All the Things She Never Said (and those she did)Rating:
She rides behind him on his big, badly tempered horse and wonders whether she made the right decision or not. A/N:
Originally published as a Mystery Knight entry for the SansaxSandor community on livejournal.
Dedicated to kylathelurker
, for the concept of unromantic romanticness.
He stops the horse and helps her to dismount, leads her into the woods and pulls out his dagger, motioning for her to sit upon a log.
She is compliant, though she wishes she could refuse.
No - she wants to tell him - Not this as well, it is too cruel that I must lose this too.
My mother loves my hair - Sansa wants to tell him - She used to dismiss my maid at night just to be able to brush it herself. When I see her again… when she sees me again…
When Lady Catelyn Stark sees her daughter again she will not even recognize her.
Sansa wants to protest, wants to tell him these things, but she doesn’t. He’s already explained that her hair needs to be cut so they draw less attention, that they’re too recognizable with his face as it is.
And so she remains silent and struggles not to cry as he slowly sheers away her hair; always careful, almost gentle. It is silly that she should mourn the loss of it when she has lost so much already, but to Sansa it seems as if another part of her is being taken away, just like all the parts before.
The Hound also remains silent, as he mostly does, and she wonders what he truly thinks as he cuts through it lock by lock, whether he yet regrets rescuing her.
It would have been a simpler journey alone, though where he might have gone she has no idea. She brings him danger through her mere presence but salvation too, yes. By returning her to her brother he might win himself a place in the Northern company, and a new master to serve.
He has always served, ever since he was young, and she thinks that perhaps he would be lost if he had to truly be his own man.
Then the cutting is done and she lifts a hand to feel the remaining hair, short as any boy’s and now easily able to be covered by a scarf to hide its colour.
She looks towards him, her lips intent on a thank you, on the proper courtesy, even as she struggles to suppress her tears. And there he stands, the shadows of the forest kind to him as they fall across the burned side of his face, his dagger in one hand, a longer lock of her hair in the other. He looks down upon it, tightens his fingers around it to enclose it and then looks up.
“It’ll grow back.” he tells her, his voice as rough as saws working over wood. It is perhaps the kindest thing that he could say in that moment.
Sansa has heard that hair continues growing even after you’re dead.
Her thank you dies forgotten on her tongue.
She does not know why she changed her mind and went with him, why she reached out for him as he rose to leave.
She did, and now she’s here.
She rides behind him on his big, badly tempered horse and wonders whether she made the right decision or not.
He had held a knife to her throat and demanded a song, threatened her, terrified her… and yet she had understood.
The fire had scared him and he had come to her, come for some measure of peace or salvation or bravery or reclamation of power, she knows not.
He would not have truly hurt her, she does not think so, but he held a knife to her throat nonetheless and pinned her to the bed and she had thought for a moment that he meant to kiss her.
Yet he didn’t.
He could have taken anything he wanted from her in that moment. Instead he had cried when she sang - and when she had touched his face he had risen to leave, to leave her be.
“No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.” he had said, and she thinks it must be true since he hates lying and liars, though she does not quite know why he offered it.
For now what she knows is that he has always needed someone to serve, ever since he was 12 and left home for Casterly Rock, and for the moment it is her.
He does not speak much, they are silent through much of the day and she does not start conversations for fear of saying something that might make him angry.
She thinks that he is angry most of the time, though whether at her, or himself, or the Lannisters, she is not sure. He is sad too, she knows that much, defeated. He has lost the only life he ever knew, has fled from battle and may now be called craven. She does not know what she might say to raise his spirits.
He no longer presses her to look at him, no longer looks at her himself unless he can’t help it, and she wonders if he is ashamed. For what, she does not know; whether for the dagger, or the song, or his cowardice, or the threat that was only ever hinted at. She thinks that she could tell him she forgives him, but he has not asked for it and would probably laugh if she offered it to him.
“It’ll grow back.” she murmurs as she holds onto him, her hands only light around his waist, distance as carefully preserved as she is able.
Ahead of her, he makes a sound. She’s not quite certain whether it’s one of mirth or misery.
Five days into the journey is the first time they are waylaid.
Six bandits with mismatched armour and a poor selection of steel and she wonders whether they believe that their numbers will give them strength.
“Stay on the horse,” the Hound tells her, as he moves to dismount. She does as he asks, tightly clutching the reigns, her fingers white against them.
The bandit’s leader jeers.
“Think that horse is going to protect her when we’re through with you? We’ll have her cunt to enjoy before the night is out.”
The Hound laughs then and it is a terrible thing to behold. He swings his sword to slice into the man, slice him almost in half with the force of the blow, and that is terrible too. He dispatches them quickly with a minimum of effort and Sansa thinks that perhaps when he moves like this, with such terrible grace and ferocity, he is a little beautiful.
She will not tell him so.
He climbs back onto the horse, blood spatter fresh upon his tunic and a shallow cut on his arm and she opens her mouth to say something – thank you – your arm is bleeding – you were very brave – will we make it there safely -
“There’ll be more like that before we’re done.” he rasps before she can speak, “If they get to you then they’ll rape you and cut your throat after. You stay close to me, do whatever I tell you to do. If it’s too close a thing then take the horse and ride as far and fast as you can. I mean to have you there in one piece or I won’t be getting shit from your kingly brother. Understand?”
No one would hurt you again, or I’d kill them.
Sansa thinks that she does. He will live up to his word, keep her safe as he’d promised no matter what reasons he gives.
She tightens her grip slightly upon his sides.
“Shall I sing for you?”
It is said quietly and almost immediately regretted.
He has been drinking, though not as heavily as is his usual want. The previous day she had poured boiled wine on the wound on his arm then bandaged it with a strip of cloth torn off from his tunic.
Today they had been challenged by three Lannister men; scouts or deserters or simply lost, she does not know.
They were better organized than the last men who had attacked and for a moment Sansa had feared that it would all be over and she would be taken back to the Queen and Joffrey.
