Author's Note: This is completely AU, meant to be at the end of the series (basically, how I wish it will all end; only at book number three, please no spoilers in any comments!). The song "Woods" by Bon Iver is so visceral and raw, and is exactly how I picture feeling about the end of this series. A note on the grammar of this story; I was inspired ny Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things" to use capitals to emphasize important aspects of the story, such as "Walls" and "Hollows", no matter where they are within the sentences. Also, the geniuses that are GRR Martin and Bon Iver own the content, my thanks ahead of time for use. This fic is marked under SanSan, however it also relies on Robb/Jon's friendship. This is my first fic for ASoIaF, so please, reviews are love, and I want to feel some ;)
I'm up in the woods/ I'm down on my mind/ I'm building a still/ to slow down the time
"Woods" by Bon Iver
Jon sat in the new great hall of Winterfell. The entire fortress had been rebuilt at the courtesy of Daenerys, Queen of Westeros, Mother of Dragons and the Protector of the Realm. She sat beside him, as the guest of honour. Jon thought her to be beautiful, the loveliest creature he had seen. He had travelled to King's Landing to swear fealty in place of his half-nephew, Robert, who was six years old, and Lord of the North. When he had arrived, he had been enraptured with the new queen. She was equally interested in him. When told of Winterfell's sad fate six years past, she offered to restore the castle. She had followed Jon home; she met his family, shielded the Stark claim, and shared his bed.
Soon enough, Arya had returned with Nymeria, and a black smith bastard named Gendry. Jon saw them now, as Arya shared her wine with the man. Gendry was enormous, and all muscle. He had black hair, and piercing blue eyes- and a love for Arya. Jon found no contradiction to the affection from Arya. He was certain he saw her invite Gendry inside the Walls she had built around herself, more than anyone else around her. Nymeria was sitting by Arya dutifully, lazily observing the rest of the hall.
Sansa had also come home, with Sandor Clegane, no less. Jon now remembered the contempt he had towards the man when they had returned. Jon had throne him into the dungeon on sight, despite Sansa's screams for mercy and Arya's of murder. Later, Daenerys convinced him to let out the Hound- Jon hadn't received any complaints, except of the liability that was Stranger, Clegane's destrier. Jon observed Sandor and Sansa now. Sansa was primly smoothing her skirts, while Clegane was drinking his mead. Jon didn't understand Sansa's attachment to Sandor, but hadn't questioned the arrangement. Jon had feared questioning the fragile girl. While Arya had Walled herself in, Sansa had Hollowed herself out. She didn't talk often, she didn't eat much, and she never slept. She would awake screaming, and Jon would run in, and would wake her. Sandor would hold Daenerys back, as the Queen tried to enter. Sansa would be crying, and clutching Jon, whispering of unknown terrors. Jon would look back at the Hound, who looked like he was going to cry as well.
Bran, Rickon, Osha, Shaggy and Summer returned as well, with Hodor, Meera and Jojen. Bran told him of what he had witnessed beyond the Wall, and how he had learned to be a better warg. Jon had listened intently, and touched the scar below his eye, remembering the talon that had ripped through it. At the time, Jon had looked at Grey Wind, who was pacing protectively in front of Jeyne Stark, Robb's widow. Jon had been told of similar dreams, by Arya and Rickon- Jon had even had them himself. He remembered the eagle, carrying the soul of the wilding he had slayed by the Skirling Pass. Jon had wondered if Robb was hiding within Grey Wind, and wondered if maybe, just maybe all the Starks were wargs. It couldn't have been accidental- six pups, six children, and the beginning of the darkest winter of Westeros. Jon was now musing, as he looked at the prim, quiet Sansa, whose Lady had died, and wondered if that was where the Hollowness had come from. If not being able to escape to Lady had deprived her of Walls to hide behind. Jon looked at Sandor again, and wondered if maybe, just maybe, the big brute was her Wall.
"Jon?" asked Daenerys coyly, using her warm thumb to stroke his inner wrist, down his arm.
"Yes?" replied the young man, distracted by Sandor's exit with Winterfell's new maester. Daenerys pursed her lips, realizing Jon was vacant to her just then.
