Author's Notes: Continuing my mission to upload my SanSan fics to this site. Written for the lovely and generous lunar_art, who was the winning bidder in the fandom_helps charity auction in aid of Planned Parenthood. She asked for future fic in which Sandor says something typically Sandorish, and Sansa snaps and hits him. Many thanks to ownsariver for her razor-sharp beta. Title from 'Shake It Out' by Florence & the Machine (a song for survivors everywhere). Constructive criticism is welcome.
First Published: 13th April 2012
Warnings: This fic deals with the consequences of emotional abuse and the aftermath of a rape, and Sandor is not a character well equipped to handle that kind of situation. I have tried to keep him in character while not making him into a complete dick. Some readers may find some of his reactions unacceptable – please bear that in mind when deciding whether or not to read. And please feel free to PM me for more info first if you want it.
"What are you doing?"
The words were annoyed, growled at her from across the small campfire, and when Sansa looked up his eyes were a stony grey.
"Mending your tunic," she said softly, taken aback. "As I can't cook or hunt, and you've made it abundantly clear that I'm to stay away from the horses, there really is nothing else I can do to help."
Sandor snorted and turned away, ducking down as he went to the back of the cave where the ceiling was low before returning with his whetstone. "Your job isn't to help, girl. Your job is to sit quietly and look pretty until I can deliver you safely back to your uncle Blackfish."
Sansa blinked, stung. She had not been Sansa again until five days ago, when Sandor Clegane had appeared at her wedding and whisked her away in the confusion. Alayne was well accustomed to being useful, and the reminder that Sansa was supposed to be a lady – and therefore ultimately useless – was strangely unwelcome.
"I... I'm sorry if I have offended you," she tried. "I was merely trying to find a way to express my thanks for all you have done for me."
Sansa frowned uncertainly; she couldn't understand what she had done wrong. She remembered well enough that he had not always spoken gently to her, of course, but that had been before. Since he had rescued her from Littlefinger and Harry the Heir, Sandor had actually been quite nice to her – as nice as he was ever like to get, at the least – making her as comfortable as he could both on horseback and when they stopped to camp, conversing with her pleasantly enough about where he had been since they last saw one another. Oh he was still blunt as a tourney sword, his language as coarse as ever, but the bitterness that had once made his eyes so terrifying to look upon, the meanness he had sometimes been wont to throw at her, had gone. So why was he suddenly being so prickly?
One of the first things he had said to her – as she had retreated behind a gorse bush to change out of her wedding gown, his broad back just a few feet away – was that the Hound was dead, and Sansa had been rather pleased for the changes it had wrought in him. Why, he was not nearly so frightening as she had once thought, that bitterness and rage in his eyes replaced with small glimpses of something Sansa might have been tempted to call warmth, in another man. And after he had fastened his cloak about her shoulders that first night when a fire was too great a risk, Sansa had even begun to wonder if it was normal to find such horrific burn scars... appealing. There must be a reason she had dreamt of him all these years, after all.
But now he was staring at her in something that looked like irritation, the burned side of his mouth twitching so that it looked as though he was sneering at her, and it made her want to shrink away like the scared child she had once been.
"Express your thanks? You're still just a stupid little bird, aren't you?"
Sansa's breath froze in her throat. He had not spoken to her like that since King's Landing. It was almost as if he had heard her thoughts. But how could he have? She remembered all at once that he had often seemed to possess an uncanny ability to peer inside her head and see what she was about. Funny how some of those memories only came bubbling to the surface when faced with him again, for all the time she had spent thinking on him. She saw herself for a moment as if from above – more like a dream than a memory – a small, frightened girl standing before her king in the practice yard as he held a loaded crossbow to her face and jeered at her dumbstruck responses.
Blinking the strange vision away, Sansa glanced up at his face as Sandor sat down across the fire from her. His eyes seemed to glitter in the firelight. In anger? Was he glaring at her? His words rang in her head, stupid little bird. She felt pinned, a butterfly in Robert's collection. Stripped bare as Joffrey had once made her. No one had ever called Alayne stupid. Ever. But she was Sansa again now, and Sansa had never been anything more than a frightened, naïve little pawn, used by everyone for their own gain and too stupid to see it until it was too late.
I'm sorry. She could feel the words forming on her tongue, tight and small, a distantly familiar reflex. But then she frowned and clamped her jaw down on them, straightened her spine, lifted her chin, and stared at him coolly.
