Hi everyone! So I finished this chapter earlier than expected!
I have some thank you's to go out to 'sandorspotato', 'karlybing' and 'noodlesplease' over on Tumblr for some more fabulous fanart! The links are on my profile if you wish to see them (and I reccomend that you do!). This was a tricky chapter to write, but seriously, when have I ever posted a chapter that didn't have drama in it?
I hope you like it, and thanks again for your reviews and patience!
"To Fly Again"
Breaking news everyone! Have I got some shocking gossip for you this fine, Saturday morning!
Several guests at Boros Blount's party last night have emailed and sent text messages talking about another very public confrontation between Sansa Stark and Joffrey Baratheon.
My sources say that an intoxicated Joffrey was overheard accusing Sansa of cheating on him (again!), and that they were witnessed in a brief scuffle, that resulted in Sansa's top being torn. My sources also say that the quarrel was ended only by the intervention of the Hound, Sandor Clegane!
Oh. My. God!
Will this spell the end for Sansa and Joffrey? I'll let you know if I hear anything more!
…This so totally overshadows the loss suffered by our White Knights to the Lhazar High Rams…
It was barely past ten in the morning, and the usual Saturday morning atmosphere within Chateau Maegor was uncharacteristically subdued. Sansa was sitting on top of her bed with her legs crossed under her. She'd been in the same position for the last hour, clutching a stuffed toy from her childhood to her chest, and staring at Sandor's letterman jacket which was folded over the back of her chair.
There was no sound coming from the TV room where most Saturdays, her brothers could be found watching cartoons. Arya was with them, ensuring that they did not disturb their parents.
The silence was, every now and then, punctured by the sound of raised voices coming from the direction of her father's office. They were arguing about her…or rather, what they had discovered about her earlier that morning.
The day had started much as it usually did on a Saturday morning, with the entire family gathering in the informal dining room for breakfast. Sansa had been quiet, avoiding Arya's eyes, only answering questions directed at her and not contributing much to the conversation at the table.
Everything had begun normally…until Rickon had asked her to pass the bacon, and the sleeve of her jersey cotton sweater had slid up her arm, revealing a large, purplish bruise covering most of her wrist and forearm…all under her father's nose.
"Sansa, what is that on your arm?" he'd asked.
Sansa had immediately tried to snatch her arm back, but her father proved to be faster than her, and his own hand had flashed out to grab her, keeping her arm in the air. He'd given her a glance, before purposefully pushing back her sleeve.
Her mother had gasped loudly, and at the same time Arya had hissed 'that jerk'.
"Sansa?" her father's tone had then become forbidding, "Who did this to you?"
She had lowered her eyes and hadn't been able to respond. Instead, she'd tugged her arm out of her father's grasp, and hid it under the table. An uncomfortable silence had settled over her family, but her father had no intention of letting her go without an answer.
"Cat, will you excuse us," her father had said to her mother, before standing up from the table, "Sansa, come with me."
Obeying, she had followed her father into his office where he had her sit down in one of the armchairs by the fireplace, before he'd pulled up a footstool in front of her and taken a seat. There had been a frown between his brows, and concern in his grey eyes.
"I'm not blind, Sansa," he'd said, "Someone hurt you, and I want to know who it was."
Her breath had snagged then, and a hundred different thoughts had flashed through her mind, but only one thought stood out, brighter and louder than the rest.
Joffrey will never lay his hands on me again.
"Father," her voice had come out wobbly, "Dad, I'm so sorry…"
"Go on, Sansa," he'd coaxed, "You're not in any trouble, I promise you. I just want to help you."
"I should have said something…I should have listened to Arya when she tried to warn me about him…she knew all along what kind of person he was and I didn't listen!" Sansa had started shaking, and her father had reached out to take her hands.
"Are you saying that…that Joffrey did this to you?"
"Yes," Sansa had looked up to see the look of shocked horror written all over his face, and she found herself continuing, "He did this, because he thought I was cheating on him…but I never cheated on him! I swear it! I never did anything to him, but he's got this awful temper!"
And then suddenly she'd been crying, and her father had been pulling her into his arms like he had when she'd been a little girl, patting her back to try and soothe her.
"Did he hit you? Has he ever struck you, Sansa?" her father had asked, and she'd felt the tension in him as the words had left his mouth.
She'd shaken her head against his shoulder, and some of that tension had eased, but only marginally.
"No, he's never hit me. He just blows up so easily...and he gets so jealous, and he kept accusing me of things I never did!"
"How many times has he physically hurt you?"
"Twice, dad...just twice," she'd replied.
"That's twice too many," he'd returned, "Sansa, a true gentleman will never harm a woman."
"I know," she'd nodded, suddenly feeling disappointed with herself, "I don't know why I let him get away with it."
"He won't be getting away with it," her father had said grimly, "Trust me on that."