But The Hound had cut through these men too, not as easily as with the first group but at least with no new scars to show for it and only a few bruises.
“Sing then,” he tells her brusquely, “Sing your song but make it quiet, I’ve no wish to fight any more men attracted by the noise.”
Killing is the sweetest thing there is, he’d told her once. She wonders if he’s changed his mind.
So she sings, she sings of Florian and Jonquil in a low sweet voice while he sits and drinks his wine, and at the end she waits.
“Finally gave me my song then, did you?” he rasps, looks across the fire at her.
“It’s the second I’ve given you.” she reminds him.
“But this one you offered freely.” he replies, and settles himself down for the night.
She knows it’s as much of an apology as she’s ever going to get.
After a time she loses count of how many skirmishes are fought with men who do not have the sense to allow them to pass unhindered. The weather is bad and they’re often cold, wet and hungry as food runs out and shelter becomes hard to find. He won’t risk taking her into towns or leaving her to go himself till they’re further from King’s Landing and so they must fend for themselves. He forages for their food or hunts for it and she is always ready with a courteous thank you and a small smile - it is all that she can offer him in return. She turns the meat on a spit as it cooks and can’t help but think of the fine food and lemoncakes of the Red Keep and feel ungrateful all the while.
Today there is no food available and no shelter to be found and the rain pours down upon them as they make their way slowly forward on Stranger’s back. Sansa is soaked and shivering and she can’t help a short laugh at a sudden thought – perhaps the Stranger really is taking her to her death. She is trembling so violently that she is sure the Hound can feel her shaking from where she sits behind him, and wonders if he feels the cold as she does.
Never halting the horse, he reaches up to his neck and suddenly his cloak is off and he’s turning around to thrust it into her hands. She is shaking so badly that she almost drops it but she wraps it around herself on top of her own and huddles beneath it, torn between wanting to press herself closer to him for warmth and preserving the small level of propriety she still has left to her.
She thinks about asking him how many more cloaks he’ll give her.
“Thank you.” she tells him instead, teeth chattering as she does so.
The sound is lost on the wind.
At the end of the day with still no shelter in sight, they stop beneath the largest tree they can find, its branches providing some small measure of protection.
Sansa tries to dismount from Stranger but fails, her hands are too cold and shaking too badly to allow her to. And so he reaches for her, grips her around the waist and lifts her down and she wants to cry simply because his hands are warm upon her and she had forgotten what that felt like.
“Seven hells,” he curses as she flops against him, propriety forgotten in her exhaustion, in the wish for some warmth, any warmth. He takes her hands in his large ones and chafes them, then moves his attention to her arms, pushing her sleeves up so that he might try to rub some heat into them as well.
Sansa resists the urge to laugh hysterically as he curses over and over again, trying to bring some life back into her limbs. She would probably weep instead if she had the energy for it. When he places her on the ground and removes her boots to do the same to her feet, then her ankles, then her calves, she tries to protest – it’s not proper, really it’s not, he can’t touch her there, she’ll be ruined.
They’ll make me marry you now - she wants to tell him, and she wonders if he’d mock her for her fear of it.
As he continues to rub at her legs she gives one abrupt laugh, then sobs, and promptly passes out.
She thinks that there is a fire later, she’s warmer at least, and she tries to open her mouth to thank him but only manages a faint gurgle.
“Don’t you die, don’t you fucking die.” she hears him say and there is a pressure against her chest, warm and hard, and his hands on her back. “Don’t you fucking die in this godsforsaken fucking forest.”
She wants to tell him that she won’t, that he’ll manage to save her again just as he somehow always does; but the words disappear into a fog and as she chases after them she is pulled down too.
Sansa does not know how much time has passed when she reawakens but she is somewhere else; there is a roof above her and she lies upon something that certainly doesn’t feel like the ground.
She tries to sit up and promptly falls off the low pallet, groaning as she hits the floor.
He is there quickly, strong arms lifting her up, cradling her for a moment and setting her back upon the pallet and then there is a hand behind her head to raise it and a waterskin at her lips. She drinks greedily, splutters and then drinks again.
“Thank you,” She murmurs when she has had her fill and looks around the room in which they sit. It seems to be an abandoned cottage, the roof is only half there but she lies under the intact part.
“For what? Dragging you through a rainstorm so you nearly die of a fever?” he snorts, “Should have left you in King’s Landing, safe in your cage. It was madness to take you with me.”
Her heart falls and she realizes that he regrets bringing her along. She is a burden now, nothing more.
I’m glad you didn’t leave me there - she wants to say.
“I’m sorry.” she tells him instead.
“Sorry for what?” he asks her in disbelief, “It’s me as should be sorry, but you’ve seen the worst of it through and you’ll be fine now. You chirp enough meaningless thank you’s to me as it is, don’t be adding your sorry’s to it now too.”
“How long have I been unwell?” Sansa asks him, wanting to overcome the awkwardness, not knowing how to remove the anger she sees in his eyes, nor whether it is directed at her or himself. “How did you bring me here?”
“Had to tie you to me as we rode, took a day to find this place after you fell sick. We’ve been here for nigh on a week now.”
A week, a week in which she has lane prone and unconscious and he must have tended to her. Sansa feels a blush creep up her cheeks at the thought of it.
“You didn’t leave me.” she blurts out for want of anything else to say before she can control herself.
He looks surprised, it certainly isn’t what he’d expected her to say. “Leave you?”
His eyes are heavy upon her and there is a brief flicker in them, the previous anger that she had seen now faded.
-You would be much safer without me, and make better time too. You could have left me here to die, but you cared for me and waited for me to recover - She wants to say it, wants him to know just how much his actions mean to her but somehow she knows that he will not welcome the words, that he will take them in the wrong way.
“You’re my insurance, aren’t you?” He rasps suddenly, “Got to keep you safe for that kingly brother of yours so that I can get what’s due to me.”
Once again, she remembers the words that he had spoken on a night the sky burned green.