"Please don't call me stupid," she said. "If you don't want me to mend your clothes, that is all you need say."
"Whatever you say, my lady," Sandor snorted again, looking darkly amused, and started scraping at his sword with the whetstone, shaking his head. Sansa laid her sewing down and watched him, waiting. For what, she did not know, but the longer she waited the emptier she felt. He had smiled at her last night as the hare had roasted on the spit, and it had made her feel warm from top to toe. He had ridden back into her life and taken her away from her captors and she had tried to remind herself that life was not a song but the whole thing had been so like something from one of the stories she had once loved that she had truly started to believe... wanted to believe...
And hadn't she suffered enough? Tormented by Joffrey, forced into marriage not once but twice, forced to accept… all manner of indignities at Petyr's hands. Forced to lie still and quiet and not cry. Forced to endure his fury, rising up like a storm, when all she would do was lie still and quiet and not cry, and failed utterly to be Catelyn Tully. You stupid girl, you are nothing like her. Life was not a song, but she had started to believe that Sandor could be her unlikely champion.
Did I misjudge him? Did I misjudge everything? She was sixteen now, a woman grown and well-educated, not the stupid child who had fled King's Landing by putting her life in the hands of a fool. And yet... she was Sansa again, and Alayne no longer, and perhaps it had always been Alayne who was clever and brave and not Sansa at all. Petyr had always made her be Sansa in bed, after all. He must have realised that she was the weak one. The only thing Sansa had in her favour was that she was a lady, and what good was that when her champion thought her just as worthless as her tormentors had?
"Why are you ruining it?" she whispered, voice so small it was lost under the scape, scrape of the whetstone. Unbidden, her eyes filled with tears, and that made her angry. I really am just a stupid little bird, stupid little Sansa, good for nothing but looking pretty and providing some man with a claim to my home. She stood abruptly and walked to the mouth of the cave, desperate to fill her lungs with clean night air, to get away, away.
Iron fingers caught her by the wrist and forced her around, and a deep voice rasped at her, "Where do you think you're going?"
Away, away from you. "I need to make water," she muttered, turning her face so that he would not see her tears.
He did not release her, but reached up with his free hand to grip her chin and turn her face up to his. Just as if she was still that stupid little girl, trapped amongst her enemies in King's Landing.
"Release me," she hissed, filled with a sudden rage, a rage that was only fuelled by her humiliation when the tears overflowed and ran down her cheeks, Sandor watching their progress with a blank expression. For a moment she thought that he would not heed her, but then he let her go all at once as though burned, mouth twitching.
She stepped back from him, his overwhelming nearness, before spinning away and striding towards the trees with as much dignity as she could muster.
"Don't go far," he rasped, and the slight hint of confusion and concern in his voice made her turn right back, propelled by a red wave of fury. How dare he? How dare he act the gallant once more, worrying over her safety, after the way he had just spoken to her – did he think she was stupid? Yes of course he did! He'd said so himself, had he not? You're still just a stupid little bird, aren't you?
"Little bird-" he began as she approached him once more, frowning slightly, and it was too much. Sansa struck him, putting everything into it, the palm of her hand landing hard across his good cheek. And when that did not appease the fire in her chest she struck him again.
He stood rooted to the spot, not even moving to stop her, staring at her with a queer expression on his face, and Sansa stared right back, boiling with fury and panting from the exertion, her hand stinging. His cheek had turned a livid pink from her blows, she saw, with a savage satisfaction she had never felt before.
"I am not your little bird," she said, voice soft but filled with contempt. And then, when that still did not feel good enough, "I hate you."
Sandor stood and watched her stride away into the trees for the second time, stunned into inaction. He had been on the receiving end of many an insult in his time, foul names his opponents had flung at him, the sneering of whores. But the look in his little bird's eyes as she had struck him, the calm, cold tone of her voice as she told him with the utmost sincerity that she hated him, and the way some deep part of him had clenched in fear and panic at her words... that experience was entirely foreign before now.
The skin of his cheek prickled with heat in the cold night air, a shadow of where her hand had been. He fancied he could feel the line each long finger had left on his face. Had a woman ever struck him before? Brienne, of course, though she barely counted; Cersei, before he had learnt to guard his tongue and keep his opinions to himself. But the touch that was burned most brightly into his memory was the timid comfort offered by a girl on the worst night of his life, a girl who had somehow looked beyond the knife he had held to her throat, and given him her compassion. The same girl who had no doubt left a red mark in the exact same place she had touched him then, as though burning away the tenderness of that memory. The same girl who had just now looked at him with such loathing as she took back the faint glimpse of absolution he had fought through the last four years to have a second chance at earning.
