A/N: Holy crap I cannot believe the season is already over! What did you think of the finale? I have so many thoughts about Sandor's end but all I can think about are those interviews with the showrunners about how things will change except for the absolute necessities. One can only assume that Sandor plays a vital role in the later books. Why else leave it so ambiguous when they have no problem killing off others? I can't help but hope a little.
And I'm dying to know what everyone thought about Shae's little stunt in the finale lol. I won't say that I tried to warn you…but I did. Now, read on!
23: Now We Can Breathe
Sandor stood in the stable that belonged to the Ivy Inn. He was watching Arya fiddle with the saddle and failing. "Tighter," he ordered gruffly.
She turned a light glare at him. "It is tight."
He shook on the horn and the saddle slid to the left. "If this happens while we're riding, I'll make sure you're crushed beneath the horse."
The two had a minor stare-off before Arya sighed and pulled the belt until the Hound nodded in approval. "How long till we get there?" she asked impatiently.
"Are you in a hurry?" Sandor snorted.
He certainly was, but the seven hells would freeze before he let her know that. His nerves were shaky but years of self-control steadied them. Sansa was only a day ride away and he was literally aching to be around her. Sleep had not come willingly the closer they got to King's Landing and his mood was beyond foul – that and he had realized he hadn't sex in quite a while. Being around the wolf bitch for over three weeks had not helped.
He swung his leg up on the horse and grimaced from the pain.
"What's the matter with you?" Arya asked snidely.
"None of your fucking business," he bit out. "Get up here."
When Arya settled in front of him, her hand brushed his leg and she noticed there was blood on it. "You're bleeding."
"Why?" She didn't remember them getting into that many fights.
"The Kettleblacks," he mumbled. "They ambushed me and put poison on their swords, like they're the bloody Red Viper now."
"Did you kill them?"
"They're Cersei's pets," he grumbled. "So, no; I didn't." As an afterthought, he added, "One of these days I'm going to sink my sword in their throats until the hilt catches the blood."
Arya believed that. The Hound was not one to make idle threats – except toward her apparently. "What are you going to do when we get there?"
'See Sansa,' he thought. "I'll have to give Tywin a report. Joffrey'll be there too most likely."
"And Sansa?" Arya asked, slightly hesitant.
"I'll get you to her," he promised. "Long as you keep your bloody mouth shut and head low. Joff's wedding is still being planned so no one will bother looking at you."
"How much further?"
"A day…if you stay silent."
Sansa let Tyrion sit with her while she broke her fast. Though she rarely ate, it was useless to merely sit in their room and cry. And cry she had for the past week. She hadn't gone back to Sandor's room since her encounter with the crazy man who ran after her. That had been far too close for her comfort.
Tyrion watched his wife with a deep sense of dread. After their disastrous dinner with Jaime and Brienne, Sansa glided out of the room, as if she had been a spirit condemned to roam the Keep's halls for all of eternity. Jaime had followed her lead and made an early exit, which left the Imp with Brienne the Beauty in an awkward situation.
"Apologies," he had said softly. "My Lady…"
"No need to apologize, My Lord," Brienne replied gently. "Certainly not to me. Though I should make sure he finds his way to his room all right. Sometimes his balance can be tricky."
Tyrion nodded dully and stood as she left the solar. Pod cast him a pitiful look and Tyrion motioned to one of the empty chairs. "Take a break, my dear Pod."
"Oh, no, my lord," Pod replied shyly. "I couldn't."
"Yes you could and I demand you do so immediately." When the boy took his seat, Tyrion poured him some wine. "Drink. Someone should."
After that night, Sansa had spent most of her time in the gardens. Shae was her constant companion and always made sure to keep her lady away from the Kingslayer. Brienne had tried to make conversation but to no true avail.
Now, here they were in the shining sun but there was no happiness found in its warmth. Tyrion heard footsteps down the path and turned to see Pod trying to contain his urgency.
"What is it, Pod?" Tyrion asked.