Three days from Riverrun and they hear that her mother and brother have already left for her uncle Edmure’s wedding at the Twins.
“Oh please, could we go there instead?” Sansa begs him, “I have never met my Great-Uncle Brynden. I so wish to be back with my mother and brother, after all this time...”
The Hound agrees, stating that he’s certainly not going to receive any type of reward from the Blackfish, and they turn the horse towards the west instead.
They ride hard towards the Twins, and Sansa hopes that perhaps they might even make it in time for the wedding feast. She is certainly not fit to be seen; her hair is still short as any boy’s and all of the few clothes she now owns have seen better days. Yet the Freys are to be their relatives now and surely one of the daughters would lend her a fresh gown so that she might attend.
And when her mother and brother see her again, Sansa knows that they will care nothing about her hair or her clothes, but only that she is back with them, safe and sound.
As they ride, Sansa daydreams of hot baths and clean clothes, of soft bread fresh from the oven, of as much food as she could wish to eat, of warmth. She anticipates the moment when she sees her family again, imagines them wrapping their arms around her and laying her head upon her mother’s shoulder to cry.
All of those dreams fade the moment that The Twins appears, as they reach the top of a hill to look down upon the site. It is clear that something is desperately wrong even from this far away, that it is no wedding feast in progress but a slaughter. There are fires blazing through the tents set up on the banks of the river and the sound of fighting and screams reach them even at this distance.
Sansa stifles a scream of her own and clings to the Hound, her fingers brittle against the metal of his armour.
“My mother, Robb, we have to…” she starts to say, but he cuts her off before she can finish.
“It’s too late for that now, little bird.” he tells her, an unexpected fear in his voice as he says it, even as he wheels Stranger around and spurs him to a run.
She looks back the whole way, until the last glow of fire fades into the distance.
Sansa knows even before they hear the news, days and miles away from that night and that place, confirmed by an innkeeper whom the Hound asks for information as she remains hidden within the forest.
They’re less than half a day’s ride from Riverrun now and Sansa has been crying the entire way, weeping throughout both the days and the nights while the Hound remains grimly silent.
She already knows without needing to be told.
He returns from the inn with a sack of food and swings himself up in front of her on the horse, his expression carefully schooled and silent as the grave. They ride through the afternoon and as dusk falls and still he doesn’t speak; not as they reach a clearing and he lifts her down, not as he sets about starting a fire or organizing the campsite.
She wants to scream at him to tell her. She wants to plead with him to never admit that it’s true.
Finally they sit and he passes her bread and cheese, waits until they’ve both eaten and then pulls out a wineskin he must have bought from the innkeeper along with the food.
“They’re both dead.” he announces then, his eyes fixed upon the fire as he takes a long swig from the skin. “It’s said your brother was to marry a Frey but broke his promise and wed some girl from the Westerlands instead. Freys gave your family guest right then killed them anyway, along with most of your brother’s forces. Your Uncle Edmure is still alive, but now their prisoner. There’s others from your brother’s bannermen held hostage too, but your kin is dead.”
He looks towards her then, as if uncertain what he should do next, what comfort he might offer.
She has wept on the way here, wept until this moment, knowing yet unknowing, but now that it is finally said…
Sansa is silent, still, frozen in her grief and unable to cry. They are all gone now, every member of her family; only Jon remains and he is too far away, no more than a distant dream.
“Do we go to Riverrun then?” she asks him, her voice breaking on the last word.
He shakes his head, takes another swig of the wineskin. “The Blackfish is there, and your brother’s wife too, but they won’t last for long. With the strength of the North now gone and your uncle held hostage, I expect it’s only a matter of time before the Lannisters move against the castle. No, you won’t be safe there.”
You promised that you’d keep me safe - she wants to remind him - That if anyone tried to hurt me again you’d kill them.
“My aunt Lysa then, in the Eyrie? She… surely she would take me, protect me, her own sister’s daughter?”
“Maybe,” the Hound agrees, thinking on it. “But by the Imp’s report she’s become a crazed old hag and your lady mother didn’t leave her on the best of terms. Your aunt has sat in her Eyrie with her forces all this time without a thought of coming to the aid of her Tully kin, and I doubt she’d endanger her own monstrous little brat for the sake of you.”
Words stick in Sansa’s throat and she struggles not to choke upon them.
There is nowhere to go now; no rich kin to reward him, no safe haven that they may claim. No reason for him to help her at all when he would be far better off on his own. She has nothing to offer him to secure his loyalty, nothing except… a sudden fear strikes Sansa for she is friendless and alone in the world now, a liability and worthless for any purpose except ones she would rather not think upon. He could sell her to the Lannisters if he wished, he could dishonor her and leave her to die and nobody would ever even look for her. He had held a knife to her throat and demanded a song after all, and she fears…
A large hand reaches over to clamp onto hers and Sansa realizes belatedly that she’s shaking like a leaf, tears running down her cheeks.
“Here, girl, you’re in shock. Have some of this.” he tells her and thrusts the wineskin into her other hand while he continues to hold the first.
His skin is rough against hers, the calluses easy to discern where they press into the back of her hand.
Sansa is not sure what to fear, that he might want her or that he might not, for both of those options will have consequences. She raises the wineskin to her lips and then pauses.
“Will it make it better?” she asks him, “Will it help me to forget the pain?”
“It will numb it for awhile.” he tells her, and looking into his eyes she realises that they are astoundingly clear, at odds with the rest of his muddled face, with his grimaces and frowns. There is a deep sadness there now rather than the rage that used to frighten her so, an empathy too, and suddenly she is not so afraid anymore.
She takes a long, deep sip of the wine and waits for it to work.
Sansa wakes up in the middle of the night shivering, the fire having long since died out, and gathers her cloak more tightly around her, huddling under it. She had once told Bran that he was safe under his blankets and that no monster or creature of nightmare could reach him there; but that was simply a fairy story told to a younger brother to help him sleep. Bran is gone now, killed by a monster they had sheltered in their family, and this cloak she hides beneath will do nothing to protect her from any real danger.
