Standard disclaimer: None of the characters, places, etc. in this story are mine but are the property of George R. R. Martin. No copyright infringement is intended by their use in this story.
Author's note: Sigh. Okay, I know I said in "Maybe" that that would be my last Martin fic because anything else I might write would be superseded when the next book comes out. However, over the course of Christmas break, this scenario entered my head and wouldn't leave. I tried ignoring it, but it wouldn't be ignored. It became so intrusive that it was actually distracting me from other tasks throughout the day, so finally I decided to just write it down and try to get it out of my head.
So this is my very last Hound fic ever. Set during the fourth or fifth book, it deals with Sandor's and Sansa's reunion. When Martin gets around to writing it, it probably will not be anything like what you see here; this is just my take on it. If you want to know the chain of events I see leading up to this, send me an email and I'll tell ya; it's a.) too complex to be included in the story and b.) not important to the story anyway. You should probably read "Tally Sticks" first just to get a feel for my take on the Hound, but it doesn't necessarily follow from my previous work; in particular, not from "Maybe." I don't like this story. I think it's sappier than I usually write, and I'm not proud I wrote it. I didn't even bother beta-ing it; I just wanted to get the story to leave me alone. All I hope for at this point is that Sandor and Sansa are within shouting distance of character. Rated R just to be on the safe side, for sexual situations, but nothing graphic—close to "Sing" in tone. Have fun.
The door to her chambers shut behind them. The two of them were alone.
In the hall, he could still hear the footsteps of the guards as they conveyed their erstwhile Captain off to one of the sky cells; he was shouting, protesting his innocence, but they paid him no heed. The sounds of the commotion went further and further down the hall, disappearing into the distance.
Within the room there was silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire in the hearth.
Sandor had his back to the door; he said nothing, but watched Sansa—as he now knew her to be—warily. She seemed to have forgotten he was there; she was looking down at her hands with what appeared to be mild interest. She was smiling slightly, he saw, and something about that smile chilled him; for the first time, he really realized that she and Arya were sisters.
After a moment, she looked up at him. "So. Littlefinger is dead. And you know who I am."
He said nothing, only watched her.
"You must have suspected before," she said, with that same smile. "Did you?"
He shook his head.
"Not at all?" she asked, raising one eyebrow.
"I never thought to find you here." It took him a moment to find his voice. "And….and your hair—"
"Only whiteroot," she said calmly. "Do you like it?"
Did he like it? What? "I—Not sure," he said slowly. She was looking at him very strangely. He reached back and felt the smooth wood of the door behind him.
"No matter." That smile, what does it mean? "It will wash out easily enough, and I will remove it eventually. When I am ready to reveal myself. However, that time is not yet now. As such, that puts me—and you—in a very awkward position." She paused and looked at him for answer; he had none to give her, however, and remained warily silent. "You see, you now know my real identity—that Alayne Stone, natural daughter of Baelish Littlefinger, betrothed to young Robert Arryn and—as of an hour ago—regent of the Eyrie—is in reality Sansa Stark of Winterfell. For you to reveal this knowledge could win you great fortune; it might also be enough to hang me. At the very least, it could cost me the position I have worked so hard to gain. So I need to know: Do you intend to reveal it and expose me?" She took a step closer to him, her delicate features intent.
His words came with difficulty; his voice was thick and slow. "How could you ever think I would do that to you?" he asked, strangely hurt by the question.
She smiled again, not the strange, disturbing smile of before, but something warmer and more natural; it touched her eyes, he saw. "I thought as much. I only wished to ask to make sure." The smile died on her lips. Her eyes were shining strangely; he edged backward unobtrusively. "I have something to give you, you know," she said quietly
She nodded. "I have been saving it, since King's Landing." She advanced on him, the look in her eyes growing stronger; she was coming closer and closer to him—
She's going to hit me, he thought at once. He couldn't pretend he didn't deserve it; he did, after all he had done to her, and he knew it. He braced himself to take it, wondering if she would merely slap him or actually strike him with her fist. Probably won't hurt all that much, he thought. However much it hurt, though, he wouldn't complain; he had no right. She was almost on him; he closed his eyes, waiting for the blow to land—
It was on the mouth. It was soft. She was—
His eyes snapped open in surprise; reacting before he thought, he shoved her away from him, hard. She staggered and almost fell, catching herself on a small round table. When he saw that, he couldn't meet her eyes; staring at the tapestry on the wall behind her, he snarled, "Stop it."
