Her loins still ached when she snuck out of the Great Keep in a hooded cloak three times too large.

Calf-deep in fresh snow, Sansa trudged her way through a blustery yard. It had all started with a letter—a letter she'd found tucked away inside her vanity—a letter she'd burned.

Fly away, it had read. In the dead of the night, fly away, little bird.

She did not need to recognize the hand in order to know who had written it; only one person had ever called her that, the same person who'd arrived at Winterfell hours ago.

Sansa had always known the rumors were false; it had not been Sandor Clegane who'd committed the slew of atrocities at Saltpans, but another. She heard the words directly from Brienne Tarth herself six turns of the moon ago—words of comfort, accompanied by words of grief.

"The Hound is at rest, my lady," Brienne had told her, dutifully. "Dead and buried."

Some words had a way of inflicting pain worse than flats of a blade and steel-covered fists: the news of her little brothers, the news of Robb and Mother, and the news that the one man she hadn't gone a single day without thinking about was no more than a shade. Like the sweep of nightfall, everything around her had become a little less bright upon hearing the news, and for a long while she'd existed in a realm made up of shadows, of blacks and whites and greys—a familiar world, but colorless. She hadn't been able to see the dark red shade of the weirwood's leaves on her wedding night, nor had she been able to make out the color of her maiden's blood on her husband's cock after he withdrew from her.

But sometimes when she dreamed, Sansa could see the most brilliant shades of emerald and jade—swaying and twisting, like wildfire. Sometimes, Sansa could even smell blood and wine as she slept. And, if she was lucky, she could feel the sensation of rough, callused fingers, of the point of a dagger, of the cruelest kiss.

She loved to dream, until it meant waking up to a world void of color. Until it meant waking up to a different man.

Then, as if the gods had decided she'd suffered enough, a rider appeared at first light, the hilt of his sword glinting in the sun crowning the eastern horizon. She would remember it forever, the paint on the shield slung from his saddle. It was the first color she had seen in far too long—yellow, like autumn grass.

The sentries announced his arrival, and not a minute later she was chasing her lord husband as he strode to the South Gate with his greatsword in hand. It did not matter that Sandor Clegane had been exonerated from leading the raid on Saltpans; the North had little love for anyone associated with the Lannisters, past or present.

The northmen called him a craven, a dog, and a murderer. Smalljon would've opened his throat right there had she not begged him to spare his life.

"It's what Robb would have done," she told him, sweating in the winds of winter. If she knew anything about her husband—and she hardly knew him at all—it was that his reverence for the king he'd failed to protect at the Red Wedding was profound.

So he did. Smalljon spat in the snow and grumbled a few choice words, but he listened and spared his life, allowing her to look upon the rider that frosty morning.

It had been years since she'd last seen his face, years since he'd kissed her as the world was burning. Drunk and afraid, he poised a dagger at her throat and demanded a song from her that night. She gave him one, not the one he asked for but the only one she could remember. And then he left, exchanging a bloody cloak for a kiss. Sansa no longer had the cloak, but the kiss remained with her—be it only in her mind, the memory stayed.

It was the worst way to reunite after so many turns of the moon apart. Upon seeing her with her husband's tree-trunk arm wrapped protectively around her waist, the Hound's expression went from dark to grim to something akin to shattered. Sansa knew very well how to read expressions, much like she knew how to determine whether something was the truth or a lie. If Littlefinger was still alive and not some treacherous fiend burning in the seven hells, he would have been proud of her; but she was grateful that wasn't the case.

Her time to recollect came to an end once the door to the First Keep stood before her. Fly away, the letter had read, and she knew exactly where to. Save for the crypts, the round drum tower housed only rats, spiders, and shadows; a quiet place for a true reunion, and warm. And private. Sandor would've remembered that about the tower from his last visit to the castle five years ago—or so she hoped.

Sansa placed two gloved hands on the door, breathing in until her lungs like to burst. Then, as she exhaled, she pushed.

