Warning: Un-beata'd, read at your own risk.
He was summoned to the Elder Brother's quarters at first light. Sandor stifled a yawn as he made his way across the Sept, limping warily. He wondered what it was about; the Elder had long ago resigned himself to Sandor being a perpetual novice. Like Stranger, his horse, he would never be anything other than a warrior, no matter how much others might to try to tame him.
The smells from the hall tempted him, but he shook his head, better not let the brother wait lest it was important. Breakfast could wait. The door to the Elder brother's cell was opened, like always. The older man was at a desk, writing something or other, but he looked up when Sandor entered.
"Brother Clemens was buying supplies at Saltpans. He returns with curious news."
"What would that news be?"
"A Lady taking flowers to the Hound's grave. From the House of Stark. A pretty young thing. The word is she's staying at the Inn, although for how long I cannot say."
Flowers on his grave. Heh. Same little bird, her head still filled with stories and songs. "Thank you, Brother."
It had been years since someone had come around inquiring for the hound. The Elder Brother was always sure to let him know of it, and let him deal with the information in which ever way he deemed fit. All the previous times Sandor had done nothing. The Hound was dead and buried.
Sansa was another matter altogether, and wouldn't it be entertaining to see the little bird chirp again. Last he had heard as soon as Tyrion had been killed she'd been wed to Harry the Heir. Her second husband had faired no better than the first, and had been killed in a hunting accident. After Harry, she had been littlefinger's whore. But alas, even little finger hadn't been cunning enough to see the end of the war. It seemed every man Sansa Stark took to loving ended up in an early grave. Too high a price to rut between her milky white thighs, he thought.
He broke his fast with porridge, bread and honey and then proceeded to ignore his chores of the day and rode at a quick pace to the village. He was no longer a hound; he came and went as he pleased now. It was on a rare occasion that he left the Quiet Isle, only on the rare instances when one of the Brothers was unable to make the trip to the village. Life at the Quiet Isle was more to his liking.
The beginnings of spring were noticeable as he rode to the village. The snow was melting, and the day was clear and clean.
He expected to find the village inn filled with sellswords and knights protecting Lady Stark. He found nothing of the sort; the inn was empty except for a scattering of local customers. He could not see a young highborn lady in the crowd, not one of her beauty or her auburn colored hair. Had she gone already?
"I fear you are searching for the wrong sister, Hound."
A lithe young woman stood up form one of the tables, dressed in leather britches and a cotton shirt. A sword strapped to her hip. The She-Wolf. At first glance she could be mistaken for a boy; a second look would detail her small high breasts and the soft curve of her hips. Arya Stark was a woman grown, not a beauty like her sister, but not without her charms.
"The Hound is dead," he responded.
"Is he?" She asked, raising a disbelieving eyebrow.
Sandor turned to leave, angry at the waste of time, at the smirk playing on the little bitch's face. How foolish he had been. Sansa Stark would not have lowered herself to ever mourn for the likes of him.
"Forgive me, Brother," the bitch said, "I meant no disrespect. Sit down and share a meal with me."
"I'm not a Brother."
"You're not a hound, nor a knight, nor a brother. What might you be?"
"Nobody," he said gruffly, walking out.
"I know what's it's like to be nobody," she said softly. He grabbed the sleeve of his brown robe. "I only ask for a minute of your time. I promise you I will not bother you again."
He sat down in an empty table. "What do you want?"
Arya sat across from him, stared at him for a moment, her eyes lingering on the burned side of his face; she let her mouth curl into a smile. "You're much less fearsome that I remember."
"Mayhap you've seen much worse."
"No doubt," she said wryly. "I came here out of guilt. I should not have left you. I must confess I didn't always feel remorse as I do now, there were many a night in which I took pleasure in your presumed death. I-"
"Spare me. I don't' give a fuck."
"I know that. I came to speak to a pile of dirt and find you instead. The pile of dirt would have been more understanding."
"Silly girl, and once I thought you had more sense than your feather brained sister."
"She made me promise to lay flowers on your grave. She would have had me sing as well, only she knows my singing voice would have more likely scared your spirit into hell."