After he had extracted the details of what had transpired during both instances that Joffrey had hurt her, Sansa had been sent to her room, and her father had then called Arya into his office.
"Sansa," her sister had stopped her in the hall as she'd passed her on the way, "Sandor called me last night, so I knew...but, Gossip Spyder's just posted about it. I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," Sansa had said, before brushing by her to get to her room.
Everyone at school would now know about it before the weekend was out. The Spyder's post would make sure of that.
Sansa knew that her father would be questioning her sister about what she might know about Joffrey's physical violence towards her, and she knew Arya would not be dulling it down by any means.
Sometime later, their mother had gone into the office with her father, and soon after that came the sound of their raised voices.
"You have to do something about this, Ned!" Sansa had heard her mother say.
"I intended to, but we have to handle this right!"
Sitting on her bed, Sansa imagined that her parents were probably wondering where they had failed her, and why she hadn't come to them sooner to ask for their help. She wouldn't be able to say anything to them to let them know that they hadn't failed her. She had failed herself.
Joffrey might have been the cause of her misery, but she could have chosen to end it much sooner, if she hadn't been so caught up with worrying about rumors and gossip, and what people at school would think of her.
If only she hadn't let herself become so consumed about her crush on a guy who was dating her sister...and if only she hadn't become so intent on letting everyone know that everything in her world was just perfect.
Sansa collapsed on her bed and buried her face in her pillow. How did I get like this? I don't even recognize me anymore! I'm better than this...I know I am!
The same thoughts and questions had been going through her mind ever since Jeyne and Randa had brought her home the night before. It seemed that it had taken her being pushed to the ground - literally, being pushed as low as she could go - for her to realize just how much she had suppressed her true self.
For what? For the sake of popularity? For the sake of saving face? For the sake of pretending that I don't care and that nothing can hurt me?
"I can't believe he did that to you, Sansa!" Randa had exclaimed, "You can't let him treat you like that any longer."
"Sansa, you have to do something," Jeyne had said in a voice that shook, "For a moment there I thought he was going to...I thought he might..."
"So did I Jeyne," Sansa had said truthfully.
There had been that one moment, right before Joffrey had pushed her aside, that she had thought he was going to hit her. She wondered if he would have, had Sandor not been there.
Sandor's appearance at her side had taken her by surprise that night. She'd believed he wouldn'tbe going to Blount's party, but he seemed to have a habit of showing up whenever she needed saving, and she was thankful for whatever had brought him there. She would find out in the morning that Arya had not been with him, and she had been thankful that her sister did not have to witness the incident, too.
Sitting in the back of Randa's car, engulfed in Sandor's letterman jacket, Sansa had finally...finally...come to a decision about herself.
"Enough." Sandor had said.
Enough indeed, she had agreed. She had to do something, and she decided it was time she got her identity back.
There was a knock on her door, breaking her out of her reverie. Sansa sat up to find her parents at the threshold, and she looked at them expectantly.
"Sansa," her mother began, "We've contacted Joffrey's father. He said that he can be here in an hour, if you feel up to discussing Joffrey's actions towards you."
"Joffrey's not going to be with him, is he?" Sansa asked with some alarm, "I don't want him here."
"No," her father was quick to assure her, "Robert will deal with him on his own."
"Fine," Sansa nodded, "I'll speak to Mr. Baratheon."
When Robert Baratheon arrived an hour later, he was accompanied by Joffrey's uncle Tyrion Lannister, much to Sansa's surprise.
The dwarf had nodded to her politely, and something in the way he looked at her told Sansa that he was well aware of what was going on, and that he was not surprised.
He knows, she thought. He knows exactly what Joffrey is capable of.
Ever since the day of the riot, when he and Renly Baratheon had stayed behind to ensure that she and Sandor were safe, she'd regarded Tyrion Lannister with a certain level of respect. He was accompanying Robert Baratheon for a reason, and she didn't mind his presence.
"Cersei insisted I bring him along," she heard Robert say to her father, "He's more diplomatic than I am, she says."
"This is no joke, Robert," her father had rebuked.
"Believe me, I'm not taking it as such."
In her father's office, with her mother by her side, Sansa revealed her bruised forearm. There had been silence while Joffrey's father and uncle took in the evidence of his violence, before Tyrion had spoken.
"There were witnesses to his behavior, you say?" Tyrion directed the question to Sansa's father.
"Dozens of students," her father replied, "Both at the school, and again at the party last night."
Robert had sighed, before turning his attention to Sansa.
"Please accept my apologies, Sansa. The boy will not go unpunished," Robert declared, and looked at Sansa with a determined expression in his eyes, "I gather you won't be Joffrey's girlfriend anymore after this, and I can't blame you for that. He will not lay another finger on you. If he does, I'm shipping him off to military school. That, I promise you."
Sansa had excused herself after that, and the adults had closed the door to discuss what had to be done next. Later still, after Joffrey's father and uncle had left, her mother had come to her room to make sure that she was okay.