"Stop what?" She had straightened again, but made no move to approach him; a quick glance at her face showed that she looked surprised and puzzled, but there was no fear there. That gave him some small measure of relief. "What do you want me to stop?"
"This—this—" He couldn't find the words, maybe there weren't any. He gestured in frustration. "If you mean to punish me, get on with it. I won't say I don't have it coming." His voice was harsh and angry in his ears. "But there's no need to—to—to mock me like this."
"Mock you? Punish you? What are you talking about?" Her confusion confused him; why's she asking this? he wondered. She continued, "Why would I want to punish you? What for? Why do you think I'm mocking you?"
"You know very well why," he snarled, refusing to meet her eyes.
"No, I don't," she said, more gently. "Please, I don't understand. Tell me why you think I want to punish you."
"Because—" He stopped, not wanting to go on.
"Because—" He glanced at her sidelong. Suddenly it was hard to breathe. "Because I hurt you." There. It was out.
He waited for her to agree, to rage at him with angry accusations, but she didn't. She only looked at him for a long time. When she spoke again, her voice was still gentle. "How did you hurt me?"
"I—" He paused, glancing at her again. She was watching him calmly, with nothing showing on her face. She means to make me say it, he realized, and wondered vaguely if this wasn't part of it, somehow. "I hurt you," he said again. Each word came slowly, one at a time; he felt as if they were rocks that needed to be moved with great care. "I…I stood there and let them hit you, little bird—" he cursed inwardly; his voice was shaky and faltering, not at all like his own. "I could have stopped them but I didn't. I let it happen—"
"That's not—" she began, but he went on over her; somehow he couldn't stop. He had been carrying all this for so long, maybe once he started, it all had to come out. His eyes were too hot; he rubbed them with the back of his hand and it came away wet. "I let that dwarf—I—I let him—get you, I didn't take you away with me and I could've done that—" He swallowed, staring at the gleaming moisture trails on his hand. His voice sounded thick and mushy in his ears. It was hard to talk. "I—I—" He swallowed again. He tried to draw a steadying breath, to face the worst of it with some measure of calm. Come on. Come on, damn you. This is ridiculous. He had to force the words out. "I took your song, little bird. You—you didn't want to—to sing for me and I made—I h-held a—" He stopped there. He couldn't go on, he just couldn't.
"I see." Her voice was calm, emotionless. "Is there anything else?"
Anything else? he thought. Isn't that enough? "No," he said hoarsely.
"I see," she said again. He heard her skirts rustle as she approached him, then felt the warmth of her hand on his arm. He kept his eyes down, not wanting to see her face. "Come here," she told him quietly. "Come here."
He followed her across the room, but stopped when she sat down on the edge of the bed. "No," she said, her voice calm. "Sit next to me. Sit down." He did, looking away from her. Sansa studied him for a long moment, then reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
"Let me tell you," she said softly, "how it was, for me, in King's Landing. No—" she interrupted as she saw him start to say something. "No, don't say anything, just let me speak." She took one of his big hands in her own, and twined her delicate fingers with his; she held it, as she began to speak.
"I was alone," she said quietly. "All around me were enemies. The slightest wrong word would mean my life and I knew it. Everything I did was watched; every word I spoke, everyone I spoke to, perhaps even what I said in my sleep was being watched. Actually," she continued, with a small smile, "although I didn't know it, I was perfectly safe, at least as far as my life was concerned; Cersei would never have dared to kill me because to do so would have meant the life of her beloved Jaime. But I didn't understand that at the time, and even had I known that fact, I wouldn't have known enough to know how to use it….not then, at least." She sighed, and fell silent for a moment, lost in thought. He said nothing; she saw him swallow again, as he looked at the wall.
