Sorry for the slowed updates. I'm in a Statistics course for the summer but this is the last week, still though, I won't be updating as fast as I was before until I'm out of the class. So don't expect another update for a week. Thank you all so much for the continued support and wonderful things said. It really does mean a lot to me.
Well, Some nights, I wish that this all would end
Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights, I'm scared you'll forget me again
Some nights, I always win, I always win...
They had crossed The Neck and had set up a camp within a clearing of trees. Robb had seemed to relax, as he even allowed fires to be started in the dead of night. This was his land. He had a right to feel pompous here, or so Sansa felt. It was still a long journey to Winterfell, but Robb had been discussing plans with his host. He was sending out some men to spread the word that he had returned to the North, and he was going to build again. The subject of swearing fealty though, was left out. Sansa worried over that. If Joffrey didn't get what he wanted, he'd find a way to take it.
She sat next to a fire, braiding her hair off to the side of her face. With having so many men to gather wood, hunt, and find water, she had little to do out here beside take care of Sandor. He'd grown stronger since a week ago as well. The color had returned to his face, and he was more lucid. He walked with a limp though.
Sansa hated that.
After Sandor had started walking about, Robb seemed to be glued to his side. It had grown annoying to Sansa. Robb had said his apologies time and time again, yet he always found more ways to say he regretted not listening to Sandor. Robb had promised a lot of gold to Sandor. Sansa wasn't even sure Winterfell had it. It had been sacked. How was Robb going to find that gold?
"Little bird, you aiming to be as ugly as me?" a rough voice called over the soft crackling of the fire. She saw Sandor's form shift on his furs, moving closer to her.
"What?" she asked.
"Your brow is creased. Been that way for a while now too," he answered, shrugging. Sansa honestly felt that the feelings they had shared had dwindled away. He didn't look at her the same anymore, and she found more fault than good in Sandor. She didn't like how he limped, or how he laughed with Robb, or how he drank most of the men under the figurative table. 'I thought I loved him. What's happened?'
"I'm thinking," she retorted tightly.
"Bout?" He scratched at the scars on his face.
"I don't know how Robb is going to pay you that gold. Winterfell was sacked."
"He'll get it." he replied, picking at his nails. "Or I'll just take it."
"You wouldn't do that to my brother." Her words were hushed, yet there was a double-edged sword in her tone. Her words spoke more of a threat than an observation.
"Used to think you wouldn't give me the cold shoulder either. Yet your brow is still creased."
"And what do you care?" she snapped. "You should worry about your own face. Or your bloody hair. You've got to comb it just right so no one can see how bald you are on one side!" 'No…No I'm sorry, I didn't mean that.' Sansa watched the hurt drown Sandor's eyes. He shifted, moving away from her and resting on his side.
"I thought you looked…"
Sansa waited, hanging on the edge of his sentence, but he shrugged, sighed and curled into himself. 'No…I didn't mean it. I didn't…I'm not angry with you… I'm angry with me!'
She stood up, huffing as her she went. She winced again as she assumed he'd think her annoyance was with him. It wasn't! He'd done so much for her; risking his life, finding her food, taking care of her when she was sick… The list could go on and on. Yet she was trying to find so many faults in him to keep up with the faults she had started seeing in her own reflection. That was what all of this was about! She was sure of it now.
Her scab down her face was almost healed, but in its wake, there was a raised line, a bit lighter in skin color than the rest of her face. It was all she could see on herself anymore. It was ugly. She'd grown so angry because of it. She wanted to forget her anger, or her need to find imperfection, but Sandor already knew he was imperfect. In fact, he was acutely aware of it. She'd insulted him.
Her eyes cradled warm tears as she continued walking away from him. She could recall back to when she first saw his face. She was disgusted at it. He had been so ugly to her when Joffrey was there, shining with all his golden hair and bright eyes. She hadn't realized just how ugly Joffrey was until it was too late. Sandor had been there to protect her. He wasn't the kindest, but he was blunt, and everything he said, Sansa knew it to be true. She'd trusted him. She still did trust him.
He'd given up everything for her. He'd lost his place in the Kingsguard, his home, everything. 'He stuffed me away in a sack. But I shared my first kiss with him. He returned me home.' She sighed, turning around to look at his form over the fire. The flames made his image shake, but he wasn't sleeping. Guilt filled her heart with led. 'I need to apologize. Now.'
She started to walk back when her mother stepped into view. "Sansa, I said we needed to talk later. It's been a week since we started this conversation. I insist we have it now."
"What conversation, Mother?" Sansa asked, her gaze going back to Sandor to make sure he was still awake.
"Clegane." Lady Catelyn took Sansa by the arm, and together they began walking to the outskirts of camp.