"Sansa," her mother began as she'd sat on the edge of her bed, "I need you to speak to me. I need you to tell me what's going through your mind."
Sansa knew what she really meant. Her mother wanted to know if she was okay, mentally. She smiled at her mother.
"Mom, I'll be fine now," she assured her, "I've had a chance to think, and I've realized that I've spent so much time pretending to be someone that I'm not, and I could have stopped this so much sooner…I won't make that mistake again."
"I'm glad to hear it," Catelyn returned her smile gently, "But, I want you to understand that nothing excuses Joffrey's behavior. You are not to blame for anything that he has done to you. You did not deserve to be treated that way, no matter what he has told you."
"I know, mom," Sansa assured her, "I promise you, I will be fine."
After offering her more words of assurance and comfort, her mother eventually left her alone.
Sansa had always known that Joffrey's treatment of her, and behavior towards her had always been lacking. At the start, she might have been attracted to him because he was handsome, athletic and popular. He was, seemingly, the perfect boyfriend. But now, she realized she had only been attracted to the idea of the perfect boyfriend…she'd never really been attracted to Joffrey to begin with.
I never wanted him, she thought. Not in the way that I want Sandor.
Sansa's eyes drifted to Sandor's jacket that still hung over the back of her chair. In three short steps, she'd picked it up and buried her nose in it, trying to catch the faint traces of his scent that clung to the fabric. Embarrassingly, she'd done the same thing for most of the previous night.
His jacket had been warm when he'd first draped it around her shoulders, carrying the heat of his body, and warming more than just her chilled skin. She'd wrapped herself in the white wool, seeking comfort in its confines the way she wanted to seek comfort from its owner.
She hadn't been able to bear taking it off after she'd snuck into her room the night before, and she'd fallen asleep on top of her covers still wearing it. It had been almost a physical pain to her that morning when she'd had to take it off to shower and change.
The fabric was cold now, and she sighed. Wanting someone who doesn't want you back isn't healthy, either. She thought, and hung the jacket back over the chair.
Arya paused at the landing outside Sansa's bedroom. She'd come to let her know that the chef had prepared lunch, if she was hungry, but the sight of her sister – or more accurately, what she saw her doing – through the partially opened door made her stop mid-step.
Sansa was clutching what was unmistakably a letterman jacket to her chest, with the lower half of her face buried in the folds of the collar. Sansa was standing at an angle that allowed Arya to clearly read the name embroidered on the back…CLEGANE.
Whoa…Arya's jaw dropped a little, and a sudden thought came to her mind. No…she couldn't possibly…could she?
Just the week prior, Sansa had been confessing to her about kissing Sandor. Now, Arya was standing there watching her sister hugging Sandor's jacket.
Oh, my God! Arya had to cover her mouth to stifle her gasp. She likes him!
All of a sudden, Sansa's recent odd behavior began to make sense, and Arya had an almost overwhelming urge to barge into her room and demand the truth out of her. It's so obvious! Why didn't I figure this out when she told me she'd kissed him?
Could it really be possible that Sansa had a crush on Sandor? If there was even the slightest chance, and by the way her sister continued to cling to his jacket, Arya was willing to bet that there was a good chance, then there was a possibility that it could change everything.
I have to be absolutely certain about this.
It went against everything she thought she knew about her sister, and she hesitated. Sansa developing a crush on a guy like Sandor Clegane was just so uncharacteristic of the sister she had grown up with, and Sansa had enough going on with all the mess about Joffrey. She didn't want to jump to conclusions, and Arya decided to hold her tongue for the time being. She needed to know for sure, and when she did find out…well, she would decide what to do then, she thought.
If I tell Sandor and I end up being wrong, it could fuck him up even more. Should I tell him? Should I tell Sansa about him? They could end up together!
Arya couldn't quite comprehend that she was actually contemplating the idea of Sandor and her sister dating, but she realized that if she had to see Sansa with a guy, then Sandor wasn't a bad choice. True, he could be rude and bad-tempered, but underneath his badass persona the guy had proved surprisingly considerate.
Her time as his fake girlfriend had, at least, shown her that Sandor was capable of caring and defending the people that he cared about. Arya antagonized him on purpose whenever she could, and yet the big brute seemed to watch out for her, like he had the previous night when he'd stepped in before Gendry could start questioning her about just what it was that Jaqen's text message had read. He was almost brotherly towards her, at times. There was also that night he'd saved her from those two drunks in Flea Bottom, and though they never talked about that night, they were both well aware she'd been in deep shit until he'd come along.
He cared about her sister, too. There was no denying that.
"Joff and your sister had another public fight," was all he'd said to her, in clipped tones over the phone the night before, "He grabbed her and tore her blouse –"
"Accident, I think," Sandor had spat, "But, it was bad. I had to step in."
