersei left them. The ballroom was in pandemonium, afterward; women shrieking questions at her, children crying at the stench of fear on the air—Sansa, as future Queen, did her best to lead them to comfort, but there was only so much she could herself find, what with her own heart thudding in her throat, the odour of burning sour in the back of her mouth, reflections of the battle flickering unnaturally on the walls around the windows. Keep calm, she told herself...but how could she, when she knew Ser Illyn was somewhere close at hand, hidden by shadow, waiting to put her father's sword through her neck too?

Don't think about that right now, she scolded herself, but there was no helping it. Her father kneeling before gods he didn't believe in, confessing to treason he didn't do, begging for mercy he didn't get. I can't let that break me; I must take strength from it. She swallowed, gritting her teeth. If I lived through that, I can live through a battle I'm not even fighting. Her pulse was slowing, and her breathing with it. I will not give Ser Illyn the satisfaction of my head. Nor Cersei. I will be perfect in my role, if only just to spite them.

"Moon Boy, make us laugh, she urged the fool sweetly, letting him engage the women so she could see to Ser Lancel, who still lay hissing and bleeding where Cersei had struck him. Right in the wound he sustained fighting for her. That wasn't very ladylike, Sansa thought of her, not very Queenly. I should know better than to expect Queenliness from the Queen, she continued to think, nearly snickering at the irony of it as she knelt down beside Ser Lancel, who sputtered incoherently.

"Madness," he gasped. "Gods, the Imp was right, was right..."

She cupped his jaw for a moment, a fleeting and vain attempt to comfort the hurting man. There was naught she could do, though—not on her own, anyway. "Help him," Sansa commanded, looking up at two serving men. One dropped the flagon he held and fled, no disobedience plainer, but there was little she could do to discipline him—other servants were fleeing too, fright writ on their faces. Would that I could flee as well. Fly this place, like a little bird... the simile stuck in her mind, familiar in some intangible way.

The remaining serving man appeared and they hoisted Ser Lancel to his feet together, Sansa doing her best to be gentle and effective despite her weakness of limb. "Take him to Maester Frenken," she huffed, breathless from the exertion, once Ser Lancel's good arm had been draped across the serving man's shoulders. The men shuffled out of the room quickly, and Sansa felt a shuddering in her arm muscles, strained from pulling the wounded knight to his feet. Weak of body and weak of mind, she thought sardonically, I am weak and soft and stupid, just like Joffrey says. I should be killing him, not helping him. Lancel was one of them, yet somehow she still could not bring herself to wish him dead.

She sighed, looking after the knight as he limped through shadows, his Lannister-gold hair streaked black with soot and his surcoat splattered with blood. Momentarily, she was worried she had gotten some on her dress when she helped him up, looking down at her hands and her skirts with scrutiny. But there was none to be found. Her hands were clean.

Ser Dontos appeared then, hopping up onto the dais and whispering into her ear. "Go back to your bedchamber, sweet Jonquil; lock yourself in, you'll be safer there. I'll come for you when the battle's done."

Sansa nodded, thinking momentarily of begging Ser Dontos to come with her, to keep her safe—he had been a knight once, after all...No, he has not the courage, nor the skill. I would only be killing him as well.

Turning slowly and measuring her careful paces out of the Queen's Ballroom, she wished she had asked Ser Dontos to come with her, if only to have someone with a sword nearby. I wish he had some of the Hound's ferocity. He'd be able to protect her then.

No one can find the Hound, Ser Lancel had said, his voice echoing in her mind from someplace beyond her consciousness; Ser Osney had confirmed it too, she remembered, losing her patience with walking once she reached her stairs, dashing up their height. The Hound was one of the best swordsmen in Westeros, had survived innumerable battles, been in the Sack of King's Landing when he was yet a boy. Surely he wasn't dead?

No, not dead, she suddenly found herself hoping, please not dead, though she couldn't have said why. The Hound terrified her, of that much she was certain...and yet he had never struck her, like the other Kingsguard, and kept her from falling off the Serpentine steps once, and again on the roof of the keep, though both times he had been the reason she had almost fallen. But he had wiped her lip when Ser Meryn split it the first time, and told a lie to protect her from Joffrey's ire, and given her his cloak when Joffrey had her stripped before the court...but he had also told her that knights were for killing, and he was always so hateful and horrible, and his eyes were so full of anger she could hardly look at them...

He thinks I can't look because of his scars, she imagined, taking another turn up the stairs, passing guards pre-emptively looting the castle. She remembered why he was scarred—and why he was angry too, she thought—he had told her himself, during the Hand's Tourney. His brother had pushed his face into a fire when they had yet been boys, and that had haunted him ever since.

She was hit by the stench of burning outside as she reached her landing, pausing to fill her lungs. The Hound's gone, Ser Osney's voice echoed in her head. No one can find the Hound...

Only cowards fight with fire...the Hound's voice joined the chorus of echoes in her head, coming from an exchange she'd had with him, looking out at the burning in King's Landing not one moon past...