"Everything I did was being watched, my every action and reaction reported to Cersei. If I reacted to Joffrey's cruelties with anything less than what appeared to be perfect love—if at any time I did or said anything to anyone that indicated my sympathy and fear for my brothers and my mother—that could mean my life, so I thought. I lived a lie. I had to. My life depended on it. All hands were turned against me. Everyone was my enemy." She clasped his hand tightly. "Except you."
He said nothing, kept his scarred face turned away, but she saw him looking back at her out of the corner of his eye.
"You say you could have done more to protect me. Could you?" She shrugged. "Perhaps. Perhaps not. To attempt to defend me with your sword would have been nothing less than disaster—"
"I should have anyway—"
"No. Be quiet," she said firmly. "Be quiet and listen. To defend me with your sword would have been a disaster, and as for with words—" she shrugged. "You aren't Tyrion," she said only. "Politics is a fascinating game, but it is not yours. You defended me as well as you knew how," she told him gently. "I haven't forgotten that besides Tyrion, you were the only one to speak up for me the day the news of Robb's victory reached us."
"I just made it worse—" She kindly pretended not to notice the choked quality of his voice; she instead tightened her grip on his hand.
"That was not your intention," she told him. "You tried to help. Besides Tyrion, no one else even tried."
"Quiet," she said again. "Now listen. You say that you left me behind for Tyrion. What do you think Tyrion is?" she asked him gently. "Do you think Tyrion is a monster? Is that what you think he is?"
He could not speak, but he managed a nod.
"You are wrong." Her voice was soft and kind in his ears; he wanted to listen to it forever. "Tyrion never hurt me. He was very kind to me. He defended me against Joffrey, against everyone; he even tried to stand up for me against his father. It was Lord Tywin's idea that we should wed, not Tyrion's, so that the Lannisters would have a hold on my claim; Tyrion argued against it, and when that failed, suggested that they find me another husband so that I would not have to be wed to a dwarf…. I think, looking back, that he wanted my love; but I was in no position to give it to him at that time, and he never tried to force me. When he saw that I didn't want him, he left me alone, though everyone mocked him for it and his father was displeased…." Startled, he glanced back at her, but she continued on regardless. "I was not aware of the plot to kill Joffrey, though it was related to my flight; when I heard that I had left Tyrion behind to take the blame for it, I truly feared for his life. I was deeply relieved when I heard he had killed Lord Tywin and fled. Perhaps you have heard the tale of Tyrion's first wife." Again, he nodded; he could not speak. "I first heard it from Littlefinger, but what he said made no sense when I compared it with the little Tyrion had told me. I did some asking then, discreetly of course, and found out the right of it. What happened with Tyrion's first wife was Lord Tywin's doing, and none of his; Tywin intended to teach his dwarf son a lesson he would never forget." Her voice hardened in a way that chilled him. "Death was too kind a fate for that man, but as Tyrion had a boat to catch, I suppose death was all he had time for." She drew a breath. "No. Do not bear it on your conscience that you left me for Tyrion; there is no guilt for you to carry there."
Sandor could not speak. His thoughts were confused. His last memory of the dwarf was the night of the Blackwater, the little man's demonic features lit by the hellish green glare of wildfire, ordering him to go out, to leave the safety of the gatehouse and face the hell of the fires, showing him up as a craven in front of all the men of the guard-- What Sansa was telling him didn't make sense; it was too much for him to take in all at once. She said he left her alone—what does that--?
But she was continuing on. "You say you took my song, that I didn't want to sing for you and you made me. That at least is true. In fact, you held a dagger to my throat and threatened to kill me if I didn't sing for you." The words were like a knife going into his heart; worse was what she said next. "You frightened me," he heard her say quietly. "You frightened me very badly." He hung his head and squeezed his eyes shut at this; he took his hand out of her grasp and curled them both into fists. "You were frightened yourself, weren't you?" That caught him by surprise; he glanced back at her before dropping his eyes again. She showed no expression; her face was calm and perfect in the light from the fire. "In fact, you were terrified, I think. Is this not so?"
"You could—tell?" His voice was hoarse and ugly in his own ears. So she knew he was craven too—had known all along. Of course she does, dog, he snarled at himself, everyone knows by now. How'd you think she didn't?