"Sandor, what the hell happened –?"
"Just check on her, okay? I've got to go."
He'd hung up without going into detail, and she'd had to try and figure out what had happened by herself. She'd heard her sister's footsteps on the landing not too long after Sandor's hurried call, but she hadn't heard a car pull into the driveway, which meant Sansa had made whoever dropped her off let her out at the gate. Sansa hadn't wanted anyone to hear her come home.
Even after reading Gossip Spyder's post, it wasn't until she'd seen the bruises on Sansa's forearm that she understood what had made Sandor step in. He really cared for Sansa. Despite whatever heartache he was suffering because of her, he still came through for her when she needed him, whether Sansa knew it or not.
Sandor Clegane would be an infinitely better boyfriend to Sansa than Joffrey Baratheon.
She watched Sansa fold the jacket back over the seat, and Arya finally knocked on her door before sticking her head in.
"Arya," Sansa said, then looked to the jacket that she was still touching, "I was going to give this to you…so you can give it back to Sandor."
"Oh," Arya thought quickly, "You can hold on to it…you can give it back to him yourself. I imagine you'd…um, want to thank him, or something."
"I'm sure he knows I'm grateful –"
"It would still be better if you told him yourself." Arya insisted, and she was glad that Sansa chose not to argue further.
"Yes, of course. You're right."
Sansa withdrew her hand from Sandor's jacket, and folded her arms across her stomach. She looked self-conscious, and uncomfortable in Arya's presence, but Arya felt she had to say something else.
"So, what are you going to do now?" she asked.
Sansa gave her a look, "I thought it would be obvious...I'm going to break up with Joffrey. I can't be with him after what he's done to me."
Arya already knew that Sansa was going to break up with Joffrey. She'd overheard their parents make a comment about it earlier, but hearing it from Sansa's own lips made her feel such an immense sense of relief.
"Aren't you going to say it?" Sansa asked her.
"Say what?" Arya gave her a questioning look.
"I told you so," Sansa replied, "Aren't you going to say it?"
Arya did not have it in her to feel affronted by the fact Sansa would assume she would do something like that. She'd done it so many times in the past about so many different things, but this time it was different.
She sighed, and shook her head.
"No," she looked her sister in the eyes, "You deserve better. You didn't deserve to be treated the way he treated you,"
And before Sansa could say anything more, Arya backed towards the door, "Anyway, I just came to let you know that lunch is ready, if you're hungry."
She fled Sansa's room and headed back down to the kitchen for lunch. It had become uncomfortable being in the room with Sansa, too. She was sick of all the subterfuge and lies, and quite frankly, she couldn't wait until she could put it all behind her.
Sansa was going to be a single girl again, soon. I've got to end this bullshit with Sandor, Arya decided. If her hunch was right about her sister, then it was best that Sandor was also a 'single' guy again as soon as possible.
She sighed. It wasn't just because of Sansa that she had to 'break up' with Sandor. She couldn't make Jaqen or Gendry wait indefinitely for her to make up her mind. Jaqen had texted her, and reminded her of her promised third date. He now wanted her to name a day.
"I am missing you, lovely girl. I am hoping that you have by now, chosen a day...I hope also to continue what we started that day, backstage..."
Jaqen's message had made her blush as she'd remembered just what had happened that day, and as her mind had conjured up the memory of his fingers against the skin of her neck. Knowing that Gendry had been watching her read Jaqen's message had made her blush deeper, feeling embarrassed, and just a little guilty.
She'd spoken to Jaqen over the phone several times that week, but on each occasion she'd managed to avoid committing to a day.
"I am jealous, Arya," he'd said during one conversation, "It is hard knowing that each day the Bull gets to see you at school. I wish I could see you even just half as often."
Arya knew that it would only take a hint of encouragement, and Jaqen would drive to King's Landing to see her. She could tell that an invitation was all he was waiting for, but she was mindful of his busy schedule, and of possibly leading him on, so she said nothing. She didn't need to tell him that outside of school, she purposely made sure she wasn't in Gendry's company alone.
Yet, she had to make a choice, so she resolved to give him his third date...and after that, she would wait and see. My heart is supposed to know, right? My heart is supposed to tell me which guy is right for me? Arya mused as she finished her lunch, and wondered why her heart was choosing not to communicate with her head.
"Arya," she looked up and found her father standing in the dining room doorway, "When you've finished eating, could you please come and see me in my office?"
"Yes, father." Arya nodded, and hoped she wasn't in some kind of trouble.
He and her mother had already questioned her about everything she knew about Joffrey's treatment of Sansa, and she hoped this wasn't more of the same. Nevertheless, after she'd finished her meal, she made her way to her father's office.
"You wanted to see me, father?" she asked, pausing just inside the door.
"Come and take a seat, Arya," he indicated the same seat that Sansa had occupied earlier that day, "I wanted to discuss something with you."