"My lord," the boy breathed. "I have a message from the Spider."
"Varys," Tyrion said, surprised. "What could be so important that he couldn't come himself," he mused.
"Couldn't say, my lord." Pod handed the paper to the small man and quickly took his spot across from Shae.
Tyrion broke the seal and read the content: The Hound has arrived.
A small smile broke through his lips but disappeared at the sight of Sansa. "I shall take my leave. Pod, with me."
Sandor lent Arya his cloak and made her walk. Needle was hidden under the saddle while he rode in.
"Stay close," he warned. "And try to act like a squire."
Before they had entered the city, Sandor made sure that Arya was filthy, slinging mud on to her clothes and face and trying to hide those Stark features the Lannisters knew so well. They wouldn't have much of a problem in Flea Bottom as people were far more concerned about their own survival than a stray boy with girlish features – a possible poor man's Knight of Flowers, Sandor had reasoned.
He had brought them in by the Dragon Gate. The smell of the seawater hit his nose and it made him think back on the night of the wildfire; the night he finally claimed Sansa's lips. It was his only truly happy memory.
"Where are we going?" Arya asked.
Her voice broke through his thoughts. "Shut up," he snapped.
Arya rolled her eyes in response and continued to walk next to the massive animal and the horse he rode on. "What is this place?" she finally asked. It had been close to an hour since they had entered and wound through several side streets before finding the main one.
"Street of Looms," he answered. "The only street in this bloody city where no one looks up from their work."
"I never saw this one."
"I'm shocked," he said flatly. They arrived at the Red Keep's stable but none of the stable boys wanted to go near Stranger. "Stay here," he rumbled lowly to Arya. "No one will talk to you long as you stay with him. If anyone comes out that might recognize you, go behind the hay."
Before she could say anything else, he walked out of the stables. Now that she was back, the full weight of her choice to come back began to dawn on her. What had she been thinking? She hated this place more than anything! The worst moment of her life happened not more than a few streets away at the Sept of Baelor. But she had a chance to kill Joffrey. She would regret it forever if she let the opportunity pass by.
Sandor hated this place. Every single inch of it. He hated the walls, he hated the floors, he hated the fucking banners that hung around the rooms. How Sansa could manage to not lose her mind was beyond him. Gods how he missed her. Her face was the only thing he wanted to see next.
"Clegane," Tyrion called.
Sandor stopped at his name. Of course, he forgot that the Imp would have gotten word of his impending arrival. But he did know about Arya? "What?" he bit out.
"I saw you come in."
"Good for you."
"I think you'll want to walk with me."
"Really? I don't."
"Oh, I think you do."
'I fucking hate this city,' he thought. "I'm busy, Imp."
"Take a moment then. You'll want to hear what I have to say."
"You get one minute."
The pair walked in silence to Sandor's room. He had never been so happy to see his pathetic excuse for a bed. With a heavy groan, he settled on the limp mattress and was startled to see a long strand of red hair on his pillow. He quickly threw it on the floor and grabbed the cup of wine Tyrion handed him.
"What do you want?" he snapped.
"It's about…my wife."
Sandor's eyes snapped up. "Is she okay?"
"She received word about the Red Wedding."
Sandor felt his energy leave in a rush. "I figured she would. What does she know?"
"Only the gruesome details, I'm afraid. The king made sure she heard everything."
"That little piece of shit," he mumbled.
"I need to know, Clegane."
Sandor glared at Tyrion. "I didn't kill them."
"But did you stop it?"
He shifted uncomfortably. "I have someone," he blurted.
"Someone who was there."
"Who?" Tyrion urged.
"I'll tell you after."
Tyrion nodded after a few moments of observing the Hound. "Very well. But things have become…difficult."
"My father watches us constantly. Her maids report to Cersei. We have no privacy." An idea flickered in Tyrion's mind and he added, "But give me some time. I may yet know a way."
"No, now. I've been gone far too long."
Tyrion sighed. "Patience. Learn some. In the meantime, get a maester for that wound. The last thing any of us need is our muscle dying."