The wildfire...Gods, all that burning...Sandor Clegane was by all accounts a fearless warrior, but if he feared anything, Sansa would have wagered it was fire. And right now, the battlefield he was being called to was filled with it.

Oh Gods...

Her heart swelled with sympathy for the Hound, wherever he was. She said a quick, wordless prayer that he might be someplace far from the flames, that he would not be burned again. How terrible would that be? she considered; burning was already a terrible fate, but to fear fire more than anything and then to burn...Could there be anything worse on earth?

Arriving on her landing, she wrenched her chamber door open, spun quickly inside and barred it, pausing to catch her breath. Fleeting green fingers of light pushed around her curtains, the sooty breath of the battle making them dance heavy and languid in the heat. She knew better than to try and keep them closed; the flapping would drive her mad, and while the unnatural scene before her was sure to terrify her, would it not terrify her more if she kept her eyes averted?

Boldness took her, and she stepped forward and ripped the drapes apart, forcing herself to look. Just like the Hound's scars, she thought, raking her eyes over the scene, pulling deep breaths of the singed air into her lungs. The screams, she thought, were the worst part of it, something she should have expected but unsettling all the same—the echoes of terror telling all the truth of it, as did the anger in the Hound's gray eyes.

She paced backward, making to sit on her bed and watch the window from a distance. When she managed to wrench the scene in the window from the setting of battle, the swirling colours in the sky were almost beautiful. As selfish as it seemed, part of her wanted to let herself believe that they were beautiful, like the snaking columns of light that would come sometimes to the northern sky. Father would let the children stay up after their bedtime and the whole family would gather on the balcony off his solar to watch, sharing furs and warmth and wonder.

"It's just the northern lights," she murmured to herself, leaning the backs of her legs on the edge of her featherbed, making to sit down. She'd find comfort if she could make herself believe it, and she softened her eyes at the light, trying to take herself away, away, away.

But her mattress was already sunken with the weight of a body, a weight that shifted lightning-quick, one hand shooting out of the dark to capture her wrist, quickly joined by another, callused and sticky and smelling like blood, on her face.

"Little Bird. I knew you'd come." The speech was slurred and lurching, but she knew that voice, the harshness in it. She held still and waited for him to release her.

A pale emerald flare flooded the room with light, illuminating her companion with unnatural colour that made his visage more terrible to behold. She noted blood on his face like splatters of pitch, his hair hanging in a disarray of sweat-soaked strings, sticking to his scars. His pale eyes took on the colour of the light, blazing green and stoked with their usual ferocity. He stared at her, and forgetting her courtesy in her shock, she stared back.

But that wasn't the usual ferocity she found in his eyes, no—what his eyes held now was more urgent, frantic, more unstable. And they're so unstable to begin with... She noticed then as the light began to fade that his complexion was sickly pale, despite however much wine he'd had to hinder his speech as he had. She identified the new look in his eyes, then. Fear.

The light died and he released her, leaning back to fetch the flagon of wine he'd presumably brought and set on her bedside table; she did not know how, but she found the courage to speak.

"Are you alright, my lord?"

He gave a snort of derision. "Now's not the time for your chirping courtesies, girl." He tipped the flagon up.

She wouldn't let that faze her. "I was concerned for you."

He laughed for true then, a loud, rasping, sputtering laugh as he dribbled a bit of wine down his chin. "Gods, girl!"

"I mean it."

"I'm sure you do," he spat, standing up. "Well if you're so concerned, I'll have a s—"

"The wildfire," she interrupted, catching his eye and giving him pause, nearly looming over her and regarding her questioningly, his nostrils flared and eyes reserved as another finger of light revealed him. "It's just...if I had been burned as you are, I can't imagine I'd ever have the courage to light a candle again, no less fight in a battlefield aflame."

His lips were pressed into a thin line, the burned corner of his mouth twitching. Slowly, he lowered himself back onto her bed, armour creaking as he leaned over and put his head in his hands. "Bloody dwarf. I should have killed him. Years ago." He picked up the flagon again and put it to his lips.

"They were saying he was dead in the Queen's ballroom," Sansa offered, fighting the improper urge to scoot closer to him, put her hand on his shoulder. He was in pain, she could see, an anguish she could feel but not fully understand.

"Dead? No. Bugger that. I don't want him dead," Sandor growled, his voice beginning to break as he cast the flagon aside, clattering against the flagstones. "I want him burned. If the gods are good, they'll burn him..."

Sansa gave up and slid up beside him, slipping one arm up over his neck, the other reaching for his good cheek. He trailed off mid-sentence and froze for a moment, looking at her incredulously as she reached, met his eyes and kept reaching, before he took her completely by surprise.

He gathered her up, curling himself into her arms, burying his face in her shoulder and clinging to her fiercely, violent and shocking. Gods! What does he want with me? She wondered fretfully, wary and shocked but not fully inspired to fear. Choking groans came from somewhere in his chest as he crushed her against him, her arms coming fully around his shoulders and her hands raising on instinct to stroke his blood-matted hair. He looked half a child then, this hulking, fearsome man, taking the comfort she gave him, shivering in her arms, reminding her of Rickon, confused and afraid in the wake of Bran's fall. This is just like that, she realized.

