Chapter 11

Sandor raced through the forest, the scent growing stronger. All around him the wolves howled to each other, spreading out to make sure they stayed on the trail. The thought that he might soon catch up to Sansa's killer fueled the rage and need for blood, pumping adrenaline through his mind. He knew he would never forgive himself for not protecting her, for not being there for her, but at least avenging her murder would ease some of the guilt, and perhaps allow her some peace in whatever afterlife there was.

He was startled for moment as the scent changed, but remained somewhat familiar. There was nothing else to go on, so he continued, barking to the wolves. Sandor became aware that the scent was leading them in the direction of the kingdom. He snarled, hate clenching him. The Queen.

A few new scents suddenly filled the air, and Sandor slammed to halt, sniffing the air to assess the situation. Greyback trotted to his side. Smells like men. Good, Sandor thought back, his mouth pulling back over his teeth. I like appetizers. Greyback gave some commands to the other wolves, who began to spread out, encircling the thicket where the scents were wafting from. Sandor crouched and inched forward, until he caught a glimpse of armor through the trees. He crept closer.

In a small clearing stood a handful of soldiers, gathered around a tall, blonde woman. She was beautiful in a terrible way, and a sneer graced her red lips as she fussed with her clothing and the knights. Sandor immediately knew who she was. Queen Cersei.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Greyback awaiting his signal, and he nodded his head.

With a myriad of howls, the seven wolves bounded into the clearing, attacking the soldiers and taking them off-guard. The men yelled and tried to pull their swords out of their scabbards, but they were knocked to the ground as the wolves tore and snapped at any exposed skin. The Queen screamed and stumbled backwards, tripping over her long skirts. Sandor watched with pleasure as she began to crawl backwards, terrified.

Now he stepped into the clearing, pausing to pin down one the soldiers who had managed to knock off a wolf. With his teeth he tore the man's helmet off and bit into his neck, ending the man's shrieks in a fountain of gushing blood. Tossing the man away from him, he looked up to see that the Queen had fled. "Oh no you don't." With a bark, he took off through the foliage, leaving the wolves to finish off the soldiers as they liked. This one is mine.

In spite of her skirts, the Queen managed to run to the bottom of a cliff and was busy climbing the rocky face when Sandor bust into view behind her. Snarling, he jumped and snapped at her feet but she was just out of reach. One of her shoes fell to the ground. Sandor paced under her, growling, trying to figure out how he could climb up after her. He spotted an outcropping of rock and jumped onto it, searching for more larger rocks to climb to. He began to gain on her.

Cersei looked down at him, her knuckles white and bleeding where the rocks had scraped her, and her face filled with fear and loathing. Their eyes met. "You won't escape," Sandor growled as he pulled himself up onto another rock. "I'm going to kill you for this." Her face was white and splotched with exertion, but somehow she continued climbing, gasping for breath.

Sandor watched her reach the top, but it was no matter; he could see she was too tired to get very far. A feeling of triumph washed over him as he realized he was almost to his goal. Just as he was nearing the top a large rock was pushed over the edge, hurtling towards him. Quickly he leaped out of the way, but the rock managed to graze his shoulder. He looked up and growled maliciously at the woman peeking down at him. "That all you got!" he barked, and resumed his climb.

The sky had begun to darken, and black clouds rolled over the forest. Sandor felt a grim satisfaction at this as he hauled himself to the top. Before him stood the Queen, her fine dress torn and dirty. He realized that the other side of the cliff led to nothing, it was straight drop to the other side. The part that was connected to the mountain was too steep to climb. She was trapped.

Sandor growled and moved closer as Cersei backed away from him. "You. You killed her, didn't you," he rasped. The Queen regarded him coldly. "I did. But there's still a chance for you. Let me go, and you can have anything you want." Sandor snorted. "Can you give me back the Little Bird?" She was silent. "I thought so." He paused and cocked his head. "My sources told me an old woman killed Sansa. A disguising spell I presume? Very clever, for an amateur." The Queen's green eyes narrowed as she tried to draw herself up tall. "You can't kill me," she whispered. "You might avenge your Little Bird, but you will forever face the wrath of my son, the King. He will hunt you down like the animal you are. There is nowhere you will be able to hide. To kill me would bring your own destruction." Sandor rolled his eyes. "Spare me. There's nothing you can say that will save you." He began to move closer again. The Queen faltered and began backing away, but there wasn't much room left. "You killed her over beauty. As if you could ever be as beautiful as her." The thought of his poor bird, laying still and cold back in the cabin, set fresh anguish into his heart, and strengthened his resolve to kill this bitch. He prepared to lunge at her when she suddenly held out her arms and cried out, "Wait! She's not dead!"