Sandor laid his head gingerly on the pillow and noticed her scent still lingered. It was so strong he knew she must have been in the room recently. The thought thrilled him. But the pain in his leg brought him back to his reality. His teeth ground against themselves as he poured the wine onto the wound. It did little good; boiled wine was what was needed. The long dead fireplace in his room beckoned him but with a hiss, he ignored it.
The door flung open and in walked Arya.
"What the fuck are you doing?" he snarled. "Are you trying to get killed?"
"I brought her," Varys cooed as he slid inside. "You don't think I know where everyone is at all times? I know what I am doing."
"If she is seen in my room…"
"She won't be. I have a plan, Ser Sandor."
"I'm not a fucking ser, you fucking eunuch."
Varys let the insult roll off his back. "She very well couldn't stay in the stable with all those boys."
"Yes I could," she retorted hotly.
Varys gave her a sweet smile that he used to reserve for Sansa back when she didn't know better. "I'm sure. Now, the real question is why are you here?"
"I'm going to kill Joffrey," she declared.
The bald man's eyes grew slightly at her words before he chuckled. The action infuriated her and he pointed a finger toward the Stark. "Do you know who guards the king now?"
Sandor propped up on his elbow. "He's here?"
"Came in the same day we received the raven of the Red Wedding."
"I'll kill him too," Arya said.
Varys smiled amusingly. "Have you thought this through?" he asked kindly. Arya's body language confirmed his suspicion. "I thought not. Just getting you inside the Keep took years of experience and knowledge to ensure this little gesture. You think you have he patience to wait even longer for a boy who not only has an army at his back but your sister's life in his hands? You make an attempt, I assure you that she would be the one to pay the price."
"Sansa is married to the Imp," Sandor interjected. "Tywin wouldn't allow it, not without an heir."
"You know as well as I do that there are other ways to make someone pay than with their life. He would make hers even worse than it is now." He turned to Arya and said, "Gods only know what they would do with you."
"I'm not afraid to die," she replied staunchily.
"I have no doubt," Varys smirked. "But there are worse things than death."
Sandor let out a sharp groan, breaking the silence. "Get some fucking wine will you?"
"I'll fetch Qyburn," Varys offered.
"Who the fuck is that?"
"He arrived with Ser Jaime. Apparently, this maester saved his life."
A sharp pull had Sandor gritting his teeth. "Get him."
Varys bowed slightly and turned to Arya. "Come with me."
Sansa let Shae clean around her as her skin began to complain about the sun's attention.
"You must eat," the brunette said.
Sansa shook her head. She preferred to dwell on her fantasies of Sandor coming in and sweeping her away or the Lannisters all choking on their wine. Her dreams had become sinister in that way – always her sitting around a table watching them grasp at their throats, their eyes pleading for help. In her dreams, she never gave it to them. In her dreams, she was in control.
But King's Landing was not the place for dreams. It was a place for death.
"I think I will go for a walk," Sansa said abruptly. "Alone, please." Shae's disapproval was evident but Sansa ignored it. The clinking of the dishes echoed as she moved away from the table. She had grown bored of the gardens today (something she never thought would happen) and headed for her room instead.
She reached the solar and found herself in the company of Jamie Lannister.
His throat bobbed at her entrance and his body stiffened. "Lady Sansa," he addressed with surprise.
"Ser Jamie," she replied stiffly.
"I'm waiting for Tyrion," he explained in a rush.
Sansa nodded once and left the door open. "What enticing business you two must talk about," she mused.
Jamie's armor chafed him and he found himself harkening back to his days as a Stark prisoner. Seeing Sansa was seeing a ghost for him, a constant reminder of the one shred of honor he had left.
He let out a small chuckle at her remark. "Yes, I suppose it must seem so." After a moment he asked, "How did you hurt your hands again?"
Sansa stood at attention and her numbed mind sparked back to life, if only a little. She struggled to find a suitable answer before settling on, "I tripped over a heightened stone in a hallway."