Gods, she thought as a shudder wracked him, a warm flood of thin wetness dripping onto her neck, his mouth sputtering heat against her collarbone, he is so afraid. It's comfort he's after, just comfort.

"Shh, shh," she whispered. "It's alright. You're alright, my lord. Nothing can burn you here. You're safe." She had failed at leading the ballroom to comfort in the wake of the Queen's disappearance, but maybe, maybe, she could lead this man to comfort, cradling him in her arms.

His jaw clenched against her skin and he pulled her tighter, pushing his head further into her neck as if he could push himself all the way into her, slip inside her skin and feel safe. For a wild moment, she almost wished he could. There are ways a man can slip inside a woman, she thought...but no. No no no no no.

She began to rock back and forth gently, something that calmed her brother when he would throw a tantrum, and wracked her brain for other ways to give him comfort. He's always said he wanted a song from me, she remembered, and drew a breath to give it.

It was not Florian and Jonquil that found her lips then, though, but the Mother's Hymn. He needed it more, she figured, because he picked up his face to look at her while she sang to him, expression twisted with gruesome pain, brow knit and lips pouting. She cupped his wet cheek, silently thankful for the full capacity of her lungs returned, and sang to him as sweetly as she could, trying to replace the fear in him with peace.

She finished her singing and he tucked his face back into her neck, sniffing and holding her gently for a few minutes more, stroking her back as she did his face and hair.

"I could keep you safe," he rasped. He spoke to her chest, or the ground, or wherever his eyes were cast, speaking quietly, almost as if he was speaking to himself. "They're all afraid of me. No one would hurt you again, or I'd kill them."

She wasn't sure if she was supposed to answer, his offer seeming almost private, so she curled her arms around his head, cradling it against her shoulder, and he sighed, pulling her tighter into his embrace again.

Then he took a deep breath and straightened, drawing away from her but avoiding her eyes still.

"You've been too kind to this old dog, little bird. But come. We're going."

"Going? Where?"

"Anywhere. Doesn't matter. I'm getting you out of this snakepit. Come on. Get your things."


"Gods, yes now. No one'll miss you 'till morning if we're lucky. Come on now. Pack this," he scowled, whatever vulnerability he had shown her a moment ago lost to the realms of memory now. He tossed a thick leather saddlebag at her feet. "Nothing fine. Dark things. Warm things. Things you'd be willing to sell."

What about Ser Dontos? She found herself asking as she stood to do as he bid, crossing his arms and leaning against a wall by her door, still avoiding her eyes. She took one look at the Hound, having just been graced with a glance at the man beneath, looked at his bulk and his broadsword, the terror of his face, of his persona, and knew he'd be better at keeping her safe than Ser Dontos ever could.

So she grit her teeth, threw open her trunk, and dug for any dresses from Winterfell that might still fit her, cloaks and woollen stockings, gloves, good boots, any jewellery she didn't care about. Necklaces Joffrey gave her, she gathered up and tossed into the bag unceremoniously. The Hound gave a snort of laughter like approval behind her, watching as she dashed out of her slippers and struggled to pull on riding boots in a ladylike fashion.

"Here, girl. You'll get cold," he said, ripping his cloak down from his shoulders and throwing it over hers. "Covers up that fancy dress of yours. Try to keep it over your hair, too."

She realized as he pulled his cloak over her head into a cowl that she must be nearly as much of a fright as him, looking down at her hands all smudged with soot and blood she picked up from his face and hair, her dress likely fairing no better. Strangely, though, she felt no disgust, but rather pride; these smudges were tokens of her effectiveness, of her success in comforting him. She spared a glance up at his face and fancied she found a shred of peace there she had never observed before.

His fingers rested on the small of her back as they emerged from her chambers, guiding her but not pushing her as they hurried out of the castle in the green of the night. They were a comfort to her, a promise of safety that she found she had faith in. A dog will die for you, but never lie to you, he had told her once. He said he'd keep her safe, and he wouldn't lie to her.

Maybe it wasn't his fingers that were a comfort, but his presence, his whole being. It seemed strange to consider, this man whom she'd always feared suddenly becoming a comfort to her...but he'd protected her before, she remembered, and how could she have enduring fear for a man who had clutched her like a doll and cried on her shoulder?

"If we get caught, act grateful," he rasped suddenly, his whisper echoing in the empty stairwell. "Say I kidnapped you. Forced you at knifepoint. Don't do anything to save me like you did for that Hollard Knight. I'll not have you beaten over my folly, you understand?"

"I'll never be beaten again," she replied confidently, raising her chin and squaring her shoulders. "Or you'll kill them, whoever dares. Remember?"

And though she couldn't see it, but she imagined the burned side of his mouth was twitching as if it wanted to smile. "As you say, little bird." He spread his hand on the small of her back, giving her a gentle, affectionate pat.

A comfort, indeed.