The iron hinges groaned. Sansa looked over her shoulder and then at the battlements of the inner wall to ensure that no one had heard. But with the rushing wind and the drifting snow and the darkness granted to her by the night, she was as good as invisible.

Perhaps a secret can be kept inside the castle, after all, she thought hopefully. This one must.

Her breathlessness echoed in the emptiness of the First Keep. Although the wind was howling on the opposite side of the door, the inside of the fortress was nearly silent, the only sound accompanying her quick, shallow breaths that of crackling wood.

Glowing orange in the far left corner of the lowest level stood a modest hearth, radiant with life. Sansa wrapped her husband's cloak more tightly around herself and then, hesitantly, made her way across the dusty stones. A strange symphony of echoes filled the hollow space as she walked—words of caution—making her feel as if this was all a dream. No sooner did she feel the warmth from the fire than hear the soft sound of a boot scuffing stone.

"The little bird flew away."

Sansa gasped. The familiar rasping voice came from her right, the man it belonged to remaining hidden in a recess beside the spiral staircase, blackened by shadow. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she could see a faint outline—standing tall, and bulky.

"I found the letter you left me," she said redundantly, sounding much younger than her seventeen years.

The outline did not move. "How'd the little bird escape the giant's clutches?"

"My lord husband is asleep," she answered, this time feigning a measure of composure. "And drunk."

He gave a snort of contempt. "Suits an Umber."

Sansa narrowed her eyes at the man they called a craven, a dog, and a murderer, and said, "It suited you once."

The bold retort worked. The lurking figure emerged and moved towards her with steps so deliberate she found herself reminiscing of the days in King's Landing when he'd escort her to and from her chambers. He had a limp, she noticed, so slight it was nearly impossible to see with the naked eye. The sight pained her, so much so that her vision was blurry by the time he stood in front of her, inches away. When she raised her eyes, she dared not blink.

He smelled nothing of blood or wine. He smelled of autumn yellow.

And his voice…

"Sansa."

She dropped her head, succumbing to tears. It was him, truly. And he was so much the same. Not dead and buried, but here and alive and very much himself. A little older, a little gentler, maybe—but himself. More himself than she was herself. And what if he didn't like that? What if he regretted telling her to fly away?

He cupped her under the jaw. His hand was shaking. Sansa lifted her gaze and found him with her eyes, full of tears and wonder.

The Hound took a long look at her, studying her as she studied him. Between them, as the wind was howling a world away, a thousand words were exchanged—none of which echoed. And then, with a shuddering breath, he parted his lips and read her mind:

"Blackwater."

"I forgive you," she blurted, as if she had their reunion rehearsed. And maybe she did. After all the nights she spent imagining this moment, with persevering hope…

His fingers pinched her, so much like himself. "I've waited years to hear that," Sandor told her. "I never thought I would."

"I never thought I would have the chance to say it," Sansa sniffled. When another tear fell, he wiped it away with his thumb—callused. "I never thought"—she took a sharp breath—"I never thought I'd see you again."

He...smiled, but it carried the weight of a frown. "Too little, too late. Isn't that right, girl?"

Sansa furrowed her brow. "I don't understand," she said. "Too late for what?"

He didn't respond to that, he didn't even seem to hear her. He just stared at her face until it burned. Or were those her tears? When his fingers began to pinch a little harder—pinch a little painfully—he released her jaw and turned away.

Sansa opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. She felt small again, a child. 'Almost a woman', she remembered. I am a woman, she wanted to tell him; she wanted, no, she needed him to see. I'm…

After a few more deliberate steps, the Hound leaned his back against the wall and folded his arms across his chest, staring.

Then she knew what was too little, too late.

"What's he like, little bird?"

The fire crackled in the blazing hearth. Underneath her cloak—her husband's cloak—she was sweating. "I would sooner not speak of him."