"What is it?" she closed the office door behind her, and sat down in front of him.
Her father looked at her seriously, and Arya got the distinct feeling that whatever he had to say to her was important.
"I heard you've been asking some questions, Arya," his grey eyes, an exact match to hers, fixed her to her chair, "I'd like to talk to you about your friend, Gendry Waters."
The entire school was abuzz with talk of the latest Joffrey and Sansa public fight, and speculation was rife about what really happened that night at Blount's party. Gendry had heard three versions of the fight, from three different people who all swore that they were there and who'd witnessed it for themselves. Some believed that Joffrey had purposely torn Sansa's blouse, others believed he'd pushed her to the floor, and still there were others who believed Joffrey actually had struck her that night.
"What's the deal?" Gendry asked Hot Pie when he saw him during homeroom, "Have you spoken to Arya?"
"Yeah, I picked her up this morning."
Hot Pie quickly brought Gendry up to date on what actually happened between Sansa and Joffrey, as told to him by Arya.
"She's finally had enough, huh?" Gendry asked, referring to Sansa, "She's really going to dump him?"
"That's what Arya said," Hot Pie confirmed.
"It's about time," Gendry said, though he didn't express that he was relieved for more than the obvious reason.
Sure, he was relieved that Sansa was finally going to get out of a poisonous relationship, but he was also glad because it meant Arya would be able to put an end to her fake relationship with the Hound. He might have stopped wanting to slug the guy, but he still did not like seeing them hold hands on the rare occasions that they did, or seeing Sandor sit next to Arya everywhere they went. He did his best never to remember the images of Arya and Sandor kissing, because they just made him want to punch walls again.
He seriously couldn't wait for Arya to be free again, because once it was public knowledge, he'd be stepping up his pursuit of her. He was going to make it known that he was after Arya Stark. He wasn't just going to step aside and give her up for Jaqen H'ghar. Arya will have to convince me that she doesn't want me, he thought. That's the only thing that will make me stop.
Gendry saw Sansa several times that morning, in passing in the hallway and once when she was exiting a classroom he was heading into. She nodded at him in the hallway, and smiled at him as she exited the classroom. There was nothing in her body language, or expression on her face that betrayed her awareness of the gossip surrounding her, or of her imminent break-up with Joffrey Baratheon.
In all honesty, he'd never really given Arya's sister much thought, but since Sandor Clegane had started sitting with them at lunch time, he'd actually found himself wondering what drew the guy to her. He would admit that she was pretty, and she was polite enough when their paths did cross, but from the things Arya had said about her, he couldn't imagine her as more than the shallow, giggly and foolish girl he saw at school.
At lunch time, on his way to his usual table, he happened to glance towards the 'popular' table and noticed that Sansa and her girlfriends Jeyne, Randa and Mya were missing. He found them seated at a smaller table away from their usual group. People in the quad were talking about them, and pointing out the obvious. Clearly, he wasn't the only one who'd noticed.
"Hey," he said to Arya who was already at their bench, "Notice something different?"
She'd been watching him as he'd approached their table, and as though she'd just realized he'd asked a question, she hastily glanced in the direction of her sister's group, "Oh, yeah."
Arya turned back to stare at him, and he ran his hand over his face self-consciously.
"Is there something on my face? Why are you looking at me like that?"
"There's nothing on your face," she shook her head and looked away again, "I was just thinking."
Hot Pie turned up a short time later, and Sandor was not far behind him. Gendry watched as people whispered behind their hands as the guy walked passed them, and wondered how he could manage to remain outwardly oblivious to it all.
Tellingly, the guy did not even spare a glance in the direction of Sansa's table, and this seemed to spur more talking amongst the students in the quad. Sandor took his seat beside Arya, and promptly ignored them all. Awkwardly, the rest of them tried to carry on a normal conversation around their silent companion, but they could not drown out the sound of conversations around them, and every now and then they would hear Sandor and Sansa's names being mentioned.
Gendry had been on the verge of suggesting they all just go for a drive until the hour was up, when Joffrey Baratheon, who had so far been absent from the quad, came barging through the cafeteria doors. He paused just outside of the cafeteria, and Gendry watched him look around the tables, until he found Sansa.
Gendry kicked Arya and Hot Pie under the table to get their attention, and caught Sandor's eye. The four of them then turned to watch whatever happened next.
"Sansa," Joffrey said as he approached her table, "We need to talk. Now."
Sansa turned in her seat, and even from across the quad, Gendry could see the determined set of her jaw, and a glint of something steely in her eyes. It was a look Gendry hadn't seen on her face before, at least, not the previous times he'd seen her confront Joffrey.
"Whatever you have to say to me, you can say in front of my friends," Sansa nodded to the three girls with her.
She kept her voice moderated, but it carried across the now largely silent quad. Everyone had stopped what they were doing, and were now watching Joffrey and Sansa. Noticing all eyes on them, Joffrey took a step closer to Sansa.