"No. Listen to me. Speak only when spoken to." Catelyn went silent for a moment, before sighing and speaking once more. "You've been taking care of him."
"As he took care of me," Sansa said. "Mother-"
Catelyn cut her off by saying, "Did he force himself upon you? Are you still a maiden?"
The question was so shocking that Sansa had forgotten how to speak for a moment. She went back, thinking of her long kiss with him and how her heart felt like it was going to explode. He'd tasted just like she'd have expected; a bit sour, earthy and sharp. Then she thought of their soft kiss before he sent her off into the woods on Stranger. She hadn't felt it long enough.
"Sansa, answer me now." Catelyn's very soul seemed to bore into her daughter. Sansa couldn't take her gaze.
"I'm a maiden. Clegane never even brought it up," Sansa said.
"Did he touch you at all?"
"Wh- No! Mother he was as good as a proper host! He's not like regular men. He's above them, even if he chooses to deny it." Her own words made her see how foolish she'd been acting. He was above other men. Some men may have run away from Sansa's scar, but Sandor had embraced it. Some men would have raped her and left her for dead when it became convenient, but Sandor had never left her side. Yes, he was better than most men. 'And he deserves better treatment from me.'
"Good. We're going to be looking for a husband for you. Preferably someone in the North. Robb wants someone South, but I don't trust any of them. Thinks if we get Southern allies, we can intimidate Joffrey."
"You're what?" Sansa felt her heart freeze. Marriage? A husband? "No, I'm not ready."
"You were ready for Prince Joffrey," her mother reminded.
"That was different. I was a fool. I'm not ready."
"You've had your moonblood yes? I did when I was around your age."
"…Yes," Sansa said through gritted teeth.
"Then it's time we find you a husband to protect you." Catelyn nodded, releasing Sansa's arm and walking back to her tent.
Sansa wanted to scream. To her, she felt that wartime was the worst possible time to find a marriage, especially after Roose Bolton had betrayed Robb and the South seemed very much determined to remove Robb from the list of the living. She stomped back to Sandor, trying to calm herself down.
"Are you awake?" she asked. His response was a grunt. She sat down, sitting as close as she could to him without drawing attention. "I wanted to apologize. What I said was rude and-"
"Quit chirping. You said what was true. Why should I be angry about it?" He didn't move to face her, which sent another spasm of guilt through Sansa's body.
"Because…we care for each other. Probably more than we should."
That's when he rolled over to look at her. She looked over the scars on his face, but they only reminded herself of how ugly she'd become. She turned, trying to block her scar with her hair.
"It's not as bad as you think, Little bird."
"I'm hideous," she said softly. Her words earned a loud laugh from Sandor. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head.
"If you're hideous, then I'm beyond revolting."
Sansa giggled softly. She wanted to move into his arms and rest her head against his chest. "You never give compliments."
"Aye. Compliments are for craven whelps and girls."
She folded her legs under her, moving so that her knees touched his side. "I'm a girl."
"Oh really? Hadn't noticed," he said sarcastically.
Sansa was relieved. After their week of awkward conversation, strange glances and Sansa's need to find something wrong with everyone, she'd thought that they were at an end. Yet this man before her was the man she'd come to love. He was rough around the edges, but if one could sneak between those grooves, there was a beautiful center. She took in a breath, preparing to say three, small words to Sandor, but she couldn't bring herself to say them. She looked around at the soldiers, her tent of which her mother was residing in with Arya and then to Robb's. 'I'm to be married. I don't want to be married.'
"Your brow is creased again…" Sandor said. "What's the matter this time?"
"My mother wants to marry me off." She tried to read Sandor's face, but it was as if he hadn't even heard her. He was staring at the fire, blinking a bit slowly like he was fighting sleep.
"I'm sure you'll make some lord happy."
A bit of immature glee flittered through Sansa. While his tone was apathetic, she knew what he truly meant. She was glad that after how she'd been treating him, he still cared for her. "I don't want "some lord."
Sandor sat up, groaning a bit as he moved his legs. "You don't have a fucking choice, Little bird."
"And who says this?" she defended.
"Did you have a choice with Joffrey?"
The words hit her hard. He was right. She hadn't had a choice. Her father and King Robert had arranged the marriage. She sat back, bringing her legs out from under her. "I…I don't want anyone else."
"You can't marry me, Sansa."
"I don't want to marry anyone right now! I care for you. I know this, and I'm sure I'd be happy with you, but I don't want to be wed! I'm not ready. I can barely take care of myself. How would I run a household and raise children? Or, what if I got a child like Arya! Gods forbid, I don't know what I'd do! Or-"
"You'll remember all your chirps and songs and go on with life the way your septa trained you."
Sansa's gaze locked on Sandor's. He was giving up. He was trying to convince her that she'd be fine. 'I don't want to be away from you.' She felt a tear fall from a single eye, but brushed it away quickly. "And where would you be?"