"I would," Sandor insisted darkly. "I want to know everything about him." Not even I know everything about him, she thought, but he went on before she could manage a response. "I want to know how he fights. I want to know what he does when he sees a man near death; does he leave him for dead, or does he give him the gift of mercy?" He paused and, for a fleeting moment, she thought he was going to laugh, until his expression grew as somber as her late father's. "I want to know everything, little bird. I want to know who he talks to. I want to know when he goes whoring. I want to know what he thinks about when he looks at you." His broad chest rose and fell with each of his breaths, erratic. "I want to know everything!" Sandor rasped, startling her. "Where he eats, where he fucks, where he shits."

"Sandor!"

A beat followed, giving the cacophonous echoes time to fade. Then, while donning the same shattered expression from the yard, Sandor said, "I want to know everything about the man who wed the woman I love."

Shadows shifted dizzily on the wall beside her, the last word he spoke resounding in the open space. "...love...love...love…" She stood there, not quite remembering how to breathe, and waited for him to take it back.

He never did.

Sansa's eyes were pools. When she blinked, new tears spilled over the edge. "No," she whispered.

"I want to know the man who sleeps with her," he went on, solemnly. "I want to know the man who fucks her."

"He isn't the man I think about!" she cried out in desperation. Just as desperately, her hands rushed to her mouth. It couldn't be unsaid, though, and the words drifted all around them like ephemeral flakes of snow.

Sandor's mouth twitched in the glow of the fire. For the first time that night, she felt well and truly frightened.

"Is that right?" he said.

The years had made a better liar out of her—perhaps even good enough to deceive him—but all she wanted to tell was the truth.

Sansa dropped her hands. "No," she admitted, "I only ever think about you, and how you...kissed me."

His frown deepened. " Kissed you? "

Her heart sank to the pit of her stomach. "Oh, you"—she licked her lips nervously—"don't remember?"

"I'd remember if I had."

"You were drunk and..." frightened, she almost said, but the intensity of his gaze made her reconsider.

"I could have been twice as drunk as I'd been that night and I'd still be able to remember if I'd kissed you." The words cut through the space between them like daggers, yet somehow she knew the vitriol wasn't directed at her. Had she truly only imagined the kiss, she wondered? The Hound looked over at the hearth. "As I sat there on the banks of the Trident, dying of fever, I wished I had another memory of you to take with me to the seven hells."

"Of kissing me?" asked Sansa, reluctantly.

He looked away from the fire and regarded her then, lecherously. "Of worse." His eyes ran up and down her cloaked body, more black than they were grey. "So, the little bird thought I kissed her." The burnt corner of his mouth twitched. "She thought I came to her in the thick of battle and stole a kiss instead of shoving her onto the bed and demanding a song with a bloody dagger."

"I remember that too."

He laughed. "Is that what you think about, then?" Sandor asked with wry amusement. "When that giant mounts you, you pretend it's me between your legs?"

"It's what I thought about before coming here," she said, eyeing the tautness of the woolen tunic across his muscled chest. But it wasn't the time to play coy, she learned—and too late.

The Hound's mouth became a grim line. He pulled away from the wall, taking a deliberate step forward, and then another. "Are you telling me your lord husband's seed is still spilling from your cunt?"

Sansa's cheeks blazed crimson, his blunt words bouncing off the ancient stones. "I-I'm telling you that I think about you," she replied.

Another step. "The little bird thinks about me, does she? She pretends, she imagines ." The fire glinted off his teeth when he grinned. "When he kisses you, do you imagine it's me?"

Craven, Sansa thought. I'm the craven. He's a dog.

Frozen, she squeaked out: "Yes."

Grin. Step. Echo.

"When he holds you, do you imagine it's me?"

"I do."

"What about when you get down on your little knees and suck his cock?"

The sheen of sweat on her forehead suddenly felt like frost. Sansa dropped her eyes when she realized what this was: morbid curiosity. She was feeding it—a hungry dog—and not a soul in Winterfell knew where she was, or with who.

His musk entered her lungs when she finally remembered to breathe. Their boots were only a hair away from touching—his five times larger. One thick finger lifted her chin. He was sweating too, she noticed, a bead glistening through the dark strands of his hair and running off his horrible scars. "Let's hear it, girl."