Before she can stop herself a cry rises from her throat, a long high note of keening. She doubles over, clutches her stomach in an attempt to contain the pain.
She hears him move though she does not see it and a large hand is quickly clamped over her mouth, a strong arm wound around her waist to pull her to him.
“Hush now, little bird, or you’ll call trouble to us.” he tells her, not ungently. “Cry as you will, as much as you wish, but do so quietly lest we lose our lives.”
She wants to scream and wail and rend her clothes, but she flails instead, hits him with closed fists until the fight has gone out of her as he remains passive, holding her close and with a hand still over her mouth but never moving to stop her.
In the end with all her energy spent, she allows her head to rest upon his shoulder, weeps into the side of his neck, weeps until all her tears are exhausted and she cannot cry any longer. She whimpers, sighs heavily, and he brings his hand up to awkwardly pat her upon the side of her head, his fingers resting for a few moments in the short hair that now curls there.
It does not matter anymore whether it grows back or not, her mother will never brush it again.
Seeing that she is now quiet he rises to leave but she grabs onto his wrist. Stay - she wants to tell him.
She can’t say the word though.
Is it the right decision or the wrong one and what will he understand from it? Will it bind him to her, keep him by her side? What does he truly want from her, and how long will it be before he takes it?
She does not know the answer to any of those questions, all she knows is that he is the only protector she has left in this world, the only one that has not failed her. What she does know is that she is terrified of being left entirely alone and defenseless.
So he leaves her for a moment, goes to fetch his bedroll and places it beside hers, lies down upon it right next to her, yet not touching.
“Go to sleep,” He tells her then, as she breathes erratically, unsure what she should hope or fear. “Your tears won’t bring them back and we’ve a long way to go tomorrow.”
She notices that he doesn’t say where.
They discuss their options as they eat apples for breakfast, Sansa listlessly, barely tasting hers.
“The Riverlands are lost to us,” He tells her, “The Lannisters will control them any day now. It will be too difficult for us to reach the North and we know not which of your brother’s bannermen remain loyal. They could all easily sell you to gain favour, riches or power; or trade you for their own kin as is held hostage.”
She will never tell him that she had feared that he might do the same; here in the light of day she knows that he never would. While he might mock her belief in true knights, he has a strange honour of his own. He could have done anything he wanted to her by now if he wished to, he never needed to save her in the first place.
Again, she remembers his words on the night he came to take her away, words that he has not said since.
“Could we not go to Greywater Watch? Howland Reed was my father’s staunchest friend and it would be difficult for our enemies to find us there.” Sansa suggests.
“Difficult for us to find as well, since we have no idea where it is. Far too close to Freys for my liking, and Ironmen currently infesting the Neck as well.” Sandor replies, “That’ll not do.”
“My half-brother Jon in the Night’s Watch?”
“And how are we to reach there and what are we to do once we have? I’ve no wish to don a black cloak and women are not allowed at the Wall.”
“Lord Stannis, then?” Sansa continues desperately, “He is an enemy of the Lannisters and is an honourable man, surely he would protect me?”
“Lord Stannis’s forces were spent in the Battle of the Blackwater and he’s retreated to Dragonstone. No way to reach him without great risk and I wouldn’t trust him not to use you for his own purposes if we did.”
“Is there nowhere that we may be safe?” she asks him in despair, “No ally that we may go to for sanctuary?”
“I think we’d best leave Westeros, little bird.” he finally replies, and she knows by his tone that he’s been considering it ever since the night they fled the Twins, slowly making their way East that they might find a ship.
No - she wants to say - There must be another option. Any other option.
She will know nobody else but him in Essos, there will be no friends there to save her if she needs it.
There are none here either though, and the Hound for all his ferocity and all her doubt has never harmed her, never let her down.
So she nods, and allows him to place her gently upon Stranger’s back, and as they begin to ride towards the coast she clings to him and cries only a little for all that she has lost and all that she will lose again now.
They are waylaid three times before they reach the coast, and Sandor receives two new scars for his efforts. She dresses them as she had the last one, and finds herself humming an old song under her breath as she does so, a song of love and loss and tragedy.
When she is done she looks up to find him regarding her, and the expression in his eyes is almost tender. She has grown accustomed to reading his moods in all the time they’ve now spent together and he is calm in this moment, almost content she would say, if he knew any emotion like that.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks him, for once unable to suppress the question that rises to her lips.
“What? Getting myself cut up to protect you?” he snorts, “Thought you’d be grateful at least.”
“I am,” she assures him, “And yet there is no reason to do so. You gain nothing in protecting me and I can offer you nothing in return, not now.”
He laughs darkly then, his mood turning, and he looks away from her before turning back with a snarl.
“Didn’t I tell you that I’d keep you safe, the night that the Blackwater burned? Didn’t I say I’d kill any that tried to hurt you? Have I ever asked you for anything in return? Have I?”
He stalks away and she knows then, looking at him, what it is that he really wants from her.
Something that she is not yet ready to give.
She wonders whether she ever will be.
A ship to Essos, and surprisingly it is he that is seasick, long hours spent over a basin and others groaning in his bunk.
She holds back his hair and mops his face clean, tries to feed him broth while he snarls at her and waits until he is too weak to resist.
And there in that cabin, in the stuffy air and the low light, as she places cool cloths across his brow and sings him into a fitful sleep, she realizes that he has stopped being the Hound to her and has become Sandor Clegane instead.
It may be that she is now bound to him with no other choice, but the thought no longer scares her as it once did. What he truly wants from her must be given rather than taken and she thinks that perhaps one day, she may be able to offer it.
“Help me up,” he rasps on the fifth day when he’s feeling better.
She does so and he catches her looking at him, and sees that something has changed.
“You looked after me,” he rasps, as if she has somehow saved his life rather than simply helped him recover from a bout of seasickness.