"Jon, can you please listen to me when I am speaking to you?" she said, blinking her soft, violet eyes. Jon turned to her, and smiled.
"Of course, Dany. I was just thinking about… about how much easier it would be if Robb was here." Jon half- lied. He looked down, flinching under Dany's soft gaze. She touched his cheek gently.
"I know. He was your brother…"
"Half- brother." Jon appreciated Daenerys ignoring his comment, as she continued on.
"You know, Grenn, Pyp and Sam are all the top positions within the Night's Watch. They wouldn't chase you down, if you turned your cloak…" Jon interrupted her quickly.
"And why would I leave the Night's Watch?" he rudely interjected.
"For me." She whispered quietly, taking his hand, and touching it to her lower abdomen.
"Two moons." He understood what she meant, perfectly.
Sandor had left with the new maester, a small man, with a balding head, and watery grey eyes. Sandor couldn't recall his name, since he didn't think the Old Gods liked him more than the Seven Gods that spat on him most of his life. Therefore, he barely took interest in the man. The little man had entered the new Great Hall, seeking Clegane, yet calling him the Hound. This immediately got Sandor's attention, because no one called him that anymore.
When they had finally reached the maester's quarters, the little man gave him a letter, and kindly asked him to leave. Sandor didn't even comment on the rude manners of the little shit, but just went out to the yard. One thing that he liked about the North, which he had only ever admitted to Sansa, was that the cold wind had a way of clearing one's thoughts, like no alcohol could.
He breathed in deeply, trepidation evident- he was nervous about who would be seeking him out. He opened the sealed parchment, and scanned the page. He swallowed, and felt torn.
The letter said that Gregor was alive, and terrorizing Lannisport for sport. The vile, overgrown pig that had destroyed Sandor's life at eight years old. The brute that had become a fucking knight, even though Gregor was too dumb to tell anyone the definition of chivalry, let alone have any himself. Gregor didn't have a shred of humanity, either, but was purely bestial.
The letter had been sent by Jaime Lannister, of all people, asking for Sandor to come and kill his brother. Sandor was tempted to simply snort and crumple the parchment, until he looked up at the torch in front of him. He remembered the agony of being burnt, of screaming, and no one hearing, or answering. His mother not being able to kiss it better when he was young, and other women refusing to kiss as he got older. Except that Stupid Little Bird, who he had stupidly saved from Little Finger.
Sansa had even touched his burnt cheek, rubbed her thumb against it. The Hound had been tamed than, had sworn to keep her and her family safe, should he see them. Now, Jaime wanted the Hound to come back out, in all his ferocity. To be fair, Jaime had always been nice to him, even keeping Sandor's love of Sansa a secret.
Seven Hells, Sansa was going to bring about his doom. Sandor feared she didn't understand what she meant to him, fully. She made him feel… everything. Hatred, anger and ferocity lived with love, joy and gentleness. All for her, the Stupid Little Bird he loved. Sandor had decided long ago that he should never bed her, and had kept good at that promise. He kept her bed across from his on the road, and had bought two rooms at inns they stayed in. He wanted her, and knew he could never have her. He wasn't even a damn knight, let alone the lord her needed to be, to wed her. He touched his scars self- consciously, the second reason he couldn't have her, though it was self- imposed more than societal. Sandor had never even kissed her, let alone allowed him-self to think of going further. When he was fully coherent and awake, that is.
Sandor also knew he needed to kill Gregor, and make sure that bastard stayed in the Seven Hells this time. It had been his goal in life, for almost all of his life, to kill Gregor. They were equal, in size, strength and ferocity. The only place they were unable to match up was in the heart- Gregor hated and raged and harmed, but Sandor could love. He had proven that, by keeping Sansa safe, and comforting her. Sandor sighed, resigned himself to his fate, and went to the stable. He had brought back the sword of Ice, and the girl of Ice, and now he needed to leave. He decided against telling anyone. He didn't want to hear the Stupid Little Bird begging for him, and the Skinny Wolf- Brat begging for his head.
She sat upon the new Walls of Winterfell, looking out into the surrounding forest. She found the breeze soothing, and even laughed as it melted the stone inside her chest. She didn't know if she was going crazy, but she guessed that is how all damaged people feel. She through her head back, and laughed loudly, obnoxiously, allowing herself to light up again, like she had before all the Darkness found her, when she was twelve, or maybe eleven, before the Darkness had consumed her whole.