Satisfaction, swift and strong and true filled him. So the little bird did remember him. How many years since they had last seen each other? Six? Seven? He could not recall, and yet her face was branded in his memory.
"After our family reunited at Winterfell everything started to piece itself together. You saved Sansa's life, as you did mine, and you taught me the gift mercy-"
"I ask again, what is it that you want?"
"Nothing more than to offer you friendship on behalf of the House of Stark."
"What am I to do with that?"
"Whatever you will."
Damn wolves he thought, staring at the missive in his hands, at the feminine signature at the bottom. Couldn't they let a man die in peace? Arya had left the day they had spoken; promising to give Sansa his best with such a mocking grin Sandor felt an urge to knock that smile of her face. Now almost a month later, when he had finally settled back into his routine a raven had arrived.
It gladdens my heart to learn that you live. I write to you to reiterate the debt that my family owes you. We would be happy to have you at Winterfell should you wish you leave the Quiet Isle. I hope to see you soon. I pray for your safety and well being.
The little bird still sang the same pretty songs. Always the lady, always the false courtesy. What would happen if he were take her at her word? He crumbled the paper in his hand and threw it angrily in the fire. What use did he have of wolves and birds? All he wanted was to be at peace. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but sleep eluded him the whole night. At dawn he packed his things and left the Sept. The Elder brother had always known he would not stay forever.
He abandoned his novice's robes, dressed in his old clothes and made his way to Winterfell like a dutiful hound.
Sansa was woken up before the sun had risen. Her sister shook her roughly. "Sansa, up. Up."
"The hound, he's here."
All vestiges of sleep vanished. "Truly?"
"Yes. He's talking to Bran. It appears he's going to be the new Master of Arms. We do need a competent one."
Sansa almost rushed out, for a second forgetting she was in her nightgown. She took a deep breath that subdued some of the flutters in her stomach and made herself calmly get dressed for the day. Arya helped her brush and fix her hair in such quiet understanding that it almost made Sansa weep. As different as they were they had become close since they had reunited. It was a precious thing, Sansa now knew, to have her family around her.
They found Bran mounted on his horse and the Hound walking next to him toward one of the finished keeps of Winterfell. Reconstruction had been slow and arduous but finally her home was regaining some of her past grandeur. Arya ran toward them, leaving Sansa following at a more leisurely pace.
He was so big she thought, still a head taller than she and thick with muscle. He walked with a bit of effort, she noticed, from the injury that Arya had told her about, when she had left him to die in the woods. Thank the gods, she thought, that Arya had not killed him. His scars were as she remembered, hideous. His eyes were the same as well, with a startling intensity in their grey depths that it made her stop in her tracks and feel like she was melting as quickly as summer snow.
Now that she had him in front of her she couldn't even cough up a simple greeting. All her words dried up in her throat. All she could do was feel. She did not believe in love songs anymore, but as they started at each other Sansa could swear the world had shifted underneath her feet.
"Yes, well," Bran said, cutting through the sudden tension. "I was showing Sandor his quarters."
"Maester Carrows is looking for you," Arya spoke up to her brother. It was lie, but nobody could lie as well as Arya.
Bran nodded. "I hope everything is to your liking, Ser," he said to the Hound and made off in the direction of the great hall. Arya soon followed, winking wickedly at Sansa.
"Has the little bird forgotten how to sing?"
It was such a predictable thing for him to say that it brought a smile to her lips. "No, I've not forgotten how sing. I'll sing for you anytime you wish."
It caught him off guard, such boldness from her when before there had been nothing but fear and timidity. He gave her a measuring look before turning and entering his new rooms. She followed behind him.
The bed was stuffed with feathers, she had made sure of it, and the rushes were new, as were the blankets. He also had a bath tub and his private privy. "The main house is not completed yet. It will be soon enough, you'll have more comfortable rooms then."
"These are fine."
She sat on his bed, waiting, for what she knew not.
"What are you doing Sansa?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't play games. You were never very good at them."
"Tell me why you came first."
The hound snarled. "Out, before I lose my patience."
She was going to argue but decided against it. "Rest, I'm sure you had a hard journey. I trust on the morrow you'll be in a better mood."