“Of course,” she replies, her brow wrinkling as she looks at him, confused as to why there should be a catch in his voice, why his eyes should glint as they gaze into hers.
She understands suddenly, without him needing to say it. Nobody has looked after him, cared for him, for years. Not since he was a child, perhaps not since he was burned. And what had they given him then? Ointments, and kept him locked out of sight in his room.
It is with a terrible overburdening sadness that she thinks then of the times that her mother and father cared for her, through small illnesses and petty hurts, of how she was always assured of comfort.
She has lost that now but at least she had it, at least she has the memory of it.
She reaches out and slowly, almost tenderly, pushes the sweaty strands of hair back from his forehead, smoothing them with her fingers. She thinks that she can hear him breathe in then, sharp and quick.
“You look me straight in the face now.” he comments, and while his voice may be the snarling of dogs in a pit, while it may be the rasp of saws on wood, she can hear the depths in it now. “You’re not afraid to look anymore.”
“Why would I be?” she asks him, as if it’s the most obvious matter in the world.
She rises to leave and he grabs her wrist, his grip as hard as iron; he could hurt her so easily if he wished to. He holds her there, bent over him, her other palm flat against the hard bunk to brace herself so that she doesn’t fall.
She thinks for a moment that he intends to kiss her, but instead he abruptly lets her go, dropping her wrist and levering himself up from the bunk with his hands.
“I’ll go and see to the horse.” he mutters before he stalks out of the cabin.
Sansa wonders exactly which one of their resolves will break first.
Pentos, with all its exotic splendours, is like something out of Sansa’s former dreams. It is so warm that she feels it must never be touched by winter and the women all seem to dress in silks. A heavy scent of spices hangs in the air and Sansa wishes that Arya might have been here to see this with her, knowing that she would have loved it.
She sits upon Stranger as Sandor leads him through the streets, following the directions that the Captain had given them to a place where they might find lodgings.
They are soon there and Sandor settles it with the landlord, renting them rooms for a month and calling for hot water to be brought up for baths. He waits until she is settled in her room, her bath placed within, before he leaves for his own.
Once, Sansa would have turned her nose up at such simple accommodations. The bed is old, the mattress lumpy, and the linens of poor quality - the room is spare in its lack of furniture besides the bed with only a cupboard, a mirror and a single chair. Now, after months of sleeping first on the ground as they travelled and then upon a ship’s narrow hard bunk, it seems as if it’s the most luxurious room she’s ever known.
She soaks in the water until she becomes wrinkled, scrubbing at her skin, her hair and under her nails to make them clean. Her hair falls down to her chin now, growing slowly but surely. Only when the water grows cold does Sansa pull herself out of the bath, putting on her cleanest robe, lying down on the bed and willing sleep to come.
The first real bed she’s lain on for months and months and months and she cannot help but sigh at how soft it feels to her.
It is only then that she realizes they’ve never discussed what it is they’ll do once they reach Pentos.
It has always been a matter of reaching a certain point, a place of safety, and now they have finally done so.
Is this to be her life now? Exile in Essos for the rest of her days, unable to return to the land of her birth? Will she ever receive news that it is safe to come home? Will she ever know for certain that she may return to Westeros without fear?
Sansa thinks on it, and realizes for the first time that there is nothing there for her to return to now. Her home is a ruin, her family are all gone except for Jon, and he is a member of the Night’s Watch, who give up their former lives and families when they take their vows.
She has nothing left now, nothing except for Sandor Clegane.
It is she who knocks on his door first and he opens it, his hair still wet from his bath, his tunic clinging to his shoulders where it is damp.
She notices these things now.
He gestures her inside and then calls loudly down the stairs for some food and wine to be sent up. His room is as sparse as hers but there is a table and two chairs and she realizes, belatedly, that there is a connecting door between their rooms.
Once she would’ve fretted about that, but when she’s slept with him in the same cabin on a ship for almost a month, when they’ve travelled together for all this time, what is there left to worry about in terms of propriety?
Who is there left to care about her honour or modesty anyway? Only she herself and even that notion is slowly slipping away from her, day by day.
She is not destined for any great marriage anymore that she must keep her reputation for. She is not destined for anything at all.
“We’ll stay here for a month, give us time to find a proper place.” he says, his eyes fixed upon her as if to see her reaction. “It’ll do till then.”
“It was a good choice.” She tells him sincerely, “The bed is…”
He snorts, “No need to tell it falsely, little bird. It’s a poor excuse for a place. I took you from your golden cage in the Red Keep and gave you a freedom you probably never wanted. Bet you wish you were back there again now.”
“No.” she tells him simply, “No, I don’t.”
His eyes burn into her but he does not question the statement, does not call her a liar as she’d feared he would.
The food and wine arrive and she eats as he drinks, watching him from under lowered lids.
“What do we do now?” she asks him finally, having worked up the courage.
“Do?”hHe repeats with a harsh laugh. “The money won’t last forever. I’ll find some work, as Guard or Sellsword or Master of Arms. We’ll find some place to live.”
“But what do we do?” she asks him insistently, for once unable to quiet the voice that refuses to go away. “What do I do?”
“Whatever little birds normally do.” he tells her, drinks deeply and leans back in his chair.
Forever? - She wants to ask him - Is this our life forever?
Instead she says, “I don’t know what that is.”
In Westeros there was always somebody to tell her what she should do. First her parents and septa, then the Queen and Joffrey, and then Sandor upon the road. Her actions were always guided by strict codes of proper behavior, she knew what was expected of her. There was a clear path for her then, she was to learn a lady’s skills, make a good match, be the mistress of some high lord’s castle and bear him children.
Now with those things taken from her, she does not know who it is that she is meant to be, or what it is that she’s meant to do.
“What do you want?” he asks her exasperatedly, “I can’t give you riches or the life of some high lady. You’re free to do as you wish but I can’t win back the North for you on my fucking own, nor get you married to some lordling who’ll do those things for you. I can’t give you anything but this life for now, whatever you may think of it. Spit on it if you wish, but we’ve no allies and no friends and all I can do for you is keep you safe.”