She nodded. "Oh yes," she assured him. "I could tell. It wasn't exactly difficult. But not only were you terrified," she continued on, "you were also drunk. Drunker than I had ever seen you, in fact, and I had seen you quite drunk on more than one occasion."
"Will you be quiet and let me finish?" she asked. There was little kindness in her voice this time; she was stern and commanding. He lapsed into silence again, swallowing. "You were drunk, and you were terrified," she continued on, more gently, "and it seemed as if all was lost. The sellswords were deserting by that point, deserting in droves. Stannis's men seemed unstoppable. I had come back to my room to wait for the end, whatever it might be. There seemed to be no hope left. So what did you do? What exactly did you do? Did you hurt me?" she asked him.
She didn't give him the chance to finish. "You threatened me. You held your dagger to my throat. You frightened me quite badly. But you didn't actually hurt me," she said quietly. "In spite of the wine and the fear and the battle and the madness, you did not harm me, and it would have been very easy for you to do so, had you really wanted to—who could have called you to account? But you didn't. Looking back on it, I don't think you would have, either. Would you?" she asked, looking at him with a disturbing level gaze.
He would have liked nothing better than to deny it, but that look demanded absolute honesty from him. If there was anyone who was entitled to the full truth from him always, she was it. He drew an uneven breath. "I don't know," he said, ashamed of himself.
"I see. You don't know. Well, be that as it may," she said with a slight smile, "you still did not hurt me. And as for the song, well, call it a gift from me to you. I had promised you one anyway." She took his hand again. "No. Feel no guilt for taking my song, nor any for hurting me. You have never hurt me," she told him now. "And I trust you never will."
Her words died away. There was silence in the room. She watched him; he watched the floor. He didn't know what to think. He was afraid to meet her eyes, to see her face.
After a moment she said softly, "Don't you know what you are to me? You're the only one who never wanted anything from me. You were the only one I could ever trust."
He said nothing.
"Look at me," she commanded gently. He flicked his eyes in her direction, then glanced away again. "Look at me." She reached out, took his ugly, scarred face in her hands, and turned it toward her. When he finally met her gaze, he saw no anger there, no accusation, no hatred or scorn. He didn't know exactly what it was that he saw there. Her touch was feather-light and cool.
"Shhh," she whispered. "No more words."
He sat, afraid to move, to do anything that might break the moment or cause it to end. This can't be real, he thought. Any moment now I'll wake up and find it was all a dream, and then-- She did nothing herself, only sat for a long time, looking him intently in the face. He waited for her to flinch back, to shiver or turn away in disgust, but she didn't; she only looked and kept on looking, running her eyes over him again and again. He felt as if she were seeing all the way into his soul, and shivered at the thought, at some of the things she might be seeing, but he held himself still, letting her look. It went on and on, as the fireplace snapped gently to itself and the firelight danced over their faces. After a long time, she nodded slightly. "All right," he thought he heard her murmur. All right? What does that-- Then he froze as she reached out and laid her hand gently on the burned side of his face.
She heard his breath catch, saw his hands jerk as if he wanted to push her away, and stilled at once. "Does that hurt?" she asked softly.
He tensed. "No—but—"
"Shhh……Let me….." She ran her fingers over it, over every bit of his scarring, while looking at him closely; he felt it as distant pressure, not a touch, but it was enough for him to tell what she was doing. He had to hold himself still; his every reaction was to push her hands away, but she didn't hurt him. Where she touched him it felt almost as if she were healing it, making it better somehow; she sat, and looked, and touched him, and smiled, as gentle and kind as if he were a—something besides a dog, anyway. He felt tears on the good side of his face; she caught them too on two fingers, looked at them, and brought them to her lips. Her eyes solemnly watched his, strangely shadowed in the firelight. This has to be a dream, he thought again, and didn't care; if it were a dream, he wished he would never wake up. He would have gladly died for the smile she gave him.