Sandor should not have stopped, but he did. "What's that? Speak, wench!" The Queen drew a shuddering breath. "The Stark girl….she's not dead. Not exactly." Sandor narrowed his eyes. Surely this was a trick. "I used a spell called the Sleeping Death," Cersei explained. Raindrops started to patter the ground around them, and the distant roll of thunder echoed through the air.

"You're telling me that she's only asleep?" A spark of hope struck inside him. She nodded. "She will sleep forever, and there is only one way to break it. But I will tell you only if you promise to let me go." Sandor growled. He was torn with the desire to save Sansa and kill this woman. He did not want to spare her life. But if it was worth waking Sansa…

Before he could answer, lightning suddenly struck a tree that was rooted near Cersei and the edge of the cliff. The bright light blinded them both for a moment, and the ground shook under the impact. Sandor heard a cry and saw one of the heavy branches fall. It struck Cersei and she screamed, the branch throwing her off-balance. Sandor rushed forward but he was too late.

The Queen fell backwards over the side of the cliff, her screams echoing off the mountain. Sandor reached the edge and looked down, barely making out her twisted and broken body on the rocks below. The tree had caught fire, but the rain began to fall harder and quickly extinguished it. Sandor stood at the edge, wondering now what he was supposed to do.

Sandor pondered what little information the Queen had given him about the spell over Sansa. There was hope that it could be broken, but how? There could be a thousand possible ways…and Sandor knew he would not stop until he found it out. Somehow feeling more despaired than he had at Sansa's "death", he returned to the little cabin. Though the rain had lessened into a light drizzle, his thick black hair was plastered to his body, chilling him.

Once inside he became a man again, and dried off quickly, slipping into some pants and a tunic. Sansa lay on the bed where he had left her, still cold and lifeless. Sandor pulled up a chair and sat down wearily, gazing at her. "I tried, Little Bird," he whispered, burying his face in his hands wearily. "I don't know how to free you from this curse, but I won't stop until I figure it out." He sat in silence, listening to the raindrops pattering on the windows. It seemed appropriate that nature should mourn with him.

When Sandor had begun his way back down the cliff, he saw the wolves waiting for him, and they whimpered at the news he gave them. At least she is avenged, Greyback told him. Sandor simply walked away, thanking them in a low voice for their help. He didn't feel like he had avenged Sansa, and though there was a possibility for bringing her back to life, his lack of that crucial bit of information left him feeling more hopeless.

With a sigh, Sandor rested his chin on his hands, contemplating the girl before him, and what he was supposed to do now. The preservation spell would last a while, but since she was asleep, not dead, perhaps she didn't need it. He took one of her icy hands in his, placing a kiss on it, then let his eyes wander to her face. Even in this strange form of death, she was beautiful. Her rich auburn hair shone against the white of her skin, and her lips had taken on a darker red color. It made his heart twist to look at her, to know that she may never open those blue eyes again, may never smile at him again, or snuggle against him at night.

Sandor's eyes burned, and he dropped her hand so he could rub at the offending moisture. He thought of all the things he had meant to say to her only a couple of hours ago, and now he might never get the chance. His hands curled into fists.

"Sansa…Little Bird…I don't know if you can hear me, but…I want you to know that…" he swallowed. "That I need you." He stood and bent over her, stroking her cheek lightly. "I'm sorry this happened. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you." He was choking now, his voice sounding bitter and harsh. The shock of the situation was hitting him truly now, and his body shook with rage and desperation and fear. Fear that he might have lost her no matter what the Queen said. "Please…" he held her face in his large palms, and touched his forehead to her own. "Please…Little Bird…don't leave me alone."

After standing that way for a few minutes, Sandor gently kissed her forehead. "I was such a fool, Sansa, to have left you. It serves me right. I never deserved you, and you didn't deserve to spend the rest of your days with a brute like me." He gave bitter laugh, scorning himself. "I can't even take care of you." With a sigh, he drew back, looking at her. The pureness of her skin beckoned him, and he traced her chin and cheeks with his fingers. His thumb brushed over her mouth, and he was suddenly filled with the desire to kiss her. It might be the only time he ever could, now.