He’s angry, having misunderstood her words as a condemnation of failure, and Sansa shakes her head vigorously as she clasps her hands together in misery.
He drinks deeply of his wine, silent and brooding and she stands suddenly, so quickly that her chair almost tips and walks around the table to stop in front of him, kneeling as if in supplication. She places her hands upon his knees, still shaking her head and he is so surprised that he almost drops his cup, placing it hastily upon the table instead.
“No.” she tells him, “No, I didn’t mean any of that, I only meant that I do not know what I should do now, or who I should be. I have… I have always been told, I was trained ever since I was young… There was my family, my house, my claim, I knew what my role was. Now all that is gone and what am I? What is left of Sansa Stark?”
It is the longest that she has ever spoken to him since they left King’s Landing that night so long ago now, the most truth that she has ever spoken to him at any time. She has laid herself bare for him, so that he might see her as she now is.
There are other things that she does not speak of; that no lord would have her now, not after the time she has spent with him alone; that while she longs for Winterfell she is so tired, so very tired, and she does not want to have to live among its ghosts where those she loved once walked. What is home, when there is no family left to fill it?
He looks at her for long time, silent and never moving. Finally, he reaches out to lift one of the ringlets that hangs by her ear, slowly threading it through his fingers until at last he reaches the end of its length, at which time he drops his hand to his leg with a heavy sigh.
“They really did train you to be one of those pretty birds from the Summer Isles, chirping to please whomever your master might be.” he comments, and stretches one hand out to lay it atop both of hers. “Those who taught you your songs are long since dead, little bird, and your cage has been open for many months. Decide for yourself what you’d like to sing, make yourself a nest and do as you wish. I’ll keep you safe, but I’ll not clip your wings nor cage you again.”
They sit like that for some time in silence and Sansa wishes that she might have the courage to lower her head and lay it upon his knee, that he might stroke his fingers through her hair to bring her comfort. There is nothing stopping her now, no duty to family, no rules of behavior, there is only her and her inability to decide what it is that she truly wants.
The moment passes and Sansa stands, murmurs a quiet good night and leaves for her own room.
Sandor soon finds work, a swordsman of his size and skill is hard to come by and it is not difficult to find employment. He is hired as the Captain of the Guard of a rich merchant, to guard his manse and storehouse during the day while seeing to the orders of the guards beneath him. It is a good job to secure, and Sansa thinks for a moment of Jory, who had been Captain of her father’s Guard before he was killed in King’s Landing by Jaime Lannister. There is a moment of fear then, quickly suppressed, as Sansa reminds herself that Sandor is stronger and a better swordsman by far than Jory ever was.
Sandor rents a small house for them in the crowded back streets of the city. It is a narrow old building of two stories with a small courtyard at the back, shaded by trees and with its own well.
Left alone during the day while Sandor works, Sansa sees to putting the house in order, at first confused about precisely how this should be done. It had come with the bare essentials of furniture and vessels but there is much that is needed and for the first day, Sansa despairs. She throws herself onto her new bed, cries her heart out and wonders how she will ever know what to do, wonders if it will ever feel like home, if she will be able to make it into one. There have always been servants before to see to the main tasks, but now she does not know if they shall be able to afford it.
Her fears are allayed that very night when Sandor comes home to find her in a dejected state, and announces gruffly that he has engaged a servant to clean for her.
The paint on the house’s walls is old and faded, peeling in some places, and the furnishings have seen better days, but it is a good, solid house and the courtyard at the back is a beautiful place to sit and read or simply dream and remember. Her second day, Sansa wakes up with a strong determination and conducts an inspection of the house from top to bottom, trying to remember her mother’s lessons on what a good mistress of a castle must do.
This house would never pass for a castle but it is hers to look after nonetheless, hers for what may be years to come. Sansa recalls accompanying her mother around Winterfell on various tasks – to check the larder stores, to speak with the cook, to count linens or see which furnishings might need repairs.
She makes a list that day, of all the things she needs in order to make the house as it should be and presents it hesitatingly to Sandor in the evening when he returns home.
He reads it and gives a bark of laughter, “Making yourself a nest as I said then, little bird?”
For all his mocking, he still gives her the money for the purchases and tells her to take the servant with her the next day when she makes them.
It is frightening to be out in the city by herself without him, frightening to be anywhere without him after so long together. Sansa has long since grown accustomed to his reassuring presence at her side. Yet she steels herself and steps out into the streets and towards the market, the servant by her side, explaining in broken Valyrian, struggling to remember the lessons of her youth and to adapt to the local dialect.
Sansa soon realizes that there is no reason to fear, a market is a market no matter where it is located in the world and the process of bargaining remains the same. Her one moment of fear occurs when a trader who speaks the common tongue asks her what she is doing so far from Westeros. She haltingly explains that she is the wife of a sellsword and leaves his stall quickly, her heart beating wildly in her chest.
And so begins a new pattern of days as she sews linens for the beds, curtains for the windows, begins a hanging for one of the walls. Previously she would have dismissed such work as drudgery, unbefitting of her embroidery skills, but it fills the days and she is pleased to see the expression on Sandor’s face when he comes home to find some newly finished project of hers.
She stocks the larder but has no idea how to prepare the food within it, requesting her servant to teach her some simple dishes, and the days are soon filled with new learning. She introduces herself to the women within the nearby houses, calling herself by her assumed name and getting to know them. Afternoons are now sometimes spent chatting in one courtyard or the other, becoming more confident in her pronunciation of Valyrian or gaining knowledge of the gossip and news of the city and the world beyond. It is a simple life and there is nothing grand about it, luxuries are few and far between. Yet there is no reason to fear either, here in this far off city. There are no beatings to endure, no deaths to witness, no lies to decipher. There is only her and Sandor here, and together they make a life.
