I have been haunted by where this story is going and have been grinding my wheels since I posted the last few chapters. I began to spiral out of control and of the place that I had intended to take it. I have, therefore, scrapped the last two chapters and have decided to start over and begin to process over again. I intend to get this baby started again. Gah. I knew that I should have done this weeks ago.


Chapter Four

Old Ways

She didn't wake up screaming; the dream had been dulled over time—an exasperating memory, a horror replayed over and over until she felt only ghost pains: the knife being plunged into her belly, their eyes mad with hatred and bloodlust. She'd lost track of how many times she'd had that dream, how many nights it had plagued her, an odious repetition not to be savored. Opening her eyes to the thick darkness ended it, only for another horror to begin. Over and over, the nightmare of living in uncertainty, hobbling about the earth with no meaning, no identity, hiding only for the sake of her life—what was that worth? She'd been sparred death with surprising frequency, but she wasn't living, only hanging on to existence. She desperately missed clinging on to the hopes of fairy stories and songs. Life isn't a song—that had been the worst blow.

She sat up and gathered a fur around her, taking in the bed. Gods, it was massive: oak pillars supporting a huge mattress. She was still wearing one of his tunics—her only dress was nearly ruined. She could smell him in the bed and the tunic, the mixture of his skin, his sweat, his soap: pine resin, amber and juniper, the smells of a man—there was no other way to classify it. It didn't smell of dog, it smelled of him—a faint spice, a woodiness, the aroma of the earth and winter storms and dried leaves. It reminded her of something which she couldn't place, like a half remembered song.

It made the bed seem terribly empty and incomplete.

She decided to leave it, too. Her bare feet touched the wooden floor and felt a chill surge through her spine. It was getting colder by the hour—the chill was speaking to her bones, becoming more and more pronounced. The cold comforted her. Snow, frost, freeze—it was as essential to her as air. That was why she fought through existence: she lived for the winter. It gave her reasons to repeat her family's words, give them truth, receive solace through them. The winter made her long for a cloak wrapped around her in earnest, not out of force. She walked slowly and quietly, deciding that she wouldn't wake him this time. She kept her hand steady while opening his bedroom door, being mindful of the hinges and the suction and the creaking of hinges. She wandered out, one hand outstretched. A candle was still lit, faintly illuminating the hall, guiding her way. She wondered, walking through his house, how he had managed to acquire such a place—everything he had seemed very well made, albeit sparse. It occurred to him that she had more questions than answers about everything, yet the questions were somewhat comforting. It was better than a constant, unchanging nightmare.

He wasn't asleep on his couch—for a moment she felt alarmed. She was afraid that her behavior had sent him away, that perhaps he'd abandoned her. The logic and reason as to why a man would leave his home and life because of her poor behavior didn't enter into the equation. She was still operating beyond the boundaries of thinking clearly. She breathed a long sigh of relief when she heard the faint sound of metal outside of his front door.

She walked outside, pulling his fur tighter around her shoulders. She did it so quietly that he didn't turn to look at her from where he sat on the porch steps. His dog slept in a corner, waking and lifting its head only to acknowledge her before falling back to sleep, acting much calmer than he'd been days before. The night was still, filled with the sounds of distant things: the sounds of night, of the world adjusting and bending and snapping, the subtle night noises of animals and things that scurried blind, living by their wits and their senses. A low, full moon hung surrounded by crystalline stars, a halo of light rings glowing iridescent around it. Sandor sat with his back turned to her, working on one of his blades with a whet stone, the metal faintly singing as it acquired a new edge. His breath was freezing in midair, forming little clouds that dispersed like smoke—even the invisible could be given shape.

"Awake again?" He asked her, not looking up from his work. It made her jump—his quiet sixth sense was jarring at best, a subtle reminder that he'd spent his life alert, had been trained to absorb his surroundings and react without a second thought.

"Can I never sneak up on you?"

"Afraid not, Little Bird." Was all that he replied, still not stopping to look at her. Sansa frowned. He was encased in a silver living, his silhouette illuminated by the clear moonlight. Sansa gingerly took a step towards him, feeling how deeply cold it was outside. Her bare feet stung with the sharpness of the chilled ground. "Can't sleep?"

"I had a nightmare." She said, looking up at the sky.

"Oh?" Still working.

"I've had the same nightmare since King's Landing." She responded, taking another cautious step towards him.

She felt disappointed when he didn't look up to regard her.

"I'm sorry for what I did to you. I was drunk—a fucking monster." He finally said, dragging his blade across the stone. His voice sounded terribly heavy. She wondered if she had defeated him to quickly.

