DISCLAIMER: All characters belong to George R.R. Martin and his amazing Song of Ice & Fire Series. I claim no ownership to any of this, even the parts I made up :) I'm just having my fun because all seven gods of the faith, the old gods and R'hllor know that he probably won't take SanSan where I want them to go :)
She rode behind Sandor now, rode behind him and held him in place as Arya and Craven led the way. He was badly injured, that much she knew, and she wished they could stop but knew it wasn't possible. They rode until dawn, rode until Sandor said, "Here." His voice was weak, that single word was all he spoke, but she knew what he meant.
"Arya!" she called, and her sister turned Craven toward them. They dismounted and helped Sandor down, propping him against a tree.
"Fire," he croaked. She and Arya gathered kindling. It took some time to get it to burn properly, but once it did he ordered them to tear scraps off his cloak and boil them in the wine, using his helm in lieu of a kettle. "I need a stick. A nice thick one, but make sure it's clean as it's going in my mouth." The mouth he spoke of twisted into a grimace and Sansa hesitated. "Go, little bird," he insisted.
It took all day to treat him, using the boiling wine on his wounds and covering the injuries with the cloak scraps once they were clean. He passed out from the pain and Arya lay down by the fire, facing away from them. Sansa could tell that her sister was only pretending to sleep, but she didn't care just now. Arya had scared her back there at the inn, stabbing that man over and over again with a ferocity Sansa did not understand.
Sansa curled up on the ground with her head in Sandor's lap and cried herself to sleep.
He was still alive in the morning, though she'd feared he wouldn't be. "We need to keep moving," he said.
"Sandor, we can't...you shouldn't..." But he shook his head and so she nudged Arya and they gathered their things. Again Sansa rode behind Sandor, her tiny arms barely fitting around his waist to hold Stranger's reins.
They did not get very far. Soon Sandor was drifting to one side of the saddle and Sansa was struggling to hold him in place. "I need to rest," he finally admitted, and when they stopped he toppled off Stranger's back before she could keep him from falling. He mumbled curse words under his breath as they propped him against another tree. Sansa beckoned Arya to bring a waterskin and Sansa poured some of the water down his throat, holding back a strangled sob. He passed out again and Sansa touched him, on his face, his arms, his hands. He was so hot; she almost couldn't stand sitting with him, but she had to, she had to. She crawled into his lap and pressed her cheek to his chest and cried and cried.
Something glinted in the sunlight; Sansa saw it even through her closed eyelids. She opened them and there was Arya, standing over them with a tiny sword in her hand, a child's sword. Where did she get that?
"Do it," Sandor said suddenly. Sansa started - she hadn't realized that he was awake. But he couldn't mean - "Do it," he said again, fiercely this time. "If you remember where the heart is, stick that sword in me. You've wanted to for quite some time now, I know."
"No!" Sansa whispered, horror-struck. When Arya looked at her then, there was pity in her eyes.
"He's going to die, Sansa. This is his mercy."
"No!" she cried again, clutching at his tunic, feeling sick.
"Leave us, girl. Leave us for a bit," Sandor mumbled. Arya looked at him for a long moment, then placed her little sword on the ground and walked away.
"Sandor, we can send her for help. We can fix this. We can fix this," Sansa insisted. She kissed him full on the lips, a closed-mouth kiss; kissed his nose and his burn scars and his eyelids, twined her fingers through his and felt her heart shattering inside her.
"No, little bird. I'll only hold you back. You need to get to Saltpans, need to take a ship. Somewhere, anywhere, away from this place. Away from Westeros."
"I can't," she sobbed, aware that she sounded like a child but not caring, not caring at all. "I can't leave you. Not again. Never again."
"You must, girl. Let your sister give me the mercy for which I ask, take her and go."
"But I've loved you," she whispered, staring into his feverish eyes. "I love you."
"And I you, little bird. And I you."
He was fading then, she could feel it as much as she could see it. "Sandor...how will I live without you? Who will protect me?"
"You will protect you, Sansa Stark. You've always had that strength in you. And you'll have your sister as well, I warrant. Now fetch her, and let me go. Please. Please." The last was but a whimper. He was begging, Sandor Clegane who was a dog but yet had never begged.
"I'll do it myself," Sansa heard herself say. "If it must be done, I'll do it myself."
His eyes had been closed, but he forced them open and they found hers again. "You...you don't have to do that, little bird."
"Yes," she stated. "Yes, I do." She slipped from his lap and took Arya's sword in her hand. She'd never held a real weapon before, even a child's weapon, and the thing felt foreign in her hand.
"You remember...where to place it..." he said. She nodded firmly and gripped the sword tighter, placing her free hand on his unscarred right side of his face as she pressed the point of the small blade to his chest.
"I am not sorry," she told him. "Not for this. Not for any of it. There will only ever be you, Sandor. You hear me? There will only ever be you." She waited for his nod, a tiny weak jerk of his head, and then she drove the sword into his heart with all of her strength.