The kingslayer frowned. "That must hurt."
"I've endured worse, Ser Jamie."
"That shouldn't negate the pain you feel now."
"I don't feel anything now," she snapped blithely.
Jamie's mouth clamped shut. "I had nothing to do with your family's murder," he said bluntly.
Sansa's eyes settled on him in a curious manner. "Who told you that you did?"
"No one," he admitted. "But I want you to know that I would never want your brother dead in that way, even if he did keep me as a bargaining tool."
"It seems we have something in common then," Sansa finally stated. His surprise at her words gave her a small satisfaction. "It is not your fault your family did everything they could to bring you back."
Jamie supposed it was no use for them to act as though the Lannisters weren't involved. It was a terribly kept secret. "I don't approve of the method. The truth is I rather admired your brother's military tactics. He was very smart in that way."
Had she believed him, Sansa might have been proud of Robb's military prowess. But Jamie was too close to the queen to be that sincere about his enemy. "A traitor is a traitor, Ser Jamie. They deserve no praise."
Jamie was about to tell her to drop the act when a servant rushed in.
"Ser Jamie," the child breathed. "The Hound has been seen entering the Keep."
He didn't look at the messenger but rather kept his eyes on Sansa and looked for any sign of emotion. "Where is he?"
"His room. He looks to be injured."
Sansa's body betrayed her self-control at the mention of a possible injury. It was only a twitch but Jamie caught it. He had to admire her restraint. Clearly, she had been spending time with some players of the game.
"Thank you." He waited until the boy left before addressing Sansa. "I must go. Please tell my brother I will by later."
"The Hound," Sansa called. "Where did he go?"
"He was ordered to The Twins."
A sickening appeared in her stomach, making it drop to the floor and Sansa's legs went out from under her. Before she hit the ground, she felt a pair of arms grab her. "But he saved my life," she muttered.
"I bet he did," Jamie muttered as he carried her to the bed.
Tyrion walked in the room and rushed to his wife's side. "What happened?"
"She became light-headed."
"What did you say to her?" Tyrion accused.
"Only that Clegane's orders were to go to The Twins."
Tyrion looked astonished at his brother. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"
"No," Jamie answered hotly. "What did I do to your wife by saying where the Hound had been?"
Tyrion recognized the allegation behind the light tone. "He saved her life and then murders her family? Surely you can see why that would be upsetting to someone who hasn't eaten in a week!"
"Well, I didn't know that she hadn't eaten!"
"Stop," Sansa begged, her head in the pillow. "Please, just go."
Tyrion tugged his brother until they were on the other side of the room. "Why would you do that?"
"I think there's something between her and Clegane. You should have seen her face when she heard he was back."
"Jamie, that is ridiculous."
"You keep saying that and yet I don't believe it."
"Why would Sansa have feelings for him – or any of us for that matter? He's a hideous man with a monstrous reputation."
"Who saved her life," Jamie said pointedly. His time with Brienne clouded his thoughts and he rushed to clear it. "You would be surprised at the emotions one can have when that happens."
Tyrion caught the undertone. "Just because that happened to you does not mean that it applies to everyone."
"I'm not in love with Brienne," Jamie countered fiercely.
He was grateful Jamie grabbed the bait but Tyrion still felt uncomfortable at how close to the subject they were. "I didn't say you were in love with her."
Jamie narrowed his eyes at his brother. "Don't play games with me, brother."
"Me?" Tyrion teased. "Never. Now go tend to your duties and I will do mine."
Sansa turned to face her lord husband once the kingslayer had shut the door. "Do you think he did it?" she asked slowly.
"He says he didn't and I believe him," Tyrion stated. "I'd wager my name to say he probably even tried to stop it."
"You spoke to him?" she said, her hand wiping away a tear.
Tyrion nodded and sat on the bed at the end. "I did. That's why I left this morning. I apologize for that but I had to know myself."
"And his injury?"
"I've seen worse and men live through it."
Sansa breathed a sigh of relief. "I want to see him."