"You had to bring my father into it, didn't you?"
"It was my father's idea," she corrected him.
"So, things got a bit rough and you went running to daddy?"
"He saw what you did, Joffrey," Sansa replied, "He saw my arm."
"I barely touched you –"
"You know what you did," Sansa spoke over him, and stood up from her seat to face him, "You were fully aware of what you were doing to me, and I'm not going to take anymore from you."
Joffrey stared at her as though she'd grown wings and a tail, "What the hell are you talking about?"
"I don't want to be with you anymore, Joffrey," she declared flatly, and clearly so that there was no mistaking what she was saying, "I didn't want to have to do this publicly, like this, but you haven't given me a choice."
"You're breaking up with me?" Joffrey's face clouded over, and he took a step towards her.
"Stay back," Sansa held her hand up, "Touch me again, and all I have to do is say one word to your father."
There was a threat in her comment, and though none of them knew what it might entail, it was clear from the fury that suddenly stole over Joffrey's face that he understood what she meant.
"You're going to regret this," Joffrey hissed, "You're nothing without me!"
With those final words, Joffrey spun on his heel and stomped back towards the cafeteria. Everyone kept watching Sansa, and she herself seemed to be trying to compose herself. Her eyes landed on someone, and Gendry only had to follow her gaze to realize she was looking at Sandor Clegane.
Suddenly, Sansa was grabbing her belongings and heading back towards the building as fast as her feet would take her.
"Sansa, wait!" her friend Jeyne called, running after her.
"I'd better go after her," Arya said across the table from Gendry, and a second later she was dashing after her sister.
There was a moment's pause after Arya disappeared through the cafeteria doors, and then as one, everyone in the quad began talking.
"She dumped him!"
"I can't believe it!"
"Did you see that?"
"What did she mean about her arm?"
"Her father got involved?"
About a minute later, there was a chorus of beeps and chimes in the quad as phones went off almost simultaneously. Gendry shook his head.
"That was quick," Hot Pie muttered, before reaching for his phone and reading out aloud, "Yep, it's Gossip Spyder...breaking news, Sansa Stark has broken up with Joffrey Baratheon...details to come."
Gendry turned his attention to Sandor. The guy still hadn't said a word, but Gendry could see his hands balled into fists on top of the table, and felt the tension rolling off him in waves.
"Its official now," Gendry said, "Sansa's single again."
Sandor's flexed his fingers, and he finally returned Gendry's stare, "So?"
"I thought you'd be happy about this," Gendry frowned.
Sandor snorted, "She's rid of that jerk, but she'll be some other guy's girl again, soon. Girls like Sansa don't stay single for long."
"Why can't her next guy be you?"
"Me?" Sandor gave him an incredulous look, before he pointed at his face, "Do you see this face? Girl's like Sansa do not go out with guys with faces like mine."
"So, you're saying that she's shallow? You're telling me that she won't be able to look past your scars?" Gendry challenged.
Steely grey eyes narrowed at him in a warning, but not before Gendry had seen the uncertainty written in them. Gendry could see that he'd stumbled on a sore spot for the Hound. The guy genuinely feared that Sansa would not be able to get beyond his physical disfigurement.
"Stay out of it, Waters," Sandor stood up, but Gendry blocked his path before he could take a step, "Move."
"End it with Arya," Gendry said quietly, and watched Sandor's eyes narrow even further, "Her sister's safe. You don't need to keep pretending."
Sandor scowled at him, "When it suits me."
The guy shouldered past him, and Gendry released a frustrated breath. He'd been trying to understand why Arya had agreed to keep pretending to date Sandor, even after the Spyder had stopped talking about Sansa and her supposed mystery date, but Arya hadn't been willing to elaborate.
"He's using Arya, like a shield," Hot Pie suddenly said.
Hot Pie had been watching his exchange with Sandor. Gendry had chosen to come clean about his feelings for Arya the week before. He had not wanted to continue hiding the truth from his friend. When told, Hot Pie had barely batted an eyelid, proving Gendry's earlier hunch that the guy had, at least, already suspected his true feelings.
"I knew it," his friend had said, "You've been acting funny around her for weeks, but something happened at the Battle of the Bands, because now you're both tiptoeing around each other."
"I kissed her," Gendry had confessed, and his friend had merely smirked in response.
So far, Hot Pie had been pretty good at boosting his confidence where Arya was concerned, and Gendry was grateful to have someone to talk to.
"What do you mean by that? He's using Arya like a shield, how?" Gendry now asked, still not understanding.
"I mean, I think he's hiding behind Arya," Hot Pie's expression turned thoughtful, but it just made him look like he'd eaten something that made his stomach queasy, "He's hiding something."
"Hiding what? Besides his feelings for Sansa, that is, and who would he be hiding it from?"