The only person left was Sandor- he had kept the Evil and Darkness at bay, and chased the Monsters that followed her home, to this strange keep full of strange people she couldn't recognized anymore. She liked them well enough, but the only one she had recognized was Jon. He had tried to reach through the shroud of Evil that muffled her screams for help.
Sansa remembered the night before, when Jon had rushed into her room, and shook her, trying to wake her up from herself. Stupid Jon, didn't he know that there was no more Sansa, or Alayne? In their stead, there was a stranger. This stranger could only remember knowing Sandor, because he had come to save her from the Evil. She fancied she loved him, even. She thought about kissing him, and wedding him, and bedding him (she always giggled at that idea), but never acted on it. She feared he would leave her forever if she did, that he would turn his back on the damaged girl.
Sansa was pulled from her thoughts by the sound of the portcullis lifting up, the slow, grating rumble of metal and stone rubbing against each other. She went to the steep stone steps of the Wall, and placed a hand on it for support as she glided down gracefully. She looked out through the open archway, which looked like a giant mouth, swallowing the distant shape that was ahead of her. She squinted, recognizing the helm, and screamed.
She took off, running through the trees, jumping over roots and outrunning the guards. Her hair was tearing through the wind, her red hair that looked like a torch, as she screamed for Sandor, for the Hound, whichever one was in command, to stop. She felt her legs giving out, her lungs heaving against her rib cage, but she didn't care. She was outrunning everything, all the Evil and the Darkness and the Monsters. She just wanted him, she had always wanted him, why would the Gods always take him from her.
"Sandor!" She screamed into the pitch black night, now that she couldn't see him ahead of her. She heard the pounding of hooves, and saw Stranger appear again before her. She looked up at the big, brooding man. He looked down at her, his eyes rapidly hardening and softening.
"Little bird." He cooed, twisting his mouth anxiously.
Jon ran to the stable as soon as the guards told him of Sansa's escape. He had found his horse already saddled, so he vaulted on, riding out at a strong canter, into the night, with Ghost and Grey Wind. The direwolves were on either side of him, as he called for her.
"SANSA", echoed back to him, mocking him and terrifying him in one swoop. He heard the heavy breathing of Ghost and Grey Wind, who were right beside him.
Jon turned to the grey direwolf, a large male, and wondered. He wondered if it was Robb in there, Walled up inside a direwolf.
"Robb?" Jon asked, and the animal gave him a piercing glance, as they all jumped over a log. Chills went up Jon's spine.
"Robb, we need to bring Sansa home." Jon choked out, wanting to hug his brother. His dead, lost brother.
Grey Wind almost smiled Robb's smiled, and by whatever Gods Jon still believed in, nodded. A tear appeared on Jon's cheek, as the two brothers and Robb disappeared up ahead, following the scent of Sansa.
"SANSA!" Jon bellowed again, as he sped off in the direction of the wolves.
He saw the Stupid Little Bird, crying out for him. She was sniffling, begging him to go back to Winterfell, or take her with him. Sandor exhaled, and kept his mouth shut. He looked down at her, not getting off of Stranger's back. If he did, he would be on the ground, holding on and never letting go. She was looking up at him, with her big blue eyes.
"Sansa, you can't come with me, and I can't go back to Winterfell." Sandor repeated calmly.
"But why? Why are you leaving me! Why, why, why, WHY, GODS DAMN YOU WHY!" She was screaming now, her fists balled up. She took a step towards Stranger, still screaming for him, and at him, at the same time. Sandor clenched his teeth, trying to predict what her next bright idea would be. She started hitting Stranger, crying, feeble, weak, repeating "why," over and over. Stranger just looked at her, annoyed, but tolerating.
"I need to go and find Gregor," replied the Hound, keeping the part about gutting him like the beast he was silent.
"And kill him?" her eyes betrayed all the fear, as she whispered, "but who will protect me from the Evil? And the Dark? And the Monsters?"
Sandor looked away, as the Hound replied, "You are at Winterfell."