And what had he done, exactly? He was tired from the day's riding, hungry from the meagre dinner he had been able to provide, and the sight of her sitting there mending his things, a small smile on her face as she hummed quietly to herself, had made him short with her. It was too close. Too close to the hopeless fantasies he had been entertaining ever since he saw the look of relief on her face in that brief, unguarded moment when he'd first broken into her chambers. Too close, and too far away, and so very fucking bitter. But he had said worse in King's Landing, and if she had held that against him he did not think she would have been so happy to see him back at the Gates of the Moon. Aye, but was she truly, dog? Remember the bread riots? She was happy to see you then, too. Wasn't really you, though, was it? She would have been happy to see the headless ghost of her dead father if it meant escaping Lollys Stokeworth's fate. Gratitude was not the same as... whatever it was he had come here to get from her (Elder Brother had called it redemption; the Blackfish honour; Brienne had looked through him with those enormous blue eyes and named it forgiveness). Yet gratitude had been given nonetheless, and it had galled him for not being the other.
The Hound may be dead, but I am still nothing more than a cringing dog, he told himself. I don't deserve her forgiveness merely for bringing myself up to the lowest level of human decency and doing what I should have done years ago.
Aye, taking her away from Littlefinger and that... knight he had attempted to marry Sansa to had barely begun to repay his debt to her. But rescuing her, riding and talking with her the last few days, providing for her like... like he was her fucking... like she could somehow be his... She had sat beside him last night, watching the fire together before retiring to their bedrolls. She had been so close he had become suddenly aware of every contour of her body, all the places she was nearly touching him. She looked at his face now, no trace of fear or revulsion, and smiled at him like a long lost friend, but last night she had brushed against him so tantalisingly that he had felt himself get hard in a way he never had when pinning her down to her soft feather bed all those years ago.
She had made it somehow easy to believe... But he had snapped at her and now she said she hated him... She was trying to thank me, just as if I was one of those true knights she once loved so well. Better for her to remember what I am. Better for me.
He stood by the mouth of the cave, looking out into the dark forest, wanting to return into the warmth and blessed solitude, but knowing he should wait for her to come back. Whatever else he'd done (and what had he done, really?) he had promised to return her safe to her uncle – promised her uncle, aye, but more importantly promised her, and dog though he may be, he had never taken his promises lightly.
But the longer he waited, the angrier he got. She really was a stupid little bird, to be gone so long nursing her wounded pride over nothing more than harsh words. He'd have thought life in Littlefinger's court would have shaken the naivety out of her, but apparently he had been wrong. What did she think was in these woods? Fluffy little rabbits and soft-eyed deer?
Unbidden, the memory of those savages Tyrion Lannister had brought to King's Landing came into Sandor's mind, but still he hesitated.
Whose wounded pride? he asked himself angrily, before pushing himself forwards, following Sansa's trail.
Sansa tried to make herself small against the roots of the tree. Despite her anger, she hadn't gone far from the cave, the weak light from their small fire flickering through the trees and casting faint shadows on the ground around her. So she heard when Sandor moved to come after her, the part of her that cringed back from the shadows thinking At last! even as she hoped she was too well hidden for him to see her.
But no, the soft jingle of his chainmail got closer and closer until she knew he was standing right there, looking down on her as ever. She could see his expression in her mind's eye, could almost feel the burnt corner of his mouth twitching in disdain. Sansa buried her face deeper into her arms, knees drawn up close, muscles tensed and trembling. She couldn't seem to stop crying, and she did not want him to see her like this.
"I hope for your sake you were lying about needing a piss," he said roughly, "because otherwise you've made me wait all this time while you sit in your own filth feeling sorry for yourself."
Go away go away go away. But he did not, merely stood silently, his gaze pressing heavily on the curve of her back. For a moment she could hear nothing but her own pathetic sniffling, so quietly did he stand watching, before he huffed in irritation.
"Get up, girl," he said, "it's not safe out here." And though his words were not threatening in any way, when he reached out to take hold of her upper arm, Sansa flinched away violently and pressed herself more tightly against the tree trunk. And began weeping for true. Big, noisy, grief-stricken sobs that made her body wrack and shake.