Sansa swallowed. "I—"

"Imagine my cock in your mouth?"

The gale winds came moaning again. Sansa nodded, the finger underneath her chin following the movement as if they were one.

Sandor Clegane leaned forward, and just like she had done the night wildfire set the river ablaze, she closed her eyes, awaiting a kiss, and…

Her chin dropped, and the sound of footsteps thundered in the hollow space again.

Sansa opened her eyes to find him returning to the dark recess in the wall; he disappeared for a moment. When he returned, he was unfolding something with his hands: a black cloak.

Her eyes grew wide. "Where are you going?" she asked apprehensively.

"Leaving."

It was history repeating itself—a cloak, an almost kiss. Sansa thought she might retch. "But, but you…"

"But I what?"

"You were going to kiss me."

"Doesn't the little bird have a lord husband she can kiss?" Sandor grumbled, donning his cloak. "Kiss him and imagine it's me."

When he turned on his heel and started for the door, Sansa panicked.

"No!" she exclaimed, running up to him and tugging on his cloak. "I won't!"

He came to a halt at once, not fighting her. Then he sighed heavily. "And why not?"

"Because you're here," she cried.

"And?"

"And I'd rather kiss you."

"Because?"

"Because I—" It dawned on her then, so late. Not even Littlefinger's many lessons had made her shrewd enough to outwit Sandor Clegane. This was only a game, she realized; he did not want to leave her for true. He only wanted her to say the words—those words she said to her lord husband, insincerely.

Sansa took a deep breath and savored his scent, met his steadfast gaze. "Because..."

"Don't say it unless you mean it."

"I love you," she finished at once.

Suddenly her feet were no longer on the floor but dangling, and his mouth was pressing against her own. It was better than the one she'd imagined, not a mere touch, not a mere embrace, but a kiss as exquisitely rapturous as it was sinful. Lips brushing against scars instead of a burly beard, breasts pressing against muscle belonging to a man different from the one she'd wed in the sight of the old gods; Sansa found herself eager to use her tongue, to taste him, and wrapped her arms around his neck.

She felt the radiance of the hearth and her rapid pulse beating in her throat, then a chill.

Smalljon Umber's cloak fell in a heap on the floor; Sandor Clegane pinned her on top of it.

"I need to bathe," she gasped, not quite realizing until it'd been said that that in itself was an invitation to know her in a way only her lord husband should know.

"No," the Hound said gruffly, removing his cloak and unlacing his breeches. Her eyes went back and forth, from his blurry hands to the eyes staring down at her, darkly. "I'll have you like this." His manhood was out, as long as her forearm, so erect with arousal that the head of it looked nearly purple in the light. Sansa felt herself clench—afraid, yet longing. He wasted no time lifting her thin bedgown up to her shoulders, baring her breasts, her last chance at modesty being the damp, silken smallclothes covering her sex.

He dove for her breasts, bending forward and rubbing his cock against the inside of her thigh while suckling one stiff nipple; Sansa's moans reached every stone, every inch inside the fortress. Sandor rolled her other nipple between his thumb and finger, pinched it until she squeaked. Her fingers dug into his rock-hard shoulders, but he seemed to like the pain and moaned deeper into her breast.

Obscenities she'd never heard passed from his lips, all the while her nipple was still in his mouth. He called her a pretty bird, a pretty bird whose brains he'd fuck out onto the floor. There was another, something about her cunt and a dagger, but he trailed off with a moan before she could hear the rest.

Sandor gradually—and begrudgingly—pulled away, taking her nipple with him until it popped out his mouth, red and wet and swollen. Just like a dog, he continued to hump her leg as he drank in the sight of her beneath him. "Does your lord husband kiss you here, little bird?" he asked, cupping her tender sex with one hand. The warmth of his palm radiated into her smallclothes.

Flushed from intimacy and hearth fire alike, Sansa's answer was part stutter, part moan. " Y-yes ."