He took a long time to respond. As he was thinking, Sansa was panicking. She had to tell Robb. She had to say something soon or they'd send her away and she'd never see Sandor again. She could get used to the idea of having a family if it was with him, but not with a stranger! She trusted him. He was above all men in her eyes. She didn't want anyone else.
"I'd be always thinking of you."
The words melted her heart. Tears fell faster from her eyes. She quickly looked around again, still seeing patrolling soldiers. Why didn't Sandor get to have a tent as well? He was injured! "I love you." She had been withholding those words for quite some time, always replacing them with "care," but she'd meant it for so long. She wanted the moment where she finally said it to be perfect, but it never was. There was always something wrong or out of place. She was afraid if she hadn't said it now, she'd never get to say it.
Sandor looked away, his gaze going back to the fire. "You should go to sleep, Little bird. I'm sure your mother doesn't want you out here with me any longer."
"I love you," she said more forcefully, her hands reaching up to cup his face.
He jerked away. "Please don't make me say it too."
Sansa held back a sob as she nodded in defeat. She knew he loved her. She just felt if he'd said it, he'd fight for her. But he seemed to be done fighting. So she stood, giving a curtsey and retreating to her tent. She'd brushed away her tears before she entered the flap at the entrance. 'If he won't fight for me, then I'll just have to fight for him.'
Sansa watched with bored eyes as the soldiers broke down the camp. With luck, Robb and his host would be able to get through the swamps of Greywater and be up past Moat Cailin in another week. Sansa had heard stories about the Greywater swamps and the floating island of House Reed. She wondered if they'd find the islands.
She gave Sandor a polite nod as she watched him get on Stranger, but all he did was kick Stranger into a trot behind the soldiers. She wanted to charge her own horse at him and demand he at least say hello, but she knew it was childish. He was hurting, just as much as she was.
"Sansa," Arya called coming to pause her horse next to Sansa's. "Did you two get into a fight?"
"I told him that Mother wants me to marry."
"So you tell her you choose him," Arya retorted, shrugging like it wasn't an issue.
"I don't have a choice with who marries me," Sansa said back. Her voice held a hint of irritation.
"You don't? Huh." Arya kicked her horse, breaking into a canter. Sansa laughed as she watched their mother chase her down, chastising her about how horses were herd animals and if one ran they all would. She pursed her lips, thinking on what Arya said, but the girl was a child! She hadn't even had her first bleeding. 'Maybe I should still tell Robb.'
The journey from the meadow up into the swamps wasn't easy. The horses wouldn't go through parts of the swamps and two of the men had gone under to never come back up. The water wasn't just water though. There were so many things in it. It made Sansa's skin crawl.
She watched as Stranger went through the swamp like he'd always done this. The trust that both horse and rider had in each other was astounding. Sansa had never enjoyed horses, but she was fast used to them. She was sure she'd never have a connection to an animal like that, at least not now. 'I did once with Lady.'
"We shouldn't have come this way," Robb said as he struggled with his horse to reach some higher ground. "I can't lose any more men."
"What about the Reeds?" Arya asked.
"They cannot be found, Arya," Catelyn said. "That's how they've escaped so many dangers in the world."
Arya sighed, kicking at her horse to move forward but the animal had decided the swamp was too thick here.
"We need to get back and go around," Robb said.
"The Hound's doing fine," Arya noted.
Sansa watched as Robb's gaze found Sandor. He was waiting on a spot of dry earth, petting Stranger on the neck. "We need to turn around!" he shouted at Sandor.
"There's a village up here?" Sandor said, sounding quite confused to Sansa's astonishment.
"A village?" Robb said aghast. He forced his horse further, moving the animal into the swamp to come stand next to Sandor and Stranger. Sansa thought Robb's horse looked like a pony compared to Sandor's.
"This way!" Robb shouted, plunging his horse back into the swamp, Sandor at his side. Sansa watched them, they spoke to each other about something she couldn't hear, and even saw Robb smile. She wished that she were already promised to Sandor, and that Robb and Sandor were talking as people often did before they became family. 'If I have to marry now, I want it to be Sandor Clegane.'
Sansa forced herself out of her fantasy, nudging her horse forward, following Sandor and Robb. When she came to the dry patch of earth, her eyes widened in shock. There before them were islands in the swamps, all attached by bridges or ropes. There were small huts, and other structures on the floating islands. There at the front, walking to greet Robb was a man with a dark green tunic on, and sewn on was a large lizard-lion. "House Reed. This is where the crannogmen live?" Sansa questioned, but no one answered.
Song: Some Nights by FUN
As a general sidenote, this story will be seeing its closing soon. /saying it now so I don't just keep going because it's fun!/