Sandor's breath went out of him with a groan and she pressed her body to his and kissed him again, murmuring, "I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you," as her tears splashed onto his face. She felt his hand reach up and cover hers, her hand that still held the sword in his chest.
"I love you," he said, the first and only time he'd ever said those words to her, and with a few shuddering breaths he was gone.
Time passed, though Sansa knew not how much. Arya came back and gasped when she saw them there, Sansa draped over Sandor and the little sword still sticking out of his chest. Gently, slowly, Arya pulled the sword from his body and stood over them for a moment. "I'm sorry, Sansa," she said quietly, and left them again.
More time passed, and his body grew cold, but still Sansa could not bear to leave him. "We have to go," Arya said when she finally came back. "Now, Sansa, we have to go now." Sansa felt herself nod, let her sister pull her from Sandor's body and lead her to the horses. "We'll leave Stranger," Arya sighed. "Neither of us can handle him. Come on."
"His helm," Sansa murmured.
"His helm, Arya. We…we should leave it with him."
Arya gave a brisk nod and gingerly approached Sandor's big black destrier to remove the snarling dog helm from the pack. She glanced at Sansa, and Sansa nodded. Arya walked the helm over to Sandor and was about to place it over his head when Sansa said, "No." She couldn't bear to see his face covered, couldn't bear him to be wearing that helm the last time she would ever see him. With a stiff nod Arya bent and set the helm beside Sandor's body, lifting his hand and placing it on top of the dog's head. She returned to Sansa's side and for a moment they both looked at him. "Valar morghulis," Arya muttered, and though Sansa did not know the words they seemed to give her strength.
Together they mounted Craven and rode away, and though Arya did not look back Sansa watched Sandor's body, watched it until it faded into the distance, watched even when she could no longer see it. "Where will we go?" Arya asked. "Do you still want to go to Riverrun?" There was something like sympathy in her sister's voice, but Sansa could tell that Arya still had no desire to find the home of their dead mother.
"No," Sansa said. "To Saltpans. We'll find a ship."
"To where?" Arya pressed again.
The name came to her almost automatically, the place he said he'd take her and keep her safe. The place we should have made for all along.
Well eff me, I've posted my disclaimer at the beginning of every chapter and even *I* didn't take SanSan where I wanted them to go. :-/
As a note, I absolutely do not believe that Sandor is dead - I definitely hold to the "gravedigger on the Quiet Isle" theory :) That said, as I was writing this fic I just *knew* where it had to go, and as much as I hate giving SanSan a depressing ending this just felt right. There are so many fics out there that end the way we want them to anyway, no?
So yeah, don't hate me? Please? :)
Another note, this time in response to a review I received elsewhere regarding the ending being a sort of "plot hole".
While I understand that Sansa's being there, and not being married to Tyrion, likely COULD have changed the outcome of Sandor's fight with Polliver and the Tickler, that's simply not the vision I had when I decided to continue this story past the Brotherhood without Banners stuff. That said, I was trying to be SUPER careful with this AU because the original prompt mentioned keeping it as canon as possible...I re-read Arya's SoS chapters like three times in prep for writing all of it, haha...and actually I was going off this passage: "The innkeep came scurrying back with two stone cups and a flagon on a pewter platter. Sandor lifted the flagon to his mouth. Arya could see the muscles in his neck working as he gulped. When he slammed it back down on the table, half the wine was gone. 'Now you can pour. Best pick up those coppers too, it's the only coin you're like to see today.'" - this passage happens before he hears about Sansa's marriage to Tyrion. I know that he finishes that cup and drinks one more in the actual story (AFTER hearing about the marriage)...I just wanted to be careful how closely I followed the actual writing, so I didn't want to be perfectly clear about exactly how much wine he'd been drinking. My thought was that he would just be constantly pulling from the jug while talking to his brother's men, because though he SHOULD be careful and of course we'd WANT him to be, this would be one heck of a nerve-wracking situation and as such it wouldn't be surprising for him to forget that he hasn't been drinking much lately and hasn't eaten in a while and therefore unwittingly end up drunk. That and it's still essentially three against one, or two against one if you don't count the squire...and of course under normal circumstances he could take them buuut again these aren't normal circumstances...
I know that he finishes that cup and drinks one more in the actual story (AFTER hearing about the marriage)...I just wanted to be careful how closely I followed the actual writing, so I didn't want to be perfectly clear about exactly how much wine he'd been drinking. My thought was that he would just be constantly pulling from the jug while talking to his brother's men, because though he SHOULD be careful and of course we'd WANT him to be, this would be one heck of a nerve-wracking situation and as such it wouldn't be surprising for him to forget that he hasn't been drinking much lately and hasn't eaten in a while and therefore unwittingly end up drunk. That and it's still essentially three against one, or two against one if you don't count the squire...and of course under normal circumstances he could take them buuut again these aren't normal circumstances...