"Good," he said, though his clenched jaw told her quite the opposite. "When you fly back to him, I want you to sit it on his face."

"Sit what?" she asked incredulously.

"Your cunt." With one swift tug, her smallclothes were bundled around her knees. "Only this time," he went on, yanking off her boots to strip her of the garment completely, "it'll be my seed spilling from you."

Sansa felt utterly dreamy as he wrenched off the remainder of their clothes. Once they were both fully nude—her skin pearly, his skin bronze—he grabbed her thighs, not gently, and spread them apart.

"Prettiest cunt I've ever seen," the Hound observed, low and throaty. Sansa heard a soft, wet sound when he spread her open with two fingers. "I can see your lord husband's seed, little bird." He slipped one finger inside her, and they moaned in unison. "The tightest little cunt. So bloody wet. He got you ready for me, didn't he?"

Her face felt numb, her lips tingly. "Ah, Sandor!" she cried when he slipped a second finger inside and moved them in and out. Once she started to buck her hips and squirm on top of the three-times-too-big cloak, he held her down firmly with his other hand on her belly.

"No little giants yet?" the Hound demanded, pressing down gently.

Sansa could only shake her head.

The unspoken response made his eyes gleam. "How would you like a pup instead?"

You can't, she would have said, but the words were lost on her when he abruptly pulled out his fingers and positioned himself between her legs. A bead of sweat dripped off his forehead and onto her own when he leaned forward on his palms.

"What was it they called me, little bird?" The bulbous head of his cock kissed her aching bud. Sansa craned her neck, moaning. "A dog, a murderer, a..."

"Craven," Sansa whimpered with her eyes tightly shut.

The Hound laughed. "That's right. A craven." He was poised at her entrance. "Would a craven put a pup in the Lady of Winterfell? Look at me!"

Her eyes shot open. With him mounting her like this, he was bigger than Smalljon, she decided.

"A craven wouldn't," she told him.

"Good, little bird. A craven wouldn't." He gave her an inch, groaned. "But a dog would."

One smooth thrust, and then Sansa was stretched and filled in a way she had never been before. So many primal sounds resounded in the tower, yet the whistling winds graciously kept their hymn of sin a secret. Sansa continued to look up at him, knitting her brows; she wouldn't be a craven either, not even when it felt like he might break her in half. The way their eyes locked together as he moved in and out of her was poetry—sweat dripping, fluid squelching, skin-on-skin smacking poetry.

Sansa lost herself in eyes that only appeared as black as onyx, and relished the sight of him—the Hound, one of the fiercest warriors in all of Westeros—losing himself in her. She'd never felt so fragile, yet so powerful all at once. A little bird, yet somehow as vital as the air quickly entering and exiting their lungs. Not long after, Sandor abruptly closed his eyes and clenched his jaw; he even stopped breathing. Then an awful sound rumbled in his throat, like distant war drums. Sansa squeezed around his cock as she watched him battle his release, hastily approaching her own. He exhaled a brusque curse, but the rhythm of his hips kept steady, prolonging the strange poetry.

Spit and sweat alike wetted her face when he finally opened his eyes and said, seething, "How else does your lord husband fuck you, Lady Stark?" A mean, snarling laugh escaped him when she clenched in response—tight as a vise.

"Don't stop," she begged him, struggling to wrap her legs around his massive torso. "It feels so—"

"Does he turn you over?" The Hound grabbed her by the waist and did just that, never pulling out. Sansa scrambled to her knees on the unyielding stone, guaranteeing bruises, and then froze in place—face on the ground, bottom in the air—when she heard him say, "Seven bloody hells."

Sansa groaned when he pulled out of her, and then again, far louder, when she felt warm steam on her cheeks.

His breath.

Sandor seized her hips with an iron grip, prohibiting her from crawling away when his tongue trailed from the small of her back down to…

Her gasp was sudden and sharp, as if he'd stuck her with a knife. Sandor was kissing her there, tongue and all, even prodding it with his large nose and taking ardent whiffs. Sansa buried her face in the cloak, as painfully abashed as she was transfixed by the pleasure it spurred. Then, when she felt weak as a kitten, he pulled away, but not before a warm glob of spit landed on her throbbing hole.