His mood did not improve the next day, or the next one, or the next one. In fact his mood had been as black as it had ever been. Sansa was there to pester him at all times, watching him. She watched as he break his fast, as he trained young boys and his brother's men, as he supped and ate and retired to his rooms. Every time they crossed paths she sang a fucking song and smiled up at him.
He avoided her at all costs, limping noticeably if necessary to escape her, but to no avail. His little bird was a spry little thing that fluttered and flitted from here to there without effort. And then there was the she-wolf with her stupid smirk and laughing eyes. He wanted to throttle her. Bran was not much better, looking forever puzzled, but unwilling to control either of his crazy sisters. The only Stark slightly bearable was the ten year old Rickon.
He was a wild one for sure. "Enough, Lord Rickon, your opponent has yielded."
Rickon gave him a look of utter contempt, but as soon as Sandor moved toward him the boy lost his courage. He was a strong boy, with good instinct, but he lacked discipline. He was too wild for his own good, too passionate and hot-headed to ever be a truly great fighter. Sandor planned to change that.
The boy, a steward's son that Rickon had pummeled to the ground scrambled up from the floor. "Next time try to stay at your feet boy," he told him, and because he knew it would anger Rickon he added. "Well done."
Rickon eyes widened in disbelief and then in anger. He threw his wooden sword and shield onto the muddy training grounds. "You don't know anything! You ain't even a knight!" Rickon yelled at him before dashing away.
Sandor turned to pick up the discarded training tools and found Brain mounted on horseback, watching him. Here it comes, he thought, the little lording is about to order me to treat his young brother with more respect. All highborns were the same, only wanted to be coddled and praised, even if there was no reason for it.
"Rickon is very hard to control," Brain said, "We try. But he was raised mostly by a wilding woman. I'm afraid my sisters and I are no match for him. Like his wolf, he's gone feral on us and we can't seem to bring him back."
"He needs a firm hand."
"Aye. He does. My sisters don't have the heart for it, and frankly neither do I. We've just recently gotten him back and…"
"He's the baby," Sandor finished for him. "My own parents were like that with-" He caught himself before he said anything else.
"Perhaps we found the right man to discipline Rickon," Bran said, ignoring the awkward pause.
Sandor looked up at Lord Stark, wondering if the boy actually meant it.
"I'm a cripple, not much of an example of knightly valor. I don't inspire much respect either, not when I'm being carried to and fro by a servant, but I'm still Lord of Winterfell, and I'll stand by any decisions you take regarding Rickon. Our stewards and men are too respectful of our family to ever call Rickon's behavior into question. You don't seem to be easily intimidated by titles and station. My sisters and I have failed our parents and Rickon, but with your help perhaps we can hone the boy's anger into something more noble."
If only the late queen Cersei had been as aware of her son's deficits as this young boy was of his brother's, things might have turned out quite differently. What strange brood the Starks were.
"I can teach him discipline, and the art of fighting. I cannot however teach him how to be a good man or a good knight, that is beyond my capabilities."
Sandor ignored that. "I've seen his tantrums, the way he acts around his sisters and the staff. He reminds me very much of King Joffry sometimes. One man is not enough to set him straight.
"I understand. Let's call it a family endeavor then. I'll talk to my sisters."
His days were easier than at the Quiet Isle. The brothers worked themselves into exhaustion, leaving almost no time for recreation. At Winterfell after his duties were done he was free for the day. He preferred endless work than having idle time, it left him too much time to think. He should have never left the Isle.
He settled deeper into the bathtub, closed his eyes, enjoying the pleasure of a warm bath even while scorning the place that provided it. Yes, life was much more pleasurable at Winterfell, but much more troubling as well. At the Isle he was nothing more than a novice, and the brothers accepted him readily, at Winterfell he was an oddity and the small folk turned away from his burned face and scurried out of his way. The young pup, Rickon, scowled whenever he saw him while the rest of his family treated him with such familial courtesy that it embarrassed him and humbled him at the same time.
He opened his eyes to see Sansa standing by the foot of his bathtub, her face flushed red. "I knocked. I knew you were here because I saw a fire lit…."
"Don't just stand there, make yourself useful and wash my back."