"Shit," she heard him swear, heard him take two steps away, two steps back again, the sound of sharp metal being unsheathed and finally, the muffled thump and jangle as he sat down in the leaf mould at the base of the tree beside her.
"Calm yourself," he said after a moment, though it sounded half-hearted, as though he neither thought the instruction useful nor likely to be heeded. But his words, his nearness, the sound of his voice, all were comforting, in an absurdly contrary way. She suddenly felt very childish, for hitting him, for crying. I dreamed and dreamed of him, and now he is here and I am upset because he is less than I thought he was. Stupid Sansa. Stupid, childish little girl. It should be enough that he has taken me away, but I wanted my own song and now here I am, embarrassing myself in front of him like this.
"You were right," she said, the words coming strangled from her throat. "I am still just a suh-stupid little bird."
She heard him shift uncomfortably. "Is that what this is about?"
"Petyr eh-educated me, made me take lessons with the muh-muh-maester, made me learn how to run a business, a k-kingdom, I thought I was so clever..." the words were speaking themselves, tumbling out uncontrolled through the sobbing. "Not enough, though. Not clever enough. Not to stop my muh-marriage to Harry, and not to keep Petyr from my buh-bed. He waited patiently enough, but as soon as Tuh-Tyrion's death was confirmed... It was just as Joffrey and Cersei always suh-said, I am nothing more than stupid little Sansa."
There was silence again. All she could hear was her own hitching breath, the rustling of leaves in the wind. Sansa wiped her eyes and nose and raised her head hesitantly, trying to take deep, even breaths to bring the spasmodic heaving of her chest and shoulders under control. Sandor was not looking at her, and she did not know whether to feel grateful for that or not. He sat with his back against the tree trunk, staring out into the dark forest, his sword unsheathed and ready in his hand. Guarding her. She wished suddenly that she had not spoken. What desire would he have to hear of her trials? He was sitting with the burnt side of his face towards her, the scars rivened with shadow. What was her suffering in comparison to his?
"Littlefinger came to your bed?" he said then, and Sansa noticed the way his hand clenched and unclenched on the hilt of his sword.
"Yes," she whispered, breath still hitching and gulping, feeling cold and sick and angry and defeated and tired. She remembered, unbidden, the way Sandor had thrown his white cloak to her in the training yard that day, to cover her nakedness. "Is it rape if the lady does not resist, do you think?"
He turned sharply to stare at her, grey eyes glittering in the dim light. "It doesn't make me want to kill him any less," he said.
Her eyes prickled with fresh tears, but she forced a smile, hoping it did not appear half as wooden as it felt. Thank you did not feel quite right under the circumstances, and given what he had just said, and so she settled for a simple nod before the weight of his gaze boring into her became too much and she looked away.
"All men are false," she said shakily, picking up a twig from the ground and scoring shapes with it in the mud. "All men scheme and lie and think only of how they might best satisfy their lust for power."
At her side, Sandor laughed darkly, mirthlessly. "You've learnt a hard lesson." He sounded almost sorry.
"Even my father was false to my mother," she continued bitterly. "Where was his honour when he was making Jon with some other woman?" The twig snapped, and she looked back at Sandor, fixing him in place with her stare. "You are the only man I have ever met who has always been honest with me. A Hound will die for you, but never lie to you, remember?"
"Aye, I remember," he grunted, raising himself up to standing once more until he towered over her. "But the Hound is dead."
Sansa rose too, discreetly wiping her eyes again and brushing herself down, though she could feel from the damp patches on her breeches that she was mud-stained. "Nevertheless," she said, straightening. She paused, then. Standing, she barely came to Sandor's shoulder, and with his back to the cave and the campfire, he was little more than a massive, hulking shadow before her. "I'm sorry I hit you," she said. "I was angry, but not with you."
She half expected him to laugh at her. It wasn't as though she could cause him any harm, after all. I wish I could see his face.
"Come," was all he said in response, turning his back on her and leading the way back to the cave. And then, to her utter shock, he added, "I'll tell you a story about Ned Stark while you warm yourself."
Back in the cave, by the light of the fire, he could see clearly that she was shivering, but though her eyes were red-rimmed, her expression wan, at least she had stopped crying. He fucking hated crying, it was so self-defeating. The little wolf bitch had never indulged when he'd taken her across the riverlands, not even after her mother's death, not even in a fit of childish temper, of which there'd been a few. He'd had a creeping suspicion, after a while, that her reaction to her family's death was far from healthy, but that didn't mean he wanted wailing. And after all, who was he to pass judgment on what was healthy?