"That could be it," Hot Pie nodded as something clicked in his head, "Maybe he's hiding his feelings for Sansa, from Sansa."
"But, we already knew that," Gendry pointed out, "He doesn't want anyone to know, especially Sansa."
"I didn't say it made sense," Hot Pie scratched his head, "I'm just telling it how I see it."
Gendry thought back on something Arya had said to him, "Something happened between him and my sister. You don't need to know the details."
He then recalled the expression on Sansa's face just moments after breaking up with Joffrey, when her eyes had found Sandor and her whole cool and collected demeanor seemed to crumble and she'd fled the quad.
Evidently, there was more to their story than met the eyes, and he was wondering whether it was in his best interest to find out. If it meant Arya would be 'free' from Sandor sooner, then he would do what he could, if given the chance, he thought. He gave Hot Pie a look.
"You might be onto something," he nodded at his friend, "When did you get so perceptive?"
"Hmm...you know that thing I like to do in my spare time?"
"Yes," Hot Pie agreed, "Well, when I'm working the pastry or stewing the fruit filling, I get a lot of time to think."
Gendry rolled his eyes.
Arya sent him a text message during class later that day to tell him that her sister was okay, and that between herself and Jeyne, they had been able to calm Sansa down after her very public breakup with Joffrey. Arya had also told him that she had a paper for English to finish, and she'd be heading straight home after school.
"Have fun at band rehearsal," she'd signed off.
He'd noticed that she had been avoiding him, if the situation meant she would have to be alone with him. The surprisingly perceptive Hot Pie had told him it was because Arya didn't want to seem like she was favoring him over Jaqen, and vice versa, so she'd been avoiding both of them. That was little consolation to him, because it meant she was still sitting on the fence, and her indecision worried him.
He was just a regular guy from an extremely humble background, and he didn't feel that he had the same confidence and charisma that Jaqen H'ghar wielded. All he had to offer Arya, was right there for her to see. He just hoped that he would be enough.
When the final class of the day ended, Gendry stopped to chat to Edric Dayne for a few minutes about some things related to an up-coming gig, before telling him he'd see him at The Hollow later for practice. He then made his way to the performing arts building where he'd commandeered one of the full-sized lockers to store his Les Paul in while he was in class.
He had been about to exit the building after collecting his guitar, when he thought he heard music coming from one of the music rooms. He paused to listen, and after some moments, he heard the unmistakable sound of a badly tuned acoustic guitar, and someone trying to play it. Curiosity as well as pity for the poor instrument, made him seek out both instrument and musician.
Gendry never expected to find Sansa Stark, but by the time he recognized the red hair and its owner, she was already looking at him, and it was too late for him to back out of the classroom.
"Gendry," she offered him a weak smile, "Hi."
"Uh...hi," he spotted the guitar in her arms, "I heard music."
Sansa nudged the instrument she was balancing on her knee, "I wouldn't call what I was playing music."
Gendry laughed, "Okay, I came to rescue the poor guitar," he walked across the room and pulled a chair over next to Sansa, before he indicated that she hand the instrument over, "It's not tuned, that's why it sounds awful."
Sansa watched him work on tuning each individual string, before he experimentally ran through a few chords and some improvised tunes until he was satisfied with the sound.
"Here you go," he offered the guitar back to her, but she held her hands up in refusal.
"Are you kidding?" she asked him, finally giving him a genuine smile, "My attempts do not compare to your awesomeness. I'd just embarrass myself!"
Gendry laughed again, but kept hold of the guitar and strummed more chords absently to avoid plunging the room in silence. He wasn't exactly sure what he was doing, but he was conscious of the fact he'd interrupted a private moment. Sansa's expression had been glum and she'd clearly been very unhappy when he'd first walked in, but now, she was smiling and she continued to smile as he played.
It occurred to him then, like it hadn't before, that they had music in common.
"Uh...what were you trying to play earlier, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Was it really that unrecognizable?" Sansa made a face, before reaching for some sheets of paper on the table next to her, "I was trying to play Daydreamer."
Gendry took the sheets of paper, and found he was looking at guitar tablature, "Adele, huh?"
"Do you know it?"
"I've heard it a few times," Gendry shrugged, "Have you played guitar before?"
"Not really," Sansa admitted, slightly embarrassed, "Someone left the tablature behind, and the guitar was here when I came in."
Gendry read the tabs and began to pluck the opening bars, picking up the tune very quickly.
"Do you know the lyrics, Sansa?" he asked her.
"Yeah," she replied, "I guess."
"Then, what are you waiting for?" he grinned at her, "Start singing!"
With a laugh of her own, Sansa waited for Gendry to repeat the intro, before she began to sing.
"Daydreamer, sittin' on the sea, soakin' up the sun..."