"No—it has nothing to do with that night. I always dream about the day that Myrcella was sent away, when you saved me from the—the…" She paused, inching closer to him, the words still too painful to say, "except in my nightmare you don't rescue me, and they stab me to death. It always wakes me up."

"I'm sorry that they frightened you. It should never have happened." He said, once again apologetic. Sansa closed the gap between them and took a seat next to him on the porch steps. She shifted closer to him until her shoulder was grazing his. She wanted him to say more.

"You've been terribly kind, these last few days." She said uncomfortably, hoping that she'd make him speak to her again, "and every time you've done something nice for me I've treated you in an awful manner."

Her voice was laced with shame. It dawned on her that patience had been something that'd he'd acclimated to, as well. He'd withstood Joffrey—of course he could withstand her bad behavior. Perhaps his silence was his way of processing his own frustrations. It made her feel sick, that perhaps she had been as much of a little shit—even if she had excuse, it made her feel that she'd forgotten herself. That she had actually been dismantled and defeated in that she had lost her guiding principles—she didn't want to raise the white flag and embrace her destruction, she wanted to rail against it—she wanted her manners and her gentleness and grace, which she knew held power, too.

"Don't chirp." He said finally, his voice harsher than it had been in days. Sansa turned her face towards his—he'd stopped working on his blade and looked out at the horizon, watching low laying fog weave in and out of the tree line. "I told you to sing for your life—that was shit advice. Don't sing, not for me or anyone else. I want to make it clear to you that I will protect you no matter how you act or feel towards me. I don't want there to be any confusion, as far as that is concerned."

"I'm not singing—"

"Then what are you doing?"

"Apologizing. I've had enough taken from me, I shall not forget that I'm a lady as well." She said, her low voice matching his. She raised her hand to the ruined cheek opposite hers, gently coaxing him into looking at her. She locked eyes with him, watching him turn from harsh to gentle in a matter of seconds. "You have acted gallantly, and I wanted to thank you."

"Little Bird—"

"No." She placed a cold finger against his lips. "I am not well, I am still in pain and I am terribly confused as to what to do with myself, but I realized that I am very happy to wake up and know that you are near. I cannot recall the last time that I felt safe and that deserves gratitude."

She raised her other hand and placed it on his other cheek, using both hands to hold his face. She kept her eyes locked on his, for a moment understanding his wordlessness. She moved her hands down his chin and his neck, as gentle as the first snow. He said nothing in response, his eyes unwavering. A measure of silence passed, yet something about her pain was expressed as she gently touched him in the cold, thorough dark.

To live with a pain so grand—that was the core of the problem, she thought while her fingers slowly passed over his shoulder. It was impossible to be sure as to exactly what she was feeling. It was not sadness, nor anger, nor any of the myriad of simply catalogued maladies—it was an aching which went beyond conventional boundaries. She carried within her a force unlike anything that she'd heard explained. It was nothing that swords or Wildfire, nor Milk of the Poppy or snow or gold or fire or dragons or The Wall could hold back; it was a deep wanting. She thought of the waves of darkness that were sloshing about inside of her—the nightmare hours, the terrible things that she could never have anticipated living through. He was letting her silently explore him, and it dawned on her that he could offer her a love so great that the nightmare things could be destroyed. Wild hope that it was, stupid hope, irredeemable and ridiculous and nearly desperate to think on— and yet it was more real than anything else, the dream that there could be a man so powerful that he could destroy the darkness—not the superficial darkness that a light can pierce, but the serious and innumerable darkness that exists within. This was the dream—that this ruin of a man, half burnt- the transcendent part of the Hound that she'd not known before- could destroy the aching within her. There was no dream nobler, yet conversely no fantasy more implausible. Still it begged the question: Could life be a song?

She came to the end of her thoughts and realized that her hands had stopped on his bicep and that she was gripping it with both hands, giving him the blank stare of a dolt.

It starts with the desire to be mystical—in unison with all things while disconnected, to feel and experience and to move about with the elements without going through the steps of decomposition—this is the core of a song.

"Could you put up your blades and take me back to bed?" She asked him abruptly.

"Of course."

Sansa shot up quickly and walked back in, waiting for him by his candle. Her body was now feeling the full force of the cold—her exposed knee-caps and feet were becoming icy. She was looking forward to his bed again. He put his blades up carefully, making her wonder how many of them might be stowed about his house. Thoughtlessly she took his hand.

She felt for a moment resistance, and then he was hers. Their fingertips were connected as though sewn together. A wolf can overtake a dog, she knew that—she knew that a bird could do the same. She was that at once—a bird, a wolf—she'd nearly become a lion, had dined with stags, had been trapped by a mockingbird, and now she was changing forms again. That would be the progression of the song. And he followed her, as a shadow follows the dictates of the sun.