"I know. But right now it's too dangerous. Not only does my brother want to speak with him but he is to report to my father and the king. He has a lot of answering to do."
"I thought he was ordered?"
"He was. He still must give an account of what he did. Joffrey will want to make sure he played his part." He saw her doubt and grasped her hand slightly. "Sansa, I truly do not believe he hurt them. He loves you far too much to do that."
"When can I see him?"
"I'll try to arrange something as soon as I can but Sansa, do not go near his room again."
Their voices were so low it surprised them how well they could hear each other. But what their words lacked in volume, it made up for in ferocity. Sansa sighed loudly and it broke the odd atmosphere.
"I cannot just stay here," she declared.
"You will have to." The knock on the door startled both of them and Pod entered the chamber. "What is it, Pod?"
"Beg your pardon, my lord." The young man scooted the door closed and moved further in, careful for his voice not to carry. "But you wanted to know if your father and brother were meeting. I saw Ser Jaime go into the Hand's Tower."
"Thank you, Pod. Where is my lady's maid?"
"Downstairs, in the kitchens."
"Tell her to come back and keep my lady company."
It seemed that everyone had somewhere to be and someone to see except for Sansa. The day went by in a blur and even Shae flittered in and out of the room. The only solace was that of the balcony, a place where her Northern blood could re-thicken and prepare for an entirely different kind of chill in the Red Keep.
The sky darkened and it felt like days since she had gotten the news that Sandor had returned. To pass the time she counted the steps from one end of the room to the other, played cyvasse, and did anything else that could eat up time. Around supper, she sent Shae out to see where Sandor was.
When the door flew open, Sansa waited with halted breath. "Well?"
"One of Cersei's maids told me that he had been with the new maester until Ser Jaime met with him. They talked for a few hours but the maester still stayed until he was called a few hours ago. I saw him leaving the small council's room just now."
"Did you follow him?"
Shae swerved her head as a 'no'. "I almost did but was caught by the Lady Margaery. She wanted to know how you were feeling."
"What did you tell her?"
"As well as could be expected. She sends her sympathies. After that, I couldn't find him again. I went to his room but he wasn't there."
Sansa made no effort to hide her disappointment. "Where is he?" she whispered to herself.
"After the day he's had, I would wager any place that no one would dare find him."
At the maid's words, Sansa gasped. "Of course!"
"I know where he is."
Shae blinked at Sansa's sudden zest. "Where are you going?"
"We are going to the godswood."
Sandor drank the wineskin deeply. It had been one clusterfuck of a day. His visit with the Kingslayer was oddly formal as Jamie caught him up on what had happened while he was gone.
"I know you're the king's sworn shield and he wants you in the kingsguard, but now that I am here, there are too many of us."
"Aye," he had replied through a painful groan as the maester poured boiling wine on his leg. "Where did you get this fucker?" he snapped at Jamie.
"He saved the rest of my arm," Jamie shrugged. He waved his stump around and gave a harsh smile. "No infection."
"Fuck," Sandor hissed. The maester ground an ointment into the wound and scraped it out with a small spoon.
Jamie continued, his plan to get information out of the Hound delayed by the man's predicament. Clegane was in no condition to answer questions. He was barely paying attention to him now. "Since I have been named Captain, I am the king's protection."
"You will be guarding my brother and his wife." It wasn't official but Jaime was confident he could make the transition. His main issue would be Joffrey, who adored his dog. He would simply have to play into the Hound and Tyrion's mutual hatred to convince the king it was a good idea.
Sandor fisted his sheets and watched sweat drip from his brow. "I don't give a fuck."
"Are you sure? This is basically a demotion."
"I can't guard the king with a bad leg," Clegane replied. "The Imp is a different story."
Jamie smiled at Sandor's flawless response. "Good then." He slapped the Hound's leg and received a glare in response. "Sorry," he grinned.
Once the maester was done, strict orders of bed rest were commanded but Sandor had no time to waste. The king and Hand had called for a meeting and he was the guest. His mind pre-occupied with a million other thoughts made him antsy during the meeting.