He spread the wetness with one finger, moving in circles. "Has Umber ever had you here?"

"No!" she cried.

"Good, pretty bird," the Hound praised. "And he never will. You won't let him."

"I won't," she promised, as he teased her with his fingertip, stretching. It was the dirtiest thing she'd ever felt—perverse and unladylike; Sansa could scarcely believe how much she loved it. "Are you"—she pushed back to make him go in deeper, all the way to his knuckle—" oh gods, are you going to—"

"No." He withdrew his finger, leaving her frustrated and hollow. Sansa gave a petulant groan. Then she heard a popping sound. She looked over her shoulder and found him licking his finger clean. "I can't spill my seed in your arse tonight," he told her, almost with a smirk. "Don't you want my pup?"

Sansa's forehead fell to the floor when the tip of his cock nuzzled against her oozing entrance. "Yes," she whined submissively, rocking back and forth on her knees as he slowly pried her open. "Give me a baby."

"A baby? " The Hound pulled out of her and spanked her sex; she squealed. "What was the command, Lady Stark?"

"Put a pup in me, Sandor!"

He was inside her then, hands cinched around her waist as he thrust wildly and without remorse, like lovers in the Dothraki sea. "The heir to Winterfell," he growled, stealing her breath with one especially violent thrust. "You'll give your husband a strong son, won't you, little bird? My son."

Sansa imagined it, a son with black hair and grey eyes—their son. Never Smalljon's. Her climax loomed. "Ah, gods! Sandor!"

"Watch your little belly grow big and round." He grabbed a handful of her hair and forced her head back. "I'll give you a pup everybloodyyear." He accentuated the words with his thrusts, each more vicious than the one before. She could only squeal, half-alive, sweat dripping, breasts bouncing. "Umber will raise my pups thinking they're his own, won't he?"

She managed a mewl, the most pitiful, "Yes."

"Or"—Sandor leaned forward and placed the burnt corner of his mouth beside her ear—"might be I'll kill him."

Sansa's elbows gave out on her, as a flood of pleasure swallowed her whole. Without skipping a beat, he pressed her flat onto her belly when she could no longer support herself on her knees. Before long, he was living up to his promise and filling her with his seed with grunts so guttural they could only belong to a man who proudly called himself a dog. Whatever the years did to change him—to soothe his wrath, to give him time to reflect—he was a dog still, a dog always. And his loyalty, she knew without a doubt, was to her.

They lay there for some time afterward, catching their breath and regretting nothing except that it was over. Her lips turned up in a smile when she felt him spasm inside her. Sansa said a silent prayer that his seed would quicken before her husband's could. She didn't know what the old gods might think of that prayer, but at that moment she didn't care.

"This is our place," Sandor told her to break the silence. His voice was gentler than she'd ever heard it, a far cry from how it sounded a moment ago. "Did you hear me, little bird?"

"Our place," she repeated hoarsely. "I want to fly away every night."

Another silence fell between them. Just as she was dozing off, he kissed the nape of her neck and said, "It's time for you to fly back."

The words hit her with a force greater than the white winds beating against the tower, but he was right. Best her lord husband not wake up to an empty bed. Even in a drunken, groggy stupor, Smalljon would notice.

After Sandor pulled out of her with a final grunt, she sat up, wincing at the sweet ache between her thighs. She fumbled while dressing herself, and then languidly took the Hound's hand when he'd offered it to her. He picked up the giant's cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was damp with their fluids—so many of them. While Sansa was combing her tangled hair lazily with her fingers, she heard him take the largest, deepest breath.

"Look at me."

She did so, gladly. All she wanted to do was look.

His eyes were heavy, but with the light of the hearth behind him, she couldn't quite read his expression.

"Go on," Sandor said after another moment. His voice shook. "Remember what I told you."