When she was done, she dropped her hand from his face, reached out, and pulled his head down against her shoulder. "Now," she told him, smiling warmly, "since you seem to think that you took the song from me last time, let me sing for you again so that this time there will be no mistake." She held him in her arms, and stroked his hair as she sang, her voice as soft and tender as a mother singing to her child:
Gentle Mother, font of mercy,
Save our sons from war we pray
Stay the swords and stay the arrows
Let them know a better day
Gentle Mother, strength of women
Help our daughters through the fray
Soothe the wrath and tame the fury
Teach us all a kinder way
He lay quiet and listened, remembering distantly the last time she had sung for him, the fires, the chaos; he wondered if she remembered it too. This was better, much better. He falteringly put his arms around her, afraid to hurt her or that she would push him away and laugh. She did none of these things, just held him and let him hold her, and it felt so good to rest in her arms and listen to her sing….This can't be real, he thought again. Things like this don't really happen, dog, not to you and you know it. Maybe not, but it was happening now and it certainly seemed real enough….
She tugged at his shirt and looked at him intently. After a moment, he understood what she wanted, at least he thought so; he shrugged out of it and let it fall, revealing his chest and back to her gaze, crossed with old battle wounds. When he looked back at her he saw that there were tears in her eyes. The sight of them froze him. He'd done the wrong thing, of course he had—how'd you ever think this was meant for you? He turned away from her, upset and starting to be angry—at her, at himself, at the world. He reached down and started to pick his shirt up from the floor, only to be stopped by a touch on his arm.
There were still tears in her eyes; they had spilled over and were running down her face, but she smiled at him. The sight of her smiling through her tears made him feel awful; it reminded him so of King's Landing, and Joffrey; he almost wanted to weep himself. "Why are you crying?—what did I--?"
"No, not you," she tried to reassure him. She reached out and touched him lightly. "These, it—"
He looked down and saw that her fingers were resting on one of the old battle scars that crossed his chest. What? It took him a moment to put it together, and when he did, it rocked him. She's weeping because-- "No," he said fervently. "No, don't—" He reached out without thinking—if he had, he'd never have dared to do it—and took her delicate face in his big, clumsy hands. "Don't cry," he heard himself saying in a rough voice that didn't sound like his own. "It's nothing, they don't hurt anymore--Please don't cry. Don't cry, Sansa, not—not over a dog like me. I don't—I don't want to make you cry, not—"
"Enough. Quiet," she commanded, and he fell silent, watching the tears shine on her face in the firelight. "Lie back." He lay back on her bed, wondering what she would do. She raised her hands to cover her face; when she lowered them, her eyes still shone, but she was no longer weeping. She touched him again. "How did you get this?" she asked.
So he told her how he had gotten it, at the hands of a sellsword in the kingswood; she listened as she traced it with her small, delicate fingers. After that, nothing would do but he had to tell her how he had gotten all of them, as she listened and touched them one by one; some he didn't remember, and some he found himself changing a little—just the worst ones, to make it sound not so bad, because he didn't want to see her cry anymore. She listened through all of them, her face solemn, her hands soft and gentle on him. When he was done, she sat quietly with her head bowed and her eyes closed for a long moment. Then she put her arms around him and buried her face against him; she lay like that for a long time. He dared to put his arms around her—he'd done it before, that was why—and she didn't protest; she felt good, lying against him, and he would've asked nothing more than to lie like that forever.
After a while she pushed away from him and sat up. He thought the dream was about to end, and he was willing to accept it; he hadn't deserved it to begin with, and had no right to complain. But it didn't. She looked at him, her eyes holding his intently, and her hands went to the laces of her bodice.
He sat up. "Sansa—"
"Shhh….." With sure, deft fingers, she undid the ties and lacings that held her bodice closed, all the while watching his face, his ugly, scarred face. This isn't real, this isn't happening, something's wrong somehow, how can it be real? he thought. She looked at him expectantly as she let her garments fall open, but he was suddenly afraid—afraid to do anything, afraid to move, afraid that it would cause the dream to vanish and he'd be left with nothing, and the worse for having dreamed in the first place.
She seemed to see his hesitation in his eyes. "No," she whispered softly, "it's all right, it's all right, I want you to—" She reached out and took his hands in hers, entwining his big fingers with her small ones, and raised them to her, and smiled, she smiled, and she kept smiling as she lay down next to him and drew him close to her. He no longer cared whether it was a dream or not; all he cared now was that it didn't end; for as she embraced him, she looked him in the face, and smiled.