Her sister, though... it hardly seemed fair that misery did not diminish her beauty. She had said just a minute ago that he was the only man ever to be honest with her, but he did not think she would like to hear how he wanted to fuck her right here and now on the dirty floor of the cave regardless, her face still wet with tears, having just confessed to her own ruin. No, not ruin. Nothing could ruin her, not even Lord Petyr Fucking Baelish. He could see that in the proud stiffness of her spine, the control she exerted over her expression.
I resented her once for her innocence, so why am I not happier for its loss?
"Here," he said, passing her a wineskin, "drink." He thought about offering her his cloak again, and hesitated. She had flinched from his touch in the forest. If he'd had a stag for every time a woman had shrunk back from him, he'd be a rich man by now, and even Sansa had always backed away as a child. She had seemed, oddly, to welcome his touch since he took her from the Gates of the Moon, though, and the thought of her returning to how she'd been before – however little it had to do with him – was more than he could bear. He'd rather not know.
So he took off his cloak and laid it beside her and said not a word. Let her decide if she wants it or not.
"A story, you said," she reminded him as he paced around restlessly, taking another delicate sip from the wineskin. "About my father?"
Sandor snorted, and reined himself in, and sat down opposite her. "You remember I told you of the Quiet Isle, and the man who is in charge there?"
"Yes. I had this story from him. I don't know where he got it from, but he has a lot of friends, some of them powerful. So make of it what you will."
Sandor did not know if the story was true. It made sense, given what he knew of Ned Stark, but ultimately he did not care. She would, though. So he told her all he knew – the supposed truth behind Lyanna Stark's kidnapping, the father of her bastard child, Ned Stark's promise to raise him as his own.
When he was done, Sansa stared at him with huge blue eyes, her expression difficult to parse. "Jon is a Targaryen?" she finally asked.
"So it would seem."
"And my father was not unfaithful."
Sandor watched in silence as she looked down at her hands, fiddling aimlessly with a loose thread at the hem of her tunic.
"Lyanna... chose to go with the Prince. She wasn't kidnapped at all."
Sandor stared at her, unsure whether to feel amused or incredulous. "Let me guess, you think it very romantic."
Sansa smiled, a small sad thing, but he thought it reached her eyes. "I was thinking it, yes."
He felt the burnt corner of his mouth twitch, but before he could say anything further she stood, and walked over to him, and bent, and kissed him lightly on the cheek.
"I know you would not like me to call you a true knight," she said softly, "and in fact I would not want you to be one, because knights are beasts, just as you always said." She paused, and touched light fingertips to his shoulder, before continuing, "But I hope you will allow me to call you a true friend."
She had kissed him on the same cheek she had slapped him, the same cheek she had once touched in comfort. Sandor felt something break within him, and mend all at once.
"You can call me whatever you want, girl, so long as it isn't 'ser' or 'lord,'" he muttered.
"And you? Will you call me 'little bird'? I... I would like it if you did. I didn't mean what I said earlier."
It was a stupid little name that he had first come up with as an insult, but of course it had come to mean so much more than that. As had she. He reached up to place his hand over hers where it still rested on his shoulder, thinking that he did not even deserve so much as her friendship.
"As you say, my lady," he said, smirking as he looked up and met her faintly affronted expression. "Little bird," he amended.
"You know," she said as she returned back to her seat on the other side of the fire, "we each of us now know the other's blackest secret."
He still remembered the night he had drunkenly told her how he got his scars. Still did not know why he had done it. "Are we even now, then?" he asked.
She smiled wryly, a small quirk of the lips. "Of a sort, I suppose. You cannot leave my side again for fear I may tell the world you failed to get burned by dragon's breath. But I cannot let you go for equally dire reasons."
She was fingering the cloak he had left her as she said it. He watched her almost stroking the coarse weave, wondering if she was aware she was doing it.
"I won't tell anyone, Sansa," he said, voice low. She gave him a measured look, but did not demand that he give his word, merely nodded gravely before shaking out his cloak and standing to wrap herself in it.
They slept side by side on their bedrolls for warmth, as they had done every night since he found her again. Sansa fell almost immediately into the deep sleep of the exhausted, but Sandor lay for some minutes watching her face, before reaching out carefully and taking her hand in his. She sighed in her sleep, and when he awoke to the dawn several hours later, their hands were still joined, her small hand wrapped safe in his own.