Cersei drilled him the hardest, to his surprise.
"Did you kill Catelyn Stark?" she asked in that icy manner of hers.
"They locked the fucking doors," he shrugged. "I tried to break it down to get in but they must have put something on it."
Tywin added, "They barred them should any of the bannermen try to run."
"I went outside and found the Frey bannermen fighting with the Northmen. I did my duty as best I could but one of them cut me when I was fighting his brother." They didn't need to know he was referring to the Kettleblacks.
"And why were you so late to the wedding?" Cersei questioned.
"Brotherhood Without Banners," he replied. "Caught me while I was taking a shit."
Tyrion and Varys resisted the urge to chuckle.
"Held me accountable for my brother and forced me to fight Beric."
"Because they're stupid cunts? How the fuck should I know?" Sandor offered. Cersei looked affronted at the language but Sandor had never considered her someone worth being respectful to.
"Watch your tone, Clegane," Tywin warned.
"Can you blame him?" Tyrion spoke. "The man is half dead from his adventures and obviously in pain. He probably just wants to sleep."
"And drink," Sandor snorted. 'And fuck Sansa till there's no tomorrow.'
They interrogated him for hours about the details: Beric's cave, the Red Wedding and if they had truly sewn the direwolf's head on to Robb's body, why didn't he stay?
"I hate the Twins," he shrugged. "I tried to help and did what I could. I heard Catelyn Stark beg for mercy and her scream when the Young Wolf got a belly full of steel."
"And who did that?" Tywin asked.
"Roose Bolton. He said the Lannisters send their regards and Catelyn Stark screamed."
Tywin seemed satisfied with Sandor's version of events and after several more questions, dismissed the man. When he emerged, Sandor saw Margaery stop Shae. Taking the opportunity, he took the way down to the Spider's room before the maid could catch him leaving. He had to make sure Arya wasn't dead. He convinced himself that it wasn't because he cared, just that it would have been a monumental waste of time to get her here only to have her wind up dead.
But she wasn't there. A knot began to tie in his stomach and then he thought about Varys. The eunuch was a lot of things, but an enemy to the Starks was not one of them. He was one of the few people to openly try and stop Joffrey at Ned's beheading, knowing what it would do. He wouldn't kill one of them now and even if he tried, Arya would be a difficult target. In a way, that made him relieved. Of course Varys wouldn't keep her in his room. Anyone could come in and there are only so many dead people that show up before suspicions begin to rise. If he had to guess, she was somewhere deep in the labyrinth of the Keep that only a few souls would know about. Varys' spiders spent their lives going through this place and since no one even knew whom these "spiders" were, it was safe to say these people knew how to be discreet. Once his heart rate calmed down, he saw a wineskin on the table. He tasted it and let it settle in his belly. It had been far too long since he had a drink.
He had no idea what brought him to the godswood. He hated it here almost as much as the city. Yet here he was, sitting on the branch that he saw Sansa lean on and where she said their little group had met the strange woman.
He had to admit that the silence was comforting. His eyes closed as he took it all in. Just as he was beginning to appreciate the calmness, his senses went on high alert. When his eyes snapped open, he saw a hooded figure coming through the trees. The sound of his sword scraping the scabbard made the person flinch but they continued anyway. "Whose there?" he growled.
Sansa couldn't help the sob that escaped her throat when she emerged and saw him. "It's me," she said in a small voice.
Before either of them knew what was happening, his lips were on hers; hands were grasping whatever part they landed on, desperate for proof that neither were dreaming.
Sandor left her lips and pulled her in so close he could feel her heart racing wild. Her arms were holding on to him like they had the day of the riot. Their scents mingled together as they simply stood in a tight embrace. For the first time in over two weeks, both felt as though they could finally breathe.
"Seven hells I missed you," he said roughly. Her hair muffled his voice but he didn't care.
Sansa chuckled softly into his neck and hugged him tighter. "I missed you too."