"But they're in my mind!" She started to wail, and it took all of him to stay on the mighty destrier, as she kneeled on the ground, grabbing her hair and crying.
"Sansa," he started, but she cut him off.
"I can't find her, not without you." She said, crying, and shaking, and pulling him apart at the seams.
"Yes, yes you can." He tried to comfort her, by reminding her of who she was, "I know Sansa, and she will find you. I promise." His voice cracked, but he hid it well.
"No, she can't, not without you! Don't you understand?"
"Yes, she can. Call for her, just try, please." Sandor looked at her now, the sad crumpled up ball on the forest floor.
The girl trembled for a long fifteen minutes, until she looked up. He saw Sansa, plain as day, wondering where this girl had hid within herself.
"Sandor, you must stay with me." Her eyes pierced through his armour, and through his heart. He knew he could leave her now, now that she was back and safe within herself. He knew he wasn't her Wall anymore, and that he could leave. Her no longer needing him hurt more than her needing him by far.
"I can't, Sansa," whispered Clegane, softly. He heard the cries of "SANSA" and the snarl of approaching direwolves.
"Who will protect me?" She whispered. Clegane took off the Hound's helm, and handed it to Sansa. She took it from him gingerly, her bottom lip trembling. He saw the direwolves burst out of the bush, followed by Jon on his horse. The two men exchanged a glance, and Jon got off, running to Sansa.
"Sansa, you don't need my protection anymore," he smiled bitterly, knowing it was true. He could now be killed by Gregor, and not worry for the Stupid Little Bird. Her eyes watered, as she hugged the snarling dog's helm, and she tried to break from Jon's iron grip.
"But I love you!" She wailed, and the Hound and Sandor both winced, but the Hound wheeled Stranger around, and kicked him into a canter. But Sandor heard what Sansa screamed last;
"That's all you ever do; you run away!" Sandor steeled himself, and left her, with Jon, and those cursed wolves and the big destrier.
She was screaming and kicking out, trying to get to Sandor, but Jon held her tight. Her eyes stung with tears, as she called for Sandor to come back. Jon pulled her to the ground, holding her, as cried, her tears unrelenting. She was in hysterics, she had only just come out to the hollow of who she was moments before. She heard Jon, trying to comfort her, as she sat in the dark, trying to fight the Evil and the Dark and the Monsters.
"Jon, why did he go?" asked Sansa, quietly. It was the only thing she had said to him in a long time.
"He said he needed to kill Gregor."
"Why didn't he want to stay with me?" asked Sansa, trying to blink back more tears.
"I don't think this is about what he wants to do, it is just what he feels he has to do." Sansa bit her lip, and thought of another lost soul.
"Robb did the same thing."
"Yes, yes he did."
"And he didn't come back."
He tried to blink back his own tears, when Sansa said that. She cupped his cheek, trying to smile through her tears, but failing. Jon started to cry as well, thinking of his brother's corpse, floating in the ocean, never knowing Winterfell's crypt. He cried for Sandor, who would probably fail. He cried for Walled in Arya. He cried for Robert and Eddard who would never know their father. He cried for all of his siblings, orphaned and Walled. Jon cried, and couldn't stop. He cried for his mother, and Catelynn. He cried for Ned, and cried for Sansa, who had been so lost for so long, and had come back to see another man off to his death.
Sansa hugged him, crying as well. Grey Wind nuzzled them, and Jon saw Robb in those big eyes. He saw Robb, with snow in his hair, and the sky in his eyes. He saw the Robb he had left at Winterfell, seven years ago.
Jon and Sansa were both sobbing, sobbing for their family and their friends, and all that had been lost. Their tears fell for Sandor, who would die, and for Robb, who was dead.
Jon heard Sansa choke out, "I love him so much, I just wanted him to stay." Jon held her even tighter, praying Sandor would come home, and praying he would marry Sansa, and praying they would have little grey- eyed, red haired children together. So that Jon's brown haired, violet-eyed and Robb's red haired and blue eyed children wouldn't be alone like they were, now. So that Sansa could finally stop running, and being a Hollow. So that Sandor could forget about the burns, and love. So that Jon wouldn't have to make so many decisions, all alone. So that Robb could watch them all, and know he hadn't made the wrong choice.