Gendry had only heard her sing once before, on the day that she auditioned for the school choir, and he recalled being stunned by the sound of her singing voice. He marveled at the sound of it again as he sat there listening and accompanying her. Then there was more to marvel at than just her voice. Gendry watched in pleasant surprise as a physical change came over Sansa as she continued to sing.
Her face seemed to light up, her blue eyes sparkled, and the tension in her shoulders vanished. The girl sitting next to him, at that moment, was almost unrecognizable to the girl he'd been seeing walking around school the past few weeks.
Is this the Sansa Stark that Sandor sees? He wondered. There was an openness and honesty about her then, and for a moment he was able to glimpse past the artifice and shallowness, and he saw something about her that he found attractive. If this is how Sandor sees her, if this is who she really is, then maybe I've judged her too quickly. Gendry hoped that he would get to see more of the real Sansa Stark, now that she had broken up with Joffrey.
The song ended, and Gendry let the notes of the guitar fade into silence, just as he watched the light that had briefly shone in Sansa fade away. Gendry stayed quiet, and eventually it was Sansa who spoke first.
"Thanks, Gendry," she said, "That was fun."
"You're welcome," Gendry stood up and placed the guitar into the stand he saw nearby.
"I probably should have gone to choir practice," she continued, "I skipped it today, because…well..."
"Yeah, I understand. You don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to."
Gendry could understand the whole being unsociable after a break-up thing, but frankly he wasn't certain he wanted to be having this conversation with Sansa, yet leaving her right when it seemed like she needed someone to talk to would make him look like an ass.
Sansa gave a humorless laugh, "I'm sure you've heard all about it, though. What with Gossip Spyder posting about it two seconds after I broke up with him, and Arya being your friend…"
"Actually, Arya hasn't told me much," Gendry said, "She only ever tells us enough to get our facts straight. Gossip Spyder doesn't always get it right, you know?"
"You got that right," Sansa agreed.
"Are…are you okay, though?" he asked rather awkwardly, and shifted from one foot to the other.
She gave him the same weak smile she'd given him earlier, "Yeah, I'll be fine."
"Good. That's great," Gendry nodded, and had been about to excuse himself when Sansa suddenly turned inquisitive eyes on him.
"Gendry, can I ask you a personal question?"
"Um…sure, I suppose," he didn't see how things could get any more awkward than they already were.
"I hope you'll be honest with me," she said.
"I'll try to be,"
"How long have you had feelings for Arya?"
Right, things just got more awkward. He thought, and he felt blood rush to his cheeks, "I…um…"
"I can tell that you like her, Gendry," Sansa continued, "I've been able to see it for some weeks."
"I didn't know that I was being obvious," he responded nervously, "I haven't really told anyone about it."
"Relax, you're secret's safe with me," she assured him.
"How did you know?"
"The way you look at her," she replied, "I can't really describe it, but it's in your eyes."
"Oh," Gendry's cheeks grew warmer, and he couldn't believe that he was actually blushing.
"Can I ask another personal question? You don't have to answer this one, if you don't want to, so no pressure."
"Okay, bring it on," he said, though he was still trying to recover from her first question.
"How did you feel when you found out that Arya was dating Sandor?"
He raised a brow and gave her an odd look. It was an odd question, but there was no reason for him not to answer her.
"I felt like breaking his jaw," he answered honestly, remembering the anger and jealousy that had raged through him at the time.
"And, do you still feel that way? I mean, he sits with you guys at lunch, now."
Gendry also remembered that Sansa knew nothing about the duplicitous nature of Arya and Sandor's relationship, and he sighed before finding the words with which to answer her. He still felt like breaking someone's jaw, but it was Jaqen H'ghar he pictured now, not Sandor.
"I still feel that she would be happier with me," he answered ruefully.
"Hmm," she shifted in her chair, and she lowered her gaze to the floor, "Does…does he treat her well?"
She'd spoken to the floor, and Gendry almost didn't hear her last question. He would have thought it a normal thing for a concerned sister to ask, but there was something in her tone that made him second-guess the intent behind her words.
"Sandor's okay," he replied quietly, "I had my doubts about him, but I have to admit, I don't think he would intentionally hurt her."
"That's good," Sansa acknowledged with a voice that seemed tremulous, before she looked back up at him, "Thanks for staying and talking to me. I didn't mean to keep you."
"Don't mention it," Gendry saw that as his cue to leave, and he picked up his guitar before stepping towards the exit, "Hey…I had fun, too. You're a great singer."
"Thank you," she offered him a final smile, letting him glimpse the real her again for a second, "See you later, Gendry."
After leaving the music room, he ran a hand through his hair, shook his head as though to clear it, and reached for his cell phone. He dialed Arya's number.
"What's up?" she greeted him.
"I've just had an odd conversation with your sister," he told her.
"What? You've been speaking with Sansa?"
"Yep, and it was strange…she was asking about Sandor."
"Did she? Did she really?" Arya's voice peaked with interest, "Tell me everything."