Sandor is at his duties until the evening, returning only then and occasionally not until much later on the nights when he comes home late from an evening of drinking and she knows not what else after she has long since gone to bed. On most nights he returns early however, and they will eat together and then sit within one of the rooms as he drinks wine and she discusses her day or reads or sews.
She begins to tell him, a little hesitatingly at first and then more confidently, stories of her family and House, fairy tales that old Nan used to tell them as she tried to put them to sleep. Sandor nods and listens as she speaks, listens to her speak of her family with a note of sad longing in her voice, and occasionally speaks of his own. His own stories of his family are few and far between, and there is little within them of happiness. Sansa listens, and thinks that she is beginning to understand. There is much that he does not say but she has learned to read the truth in his silences also.
They laugh together over old Nan’s fairy tales when she recounts them, and for the first time she witnesses a real spark of humour in his eyes. There is an almost easy companionship between them now, and something else too – an awareness, a shyness on her part. She is apt to duck her gaze from his, and she knows that he often sits watching her as she bends over her own tasks, pretending not to notice.
He has not asked her for anything in return for all his kindnesses, never touches her unless he cannot help it. She knows he wishes to though, knows it as clearly as she knows her own name. Knows that it is for this reason that he will sometimes not return until late in the night, drunk and stumbling and his footsteps pausing for a few moments too long outside her room before he turns towards his own.
She is no longer scared by the thought as she once was. It had been the thought of having no choice that had terrified her. Now she knows that she has always had one, that he is the only person who ever even thought to give her one. It is only a matter now of making the right choice now.
He begins to bring things for her, small gifts that he never presents in person but always leaves somewhere for her to find. Fabrics for a new gown, trinkets that he feels she would enjoy, a book of fairytales written in the common tongue, flowers sometimes. She wonders if in his own inept way he is attempting to court her, though he never mentions the gifts nor seeks a reaction to them. She does her best to let him know that she is pleased – placing the flowers in a vase, sitting and sewing the materials into outfits in the evening or reading from the books, displaying the trinkets – and she thinks that he seems happy when she does so.
She does not say anything about it either, she has grown far too used to swallowing her words over the years, to keeping them only within her own heart, to know what the right thing to say now would be.
And so the months pass in this manner and they begin to fall into patterns of their own.
“Are you happy?” she asks him one evening, looking up from her book abruptly as she asks it, unsure as to why she has voiced it. There are many things that she has thought of saying to him, that she has practiced saying over and over again in her mind, and this was not one of them.
“Happy?” he asks her, seemingly confused by her question, whether as to the meaning behind it or why she has asked it, she does not know.
“Yes, happy…” she continues haltingly. “I am not the only one that left my home. You also left behind everything you knew when you brought me here.”
Sandor gives a short, harsh laugh at that, but she knows it is not directed at her. “Home? What home did I have to lose? I left my home at 12, and had none since then. I left nothing behind, little bird, nothing except perhaps a regret that I couldn’t kill my brother. Home? In the time we’ve been here this has become more of a home than I’ve ever known.”
His gaze is warm upon her and Sansa understands everything that he doesn’t say. That she has made it into a home for him, that he has never had this before and perhaps had never hoped to. She is not his woman, not in the true sense, yet she is there for him to come home to, there to care for him and to care about him.
She could say many things in reply to his statement, she could perhaps say things that she’s been wishing to say for weeks now, but Sansa persists with her original question instead.
“But are you happy?” she asks him.
Have I made you happy? - Is what she truly wishes to ask.
He pauses to consider his answer, leans back in his chair slightly to look across the room towards her. She knows that there is much that he avoids saying too.
“Aye,” he finally replies. “Maybe I am.”
Sansa searches for something to say, for a way to let him know that she’s made her choice. In the end it all comes out jumbled, and she can only hope that he understands.
“It’s alright with me if this is forever,” she blurts out earnestly, “If this is what we do, for the rest of our lives. I don’t want the North, or a lordling, or anything else…”
“Pretty little liar,” he murmurs, but there is a spark of hope in his eyes as he says it and when she stands up from her chair and takes a hesitant step towards him, he is quick enough to rise from his own and cross to her, his hands quickly on her hips to pull her towards him, his mouth suddenly upon hers, forcing it open beneath his. He kisses her hungrily and his hands are hard upon her and she thinks that maybe he’s been starving for a taste of her for longer than she’s known.
It scares her a little, the force of his affections, but he crushes her to him then, holds her tightly in his arms and croons something into her hair, now hanging to below her shoulders. He threads his fingers through it, places his hands on either side of her head and leans his own forehead down to touch hers.
“Ask anything you want of me,” he rasps to her, his voice rough with emotion. “I’ll take you home if you wish it, kill every last one of those bastards who harmed your family, or die trying.”
“No,” she replies, shaking her head slightly where his rests against it. “What I want is for you to give me your cloak. What I want is for us to live.”
He breathes her in then, and it is life.
He insists on marrying her properly, won’t take her to his bed until he has.
“I’ve waited this buggering long for you, a while more won’t kill me.” he tells her, balancing her upon his knee while he nuzzles her neck.
“Did you hope, then?” she asks him, one hand upon his shoulder to balance herself, the other curled at his neck. “Did you hope that I would choose you?”
“Never.” he replies and she knows that it is the absolute truth.
She loves him all the more for it.
Sandor will not marry her in the Red Temple according to the tradition of Pentos’s fire god, and Sansa cannot blame him for it.
“If we’re to go back someday then I won’t have anyone calling you names, nor our children bastards.” he growls, and she agrees with him.
Here in Pentos it does not matter, everyone who knows them assumes that they were already married when they arrived. Yet if they should ever go back, if one day it should be possible…
And so Sandor requests the merchant he serves to be allowed to join one of his shipments of goods heading to the north, in order to provide protection. The approval is a simple matter, he is the merchant’s best swordsman after all and has served him loyally for a year, and so they prepare to head to Braavos. There is a Sept there, where they might marry according to Westerosi tradition, though Sansa wishes that there might have been a godswood as well.