He said it in jest, knowing the order and his tone would drive her out. It didn't. She took the washcloth from his fingers, and began to wash his back. Her touch was soft, and he could feel her breathing on his neck. She hummed as she rubbed his shoulders with her small hands. "Enough, Sansa," he rasped when h e felt her lips on the middle of his back. "Enough."
"Why? You wanted my songs once, and my kisses."
"As you said, once, before you were passed around like a common whore."
Sansa dropped the washcloth. "I see."
She made to leave, but stopped just before exiting the chamber, her back facing him. "Tyrion never touched me. He was… kind to me. Harold was another matter, he raped me, there's no other word for it, repeatedly. He called me a frigid bitch, while he did so. I closed my eyes once, with Harold atop me, and thought of you. Suddenly it wasn't so bad; because it was you that was inside of me, and it was you I was pleasuring. Harold didn't have any complains after that, neither did Littlefinger after Harold died."
"Sansa," Sandor started to say, his throat tight, but she was gone and he was too shocked to follow.
There really weren't any happy endings; Sansa had learned that long ago. She hadn't been looking for one, but when Arya came back with word of the hound being alive, she was thrown back into her eleven year old self, smitten and daydreaming. She had always regretted not leaving with the hound after the Blackwater Battle. He had cried that night, with her; he had made her sing for him… and he had also put a dagger to her throat. How quickly she took the good and forgot the bad.
She walked alone to the godswood, envying her siblings their wolf companions. Regardless of what the hound said, other men did want her, had in fact asked for her hand. She had refused every single one because she had thought that part of her had died long ago. She wanted no more husbands, or lovers that used her only for their gain. The hound had been a hopeful wish, a man that never cared for titles or wealth, someone who had only wanted her and nothing more. What a fool she was. She was old enough to know that everyone always wanted something. The hound had wanted nothing but the innocence between her legs.
"Get back here, boy!"
The loud bellow could only belong to the hound. Sansa turned to look, finding her little brother Rickong running toward her with Sandor limping after him. Rickon crashed into her, wrapping his scrawny arms around her waist.
"Rickon, what is it?"
"I'm not going to do it. I wont!"
"Muck the stables," the hound answered. "He pushed the steward's son into a slop pile after training was done, solely because he bested him at sword play today. It's a fitting punishment."
"You can't make me. You're only a servant."
Sansa looked at her little brother, saw the three year old that had been left motherless and fatherless. "You will do as he says. You'll go to sleep hungry if you don't."
Rickon's mouth dropped open. It wasn't often that he was refused. He let go of her abruptly, his eyes full of fire. "I hate you," but he walked away toward the stables.
Sansa continued walking toward the godswood, ignoring the hound. She could hear him following behind her, she paid him no mind.
"I've been expecting to be thrown out of Winterfell this very morning."
"You think so little of my house?"
"When a dog has been kicked repeatedly any kindness is suspect."
She wanted to feel sorry for him, at the soft rasp of his voice, but she refused to let her emotions get the better of her. She had been living on dreams and memories of him. Of Joffry's name day tourney, when the Hound had supported her lie, when he had praised Tommen for his courage, when he had rasped that 'enough' when her clothes had been torn away for Joffry's amusement. She'd been living in the memory of his tears and his declaration to protect her.
She walked faster only to be brought short when her arm was grabbed and her body swung to face him. "Look at me."
He searched her eyes, holding her tightly by both arms. "It was because of you I came."
Sansa laughed humorlessly.
He was still staring at her face, searching for something. "You couldn't bear to even look at me. You would burst into tears at the slightest insult. Now you stare at me fearlessly with dry eyes. You're not the same little bird."
"No, I' m not," she tried to push him away, but he was a solid wall, unmovable.
"I like you better this way," he said and kissed her roughly.
Sansa let him kiss her, let him lose his focus, letting him drop his guard. Once he did so she pushed him away, and struck him hard, not slap, but a heavy punch laden with all her anger, just like Arya had taught her.
"Yes," he said, watchign her with predatory eyes, "I like you better this way."
She walked away angrily. You can't call a woman a whore one day and kiss her the next.
Part two coming up soon. Please review!