Slowly, he lowered his mouth to her own, and brushed his lips over her soft ones. A jolt raced through him, and he broke away, stumbling towards the door. "That is not how our kiss should have been," he rasped quietly. He jerked the door to the cabin open and walked into the yard, standing still in the rain.

Sansa was underwater. Heavy, and no sounds reached her, yet she could breathe. She was so cold…why was it so cold? And dark. Dark everywhere she looked. She tried to move her arms, and found herself unable to. Something was weighing her down, and she cried out, but heard nothing. Her voice was stolen by the darkness.

How long had she been here? It felt like few minutes and a hundred years. Then she saw a soft light begin to glow in the distance, and she struggled towards it. Oh, if I can only reach that light! She found herself able to move, and she began to swim upwards, away from the black water and to the light. It came nearer, and she felt a surge of warmth and happiness fill her, right down to her toes. Black became a soft amber and yellow, and Sansa was floating, feeling dreamy. She felt loved, and she loved back, embracing the waves of joy that crashed over her.

Someone was talking to her. A man. She couldn't hear his words, but his voice was fading quickly. Then it was gone, and she felt like a bucket of cold water was dumped over her. Why was he leaving her? Then light around her shone so bright she shut her eyes.

Instead the red inside of her eyelids, Sansa blinked, and saw the ceiling of a cabin fade into view. She lay for a moment, trying to remember why she was laying down. Had she had an accident? What…oh! The memory hit her like lightning: the old woman…the apple…a cold hand squeezing her heart…

She sat up quickly, and the room spun. Dazed, she swung her feet over the edge. Where was Sandor? Desperate to see him and be held by him, Sansa shakily crossed to the open door and saw Sandor standing in the yard, his tunic and pants wet.

Her brows furrowed. What was he doing? Why was he letting himself get all wet and cold?

"Sandor?" she called out tentatively. His back stiffened. Oh no, he's mad that I let that old woman inside, I bet. She cleared her throat when he still didn't turn around. "Sandor?"

She watched his fists clench, and he swung around so quickly she jumped. His mouth fell open and he gaped at her like he was seeing a ghost. What was going on? In hurried strides, Sandor raced towards her and scooped her into his arms. "Little Bird!" he rasped, shaking. He sank to the ground, taking her with him, and held her tight and rocked her, whispering her name over and over. Confused but please with his presence, Sansa held him back. Something must have upset him. "It's ok, Sandor," she rubbed his back comfortingly. "Everything's alright, right?" He pulled back from her, taking her face in his hands. "Sansa," he whispered. His eyes were darkened and so filled with hunger that it made Sansa feel weak.

"Are you alright?" he was asking. "I-I think so," she responded. "I must have fallen asleep, all I remember is eating an apple and an old woman…" she trailed off, feeling like something was missing. Sandor let out a shaky breath. "What happened?" she asked. "Little Bird…you were cursed. That old woman was the Queen in disguise." He swallowed hard, pulling her against him once more. "I thought I'd lost you…I thought you were…"

Now she remembered something about the old woman saying she would be the fairest in the land. Sansa pulled away from Sandor this time and touched his scarred cheek. "I'm sorry to have worried you so…" her sentence was never finished, because Sandor had crashed his mouth on to her lips. Sansa froze, her brain scrambling to contemplate what was happening, when she felt that same warm feeling rush over, the one she had felt while she was asleep. Sandor. She melted into his embrace, shyly kissing him back. And she knew.

He loves me. The thought made her feel giddy and scared and happy all at once, but her thoughts were scattered as Sandor deepened the kiss, easing her mouth open and sweeping his tongue over her own, and Sansa lost herself to his touch. Nothing else mattered in the whole world but this moment as she clung to him and they kissed frantically. She felt him shift, and suddenly he had lifted her into his arms and was carrying her, never breaking the kiss. He lay her down on the bed, both of them sinking into the furs. Sandor slowed their kiss until he finally pulled away, and they each caught their breaths, staring at one another. Sansa felt utterly entranced by his dark eyes and the desire that lurked with in them, and she spoke the words she had wanted to say earlier. "I love you, Sandor."

The man looming above her blinked in surprise, and his face struggled to stay composed, until a smile, a true one, broke out. He leaned down and kissed her again, more softly this time, and whispered, "I love you too, Little Bird."

The End

A/N: Well, th-th-th-th-that's all folks! I hope you enjoyed the story, I know I did! It's been lovely writing it and reading your reviews. I decided that I will write a sequel sometime, but not for a while, as I need to get back to A Twisted Game.