It is a risky thing, if the marriage is to be recognized by Westerosi custom then they must use their real names and word of it could easily reach their enemies across the seas. Yet Sandor insists upon it and Sansa believes that he is right.
They have learned, several months too late, that Joffrey is dead and Lord Tywin too, and Sansa cannot help but hope that the Lannisters might have forgotten her, that her existence might no longer matter to them.
And so they make the journey north towards Braavos, two long weeks spent on the ship while Sandor supervises the men and organizes the watches, blessedly not seasick this time as they sail in the calmer waters near the coast.
It is a monotonous journey but it is a thousand times better than the others that they shared. Sansa sticks to her books and sewing during the day and waits for the evenings when Sandor will come to eat with her, afterwards settling himself on the other side of the cabin to sleep, his sword close at hand to defend her if need be. He might look at her with hungry eyes but he never touches her, sticking doggedly to his resolution to wait.
It is his own way of honouring her.
Sansa can’t help but think that he is the truest knight she has ever known.
She knows him well enough to never tell him that.
And so they arrive in Braavos, a city of canals and bridges, braavosi and whores. Sandor wastes no time, as soon as the shipment has been delivered to the warehouse he takes her by the hand, paying a boy to show them the way, and leads her to the city’s Sept.
The Septon is quickly roused, gold placed in his palm, and he agrees to marry them that very moment with two witnesses taken from the street.
Holding Sandor’s hands, looking into his eyes, Sansa does not hesitate to say the words.
“Until the end of my days.” she pledges at the end of her vows.
She hopes that they may be long indeed.
“I love you.” she tells him later, as they lie in the bed of the room they have rented, the headiness of first lovemaking now fading, a slight soreness replacing it. He had tried to be gentle with her, but when a man has been starving for years, it is difficult to restrain himself when he is presented with a feast. She knows that, she had expected it, had glimpsed the possibility of it behind all his restraint. There will be time yet to learn to take things slowly once he has realized that he shall never have to go hungry again.
He puts a large hand under her chin to tilt it to make her look up at him, into his eyes, and sees the truth of it there.
“I never…” he starts to say, his voice thick with emotion. “I never expected you to say that.”
He had never expected her to love him at all.
To marry him perhaps, in order to claim his protection, but not to love him. He had not expected it even as they stood in the Sept together today, she knows that now.
She thinks that in time he will grow used to hearing it, as she hopes that he may one day become accustomed to saying it.
She does not need to hear it from his lips, it has been a year at least now since she knew the truth of it.
For him though, the words are everything. Everything that he thought he could never have.
She tells him at least twenty times more before the sun rises.
It is the wedding that undoes them, word slowly making its way back to the Seven Kingdoms through ships’ captains and sellswords. It is almost two years more before they know it, when winter is upon them and Sansa is heavy with child, their first.
There is a knock at the door of their little house one evening and there stands a man who misses the fingers from one hand, who has come from across the oceans to find them. Though Davos Seaworth serves Stannis Baratheon, he promises that he is there at the behest of Lord Wyman Manderly instead - come to bring them home, to give the North back its Stark in Winterfell.
Sansa wants none of it, is prepared to deny him, to insist that she is happy with this life and that she never wishes to go back to Westeros again, when the man steps aside to reveal those who accompany him.
He brings with him a tall, proud woman dressed in homespun and a howling, biting, wild boy whom Sandor does not recognize, but as Sansa looks upon that small face she instinctively knows. It is not even necessary for her to see the direwolf that they have left caged on the ship.
“Rickon!” she shrieks, falls to her knees and throws her arms around him as he squirms and pushes and hits before he recognizes her and relaxes.
“Nobody ever came back.” Rickon tells her, far too serious for one so young. “They all left and they never came back, though they promised me they would. But you’ve come back to me now.”
“I won’t leave you again,” Sansa tells him, tears streaming down her cheeks. “We’ll go home together, Rickon, and we’ll see Jon, and maybe one day even Arya and Bran will come back too.”
She looks behind her, eyes locking onto her husband’s face and does not need to say anything at all. He had pledged once to give her the North if she wished it.
Now they will take it together.
It is many months later when they arrive back in Westeros, landing at Eastwatch by the Sea.
They had not left Pentos until Sansa’s babe was born, Sandor stubbornly refusing to do so lest it endanger both of their lives. He loves both her and the babe with a fierce passion and Sansa never doubts that he would do anything to protect them, knows it without needing him to say it. He speaks of love now as he had once spoken of keeping her safe, haltingly and unsure, and every word is precious to her.
They name their little boy Robb, after the brother whose life was too short and Sansa can only hope that her little one has a better future than his namesake, a happier one.
She stands on the dock at Eastwatch by the Sea, little Robb swaddled warmly and held in her arms and watches as her brother Jon strides towards them, his expression mixed with hope and grief. He is older now, as she is, scarred and undeniably grown into a man.
“Sansa,” he greets her and hugs her warmly, careful of the child in her arms.
“Jon,” she recognizes him in turn and returns the embrace, weeping a little as she does so.
Jon looks behind her to where her husband stands, little Rickon’s hand in his, Osha slightly behind them, and frowns. He looks back towards her, his features resolute as if he is preparing to do what is necessary, no matter what the cost.
Sansa knows in that moment that if she wished it, her brother would do anything to overturn her marriage, to see her free of it.
“I had heard…” Jon starts to say, “Sansa, tell me now, did he give you any choice?”
And Sansa thinks back to that long ago flight, to their time in the forest, the deaths of her mother and Robb, their journey across the sea and time in Essos. She thinks of all the things she never said in that time, and all of those she did and what she might tell Jon now. In the end she knows what the truth is, has known it for years.
Did he give you any choice? Her brother asks her.
She takes Jon’s hand, looks up into his face, not so open now as it once was, and gives him her reply.