She could feel his seed pooling in her smallclothes, blushing when she remembered what he wanted her to do. Sansa lifted up on her toes and stole a kiss. He stole one back, and then another. Minutes went by before they finally finished, significantly more flushed, significantly more breathless.

Sansa looked at him and said, "I remember."

Loins aching, she exited the First Keep and crossed the blustery yard in a cloak three times too large, and soiled.

The bedchamber was dim and cool, colorless, and snow drifted in through the open windows and melted on the stone floor.

Sansa crawled into bed, nude and puppy-weak. "Jon," she whispered, nudging him on the shoulder to pull him from his drunken slumber. He gave a low inquiring hum—awake. She climbed on top of him and straddled his chest.

"Kiss me," she said.

He did. And Sansa imagined.


She awoke to an empty bed, and to the ominous sound of steel on leather.

The room spun dizzily after she'd bolted up from the mattress, discovering her husband standing near the door with his greatsword in hand.

"My lord," she said anxiously, her voice conspicuously hoarse, "is something wrong?"

Smalljon looked over at her, scratching his beard and leering at her breasts. "We can't find him."

"Who?"

"The dog."

Sansa kept her face a mask. "I don't understand."

"It's first light," he said, gesturing towards the window with his sword, "and that block is without."

With haste, she jumped out of bed and peered out the nearest window. In the vast white yard sat an ironwood stump, a heart of darkness corrupting a body made of pure snow.

"You were going to execute him," she gasped. Sansa turned around and found the giant standing right beside her. "You were going to murder him, even when I—"

"You begged me to let him live and I did, for one whole day, and not as a prisoner. That's more than he deserved." She was too slow, and he took her arm. It was futile to squirm, she knew, but she did so all the same. Smalljon tightened his grip, frowning. "Your brother would understand, my lady. An old dog will always be loyal to his former masters."

Loyal to me, she would have said, had a guardsman not shouted from the yard, "My lord!"

"Did you find him?" her husband bellowed out the window.

"No, my lord," the guard called up. "His horse is missing from the stables."

"That bloody craven!" Fuming, Smalljon released her arm and lumbered out the door.

Blindly and in a daze, Sansa walked backward and plopped down on the edge of the bed. "You knew," she breathed, glancing down at the fresh bruises on her knees. "You knew and you didn't tell…"

Then her eyes fell on the vanity; she dared to hope.

Sansa yanked open the drawer and scoured for a note. There was everything but.

She slammed it shut, sobbing. You are a craven, she wanted to say, only that wasn't the truth. Sansa looked at her reflection, at her tear-stained cheeks and bare breasts and tousled hair. "You're just a dog."

Drowning in her grief, she could only think about the night before—about the things he'd done, about the things he'd said.

'This is our place.'

She found herself in the mirror and gasped.

"Our place."

Minutes later, lungs burning like wildfire, Sansa scurried through the yard and entered the First Keep. The smell of their intimacy lingered on the stones, somehow, the unlit hearth a trove of ashes.

Sansa knelt beside it, removed her glove, and felt for something, anything—

—and found it.

Her hand rose from the ashes, blackened, and pinched between two fingers, a parchment.

Sansa unfolded it.

Stay, it read.

She blinked a thousand times, turned it over, blew on it to ensure the ash wasn't covering another message. But there wasn't another, only the one.

Stay.

At supper, while listening to her husband's rumbling voice and boisterous laugh, Sansa thought about running from the Great Hall and never returning. Then she remembered the message—stay.

She remembered it at every meal.

Every morning, she'd first check the vanity, and then the hearth in the First Keep. Brushes and ashes. Someday there would be a letter, she told herself, as long as she stayed.

At night, when the mattress dipped and her lord husband slipped his hand underneath her gown and rubbed her where her belly was beginning to swell with child, Sansa dreamed of mounting her palfrey and riding away forever. South somewhere, anywhere.

Instead, she closed her eyes—stay—and imagined him and a letter that might someday read: Fly away.